Cloud Flute: Part Four
"The plains aren't too far from here... shouldn't take too long to walk..." Akorri grunted breathlessly. "I don't believe anything Kyra says anymore."
Even though Laerya hated agreeing with Akorri, she shared his view. The two Neopets had been walking since their awkward handshake back at the house and more than half the day had passed – the slightly orange sky signaled that the sun was setting and the air was getting colder. Laerya wondered if they would have time to inspect the plains today.
They continued to walk, not speaking to each other – there was an understanding between them that if one of them were to talk, they would set the other off, and it would make for an unpleasant journey. Laerya was grateful for the silence because she wouldn't have to hear Akorri's grating voice.
By now the sun had almost disappeared and the sky was growing dark. Laerya grinned with triumph as she saw a huge field stretch before her – they had made it to the Endless Plains. It looked as barren as ever, with no trees or plants.
"Listen," Akorri began with a sharp intake of breath, "it wouldn't be smart to investigate the tremors now. By the time we get somewhere, night will fall and we won't be able to see our own noses in front of our faces, let alone the ground or anything else."
Laerya folded her arms. "When do we ever see our own noses?" she asked. Inwardly she knew Akorri was right. There was no way either of them would see anything now.
Akorri glared at her. "You get my point," he said. "We need to find somewhere to sleep for the night."
Lae scratched her head in thought. The plains loomed ahead, a nice spot for sleeping – if rain didn't fall, of course, as there was no protection from the elements. And what if the tremors started in the night and they got worse? "Uh..." She fumbled for words. "Where would you sleep?" she asked. She didn't want to ask his advice, but they needed to work together on this.
"A tree," answered Akorri abruptly. "A tree is always good."
"But I'm not used to sleeping in trees... I sleep beneath them."
"Is that even comfortable?"
"It's more comfortable than sleeping on the branches."
Akorri waved his hand. "Let's not start an argument," he sighed.
"But where do you see a tree?" Lae looked around, seeing nothing at all on the plains.
"Let's go back, I'm sure there's a good tree somewhere," Akorri suggested.
"Go back?" Laerya spluttered in astonishment. They had gone all this way, and now Akorri wanted them to go BACK?
"Do you see a tree anywhere around here?" Akorri asked angrily. "No? Exactly. We go back."
Lae clenched her fist. The finality of Akorri's tone irritated her. Already frustrated that they had to turn back, Lae was starting to lose her temper. "Don't boss me around," she growled.
"Do you always have to pick a fight?" Akorri sighed.
"I'm not picking a fight!" Lae protested, now angrier because Akorri knew that was what she was after.
Akorri ignored her. He swept past her and made his way back. Fuming and eager to punch something, Laerya kicked the ground and followed.
Luckily they did not have go too far before they found a suitable tree. A large birch with long branches, it was more than ideal for the both of them. Lae watched in awe as Akorri leapt straight up to the lowest branch and climbed his way up quickly and effortlessly, like he had been climbing trees all his life. The Cybunny sat herself down under the branches, leaning against the rough trunk.
Night had fallen and the Neopets were not speaking to each other. They did not even look up or down at each other from their places in the tree. Laerya could feel the tension between them sparking in the air and her fur, normally so smooth, was slightly bristled.
"I suppose we just go to sleep without a word?" Akorri said after a while. Laerya's ears twitched at the sound of his voice, but she didn't know why. Maybe she was just happy that the stifled silence had been broken. A sociable creature by nature, Lae wasn't used to quiet situations like these.
"Yes. No 'goodnights' or anything. We're not there yet," Lae said gruffly.
"Where is 'there'?" Akorri asked.
"Somewhere else. Somewhere where we are friends, though I don't see that ever happening." Laerya frowned. "Let's just go to sleep."
"Right," replied the Xweetok.
More silence. Laerya closed her eyes, but after two seconds a feeling of guilt swept over her. Why was she being so mean to Akorri? Yes, he got on her nerves, but she didn't have to show it. She could at least try tolerating his arrogant behavior. "...Goodnight," she muttered.
"Goodnight," came the drowsy reply from higher up in the tree.
Laerya woke slowly, her eyes bleary as she opened them. Letting out a loud yawn, she sat up and assessed her situation. The ground was dry – obviously rain had not fallen during the night. The sky was a clear blue, a sign that the day would be good, weather-wise. Cheered by this, Lae stood up and stretched, fully awake now.
"Good morning," Lae said, happy enough to be nice to Akorri. When she didn't get a reply, she frowned. "Oh, come on, you don't have to give me the cold shoulder this morning. You didn't last night."
When there was still no reply, Lae rolled her eyes. So Akorri wanted to be stubborn. She would let him, because she was in a good mood.
"Talking to yourself, were you, Lae?" a voice startled the purple Cybunny, causing her to jump.
"Oh, there you are," Lae said, clearing her throat as she turned to see Akorri, carrying several berries in his hands. He placed them carefully on the ground.
"You were asleep for ages, so I decided to find something to eat," Akorri explained. "I'm going to be responsible and take up all tasks until you start pulling your own weight."
Whether this was meant to be an insult or if Akorri was genuinely thinking he was being helpful, Lae didn't know. "I can pull my own weight," she retorted.
"I've yet to see that," Akorri replied quietly, taking a berry and biting into it. "So far I've done nothing but help you. Oh well. It feels nice to be a leader."
Laerya bit her tongue to stop herself from lashing out at him. Don't fight, she thought. Don't let yourself stoop to his level. Again. "You are not leading me, we are working together as equals," she said in a controlled manner.
"If you say so." Akorri nodded towards the berries to signal that this topic was finished. "Come on, eat something so we can go look around the plains already."
Laerya did not take kindly to being ordered around, but ate up without a word. She was eager to get moving.
Once she had finished, she stretched again and immediately set off towards the Endless Plains. "I'd run," she said casually to Akorri, who had been taken aback by her sudden movement, "but I know you can't run as fast as I can."
"I probably can," Akorri replied, hurrying after her. "It's not like you've got super speed or anything."
Laerya's mouth stretched into a wide, satisfied grin that reached her eyes. "Oh no, of course not, who'd ever heard of such a thing," she drawled gleefully. If she managed to goad Akorri into running with her, she'd get the chance to show him up!
"So, go on, run ahead," Akorri said. Lae giggled at how confident he sounded. "I'll catch you up."
Without giving Akorri the chance to say anything else, Laerya sped off. Her legs practically glided over the ground as she ran, the wind whipping at her face and throwing back her hair and ears. She must look like a purple blur to Akorri.
She reached the plains within minutes. Whirling around on one leg, she couldn't see Akorri. Laerya guessed he was still far away. Using her time alone to reflect on her thoughts, she sat down on the grass.
What if they didn't find anything on the plains? What if everything was perfectly normal, and the tremors were just the products of nature, and this whole journey, having to put up with Akorri, was a waste of time and effort? Laerya shook her head. How could she think so negatively? Some of Akorri's downbeat energy must be rubbing off on her.
"Ah, you made it," Lae said with a mischievous grin as the red Xweetok finally came into view, panting with exhaustion. "Did you eat your words? Bet they tasted bitter."
"How... on earth... did you get so... fast?" Akorri asked, evidently short of breath.
Laerya stood up and dusted herself off. "I practice," she said. "Then again, I was born with my abnormal speed..."
"That's kind of cool, actually," Akorri said. Laerya was surprised to see that he looked genuinely impressed.
"Thanks." Laerya felt, for the first time, a warm connection between her and Akorri. It felt rather awkward, so she tried to ignore it. "Okay," she changed the subject quickly, "here we are in the Endless Plains. I suppose we should get exploring, yes?"
Akorri nodded. This time he took the lead, walking through the vast emptiness that was the Endless Plains. Finally realizing just how large this place was, Lae followed, stunned. How on Neopia were they supposed to explore every inch of such a wide, open space?
The Endless Plains stretched on and on, and there was no way of knowing if they were in the center of the plains or not. There was no way of knowing where they were exactly. Everything looked the same; no landmarks or anything to show them that they had already crossed this path. The foreboding feeling that the two were lost shook Lae's mind. She was sure she'd seen that blade of grass before...
"There's nothing here," Akorri said, breaking the silence that had lasted for a good hour.
Inwardly, Laerya agreed, but there was one thought pestering her mind; they weren't finished yet. "We can't have seen everything," she replied heavily.
"I'm pretty sure the terrain isn't going to change any time soon," Akorri said flatly, pointing at the grass with his tail.
"We have to keep moving," Lae retorted reluctantly.
Akorri didn't object so the two Neopets continued their search. Laerya was grateful that the air was warm and the breeze was cool – if rain fell, it would really shake Lae's resolve.
Another hour passed and Laerya was just about ready to throw in the towel. However, a disturbance in the delicate pattern of grass blades stopped her in her tracks. She looked ahead, spotting rocks and soil forming a trail into the distance. "I've found something!" she gasped excitedly.
Akorri peered over her shoulder to see the soil. "Oh, thank Fyora, you found mud!" he said sarcastically.
"No, you dunce," Laerya folded her arms impatiently. "You actually should be happy to see the mud. Look." She pointed to the trail. "It leads somewhere."
Akorri's red eyes lit up. "Oh. That's good!" He began to follow the trail. With a sigh, Lae went after him.
Twigs and roots soon joined the trail of soil and rocks, and the path widened the further they went down it. Eventually the pathway opened up to a big, deep hole. It yawned massively through the ground, surrounded by loam and pebbles.
Lae could not remember ever being so happy to see a hole in the ground. She jumped for joy, even grabbing Akorri's hand to make him jump with her. "We found something!" she cheered. "We actually found something!"
Akorri pulled his hands away, flustered. "Yes, we did," he said calmly, though his ears twitched with surprise. "And I suppose we better go down that hole... even though we have no idea what's waiting for us down there..."
Laerya nodded, ignoring Akorri's reluctance. Without a second thought for her safety or Akorri's, she bunched her leg muscles and leapt down the hole.
To be continued...