Vuwu turned and stared at the poster against the column in the dark caverns that contained the Art Gallery. Her heart soared as her eyes lit over each letter and brush stroke. The words in question on the poster focused out as she gazed at the picture in reverence and awe, though their size was rather large;
Her reverie was broke instantly by the derisive snort behind her, as her older brother, GrandRagnarok, sighed. "Gonna stare at that all day?"
Vuwu turned and folded her arms, frowning. "Maybe, what of it?"
The large shadow Acara rolled his shoulders in a shrug, moving to sip from the latte in his paw and smile slowly. He raised a brow. "You know she's in hiding. She's the Zafara Double Agent, after all. I don't think she'd go around advertising it."
Slightly stung, Vuwu frowned. "Yeah, well, she's still pretty cool. I mean, the story Shel wrote about her--"
"Was just a story, I'm sure," Rag interrupted, waving his hand vaguely. "Really, you and I both know our owner has quite the imagination. I mean, just look at her."
Rag waved his hand behind him in a sort of dismissive gesture, as Vuwu followed with her gaze, catching sight of their owner trying on a variety of squid hats and giggling in a mirror. She twitted and gibbered happily to the slightly dazed salesperson, who nodded blithely with a glazed-over look, waiting for it to end. Vuwu made a noise of discomfort and shuffled a little awkwardly back into the shadows, frowning and biting her lip,
"She's not like that all the time, is she?"
Rag shrugged. "Naw. When she's writing, she gets really serious and drinks a lot of tea. Wears fewer hats, too."
Vuwu snorted and rolled her eyes, swatting at him slightly, her laughter easing the awkward feeling. Rag grinned and slung an arm around her shoulders in a half hug. "Don't worry about it. I know you're new to the family and all, but it'll all be cool, you'll see. She's really great, and hey! She's got a room set up for you and everything."
Vuwu looked up with a smile, moving to adjust her Agent-Impressionistic hood over her head, eyes shining out hopefully. "Really?"
Rag nodded solemnly. "Yeah, she did, and I think you'll really like it, kiddo!"
She smiled and nodded. "Cool." As the two turned to walk over to Shel and move out of the dusty caverns and into the bright light of Neopia Central. She'd only been there a few days with Shel, but Vuwu was glad to be in a place she could call home at last. And now, she thought with giddy anticipation, she was finally going to see what home was actually like...
“No, no, no, no, no--!”
There was a loud crash and Alana Wellstone, known to the world as the Zafara Double Agent, covered her ears and shut her eyes. Her loudly saying something very unlady-like was thankfully, covered by the crash, as she swerved, ducking and rolling downwards. She narrowly avoided the falling debris as a voice above screeched at her, “Agent! I will HAVE YOU!”
Alana yelped, looking up. Far above swarmed a very, very angry Dark Faerie, swarming with energy, screeching in rage. Her arms were outstretched and her bat-like wings beat the air with fervor unmatched by even an army of Korbats, as she directed her anger at the small Zafara below, who clutched onto a paper-wrapped package to her chest. Alana licked her lips and her pupils shrank in terror as she struggled to focus on the blast of energy falling rapidly downwards at her person.
She had once chance to move, and one only! She leapt to the left, but then—
Vuwu stirred from her action-packed imaginings as the blindfold was lifted from her eyes. Rag had refused to allow her to go upstairs without it, and as the door creaked open, she breathed in. Her heart pounded quietly, and Rag grinned next to her.
“All right! One, two...”
At the breathy, excited ‘three’ uttered in her left ear, the blindfold was lifted. The window’s light dazzled her briefly, but her exhale turned into a low whistle.
“Wow- You... You guys did this for me?”
Rag nodded cheerily. “Absolutely!” He beamed. Shel, their owner—more like a guardian, really-- stood behind him in the doorway, peering in with excitement. FVW and Lohera stood beside her, FVW smoothing down her dress.
“It took us quite a while to find the right shade of blue for the curtains and bed set, and Shel may have had Rag drag in the Pant Devil for a reference, but it ended with minimal injuries.”
Lohera snorted as Vuwu moved across the room to look at the polished wood shelves covered in small treasures and trinkets. It was next to the window and above the bed set, which both were indeed cased in a striking blue fabric. Shades of grey purples and dusky blues draped the room in the form of impromptu fabric hangings. A chair sat at a large oak desk in the corner, with a gold inkwell stand in the corner. A nameplate rested on the table, bearing Vuwu’s name in its entirety.
“Had to get to Neovia ‘fer that ‘un, y’keen!” said Lohera, with a note of pride in her otherwise disdainful voice. She wasn’t a very happy person, but that hardly stopped Vuwu from rushing over and hugging the irate Yurble tightly,
“Oh, thank you! It’s wonderful!”
Shel grinned as Lohera squirmed slightly and Rag backed out of their way.
“We haven’t even gotten to the pie de resteraunte!”
Rag blinked. “Er, she means ‘Pièce de résistance’. I’m really not sure how she messed that up, but, uhm. Shel, you wanna bring it in?”
Shel gave a giddy laugh and the sound of thundering footsteps in a skipping formation was heard down the hallway. A creak of stairs falling from a trap door alluded that she’d run up to the attack. Shortly thereafter, the footsteps paused, circled above, and returned; Shel appeared in the doorway with a large frame covered in a familiar white drop cloth. Vuwu blinked.
Shel shook her head, looking alarmed. “Oh! No! It’s not the mirror, that’s... unavailable.” She frowned, but then the look of pensiveness was lost, replaced by the same giddiness she had held earlier. “It’s something better.”
Vuwu approached the rectangular shape cautiously. “Better?”
“Exponentially,” FVW agreed, casting a soft smile. “Go on. We all pitched in to find it and get it back here.”
“Wasn’ no picnic, eitha’,” grunted Lohera. Fvw shot her a look and the Yurble backed down. Vuwu approached the sheet with caution, but threw it to the wind in a single, sheer motion, as the cloth fluttered to the ground revealing a quaint wooden frame, enclosing a picture of her one and only idol.
“Oh, wow,” Vuwu breathed, eyes wide, mouth agape. She knelt to examine the poster. “It’s—It’s amazing! The detail and the- Is this an artist original?” She gasped, a hand cautious against the glass.
Rag chuckled. “One of a handful, I think.”
“I think she looks like you a bit.” Shel beamed, adjusting her squid hat cheerily.
Vuwu nodded quietly, her mind clearly elsewhere. Rag smiled gently.
“C’mon. Let’s put it above your desk, huh? It’s just like having a mirror.” He laughed. Vuwu grinned and helped him to pick it up and place it on the nail she’d not noticed before. They all stood back, smiling.
“The room looks lovely all completed,” Fvw chimed, while Lohera gave a faint grunt in agreement, stuffing her hands in her skirt pockets to look around.
“Kinda like th’ blues. Lookin’ all... oceany, mhm.”
Vuwu smiled back at her—It was quite a close call to a compliment from the otherwise snarky captain.
Shel had wandered back downstairs, satisfied that all was well, and Rag nodded, moving to the doorway. “I guess we’ll go prepare dinner, huh?”
Vuwu turned. “Sure! I’ll be down in a bit.”
FVW and Rag turned to file from the room, but Lohera lingered a moment, then approached quietly. “Lissin’, I also got ya this, kid. Don’ tell ‘em I got it ‘fer ya. I ain’t supposed to have it, really, but..”
She shuffled and pulled a folded, slightly aged looking poster from her pocket. It was only a few inches higher than a sheet of letter paper, but she handed it to Vuwu anyway. The words ‘WANTED’ blared out at her, and Vuwu looked up with a smile.
Lohera nodded and gave a dull grin. “Aye, just... Just a reminder, y’know, kid. Be careful out there, and choose yer heroes wisely.”
Vuwu nodded- An odd piece of advice. “Thanks again—”
Lohera held up a hand, shaking her head, and turning to the door. “See ya at dinner, kiddo.”
She shut the door quietly behind her, leaving Vuwu to stand with her thoughts. Her head reeled- She was on one hand, quite elated. She’d never had anything so nice done for quite a while, and felt wholly content in her new family environment. They cared and wanted her to be a part of the picture.
On the other hand, Lohera’s warning sang deep in her mind. Be careful, it said- And as she looked up at the large poster of the Zafara Double Agent, she realized it was perhaps sage advice to take. The Citadel walls loomed behind her in picture, and she realized perhaps she wasn’t all that sure of her hero’s standing...
She turned the wanted poster in her hands, and moved to place it on her shelf. A reminder... A reminder, indeed.
The small kitchen downstairs bustled with activity. Shel was folding napkins, Rag was stirring a pot of soup, Fvw was setting the little table, and Lohera was eyeing the Heavenly Roast Turkey with hungry eyes, licking her lips slowly. Vuwu was surprised—It was quite a meal to put on the table. Usually they just popped on coats and scarves and wandered to the market to go on their own for food. Shel looked up and smiled.
“Well, you know, I tend to enjoy a celebration.”
Vuwu was startled, and glanced to Rag, who shrugged. “Hey. We’re probably gonna have cake after this, too, so don’t question it!”
Shel laughed, then paused, face falling. “Oh. Uhm. The cake.”
Rag turned slightly, and FVW’s ear twitched. Lohera paused, frowning.
“Wha’ d’ya’ mean...Oh?”
“Er,” Shel paused, fidgeting and inadvertently folding a bird out of the napkin, “I kinda... forgot. I was so excited about the squid hat sale, and-” Everyone groaned in unison, Rag putting a palm over his face.
“Really? Squid hats over cake?”
Shel frowned. “I like squids AND cake!”
Vuwu piped up quickly, “I could run and get one; it’s not a problem!”
Shel turned. “Oh, but Vu, it’s all dark and creepy out...” She frowned, hugging her arms. “I dunno, would you be alright?”
Vuwu shrugged and smiled. “I could grab a Cobrall dagger and be in and out before the babaa come home. C’mon, it’ll be fine.”
Rag shrugged. “She is pretty stealthy, I mean- It’s not that crowded down there at night, but there’s enough space for her to go around without drawing too much attention to herself. And it’s not even near the third of the month, so no crazy restockers about.”
Vuwu nodded and Shel bit her lip, apprehensive. “Well, er, I suppose- But be careful! And try and pick up some coffee for after dessert? It looks classy!”
Vuwu grinned. “Absolutely! I’ll be right back!”
And with a swish of her cloak, the door shut behind her, leaving the others to prepare dinner.
FVW frowned. “Do you really think she’ll be okay out there?”
Lohera shrugged, moving the turkey to the oven for warming. “I think she’s got a fine ‘ead on ‘er shoulders. She’ll be right as rain- And if she ain’, she’ll learn something.”
FVW and Shel gave her a pointed frown, and she shrugged. “Whot? Experience is the best teacher.”
There was a soft silence, then a quiet, mutual agreement. Rag watched the window quietly as Vuwu’s figure faded into the night.
“Let’s hope she doesn’t have to learn any unnecessary lessons...”
The market was nearly deserted, and Vuwu walked slightly unbalanced, a tray of cupcakes in her bag. It was all the bakery had had left at the time of night, and they were a little stale, but they’d still be good enough for dinner. She paused in front of the shimmering Rainbow Pool, where pets bathed and waded in the waters in the deep of dark. Pets with fur shimmering like stars stepped out, and she watched, dazzled-
Dazzled enough to miss the shadow dashing into the catacombs directly, but not so much that the corners of her eyes hadn’t caught it. She frowned, turning quickly-
Nothing but crickets met her ears and eyes. Furrowing her brow, she moved towards the low entrance. The statue of the Chia loomed overhead, not menacingly, but enough to send shivers down her spine. Torches flickered down the stairway, leading into the warm, dusky pit- The smell of coffee floated up and Vuwu caught herself inhaling with a small smile. But then, yet- Lo! She started in surprise as an oddly familiar shadow turned the corner of the stairs.
How odd, she thought, straying to the edge of the steps- It had looked... It had looked quite like her.
She bit her lip. “I’m sure it was nothing-” But her own voice did nothing to quell her slightly shaken intrigue. Swallowing, she shrugged. “A couple minutes more couldn’t hurt, and a coffee would wake me up, I suppose.”
She turned to glance behind her, for reasons she couldn’t discern, and shook her head. She was being petty; there’s nothing to fear in the dark of Neopia Central. But yet, as she headed down the stairs, a little, nasty voice whispered in her mind-- There could be something to fear in the catacombs.
Vuwu stood at the base of the stairs, blinking in the dull light. No one seemed to be around—The chairs had been turned over and placed over the tables. Napkins and a few spare cups sat out, waiting to be scooped away later. Most of the shops seemed closed up, and the art gallery and coin shops were closed up with security lights humming dully against the insides. The storytelling pits fire was smouldering dully, like it had just gone out.
Stepping forward, Vuwu called out, “Hello?”
A movement caught her eye and she jumped, turning. Oh! Just the coffee shop, closing up slowly. She wandered over to the familiar area, ignoring the eyes looking down from posters and fliers, approaching the owner.
“Hey, is it too late to order...?”
The Neopet turned, and Vuwu saw immediately it was not the standard owner. Instead of the kindly yellow Shoyru, there stood a bristly, muscular, and very tall, dull blue Lupe. His coat color seemed off, and the apron he wore several sizes too small. He grunted at her,
“What do you want?”
His voice was low and his breath old, smelling of meat and sleeplessness. Vuwu stepped back and blinked, trying a soft smile, politely.
“J-Just a Phear Coffee, if that’s—” ZZZZZIP! THWACK!
Vuwu ducked instinctively and spun, gasping aloud as an arrow landed square behind her in the center of a wanted poster. The Lupe bristled and turned, roaring,
“THE SHOP IS NOW CLOSED!”
Vuwu yelped and stumbled back as he ripped off his apron, throwing it to the side and reaching behind him, where a bag lay. It was filled with glowing bottles, and Vuwu paled horribly as she recognized the dreadful figure.
“Oh, Sweet Fyora, you’re—”
“Balthazar,” a voice finished. And stepping from what seemed to be a poster came a familiar face, the source of a strangely known shadow seen earlier. Her hair fell over one eye and she brushed it back, raising a bow, eyes level with the arrow.
“And he’s going to put that bag down now,” said the Agent.
Vuwu stared. Had she fallen asleep or something? This was like some sort of strange, deranged nightmare. But the realization of her situation struck her as Balthazar laughed and moved towards the Agent, as she was too slow to react to the oversized paw and talons throwing her against the wall in a single, deft movement.
Vuwu gasped and scrambled forward to help her hero, and Balthazar turned toward her and sneered, “What are you going to do about it, little one?” He snorted. “You are a tiny Zafara. You are not her, for goodness sakes.”
Vuwu fell back, eyes wide. “N-no, I’m not—” But as she cast her gaze to her inexplicably fallen hero, she found herself getting angry. “But I am no mere tiny Zafara!”
The Cobrall dagger fell into her paw quickly and she jumped up. Hours of training and dreaming, studying to be like Alana- She’d practiced her motions and moves, her fighting style, her sneakery! She knew every trick, she could go for this now- She could be her hero!
Balthazar was certainly caught off-guard by the little Zafara jumping at him, and shielded himself with his paws, roaring. The Agent, Alana, groaned in the corner and pushed herself up, eyes widening.
“What are you doing?!”
As Vuwu slashed at his paws, she turned, calling, “Just what you would do--!”
And the minute distraction caught the furious Lupe’s attention instantly, as he roared and threw her off simply. Alana groaned and struggled to stand, the arrow she’d been holding broken from her fall. She struggled to notch another, as Vuwu thudded against the wall and swore.
“Don’t do what I do! He knows all those moves- Why do you think I’m using arrows? You have to trick him up--!”
She fired an arrow, which grazed the beast’s shoulder, and he turned, bellowing, “You won’t have these!”
Vuwu stood, and scrabbled for the dagger, which lay by his foot. She narrowed her eyes, and thought quickly.
I can’t do as she does... That’s... That’s her job, isn’t it? Maybe Rag was right about her being just a story—You can’t put too much faith in stories...
She gasped and rolled out of the way as Balthazar stumbled back, upending several tables and some large mugs of coffee. The bitter smell was strangely uplifting, and she reached to grab her dagger with a sudden surge of confidence and thought, You can’t put all your faith in your heroes...
Alana fired off a few more arrows, calling to Vuwu, “I don’t have a lot of arsenal here, kid! Why are you even down here?”
Vuwu turned, panting, “I was just looking for something!”
“Well, you certainly found something, alright!”
Vuwu nodded. “I’ll say!”
You also have to have faith in yourself.
With that, she swept upwards. Everything she’d learned was really only variation- You have to move by yourself before you can mimic others, after all! She spun dangerously close to the Lupe’s grasp, and hit out with the dagger-
The bag on his shoulder broke, and dozens of bottles fell to the floor. He roared as she stumbled back away, and Alana laughed aloud. “Way to go, kid!”
A bright light filled the otherwise dim catacombs, and Balthazar snarled, “I will make you pay!”
Alana shrugged, stepping back with a wicked grin. “I don’t pay for anything, big boy!” She fired off a single arrow, catching him against the wall by his ear. He howled, and the light formed into several tall figures who surrounded him quickly—
Another flash, and the figures and the Lupe were all gone, leaving a dazed Vuwu and a proud looking Alana alone.
“Well, kid, I’m glad I grabbed the right sort of person’s attention! Sorry to have lured you down here.” She dusted off her arm with her hand vaguely, and went to the stunned admirer and stuck out the same hand. “I did need a distraction. I’ll be a Spardel’s uncle if you weren’t one, though!”
Vuwu grinned shakily, taking her hand and standing. “Y-yeah, thanks—I, well, wow, I can’t believe I’m meeting you, I’m a huge fan--!”
She flushed and pulled at her now dusty robes. “Er, I mean, I’m sure you can tell.”
Alana laughed and patted her hard on the back. “Kid, I’ve got plenty, but thanks!” She grinned, eyes sparkling. “Although, I’ve gotta say, I may be a bigger fan of you right now. I was a little cornered before you came in.”
Vuwu raised a brow. “By a giant Lupe in an apron?”
Alana coughed, smiling. “Well, everyone has their moments.” She grinned, “Can I repay you? I should get your name, at least-”
Vuwu held up her paws. “No payment needed. I’m Vuwu.”
Alana nodded soberly. “Well then! It was a real pleasure meeting you, Vuwu. Keep doing well—I’m sure you’ll make it as big as me some day!”
They both chuckled, but fell to silence. In the gloom, the posters leered down with an eerie intensity, and Alana frowned quietly.
“Actually, I rather hope you don’t. It’s a little messy being an Agent.” She turned, eyes somber,
“Vuwu? Promise me you’ll make it as big as you want to be, and for my sake, find another Hero. I’m no example to follow.”
Vuwu stared quietly, her thoughts gathering slowly. Here was her absolute idol, her hero, telling her to be something else. She blinked, then swallowed hard, and found herself with a small smile.
“I think... I think I can manage that. I promise, Miss Alana, I’ll find a hero, if nowhere but in myself.”
Alana’s eyes softened and she nodded gently. “You know,” she said, “I think that perhaps that is the best place to look.”
Vuwu smiled and nodded as she turned towards the stairs, glancing back. “Thank you. Now, I think I’ll be going home.”
Alana nodded. “I wouldn’t wish you anything more.”
And thus, the two heroes parted, each with a newfound lesson and respect for one another, though never before having met.
One went home to a life of mystery, adventure, family, and lessons learned—
And the other? Well, she did much the same thing.