Five-Hundred Fifty Little Stars
"Are we there yet?" Audie whined. For a teenager, he sure did manage to sound like a baby sometimes.
"Quiet, Audie, it's an adventure," Eve answered him for me in that quiet, lilting way of hers. Audie had been whining, incessantly, every five minutes for the past hour and a half. Saying that it had begun to get on my nerves was a severe understatement, but Eve managed to seem untroubled by him.
"I do hate to be a bother, but Audie has a point. We've been out here for two hours, Xtranta, and I'm beginning to lose faith in your judgment," Bru admitted.
I stopped walking. I was pretty sure that Bru just politely insulted me and I was NOT okay with that.
"You guys should take on Eve's attitude!" I said, spinning around to face my group. I pointed at the Royal Usul beside me. I think that she blushed, but it was kind of hard to tell in the darkness.
Truth be told, I could understand my group's loss of faith in my directional abilities. When we set out to find the firefly hill, it had been late afternoon already and I told them fifteen minutes. Now it was dark out and the only light was from the moon which just happened to be hidden by the trees. Oh yeah, and I was lost in the forest. Well, we were lost in the forest.
But it's not like I'd tell them that.
"I know exactly where we're going!" I asserted. Audie rolled his eyes. He's a Darigan Usul, so they glow bright red in the darkness. It was one of the few things I could see. "Don't believe me? Fine. We'll just go home and you guys will never be able to see the majesty of the firefly hill." I humphed and then I scampered into a tree for good measure. I thanked Fyora for Xweetok's good climbing capabilities; otherwise my point might not have been made.
There was silence from below. At first I pleased, but then I started to get worried. What if they really did want to leave? What would I tell them? Oh, Xtranta, you've gotten yourself into another mess. Again.
"Oh, Xtranta, come down from there," Bru finally sighed. He hated it when I climbed trees. He's a Buzz and when he was alive, he loved to fly and follow me up into trees. Now he's a Zombie and his wings are too fragile to fly. "You know that we want to see the firefly hill."
I scampered down the tree-trunk and met the rest of my group. "I'm glad you made up your mind," I said with a smile and swish of my tale. I knew they would.
"Yeah, well I'm not sure I made up my mind." Audie snorted. He was close enough where I could see he had his arms crossed over his chest.
"Whadya mean?" I asked.
"Maybe I don't want to see your stupid hill anymore," he said as if it were a simple and reasonable solution which it obviously was not.
"My hill is not stupid!" I hissed. I leaned in closer to him. My ear twitched like it always did when I was angry.
"You two stop this right now. Xtranta, calm down and let him go if he wants. Audie, don't provoke her," Bru said with a calm voice. He always tried to be reasonable and I admired him for that normally, but right now I ignored him.
"My hill is the most beautiful thing in all of Neopia!"
"Yeah, if it exists."
"Maybe it's a good thing you don't want to see it. You'd only make it ugly!"
"Guys," Eve whispered. Her voice trembled. We all turned to look at her. She wasn't even looking at us; she was looking out into the woods. I hadn't even noticed her. She was standing, stiff as a board, staring into a clump of trees.
"Eve," Bru began. He reached out a hand and touched her shoulder gently. Something churned in the pit of my stomach and I felt a wave of dread wash over me.
"Shh," she cut him off. "Don't move. There's something in the woods." She spit out each word like it was bile and she spoke so quietly I had to strain my ears to hear her. A shiver ran down my spine.
All it took was a twig breaking to send us barreling through the woods.
For a Zombie, Bru's legs were in remarkable condition and he could run very fast. He took the lead. Every once in a while he would take a great leap and glide with his wings. He couldn't actually flap them, but he still managed to get a few feet off of the ground and make some distance. Behind him, Audie and I were neck and neck. I resorted to running on all fours and he was sprinting like a mad man. We were both screaming. Our screaming was joined by Eve's high-pitched yips. She was behind us all, her long, summer dress weighing her down some.
Whatever was behind us growled, and that led to a renewed speed and chorus of shrieks.
"It's a Werelupe and we're all going to get eaten!" Audie screamed.
"Be quiet!" I screamed back.
We rounded a sharp corner and Eve lost her balance. "Help!" she cried. Her feet got caught up in her dress and slid through the brush. Bru fell back and grabbed her hand. Together, the two regained his position ahead of us.
We rounded another sharp corner and it was my turn to fall. I tripped over a stray branch and my feet got tangled in another. I hit the ground hard on my shoulder. It ached and my right paw was already beginning to swell. Oh no. There was another growl from behind us. It was so close.
"Guys!" I screamed. They all came to a halt. For what seemed like an hour, we just sort of stared at each other with open mouths and wide eyes.
Then the impossible happened: Audie stepped forward, scooped me up, and began to run. Bru and Eve followed.
Trees flew by and the night was disorienting. It felt like we were going in circles, but we couldn't stop because whatever we were running from was always right behind us. We were losing speed. Everyone was exhausted. Was this it? Had I led them to their doom?
Just as I was losing hope, we broke through a patch of trees and landed on the soft incline of a grassy hill with an "ooph!"
We didn't stop running, not really. We were all trying to get back into it, but we were all too tired and confused to actually get back up onto are feet. We scrambled, but it was too late. The beast broke through the trees behind us and barked.
It was a Puppyblew.
"For Fyora's sake, really?" Audie yelled. He said what we were all thinking. The Puppyblew trotted over to Bru and began to gnaw on his boniest arm. Bru shooed it off. It barked once, growled a little, and then began to chase its tail.
Defeated, I just stared at the petpet. All of that, ALL OF THAT BECAUSE OF A PUPPYBLEW?
"Guys," Eve whispered again. She sounded awestruck. I turned to face her, but she was looking over the hill.
"What is it now, Eve?" I groaned. I was really not looking forward to hearing what she had to say now.
"Come look," she whispered. She was absolutely fixated on whatever was over the hill. I sighed and pulled myself to my feet. Bru and Audie followed. The Puppyblew hopped around our feet and barked periodically.
But I already knew what it was. "The firefly hill," I said, triumphant. Audie gasped. Bru said nothing, but his jaw went slack. Even the Puppyblew stopped barking.
I had found the hill last year.
It had been the beginning of summer, and I was happy for the first time in a really long time. My family was back together. We were celebrating new arrivals and reunions. I met Bru and Eve and Audie and so many others for the first time. Content, I had taken an ambling walk in the woods one afternoon. I came across a hill – the firefly hill – but it was daytime. I ended up watching the clouds and falling asleep in the sun. When I woke up, it was night time and the fireflies were out.
It was the most fantastic thing that I had ever seen. I returned every night that summer. By autumn they were gone. I was sad, but not really surprised. Besides, I had my family back and everything was alright again.
And now I was here, at the firefly hill, with my family. And we were watching the fireflies.
There were so many. I had never seen so many of them in one place before. They flew around like particles of faerie dust, except they glowed like little lanterns. They illuminated the light as bright as day and they weren't afraid of you. One lit on my good shoulder. Eve was whispering to one on her finger. They gathered around Bru. The Spardel was chasing one.
I laughed. Audie was completely covered with them. He held his arms up and his mouth was wide open with shock. "Don't laugh," he whispered. "You might scare 'em." But I knew that I wouldn't scare them. They were scared of anything.
"They're like little stars," Eve said with that gentle, lilting voice of hers.
"Yeah," I said. "They are." Like five-hundred fifty little stars.
I was home.
Dedicated to all of my pets and all of the new friends I've made returning to Neo. Dedicated to coming home. (: