The Price of Greatness: Part 1
You remember hearing once that Mystery Island was a luxurious tourist destination. The beaches were said to be sprawling affairs of silky white sand, with water iridescent enough to rival Neopia's finest gemstones. The locals were supposed to welcome you with garlands of flowers and fresh coconut milk. Sure, the sweltering temperatures might be considered something of a deterrent, but no one books a tropical holiday with the expectation of snow.
Looking down at the coarse, tawny sand and masses of tangled kelp along the shoreline, you realise that the travel brochure – hastily thrust into your hands by a passing Kiko – was lying. The staff members are already casting sour looks in your direction, and you only arrived at the resort ten minutes ago. This has to be some kind of record. Maybe you'll even get a trophy.
You wander back towards the reception area, hoping that your hut will be ready by now. The tiles are cool against your sensitive paws, and you consider it a minor miracle that you didn't end up with blisters from traversing the sun-scorched dunes. As you approach the front desk, you catch the tail-end of a conversation between the bellboy – an abnormally tall orange Kougra – and a yellow Lenny. From his waistcoat, you infer that he must be the concierge. They're discussing the merits of Azzle Salad and you really couldn't care less. You give them a pointed glare until the Lenny yelps and dives behind his desk. You're not in the mood for histrionic displays.
"Your room is ready, sir," the Kougra stutters on his behalf, fumbling to hand over the keys.
You take them with a barely perceptible nod, then glance at the tag to check where said room is. You paid a double-rate for the most opulent quarters available, but you're fairly certain by now that the so-called 'Palatial Suite' is identical to every other hut on the premises. This mistake annoys you more than you're willing to admit. Perhaps you would have had better luck at the three-star resort down the road, or even at the privately-leased cottage overlooking the sea. You briefly consider complaining, but the concierge has already fled the scene, and the bellboy looks as though he might cry at the slightest provocation.
With a long-suffering sigh, you decide to retreat to your accommodation instead.
The beach isn't any cooler since your last foray here. If anything, it's gotten warmer. Golden rays of sunlight are forcing their way into your squinted eyes, and you pull the brim of your hat down in a vain attempt to shield them. You would do anything for a pair of sunglasses right now. Through the glare, you are able to spot the outline of a kiosk tent next to some sad-looking palm trees.
Since it is the only thing you can see at the moment, you decide to head towards it. If you tried to locate your hut now, you'd be liable to break something. Your paws are starting to feel dangerously hot again and the soothing allure of the shaded tent is looking more attractive with every passing second. You pray that you won't have to do a ridiculous hopping dance to reach it with your soles intact. Fortunately, your luck holds.
A pirate Krawk swaggers over to introduce himself, guiding you over to a display of gleaming watches. His name eludes you, but you get the impression that he owns the kiosk. He's wearing a cheap suit and has a devious twinkle in his eye. You pretend to be interested for a while before inquiring about sunglasses. The Krawk pulls out a briefcase with a flourish and shows you the collection of designer brands he has in stock.
"Lowest price in Neopia!" he boasts. "One hundred percent authentic!"
You think he's one hundred percent delusional, but anything will do at this point. You reluctantly hand over 35 neopoints in return for a pair of Censor Bar Glasses. You're not familiar with the brand, but the smooth-talking salesman has you convinced that they are the best possible choice. The disappointment is immediate when you slip them on. While they do a fantastic job of blocking out the sun, your inability to see anything whatsoever renders them useless. You angrily demand a refund but, by the time you remove them, the unscrupulous Krawk has already run off with your neopoints and you're yelling pointlessly into thin air.
As you leave the meagre shelter, you figure that it's probably best to cut your losses at this point. You perch the glasses on the edge of your nose and are surprised to discover that your peripheral vision is good enough to navigate by. The huts are packed together in a miniature village and, even with your temporary visual impediment, it doesn't take long to pinpoint the number corresponding to the keyring.
The door to your hut is locked, and a sign has been plastered over it. On it, someone has scrawled "Sulker" in large, spidery handwriting. You suppose for a moment that you should be offended; not because they called you Sulker – that is your name, after all – but because they didn't include your title. You aren't Sulker the Little-Grey-Wocky-Next-Door, you are Sulker the GREAT! Wizard extraordinaire! And you want to make sure that no one ever forgets it.
After a few minutes of silent raging, you realise that no one is around to bear the brunt of your displeasure, so you unlock the door and go inside. The hut is even smaller than you feared, and it reeks of brine instead of coconuts. You spy a complimentary jar of pickled olives on the bench and immediately begin to question its presence. Do the staff dislike you intensely? Or was this meant to be a thoughtful gift, left here before the whole distasteful incident upon your arrival? Judging by the kind-yet-impersonal card propped against the jar, you deduce that every guest is subjected to these foul spheres. This doesn't really give you grounds to complain, but you fully intend to anyway.
"Took you long enough to get here," someone comments.
The ghost of a smile touches your lips as you recognise the voice. You turn around calmly, to see a rainbow Lutari leaning against the doorframe. Marvin is more of an acquaintance than a friend, but you like having him around because he's the only one who seems to appreciate your sense of humour.
"I was delayed at the reception office," you say with a dismissive wave.
"Delayed?" Marvin blurts out incredulously. "You're lucky you weren't kicked out!"
You thought it was pretty funny when the pale, skulking fellow in the reception office suddenly spouted pink hair and a tutu. You wonder why Marvin isn't as amused as you are.
"Who was he anyway?" you ask.
"Chadrick Woolsworth Tuffington the First," Marvin enunciates each syllable. "You know, the guy who owns this resort?"
"Oh yeah," you smirk. "Small potato. Nothing to worry about."
"You can't just have a quiet holiday in the sun, can you?" Marvin complains, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "He's not going to forget this."
"I hope not," you reply, rubbing your hands together fiendishly. "His untimely makeover was just a warm-up."
Marvin groans. "I'm going to get some lunch, okay? Try to stay out of trouble until I get back."
"I will be on my best behaviour right up until the moment you set foot in this hut again," you reply impishly.
The door swings closed behind his retreating form, and you sink into the ratty couch with a sigh. Marvin doesn't really deserve to take the heat for your spontaneous antics, but he's such an easy target that you can't help yourself sometimes.
A sudden tapping sound interrupts your train of thought and you half-leap across the room in surprise. For someone who values vigilance above all else, you find your lack of awareness to be a disturbing development.
The noise continues, interspersed with a faint scuffling that seems to be coming from your bathroom. You pull yourself together and throw open the door, only to see a dazed white Weewoo staggering around on the tiles. You're not sure what disappoints you more; the fact that you were startled by a mere bird, or that this kind of tomfoolery is permitted in the resort's most distinguished guesthouse. Maybe Marvin can chase it away when he gets back.
The Weewoo moves towards you, clutching a small roll of paper in its beak. Upon closer inspection, you realise that it is wrapped in the tattered remains of a blue mailbag. Obviously, the petpet was attacked on its journey to deliver the message it is now offering to you. His persistence is impressive.
You unroll the paper and begin to read, curious as to who would send you a message while you're on holiday. The letter is full of inane babble and flowery prose, but you are able to ascertain that the Weewoo belongs to Sir Thanksalot, and he is giving it to you as a token of good faith. He intends to join you shortly, pending the success of his campaign in Brightvale. You fondly remember the young Lupe as a loyal, courageous knight who has never shied away from an adventure. The news of his impending visit almost makes you smile. Things are never boring with Sir Thanksalot around.
The Weewoo hops from foot to foot, obviously hoping for some type of reward. Marvin probably won't be back for a while, so you unscrew the lid from the olive jar and hold it out to the Weewoo. You knew you would be able to find a way to dispose of the resort's ghastly gift somehow.
To be continued…