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South Canyon


by battlesunn

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"There it is," the yellow Wocky whispered excitedly. "That's South Canyon. No one ever goes in there if they can help it!" He shuddered a little as he said this, his bright pink neck ruff rustling slightly in the breeze. The Wocky's friend, a brown Lupe, cocked his head to the side as he surveyed the great expanse of trees that shrouded the canyon from view.

     "I don't see what the big deal is, Thrush, and I don't know why you had to drag me out here to see it, it just looks like a regular old canyon to me," the Lupe replied evenly. Thrush rolled his eyes.

     "Don't tell me that you haven't heard the stories, Dante," the Wocky insisted. Dante furrowed his brow, not taking his gaze off the small path that wound its way into the thicket.

     "I've heard the stories. I just don't think that I believe them," he said softly. Thrush snorted.

     "What's not to believe? They say that there are Werelupes in South Canyon; Werelupes and ghouls and things like that." The Wocky's large purple eyes gleamed as he began to recite his favorite tale.

     "Remember that Kougra that used to live a few houses down from you? That funny green one? He decided to go into the canyon to collect some flowers and... And he never returned!" Thrush finished with relish. A small smile tugged at the corners of Dante's lips.

     "Flowers, eh? And why would he go into this allegedly dangerous canyon to collect them when he could have just as easily gotten flowers from the park?" he asked good naturedly. Thrush sighed exasperatedly.

     "Because South Canyon's supposed to be the only place where you can get the spearwort flower!" he replied. Dante raised a brow.

     "The spearwort flower?" the Lupe inquired. Thrush nodded fervently.

     "Yeah. It's supposed to cure any sickness. Anyway, the Kougra needed it for his sister or something. The point is, he never came back out!"

     Dante flicked his gaze away from the canyon. "I don't know if I believe that."

     Thrush gave his luxurious yellow tail a haughty swish. "You wouldn't. You're such a sceptic." The Wocky grinned at Dante. "But if you don't believe it, then why don't you go in there?" he challenged. "You're the bravest Lupe in Neoschool, after all. Remember when you stood up to that big Eyrie who was taking the little Pets' money?" Thrush wheedled. Dante sighed.

     "What's the point, Thrush? Why should a person have to prove their bravery by performing stupid stunts? I'm not some Petpet that you can teach to sit up and beg." Feeling somewhat offended, Dante turned to leave, his chocolate brown pelt rippling under his powerful muscles. The Wocky scrambled up to him, practically running to keep up with the Lupe's impressive stride.

     "Aw, come on buddy! It'd be fun! We'd have something to talk about when Neoschool starts up again, instead of the usual dribble."

     Dante continued to charge forward. "The usual dribble is fine with me, Thrush," he said solidly. Thrush slowed down, hanging his head dejectedly.

     "Fine, fine. We won't bother doing anything remotely interesting this weekend," he said resignedly. Dante looked at him quizzically.

     "Why do you want to go in there so badly anyway? You just spent the last half hour or so telling me how dangerous and frightening South Canyon is," he said. Thrush grinned.

     "Yeah, so I bet it's really cool in there!" the Wocky quipped enthusiastically. Dante shook his head.

     "You're a funny little Wocky," the Lupe said with a chuckle. "You'd probably go and put yourself in the Turmaculus' mouth to see what is was like."

     Thrush sniggered. "So who's more courageous then, Dante?" he cajoled. Dante smiled.

     "It depends. Are we talking about bravery or stupidity?"

     "Bravery, of course."

     "Hmm."

     They stopped outside Dante's Neohome, a modest structure on Soup Alley. The Lupe leapt nimbly up the stairs to the front door.

     "So long, Thrush," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."

     The Wocky nodded. "See you tomorrow, Dante," the Wocky called as he flounced off down the path towards his house.

     Dante watched him leave, then placed a paw on the handle of the door, swinging it open and padding softly into the darkened Neohome.

     "Hello!" the Lupe called. "Is anyone there?"

     The silence was broken by a loud, racking cough. Dante suddenly felt very afraid.

     "H-hello? Alia, is that you? Are you okay?" The Lupe crept up to his sister's bedroom and gently nosed open the door, stepping over the threshold and into the shadowy room.

     Dante cringed at the sound of his sister's labored breathing. She was lying on her bed with the covers pulled up to her nose, her snowy white fur plastered to her body with sweat, a definite red flush in her cheeks. The little Cybunny coughed again, her paws clutching at her blanket desperately. Their owner, a young girl called Erin, knelt by the bed, worriedly stroking the Cybunny's ears. Dante stifled a gasp. At the sound, Erin turned and approached her Lupe.

     "Don't get to close," she murmured warningly. "Alia's very sick. It's a fever; the doctor says that it's very contagious for Neopets."

     Dante whimpered. "But... She was perfectly fine just this morning! What happened?" he asked frantically. Erin frowned.

     "I don't know. There's a terrible sickness going around; our old neighbor caught the same thing."

     A flicker of recognition sparked in Dante's face. The Kougra's sister... he thought. Erin continued.

     "There's not much that can cure her. Certainly no over the counter medicine from the pharmacy." Erin looked down at her Lupe.

     "Dante, you know South Canyon, right?" she ventured. Dante nodded slowly. Erin visibly relaxed.

     "Good. Listen, there's a special medicinal plant that grows in there, it's called the spearwort flower. It'd all that will cure your sister, could you go and fetch some for me?"

     Dante's mouth worked soundlessly. Strange visions were flashing across his mind. The Kougra, going into the deep forest and never emerging... Werelupes prowling amongst the dense trees... Ghouls and monsters lurking around every bend in the winding pathway... That was South Canyon, as Thrush had described it. The Lupe's heart pounded. Could he go in there? Of course he could, they were just stories, weren't they? That was all they were, just stories... Of course he would go in there. It'd be no trouble. His sister's life depended on it. He licked the corners of his lips, which had grown very dry all of a sudden.

     "Er, yes, I could. I'll go in there and get some tomorrow," he said. Erin shook her head furiously.

     "No, no, you'd have to go today! The flower only comes into bloom at night and Alia can't wait much longer!" she insisted. Dante faltered.

     "I, uh... At night?"

     "Yes! It'll be all right, just go in and then get back out. Don't be silly, Dante. There's nothing to be afraid of. You can take your friend along, what's his name... The Wocky, Thrush. It won't take long. Now please, hurry!"

     Dante gnawed his lower lip. "Why can't you do it?" he asked. Erin scowled.

     "Because someone has to stay here and keep Alia comfortable. You can't because you'd catch her disease!" she retorted.

     Dante glanced out the window and shivered. It'll be a full moon tonight... Werelupes run under the full moon. Dante mentally shook himself. You're being stupid, he thought. This is your sister! Besides, Thrush was just pulling your leg. The Lupe nodded resolutely.

     "Right. I'll be back in no time." He turned to his owner. "What does a spearwort flower look like?" he asked. Erin tapped her chin.

     "Let me see... They have purple, spear shaped leaves and a thorny stem. Make sure you don't prick yourself, alright?"

     Dante nodded. "Okay. I'll go now, I won't be long."

     ***

     The Lupe ran quickly along the path to Thrush's house. It was darkening rapidly, the sun dipping low over the horizon to the west. Already, Dante could see some stars beginning to show themselves in the brilliant magenta and midnight blue sky, glimmering faintly in the distance.

     Dante bounded to his friend's front door and gave three forceful knocks. Thrush answered moments later, munching on an apple.

     "Oh, hey Dante. What's up?" he greeted. Dante grabbed him by the arm and hastily pulled him out the door.

     "Come on," he muttered. "We're going to South Canyon." Thrush paled.

     "What? But it's nighttime! And it's a full moon! That's not being brave, that's being stupid!" he protested. A pained look seized Dante's face.

     "This isn't about bravado, Thrush. It's Alia, she could die if she doesn't get those flowers that you were talking about."

     Thrush's eyes widened. "The spearworts? Hey, that's just like--"

     "The Kougra's sister, I know. It turns out that there may have been an ounce of truth to that story. Alia's caught the same sickness that she had."

     "That's terrible!"

     "I know. That's why we're going to go into the canyon, so that we can get her some of those flowers."

     Dante was already loping off in the direction of the canyon. Thrush trailed after him unenthusiastically.

     "I still don't know about this... Why do I have to go?" he complained. Dante folded his ears back impatiently.

     "You were completely willing to go earlier! What's so different now?" he demanded. The Wocky quailed under Dante's snarl.

     "It's dark, it's scary. What if the stories are true?" he whimpered. Dante whirled around.

     "So what if they're true? That's my sister in there, my sister! She's dying and she needs this plant! I thought that you might want to help me, but if you're too scared to go in there, then fine, go back home and stay there! Just don't expect me to help you if it's one of your family who catches the disease next!" the Lupe roared. Thrush drooped his ears.

     "Okay, I'm sorry. I'll help," he conceded. Dante relaxed.

     "Thanks. I really appreciate it, buddy."

     They reached the canyon shortly after, traveling more or less in complete silence. Dante's outburst had left a bit of tension between them, and though the Wocky really did mean well, he wasn't at all thrilled at the prospect of entering the fabled canyon after dark.

     "Here we are," Dante said, stopping at the beginning of the twisting dirt path. Thrush stood nervously beside him.

     "Here we are," the Wocky echoed dutifully.

     The Lupe swished his dark brown tail and began walking down the pathway, keeping his form low to the ground and his senses alert for any danger. Thrush followed, skittering anxiously alongside his friend. Soon, they were completely swallowed up by the forest, the trees forging an indomitable barrier between the two Pets and the outside world.

     The path steeped sharply, which signaled their descent into the depths of the canyon itself. Dante glanced back over his shoulder.

     "Are you still there, Thrush?" he asked.

     "Yeah. I'm fine, I'm just a few paces behind you," came the Wocky's reply. Dante's yellow eyes shone luminously in the moonlight.

     "Good."

     Dante was trying to retain a cool front for the benefit of his jittery companion, but deep inside, the Lupe felt just as frightened as Thrush. Every tree seemed to be reaching out to the them with menacing, claw-like branches and the shadows that continually moved and shifted alongside the path as the clouds above drifted across the sky seemed to resemble ferocious beasts intent on attacking them. Truthfully, he had not yet seen any infallible proof of anything dangerous that could confirm the canyon's dark reputation, but he was so used to hearing all the stories and rumors about the place that it didn't even matter anymore. To him, South Canyon was the most terrible, horrifying place in all of Neopia, even though it was really no different from the park at night.

     Suddenly, the trees thinned, and the two Pets found themselves in a wide, moonlit clearing. The broad expanse of grass, glowing silver under the moon, was flecked with countless purple flowers. Under normal circumstances, Dante would've called the meadow beautiful, but so frightened was he of the terrifying canyon, that the Lupe could only refer to the clearing as ugly and menacing.

     Dante ventured out a little further into the open meadow and bent his snout to sniff at one of the flowers. He could've cried in relief. They were the spearworts! The Lupe hastily gathered a bunch into his arms and jerked his head to Thrush.

     "Thrush! These are the ones, grab a bunch of these flowers!" he shouted, his voice slightly muffled by the bunches of blooms that he held in his jaws.

     Thrush quickly went to work, picking as many flowers as he could and holding them in his mouth.

     "Can we go now?" he asked desperately. Dante nodded.

     "Yeah. Let's get out of here."

     The two set off at a steady walk, careful to retrace their steps exactly. Dante winced as they merged from the brightly lit meadow back into the pitch-dark forest. It was near impossible to see now; he had to trust his sense of smell to guide him along. He put his nose to the ground, sniffing among the dirt and trying to reclaim their scent. Thrush peered over the Lupe's shoulder anxiously.

     "Do you know where you're going?" he asked worriedly. Dante snorted.

     "Yes. I've caught our scent; it's still very fresh. We'll retrace our steps back to the exit," he answered authoritatively.

     They continued down the path, Dante in the lead. Suddenly, the Lupe paused. The fur on the back of his neck stood straight up and his muscles tensed reflexively.

     "Thrush," he said in a low whisper. "Are you there, Thrush?" There was silence. Dante spoke again, a little louder this time.

     "Thrush!" he barked. This time, the Wocky replied.

     "Sorry, I couldn't quite hear you the first time," he said apologetically. Dante steeled himself.

     "I felt something funny... My fur started to bristle," he muttered. Thrush's breathing quickened.

     "I'm really scared, Dante. I don't like it in here! I want to go home!" The Wocky was panicking now, his limbs twitching as though he was about to bolt. Dante snarled and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck.

     "Don't start running, Thrush! Just stay with me, we'll be out soon." The Lupe began padding forward again. He turned back to his companion suddenly. "And don't lose any of those flowers," he warned.

     As much as he tried to hide it, Dante was scared. In fact, he had never been more scared in his life. He couldn't see. He was completely blind in the forest, with the trees blocking out the moonlight. The Lupe had to rely only on his innate sense of smell to guide him through the canyon, and even that was beginning to fail him. He wasn't sure which scent was theirs anymore; all the smells of the loamy undergrowth seemed to have blended together into one pungent odor.

     Occasionally, the Lupe would catch sounds of leaves rustling and twigs snapping. Even the smallest noise seemed to be magnified a thousand times as it echoed among the close-knit trees. The worst thing, for Dante, was to have to look out into an expanse of sheer darkness on either of side of him, not knowing what was lurking in those fathomless black voids. There could very well be Werelupes stalking them among the foliage. Or it could be something even worse. He didn't know, he couldn't know.

     All of his courage had deserted him. He wanted nothing more than to escape from the wretched forest. He would do anything to get out of South Canyon. He just wanted to leave and never come back. He was hardly even aware of Thrush anymore.

     Until he heard him scream.

     Dante couldn't remember much, he just heard the Wocky's cry of shock and pain, accompanied by a loud thumping noise that the Lupe could only imagine was the sound of Thrush falling down and hitting the ground. Dante couldn't think, his instincts wouldn't let him. He was fueled by one, simple impulse.

     Run.

     He ran, tearing through the forest at speeds that he had never achieved, or that he would've been able to achieve at any other time. The makeshift bouquet of medicinal spearworts fell from his mouth. He didn't care; he didn't even notice as he trampled over them, their tattered purple petals sailing through the air as Dante's paws pounded over them in a flurry of movement. He didn't think about Thrush. He didn't think about Alia. He didn't even know where he was going; it didn't matter at that point, he just wanted to get as far away from whatever it had been as he possibly could.

     Dante charged towards the exit of the canyon, bounding through the last little copse of trees and out onto the main road. He didn't stop running until he had reached his Neohome, and it was only then that he fully came to grips with what he had just done.

     "I abandoned him," he panted, coming to a complete halt. "Something caught him, and I just left. I ran, I didn't even stop to think about him." The Lupe felt sick. He felt worthless; like some creature lower than common Neopian decency.

     Dante raised his head and stared at the moon. "I left him! I left my friend! He's probably dead now, all because of me!" He began to sob, his dark brown shoulders heaving.

     "I left Alia's flowers, too! I've caused the end of the two Pets who meant the most to me!" He looked up at the giant, glowing orb in the sky once again. "I don't deserve to live..." Dante tilted his head back and howled, his first, full-throated howl. It was wrought with sorrow, and hauntingly beautiful to all those who heard it.

     After he finished singing his repent, Dante staggered a few paces to his Neohome and then collapsed on the front lawn, completely spent...

     ***

     Dante moaned, awaking with a start and putting a paw to his head.

     "What's going on?" the Lupe groaned. His owner smiled sadly and rubbed him behind the ears comfortingly.

     "Shh, lie back down, Dante. The doctor says that you suffered severe shock and trauma," she said softly. Dante blinked blearily and looked around, noting with mild surprise that he was back in his room. It was then that he remembered the events of the previous night.

     "Wait! Thrush, South Canyon! Alia... Spearwort..." He was babbling incoherently, his eyes wide and scared. Erin pushed him forcefully back onto his bed.

     "It's all right, dear. I went out looking for you because you were taking so long to find the flowers and I found you unconscious on the front lawn. I knew that you had taken your Wocky friend with you into the canyon, so I rounded up a search party and went to find him. He had tripped over a tree root, and was also unconscious with a bunch of the spearworts in his arms. We took him and the flowers back home and both he and your sister are doing fine."

     Dante shook his head, wincing at the pain from his throbbing headache. "A tree root? But... I thought that something had caught him! I ran off because I thought that he had been grabbed by a Werelupe or..." he trailed off uncertainly, noticing that his owner was giving him a very strange look.

     "Werelupes? Why would you think that there are Werelupes in South Canyon? Or anything dangerous, for that matter?" she asked. Dante cast his gaze downward.

     "Well, the stories... And our neighbor, the Kougra who went in there to get the spearworts for his sister and then never came back," he insisted. Erin shook her head.

     "Our neighbor left shortly after gathering the flowers from the canyon and healing his sister. The entire family decided to move to Mystery Island, because they thought that the warm climate would be better for her health. And the stories were just that, Dante, they were only stories." She sighed, gazing morosely out the window. "I thought that you were too smart to buy into those myths."

     Dante felt even worse about his cowardly actions now. "Thrush will hate me," he murmured. "He'll never forgive me for abandoning him like that."

     Erin patted her Lupe sympathetically on the head. "It'll be okay, Dante. He'll forgive you eventually." Erin yawned and glanced at the Techo clock on the wall. She turned back to the Lupe. "I'd better go and check on your sister. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

     Dante nodded dazedly as his owner left the room. The Lupe shuddered, remembering the cold terror that had enveloped him, overtaken him. It had made him do things that he never would've done otherwise, things that he knew he shouldn't have done. But that wasn't the worst part.

     The worst part was that the terror had been completely unjustified and irrational. He had had no reason to be afraid, none at all.

     There was nothing to fear in South Canyon.

The End

 
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