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The End of the Endless Plains


by sikki_lo

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The afternoon lay hot and still on the Endless Plains. The sun shone down steadily, baking the earth. Small animals searched for food beneath the cover of the grasses, birds perching in the few scattered, wind-bent trees chirped drowsily, and two young Lupe pups play-fought in a small hollow.

      The yellow pup grabbed the blue one's foot in her mouth and dragged him in a circle until, twisting on his side, he caught her tail. They wrestled, rolling over and over, each trying to pin the other. Yelps and snarls floated through the air. Finally the yellow one gained the upper paw and crouched on top of the blue, holding him down.

      "Hah," she said, grinning down at her brother.

      "I let you win," growled the blue pup, struggling to get free. When she let him up, he lay down again and began licking his small injuries. His sister did likewise. When he was finished, the blue pup rolled over on his back and gazed up at the cloudless blue sky. Limitless, it seemed. Endless.

      His contemplations were interrupted by a rustle of grass to his left, and into the hollow came an old green Lupe, still tall and strong despite his years. One ear was bent and a thin scar traced its way down his left foreleg. On seeing the pups, he gave a great sigh and flopped down on the sun-warmed earth beside them, scolding with mock-sternness.

      "You young rascals keep running off. How am I supposed to keep track of you both? I'm responsible while the rest of the pack is hunting, and these old bones can't go racing all over."

      "Aww, Uncle," the blue pup protested, squirming onto his stomach. "You're not that old. Besides, we don't need to be baby-sat. We were just practicing fighting."

      To which his sister added, "I won." The blue pup glared at her.

      The old Lupe grinned at them both. "Well, stay closer from now on, you hear?" The blue pup nodded reluctantly, then the yellow. "Good." He put his head down and closed his eyes. The yellow pup, tired out for once, followed suit.

      The blue pup, not feeling sleepy, sat up and stared out across the waving grass. It reminded him of what he'd thought of the sky before Uncle came. Going over to the sleeping Lupe, he tugged on an ear to wake him.

      One yellow eye opened and fixed on the pup. "What."

      "I just want to know... why is this called the Endless Plains?" asked the pup in a whisper.

      The green Lupe groaned and turned on his side. "Because they're endless."

      "But they can't be. There has to be an end somewhere."

      The Lupe groaned again and got to his haunches, giving up on sleep. "Well, I guess there is an end. About three days' journey that way there's a big city, called Neopia Central. A city is a place where lots of Neopets live, not just Lupes, and other creatures too. Hundreds of them."

      "Oh." The pup had no interest in such a place. It seemed so unreal anyway. "But then... where do they begin?"

      "Well, maybe that's really where they begin."

      "Then where do they end?"

      The old green Lupe sighed and looked at him wearily. "I don't know, young'un. I guess nobody does. You'll reach hills or mountains if you travel to either side, eventually... but that direction, the plains go on forever, as far as I know. Can I go to sleep now?"

      The blue pup wasn't listening. He was looking across the grass, into unknown distances, thinking about the end of the Endless Plains. Long after Uncle's snores sounded in the still, hot air, he sat there, wondering.

      Then he got up.

      Softly he padded across the hollow, not wanting to wake the two sleepers. When he reached the other side he began to run, soundlessly, through the long grass, using a steady lope that an adult Lupe could keep up for a long time. But he wasn't an adult Lupe, and soon he slowed to a walk. He felt a prickle of guilt as he realized he was disobeying Uncle, but his curiosity, once awoken, was too great to set aside.

      He walked on through the afternoon heat, steadily, every step taking him a little farther towards the end of the plains. For surely there had to be an end somewhere. The grass could not go on forever and forever. And he would be the one to find it. He would be the first one ever to reach the end.

      On and on, on and on he walked, as the sun crept lower and lower in the sky. The young Lupe pup stopped to rest beneath a gnarled tree. The plains here looked the same, smelled the same, sounded the same as where he'd started, with no sign of the end coming up. But it was just a little farther, surely... maybe it would come into view in the next minute, maybe it was just over this low ridge. It couldn't be very far now...

      He started walking again.

      At last, as the sun touched the rim of the earth, the pup realized the end was farther than he'd thought. He sat and stared longingly in the direction he'd been traveling, then turned and headed for home. He was hungry and thirsty and weary, his paws sore and aching. All he wanted now was to reach his den and his pack. The rest of them would be back by now, getting ready to sleep - but no, they would be looking for him instead. He wondered what Uncle had thought when he woke up and saw him gone.

      The pup knew he'd walked for a long time, but going back time seemed to slow unbearably. Stopping to rest his tired paws, he realized all of a sudden that he hadn't been paying attention to which way he was heading. He didn't know which way was home.

      Keeping to the direction he was going, hoping he wasn't getting more and more lost with each step, he continued trudging through the now full darkness. The air had lost its daytime warmth and he was beginning to be cold as well as hungry, thirsty, and tired. He stopped for another rest in the middle of a stretch of grass just like a hundred others he'd crossed today. Leaning his head back, he looked up at the sky.

      The stars were bright as ever, shining from so far up, uncountable numbers of them. They made the pup seem small and unimportant. The moon floated, huge and pale and round in the vast black expanse. As the pup gazed at it, he was filled with a yearning for something he couldn't quite name. Lifting his muzzle, he howled to the moon. His first howl ever.

      In the distance, a Lupe howled back.

      The pup pricked up his ears and turned towards the sound. Not only was it a sign of another Lupe, but the voice sounded familiar. The far-off Lupe howled again, and the pup was sure. It was Uncle.

      Raising his muzzle to the sky again, he howled back. He and Uncle traded howls across the plains, letting the other know that they were there, that they were coming.

      The pup stopped howling and started loping towards Uncle, given new energy by the thought of reaching home. Uncle's howl also stopped. The pup strained his eyes to see through the darkness. The wind was blowing the scent away from him, but he knew Uncle could smell him.

      When he saw the shape of the old Lupe in the moonlight, the pup slowed down and came to a stop, expecting to be scolded. But nothing was said. After a minute, he looked up into Uncle's eyes.

      "I was trying to reach the end," he said.

      The Lupe nodded, a strangely gentle expression on his face. "I know."

      They walked back together towards the den. The wind blew across the grass, and the pup turned and looked one more time behind him, as if he could see through the dark and all the long distance to the end of the Endless Plains.

      He'd be back, he knew. He'd be back, and he'd go farther. One day he'd go all the way. One day he would reach the end. One day....

The End

 
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