The Secret Book of Chef Bonju
Also by seegensays
"I'm going to write a book," announced Nuna Bright as she entered the room she shared with her sister.
Snotty, self-assured brat, thought her identical brown Aisha twin, Nina. Know-it-all.
She dropped her pencil, watching it briefly as it settled over her math problem. Nuna, naturally, was already done with her homework. "It had to happen eventually," Nina said aloud, barely masking her sarcasm. "You've done everything else."
Nuna completely missed her sister's disdain, smiling smugly at her new idea.
Nina sighed. "Aren't twins supposed to be identical? Why is it that everyone thinks of you as the intellectual? And the athletic one? And even the pretty identical twin, come to think of it."
"Don't be silly," laughed Nuna, striding over to the desk. "You could probably write a book as good as mine." Maybe someone else would have mistaken her tone for sincerity, but Nina knew her sister. Nuna's wide eyes were mocking.
"Fine then – I will," replied Nina, standing up angrily. Nuna was always the "better" one – in school, at camp, everywhere they were together. Nina was sick of it.
As Nuna left the room, smirking, Nina's burning desire to win disappeared. Anxiety gripped her as she sat down again. Why had she agreed to write a book? She should just accept that she couldn't be the best.
The next few days cemented her opinion. Nuna could be seen around the Neohome, always busy and secretive. Nina still didn't have any ideas, and she was already up to her four ears in the homework that Nuna always seemed to have under control.
She just couldn't top her sister, ever, at anything. Her mindset shifted, and she knew that she had given up.
But the next day, a surprise greeted her when she came home from school. A Faerie Pteri perched awkwardly on the front porch, blocking her entry. "You must come with me," he said earnestly. "The Faerie Queen wishes an audience with you."
"What – with me? What did I – " But the Pteri had already scooped her up in his talons, and away they soared.
She wasn't particularly afraid of heights, but fear gripped her as she watched her house shrink exponentially. She gulped and focused instead on the fluffy clouds that now surrounded them.
It didn't take long to reach Faerieland – the Pteri was a fast flier. The violet behemoth that was the Faerie Queen's castle loomed ahead. It would be pretty, she thought, if I knew what she wanted me for.
The Pteri deposited her at the top of the grand entrance steps. The door opened, and she was ushered inside. Too confused and afraid to admire the splendor around her, she somehow stumbled into a vast throne room. Fyora sat before her, fabulously regal in a winged throne.
"Nina, such a lovely girl," she began. "Do you have any idea why you were brought here?"
Nina shook her head, dazed. It took all her will power not to blurt out, "It wasn't me!"
Fyora examined her critically. "You are such a wonderful person. Why do you let your sister take the spotlight?"
"Because she's the better twin," Nina said before thinking. "Always has been."
Fyora tutted. "There's no such thing as a 'better twin.' The lack of morale here is, quite frankly, depressing, which is why I have taken an interest in the situation."
Nina was in complete and utter shock. Why would the Faerie Queen care about one little Aisha, when there were so many other Neopets in Neopia?
As if she had read Nina's thoughts, Fyora continued, "You're destined to become a wonderfully accomplished Neopet, Nina. You give off an... aura. I recognized some of my younger self in you."
An aura? thought Nina worriedly. Since when did she give off an aura?
Fyora clapped her hands once, and a silver platter materialized out of nowhere, floating in front of her. Nina blinked, and looked back up at the Faerie Queen. This was just too weird.
"A ham sandwich?" she asked incredulously. The bread was shaped into Faerie wings, but the pinkish meat poking out from between the slices was definitely ham.
The Faerie Queen frowned, looking insulted. "It's not a ham sandwich, it's an epiphany. We had to put it into food form, so you could consume it. Take a bite – then write whatever comes into your mind."
It took every ounce of Nina's willpower to stop herself from laughing hysterically. She tentatively picked up the sandwich and took a bite.
The feeling was indescribable. The so-called epiphany filled every fiber of her being – a warm, liquid beam of golden light. All the knowledge in Neopia was at her fingertips.
"Now, what do you want to know?" asked Fyora. To Nina, the Faerie Queen sounded distant and muffled, as if she was speaking underwater.
Nina thought for a moment. What enigmas could she unravel? What well-kept secrets of Neopia could she discover, then write about, to make the best book ever written? Her mind strayed to her friends; several of them had owners who were complete avatar nuts. What were they always going on about? How nobody knew how to get the... Chef Bonju avatar, was it?
As soon as she thought it, the knowledge filled her mind. She smiled. A simple solution, but clever in its simplicity. How many Neopians would give an arm and a leg for the information one bite of a ham sandwich had given her?
Later, she would vaguely remember being brought back home via Faerie Pteri. Nuna was the only person in the house, and she was too absorbed in her book writing to notice that Nina had come back – or that she had gone in the first place, for that matter.
Instead of starting on her homework – which she had in monumental amounts – Nina got straight to work, writing out her book before the epiphany left her. Although she hadn't thought of writing much before, the words flowed from her pen with a mind of their own. Somehow she knew everything she needed to write a full-fledged book: not only the solution, but a history of tried and tested theories, and the frustration the avatar had caused over time.
She wrote late into the night, stopping only once to complete her homework, which took a lot less time than usual. She barely slept, consumed by her new project. Nuna, although she tried to hide it, was concerned. What business did Nina have being even more diligent and determined than her? Nina was the lesser twin. That was how it had always been, the way it should be.
Just a week passed before Nina announced her book's completion. She clutched the many pages to her chest with ink stained hands, refusing to let the writings out of sight. Nuna finished her book shortly afterwards. It was time – time to ascertain who really was the better twin, after all.
They chose an impartial judge – their English teacher. The austere Grey Cybunny was the only teacher in the entire school immune to Nuna's charm; she disliked all of the students equally. The entire Neoschool congregated in the courtyard during lunch to watch and listen.
Nuna read her book aloud first. It became clear that writing was not the Aisha's forte. The prose was horrendously dull and incomprehensible. It wasn't entirely clear what the subject matter was, either; she had tried so hard to sound sophisticated that the long, exotic words she used made no sense together.
The teacher managed to funnel her dislike into a small twitch of the eye as Nuna finished, and some of their classmates actually seemed to be sleeping, the rest talking amongst themselves, not paying attention.
Nina's chest was swelling with hope – she could see victory on the horizon. Finally, she was going to succeed where her "perfect" sister had failed. Maybe now she would finally be recognized as an intelligent Neopet in her own right.
She started reading. Even though she knew the contents of her book already, the quality of her writing still surprised her. She'd never have been able to write that well without the Faerie Queen's epiphany-filled ham sandwich.
The actual solution was divulged towards the end, so Nina read about the history and theories first. She could see that, despite her usual apathy, the teacher was completely enthralled, and so was everyone else. Even Nuna seemed impressed. And was that... envy, shining in her twin's eyes?
But as Nina started to read out the solution – everyone sat at the edge of their seat in anticipation – something strange and inexplicable happened: Nina's pages vanished in a puff of glittery purple smoke. Her words died in her throat. Chaos broke out among the students – what just happened?
In another puff of purple smoke, Fyora herself appeared at Nina's side, looking thoroughly regal. Nearly everyone gasped, awed. Nina was the only one with a different reaction – she had seen the queen before, after all.
"What happened to my book?" she asked, trying not to sound too whiny. She had been so close to the end!
Fyora looked a little sheepish. Trying to keep up a queenly tone, she explained, "Well, recently I've been... reprimanded. Turns out even I'm not authorized to give epiphanies to Neopets. Apparently the Avatar Committee of TNT doesn't want you to spill the secret out to everyone. So we've taken your book and hidden it. Sorry about that."
Nina was at a total loss for words. "What – I – how – you can't do that!" she sputtered.
But Fyora was already gone, replaced by yet another Faerie Queen-sized cloud of smoke.
Everywhere in Neopia, people were talking about the book.
Her classmates, and other Brightvalians, crowded around her regularly, asking her for the sought-after solution. But some sort of charm had been placed on her: she literally could not divulge the secret. The only way anyone would ever find it out now would be if they found her pages.
And, try as they might, nobody was able to find them. They searched high and low – in obvious places, like libraries, and not-so-obvious places, like the homes of Tyrannian villagers who couldn't grasp the concept of paper being used as anything other than kindling.
All the while, Nuna silently fumed. She generally thought of herself as a nice person, but not being the best at something stirred up an emotion she wasn't aware she was capable of: jealousy. She worked hard to keep it from burning in her eyes every time anyone so much as mentioned her now famous sister.
She needed to find the book. She needed to – it was a burning, physical desire that ate away at her thoughts every waking moment. She needed a miracle, like Fyora's intervention had been for Nina.
Fortunately, Fyora wasn't the only one with the ability to help.
It was just another ordinary day; having finished her homework, Nuna sat, sulking, on her bed. She hated more than ever that she and Nina shared a room – so whenever Nina was done socializing grandly with Neopets pretending to be her friends, because of her recent skyrocket to fame, the hated twin sister could just waltz right in and ruin Nuna's much-needed fuming time.
Just when she was thinking about how bleak and meaningless her life as the inferior twin had become, a Faerie-sized puff of purple smoke appeared in the corner of the room. It wasn't the pretty, glittery Fyora-smoke like at the courtyard. No, this smoke was thick and oppressing, unappetizingly puce in color. As it cleared, Nuna made out the shape of an imposing dark Faerie figure, swathed in dark purple and sickly green.
Nuna jumped up, narrowly avoiding smacking her head on the ceiling. She skipped the ladder attached to the side of the bunk bed completely, opting for jumping straight over the safety railing and onto the thickly carpeted floor. "Jhu – Jhudora! The dark Faerie! In my – in my room!" Appropriately, the little brown Aisha cowered in terror.
Jhudora sighed, exasperated. Her hands were on her hips, green nails glinting in the light. "Don't cower, puny Neopet. I'm here to help you, believe it or not."
"Help?" Nuna stared at her unexpected guest uncomprehendingly. She was too surprised to be terrified, now.
"Yes, help, are you deaf? Or stupid?"
Nuna ignored the insults and smiled widely, once she realized that the Faerie meant it. It wasn't wise to deal with dark Faeries, but still... if Jhudora could help...
Jhudora mirrored Nuna's evil smile. "You might be wondering why I would help you. The truth is, I greatly admire the hatred and jealousy you feel for your sister. It's... touching, especially since you're supposed to be the nice one. It turns out you're a truly awful person, and – keep this in mind, I'm not an emotional person – that very nearly brings tears to my eyes. I've decided to give you an epiphany of your own, so that you can find the book, reveal the secret, and destroy your sister's newfound confidence by becoming the most loved once again." As she spoke, Jhudora pulled a glass vial from somewhere in the folds of her dress.
It was a grubby little thing, the liquid inside the same ugly color as the smoke that had announced her arrival.
It said a lot about Nuna's true character that she accepted Jhudora's "praise" without protest. "You can give me an epiphany?" she asked, incredulous and eager. "Even the Faerie Queen isn't authorized!"
Jhudora threw her head back and laughed theatrically. "And neither am I. So what?"
A momentary look of unease eclipsed the look of sheer joy on Nuna's face. "I thought epiphanies came in ham sandwich form...?" Even at this point, when she was obviously not thinking clearly, the liquid in that vial looked exceedingly unappetizing.
Jhudora shuddered. "A ham sandwich? The embodiment of goodness? Of course not!"
Nuna shrugged. "Gimme!" She thrust her hand out, palm up, greedily.
The dark Faerie sighed happily. It was nice to know there were still some deplorable people in the world. She uncorked the bottle with a loud popping noise and tossed it the short distance across the room. Nuna caught it and brought it up to her lips in one frenzied motion. The sticky, unpleasant substance slid out of the bottle in a sickly blob and disappeared quickly down the Aisha's throat. She swallowed, wincing slightly at the awful taste.
"Awful, right?" commented Jhudora brightly. "It's my favorite flavor – envy and greed, just a little dash of unbridled hatred."
But Nuna couldn't hear her at this point. She was lost in the startling feeling of the epiphany. The sensation that swirled through her body wasn't warm or pleasant, but cold, malignant, and immeasurably powerful. She was pleased to find that that immeasurable power was hers.
She reached out with her mind and was immediately greeted with a sight that made her smile even wider. She knew exactly where the book was hidden; a ridiculously simple place. Honestly, that Fyora had no creativity.
"You pleased?" Nuna was shaken out of her reverie by Jhudora's snarl. Happy wasn't an emotion Jhudora enjoyed much. She wanted the young Aisha to get on with it; there were much more acceptable emotions to come, once the situation spiraled further out of control.
Nuna nodded distractedly. "Thanks," she added, a seriously twisted variation of a conscience reminding her to be polite.
"Whatever." Jhudora scowled her trademark scowl. She demonstrated her dramatic exit then, throwing her head back haughtily, then whipping her arm up to snap almost irritably. She disappeared in another puff of sulfurous purple smoke.
Nuna swaggered out of the room, smug. Honestly – the whole "last place you'll look" strategy? She shook her head and tutted, imagining the exact section of the school library – books on the obscure subject of Brightvalian tree science, a section nobody had bothered to look through for at least a decade – where Nina's much sought-after writings would be waiting.
"Um... Adam? We have a problem." An unnamed administrator of some sort interrupted the staff meeting taking place in a surprisingly bland administrative conference room. The only thing that betrayed the meeting's unusual nature was the presence of the Faerie Queen, and several of her Faerie advisors. The Neopets Team and the Faeries worked in equal parts to govern Neopia, after all.
"Remember that 'book,' written by some Aisha? The one with the unauthorized epiphany?" he continued. Fyora blushed profusely and tried to sink lower into her seat. "Well, ah... it appears to be missing from its hiding place."
A collective gasp filled the room.
A spotted Buzz flitted in, handing Adam a cup of asparagus-flavored Borovan, so he could sip it while this new complication sank in. The unnamed administrator blinked, but said nothing; he was relatively new.
"No need to worry," the Faerie Queen assured everyone quickly. "Jhudora has bewitched the pages so they won't separate." In retrospect, maybe having the least trustworthy of Faeries do it had been a mistake. Adam didn't need to know that now, though.
"But what if the pages do separate?" Adam asked. "It would ruin the point of having Neopets figure out the secret for themselves. I don't want such a difficult avatar solution to be figured out by means of an unauthorized epiphany."
Fyora, red-faced, refused to meet his gaze. "Uh, well, that's impossible." She felt rather than saw the daggers the head of Neopets was glaring at her now. "But – but if it does happen, Jhudora will know. She'll tell us immediately." At least she hoped so. She made a mental note to talk to Jhudora straightaway.
Nuna was giddy with anticipation. She had met no obstacles on her way to and from the school library – she suddenly had unparalleled knowledge of how to pick locks – and she was now sitting on the floor of her room, the famous "book" in front of her. She flipped over the first few pages without any trouble; Jhudora, of course, had not really bewitched it.
Her eyes raked greedily across the page – this wasn't the right part, though. She started flipping through it, unconsciously muttering to herself.
"Nuna, who are you talking to?" With atrocious timing (in Nuna's opinion, at least), Nina walked into the room then. She immediately recognized the ink stained pages she had worked so hard on, and she pointed an accusatory finger at her sister. "You found it! Give it back!"
"No!" A frantic tug-of-war ensued between the twins.
"I'm going to read it, and I'll share it with the rest of Neopia, and they'll love me forever! I have to be the best twin again!" shrieked Nuna, now completely mad with jealousy and greed.
Nina was horrified. She had never shared a close relationship with her sister, but she could tell that something had changed, majorly. Nuna was now officially crazy.
They stopped mid-fight, though, to stare in wonder at the corner of their room. Fyora had suddenly materialized – and alongside her, in shackles that glowed a light purple with magic, Jhudora. The Faerie Queen grimaced.
"This entire thing has escalated way out of control – I'm sorry, Nina. It seems that Jhudora here" – the dark Faerie winced as she was elbowed in the side – "gave your sister an epiphany of her own. This whole situation was orchestrated by Jhudora; it seems she was bored sitting at home demanding ridiculous items for her quests. She thought she would be clever, and hide it from me by offering to 'help.' But I went to talk to her, right as she was receiving the message from some poor Neopet servant of hers that the book had been found, all according to plan."
"It was a good plan!" piped up Jhudora. She scowled at Fyora. "You and your convenient timing. I swear, you'd never be able to catch anyone if you didn't have an uncanny knack for arriving at exactly the wrong time." She addressed Nina now. "And you – you're probably thinking that your sister deserves to be what she's become: the lesser twin, consumed by jealousy and loathing because of it. But you're not any better. What have you been doing, since you became the 'better' one? Gloating. And you didn't even do anything. It was all Fyora's doing – Fyora's epiphany."
"That's quite enough," interrupted Fyora sternly.
Nina felt hollow all of a sudden. Jhudora was right. She hadn't done anything special, after all. She was just a pawn in this horrible game the Faeries were playing. And Nuna... Jhudora had pushed the twin over the edge. Maybe Nuna hadn't been beyond hope before Fyora butted in.
Suddenly Fyora was kneeling in front of Nina, so that their eyes were at the same level. The Faerie Queen dropped her magical staff and gripped Nina's forearms earnestly. "Listen," she pleaded gently. "Do you know what an epiphany is?"
Nina nodded numbly. " 'Sudden realization of great truth.' "
"I gave you an epiphany, and you discovered the solution for the Chef Bonju avatar. After that, the writing, the confidence... that was all you. I just gave you a nudge in the right direction. You're capable of becoming the best writer in Neopia, Nina – you just couldn't figure it out, always being in your sister's shadow. And Nuna; as you've seen here today, being the 'better' twin is all that holds her together. She is a weak person, so that's all she can handle. You're stronger, so you have to hold your sister up. It's not fair, I know, but eventually you can teach her to stand on her own. Then you'll be free to be whomever you want, without any comparisons, ever."
Nina's head was swimming. She glanced over her shoulder, where Nuna stood somewhat brokenly, staring at Fyora, Nina's writings forgotten.
"I have to go now," continued Fyora quickly. "I have to do some rearranging of memories to sort out this whole mess. Remember what I've told you. And that aura I told you about before? Well, it's obvious you're going to do something great, without my help. I can't wait to see." The Faerie Queen then stood up, moved back a few steps, and disappeared in a final puff of glittery smoke.
But instead of dissipating, as it had before, the smoke drifted and expanded, filling up the room. In a few moments, Nina's vision was blurry, her eyelids heavy, and her whole body weak. She remembered vaguely hitting the floor – her carpet seemed unusually soft and bed-like – before everything went black.
Nina woke up with a start. She was drooling on her math homework. Nuna's snicker came from somewhere behind her.
"Math's not that boring, Nina."
Nina opened her mouth to respond as she turned to face her sister, but stopped herself. She smiled. "I guess I'm just not that good with math. I'm going to do some writing afterwards, though – you want to write a book with me or something?"
Nuna wrinkled her nose. "No way. Writing's boring. Besides, nobody reads anymore – being a brilliant author, as I probably am, won't get me anywhere."
Nina smiled happily as Nuna stalked out of the room. That had been one great dream. Something about winning a book writing contest, then Fyora, and Jhudora, and epiphanies... And something about a secret. If only she could remember what it was.
For some reason, she was itching to write something. She pulled out the scrap paper she was supposed to be using for math and started to write.
"I'm going to write a book," announced Nuna Bright as she entered the room she shared with her sister...