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Brack, Cactus Farmer


by voiceprint

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     It wasn’t easy making a living in the Lost Desert; Brack could sure tell you that. You had to worry about droughts, sandstorms, famines, horrible curses, and the occasional evil emperor. And that’s not to mention the seclusion; if you wanted to make your way to Sakhmet, you had to travel uphill both ways in the dastardly heat. No, Lost Desert living was not for the faint of heart.

     Still, the Lupe had always managed to live a meager life out in the desert. Brack was a cactus farmer by trade, and he was one of the best. He grew several acres of the thorny crop outside of his humble adobe home located on the outskirts of Qasala. Each weekend he’d harvest his cacti, and on Monday he would make the long trek into town to sell his goods. Well, he did until something began destroying his crops…

     ***

     Brack awoke at sunrise one Friday to discover nearly two dozen of his succulent plants were withering away. By Saturday morning, nearly a fourth of his crops were demolished. Even during the disastrous droughts of his youth, the Lupe could never recall this much damage happening so quickly!

     "What in tarnation?!" Brack scowled as he knelt down to examine a wilted cactus. "Why, I never…," he shook his head wearily.

     Some of the plant’s rugged thorns appeared to have been forcefully broken off, and a close inspection of the cactus’s withered stalk revealed sharp teeth and gnarly claw marks. It was clear that something was plaguing the Lupe’s crops but he wasn’t sure what it could be. In all of his years, the farmer had never seen anything quite like this.

     It was still fairly early in the morning, and Brack deducted he’d have plenty of time to travel into Sakhmet to complete some research if he left soon. He hastily stood up, dusted the sand out of his thick yellow fur, and headed into his house to pack for the day’s journey. The Lupe grabbed a cooler, filled it with ice, and carefully placed three of the shriveled cactus plants inside. He scanned his belongings one last time to ensure he wasn’t forgetting anything before hastily heading into the city.

          ***

     "Hello, hello!" greeted the scrolls shopkeeper with a warm smile. "What brings you here today Brack?"

     The Lupe placed his cooler on the table. "I’m afraid I have a problem, Sutek," Brack sighed as he took out a cactus stalk for the scholar to examine.

     "Oh no," the Nimmo grimaced. "You obviously have some sort of infestation."

     Brack nodded solemnly. "Any clue what it could be?"

     "No, not off the top of my head…," he replied. Sutek began shuffling through his shelves. "I think I have a book that may prove helpful, however! Ah hah! Here it is!" He handed the Lupe a dusty leather book entitled ‘Telltale Signs of Neopian Pests’.

     "Thank you!" Brack exclaimed as he sat down in the corner of the hut and began pawing through the book’s pages. Scamanders? No. Scarabugs? No. Wadjets? No, not those either. Finally, toward the back of the book, he reached a page that looked helpful. The claw and bite marks in the illustrated pictures looked nearly identical to the ones appearing on his crops.

     The Nimmo peered over Brack’s shoulder. "If I had to make an educated guess," Sutek reasoned, "I’d say you have a Meepit infestation on your hands, my friend."

     The Lupe gulped. Meepits were notoriously hard to get rid of.

     "It’s quite unusual to get them out here in the Lost Desert, but it’s not unheard of either," Sutek continued.

     "Any ideas on how to get rid of them?" the farmer asked, cautiously optimistic.

     "Hmm… I do believe I have a Pest-Be-Gone scroll around here somewhere that you can have…," Sutek began rummaging through his stock once more as he explained how the spell would work. "When you read the scroll out loud, it will create a protecting barrier around your farm. It will drive out any pests you have, and then keep them away until the spell begins to weaken. Now, I can’t tell you how long the barrier will last – I’ve never used this type of scroll myself. It may not be a permanent solution to your problem, but hopefully it will at least help in the meantime!"

     "Oh, thank you! Thank you!" Brack praised the Nimmo, "I’m not sure what I’d do without you Sutek!"

     "Of course," he grinned as he handed the scroll to the Lupe. "I hope this works in your favor!"

     "You’re almost as gracious as the Geb ruler you were named after," Brack cajoled.

     "Mhm, sure," laughed the shopkeeper. "Best of luck to you, my friend!"

     ***

     It was close to dusk by the time Brack made his way back home. After a long day of research and traveling in the hot Lost Desert sun, he wanted nothing more than to plop down in his Neohome and get some rest. First though, the Lupe had to try out the protection scroll.

     He walked out and sat down in the middle of his cacti field. Since his departure, even more of the crops had been destroyed. Over a third now had been damaged beyond repair. Brack sighed and hoped to Fyora that this spell would work.

     He pulled the Pest-Be-Gone scroll out of his bag and unraveled it. Slowly and articulately, he read it aloud. When he finished, the scroll vanished in a cloud of green smoke and a cool breeze rustled through the field. He sat in silence for a couple more minutes before finally gathering his things to head inside for the evening.

     ***

     Brack awoke in the morning to the sound of a Djuti cawing outside of his window. The Lupe eagerly got up and dashed to the window to see whether or not protection spell had worked. To his dismay, however, even more of his crops were destroyed somehow! Now half of his cacti were withering away in the scorching desert sun. How could this be?! How could the spell be so ineffective?! The Lupe was livid.

     Brack huffed as he grabbed his bag and prepared to travel back to Sakhmet. If the Meepits insisted on continuing this battle against his cacti, Brack decided, then he would just have to take protecting his crops to a more extreme level!

     ***

     Brack stormed into the Sakhmet Battle Supplies shop, "I need the best weapon that you’ve got for fighting Meepits!"

     "Well, hello to you too Brack," the Aisha shopkeeper replied with some confusion.

     "Oh, I’m sorry Remnok," the Lupe paused. He began to explain his predicament with the pesky Petpets, and the shopkeeper nodded sympathetically.

     "I see… That’s quite unfortunate," Remnok affirmed. "Well, quite a few options come to mind that could do the trick. I have swords, daggers, spears, maces... Hmm…"

     "What do you recommend?"

     "How about this Sand Blade?" the Aisha advised. "If you wield this, surely it will keep your Meepit fiends away!"

     The Lupe took the sword in his paws and examined it closely. He nodded, "I believe this will do! Thank you!"

     He handed Remnok a small sack of Neopoints and placed the weapon securely in his bag before heading back home to his farm.

     ***

     It was growing late now. Brack sat on his porch, rocking quietly in his chair, as he waited for the sun to set and for the Meepits to strike again. His sword was propped against the wall behind him, well within arm’s reach, and his flashlight rested on his lap. He was determined to finally catch the vermin terrorizing his cacti fields, and he would stay up all night if that’s what it took to save his crops.

     Just as the sun disappeared and Kreludor began to show its face in the night sky, Brack heard a rustle in the fields. His fur stood up on end and he reached for his weapon. Quietly and slowly, he made is way towards one of his cacti patches.

     The Lupe stood in the center of the field, adrenaline pumping through his veins. He heard another rustle, and then another and another. It sounded like the creature, or creatures, were making their way closer towards Brack. The Lupe’s heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest.

     Then, out of the corner of his eye, he finally saw the shadow of a Petpet. Without hesitation, he began to swing his Sand Blade down towards the trespassing Meepit!

     "…Mew?"

     Instinctively, Brack paused midswing.

     "Meeew?"

     Fumbling through his pocket, the Lupe found his flashlight and shined it on the small shadow.

     The creature mewed again, and Brack realized it wasn’t a Meepit after all! He knelt down to examine it closer.

     "Mew!" the little black Mauket belted in delight. It began to rub affectionately against his leg. Brack sat down his weapon and picked up the tiny Petpet. He cradled it carefully in his arms, and the creature purred as he carried it back to his porch.

     Closer inspection in the light revealed how thin and frail the poor Mauket was; from the looks of it, it appeared the little critter hadn’t eaten a substantial meal in weeks! It had little chunks of cacti stuck between its teeth, its fur was matted with burrs, and thorns were prickling its paws. Part of Brack knew he should be angry at the Petpet for destroying so many of his valuable crops, but he mostly felt sorry for it. After all, he reasoned, it was only lost in the desert and trying desperately trying to find something, anything, of nutritional value.

     "You must be hungry," the Lupe said sympathetically as he scoured his kitchen cabinets to find something for the Petpet to eat. He filled a bowl with food and set it down in front of the Mauket. It ate quickly and then mewed in response.

     Brack preceded to spend the next hour progressively brushing out the creature’s tangled tuffs of fur, as well as gently removing and bandaging the cacti thorns. The Petpet purred in appreciation almost the entire time.

     Finally, when he was done, Brack patted the little creature on the head. "So," he asked, "what is your name?"

     The Mauket looked up at him and mewed.

     "Man, you know you caused a lot of damage but you sure are cute…," the Lupe paused and then chuckled. "I think I’ll called you Brutus."

     Brutus mewed once again and then climbed onto Brack’s chest. It cuddled up next to his shoulder and fell asleep, still purring, in his arms.

     "Well, Brutus, we’ve got a lot of clean up and rebuilding to do in the upcoming weeks," Brack said as he stroked the sleeping creature. "But at least you’re here to help me now."

     The End.

 
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