There Are No How-To Books for Aspiring Ninjas: Part One
Breeze, a cloud Cybunny, ran a glittery gold brush through her fur one last time and eyed her reflection in the antique full-length mirror. She fastened the spinnacle earrings to her ears and examined herself critically. Drat.
"Orion, can you help me?" she yelled.
A moment later, another reflection appeared beside her in the mirror. Her little brother was a Xweetok. In stark contrast, he was painted basic green and at the moment, was wearing just his fur.
"I don't know exactly, my accessories just don't look right with this tower princess gown. What do you think?"
Orion, through years of experience, neither burst out laughing nor rolled his eyes. He had, actually, learned quite a bit about fashion from his adoptive family.
"I like the earrings, but don't you have your stained glass earrings somewhere? Those would really bring out the blue of your bodice better."
"Ohmigosh! Wait, I do!" Breeze rummaged through the contents of the jewelry box on her bureau. "Nope." She checked the second jewelry box... and the third. On the fourth, she found them. "Perfect!" she said, putting them on, and then triumphantly sweeping out of the room.
Orion trailed behind and downstairs to where their owner was waiting. She was also stylishly dressed, and just slipping on her heart-shaped sunglasses.
"Everyone ready? I just got here myself," she giggled. "Let's go!"
The little family headed straight for the grooming parlour, and Orion sat back and watched with amusement while the girls waited for something new or unique to restock. Despite Breeze's pretty appearance, she was as fierce as Brynn vanquishing evil when it came to shopping. They emerged from the fray with Breeze clutching a bar of cucumber facial soap and an enchanted hair brush. Chattering excitedly, they went to the mall and spent hours trying on new things. Orion did too, so they wouldn't think he didn't want to be there. Although truly, he didn't. But they loved the mall, so he acted happy to be there. He'd had plenty of practice.
"Oh," Breeze burbled, "You look so cute in that archer outfit."
Orion looked at himself in the mirror. Big green eyes, fluffy tail, adorable green stripe, yes, he was cute. They were fine with that. But he wasn't satisfied with cute. He wanted more than that in life.
"Now," Breeze mused, "if you were painted a different color, maybe red, brown, or speckled, that outfit would really look snazzy! We could start saving for a paintbrush, if you want."
Orion shrugged and carefully put the clothes back on the hanger, smiling at his sister.
"Thanks for the offer; I know it isn't easy to save neopoints. But right now I'm happy with my color. Maybe later I'll decide I want something new-I'll let you know."
"I'm going to the furniture shop and see if I can find some new curtains," their owner announced as she returned the sparkling faerie dress she'd been trying on. "The green ones in the kitchen are just a little boring after six months."
"Mom, can't I please stay longer?" Breeze pleaded, "I haven't even been over to the shoe store and tried on the tower princess shoes yet."
She looked at Orion. "A half hour, then you come and meet me there, okay?"
Orion nodded. "We'll be there."
So he babysat his older sister and told her when her time was up. "Already? That can't be."
"We have to go," he repeated, and Breeze reluctantly changed back into her own dress.
As they stepped outside, she sighed. "Really, I don't know how time passes so fast. It's not like I get distract-Oh wow, look, a sale across the street!" She jumped out into the road, and Orion dashed after her, bumping her aside just seconds before a cart full of organic carrots rumbled past.
The pair of Kaus pulling it shook their heads and muttered something about "Kids these days."
"This way," he reminded her, dusting her off, "Furniture store. Mom's waiting."
After they had all rejoined at the furniture store, Orion asked if they could visit the bookstore later.
"You go right ahead," his owner said, studying patterns and muttering about colors. "Just come back here when you're done."
And that, mused Orion, is something she would never trust Breeze to do.
The blue Nimmo looked up as Orion entered the shop. "Welcome back, did your sister enjoy How to Be a Model?"
"She loved it, thanks. We visited Mystery Island last week, and someone was saying that Ryshu was a ninja, that was why he was so good at fighting. I watched him in the training school practicing with the advanced students. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Do you have any books on ninjas or how to be a ninja?"
The shopkeeper grinned, "There are no how-to books for aspiring ninjas. That's something you only learn by training, first on Krawk Island, then on Mystery Island. After that, I've heard rumors of a mysterious school deep in the jungle that takes red codestones, but I don't know more than that, only that it's very, very secret and very, very expensive."
"Oh. Well, thanks for telling me," Orion said.
He browsed the shelves and found Super Fashion Playmate Handbook for Breeze. For himself, he decided to read How to Stay Fit. It was the closest he could ever come to training. His family liked only a few games, like Fashion Fever, Kacheek Seek, Usuki Frenzy, or Hannah and the Wardrobe of Adventure. Those paid only enough money for food, grooming items, and clothes, (lots of clothes). He walked slowly back to the furniture store, thinking hard. Was there any way he could train without going to a training school?
Orion sprawled on his bedroom floor in the afternoon sunshine and opened the book he'd bought that day. He read it all carefully-except for the last couple of pages, memorizing the exercises page by page. He waited until he was sure of every one before reading the last page and memorizing that as well. As soon as he closed the book, it poofed into a cloud of purple smoke that smelled like lavender.
"Nice cologne," Breeze commented at the supper table.
"Thanks," he mumbled. "Could you pass the salt?"
"You could reach it, you know," his mother said, pushing it toward him.
"Actually, not. I think I strained a muscle." His whole body hurt, and he had only done one or two of each of the exercises. Could he be that much out of shape?
In the weeks to come, Orion faithfully gave fashion advice, tried on clothing, hung out with all the stylish people his family knew... and exercised. And read. Whatever part of Neopia they visited, he made a beeline for the bookstore, if they had one. He started reading about battledome tactics and self-defense, but he had no way to practice what he learned... until one day, when they were at the Space Station.
Orion stared down in wonder at Neopia below, spread out like a giant map. At the moment they were passing over the northern regions, and he could barely pick out which one was Terror Mountain by the tiny little Happy Valley at the base of it. Every time they passed a window of any kind, Orion zipped over for a view seconds to stare at the world below. Breeze, on the other hand, was mesmerized by a battledome fight going on, with one contestant in shiny golden armor.
"That is so cool," she wondered out loud. "Mom, could I buy something like that to wear for fun?"
"Mom's over in the cafe; she wanted to get some cheese star sandwiches for lunch, and marshmallow Grundos for dessert."
"Oh, let's go over there then, I'm hungry and those little Grundos are so cute!"
A passing mallow Grundo rolled his eyes, and Breeze assured him, "Oh don't worry, I'd never try to eat you!"
Another Grundo materialized beside Orion suddenly. "Try it out," the neopet urged, shoving an tattered copy of the Neopian Times at him. "Splat a Sloth! Its quick to play, improves hand-eye coordination, and it's fun!"
Orion blinked. "Hand-eye coordination?" He stared at the red tube out of which the green sock puppet would emerge.
"Sure, try it!"
He did, and missed. And missed, missed, missed, and then Thwack! A solid hit.
"Nice shot, kid, here are your winnings! Want to play again?"
"Yes," Orion said, a grin on his face. "I would."
He started playing games that he'd never tried before while his family played Wardrobe Adventure.
"Go ahead, Orion," his mom said, her head buried in the closet while she searched for Hannah's rain boots. "Have fun. You know how to take care of yourself."
From Splat a Sloth and Kass Basher, he learned hand-eye coordination. In Ugga Drop, he learned to jump without fear and land exactly where he wanted to. In Mutant Graveyard of Doom II, he learned to listen carefully in the dark for enemies and avoid them before they saw him. He jumped and slid in the Ice Caves, learned strategy in Castle Battles, practiced rowing in Dubloon Disaster, scaled cliffs in Shenkuu Warrior, acquired sword skills in Attack of the Revenge, and improved his marksmanship in Attack of the Evil Fuzzles. He didn't have much in the way of weapons, but he visited the battledome anyway. Sometimes he was lucky enough to sit next to a veteran battler who would give him advice on weapons, shields, and tactics as part of a running commentary on the fights taking place. He started visiting Coltzan's shrine every day for stats boosts, and the occasional dubloon. All this earned him neopoints, and he slowly started taking some classes on Krawk Island, paying in dubloons. Because of his unofficial training, Orion was pleasantly surprised to receive two stats boosts most of the time, instead of just one.
One night as he walked toward the waiting ferry after his class, his feet bumped into something that clinked when it spun against a nearby rock. He bent down and realized it was a glass bottle. He shook it slightly, and it felt heavy, as though it was full.
"Did anyone drop a Bottle of Water?" he asked the neopets nearby.
"No, sproggie, but if ye find a mug o' grog, it's mine," shouted one pirate.
All he got from the rest were blank looks, so he picked it up and popped it into his backpack for safekeeping, then jogged toward the ferry. He was splashing through the foaming edges of waves that swept up the shore, and his sheer speed was a joy. He could never have done this before! He lengthened his stride, paws sinking into the damp sand, and leaped up onto the dock, bounding onto the ferry. He paced back and forth on the boat while he caught his breath, then sat down and wrapped his tail around his wet paws, practicing being still and calm. He knew from reading that it was sometimes just as important for a warrior as being able to move fast.
When the ferry bumped against the dock in Neopia Central, Orion strolled home slowly.
"How was your lesson tonight?" his mom asked as soon as he came in the house.
Orion breathed in deeply. "Mmm, you're baking chocolate chip cookies, am I right?"
"Right as always," she answered, wiping her hands on a towel. "Did you have fun? I forget what you were studying."
"Sword fighting," Orion told her. I'm getting better but it's good we use wooden swords, otherwise I'd be missing a few inches of my tail tonight."
He hovered hopefully near the cooling racks, trying his best to look starved.
"Go ahead, have some," his mom said, sliding a tray of dough into their fire faerie oven.
Orion poured himself a glass of milk and took some hot cookies, juggling them between his paws. He bit into one, savoring the warm, gooey chocolate.
"Mom, can we visit Moltara soon, maybe tomorrow or on the weekend? They have a bookstore there I've never visited."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," his mother corrected absently as she dropped spoonfuls of dough on the next cookie sheet. "Breeze is having a sleepover tomorrow night, so she can't come. I'm having dinner with some friends, but you can go alone, if you want to. I trust you to not fall into any magma pools, and other than that, what could possibly go wrong in Moltara?"
To be continued...