A Tribute to Yourself
This must be the way.
Just keep walking. This is worth it.
You've been walking for hours, it seems.
The gleaming— though lifeless— sand crunches under your sandals. You could have sworn this was the way. It must be the way. That was what the villagers told you. It was the same path they tell everyone, the same way countless pets have come for many years.
Left along a small river leading from the Lost Desert, past an oasis of mesmerizing life that you were warned to steer clear of, it was not innocent magic — and then two miles north on foot. This was supposed to bring you to her palace. But only rolling hills of sand meet your eyes as you gaze out, trying to shield your eyes from the glaring sun with your paw.
"Coo..." A small sound from behind you reaches your ears. You spin around, startled at a sound of life in this barren land. A small White Weewoo flitters up to your side and with a small cry, motions for you to follow. What choice do you have? You do.
What seems like hours passes before the Weewoo flies quickly on ahead. Desperate not to lose it, you rush after the bird but feel the energy in your body drying up as you put one foot after another, drying up as everything else has here, under the harsh sun.
But there was no reason for you to run.
Before you, sprawled along a ridge of sand and spotted with palm trees, lies a gleaming white palace. Curtains line windows of room after room, floor after floor. A thin pond surrounds the majestic building. It must be hers.
You dash toward it - your energy has seemingly sprung back, as does life in this world after a desert rain storm. This is the place you have been searching for.
They say that she is among the most beautiful of all princesses. And not only that, but she is generous too. Her father, king of this small kingdom in the outskirts of the Lost Desert, rules with a soft hand - friendly and giving to all his citizens.
But it is her you are looking for. You have heard tale after tale of pets that have ventured here, risking their lives in this lifeless place for one reason: they say she has inherited her mother’s gift of magic and can grant wishes, if one has a good enough reason and brings a good enough tribute. A small golden locket lies in your bag. This is what you will offer her in return for your wish.
The Weewoo reappears before you. Assuming it is to guide you to the entrance, you follow. After climbing a steep sand dune, you stumble forward onto a winding cobblestone path in the sand. You stand and compose yourself and walk carefully forward. It leads to your long awaited destination – Princess Villatera’s Palace.
You clear your throat as you step inside. Wafting scents of jasmine and vanilla and spices of all kinds pull you in as a short desert Lupe ushers you forward, "You’re here to see the princess, I assume? Come this way. Hurry up..."
"That’s right," you state quietly, in awe of the shining marble columns and potted flowers and baby palm trees around you. The Lupe leads you effortlessly down winding corridors and steep staircases until he stops suddenly at an entrance guarded by two desert Grarrls and sealed off by silky blue curtains, waving in the warm and sweet desert breeze. You are motioned inside, and the Grarrls lift their swords noiselessly to let you pass.
The princess sits gracefully and elegantly on a large throne among colourful pillows and golden treasures, fur flawless and golden adornments shining. Your eyes try to take in all that is around you and for a moment you lose yourself— but she soon beckons to you, “What have you come for, lone stranger?” Her eyes pierce out through her veil and seem to look through you. You take a deep breath and swallow hard before continuing.
"My dear Princess, I come today to ask for a wish to be granted." You bow low. She watches you carefully.
"And your wish?"
"Oh, most beautiful princess, I wish to return to my previous state. I wish to be as I was before! I no longer wish to be a mutant! My owner did this to me, and then abandoned me. Many years I have waited alone for someone to adopt me... someone to help me. I have wandered through the Lost Desert to find you in hopes that you may return me to my original state." You reach out a clawed hand in a begging motion, and place the golden locket on the cool marble floor before you.
Her expression does not change. She does not speak a word. Instead, she reaches to her left and rummages through a linen bag. Taking out two objects, she stands, places them before you before taking her seat once more.
"Here you have a morphing potion that could immediately return you to how you used to be, and here you have a mirror. Which one will you choose?"
You blink and furrow your brow, confused. You cannot understand what she could mean by this.
"You must choose."
You stand still for a long moment. This seems so obvious? She must know which you would choose. You then lunge for the morphing potion – but stop suddenly as you catch yourself in the mirror.
You pick it up slowly.
Your eyes stare back at you – your very own eyes, simply under a different skin. You gaze on quietly. This pet in the mirror is not a mutant. The pet in the mirror is not a freak or ugly or scary. It is you. You grasp the mirror tightly to your chest.
"Princess," you say quietly after a while, "Thank you."
You turn to leave. She says nothing and does not move. You are guided out by the Lupe, both silent as you retrace your steps through the palace. The Lupe stops at the cobblestone path – you know that only you may continue on.
After a mile of retracing your steps in the warm sand, you glance down and stop suddenly. Something is different. Something has changed. You look, lost for words, at your paws.
The scaly skin is gone. The claws are gone. In its place are your previous soft fur and delicate paws. How can this be? What sort of magic is this, that could turn a mutant into a normal pet with a morphing potion? What magic could revert a scorned Neopet to its original form so suddenly?
You look at the mirror. The princess had written a note on its frame! Golden and shining in the moonlight, you squint your eyes to make out the etched-in cursive letters.
'Only once you accept yourself, may you truly find who you are.'
That is what you had been needing to hear. It wasn’t some sort of foreign magic after all.
Smiling to yourself, you continue along through this sandy world, over hills of rolling sand and through storms that threaten to turn you around and lead you into their trap. But you continue on, step after step, knowing you will find your way. Princess Villatera of the small Lost Desert kingdom has given you a great gift that you will not soon forget – the gift of loving yourself for who you are. In your other hand, you find the golden locket, returned to you. Your own realization had been tribute enough.