The Forest of Freedom
The moon shone coldly on the frost covered ground below. The sky was unusually starless and thin wisps of fog bit at the base of forest trees and neohomes on the edges of the forest they inhabited. In the heart of the forest, lay a small clearing where it seemed nothing would grow. Suddenly, a lone Shadow Lupe stepped out into the clearing. He slowly made his way into the center of it and sat down. He looked up at the ghostly moon in the sky and growled softly. As if that was a signal, two more Lupes stepped out of the forest, one midnight blue, and one brown. Their tails dropped at the sign of how agitated their leader was. One began to whine softly, but was cut short by a growl from his companion. They lay by their leader, bodies shifting uncomfortably, ears twitching nervously. Still, the dark leader stared up at the moon; his eyes narrowed not acknowledging the presence of the Lupes.
Finally their leader stood and turned his head towards them. “A change is coming,” he said softly.
“Change?” replied his Lupes in unison. “What kind of change, Shade?” asked the brown one.
Shade sighed. “I’m not sure, Lumina. I can’t be.”
Lumina and the blue Lupe, called Garson, exchanged a weary glance.
“All we can do is wait,” continued Shade. “Let’s pray it doesn’t greatly affect our pack.”
With that, Shade walked toward the trees of the forest, Lumina and Garson following behind as the forest swallowed them whole.
The southern edge of the forest was inhabited by a small cluster of neohomes. Neohomes made up most of the forest’s edges, and the Haunted Woods lay close by. In one of the neohomes, a young white Lupe lay by the window staring out into the forest. He was lucky to have a home at all, even though the caretaker didn’t pay him much attention. He had only been in the home a couple weeks and he was already tired of it. He was given small portions of food, made fun of by other neopets living with him, and he dealt with pure boredom every day. He particularly disliked a rude spotted Gelert named Kova. She was always giving him a bad time, but if he fought back, the caretaker would kick him out for sure. Then where would he go?
“Eclypse, hurry up and eat or I’ll give your portion to Kova,” snapped the caretaker.
Eclypse snapped out of his trance and stretched his sore muscles. He had been lying near the window for hours hoping to catch a nap where his dreams would temporarily take him into the forest, where his curiosity had almost taken him countless times before in reality. This wanting seemed inevitable to him, and he yearned to tame this curiosity that nipped at him like the feel of the frost outside.
“Yeah, yeah...” Eclypse muttered under his breath.
“What did you say to me?”
“Nothing at all, Doc,” Eclypse replied.
Doc gave him a quick glare and then walked back into the kitchen. Eclypse followed, wondering how Neopets were so dependent on humans. He had never seen anything exceptionally special about them. He had often wondered about this and once asked his friend Dinera, a Striped Kougra why she loved her owner so much and what made her want one. She had told him about how loving her owner, Alex, was and how he always fed her and took her with him when he went on vacation. The thought of following a human everywhere made Eclypse snort. He quickly ate his dinner, bit back a retort to Kova, and slunk back to his spot near the window.
Finally the boredom overtook him. It was late and the other neopets were getting ready for sleep. Eclypse carefully made his way to the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Doc as Eclypse walked by him.
“Just outside for some air,” Eclypse replied, not meeting Doc’s penetrating gaze.
“Well, hurry up or you’ll be locked out for the night. Don’t expect me to go out there and make sure you’re on your way in.”
Eclypse ignored Doc and made his way out into the chilly night. His thick white fur kept him warm and he enjoyed the feeling of the pale fog as it curled around his legs and paws. His white fur often bothered him for he was easily seen in the darkness. He walked along the edge of the forest warming his muscles up. Suddenly he saw this figure flash by in the trees. He paused sniffing the air, his eyes straining to see through the fog which had begun to rise a bit.
“What are you doing, Eclypse?”
Eclypse veered around, his hackles raised and his teeth bared. The figure that stood before him cocked its head, a smirk on its face.
“Dinera? What are you doing here?” he hissed as his fur lie back down on his back.
Dinera yawned and carelessly raked her claws down one of the large trees.
“Just out for an evening walk,” she replied. “You?”
“Same here. I thought I saw...”
Eclypse’s voice trailed off when Dinera looked at him curiously.
“Never mind, it was nothing,” he continued.
“You weren’t thinking about going in there, were you?” Dinera began, a look of worry on her face. “I heard there are all sorts of monsters and ghosts in the forest. The Pant Devil, Balthazar, deceased neopets...”
“No, I was just looking,” lied Eclypse as he cut her off.
“Well, good. You couldn’t get me to go in there, especially in the middle of the night!” said Dinera melodramatically.
Eclypse laughed. “What are you, a Mallard?” he teased.
“Be quiet!” laughed Dinera as she shoved him playfully.
The two began play fighting, batting and nipping at each other.
“Well, I really think I should go,” said Dinera after they had finished playing. “Alex must be worried sick.”
Eclypse sighed. “Okay, see you tomorrow.”
Dinera sprinted back to her neohome where Eclypse heard her worried Alex lecture her on how she really needed to let him know where she was going. Deep down, Eclypse yearned for a place of his own. It certainly wasn’t at Doc’s house. Maybe with Dinera if Alex ever wanted another Neopet or out in the forest where he felt he should be. He began the search for the figure he had seen in the forest from the edge. He paced around, wondering if he should enter.
“C’mon, Eclypse, there’s nothing to be afraid of...” he told himself.
Slowly he entered the forest. He sniffed around cautiously and shook his pelt hoping he would shake away his worries. He began an easy jog through the forest, deciding to go straight. Every once in a while he saw a Slorg sneak behind a tree or into the shadows to escape from the fate they thought Eclypse might bring them. He cringed at the sound of a Chumablah’s claws scratching against the tree it sat in. The snap of a twig had Eclypse’s fur rising. He ignored it and continued walking.
Something hit Eclypse in the side and sent him flying sideways. He lurched up and shook his head dazed at the impact. A brown she-Lupe was standing over him, growling softly.
“Wha..?” Eclypse started as he stared at his attacker.
“Why are you here?” the Lupe hissed into his ear.
Eclypse cautiously rose to his feet, hoping he wouldn’t get knocked down again. The Lupe let him get up, but she didn’t back off or move away when he did.
“Why are you here?” she demanded again. “You’re in my pack’s territory, rogue!” she continued.
“I’m no rogue,” Eclypse started. “I’m here because I want to be.”
He began to regret his overconfidence when the Lupe glared at him. He decided to change the subject.
“My name is Eclypse. I am a White Lupe.”
“Obviously,” snapped the Brown Lupe. She was small but quick and lithe. She had white paws and a white underbelly and a marking on her flank that reminded him of lightning. He realized it was a scar. “My name is Lumina.”
“Nice name,” replied Eclypse.
She ignored his compliment and asked, “You seem tame, but you are unafraid of me. Why?”
“I’m not exactly ‘tame’,” Eclypse said defensively.
“Whatever, you have to come with me. Shade will know what to do with you.”
“My pack’s leader, of course,” Lumina replied.
He followed her deeper into the forest, taking note of his surroundings so he could get back if he needed to. If he wanted to, that is.
“We’re entering the camp,” Lumina told him. “What have I gotten myself into?” she murmured under her breath.
Eclypse noticed some Lupes sitting around talking about their day. They all stopped and looked up when they saw him approach. They looked curious and there was no anger in their expressions. A large Shadow Lupe walked up to him and Lumina, his expression impossible to read. He took a long look at Eclypse and then at Lumina.
“Why have you brought him, Lumina?” he asked. “He doesn’t belong here.”
“Shade, I think this is the change. Tame meets wild. He does belong here. There has never been a tame Neopet who dared come into this part of the forest. Except...” replied Lumina a little defensively.
Shade looked at her and she went quiet. He still looked uncertain, but he walked up to Eclypse and narrowed his eyes. Finally he asked, “How do we know you are ready to be free?”
Eclypse carefully met his gaze and replied, “I have never felt right anywhere. When I entered this forest, a great feeling overtook me. I feel free. I am free. I have never been right with humans.”
Then Shade did the unthinkable. He smiled at Eclypse as if that was the answer he wanted.
“You realize you can never go back if you stay with us.” It was more of a statement than an answer. “What about your friends? Your soft and easy life? The possibility of being adopted by humans that would care for you like you’ve always wanted?”
Eclypse searched Shade’s gaze, wondering how he could possibly know what he wanted.
“I was once tame,” began Shade, answering Eclypse’s question. “I know how it feels to wonder what the wild is like. But that is a story for another time. So. Are you ready?”
Eclypse pondered what Shade had said about never seeing Dinera again. He was filled with great sadness, but he believed he would see her again someday. He suddenly felt great joy. He had finally been accepted. It was what he had always yearned for. He took a step forward and answered Shade’s question.
“Yeah. I am ready,” he replied.
“Welcome to the pack. Welcome to the wild. Welcome to freedom,” said Shade.
His new pack welcomed him happily, although there were a few uncertain Lupes who slunk to the corner of the pack area to discuss what had just happened. Eclypse ignored them. There was plenty of time to make friends. Before he embraced his new life, he looked towards the end of the forest where he and Dinera had played not long ago. Where he entered the forest for the first time, and realized he was free.