He had decided not to stay. At first he'd
thought he would, but he didn't feel he deserved to be eating the Chias' food.
Especially when they needed it more than him.
He had tried to call Estella, had thought maybe
he had finally done what she'd wanted of him. But she wouldn't come to him.
He wished he knew why. He didn't know where he would go, didn't belong to the
Chias or the Lupes. Maybe he would find some way to make enough money to buy
a morphing potion so he could go back to his real family. But somehow, he didn't
think they would be too enthusiastic about how he'd changed.
Had he changed? Other than physically? In a
way that mattered? He just held one point of view differently, saw one issue
from a new angle. But when it was one of the most important issues to other
Lupes, it might just make all of the difference in the world.
He wished he knew what to do. Maybe he would
just wander for a while. Maybe he would find one of those big Chia cities that
Tricky had mentioned. He probably wouldn't fit there either, but where else
would he fit? He, a Lupe trapped in a Chia's body. Nowhere, really. He gave
a sad sigh. Why had Estella abandoned him?
He was alone now, sitting in the forest a few
yards from the hollow-tree entrance to the underground Chia village. It was
quite. It was very quite. And then there was a rustle in the bushes.
A dark green figure lunged at Elm, knocking
him off of the tree stump he sat on. He started to run but a second figure was
blocking his way. He turned around and started to run again, but a third Lupe
stood there. He turned around once again, only to find that his very last route
of escape was blocked off by yet another dark green Lupe.
"All right, Chia. You have a LOT of explaining
to do," said the first Lupe, whom Elm recognised as Forest.
"That's right!" chorused his three
Elm gulped and backed up, running straight
into Aspen. He swerved and started backing up again. "Um... I... I..."
he gasped. He took a deep breath and shouted "ESTELLA!!!"
Aspen growled. "Aw, forget the interrogation!
Let's get it!" He lunged.
A dark shape dropped onto Aspen's face. Temporarily
blinded, he screamed in rage as he tried to shake the creature off. Elm recognised
Tricky's cape ruffling in the air.
The other three Lupes turned in surprise, and
Forest suddenly howled in pain as Chipper the yellow Chia bit down on his tail.
Chipper gripped tightly to it as Forest dashed around trying to shake him off.
Chestnut pulled the same trick on Hickory, and Peachy jumped on top of Pine's
head and started chewing on his ear. "Wide 'um owmoy!" she shouted,
her mouth still full of Pine's ear.
"Hey! Kid!" Tricky shouted to Elm.
"Go ahead and run for it!" She caught his odd stare and added, "It's
under control. We do this type of thing ALL the time." Elm took her word
for it and dove into the hollow tree. He watched anxiously as the turmoil continued
Suddenly, Forest swerved in a way that made
his tail knock right against Aspen's head. The resulting blow, in addition to
knocking Aspen over, bonked the two Chias' heads together and caused them to
lose their grips. They slid to the ground dazed and landed in the middle of
a circle of VERY angry Lupes. Pine and Hickory finally managed to shake off
Peachy and Chestnut, sending them flying into their friends. Elm's family closed
in on the four Chias, circling and growling. Preparing for the kill.
For one moment, time seemed to stand still.
And in that moment, something deep inside of Elm clicked into place.
"STOP!!!" Elm shouted, jumping out
of the tree and rushing toward the group. The Lupes turned to glare at him,
but the anger in their faces quickly turned to surprise, and then to shock.
The four of them backed away in disbelief as a very, VERY familiar green Lupe
approached and stood protectively over his tiny friends.
"Elm..." Forest whispered in disbelief.
Then his face hardened. "What's going on here?" he asked angrily.
Elm looked at himself and realised that he
was a Lupe again. He let out a sigh of relief. "It's a long story,"
he said, "but there are two important points I need to make. One: these,"
he gestured towards the little Chias at his feet, "are my friends. I don't
care if they're Chias. I wouldn't care if they were mutant Greebles. They are,
and that's all there is to it. Two: I am NOT going to hunt Chias. I don't care
what you think and there is nothing you can say that will change my mind."
"BUT IT'S A FAMILY TRADITION!" Forest
bellowed. Elm calmly told his father Tricky's story of the Mystery Island Lupe
tribe. "WELL THIS IS DIFFERENT!" the older Lupe shouted. "Look
here, young Lupe. I am your father, and you are my pup. That means that you
HAVE to do what I tell you, LIKE IT OR NOT!"
Hickory stepped in. "No, Father, you're
wrong about that. Elm isn't a little kid anymore. He may not have completed
the ceremony, but today he demonstrated his adulthood in an even more important
way. He has made an important decision for himself. While I may not agree with
him, I respect his decision because the fact that he made it based on what he
feels is right says a lot more about how mature he is than any stupid old ceremony
Moved by his oldest brother's speech, (though
he couldn't understand a word of it) Pine jumped up and down and yipped approvingly.
Elm smiled, and even Aspen grudgingly gave a few nods.
Forest sighed and looked from one of his sons
to the next. Then he looked down at the Chias, who were hugging onto Elm's legs,
and then back at Elm again. Then he gave a short nod. "All right,"
he said, "I understand. I suppose you really are grown up enough to make
some choices for yourself. I'll tell you what: you respect my decision to hunt
occasionally, and I'll respect yours not to."
Elm looked down at the little Chias at his
feet. "And my friends?"
Forest sighed again. "My eyes are getting
old, and it's hard for me to tell one Chia from another anyway. But I don't
go hunting very often at all these days anyhow. But, I'll be sure to warn you
when I do so that you have a fair chance to get word to them to lay low. Is
that fair enough?"
Elm looked down at his little friends. "Is
it?" he asked them. The four Chias bit their lips and nodded, not completely
comfortable with the agreement but understanding that it was the best they'd
Forest nodded. "Good. Come on boys, we
need to be heading home." Elm's three brothers, understanding that their
sibling would want a few minutes to himself, headed after their father.
"Well," Elm said (a bit awkwardly)
to Tricky and her Chia friends, "Good luck to all of you. If I know you,
Tricky, Dad is going to be VERY disappointed the next time he and my brothers
go hunting." He winked.
Tricky nodded. "You know me."
Peachy smiled. "Yep. She's got a lot of
influence, you know. When the Lupes go out, the Chias will come in. All thanks
to our inside source. Hey, we ought to find a way to land a scout in EVERY Lupe
family around here."
Elm laughed. "Like I said before, good
luck. And thanks for everything." The four Chias each said good bye and
then scurried off into the hollow tree entrance.
When they were out of sight, Estella appeared
before him. She smiled warmly. "Hello there, young Lupe. I see you've finally
got the lesson down."
Elm eyed her warily. He still wasn't sure that
he liked this faerie who kept meddling in his life, even if it had all turned
out for the best. "I suppose I did," he answered tartly. "But
I have one question: why did you have to pick on me? I'm assuming that this
isn't something you do all of the time."
Estella's smile grew wider. "You mean
you really don't know?" she asked tauntingly. Elm shook his head. "I
have three reasons for choosing you. First, you are young and still growing.
You can't change a Kougra's stripes; you have to catch him before they grow
in. Second, and most important, you have a capacity to care. I knew if someone
as kind as you are inside could just UNDERSTAND what it is really like for the
Chias, that would be all the motivation you would need to change. Finally, you
are in a position where you can teach other Lupes what you have learned. That,
little Lupe, is your next challenge." She disappeared in a gust of wind
before he could ask what she meant by that.
Elm sat for a moment in quiet contemplation.
Who did Estella want him to teach? Surely not the world. Not all at once, at
any rate. He did have a number of friends in the forest, but something inside
of him told him that he was supposed to start even smaller than that. Who then?
Not Forest or Hickory or Aspen: they were all either too old or to stubborn
to really understand.
As he was thinking, Pine surprised him by suddenly
trotting back up to him. "Are you coming or not?" he asked.
Elm smiled, "Oh, I'm coming. Not to worry.
Here, why don't we walk back together."
"All right," Pine said, and fell
into place beside him. "By the way," Pine said, "Why DID you
protect those Chias? What's so great about them anyway?"
Elm smiled, suddenly understanding something.
"Well, Pine," he told his little brother, "Chias are Neopets
too--just like you and me--see? It took ME quite a while to understand that
myself, but it's really all very simple. You see, something rather odd happened
to me while I was hunting this morning..." The two Lupes walked slowly,
a purpose in Elm's stride, as he related the events of the day, and more importantly
the message they carried, to his youngest sibling.