The Story of Broth-Boy
It was a warm spring morning in the Marketplace of Neopia Central, with the usual sounds of hustle and bustle filling the ever so slightly damp air. Pets of all types were getting their daily routines underway with many a trader rushing up and down the cobbled streets. In one particular area of the vista, enticing aromas wafted alongside these businesspets but it was not from them that they originated. The breakfast rush had just ended and huddled groups of folk, many in rags, were returning home with their meals tightly clung in their paws. It was always an early morning for the Soup Faerie.
Inside her cauldron-shaped home, the brunette chef was busy tidying up after the crowds and making mental preparations for the next mealtime. Mop in her hand, she was trying to work out just how many carrots she would need for her next batch whilst cleaning the floor at the same time. Multitasking as always. It was whilst reminding herself just how many slushies she needed to ask for the next time she decided to send Pets out for quests that she heard a faint knocking at her closed wooden door. "Come in!" the Soup Faerie called out with a friendly smile before putting her mop to one side.
Turning around, the cook was greeted by a small group of young Pets dressed in ever so slightly ripped clothing. They looked a little awkward, clearly realising that they had seemingly missed their opportunity for breakfast that day, but otherwise seemed in good spirits. The eldest one, a Red Scorchio, had a cheeky glint in his eye. It was something that made the brunette's smile even wider. He spoke, "I... know we've missed the usual... breakfast batch but we've travelled an awful long way to get here and..." The youngster put on the biggest Baby Scorchio eyes that he could muster but it wasn't necessary. The Soup Faerie wasn't in the business of turning anypet away, let alone children.
"Stop, stop," she laughed gently, waving her hands slowly in front of her light blue apron, "I give up!" The youngsters broke out in cheers, their leader looking somewhat pleased with himself. Rolling up her pink sleeves, the Soup Faerie elaborated, "I'll have to make a new batch from scratch though, so it may take a little time." Pausing, she thought for a moment. Before grinning. "Why don't all of you have a sit down and I'll tell you a story while I cook." The children began to gleefully whisper amongst themselves as they got down to sit cross-legged on the floor. Getting out her ingredients from her inbuilt cupboards, she mused, "How about the story of Broth-Boy..."
"Is he the little brother of that Tiki-Tack bloke?" the Red Scorchio interjected, mischievously.
The Soup Faerie just smiled to herself.
"Off the borders of this Marketplace, as you all probably know, live many poorer families. Neopia Central is such a wealthy and prosperous place that outsiders seem to forget about just how hard it can be to get by in these parts. It's why I was drawn here in the first place. To help those less fortunate than myself with my soup and my magic. Ever since I was a young Faerie I've always believed that Neopia could be a much happier place if everypet just helped each other a bit more. It doesn't have to be much. Sometimes a smile is all that is needed. One Pet that felt the same way as me went by the name of Julien.
He was a Green Shoyru that grew up in some of the... rougher parts of this Marketplace. His family didn't have much, if anything. I frequently saw them at this Soup Kitchen but there was something about Julien. He would be the first to admit that he had problems with bullies, who would happily help themselves to anything he had in his paws. But at the same time he was more than happy to give his own bowl of soup to somepet he thought deserved it more. And that was saying something given how much he loved soup! He didn't love just eating it but from a young age he came up with ridiculous recipes that I wouldn't even try. But he had this talent. He was a natural chef.
It wasn't something I had ever seen before. But then, as now, I didn't have the Neopoints to employ anypet to give me a helping paw. All donations I ever get are spent squarely on supplies, not petpower..." The Soup Faerie sighed softly to herself as she dropped her freshly chopped ingredients into her giant soup bowl. Adjusting her bandana before washing her hands for the umpteenth time that day, the brunette continued, "Julien didn't mind though. The lack of Neopoints. Every day he would volunteer to mop my floors, clean my cauldron... anything to help. And anything to get the chance to cook something up himself. I taught him everything I knew about soup... but magic? I probably should have...
Regardless of what some faeries may think, putting large amounts of magic in a vessel as unpredictable as one used for cooking isn't a particularly good idea. It's not something that I would ever do or ever recommend." The Soup Faerie stirred her concoction once more before pulling out her large spoon and waggling it to emphasise her point. "That's not to say I don't use any magic in my cooking..." She looked down at her cauldron then at her spoon before dunking it back into the mixture. "...say to make a batch last a bit longer... but cooking magical soup? Or cooking any type of magical mixture? I'd like to still have a home left at the end of every day.
Unfortunately, I did not put that point across well enough to Julien." She frowned, stirring her mixture slowly. "One spring morning very much like this one, with Pets frolicking around the Marketplace unabashed, I was called away to Faerieland by Queen Fyora herself. She was planning a Royal Banquet to greet some very important guests and required some advice when it came to the catering. Knowing that I was going to be away for one night, I trusted Julien with the running of the Soup Kitchen with clear instructions on what to and not to do. He followed them to a tee... until later in the evening. Instead of closing for the night, he decided to linger.
Unbeknown to me, Julien had been coming up with a magical soup recipe. Not a soup helped along by magic here and there but a soup entirely made of magical ingredients. During his time working for me, he had accumulated magical items I had cast off and finally he had enough. He thought that he had come up with the ultimate soup recipe. One that wouldn't just restore a Pet's stomach, helping them to grow big and strong... but one that would actually make them big and strong. Max out their Strength, Defence... it seemed too good to be true. But there he was. Standing in front of his broiling potion, bubbles slowing rising to the surface.
Having turned down the heat and waited for it to cool down, he tentatively stood atop his wooden stool. Reaching over to grab a spoonful, the Green Shoyru then tasted his concoction. It tasted... really quite yummy. Which was a relief as you can imagine! He gulped down a few more helpings before feeling the magic starting to work. He could actually feel himself getting stronger! Julien was delighted. He jumped in the air, hovering over his creation with his wings. But he hadn't thought it through. The power of the updraft his wings caused made the cauldron loose its balance. As it teetered, he panicked. Landing on the ground, he grabbed hold of the bowl with all of his newly increased strength to try to stop it from tipping up. But it was too late.
With a mighty thud, the vessel keeled over and sent a wave of elixir crashing throughout. It even sent the Shoyru skidding towards the door. His potion went everywhere, staining the floors white and splashing the walls of the kitchen. He himself turned a mottled pattern of white and green, as though he had been daubed by the Speckled Paintbrush. Thanks to his magically maxed out Strength and Defence, Julien was otherwise unharmed if a little shaken. The same could not be said of my soup bowl. The amateur chef turned around to find a large crack down one of its faces. He staggered backwards. Then fled. Ashamed that he had let down his hero so badly..."
An audible groan shook the Soup Faerie from her melancholic tone.
"You're just ripping off what happened to Jhuidah!" grumbled the Red Scorchio, arms crossed.
"Nuh uh!" retorted a young Blue Aisha beside him, "Everypet knows Jhuidah fell into her cooking pot!"
The Soup Faerie sighed heavily. Putting her spoon down onto her work surface, she silently cursed the Library Faerie for making storytelling look so easy. Whilst somewhere in Faerieland that brunette's current cup of tea was about to go terribly cold and awfully bitter, this brunette picked up her timer. Setting it for when her latest batch of soup would be ready, the chef once again wielded her spoon and began to stir. Realising that she was going to have to up her game to keep the youngsters happy, she continued where she had left off.
"Julien knew he had made a terrible mistake. All he had wanted to do was help his fellow Pets, impress his boss and be a professional chef but now all of his dreams were in tatters. Sat beneath one of the many dry-stone walls that crisscrossed the Marketplace, the Speckled Shoyru thought to himself one lonely day. What was he going to do? Looking up, he saw a young Blue Acara dressed in clothes not too dissimilar to his own rags being given a hard time by some more well-off folk. That was when it dawned on him. Thanks to his mishap with his own potion, he was now the strongest resident of the area bar none. As great as the Defenders of Neopia were, they were too busy fighting monsters or hardened criminals in Neopia Central. They couldn't stand up for the poor Pets of the Marketplace.
But he could.
Donning a mask and cape fashioned out of his old black apron, he became Broth-Boy."
The youngsters sniggered amongst themselves. The Soup Faerie pushed on regardless.
"A year passed. The denizens of the Marketplace frequently spoke of a mysterious stranger who would stand up for anypet who happened to be down on their luck. It was said that if you were to cry into a bowl of hearty broth acquired from the Soup Kitchen, then this Broth-Boy would appear to you and help you in your time of need. He lurked in the shadows. He kept to himself. But he always seemed to be there when the time was right. Rumours circulated that you're best chance of seeing him was near this very abode. But the Soup Faerie never saw him. Not once.
'I shouldn't be here...' Julien whispered to himself, resting on the stone arch that lay adjacent to the cauldron-shaped building. It was late in the evening, with most folks of the Marketplace either tucked up in bed or heading home to do just that. There was barely a cloud in the eventide sky, allowing for a beautiful view of Kreludor and the twinkling stars. The Speckled Shoyru was in full costume, knowing no-pet would see him. And yet. '...this was a mistake.' Ruefully, the hero turned around to head in the opposite direction... before hearing shouting coming from the Soup Kitchen. He had to investigate.
Stealthily, he snuck up to one of the fully-lit glazed windows and peered inside. The Soup Faerie was with somepet. But it was hard to see who. She was clearly agitated though. 'I appreciate your... generous offer,' the brunette forced out, 'but I'm afraid I'm not for sale.' Julien was perplexed. Was somepet trying to... buy the Soup Faerie? After a muffled response from her companion, further light was shone on the matter. 'Me and my recipes are one in the same. You buy them, you buy me. And I have no interest in being bought. My soup is for the poor. Not something to make a profit from. So please, just leave.'
'Oh.' Julien mumbled to himself. That made sense.
Suddenly, the wooden door of the Soup Kitchen slammed. Hard. Catching the Speckled Shoyru off guard, he tumbled to the ground. While rubbing his sore tale, the hero peered around the side of the building to see just who it was that had irked his former employer so badly. He froze, eyes widened. Malkus Vile. The infamous Green Skeith. What was he doing in the Marketplace? And why would he suddenly want to get into the Soup Distribution Business? Concerned that he saw his old friend as a soft target, Broth-Boy wasn't about to watch him just slink off. Ambling towards the gangster, he called out, 'I hope you follow the lady's advice, for your own sake.'
'Hm?' The gangster turned round slowly, before reaching out his arms in an innocent manner. 'I don't know what you're getting at, kid. I'm just a humble businesspet trying to negotiate a deal.' Broth-Boy lowered his eyebrows. Vile realised he had been recognised. 'But as you so rightly said, the lady isn't interested and I respect that. You won't see me around here again.' The recognition wasn't mutual. 'So why don't you run along, fanboy. Nothing to see here.' The hero crossed his arms. The Green Skeith took the hint to leave. When the villain was gone, he heard the Soup Kitchen's door click behind him.
'Jul-' the Soup Faerie began as she walked outside. But Broth-Boy was gone.
The next evening, the weather had turned. There wasn't a star or Kreludor to be seen in the night time sky over the Marketplace and there certainly wasn't anypet willing to risk getting caught in a shower. Well, there was one. 'I shouldn't be here...' mumbled Julien to himself as he flew above the cobbled pavement of the quiet lanes towards the Soup Kitchen. But he was. He couldn't help himself. Malkus Vile had rattled him. '...I'll just make sure she's alright.' The Speckled Shoyru landed squarely in front of the cauldron-shaped building's door. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on its wooden panels... only for it to swing open. 'No...'
The Soup Kitchen had been trashed. Utensils were scattered all over the floor. Ingredients too lay splattered throughout. The soup bowl had been turned on its side, its leftovers from the teatime rush pooled on the ground. And the Soup Faerie? Gone. Julien was no fool. He may not have been an official member of the Defenders of Neopia but he knew the tell tale signs. Malkus Vile had kept his promise not to return - but he had sent the Meerca Brothers Meerouladen and Heermeedjet in his place. The Speckled Shoyru fell to his knees. They could be anywhere by now. He looked to the ground. And squinted. ...Paint-y footprints? He scooped up the gunk. Very-old-paint-y footprints? There was only one abandoned place in all of Neopia Central that was overflowing with old paint.
'Well that was easy,' grinned Meerouladen as he fashioned a knot in the rope that he was using to tie the Soup Faerie to a chair. His brother just smirked back at him while he covered the brunette's mouth with her own red and white spotted bandana. The chef was most displeased. If it wasn't bad enough that she had been kidnapped, she was now stuck in the old abandoned warehouse of Jacko and Sons Painting Ltd. Since the company's collapse, its buildings had become derelict and the pyramids of paint tins had rusted over. On a cold night like this one, the holey roof bore little protection. If anything, there seemed to be something crawling around in the rafters. '...fancy a hotdog, Heermeedjet?'
The Soup Faerie was powerless but to watch the two Meerca Brothers disappear into the gloom. Sighing to herself, she wondered if anypet would ever find her. Without warning, a shadow dropped from the ceiling. The brunette squinted. It was... a mottled White and Green Shoyru? In a matching black mask and cape? Could this be the Broth-Boy that she had heard so many stories about? 'I'll get you out of here in no time,' promised the hero as he rushed towards her. Heading straight for the ropes, he attempted to undo the tight knot. But it was going to take some time. Brute force would just make it worse.
Out of the corner of Broth-Boy's eye came a metallic glint. He instinctively ducked, watching a paint tin fly over his head. Regaining his balance, he was forced to dodge another. Then another. Glancing over at the abandoned warehouse's entrance, the hero saw the two Meerca Brothers laughing to themselves. Paint tins in hand. He glowered. Meerouladen sent another can hurtling in his direction. Instead of evading, the Speckled Shoyru flapped his wings - causing a whirlwind to send the paint back towards the Thieves. The gust caused the rusted lid to come flying off... and the paint tin to land upside down on top of Meerouladen's head. Blue paint covered his face, while the can was firmly lodged over his eyes.
Heermeedjet went berserk. Charging at the Speckled Shoyru, the Meerca was looking to avenge his sticky sibling. Though after a brief tussle with his foe in which he had been flung backwards, the Thief decided that discretion was the better part of valour... and ran. Broth-Boy gave chase as best as he could in the murk, trying to dodge a flailing Meerouladen in the process. The hero cornered his enemy up against a landscape of paint tin pyramids. He had his Pet. 'I'll get you!' came the cry from Meerouladen as he blindly ran in the general direction of two. Instead of careering into Broth-Boy however, he successfully plunged into one of the pyramids. The structure collapsed with a crash.
It took a few moments for the oxidised dust to settle. As the hero opened his eyes, he saw a pair of rather irritated Meerca trapped under a pile of rusted paint tins. At least the can was now off Meerouladen's head. Not that he seemed particularly grateful. 'Well that was easy,' muttered Broth-Boy to himself. Rushing back over to the Soup Faerie, the Speckled Shoyru removed the bandana from her mouth before getting back to work on those ropes. 'I've almost got it,' he reassured her just before the bindings fell to the floor. 'There we go.'
'Thank you, Julien!' beamed the Soup Faerie, relieved.
Julien froze. 'I...' He had been hoping that given everything that had just transpired and how dark it was in the warehouse, the brunette wouldn't recognise him. Alas, he had not been so fortunate. Taking a nervous gulp, the Speckled Shoyru spoke in a cracked tone, 'I'm so sorry for all the trouble I caused you last year... the bowl... the floor... everything. There's no excuse for what I did, I completely let you down. I just made such a big mess of... well, everything.' The Soup Faerie wrinkled her nose as the hero continued, eyes firmly fixed to the ground, 'You were always my hero growing up... you always inspired me and, well... I just hope you can forgive me. For everything.'
The Soup Faerie scooped her former protégé up in her arms. 'You've always been my hero, Julien...'
Broth-Boy smiled. He-"
As the timer rang out, the brunette chef jumped in the air before fluttering down to the ground with her golden yellow wings. She'd forgotten how loud that thing was. Regaining her composure, the Soup Faerie looked at the youngsters in front of her. A mixture of wonder and enjoyment was spread amongst their faces... except for the little Red Scorchio, who frankly just wanted his breakfast now that it was ready. "That was so cool..." mumbled the Blue Aisha sat beside him, jabbing her companion in the ribs with her elbow to emphasise the point, "...did that really all happen, Miss Soup Faerie?"
The chef smiled broadly as she collected some bowls for her freshly made concoction from her Kitchen's shelves. Naturally, the small group's leader had his own opinion on the matter. "Of course it didn't happen!" declared the impish dragon to his friend in a rather loud voice, "It's just a silly story she made up... I mean, if he was real we'd have probably seen him by now..." At that point, the naysayer was piled onto by several of his companions who disagreed with his stance. Turning around to see this, the Soup Faerie couldn't help but laugh. The Pets had spoken. Looking up, she noticed some pet at the Soup Kitchen's now-open door.
"For what it's worth," mused the mysterious Speckled Shoyru, "I liked the story."