A young Draik sits at the very middle of the den of her neohome, making an origami neopet with nimble fingers. One sheet of square paper, bright red, sat before her. Now, seventeen careful precise folds later, she has created a miniature Gelert. The room she sits in is teeming with her creations, all meticulously folded and lined up carefully on bamboo shelves.
Some of them are sold - after all, the Soup Kitchen hardly provides a satisfying meal - but many are kept, each and every one a work of art. She has done at least one of every neopet known, figuring out herself the best way to make paper imitations of life. She only sells the ones that are easier to make, that she has made many copies of. The rest, the complex ones that took her hours into the night to fabricate, are too precious.
She is the best origami maker in Shenkuu. Her works attract many Neopians, several of which are eager to learn. But the white Draik is an impatient teacher and too much of a perfectionist to give instructions and proper guidance.
"Kailing, we've got a customer."
The Draik looks up, setting a partly made origami Wocky delicately on the floor mat. Her brother Daie, a yellow Krawk, is at the doorway. His calloused hands are hard and thick with claws; they could never do what she does.
"This early?" she asks. The open windows lining the west wall of the room reveal the soft glow of dawn, sunlight just rimming the horizon.
"He's special," Daie says with a casual toothy grin. "I wouldn't keep him waiting."
Intrigued, Kailing stands up and heads to their shop. It is connected to her home, which sits on top of one of the many peaks of Shenkuu, beside the Golden Lake, the source of the Shenkuu Waterfalls. It is a small tourist shop where she and her brother sell their crafts. Along with her origami, Daie carves figurines out of wood.
Kailing surveys the store, checking to see if Daie remembered to sweep last night, and then flips the sign to OPEN and thrusts open the door to find herself face-to-face with someone's beard. She tilts her head upward and notices that the morning light accentuates a golden crown.
She is so stunned that it takes her a moment to realize that said crown is attached to a King's head. "King Hagan?"
He seems amused at her and Kailing instantly feels sheepish, but manages a welcoming smile - at least, she hopes it looks welcoming - and considers bowing. Her wings flutter rapidly, a nervous habit of hers.
"Yes, it is I. I suppose this is a bit of a surprise. I asked my advisor to send you a neomail, but something must have gone wrong, as you certainly seem to have not received it. You are Kailing, are you not?" King Hagan says.
Kailing knows there is nothing wrong with the Shenkuu post service. She just has not checked her mail in days. She instantly regrets being so lazy because one question is now obvious: Why is King Hagan here?
"Um, yes, I am Kailing. Er, Your Majesty. Nice to meet you. And uh, no, I didn't receive your notice," she says, unsure because surely this must be a dream, and then adds, "Your Majesty. Um. May I inquire as to why you have ... er, graced me with your presence? You have traveled quite far, all the way from Brightvale."
He smiles. "It was no trouble. I think the trip will be worth it. I have heard of your creations, and so has my son."
"Your son?" She was not aware King Hagan had any children, but when he steps to the side, the absence of his large body unveils a young, scrawny speckled Mynci wearing expensive green-and-gold silk clothes.
He clearly looks like his greatest desire is to be anywhere else.
The Mynci doesn't hide his expression of boredom and utter disgust at being dragged before her, but grudgingly grits out, "Hello, ma'am."
Kailing feels a bit awkward as she returns a greeting. She is still fairly young herself and no one has called her ma'am before, least of all the son of royalty. Suddenly realizing that she has still not allowed them entrance into the shop, she steps to the side and holds an arm out as welcome. "I'm sorry, would you like to, um, come in now?" Why can't she stop stumbling over her words?
King Hagan and Mortim enter the quaint store and take a look around. Daie, who had been listening to the brief conversation from his seat behind the counter, pretends to carve a new block of wood with his sharpened claw. He watches from the corner of his eye as King Hagan admires their crafts, inspecting the workmanship with an appreciative eye. Kailing shoots him an apprehensive glance.
Mortim scans the room and then spends his time looking at the ceiling. Kailing hopes he does not notice the spyderweb in the corner. What if he does, and King Hagan declares the store unclean and closes them down? What then? Where would she live? How would she buy origami paper?
"Brilliant work, your origami," booms King Hagan, interrupting a hysteric train of thought. "I knew I had come to the right place. May I also say, Shenkuu is a wonderful city. Delicious steamed dumplings too. Now, for the reason I came. I want you to teach Mortim how to make these."
What? Him? "Um, I – " How is she to tell King Hagan that she doesn't give lessons (especially to ungrateful, uninterested kids)?
"I'll pay you generously," King Hagan offers, as if that suddenly proves that Mortim is, in fact, an avid origami enthusiast.
Is she supposed to politely refuse that offer? Because, quite frankly, she doesn't mind the extra neopoints in her bank account.
"I – I don't think that's neccess – "
"I won't take no for an answer," King Hagan insists jovially, handing her a hefty bag. Daie, at the sound of chinking coins, looks up interestedly. "I hope that is enough. Now, I'll be back to pick him up in and hour or two." He turns to his son. "Mortim, be good. It was pleasant meeting you, Kailing."
And before Kailing could utter a protest, he had left, leaving behind his apathetic son.
"You have a spyderweb on your ceiling," Mortim says.
The two of them are sitting cross-legged in the den of her home, which is where Kailing always makes her origami. There is paper in front of her, but she knows Mortim probably will not even be touching it. She doesn't know why King Hagan has just dumped his child on her, but Mortim is under her care for up to two hours and hopefully nothing goes wrong for that time period.
The way she sees it, as long as he remains with all limbs attached, she won't be sent to the Brightvale dungeons.
It is quiet and Mortim has taken to observing the ceiling again. Kailing looks up and sees nothing of interest, not even a spyderweb. This ceiling is spotless and utterly boring to watch. "So," Kailing says, though they are both still staring mindlessly at the ceiling, "why are you here?"
"To learn origami," the Mynci replies automatically.
"No really, why are you here?"
There is a pause. Then, Mortim finally pries his eyes away from the ceiling, so she does too, and answers with a grin, "Because I'm a nuisance. And I set Uncle Skarl's best toupee on fire. Accidentally."
"Oh." Lovely, she thinks dryly. So why bring him to ‘learn’ origami? "And how is learning origami supposed to help?"
"I don't know," Mortim answers offhandedly, playing with his tail. "He was talking about blossoming wisdom starting at the hands of art, some kind of enlightening drivel. Basically, it's supposed to be good for me somehow. Personally, I don't see how folding paper is so great or hard."
"You don't think it's hard?" Kailing says, fazed. "You think you could do this?"
"Sure, if I wanted to learn."
"But you don't want to learn."
"Nope. Do I look like I want to learn?" he intoned obnoxiously.
"It's harder than you think. A lot harder. Yes, some things are easy to make. But other things take a lot of practice and time."
"Right," Mortim says shortly.
He's cheapening her art and she, just for a moment, seriously considers pushing him into the waterfall outside and letting the nurannas chew on his toes. But the moment passes and she just grumbles.
"Okay, okay. We can just sit here."
And for almost five minutes, that lasts. Mortim seems accustomed to doing nothing for long amounts of time, but she has always needed to do something with her fingers. So she picks up a slip of paper before her and folds it precisely in half, beginning to make a Mynci. It is one of the harder neopets to construct. She has only made one before, which presently sits as the fourth from the right on the second highest shelf.
Quite some time has passed when Kailing notices that Mortim – finally bored with the oh-so-fascinating ceiling and his oh-so-amusing tail – is watching her. The origami Mynci she is making requires three pieces of paper. She has just started folding the second one, which is to make the upper torso and arms. She feels self-concious with his eyes fixed on her hands, but doesn't say anything, doesn't break the tranquility. If he is quiet, he's no problem.
She is surprised he is actually watching her quite intently, not making a sound. She even thinks that perhaps he does harbour some secret wish to learn origami, so she keeps her eyes on her fingers and her folding. Showing him is the best way she can teach him.
Kailing finishes one particularly difficult fold and carefully interlocks the paper torso to the legs and tail part before looking up to see the time on the grandfather clock. It is nearing an hour and a half since King Hagan left – and wait, where is Mortim?
He is not in the room, and neither is a third of her prized origami collection.
She is panicking. She has lost the King of Brightvale's son – who knows how strained the relationship between Shenkuu and Brightvale will be from then on, solely because of her? – and she has lost her origami.
The latter, of course, being infinitely more important.
"MORTIM!" she storms, yanking open the den door and looking up and down the hall. Where would he be, the little runt? She cannot believe that he has just run out like that, taking a great chunk of her work with him, and she hasn’t even noticed until now.
Daie's face appears round the corner of the hall, perplexed. "Okay, is there a reason as to why you just caused a miniature earthquake?"
"My origami!" Kailing wails. She is normally reserved, quiet. But this is her origami. And she knows that many neopets think it is just bits of folded paper, but to her they are her art, her trade, each one a reflection of things, neopians, petpets she saw during her life. She has dedicated so much care and thought, and it is really harder than everyone thinks, especially since she makes things no one before has made. It is, in some twisted personal way, her diary, like how a painter leaves a bit of his soul with each brush stroke.
"What happened?" Daie asks.
"Mortim. King Hagan’s son. Have. You. Seen. Him?"
The Krawk suddenly looks very worried for himself. He knows how important origami is to his sister. "He – um – ran out of the store just a moment ago. He was laughing. But – but maybe it wasn't him. I wasn't really looking you know, what with, what with being too busy, um, working."
"You. You let him go?" she screeches, running down the corridor and pushing past her brother. She darts across the shop - the first customers of the day look at her in surprise - and goes outside to see Mortim looking quite amused, standing by the edge of the Golden Lake.
Her origami is floating in the lake and then falling down the Shenkuu Falls.
Kailing gasps - that is all she can do for now - and then after the initial panic has subsided, hopes desperately she can save her work. The paper she uses is special, fairly durable in water, and if she reaches them in time they probably won't be soaked. She'll have to deal with Mortim – that evil little sneak – later.
She half flies, half runs down the mountain. She only needs to get to the Grand Lake, because even though the Falls continue, there are small dams at the Grand Lake that will stop her origami from going further. It is still some distance away, however. She wishes she were a better flier because circling round the steep mountain slope is taking far too long by foot. She quickly loses her breath, but manages to stumble down as best as she can.
After Kailing chokes back her breath, she sees an origami Nimmo, Quiggle, and Gelert swirling in the center of the lake, sopping wet and about to sink. But most of her origami is not soaked, she is happy to see, because some other Neopians have saved them from drowning.
There is a large group of young neopets kneeling by the edge of the lake, each holding several origami neopets in their small hands and paws and hooves. Kailing nears them. They are smiling, comparing their new toys. An infant Shoyru giggles as she and a friend play-fight with their origami.
She taps the Shoyru's shoulder and the little neopet turns, looking up at Kailing with wide eyes. "Hello," the young Shoyru says brightly, and her smile reveals missing front teeth. "Look what the waterfall gave me." She proudly holds up two of Kailing's creations.
Kailing looks at the Shoyru and her demand for her origami back dies before it leaves her mouth, replaced with a smile she cannot control. How can she ask for them back? The children are so happy and strangely, she cannot believe it, she is happy too. She knows that perhaps, in a few days, some of the kids will get bored of these toys and preoccupy themselves with others, but for now their faces are lit-up with newfound joy.
Kailing wishes she could have seen the colourful origami tumbling down the waterfall.
Every year since, Shenkuu celebrates the Waterfall Festival, which begins when the citizens traditionally drop origami figures - now often holding candies and sweets – in a flurry of colour down the Falls for the eager children waiting below.