Time May Change Me: Part Two
A Change of Wallpaper
Three weeks had passed since the incident with the invisible pets and the Happiness Faerie. It was late evening, and Lichen and her three Neopets were gathered round the table on their beanbags, playing an informal game of "Go! Go! Go!".
"Yes," hissed Smaug as he placed a ten on the pile, discarding it and playing another card.
"Do you think we need to redecorate?" asked Lichen, suddenly.
"Why?" said Werty, placing two cards on the pile.
"Well, you know how I'm going to try and make some friends?"
"Hyep," chuckled Ixi.
"I think I'd find it a little embarrassing if I invited them round and it was obvious I got all my furniture cheap or for free. We don't even have a proper colour scheme for goodness sake!"
"I think it just reflects the eclectic nature of your personality," he said as he played his card. Smaug picked up the pile. Lichen played a card.
"I don't have an... okay, maybe I do. But I'd like to make the place nice for visitors, all the same."
"I like the way it is," said Smaug. "But I've never seen it any other way."
"What do you think, Werty?" asked Lichen.
"Gimme a minute," she replied. She put another card on the pile. "Actually, I think this place could do with a little brightening up. Like you said, there's not even a proper colour scheme."
"Okay then, it's settled. Unless you have any objections," she said, looking at Ixi.
"You own the place," he said with a shrug. "Do what you want. As long as it's not bright yellow," he added, shuddering.
"Don't worry," said Lichen, laughing. "I grew out of that phase a long time ago."
~A few days later~
"Did you hear that?" asked Smaug. It was mid-morning, and the three Neopets were alone in the house.
"Hear what?" asked Werty.
"I heard it too," said Ixi.
"It sounds like something's in the shed," said Smaug.
Curiosity overcoming them, they crept to the back door. Werty reached up and put her claws on the handle.
"Do it quietly," cautioned Ixi. Werty snorted in response. The door opened and they peered out toward the shed. The door was open and they could hear noises from inside.
"Lichen?" Ixi called out.
Lichen popped her head out of the shed.
"Oh, hey guys," she said, looking a little startled. "I'll be with you in a second." She disappeared back into the shed, and there was one last clang before she emerged again, locking it behind her.
"What were you doing in there?" asked Werty, curious and a little excited.
"Just rearranging some things, making it a little easier to access right to the back."
"How many beds have you got in there now?" asked Ixi, a cheeky grin on his face.
"Don't you start," said Lichen, ruffling the fur on the top of his head as she stepped inside. "It's a lovely day. Why don't you go play outside for a while?"
"Will you come with us?" asked Smaug.
"Sorry, I've got some paperwork to do."
The Hissi managed to hide his disappointment. "Maybe she'll play cards with us later," he thought hopefully as he slithered towards the front door.
"You're it!" yelled Ixi, thumping his sister on the back and running out the door.
"Hey no fair," she yelled back, running after him. "We weren't even outside yet!"
Meanwhile, Smaug slithered quietly over the threshold and took off, flying after them at his top speed.
"Play nice!" shouted Lichen, before shutting the door. She watched them from the window for a minute or two. She loved seeing her Neopets playing happily together, but she couldn't waste any more time. Walking into the middle of the room, she took out the piece of paper she'd been hiding in her pocket. She scrutinised it for a moment, then looked around her, examining the home she'd made. Every single item brought back memories; some of them bad, most of them good. Lichen sighed as she walked to the back door. "I hope they won't be upset with me for this," she thought. She took one last look behind her, mentally saying goodbye, before slipping out as quietly as she could.
"Phew, out of the woods at last." gasped Ixi, stumbling away from the treeline.
"Are you sure about that, my pretty?" said a deep voice from behind him. Ixi whirled round in fright. Werty had been right behind him the whole time.
"Hubrid Nox!" squeaked Ixi.
"Muahahahahahaha!" laughed Werty as she strutted towards him. "Did you really think you could just walk away? I'm not finished with you yet."
"Get your hands off me!" Ixi yelled, as she grabbed him by the foreleg.
"You're coming with me, and there's nothing you can do to stop it."
"Not so fast!" shouted Smaug as he swooped down to land on the grass.
"Judge Hog!" yelled both of them with equal surprise.
"Let the girl go, Nox," said Smaug, his tone dangerously calm.
"Sure. In fact, why don't you take her!" Werty sneered as she pushed Ixi into Smaug. The two tumbled to the ground. She cackled madly as she spread her arms into the summoning position.
Smaug was dazed as he pushed himself off the ground. He gasped as he saw what Werty was doing.
"What happened?" murmured Ixi, standing.
"Get down!" yelled Smaug, throwing himself over Ixi just as Werty launched her attack.
"You were lucky this time, Hog. You won't be so lucky a second time," snarled Werty as she prepared herself to fight.
"We'll see about that, Nox."
Smaug sprang forward and the battle commenced - Werty fiercely attacking, Smaug ducking and weaving, doing his best to disarm her. Ixi shouted excitedly from the sidelines, egging Smaug on. The play-fight went on for minutes, until Werty overreached in one of her lunges. Seeing his chance, Smaug launched himself onto her back, pinning her down in the process.
"Hooray!" cried Ixi.
"Hubrid Nox, you are defeated," announced Smaug.
"Smash him, smash him!"
Werty struggled, but Smaug had her well restrained.
"Young Neopet," said Smaug, addressing Ixi. "Your freedom is at hand. No longer need you fear this evildoer and his evil plans. Go and run free." He turned back to Werty. "Nox, your evil knows no equal, but now your days of spreading terror and mayhem are over. Accept defeat and your punishment may be less severe."
Werty cackled evilly. "You are mistaken if you think you've won. You of all people should know, things are not always as they appear on the surface."
Smaug gasped, realising his mistake, and turned round just in time to see Ixi hit him on the head with a twig. Smaug fell backwards, feigning unconsciousness, and Werty wriggled out from underneath.
"Whoa, I just knocked out Judge Hog," said Ixi, dropping the stick.
"We'll need to get him to the castle before he wakes up," said Werty gruffly.
"Don't I get a thank you?" huffed Ixi. Werty glared at him.
"There will be time for that later. You will be rewarded when the job is complete."
Together, they dragged Smaug across the grass and pretended to tie him to a tree, where he pretended to wake up again. The game continued much as one would expect; Hubrid Nox had some dastardly revenge plot that Judge Hog was now powerless to stop, and everything had gone almost according to plan when Nox was callous one too many times to Ixi's character, who, after some prompting from Judge Hog, decided to turn on her master and release Hog, who was then able to defeat Hubrid Nox and save the day, along with the pretty female sidekick.
With Werty finally defeated, Smaug and Ixi celebrated. Smaug thanked Ixi for his assistance, and was about to depart when Ixi pulled him back.
"Thank you for showing me the error of my ways. I can't believe I was blind enough to think he cared about anyone other than himself." Ixi looked down in disgust and shame. Smaug gently took the Ixi's chin and looked deep into his eyes.
"You have done Neopia a great service. If you hadn't freed me, Nox might have become unstoppable."
Unbeknownst to the two of them, Werty had stirred and was crawling ever so silently towards them.
"Villains like Nox pride themselves on corrupting innocent youngsters such as yourself. You know now that these promises are empty. The power-hungry only care for themselves -"
Werty practically flattened Ixi as she landed on him and began to tickle him. His screeching laughter disturbed some of the bird-like petpets that had been roosting in the trees. Smaug watched for a moment, surprised and amused, before a grin spread on his face and he joined in as well.
"Ahahah! Stop it! You're - ahahahahahah!"
When they were done, the three Neopets lay side by side on the grass, looking up at the sky.
"Look at the sun!" gasped Werty.
"Don't look at the sun," cautioned Ixi.
"You know what I mean," snapped Werty.
The sun was touching the top of the mountain range, signalling the time was around four o'clock in the afternoon. Smaug's stomach growled.
"I wondered why I was hungry..." he mused.
"It can't be that late," said Ixi, bewildered. "Lichen would have called us in by now." Smaug snapped his head upright.
"Do you think there's something wrong?" he asked, a hint of panic in his voice.
"Perhaps she's not finished her paperwork yet," suggested Werty.
"Well I'm hungry," said Ixi, standing and starting towards the house. The others followed suit.
The blinds had been closed, as they often were whenever Lichen needed to concentrate, so they couldn't see inside. Lichen knocked on the door while slowly turning the handle.
"Lichen?" he said as he opened the door. "It's four o'clock, are you finished ye- *gasp* Oh my!" Ixi froze, gobsmacked.
"What is it?" asked Werty, trying to peer round. "Oh my!"
Smaug slithered between them, and was suddenly as shocked as they were. The Neohome was empty.
Not only that, but the interior had completely changed. Gone was the motley arrangement of furniture, and two of the walls, before an off-white, were covered in grey wallpaper. But probably the most startling change was on the floor.
Most of the wooden flooring had been torn up, and now, glaring up at them from a circular bed of monochrome tiles, lay the bright red V of Virtupets.
"What has she done to the place?" thought Ixi incredulously. Lichen did have a creative streak that showed itself now and then, but it was practically unknown for her to put in the hours of effort needed to actually complete a project.
Werty didn't know what to think. She was slightly annoyed that she'd missed out on the fun of redecorating, but more pressing were the doubts that were forming in her mind. That red V on the floor looked hauntingly familiar, but surely Lichen wouldn't ... she cared about them too much for it to mean that. Didn't she?
Smaug was merely awestruck by the magnitude of the change.
They heard a humming from the back door, and Lichen strolled in with a pile of red wallpaper. Suddenly noticing her Neopets, she jumped, dropping the rolls of paper, and stared at them in surprise while trying to think of what to say.
"Well, er," she said, rubbing the back of her neck with her hand. "This is awkward."
"What does this mean?" asked Werty, gesturing to the floor.
"Oh, um, yeah. Guess who we're supporting in the Altador Cup, guys," replied Lichen with a nervous chuckle. Ixi face-hoofed.
"The Altador Cup?" exclaimed Werty. Her relief began to be swamped by her rising enthusiasm. "You mean we're actually taking part this year?"
"Yes," said Lichen, a grin spreading across her face. "Yes, we are."
Werty galloped the distance between them and nearly tackled Lichen in a spontaneous hug. Ixi trotted over, laughing at the two of them, followed by Smaug, who secretly wanted to join in the hug but didn't want to gatecrash their moment.
"Come on, you two!" laughed Lichen as she grabbed both of them, to Ixi's annoyance and Smaug's delight. She eventually released them from the group hug, and they sat together on the floor, recovering.
"So why not the Haunted Woods this year?" asked Ixi.
"I thought a change of team might do us good, help us be more motivated. A fresh slate and all that."
"They wouldn't let you join this year," Ixi postulated.
"No, no, it's not like that," said Lichen, blushing slightly. "My personality's changed. I'm not a goth anymore, -"
"You weren't a goth in the first place," laughed Ixi.
"- and I've never stopped being a nerd."
"What's a nerd?" asked Smaug.
"It's someone who's clever and wants to learn everything," explained Werty.
"But wouldn't that be more like Brightvale?"
Ixi and Lichen both glared at him.
"We don't mention Brightvale in this house," said Lichen sternly. Smaug was confused, but before he could say anything else, Werty whispered in his ear, saying she'd explain it later. So he dropped the issue.
"Besides," Lichen continued. "I love space and robots and all that. And these guys seem pretty cool."
"You've talked to them?" asked Werty.
"Well, no. Not yet," admitted Lichen. "I've been hanging around their meeting place and they seem like my kind of people."
"Your kind of people being those who spy on people they want to make friends with instead of introducing themselves?" Ixi pointed out.
"Alright, you've made your point," laughed Lichen. "It's about time I made some human friends."
"Instead of random Grundos you meet at Kacheekers tournaments," he interjected.
"Hey, that was a long time ago! Why do you still remember that?"
"A good jester never forgets any mortifying moment or embarrassing event," said Ixi proudly.
"Oh no, not the jester thing again," said Werty, smacking her paw against her face.
"Including getting yelled at in front of all your new neighbours for bringing the street sign home?" said Lichen with a twinkle in her eye.
"Touché," replied Ixi.
"Anyway, I'd better get this wallpaper up," said Lichen, standing. "I bought some new furniture. You guys can go ahead and start arranging it how you'd like."
"You really mean it?" asked Werty, eyes wide.
"'Course I do. If I don't like it I can always change it myself," said Lichen with a mischievous smile.
"Come along Snakey!" yelled Werty as she bounced out the back door. Smaug slithered along behind her as fast as he could manage.
"If I had room to fly..." he called after her.
"Yeah, I know. Now hurry up!" she called back.
Ixi stayed where he was.
"You're not going to move us to the space station are you?" he said seriously.
"No, no," Lichen said reassuringly. "This isn't like last time."
"Good. We really missed you."
"I know. I missed you too."
"Hey slowpoke, aren't you going to help?" shouted Werty's voice from outside.
"Sounds like Werty and Smaug are missing you right now!" laughed Lichen. Ixi smiled and gave her a salute before running out the door. Lichen shook her head. It seemed her pets never ran out of energy.
She busied herself putting the new wallpaper up. It was a laborious task, and she was glad of her pets' chatter to keep her entertained.
"Hey Lichen, what do you think?" shouted Werty at one point. Lichen turned around. They had finished the bedroom section.
"Looks good!" she called back. "Wait a minute, is that a Cylara poster?"
"When did we get a Cylara poster?"
"It was from the Advent Calendar one year," explained Ixi. "You didn't know who it was at the time, remember?"
"Oh yes," said Lichen, remembering. She started laughing.
"What's so funny?" asked Werty.
"Well, it's just, Dr. Sloth's kind of an unofficial mascot for the Virtupets team," she explained between giggles.
"Mascot?" asked Werty, eyes widening. Lichen nodded, and they all burst out laughing (apart from Smaug, who was thoroughly perplexed, but managed to squeeze out a few awkward chuckles).
"But anyway, they all joke about being Sloth minions. I don't think many of them actually are, though. It's just banter."
"Banter?" asked Smaug.
"Conversation." explained Ixi.
"Anyway, I thought it was a little ironic you put up a Cylara poster when most of the team we're joining claim to be Sloth supporters," finished Lichen.
"Well, we're not Sloth supporters," stated Werty, suddenly very serious.
"No. We're not," Lichen agreed.
"And we don't want people to get the wrong idea. We support Virtupets, but we don't support Sloth."
"So the poster stays up, and people won't assume we support the evillest creature in Neopia."
"Yes. Exactly." Lichen hadn't meant the poster should be taken down, but it was best not to argue with Werty when she was in that kind of mood.
"Great!" Werty smiled. "Come on guys, we've got furniture to shift."
"Who made you project manager?" asked Ixi cheekily as they marched out the door again.
While Lichen continued to put up the wallpaper, her Neopets continued to arrange the furniture, and she finished just in time to help them with the sofas. With their work complete, they flopped on top of the cushions, taking in the changes they'd made.
"Well," said Ixi. "That was tiring."
"What do you think of the place?" asked Lichen.
"It's certainly different," said Ixi, amused.
"So much red," said Smaug, awestruck but satisfied.
"I think it looks lovely!" said Werty, enthusiastic despite her lack of energy. "So much brighter than it was before."
"I'm glad you like it," said Lichen. Ixi's stomach growled.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I forgot I was hungry."
"Me too," said Smaug.
"And me," said Werty.
Lichen chuckled. "All right, let's go get you lot some omelette."
~Later that night~
"Are you sure you're alright with us supporting Virtupets?" Lichen whispered softly. She was sitting on the side of Werty's bed, having just tucked the Bori in.
"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I?" she yawned. "As long as you're not going to make us all Sloth minions."
Lichen laughed. "Good night, Werty."
"G'night," she replied sleepily.
Werty didn't see the pensive look on Lichen's face as she stood and walked away. Pausing by the lamp, she flicked the light off.
"Good night, everyone."
To be continued...