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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 13th day of Swimming, Yr 26
The Neopian Times Week 118 > Short Stories > Glory


by nurluen

The dawn broke with bold, fiery streaks of orange, red, and pink. Strong rays of sunlight poured onto the treetops of the forest, filtering through the leaves. Patches of gold rested on the face of a sleeping Uni.

     The Uni’s brows pushed together in denial of the new day, but finally her eyes opened, ending her lingering dreams. Her bright eyes focused, and she shook her head to clear it. “Well, Elaere*,” she said to herself, “this is the day to prove yourself.”

     She rose to her feet. The Uni was small, but strong, and her hair was a tousled heap of silver that looked as if it had been brushed only when absolutely necessary. Her eyes had a defiant gleam in them, and she held her head with pride.

     Elaere trotted to a nearby steam with a light and easy gait. She lowered her head to the cool waters, and lapped it eagerly. Suddenly, she stopped, eyeing the steam with doubt. “I shouldn’t drink too much. I do not want to be weighed down with water and lose agility. That is enough.” The Uni backed from the stream, and gave a whinny. She sighed, began to pace back and forth, glancing frequently to the horizon, as if it called to her. Finally, she stamped her foot into the grasses. “I cannot wait any longer. I will leave now!”

     With that, she tossed her head, and took off at full gallop through the forest. She knew it well; not once did she hesitate or stumble. The wind whipped through her mane, and pulled at her tail. She lifted her head, relishing the feeling of the rushing air on her nose and the sunshine on her face. The strength was in her; she felt it pounding with her very heartbeat.

     After having galloped through the forests, Elaere trotted to a tall hill that overlooked the valley below. She stopped, gazing down at the bustling city. Houses were bunched together so closely that they seemed continuous, and the streets were a mass of people and their Neopets. Even from the hill, she could hear the creaking of carts, the shouts of peddlers, and the various noises created by crowds of people and animals. Almost everyone was going the same direction: to the Battledome in the center of town.

     The Uni felt her breath quicken. Suddenly, an immense desire to turn and run back to the safety of the forest overtook her. She would be safe there, and no one would ever know that she even existed. But, Elaere realized, that was the problem. No one knew about her, and no one cared. The Uni knew that if she could prove her strength this day, someone would want her. She would find a home at last.

     Elaere gulped against the dryness of her throat, and took a big, shaky breath. There was no turning back now. She must do this. The Uni began her descent down the hill, eyes intent upon her goal.

     She was so busy thinking about the Battledome, she did not even see the boy and his Kougra until it was too late. Elaere collided with the boy, knocking him to the ground.

     “Ow!” he cried sharply, and jumped back to his feet, angrily brushing himself off. The Kougra growled menacingly and leapt in front of his owner.

     “I’m sorry!” cried Elaere, backing from their vicious glares. “I didn’t mean it, truly.”

     The boy’s angry expression curled into a sneer. “Look at that, Nenkei*. It’s a little beggar Uni. How cute. Looks like you could use a grooming or two, trash.” The boy and his pet erupted into raucous laughter.

     Elaere’s silvery face turned a dark shade of crimson. “Trash, eh?” she remarked through clenched teeth. “You think I am trash, just because I don’t have a home?” She stomped her hoof into the ground so hard that the ground around it vibrated. Nenkei and the boy stopped laughing. They eyed her with a look of distaste. “We’ll see who’s trash when the Battledome tournament is over!” cried Elaere, her words sailing out of her mouth like needle-sharp razors.

     The boy snickered. “Not very Uni-like, are you?” he asked. “I thought Unis were supposed to be cheerful and sweet. You have a personality of a Grarrl.” He glanced knowingly at Nenkei. “Must be the streets. They bring out the worst in pets, don’t you agree?”

     “Stop talking about me like I am not here!” yelled Elaere. “No, I am not cheerful and sweet. I am strong! You will see. I am not wasting any more time talking with you. I’ll see you from the fist-place podium!”

     The small Uni turned and trotted off to the Battledome, the mocking laughter of Nenkei and the boy echoing in her ears. Immediately, she regretted her outburst. Now, if she did not win, she could not slink unnoticed back into the forest. If she lost, she would be dishonored in the town and could never return without meeting a storm of insults and jeers.

     Elaere neared the Battledome. It towered in front of her, and seemed almost to touch the sky. Crowds jostled around her, and mingled smells and sounds filled the air so thickly that Elaere could hardly keep herself from screaming. The city was quite different than her private stretch of woods. She continued inside the Battledome, determination fighting against her fears.

     The Uni neared the counter to register. A tired looking Wocky sat at the desk, going through papers. She looked up when Elaere approached, and raised an eyebrow. “You are entering?” she asked.

     “Yes,” replied Elaere steadily.

     The Wocky looked behind Elaere. “Where’s your owner?” she asked, though her eyes looked as if they already knew the truth.

     “I have none,” said Elaere.

     The Wocky sighed resignedly. “Very well,” she muttered. “Sign here.”

     Elaere dipped her hoof into an inkpad and pressed her print against the Wocky’s paper. The Wocky stood, and slipped a blue paper band around the Uni’s forehoof that said she was competitor number five. “Wait behind the stadium doors,” she commanded.

     The Uni nodded, and trotted toward the room for waiting competitors. Assembled there were Neopets of various colors and breeds. Their coats had been brushed until they shone, and they had strong muscles that had been painstakingly trained by the Techo Master and Cap’n Threelegs. Elaere felt her throat tighten. How could she win against them?

     Suddenly, the door burst open, and Nenkei walked in the door with the air of a king. The boy was by his side, looking down his nose at the other contestants. The Uni felt a hot rage boil inside her. She knew she had to try.

     All too soon, the tournament began. Outside, Elaere could hear the sounds of the Neopets’ battles. Cries from the audience and applause and thundering crashes of the battles ripped through the air. She begin to tremble slightly as she sat, and pressed her eyes together tightly, reminding herself that she was doing this so that she could finally have a home.

     “It’ll be all right,” she whispered to herself, “if I get through this, I will have a kind owner, food whenever I want it, grooming, attention, maybe even other Neopets to live with… I must get through this one day…”

     A Lupe next to her lifted an ear. “You have no owner? Why don’t you go to the pound?”

     Elaere stared at him, dumbfounded. “I spent four months in the pound once,” she replied stiffly. “I have never felt so unwanted in my life. I sat there, waiting for someone to take me, but no one wanted me. I am just a plain Uni, and they saw nothing special about me. I escaped, for I could take it no longer. Today, they will see that I am a Neopet worth owning.”

     The Lupe smiled sympathetically. “I am sorry, I didn’t know,” he replied. “I have always had an owner to care for me. I am lucky, I suppose.” He paused a moment, then lifted a paw to her. “I’m Jacarou, by the way.”

     Elaere accepted the paw. “Elaere.”

     “Well, then, Elaere, I believe it is time for us to go,” said Jacarou, jerking his head toward the stadium door. “You are competitor number five. Your fight is next…and I am your opponent.”

     Silently, Elaere followed the tall, muscular Lupe out the stadium door. Her heart flew into her throat, and her stomach was turning somersaults inside her. The two opponents faced each other, twenty feet apart.

     The referee lifted his hand. “Competitors number five and eight, Elaere the Uni, and Jacarou the Lupe. On my whistle… GO!” He blew the whistle hard, and Elaere found herself running toward Jacarou.

     She ran, but Jacarou did not move. Elaere slowed to a trot, and stopped, only a few feet from the Lupe. The audience began to mutter. “What is it, Jacarou?” she asked quietly.

     The Lupe ignored her, and turned to the referee. “I forfeit,” he proclaimed. “The Uni is the victor.”

     All around, cheers and boos poured from the crowd, but Elaere did not hear them. She could find no words to say. All she could do was stare wonderingly at Jacarou.

     Once back inside the stadium, the Uni found her voice. “What did you do, Jacarou?” she asked, “Why did you forfeit the match?”

     The Lupe smiled kindly at her. “You need to win more than I do, Elaere. I have a home. If losing this one tournament can give you a chance for happiness, then it is worth it to me.” He leaned closer, his eyes solemn. “Just win the next round. They are the finals. If you win those, you are the champion.”

     Elaere threw her forelegs around Jacarou. “Thank you so much,” she said, her eyes clouding with tears. She pulled away, and wiped at her eyes, embarrassed to cry in front of others. “Do you know who the other finalist is?” she asked, to change the subject.

     Jacarou nodded. “It’s a Kougra,” he said, “and his name is Nenkei.”

     The Uni turned her head away in disgust. Just when everything seemed perfect, it was spoiled. She was against Nenkei.

     Only moments later, the door opened again, and competitor number five, Elaere, was summoned forward. The nervousness she’d felt right before facing Jacarou was laughable compared to the torrent of emotions ripping her gut now. Perspiration trickled down her matted fur, and her breath came in ragged gasps. She was shaking so hard that she could hardly stand.

     Nenkei looked cool and unconcerned. He watched her mildly as she stumbled to the starting point. Jacarou cried out, “Good luck, Elaere!” but the Uni heard nothing but the pounding of her own heart.

     The referee lifted his arm again. To Elaere, the movements seemed almost to be in slow motion. “Competitors number five and eleven,” he called out, “Elaere the Uni and Nenkei the Kougra. On my whistle, the finalists may begin. Go!” The shriek of the whistle split the air.

     Elaere looked up and saw Nekei running at her, his claws extended. He had a triumphant smirk on his face already. Elaere, not knowing what else to do, began to run. Her legs seemed hollow as she sped around the arena. She heard the audience laughing at her, and the panting breath of Nenkei as he bounded after. The ground trembled with his giant leaps as he gained slowly. Suddenly she wheeled about, and saw the massive Kougra in midair, flying toward her. Elaere stuck out her horn and shoved him into the wall as hard as she could.

     He was scarcely phased. The mighty Kougra got up, and swatted her with one paw. She fell to the ground. She struggled to her feet, and Nenkei whacked her down again. The Uni pulled herself up yet again, tears of frustration and despair prickling her eyes. Nenkei lifted his paw and lazily sent her flying to the ground again.

     Elaere lay on the ground, motionless, and began to cry openly. She could not win. No one would ever want her now. She would be homeless forever. The tears flowed down her cheek and her cries racked her entire body.

     One last time, the Uni got to her feet. Her knees were knocking together as she fought to hold herself upright. Nenkei strolled over, and gave a horrible laugh. “Champion, are you? I don’t see anything great about you. All you are, and will ever be, is a little piece of good-for-nothing garbage that Neopets like me must dispose of.”

     With that, he lifted the great paw once more. Elaere closed her eyes. She knew that this time, the fight would be over. This time, she would lose for good.

     “STOP!” The cry echoed through the stadium, and the crowd strained to see who had uttered the word. A young woman was racing toward Elaere, her dress flying out behind her. Surprised, Nenkei backed away. The woman stopped next to the Uni, and patted her gently on her nose. Then she turned to the referee, and said firmly, “Stop this instant. I cannot bear to see this poor Uni hurt. She will come with me, now, and I will care for her.”

     The referee nodded, and motioned her off. Elaere stared at the woman. “You will…adopt me?” she asked in a shocked voice. “But I didn’t even win!”

     The lady smiled. “Winning isn’t everything, you know. My other pet, Jacarou, told me you had no owner. I will gladly take you in. The mere fact that you had the determination and courage to stand against such overwhelming odds makes you worthier than one like Nenkei, who knew from the beginning that he’d probably win. Glory can be achieved in many ways. Yours shines just as bright as the Champion of Neopia’s.”

     Jacarou loped over to them, grinning broadly. “You put up a good fight, Elaere. Great job.”

     Elaere looked at Jacarou, her new brother, and her new owner, whose eyes shone with kindness. Her heart swelled with indescribable joy. “Is this real?” she asked softly, “Am I going to wake alone, in the woods?”

     Jacarou gave a deep laugh. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “My owner would never abandon you. You’ll live like you’ve never lived before.”

     Elaere smiled, and hugged the Lupe. “Of that,” she said, tears of happiness running down her face, “I am sure.”

The End

* Note: The characters in this story were created by Nurluen, and are not based upon any existing Neopets users or pets.

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