It Takes a Hero
Author's Note: This story users characters from An Essential Guide to Owning Darigan Petpets. To get a better idea of what is going on, read the above story first. Happy Hero Day!
Noil statues guarded the ancient brick building known as the National Neopian Library. One might guess that these figures, if alive, would perform quite well as heroes. Perhaps the sculptor may have given them a smidge more height and noble presence than their petpet counterparts, but the librarian's patrons never minded. Some might even say that such a place was the perfect location for a new hero to be born.
On a quiet, ordinary summer's day, a white Usul sat crossed-legged at the library's circulation desk. With every movement, her long, itchy stockings tickled at her furry legs, causing her to shift about in the chair. This only further wrinkled her neatly-pressed white collared shirt and knee-length black skirt. A slow day as it was, there was ample time to read for pleasure.
She would start by reading the table of contents. A dried quill in paw, she tapped the books binding while skimming the section headers.
Petpets and Obedience Training? No, that would never do. Scruffles was hardly the Angelpuss to work through such treatment. Making a House Petpet Proof? After a few paragraphs of skimming, she looked at another topic. Kindness Begets Friendship? She put the book down with a sigh. Thoughts about a certain blue Lupe with frilled mask and handmade red costume flooded her mind all at once.
Almost three months ago, this oddly dressed stranger had barged into her home and claimed to be a "Petpet Rights Hero". Within mere moments, the boisterous, self-proclaimed hero had managed to stop her deviant Angelpuss' couch-eating and Usuki-destroying behaviors. For a while, anyway. Once he left, it had taken less than a week before all of her precious Darigan petpet's habits returned in full swing.
Snap, Snap, Snap.
The Usul jumped back to see the ashen face of her boss staring straight at her, a grim-faced blue Ogrin who so enjoyed work that he would come every day—even with laryngitis. Between coughs, he pointed to a stack of books that needed to be shelved, grunted, and proceeded to hand her a white envelope.
After Lillian finished with her duties, she returned to the letter. Crayon-drawn pictures of various petpets covered the paper. Hand-written scrawl filled up the back of the envelope. "For Miss Usul Lady" it said. There was no return address on the letter, but a Darigan Angelpuss stamp sat in the top right corner.
Based on her boss's bemused shrug and the fact that she was the only female Usul on the team, the note was for her. She tore open the top. A small card made from a folded piece of paper drifted to the ground. On the front, in bold red letters, was one word: HELP.
Her pulse quickened as she flipped the card open. A single red string tumbled to the ground.
I've been hurt.
I need you.
That was all it said, followed by the Neopian General Hospital's address and a room number.
Lillian stared at the note in silence. Although Peter had been a thorn in her side at the time, it was hard to forget how well he handled her Darigan Angelpuss, Scruffles. It almost made her feel guilty, to think a perfect stranger could connect faster to her petpet in five minutes than she had in over five years.
Was he a friend? Hardly. And yet, she mused, for Peter to reach out to her in such a way there had to be some sort of reason. Some sort of emergency.
Time could be running out.
Clenching her paws, she sprinted to her boss's desk where he sat writing a new material request. So engrossed was he in stacks of paperwork that a tap to his shoulder sent him reeling back.
"...!" he tried to shout, but sounded more like an angry Psimouse than a threat. When he read the note, his face twisted. He then offered the Usul a hug between strained coughs from which she shied away, and let her be on her way.
The six block dash to the hospital passed quickly. In the lobby, a finely dressed checkered Acara sat at the welcome desk.
"What 'as you in such a tizzy?" she asked as the Usul placed both paws on the front desk and tried to catch her breath. "Did you lose something, dearie?"
"Lillian." She coughed a few times. "Lillian Quickwit. I'm here to see Peter."
"Ah..." She jotted down something. "We got lots a Peters 'ere today? Is 'e your brover?"
"No, no, nothing like that," she said, showing the secretary the letter. "He thinks himself something of a hero and parades around in a red suit and mask."
Her face darkened. "You're friends with that one, eh?"
Lillian sucked in her breath. "Yeah... something like that."
The secretary straightened her stately powdered wig. "Right-o. 'e's on the third door on the right." When Lillian went to thank her, she raised a paw. "And please do refrain from causing trouble. We'll 'ear about it."
"Right. Thanks." Her ears fell back as she slinked away.
Instead of looking at the faces of scurrying doctors and nurses, she read the nametags of the Neopians living in each room. A Ms. Judy Burnfield passed on the left followed by a Mr. Thomas Torrentimer and a Mr. Sneky. Lillian feared to ask what might have happened to those three, and felt a sort of nervous relief when she walked into the room of Joseph Peter Goldwater.
On her entry, she came across a blue Lupe sprawled over a hospital bed. No other Neopians were present, not even a doctor. Not one "get well" card or gift sat on his nightstand. He was wearing a cast from the shoulders down and both legs were suspended by a sling. For once, the Lupe did not have a mask on, making the fur by his eyes look sun-starved. He almost looked like a different Neopian, she thought, thankful that he had the sense to put his room number in her card. His blue and green-tea colored eyes stared through her as if at a mirror. He looked to be in anguish.
"Peter..." she whispered, blinking away tears, "what in Neopia happened to you?"
"Miss... Miss Usul Lady," he gasped. "You came..."
"Well, your note worried me."
He closed his eyes. "Thank you. Thank you for caring... Miss Usul Lady."
"Do you... do you need anything? A-and how come you wrote to me, anyway?"
"It does not matter now."
"... I'd like to know."
He hesitated before switching the topic. "Come closer, Miss Usul. I need to tell you something."
She bent over as he turned to face her. "Are you okay?"
"No. And I never again will be okay. NEVER AGAIN!"
Lillian rubbed her pounding ear, but tried to keep a concerned face. "What happened?"
He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I... I..."
"...I stubbed my toe."
Lillian's mouth hung open as she stared at the Lupe in dumbfounded shock. In return, he gave her the most piteous of looks. She grabbed the bed's plastic railing and gripped it so tightly that it snapped.
"You made me miss work over THIS?!" her shouts echoed throughout the building. Everyone else in the immediate area fell to silence. "I—I—I can't believe you!"
"No buts! I can't believe I was tricked like this!" She stamped her foot before swiveling towards the door. "No wonder you don't have any gifts. Who'd want to be friends with a guy like you?!"
She glanced back to see his lower lip quivering. Good, she thought, walking out into the hallway. Let this be a lesson to him.
"Lillian, wait," he hissed, glancing about nervously. "Please wait! You don't understand!"
She turned back to scoff. "Now you know my name? What's the occasion? I guess 'talk like a normal Neopian day' started five seconds ago or something."
The Lupe deflated against the white sheets. "I can pay double of what you lost... Miss Usul," he finished weakly.
Lillian raised a brow as she stopped in place; her ears perked. "That would be... really nice, actually. Could you do that?"
"Sure... Miss Usul Lady."
"Ugh. Please stop calling me that, Peter. But how can you be sure you have enough? I mean, no offense, but—"
A lab-coat-wearing Shoyru burst into the room, sending a gust of wind in his wake from his long, black wings. Both Lillian and Peter jumped back... or he tried to, but only managed to jerk his shoulders in response to the sound.
"What in Fyora's name is going on?!" the Shoyru shouted. "You're frightening the patients!"
"Don't worry, citizen!" responded Peter in his usual sing-song voice, all semblance of his seriousness gone. "My sidekick and I often talk in loud—"
"—Voices," he continued, not missing a beat, "so as to practice our heroic orations of Petpet-themed JUSTICE!"
The Shoyru's paw slid up to meet his forehead. His expression soured. "You're kidding. Please tell me you're kidding."
"No!" There was hesitation in his voice. "Not kidding at all!"
With a gravelly sigh, the Shoyru waddled over towards his mummy-wrapped patient. His paws slid down the broken railing, an action that caused Lillian to bow her head in shame.
"Joseph. What would your parents have said about this—this childish behavior of yours? Do you want to drive their company into the ground?" Lillian guessed from the stranger's disapproving gaze and familiar tone that they had quite a history.
That comment seemed to strike a chord. After making a low whine, he threw his head back against the pillow.
"I'm living my dream, Dr. Greenwood. There's nothing wrong about that."
"You're living a fantasy!"
He growled. "The toy makers I hired are doing a fine job! They don't need me there to do it with them."
"Of course they do! These pseudo-heroic antics are costing your company thousands of Neopoints a day! Just because you make heroes doesn't mean you are one!"
"Um..." Lillian cut in. "Should I be hearing this?"
"Ordinarily no, but since you're his 'side kick,'—"Lillian raised her paws in protest—" I suppose it is time that both of you hear these words. "
"I'm not his—"
"Sure you are, Lillian." Peter gave her a hard look. "You're one of the only Neopians who ever let me help. Most of them just pushed me away... or called the authorities."
The Shoyru began to scribble some notes on his clipboard. Based on the frequency of his pen clicks, it looked as if he had writer's block. In response, Peter blew against his blue bangs and watched them hover.
"Doctor," he said quietly, "I'll check myself out within the hour, but... can I talk with my sidekick here first?"
"I'm not your—"
"That's fine, Joseph." He stopped writing and looked him straight in the eye. "Once you're done fooling around, meet me back in the lobby."
Looking back at his notes, the doctor shook his head before calmly walking out of the room. Lillian was sorely tempted to leave as well, but felt too guilty to move.
"Miss Usul." The way Peter spoke seemed intermediate to his hero persona and normal voice. "This town's in great danger; it's all my fault."
"What? What do you mean? No offense, but you're completely harmless."
He rolled his eyes. "What if I gave something—for justice—to a petpet friend that I thought would cure his tummy ache but... I was wrong?"
"Um..." Her right foot began to tap the ground. "I dunno. You tell me."
"And what if," he sped up, "this was a growth potion and not a curing potion, and now the petpet is continuing to grow by the minute and could become a monster."
Her mouth dropped open. "A m-monster?"
"Well... like any petpet, it needs tending love care, and to know, no matter how gargantuan it is, people still care about it. Otherwise, it might, um, start destroying stuff accidentally."
He was cringing beneath those layers of casts and blankets.
"I don't follow, Peter. Why don't you take care of it? You're not that hurt."
"You heard my family doctor. I'm a failure."
Lillian's ears fell back. "W-well, um, I'm s-sure you're not a—"
"You're a bad liar." He paused. "Meepits, I'm starting to sound like my Father. But—but anyway, remember how I dramatically stubbed my toe?"
"How could I forget."
"Well, that wasn't a complete lie. I did indeed hurt myself after that Turtum ingested the growth serum. Even if it was just a little dent on the outside, my failure to help it hurt me a lot on the inside. I want to be a HERO again, but I... I'm just making things worse."
"That's sad and all," with a grunt, she continued, "but I still don't see why you need me."
"Because," he said slowly, "I need you to take my place. Temporarily, anyway."
"Me?" She stared at him in shock. "Take over for you? You're kidding, right?"
He grimaced before turning his head towards the other side of the bed. "On the side of my bed are your costumes. Scruffles has one ready to go if she's ever up for it. They were made by my company's artistic designer. Put it on and no one will recognize you, I guarantee it."
"It's just a costume, Peter."
"Aw, come on. Haven't you heard of tropes?"
She twisted her face in annoyance.
"Oh, and once you find the petpet, give it the antidote. I left one tablet within your handy utility fedora." She raised a brow. "Okay, okay! I'll pay you triple. Just... just save the town. That's all I ask."
"There's no need to pay me triple, Peter." Lillian sighed. "I'll play along this time if it'll make you happy... and-you-promise-never-ask-me-again. Besides, being a hero might be fun."
"Oh, it will be, Miss Usul!"
She exhaled. "If you say so."
It took a few minutes, but the bright aqua body suit fit snugly over her work clothes despite being a little tight around her poofy white tail. Golden sequins formed the "U" on her chest and lined the edges of a similarly colored figure-eight shaped mask. An indigo, floor-length cape billowed from behind. Atop her head sat a white fedora, also branded with the same logo. It lent a sort of shadowy mysteriousness to her figure. Peter seemed entranced by the costume's beauty, and exclaimed,
"You shall be the Undercover Usul, protector of all things petpet!"
She pulled at the costume fabric. "You mean protector of all things impractical. How am I supposed to breathe in this thing?"
He chuckled nervously, but said nothing about the topic. This led Lillian to tap her sneaker covered foot against the tiled floor (she refused to wear heels, but relented into wearing purple and banana-yellow socks for Peter).
"Once I've escaped from my medicinal prison, I shall come and assist in upholding JUSTICE! So... take care out there. Make Neopia proud."
She made a fist with her white-gloved paws. "I'll... I'll try. And you're positive no one will ever know who I am?"
"Well, alright then." She silently hoped this calamity of Peter's to be another one of his out-of-proportion fantasies. "I guess this is good-bye."
"For now," he added, ears falling back.
When she finally made it out of the room, both doctors and nurses looked at her as if a spectacle. One even asked if she had signed in, a question she answered by pulling down the hat's brim. Before any of them could call for help, she rushed out into the open air. The gentle breeze permeated her costume's fabric, cooling her, but the blazing summer sun did not make wearing the suit any easier.
I hope he's not playing with me again..., Lillian found herself thinking, recalling how he toyed with her emotions before. But no. He's far too innocent for that.
Amidst the stares of various Neopians, she wandered about Neopia Central. When Neopians were questioned about a giant petpet, some laughed and walked away while others seemed too baffled to speak.
Feeling foolish, she took a walk to clear her mind. Within a half-hour, she found herself nearing city square. Shouts could be heard in the distance. Not those of a happy child or a frustrated parent, she noted with a nervous gulp, but those of pure, unbridled terror.
The cape nearly caused her to fall as she sprinted towards the nearby cacophony. In the distance, a mob of Neopians pushed by, shouting something about monsters and wishing they had vacationed in Shenkuu instead. Despite an awful feeling in her gut, Lillian continued towards the chaos. In the distance, something large was stirring.
Yellow-skinned. Silver-shelled. Red-eyed.
It was a Turtum, one nearly half the size of a normal neohome. Based on the way its bulbous shell rubbed against a distant building, it was scratching an itch. Bricks and siding crashed to the ground with each movement, leaving scrambling Neopians in its wake.
Those not participating in the chaos were pointing at her costume from afar.
"Wow. Did Halloween come early or something?" called one.
"Nah. She probably thinks that just any ol' Neopian can join the Defenders," said another with a shrug. "That is, if they wear a sparkly suit. Might suit 'er, though. They like show offs there."
She pouted. "Hey! That's not very n—"
A rumble shook the ground and the mean-spirited Neopians dashed into the crowd.
Jerks, the lot of them, she thought, forcing back tears. Well, might as well get this over with. He's counting on me.
"Halt!" she said to the petpet, who turned its head towards her with a smile. Its stubby tail was bobbing. "Stop destroying the town this instant or... or... you'll be a lot of trouble."
Instead of being subservient as she hoped, it pouted before tearing off towards the center plaza. It's not gonna make this easy on me, is it? she sighed, then jolted back as it bulldozed a tree. Since her feeble attempt to shout at the creature, it had only grown. Perhaps, she noted with horror, even faster than before.
"Waaait!" she called, striding after it. Neopians who stayed behind were snickering under their breaths, she could tell.
One, a glowing Pteri, snapped a picture before pacing behind. A big grin slid across her face.
Great, she thought. So much for not attracting any attention.
At her approach, the Turtum cried out, and in doing so slammed into some Neopian's plushie shop. Based on its baying, the poor thing was hurt. To make matters worse, it now flailed its flipper-like feet about, knocking into even more structures.
"Whoa, there, big guy." She held a paw up in self-defense. Its foot narrowly missed her and made the ground shake on impact. "There's no reason to be so upset."
It kicked at her. She barrel-rolled away, nearly crushing the fedora in the process.
With a huff, the creature looked longingly at the distant library. With its many stone columns and flat-topped roof, it looked like a make-shift petpet house from afar.
Crying out again, it hurried along the dirt path to what it probably assumed to be safety. Lillian, of course, knew otherwise.
"No..." she whispered. "You'll destroy the books!"
The National Library boasted a collection of thousands of books, including priceless tablets from pre-Obelisk Neopia. Scholars came from around the world to catch even a glimpse at them. Included in this was the Professor Lambert, who often visited with an army of Seekers.
When she finally caught up with the beast, her boss was already standing on the library's front steps. His outstretched paws were held in place by one of her co-workers, as if such an action could stop the petpet's oncoming approach.
Surprisingly, it worked.
Crying out in protest, the Turtum squirmed in the courtyard abutting the front steps. A few times it tried to get up, but the Ogrin's disapproving glare had it backing down.
"...!!" the Ogrin boss tried to say; only a single squeak carried any volume.
Stealthy steps inched her up to the distracted Turtum. Before the creature could bolt away, she held out her hand as if offering a treat.
Peter, she recalled, said something about treating petpets with kindness and love, no matter their appearance. Darigan, giant, it did not matter, he might have sung, while handing out toys, hugs, and candy. Debatably insane or not, the red clad pseudo-hero had a point. After all, Scruffles good behavior had quickly reverted to vicious property destruction after he disappeared.
The giant petpet turned its head and sniffed the air. When Lillian tried to touch its shell, the creature flinched. Slowly but surely, inch by inch, her paw continued its approach. Meanwhile, the petpet watched with wary eyes. When her gloved paw felt its smooth shell, she rubbed it back and forth. That seemed to calm the beast.
"I'm sorry," she said at once. "I'm sorry for raising my voice before. Can you forgive me?"
Based on the Turtum's response, a nod, it understood.
"May I pet under your chin?" she asked, to which the Turtum first hesitated, and then turned to meet her paw. Warm breath from its nostrils misted her face.
In the distance, her boss's mouth was open in utter disbelief. There with no hint of recognition in his eyes.
After feeling its rubbery skin, she gingerly reached up to the hat, where Peter claimed to have hidden an antidote. A button lined the brim. When the button was pressed, a small tablet fell into her paw. She brought it down to eye level before offering it to the Turtum.
"Want some candy?"
The gust of wind formed by his excited nodding nearly knocked her over. After catching her balance, she held the antidote above her head. A long, pink tongue came out to greet her. It stuck to her paw, covered it with slobber, and pulled back. It took every effort to avoid being swallowed.
Within moments, the Turtum began to glow. It took mere seconds before it shrunk down to below her knees. When it looked frightened, she bent down to offer it a hug, just like Peter might have. It pawed the ground for a second then jumped headlong into her arms, knocking her to the ground. Surprisingly, the fedora never fell off.
The photographer again.
Before long, a small crowd had gathered, including a blue Lupe wearing a tomato-red suit and polka-dot bow tie.
He covered her mouth with two fingers.
"Joseph." He offered to shake her paw, a gesture that she accepted with an eye roll. "What you did today was amazing, Miss Undercover Usul."
"It wasn't much—"
"But it was. You saved the town." He bent down towards her ears. "You saved me."
"I..." she rubbed her face in embarrassment. "It was nothing."
"And as I promised," he continued in a whisper, "we'll pay you triple of what you lost today. And look!" he reached excitedly into his front pocket and removed an action figure that looked suspiciously like her. "She even has pet-petting action!"
"For Fyora's sake!"
He patted her on the shoulder and subsequently wiped away a tear from his eye. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful partnership!"
"I—I—I never agreed to that! You made a promise!"
He gestured to the now cheering crowd.
"It takes a hero, my friend, to change Neopia for the better. Do you really want to stop now?"
"I... I guess not."
"Good!" he sang. "Meet me at the company gates tomorrow morning, Miss Usul! This is going to be fun!"
Slumping over, she relented. "Dear Fyora, what have I gotten myself into?"