Before the Tale: Part One
“Heeeyy Jaycee, have I got a proposition for you!” Sebastian bounced around her in excited leaps, before tripping over a stray cupcake and toppling to the floor. He sat up hastily and grinned up at his audience.
“I don’t know, do you?” the pink Xweetok replied, somewhat grumpily. She was still recovering from her boisterous Blumaroo of a best friend smashing into her legendary Tower of Cupcakes that she had so carefully been stacking.
“Stop pouting, this is great. We’re going to... wait for it... wait for it...”
“Spit it out already!”
“Someone’s having a Kau. We’re going to Tyrannia, Jayc!”
“That’s the big exciting news? Tyrannia?”
Sebastian frowned at her, clearly unimpressed by her less-than-enthusiastic reaction to his great news.
“Aaaand, guess what we’re going to do when we get to Tyrannia?”
“No. We’re going to see Yes Boy Ice-Cream, live and in the flesh at the Concert Hall! Oh, yes, you heard me!”
Jaycee sat up from her position of slouching on the couch.
“Really? When? How?”
“Yes, tomorrow, and never you mind, Pinky! I got us two tickets for tomorrow night’s show and it’s going to be a blast!” Sebastian sat back comfortably on his tail. It’s what Blumaroos do best, after all. What’s a Blumaroo without his tail? Nothing, that’s what, and Sebastian was ever so proud to be a bouncer and not a fluffy little thing like his best friend, although he did love her dearly. But not being able to bounce, he really did feel sorry for her sometimes.
“That’s great, Seb! How did you get tickets? They’re so expensive, and most tourism to Tyrannia’s been cancelled since... you know, that omelette fiasco.” Jaycee shuddered at the thought of being in Tyrannia when that omelette exploded.
“Let’s just say that I have my ways,” Sebastian winked mysteriously at her and she laughed. “So what are we waiting for, let’s go pack!”
“THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!” Jaycee screamed as they were swept out of the Concert Hall by the throng of avid music fans.
“I KNOW, RIGHT? THEY WERE AMAZING!” Sebastian yelled back, his ears ringing painfully.
“BEST CONCERT EVER! THIS WAS GREAT, SEB!”
“YOU’RE WELCOME, JAYC!”
“LET’S GO HOME!”
The two best friends ducked out of the mob and sat panting on a large rock until they got their breaths back and had regained some of their hearing. Jaycee pointed to a grassy hill a short distance away from the commotion and Sebastian nodded, grabbing her hand and helping her to her feet.
Only once they were settled comfortably in the soft grass overlooking the rocky plateau did either of them speak.
“I’m so tired, I could sleep for a month,” Jaycee yawned, curling up into a tight ball and resting her head on her paws.
“I know the feeling. But it was good, uh?” Sebastian grinned at her and pointed to the sky. “Look, a shooting star. That’s good luck, you know.”
“No, you’re confusing that with seeing a Faerie. A shooting star is supposed to mean someone’s destiny has been decided, and the path has been taken.” Jaycee looked up at the starry night sky, thoughtful.
“Really? Where did you hear that?”
“Can’t remember. Oh yeah, that guy at the Magma Pool told me. He’s very wise you know.”
“Uh huh. As wise as a fruitcake, and just as nutty.” Sebastian rolled onto his stomach and stretched out before letting his eyelids droop.
He was so comfortable, so at peace with nature he could have stayed there forever. So comfy... except for Jaycee poking him in the side.
“What?” he grumbled irritably.
“Seb... look,” she whispered and he sat up and looked where she was pointing.
A Meowclops was trotting towards them at an alarming pace, as if it hadn’t even registered their presence. It paused when it was practically sitting on Jaycee’s lap and looked up at her with its one gleaming eye. It was rather frightening, and Jaycee let out a little squeak.
Always the hero, Sebastian jumped up and waved his arms at it.
“Shoo! Go on, get! Go away!” he yelled at it, causing it to turn its attention and focus on the rather ridiculous sight of a little Blue Blumaroo jumping up and down frenetically, pulling grotesque faces in the hope of scaring it away.
But instead of running away, the Meowclops purred and rubbed its head affectionately against Jaycee, whose eyes widened to an impossible size.
“Forget shooting stars, Seb, I’m sure a Meowclops imprinting itself on you is considered pretty bad luck,” she whispered, gesturing helplessly at the petpet that was now settling comfortably into her lap.
“Would it be really bad if we... whacked it?” Sebastian asked cautiously, peering over his friend’s shoulder.
“Yes, that would be bad! We’ll take it back to the village, maybe someone’s lost it.”
“It’s not from around here, Jayc. These things live in the Haunted Woods, not in Tyrannia. We have to get rid of it. I know, we can leave it with the Councillors, at the Town Hall. I’m sure they’ll know what to do with it.” He nodded decisively.
“Well... it’s just...” Jaycee began hesitantly, before breaking off at the look on Sebastian’s face.
“It’s just what?”
“He’s kinda cute, you know. And he’s all snuggled into me...” she trailed off sheepishly.
Understanding dawned on Sebastian’s face and his eyes boggled.
“Oh, no, no, no, NO! No, Jaycee, you can’t keep it! It’s a Meowclops, for the love of Fyora! You can’t keep those, they’re wild and vicious and nasty and... and you’re not listening to me, are you?”
“Hmm, sorry, what did you say?”
“Uh! You never listen to me. Mark my words, Jaycee, this is going to end badly. Really, really badly.”
“As badly as that time you persuaded me to go to Meridell with you for the weekend? ‘It’ll be fun’, you said. ‘Nothing will go wrong’, you said. We were locked in that Castle for a week, Sebastian! A whole WEEK! You always get us into trouble and now you’re saying I’m going to be the downfall of us? Give me a─” She broke off mid-rant and leaned in to look closely at something hanging from the Meowclops’ neck.
Glad for the interruption, Sebastian sat down heavily, counting his blessings. When Jaycee got started on a rant, if you didn’t stop her soon enough, she would keep going until she had either lost her voice, or started throwing things. Sebastian had learnt this the hard way. He still had a bruise on his tail from the cupcake she had pitched at him yesterday. The stale, rock-hard cupcake.
“Look at this, Seb. He’s got a collar.” She turned over the little gold tag and showed it to him. The name engraved wasn’t the name of the Meowclops at all, but the name of his owner, a name anyone in Neopia would recognize straight away.
“Sophie! Jayc, this Meowclops belongs to Sophie the... Swamp Witch.” Sebastian looked a little queasy at the thought.
“What are we going to do?” Jaycee groaned, jostling the snoozing petpet in her lap.
“Well, I have an idea, but I don’t think you’re going to like it very much...” Sebastian trailed off and bit his lip.
“Oh, no, you don’t. I know very well what your ideas involve, and I’m not having any of it! I just wanted a nice, relaxing vacation. NO ADVENTURES!”
“What do you mean, my ideas? You make it sound like I planned this. Won’t you just listen to my ─”
“If it includes trekking across the Haunted Woods, trudging through mud and dodging monsters to return the Meowclops to Sophie, in your words, a quest, then I’m not interested,” Jaycee stated flatly.
“That’s not what I was going to suggest at all!”
“We trek through the Haunted Woods, avoiding mud and monsters and return the Meowclops to Sophie and claim a hefty reward.”
“C’mon, Jayc! This is our chance, our chance to shine! We’ll be famous! Rich!” Sebastian gazed up at the sky and Jaycee could almost see the dollar signs flashing in his eyes.
“I don’t want to be rich, or famous, Seb! If it means risking our lives, it’s not worth it.”
“Have I ever let you down before?”
“I’m not going to answer that.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes.
“It’s a quest, Jayc.”
“There it is. You always use that word, quest. We’re not talking Meridell Castle this time, we’re talking about the Haunted Woods. The Haunted Woods, Sebastian! There’s a good reason why it has that name, and I for one don’t want to find out why! One day, Seb, your luck’s going to run out, and I’ll have to bail you out of whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”
“So you’ll come with me? That’s great, Jaycee, I knew I could count on you!” He engulfed her in a bone-crushing hug.
“Wait, I didn’t─”
“This is going to be a blast!”
Jaycee groaned and slumped to the ground.
“If I see so much as one Meepit, Sebastian, I will throw you in the mud myself.”
“You’re the best, Jayc.” Sebastian beamed at her.
To be continued...