How The Quintilc Got Its Colour
Mist above the clouds
A far land I have not seen
The land of Shenkuu
Far above the familiar lands of Neopia Central and the rest of the world, among the thick forests and high-reaching mountains of the oriental land of Shenkuu, there are many tales and stories that have never, or have rarely, made it past the ears of their inhabitants. While the ‘discovery’ of this world has been a couple years passed, with more lands being discovered, the land still had an element of mystery about it to foreigners. It was full of unknown folklore and cultural traditions that most Neopians would not know of unless they had personally visited the place. That’s how it is in Neopia, after all. To learn about a land, one must go to it.
And that is precisely what a young Bori had thought, saving up enough money to spend a week on his own at the place he had only ever heard about. He was a true-blue Neopia Central kid, rarely setting out outside the place, and it was about time he changed that. Bringing along his camera (a good photographer always takes his camera everywhere), his journal (to document the unknown folklore and Shenkuu tales), and his necessities (money, toiletries, his ship ticket), Mitch was prepared to experience culturally-rich, story-filled life in another land. At least for a short while.
His Neopet family, none related by blood but a family in heart, came with him to the docks to see him off. Moony the Shoyru, his motherly figure, had a tearful goodbye and made sure he packed all the necessities, while the young twin Grundos and his Krawk friend nagged him to bring back souvenirs and toys.
“ – And make sure you take a shower every day – “ Moony was yelling over noisy crowd, while Mitch was just about to board the airship. Another mother saying her farewells. “Be careful with your camera, we can’t afford to buy you a new one, and don’t forget about yourself – what I mean – I hope you find something about yourself there, too!”
Feeling the surge of wind around him, Mitch waved back at them while the ship began to sail into the sky. He wished he could've heard what Moony had said – the crowd was just too loud!
The sky is pretty
It’s like I can taste all of
The clouds way up here
The voyage on the flying ship wasn’t as exciting as Mitch had thought it would be. While the feeling of the wind against his fur and the chatter of all the other Neopets on the trip made the place feel homey and refreshed, he was not one for heights and the rocking of the ship. Mitch, a small, feeble lil’ guy, felt sick more than halfway through. His trusty petpet, Snowbeast the Snicklebeast, ended up throwing away more than a few barf bags along the way.
“Perhaps I-I’m too soft for this t-travelling thing,” he muttered, with the usual stutter in his speech. He avoided looking off the side of the ship, because looking down would bring the vertigo in his mind and start the flopping of his belly, and instead sat in a bamboo chair out on the deck.
“You sick again, kiddo?” said a passing sailor, a tall, menacing-looking Speckled Buzz, who despite his looks was pretty kind to all the passengers. “I guess you weren’t kidding when you said this was your first time on a flying ship. It makes me wonder what a small fry like you is doing here, anyway, haha!” He laughed as he walked away, going off to tend to the sails.
“I-I’m wondering the same thing.” He sighed. He was a pretty weak Neopet – and perhaps a little boring as well, in his opinion. He listed the adjectives he could describe himself with to get his mind off of the dizziness settling in: a nice shade of blue, no muscles, kinda small, too ordinary, lacks-a-defining-presence. He could take pictures, he supposed, and he could also... Well, he had nothing else to finish that sentence.
Snowbeast looked up at him from his lap, feeling that his pal was feeling under the weather. Mitch smiled sadly at him. “Well, Snowbeast, thinking n-negatively isn’t going to get me anywhere! I-I need to get ready for learning a-about Shenkuu. Maybe it w-won’t make me feel any l-less sick, haha... Oogh, my stomach...”
Snowbeast hopped off his lap to fetch him another empty bag.
Getting off the ship
Was probably the best thing
I felt today, yes
The first thing Mitch did when they landed at the Shenkuu airship port was that he skipped off the docking steps (jumping would only end in injuries) and threw himself on the ground, praising it for being stable and unmoving.
He heard a hearty laugh behind him, and he looked up to find the Buzz sailor laughing at his silliness. “Glad to be off the ship, eh, kiddo?”
Mitch nodded shyly as he scrambled to stand up, feeling sudden embarrassment for what he had just done. The Buzz was dressed out of his sailor’s uniform; he wore a loose looking robe and slacks, decorated with bamboo stalks and trees, suited for the humid weather of Shenkuu. Seeing his clothing, Mitch had the realization that now that he was free from sea-sickness (or would that be sky-sickness?), he would now be able to properly experience the cultural adventure he was about to be a part of.
“Y-You live here, right, Mr. Buzz?” he asked as the two of them walked away from the ship. The Neopets he saw were out about their daily business, and he observed their clothing, which too had a sort of oriental taste to them – sandals were more common, Shenkuu robes and headwear to suit the weather, decorated kimonos and jewelry for the more fashionable inclined. What they were doing, however, seemed commonplace and familiar – out shopping, out hanging around with friends, out wandering.
“The name’s Lenshi,” the Buzz was saying, “None of that ‘Mr. Buzz’ nonsense, you make me sound like an old guy! And yes, I do – born and raised here. And let me tell you, this place’ll always be home sweet home, and I know it like the back of my hand. You have a place to stay, right, kiddo?”
Mitch’s ears lowered at the realization that, no, he did not have a place to stay.
“Well, I can show you around for a while – the next trip doesn’t start until tomorrow. Let me give you a small tour ‘round these parts, and then I can show you one of the best restaurants in all of Neopia. You’d probably need it, anyway, you probably have nothing left in your belly from barfing so much, haha!”
“T-Thank you for reminding me of my weak and empty stomach...”
“Anytime, kiddo – now lookie over there, see that palace over there? That’s the Lunar Temple – ”
An important piece
Of learning about new lands
Is singing their songs
The rest of the afternoon was spent following Lenshi as he paraded around the streets of his hometown, seeming more rowdy and excited than usual, now having the chance to be a tour guide. Mitch was growing more fascinated and tired with each street corner, juggling between stopping and taking photos and making sure Snowbeast wasn’t getting lost in the crowd.
The good thing about having Lenshi as his tour guide was that, once he was excited, he would never stop talking. And that in itself lead to much learning on Mitch’s part (as well as reminding him of his excitable Krawk friend back home, which thus reminded him that he needed to buy things for him).
Walking briskly through the streets, Mitch was in awe. They passed by bookstores, old and new, probably full with stories and authors Mitch had never even heard of, the same kinds he had been wondering about ever since he started saving up money for this very trip. They passed by clothing stores in the shopping district (“Now, see here, kiddo, that store there is owned by a Ruki couple with ten kids! Can you believe it?”), kimonos and robs and sashes and everything in every colour with every sort of design embroidered on them. They passed by food stalls and restaurants (“That one has the best Oozing Negg Buns I have ever eaten; that one next to it is home to the legendary Misty Shenkuu Mountain Soup”), with the smell of spices and noodles and fried delicacies swirling around Mitch’s and Snowbeast’s hungry noses. Lenshi brought them past apartment buildings and homes, the small Bori admiring the oriental architecture and the abundance of bamboo shoots and bonsai trees, of cherry blossoms and exotic flowers.
While standing in front of the parasol stand, while Lenshi was having a casual chat with the owner (“He’s an old friend of the family, you see, kiddo, I grew up with this mango-addict here!”), Mitch heard a soft, crooning voice rise next to him.
“Underneath a paper-made parasol,
Cyclamen and cherry blossoms adorn my hair.
I don’t look up from the bridge to Uncle’s home,
I don’t see a Kazeriu fly overhead.”
He looked beside him to find a very pretty Xweetok, a lily headpiece adorned in her hair, matching the intricate lily pad-embroidered kimono she wore. She didn’t notice Mitch, and continued to sing under her breath as she picked up a paper parasol.
“Underneath a paper-made parasol,
The quintessence of ingenuity flies above the land.
I ask, “What does one do to learn how to fly?”
I don’t hear a Kazeriu answer.
Twirl-ing, twirl-ing, twirl-ing,
A homemade parasol.
And it’s all you see when you look up.”
That’s a very pretty song, miss! What is it called? Mitch eagerly wanted to ask, but his shyness only made him look down awkwardly as the Xweetok moved further away, bringing the piece of wonderful music with her.
“– Excuse me, miss!” called out Lenshi suddenly, snapping Mitch out of his idleness. He froze in anxiety as the Xweetok turned to them curiously. “You have a very nice voice, miss – what song were you singing just then?”
“Are you new to Shenkuu, sir?” she replied, looking surprised and flattered, “It’s a traditional Shenkuu song from long ago, creatively called the Paper Parasol Song.”
“Nope, I’m a local, miss. But this here Bori’s straight from across the mountains!”
“W-W-Why are you saying that,” Mitch felt his face go red at the attention, but meekly waved hello to the Xweetok.
“Would you mind singing the whole thing for us?”
“Oh! No, i-it’s okay, I’m s-”
Mitch was just about to apologize to her for Lenshi’s straightforwardness, and promptly run away from the scene, but Lenshi chuckled and threw an arm around him. “Listen, kiddo,” he whispered. “You ain’t gonna learn anything if you act like a thin sheet of rice paper. Now, an important piece of learning about new lands, I’ve learned, is learning how to sing their songs.” He smiled down at the small Neopet. “So I hope you got a good singing voice.”
Mitch nodded, and turned shyly to the Xweetok. She seemed like she was ready to show off her own singing voice, despite the abrupt invitation. And, with the Lily headpiece in her hair shining in the sunlight, she began to sing.
A couple hours and more than a few terrifying bridge-crossing incidents later, the sunset had bathed Shenkuu in hues of reds and purples and everything in between, with the nightlife of the merchant town beginning to boom. The shopping and lunching atmosphere was fading out, and a new, party-like sensation took its place, at least in the downtown of Shenkuu’s shopping and dining districts. Paper parasols were replaced with the lights of the colourful paper lanterns that adorned almost every household, and the crowds of Neopets hanging out for lunch and shopping transformed into Neopets going out for a fancy dinner or a party. And with the change of mood, Mitch could swear that the mood of his belly was changing to fit the occasion.
“W-When are we going to eat?” asked Mitch, after taking a few shots of the bustling street before him.
Lenshi stopped in mid-monologue (he had been going on about Shenkuu home décor for a while, and Mitch hadn’t the slightest idea why). “– Aha! That’s right, I was going to show you the best eatery in this here city. Isn’t the nightlife in the middle of Shenkuu just grand, kiddo?”
“I have to admit,” the little Bori replied, feeling smaller and more commonplace than ever in the exotic city, “it really is a sight.”
“Good! Then you can go eat in one of those fancy restaurants tomorrow – today, we’re heading out of the downtown, follow me!”
Mitch, making sure Snowbeast was right next to him, followed Lenshi out of the streets and out of the center of Shenkuu, finding themselves in the outer sections of the town. The mood here was more relaxing, feeling more traditionally Shenkuu, with less buildings and more plants, the smell of dumplings and barbeque fading into the sweet smells of flowers and fresh, cool air.
They ended up at an old bamboo house, worn and run-down, looking like it had seen better days. There were a few bright pink lanterns, and a tiny painted sign that said “Open”. Otherwise, it looked just like a normal house. Before Mitch could ask, Lenshi opened the door and invited himself inside.
“Welcome, welcome – oh!” A very elderly Royalgirl Kacheek greeted them as soon as they entered, and she seemed to recognize Lenshi immediately, “Lenki boy! It’s been so long! Xie, Xie, our Lenki boy’s come back to visit!”
“It’s Lenshi, Auntie,” the Buzz corrected cheerfully, turning to Mitch to add, “She messes up my name a lot, it’s a lot of fun. And before you ask, kiddo, she’s not my real aunt.”
“And it looks like you’ve brought a friend.” A Red Aisha came out of the kitchen, sporting a simple baby blue dress and a red shawl, adorned with white clouds. “Who’s this, your long lost brother?”
“No way, Mama, this kid here’s all the way from Neopia Central. He wants to learn more about Shenkuu!”
Lenshi gave the said kid a hard pat on the back, Mitch shyly muttering a “How do you do.”
“Well, isn’t this little boy a cute one,” cooed the Kacheek. “You go ahead and call me Auntie Chidori, yes, yes, and I won’t answer to anything else! And my sister here goes by Mama Xie, don’t you, Mama?”
“Indeed I do,” laughed the Aisha lightly. Mitch couldn’t help but smile at the elderly women – while odd, it made everything a bit more homey. “Now, come on and sit down, I’m sure you two boys are starving....”
The three of them all sat down, with Lenshi ordering ‘the usual’, and before Mitch knew it he was drooling at the sight of the steaming Purplum Buns and Chokato Dumplings that were suddenly at the table.
“Now,” began Mama Xie, settling herself down with her own plate of Curried Fish, “what do you want to learn, dear? And would anybody like some Bamboo tea?”
“Y-Yes, I,” Mitch began, sitting up straight – this is what he came here for! “I really want to know more stories and things. L-Like, stories and myths and things that are in Shenkuu. I mean, like books – but I’d like to hear some, um, traditional tales... L-like, um -”
“This little boy likes to talk and talk!” said Auntie Chidori, bringing over a huge plate of Squibble Berry Salad to the table. Kneeling down with a ‘ho-to-to’, she set it on the table. “Eat up, eat up, now, so the little boy will become a man! Now, do you know all the petpets in Shenkuu?”
“Um...” Mitch looked at Snowbeast as the little Petpet snatched pieces of the fresh salad. “I know the... Pandaphant, of course, and the Dandan... “
“You’re missing thirteen more,” said Mama Xie with a smile, “Now, one day a long, long time ago, all the petpets of Shenkuu were trapped on at the very top of a mountain...”
“... And how are we going to get back to the Big Mountain?” cried the Naleap in her mournful voice.
There were thirteen on them on top of the mountain.
The mournful Naleap, who was always looking at the downside of things; the timid Kiiyak, the largest of the bunch; the loud Tomamu, who always loved to talk; the easygoing Dandan, wrapped in his tail; his brother, the curious Sandan, the silliest of the bunch; the tough Blurgah, the hot-headed bull; the royal Quilin, the dignified one.
There was the cuddly Pandaphant, the sweetie of them all; the feisty Biyako, full of sass and pride; the naïve Pygui, the excitable pig; the cool Gikerot, who was quick and quiet; the sly Juma, full of intelligence and wit; and lastly, the plain white Quintilc, the smallest and the most homey of them all.
(“W-What about the Hegelob?” “Hush, boy, they live in the water! Not mountains!”)
“The bridge has fallen,” purred the Biyako. “How will we get back?”
“I’m okay, I have wings!” squawked the Tomamu, “And so does Naleap! We can go fly and get some help!”
The Quilin sighed. “But that would take many days, and who knows what will happen to the rest of us!”
“And you are too small to carry all of us,” grunted the Kiiyak.
“It’s getting windy, also,” chittered the Sandan and the Dandan. “Flying would be hard when going back and forth!”
“There’s no food here on this mountain,” noted the Juma, “and it would take at least two hours for the birds to carry each Petpet to-and-from the Big Mountain. More than half of us will still be here when night falls. And we cannot expect help to come anytime soon.”
“I will NOT be stuck on this island!” roared the Blurgah in frustration.
“We’re all going to be stuck on this island!” cried the Naleap. The Pandaphant tried to console the Petpets, but everyone was in a state of despair.
Then, the small Quintilc piped up from the back of the group, “Don’t be so sad, everyone! We can still make it to the Big Mountain! Quilin, you have magical powers, yes?”
“I do,” replied the Quilin.
“You can use your powers to stretch me out, because I’m made of rice paper. Then, everyone can sit on me while Naleap and Tomamu carry me across, because your magical powers will make everybody lighter.”
“But you are so small and weak!” mocked the Biyako, the other Petpets nodding. “All of us have our strengths, but you are just a boring Petpet made of paper. You’ll never be able to carry us, even with Quilin’s magic powers! Then we will all fall down to our ends.”
“I may be small and weak and made of paper,” said the Quintilc. “In fact, this may make me even weaker. But I am the only one who can help everybody!”
“He is right,” said the Gikerot, the Petpet who rarely spoke to the others. “He can help us get to the Big Mountain with this plan.”
The Petpets looked at each other, still uneasy, but they put their faith in the small Petpet. The Biyako purred, “Fine, but our lives are in your hands!”
And so the Quilin used his magical powers to stretch the Quintilc out, and the paper Petpet became like a giant tatami mat for the other Petpets. Once they were all on, the Tomamu and the Naleap grabbed the one end of the Quintilc, and managed to lift everybody into the air.
“Wow, wow, we’re flying, we’re flying!” cheered the Sandan and the Dandan.
“This is going well!” cheered the Tomamu as well. “Everyone is very light.”
So the Petpets flew, and in a long hour they finally reached their homeland, the Big Mountain, at sunset. But when the Petpets hopped off and the Quilin’s powers faded, the Quintilc had become a tattered and crumbled sheet of rice paper. While the other Petpets were worried about him, the Quintilc told them that it was alright and that they should go home before it was too dark out. And so the small Petpet lay there.
Until he saw a glowing light out of the corner of his eye, and turning around, he saw the Kazerui, the most sacred and majestic Petpet of them all.
“You have done a good deed for the other Petpets,” the Kazerui said in his ephemeral voice. “Even though it would cost you so much.”
“I’m just glad,” said the Quintilc, with all the energy he could muster.
“While your body may be weak, and your paper fragile, the strength you have inside you is something that is golden. Now, let me help you...”
With the Kazerui’s powers, the Quintilc’s paper body changed back into his original form, as fresh and crisp as ever. And as he healed the Petpet, the Kazerui turned his white rice paper into one of royal red and gold, to forever showcase the strength of the delicate Quintilc.
“...Oh, Quintilcs are just so adorable,” Auntie Chidori went on. “Making origami Quintilcs are always a lot of fun, too, yes, yes. It’s quite a fun game to pretend that origami Quintilcs are actual Quintilcs – you can hardly tell the difference unless one of them starts to move, oho oho oho! Speaking of which... ”
And Mitch could only look at her through faded eyes, nodding as he pretended to listen. His head was far too up in the clouds of that myth to focus on what was happening in front of him, his eyes just starting to water (he was always an emotional one), his mouth slowly turning up into a genuine smile.
His eyes landed on the elderly Aisha across from him. “Somehow,” said Mama Xie, with a knowing nod, “I knew that you would like that one. ”
Slowly coming out of his small reverie, Mitch could only smile wider. “Thank you.”
“Now,” she continued, pouring herself another cup of tea, “don’t forget to write all of that down; that is what you came here for, after all. And perhaps we can tell you another one after dinner.”
“Looks like you all got acquainted nice and easy,” laughed Lenshi, who Mitch hadn’t even realized had come back. “Now, where are the dumplings?”
“The dumplings, the dumplings!” Auntie Chidori realized, standing back up with her ‘ho-to-to’ once again. “I’ll go get them right now, come and help me with the fried rice, Lenshi boy –”
“Of course, of course!”
Mitch shifted in his seat, taking a deep breath. It was a silly thing, really, to get all sentimental over a silly little story. But that was its charm, wasn’t it? When he came to Shenkuu, wondering about the foreign land with unknown folklore and cultural traditions that he had not known about before, perhaps he was also looking for something more. Snowbeast didn’t have any magical powers to give him, nor was he going to be stranded on a mountain anytime soon (at least, he hoped not), but he still had a little fire of something inside him, waiting to ignite, or rather, slowly igniting. Maybe, he thought as the smell of freshly cooked dumplings filled the air, he wasn’t all that weak and all that unimportant.
How silly of him to think of that.
Shenkuu is one of my favourite worlds, so this was fun to write! If you're reading this, I hope you enjoyed my tale!