Misadventures of an Innocent Bystander 4: Plessix
I sat in the coffee shop, stirring my unusually strong Starberry cider while mulling over the events of last week. I'd been charged by the Snow Faerie to deliver a package to my journalist friend, and needless to say, I blew it.
Actually, I didn't blow it.
It blew up. In our faces.
How was I supposed to know Taelia, my childhood hero, was a bitter enemy of Kristy Kimmy?
Of course, Kristy wouldn't want to talk to me for at least until next year. Feeling another wave of dread wash over me, I put the spoon down and took a swig of the apple and Starberry goodness. There had to be a way I could make it up to her without getting blown up in the process. My fingernails tapped the glass as I thought.
"Can I get you something to eat with that?" a yellow Shoyru in a white cap asked me, taking the Neopoints I'd left for her on the counter of the bar.
"No thanks," I replied, pensiveness making my voice curter than I intended it to be. I took a sip more slowly this time, the Starberry sprawling lazily across my tongue and relaxing me. The last time I'd seen her, it looked like she hadn't slept in days. I sipped again while the young Christmas Zafara of hers came to mind. Now there was a ball of sugar on fire if there ever was one. What if the young Zafara was the one robbing her mother of sleep?
Perhaps a day with her... Yanli, yes, that was her name, would help Kristy recuperate from both the explosion and her work.
I downed the rest of the Starberry cider in one go. It was decided. There was definitely no turning back, I had to make my approach as calm as possible so as not to scare Kristy too much.
"KRISTY KIMMY FOR THE LOVE OF FYORA GET UP!" I shook her shoulder gently to counterbalance the shouting.
Who was I to pass up a dazzling entrance?
Kristy shot her head up, the back of it making swift contact with my nose. I yelped and instinctively brought my hands to my face. "Is this going to become a thing with you?!" Kristy groaned, her long blond hair tickling whatever part of my face it could reach. "Do you have any more explosive packages from the Snow Faerie?" She groaned. Evidently she still hadn't forgiven me for that.
"Actually, it's about Yanli--"
As if on cue, the Zafara whooshed through Kristy's bedroom. "Mooom, you promised to get cookies last week! What happened?" She, as I did a few moments ago, shook Kristy, but seemed to be foaming at the mouth a little. I edged away from her ever so slightly. What was I getting into?
Without even so much as looking at her, Kristy sleepily mumbled, "I already told you, I'll have enough Neopoints for cookies after I finish my next article."
Yanli's poor mother needed all the help she could get.
"Can I borrow Yanli for today? I have some errands to run and all the 'pets are busy." An involuntary warmth crept into my voice at the mention and thought of my four neopets back at home.
Kristy perked up just a little bit, but then her face became etched with lines of skepticism. "How will I know it's not a trick again?" Her voice dripped with suspicion.
"I wasn't even sure it was a trick when it WAS a trick!" I blurted indignantly. "Besides, the least I can do is to offer you a favor. Won't that help me make it up to you?"
Kristy nodded very slowly, weighing the options. "All right," she said at last. "But have her back here by nine. Where will you be taking her?"
I smiled at the Zafara as thoughts of Kristy's unfinished article flashed through my mind. "I was thinking of Maraqua. Don't worry--" I hastily added, seeing the look of shock on Kristy's face, "we'll both have these on." I reached into my bag and showed Kristy two necklaces made of seaweed.
"Didn't Garin have a similar necklace?" Kristy asked, touching one almost as if to make sure it was real.
"Absolutely," I beamed, proud of my Maraquan connections. They knew I was a frequent swimmer and offered me both of those necklaces to "visit whenever I liked." I continued, "Yanli and I will be able to breathe underwater indefinitely." I turned to the Christmas Zafara, who stared up at me with big blue eyes as if she didn't know what to think of me. "Wouldn't that be fun?" I crooned.
For a moment, Yanli said nothing.
I frowned. Did I upset her? Then, out of nowhere, she burst out with "I LOVE SWIMMING!" and proceeded to bounce all over Kristy's bedroom.
I glanced uneasily at Kristy. Did her Zafara really need more sugar in her system? Why did Kristy promise her cookies?
In any case, I was nothing if not a woman of my word. I took the Zafara by the hand before she could zip off into the sky. "I'll see you later, Kristy!" I called as I led Yanli outside and raced her to the beach.
The Zafara beat me, ran back to me, and beat me to the beach again. I groaned inwardly. How was I going to exhaust all her endless energy? I'd planned to see someone I had been admiring from a distance, but with this little bundle of sugar in tow, being calm, cool and collected was very nearly out of the question.
"I beat you!" Yanli teased, butting me gently with her head before wading in the shallow water. "Twice!"
"Doesn't the cold water bother you?" I asked with growing concern. Kristy would have my head if anything happened to her baby.
"Nope!" She replied, paddling around. "I could stay in here for a whole day!"
I smiled. Her positive spirit was infectious. "Come over here a minute, Yanli; you need this to breathe underwater." I beckoned her with one hand, and to my surprise and relief, she swam to me, her tail swishing back and forth in the seawater. I secured the necklace over her head. "Don't lose this," I warned, lowering my voice to a listen-to-me pitch.
Yanli glared at me. "I won't. I'm not a baby." She splashed me with her tail, causing me to splutter as I put on my own seaweed necklace.
The next five minutes were spent in a glorious splash fight and by the end of it neither one of us was mad at the other. Yanli was more graceful underwater than any Zafara I'd ever seen. But that was enough of that. I had a Koi to search for.
"Okay, Yanli, enough," I choked out, my breath partially constrained with giggles. "Let's go."
We dove under the no-longer-cold water and marveled at the Pteri's-eye view of Maraqua--a perfectly hidden kingdom only showing its splendor to those who could dive. Pointed, curved, and flat coral buildings of every color imaginable lined the sandy streets. On the outskirts we could just barely see a faerie statue made entirely out of stone. I shuddered instinctively.
"That's the Darkest Faerie, isn't it?" asked Yanli, swimming towards the creepy statue.
"Get back here!" I hissed, my heart leaping into my throat. Yanli could do all sorts of extraordinary things--turn into a ball of fire, fly (when she had the wings) tire out even Kristy--there wasn't much doubt that she could wake the one in the statue and unleash darkness all over Neopia.
"Aww...." Yanli slumped over and swam towards me. "When are we going to do something fun? Or get cookies? Or both?" She whined.
"After you help me find Tonie Plessix so I can help your mother write an article by getting notes on him. Remember," I added, smiling at her, "Your mother said she'd get cookies after writing another article. So really, you'd be helping yourself by helping me." Boom. My argument was rock-solid. I had to restrain myself from physically patting myself on the back for being so clever.
"But what about now?"
I sighed. "Maybe a slice of coral cake for now?"
Yanli was silent again and I wondered if she was allergic to coral.
She turned to me and squeaked, "Do you think my perfume works underwater?" The Zafara pulled out a perfume bottle complete with a sprayer.
"I... doubt that." I shook my head. Her random antics were difficult to get used to.
"Let's go find Tonie. He's fairly large--he can't be that hard to find." I smiled, although my facial muscles twitched slightly from nervousness. What if he didn't want to see anyone? What if he was in a bad mood because his team, Team Maraqua, didn't win the Altador Cup this year? What if he didn't like having fans? Worse yet... what if he didn't train in Maraqua after all?! I could be in the wrong place altogether!
"Now, Yanli, we have to be calm, polite, and—"
"Hey, do you know where we can find Tonie Plessix?!" Yanli's shrill voice cut through my thoughts.
"He's in his backyard," a small pink Koi tending her garden answered her. "Just a seabed that way." She pointed with a fin.
Yanli beamed at me as if she'd just won the Altador Cup on her own. "Can I get some bubble gum now? I did a good job."
"You certainly did!" I gasped when I found my voice. I rummaged through my pockets. If it hadn't been for Yanli I'd have been scouring the whole place on my own from the bubbling pit to the creepy darkest faerie statue. At last, my hands ran over a small bottle of Starberry cider, no larger than my pinkie.
It wasn't bubble gum, but it would have to do for now. I hesitantly gave her the bottle before loosening it. This was a mite strong, I thought. She did deserve a reward, though.
"This isn't gum." Yanli tilted her head. "But thanks!'
"Drink it quickly; you're underwater, after all!" I cautioned.
Yanli gave me an "I already know that!" look but gleefully took the bottle and shoved the whole thing into her mouth. She stayed still a moment before spitting the now empty bottle into her palm, cap included.
"THIS IS AMAZING!" she shrieked and darted in the direction the pink Koi pointed.
Said Koi's eyebrows were raised.
"Yes, she's always like that." I let out a wan laugh before swimming after the Zafara.
"Yanli, wait, we have to ask nicely and knock on the--"
"HEY TONIE, YOUR SECRET ADMIRER WANTS TO WRITE A POEM ABOUT YOU!" Yanli banged on the door, then looked back at me. "Do you think he heard me? And I did read your Koi Day poem from several years back... it was always unfinished, right?"
This was going nowhere near the way I planned.
A purple head popped out behind the house and my heart almost stopped.
There he was. The Koi whom I'd written about, drawn in my spare time, and admired from afar. Right in front of me.
"And who would that secret admirer be?" Tonie wiped his fishy brow. Dear FYORA he was still in his goalie armor.
"I......I just want to take notes for an article for a friend. That's all."
My protests sounded flimsy even to me.
Tonie chuckled, clearly amused by the awkward woman in front of him and the nearby Christmas Zafara pretending to go belly up.
"At least you're not a Neopian Times writer. They used to be all over the place back when the Altador Cup was going on, and in the weeks before it. Would you ladies like to watch me practice?" The Koi gave us a warm, heartmelting smile that would make me hide the fact that I was a Neopian Times writer for the rest of my life.
"Yes!" I leaped up and blurted this before even considering Yanli.
"I'll pass," she said with a wave of her paw.
I could have sworn the water around me turned to ice. "What do you mean?" My voice cracked. Yanli wasn't truly evil... she didn't really want to shatter my dream, did she?
"I'd rather play!" she burst out.
I wanted to hide under a rock.
What the Christmas Zafara just did was a near equivalent to winning the Neopian Lottery, being congratulated by the Faerie Queen herself, and asking for a 100,000 NP bonus to go with it.
If we'd have been from the Thieves Guild in that scenario, how I would have felt would come nowhere close to how ashamed I was feeling now.
I expected Tonie to send us away immediately, but instead he let out a guttural, roaring laugh. "Oh, goodness, this kid's got spunk!" he crowed. "Sure, you can play."
"Yes!" Yanli raced to Tonie's backyard and I lingered at the door, unsure of what to do. Sure, I was her caretaker for the day, but he'd invited her to play with him. Was I supposed to wait in front of the house?
"Mr. Plessix?" I asked, my voice dripping with fangirl-induced diffidence.
"What are you standing there for?" The Koi turned around and looked me straight in the eye. "Come on!" He beckoned with a massive fin and left the fence entrance wide open for me to join him.
I had to breathe very slowly to make sure my breath didn't catch and strangle me. Yanli had already gotten set up: practicing her shooting with a faerie-enchanted Maractite-plated ball in place of a Yooyu. That change I could definitely understand. Even if the Yooyus down in Maraqua had seaweed necklaces around their necks, their jarring motions could cause the necklaces to slip off, meaning trouble for the petpet.
With that thought, I tied a knot in my necklace to decrease the likelihood of the same happening to me. "Yanli! Over here! Let me tie your necklace tighter so it doesn't fall off!"
Tonie must have heard the fear in my voice, because he laughed that hearty laugh again. "Always so overcautious, I see! Don't you worry, Miss...." The Koi frowned an enormous frown as he beat the Maractite-plated ball away from the makeshift goalpost. "Who did you say you were?"
It took all of my manners lessons from childhood for my jaw not to hit the sandy seabed. He'd just invited two perfect strangers into not only playing with him, but into his backyard! "My name is Cassie, and I..." I faltered, not wanting to reveal I was a Neopian Times writer. Yanli's enthusiastic swimming caught the corner of my eye. "I write stories for young Neopets."
Tonie seemed nonplussed by this but recovered after a split second. I nearly whimpered at seeing my hero's face being upset by something I'd said. Did he know I wrote for the Neopian Times?
I was doomed.
"I'll leave," I said, not wanting to cross him any further. "Come on, Yanli."
"I only asked if you were a Neopian Times writer because I don't want any publicity. If there's anyone I want to know about my training, it's Hughlis, and no one else."
"The team captain? Why just him?" I asked, unable to help myself.
"If anything about me gets into the Times, he'll think I paid to do it. He's a bit...." Tonie made a strange motion with his fins that I couldn't quite follow. "Different, in that sense."
"But I don't write articles! I write stories! And my articles aren't about Neopians... not really," I hastily added, remembering an article I'd written on Neopian princesses and queens.
Tonie stared at me for a good long while, and if he hadn't told me to stop moving, I would have fled the scene.
All was silent except for Yanli's mad cries as she threw the ball into the net again and again. "You need to watch better!" she hooted in Tonie's direction before swimming gracefully towards the center of his backyard.
The Koi smiled at her, then at me. "You can play, too, if you want, and if you're going to write about me..." he sighed, running a fin through his oh-so-tidy dorsal fin. "Keep it modest, okay?"
I nodded solemnly. "You have my word," I said with absolute sincerity, although my voice shook.
"Then it's settled!" Tonie butted the ball with his head, sending it in my direction.
I grinned and punted it to Yanli, who swooped and tossed it neatly into a corner of the goal.
"DID YOU SEE THAT SHOT?!" she crowed, bounding about the water like a true Maraquan.
Tonie and I smiled at each other. "Thanks, Mr. Plessix," I said, glad to see that he could make both of us happy. He grinned and tossed the ball back to Yanli, crouching in anticipation of her next move.
The Christmas Zafara had other plans.
She curled herself around the ball, closed her eyes, and let herself sink to the sandy bed. I inched closer, unsure if the ball had hurt her. No, her breathing was deep and even.
Tonie and I exchanged glances, then chuckled. "Time to take her home?" he whispered.
"You bet," I replied, gently scooping the sleeping Zafara onto my shoulders.
"Feel free to visit anytime you like. I do enjoy the practice." The Koi bowed his head, and I took the cue to leave.
As I swam towards the shore, I could hear him grunting and throwing the ball at himself. I shook my head, mostly in disbelief at what had happened, but also because I thought it was a little silly to play Yooyuball by oneself.
Then again, who was I to question Tonie Plessix?
The look on Kristy's face when I practically dragged the unconscious Yanli into her house was downright divine.
"Shhh. She's sleeping!" I whispered to Kristy, gently laying the Zafara onto her bed and untying the seaweed necklace.
"How is that possible?!" Kristy scream-whispered. The girl's long blonde hair swooshed left and right as she looked her child up and down. It was almost as if she was trying to make sure Yanli was truly sleeping and didn't have a spell cast on her or something.
"Oh, and I've got this!" I held out a piece of paper with details on Tonie Plessix. "Just keep it modest, okay? It's what he wants."
"By Fyora, you've actually done the impossible," Kristy murmured.
"So do you like me again?" I asked, tenting my fingers hopefully.
Kristy practically had to shove her fist down her throat to keep from laughing and waking up the Zafara. "Oh, Cass, why did you think I didn't like you in the first place? I know the bomb was an accident, and I have my plans for revenge, but that can wait. You're amazing," she finished, and pulled me in for a hug.
I grinned and hugged her back.
"Say, uh, Kristy?" I whispered. "Do you mind if I use your typewriter in the other room? I have a few ideas for a story of my own about this whole experience."
She nodded. "Go right ahead."
I tiptoed into the room, shut the door so the typing wouldn't wake Yanli, and sat down. "Keep it modest, now." I smiled, remembering Tonie's words and letting out the tiniest of fangirl squeals to myself.
I began to type:
Deep under the surface of the ocean, a Maraquan hunk practices Yooyuball off-season...