Time May Change Me: Part One
It's been almost a decade since I arrived in Neopia and created my first Neopet, and in that time I have grown from a naïve young child into a slightly less naïve young adult. Throughout the years have come many experiences and many changes, but none so great as in the past few months. The following stories are my attempts to rationalise some of these changes. Although based on truth, most of these events never happened, or at least didn't happen the way they are written down here. Nevertheless, I believe it manages to reflect the change in my outlook, and I hope you find it an entertaining and enjoyable read.
An Encounter With Happiness
The sun shone brightly - unusually so for this part of the Haunted Woods. Lichen sat on the porch of her Neohome, reading the latest copy of the Neopian Times. She would look up every now and then - keeping an eye on the Neopets playing on the lawn.
There was ixi3nd, the purple Ixi, who had been with her the entirety of the nine years she'd lived in Neopia. Then there was werty_00_00, a three-year-old yellow Bori whom she'd adopted from the pound over a year ago. Lastly, there was Smaug_of_Erebor, a week-old green Hissi, who appeared to be trying to chew Werty's tail off.
"Oi! Stop that!" shouted Lichen, running over to them.
"Get him off!" shrieked Werty, flailing her tail as she tried to flick the Hissi away.
"Stop jumping about." said Lichen as she tried to grab hold of Smaug's jaws. Ixi simply rolled around on the grass, laughing his head off. Finally she managed to slip her finger between the Hissi's jaws and lever him off. Werty gasped and tried to grab her tail, but ended up just spinning in a circle.
"Is it bad?" she whined. Lichen inspected the Bori's tail.
"Well, it's not bleeding. I think you'll be fine. You can go put something cold on it if you're worried." She lifted Smaug up to face level. "That was a very bad thing to do. Werty could have been seriously hurt!"
"She started it," said Smaug, a roguish smile on his face.
"I don't care. You don't bite people just because you're upset with them. Now apologise to your sister."
Smaug rolled his eyes and said, "Sorry, sis."
"Don't you dare do that again," she said, glaring at him.
"Fine, I won't!"
"She's right," said Lichen. "You'll be fully grown in a few weeks, and you could really injure someone if you don't control your impulses."
"Okay," said Smaug. His grin was gone, replaced with genuine remorse. " I'm sorry, Werty. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Werty made a noise of disgust and started walking back to the house. Ixi was managing to control himself by now, but shuddered as he tried to suppress another giggling fit. Smaug wriggled in Lichen's arms, concerned for his sister, but she held him still.
"You'd best give her some time to cool down."
"But she's still mad at me."
"She'll forgive you. She loves you a lot, but you really hurt her feelings."
"I really am sorry."
"I know." Lichen gave him a hug then released him. "Come along Ixi, let's go inside."
Before they could move they heard a scream from the direction of the house. They turned to see Werty hurtling back towards them - a tall dark figure skipping after her. The Bori rushed into Lichen's arms.
"It's - it's ..." she stammered, then squeaked as a shadow fell over them.
It was the most alarming sight Lichen had ever seen. Looming over them was what might have been, but which Lichen seriously doubted was, a faerie. The green-skinned figure leered at them from behind a black eye-mask. Whatever it was, it was robed in black, with cardboard wings tied loosely to its back and a smiley face pinned to its chest. Clutched in its left hand was a bunch of garishly pink flowers.
"Greetings," it said, in a booming, cheery voice. "And happiness to you all! I am the Happiness Faerie, here to bring joy and cheer to the whole of Neopia!"
The group were stunned. To most of them, this "faerie" looked unnervingly familiar.
"I-I'm sorry," Lichen managed to stammer. "but I don't think I've ever heard of you."
"Really?" The faerie looked disconcerted for a moment, but then her smile returned. "No matter. The Happiness Faerie does not strive for fame and reputation. Being able to spread joy is all that I need. Would you like a flower?"
"Ummm..." The faerie was already reaching for a flower. Lichen didn't know how to react.
"There's a flower for you," she said to Lichen, handing it over gently.
"And for you," she said to Werty, who was trying not to shake.
"And for you," she said to Ixi, who had no choice but to grab it with his teeth.
"And last but not least," she said to Smaug. "A flower for you."
"Thank you," he said.
"Not at all," she replied, patting him on the head. "It is my pleasure to bring happiness to those in need of it." She now turned to address all of them. "But alas, I must leave now. There are many more Neopians in need of a little happiness, and I cannot afford to tarry. Farewell, and may happiness be with you always!"
And with a flamboyant twirl, she danced off into trees, humming a traditional Neopian lullaby as she skipped away. For a moment or two, nobody spoke. Smaug was confused. He'd never seen any of his family so perturbed. Ixi looked shocked, Werty was still shaking, and Lichen appeared to be thinking hard. He was about to break the silence when Lichen spoke.
"Those flowers will need some water if we want to keep them pretty," she said, a little too loud and a little too fast. "Come on everyone, inside, now!"
The Neopets were all too happy to follow her. As soon as they were inside, Lichen slammed the door shut, locking it as an afterthought. She slumped onto her favourite beanbag, relief and anxiety both battling for control. Werty ran to her, and she put her hand on the Bori's back. She looked up at her owner, fear in her eyes, and Lichen patted her on the head. It wasn't like her to be so quiet. Lichen knew little of the whirl of thoughts and memories that were swimming round Werty's mind.
Ixi lay in the corner, fidgeting, while Smaug just looked on helplessly. He couldn't help but be worried about his family. He stared at the flower that was still in his grasp. The others had all dropped theirs when they came in. "Perhaps that wasn't a faerie," he thought. "But if it wasn't a faerie, what was it?"
Lichen soon answered this for him.
"I take it I don't need to point out how much that faerie looked like Sloth?" she said. Werty shivered and Ixi murmured his agreement.
"Who's Sloth?" asked Smaug.
Lichen looked at him sympathetically, and began to tell the story of Neopia's greatest enemy. Meanwhile, the four of them were completely unaware of another conversation happening a little deeper in the woods.
It wasn't the thickest part of the woods, but it wasn't the thinnest either. Summer was only a matter of weeks away, and even the midday sun couldn't fully penetrate the thick black leaves that covered every branch. A lone figure, a faerie that was not a faerie, skipped clumsily between the trees, becoming ever more lethargic and erratic with each step. The figure came to a halt, and a deep voice groaned, seemingly from inside the garments.
"Can we stop now? My shoulders are aching."
"Yeah, mine too!"
"Well," came a voice from above. "Alright. Let's stop for a rest. I can hardly breathe in this thing anyway."
The costume fell away to expose three invisible Neopets. The Meerca hopped to the ground and took off the mask he had been wearing. The Nimmo dropped the remaining flowers, carefully removed his green gloves, and climbed down the Grarrl's back. When the Nimmo had safely dismounted, the Grarrl shook off his green boots, stretched his back, and let out a terrifying roar.
"Aaaaaah, that's better!" he growled.
"Would you mind not deafening us next time?" said the Nimmo, rubbing his ear.
"Sorry - didn't realise you were still next to me."
"Guys, where should we go next?" asked the Meerca.
"We're not going anywhere until I've given my shoulders a rest," said the Grarrl.
"Me too," said the Nimmo.
With a sigh, the Meerca resigned himself to waiting and dropped onto the forest floor, his tail twitching restlessly now and then. The Grarrl leaned back against a tree trunk, which creaked and groaned in discomfort. The Nimmo simply sat where he was, enjoying the feeling of the cool earth.
"This has to be the best joke we've ever come up with!" the Meerca exclaimed.
"I agree," said the Nimmo.
"Did you see the look on that Bori's face?" chuckled the Grarrl. "She was petrified!"
"She'll feel so silly when her owner explains the joke," said the Meerca.
There was a pause.
"Are you sure the owner got it?" asked the Nimmo.
"Of course she did," replied the Meerca. "Everyone knows the Happiness Faerie is supposed to look like Sloth!"
"Wait," said the Grarrl. "She did say she hadn't heard of the Happiness Faerie."
"She was just playing along. That Ixi must have been at least eight years old. There's no way she couldn't know about the Happiness Faerie!"
"But what if he was adopted?" the Nimmo pointed out.
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"Do you think we should go back and check on them?" suggested the Grarrl.
"Alright," said the Meerca. "We'll go back and see if they're okay."
"And he hasn't been seen since?" asked Smaug.
"Not that I know of," said Lichen. "But then I've never really kept up with current events."
"Why would he dress up as a faerie?" asked Ixi.
"Maybe it's his good side showing through?" she suggested.
"Sloth doesn't have a good side!" he exclaimed.
"Dressing up and giving out flowers doesn't seem very evil to me!" she retorted.
"Well, maybe it wasn't him then!"
"It was Sloth," said Werty suddenly, loudly. She was shaking again, but this time it was with anger rather than fear.
"How would you know?" asked Lichen as gently as possible. "He was before your time wasn't he?"
"My first owner was a Gormball fanatic. There were pictures of him everywhere. She - she ..." Werty couldn't carry on - the emotions were too strong. Lichen put her arm around her, trying to comfort her as best she could.
"You know, me and Ixi have only seen him on those old Neopian propaganda posters. But he always looked so ..." Lichen tried to find the right word. "... aged on those ones."
"He didn't on the Gormball posters." sniffed Werty. "He looked exactly like he did out there, minus the bad costume."
"What's Gormball?" asked Smaug.
"It's a game they play on the Space Station." explained Ixi. "Me and Lichen tried it a couple of times, but -"
-knock, knock, knock-
All four of them froze. A feeling of dread crept over them. They hardly dared even breathe.
"Is it him?" whispered Smaug. Lichen groaned. None of this made any sense to her. Why would such a nefarious villain as Dr. Sloth dress as a faerie in order to give them flowers? Why would he come back? Do nefarious villains even knock?
"I guess there's only one way to find out," she said, getting to her feet. Werty clung to her leg, desperately trying to make her stay. "I'll be fine," Lichen lied, giving Werty a reassuring look as she moved the Bori's paws away. She didn't know what was out there, but she knew that cowering inside wouldn't help them at all.
She opened the door.
"Ummm..." She looked around, but there was no one to be seen. Or so she thought.
"Hey, we're right here." said a voice from directly in front of her. Her head snapped forward. She couldn't see anyone.
"Are you invisible or something?" she said, confused. She was answered by three different sets of laughter. Looking down, she thought she could see depressions in the grass. Squinting, she just managed to make out a big pair of feet, an even bigger pair of feet, and an odd rectangular shape. Lichen laughed at herself - it had been a silly question.
"We came by a little earlier," said the voice above the rectangle. It had come from much higher up than the first voice, taking Lichen a little by surprise. "He must be a Meerca," she thought.
"We were, er, dressed a little differently," said the big feet.
"Ah, I see," said Lichen, finally understanding. It was a relief to know they weren't in any danger. "You gave us a bit of a scare."
"We're sorry," said the even bigger feet. "It was just meant to be a light-hearted joke."
"We thought you would have known about the Happiness Faerie, what with your Ixi being so mature," said the Meerca. "But then we realised he might have been adopted."
Lichen started to chuckle.
"My Bori's the one who's adopted. But I honestly haven't heard of this 'Happiness Faerie' before today."
"Oh," said the big feet. "It was before Sloth came back the last time. People started seeing the Happiness Faerie around Neopia, giving out flowers and telling them that kreludite was an incredibly safe material. Everybody knew it was Sloth..."
"Apart from TNT," said the Meerca, and the three of them laughed.
"... and we've been making Happiness Faerie jokes ever since," he finished. "You've really never heard about it?"
"I was away from Neopia for a few years," said Lichen.
"What?" growled the even bigger feet. "But what about your Ixi?"
"It wasn't my fault. I was kind of ill. I needed time to recover."
"We've not seen our owner for over five years," said the big feet sadly.
"Oh my," said Lichen. "What happened?"
"He just - left one day without saying goodbye. We waited for him, but he never came back. We're able to keep our spirits up by making jokes and playing pranks, but deep down we still miss him."
"As far as we can tell," added the even bigger feet. "That's why we turned invisible."
"Wow, I always thought that was a myth," said Lichen.
"So did we, until I woke up one morning and couldn't see my legs," he chuckled.
Ixi popped his head around Lichen's leg.
"Lichen, who are you talking to?" he said, mildly bemused.
"Hi," said the even bigger feet.
"They're invisible," explained Lichen.
"If you say so," said Ixi, turning to go back inside.
"Go get Werty, would you?" she called after him.
"Oh, I will," he called back. From the tone of his voice, Lichen wondered if he was making fun of her. She turned back to the invisible pets.
"Werty's my Bori. You really scared her."
"We know," said the Meerca sadly. "That's the main reason we came back."
Werty appeared at the door.
"So what's this about invisible pets?" she asked.
"They have something to say to you," replied Lichen.
There was a pause.
"Well?" said Lichen, glaring at them.
"We're very sorry for scaring you earlier," said the big feet.
"What do you mean?" said Werty. She had the tiniest suspicion she was about to become very angry at these pets.
"Well, you know that faerie that came by earlier?"
"That was us," said the even bigger feet.
"I -" Werty was flabbergasted. "I don't believe you!" she said, her anger rising.
"I could show you the costume if you want," suggested the Meerca. Werty was furious.
"No, I mean how could you do something like that? You scared us half to death!"
"We're sorry. We thought you would have heard of the Happiness Faerie."
"Well, obviously we haven't! You can't just go around making assumptions about people!"
"We thought everyone knew about it," said the Meerca. "We only wanted to make people laugh."
"Well we're not laughing," said Werty, tears beginning to seep into her eyes. Not wanting to cry in front of strangers - even if they were invisible - she stomped back into the house.
"Is there anything we can do?" asked the even bigger feet, shifting on the spot. Lichen shook her head.
"She needs to be alone right now. I'll explain it to her later."
"Well," said the big feet, "I guess we should leave you to it."
"Actually," said Lichen, "could I see your costume? I'm a little curious as to how - "
She was interrupted by a gust of air as the Meerca zoomed off towards the trees. A second later, he was back with a pile of clothing, which he laid out carefully in front of the door. One item in particular caught Lichen's eye.
Lichen gasped. "Is that an avatar?"
"Yup," said the Meerca proudly. "I was out with our owner one day, when suddenly Dr. Sloth tapped him on the back, gave him this, and said 'I hereby deem you worthy of wearing my visage around Neopia' or something like that. Before we could say anything, he'd run off and was telling somebody else the same thing."
"You've actually seen Dr. Sloth?" Lichen was amazed. "What was he like?"
"Completely different to how I'd expected."
"Are you going to carry on with your Happiness Faerie skit? Now that I know what it's about, I do see the funny side."
"It would be a shame for the costume to go to waste," said the even bigger feet.
"Maybe we should do it in a more public place so at least someone will get the joke," suggested the big feet.
"Oh, and if you make the seam between the costume and the mask a little more obvious, you're less likely to fool people into thinking you are Sloth," added Lichen.
"Yes," said the Meerca contemplatively. "I suppose that could work." He began collecting up the bits of the costume. "Thanks for the input, and tell your Bori we're sorry."
"I will," said Lichen. "Bye bye!"
Lichen shut the door. She leant back against the smooth surface, taking a moment to recuperate. It had been a very emotional day, and she was nearly exhausted. She looked around. Werty was on her bed, her face buried in a pillow, with Smaug wrapped around her shoulders. Ixi sat nearby, glancing over sympathetically.
Lichen sat on Werty's bed, motioning for Smaug to let go, and slipped her arm round the Bori's back. "There there, honey," she said in a quiet voice. "Everything's going to be okay now."
To be continued...