Master of Ceremonies
"If only everyone were smart enough to treat their reflection as a fellow Neopian”—she sighed before tapping her front paw gently on the water beneath her, sending her attentive reflection into waves of discordant ripples—“they wouldn’t be so caught up in the vain things of the world.”
Along the grassy riverbank sat a solitary Acara, gracefully poised beneath her ritzy apparel and flowing locks of hair. With her hind legs carefully placed to one side and a supportive paw to the other, she leaned closer to the water’s surface and exhaled, delving deeper into her wishful thinking.
“It’s just such a smart thing to do! Look in the mirror each night and ask yourself, What’s wrong? What more can I do for you? Everyone would finally see their own flaws and try to fix them… instead of trying to ‘fix’ everyone else.”
She quickly skimmed the back of her paw over the surface and splashed just a few drops upstream.
“Just imagine,” the beautiful Acara breathed longingly. “Everyone would stop being so pushy and simpleminded. Everyone would want to be better… and everyone would be better. Why? Because they would all be living for someone else… for the one in the mirror.”
She giggled softly, reveling in her daydream and also enjoying the company of the late-autumn breeze calmly playing with her lush fur.
“Ah, isn’t that so romantic? Neopia would be so grand!” she scoffed, raising her nose toward the twilit sky for a moment. “But don’t worry,” she smiled, gazing back at her reflection in the river. “You, my friend, are gorgeous, and I’m doing everything I can for you, even if no one else seems to care about you.”
An assertive voice interrupted from a short distance behind her. “Miss Claymore,” said the Quiggle butler, “you have guests to attend to, do you not?”
The Acara saw her reflection narrow its eyes in frustration. With a roll of her own eyes, she turned her head toward the intruder. “They’re not my guests, and this is not my party,” she grimaced.
The butler returned her grimace with his own serious, disappointed expression. “Your father will be very displeased. You need to get your head out of the clouds and into your future. Of all nights to be selfishly disengaged, this is not one of them.”
A feeling of dread slowly crept back into her heart, dispelling the beautiful serenity of the evening she was hoping to escape to. As wrong as she wished him to be, her butler was correct. Miss Claymore was the future heiress to Neopia’s largest business venture but was once again not conforming to her role.
Her entrepreneurial father, Mr. Claymore, was the up-and-coming businesspet of all time, recently funding the successful development of new attractions all over Neopia. Thousands of Neopets had marveled at the grand opening of Roo Island just several years before, and now they and many more were anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s grand opening of Mr. Claymore’s latest brilliant and awe-inspiring attraction.
Rarely had he ever put his own money on the line, but this time was different. Mr. Claymore had undertaken his biggest and riskiest investment yet, personalizing his company’s multimillion-Neopoint loans in order to undertake the construction of Neopia’s greatest attraction: a fairground near the northeastern borders of the Haunted Woods.
“Madame, your father expects you to entertain his company’s guests tonight and win their favor. If you can’t perform such a simple task, you will never be able to handle the company.”
“Well, tell him I’ll be fashionably late,” she replied, waving her paw for her butler to leave her alone. “The investors are used to waiting for their money to arrive. They can wait for me, too.”
“I can’t leave you here.”
“Let me stay just a bit long—”
“No, Vira,” chided the butler. He glanced to his left toward the distant tree line of the Haunted Woods. “You are being watched.”
The seated Acara followed her butler’s gaze a hundred meters toward the woods, the silhouette of which pressed coldly against dusk’s golden horizon. Amongst the reaching shadows and encroaching tree trunks, she spotted a cloaked figure. It turned and slithered away into the darkness.
She hadn’t been alone, had she…
Vira stammered. “Okay, you win.” She held her paw up for the butler to grab. “My adoring fans inside can’t wait for me any longer anyway, can they? I’m sure that Father’s drab business social could use a spark of my charming beauty to liven up the night.”
The Quiggle helped lift her off the ground and began brushing dry grass off of her dress. “You are lucky to have not been petnapped and held for a ransom. And you really should take better care of your clothes.”
Before escorting her to the party, he pointed a webbed finger at her and added, “Stop running off.”
As they headed up the knoll toward her father’s 75-room mansion, Vira lifted her dress to keep its hem from turning green. She slid her feet through the grass nonchalantly and let its silky texture massage her feet.
“I’ll be Father’s little angel tonight, but I won’t need to participate in his company affairs for much longer. Word is spreading that Mr. Claymore’s eldest daughter is the fairest in all of Neopia,” she proudly remarked in recognition of her own beauty. “When I make my public debut, I’ll become the greatest celebrity, and my father will just have to have someone else take over his company.”
The butler hastened his step as they strode across the patio in order to open the door ahead for her. “Please do not leave the party, Madame. The kitchen is in absolute disarray, and Maitre D will have my head on a platter if I desert him to look for you again.”
Vira stepped into the mansion’s grand hall. The toes of her bare feet pressed uncomfortably against the cold, marble floors. Easeful music danced throughout the room, and a faint waft of gourmet sweets and warm, stuffy air entered her nose. The spacious room was teeming with businesspets and investors, all of which were grouped off and noisily conversing; no one really noticed her when she walked in, but she didn’t care too much about pleasing this stale crowd.
Vira scanned the room for her father and soon spotted the tall, Red Kyrii a ways off. He was wearing his finest, black business suit and a sunflower-yellow necktie that matched the color of Vira’s dress. The tie protruded greatly because of his towering height and puffed out chest. He was cheerfully conversing with a Techo and an Usul.
As she strode over to meet up with him, several businesspets stopped her in turn, each reaching out to her for a handshake and greeting her warmly as “Miss Claymore.” She smiled and politely returned each greeting, waving also to a few familiar faces that she had seen at other company meetings and private events.
If only these pets would see her as Neopia’s next top model instead of seeing her as the heiress to Mr. Claymore’s business model, maybe then she would take more interest in winning them over.
Her father’s jovial smile beamed when she approached him. He placed a paw on her back and announced to the couple he was conversing with, “And this is my oldest, Vira!” He also introduced them to her by name.
“Hello.” Vira reached her paw out politely for the Techo and the Usul. She recognized the Techo from a long-ago visit to the Neopian Stock Market.
“Good evening, Miss,” smiled the Techo.
“Pleasure to meet you!” chimed the Usul. “And I love the flowers in your hair,” she added, noticing the beautiful, flower-entwined braids cascading down over Vira’s shoulders.
“Oh, thank you!” Vira warmly responded.
Continuing his introductions, Mr. Claymore told Vira, “This fine Techo is considering taking private ownership in the company, but he insists that it’s too risky with the recent depression in the Neodaq. I invited him here tonight hoping that you could persuade him otherwise.”
The Techo smiled, “Ah, Mr. Claymore, you know how to win a Techo over. Miss Claymore, you are very pretty, indeed,” he said. “And I’m sure you’ll one day do a great job carrying on your father’s company.”
He then raised the question to the Claymores, “But the Stock Market is down and ripe for investment. Why should I take the risk to invest in a private company?”
Mr. Claymore didn’t answer. Instead, he looked at Vira and awaited her well-trained response.
“So, Vira,” said the Techo. “Tell me. Where is the company heading?”
Vira knew what answer her father expected of her, but she also felt inclined to give her personal opinion.
“I think we should consider an initial public offering,” she said bluntly. Her father fixedly watched her, and Vira could sense his sudden panic.
“Of all times for an IPO,” the Techo chuckled. “Why now?”
She explained, “I’m sure the fairground will generate plenty of revenue, but the payback period is immense and the company’s debts are too large to take on other ventures. We need to sell shares publicly if we’re going to make it through.”
“Wow, you two have very polar views,” he told the Claymores.
After a brief moment of unwanted silence, Mr. Claymore said, “Yes, but that’s exactly what every company needs: two sides of the same Neopoint… to keep everything in balance.”
“I see, I see,” nodded the Techo. “Well, Vira, I was hoping you’d have more faith in the company’s potential, but thank you for the advice. I will take that into consideration before I make my final decision. I hope the grand opening tomorrow proves to be very successful.”
After a little more chitchat and goodbyes, the investor and his wife parted.
Mr. Claymore calmly brought Vira in close and grunted, “Do you have any idea how much that will cost us?” They exchanged frustrated glances. “Haven’t I taught you better than this?”
“Father, I’m doing exactly what I’ve been taught. You’ve trained me to take over the company, and an IPO is exactly what I would do if I were in charge.”
“Please stop being so bratty and simpleminded. I’ve put my life into this company, and all you want to do is throw it away.”
Vira had always despised having to live up to her father’s expectations of her. Why did she have to be the daughter that would follow in his footsteps? Why couldn’t he train Lucy or Ylana to take over the company instead?
“Father, you have enough money, and I’m serious about what I said. Why don’t you just cash out now and stop pressuring me about your investments?”
“I’m not doing this for money, Vira. I’m doing it for our family legacy. The Claymores are going to be known for making Neopia an extravagant—”
“Stop trying to force your company onto me,” she breathed out angrily. “Don’t you know that I have other aspirations?”
Her father’s eyes grew wider with anger. “Modeling, Vira? Stop being so selfish! Get rid of those childish notions and grow up. You are not a low-class model; you are a Claymore.”
Vira’s bottled emotions finally erupted from inside her, and her resentment toward her father lit those emotions afire. She refused to be oppressed and burdened by her father’s company any longer. “Stop it!” she yelled. “I’ll do as I please!”
Hoping to deter unwanted attention, Mr. Claymore held her tighter and hissed, “Control yourself, or you’ll muddy the family name!”
“Stop it!” she screamed, pushing her father away. “I hope the company fails… and you along with it!” Her throat stung from forcing it so harshly.
The bustling crowds in the room fell silent, and all heads turned in her direction. What a stupid thing to do, she thought, now feeling hundreds of eyes fixed on her. Vira’s anger melted into embarrassment with every racing heartbeat; her body was begging to fight or take flight.
Before shutting her eyes, she saw her father move his hand to his face to hide his expression. Whether he was embarrassed, furious, or crying, Vira never found out. She had already begun racing toward the front door, pressing through the unwelcoming crowds of old strangers obstructing her escape route.
“Vira, please!” she heard her father cry out from far behind her, but it was too late for anything to change her mind. She thrust open the mansion’s front doors and embraced the chilling autumn air. She slammed the doors behind her and fled into the looming night, seeking solace in the Haunted Woods.
Only there in the woods’ strangest shadows would Vira find her last spoken wish come true…
To be continued…