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Freedom and Glory: Part One


by laurelinden

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The first rays of dawn crept across the sky in hazy tendrils, lighting the path of a young Uni who was fighting with all of her dwindling strength to gallop on. Sweat lathered her muddied coat and her silvery hair was a mass of tangles and knots. Behind her, she could hear the distant cries of  "Over there, over there!" as the Lupes followed her trail with their keen noses.

     She'd done the impossible; the blue Uni called Aloriel had escaped from the dreary monotony that was the dreaded Pound. For months she had dwelt there, gazing listlessly out through the bars as countless faces gave her cursory glances and looked uninterestedly onward. At first she'd been hopeful, and would sit alert and bright-eyed as they came, but as time passed her eyelids drooped, and soon she did not have the heart to lift her head as the potential new owners passed by. After all, who could want a useless and plain blue Uni?

     So she'd escaped. Those who fed her had been used to seeing her motionless form as they opened the cage door to fill her food dish, and she'd been able to leap up suddenly and burst out with relative ease. Somehow she'd managed to fly past the lined cages and rear up and smash through the door with her pointed hooves. Then on she flew, crazy and wild as the outdoor air filled her lungs.

     She'd thundered with frenzied joy through the thick forests circling the Pound, but her months of captivity had wasted her muscle and made her limbs weak and shaky. The Lupes who followed were strong and fit, and gaining every minute.

     Aloriel coughed as she flew, forcing her heavy legs to keep their ragging rhythm of stumbles, staggering determinedly through the brush. Twigs grabbed at her with thorny fingers, and she could almost hear the hiss of the wind laughing, and whispering, "They'll catch you, and back to the cage you'll go. Run, run, but it is for nothing. They will not let a Uni go wild, no; not where profit could be made."

     The Lupes were close behind. With powerful bounds they lunged forward, ears pricked to the cursed crunching of her hooves through the dead leaves. Tears of frustration rose before the Uni's eyes, blurring her vision and causing her trail to turn into a watery mix of green and red and brown. "No," she panted in labored gasps. "I must escape …"

     They were right behind her now. One gave a triumphant howl as he spotted her, and they sprinted onward with renewed energy and strength. A flash of terror lent spurts of life to her exhausted limbs, and she soared through the tangle of forest with frantic desperation. She must get away, she must, she must…

     But then Aloriel cried out with heartbroken dismay as a root caught her hoof, pitching her forward. She landed hard amid a pile of rock-covered dirt and itchy leaves, and watched in helpless despair as the Lupes surrounded her. It was over; they would take her back.

     "Please," she begged from where she lay. Scratches covered her body in painful welts from where the sharp rocks had cut her, and her coat was a ruin of weighty snarls. "Please, let me go. I just want to be free."

     The Lupes were all around her. She could hear their winded breathing and smell their thick, shaggy fur. The Uni rose to her knees, gazed up to see her soon-to-be captors, and gasped.

     Plains Lupes! These were not the ones sent by the Pound, but were unimaginably worse. Their intent was not simple capture; they wished for her to be their next meal. They circled her slowly, running their tongues along pointed, glimmering fangs, and driblets of slobber ran down their frothing mouths.

     Aloriel tried to get to her feet, but her legs were beyond function. They trembled and collapsed, and she lay still in that horrible last moment of silence, with tears wet on her cheeks, waiting to feel the warm breath and pricking fangs against her exposed neck.

     A crashing sound split the air and a group of snarling bodies flung themselves at the leering Plains Lupes. The Uni lifted her head, and saw that the Pound Lupes had caught up at last. They were smaller than the heavily muscled Plains Lupes, but fiercer, for they fought with the loyalty of the owners in their hearts, while the Plains Lupes fought for greed. It was their duty to bring back the escapee unharmed, and they would not rest until they had done as they'd been instructed.

     Quick and agile, they lunched forward, snapping and retreating before the large Plains Lupes could land an attack. The larger Lupes slathered and growled, but the powerful strokes they dealt with their clawed paws touched nothing but air. Finally an energetic young Lupe struck the Plains Lupes' leader to the ground, and when he got up and slunk away, throwing spiteful glances over his shoulder as he did so, the rest sullenly followed.

     The Lupe who had defeated the leader strode over to where she lay with concern in his dark eyes. "How badly are you hurt?" he questioned in a surprisingly kind voice.

     Wheezing for air, Aloriel struggled to her feet. "I will be all right," she replied, fighting to keep her legs under her. Then with sudden courage she lifted her head and looked the Lupe squarely in the eye. "I thank you for saving me from them," she said coolly, and bright defiance shone in her gaze, "but I will leave now, if it suits you."

     She turned her back to them, hoping that they would be fooled by her display of confidence. But no, they trotted up to block her path, and the Lupe who had spoken before smiled knowingly. "It does not suit me," he replied. "Our task was to bring you safely back to the pound, where you can be sold to a good home. And we will do so."

     Aloriel lost all pretences. In an overwhelming tide of grief she sobbed, and made one last desperate plea. "If you have any heart at all you will hear me. Let me go; give me freedom. It's all I want."

     "Freedom?" asked the Lupe, puzzled. "Surely you want a good home more? Come back to the pound with us. They'll clean you and tend to your wounds, and then someone will surely take you home."

     It was no use arguing; she could see that then, for the Lupes were polite, but unrelenting in their duties. "Very well, I will come," she sighed, giving in to what she knew must be.

     "Good," replied the Lupe, and the group of them escorted her as she began the long walk back.

     The blue Uni held her worn head proudly, telling herself that it would turn out well, that somehow she'd escape again. She would slip out like before and run faster, so fast that no one would ever catch her. Someday she would /fly./ Let the Lupes try to find her trail then!

     Part of her knew that her hopes were foolish. How could she ever learn to fly while caught in the confines of her metal cell? She could scarcely stand in it, let alone hover above the ground. Without her feeble dreams, though, she knew that she would be lost; how could she ever face going back to that horrible place without hope, despite its uncertainty?

     The workers at the Pound dressed her wounds, and scolded her for running away. They claimed that she should stay where she was safe, and thought that her "adventure" (as they named it) would prove that to her, as she had returned injured. Aloriel could tell they did not know her nearly as well as they thought.

     She sat in her prison as the moon rose bright and full in the sea of black night mist. How she longed to stretch her wings and soar, to touch the very stars as they shone! Her throat was thick with suppressed longing, and it was difficult to control the wistfulness consuming her. But she would not cry; she knew it would solve nothing.

     The door opened suddenly, flooding the dim room with light, and breaking her scattered thoughts. Aloriel squinted and saw a large form slip through it, silhouetted in the golden cast. Why, it was a Lupe!

     Watching in open-mouthed amazement, the Uni saw him approach. It was the very same Lupe as she'd met before; the one who had told her that she must return. What could he want? Certainly he did not wish to boast about his great tracking skills?

     A key was in his paw. It caught the golden light spilling through the doorway and threw it back in shards of rainbow and white as he fit it into its lock… her lock. With a small click it sprung open, and the door to her horrible cage allowed a space into the open world.

     "I don't understand," whispered the awestruck Uni.

     "You're free now," replied the Lupe with twinkling eyes. "They told me to bring you back, and I have done so; now your wounds will heal well. But you are not made for cages and bars, little Uni. I believe that perhaps you'd have a better chance at finding a good home free. Go now, and I will not say a word of your absence. They never said I couldn't let a wild creature go."

     She opened her mouth to thank him, but he waved his paw, bidding her to go. The young blue Uni reared up, gave a joyous whinny, and leapt out of the open window and into the glorious night to freedom.

To be continued...

 
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