Freedom and Glory: Part Two
"Now!" cried Jairen, and they were off. The
green Shoyru pulled forward, panting and straining as his heels dug into the earth,
leaving spurts of dust behind him as he ran. All summer long he had practiced
running, waking early each morning to jog in the coolness before the dawn, and
staying up late to run by moonlight. Eight weeks of training, and only now did
he dare run against Raife in a race.
The shadow Lupe was better than he was in everything
they did, it seemed. He was lovely to look at, with sleek muscles rippling beneath
a glossy pitch-black coat, and piercing amber eyes which could invoke anything
from joy to knee-trembling fear by a casual glance. A swifter runner and more
able warrior, the Lupe had even competed in the tournament held at the end of
summer last year, and won second place overall. Sometimes Jairen didn't know
why one such as Raife would befriend him. He had never done anything glorious.
But now was his chance, his opportunity to prove
himself. His greatest wish was to beat Raife at anything, even once,
just to show himself that he could do it, and feel more justified that the admirable
Lupe would call him a friend. If he could win this race, he would know forever
that he was worthy.
The finish line was in sight. Biting his lip
in determination, the Shoyru leaned forward, craning toward it with all of his
weight and speed. His wings pressed tightly against his body to lessen wind
resistance, and his arms pumped with each step. He was so close. The checkered
string beckoned him, he could see himself stepping over it, winning,
it was right there…
Raife loped past him in three easy strides, and
turned his head to grin at his friend as he crossed the finish line. "I win."
"I know." The Shoyru sighed heavily, and a surge
of frustration rose inside him. "I worked all summer, Raife, all summer.
And you just beat me again."
"Well, it might comfort you to know that I had
to work slightly harder at it that time," replied the Lupe, still grinning.
But when he saw the look that Jairen gave him, he dropped his playful tone.
"I'm sorry, Jay. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings… but we are how we are,
right? So why stress out about it?" He winked, and lunged at his friend, beginning
a wrestling match.
It took the Lupe only moments to pin the Shoyru
to the ground. "Still friends?" he asked, his amber eyes sparkling.
Jairen laughed, and shoved Raife off him. "Yeah.
"Come on, then!" was the brisk reply as the shadow
Lupe ran along the deep golden path of light made by the setting sun. It seemed
to Jairen as if his friend could outpace it, if he wanted to; run right past
the sun and into the next day. But then the Shoyru smiled and joined Raife in
the run. Perhaps he could as well, if he really tried.
Miles away from the two, the young Uni named
Aloriel was sitting on a hilltop, watching the same sun set. So beautiful it
was, she thought to herself, staining the sky and clouds and grasses with light
of purple and pink, and behind her was the deep blue outline of coming dusk.
It was the first sunset she'd seen since her escape from the Pound, ending her
first day of freedom, and she'd loved every moment from the one the Lupe had
chosen to release her to the moment that was at hand.
She rose to her feet, stretching out her wings,
testing the slight breeze. It seemed as if she could do anything in that moment
of perfection; simply wish it true and true it would become. Certainly, then,
she could fly.
Aloriel began to prance forward slowly, arching
her neck as she broke into a hastened trot. Her hooves were a blur beneath her
as she sped up into a canter, and then she began to gallop beneath the friendly
gaze of the sleepy sun. Neighing her joy, she stretched out her wings to their
full extent, feeling the wind rush past her. It seemed to lift her, and her
pounding feet hit more lightly as her heart skipped a beat. Was she doing it?
Was she taking off?
"That's it!" said a voice, and the Uni was shocked
to see a Christmas Zafara soaring in beside her. Her amazement was so great
that she didn't notice that her feet had left the ground until after a moment
She shot a wonder-filled glance at the Zafara
as she flew, causing him to laugh. "It's not so hard, is it?" he asked, then
urged, "Go higher."
Pumping her wings powerfully down, she watched
the slope of the hill fall below her. Faster and faster she flapped them, and
with each movement they directed her and spurred her on. The earth was a sprawling
mass of green and black shadow beneath her, and even the tops of the trees were
within her grasp. /I can touch anything/, she thought in exhilaration as she
realized that she was doing it; she was flying at last.
It seemed hours that she lingered in the sky,
relishing the cool winds tickling her nose and tossing her silvery mane in the
currents of the air. She was a part of the sky; her and the clouds and the disappearing
The stars were peeking out from behind the veil
of night as the Uni and Zafara finally landed upon the hill, returning to the
earth. Aloriel's face was flushed with joy as she smiled at her new friend.
"Thank you so much," she said earnestly. "I have always wished to fly."
"So must we all, if we have wings," replied the
Zafara. "My name, might I add, is Terou, and I too can remember looking up into
the sky and wishing to be caught in its winds."
"You can?" asked the Uni. "You were not always
Christmas painted, then?"
Terou shook his head. "No, I used to be blue,
like you. But my owner was kind enough to buy me the paint brush that I most
wished to have. She let my paint myself, and thus grow these marvelous wings."
"It must be wonderful, to have such a caring
owner," said Aloriel dreamily. "One who would spend all of that money just to
make you happy."
"Have you a bad owner?" The Zafara sounded concerned.
"Not even that," replied Aloriel softly. "I have
no owner at all."
Terou's eyes filled with sadness. "I'm sorry.
You weren't abandoned, were you?"
"No… not that I remember, anyway." The Uni's
brows furrowed as she racked her brain, reaching out to her earliest memories.
"It seems as if I was always in the Pound."
"We will change that," stated the Zafara firmly.
"I will not leave your side until you are owned by someone who cares."
Smiling sadly, Aloriel shook her head. "No, I'm
afraid it's useless. Who would want a Neopet like me? I am not painted, or especially
strong, or outstandingly intelligent, or even beautiful. I am just an ordinary
Uni, with none of the traits which everyone so loves."
To her surprise, Terou shook his head. "You give
up too easily," he scolded mildly. "Believe in yourself, little Uni. I know
a way that ensures you to be noticed by someone."
"How?" Aloriel's eyes lit with hope. Dare she
believe that she could have an owner?
"Come with me." Without further word, her new
friend took to the air, hovering just above the ground. The Uni reared up and
leapt into the air, spreading her wings to propel the air beneath her. She followed
the swift form of her friend, whose white fur was glowing silver in the pale
light of stars and moon, making him seem a beacon of hope.
They landed several moments later outside of
a log house. "Wait here," said Terou. When he opened the door, the Uni could
see that the inside it was cheerfully lit, and she heard a soft voice greeting
the Zafara. He emerged moments later with a scroll rolled beneath his arm.
"Look at this." He unrolled it slowly, and held
it in the light streaming through the windows of the house. Peering at it closely,
Aloriel saw that it was a registration form of some kind.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Fill in this form, and you will be entered in
the upcoming tournament," explained Terou eagerly. "Win it, and you will be
noticed for sure! This, my friend, is your ticket to fame." He brought out a
small pad of ink for her signature. "This, Aloriel, is your ticket to happiness."
Pausing only to smile in sincerest gratitude,
the Uni dipped her hoof in the ink and made a mark upon the tournament paper.
Win a tournament, and have an owner at last. It seemed too good to be true…
Anything was possible on this lovely night. She
was free; she had flown… could she not now have an owner as well?
To be continued...