Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 179,788,606 Issue: 445 | 28th day of Hunting, Y12
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Anina's Parlor


by brokensilent

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TwilightsVoice, a pretty green Jelly Chomby, crept through the door of the book store and cringed at the jingle of the little bell. He was confident that they wouldn’t turn him away if he made it to the counter with books in one paw and neopoints in the other and no damage done to the store, but if they spotted him prior to that... well, the last time he’d been here, things hadn’t gone so well.

      A friendly voice called from behind one of the bookshelves, “Be with you in just a moment.” Twilight cringed again; hopefully not. Hopefully the store owner, a tall Lenny with brilliant yellow feathers, would stay immersed in her chores until he was ready for her.

      His luck was never so kind, though, and as he perused the nearby shelves, an icy voice said, “What are you doing in here?”

      Twilight turned slowly to see the Lenny glaring at him, several books in her wings.

      “I, uh, I just wanted to buy a book,” he stammered and gestured to the neopoint pouch around his neck. “I wasn’t going to do hurt anything, I swear.”

      The Lenny didn’t say anything, just twitched her beak in a disapproving way. Twilight felt his hope draining away. She wasn’t going to forgive him for the last time.

      “What is he doing in here?” her assistant, a tiny brown Pteri, shrieked and waved her wings in the air. “Get out. Get out, get out, get out.” Her voice rose with every get out and Twilight backed up nervously, tears starting to burn his eyes.

      “I think it’s best if you left now,” the Lenny warned, her voice slapping him into a crying retreat. Without looking over his shoulder, he fled out the door and out into the busy street of the shopping market. Once outside, he cast one forlorn glance at the book shop, then dropped his shoulders and continued on his way.

      It wasn’t his fault; it never was. He just had bad luck; really, really bad luck. With the book shop, he had tripped over a crack in the floor... the crack had been there; they’d just repaired it when they repaired the rest of the shop... at least, that’s what he was standing by. Anyways, he had tripped over the crack, rolled into the nearest bookshelf and toppled it over into the next and into the next and so on. That wouldn’t have been nearly that bad if the shelves hadn’t smashed into a very expensive and very large fish tank that had occupied much of the little shop’s wall. The water damage had been irreversible and due to a clumsy little trip, he wasn’t allowed to buy books from them anymore.

      “Should have fixed the crack before it made me trip,” he grumbled unhappily. For a moment, he looked longingly at the food mart but he saw the grumpy Mutant Tonu give him a warning look. Obviously he hadn’t forgotten the fiasco there. The arcade was a no go too, as was the toy store and the petpet store. The furniture store hadn’t even recovered yet, so they were still closed and not even sort of an option. A strangled cry escaped his throat; were there even any stores that were open to him?

      Then he noticed a tiny shop crammed in between two great big shops that he had never noticed before. The windows had strange symbols painted on them and the sign hanging on the door read, “Anina’s Parlor”. He had no idea what the shop was or what it sold, but he didn’t care; it was one he hadn’t destroyed on accident.

      So excited he practically ran, he scurried over and pushed open the door. The heavy scent of exotic spices wafted over him and he swore it was his imagination, but a mist seemed to pool out around his feet. Still too excited to notice the warning signs his instincts were playing, he stepped inside.

      At first, compared to the bright sunlight of the outside, the dim pink lights in the shop made it difficult for him to see. When his eyes adjusted, he noticed a Green Hissi sitting on a sofa with a table in front of her, watching him intensely. Behind her was a shelf full of strange and somewhat frightening charms and potions and other things that he couldn’t quite identify.

      “Um...” He cleared his throat, but the Hissi shook her head.

      She rose and smiled at him, but it wasn’t a friendly smile. “Let me guess, you came here because you need a change of luck?” Her voice, low and husky, was heavily accented with a foreign trace he couldn’t identify.

      He was startled at her words. “Yes...” but how had she known?

      “It is written on your face. You struggle so hard to stand on your own two feet only to get knocked down again and again.” She dropped her expression into one of sympathy but her eyes didn’t reflect the look.

      Twilight wrinkled his nose and looked to the side, then mumbled, “Literally.”

      “Well, little Chomby,” she turned to the shelf in a whirl of glittering green scales and began eyeing the charms, “I have something just for you. Here it is.” She pulled down a little tiny coin and spun back to face him. She held it out and he cautiously stepped forward, not yet reaching for it.

      “What is it?” he asked.

      “Why, it is a lucky charm. It will change the luck of its possessor and unless I be mistaken, that is exactly what you are in need of.” She still held it out, daring him to take it, a strange smirk upon her features.

      Twilight stared at the coin, his gut telling him to run, but the coin sparkled so temptingly in her hand, a promise of better times. But he wasn’t going to be caught so easily. “How much is it?”

      The Hissi looked almost insulted. “It will cost you nothing. I give it to you. All that I ask is you send your friends to me, tell them about how kind I was and what good this do for you. I help you change your luck, you help me with mine.” It sounded too good to be true, but Twilight wasn’t about to pass upon a chance to change his fortune.

      Taking a deep breath, his mind made up, he grabbed the coin out of her hand and stuck it into his pouch. “Thank you.” The Hissi smiled but didn’t say anything. Twilight decided he needed to get out of the shop; the smell of the spices was beginning to make him feel sick and the dim pink lights were making his head hurt. Without a word of farewell, he dove back out into the blinding sunlight of the busy market street.

      A Skeith, distracted by something, suddenly tripped over him and knocked Twilight to the ground.

      “Hey,” he angrily protested, already doubting the power of the lucky charm.

      The Skeith helped him up, patting the dirt off his scales and announced, “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Guess we have that in common now.” Twilight was about to protest when he recognized the Skeith; it was the owner of the arcade.

      “Oh, sorry about that.” He sheepishly looked down at his feet. Somehow, he doubted a little trip from the store owner was going to make up for the damage he had caused.

      The Skeith shrugged his thickset shoulders. “Don’t be; it happens. I mean, look at me. I just ran you over. Why don’t you come over and play for a bit? Make us even?”

      Twilight balked at his words, eyeing him as if he expected him to retract the invitation at any moment. The Skeith realized it and laughed. “Come on, you know you want to. I’ll even let you play on the house today cause you’re being such a good sport about me plowing you over.”

      How could he say no? He followed the Skeith in a blissful daze, thinking about the lucky charm in his pouch. His luck really was changing, Anina was a brilliant genius. Twilight settled in front of a game of “Frumball” and began playing to his heart’s content. For several hours, he played until his paws were cramped up and his back hurt from hunching over. Standing up, he stretched and accidentally dented the Frumball machine with his left paw.

      The Skeith looked at the damage and shrugged his shoulders again. “Not a big deal. Don’t you worry about it. Come tomorrow, you’ll never know it happened.” Then he patted Twilight on his shoulder and sent him on his way. It was like a dream come true. He went home with a happy skip in his step and a weight lifted off his shoulders. It was nice not being kicked out of somewhere for bad luck catching up to him. It had been a great day.

      The next day, he decided that he wanted to go back to the arcade; maybe the owner would let him play for free again. But when he arrived at the arcade, a horrible sight greeted him. The store was nothing but smoldering remains, tendrils of smoke still wafting up from the black debris.

      “What happened?” he asked in horror to one of the Neopet onlookers.

      The Acara looked at him and shrugged her thin shoulders. “Can’t really say for sure yet. Just know it caught on fire somehow during the night.”

      The Skeith was staring at the burned out shell, his face pale and drained. He looked up and caught Twilight’s eye. It was too much for the stunned shop owner and he began crying. Twilight couldn’t help himself; he walked over and rubbed the Skeith’s shoulder consolingly.

      Suddenly the Lenny owner of the bookstore was at his side. “I think it’s best if we let him grieve alone.” She guided him away, leaving the Skeith to suck up his tears and estimate the damage.

      “Any ideas what caused the fire?” he wanted to know. The Lenny shook her head, leading him back towards her shop.

      “Look, I know we don’t have the best history given what happened when you were in our shop, but it’s not often you see someone step up and show compassion when it’s needed. If you’d like, you can pick out a couple of books, free of charge.” Her face was warm and friendly, decidedly different from the last time he had viewed her feathers.

      “Really? You’re not going to kick me out?” He didn’t mean to sound so disbelieving, but they had been very firm last time.

      The Lenny shook her head. “Not unless you take out my shop again.” Twilight giggled guiltily; he couldn’t promise not to.

      Picking out a couple of free books was way more fun than shopping for ones he had to pay for. He took his time mulling over the many different titles, examining this book and that one, until he was quite content with the two he clung to. As he was deciding definitively on his selections, he heard the little bell tinkle over the entrance.

      Peering around his shelf but unable to see the new customer, he heard the Lenny ask in a voice that dripped with fear, “Have they figured out the cause yet?”

      “No, as far as they can tell, there’s no reasonable explanation,” the assistant’s voice sounded just as fearful. Twilight felt a funny flop in his tummy and thought of the poor Skeith’s expression as he examined the remains of his business. Something weird was going on, but he wasn’t sure what.

      “Uh, I’ve found the books I’d like,” he called out and walked up with his new treasures. The Lenny smiled at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes and she visually scanned the titles quickly to mark them out of her inventory.

      “All right, you enjoy your new reads and since no disaster happened this time, feel free to come back again,” she teased, but her eyes still remained burdened with worry about the Skeith’s unexplained fire. Twilight knew the feeling; he was nervous too.

      There was still a crowd milling about the burnt arcade, but the Skeith was nowhere in sight. Twilight decided that as pleasant as his new good luck was, he wanted to go home already. At home, he tried to settle down into a comfortable nook and read his new books, but his mind kept wandering back to the arcade. What had happened to it? It wasn’t him; he hadn’t touched anything other than the Frumball machine and everything had been okay when he left, well, except for the dent. Yet, he still had the nagging feeling that in some way, it was his fault.

      The next morning, he was up way too early. He hadn’t slept well and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was like a compulsion; he had to go to the market and see if there was any news on the arcade. By the time he got there, only a few shops had opened, but most were quietly and contentedly asleep. All except for the arcade, now burnt to the ground, and to his surprise, the book store. The assistant had arrived early and was sitting in the street, staring at the remains of the store in shock. Twilight could understand the little Brown Pteri’s horror; he couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing either.

      One of the big trees, for no reason that he could see, had toppled down into the bookstore, destroying the entire building. Book pages fluttered in the exposed air, a few blew about, torn from their spines in the wake of the freak accident.

      But he knew better; it wasn’t a freak accident. He reached into his neopoint pouch and found the lucky coin, its surface tarnished with age but still shimmering gold. It was time he had a talk with dear old Anina. For some reason, it took him a while to find her shop even though he knew exactly where it had been. When he finally did find it, he threw open the door and stepped in, puffed up with the need for information.

      The Hissi was sitting on her sofa and looked up at him with that frightening smile on her lips again. “Oh, sorry, little Chomby, but I don’t do refunds.”

      “Refund? I didn’t pay anything for this... this thing,” he spat, tossing the coin on the table in front of her.

      For a moment she gazed at the sparkling coin, then raised her eyes back to him. “Oh, but didn’t you? Seems to me like you’re right; others are paying for your... your thing.” She was laughing at him. The Hissi was laughing at the misery she knew her charm was sowing and from the expression of wicked delight in her face, she was confident he couldn’t end it.

      “Well, I don’t want anyone to pay for it anymore. I don’t want it anymore; I’m giving it back to you,” he insisted, taking a step back towards the door.

      The Hissi rose, seeming larger than she was, filling the room with her presence. Her face had clouded over with a darkness and when she spoke, her words dripped with venom. “I do not do refunds. You cannot give it back.” Twilight looked back at the coin on the table and was stunned. It was gone. He hadn’t seen her touch it, but it was gone. Having a horrible feeling that he knew exactly where it was, he felt inside his neopoint pouch. Sure enough, the “lucky” charm was sitting inside it.

      His lower lip trembled and he struggled to find something to say. What was he going to do? The charm was clearly not a good luck helper.

      He cried out finally, “Why are you doing this to me?”

      “I’m not doing anything to you but helping your luck,” she smirked, “and working on eliminating any of my competitors.”

      “Competitors? How are an arcade and a book shop competitors?” he sputtered, feeling ice moving through his veins over the part in her plot he was playing.

      She shrugged her shoulders. “The fewer shops here, the more shoppers will come to me.”

      “You’re... you’re evil,” he blurted. Then an idea struck him. “I’m not leaving your shop.”

      “What?” For a moment the confident smirk wavered.

      Feeling a surge of confidence, he nodded. “That’s right; I’m not leaving your shop. I can’t cause anyone else bad luck if I don’t leave it.”

      “You will get out,” she fumed and tried to intimidate him with a dark glare, but he wasn’t impressed.

      “No, I won’t.” He strode past her and sat on the sofa, tucking his tail up around him. The Hissi swallowed a huge breath of air and looked as if she were trying not to explode.

      “You can’t stay here,” she hissed and then her shoulders deflated. “Fine, I’ll take back the lucky charm.”

      “Lucky, I guess it depends on your definition of luck.” Twilight pulled the coin out of his pouch and handed it back to her. His paw briefly touched her skin and he yanked back at the evil he felt coursing off her. She was bad news.

      “Now get out of my shop,” she spat. Twilight didn’t need her urging; he fled her shop. When he turned around, “Anina’s Parlor” was gone. There was no storefront, no mysterious symbols on the windows, it was just gone. He was so relieved to be free of the lucky charm, but as he turned around, his heart got heavy with what he had to do now. It was his fault that the arcade was burnt down and the book shop leveled. He was going to have to tell people that had hated him before that he was responsible for the new destruction. At this rate, he wasn’t going to be allowed to set foot in the market. With his tail dragging, he began making his way towards the destroyed shops. At least Anina was gone.

The End

 
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