Despite a week passing, Heather still couldn’t forget the words said to her at Elizabeth’s doorstep. She kept a wide berth away from McCally at all times just to be on the safe side. This was mostly in public; Heather never knew what the woman could do to her, so it was better to stay safe than sorry.
Pipp was still being lively as ever. He hadn’t grown a whole lot and would probably be in trouble if he got into a scuffle with a cat. However a small change start to set in. Pipp seemed more calculating and reactive to those around him. It was like he was thinking a lot, able to mirror off the moods of the people around him. He could tell if they were happy, sad or frustrated and react accordingly.
One evening Heather was up in her room, reading through a literature book. It wasn’t the most fun way she thought she’d spend her evening, but Elizabeth insisted she studied books in lieu of not going to school. This was a heavy read in particular, revolving around the history of an eastern continent.
“Why this? Really?” Heather blew out a huff of air, sprawled on her bed chest first and propping her head up. The book had large pages but small print, adding to the difficulty of reading it.
There was a soft and familiar squeak. Heather glanced at the doorway of her bedroom to find Pipp standing there patiently, studying her.
“Pipp! Cm’here.” Heather stretched a hand down to the floor.
Pipp pattered over, nuzzling her palm and making a noise between a purr and a growl. With no hesitation Heather grabbed him under his belly, lifting him up onto the bed. Pipp examined his new vantage point before wedging himself beneath Heather’s neck, rubbing his head under her chin.
Heather giggled, giving him a little kiss on the top of his head. Pipp just stood there with his mouth open, looking down at the pages of the book with curiosity.
“You remember what this is, Pipp? A book?” Heather flipped a page back and forth to get his attention.
Pipp tried to nip at the page, eyes settling on the words and letters. He cocked his head at an illustration of an island, stepping closer to examine it.
He’s interested in the picture! Heather watched in fascination as Pipp gazed at it for a moment, finally looking up at her with a little chirp. It was if he wanted an explanation of some sort.
“That’s an island. Do you want me to read about it for you?” Heather couldn’t believe she was asking such a silly question. It was an animal. Did it really understand words or even written things?
The creature settled into the comforter, head pointed towards the book in response. Heather gave a little exhale and arranged herself more comfortably.
“Okay, let’s read.”
Heather began to read aloud. At first it was quite a tedious task, with such boring subject matter. However as she went on, her boredom and difficulties seemed to melt away, focused on entertaining (or teaching) Pipp. Page upon page she went through, taking short breaks to rest her voice.
She had lost track of how involved she was when there was a knock at her door. Heather looked up, seeing Elizabeth with a cup at the doorway.
“Care to be interrupted for a moment?” She asked with a smile.
Heather looked bashful as she sat up, pushing the book aside. Elizabeth entered, seating herself on the edge of the bed, handing her the cup.
“Here, thought you could use some spice tea. You’ve been at it for awhile. I believe I’ve caught up on two generations of history from just filling spice jars.” Elizabeth was proud, stroking her hair in admiration.
She took the cup with eager hands, sipping the hot liquid carefully. The spices danced on her tongue as she took a big whiff of the aroma. Studying or not, it was a welcome treat.
Pipp hopped onto Elizabeth’s lap, immediately trying to burrow his head into one of her apron pockets. The woman laughed, pulling Pipp away.
“Ah ah ah, you have to ask. Treats aren’t for the taking. Please?” She looked at him expectantly.
Pipp gave a half-squawk, craning his head upwards.
“Good, here.” Elizabeth reached into the same pocket and gave him a nugget of dried meat and meal. Pipp gobbled it up instantly, resting his head on Elizabeth’s lap.
“Reading coming along well? How’s your student doing?” Elizabeth crossed her legs, eyeing the book.
“Quiet. I think he just likes being read to. I don’t think he’s actually learning anything, though.” Heather playfully batted Pipp’s tail.
“Ah, I would beg to differ.” Elizabeth seemed like she was holding back something for a brief moment, stroking Pipp’s head. Pipp’s eyes were almost shut, resting peacefully against her lap.
“What makes you say that?” Heather looked at the creature curiously, forehead wrinkling in thought.
“Dragons, wyverns, those kind of creatures…have different memories than other animals. They’re quite intelligent and have the capacity for “knowledge”. Have you ever heard about dragons that have been guardians for centuries and know about books or swords? Some of them even able to speak? There’s a lot of truth to that.”
“But Pipp’s a Starstreak, not a dragon. He looks like those raptor lizards the townspeople were talking about!” Heather sidled closer to Elizabeth.
“Yes, he does. But Pipp is from the same family tree. Far be it that he’s a lizard. He’s quite special, Heather.” Elizabeth’s voice had an endearing tone to it.
A distant screech broke the tender moment, causing everyone to jump. Pipp snapped to alertness, head pointed towards the window as he made a half-growl.
“Wha?” Heather looked at the same direction, seeing nothing but darkness out the window. She glanced back at Elizabeth for an answer as the sound continued, eventually coming to an abrupt halt.
Elizabeth looked quite shocked as well. She nudged Pipp aside, getting up and going over to the window.
“That was someone’s livestock. It sounded like it was being attacked…” Elizabeth was deep in thought, turning her attention back to Pipp.
“Is something wrong? Is somebody doing something?” Heather asked innocently.
Elizabeth shook her head, her face having lost some of its color.
“They might be, Heather. But in this case, I think its something.” Elizabeth took a deep breath, leaving the room.
At first Heather was puzzled as to what Elizabeth was referring to, but as she put two and two together she realized what was the matter. Heather’s sudden appearance with a strange creature may mean that other things may have arrived in town. And from Elizabeth’s reaction, something terrible must be out there this very second. She picked Pipp up, squeezing him close.
“Oh Pipp, I hope nobody comes here and starts blaming both of us for things that we didn’t do.” She remarked dejectedly.
Pipp gurgled in reply, nuzzling her neck and remaining quiet, as in agreement.
Heather closed the book, not having the heart to read any further. She dread what lay in wait tomorrow.
The next morning Heather was up late. She instantly sat up in bed, remembering the events from last night as she grabbed her clothes and threw them on as fast as she could. Already she could hear Tau’mi cleaning up in the kitchen downstairs.
Upon reaching the foot of the stairs Heather was hopping into her shoes. She could hear some conversation going on in the shop but couldn’t make out anything coherent. Janus wasn’t around, either. She stumbled into the kitchen in search of her friend.
Tau’mi was at the kitchen island, humming quietly to herself as she sliced potatoes on a cutting board. She had opted for her native tribal garments today, looking a bit out of place in the two-piece outfit. Then again, the blue skin, purple hair and insectile headdress had that effect regardless.
She looked up at her, a smile coming on her face.
“Oh! Morning! You up late.” Tau’mi left the cutting board, going over to the stove to a tin carafe on the burner.
“Yeah. I was busy reading to Pipp last night. My eyes are really tired.” She started to amble towards the table when Tau’mi plopped a plate with beans and mushrooms on the counter, motioning her over instead.
Tau’mi didn’t say anything, coming back from the stove with a cup of coffee. Making sure that Heather had a fork and her meal, she returned to her food preparation nearby.
There was a chirp as Heather looked down at the floor, catching sight of Pipp entering the kitchen. Her face lit up, quickly scooping up her pet in a cuddle.
“Good morning! How are you?” She asked sweetly, poking Pipp on the nose.
Pipp chirped in response, mouth open in delight. His tail whipped back and forth a few times as Heather cooed and talked to him for another moment. She was relieved that he was still here, up and about.
She put him down as he got antsy, washing up and returning to the island. Heather dragged a stool over and took a seat at the counter, reaching for the coffee first. She winced at a little as she took a swig, a tad bit too hot. She quickly wolfed down her food as the caffeine kicked in, giving her the extra energy she needed.
“You have big hurry today. What’s going on?” Tau’mi started to mince shallot leaves.
“It sounded like someone lost one of their livestock. I wanted to hear what happened.” Heather leaned forward, certain that Tau’mi knew something.
Tau’mi sighed, looking a little uneasy.
“An attack happened near Makey’s farm. Two of his giant elephant birds were attacked and one devoured.”
Heather tried to process the Kashri’s broken English for a moment, realizing that the name was McKay, a farmer near the town’s border. She was also familiar with the animal in question, a large bird standing near eight feet high. Most if not all Talmeron predators left them alone.
“Do they know what did it?” Heather was genuinely curious as to what was being speculated.
“If you worried about Pipp, snakeface lady already visited and blamed you again.” Tau’mi had a frown on her face, pushing aside cut shallots with a bit more force than usual.
Heather sighed in despair, chin almost dropping to the counter. That wasn’t what she was wanting to hear. Apparently her nemesis was still making the rounds. She was secretly pleased with Tau’mi’s moniker; quite fitting.
“Pipp’s barely the size of half a loaf of bread. He couldn’t go kill something like that.” Heather responded in a huff.
“No, but maybe Doth Vish can.” Tau’mi looked at Heather quite seriously.
“Vish…? Do you mean parents? Even full size a Starstreak can’t do anything like that.” Heather was still huffy, not pleased with her friend’s assumption. However she counted a small victory in correctly guessing the native phrase she used. The girl often spoke half the time in another language, leaving her guessing on what she was trying to say.
Tau’mi had a doubtful expression on her face, silently asking for proof. That was clearly visible and needed no guessing.
“Look, when Pipp grow’s up, he’ll be a little bigger than one loaf of bread. If something is out there attacking large lifestock, it’ll have to be something different.”
“I see. Only certain class of creatures are able to do such things. All dangerous. All non-native. Outsiders.”
The girl muttered to herself before looking back at the various food on the counter.
“Can you please get me scallop squash from garden?”
“Sure. After all you got me breakfast, didn’t you?” Heather slid off her stool, motioning for Pipp to follow.
She hadn’t taken him outside since McCalley’s declaration; he was focused, not wandering off and following his caretaker like a duckling. Perhaps a few minutes outside would do him some good.
Exiting the house into the backyard Heather felt the pre-summer heat hit her a little. The various herb scents from the garden floated in the air, some chatter from the townspeople in earshot. Half of the backyard was a garden, multiple rows of vegetables neatly stretched out till the end of the fence.
She spied the squash that Tau’mi wanted; small flat white squash six inches across from a bush-type plant. Heather bent down and picked five of them, standing up to head back to the kitchen.
Pipp made a sudden screech that made Heather snap to attention. It was of alarm, something that sent a shiver up her spine. By the time her head turned, she was grabbed from behind, a hand covering her mouth.
Heather tried to scream and struggle but to no avail. A strange man had grabbed Pipp, throwing him into a canvas sack before dashing off. Her muffled screams did no good as the man started to wrestle her towards the gate, easily pulling her along as he wished.
Is this what it came down to? Someone actually taking action against her out of fear? What was going to happen to Pipp? Her? Where were all the people that she was hearing?
There was a shout that gave Heather a glimmer of hope. The man turned to face the direction of the voice when she saw Tau’mi running at them full-speed with a strange spear in hand. She suddenly doubted Tau’mi’s ability to not harm her as the Kashri barreled into both of them, shoving Heather aside and pushing the edge of the spear against the man’s neck.
Heather scrambled away, gasping for breath. Elizabeth and a few others came running out the kitchen door, surrounding Heather’s assailant. To her shock her caretaker was wielding a long single-barreled shotgun, bravely pointing it at the strange man.
“Heather!” Elizabeth helped the girl to her feet, embracing her and dusting off her clothes.
“Elizabeth, they took Pipp! He’s gone!” Heather was frantic, almost in tears.
“It’s all right, we’ll find him. Let the other people in the village help us-”
“He not up to no good, miss Leesbeth! We need to chase now!” Tau’mi protested. Two men from the town had restrained Heather’s potential kidnapper, hustling him away.
“Tau’mi, it’s dangerous out there. You or Heather won’t be safe. What if Pipp’s abductor fights you?”
“Will not happen.” Tau’mi glanced at her spear with a smug smile.
Heather knew something was wrong, that Elizabeth knew about the attack last night.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Elizabeth sighed, conflict in her face. A hand ran through her hair, trying to think straight.
“That beast that attacked last night; its some sort of giant four-footed lizard. They spotted it earlier this morning near the village. Dangerous but slow; be very careful. Don’t end up mauled or a meal.” Her voice was fast and insistent.
She turned to Heather, swallowing and handing her the shotgun.
“Take this just in case. Remember what I taught you about it.” Elizabeth was busy digging out three or four shells out of her apron pocket, placing them into Heather’s own.
“I…I…all right.” Heather stammered, shaky fingers grasping around the shotgun. Acquainted was the best word she could describe with the familiarity from the weapon. She certainly knew how to use it from Elizabeth’s instruction, but it was in a secluded place against wooden barrels that posed no threat to her. She prayed that they didn’t have to use it.
“Now go. Go!” Elizabeth quickly ran two fingers down the front of Tau’mi’s headdress before hustling the girls away.
Heather wasted no time in dashing out of the yard. Tau’mi had a few seconds headstart as she motioned towards a cluster of houses next to the woods surrounding the town. In the faint distance they could see a white speck moving between the trees. Pipp’s kidnapper, no doubt.
The two quickened their pace to catch up.
As they tore through the woods, Heather had little or no time to think. All that came to mind was that Pipp wasn’t going to be held ransom or locked away. Her gut feeling knew that the man was going to do something horrible to him. She didn’t even want to think about what would’ve happened to her.
Her grip tightened around the shotgun, continuing to barrel through the forest behind her friend. She was not running as fast as she liked, starting to lag behind the mane of purple hair ahead of her. The ground was uneven, lots of undergrowth to go through. Her legs wanted to trip, and her skirts snagged on foliage.
Her tunnelvision cleared when a loud yell reached their ears. It was the man up ahead, mixed with a screech of another creature. His form was closer and they shortened the distance, taking off into a different direction. However the white sack was not on his person. He seemed to be running even faster than before, unhindered with any burden.
The two girls came to a halt in a clearer part of the forest. Moss covered the ground, the greenery filtering out the light in a yellow-ish hue. The now empty sack was discarded a short distance away. Her beloved pet lay crumpled on the ground, whimpering as it twitched in pain.
“Pipp!” Heather rushed forward without a thought, ready to help her companion back to health.
She was stopped short by a grasp on her arm. Heather tried to yank free and turned to regard Tau’mi, when she realized the girl’s stone cold face. She was stiff, feet spread apart. Her eyes were focused past her, not glancing at her even once. Her spear was at the ready, almost ready to jab it into something.
Heather started to struggle again when a low rumble reached her ears. Her head turned to look ahead, her vision locking onto what appeared to be a green, slithering form ambling towards them. It had lots of teeth, was well over ten feet long and walked on four legs close to the ground.
Her mind started to panic, wanting nothing more than to scoop Pipp out of the way. The creature came to a stop within six feet of them, raising its head to sniff the air. Her pet turned its head to face the predator, making a quiet squeak as if to call for Heather.
Heather was frozen what to do. This this was huge, and could easily bite her or Tau’mi in one mouthful. She even doubted Elizabeth’s shotgun would be any use against it. Her palms trembled against the wooden grip, afraid to say a word.
“Still.” Tau’mi whispered.
The creature opened its maw, as if making a display. Heather flinched a little but stayed put per her friend’s instruction, who gripped the spear with both hands. It waved its head back and forth, stopping when it pointed at Tau’mi. A waft of bad breath reached their nostrils, its orange-yellow eyes going back and forth between them.
Her hearbeat quickened, almost pulling the trigger. Heather’s finger nervously trembled against the guard, afraid to misfire on the creature. A hundred thoughts went through her head, silently praying she would stop this creature one way or another.
Almost without warning, it lunged towards them. Heather shrieked and almost crushed the trigger, a thunderous explosion deafening her ears. So much had happened within seconds that she hadn’t processed it, but she was aware that she was lurching backwards from the recoil.
In her immediate vision, a deep red hole was now where the creature’s eye was. It bellowed in pain as Tau’mi drove her spear into its neck, scrambling backwards in retreat.
Heather’s fingers almost dropped the new shell she was trying to push into the shotgun, almost forgetting to take out the old shell. The creature howled again as she let off another shot, seeing the buckshot pepper the rear of the creature in retreat. It wildly scrambled away in the opposite direction, giving some respite to the duo.
With Tau’mi standing guard, Heather immediately dropped to her knees, letting the shotgun drop to the ground. She carefully scooped up Pipp, delicately turning him over.
“Oh Pipp, it’s okay. We’re here.” Heather tried to comfort him.
Pipp was limp as he struggled to look at her, jaws open. There was a gash near his neck that was bleeding some, inflicted by his kidnapper. He was alive, hanging on but weak.
Heather wasted no time tearing a strip of fabric from her underskirts, snugly wrapping the fabric around his neck. The white cotton instantly stained crimson where the wound was, but it seemed to do the trick. At least the bleeding was slowed down.
She carefully cradled the raptor to her chest, looking at Tau’mi plaintively.
“We have to get him home quickly!”
“Yes, but gently! He hurt bad.”
Heather nodded, tightening her grip on Pipp. She wasn’t going to let anything happen to the creature, whatever she could do about it.
“Okay, get the shotgun; let’s go.”