It was another sunny day in Neopia Central.
The Neolodge was doing brisk business, as usual.
“Iascary! Give me back my Peophin Mane Brush this instant!” Lexi shouted, stamping her hoof impatiently.
Then she shrieked as she was shoved into the water. A loud splash ensued, followed by a peal of hearty laughter.
“What was that for?!” she spluttered, as she surfaced the pool.
The Tyrannian Peophin winked at her. “Just... testing the water, princess.”
Lexi gave him a look which only caused Iascary to laugh harder. He quickly stopped laughing, however, when he was drenched with water by a swish of her tail.
“Oh, you are SO dead!” he yelled, jumping into the pool.
Lexi merely grinned. “Race you to the other end, Scary!” she taunted, her strong tail already propelling her ahead.
Ten minutes later, both Royal and Tyrannian Peophins were out of breath and perspiring profusely.
“I would’ve won if you hadn’t pushed me,” Lexi growled.
“Ha!” Iascary snorted loudly. “As if. And you had a head start, anyway.” She pouted, but did not argue. To change the topic at hand, she hurried out: “Shouldn’t you hurry back to the Towers? What if the Security Skeiths find you here?”
He grimaced. “Yeah, well, the pool in the old ‘roach Towers is down for maintenance. Something about a Wormoeba infestation. Besides, the pool at AstroVilla is way bigger. The Towers doesn’t even have a diving board. And—” a sudden smile— “who else’d play with you, anyway, Lexi?”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “That’s mean.” Then she sighed, audibly, and looked up at the sky. “My parents won’t let me.”
He propped himself up on his elbows and gave her an incredulous look. “The Annual Peophin Diving Festival? But Lexi, you can’t. You know how long we’re been training for this!”
“They’ll say no.” Lexi’s eyes misted over. “I haven’t asked yet, but I know what my parents are like. I just know. They’ll go on about how unsafe or unclean it’ll be. It’s not fair, Scary.” She looked at him. “I don’t think they’ll like you, either.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a piercing scream of horror. Lexi stared in dismay as her parents, Queen Joiv and King Landiel, marched towards them.
“Oh, Landiel, what is that thing?” Joiv stared down at Iascary, who had hastily risen from the pool. The look on her face was fairly murderous. Lexi thought fleetingly that her mother appeared quite ready to scream again.
“Lexigraphy!” her father boomed. “What do you think you’re doing, associating with such a scoundrel?”
“Iascary’s not a –”
“Oh Fyora, what if people saw you??” Joiv looked ready to either faint, explode, or both.
“I must say, I am very disappointed in you—”
“Iascary’s not a scoundrel!” Lexi burst out. “He’s my friend.”
The Tyrannian Peophin finally piped up, “Lexi’s my friend, too.”
“That’s Princess Lexigraphy to you, boy.” Landiel said contemptuously. “I don’t want my daughter associating with the likes of you. Why,” he said, turning to Joiv, “he probably steals and begs for a living. I’ll not have you corrupting my daughter!”
Lexi looked at her father pleadingly. “Daddy!” she protested. “He wasn’t teaching me to steal stuff or anything, we were just—”
“—we were just practicing for the diving competition next week,” Iascary finished.
“Diving competition? What nonsense!” Joiv exclaimed. (Lexi gave Iascary an I-told-you-so look.) “Lexigraphy can’t possible take part in such... commoner practices.”
“But, Mommy, I really want to go,” she sobbed.
“No buts!” Landiel said firmly.
“And you’re grounded,” Joiv added.
“But –” Lexi could say no more as her parents began herding her back to their suite. Her attempts at struggling free were to no avail. Tears pricked her eyelids as her wriggling proved futile.
And when she turned back to look at the pool, her best friend was gone.
The week passed slowly.
Lexi looked out of the window every day in hopes of a glimpse of a familiar face.
There was none.
Two hours until the festival.
Lexi paced her room frantically. Despairingly. A searing headache pounded behind her temples, her nose felt blocked, and her once-glistening mane was now tangled. Her Peophin Mane Brush lay on the pink vanity, discarded and forgotten. Her hooves were unkempt.
She looked a mess.
“You look horrible,” her twin brother said bluntly, poking his head into the room.
“Oh shut up, Ren.” Lexi shot him a withering glance. “I feel horrible, ok? Leave me alone already.”
Renescene smirked. “Are you sure about that, sis? What if I told you that.. I could get you out of this place in time for your festival?”
That got her attention. “You could?”
He twirled a pen idly with his tail. “Sure I could, but I’m not sure if I should.”
“Okay, what do you want this time? My Frost Cannon?”
He laughed. “Don’t be silly. How about I call dibs on Super Hasee Bounce for... say... a month?”
“Hey, a month isn’t that much to ask for! Mom and Dad’ll ground me for life if they find out about this. So what do you say? Deal?”
Lexi made her decision in a split second. “Deal.”
They shook hands solemnly.
“Now come on, you’ve got no time to lose. I’ll show you the secret staircase, then you’re on your own.”
“Come one, come all, welcome, to the Annual Peophin Diving Festival! Today, our finest young Peophins are gathered here to take part in a magnificent competition. Not just any competition, mind you, but one that is a rare display of skill, power and form...”
The announcer overhead blared through the loudspeakers as Lexi made her way towards the registration booth. Unnerved by the numerous glances and whispers in her direction, she kept her eyes downcast. Despite having shed her royal attire in favor of a simple Peophin Blue Exercise Shirt for diving, it was plain for all to see that her base colour was royal.
She wished they would stop staring...
“Lexi! Over here!” She looked up and to her delight, it was Iascary. She hurried over to take her place next to him, ignoring the sudden increase in murmurs around them.
“I thought you wouldn’t be able to make it for sure!” he exclaimed. But his incredulous expression was quickly replaced by concern. “What’s the matter, Lexi? You look positively ill.”
“I’m fine,” she reassured him. “And... they let me come after they realized how much this meant to me,” she fibbed.
“That’s awesome!” Iascary’s face broke into a broad grin. “And hey, look, they’ve started diving!”
He was right. Lexi stared at the sleek, powerful forms cutting the water. Speckled, Brown, Pink, Island – all got their turn. Lexi cheered in approval as a Shadow Peophin executed a particularly fine back-flip.
“And next up, we have... Lexigraphy!” The loudspeakers blared.
Her heart thudded in her chest as she made her way to the springboard.
“Good luck,” Iascary called. “Don’t break a leg.”
She smiled, and closed her eyes. She could feel the sun upon her back, and sweat ran down her face.
And then she dived, like she always had.
A front flip,
she’d done this all before.
She should have felt glorious as she hit the water, tail-first. But all she felt was cold. It was so cold, and so dark. Her head still hurt.
Then she became conscious of the fact that she couldn’t breathe, and that she was underwater. She tried to struggle to the surface, but her body felt appallingly weak.
Then all around her, there was screaming. Lexi wasn’t awake enough to hear it.
Lexi woke up in the Neopian Hospital.
A smiling Acara in nurse’s robes bent over her. “Ah, our princess has awoken!”
Her throat felt dry. “Where... where... where are my... parents?” And, she wondered silently, Iascary? Oh Fyora, what had happened?
“Your parents are at the Pharmacy getting your prescription filled. You were suffering from Achy Head, probably because you’d been cooped up for too long. That’s why you fainted in the pool after your dive.”
Lexi stared at her. “Oh.”
“And,” the nurse continued, “you would have become seriously ill in the water, had that young Peophin not saved you in time. Not to mention the physical danger you were in.”
A loud noise from the other end of the room caused Lexi to look up. Mom and Dad. She sank deeper into the covers, praying that they wouldn’t reprimand her for too long. She waited for the harsh words that would inevitable come. Then—
“Honey, are you okay?” Her mother stood over her, her face shining with concern.
“Your mother and I were very worried when you disappeared like that, Lexigraphy,” her father sighed. “We thought maybe you’d been kidnapped by the Meerca Brothers, or something. It was only until Renescene confessed to helping you escape that we realized what was going on.”
Lexi frowned. “I’m sorry, Dad.” And she was. No matter what, she hadn’t wanted to worry her parents like that. Ever since what had happened to King Coltzan, her parents were forever fearful that someone would try to kidnap her. Or Ren.
She looked up. “I really am sorry.”
“You’re not the only one, darling,” Joiv said quietly. “Your father and I were so caught up in worrying over your safety, we hadn’t realized just how much this competition meant to you.” She sighed. “We never expected you to just run out like that... but then again, you were always a stubborn child.” A half-smile played on her lips.
“It doesn’t matter, Mom. I shouldn’t have.” Lexi stared at the ceiling. “I didn’t win, anyway, huh?”
Her father shook his head solemnly. “No.”
Lexi nodded. “What... what about Iascary? My friend?”
“Ah, him.” A brief twinkle appeared in Landiel’s eye. “He is a brave young Peophin, a fine pet, and a worthy friend. Your mother and I appear to have sorely misjudged him, especially after he’d saved you from a likely drowning.”
“He did?” This was news to her. “Where is he now?”
“He should be here in about—” Joiv began.
“LEXI!” Right on cue, Iascary burst into the Hospital room. “Guess what? Guess what?!”
“What?! Did you win?” she demanded.
He laughed. “No!”
“Then who did?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is that your parents are letting us play together now! Isn’t that great? We can practice for next year’s festival!”
She couldn’t help it. She laughed. “I already knew that, Scary-face.”
“Really?” Iascary looked bewildered. Then he looked around. “Oh, oh, oh! Hi Queen Joiv, hi King Landiel, I didn’t see you there.” He ran a hoof over his mane sheepishly. Everyone burst into laughter.
“Welcome, Iascary.” Landiel smiled at them.
“Again, we are sorry for the way we treated you at the Lodge,” Joiv added. She winked. “Forgive us?”
He beamed. “Of course, Your Majesty!”
“And thank you, thank you so very much, for saving our Lexigraphy in the festival.”
Iascary’s ears burned red. He was not used to such lavish praise, and from royalty at that! The Hospital room suddenly seemed brighter, warmer, from the sunshine-esque smiles all around. The joy present in the tiny room was almost tangible.
“So... I guess this is a happy ending, after all?”
And outside, a Pteri burst into song.
“By the way, where’s Renescene?” Lexi asked.
“Games Room. We’ll pick him up at 5.”