A cloud of rainbow colored dust swirled up into the air, glinting in the beams of the fading afternoon light. It landed on a stack of musty looking books, on small, oddly shaped bottles with peeling labels, on the ledge of the attic window. But most of it settled on the pointed hat of a very sniffly Lupe.
"Blast this stupid Pollenitus!" griped Kodo as he took off his hat and shook the sparkles to the floor. "That was the last of my Faerie Dust!" He rummaged through his potion collection, hoping to find a passable replacement for the rare and expensive ingredient, knowing he would not.
"Slorg Slime... nope... Bubbling Fungus...hrm... Essence of Mortog! Nah, too messy. Bottled Droolik Drool? Ugh, who even uses that anymore? Ohh, what to do, the spell was almost complete!" Nothing can really replace Faerie Dust, Kodo thought, and sulked into his now glittery spellbook, giving up his spent time for lost.
"Sounds like somebody's been dozing in the daffodils again!" Kodo's ears cocked at the sound of his brother's cheerful voice. Valamaran strolled through the attic door with a bemused and somewhat exasperated look on his friendly face. "And at this time of year! Tsk, dear brother, you ought to know better by now. Why not the tulips? Or under that chestnut tree? Nice shade, I would think. Better than a flower bed."
"I like the scent," grumbled Kodo. He had a weakness for daffodils. He also had an allergy.
"Scorchios don't get allergies, you know. Imagine a Scorchio sneezing! We'd have to replace the furniture. And scorch marks everywhere! Terrible mess. No, we have the healthiest --" Valamaran paused, and looked around the room. "Dear me, did you blow up a rainbow?"
Kodo sniffed and resumed his sulking. "It was the last of my Faerie Dust. I was casting the Speak Incantation, I almost had it! Got the accent right and everything. And then I..."
"Hoohoo! You sneezed! You sneezed the spell!" Valamaran hooted, clapping his hands. "Oh, no, sorry! Poor Kodo. I didn't mean to laugh. Here, let me help you dust those off..." Valamaran looked about for a rag, still suppressing giggles. "Was it for the statue?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Kodo had found an Anubis statue when his small family first moved into their NeoHome. It was in the garden, nestled among the yellow daffodils. He nearly hit his head on it the first time he settled down for an afternoon nap, the first of many amid his beloved flowers.
The previous Neohome owner said it was there when he first moved in and that it must be very old, since no one used that type of stone to build garden statues anymore. It was clearly from the Lost Desert, and Desert lore claimed that if you could answer an Anubis's riddle he would grant you a wish. Naturally, Kodo's thoughts turned immediately to the spell he had only read about in one of his treasured spellbooks, the one which enabled inanimate objects to speak at the command of the spell caster. Cyclamon, the eldest (and somewhat cynical) brother of the clan had said that it looked like something won from the Tombola. "And the booby prize at that. Stones can't tell riddles." It took a lot to impress a Gelert.
Kodo found a dustcloth and began polishing off his potion bottles. "Yes. It was. And it would have worked! I bought the very best ingredients this time, none of that Symol Fur stuff." It had taken months for Kodo to save for the Faerie Dust, delivering the Neopian Times to the neighbors, even running errands for the chef at the Mystery Island Kitchen. Now, his savings all but depleted after his exorbitant purchase, Kodo moped at the thought of working through the long summer months.
"I suppose you're right; fur and whiskers are a poor replacement for the good stuff. Perhaps we can scrape up what's left of it." Valamaran headed for the closet in search of the dustpan. "What would you have wished for? If it had worked."
Kodo pondered, though again Valamaran already knew the answer. Kodo had put a lot of thought and planning into the casting of this spell. A novice at wizardry, and not entirely confident that it would work anyway, he had put no thought at all into what would happen if it did. Valamaran had figured as much and knew that, to Kodo, the real prize was a successful casting. Though a granted wish was nothing to sneeze at either.
"Heh," snorted Kodo, "I would wish this dratted allergy away." He mused as he watched his brother gather up a pitifully small pile of the remaining Faerie Dust and brush it back into its tiny bottle. He tried to think of something truly grand to wish for, but as always his thoughts drifted back to the planning of his next attempt at spell casting.
"Well, it's not much. Better than nothing. Maybe you could use it for a small cleaning spell. This place is a mess." Valamaran placed the bottle next to the Anubis statue, which was sitting atop a short, stout old chest of drawers and surrounded by a scattering of pungent herbs and dried up old mushrooms. He moved as if to sweep those up, too.
"Careful there, those are more expensive than they look," cautioned Kodo. As Valamaran returned to the closet with the dustpan, Kodo paced back to the chest of drawers and eyed the near-empty bottle mournfully. He traced his paw gently over the fancy label, noting how delicately the script was written. Probably penned by the Faerie Queen herself, for what they charge for this, he thought.
At that precise moment, three things happened.
First, Valamaran shoved open the attic window to air out the room. Second, a gentle breeze blew past, carrying up the sweet smell of the flowers in the garden below. And third, Kodo sneezed.
His paw, still touching the bottle, jerked and slammed the bottle down, shattering it to fragments that glinted in what was left of the late afternoon light. It took a moment for Kodo to realize what he had done. Staring at his paw, he thought he might cry.
Valamaran turned from the window, and shook his head sadly at what he saw. He was not quite sure he had words to comfort his brother, and therefore thought it best to say nothing. Kodo only stared at his paw, not moving.
With a sigh, Kodo finally placed his paw down on the chest of drawers in what was left of his precious dust. "What a miserable wizard I'm turning out to be. I only wish I could just make you talk!" Kodo whispered fiercely to himself.
"There now, dear brother. We'll get you some more of that dust. I have a few neopoints saved up, I'm not using them. Maybe Cyclamon can pitch in. He should be along this evening. Maybe he has a new story from the Island Mystic? Wouldn't that be grand!" Valamaran's words did little to cheer Kodo, and not even the thought of magical stories from a real mystic could rouse him from his sullen mood.
Valamaran turned to close the attic window, and heard another sneeze. "Bless you already! Poor thing," he called over his shoulder. The window shut with a dull thump. There was silence. He turned, and saw Kodo staring at him, wide eyed.
"That wasn't me," he said.
"That wasn't you! Was it the statue then? Come now, dear Kodo, no need to be embarrassed. Allergies happen, you can't help it. Though if you were to stay out of the flower beds --"
"But it wasn't me! Not this time." Kodo, oddly skittish for one who dabbles in wizardry, turned slowly to peer at the statue. It couldn't be, wondered Kodo.
Both brothers jumped, and Kodo's eyes searched the room frantically for the source of the sneezing. He backed away from the statue, nervously.
"I say, could someone sweep this dratted dust off of me! I would do it myself, but I can't quite reach," said a voice that sounded strangely like a box of nails being rattled.
The bewildered pair looked at each other, not entirely sure how to respond to what seemed to be a disembodied voice, and not entirely sure that they should, either. They stood, feet and paws rooted to the floor.
"Come now, this is quite uncomfortable! Would one of you be so kind?" sniffled a voice that sounded remarkably like squeaky hinges.
"Oh my... it worked!!" yelped Kodo. "It worked! The statue speaks!" Kodo almost pounced on Valamaran with excitement. The astounded Scorchio was too shocked to respond.
"Statue! Who are you calling statue!" grunted a voice that reminded Valamaran of something heavy being pushed across a floor.
Kodo, still shaking with elation, approached the stone Anubis reverently. In his best wizard's voice, he began: "Great Anubis, most honored of guardians," Kodo fumbled, trying to remember the proper words for the occasion. "I do beseech thee to present to me your ancient riddle so that I might --"
Kodo halted his speech, unsure of the etiquette for such a situation. Does one offer a hanky to a magical talking statue? They never covered stuff like this in those old spellbooks. Kodo decided to resume his greeting. "Ahem... so that I might be put to this most honored of trials and be granted --"
"Enough! What kind of nonsensical gibberish is this! Anubis, is it? One of you fetch me a feather duster!"
Kodo hesitated and took a step back. Caught between continuing his formalities and fetching the almighty Anubis a feather duster, he took a moment for himself to wonder at the strangeness of something speaking without moving its mouth. Rather unsettling, it was.
Remembering his manners, Kodo bowed. "As you wish, Great One!" He dutifully trotted towards the closet to retrieve the requested duster. Valamaran stopped him short.
"Kodo, I don't think it's the statue," he started, a bit shakily. Valamaran pointed, and Kodo followed his brother's gaze to an area about six inches below the statue. There, on the first drawer in the short, stout old chest were two knobs. Of course, they had always been there. But now there was a suspicious glint to them, almost like two perfectly round eyes.
"Come on then, don't just stand there lolling about! Have you never seen someone with dust allergies before? Kids these days! No respect at all for their... their... oh dear... A-CHOO!"
The force of the sneeze shook the old chest, and set the Anubis statue wobbling dangerously toward the edge.
Snapping to attention, Valamaran bounded over to the chest and settled the statue gently in its place.
"Ow! You're stepping on my toes!" bellowed the chest, and Valamaran jumped back just in time to remind himself that chests can't talk, magical dust or no. Nevertheless, he apologized.
"Sorry, erm, I mean..." Valamaran looked to Kodo with a rather lost expression. Kodo, equally clueless, tried to gather his thoughts. He remembered the duster.
"Um, here... um, sir," stammered Kodo as he ran the duster along the top of the chest. He flicked the shimmering shards into the dustpan, which was getting more use in one day than it usually got in a week.
"Be sure to dust those crevices too, lad. See there, between those drawers. Dust lingers, you know. Don't want to start up that sneezing again once a breeze blows by. That's it. Well done." Seemingly satisfied, the old chest sighed deeply. "Much better!" Kodo emptied out the dust pan and thought to replace the feather duster. He thought again, and placed it close by, just in case.
"Now then, what's this business with talking statues? With funny names, no less. Anubis, hee hee! Whoever came up with that! My name's Bristlecone. Pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"And it's uh... a pleasure to make yours," stuttered Kodo. Well, he thought, if you're going to talk to a piece of furniture, it's only fair to tell it your name. "I'm Kodo. That's short for Kodolupus. Kodo actually translates to 'heartbeat' in Shenkuu... umm... though I'm not from there. But everyone just calls me Kodo. Umm."
"I gathered that, lad. A bit long-winded, aren't you?" Bristlecone creaked. "That was quite a mouthful before, was that the formal introduction from Kayla's Spellbook? With all that whatnot about riddles and such?"
At the mention of spellbooks Kodo's ears perked up. "Actually no, that was Morguss," Kodo said, proudly. "I have Kayla's too, but I was trying to cast something a bit more obscure."
"Ah, I see. Morguss is a bit more advanced, yes. You must be some wizard! Well, good for you! Did it work?" inquired Bristlecone politely.
Kodo was both pleased with the compliment and at a loss with the question. Valamaran stepped forward. Having recovered -at least for the moment- from his initial shock, he tried to make sense.
"Well, uh... Bristlecone? You see, well. Yes and no." And, as that was about the most sense he could make, he stepped back once more.
"You there, don't you have a name? No manners these days!" gruffed Bristlecone. "Why, when I was a pinecone --"
Valamaran hastened forward, the thought occurring to him that it was probably most unwise to have a magical talking chest of drawers upset with him. "Forgive me! Valamaran is my name. I am Kodo's brother. You see sir, that statue on your head? Yes, right there. My dear brother cast a spell to make it talk. Only it didn't, and you did. We're not quite sure how it happened."
"Oh-ho! So that explains the Faerie Dust! And those rather foul smelling mushrooms. A Speak Incantation, was it? For that hunk of stone? Tell me, boy, did you win that from Tombola?"
Kodo frowned. But then a thought occurred to him: "You recognized my greeting, you've heard of my spellbooks. Do you know magic? Can you tell me how to make the spell work? Are you a wizard too? Wait, did you get trapped in there? Because maybe I could --"
"Slow down, my boy! Slow down. I am a chest of drawers, not a wizard. But I used to belong to one! Yes, and my brother too."
"Oh, you have a brother?" asked Valamaran.
"Of course! He's actually quite fond of you. Always taking such care to keep him dusted and all. He's very partial to that lemon scented stuff. Rather impressed with your book collection, too."
"Lemon scented...your brother is my bookcase?" Valamaran was suddenly very grateful he decided to keep the rickety old stack of shelves, and not use it for firewood as was his intention last winter.
"Yes, Douglas is his name. And my sister, whom you have not met, poor Balsam. Shipped off to Haunted Woods, I heard. Hope she's doing well."
"Let me guess," said Valamaran dryly, "you're made from fir wood?"
"Can't you tell, lad? Finest wood available! More suited for indoor use, of course, although --"
"Wait," interrupted Kodo, "my spell. What went wrong with my spell? Do you know?"
It seemed to Kodo that the two perfectly round knobs on the first drawer had shifted their attention to him, and appeared to be studying him somewhat intently. It was an odd sensation.
"I thought you said you were a wizard! You performed the most basic spell in Kayla's Spellbook, though why you felt the need to bother with that Speak Incantation beforehand I'll never know! You put the Faerie Dust on the object you want to hear from, you put your hand -- err, paw, on it, and you say 'I wish you to speak!' That's all! And that you did. I must say, I was quite flattered. Not many creatures these days want to speak to an old chest of drawers!"
Kodo was stunned. He looked down at his paw, it was still shimmering with traces of rainbow. I only wish I could just make you talk! His own words echoed in his memory.
"You don't need those fancy airs, all those expensive eyeballs and whiskers. That was all just for show; the wizards of old got bored quite easily. Just look at those silly pointed hats they used to --erm, sorry. Yours is quite nice, actually. But hats don't do magic; living creatures do! You think magic cares what you're wearing?"
"I never thought of it quite like that," said Kodo in awe. The spark in his heart grew to a flame. I did it. I cast the spell. I did it! Kodo wanted to laugh, and cry, and dance, all at once.
Kodo felt the hand of his brother rest gently on his shoulder. He turned, and saw Valamaran's warm smile.
"You did it, brother," Valamaran said softly, grinning at him. “Looks like you're the real thing now!"
"Well then, this is a cause for celebration!" boomed Bristlecone. "Now then, I don't have any wishes to grant, so don't go getting your hopes up. I'm not some high and mighty Desert paperweight. But I do have something I believe you can use." Bristlecone's bottom drawer slid ever so slightly open.
Kodo, who had forgotten all about wishes, gently pried the drawer open and peered inside. It looked empty at first, but then he saw a small green pouch tucked neatly into the far corner. He lifted it up and inspected its contents.
The pouch contained a slender glass bottle, filled with a pale green liquid. Tiny green leaves floated within. "What is it?" Kodo asked.
"It's called Crater Fruit Elixir; my previous owner used it all the time. Seems he had an allergy to tulips. Silly fellow had a garden full of them. It worked quite well, took care of the sneezing. Must have forgotten to take it out when he sold me. Not like I could tell him, eh?" Bristlecone chuckled, a dry, rattling sound.
Kodo's eyes sparkled brighter than any Faerie Dust as he slid the slender bottle back into its pouch. "Thank you," he said, wishing he had better words to say. "Thank you, though I wish I had something to give to you."
"Ah, you already have, lad. You already have. I haven't had such an exciting day since I was a pinecone!" Bristlecone made a strange creaking sound that reminded Kodo of trees swaying on a windy day. It was a yawn. "Well then, I do believe I'll be turning in for the day. I could use a bit of rest; I'm not a young sprout anymore, you know. Keep at those spells, my boy; you'll do fine. And if you ever want to chat, well, you know what to do now, don't you? Only next time, not so much of that miserable dust. Just a pinch!"
The glint on the two round knobs faded away, and Kodo and Valamaran felt as though they were alone in the room again.
"Well then, what spell are you going to try next?" asked Valamaran. "You must be anxious to get started!"
Kodo stretched, and yawned himself. He could think of a hundred spells he wanted to try, but the excitement from the day was settling in, and he had only one thought now.
"I will try every one in the Book of Morguss, and maybe even write some of my own! The really good wizards always do. Though, maybe I should practice a bit first," Kodo said with a sheepish grin. "But right now, I hear my daffodils calling." Kodo picked up his small green pouch and made for the stairs. He could smell the sweet scent already.
Valamaran smiled his warm, gentle smile. He gathered up the feather duster and pan, and placed them back on their shelf in the closet. Humming a little tune to himself, he took up a dustcloth and a plastic bottle holding liquid the color of sunlight. It smelled faintly of lemons.