Always Look on the Brightvale Side of Life
It started as every adventure should- with a theme song.
Wisda was going through the shop till to make sure all her accounts were in order when the soft music first snuck its way into her shop. She looked up from the columns of numbers and out the nearest window, which had been opened to let in a breeze, as if she could see the sounds that were disrupting her work. Of course, no musical notes floated their way in on the breeze; that was only logical. However, something else had entered her line of sight which was not logical at all.
Not many people realized it, but Brightvale was the soul and center of Neopian fashion. True, any Neopet in Neopia Central would claim that the dull, draped blues and greens that Brightvaleans were wearing these days were ugly and not in- but they would have said the same thing about the gauzy, light materials that had been all the rage in Brightvale just a year ago, which were now catching on among the young, ‘hip’ Neopets. Brightvale was just a year or two ahead of the game.
In conclusion, the ridiculous rainbow Gnorbu in a pink raincoat who was walking- no, he was skipping- down the path could not be native to Brightvale.
Now that the music had grown louder, she could tell that it was a slightly off-key chanting originating from the young green Tuskaninny following closely behind the Gnorbu. She couldn’t really even call it singing, since the only scrap she heard was monotonic and nonsensical- “Dada daduh dada daduh,” from the sound of it.
Normally, she wouldn’t care about any of this, but Wisda had a horribly sinking feeling that the Gnorbu and his follower were making a beeline for her little shop. She had no proof- it was just as likely that they would keep skipping straight along the path, or that they would take a left at the intersection and bother Knowli at the Scrollery instead- but she had her intuition, and it had never failed her before.
For the moment, Wisda kept still behind her counter, considering her options. If the situation was really desperate, she could close the shop early, but the Gnorbu didn’t look dangerous, just unstable. He reeked of mischief, though. She could smell that with her eyes closed.
She risked a second peek. Right on schedule, the Gnorbu did a little twirl and turned right, skipping directly down her walkway. Wisda shuddered as the Tuskaninny continued his chanting, which had gone up an octave and now sounded more like “Tata tatuh tata tatuh.” Ta-ta-ta- trouble, Wisda finished grimly. She smoothed down the orange fur around her horns with her hooves, put on her best the-customer-is-always-right smile, and prepared herself for the worst.
The bells attached to her door gave a harsh jangle as they were swung forcefully to the side.
“Hullo, the shop!” the Gnorbu crowed, slowing down his skip to a jaunty, bouncy walk. All around the shop, customers whirled around and shushed him aggressively; Wisda’s regular customers were better than any ‘Quiet Please’ sign, and less easy to ignore, as well. The Gnorbu tipped the hood of his raincoat at the lot of them, then continued his way towards Wisda’s desk.
Behind him, the Tuskaninny was still chanting quietly. Now, the words he was chanting went along to the tune of “Tata tuhtuh tata dada duhduh dada”. Wisda attempted to ignore him.
“May I help you?” she asked frostily, smile still fixed on her face, glasses shoved firmly onto the tip of her nose.
“No,” the Gnorbu answered cheerfully. “But I can help you.”
“... dada daduh dada daduh...”
“Pardon?” Wisda asked, momentarily put off.
“My name is Brian,” the rainbow Gnorbu continued cheerfully, “and I take it that you’re Wisda, Ixi in charge here at Brightvale Books.”
“...da- BAM- wa- dada BAM- da wa- dada daduh...”
“Correct.” Wisda shook her head ever so slightly, already growing more annoyed with the small Tuskaninny. She turned to him, frowning. “Look, can you please stop that?”
The pet ignored her. “...dada daduh dada daduh dada daduh...”
“Oh, don’t mind him,” Brian interjected cheerfully, “he’s just providing my theme song. I figure, characters on Neovision have them, why shouldn’t people in reality?”
“I-” Wisda shook her head more forcefully now. “Sorry. You said I needed help? What did you mean by that?”
“...dada daduh badum badum badum badum GNORBU...”
Wisda jumped when the Tuskaninny abruptly shouted ‘Gnorbu’ in the middle of his chanting, but Brian just kept on speaking whimsically. “You need help, in the same way that all of Brightvale needs help.”
“...dada daduh dada daduh GNORBU...”
“That is VERY distracting,” Wisda snapped, glaring outright at the Tuskaninny. “And I must say that I hardly think it necessary.”
“Oh, alright.” Brian shrugged, then turned to his follower. “Cut to the chase, Robin.”
The Tuskaninny paused briefly, then suddenly switched to an entirely different note, like he’d skipped forward in a song. “Na na NA NA NAH NAH NA NA na na NA NA NAH- GNORBUUUUUU!”
The customers in the shop, who had long ago stopped reading in favor of eavesdropping, all stared.
“S’that all, sir?” Robin asked, shuffling his flippers.
“Yes. Good man!” Brian flicked the young pet a coin, and, as soon as he had pocketed it, the Tuskaninny raced out of the building, slamming the door behind him in a light jingling of bells.
Wisda stared after the young pet for a moment, then turned back to Brian. “You said Brightvale needs help? What did you mean by that?”
“Simple.” Brian grinned even more widely than before. “You, and everyone else who lives here, don’t have a purpose, a connecting thread. I’m here to help you find one.”
Wisda gaped at him for a few seconds before she remembered that gaping was beneath her. “Ridiculous!” she then snapped, and determinedly turned back to her paperwork.
“Now, now,” he continued cheerfully, “don’t just blow me off like that. Give me a chance to prove myself.”
She weighed her options and decided that the pet wouldn’t go away until she’d heard him out. “Alright,” Wisda said dully. “What’s so special about... Meridell?”
“They had a war. Or two. Or several,” Brian replied without hesitation.
Wisda paused in her page turning to look up at him briefly, and frowned. “Okay, how about the Haunted Woods?”
“They’ve got Gilly. She’s always causing mischief.”
“Was discovered thanks to the Cyodrake’s Gaze- and you can cross Tyrannia, Mystery Island, and the Lost Desert off your list, too. They all got discovered.”
Wisda harrumphed at that. “But you can’t use that as a sign of being special- everyone had to discover the separate lands at one point or another!”
“Yeah, but those four were discovered officially.”
Wisda narrowed her eyes; things had just gotten serious. “Roo Island.”
“They’ve got Dice-A-Roo. It’s kind of a big deal.”
“Has a plot named after it.”
“Faerieland had Faerie Wars,” one of the customers, a Bori, cheerfully put in.
“Yeah,” another customer, who was hidden behind some shelves, piped up, “and Jelly World has a movie in the works!”
“Who said that?” Brian suddenly shouted, his voice cold and dangerous. “Who said that?”
No one spoke up.
“I want to make it very clear,” he continued, voice oddly crisp, “that there is no such thing as Jelly World.” He glanced at the wall quickly, then looked back at the others, muttering something that sounded approximately like ‘wedon’twanttobecensoredforFyora’ssake’ under his breath. “You guys got that?”
An awkward pause followed his words.
The awkward pause, finding itself quite comfortable in the shop, decided to settle down for a while, maybe have a cup of tea.
“So then,” Wisda remarked eventually. “Kreludor?”
“Has Sloth. He counts for Virtupets, too.”
“Same reason as Meridell.”
Finally, Wisda closed her book and looked up at the Gnorbu, still reeking of boredom. “I suppose you’re going to say that Krawk Island- and Terror Mountain, for that matter- have Hannah causing trouble in them more often than not?”
“Correct!” Brian replied, smiling. “And, since Lutari Island is suspicious, I believe that you’ll find we’ve now covered all of the different countries- except for Brightvale.”
While he had been speaking, Wisda had been counting out the names on her... hooves. “What about Kiko Lake?” she asked once she had finished.
“Oh, it doesn’t count. It never does. In fact, that very meaninglessness is what unites them.”
“Fair enough.” She heaved a sigh. “Well, I guess you’re right. We’re the only place without a real purpose.”
“Wrong!” Wisda stared at the Gnorbu, startled, and he shook his head. “What Brightvale is is the only country without a story. You’re a writer- I came to you because I’d read your articles, and found them to be some of the only ones which were open-minded at all. You scholars, you all write and research and talk your heads off, but what do you actually accomplish? What adventures do you have? What have you done for yourself?”
“I’ve done plenty for myself,” Wisda objected, glaring at the Gnorbu.
Wisda thought. What had she done, other than read and write? “I... I succeeded in getting the apprenticeship for this job,” she said slowly, thinking it through. “And I’ve helped this shop prosper.”
“But that’s just your duty.” Brian twisted his nose at her. “Face it, Wisda- nothing happens in Brightvale. Even your Yooyuball team didn’t compete in the Cup this year! You know why?”
“Because we have more important things to do!”
“Wrong again! Because you’re scared.” Brian smiled haughtily. “You’re all too scared to make your own stories. That’s why you sit back and write them for others.”
“Well.” Wisda simmered for a moment, trying to calm herself down before she grew too annoyed. “Well then, what do you suggest we do?”
“Find something different, to help you all sympathize with each other.” Brian smiled. “It can even have something to do with writing, if you want.”
Brian fell silent for a moment, searching for a way to demonstrate his point. “Okay- alright, face this wall. Now, if you count the walls to your sides and back as three walls, this wall is the fourth wall, right?”
Wisda eyed the wall he was gesturing at, which gave a rather nice view of the front walkway, with utmost suspicion. “Yeah...”
“Good. Now, imagine that this wall, this fourth wall, is broken.”
“... but it’s not.”
“You’re a writer, for crying out loud, can’t you imagine this one thing for me?”
“No,” she snapped in reply. “Anyway, you don’t want my imagination. My imagination isn’t good enough for most people.”
Brian seemed puzzled by this; he sat down and tilted his head to the side, looking at her. “But you’re a writer.”
“Yes. But I only write true things, accounts of events that have already happened.”
“Well, I’ve always been good at writing articles, I guess, and my editor, Jerrie, never liked my stories... I mostly gave up on them after a while.”
“I suppose I don’t really know.”
By now, Wisda was thoroughly annoyed. “I don’t know why, I wasn’t expecting some kind of Spardel Inquisition!”
The door to the shop burst open in a tangled mix of chiming bells and dastardly music, and smoke gusted out of nowhere to writhe around three short figures. All of the customers in the store half-turned to view the newcomers with comedic horror as the shortest of the three figures- all Spardels- stepped forward.
“NOBODY expects the Spardel Inquisition!”
Almost immediately, the tall Jetsam who had been browsing through the travel section erupted into a coughing fit. The customers near her hurried over to slap her back helpfully while Wisda leaned forward to sniff at the smoke.
“Dry ice,” she said
dryly ironically. “Not a good idea; many people have strong allergic reactions to this.”
The Jetsam hacked in agreement.
“Pay attention!” the Spardel in front snapped, whisking the red cape he wore around so that he could hide all but his eyes behind it. Wisda watched him, suddenly speechless. “We have come to protect our Most Noble Cause! And no matter how much you protest, you Will Not! Prevail! Minestrone!”
“Yes, Sir Fetchizlavashe, sir!” the Spardel to the right- a Tyrannian one, whose left ear looked like it had been almost entirely bitten off- stepped forward. His red cape hung awkwardly, looped partially over his good ear.
“Tell them what they’re guilty of!”
“Right!” Minestrone the Spardel spent a few seconds clearing his throat noisily, which blended in rather well with the occasional cough that the Jetsam in the back still emitted. “You are Hereby Sentenced by the Following Crimes: That You Did Shout the Name of Our Lady Weltrude in an Angry Spat, That You Did Stick Out Your Tongue at a Passing Beekadoodle, That You Did Eat-“
“Wait, wait,” Wisda interrupted, barely holding back many hysterical giggles. “What do you think you’re talking about? No one here has done any of that!”
“Nonsense!” Sir Fetchizlavashe shouted (all he seemed to do was shout). “Are you not Tauntri, Manager of Brightvale Glaziers?!”
“Indeed I’m not!” Wisda took a deep breath. “I’m Wisda, and this is Brightvale Books. You needed to take the second right turn on the path, not the first.”
The Spardels huddled up together, conversing in low tones. Wisda glanced around sneakily, wondering what all the other people in the shop thought of this rather untoward happening, but the majority of the customers had gone back to their browsing, and Brian was busy attempting to stand on his head on top of her desk.
The three Spardels emerged from their huddle, with the one who hadn’t spoken yet, whose coat was a very shiny purple, in the front. “Right!” she squeaked, “This time, we will show mercy! But beware, for we are always watching! Even in stories which are not our own! Until next time!”
With that, the three Spardels twirled their capes about themselves and ran for the door. Some of the smoke rushed out with them, while the rest continued to float its way through the shop.
“That was very strange,” Wisda said, once she was certain that they were gone.
“Believe me,” said Brian, who had succeeded in standing on his head and looked twice as weird as usual by doing so, “it isn’t the strangest thing you’ll see today by far.”
“And why should things have to be strange today in the first place?” she whined, glaring at him. “My life is usually perfectly boring, and that’s alright--“
“Is it really?” Brian rolled off of the desk, landing clumsily on all four legs with his raincoat rumpled up. “Don’t you ever want a bit of excitement?”
“I- I’m not sure anymore.” Wisda turned to look at the fourth wall again, chewing at her lower lip. “Sometimes- I used to think- but this is real life, Brian. Adventures simply don’t happen around here. Not in--“
But before she could say another word, without so much as a sound for a warning, a yellow Eyrie wearing the uniform of a Royal Messenger smashed through the wall she’d been looking at, making bookshelves topple over and spill their contents all over the floor. The Neopet groaned as he got to his feet, shaking his head, and Wisda and Brian both ran over to make sure he was alright.
“Erg... sorry about the wall, ma’am, I lost control of the ol’ wings for a second there.” He grinned at their worried faces. “Don’ worry ‘bout my ol’ noggin, ‘ere, it’s hard as a rock, I reckon. Anyhow, I hap’ to have a message for a Miss Wisda?”
Wisda took the paper he was offering, her hooves shaking in faint disbelief. Written on it was a simple message.
I love your newest story so far! It’s brilliant! Keep up the good work.
For an instant, it was all clear to her- the fourth wall was broken in the 400th issue, Brightvale wrote all the stories but had no story of its own, her name had an obvious meaning, Jelly World didn’t exist, it all made sense!
Then a Weewoo went wee-wooing by, and she lost it all.
Faced with the utter futility of her city and, she was convinced, her life itself, Wisda burst into tears. She tried to wipe them away in a mixture of embarrassment and anger, but really, hooves weren’t meant for those sorts of actions.
Standing next to her, Brian was obviously feeling a tad bit awkward. He ruffled up his rainbow mane hesitantly, ears twitching. “Aw, come on, Wisda, cheer up, won’t ya?”
She glared at him through her tears, then stomped out of the store, ignoring the shocked faces of all her favorite customers. “I don’t see how I’m supposed to!”
He followed her outside. Why wasn’t she surprised? “Well, you could always try whistling.”
As if she hadn’t been through enough already- as if the awkwardness and embarrassment she had gone through today wasn’t enough- he was now ridiculing her! “Whistling!” she shouted, ignoring all usual social protocol (for protocol had flown out of the window much earlier). “Tell me, Brian, how on Neopia can whistling help anything?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he simply pursed his lips, and blew.
It was a simple melody, the sort that could get stuck in your head easily, light-hearted and airy, easy to pick up. Despite herself, she felt herself calming down a little bit as she concentrated on the song instead of her own failures.
And then, the strangest thing happened. The Eyrie Messenger (who had been creeping away from this undeniably unusual duo during our last few paragraphs of self-pity and dialogue) happened to hear the melody, and unconsciously started whistling it to himself. It was a rather strained sound, because whistling is difficult when the only tool you have is a beak, but he managed fairly enough.
Two customers from the store wandered out, seemingly for no particular reason. They were talking of the economic situation in Kiko Lake as they left the building, but when they heard Brian whistling, they abruptly stopped. Then, the first customer, a human boy, grinned at the second, a mutant Mynci, and both began whistling along.
It didn’t take long for more customers to file on out and add their whistling in; then, Wisda could only watch in wonder as others started to arrive. People in nearby houses stuck their heads out of their windows, royal messengers idling on the road jogged over to join in, and even the Spardel Inquisition scurried their way onto the scene, though with many protests that they would be late to their conquest.
It was only missing one thing, Wisda realized as she listened and watched the eight-part whistled harmony develop, her tears drying up and her anger fading away. It was missing words. It was missing a singer.
And, barely aware of what she was doing, she decided to add her voice.
“Now, what just happened,” Brian told her afterward. “That was the strangest thing that happened to you today.”
It was over. The song had been magnificent, lasting for an unheard total of six minutes, and what seemed like half of Brightvale had joined in, but it had to end eventually. The last members of the spontaneous chorus were heading back to their everyday lives, smiling now in remembrance of the event. The only pets left on the scene were Wisda and Brian; they were sitting in the ruins of the broken wall of Wisda’s shop, watching life in the city unfold.
“I suppose I have to agree with you,” Wisda said, smiling faintly. It had been weird. It had also been one of the best experiences of her life.
“Excellent!” Brian cried. “You know, this day is fabulous. In fact, it’s so wonderfully magnificent,” and, out of nowhere, music was starting to swell up around them, “that it makes me want to-“
“If you start singing again, Brian, I’ll have to use Tec Ko Do on you. Purely in self defense, of course.”
Brian eyed her speculatively, and concluded that he could last about three seconds in a fight with her. Maybe four.
The music came to a screeching halt.
Monday morning, at exactly 11:31 AM, Jerrie the Dashingly Handsome Purple Bruce of an Editor burst into her shop with the kind of tumultuous noise that usually resulted in Wisda releasing the Gallions on her unruly customers. “Wisda!” he shouted gleefully, waving a bundle of papers over his head, “this is absolutely brilliant!”
The regular customers shushed him. Jerrie, being Dashingly Handsome and all, ignored them. Wisda merely blinked at him, looking rather like a Babaa who had just had a bad spin at the Wheel of Excitement, but since that was one of her usual expressions, he wasn’t offended.
“You got my message, of course,” he told her dismissively. “And to think I ever said that you’d be awful at fiction!” Jerrie chuckled at his little error of the past. “No, my dear, this is probably the best story that’s ever come out of Brightvale, and it’s going to make you famous.” Just replace that ‘you’ with ‘Jerrie’.
Wisda stared at him a moment longer, then seemed to find her voice. “Jerrie, that’s not a story. It’s an article. It’s true.”
Pish-posh, he thought. “Pish-posh,” he said out loud, “this is Brightvale, Wizzie. People singing in the streets? Eyries flying through walls? Can you imagine it? Well, I suppose you can imagine it, since you wrote it!”
Wisda had a very odd look in her eyes now, he thought, and it wasn’t even like she was looking at him- no, she was looking off to the side rather vacantly, at a blank wall in the shop, a wall which looked like it had recently been repaired. “You know- you’re right, Jerrie. It is just a story, because this is just a story. I think I understand what Brian was talking about, now. Well. I’m going to need a new wall. Again.”
Jerrie rolled his eyes. These were obviously mad ramblings. But since they were the mad ramblings of the author who was about to make him Famous with a capital ‘F’, he jotted them down on the back of one of the scrolls on Wisda’s desk. Maybe he would sell them for a pretty Neopoint or two on the trading post later on.
Then, he got a better idea. Mind, this was perfectly natural for him- Jerrie got brilliant ideas all the time.
“That’s nice, Wizzie. But you know, as a matter of fact, I know exactly what I’m going to do- I’ll send this to the Neopian Times! It’s good enough to get in, I bet, and they’ve got a much larger reader-base than we do.” He waved off the spluttering coming from Wisda’s direction with an impatient flipper- he already knew it was just incoherent expressions of how wonderful the idea was and how dashingly handsome he certainly was- and continued. “We’ll call it ‘Always Look on the Brightvale Side of Life’, because, my dear, ‘An Account of the Events Which Occurred Last Thursday’ is just a tad boring. Furthermore, I think I’ll write up a record of this fun little talk we’ve had and attach it to the end to your little gem of a tale, to give some back-story and explanation, eh?” He laughed uproariously at his magnificent plan.
The regular customers shushed him. Again.
But, for some reason he couldn’t fathom, Wisda was now smirking at him in that ridiculously impertinent manner she had. He huffed (in a splendorous fashion, of course), and asked, “well, what’s the matter with my plan, then?”
“Oh, it’s just one thing,” Wisda replied quietly. “You don’t need to send the story- I think it’s already in.”