Umamarie the Desert Usul looked out from the highest step of the Words of Antiquity shop on to the main square of Qasala. She was at once taken by the landscape in hues of brown and yellow, a sandy sea of Neopians draped in lightly coloured robes as shields against the unrelenting sun, and pointed towers that reached toward the sky. She also noted how, every few streets apart, endearing onion domes sat perched atop some buildings. Unlike at her home on Guild Street in Neopia Central, the wind was not strong. What gentle breeze that did exist rustled her robes ever so slightly, creating the effect that she was dancing. Her plushie Snarhook, always so faithfully beside her sandals, matched the light blue details of her robes.
Taking in the scene before her, Uma (as everyone called her for short) began reflecting deeply on the importance of this trip. Ever since that special day in Y7 when she had transformed from a Blue to a Desert Usul with the aid of the paint brush she had spent so long saving for, she had always vowed she would visit the Lost Desert. Now that she was finally here, it did not disappoint. Sakhmet had been frankly thrilling, with the endless rounds of Sakhmet Solitaire, a tour of Xendrik’s Mansion, and glass upon glass of Refreshing Oasis Water. In fact, all of the food she had tried was the best she had ever eaten, though she still couldn’t get over the Grarrl at a stall with Fried Suwek…
As expected, Coltzan’s Shrine was a mesmerizing sight, which finally came to life straight out of the pages of A History of the Lost Desert. She had read the book so many times in anticipation of the trip, often closing her eyes, as though if she imagined hard enough, she would be transported directly to Sakhmet or…
She said the name aloud so as to bring herself back to real life. This was real life, atop this orange staircase with an ornate fountain at the base. In the distance, drums and gongs played. She chuckled to herself, in that high-pitched tone so characteristic of Usuls. Most Usuls preferred grooming their thick fur or playing in the snows of Terror Mountain. But Uma was happiest here.
“May I be of any help, dear visitor?” The kindly voice of the Nimmo shopkeeper inside Words of Antiquity jolted her even more back into real life. “Miss?” He said again, this time beckoning her inside.
She turned, pulling the hood of her robes down to reveal her headband, with her wooden staff guiding her into the shop. Her jaw dropped as soon as she entered; she was immediately reminded of Sutek’s Scrolls, back in Sakhmet, also Nimmo-owned. She has never seen so many stones and tablets with carvings on them, with neat little symbols that surely must signify something important. Some of them were wrapped in cloth and others were more exposed, revealing intricate craftsmanship and mysterious writing all at once.
“Qasalan culture is so cool. I…”
Uma paused, realizing she had said the thought aloud again. She looked up from the stone to see the shopkeeper’s warm smile reflected in her turquoise eyes. Her Snarhook made sweet noises, also looking up at the Nimmo. Uma noticed that he had clearly been working on his inventory, as he carried even more scrolls on his back. He gestured for her to continue browsing. She looked amongst the heaps of items up for grabs: Cooking with Qando Fruit and Tablet of the Mysterious Mallard both captured her attention—Razz would love these, she thought. Uma smiled at the thought of one of her Pteri brothers and then paused, thoughtfully. She wanted to get something special for each of her family members: Chasquii, the eccentric Gnorbu, Harsika, the rather extravagant Elephante, Kata, the ever-faithful Usul who had taught her everything she knew, Keliza, the noble Pteri who always did the right thing, and, as the Qando fruit book had so reminded her for some reason, Razzberi, the courageous Pteri.
“Anything special that catches your eye, dear?”
“Well, I’m actually here on holiday. It’s my first time in Qasala and my family is back in Neopia Central. I’d like to bring them each back something special. I…”
“...yes, you really do need something special so your brothers and sisters will remember Qasala, don’t you? Do follow me!”
Gently placing his scrolls on the ground, the Nimmo beckoned Uma once again to follow him. Meandering quickly between neatly organized rows of stone tablets, Uma followed, with the sound of her sandals against the stone floor audible all the way to Sutek’s Tomb, she imagined. With the creek of a door, the Nimmo revealed an immense backroom. Somehow Uma just knew that not all visitors were so lucky. She could hardly imagine what could be back there. Ancient artifacts? Sparkling gold as far as the eye can see? Maybe even a slithering Scamander? Just imagine if the room were full of…
“Ummagines?” Again, Uma thought aloud before she could help herself. “Oh wow, look at the ummagines!”
She tried to correct her tone but sensed the Nimmo thought she was being disingenuous. There had to be thousands of ummagines in the room.
“Don’t you like them, miss?”
Well, of course, she did. In fact, Ummagines were one of her favourite snacks. She always had them around the house and had even just recently reread Ummagine Dreams. They were sweet, cool-looking, and a staple back home. But she’d never thought they were particularly special. They were just so common. Clearly, they were special to the shopkeeper, though.
“Yes sir, I do.”
“Well, there’s your answer, then. There are more than enough ummagines for you to bring back home in an adorable Pteri Cart.”
He seemed to conjure one out of thin air. Astonished, Uma wasn’t sure how to respond to the suggestion.
“I know what you’re thinking. How did the description of the Ummagine go again, miss?”
“It’s an Ummagine - how nice.”
“No, that’s actually the description of the Ummagine stamp!” The Nimmo gazed kindly upon Uma and her Snarhook, both of whom seemed to have been swallowed by the sea of purple fruits with green stems.
“Oh, right, er, ‘the Ummagine is a large root vegetable that grows far underground. It is such a hassle to dig them up that it is very rarely done.’ But then, why are there ummagines at the Fruit Machine?”
“The perennial question, isn’t it?” The merchant simply continued smiling kindly at Uma. When she didn’t answer him again, he continued. “When life gives you ummagines?”
“Make Ummagine Juice?” The uptalk in Uma’s answer was unmistakable.
“That’s the ticket! Imagine what your siblings could do with these finest Qasalan ummagines. Make juice, tea, even throw them on the grill for a healthy summer side!”
“It’s just that…”
The Nimmo leaned forward inquisitively.
“It’s just that, ummagines are very pretty and all. And, don’t get me wrong, we all love them at my house. It’s just that, I’ve travelled so far from Neopia Central. Since this is such a special trip for me to the Lost Desert, I wanted to bring everyone back something perhaps a bit more...unique. A special gift ought to be, truly special.” It was that final word that goaded the merchant into speech.
“Ah, yes. Special. But that’s the best part of all, isn’t it? Sometimes when someone travels so far from home, they realize that the ‘something special’ was with them all along. Different soil—erm, sand—can help us realize these things. Why, when I tried mint rolls in Shenkuu…” He trailed off, deciding not to finish his sentence.
Uma pulled the Pteri cart closer, which her Snarhook had already clambered into to make himself comfortable. She carefully selected five ummagines, checking each one for bruises or other impurities. They all seemed flawless, but she picked out the prettiest ones, nonetheless. She thanked the Nimmo shopkeeper whose name she never discovered and bid him adieu, feeling so grateful for the lesson he had taught her. As she walked toward the Techo working at Qasalan Delights, Uma was caught off guard when this other shopkeeper commented on her beautiful collection of Desert goodies. More shocking still was the fact that other passersby stopped to look at her cart. Her Snarhook was on her shoulder now and when she turned around, she saw not five but hundreds, literally hundreds, of ummagines overflowing from the cart on to the ground. She had no idea how it had happened.
“Who wants juice?” the Techo at the stand called.
“When life gives you Ummagines…” Uma thought aloud to herself once again and smiled, prancing happily into the Qasalan sunset.
Less then one week later, Uma was back at her own home on Guild Street in Neopia Central. A plate of grilled ummagine chips sat on the kitchen table and her brother Kata sipped some refreshing ummagine juice.
“Hey, Uma?” Kata looked up, hoping his sister wouldn’t catch wind of the juice that had dripped onto his fur.
“Yes, Kata?” But she already knew what was coming.
“What happens when life gives you ummagines?”
“You make ummagine juice!”
And the two happily drank the purple elixir as Uma recounted more stories from the trip.
From that moment onward, Uma replaced her staff with a beautiful Ummagine Platter for all to see and proudly explored Neopia Central with ummagines in her cart, often gifting them to others who stopped to chat. More importantly, as she was often reminded by the pleasant Nimmo, she frequently recalled what really mattered, and that was not to take for granted what you already have, even in abundance. Uma could not have asked for a better gift from Qasala for her family.