“’Ey Mister, don’tcha know Halloween is over?”
I glowered down at the little twit that had addressed me and inwardly seethed as his small, blue paw tugged at my cape. Each little jerk made the knot around my throat press into my green fur uncomfortably, but this annoying sensation was muffled by the growing sense of anger.
Costume? COSTUME? That’s what he thought this was? My eyes tried to bore holes into the miniature version of myself, though he was blue, and I, green. We were of the same species, and of that I was mildly embarrassed, because of his all too obvious ignorance. He discredited Lupes everywhere. No matter that he wasn’t much more than an adolescent.
Had I gone around belittling and harassing elders when I’d been his age? No, of course not. By then, I’d been on the verge of saving all of Neopia daily. I’d already been in training to be a Defender. I’d already been only a few perilous ventures away from gaining my title.
The Lupe Defender of Neopia.
My scowl deepened further, enticing my brows to furrow as well. The title was renowned, certainly, but even that, now, was a sore stinging to my pride. Because, after all, it was only a title, and it didn’t even include my name. If it’d included my name, given me half the fame I deserved, this annoying youth would have known better than to presume that my current attire was a costume.
Of course it wasn’t a costume! It was my Defender wardrobe! Yellow, red, and orange. Cape, mask, wrist bands! All of it! These were the symbols of who I was! But who was I really if even this kid didn’t recognize me? An imposter. A Lupe in a costume.
What did being the Lupe Defender mean if no one knew my name?
“It’s not a costume,” I snapped bitterly, wrenching my cape angrily from his paws. “I’m the Lupe Defender.”
It was embarrassing that I had to introduce myself. With all the amazing feats under my belt, Neopians should have recognized me a mile away.
The blue Lupe youth seemed unperturbed by my apparent, simmering anger, and he merely cocked a fuzzy eyebrow, inclining his head to stare, unimpressed, up at me.
“Which one?” he then had the gall to ask.
For a moment—an uncontrolled, painful moment—my mouth fell open, exposing my pristine white teeth as I breathed out an angry huff. Then, that simmering anger came to a boil, and I lifted myself upright, thrusting my chin into the air, and regally stepping away from the youth.
“Which one?” I roared as I sidestepped the curious Neopet. “The ONLY one!”
Breathing angrily out my snout, I left the younger Lupe on the sidewalk outside of the bookstore, the store in front of which I’d been so rudely interrupted, and stomped away, my cape rippling noisily behind me, as if it, too, was furious.
Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. I was a nameless hero, one that received none of his rightful credit. In essence, I wasn’t really a hero, because no one truly knew that I existed, that I was the rightful Lupe Defender.
No one knew my real name. Not that it was impressive or gallant, or anything particularly amazing. But my name was mine, and I had a right to be known. I had been named after my father, named--.
I hissed out an angry breath as my toe suddenly, unmercifully stubbed itself on some unknown object. The hiss became a growl as I limped sideways and immediately dropped my gaze to the sidewalk, seeking out my invisible adversary. I found it easily. It was a rock, no more than a pebble, but still incredibly infuriating seeing as what I’d already endured today.
Drawing back my good foot, I prepared to give it a first class flying lesson courtesy a swift kick from my paw.
I glanced up in surprise as a young Acara came bustling down the sidewalk toward me, looking frazzled. Anxiety had spread plainly over her red face as her eyes riveted to the rock that I had been about to boot.
“Don’t!” she cried, hurrying to my side. “Don’t kick him!”
Him? I wondered incredulously, and glanced down at my assailant. It was a rock, as I had first determined, and rather immobile and lifeless. Still, the Acara dropped to her knees before me, snatching up the rock and cradling it in her arms as if it was a baby.
“It’s okay, Stalone! It’s fine. I’m sorry I forgot you,” she cooed to her rock.
A pet rock? I rolled my eyes and skirted around the Acara, not offering any apologies, because I truly had none. The rock had assaulted my toe, not the other way around.
Glowering, I continued my trudge down the sidewalk, a little slower in pace now, and kept my head down, reverting back to my previous thoughts.
My name. It was a constant presence in my mind. Even if no one else knew it, I did.
But I was to remain nameless. Defenders couldn’t have names. They couldn’t have lives outside of the “job”. We were our occupation. Our time, minds, bodies—even our souls!—were dedicated to defending innocents from those that meant to harm Neopia. There was no room for anything else. Not even for our names.
The Lupe Defender, the Aisha Defender, “this” Defender, “that” Defender. Simply masks. Nothing more, yet something incredibly... less.
I sighed and turned left onto the sidewalk that forked away from the one upon which I’d previously been treading without looking up. I knew this route and routine like the back of my paw. I’d pass by only three more shops before I reached my location in Neopia Central.
I heaved out another gusty sigh as resignation set in. Everything was the same, and everything would keep being the same. The seasons changed, the villains changed, but my life did not. I could not abort my current position, I could not hang up my cape and lead a different life. I had chosen this fate, and now I couldn’t desert those depending on me.
I looked up finally as I came to the fourth shop, looking reluctantly at the sign that rested on its roof. I winced away from the words painted in vibrant golds, blues, and reds, and from the symbol that had become the badge of my life. The symbol of the Defenders of Neopia.
No, I couldn’t desert those that counted on me, but... but this was ridiculous! I eyed the crowd already streaming steadily into the store.
I understood why the Defenders had created the store, why we needed the steady income to finance the purchasing of fancy new bad-guy-catching technology, and why it was so important, but...
This was still ridiculous!
A golden-haired Aisha in an orange, white, and red spandex uniform sauntered out of the front door, squeezing pass the customers that were already milling about. She headed straight for me, obviously expecting me. I suppressed yet another sigh as she paused briefly at my side.
“You’re late,” her melodious voice informed me.
I shrugged off any form of apology. “I’m here now.”
She smiled brilliantly up at me, and I saw sarcasm very evidently staining that smile, as if there was a true, saucy, biting remark she really wanted to make.
“Just in time for the crowd,” she informed me, her smile looking a little more malicious as she patted my broad, green shoulder.
I was relieving her of her shift at the Defender shop—something all of us had to periodically succumb to—and I was slightly annoyed to give her this satisfaction as she had so obviously enjoyed the fact that I was about to step into a war zone. I scowled after her, and made my own way into the store, shouldering through the crowd.
I pushed into the shop, ignoring the rows and rows of shelves lining the walls decked with action figures, plushies, and collectable cards boasting the faces of all the Defenders. I purposely looked away from the larger than life Judge Hog sculpture in the center of the store and went straight for the cash register.
I was almost there when I felt an unassuming, yet incredibly profound tug on the end of my cape. I froze to the spot, closed my eyes momentarily, and then opened them again to turn around and address whosoever had happened to want my attention. I focused my eyes on a young, bright yellow Lenny. He had a large, goofy grin on his beak.
“Hey! I know you! You’re...You’re--,” he paused, evidently trying to recall exactly who I was.
“I’m--,” I started to supply him with my real name.
“You’re the Lupe Defender!” he blurted suddenly, jovially, cutting me off.
His jolly expression was almost painful to me, but I nodded obediently, forcing a smile, that was a trifle too fake to believe, as a slice of pain stabbed my heart.
“Yes,” I agreed. “That’s who I am.”