Intro Stats Story Initial Coding

Intro

Hello, there, and welcome to the newly renovated Citadel Lodge, run by yours truely. My given name is Cheranjevii, but you're welcome to call me Cheran. (Some of my older acquaintances call me Che'Vi, but I'd perfer it if you didn't.)

Pardon me, it gets rather dark ahead. Sh'jarue! There's a bit of light for us. I used to dabble in fire magic, I think. I seem to have the ability to summon little wraiths of light and energy like this-- Ah, I'll beg your pardon again. I do prattle on.

What's that, you say? A shadow on the wall, in the shape of a monster? Don't be silly. There are only myself, Lunayie, and a couple other patrons here, and none of them are monsters. Rest assured that as you stay here, you'll be safe and sound.

Oh, but... there have been rumors on things about late at night. I suggest you keep your chamber door locked, in any case. Of course, I feel no threat, but I would hate to see you injured or-- never mind.

You look quite pale now. Come, here's your room. Settle down; I'm sure you've had a long journey, and I won't keep you any longer. Goodbye!


Cheran's Stats

Name: Cheranjevii
Nicknames: Cheran (common), Che'Vi
Age: Uncertain (late twenties?)
Social Status: Avoiding
Family: Too big to list here
Species:Darigan Bori
Hobbies: Cooking and Magic
Hair Color: White
Eye Color: Crimson
Often Seen: In the daytime, having minor freak outs.
Most Known For: Avoiding talking about himself at all costs. It's a running joke among his acquaintances.
Favorite Food: Cheesecake
Favorite Color: Navy

Personality: Cheran is a kind, if a little unsocial and shy, Bori. Smart, with a quick but forgiving temper, he enjoys being on the outskirts of a crowd or silently running the whole thing. He is very fond of experimental chemistry and can make lovely desserts. He is also good with money and investments, and is responisble for the funds used to convert the Main House of Saro's estate into the Theatre it is today (although he is a bit scatterbrained). One thing, however, bothers him to this day; his genetic and inexplicable interest in necromancy and other less than judicious acts...

History: Cheran was the youngest in a family of nine, and despite being Darigan, a good feirce looking color, he was always a bit of a priss and passifist, avoiding fights whenever possible and making friends with girls because they played nicer. He ran away from home when he was old enough, intent on joining a cooking skill, but when he returned he had no memory of any time having passed. He seems to have buried some part of him that arose during that year, and much to his dismay and denial, it's becoming... unburied.

Quote: Well, now, however did that get here? No matter. I'll just put it back before anyone notices, and we'll just forget the whole deal. Ha! Ha! That happens a lot, doesn't it? ... Oh, dear.

Theme Song: Strawberry Swing by Coldplay




The Tale of Che'Vi

September 7th, Y8 -- I suppose I may as well use this diary of mine. I don't know why I got it in the first place; it's a rather silly thing, isn't it? For a boy to have such a thing? But, then again, I've always been pegged as that sort of boy. I wear my hair long, I like antiques and Old Neovia, I've been called a fruitcake on more than one occasion, but do I care?

...All right, maybe a little, but I'm still young, I'm allowed to be vain. But, to business.

It's the start of an adventure for me. At long last, I'm leaving home. The exotic locales of the Mystery Island Cooking school call to me, and I must answer them, at the cost of a long (and expensive!) journey.

Clapping shut his book, Cheran laid it carefully into his leather bag. His ruby eyes, at first glance having an almost savage air to them, professed upon closer examination to have enthusiasm and ambition in their depths. As per usual, his white hair was tied back into a long ponytail that curled at the end, but he tugged the cord out of it and ran a comb through the locks, then quickly began to plait it into a serious (as possible) braid that settled neatly against the spiked shell on his back.

He flexed his shoulders and studied his form in the mirror. There,he concluded, satisfied. Then he picked up his satchel and trotted down the stairs.

Even at this early hour, Meridell was packed. The smell of cheese, of mud and sweating Whinnies, contrasted with the fresh breeze blowing from Illusen's Glade. Cheran tried not to inhale too deeply, and waved down a cart pulled by a handsome spotted Uni.

Sorry, ma'am, the equine Neopet coughed at the sight of the Bori approaching, I'd a'vise you not to take the 'oute I'm bound on. It goes 'ight by th' Haunted Woods, and no--

Oh, hang it all, I'm not even wearing a shirt and you confuse me with a female? Cheran snorted, and threw his suitcase in the back. Bright spark of a Uni, aren't you?

I beg your pardon, monsieur, answered a soft voice, muffled behind a covered hand, I believe he was addressing me.

There in the road stood a lovely Shadow Gelert, a smile scarcely hidden by her delicate paw, curls of lavender hair framing her face. Cheran flushed in shame, and dipped his head to her. No, the fault is all mine.

The Uni coughed and shifted his weight. Look, nah offense, but I've a route t' run. Now, whoever's goin' needs t' be goin' now.

The Gelert nodded calmly.Ah, pardon, will you give me a hand? I'm on my way to the Haunted Woods to be a sorcerer and would be most pleased if you took me there. Flashing a sharp-toothed smile, she handed the Uni a few coins for the fare, and hopped in.

Hesitating but a moment longer, Cheran followed her, settling himself carefully beside her, so as to not pierce her skin with the barbs of his shell. Before he could speak, though, she turned to him quickly.

Good morning. I'm Agolair, but just call me A'air. It sounds much lighter and less restrained by the cares of this world. I mean, what is so free as the air we breathe? She sighed, rapturously, and stared at the sky for a minute or two. Her companion blinked, a little thrown off by her behavior, then cleared his throat.

So, um... I'm Cheranjeevi, but most of my friends call me--

Oh, may I call you Che'vi? she interrupted him with a shy smile. He fidgeted and flushed, then nodded.

Y-yes, if you... wish.

She smiled again, this time one unhidden, and it seemed to be the loveliest sight Cheran - now Che'vi - had ever seen.

It's very nice to meet you, Che'vi.

* * *

September 21st, Y8-- It's been a little less than two weeks since I left A'air in the Haunted Woods, and I still can't get her out of my mind. It's pathetic, really, but I'll say it anyway. Something just seemed to fall into place when I talked to her, and I spend most of my time now dreaming about leaving Mystery Island and finding her.

Ah, no, I'm such a sentimental fool. I need to concentrate on my schooling, or I'll fail the classes. Then what will she-- I mean, everyone think of me?

And, of course, there's the small matter of pursuing my dreams. That should be more important than pursuing a woman, right?

Ah, boy, you're gonna be late, hollered an Island Chomby on his way by outside Cheran's quarters, and the Bori quickly threw his journal into a drawer, swapping it out for his cookbook and sprinting off to the Cooking School.

The Headmaster was a cheerful White Lupe, with an no-nonsense blue Flotzam of an assistant, but even the most easy going teacher would have been justified in frustration towards Cheran. The bright Bori was distracted, making careless mistakes (and mysteriously, his cooking almost always turned out fine); in short, he was wasting his talent.

The Island Chomby from before nudged Cheran, careful to avoid the spines on his shell. Looks like it's cheesecake today. I wonder where the dishes are going this time.

Cheran shrugged. Does it matter? The blue Flotsam glared at them.

Not that it matters to you, but the best three cheesecakes and their recipes shall be taken to Faerieland, for Fyora to taste, and possibly add to the Faerieland Castle Recipe Book. Cheran's companion chuckled once the assistant had passed. It matters.

Then the starting bell was ringing, and the kitchen veritably exploded in activity. Cheran watched his companion jostling each other, fighting for the best pick of ingredients; all he had to do was set his shoulders and nudge the spines of his shell in the direction he wanted clear, and the crowds would part - albeit with a few muttered complaints.

Cheran was the toughest - in appearance - Neopet in the entire cooking class, since over half of the students were female and the rest of the students were more stereotypically docile colors like Striped, Faerie or Pink. A fact he used to his advantage, and actually secretly enjoyed, despite the fact that it also alienated him from the rest of his classmates. Only the Island Chomby named Girot wasn't afraid or disgusted to talk to him, and even they shared few words together.

I was always the runt of the litter, and pushed down by all my big brothers, he chuckled silently to himself as he flashed a fanged grin to a Meerca who was reaching for the same package of Kau Kau Farms Premium Cream Cheese. Funny how things turn out, isn't it? The Meerca paled slightly and let him have the cheese, which Cheran received with a dip of his head and another smile.

Mentally recalling the recipe for a white chocolate and Cheops cheesecake, Cheran busied himself blending the creamy white filling, switching spoons often as his arms grew tired. Part of the class was cooking entirely by old methods - no mixers, no magic, and unpredictable lava-heated ovens from the volcano.

A glance around him told the Darigan that his classmates were progressing at the same rate; some with calm if not confident smiles, others - younger pets - were pouring together ingredients with something approaching panic. Giving the white filling one last, decisive stir, Cheran left it alone and began to crush Scarab Cookies with a rolling pin, readying the sugar and butter.

What are you cooking, Cheranjeevi? The Lupe Headmaster was watching him with a calm eye, but the Bori could sense the intensity that lurked behind the docile brown eyes.

A Lost Desert Cheesecake, with a Scarab Cookie crust and stewed Cheops swirled into a vanilla-toffee base, he answered calmly, not raising his eyes from his task.

Scarab Cookies for a crust? The Headmaster's voice was questioning, but not entirely surprised. That's a rather bland crust, isn't it?

Cheran did not hesitate. I did not want to overpower the filling.

The Lupe dipped his head, moving on smoothly. I hope it works, then, he murmured in passing, his student nodding his head sharply as he began to press the sticky, crumbled cookies into a pan.

Expertly chopping Cheops fruits into quarter sections and pouring a mixture of sugar and a splash of a Dewberry Reviver - for a sweet, heady kick to counteract the acid of the desert fruit - into a pan, he let the fluid mixture boil for a moment before tossing in the fruit. The smell of food was filling the air now, and Cheran had to concentrate all of his senses as he tasted the fruit filling.

A grin split his face, the long ivory fangs of his family revealed in an accidentally sinister smile. Perfect again.

Folding two thirds of the reddish mixture into the creamy base, he sprinkled the crust with artfully cut gems of golden toffee, spooning the cheesecake filling into the pan. Lastly, he poured the fruit mixture on top, very lightly stirring it into the cream into the shape of a scarab. When it came out of the oven, he would top it with a scarab cookie and whipped cream.

Across the room, other cheesecakes were being slid into their ovens; he had little time to spare. Cheran cradled his cheesecake as though it were a Draik Egg, and wove his way through the crowd of cooking school students when--

SPLATTTT!

All movement ceased, as Cheran stared down at the mess of crumbled cookie, cream and Cheops fruit. Beside him, the Blue Flotsam looked down his short, blunt nose at the ruin of the cheesecake.

Sorry, he apologized cursorily, although the Bori was sure he wasn't. Guess this means you're out.

How do you figure? the Bori ground out, crushing his rising temper as he dug the talons on his toes into the concrete floor, threatening to score it.

The Flotsam pointed to the clock. You only have ten more minutes to get a cheesecake together, otherwise there's no way it can cook properly. Tough luck, he finished, turning neatly on his tail and sliding away.

Cheran whirled around and flew back to the ingredient table, leaving his fallen cheesecake where it lay like a wounded soldier for the petpets to clean up. It was true that he didn't entirely care whether or not he completed this assignment - his grades were good enough to not be dented by failing a class - but...

As he glanced around the room from the corner of his eye, he noticed how none of his classmates gave him so much as a pitying look, even the ones who had finished and were lounging around drinking coconut milk. Everyone wanted him to fail; just like his brothers had when he'd left them to come here.

His pride would not let him fail.

Like a blue, spiked whirlwind, he returned to his cooking station, chopping up more Cheops fruits with savagery, dropping the knife only long enough to pour in Dewberry Reviver and sugar with dangerous abandon. Girot, the Chomby beside him, moved slightly out of his way as Cheran whipped his head around, searching for ingredients on his table with his braid lashing the air with his hurried movements.

You don't have to do this, the Chomby murmured as he passed the Bori with an uncooked Chocolate Cheesecake in his huge front feet.

No, the Bori snarled, rehearing all the steps to the cheesecake in his mind as he ground up more Scarab Cookies, I do.

His mind was a chaos of things to do, and as he worked at a fevered pace, Cheran became slowly aware of someone helping him pour ingredients into the crust, adding crumbled cookies and melted butter from somewhere outside of his line of vision.

Could it be... A'air? The thought made his heart skip a beat, and he glanced up to be met with the severe scowl of the Headmaster.

Still working, the Bori wiped his slowly dampening bangs out of his face. Something wrong?

The white Lupe's paw shot out, grabbing both of Cheran's paws. I believe something is, and he nodded to the crust.

The spoon was still moving, folding the crumbs together into the bowl. Suddenly, Cheran was aware of the commands he'd been whispering under his breath, and as he locked his jaw tightly shut, the room was entirely silent. Every eye was on him as the cheesecake ceased making itself.

Magic, Cheranjeevi. The Headmaster's voice was stern, but almost apologetic. I cannot let you stay in my school.

I didn't mean to, the Bori pleaded, scanning the crowds for a sympathetic face; but most of his classmates were looking away. Worse, though, were how some of them looked satisfied, or even... relieved.

Why...

Cheranjeevi. The headmaster's voice seemed to come from a long distance away. Go home.

* * *

September 24th, Y8-- I guess I'd never really realized, until then, how little friends I had. I keep having to fight the petulant urges that say, 'it's all their fault, they hate me for my color.' But I should take some responsibility. I had no second thoughts on using intimidation or fear to get ahead in my classes. I wasn't especially loud or crude, granted; but I gave them more reasons to dislike me then to like me.

In any case, though, my cooking school dreams have been broken, and at this point in my life, I can no longer follow them. I now, however, am following my heart to the Haunted Woods, where darkness creeps at every corner and frightening Neopets can all get along. But, more importantly, where I last saw A'air.

Blowing lightly onto the pages of his diary to dry the ink, Cheran glanced over the top of it to where a Faerie Meerca was seated on the other bench of the Uni-drawn cart, watching him with bold, black eyes.

Hello, he murmured carefully, smiling with closed lips in what he hoped was a small, friendly grin.

Hello, she replied, beaming innocently.

Satisfied that the ink had dried, Cheran closed the diary and was in the process of sliding it into the modest leather bag that contained his now-meager belongs and the tiny bag of Points he'd earned from selling the rest of them when the Meerca spoke again.

What's the book?

He stalled for a moment. A journal, he admitted, flattening his ears as the plump little Faerie Neopet gave a grating giggle.

Oh, so you're that kind of boy, are you?

I am not! Without thinking, he bared his teeth at her and snapped. She yelped, and leaned away from him as he snarled. Don't make assumptions about me, will you? Just because you're a Faerie Meerca doesn't mean you're some kind of flighty, Negg-obsessed ninny, does it?

Well, you don't have to be so rude, she huffed, but her face was still pale as the cart ground to a halt and the Spotted Uni passed them a look over his shoulder.

Lis'n, Bori, I'ma have t' kick you off if y' keep fightin' with mah passenge's, kay? And you, Mee'ca; don' tick 'em off. 'E's a Da'igan. Cheran was opening his mouth to snap back a reply when the Uni winked at him. E could eatcha in a secon'.

The Meerca clamped her mouth shut, and not another word was said until they were on the edge of the Haunted Woods. The sun was setting, and but Uni and Meerca looked slightly pale.

Few Neopets ventured into the Haunted Woods at all; to be uneasy going there at night was perfectly normal.

Cheran took the opportunity to return the wink to the Uni. Hey, don't worry about it. I'm a Darigan, like you said.

He'd said it more as a joke than actual reassurance, but the Meerca quickly picked herself up and plunked down beside him, her wings buzzing nervously and threatening to snag on his shell's spines.

Easy there, he patted her shoulder, turning his shoulders to point his back away from her. You better keep your wings still.

She nodded, tight lipped, then a few minutes later, the Uni stopped at a bend in the road, where a thin trail flanked by dirty white stones and the odd candle led off into the darkness.

This is whe'e I lef' the Gelert, I think. 'M glad I keep reco'ds of my passenge's, the Uni finished, shifting the burden on his shoulders slightly. Ya mind gettin' off here? I dunno if I could fight off a Ghost or anythin' like that.

Cheran nodded, draping the leather bag's straps over two of his back spines, and landed softly on the rotting leaf loam. Thanks for the ride, sir. I'll be all right.

The Uni nodded. If ya eva find who you'e lookin' fo', stop by an' prove it, willya? None o' mah sistas will believe me othe'wise.

Sure. Take care, Edelam.

Without another word, the Uni and his Meerca passenger were off, the other waving nervously from the back of the cart. I'm sorry for what I called you, sir! You're one of the kindest Bori I ever met!

He waved back with a smile; her goodwill buoyed his spirits, and he headed on along the path. As he passed a candle, it was snuffed out, until the only visible part of forest was what lay only a few paces ahead. The rest was blurry darkness, scratched by tree limbs and the odd wing beats of passing Barbats. Or what he hoped were Barbats.

Suddenly, the path seemed to run out of candles. Cheran blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the weak moonlight, and made out the faint path with some difficulty. As he began to follow it, a pair of greenish, disembodied flames flickered into visibility. They danced together, just around the bend, and as he approached them they glowed, shifting colors. With a sudden flare of heat, they were spinning around his ears; he stumbled backward, ducking instinctively, and covered his head.

What are these strange things?

He was nervous, wincing as they came so close they singed the fur on his ears; he forced one eye open and studied one with apprehension. It was a Ghost Baby Fireball, watching him with the curiosity of an innocent Baby.

Hello?

They flashed, and their looks changed to ones of satisfaction; the heat that ticked his fur as they orbited his head was warm and soothing, almost encouraging. Together they shot off again, like earthbound stars, leading him away from the path and into a twisted bramble thicket.

The sight of the claw-like plants, huddled together like conspiring thieves, made him hesitate. But when a Fireball came back to swirl around his ankles, Cheran followed them into the thicket.

With their constant guiding and encouragement, he avoided most injury, although he did suffer a long, scoring line across his arm from stumbling on a root, but a few minutes later, he found himself outside an imposing, stout tower.

The Fireballs shot up to the top of the tower and vanished into a crack in the roof without so much as a goodbye, and Cheran tried to fight off the feeling of loss. He approached the door, which was far sturdier than he would have guessed from the moss and fungi that blurred its silhouette, and found it to be unlocked.

It opened with a grating screech, like an animal in pain, and by instinct he froze. Seconds ticked by, and he counted ten by the dripping of water from the low roof before he stepped inside. A sudden prickle on the back of his neck was his only warning, and he flicked his tail out of the way as the door flew shut in dead silence.

The prickle was growing into a full out tingle, and Cheran held his claws at the ready as he felt about the walls in the blackness, sniffing and listening carefully to try and get his bearings. Hello?

The sound echoed, belying the small stature of the place from the exterior, and he shivered again. He was used to places like this, all darkness and intimidation to scare off the intruders - in fact, he was certain that his family had taught the house's owner the creaky-open, silent-shut spell that he had sensed on the door - but he could not shake the feeling he was being watched.

I'm here looking for the Shadow Gelert, Agolair, he addressed the darkness with confidence he did not have. You might know her as A'air?

There was a gasp, then the room was flooded with lights. Cheran stiffened with shock as he found himself standing on the edge of a small cliff, where below him was what looked very much like a more macabre version of the Cooking School, filled with suspicious jars, empty bottles and bubbling cauldrons. The gasp had come from below, where a familiar face was staring up at him, with colors of glee in her face and her voice. Che'vi! It's you!

Conversation broke out from the students below, all of whom were clothed in black coats - yet again, in juxtaposition to the crisp white aprons of the Cooking School - and most of whom were Halloween, or Ghost pets. There were a few Glowing, some Shadow, and to his mild relief some Darigans as well. Commotion broke out at the far wall, where a short, hunched green pet was smacking students left and right with a gnarled stick. The Ghost Fireballs from before were hovering over its head, making it hard for Cheran to tell its gender. The Neopet held a brief conversation with A'air, then the short one threw a potion bottle at their feet. There was a small puff of purple smoke, then a voice spoke from behind him, cracked with age and none too cheerful.

So, my student says you know her. Is she all you've come for, boy? The hunched Neopet was none other than Edna the Witch; her beady bright eyes were studying him sharply. Because I'm not takin' on any more stupid-headed students. You Neopets these days, sauntering about thinking they know the world when they're a couple hundred days old. Pfaah! She made a noise of scorn, halfway between a laugh and a spit, but Cheran was promptly distracted by a pair of black paws wrapping around his forearm.

Oh, Edna, I know you've got a heart of gold under that mangy green fur. I know he's late, but you've got to admit him to your class!

U-um, he coughed, suddenly feeling hot and shy. How do I say this? I got kicked out of using magic in the Cooking School, so I--

The Cooking School? Edna arced one bushy eyebrow. Is it still run by that slimy white Lupe?

Cheran bit his lip; confessions of love were not easy, and neither A'air nor Edna were making it easier. Yes, but the real reason I--

See, you have to take him on as a student! A'air nuzzled him in the crook of his neck. He already can use some magic, and I'm sure he'd be fantastic at potionry! I bet he'd teach himself; wouldn't you?

She turned faithful indigo eyes on him, and he fairly melted into a puddle right there. Ah... I... U-um...

I don't care if he already knows how to use magic and brew Morphing Potions; I ain't takin' on a student that can't talk! The Witch shook her staff at him. Besides, do you know how expensive the ingredients for some of my potions are?

A'air grinned and kissed the top of the Zafara's head. I just knew you'd agree. Come on, Che'Vi, there's a spare room right across from Banyu in the male's wing. I'll take you there!

Pacing her paw on the wall, A'air chanted a short phrase under her breath; a wheel of symbols shot out from her palm like ripples on a pond, then the stones vanished, revealing a short path that led to a fork, lit by lamps.

Listen, A'air, I... Cheran/Che'Vi fumbled for words, trying to spit out his affections before he became too deeply ensnared in this. Then, a new thought occurred to him. How are you so familiar with the male's wing?

She shrugged as she stopped before a door that seemed identical to all the others they had passed, save for a number on the door. The Gelert pushed open the door and snapped her fingers, summoning a small and oddly cold purple flame. Oh, I've just got a lot of friends around here, so I visit a lot, you know?

And then he understood. A'air was... just a very friendly sort of girl; and she held him in no high regard. Despite what she had said about him in front of Edna, he didn't feel very special.

I'm not the only one she cares for...

Hey, A'air, murmured a low voice, and both Gelert and Bori turned to see a dark eyed Mutant Scorchio looming slightly over them.

Cheran was not easily intimidated, however, and felt more angry than nervous when he saw A'air beam up at the newcomer. Oh, Banyu, this is another one of my friends, Che'Vi!

And then he understood, as he stared back up at the Scorchio with jealously and shame burning under his blue fur. I'm not the only one who cares for her, either...

* * *
October 2nd, Y8-- Despite my own efforts - and perhaps despite the efforts of Banyu and maybe even Edna - I've been accepted into Edna's School of Potionry and Dark Magic. Edna teaches each class personally - that's why there's so few of us here - and there are three types of classes a day. I'm doing well, but perhaps I'm lying to myself. Brewing potions is actually quite fun - I've already mastered a few healing potions, and I'm working on perfecting a batch of Slorg Flakes. We've been testing them on a batch of Snufflies from Terror Mountain, and I'm growing rather attached to one of them. Perhaps I can keep it as my own?

Speaking of attachments, I find myself growing more and more attached to A'air by the day. But, as I figured before, I am not her only suitor...

Aiee, Chevy or whatever your name is - what are you playing with there? Edna was glaring up at him, her thick green tail twitching spasmodically under her robe as she watched him stirring a potion. The Zafara was both head of the School and the teacher for Potionry; which meant Cheran saw her every day, but she seemed to go out of her way to pay attention to him. If I didn't know better, I'd say she actually liked me.

I'm experimenting - don't worry, I bought my own ingredients - and trying to make a potion that increases intelligence. He offered an explination as he stirred the brew on a burner.

I know of several of my students I'd like to test it on, muttered the Zafara. Why's it sparkling like that?

I had a friend from back home at the Citadel get some Space Faerie Dust when he went on a Quest for her. It's supposed to have the wisdom of the cosmos. Then I added some fruit juices for bulk and taste and a dose of Liquid Meridell Moonlight.

Edna was not easily impressed, so Cheran was relatively unperturbed when she rolled her eyes. Ya take lots of risks, don't you, Cheranjeevi?

The Bori shifted the stirring rod from one paw to the other, uncertain at her tone. Her laugh did little to sooth him; it was a hoarse, deep cackle that sounded like the Tyrranian Beast was choking on a Pteri.

Don't make that face, Bori. Let's try it, shall we? Open up-- Grabbing the still hot beverage and his bottom jaw, she pouring the shimmering potion down his throat.

Stars exploded in his mind, then the back of his throat as though he'd just tried to stiffle a sneeze. Hot steam sprayed from his nose, shimmering with stardust as it hit the air; a shiver ran down his spine, and it was over.

How do ya feel? Edna poked him in the stomach, and he blinked.

A little smarter... maybe? The Bori scowled. Maybe I should make another batch and try it on someone else--

The Zafara poked him again. Nah. Give it a few days, and see how you feel in the long term. Then you can make another batch.

Cheran dipped his head, snorting more stardust. Thank you, Teacher.

Another shove ffom the Zafara almost unbalanced him, and he glanced up to see A'air waving in the doorway between the potion room and the assault magic class. With her was... Banyu. Of course.

Hai, Che'Vi? Do you want to come outside and play with your Snuffly? Banyu just got me a Darigan Carmariller and she wants to go play with the Baby Fireballs.

Biting back a bitter reply, Cheran forced a grin. Yeah, sure. Just let me finish cleaning up!

He wiped off the counters and his muzzle with a clean rag, stopped by the Petpet pen and made a trilling noise under his breath. From the pile of snowy white fur, a wedge shaped head emerged, and a Snuffly with fangs from her upper jaw shuffled over.

Krrrrrrr, it purred back at him, studying him with dark blue eyes. Krrrr?

C'mere, Kirr, he addressed the Snuffly cheerfully. Let's go play with Agolair.

It was a warm, golden sort of twilight; purple clouds rolled lazily around them, edged in shades of amber and reflecting light back onto the Haunted Woods. In this light, the trees seemed more mysterious and hazy than like the burnt bones of some dangerous beast. It was almost... magic.

Che'vi, ma cherie, it feels like you've been here forever. A'air was flying her Carmariller like a kite with a steady stream of air from her wind magic wand; the cheerful little beast was singing a dirge as it swooped and spun in the twilight. Banyu was smirking as he leaned against a tree; Cheran could sense the earth-centric student taunting him, but he ignored him.

A'air, you've gotten really good with your air magic. I bet you could whip up a few good twisters.

The Shadow Gelert beamed back at him. You think so? Oh, thank you. Edna seems to have grown quite fond of you, you know.

Cheran glanced up from Kirr, who was sniffing her way through the loam and keeping one blank eye on the Carmariller. He hadn't been expecting the compliment. Really? What does she say?

She's impressed on your potion skills, but a little sad you're not into combat magic. She thinks - and I think - you could be very good at it.

He tried, but couldn't entirely hide, the blush that crept across his cheeks at her compliment. M-maybe I'll take something like fire magic in the next semester.

A'air looks as though she was about to reply, but Banyu cut her off. Fire magic, huh? He grinned, flashing long fangs that irritated Cheran far more than intimidated. If you ever get good enough, I'll have to ask you to duel against me.

The Bori's ears flicked as he resisted the instinct to pin them warily. You've had far more experience in magic than me, and earth magic is automatically strong against fire. Hardly a fair fight.

It's a deal, then, he replied as casually as he could, sliding a meaningful glance in A'air's direction as her Carmariller landed in her arms. Even if it's unfair, it's a fight I have to win.

* * *

You want to learn fire magic? Edna cackled scornfully. Boy, that Sparkle Potion must have taken you down some IQ points, not up. She snorted, turned, and headed deeper into the underground passage leading to the Petpet quarters, both Neopets burdened with the lanterns that the Baby Fireballs lit by day in the classrooms. In slumber, the petpets emitted almost no light, although one would occasionally flare up and cry for food, hungry from burning all day.

No, my potion worked; I got my intelligence checked and it had gone up-- Cheran increased his pace as he was in danger of losing the Zafara in the dark tunnel. Edna, please... I have to beat Banyu. It's for Agolair.

Edna paused and glared up at him. Oh, did she ask you to beat that whelp's scaly hide?

No--

Then you're dueling for her heart, aren't you?

The Bori froze, then flushed and glanced down. Y-yes.

Don't you think you've already lost? When he glanced up, the Zafara's face was surprisingly serious. You can't win a heart like that, you know. It's something you're given.

Cheran studied her for a moment too long, and receiving a stinging blow on the arm from her tail. Look lively, boy. I'll teach you fire magic - assuming you can learn it - and I'll let you get your fuzzy blue butt whipped by Banyu, so I will. You've got my word on that. She winked at him, cheerfully, and for a moment, he wondered whether he was imaging the pain of old loss and nostalgia that echoed in the depths of her green eyes.

* * *

Nov 20th, Y8 -- I've been studying fire magic intensively for a little over a month now. I'm not doing as well as I wished, but far better than I hoped.

As for Edna's mysterious melancholy, I haven't been able to learn any more; nor have I been able to discern A'air feelings. The only thing I can do is continue with my plan... Even though, with every passing day, it seems like I've already lost.

Why can't I just be happy for her? There's a chance I could quit and go back to my old life cooking - but I have to complete something. I can't give up!

Cheran hissed as the potion he was stirring splashed and overflowed, scalding his skin under the blue fur. The Night Fury Potion had to be stirred briskly, to make the Dark Faerie's Wrath fully dissolve the Attack Pea Essence; it wouldn't be finished until it frothed on top.

There was only a few minutes left in potion class for the day, so he fairly whisked the potion as he tucked his journal - which had become a school book of sorts, filled with recipes and spell words - back into his black cloak uniform. Soon, he'd be lobbing fireballs at targets in the second class of the day, assault magic.

Attack magic came as naturally to him as cooking did; one was hereditary and one was personality, and while he vastly preferred the latter, he would occasionally see A'air in the former. Thus, he looked forward to every class of every day.

Again, not because he liked fighting especially - although it felt almost like revenge against his bullying siblings every time he disabled an opponent - but because he needed to learn Banyu's fighting style.

I'll never be able to beat him through experience, nor type - I'll have to try to out think him.

But even that was a problem.

At last, clouds of frothy foam showed on the top of the boiling potion, and Cheran turned off the heater, pouring the steaming fluid into a marked bottle with his name on it, for Edna to test later. The Bori hummed a cheerful tune under his breath as he headed for assault magic, following Edna and only a few of his Potionry classmates into the next room.

It was a massive cavern, deep below the earth, basked in the light of the White Baby Fireballs that burned steady and calm in the wall lanterns with brick walls pockmarked by magic blasts from ages ago. Their Zafara teacher wheezed slightly as she hobbled onto the low stage in the center of the room, coughing into her sleeve. I'm gettin' too old for this stuff, she grumbled, then raised her voice. All right, so we've only got a couple weeks left until I can close this school and boot you lazy, food-snarfing saps out of my house. So, for today, I want everyone to try and beat the stuffing out of each other-- there were excited murmurs from some of the male pets, -- without using magic.

Why? Because this is a class about winning battles. Sometimes you'll run out of power, or maybe your opponent is immune to your magic. In any case, you should expect the unexpected.

Then, a smog enveloped her, and she was gone, leaving only a pile of Bone Clubs in her wake.

Every time I turn around, it's back to how I lived as a kid, Cheran lamented as he followed the swarm of students to the pile. The strongest wins, brawn over brain, etc. Why can't I just be a civilized, pleasant, cooking--

*THUNK*

A Club bounced off the back of his head; the Darigan staggered, dazed, and saw Banyu grinning down at him. The battlefield is no time for playing mental chess, Bori.

Cheran rolled with difficulty out of the way of the Scorchio's next blow, clamping a paw to the back of his head and was relieved to find it dry. It still throbbed with every movement.

Suddenly, the Bori dropped to the ground and curled up in a ball, pitching forward in hopes of stabbing the Scorchio with the spines on his shell; the flap of wings told him he had missed. Uncurling slightly, Cheran peered out and saw Banyu land to his side, and he lashed out with a clawed paw. He felt his talons scrape between armor scales and tear at the tender skin underneath with a mixture of shame and satisfaction.

I tried to escape this side of me by leaving home! I can't stand this... Snapping at the tip of Banyu's tail with his sharp, off white fangs, the Bori silently cursed himself as he countered a blow aimed at his eyes. I can't stand acting like my family again! This isn't me!

Seeing a split second chance, Cheran leapt forward, crunching Banyu's club wielding paw in his teeth and slamming his own weapon into the side of the Scorchio's head.

Magnifique,, Che'vi~! A'air's cheerful tones seemed out of place in the din of battle, as did her sudden and totally crippling blow to his already-injured head. But one good blow is not enough!

Exhausted, with ripples of pain running down his body as he lay on the floor, totally defeated as Banyu rose and shook off his dizziness to fight beside A'air, Cheran's dazed mind took one lone thought with it as it sunk into darkness.

I can never win her heart... not like this... Cheran the cook isn't good enough for her.

But perhaps Che'Vi the savage spell caster is.

* * *
All but one of the Fireball lanterns had been taken back to their quarters for the night; Willow and Wisp, Edna's personal Fireballs and the twins that had led Cheran to the school in the first place, were taking turns sleeping and providing the Bori with light as he brewed a new potion.

You know, Willow, he murmured to the petpet flickering behind the crystal panes of the lantern he had hung over his work table, muttering a spell word and summoning a dancing flame the same color as the Fireball, I can make my own light.

The Fireball chirred in protest, rousing her brother and Kirr, both of whom were dozing just below the lantern stand. Cheran forced a tired smile.

Of course I'm glad for the company. I just don't want you two wearing yourselves out, ok? Gotta save some spark for the morning.

The Snuffly blinked glassy blue eyes, then sighed and went back to sleep as Cheran ran over his ingredient list in his head. Dark Magician's Faith for increased spell memory, Lair Beast Blood to give me strength, Yarn of Time to tie the spell together for years...

I could turn out a monster.

As he plucked more fibers from the Yarn of Time, the Bori felt nervous energy churning in his stomach, and he dropped to his knees, fumbling through bottles and jars. Ah, here we go.

Frost sparkled on the outside of a scaled bottle. Sigh of Lady Frostbite. This should help me keep my cool in any situation. Last thing I'd want to have become is a blind berserker... especially around someone as frustrating as Banyu.

Kirr chirred angrily as him as he bumped the table. Relax. I know what I'm doing.

The Snuffly growled at him, an obvious question. Do you really?

Faint heart never won fair maiden, he replied, all the confidence in his voice and not his heart. A chill crept up his arm as he added a few puffs of the Sigh, then he capped the beaker and shook it vigorously.

The deep purple shade of the Faith took on a wine hue from the Lair Beast Blood, streaked through with the white fibers of the Yarn of Time and thickening into an ominous sludge as the Sigh chilled it. Cheran uncorked it and took in a shallow sniff.

It stank like the chill, dead air of the Geraptiku Tomb; the fur was standing up on the back of his neck as the potion swirled restlessly, ominously.

Lock it away! Take it to the Faerie Queen! Destroy this potion in any way you can! His instincts were screaming at him, telling him the lengths of his stupidity as he held the potion to his lips...

Willow suddenly flared, then went out with a snuff of smoke, plunging the room into darkness. Moments later, Cheran heard it too; running footsteps.

Oh, Banyu, ma cherie! Must we be leaving tonight?

Her giggle was cut off by Banyu's barely restrained growl. Aye, and don't make so much noise. We're sneaking out, remember?

Cheran threw open the door to the lantern and shooed the petpets to the opposite corner of the room. You, stay here. Once I'm gone, go straight to the stable.

Kirr raised her head defiantly, obviously wishing to follow him. The Bori shook his head, glancing over his shoulder as the last echoes of Banyu and A'air's voices faded. If this turns into a fight, the last thing I want is for you to be injured.

Taking in a breath, he snatched the potion up and jogged down the hallway.

* * *

Dec 1st, Y8 - - I have no memory of the events of that night. I woke up to find splintered, scorched trees, pits in the earth, and Kirr gone.

Yes, I drank the potion, and its effects were not as I planned. I can only conclude that the damage caused to the forest and my only companion... was my fault. Agolair and Banyu are nowhere to be found, and I dare not show my face back at Edna's School. I feel heavy with guilt.

But that rage and power is not the only side effect. Time has, it seems, frozen my appearance. I sold the formula for my Sparkle Potion to the witches of Meridel, and with the profits I bought myself a Faerie Paint Brush. Of course, when I went to the Rainbow Pool, my Paint Brush.... didn't work. I can only conclude that my appearance will stay like this. For how long, I have no idea.

I shall stay in hiding, create a new life for myself, and forget the sins of my past. I've sold the Paint Brush and bought the ingredients for one last potion... a potion so that I may forget my old life. I can only hope that I shall forget the powerful spells I learned while studying under Edna, and be able to live the rest of my life in peace...

End





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