The Tale of Ever
~dedicated to Drift, my Pteri's naleap
Ever had existed since the people of Shenkuu had started writing down and recording their history. She was a strange creature—originally born a cloud naleap with a bamboo leaf marking on her forehead, yet able to change the color of her wings, her feathers, and her eyes at will. She was often spotted slinking around in the unclaimed, nameless bamboo forests hundreds of years ago--wild; untamed, dignified. She belonged to no one, yet the lands of Shenkuu were under her rule. True, the modern civilized land was ruled by the emperor and his family, but the ancient wilds and untamed grounds were resting under the frail wings of Ever.
One unusually dark day--under a drizzling, cloudy gray sky-- Ever was drifting under her favorite bamboo tree. Without any warning, a large cage flashed above her. In an instant, the Naleap was caught in the cage. Try as she might, she could not find any exit, aside from a hooked latch, only movable from the exterior of the golden cage. For the first time in her life, she was trapped.
A large dark shape loomed above her--a Mynci, wearing a simple pointed farmer's hat, grinning crookedly. He murmured some words to himself, chuckled, picked up the birdcage, and sauntered off... leaving a dark shadow of destruction upon the thousand-year old bamboo forest.
The Mynci walked for hours on end, up a grassy hill, down another, gradually walking into steeper and a more civilized landscape, passing many villages in his wake, ignoring all protests from the Naleap. After many hours, he came to a stop in front of a small shop with black tiled roofing and golden trimming. He hesitated, and walked inside. The Naleap hopped around in her small space just in time to see the writing on a red and gold banner--Fanciful Fauna’s petpets. A growing feeling of dread washed upon her--she'd heard about this place before... her messenger had told her that this was the place many neopets came to find a small companion to travel and play with, which they called "petpet." Ever understood why she was caught—to be sold off.
Fauna, a young Koi, seemed extremely excited to see Ever. She rushed to her scrolls of history--those who ran a business were to keep scrolls with dates of moments when something changed the history of their business--and started to scribble with a calligraphy brush. In her haste she nearly spilled a pot of ink onto her scrolls. Task finished, Fauna carefully rolled up her scrolls and began to haggle with the farmer, who, until that point, had been quietly waiting in the corner of the shop. Snatches of conversation could be heard where Ever’s cage was positioned—the farmer seemed indignant."I come all this way for only two thousand? I have to make a living too, you know--make it three--"...."I suppose I could sell her, a bird of such history, for twelve thousand..."
While they haggled, Ever paused and thought about her beloved bamboo forest--what was happening to it now? For Ever was the Guardian of the Wild, doing all in her power to protect the forest from those who tried to cut down a single slim bamboo strip. By the time she'd convinced herself to escape at the soonest possible moment, the shopkeeper and the Mynci had finished haggling. Fauna came over, undid the latch of the cage, which was invisible until now, and stuck some bird biscuits in. Ever looked at the young Koi in disgust. What was this nonsense? First caught like a tame kazeriu, now forced to eat biscuits?! Ever glared at Fauna. This was her fault, after all. She was the one who'd agreed to buy her. Deep down, Ever knew she was really angry at herself for being caught so easily. She shoved the thought away. Now, if only she had a plan... and slowly, a plan did form in her mind. She paused, let her mind finish formulating the simple plan--and then sank into false submission, docile, sweet. Fauna looked relieved. The Koi then left the room. As soon as her skirts were out of sight, Ever communicated with the Juma slouching in the corner of the shop, seemingly unaware of his fate. Ever had to use him in her escape.
"Would you like freedom?" she asked the Juma.
The Juma looked up, startled. "Sure, I was bred in captivity, but I'm willing to give freedom a chance," he answered with a slight arrogance.
Ever stopped herself from snapping at the other petpet with extreme difficulty. Bred in captivity? He'd be back here in one month; he was too used to an easy lifestyle, waiting to be fed each day, unconcerned about the state of a small forest. But Ever needed him for her great getaway. She held her tongue, and told him her plan. His eyes glinted, excitement flaring up. This was their only chance to escape—tonight, when the shopkeeper felt most at ease. A nagging suspicion, however, was forming in the Naleap’s mind about the other petpet, who was watching her hungrily.
As soon as night had settled, the Juma clawed the lock on the outside of his pen until it unlatched, then padded out to Ever's cage. After unlocking her cage, he paused.
"And what will stop me from eating you?" he growled. Ever’s suspicion was proved correct. In the wild, Jumas often caught Naleaps. Her answer had formed before he’d asked. Readily, she issued. "The taunt of the wind blowing through your fur. The glow of the stars above you, the murmurs of the brooks below. The breeze whispering your name, the sound of bamboo stems swishing around you. All this you will miss, if you choose to see me as a meal."
The Juma paused, calculating. "And what will ruin our plan if I do devour you? I can still escape."
Ever paused, then told him."Your conscience, your feeling of guilt, your sense of right and wrong."
The Juma hesitated once more, and nodded shortly. "Very well. But be warned, we are predator and prey once outside." The Naleap nodded her head, unfurled her wings, and flew out, never looking back, not seeing the sadness in the Juma's eyes.
Freedom. In ten minutes she'd reached her homeland. But all the bamboo was gone. The forest was ripped up. Tracks covered the fine dirt. Her home, her wilderness... gone.
Ever cried to the night... hoping. She had sworn to protect her land, and the promise had been broken in a few eventful short hours. But she circled, and dived, marking every place where a tree had once been, remembering every blade of grass...and by dawn, a new forest, denser than the old one, had grown back. Ever’s love of the wilderness had saved her homeland.
And she is still just as wild, still free, still untamed as she was before the remarkable day's events. She cannot rewrite history, but she can change the future.
Once in a while, if you are lucky, you will hear her, singing to the full moon, the stars, and--most importantly--to her beloved bamboo forest in a secluded cove, away from prying eyes, forever wild.
--if you are reading this it means I got my first NT story accepted! Yay!--