The ground, as always, was covered in a thick blanket of snow. It was normal, what came to be expected on Terror Mountain, even when the rest of Neopia was locked in the grip of a summer heat wave. For the ground to not be covered in at least a few inches of snow would be the real oddity here. Not that Tarla minded.
The pink coated Ixi much preferred the snow over the sun. She'd much rather watch the delicate snowflakes clump together and form something much more disruptive yet innocent looking, than sweat under a hot sun, dehydrating far too quickly. It wasn't as though she was suited to warm weather, anyways, with her thick coat of fur covering every inch of her body. No, Tarla most definitely preferred the snow. It was delicate, it was deceptive and it was, frankly, mischievous; much like her.
That was one of the main reasons Tarla woke with a smile, her lips curving into a genuine grin which never left her throughout the day. It wasn't the only reason, though.
No, the pink coated Ixi smiled because it was her day. Ixi Day. The day that every one of her species looked forward to, like a birthday, once a year. It was the day when every Ixi, for certain, was united by something, and on such a day, Tarla couldn't help but smile. The excitement was there – the build-up had been long, but worth it.
As she trudged through the thick layer of snow, her purple cloak trailed behind her, the underside damp, her staff marking out the slippy path ahead with small jabs into the snow. With a simple wrist movement, Tarla's Shop of Mystery was open for the day. She'd had many neopets ask her before why she still opened up on Ixi Day, why she didn't take the day off to relax at home and kick her hooves up. The answer was simple.
Tarla loved what she did. She loved giving neopets the chance to win big at a cheap cost. She loved living the thrill of opening the mystery bag with them, the excitement as velvet opening grew larger, like a clam opening to show whether it bore a pearl or not.
And most of all, Tarla loved seeing the smile when someone won big. She loved to be a part of that moment, that instant that may well have ended up changing their lives. And it felt so much better when it was a poorer member of the community who pulled out the life changing prize, finally earning the break they had so desperately needed. And the fact that Tarla could give them that opportunity? That fact that she could be the reason they could eat better and sleep better and generally live a better quality of life? She couldn't even put into words how good that felt. That warm feeling that flooded through her, tingling every nerve end was indescribable, and completely addictive.
Tarla remembered the first time it happened – a week into opening the Shop of Mystery up, Tim, a green Bori had shown up. Tarla had known Tim for a long time previous, and took sympathy as he shivered, pulling out his savings. She'd offered him hot chocolate as he'd said, with a grim smile, "I was going to waste 'em all somehow, Tarla. May as well be here."
She remembered feeling guilty as he handed over the neopoints, knowing that really, he couldn't afford to be doing this, that he could barely afford to provide for himself as it was. Abandoned by his owner, Tim had been fending for himself for over a year, just getting by – this... this was a desperate gamble at a better life. It was a gamble Tim should never have had to take, nor even had to consider taking.
Taking the bag from Tarla as she held his hot chocolate, he pulled on the velvet opening, claws curling over. Tarla felt her stomach turning. She begged, prayed even, for this to be the one paintbrush she'd packed this morning. If anyone needed to win it, it was Tim.
She remembered the way Tim's eyes lit up, his face a flurry of disbelief, shock, and complete and utter happiness. Watching as he pulled out the paintbrush, handle first, torn between gripping it tightly, having never held anything so precious, and carrying it like a baby, worried that he'd break it, this chance at really, truly living once again.
"Take it straight to the trading post," Tarla had said to him, her hands curling around his, tightening his grip on the handle. "Don't take any less than what it's worth, Tim. Don't take any stupid offers, just neopoints. And don't whatever you do, use it. Please." She remembered how she didn't quite believe it as she spoke, certain that either her mind was playing tricks on her, or the faeries had heard her, heard how desperate she was for Tim to get the paintbrush, and had intervened.
She remembered feeling the warmth flood through her for the first time, every single nerve in her body tingling.
That, for Tarla, was what true happiness felt like.
She longed to feel that as much as possible, to change lives as much as she possibly could, and change as many as she could. To that reasoning, the idea of not opening up her Shop of Mystery on Ixi Day seemed completely preposterous. Why would she stay at home, simply lounging around, doing nothing, when today could be the day she helped someone towards a better future?
Tugging the cords on a mystery bag – which just so happened to be the third mystery bag holding a Speckled Paintbrush she'd prepared today – she looked at the window as neopets began to bustle into their normal, everyday routines, and wondered whether she was the only one who genuinely, truly enjoyed what she did in her life, or if it was actually quite a common mind set.
Her fingers curled around a hot chocolate, warm on her palms after the last of the mystery bags had been arranged on the shelves, ready for today's wave of neopets, some looking to gamble, some having saved up to do this, some just out for a bit of fun. The Shop of Mystery had grown from a small business to a center point in the Terror Mountain community, and a name recognized all across Neopia.
The windows had fogged up, making for good canvases later, finger drawn smiley faces and stick figures. A bell rang out, a soft chime, signalling that the first customer of the day had arrived.
Leaving her hot chocolate on the side, out of sight, Tarla shrugged the cloak back onto her shoulders, hood down, and gripped her golden staff, assuming the role of the mysterious Tarla, a character she could slip in and out of with ease, thanks to time and practice. A character who rarely displayed emotions at the wins – or loses – just made ambiguous quips here and there.
The mysterious Tarla, her façade, was a character the customers had come to love.
The snow was falling, the Shop of Mystery was open and ready for business, and today felt good. Today felt right. Today was going to be a good Ixi Day, Tarla thought.
Maybe the best Ixi Day yet.