Gifts For a Princess: Part One
Equinare shivered in the light snowfall, pulling her light-blue cloak tighter around her shoulders and readjusting the hood to keep the falling flakes out of her large maroon eyes. The Grey Uni's dusty black mane was for the most part protected, but because of her fluffy hair's wild nature, parts of it escaped the hood and were soon sprinkled with snow. With every step she took, the jingling of the coins in the blue purse strapped around her neck reminded her of her purpose. It was the first time she had ever gone Christmas shopping, and it was already a disaster. She couldn't believe people did this every year.
As she gazed around, she saw shoppers everywhere. The cobblestone streets of Neopia Central were so crowded that Equinare wondered if there was enough room for everyone. The crisp, frosty air was fresh and chilly, and Equinare knew she had to take refuge in a shop soon before she froze.
She escaped the cold by darting into the closest building she could find, which incidentally was one of her favorites - the Book Shop. The Blue Nimmo in there was very friendly and often haggled with her to far lower amounts than the other customers, as she was a frequent visitor. Equinare's only friends had been books for most of her life, for she was abandoned by her family shortly after her birth. She shuddered, not from the cold, as she remembered that terrible law that had led to her life of solitude - only the eldest child can rule Opalia.
Opalia. The kingdom that used to be her homeland, a place full of nature and magic. It still saddened her that Faerieland had crashed on top of it, but at least now Faerieland seemed to house more nature than before. It was certainly an improvement over the pink-and-fluffy theme it had proudly displayed back when it was high in the sky.
But now Faerieland was on the ground, and Opalia was destroyed. Equinare had found out about her sister and her past, and though she at first harbored some negative feelings towards her sister, she knew deep down it wasn't her fault. She didn't choose to be born first, after all. And her sister, Oeur the Royalgirl Uni, had only helped her and been kind to her since she had discovered their common heritage.
That was why Equinare was now doing the first Christmas shopping she had ever done in her life - for Oeur, the one she resented and loved most of all.
In the Book Shop, Equinare smiled softly as she felt the warmth melting the snow that had settled on her. Defrosting, she gazed around the store and saw that new books about the holidays had been added since her last visit. The Nimmo shopkeeper was perched on a pile of books near the front of the shop, immersed in the tragic tale of a JubJub who was too greedy for his own good.
There were shoppers of all kinds around the aisles, but one of them was somebody Equinare did not expect here - Princess Oeur of Opalia.
Oeur was trotting through the aisles, looking through the books. She studied one of the few that Equinare had not yet read, When the wind blows, before picking it up and making her way to the Nimmo. On the way there she saw Equinare, and her face brightened.
"Equinare!" she called happily.
Equinare said a quiet "hello" in return as Oeur came closer.
"You looking for more books?" she laughed. "Soon you'll have read everything in the store!"
"I just stopped in here to warm up a bit," Equinare replied.
"Good idea," Oeur commented. "It's chilly today, isn't it? Really starting to look like Christmas!" She laughed breezily before heading to the counter to buy her book. Equinare galloped to the new Christmas aisle, hiding herself among the crowd, waiting until Oeur left the shop. Then she sighed.
Of course. It must be so easy for Oeur to do her shopping. Everybody knew that Equinare read in all her free time, they wouldn't need to blink twice before knowing what to get her and where to get it. Oeur was a different story. Equinare didn't know where to start - as Oeur had been a princess all her life, she had just about everything she could ask for. It was true, she had lost many of her possessions in the crash of Faerieland, but she had never shown any regret for this, so they obviously weren't that important to her. Oeur had just been overjoyed they had gotten the citizens out in time.
So what was Equinare supposed to get her for Christmas?
Equinare groaned. Christmas shopping, she decided, was something she had been lucky to avoid for much of her life.
As she left the shop, she looked around at the stores surrounding it, mentally crossing out the ones that didn't seem very likely to hold items that would appeal to Oeur. Oeur didn't like to read, so that, Equinare thought regretfully, eliminated the Book Shop. The Petpet Shop? No, Oeur already had her Harris. The NC Mall had some nice clothing, but Oeur had fine velvet and silk garments already, and besides, Equinare didn't have any Neocash.
Equinare sighed again. What do you get someone who has everything and wants nothing?
Or at least, had everything...
"Hey, Equinare!" said a chipper voice behind her, causing the Uni to jump. As she turned around, she saw her sister Toupahz, a Faerie Meerca, smiling up at her. "Doing some Christmas shopping?" she asked, and Equinare nodded glumly.
Toupahz's happy grin subsided into a small smile. "Ah," she commented in full understanding. "You're not having much luck."
Equinare surveyed her sister. The Meerca's coal black head had a light-blue beanie cap snugly tucked over it, which went well with her creamy white face and gave her a rather icy color scheme. Her large black wings were so thin that they were nearly transparent, and the electric blue streaks on them were flaked with snow. She had on a small, velvet pink coat to protect herself from the cold, and her arms were laden with fancy shopping bags from various stores. Equinare sighed. Everybody seemed to be cheerful during this festive time except for her.
"Let me guess," Toupahz said slyly, "You're trying to get a gift for someone, and you don't know what to get or where to get it."
"Yes, that's the problem," Equinare admitted.
"Who are you shopping for?" asked Toupahz curiously.
"Ah, I can see the difficulty there. But no worries, I've got the perfect idea."
"You do?" Equinare asked, brightening a little bit.
Toupahz grinned. "Follow me!" Not giving Equinare an option, she grabbed part of her cloak and pulled her along towards the shop she had in mind. Equinare followed dutifully, not resisting, completely relying on Toupahz to find the perfect gift. Her cloak's hood fell off as a result of Toupahz pulling on it, but Equinare did not mind the snow falling into her face now.
Fortunately, they didn't get separated in the dense crowds because Toupahz kept her fist locked firmly on the cloak, pulling Equinare forward. Equinare looked confused as they continued on.
"We've passed Neopia Central," she murmured.
"Oh, I know," said Toupahz. "There are more shops over here."
"There are?" asked Equinare, wide-eyed.
"Yes, there's also the Bazaar and the Plaza. We're going to the Bazaar. I know just the shop!"
As they trudged onwards through the rapidly-increasing snow on the ground, they finally made it to their destination. Toupahz pointed enthusiastically upwards at the shop sign.
"Perfect, right?" she asked excitedly.
Equinare peered upwards, squinting to see the sign so camouflaged by the white snow coating it. "Defence... magic?"
"Yes," said Toupahz eagerly. "Perfect, isn't it?"
A slight frown creased Equinare's face. "But... why this shop? What does this have to do with Oeur?"
Toupahz's expression became surprised. "I thought you lived in Opalia, too!" she said. "Don't you see the connection?"
Equinare shook her head.
"Oeur has money, clothes, a petpet, a sister, everything she wants. What she doesn't have is her homeland. Opalia is a land of nature and magic. I think some defence magic would remind her of home."
Equinare smiled, and a laugh escaped her. "Maybe you're right, but I'm not sure if we'll find the perfect gift in a shop like this. Oeur isn't the battling type, she likes beauty and isn't so fond of weapons."
"Oh, but that's why it's just right," said Toupahz earnestly. "Defence magic is just the thing for someone who isn't that into battling. It's useful and can be quite beautiful."
Equinare wasn't so sure. "It's worth a try," she finally agreed, a little uncertain. The two entered the store.
Equinare looked around. The shop had several long brown tables with various merchandise arranged on them. Fluttering to and fro, reminding Equinare of a butterfly, was a quaint Green Aisha with long, flowing purple robes. She was small, sweet, and quick, looking as though she could avoid just about anything - very fitting for the shop. Her long green ears fell down to her shoulders, and the ends of them looked exactly like big velvet hearts. She had a pleased smile on her face as she exchanged goods for money with the Christmas shoppers.
Equinare looked around, already unsatisfied. The items, she supposed, could be beautiful, but they wouldn't work for Oeur. Almost all of them were species-specific, such as the Golden Grarrl shield and Jade Shield of the Ogrin. Still, they seemed finely crafted and were rather intriguing. The prices were a bit on the high side for the most part, but that didn't stop people from admiring what they could not buy. Equinare tentatively touched the jade of the Ogrin shield. It felt cool and smooth, and she couldn't imagine bringing it to battle for fear it would get even a single scratch.
As she moved along the tables, something caught her eye - the most beautiful item of all. It was a face shield, made of solid gold and resembling the sorts of fancy masks Equinare had seen at Oeur's masquerade-themed birthday party. The gold was very intricately carved with gorgeous curving lines, and right in the center was the most stunning thing of all: a large diamond, sparkling in the light of the store.
Equinare gasped. "It's beautiful, and perfect," she whispered. Not only was it magical enough to remind Oeur of her home, but it was exquisite and unique. She knew for a fact that, though Oeur owned many beautiful items, none came close to this.
"I'd like to buy this," she told Toupahz confidently.
"Well, um, look at the price tag," said the Meerca, a little doubtfully.
Equinare glanced down and immediately wished she hadn't. It cost 99,000 neopoints, a hefty sum even for the sister of the princess. Equinare had been saving for a book she hadn't read, Grimoire of the First Order, and had nearly saved enough. But if she wanted to give Oeur the perfect present, she would have to wave that dream good-bye. Was it worth it?
"There are plenty of other pretty things," Toupahz said quickly, looking hastily around. "Like this Ancient Elephante Bracelet! Look at the rubies! And what about this Ruki Battle Helm?"
"No," said Equinare firmly, looking around her. Everything now seemed a little less impressive, the gold of the helmet looking far more dull than the pure crafting of the Uni Face Shield, the rubies not quite catching the same sparkle as the diamond in the center of the marvelous piece.
The shopkeeper scurried over in the way that Equinare couldn't help associating with a winged creature, though the Aisha was clearly a dark green color and had no wings on her back. "Ah, are you interested in that?" she asked pleasantly, a smile on her face. "Yes, I do love this. It is one of my favorite pieces... and one of the most expensive. Do you have the 99,000 neopoints?"
Slowly, as if it hurt just to take them out of her purse, Equinare brought out a sack of 99,000 neopoints, leaving only a hundred left in the little purse.
The shopkeeper looked surprised, but in a good way, as she accepted the neopoints and told them with a broad smile, "Enjoy the Face Plate!"
Equinare turned to leave and noticed the tip of a golden winged sandal escape the tiny Aisha's long cloak. Equinare smiled - that explained how she flitted around the store so quickly.
As Equinare left her savings behind, strolling out of the store with the precious Face Plate on her back, she suddenly felt a sharp stab of anger. Here she was, blowing her money on a present for her sister, while Oeur was getting her a book for 1,000 neopoints maximum. It wasn't fair. Christmas wasn't fair. Equinare had never spent a Christmas with anyone before and had always been of the belief that one should work for what they get. "Giving gifts always ends up with some having more than others," she thought bitterly.
"Careful with that," murmured Toupahz, quickly grabbing the Face Plate before it toppled off of Equinare's back. "Come on, we should get this wrapped up."
They trotted down the street in the snowfall, which was getting heavier by the minute. The two left crisp footprints - or, in Equinare's case, hoofprints - with every step. The air was getting more frigid, and the streets were becoming less crowded as people ran into shops to warm up or headed home, vowing to return and finish their shopping the next day. Shivering, Toupahz opened the glass door to Gifts Galore, and Equinare hurried inside. Toupahz scampered in behind her and quickly tugged the door shut to block the next gust of freezing air.
The shop was packed with customers, all searching for little gifts to give to friends that weren't too expensive. Equinare's eyes scanned the shelves, where she saw trinkets of all kinds being pored over by the people and pets. Her eyes were drawn to a Broken Heart Keychain that was lying towards the back of the middle shelf, its form mirroring how she felt. But she didn't have long to look, for soon Toupahz was tugging her along towards the back of the crowded shop.
"We'll wrap it here," Toupahz told Equinare. "There's supplies in the back that you can use for a fixed fee according to the size and number of presents. Or, of course, we could just buy wrapping paper and supplies."
Equinare looked down at the single gift clutched in her hands, now covered in a faint dusting of snow. She quickly brushed it away, not wanting a single speck to make the Face Plate look any less beautiful.
"This shouldn't cost too much, then," Equinare decided. "Let's do it." Neither of them wanted to go back to the cold anyway, so there was no arguing as they pushed their way to the very end of the shop. There were five long, cream-white tables placed there with wrapping paper, bows, blank cards, ribbons, and colorful bags located at intervals along the surface. Equinare peered around before finding a golden colored wrapping paper that glimmered in the light, not as soft and delicate as the Face Plate, but still a good match for it. She wrapped it up until it was completely covered and didn't need to think for a moment before slapping on only a single silver bow. That was all the decoration the outside would need.
Toupahz was disappointed that Equinare had finished so quickly, and Equinare wasn't that thrilled either. They loitered in the shop for a while before realizing that it was getting colder and the snowstorm was getting worse the longer they waited.
"We can't put it off any longer," Toupahz finally declared, and Equinare nodded her head reluctantly. Both sauntered to the door and stood there, facing the glass boundary between this warm, quaint world and the frigid cold.
"Ready?" Toupahz breathed.
"I suppose," was all Equinare could say.
They opened the door, exposing themselves to the furious, howling snowstorm outside.
To be continued...