Tepic had been found along with Beryl by a group of urchins and Miss Avariel some distance along the shore of New Babbage, where their escape pod from the submarine had crashed. It had come as a surprise to Beryl when on reaching the surface a helium balloon had expanded from the top of the craft, lifting them clear of the water! It was a novel method of escaping danger, however the designers had failed to consider any form of steering, so they had been at the mercy of the winds, gas seeping through the fabric and dropping them back towards the menacing sea. They had been lucky, a few last gusts had pulled them up on the shore, and Beryl had thrown out their hats and other possessions at every island and headland they had passed over, in the hopes that a rescue party could track them down.
The boy had been unconscious for most of their flight, rousing only briefly to ask about their companions and what was happening before closing his eyes again. Once they landed, Beryl lifted him out and carried him up the beach to the shelter of some rocks, the lad clasping tight to his severed tail even in deep sleep. As he was set down he curled up, remaining unresponsive though breathing regularly and deeply. The cat sat down beside him and waited…..
It had been very early morning when they had made their escape, the urchins in the City had been on the trail since the evening before, when Tepic’s possessions had been found on the Dock. The sun was just beginning to sink into the sea when several rafts, loaded with searchers arrived at the isolated beach, the large metal egg of the escape pod being the final clue to their lost friends. It was with happy cries that they disembarked, having completed their quest, greetings were called and laughing children ran up the sandy slope towards Beryl. There were gasps as they spied the still form of the fox boy curled up on the sand, and a voice rose with the question, “Is he dead?”
“No,” replied Beryl, “he’s just asleep, but…..”
One by one they saw the slim length of fur, so recognisable to them all, tucked around the boy’s arms, no longer twitching with a life of it’s own. The silence grew, the shock of their discovery sinking deep.
Tepic stirred, stretched and sat up, looking round at the circle of his compatriots, then said “Oh…. you found us then.”
With that he jumped to his feet, staggered, and fell forward, landing on his hands and knees, detached tail before his eyes.
“Oh…. yes….” he said wistfully, “that…”
He pushed himself to his knees, examined the tail in his hands as if he had never seen it before, looked round at the faces of those around him and almost in embarrassment tucked it in the front of his jumper, turning the hem inside to hold it safe and secure. Reaching a hand out to Beryl, he stood again, leaning on his friend for support before taking a few steps forward, his lack of balance and shakiness being obvious to all. The circle opened in front of him, the urchins drawing back in stunned awe.
He stepped clear of the others, letting loose Beryl’s paw, and though still wobbling, took a few tentative steps before turning to face them all.
“Thank you for finding us, that were nice… i can’t go back ter the City like this though, i got ter find someplace ter get fixed up…. i got an idea…. take care of each other while i’s gone.”
With that he turned and was gone, the throng left staring at the empty beach in front of them.