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Water, Fire, Return


by flufflepuff

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Also by sportlovergrl25

If one was to check up on Mari's mood, he would see that the reading was "content." Most owners would accept this reading and go restock, talk to other owners, or do whatever owners do with their time. But if Mari's owner looked a bit more closely, she would see that there was more to Mari's mood reading than the reading itself. Perhaps if her owner paid more attention to it, she would notice that her pet was somewhat troubled.

     Mari obviously noticed the reading too. Content doesn't always mean happy, does it now? thought Mari to herself. She pushed her dorsal fin .2 centimeters to the left, annoyed that it wouldn't stay at a perfect 45 degree angle. She polished her already smooth skin for five minutes more, and looked into her mirror again. "Not quite my best, but it'll do." She sighed as she tilted her head slightly to locate any dry patches she might have missed. Finding none, she took a step back to glance at her entire body. She didn't want to say that she wasn't content with her paint color, but she was definitely dissatisfied with it.

      There was one thing she loved about herself though; she was a Flotsam. They swam effortlessly and gracefully, and Mari was more than glad to be a swimmer. Apart from that, she was an unusual creature—Flotsams weren't as fussy about their appearances as Mari was. Mari was careful not to get any sand in her eyes or tail fin, and polished her head and horn to a perfect shine every single day. Of course, she never forgot to push her dorsal fin exactly 2.5 centimeters to the left. Everyone does that. And just like everyone who swims, she wasn't one to miss a day in the water.

     Upon reaching Mystery Island's shore, Mari swam out into her favorite swimming spot, precisely 5 meters from the beach. Not too shallow, not too deep. Her camouflage color- green, white, and blue, made her nearly indistinguishable from the water, allowing her to surprise pets that came too close to her spot. It was that very color that got her thinking about her color in the first place.

      "Carolyn told me it looked Maractite, which was why I liked it at first." Mari flipped onto her back and gazed at her flippers. A swirl of sea-colors. "Then again, I hear them talking about me even now."

      Some Neopets on the shore were whispering about Mari not letting them swim with her or come near her.

     ("Doesn't she know that we see her? It's not like she's invisible. She doesn't own that part of the water," a Wocky muttered to his Koi friend.)

     It was clear that they were merely talking about her unwillingness to share her swimming spot, but Mari saw thought they were whispering about her color. She was a vain Flotsam, after all.

     At first she tried to ignore them, but as time went on she grew more self-conscious about herself.

     "They're whispering about how cheap my color is and how cheap Carolyn can be." Mari dove below the surface, taking in the view of all of the petpets, the plant life and shells that calmed her so. Actually, it didn't work completely this time, for she knew the truth. Carolyn was cheap, often feeding Mari omelettes for weeks at a time when she wished for some other food. She also took her to the Healing Springs to recover from battles instead of buying her the proper cure right away. Carolyn had good intentions, Mari knew that, but she knew that the feeling Carolyn got from watching her NP pile in her bank trumped anything else.

      Mari resurfaced, sighing. She concentrated on the small ripples stretching and dwindling in prominence, the waves returning to their calm state once again. Her mind wandered as she thought of a solution to her problem. She had to think of a color she could become that wouldn't hurt Carolyn's bank, but would be impressive at the same time.

      "Cloud?" She considered, but thought better of it. "That's almost worse." Mari had seen her fair share of periwinkle pets with cloud patterns all over them, being mocked that they always 'had their heads in the clouds.' Mari would have none of it. "Now Royal on the other hand would be wonderful... but then I'd get 'the speech.'"

      Mari squeezed her eyes shut as she unwillingly heard Carolyn's broken-record echo once more. "Sweet, we don't have the money right now. I'm saving up for a really expensive... stamp and you'd look stunning, really you would, but I honestly can't spare anything." Her owner would drone on, always adding a feigned hint of kindness at the end. "I hope you understand."

      Mari opened her eyes, her head nearly swelling with a dull pain that came from hearing the speech over and over and over. Nope, she concluded, definitely could not ask to become Royal. Mari splashed in frustration, feeling like she would burst into fla—that was it! "Magma!" she exclaimed. Of course. That was the right answer. It would make her tough, cool-looking, and wouldn't cost her owner a thing.

      She hurried back to her owner, who was busy checking her shop till and scribbling numbers onto a piece of paper. Mari hesitated when she saw her from a long way off. Before Carolyn noticed her, Mari grabbed a towel and wiped the small amount of sand off of her fins, taking a moment to think of what she was going to say. If she was going to ask, she had to ask correctly. Mari took a deep breath and approached her.

      "Carolyn?" The blonde turned and looked down to gaze lovingly at her pet.

      "Ah, there you are, darling. Is there anything I can do for you?" Mari felt intimidated by her small stature and Carolyn's sugar-coated annoyance at being interrupted, but her appearance was at stake. She had to try!

      "Carolyn, the other Neopets have been talking about me behind my back." Mari paused, picturing the others whispering about her. "They're saying that my color is too..." She was going to say cheap, but Carolyn wouldn't like that. "Too basic for a... wonderful owner such as yourself." Mari thought she was overdoing it a little, but the flattery worked.

      "Oh?" Carolyn chuckled, clearly pleased.

      "Carolyn, if it's all right with you, I'd like to become Magma. And since you don't have to buy a brush or anything, it won't cost you!" Mari's face hurt from smiling so much. Yep, she was certainly overdoing it.

      Having been more than won over by flattery, Carolyn nodded vigorously. "It's funny you mention that, Sweet, because I've been stalking the Magma Pool for such a time like this. Not that that's unusual or anything. Anyway, I know exactly what time the guard falls asleep so that you can get past him and go for a dip in the pool." Carolyn cleared her throat, asserting the normalcy of watching the Tonu for hours and hours just to see when he would fall asleep. "First thing in the morning, we shall be off, for tomorrow you change color! How does that sound, darling?"

      Mari jumped in circles around her owner for sheer joy, not caring which way her dorsal fin flopped for once. "Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes!" She couldn't contain her excitement, but noticed how odd she looked and quickly composed herself. Mari again made sure her fin was precisely 45 degrees to the left. "I mean, um, thank you, Carolyn," she said, calming down. She gave her owner a hug and glided off to play in the water for the rest of the day, her silhouette making a lovely black spot on the sunset every time she leaped out of the water.

      The next morning, Carolyn held Mari by the fin as they descended into Moltara. The air was stagnant and the entire place had a slightly stuffy feel to it. The air was constantly being heated by the trails of shining lava sliding down the rock. Mari's skin started to feel a little dry, and she wished she brought her polish along to help, but she knew that there was no turning back.

      "There he is." Carolyn pointed to the sleeping Tonu, whose mane crackled soothingly, nearly lulling Mari to sleep herself. They stared for a few short moments confirming he was asleep, but they were already quite positive when they noticed his drool gently splattering on the ground.

     Carolyn motioned her pet and Mari stepped to the side of the pool. The lava looked unbearably hot but not hostile. The bubbles that rose and broke on the surface of the pool appeared friendly. Mari nearly waved back at them, as they looked so cute.

      Carolyn wiped her brow, the movement snapping Mari back to reality, back to her purpose. Shutting her eyes, she dove headfirst into the pool.

      Oh, how hot it was! Mari felt as though she would be cooked, but she felt no pain. Her skin became even more cracked, until it split completely in a pattern, and the lava soaked into the crevices. Mari tried to swim through the searing magma, but it was more dense and difficult to push her fins through than water. She opened her eyes. All she saw was a block of red, orange, white, and yellow in front of her. Mari marveled at the pulsating colors in front of her and wished she could see more, but her tightening chest reminded her of a pressing need.

      Mari struggled to push herself towards the surface. She had no idea how far away the surface was. At last, when she thought she could hold her breath no longer, her head poked out of the magma, glistening black with orange and yellow running down her face.

     "Darling, you look beautiful! Come over here!" Carolyn called. Mari, with difficulty, swam to the edge of the rocks, allowing Carolyn to see how well she blended in with the surrounding magma. "You're gorgeous! I'm so proud of you!" Carolyn nearly hugged Mari, but stopped before she could get burned. She nodded instead, an awkward gesture of tenderness.

      "It's all because of you. Thanks for taking me here!" Mari smiled and nodded back, just as awkwardly. Her bright orange eyes told Carolyn that she was delighted, but inside, Mari was confused. She hadn't even thought of the fact that now no one could touch her, not even to receive a hug from her owner. Her head was swimming. She needed to think. She needed to do what she did best to think. It was off to Mystery Island for her.

      Arriving at her usual spot, Mari was getting even more stares and whispers from the beach-goers. "I bet they love how I look." She whispered as she waved one flaming fin at the crowd. No one waved back, but she ignored that and instead glided (if you could call the friction of igneous rock on coarse sand gliding) into her swimming spot.

     HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

      Suddenly Mari felt the water sting at her skin like never before, especially in the crevices that never fully turned to rock. The salt in the water didn't help. Crying out, she frantically splashed to return to shore and away from the water. Mari checked herself over. She wasn't hurt save for her pride. The stares now were not in admiration as Mari had thought. They were in concern, disbelief, and even some, in amusement.

     Burying her head in her fins, Mari raced across the sand into a cabana. Heaving, she burst into sobs. She would have cried, but as soon as the tears came to her eyes, they disintegrated with a tiny hiss, unable to withstand Mari's extreme heat. She had to calm down and... polish herself. Mari pulled out her mirror and her polish from a bag she always carried. She rubbed the slick polish onto her skin, but it stayed rocky and fiery.

     The polish didn't work on magma Flotsam skin. Mari looked at herself in the mirror. What had she become? She was born to swim, and born to look pretty. Without both of these, it was difficult not to feel incomplete. Her glorious sea-colors were lost, traded for a fire and rock color scheme that did not match her at all. Yes, she was beautiful, but what good was that when she couldn't hug Carolyn or swim? Realizing this, she shuddered and squeaked out a final sob.

      Mari may have spent a lot of time on how she looked, but that did not mean she wasn't clever. There was a way out that would mean freedom and wouldn't break Carolyn's bank. How would she repaint herself? She felt miserable and so sweltering hot. Miserable! That would just be it.

      She recalled a friend telling her that he'd turned blue because he was downright unhappy. Blue was a sea color, and was also lovely to look at. If Mari turned blue, she could swim again! She could hardly wait. She loved the feeling of the water; it was cool and refreshing, and she was glad to greet the sun's rays as she approached the surface.

      Mari steeled herself for the innumerable pairs of eyes that would be waiting for her outside. She exited the cabana and went on her way home, luckily without too many laughs. Walking along she concentrated on a plan. She would have to get as sad as possible to change color. That meant reading sad books, visiting the Game Graveyard, eating Gross Food (she would try to avoid that) and most definitely steering clear of the Healing Springs faerie. Simple enough.

      Several days passed. She'd read The Sad Shoyru, The Unlucky Blumaroo, the Book of Sadness, and had revisited the old Destruct-o-Match I and deceased Battledome numerous times. Every day, Mari checked to see if she'd turned blue yet, and every day she was still Magma. She'd cry in frustration, but could cry no tears.

      Perhaps Mari hadn't realized this, but in order to turn blue, she couldn't have turning blue as her goal. Each time Mari turned around to see if she'd become blue, she'd forget she was sad for a second and a speck of happiness and hope would flood her until she saw her flaming orange tail. She despaired, thinking nothing was happening, but something happened eventually.

      One day, she entered the Battledome, trying to drain her HP as she had every single day so far. She pushed on the arena door, bracing herself. The door refused to move. She pushed harder with both fins, and the door didn't budge. Mari was bewildered. She hadn't fought yet, but she felt strangely drained. Mari leaned against the large wooden door and slid down so that she lay on the stone floor belly up. The poor thing felt exhausted from trying. She was beyond frustrated now. She would never turn blue. It was hopeless to even try. The only thing she craved at that moment was a tasty pie, but of course that was too costly for her owner.

      Mari rolled over, cradled in her own heat, and curled up like a seashell, trying to forget about how she looked. She closed her eyes, her thoughts swimming like she wished she was at that moment. Resting underneath the water's surface, looking at the Frillabons among the kelp, visiting Maraqua, or sleeping on the waves and drifting... drifting...

      "There you are!" Carolyn spoke, her voice heavy with concern. She carefully picked up the tiny Flotsam with fireproof mitts, wary of potential burns. Mari held still, not bothering to respond. Worried, Carolyn carried her off to the Healing Springs. Mari bounced and her tail switched this way and that with Carolyn's haphazard bounds, but she managed not to open her eyes, albeit she was awake. She didn't want to. There was no point in opening her eyes...

      "She is not unconscious, but she is sick." Mari opened an eye. The Healing Faerie touched Mari's head with a cool, gentle hand. Mari opened both eyes, wanting to enjoy her touch, but she was unable to. "This little one has the NeoBlues." The Faerie sounded sympathetic while Carolyn appeared dismayed. Hmph. I bet it's because the Tasty Pie costs a lot. thought Mari.

      Carolyn looked at Mari, her lips trembling. She spoke to the faerie in words Mari couldn't make out, took off her gloves, and presented the Flotsam with... a Tasty Pie! Mari's mind was in a fog. She licked her dry, crackling lips and finally spoke. "Why?" With that one word, she spoke scrolls and scrolls of thoughts!

     Actually, that wasn't so important at the moment. Chow time! Mari gobbled up the pie, not bothering to care what flavor it was, all that mattered was that she didn't feel as depressed as before. In a shorter time than expected, nothing remained of the medicinal pie save its tin and a few smudges on Mari's face. Any other day, she would have wiped them off, but she was too grateful and surprised to do so.

      "I don't understand! How did you get sick in the first place? I've fed you and got you painted when you wanted to. Darling, I thought you'd be happier." Carolyn tried to fight the disappointment in her voice. She sensed the frustration in her words and tried to smooth it over. "I'm glad you're feeling better."

     Mari didn't believe her owner's words one bit. She could practically see the sheets of numbers and Neopoints going on in her head. This treatment was expensive, both of them knew that.

      "I never wanted to disappoint you. I know you're trying to save up and that's why I asked to be Magma but now I can't swim anymore and I can't polish myself and I can't touch you and I didn't want to say anything so I tried to turn blue through a Random Event." Mari took a breath, wondering how she explained all that in one go. The Healing Faerie watched, intrigued.

      "Somehow, I knew something like this was going on. It's not the first time a pet has pretended to be unconscious only to try and not be healed when he needed to be because he was trying to turn blue." She chuckled lightly. The Faerie had a way of making Mari feel better. She managed to give the barest hint of a smile.

      Carolyn's eyes grew wide. "I had no idea. Why didn't you tell me any of this? Is it because you don't trust me?"

      Mari fumed, her magma exterior crackling more now that she was agitated. "I wanted you to be happy and not bother you so much! You're happy with your pet if she's content but think it's a lot of trouble to paint her the color she really wants to be simply because it'll hurt your bank a little," Mari raged, her flames extending past her dorsal fin.

      "I don't like it when you're upset, Sweet," Carolyn assured her. Mari's flames died down. She tilted her head, confused. "But would you please tell me what it is you really want?" Carolyn's eyebrows were creased, and it was clear to both the Healing Faerie and Mari that she was sincere in her pleading. The Healing Faerie looked at Mari, urging her with her kindly countenance to say what she had to say. Mari spoke.

      "I want to be Camouflage again."

      "Why didn't you say so? Let's go to the Rainbow Pool!"

      "STOP!" Mari screeched. Carolyn had reached out and had nearly touched Mari with her bare hands. Carolyn looked sheepish.

      "Terribly sorry I forgot, Darling."

      The Healing Faerie waved goodbye as the two raced to the shops, then the Rainbow Pool. Mari was still reasonably fast on land in spite of her body setting plants on fire if she came too close. Right now, being careful was the last thing on her mind. There was a Flotsam to paint!

      They had finally arrived and Mari was giddy with excitement. Carolyn also had a genuine smile on her face as she lifted the paint brush. Mari shut her eyes as Carolyn began to paint her with long, smooth strokes. She could feel her skin becoming smooth again, and as the brush passed over her eyes, she felt moisture, moisture that would normally make her feel embarrassed at her eyes turning red from it. This time they were more than welcome, having been rejected by her former heat for so long. Mari never thought she'd be happier to feel those familiar droplets. What a glorious freedom it would be to be one with the sea, sharing its exquisite colors and experiencing the flowing salt water coursing down her face!

     Carolyn smiled, and pulled the petite creature towards her without fear of being burnt. Mari put her fins around her owner and relished the touch of hands on her long, smooth back. All was well for once and it was safe to say that Mari had learned a long, hard lesson.

     --------------

      Mari leaped from the shore, diving into the water, shooting out over the surface, then under it, then over again. It didn't matter to her that her dorsal fin flopped every which way, nor that her skin wasn't quite as polished as before. She relished every moment she had in the water, weather it was feeling the waves lap her cheeks, to swimming down deep below with the tiniest of creatures. There had been a major change in Mari too. After her transformation, she couldn't wait to share it with the world.

      Mari often invited beach-goers to her swimming spot, who all agreed that her spot had the best underwater view.

     If one was to look at Mari's mood reading, he would see that it read delighted. This time, there would be no deep, hidden meaning behind it. Mari was truly delighted to be herself.

The End

 
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