"I'm going to fly to Kreludor on my own two wings," Tresapeake said, and there didn't exist a word or phrase in the Neopedia that could dissuade her.
There was the small issue of not having natural wings, as a Mutant Lutari, but the shops and their keepers had invented attachable wings and so she figured she might start there.
“Yes, we have plenty of wings," the first shopkeeper, a dainty Ixi, gushed while parading Tres down a stuffed aisle. “Chocolate Wings and Cherry Blossom Wings and Candelabra Wings and—"
“Beautiful," Tres said, blinking at a pair of wooden wings somehow perpetually on fire. “Which are the best for flight?"
The shopkeeper trilled a worried tone. “Flight? As in flying? Oh goodness, well, a young lad recently traded in these Ingenious Flying Contraption Wings, and by the name, it does sound like they would be ideal to take to the skies!"
Tres examined the proffered invention, testing the tautness of the canvas and the integrity of the wooden beams. With a beaming smile, she handed over the requisite payment, and out she went with only a little difficult in getting her new wings through the door.
- - - - -
Tuesday was the day. Her best friends, Motley and Nintuck, peeped out from behind a nearby rock on the long, grassy plain.
“I question the wisdom of your endeavor," the bookish Nintuck protested, adjusting her Ogrin suspenders and patting at her gray hair. “I propose that we take to mathematics and digest the possibilities of both success and failure."
Motley, a Magma Nimmo, was of a different mind. “Shh," Tres could hear the half-attempt at a whisper. “This is going to go so wonderfully terrible!"
Tres clinched another buckle and leaned from side to side, adjusting to the weight of the wings. She'd spent the last several days trying the wings on, sanding down rough edges, and reining in unruly spokes. She squinted down the path at the edge of the knoll, below which the hill dipped down about five or six feet, and took a deep breath. “I'm doing it!" she informed the pair behind the rock, and with the same gumption she'd assembled at the beginning of this endeavor, she sprang forward.
Most Lutaris were sleek and streamlined and took to running and swimming with innate grace. Tresapeake had lumps and bumps better suited for intimidation in the Battledome than leaps of faith, but here she was, alternating between front and back paws, gaining more and more speed on her way towards the lip of the hill.
At the edge, she launched herself upwards, brandishing her arms wide and arching her back, splaying the wings to their fullest reach. The wind rushed at her, through her fur, and rattled through the apparatus on her back. She sailed—sailed—
The sound of the impact reminds her quite vividly of the day a strong windstorm had blown over her wooden Neohome: there is a crack, a rippling number of crunches, and then a wave of inescapable sorrow.
She sat atop the broken brambles of an idea, looked to the clear sky, and heaved a sigh that broke another wing ligament.
Within a minute, her friends came scrambling along, Nintuck worried and pleading about her well-being and Motley guffawing with tears already loosed at the corners of her eyes.
“I'm fine," she mumbled, and rolled away from the wreckage.
“We really should have put a landing pad down," Nintuck said, pulling at her hair. “Maybe a big mattress or trapeze or—"
“That was perfect in every way!" Motley crowed, clutching at her stomach. “Again, again! This time, we'll get you the Icarus Wings..."
At that, Tresapeake lifted her chin. “No Icarus Wings. I have another idea."
She marched the three of them back to Neopia Central, straight to a shimmering pool of a thousand colors. They sat and waited until Tres pointed at a pink-and-purple Kougra emerging from the waters.
“You want to paint yourself Faerie?" Motley asked in askance, a lick of flame rising over where her eyebrow should be. “That's...a choice."
“Oh no, Tres," Nintuck simpered. “You're wonderful just the way you are, you don't need an expensive brush to make you happy. Besides, there are shuttles to Kreludor lifting off all the time. If you want to see the moon, why not just go and see it?"
The Lutari's hair bristled in seismic waves over her body. “Because I don't want to visit the moon. I want to fly to the moon."
“But why?" Motley asked, and she seemed earnest instead of mocking this time. “How did this oddball idea ever wallop into your brain?"
Tresapeake recalled the spirited Grundos giggling at her last foray into battling the Grundo Chief in the Neopia Central Battledome. She'd beaten the commander in two turns, and turned only to find the lot of purple-and-orange-speckled goons snickering that she'd gotten a Jhudora's Lollipop stuck in her fur.
No matter her physical prowess, she was laughed at for her looks.
“Didn't you ever want to be something more than your label?" she asked, looking from a Neopet some called 'nerd' to a Neopet known to most as the 'Roaster.'
Both girls shifted, uncomfortable, before Motley scoffed. “'Course not. I earned my title."
“So did I," Tres said. “And now I want to earn more than a title. I want to earn a legacy. When people talk about Tresapeake Tettler, they'll say, 'oh, the one who flew to the moon!' Not, 'Oh, that Dome mutant?'"
“People say that?" Nintuck asked, a frown forming.
Tresapeake gathered up the scraps of her first attempt in her beastly arms and held her head high. “This will be my triumph," she said, and led the way home.
Over the next few months, Tres took on every errand and quest possible in addition to her normal schedule at the Battledome. The gold in her bank account increased in minor increments—one hundred twenty-five here, fifty there, six hundred-three there—but it accumulated, and that's all that mattered. The month of Celebrating came and went, with Tres dutifully attending the Advent Calendar each day and storing the daily allotment where it could earn her more Neopoints in interest. And when friends and family asked what she'd like as a gift, she requested they send nothing more than what NP they could spare.
“Please," she'd say. “It's what I truly want. It's my dream."
Finally, by the month of Eating, she surveyed her veritable mountain of cash with deep pride, then scooped it all into a great bag and headed to the Trading Post. She'd imagined for some time visiting the grounded Faerieland and making her purchase at Queen Fyora's Hidden Tower, but Motley had come through. Seeing her friend's determination, the Nimmo found a Neopet willing to sell a Faerie Paint Brush at a discounted price—and who would wait to sell until Tres met that price.
It was a simple enough transaction—the seller, a sweet 8-bit Shoyru who moved in an unendingly methodical fashion, held forth the paint brush while she hefted the bag of clinking gold between them and dug out a single item from her pack. The weight of the Lutari Battle Sword was stolid, calming—familiar. Nintuck's worried tone rang in her ears: But it's your favorite! Your best sword! What will Tresapeake the Warrior carry with her into battle?
“Agreed?" asked the monotonous Shoyru.
She squeezed the sword a final time, mentally thanking it for its service.
“Agreed," she said, and abandoned the weapon in the stranger's hands. In return, she was granted the winged brush.
It felt as though sunlight was bursting into being in her belly. The wooden handle was smoother than she'd imagined, and the pink wings, lazily batting at the air, softer than expected. She cradled it, some part of her terrified that her gargantuan form would somehow break this hard-earned hope. Now Motley sounded in her head: Stick to what you know, goofball. Or do it and end up tripping over your wings in the Dome. Ooh, comedic battles. I'd pay for that!
Her buoyed spirits deflated. She looked at the beautiful brush with a quiet seed of doubt—then shook her head. She'd come this far.
She made a beeline from Mystery Island to Neopia Central, hunched over her pack and its contents the whole ferry ride, eyeing the other Neopets and the skies for phantom Pant Devil attacks. Thankfully, the ride passed without incident.
After clambering off the boat, Tres speed-walked towards the green leaves of the Money Tree some distance away. She rounded the corner and beheld the sparkling, multi-faceted pool of water where Neopets dunked themselves in with one color and emerged better than ever. She crept forward, watching as a Gray Techo painted himself a happy Cloud; a young Red Scorchio reversed age with the help of a bow-tied brush; two Unis, one Christmas and one Halloween, exchanged their shades in a fit of giggles.
The corner of Tres's mouth twitched towards a smile, imagining she and Nintuck and Motley doing something of the same sort. Then again, those girls had been the same color as long as they'd known each other. She sighed, her pack feeling heavy now.
“Brush-watching?" queried someone by her elbow. Tresapeake snarled and leapt away in sheer surprise, then stopped, puzzled. There was only air around her.
“I'm right here," the voice said calmly. “Hello. I'm waving at you." Tres checked around herself again, but still found nothing.
“Oh," she said with a flash of understanding. “Are you invisible?"
“I am indeed," the voice said, with a tone much brighter than she'd have used if in such a situation. “Would you like to play my favorite game?"
She tried casting a dubious eye at the creature, but it was hard to tell if it hit.
“It's simple," the voice said. “Simply guess what kind of Neopet I am. If you win, you will be granted 100np. If you lose, I'll simply leave you alone! See, you win either way. And you can have three questions, if you'd like."
Tres yearned for the pool, but it seemed rude to refuse a loss-less game held by a kind-enough Neopian. She nodded, immediately setting to work. The voice was on the feminine side, but perfectly medium-pitched. Tres gave a sniff and thought she detected the slightest trace of egg.
“Are you from Tyrannia?" she guessed.
“Indeed! What a fine smeller you have."
Tres was somewhat stumped until she finally spied a large indention in the grass—surely larger than any Kyrii. At that size, this voice could belong to only three possible species.
“Would you rather eat some leaves, or—well, anything but leaves?"
“Aha! I would happily eat every leaf off these trees if I were hungry enough. Good question."
Tres smiled, standing to her full height in pride. “You're a Chomby!"
The voice laughed gaily. “I am indeed! What a brain you have. Here's your Neopoints."
Tres grinned, impressed by her own deductive reasoning, and tucked her winnings away. “I'm not much brain, but that was easy enough."
“You'd be surprised how many people can't manage to guess correctly. Most often, they think me a Kiko or Xweetok. Something small and out-of-the-way—something usually not seen anyhow."
“It is. It tickles me, though, proving initial assumptions wrong."
“Is that why you're here?"
The voice didn't answer at first. “No, today I came to think about making a change."
“You have a brush?"
“I have enough money for one. But no, not currently. Do you?"
Tres held her pack tight. “Yes. If you could be anything but Invisible, what would you be?"
The voice laughed again. “That's my trouble! I have no imagination. I'm been so long being me, what else could I be?" A pause settled between them as Tres tried to think of what to say. “Tell me," said the voice. “How did you choose your brush?"
Without hesitation, Tres smiled. “It was the only one that would give me wings." She looked at the empty space around her and, chancing the derision, added: “You see, I want to fly to the moon."
“Oh ho! That's a mighty goal."
“A valiant goal," she agreed. “A history-worthy venture. My friends think I'm going to change entirely in order to achieve it."
“Nintuck does. But it's not going to change me! I'll still be Tres, with as much strength and experience as before. I'll just be a smaller Tres. With wings."
“Like getting a new hairdo," the voice declared.
“What else do your friends think?"
Her shoulders started to hunch inwards. “That it's a futile idea. That I'll make a fool of myself for trying."
“We all make fools of ourselves daily," the voice sniffed. “Far better to be a fool with a long shot than a fool with their head in the dirt. Your friend sounds like they care. But that doesn't mean they understand."
Another Neopet, a Shadow Peophin this time, dipped below the ripples in the Pool and broke the surface bejeweled in Royal attire. Twilight had fallen by now, and the deepening purple-hued sky accented the Peophin's new coloring in the most perfect way.
“Is it what you want?" the Chomby voice asked.
“It's my dream," Tres said, with as much reverence as she'd had during the Month of Celebrating.
“It doesn't hurt to keep their concerns in mind. So long as you know you'll still be you, and that foolishness is only a construct retained by the judgmental—do it!"
That beautiful inner glow re-crystallized in Tres's gut, a smile broadening across her face. “You're right! You're right."
“Of course I am," the Chomby said with a delighted smugness. “You don't walk about the world without being seen and not learn some wisdom along the way. I am, however, terrible about punctuality."
“Okay," Tres said. “I'm going down." But only a few steps, she walked straight into the broad side of a tough leather hide.
“Oops," the Chomby said. “I wasn't expecting you to move so fast! Excuse me." The grass shifted slightly, and several spots flattened, one at a time, until a puff of dirt arose from where the Neopet sat next.
“Not a problem," Tres said, rubbing her nose. “By the way, do you have any idea what color you'll be next? So maybe I'll recognize you someday?"
The voice chuckled. “Oh, I'll reappear in the world on my own time. I rather think in stages. Perhaps my next brush will make me Transparent."
Tres chuckled and waved goodbye, and made her way to the edge of the colored waters of the Rainbow Pool with the kind Chomby's words spinning in her head. She unslung her pack and removed the brush, stroking the handle with a curved claw. She looked herself over and said farewell to each part of her Mutant color: goodbye to the long, mottled blue-and-gray hair; goodbye to the elongated teeth, goodbye to the red eyes and orange brows and two-pronged tail. These things weren't so terrible in the end, she thought, taking in this image of herself. It was simply time to try something new.
“Okay," she said, and stepped forward, again and again, until she was nearly immersed in the water. Then she took her well-earned brush and stroked the bristles against her fur, eyes closed shut, feeling tingles arrive and dissipate in the wake of every swipe. Then she dunked her head under for good measure, to get every last centimeter of skin, and waited under the water a moment extra, hope and fear intertwining in her heart. At last, she pushed up and above the water and took a breath of clean night air.
The reflection looking back at her was not nearly as small as she'd expected. Maybe a few inches off the top, but slimmer, and so much more purple and green! She smiled a hesitant smile and laughed out loud at her tiny teeth and laughed again at the singular little tail that twitched around one leg.
Then she turned and looked back over her shoulder to see the wide wings attached to her back. She stretched them this way and that, experimented with a few flaps. They struggled at first, ridding themselves of moisture, but within a few minutes she had lifted herself out of the pool and to the shore.
Elation rose within her and she laughed and giggled as she moved about so lightly. It was true dark before she lost interest in simply trying out this new form, and finally saw the ball of white-gray coming up over the horizon.
Tresapeake welcomed the rising Kreludor with wide-open arms and wide-open wings, calling out a challenge to it with another delighted laugh.
“I'm coming for you," she called, using her strong wings to lift higher and higher. “Let's make history, you and I."
And with that, Tresapeake Tettler flew to meet the moon.