I stay out of other people's business. Once, I was a great interferer. Always with my nose in somebody else's affairs. It was kind of my job, even.
It didn't work out so well.
You know what they say. Do not meddle in the affairs of Draiks and all that. The thing is, I am a Draik, a very handsome Darigan one, so it's a bit of a confusing rule as applied, and I'm sure that's why I messed up.
But I try not to think about Before. You can't change the past.
I stay out of it now. I mind my own business. I'm unbiased. I'm a true island. If there's anything my experiences have taught me, it's to steer well clear of everyone else's problems. I don't offer my opinions, I don't mind what anybody else is doing. I'm not here to help; I'm not here to judge. I'm a vast silence, a solitary creature in a world of too many connections. What you do is what you do, and I certainly don't care.
"You're doing that wrong."
Moshu, who had been painting new letters on the sign, looked up and glared at me. Moshu's a Korbat, and a bit stubby at that, so it's a little difficult for him. His wings kept getting in the way of the stick that he was using to write, painting dripping, loopy letters like an ill old man. The result trailed up the sign – actually a very nice slab of rock – in the shape of an increasing exponential curve.
I have nothing against mathematics – useful stuff – but it kind of ruined the effect of the sign. Actually, it completely ruined it.
I'd been watching the sun go to bed behind the mountains, my head pillowed on a comfortable flat stone. The sun was turning everything into a particularly gory picture, bathing the valley and the tumble of rocks outside my cave in scarlet and ruddy-gold. I'd been trying to remember a dream I'd had last night. It was fragmented, slipping away, like they always do, full of darkness and the sense of urgency, terror and loss, fear and grief. I have a feeling they're important, but I can never remember now. Maybe my subconscious is just overworked after everything.
Moshu's terrible job had finally irked me enough to raise my head, shaking off my reverie. I couldn't help myself.
"No one is going to be able to read that. Can you read that?"
Moshu gave me his coldest look. His dark eyes said what he couldn't, ever-so-clearly. He didn't have to sign for me to understand. Some folks are subtle about their feelings; Moshu is not one of those folks. You idiot, was what he was saying. So pleasant, that Moshu. Just the paragon of sweetness.
I yawned, displaying my impressive rows of fangs. I'm sure they made me look properly fearsome, painted red as they were by the light of the dying sun.
Moshu fanned out his wings, infused with light that turned the fine membrane jewel-green, rubbing the paint off on a bit of dry grass. He was clearly not impressed, which irritated me. It's not that Moshu is ever really impressed, but he certainly needn't have looked so very unimpressed. It was disheartening. Had I really become so un-fearsome looking that I couldn't even scare Moshu, who looks like the cousin of a cottonpuff?
I curled my tail around myself, accidentally dislodging a small avalanche of rocks from the hillside. Oops.
Moshu fluttered a few feet into the air to avoid the tumbling shale and dirt, then settled again, ruffling his wings.
"I'm just saying, if we're going to actually warn anyone off, then we'd better do it properly. And don't say that there's no point in warning people off because we're in a valley three hundred miles from civilization, because you know as well as I do that I know that." I finished my speech huffily and curled myself all the tighter. It was a bit less satisfying, having to say everything by myself, but when your only companion is rather taciturn, you have to make do.
Such is life.
Moshu folded his wings.
I coughed. "Is this about the thing with the turnips? Because I told you that was an accident."
"Well, if you're going to be like that, I won't talk to you." Not the biggest threat, considering Moshu probably wasn't interested in what I had to say anyway. At least I was trying.
I got up and stretched, flinging dirt and rocks in all directions, spreading my wings. They cast shadows that sent me into sudden dimness as if the sun had already gone down. I wasn't showing off. It's not like anyone would have compared me to Moshu anyway; it would have been laughable.
My wingspan was impressively large, and I accidentally clipped a wing against the side of the mountainside, showering myself in small clumps of dirt and rock. Ow. I flinched away, then quickly lifted my head and put my nose in the air. I'd absolutely meant to do that.
I cast a quick glance at Moshu to make sure he knew I'd meant to do it. He looked like he knew I hadn't meant to do it.
"Okay, what's your problem, really?"
Moshu raised his eyebrows, small tufts of fur that wouldn't have looked out of place on somebody's granddad.
"I get it, I'm your problem. But seriously."
After a moment, Moshu, almost hesitantly, signed, Neopian Times. I blinked, unsure I'd understood the movement of his wings and hands and feet correctly. I still wasn't very good at interpreting his signing, even after more than a year. It was something about how small he was, sometimes all the gestures melded into one. And he wasn't a big talker at the best of times. It wasn't my fault we didn't get much practice at communicating.
"What?" I lowered my head to better see him, so that we were on eye-level. He was about one-twentieth my size. Maybe one-tenth. Very small, anyway.
Moshu signed again, this time more sharply. Definitely 'Neopian Times.' Was he referring to the time when we were part of Neopia, before we were exiled to this miserable existence?
"Do you mean Before?"
Moshu made the sign for No! emphatically, flinging out a wing.
"Okay, gosh! I don't get it. What's 'Neopian Times?"
Moshu's eyes widened, and he mimed hitting himself in the head. I drew my own head back with a jerk.
"I'm not an idiot! Just because I don't know what this stupid thing is... "
Moshu, shaking his head, started to sign furiously. I pretended not to see until he poked me in the foot. I snapped at him, but he merely stared, stony-eyed.
Reluctantly, I lowered my head again. "A newspaper? Seriously? I didn't know you read. Well, I'm pretty sure there isn't going to be a copy out here – ow!" He'd jabbed me again with his wing. "That hurts, you feather-brained Feepit!"
With a hiss of exhaled air, Moshu flounced into the air, then off a few feet to sit with his back to me. I levelled my most fearsome yellow-eyed glare at his back, but his fur failed to burst into flame, and he remained there as if he couldn't feel my eyes boring into him.
"Okay," I said finally with a sigh, "why now? You've been without a newspaper for years, why do you need one now?"
Moshu turned briefly to look at me coldly, then returned to his previous posture of completely ignoring me.
"Well, fine. If you're not going to tell me..." In sudden irritation, I whirled and huffed into the cave, sending a great gust of wind out behind me. I hoped it knocked Moshu senseless and scrambled his little Korbat brains. Although they were probably already as scrambled as they could get. Dimness met me like a dark wall, and my thundering footsteps sent off echoes deep into the recesses. I wasn't going to sulk. Not at all.
I spent a long time simmering in righteous anger at the back of my cave, suffering the scorn of my traitorous sometime-cavemate, to whom I'd been nothing but kind, nothing but obliging all this long year-and-a-quarter, when it was his fault in the first place we were stuck out here on the outskirts of barren Neopia, banished from civilization...
Well, all right. It wasn't really his fault. I guess it might have been more to do with me. Maybe. Just a little. But it wasn't like I'd planned this. And maybe I wasn't the very most obliging of folks all the time. I mean, I could be a bit prickly. It was my nature. Not my fault that I happened to be kind of sensitive, prone to overreacting.
I crept very carefully out of the cave to see if Moshu had yet realized the error of his ways. It was full-dark now, but my night vision was near-perfect, a perk of being a Draik. It's nice, sometimes.
For instance, right now it allowed me to see Moshu, or a Moshu-shaped statue, sitting outside the cave in the exact same place I'd left him.
I took a deep breath. I was just going to have to be the better person here. I wasn't interfering; I was done with that. Generally I left the person I was stuck with alone. Went about my own business. So we happened to sort of live together – not my fault. We were cohabitors out of necessity, nothing more. And okay, maybe I did feel just a tiny bit responsible for my part in our banishment. But it hadn't been my fault. Not completely, anyway. But clearly, Moshu was having a crisis of some kind. He needed the help of a friend. Not that I was his friend.
Just the only one present at the current moment. This wasn't interfering, this was crisis management, which is perfectly all right if you're neutral. Sometimes islands bump into other islands, and have to do what they have to do.
"Moshu, explain why this newspaper is so important that you're going to sit outside sulking all night." Okay, maybe that could have come out a little better. It sounded different inside my head.
"Er, that is, could you tell me why you want the Neopian Times so much? Um, please?"
With a long sigh, Moshu finally moved. I grinned in delight as he stepped aside, revealing a block of text laboriously scratched into the ground. I bent to read it.
Six hundredth anniversary. Very special. Used to be a writer, Before. Fond memories. You're an idiot, Daiki.
Well, it was nice to know I'd been translating correctly.
"You used to be a writer? I didn't know that."
You're an idiot, Moshu signed, with very pointed movements.
"Yes, I got that, thanks. So. The six hundredth anniversary, hmm? How do you know that?"
I count the days by the sun. Don't you?
Well, not exactly. I mean, I did try to keep a rough calendar. The changing weather, seasons, and all that. It was good enough. It wasn't like I had any pressing appointments to keep. Really. Moshu was so stuck-up.
"So. This is – important – to you?"
Moshu didn't dignify this with an answer.
"Right. Okay. Um. What exactly am I supposed to do about this?"
Obviously not nothing, despite what Moshu said.
It was so taxing, living with someone who refused to communicate in an appropriate manner. How was I supposed to translate all these complicated wordless-indicators?
"Maybe you want to... get a copy?"
Another stony stare.
"Maybe you want to get a copy... together."
Well. Why not? I could use a little adventure. It wasn't like I had anything better to do. I could use a chance to stretch my wings, try out my fearsome teeth on someone else. Life was getting a little bit boring. Everyone needs some adventure sometimes, and I hadn't done anything remotely interesting since the turnip incident. Even if it was to get this newspaper-thing. Which seemed mighty stupid, but who was I to judge? I don't judge.
I don't interfere in other people's business. It's not that I hate everyone. It's just that I don't like anyone. I just don't really care. It's much better that way.
It's kind of hard to care when the last time you did, all it led to was being stuck in a cave in a secluded valley with a mad Korbat.
It's not like I was doing it for Moshu. Not really. I mean, we weren't friends or anything. We had a mutually-beneficial agreement, but that was as far as it went. I was doing it for myself. Otherwise, I wouldn't even have considered. But I didn't want to live with an irritable Moshu. Self-interest, on my part. Best to keep him happy. I did sort of owe him for the turnip thing. Besides, it might even be kind of fun.
"Okay," I said. "Well, we'd better start flying. We have a long road ahead."
We'll go in the morning, idiot, Moshu said.
Nice to see my sacrifices appreciated.
"Well," I said, somewhat unhappily, "that was kind of anticlimactic. We didn't even have to steal anything. I can't believe the Neopian Times is free. Free! Honestly. This is worse than the thing with the turnips."
Moshu, propped in the crook of one of my wings, nose buried behind the newspaper, signed, I'm pretty sure the turnip-farmer would disagree.
"Can I help it if his cart of turnips happened to be right in my way? I've heard Kacheeks aren't very bright, but honestly."
Shut up, Daiki, Moshu signed dismissively. I couldn't help but notice, not for the first time, that the sign he insisted was my name looked remarkably rude. Still, I'd gotten two entire sentences out of him, so I counted it a victory.
I sighed and settled onto the warm flagstones of the courtyard. The fountain's rush was like soft music.
All around us, Neopets hurried by, completely ignoring us. It was kind of disappointing, honestly. I'd expected much more commotion, some kind of grand heist, a narrow escape. No one recognized as us as notorious criminals. No one paid us any attention at all.
"Hey, Moshu. After all this trouble, you can at least let me read it, too." I craned my neck above his body, trying to peer at the pages. With a sigh, Moshu twitched the paper, allowing me to get a better look. He was reading some article with the terribly-witty title of '600 Issues: A Look Back at the Times.'
"I see what you did there," I muttered. "Very punny." With a sigh, I settled into a more comfortable position to read.
This was actually... kind of nice. It was almost like old times, Before. Maybe Moshu was right, and this Neopian Times was something special. Maybe miracles could happen.
"Halt, both of you!" a voice rang out, shattering my peace like an ice pick to the brain. I jerked my head up with a fearsome roar – okay, maybe it was kind of shrill, but definitely not a squeak of surprise – to find a dozen Defenders of Neopia surrounding us, the brilliant mid-morning sun glinting off their starched uniforms.
Then again, maybe not.