Sylfio's Ice Cream Sodas
Well, hello there, and welcome to my little home. I can only assume you're here to purchase some of my delicious ice cream soda; and it's true, I make the finest in all of Brightvale. Perhaps all of Neopia.
You're probably wondering if it's because I'm a chocolate Usul. People do always ask, you know. "Sylfio," they'll say, "do you think your dairy origins give you a certain affinity for ice cream? And for that matter—how did you become chocolate?"
I just smile mysteriously when that happens, and offer them a taste of one of my new varieties. That usually stops all questions quick smart. But you seem like a nice and trustworthy customer, and you're certainly a good listener; would you like to hear how I came to be in this position?
Yes? Good. Pull up a chair, there; that sweet little red armchair in the corner should do you nicely. My darling little Polarchuck can sit on your lap, and you can have a glass of soda. What would you like, then? How about a Spider? Oh, don't look so horrified; that's just ice cream and cola, you know. No? Well, what about peach? It's quite fresh. I'll make you some up now.
There. Now you're all comfortable, let me tell you the story of how Sylfio's Ice Cream Sodas came to be.
* * *
I wasn't always a chocolate Usul. In fact, when I was very young, I was blue. I happen to think that's a lovely colour for Usuls, because the blue bow does set off so nicely against the yellow fur. Like many young Usuls I was quite proud of my looks, but not in an arrogant or vain kind of way.
My owner was somewhat young as well, at the time, and very scatterbrained. Dear Imogen, she did try her best, but really she was far too young to have the care of three Neopets. My two brothers and I often had to gently remind her to feed us and play with us. Other families would go fishing, visit Coltzan's Shrine, explore Mystery Island—we'd count ourselves lucky if Imogen took us out for a walk.
She cared about us, though. I'm quite sure of that, and I don't blame her for what happened next.
It was a beautiful spring day. Tinost, Tobant and I were playing in the yard, with one of our only toys, a little red ball. Although Tinost was a white Grundo and Tobant was a red Gnorbu, the two of them were like peas in a pod, they were so alike. Quite often when throwing the ball around they'd both dive for it at the same time and crash into each other. "Watch where you're going!" they'd cry in unison, and I would giggle helplessly.
Imogen rushed out into the yard. "Has anyone seen my purse?" she asked, breathlessly. "I've been looking everywhere." Tinost and Tobant, who'd both been sulking about some perceived slight over the ball, started laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked, but then I saw it too. "Oh, Imogen. You're wearing your purse."
"I am?" she said, then looked down to see the purse against her side, strapped over her shoulder. "Oh. So I am. Okay, so, I thought we might go shopping. Do you guys want to come?"
We all did. Even though we knew Imogen didn't have a lot of neopoints, it'd be more fun than hanging around the house. And anyway, we sometimes picked up nice things at the Money Tree. That was where most of our toys came from, and even though we were getting sick of keychains, it was better than having nothing to play with at all.
Our first stop was the Food Store. It was filled with customers, spilling out into the sunlight. We managed to make it inside, but I was squashed against the wall by a snooty cloud Gnorbu ("excuse ME") and couldn't see a thing over his wispy mane. I could hear Imogen haggling for awhile with the shopkeeper but getting nowhere.
Finally, she gave up, and we squeezed back out through the door.
"It's no use," Imogen said, looking a little teary. "The cheapest thing he's got today are Jalapeno Poppers, and he won't take less than four hundred neopoints each for those."
"It's okay, Immy," I said comfortingly. "We can get lunch at the soup kitchen at least."
She nodded, and sighed. "I know there's always that, thank goodness, but I did so want to get you all something nice for once."
Tobant, meanwhile, had started to trot off.
"Tob!" Imogen called after him. "You're going the wrong direction, it's the soup kitchen next."
"Please can we go to the bazaar first?" he begged, trotting back. "We can look in the window of the toy shop, and Sylfio can see the grooming parlour. I'm not hungry just yet."
So that was where we headed. We looked in the window of the toy store, and I saw the grooming parlour. (And I mean saw it—I just love looking at the big decorative Usul statue on the roof! Sure, the stuff inside is good too. But when you're poor, you take entertainment where you can.)
"I have an idea," said Tinost. "Why don't we go take a look around the Chocolate Factory? Sometimes they do tours."
Sometimes they do tours.
Have you ever had that happen to you? Where someone says a tiny little insignificant sentence, and the next thing you know your entire life has changed?
I sometimes think about that day, and wonder what would have happened to us all, if Tinost had kept quiet. We would have headed off to the soup kitchen, had an unfulfilling lunch, then headed home. Spent the rest of our lives quietly struggling on.
But instead: "That sounds fun," Imogen said. "Let's check it out! They might even do tastings."
From a distance, the Chocolate Factory is distinctly underwhelming. It looks a bit like a chocolate-coated castle, mostly made of stone, with a single red window and a huge wooden drawbridge. But as you get closer, you realise the stone is actually marzipan, and the windowpane is red liquorice, and the drawbridge is several layers of wafer.
The inside is far more impressive, though. As a tiny top-hatted Kiko released the wafer drawbridge down to let us in, a world of chocolate and sweets was revealed. We walked in through a candy cane archway, studded with gumdrops, and into a large bright room. Shelves lined the walls, buckling under the weight of jars filled with a rainbow of lollies, while on tables, blocks of chocolate stacked to the ceiling.
"Welcome to the Chocolate Factory!" announced the Kiko. "Are you here to buy, or to take a tour? The tour incurs a small charge of 5 neopoints per person."
The three of us glanced at Imogen. She smiled. "Five times four is twenty. We can afford that."
So we were taken around the building by a cheerful brown Kyrii named Rhy. Each room was filled with mysterious machines, bubbling and fizzing, engaged in something marvellous: whether it was whipping cream, baking biscuits or mixing toffee. Rhy told us interesting facts as we passed each one: like how the factory produces five million chocolate buttons a year, and how the chocolate milk is mixed by expert Kaus and Moehogs, and how if you made a tower of every Strawberry Jelly Chia ever made, the tower would stretch halfway to Kreludor.
As fascinating as the tour was, it couldn't distract us from one thing: how hungry we were. I looked longingly at the acres and acres of chocolate, dreading the thin asparagus soup we'd probably get served for lunch. Though we always pretended to Imogen that the soup was delicious, just what we wanted, she knew as well as we did that it did no more than fill our stomachs. And it didn't even do that well.
"Ah," said Rhy, "this is where we mix most of our milk chocolate."
He led us into a large room, bigger than our entire house. Huge vats of chocolate towered over us. I couldn't help but gasp.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Rhy said proudly. "Twelve tonnes a day goes through here."
A red Lenny poked her head through the door. "Excuse me, but Rhy, we've got a small emergency with the gingerbread men. They've escaped."
"Again?" groaned Rhy. "Kids, I'll be back in a minute." He dashed out, leaving the four of us standing there awkwardly.
After a few moments of silence, Tobant and Tinost's stomachs grumbled in unison. "Sorry," Tobant said, miserably.
Imogen bent down and hugged them both. Over their heads, she looked at me. "Sylf, can I speak to you in private for a moment?"
Now, I imagine it's quite clear to anyone else what Imogen was about to suggest. To me, though, it came as a tremendous shock, and I was horrified.
"Immy, that's STEALING," I said. "This chocolate isn't ours. We can't just take it."
"Twelve tonnes!" she said. "They won't miss a little bit. And look, there's a ladder propped up against that vat. I can pop up with my water bottle and fill it up." She gestured to Tinost and Tobant, who were gloomily waiting by the door. "Just look at your poor brothers. Wouldn't you love to see the smile on their faces?"
I knew what Imogen was suggesting was wrong. But she was my owner, and they were my brothers, and it really had been a long time since we'd had anything as nice as chocolate.
"Okay," I relented. "But I'm going to take the chocolate. I don't want you doing it."
She passed me her water bottle. "Quickly. Before Rhy comes back."
I hurried over to the ladder, and climbed up it quickly. At the wide open top of the vat, I dipped the water bottle in, and let it fill with the warm melted chocolate. It smelt so gorgeous, and looked so creamy, that I couldn't help leaning closer.
"What are you doing, Sylfio?" asked Tinost, confused. "Are we trying some of the chocolate?"
"Yes," I said, guiltily.
The bottle was almost full. Then: the door slammed open. I heard Rhy's voice ask, "What's going on here?", and in my surprise I teetered backwards on the ladder. To stop myself from falling I leant even further forwards—and fell headfirst into creamy unconsciousness.
Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see a grim-looking Uni in a white coat.
"What's happened?" I asked, weakly.
"You're going to be fine," he said. "You were very lucky. There are, however, some lasting complications from your accident. And the Chocolate Factory staff are not happy with you at all." He nodded to someone else in the room. "Rhy, if you'd like to speak to her. Remember she's had quite a shock."
The brown Kyrii stepped in front of the bed. "Hello, Sylfio," he said, somewhat gently. "Do you remember what happened?"
I frowned, struggling to remember. "Something bad. There—there was a vat? Of chocolate? And Imogen said..."
My voice trailed off.
Rhy smiled wryly. "I know what Imogen said. She told me."
"She's not a bad person," I said.
"I know," Rhy said. "But sometimes good people do bad things. And this was a bad thing you did, Sylfio. That's why I'm here. I'd like you to come work for me."
I had trouble digesting this. "Work? At the Chocolate Factory?"
Rhy nodded. "You cost us a lot, you know. That entire vat of chocolate was useless. But after talking to your brothers and your owner, and some other people who know you, we think you would make a good worker for us. You're reliable and intelligent. It's just unfortunate you were led astray. You could quite easily work off your debt to us in a few weeks, and we'd keep you on in paid employment after that."
"That would be lovely," I said, slowly. "But I don't really deserve it."
"No, you don't," agreed Rhy, and grinned. "But wait till you see how hard you have to work. Besides, what with how things turned out, it seems the obvious career path for you. We still don't know how that happened."
"How what happened?" I asked.
"That vat," Rhy said, "was mixing chocolate intended for milk chocolate Usuls. A popular shape of chocolate. And funnily enough, we still ended up with a chocolate Usul."
I stared at him. Then, looked at my paw. It was smooth and brown.
"I'll tell your family to come in now," said Rhy lightly. "I guess you could need them. By the way, Imogen has some further shocking news for you."
So in the space of a few minutes, I had to deal with the fact I was now a chocolate Usul, and that Imogen wasn't going to be my owner anymore.
"I love you guys, but I can't look after you," she explained. "I realise that now. My older sister Emma has offered to take you on. I'm going to move next door to her, and see you every single day. But after what happened, I just don't think I'm ready to look after you all right now. Besides, Rhy and the Chocolate Factory staff say you need more stability."
"Promise we'll see you every day?" I asked.
She lent over and hugged me in my hospital bed. "I promise."
* * *
So that's my story, and I'm sorry it's such a long one. I hope you didn't have any other plans for today. Perhaps I could make you another soda to apologise? Yes? Lovely.
I worked at the Chocolate Factory for some time. I started out in the chocolate division, but found I had more of a talent for ice cream. So much so that Rhy suggested I start my own little business making ice cream sodas. I sell some here myself, but also supply the Chocolate Factory, and it's quite profitable. Tinost and Tobant often help me out. They're both particularly good at taste testing.
What about Imogen? Oh, I see her every day, just like she promised. I think that's a good promise for Imogen to make, because it's one she can keep. She lives next door to Emma, in Brightvale, and Emma looks after us. She remembers to feed us and clothe us, and we have the most marvellous toys, and take trips over Neopia.
Oh, that makes it sound like the neopoints are all that matter, but they're not. Even though she's not Imogen, and even though she might not've adopted us originally, she still loves us, and we love her. And it's so nice to know when you wake up in the morning that you're going to be taken care of. If you come back here again, I can tell you how the three of us settled into Emma's family. It's a wonderful story, but the candle's already burning low.
Tomorrow we're going cherry picking in Meridell. Would you like to join us?