Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 104,800,928 Issue: 204 | 18th day of Hiding, Y7
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Chocolate


by rainbow_daydreamer

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"Aurelia Luca!" The voice rings in my ears and I am pulled back into reality. The past is an inviting realm to explore, but the present can't be held back for long.

     It's a Guild Circle Court, a ceremony that means only great triumph- or great dishonour. And I'm in no doubt about which this is.

     I am being addressed by a Lupe whose wings glimmer in the same misty colours as my own. Now that we're far away from the cheering crowds and bright lights I don't feel as confident as I did. But I went into that contest and I did what I set out to do. I can hold my head high with pride.

     I still remember, distantly, where all of this began… Somehow, now I think of it, beautiful pets have been involved all along.

     *

     It began, for me, on a bitterly cold day in a suburb of Faerieland-the quarter where the pets and humans lived. And it began with voices.

     "Oh my-someone fetch Dawny! Someone fetch her!"

     "I don't believe it. Is there anything?... no note, no…"

     "The poor little thing. Just look at her eyes! So deep!"

     "How could anyone?..."

     I lay huddled into a blanket and tried to make some sort of sense of it all. I could feel a warm glow on my skin from the open door, and beautiful, beautiful pets were floating in and out of my snow-scattered vision.

     "We should take her in, the poor dear. We don't have a Bori in our guild yet…"

     "What would we call the little one, Dawny?"

     "Something pretty. What about… Aurélia? That sounds as if it would suit her."

     "There's an Aurélia down in Neopia Central. She's Teller-Katie's sister, you know? A starry Wocky. I mean, she's never been part of the guild, but…"

     "We need another bit, then. Maybe… Aurelia Luca? We could put an underscore in it for the records."

     And before I knew it, I was being carried in the paws of a Lupe, basket and all, past the eyes of beautiful pets, into a light, dry building where a Nimmo was playing the piano. This was Dawnsweet's guild; this was to be my home.

     *

     As I grew, I learnt that Dawny was the Lupe leader of the guild. "She has to look after a human as well as being in the guild," one of the older members told me, "but you wouldn't know it. She's such a sterling member."

     My room was in one of the attics, airy and well-lit. I was given toys, too: knitted balls with bells in them, plushies of Meepits and Kadoaties, plastic flowers and mock jewellery to loop around my paws and entwine in my furry fringe.

     At the age of fifty days I became aware that the others were no longer looking at me in the same way, and I assumed this was a normal part of life at the Guild. One day, though, Dawny came to see me, giving me an item I had never seen before.

     A wooden stick ended in hairlike bristles, sticky with a liquid of some sort. I looked at the thing in puzzlement, wondering what it could be, since it was so different from my play toys.

     "Aurelia Luca," began Dawny, "you know you're growing up." I nodded, though I wasn't really sure what she meant. "Now I don't want you to be alarmed. But you have to decide if you wish to be a truly beautiful pet... or just one of the general public. If it's the first, come with me now. Otherwise, we'll have to ask you to leave."

     To leave? My mind filled with the remembered images of cold wind and blinding snow. "No, I don't want to leave!" I half-shouted at the Lupe.

     "You must learn to control your voice," she frowned. "Well, if you wish to be a full member of the guild, come with me."

     I followed her away from my cloudbound home, down into the bustle of a city I had never before seen. Neopia Central. The number of people and pets in the streets was amazing, and Dawny had to remind me not to stare.

     My Lupe guardian pushed through a crowd and towards a shimmering lake ahead. "Come on." Taking the wooden item from me, she dipped it slowly into the waves at the water's edge.

     I still remember the rose tint in the rippling water, glittering in the sunlight. Slowly, looking at Dawnsweet the whole time, I dipped my paw. The cold made me gasp, but the guild leader looked expectantly at me. I stepped deeper into the pool, hesitant.

     When I came back to the shore, my fur soaked, something was different. Looking down at my paws, I saw the same brilliant colour as had been in the water; a delicate rose-petal pink.

     *

          "Aurelia Luca!" I heard the gasp of admiration as we entered the guild. "You're… pink!" I was hugged and fussed over just as I had been on my first day. "Oh, Aurelia Luca, you're really one of us now."

     Dawny nodded. "And soon she'll be going to Guild school. Isn't that right?" I felt a strange chill. I had no idea what was meant by 'Guild school', and I couldn't say whether or not I would like it...

     "Little Aurelia Luca, put your boots on." The Usul's voice was gently scolding me. "You'll be late for your first class if you don't hurry. No, not the yellow ones! Remember, you're a pink Bori now. Zip up your jacket, pick up your pencil-tin, and get down those stairs!"

     I stumbled into the enormous, daylit room with its rows of perfectly polished wooden desks. Neopets sat in little groups, whispering to one another. Without waiting to be told I took one of the desks in the corner, wondering what would happen.

     A tall Ixi entered, holding a clipboard and bearing the pretty wings that marked out the Guild seniors. "Good morning, class," she remarked. "Ah, I see we have a new student. Welcome, Miss…"

     "Aurelia Luca," I whispered nervously.

     "Welcome, Aurelia Luca. You seem to have real promise; Dawny was right. I hope you will be a keen member of our class." She moved over to the board and wrote "The Importance of Posture."

     "Who can tell me something about..."

     And the lesson went on.

     *

          "Congratulations, Aurelia Luca! You're top of the class!"

     The eyes of the group were on me. It was three weeks since I'd begun Guild school and I had come on in leaps and bounds. I could walk like a model and smile like an angel.

     "Well, Miss Bori, I think it's time you received your first reward. Hold out your paws." As I stood in front of the class, a tiny Alkenore was placed in my grasp. Its lead was a silver ribbon. I knew what to do from my classes; placing the Petpet behind me, I walked slowly forward, letting it pad delicately after.

     "If you keep this performance up, you or your Petpet may be painted by the end of the week," smiled the tutor. I felt a thrill of delight. Painted again! And it happened, too. By Saturday the Alkenore was painted pink to match my rosy colour.

     *

     The next time I came top of the class, there was a Starry Paintbrush waiting for me. It glittered in the light from the classroom window, the ultimate gift for a teacher's pet. And yet... I wasn't sure I was ready for it. Me, little Aurelia Luca, to be a star-patterned Neopet?

     "I don't want to be Starry yet!" My voice seemed to bring the entire class to a standstill. "I'm happy... the way I am..."

     The tutor's voice had changed from a gently praising tone to a shocked reproach in an instant. "Miss Bori, I--- I--- sincerely hope you don't mean that. Being painted Starry is truly an honour. Dawny? Dawny!" These last words she yelled through the open door. Dawnsweet, who was walking in the direction of the gardens, ran to her aid.

     "Very well," said the tall Lupe thoughtfully, after we had both presented our breathless sides of the story. "We can't deny little Aurelia Luca her reward. Miss Bori, though you are certainly a disobedient child, you shall be painted Starry." The class, as one Neopet, let out a breath of released tension. "But-- your Alkenore will not be painted for another three weeks." And I hung my head, aware of the humiliation of being seen around the guild with a Petpet that clashed.

     *

     That was the week Teller-Katie disappeared. She was a rainbow Wocky, in my class at guild school, but much older. That meant she was one of the few Neopets allowed out on errands during class time. However, she was by no means the most obedient. Already she'd been denied the next Paintbrush twice and her Petpet, an Angelpuss, was a rather garish yellow.

     "Look, look," she babbled on her return from a shopping trip, giggling with excitement that seemed to bubble over. "I found a potion by the fountain! Someone must have dropped it!"

     The bottle she fished from the middle of the vegetables she'd bought was of green-tinted glass, with a curved handle and various twists and spikes emerging from the sides. Inside was a liquid of the same muddy green colour. "Better give it to Dawny," I said dubiously.

     "No way, Aurelia Luca. I've got to try it. Bet it'll make me super-intelligent, then I won't need to go to Guild school any more!" Her eyes were alight. "I'm going to try it tonight after class." Unable to resist, she uncorked the bottle, dipped her paw and licked it. "Oooh! It tastes all funny. Well, better fasten it up again."

     As she left for her next class, I could have sworn that I saw a tiny patch of dark green in the middle of a red stripe on her fur. But perhaps I was seeing things.

     The next day Teller-Katie was gone. Her belongings were still in her locker and her Angelpuss in its cage, but I looked everywhere for my classmate and she was nowhere to be found. At first I wondered if it had been an invisibility potion in that bottle. In time, however, as Dawny gave the yellow Angelpuss to a pretty gold Usul named Tillychristina, I began to accept that the rainbow Wocky wasn't coming back. I would always wonder, though.

     *

     "Oh, Aurelia Luca," gasped Tillychristina. "You look fabulous! Bet you'll be leaving Guild school in a few weeks."

     I caught my reflection in one of the hall mirrors and had to agree, I did look quite stunning. My newfound Faerie wings fluttered angelically against the glass. By my side, a blue Alkenore held in its teeth a thin thread lead, keeping in tight position a tiny petpetpet which buzzed above its head. My fur shone in the fluorescent light as I gave an effortless smile.

     It was several months since I'd begun Guild school. Now, I flew gracefully over the heads of the pink, purple and white beginners to my desk at the front of the class.

     The tutor tapped her cane against the chalkboard. "If I could have your attention, please. As every year, it is my honour to announce our candidate for the Grand Beauty Contest in the Central Community Hall." There was a hush.

     "Aurelia Luca, would you come forward, please?"

     I heard the sigh of disappointment from the many class members with dashed hopes, but I didn't care. Me! The Contest candidate! I barely remembered to fly to the lectern instead of walking. The next words went over my head, really; something about extra training hours and an interview with Dawny. I was in heaven.

     *

     "Posture, petpet angle, perfect smile, and remember those answers!" I repeated Dawny's contest mantra under my breath. I had found my place backstage at the Grand Beauty contest, and now it was only a matter of waiting.

     All over the room pets were checking their appearance, disciplining wailing Petpets, borrowing hair spray. I looked into the mirror to make sure nothing was out of place, and stopped.

     Where was my Alkenore? Where was my Alkenore?

     A wave of panic sent chills down my spine. I couldn't let the others know what was wrong, but I had to find the little Petpet before it was too late... before the contestants were called on-stage. I pretended to look for a dropped comb under the dressing-table.

     "Excuse me?"

     I straightened up so fast that I almost bumped my head.

     "I couldn't help noticing you were looking for something. It wasn't this, by any chance?" A red Lenny was looking down at me; I supposed he must be one of the contest officials. In his wing he held a Petpet-ribbon. With a sigh of relief I saw that it was my Alkenore, mewing and tugging in the unfamiliar grasp.

     He read the sign above my dressing-table. "Hmmm, Aurelia Luca. I guess you're entering the contest?" I nodded. "Me too. I'm Vernon. 'Least, that's what my owner calls me... cute Alkenore, that. What's her name?"

     "She doesn't... have one..." I managed through my confusion. This Lenny, this unpainted bird, was in the same contest as me? What mindless guild had entered him like this, an obvious loser? Had he done something wrong?

     "Ah, pity. She needs a cute name. Something like Mimew? Or Summer? That'd be nice. It's her fur, it's blue like the sky, you see." He smiled. "Wish I had a petpet. If we win this contest, my owner's going to use the NP to move to Happy Valley," his smile grew wider, "but then if there's any left over I can maybe have a Miamouse! Won't that be great?"

     He seemed not even to know that he didn't stand a chance.

     "Then, after that... I might be getting a sister," he finished.

     "A sister?" I asked. "You don't need money for that." But he gave a one-wing shrug and stroked my petpet.

     "Hey, hear that? They've all gone quiet. Looks like we're on in a few minutes." He took something from his bag and started to peck at it. "Oh, sorry, you want some chocolate?"

     I didn't know the word. "Some what?"

     "Chocolate. Here." He held out the sticky-looking, brown-coloured object to me. I sniffed automatically, at first with the superior expression I'd been taught at the guild, then breathed deeper as a sweet smell attracted me.

     "What is it? It smells so good..." I gave a little squeak of surprise as he pushed it into my mouth. A delicious taste flowed over my tongue, smooth and rich and utterly perfect.

     He was looking at me oddly. "Your owner has enough NP to paint you... but not to buy chocolate?" Then he looked down awkwardly at his feet. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."

     "We get raisins," I tried to compensate, weakly, "and lettuce...What guild are you in, anyway?" I asked him. He shook his head. "You're not... in a guild?" The idea was almost impossible to comprehend. "Then who entered you here? Who looks after you?"

     "My owner," he said simply. "My human."

     "A human? But humans are just... something you take care of in your spare time," I murmured. "A... chore. Right? That's what Dawny says. She says no human could ever be as good as working for the Guild..."

      "We've always been pretty independent," he replied thoughfully. "It's not good to always do things just 'cos some guild thinks you should, right? Oh! Looks like I'm up first. Good luck, anyway, Luca... can I call you Luca?... Hope you do well."

     Luca?

     Then a bell rang, and Vernon fluttered away.

     *

     "Aurelia Luca!" The voice rings in my ears and I am pulled back into reality. The past is an inviting realm to explore, but the present can't be held back for long.

     It's a Guild Circle Court, a ceremony that means only great triumph- or great dishonour. And I'm in no doubt about which this is.

     Dawny is looking at me with a mixture of anger and sadness in her eyes. She has every right to do so, I think to myself. She was the one who took me in, raised me to be the best.

     "Aurelia Luca, you have brought dishonour upon this entire guild." Her paws are trembling on the desk in front of her, but she continues. "I never, ever thought I would see the day when one of our guild-school graduates would place second in a beauty contest."

     "And the winner is... VRLeNnY2004!!" The words still ring in my ears, the announcer's bright tone, the cheering of the audience for the flutter of a scarlet wing, the lights blazing far above my head.

     "Aurelia Luca! Pay attention!" It's almost like guild-school all over again. I half expect her to tap a pointer against my desk. But I am deskless, friendless, lost in the centre of the polished floor. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

     I shake my head. What is there to say? I did what I set out to do; my best. There's nothing more than that.

     I shudder despite myself as Dawny gestures to some of the other Guild pets. Someone is holding a paintbrush, a blue paintbrush. Just last night, I would have fainted in terror at the thought, or run for the dormitories even knowing that no pet would help me. Yet I stand my ground.

     As if from far away, a memory stirs in my mind.

      I don't have to put up with what some guild thinks I should!

      "Summer!" I call out desperately, ready to fight them almost, as they pull my Alkenore from me. "Give her back!" My petpet is just as hysterical, yowling at the guild members and scratching them with sharp, marvellously manicured claws.

     "All right!" snaps Dawny, now wearing a cruel, damaging clawmark on her perfect cheek. "Take your blessed petpet! The two of you can entertain each other in the Neopian Pound for all I care! Somebody take off the Alkenore's lead for goodness' sake, that thing cost a thousand NP!" I breathe a deep sigh as Summer is thrown into my paws, her petpetpet held tightly by a stern Nimmo. Then with one final look at me, Dawny leaves, her wings fluttering angelically as she flies away.

     I have to move fast. I knock the paintbrush from the Aisha's paws and it hits her square in the face with a satisfying splatter. She is no longer watching me, now, as she runs to the nearest mirror to examine her beloved cloud pattern, to make sure it isn't damaged. I make a bolt for the door, half running, half flapping.

     My own fur is a mess, splashes of bright blue among the delicate patterns. I don't know where I think I'm going. Not until I hear a voice at the Guild entrance, by the double doors, and my heart stops.

     "Oh, my word!"

     "Did you ever see anything so..."

     "Someone fetch Dawny! Now!"

     "Who could have left..."

     I shoot through the startled circle of cooing pets like a faerie-winged whirlwind. Holding Summer in my mouth, I snatch up the basket that lies at their feet and take off at a frantic speed.

     I'm quite high in the air before I dare to look. It's a Gelert. A tiny, tiny yellow Gelert, lying whimpering in the wicker basket, covered by a blanket. I pop my Alkenore in beside him and fly higher, leaving the screaming Guild pets far below me. "Don't worry," I tell him. "You'll be far better off with me."

     He looks up at me, quizzically. I don't blame him. After all, a total stranger has just flown off with his basket. "Never mind. We'll get to know each other soon," I reassure the Gelert. "I'll buy you toys. I'll bring you chocolate." I pause. "My name is Aurelia Luca. You can call me... you can call me Luca."

     As I speak the next words, my laughter rings out across the landscape.

     "And I'm a beautiful pet!"

The End

 
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