There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 193,800,643 Issue: 715 | 15th day of Sleeping, Y18
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Shopkeepers: The Truth Behind the Counter


by cosmicfire918

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It happened just the other day.

I was making my usual grocery shopping rounds, picking up my family’s favourite foods. Upon purchasing a Mixed Greens Salad from another Neopian’s shop, the shopkeeper smiled and said “Thanks so much for dropping by!”

And then I did a double-take. Because the shopkeeper was none other than Fyora herself. Her Royal Faerie Highness was standing there behind the counter, waving as I left the store dumbstruck. What was the Faerie Queen doing tending a small shop in Altador, waiting for passers-by to peruse her employer’s selection of partially-eaten omelettes?

And, I realised, how many other unlikely Neopians had I also seen as shopkeepers throughout my travels? How many times had I bought from a store where King Skarl or the Darkest Faerie or even a Petpet had rung up my purchases?

That’s when the journalist urge hit me. I had to get to the bottom of this.

And so here, in this exposé, I present exclusive interviews that may change everything you thought you knew about how our shops are kept.

***

If I wanted answers – well, in a way that would keep the Defenders of Neopia from going after me – I knew I would have to talk to the shopkeepers themselves. That’s something many of us don’t do, I noticed. Such a thankless task they have.

Anyway. My first interviewee, I decided, would have to be the one who sparked all of this: Queen Fyora herself. Or at least her identical twin in that Altador shop.

Upon returning to her location, I saw the Faerie standing behind the counter, looking as kind and benevolent as always.

Fyora(?): Ah, back again? How may I help you?

Terra: (clears throat and takes professional tone) I’m not here for shopping this time, ma’am. (takes out notepad and pencil)

Fyora(?): If this is about the Tigermouse infestation last month, we cleaned it all out, I swear!

Terra: What? No, no, I’m not a health inspector. I’m a Neopian Times writer. … Although I’m not sure that’s any consolation.

Fyora(?): Oh, you gave me quite a scare!

Terra: Sorry—this Winter Blechy Hat frightens a lot of people. But that’s beside the point. I’d like to ask you a few questions—about your job, not the Tigermouse infestation.

Fyora(?): I will answer what I can. Or what I want to.

Terra: That’s fair. First of all, er, Your Highness… are you really the Faerie Queen herself? Because I’ve seen you in a few other shops around Neopia, and, well, it just seems like sort of an odd part-time job for someone of your position.

Fyora(?): Oh, goodness me, no! I’m not the real Fyora—I’m a professional impersonator!

Terra: An impersonator, you say?

Evidently Not Fyora: That’s right. My real name is Ciely—and my appearance is due to an enchantment.

(Ciely waves her hands. In a cascade of azure magic, Fyora’s appearance melts away to reveal an Air Faerie.)

Terra: Hoooooooly Kau. Wasn’t expecting that.

Ciely: But the job posting was specifically for a Fyora impersonator, so if you don’t mind, I’ve got to keep up appearances during shop hours. (she waves her hands and activates the enchantment again)

Terra: Okay. So you’re not the real Fyora. Why are you impersonating her?

Ciely: It’s very common among shopkeepers, actually. Having a famous Neopian character tend your shop has always been the rage. Of course, you’d never be able to get the real thing, so that’s where we impersonators come in. We’re trained actors employed to give your shop exactly the kind of ambience you want your customers to experience.

Terra: Suddenly life makes so much more sense. Except—how in the world do you get away with imitating Fyora? Wouldn’t she be furious if she found out?

Ciely: She knows—and believe me, she and the other well-known Faeries are very strict on legislation concerning using magic to impersonate famous figures. The authorised spell we use is designed to only work within the confines of the shops we tend. And Faeries in this line of work must go through a rigourous screening process to ensure we will use our magic responsibly.

Terra: Nice to know bureaucracy is still alive and kicking. Have there ever been any Faeries who don’t want to be impersonated?

Ciely: Most of them are tolerant of the practice, but there have been exceptions. Bree, who oversees the Key Quest vault, has requested that her likeness not be used in Neopian shops. Same for Delina, the Crafting Faerie. But they’re generally the exception rather than the rule.

Terra: I see, I see… wow, this is opening up a whole other layer of Neopia I never stopped to think about.

Ciely: (laughs) Neopia is full of surprises, young owner. Half the magic of it is discovering something new every day.

Terra: Ooh, an interview and sage wisdom! So what can you tell me about other kinds of shopkeepers? Like, ones who are Neopets?

Ciely: I don’t know too much about them… but I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Terra: Well, if they’re anywhere near as nice as you, I’m sure they will.

Ciely: Flattery won’t get you a discount, you know.

Terra: Then it’s a good thing I’ve already made my purchases here. Thanks for your time and information, Ciely. You’ve done Neopia a great service.

Ciely: Any time—I mean… (waves staff majestically while her lavender Fyora hair swirls in a non-present breeze) Farewell, young Neopian, and may the grace of the Faeries be upon you!

Terra: How come you didn’t say that last time I left?

Ciely: Do not question the Faerie Queen!

With that, she went back to doing the Faerie Crossword, and I made my way further into the marketplace. I’d gotten some great answers from her. Of course, it only whetted my appetite for more, in a hunt for knowledge that would make King Hagan proud.

But I only had one piece of the puzzle. What about shopkeepers who looked like famous Neopets? In order to get the scoop, I would have to find one. Which meant a lot of ducking in and out of stores, saying “Just browsing” or “Sorry, have a good day,” to all of the unrecogniseable Checkered Blumaroos and Maraquan Moehogs hoping to add to their shop till.

Finally, I stepped through a doorway and felt as though I had been instantly transported to the Darigan Citadel. The usual marble and alabaster of downtown Altador had been replaced with thick blocks of dark granite. Candles flickered from their wrought-iron stands. And black, white, and purple banners hung from the walls between the shelves. To complete the look, a Crokabek was perched in one corner, and it eyed me suspiciously as I wandered further into its lair.

Terra: Ooh, this is awesome! I love when people go all-out with their shops like this. It really adds to the ambience. Err, except for that one store that had M*YNCI playing nonstop… could’ve done without that.

Large Darigan Eyrie Behind the Counter: Why have you entered my domain?! Loiterers will be thrown off the Citadel! Unless you wish to bolster the Citadel’s economy—then buy something and get out!

Terra: Lord Kass! Just the person I wanted to talk to!

Probably Not Lord Kass: (folds his arms menacingly) If you wish to beg for mercy, save your breath.

Terra: Okay, calm down. I just wanted to have a few words with you.

Hopefully Not Lord Kass: How dare you speak to me in such a casual manner! Insolent fool!

Terra: Oh… that’s kind of mean, don’t you think? (mutters to self) Or I’ve just ticked off one of the top Neopians on the “do not tick off” list.

Phew, Not Lord Kass: Oh—err, sorry about that. I got a little carried away. People just usually expect me to be in-character, you know?

Terra: Of course. And you’re doing a fantastic job, I might add. That costume looks just like the real thing!

Not Lord Kass: You really think so? Shucks, thanks! I made it myself! I’m an enormous Darigan Citadel fan! I actually imported this fabric from there so the costume would be super authentic! There’s a specific type of material and weave used for military uniforms there, you see.

Terra: Are you from the Citadel, then?

Not Lord Kass: No, I’m actually from right here in Altador. My name’s Eran—and I was born a red Quiggle.

Terra: Interesting… So are you under some sort of enchantment to look like Lord Kass?

Eran: Nope, no magic here, just a good old-fashioned Morphing Potion. Well—those are still magic, but you get what I’m saying.

Terra: Why did you make the change? There are plenty of Darigan fans who aren’t painted Darigan, after all. Or who work as shopkeepers.

Eran: Oh, but being a shopkeeper is a point of prestige for actors such as myself! There’s a whole segment of Neopets out there who just love getting into character and watching the grins on other Neopians’ faces as they’re interacted with! I know the Lupe who runs the shop down the street, he’s a Jeran impersonator—he gets tackle-hugged by at least five fangirls every day. It’s really adorable.

Terra: I’m glad you guys think so—and it allows the real Jeran his personal space, it seems.

Eran: Not to mention they’re all regular customers at the shop. It does drive up business to have a fun atmosphere and entertaining clerks.

Terra: Makes sense. Do you have any fangirls?

Eran: (blushes bashfully and preens one wing) A few, yes.

Terra: Well, I’m glad you all are enjoying yourselves. It sounds like being a shopkeeper is a great line of work.

Eran: Oh, it is!

Terra: I’m afraid I’m not going to buy anything today, but you’ve just helped contribute to a very enlightening Neopian Times article!

Eran: (bows) You will always have the Citadel’s alliance, my good writer.

Terra: (gives a thumbs-up) Sweet deal.

So now we know the truth—the not-so-terrible truth. Shopkeepers love their job. And they apparently really like it when you take the time to strike up a conversation with them so they can show off their acting skills and you can both geek out about Neopian history.

But I wasn’t quite done yet. There was another shopkeeper, one I had seen many, many times on my errand-running. One whose enigmatic yet ubiquitous presence haunted every street in every marketplace. My journey of discovery had to include this long-standing mystery, to see if I could possibly shed even the merest amount of light on it.

In fact, it was only a few doors down that I found my target. There, sitting at the counter of a nondescript shop with only a few cheap items for sale, was a black-haired Usul wearing a purple shirt and heavy dark makeup. The name of the exact look she was going for unfortunately escapes my mind at the moment, so I will just call her:

Counterculture Usul: (looks up at Terra and grins excitedly) Oh, hi! Like, welcome to the shop! Don’t you just, like, love this sunny weather? What can I get for you?

Terra: That was… not the expected response. Er, sorry to stereotype.

Counterculture Usul: Stereowhat? We don’t have any, like, typewriters in stock, sorry.

Terra: Never mind. I just wanted to ask you a few questions. First off, what’s your name?

Counterculture Usul: My name’s Amber!

Terra: Noted. Why are there like two million of you in shops across Neopia?

Amber: Ohmigosh, there are?! Like, no way! I never even noticed!

Terra: Now, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re not a clone army, so what I’m trying to say is, why do so many Usul shopkeepers use the same look you’ve got going on?

Amber: You know, I like, really don’t know! I have like five friends who are also Usuls and use this outfit to keep shop, they’re the ones who got me into it, and they say it’s suuuuper popular.

Terra: So Usuls who dress like this are in high demand as shopkeepers? To the point where Usuls who don’t usually dress like this do so in order to have this job?

Amber: Ummmmyah, I guess so. I mean, I’ll like, be serious, I think all this black is super depressing, you know? (primps hair) I’m actually a natural blonde! When I go home every day, I wash off all this makeup and put on something pink and sparkly!

Terra: The plot thickens. So why do you think your role is so popular, Amber? Has the proprietor ever told you anything?

Amber: Ummm, you know, it actually kinda weirds me out too. She like, doesn’t even seem that excited about me. And she almost never comes around. It’s like, if she doesn’t like me then why am I here?

Terra: Why, indeed.

Amber: And a few of my friends sometimes get replaced with other shopkeepers, but only for a little while and then they’re hired again! I seriously don’t know what’s going on. (shrugs) But it can’t be bad, right? I mean, we’re like, soooo popular!

Terra: Yes. Not suspicious at all. Well, carry on, Amber. I think this investigation merits more time and resources than I currently have.

Amber: Okay, bye!

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I may have stumbled upon one of the most world-shaking conspiracies Neopia could possibly be hiding. Move over, the Sway. Something’s up with those Usul shopkeepers and I’m willing to bet it isn’t pretty. But my gut was telling me it was far too big a job to tackle alone. I briefly contemplated telling the Defenders of Neopia, but decided against it, as I had the feeling they’d just brush me off as a lunatic. I didn’t want to end up like those poor people who run around spouting nonsense about a land made of jelly.

So with that, I judged my report concluded, and prepared to head home and organise my findings.

Well, almost.

The shop next to Amber’s piqued my interest, with its large size and colourful window displays advertising all manner of goods. Clearly the Neopian who owned it was well-off, and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of shopkeeper they had chosen.

The interior was just as lavish, with well-stocked shelves selling rare items for the prices they deserved. A banner on the wall read “Check my trades for unbuyables”, and I guessed that this Neopian dealt in some serious mercantilism.

But no one was at the counter. Well, to be more specific, no one stood behind the counter. But sitting on the counter, gnawing at a Neopoint, was a single Meepit.

Terra: A-ha! Just the Petpet I wanted to talk to!

Meepit: (stares)

Terra: If I could borrow just a moment of your time, sir or madam—I’m compiling interviews on shopkeepers and I was a little bit curious about Petpet shopkeepers such as yourself.

Meepit: (stops gnawing on the Neopoint to stare harder)

Terra: I see I have your undivided attention. I’ve been wondering if Petpet shopkeepers are real, natural Petpets, or just Neopets in Petpet costumes, or under some sort of spell—

Meepit: (stares)

Terra: Yes… erm… it is a bit distracting when you stare like that, and of course you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to—

Meepit: (stares)

Terra: But if you could just possibly give me a little bit of information about—

Meepit: (stares)

Terra: Or at least let me finish my sentences—

Meepit: (stares)

Terra: And I don’t really understand how you’re able to interrupt me without saying anyth—

Meepit: (stares for an uncomfortably long period of time)

Terra: … I’m feeling rather unsettled.

Meepit: Meep.

At that point my nerves got the best of me, and I was reduced to backing swiftly out of the store, as I have heard it is never wise to turn your back to a Meepit. At least that shop will never have to worry about robberies. But let us never speak of this scarring incident again. Suffice to say, the Petpets are not giving up their secrets any time soon.

***

On the bright side, however, my marketplace escapades earned me a good deal of information on the logistics of shopkeepers—who they really are, how they do what they do, and why. And thus I wished to bestow this knowledge upon you, dear Neopian Times readers.

So next time you’re in a shop, take the time to chat with the shopkeeper a bit and watch them enjoy their job! Unless they’re a Meepit, in which case buy what you need and then get out. Fast. Or unless they’re an Usul with heavy eyeliner, at which point I strongly urge you to send in your best team of ninjas to figure out what’s really going on in that store.

 
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