Dream an Ocean Away
Her father had deemed her decision “unwise.”
Her mother had been close to tears when she learned of it.
Her sisters had... ah, wait, hold on.
That hadn’t even been her family in the first place.
A bizarre-looking Xweetok brought her thoughtful gaze high into the clear Mystery Island sky, with two faithful petpets, an exotic Kazeriu and an adorable Miamouse, floating beside her and clinging to her shoulder, respectively. The pair looked curiously into the majestic white clouds, wondering what in Neopia their entranced owner was staring at. It was the sky; only the sky. The rebellious Kazeriu had once flown freely amongst the blue before he had been captured and given to the Xweetok as a fifteenth birthday gift, and the Miamouse had bounded along the perfectly cotton-like clouds of Faerieland before she’d given away her loyalty. So, the sky was nothing new. Nothing to get excited about. It was a normal day on the island, where the sky was always with them.
The question was... what made the sky so special today, so that even rock-hard Zalea Labelle was in a daze?
Kazega, the Kazeriu, floated past Zalea’s stiff back to his companion, Momo, lying on her shoulder.
“Hey,” he whispered, clearly bored. “We’ve been here for about twenty minutes now. What’s the big idea?”
Momo groggily lifted an eyelid and stifled a groan—she had almost been asleep until Kazega had come along. “I don’t know...” she murmured, her delicate pink fur rippling ever so slightly in the cooling sea breeze. “Maybe she just needs some time to... you know... think about something.” And with that comment, her eye winked shut, a silent command for Kazega to stop bothering her.
Zalea, however, took no notice of either of her petpets’ boredom. She wasn’t really staring at the sky; the soothing blue just provided her something to ease her eyes with as she reflected on her past.
She was a native of Mystery Island. An Island Xweetok, with white tribal markings, bead-decorated fur that draped around her neck, and of course, tanned skin. What was truly bizarre about her appearance, though, was the fact that her hair was black and tied into a bun, and her clothing resembled that of the warriors of Shenkuu.
But she was an Island Xweetok.
She’d just so happened to have lived amongst the royalty of Shenkuu for over half of her life.
Zalea blinked, stifling a sigh. She wasn’t anyone worth praising, or even gossiping about anymore. But, that happened to be precisely the reason why she had returned to the Island. She needed to prove herself—to find herself. She didn’t want luxury handed to her.
Why else would she have given up the life that every other Neopet only lived in dreams?
She was Zalea, otherwise known as Princess Nayuma, heir to the (Chrysanthemum) Throne of Shenkuu.
Or, she had been. Now, she was searching for something else. And it didn’t matter if she had any regrets leaving that day, or even now, because it didn’t matter anymore.
- - -
“Princess Nayuma has arrived!”
A young Xweetok, clad in a colorful purple robe embellished with designs of swans, cherry blossoms, and feathers, stepped through the doorway and into the throne room, where the Emperor sat. Her black hair was pinned up into a tight bun at the back of her head, and her headdress sat atop, never, even for a split second, tilting as the princess walked. That trick, of course, was due to years of balancing piles of scrolls, fine china, and calligraphy paintbrushes on her head, sometimes so heavy that she wanted to collapse.
The Emperor, a regal-looking Gelert wearing an elegant, golden robe that gave him an air of supreme authority, smiled as he saw his favorite, albeit strange-looking “daughter.” Some on Mystery Island were still claiming that the girl was rightfully theirs, but... that was so many years ago. And he had been desperate... to find his daughter, who, in the end, wasn’t his daughter after all, but he had grown so attached...
Thus, the inducting of Nayuma as a real princess, and a “real” daughter of the Emperor.
“Nayuma.” He smiled, gesturing slowly with his right paw. “What brings you here at this hour?”
The skies were already dark, the moon and stars were shining brightly behind a thin curtain of clouds, and the shops were closing down for the day. At this hour, it didn’t matter whether or not Shenkuu was a merchant town—the shopkeepers had worked hard during the day, and any lights coming from the buildings would have surely made any other Neopian adventurer curious about the town. And that curiosity was still out of the question.
Nayuma, still silent, stared at the plush red carpet beneath her feet. It was because of this kind of luxury that she had come to her adoptive father, after all... her discomfort with it.
“Father...” she began meekly, the bright lantern lights casting a mild light on her tanned, decorated skin. Her paws locked behind her back in shame. Here she was, living a dream... and she wanted to leave it. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate it all—she really, truly did—but she didn’t belong here. Everyone knew that, she assumed, from the weird looks that she was subjected to every day.
She needed to leave. The issue was how to convey that decision quickly and painlessly to the Emperor.
Taking a deep breath, she tried again, “I... I have something that I want you to be aware of.”
The Emperor raised an eyebrow curiously. Was something wrong with the maid service? Who would he have to fire this week? Perhaps she was having a fight with her sisters, and needed to be isolated for a little while...
Oh, having daughters was tiresome. “Yes, what is it?” he inquired, the love and patience drifting out with his voice. And now, she was going to hurt him...
The shame. She felt horrible...
“I... I’m leaving.”
Oh no... please, please...
“... What?” Words could not describe the look of complete shock on the Emperor’s face, half-masked by years of professionalism. But his voice expressed it all.
“Father, I... I don’t belong here. I never have... I never will.” Her throat was searing, as if the words themselves were tearing it up. She couldn’t help it—she felt his pain, every inch of it burning into her own dignity.
“I... I don’t understand.” He was intelligent—almost on par with King Hagan of Brightvale. But he’d bet anything that even Hagan himself wouldn’t be able to determine the reason why one of his precious daughters—his favorite daughter—had suddenly decided to leave him.
“Father. It isn’t your fault, so please...” She could feel the tears coming, adding to her mounting pile of disgrace. “I... I need to find myself. I’m tired of it... I’m tired of those looks that the people here give me.”
He eyed her thoughtfully as she continued to refuse to look up at him. The initial wonderment was somewhat diminishing as he heard her justification. Of course... She was a Xweetok, taken from her tribe on Mystery Island after being mistakenly identified as his daughter... before they found the real princess, dubbed “Ruru,” on Roo Island. And now, here she was, sixteen years later—a Xweetok with an appearance still bearing her origin as an Islander, and yet, somewhat forced into the garments of Shenkuu royalty.
It was an awkward clash, but he still loved her all the same... He wanted her to stay.
“Nayuma, please reconsider this,” he breathed, his powerful voice on the verge of a plead. “If there’s anything that I can do, then—”
Determined, even humiliated, to stand her ground, Nayuma looked him in the eyes before cutting him off, “Father. Pain is the least of the things that I want this parting to bring. But I must go.” Tribal instincts cut through her well-mannered demeanor as she made a sharp turn around. But it was that well-mannered demeanor that prevented her from moving an inch—from leaving the palace right then and there.
He would regret this action for the rest of his life, he knew. He would never see Nayuma again.
“... All right.” His professionalism was weakening. A river of sorrow rushed through his chest.
His consent was like music to her ears, an arrow to her chest. She turned around halfway, giving him an apologetic, poignant glance with glittering eyes.
“Thank you, Father. Thank you so much.”
- - -
“Hey, Zalea? Zalea? You’ve been staring at... well, whatever you’ve been staring at for the past half hour.”
Kazega’s complaints awoke her from her trance. “Oh? Oh, I’m sorry, guys.”
The energetic Kazeriu spun around in annoyance. “Yeah, well, whatever...” Momo, on the other hand, had fallen fast asleep on her shoulder. She smiled.
The island breeze tickled her fur, but somehow, it was familiar... like the fresh mountain wind that she had felt so many times on her mismatched body. She felt an aching rush return to her heart, much like the one she’d felt directly after leaving the palace.
Nostalgia, she concluded, creeps up in unassuming ways.
But she wouldn’t stay like that. She wasn’t confined any longer... not to a title or a building. She was Zalea Labelle, free as could be. Nayuma, as was Shenkuu, was oceans of dreams away.
Her glittering eyes fixed back onto the sky, where the sun was growing heavier and bolder as the minutes dripped past.
Maybe, her own dream wasn’t so far away. Maybe the sky wasn’t as distant as she thought it was.
Maybe, this was her dream.