The white clouds drifted about the mountain tops on the high peaks of Shenkuu, while the little Kougra sat with her legs dangling off a ledge. The crisp wind made her shiver slightly, and she wished she’d remembered a shawl. Her thin kimono was really meant for spring, and wouldn’t be comfortable until the sun had risen more fully over the towering peaks.
The bright sun started to edge its way through the clouds, which sighed and gave way to the brightness. Although the lonely ranges of Shenkuu weren’t the little girl’s first choice of dwelling, she had to admit that occasionally, the isolation was worth it. After all, she knew that the others her age who lived in the bustling towns of Neopia Central and Meridell would never see the sun wake up the way she did. They’d never crack open their window at night to peer out and watch the stars lazily drift across the sky. They’d never dangle their feet off of a cliff and watch their toes disappear in the misty depths below.
At the same time, there were many things she’d never know: the calling of friends across a crowded Marketplace street, the shouts of children throwing snowballs in Happy Valley, the bickering and bartering of the Lost Desert stalls.
She could never be sure why her mother had decided to raise her up here. She’d never questioned it, when she was little. It was all she knew, the clouds and sunrise. She didn’t know that some people ate things other than tofu and rice, and didn’t adore dumplings. Who knew that there were petpets besides Jumas and Pandaphants? She didn’t care about trendy clothing; why wear something other than a kimono, a shawl on a cold day? Shoes were only for town.
But then her world changed. She was with her mother, down for their monthly visit in town when she strayed away. The silky fabric that had originally caught her eyes didn’t keep her attention long, though. She noticed a crumpled paper on the shelf, lining the bamboo. It wasn’t like her scrolls, but instead filled with words, news and stories and best of all, the pictures. Comics, she soon learned. Pictures that were both beautiful and made her laugh. She glanced about and pulled the yellowing edges off the shelf. She doubted anyone would miss it.
“Sensei, what is it?” she’d asked a few days later, to the Gnorbu in the temple. He’d told her, The Neopian Times. A newspaper. He’d given her one, another one. She squirreled them away in a box under her bed. The next time she went, she’d asked for more. He’d laughed, ruffled her fur, and called her little one. After that, she came every week. He’d give her the newspapers he’d finished. Mother never got them. She’d mentioned them, once. She could remember, now, that conversation. They’d been sitting by the cliff and she’d asked. Carefully. It upset mother when she asked too much. She’d mentioned them. Mother had shaken her head. “No, Sora. Those papers are bad. They try to make you think things. They are bad influences.”
So they were her secret. Sensei kept giving them to her, and each month she’d sneak one or two of the store shelves. Late at night, she’d light a candle and read them, over and over, until the already yellow pages crinkled and folded, until the creases gasped and gave way in age. One night, she’d noticed a small note at the corner of one of the worn pages. It had an address. “Subscribe? Write to 1494 Catacomb Circle, Neopia Central to get your own copy!”
That had been a question for Sensei. “Sensei, what’s subscribe?” He’d explained it. She’d wanted one, a subscription. He said she could give the address of the temple, when she’d asked what to do about her mother. So she’d written, in her best penmanship, on one of the sheets where she was supposed to be practicing her calligraphy. She’d pooled her neopoints into the envelope (Sensei had given her that, too) and sent it off. It didn’t take long before she’d get her very own copy each week, to take home and cherish. And cherish them, she did.
She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. She was humming with anticipation. Her mother had sent her to meditate twice the afternoon before, but how could she? It seemed like the wind was whispering in excitement, that the stream was gurgling about it. The birds were chirping about it too, she was certain. So she just shrugged and apologized to her mother. She was excited about summer, she lied.
Luckily, her mother accepted the story. She usually did. And so she had stayed up straight through the night, climbing out the window to rest on the dew-covered grass while the moon was still soothing the mountains with its pale light. The stars were bright, too, and the two made it possible for her to abandon the candle and comb the pages by moonlight, reading the stories, smiling at the comics. Keeping her alert until the stars had moved far enough across the sky, and she put the boxes under her bed and slipped into a spring kimono. She paid no heed to the damp grasses, the brisk wind that made her shiver as she hastened across the grassy hills.
The mist gave everything a ghostly quality as she made her way through the hills, paws tripping over the bridge clip clip clop, like the Three Moehogs Gruff. She’d read two different editions in her papers. She pushed her way through the fog like the brave heroes of Meridell that she read about too, how they trekked through woods and swamps to do battle with the Darigans.
And now, she waited, as morning light bathed the horizon and she strained her eyes to see. It wasn’t here yet, but it had to be soon. She kicked impatiently against the ledge, her heels feeling the rough edge even though the mist hadn’t revealed it to her eyes yet.
Then, far off, she spotted it. The speck. Her heart sped up and she fidgeted more and more, until it drew closer and she could tell for sure. The weewoo. She was on her feet in an instant. Her paw dug hastily into her pocket and she pulled out the biscuit she’d saved for it. Sensei always gave the weewoo bread, when it brought his and her papers. But today was a special occasion, so it called for biscuits instead of bread.
It arrived, wings pumping up and down, and she practically snatched it out of the air. Stroking its soft, downy feathers, she whispered, “Thank you.” It dropped one of the papers into her hand, and she put the cookie in its beak.
Holding its reward, the weewoo fluttered to the temple steps and dropped the other one, before flapping away. Sora watched it go, momentarily. Then her eyes fell to the paper, the precious paper in her hands. She traced the numbers. 5. 0. 0.
Five hundred of them. Somehow, or another, she’d gotten every single one. From Sensei, or the shop, or occasionally a waste bin. She had five hundred. This was issue five hundred.
She hugged it to her chest and laughed. The laugh echoed across the chasm, bouncing back to her. She addressed no one and everything as she called out, “Hey, Neopia. Five hundred of them today. Did you know that?” She pretended there was an answer. She pretended that the mountains shouted back, “Yes, we did. Five hundred.” And she told them, “Isn’t that something?” And the mountains responded to her, “Yep, that’s something. That’s a lot of something.” And she laughed again and said, “Nope, it’s not something. Five hundred’s not just something. It’s everything. Every single one.”
And the mountain agreed, she pretended. The mountain heard her say it and said the same thing. “Every single one of them, Sora. All five hundred. It’s everything.”