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Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)

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Week 914
You are on Week 915
Week 916

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Nine Hundred Fifteen Ends May 27

"Thank you, ladies and merfolk, you've been a wonderful audience!" I told them, my fins gripping the mic for support. "I'll be at the Kelp Funny Klub until Wednesday, and be sure to try the Spicy Radish Salad!"

Nary a fin-clap could be heard among the audience, and I did my best to uphold my wavering smile as I looked at figures seated at such elegant tables. The only sound that I could pick up on was the scant clink of silverware, that had, in fact, lessened as my act went on.

Did I really just make an entire restaurant lose their appetite?

"...Bye." I slid the microphone back into its place and fled the stage, grateful that the saltwater all around me hid my oncoming tears.

This was my first real gig as a comedian, and I'd blown it as sure as Faerieland was blown out of the sky (too soon?). What was worse, my cousin Mordy had helped me get this gig in the first place, painting me in a better light than any paintbrush to his fellow staff members of Kelp!

And I'd gone and flubbed it all.

My swimming slowed to a crawl, right in front of the restaurant's cleaning closet. Without hesitation, I leapt in and plopped onto an upturned mop bucket, slamming the door behind me. All of the pretence was gone, and I could face the facts, and my puffy red eyes, in the dingy closet mirror.

I just wasn't funny.

Oh, I'd tried before, of course. Submitted every quip I had into the caption contest, whether it was a horrific pun about a Larni-KIN being someone's family, or some silly quip about a crisp blue tunic being crisped, and not blue-d, by a Scorchio. I've even sent a handful of funny stories into the Storytelling contest, but that Aisha's sense of humour--whoof, don't get me started on that. My side-splitters never made the cut.

I mulled over my purpose as I pushed a broom handle back and forth. Why would I try so hard to pursue a seemingly fruitless calling?

That part was easy to answer. The truth is, others are drawn to those with wit and charm, especially if they can be made to laugh at their antics.

I was a clumsy child, so that was easy enough back then, but now? Everyone's just too serious. It's almost like one can't even make a joke anymore without losing their appetite for their Honeyed Horn of Plenty.

Making fun of myself onstage was perfect, or so I thought. I gave a long, hard sniffle, and thought long and hard too. Maybe there was something else I could make fun of? Something most Neopians would agree on?

I stopped playing with the broom handle as my eye caught a tattered Fyora Day postcard taped to the mirror. Just then, a trickle of an idea seeped into my head. Maraqua might not have found my act funny, but perhaps it was just time for a new one.

There would be lots to say about Fyora the Faerie Queen, that's for certain...

Author: flufflepuff
Date: May 16th
...“She’s the perfect muse,” I muttered as I departed the Funny Klub, hardly noticing as I bowled Slapstick Steve over with the one of the doors. “A political figure with pink eyes and an appearance that changes so fast the artists can’t keep up with her—I mean, the jokes practically write themselves!”

As I reached the sandy thoroughfare that would lead me back home from the Funny Klub, I stopped and looked over my shoulder at the venue where I’d just flopped my first-ever gig. I reflected, momentarily, on the time I’d spent in the cleaning closet... and decided I never wanted to go back there. Unless, of course, I needed cleaning supplies. Heh. Classic.

Cupping my fins, I shouted loud enough that I was sure everyone in my audience who doubted me could hear: “Don’t eat that Spicy Radish Salad too fast... ‘cause you’ll need room for seconds!”

In the distance, several pedestrians exchanged worried looks. “This is why you need to stay in school, Tommy,” said one mother to her child.

***

With a spring in my step—or maybe that was just the buoyancy—I swam home, waving and smiling at everyone I passed, hoping to turn at least one frown upside down. Along the way, I passed through the city square, looking with wide eyes at the Altador Cup memorabilia that adorned the plaza. “What do Faerieland and its Altador Cup team have in common?” I mumbled as I walked, craning my head to look at the banners plastered on apartment windows. I glanced around for an audience before I cackled, “They both hit rock bottom a long time ago!”

I was opening my mouth to make a quip about Kiko Lake’s team before something slapped me in the face.

I knew Ellsworth had it out for me, I thought, before I realized my assailant was a mangled copy of the Neopian Times. “Looks like someone wasn’t happy with their horoscope,” I transitioned smoothly.

To my surprise, laughter rang out after I’d finished my set. Hope rising in my chest, I peeled the paper off my face to get a better look at where the laughter was coming from...

...and saw a young Peophin, mother in tow, pointing and laughing. “Look, ma, that man got hit in the face with something!”

“Now, now, Tommy,” the mother said, “remember what I told you earlier...”

Before I could so much as open my mouth to start a new set, the pair had swum off, and I was left alone, with only my newspaper to comfort me. “Hey, at least this one was free,” I joked, half because I hoped someone would laugh and half because I wanted to comfort myself. Tough crowds all around, tonight.

Well, after that disgraceful side-street show, having something to occupy my mind might come in handy. I looked at the Neopian Times again and found my horoscope. "What do you mean, 'Don't let the busy chatter of the day disrupt your connection with deeper thoughts and ideas'?" I complained.

And then I recalled my Quest (and congratulated myself on my nice pun) to disparage the Faerie Queen.

I quickly skimmed through this latest edition of the Neopian Times. The news usually tended to be more tragedy than comedy these days, but if I was going to get today's juice on Fyora, it wouldn't be from juicing the Faerie Queen herself. The Times' investigative journalists had to have SOME net positive benefit for society, amirite?

"Let's see here," I said to no one in particular as I flipped the pages.

Editorial... Nothing interesting here except another problem with Mystery Pic. My joke earlier this evening—"What's worse than releasing an expensive stamp through Mystery Pic? Re-releasing an expensive stamp through Mystery Pic!"—was met with boos... yeah, undoubtedly too soon.

There was nothing remotely humourous in the Short Stories or the Series. I briefly checked the Comics, filled with as many Five Letter Logic games as anything with a punchline, but found nothing I could directly translate to the stage.

Now, normally, I didn't even touch the articles. I've read too many bad reviews on my earlier amateur gigs for that. And by bad, I mean bad. (Come on, my hairstyle isn't even relevant to my act... but I'll keep my Reviews on Reviews NT article series idea for another day.) I remember the worst review called my humour "harmless... mostly. If you want to laugh at Mikey Ko, you need to go back to Y1 when his jokes were even remotely relevant." Ouch. But I digress.

I was on a mission. And maybe Lady Luck or Father Fate or whatever they were called had slapped me in the face with a free newspaper for a reason. You'd never know where you would strike gold... "Or in Shenkuu, where gold strike you!", I quipped to the empty street. Haha. Another classic.

Indeed—an article by the name "The Faerie Queen Conundrum" caught my attention.

My eyes were (non-literally) glued to the page. The article was a hard-hitting exposé on the deceit and corruption surrounding Queen Fyora: raw, biting, and bold. The piece was absolutely brilliant, and absolutely scandalous.

Exactly the sort of thing I wanted my comedy to be.

That this had even been allowed to be published meant that Faerielanders weren't happy about the state of their nation. And when unhappy, what cheered a Neopian more than laughing at the cause of their frustration? (I'd laughed at my audience more than once tonight. Unfortunately, they didn't laugh back.)

An idea came to mind, clear as the still Maraquan water about, and I needed to do 3 things to bring it to life. This couldn't wait until I got back to my one-room NeoHome.

Quickly, I retrieved my Quill Pen from my jacket and wrote on the article:

1. Get the rights to this article from the journalist.

2. Rent the Stage in Fyora's Tower (the same where Brynnso hosts their biennial show).

3. Put on the greatest satirical one-act play that Faerieland has ever seen...

Author: rielcz and tttxyv
Date: May 17th
...Naturally, the first step would be to find the journalist. Of course, that has its own problems. From what I was able to figure out about him, he did not live in Maraqua. As a Koi, that was a small problem. However, I was sure I could find a way to travel on land.

***

Of course out of all the places in Neopia, this journalist lived in the Lost Desert. I thought a skateboard would be a decent way to travel, yet I didn't realize how cumbersome it would be to travel over sand with wheels.

"I should have gotten my SANDboard," I muttered to myself with a chuckle. Yet another classic.

After a number of hours of dragging myself along the sand and complaining about how hot it was, I found myself where I believed the journalist lived. As expected, it was a lovely place. Granted, it looked more like something you'd see in Neopia Central than the Lost Desert. Then again, if you're a famous journalist, that would give you the ability to do whatever you want.

I rolled up to the door and gave it a hearty knock. After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal an orange Cybunny. She had long pink hair and glasses on the bridge of her nose. She looked down at me.

"Huh. A Koi on a skateboard. Don't see that every day," she commented. "If I may ask, why are you here?"

"Ah Fyora, it is an absolute pleasure to meet you," I said. I grabbed onto one of her paws and gave it a firm shake. "I am a huge fan of your work."

The Cybunny cracked a smile. "Oh, you are? Go on."

"Yes, the biggest. One of your latest works inspired me so much. I could not stop reading The Faerie Queen Conundrum."

And like that, the Cybunny's face deflated for a bit. She sputtered for a bit before continuing. "Oh. Oh, I see. No, that's not me. I'm Rabs. That was my partner." Her smile returned, albeit one of bemusement.

"Oh, please forgive me." I gave a deep bow. "I'm sure your work is lovely as well."

"Well it is when I can get past the writer's block." Rabs leaned on the doorframe. "So you want to speak to the famed Neopet who wrote The Faerie Queen Conundrum?"

"Yes please."

"One second." Rabs turned into the house and took a deep breath in before shouting, "PIEL, THE DOOR'S FOR YOU!"

Within a minute, an alien Aisha strolled up to Rabs. His fur was yellow and his eyes were brown. On top of his head, covering his black hair was a hat that was adorned with more pins than there were stars in the sky. From a quick glance, his hat contained a Taelia Pin, and a Soup Faerie Pin, and 2 Kari pins beside which a frowny face was scribbled onto the fabric in black marker. Some dark circles were under his eyes, likely from working too late.

All the qualities of a star.

"I am here, I am here," the Aisha - Piel, as Rabs had mentioned - said. His voice was grandiose, as if he knew how much of a wonder he was. He looked down at me, "The name's Piel Cazari. What do you want?"...

Author: chasing_stars44
Date: May 18th
I cut to the chase. I wasn't here to sightsee or make new friends, I wanted to become a star like Piel Cazari - and the first step in my foolproof plan was getting the rights to his article. At first, my voice caught in my throat - either it was nervousness, or perhaps the dry climate of the Lost Desert - but after filling my mind with images of myself in Faerieland upstaging Brynnso with a one-act play to remember, I found my words again.

Good thing too, that was how I made my Neopoints. Alternately, I could just beg Mordy for the leftovers from Kelp. For some reason, so few guests ever left with leftovers. No wonder they were called leftovers.

"I'm a big fan of 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum'," I began. "It was brilliant, it was bold, it was beautiful." I pretended to sniff an incipient tear. That might be a useful skill later on, I reminded myself. "That's why I want to turn it into a play."

Rabs' eyes widened and she turned to look at Piel. "Ooh, a play? But..."

"A play? Where?"

As it turned out, it wasn't just Rabs and Piel who lived here. A Hissi slithered in between them and gave me a cheery wave. "Who's the new kid?"

"A fan of Piel's," the Cybunny answered. "He gets them every day, especially since that article on Queen Fyora was published."

"Truly, my quest to discover the real story behind Fyora was a success!"

Before I could mention that I thought of that pun first, even though I was likely wrong about that, I quickly explained the reason for this particular quest.

"Which is why I want to turn it into a play. I want the rights to it. How much do I have to pay you, Mr. Cazari?"

"Please, just 'Piel' is fine!" The Aisha punctuated that last word with a yawn. He was probably working hard on a sequel. "The King Roo Kontroversy", perhaps?

"Yeah, about that," the Hissi interrupted. "Oh, almost forgot. I'm Tiffany Triumphalante Torchbringer Xylobar ye Fifth, but you can call me TTTXyF for short. Anyway, Piel already sold the rights to someone else."

Piel frowned at the Hissi. "You mean YOU sold the rights to MY article. For what, a few Neopian Food Tokens?"

"Those tokens are bound to become valuable someday! It was an investment!" she responded hotly. "Besides, your article is in good hands!"

"It is?" Piel and Rabs asked at the same time. I was too dumbfounded to say anything.

The rights weren't with Piel Cazari anymore. Or Tinafaerie Tennisballs - TTTXyF, rather. My plan was scuttled before it could even reach step one. My beautiful satirical play...my comedic career...everything was crumbling before my eyes like a sandcastle at the mercy of the waves.

Again, I managed to pick up my words from where I dropped them.

"So who'd you sell the rights to?" I asked. I was so ready to throw a Hissi fit; that joke would have been funnier if the rights to "The Faerie Queen Conundrum were still within my reach."

TTTXyF tapped her chin with her finger. "Hmm? Oh, yeah, it was some royal Zafara, all uppity and carrying a NeoQuest II Map Notebook. She said she was going to turn 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum' into a board game, just like NeoQuest."

Rabs gasped. "Wait. You mean you sold the rights to..."

"That's right." TTTXyF grinned.

I groaned inwardly. Why hadn't I thought of that pun?

"I sold the rights to the eccentric Neopian Times series writer, Precious Kad Itch..."

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: May 19th
“This is really beginning to feel like an overdrawn, unwelcome sidequest,” I muttered as I dragged myself into Faerie City atop my very noticeable skateboard. “What’s next? Someone leaping out at us and saying they need our help gathering up their 100 Babaa?”

“At least who we’re looking for lives near enough to the place you said you’re planning to perform,” Rabs murmured thoughtfully from beside me. After I had managed to pry the location of this Precious Kad Itch from TTTXyF, the orange Cybunny had been ever so kind as to offer to accompany me. “It should make things easier on you.”

“Yeah, if I had any idea where anything was! I’m like a fish out of water when it comes to these parts.” I would have found my pun funnier if I wasn’t collectively losing my mind over how difficult the first step of my plan was turning out to be. I hoped the other parts wouldn’t be so frustrating.

“I’m sure it’ll work out,” Rabs said encouragingly. “I’m certainly excited to see your play.”

“Is that why you came?” I asked, trying to find something to talk about other than the difficulties I was facing.

“Well..” Rabs suddenly looked rather embarrassed. “That and.. I was just wondering what it looks like, to perform I mean. Someday I want to do a live reading of my pieces in front of a crowd.” Her embarrassment shifted to wistfulness. “Piel is always getting fans coming to our place. It’d be nice if someone came for me, because they liked my work.”

“Why haven’t you then?” I asked, stopping my very tiring pulling on the skateboard to look up at her. “Is it really difficult to get the stage or something?”

Oh, please don’t let that be the case. I’ve had enough trouble with my career already!

“No,” Rabs said (thankfully). “At least, I don’t think so. I’m just.. a little crowd shy is all.” She sighed. “Gets in the way of a lot to be honest.”

I felt a little guilty for that, especially because of how I’d mistaken her for her partner before. We continued on in silence, the bustling of the crowd filling the quiet between us. It felt as if we had been walking in circles for ages before I finally recognised a landmark from TTTXyF’s description of Precious Kad Itch’s location. I started forwards in excitement, almost toppling off my skateboard as I pulled myself faster and faster in that direction

I could only get so far, however, before I was stopped in my tracks by someone standing nearby. Someone who, with a start, I realised I recognised.

It was Queen Fyora. Standing metres away from where I believed Precious Kad Itch to live…

Author: elliiebell
Date: May 20th
...and right beside her -- seemingly confirming that this was, in fact, Kad's home -- was the pompous Zafara herself.

"For the last time Fyora, get off my property!" Kad objected, folding her arms. "I have Level 3 Lawyerbot training, I can and will get a restraining order against you."

The Faerie Queen just smiled wanly. "Oh come now Precious Kad, I'm sure we can work out a deal for those rights. I mean, if you were in my situation -- reputation tarnished and facing severe backlash from her citizens, other Neopian leaders, and the Neopian community at large -- I'm sure you would try to buy back the rights and bury the story?" Her smile became oddly regal.

The Zafara groaned. "Insomuch as I am sympathetic to your plight -- which, honestly, is not very much -- the exposé is too good not to be shared via some medium. Also, I've already started work on my board game." She held up a small Piel figurine, a violin-shaped loaf of stale bread in one hand and a Deviled Egg Goldy in the other, looking otherwise incredibly journalistic -- and tired. Kad beamed. "I painted him myself."

It was here that Fyora glanced over and realized Rabs and I were standing there. "What do you want?" she scowled. "Can't you see we're busy?"

"Oh," I said dumbly, at a loss for words. Rabs gently pushed me forward. "Actually," I continued, finding my footing (thankfully, on the ground, rather than on my skateboard -- much as I enjoy slapstick, now was not the time), "My name is Mikey Ko, and this here is Rabs." Fyora and Kad needed no introduction. "I, too, am here to try and purchase the rights." The others listened intently; I went on to explain that I was a comedian, and after reading The Faerie Queen Conundrum I had the brilliant idea to turn it into a satirical stage play about Faerieland's newly notorious leader -- and have it performed at the stage in Fyora's Tower, no less.

Kad laughed in my face, and I frowned. "Really, that's what you intend to do with it?" she asked cynically.

"Hey, I think it would work well," I said nonchalantly, trying not to let my hurt feelings show.

"Do you even have any actors?" the Zafara inquired, raising her eyebrow in what I hoped was curiosity rather than incredulity.

"Er..." I trailed.

And then Rabs stepped forward with more confidence than I expected she would exude. "Yeah, I'm planning to act in it." She gave a small shrug and then apologized for being so forward. "I mean, I do enjoy tabletop role-playing games," she continued, a HAIR (heh, hair and hare, because she was a Cybunny) more sheepishly, "and that can't be too different from stage acting."

Kad harrumphed, though the mention of hiring a tabletop role-player as an actor did seem to pique her interest and lend some credibility to my dream... Though, in retrospect, of course it would have, considering the Zafara hoped to produce a board game with the play rights.

(Play rights. Playwrights. Different enough from TTTXyF's quip... I might have to use that somewhere later.)

Unlike Kad, Fyora seemed greatly interested. "You said your name is Mikey, right? And you're a comedian?"

I affirmed this with an over-exaggerated bow. "The very same. At your service, m'lady."

Fyora's face broke out into a grin. "I've heard of you!"

I gave a surprised smile. "Wait, really!?" I squeaked. Holy Fyora, was Fyora actually... a fan of mine? My eyes glistened. "I mean, of course you have," I stated, any hint of modesty evaporated like the sea in the desert. "I am something of a legend."

"Or at least a riot," Fyora commented. "I have a close associate, Max Nacaber, who was in the audience at Kelp the other night and sent me this video."

She pulled out her ZibbliFone 14 Plus SE, and my goofy grin slowly morphed into a dismayed gape.

"What's better than just sitting there?" my voice -- from the atrocious Kelp set -- sounded over the speaker. "Just sitting there, eating a potato!" And then there were seven seconds of silence, followed by me saying, "Hahaaa... that's more of a joke for Thursday night..."

Kad just glared, and I had no idea what she was thinking. "I don't like this burst of technology in Neopia," she finally huffed, folding her arms.

Fyora put away her cell phone. "Anyway, Mikey," she continued through her sickeningly saccharine smile, "I have full confidence that anything you touch will be a complete disaster." She gazed at me with a demeanour of chillingly raw thrill. "Which would be absolutely perfect... after all, a train-wreck performance would have my citizens lose trust in that dastardly article, and by extension, more faith in me would be restored." She pointed at herself and smiled with self-satisfaction. "And I wouldn't even have to look suspicious by burying anything! It'd all be on you!"

I frowned and gave a single nod. Clearly, today was "beat up on Mikey's feelings" day.

"I have SO much confidence in your lack of abilities, in fact," Fyora continued, "that if you manage to secure the rights, I will let you rent the stage in my tower for free!" She handed me the business card of one Ella Bell. "She manages the bookings, I'll get you in touch with her."

Well, at least that was a pleasant surprise.

I would have to replace "Rent the Stage in Fyora's Tower" with "Prove Fyora Wrong."

"You have a deal, Fyora." I smiled determinedly.

Kad gave a yawn of seeming disinterest... but there was a hint of excitement behind her eyes. Whether she also wanted to act in the play, or also wanted to see me fail, I wasn't sure -- it could have been anything. "Alright, I admit, your idea may hold more merit than first I believed," the Zafara conceded. And then she grinned widely. "And I always do love a creative contest. How about we have a battle for the rights?"

The first thing that came to mind was a "rap battle", but those were too last decade.

"How about an art contest?" Rabs opined.

We all had a good laugh at that one. (There is one faerie Moehog piece using traditional art I've been trying to get into the Art Gallery for months... I've always said it would get in when hogs fly. Haha, another another classic.)

"How about whoever has the highest-ranked Caption Contest caption for this month?" I asked, but no one (including me, frankly) wanted to exhaust the few days' time and energy for the captions to be released and, especially, voted upon.

"A NeoQuest I trivia contest? And when we invariably tie, an epic showdown of a NeoQuest II trivia contest?" Kad said with a growing mad grin, though this prospect didn't seem all too agreeable with anyone else.

Fyora snapped her fingers. "Why, I've got the perfect contest for you two," she started...

Author: rielcz
Date: May 23rd
"I want both of you," Fyora began, "to write a response to 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum', debunking and disproving all of Piel Cazari's claims in that article."

I could feel my stomach fall - and it would have fallen many more miles if Faerieland had still been up in the sky. While I was slowly gaining confidence in my oddly specific skill of finding puns in my inner monologue to use for any future comedic acts, Fyora's opinion had shot down my confidence yet again.

Not only that, I never considered myself a writer. Otherwise, I would have attempted a comedy article column or some sort of funny series for the Neopian Times. And now, I was going up against Precious Kad Itch, whom TTTXyF had described as an "eccentric series writer" on top of creating board games.

Forget the side quest, this was already the boss battle. And Kad probably knew she was the boss.

I wanted to protest. But just as I had opened my mouth to say that this contest was not as perfect as Fyora said it was, Kad was quicker.

"Challenge accepted!" she declared, punching a fist into the air. "Now, Queen Fyora, since this was your idea, surely you wouldn't mind if I interviewed you for my article?"

"Er, er, yeah!"

I have never been so eloquent in my entire life. Thankfully Rabs was there to save the day.

"Mikey's right," the Cybunny said. "If he and Kad will be writing articles in response to 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum', they should be allowed to interview you. After all, wouldn't you want to make sure that these articles are good for your reputation, your Majesty?"

Fyora tapped her cheek in thought. I crossed my fingers - rather, fins - behind my back. Kad pretended to walk her Piel figurine in the air.

"Very well," she finally said, and I breathed such a long sigh of relief that for a moment, I forgot that I was a Koi. "Because Precious Kad was the first to ask me if she could interview me, she gets to speak to me first. I will find you when we are done, Mikey Ko...and should you win, I look forward to seeing your show crash and burn while my reputation finally gains a second life."

I wish I had a second life too, but unfortunately, this wasn't a game. This was real life.

* * *

Instead of returning home to Maraqua, I took a detour with Rabs back to the Lost Desert. The journey didn't take long; it only took three well-placed asterisks in a long-form narrative, one might say.

"Did you get the rights from Precious Kad Itch?" Tutti Frutti Tortellini - never mind, TTTXyF asked as Rabs and I were admitted back into their not-so-humble home.

"No," I said, not without exasperation. "Fyora wanted the rights to Piel's article for herself, but instead, she's making me battle Kad for them. I have to write an article debunking 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum' to win."

Piel raised his eyebrows. "What? But 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum' is the true story about Fyora! What is there to debunk?" He spread his arms and shrugged. "She is not as perfect as everyone thinks, and my article proves it!"

"Well, she wants to precisely be as perfect as everyone thinks," Rabs said, flopping into an armchair and letting out a sigh. Heh, a Sigh-bunny, one might say.

"How good is Kad as a writer?" I asked, a little sad that I couldn't dwell on that pun. It was quite punimportant, now that my play and the article rights rested on whether or not I could beat Precious Kad Itch at beating Piel Cazari.

"She has a very long, ongoing series in the Neopian Times entitled 'An Adventurer's Adventure'," said Piel, yawning. I was unsure whether he yawned because he had little interest in Kad's writing, or if he was still sleepy from some more hardcore article-writing, or both. "But she isn't known for articles that aren't about board games."

"I'm not known for articles at all," I answered. I didn't have enough comedic article to fill a thousand words in the Neopian Times. "Anyway, Mister Piel - "

"Just 'Piel' is fine!" the Aisha said, waving a hand dismissively. Though there was something about how he waved that hand which reminded me of a star waving away extra, unneeded attention.

Here I was, a washed-up (hah, that's quite funny considering I'm a literal Koi out of water) comedian, about to ask this Neopian Times star for a huge favor. All so my plan could come to fruition, and more importantly, so I could prove Fyora wrong.

Yes, I wanted to prove her wrong. Prove that I was more than just some comedian moms made an example of to ensure that their kids stayed in school. Prove that I deserved the rights to the article more than some crazy series writer-slash-board game maker. Prove that I could do this, even though my heart hammering in my chest told an entirely different story.

"Piel, I need your help..."

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: May 24th
And so with that Piel and I went through an excellent training montage to learn how to write an article. I suffered paper cuts, ink splots, writer's block, and shot some hoops with crumpled up failed drafts all in the span of 5 minutes. But by the end of our montage, I had done it. I had graduated from a noob, to a novice. Now at least I had something resembling a chance.

“So what’s your plan?” Asked Rabs.

Oh right. The plan. I had been so focused on learning citations, style guides, and oxford commas (Oh look! That was one just now!) that I had forgotten about the actual plan for the article on Fyora. “Well… It has to be true…. And it has to be positive.” I thought out loud, hoping that nobody would notice that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

“Go on…” Piel looked expectantly at me like a proud master watching his apprentice.

“So we just have to write things that people like about her…” I improvised. It was like being back in school writing an essay for a subject I didn’t study for.

“But the article has to debunk the gunk that’s already been written!” Rabs pointed out.

I was trapped in a dead-end with my improvisation. I had written myself into my first corner. How was I going to kickflip my way outta this one? Out of panic, I did just that. I did a sweet kickflip on my skateboard. (Finflip? Kick Finp? That’s another one to work on later.) I landed the trick like I had done so many times before instead of studying for my tests.

“That’s a brilliant idea!” Piel exclaimed. I gave him a confused look. I hadn’t said anything. “It’s a classic technique, rarely practised by the masters, but in this situation, it could totally work. Instead of debunking the truth, we just write a fluff piece that distracts people from the truth!”

“Yeah… exactly. Wow them.” I agreed, not fully knowing what technique he was talking about. But I did know that it was time for a montage. But this time, the montage was to get back to Maraqua. It was almost time for our turn to do the interview, and I needed to look my best for interviewing royalty!

* * *

A few quick jump cuts of me trying to clean up my tiny abode, and an outfit try-on session (Piel and Rabs both rejected 3 of them before finally giving a thumbs up on the last one. I was ready. I could sense the air change as the city fell silent upon sighting Fyora at my doorstep. Everyone was holding their breath.

I let her in. “Hello there! Come in. Can I offer you a glass of water underwater?” I chuckled to myself, trying to be polite. She didn’t laugh.

“Kad’s interview took almost 2 hours. Very though. Mostly about stat blocks, and backstory. I didn't even know that I had once fought a horde of red Draiks before… But she assures me that she saw it happen in her games before…” Fyora looked confused, as if she doubted her own memories.

“Well I have some hard-hitting questions to help set the record straight.” I pulled out my trusty notebook for writing down my best ideas. Ideas like “Broad chest chessboard” and “Rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle” I turned to a fresh page and started my inquiry.

“What did you have for breakfast this morning.”

“Faerie Pancakes” She plainly answered with precision and confidence.

I scribbled it down as fast as I could. “Describe your favourite chair.”

“Cushioning enough to cup the buttocks, but firm enough to support the lumbar. No rollers, and a high back.” “What is your opinion on Dogglefoxes?”

“They are adorable.”

“favourite room in your house?”

“When there's not some ferret-like creature in my castle shouting fun facts about about crenelations and crown moulding, I like my bedroom the most because everyone loves a good nap.”

“Favorite flavour of pie?”

“Cherry... Does this have a point?” Fyora was growing concerned by the questions.

“Just trying to figure out which flavour you would like to get pied in the face with during the play.” I joked. Her glare told me not to do that, but I wrote the idea down in my notebook anyway as a maybe. “Just gathering the facts ma’am. Now, what do you put on your toast?”

“...Butter.”

“Okay. Thanks. I think I have everything!” I snapped my notebook shut and started to lead Fyora to the door. “Already? But you didn’t even ask about the things in the article!”

“I don’t need to! I can see the headline now: Fyora, the Queen of the People. Likes Puppies and Buttered Bread Like Everyone Else.”

I could see the newspapers spinning in my head already.

Now all I had to do was write!

Author: ferretboy85
Date: May 26th
...And write I did. Channelling my inner Piel -- as much his haste as his brilliance -- I assembled all the disparate plot threads into something coherent. (And I found it much easier to do so now than a few months ago when last I unsuccessfully entered the Storytelling Competition; clearly, I had progressed as an author.)

Later that evening, I finished my article, written with my own Quill Pen on some standard Waterproof Parchment (TM). Grinning, I penned the title of my masterpiece using my cursive that was as flowy as the water currents: "There is No Conundrum: Fyora, Queen of the People".

***

The next morning, I grabbed my skateboard and--

Decided I didn't feel like travelling more than it would take to write a sentence, and simply wrote my way to the Lost Desert.

***

I was greeted at the door to Piel's home -- seemingly even more extravagant than it appeared yesterday -- by rabid fangirl, Tiernie Templebells Thriftweed... XyF. "How's your article writing going?" she asked me with growing excitement. "Did you finish?"

"I most certainly did!" I confirmed with a wide smile. "I swung by here so Piel could give it a glance before I show it to Fyora."

"PIEL, DOOR!" she yelled in a way reminiscent of Rabs; maybe the Aisha was simply hard of hearing (despite his four long ears).

"Coming!" Piel called back with the intonations of a someone who was very satisfied with what they had accomplished.

"Say," TTTXyF continued slyly, "did you want to buy some Neopian Food Tokens off me?" She grinned like she was selling snake oil (haha, because she was a Hissi). I gently refused her offer; I heard the market had crashed.

"But not before I published my latest article about the Tokens debacle," Piel greeted with a sly smile. "If my NeoHome looks bigger, that's because it is. Now, my protégé," the Aisha started warmly. He embraced me by putting a short arm about my shoulder, and with his other he snatched the parchment from my fins and swiftly opened it in what seemed like a well-practised motion. "What have you written?" His eyes darted back and forth faster than a montage.

Meanwhile, Rabs came to us and wrapped an arm around her partner's shoulder. "So, it is good?" she asked him, raising her orange floppy ears in expectation.

A smile spread across Piel's face as he finished reading. "It's brilliant!" he commented, his voice thick with praise. "I mean, it's neither bold nor hard-hitting, but it makes Fyora--" his throat scowled at the mention, "--seem like some simple saint! And nothing contradicts my article because, well, there is such little substance in yours!" Well, that seemed to be a compliment, and he beamed at me; TTTXyF joined us to complete a circle of four, and we all grinned at each other. "In fact," the Aisha continued, "it's such a fluffy piece, I think that's what I should nickname you." And from that day forward, Piel (and later others) called me "Flufflepiece".

Before I departed en route to Faerieland, I noticed Piel had hanging on his wall a framed photo of himself beside the Storyteller Aisha; they appeared to be at a Haunted House function, and though he seemed considerably less tired but even more disheveled, she looked immaculate. "You know her personally?" I asked him, again awestruck.

"Of course I do!" he answered with a dismissive hand wave, like this was entirely obvious. "I first met her at the house in this photo," the Aisha continued in a nostalgic tone. "She is one fickle lover... of the arts," he added. And then Piel frowned, which seemed to age him a few years. "Beware of her. She can get... vindictive, if you start to mess with her stories." Though tension filled the air, he quickly broke it with a guffaw that erased his temporary aged beauty. "Or at least bemused. But I'm sure that's nothing to worry about."

I laughed alongside him. Bidding farewell to what felt like my third home (my second home was and always would be a secret), I ventured to the Hidden Tower.

***

Kad and I submitted our articles to the Faerie Queen, who promptly gave them to her associate, Max Nacaber, to judge. Max was, apparently, a major editor for the Neopian Times, "and less biased than I am" Fyora assured us (though more so Kad in retrospect, given Fyora still had 0 faith in my capabilities).

The pompous Zafara and I were given rooms and asked to stay through the night -- apparently because Max did their best work at "odd hours" -- and we would be told the results come morning. Though Kad and I were (thankfully) placed in separate rooms, we did share supper together -- a rather unfunny obviously unfrozen meal and a dessert of floating cinnamon toast topped with whipped cream. Though we were not wholly cordial with each other, there was no sense of unease between the Neopian Times series superstar and myself; after all, Kad knew she was the better writer, and I made no attempts to rebut this fact. She even showed me her latest proposed The Faerie Queen Conundrum board game figurine (an earth Faerie with a pipe and whose dress was a plant with seven leaves), and we exchanged some tips about the Poetry Contest.

After supper, I went straight to bed; I'd had a long day and was very tired. Just as I was falling asleep, however, I saw a... some sort of long, slender, furry thing high on the opposite wall of my room. A Petpet, perhaps? Maybe a Dandan? And then it started barking something about the castle's architecture. "You must be that ferret boy Fyora talked about," I started with a groan.

"Yes, but I am also the mailperson, and I have mail for you," he continued with a grin.

I frowned. Some part of me had always known he was here to deliver mail. (Heh. And chainmail. Because of his incessant comments on castle architecture. Another another another classic.) I just hoped he wasn't here to deliver my monthly edition of "Getting Wet and Enjoying It"; outside Maraqua, it wasn't a well-appreciated periodical and was bound to give me some strange looks if I was seen carrying the magazine around.

"It's a standard NeoMail," he said, allaying my concerns.

He went away and left the letter. I'd read it tomorrow.

***

The next morning after breakfast -- during which Kad discussed her previous evening's dream of Jhudora and Terask being allies, and I briefly brought up my dream of a couple peculiar Moehogs -- the Zafara and I sat at the large desk in Fyora's main office. Max sat on the other side of the desk, facing us, and the Faerie Queen stood a few strides away, near the room's entrance.

"I have reviewed your work," began the Shoyru. "Both pieces are good!" They smiled and looked between Kad and I. "But this is a contest, and one must be better." They turned to face the Zafara. "Kad, your writing style is expressive, eloquent, and articulate. It flows, it's a brush, it paints a picture. You paint Fyora as a vanquisher, as a source of good against evil, and I feel like I'm really there, witnessing the battle." They grinned. "And that Legendary Action you gave her to reQUEST help from other Neopians was just brilliant!"

I felt a pain in my stomach. Had I lost? And, more than that, was the quest pun so unoriginal that everyone had thought of it at some point?

I stole a glance at Kad, who was just smiling with self-satisfaction.

"But," Max continued, their mouth becoming more neutral, "that's the thing about it... it all seems too, well, legendary. Like it's just a story. Or a made-up game. It seems too disconnected from the world -- and Fyora's PR team needs something grounded in reality."

Kad started to protest that her article was a work of art, and entirely historical at that, but Max raised a paw to stop her mid-sentence; the Zafara just glared daggers.

"And you, Mikey," the Shoyru said as they turned to me, "you have such a raw, well, truth to your words. It's not flashy, it's not lofty, it's not even well-written in some places." They leaned in close. "But it's REAL. I read this, and I can nod and say, 'Yup, Fyora loves Dogglefoxes, and I do too, so she can't be all bad.'" They smiled. "It will be absolutely perfect for PR, and will be published in the next edition of the Times." They grinned at me. "You should consider writing for the NT more often."

Kad was seething now. Holy Fyora, had I actually... won?

"Well, I am something of a... playwright," I quipped, with much more charisma than that line deserved. (Nope, that wasn't quite the right time for that possible pun.)

Fyora approached us. "Congrats Mikey, you win." She went to shake my fin; I was just flabbergasted.

"You!" Kad pointed an aggressive finger at me, and I could almost see the anime anger mark just below the brim of her feathered hennin. But then she became oddly calm, and even gave a hint of a smile. "Until we cross paths again, Mikey Ko!" She forcefully shook my fin, slammed her Piel-signed "da rightz" legal document down on the desk, and then skipped out of the room. Well... part of me hoped we would cross paths in her acting in my play. The rest of me knew she'd probably just write a negative review on it for the Times. The rest of the rest of me... well, I didn't want to think about those possibilities. I hurriedly picked up da rightz and placed it in my jacket.

Max got up and, bowing us adieu, left Fyora and I alone in the office.

"You have 3 more days, and then it's showtime," the Faerie Queen said with a wild grin.

That caught me off-guard, and I sputtered. "Wait, er, what?"

Fyora gave a staccato bark of a laugh. "Your play is supposed to fail, remember?" She looked me square in the eyes (which is admittedly an odd phrase considering eyes are circular-shaped), and I could feel her teasing malevolence. "I'm not just going to go easy on you." She snapped her fingers. "I've already informed Ella, and as we speak there are posters featuring you and The Conundrum being printed and put up all over Faerieland." Fyora sashayed up to the room's exit -- she was the real winner, here, and she knew it. "Good luck, Mikey," she finished with a level voice before she shut the door.

Well... I had 3 days to get this play together. And heck, I could and WOULD get this play together! I was more than capable, I had somehow defeated Precious Kad and was on the cusp of comedic brilliance. On the cusp of proving I was better than a bad example. On the cusp of another amazing montage or time-skip or--

And then I remembered the letter I'd received the previous night. I removed it from my jacket and opened it... it was from The Storyteller.

Frowning, I read it aloud to the empty room. "Dear Mikey, I see what you're doing. Don't get me wrong, I'm having a lot of fun and you are too. But as you continue and eventually finish the plot, no more montages, and use time-skips sparingly. Seriously. You received an extra week to tell the story, after all -- so tell the darned story! I look forward to seeing your play. With love, The Storyteller."

Feeling a bit uneasy, I put the letter back in my pocket. I'd have to go and retrieve Rabs to play one of the leading roles -- and travel to the Lost Desert the "old fashioned" way, it seemed -- but I had another stop I wanted to make, first...

Author: rielcz
Date: May 31st
This was no time for montages, time skips or story breaks. But this was certainly the time to cut to the chase as I chased my three-day deadline. Steps one and two of my foolproof plan - well, I thought it was foolproof until the wild Mallard-chase for Da Rightz - were out of the way, but the third and final step was the true boss battle. And as with any boss battle, I needed everything - and everyone - I could find in order to win. Unfortunately, a stash of healing potions simply wouldn't cut it.

So without further adieu, I mean, ado, I returned to the Kelp Funny Klub. Because I only had three days to get this play together, I had no time to pay attention to Slapstick Steve who was once again on door duty. Which meant I let the door hit him on my way in.

Sorry, Slapstick Steve.

I consciously ducked my head to avoid meeting the eyes of any Kelp patrons who may or may not recognize me from my first gig there. I could have sworn that I saw Tommy the little Peophin and his mom who always told him to stay in school and never do, well, whatever the heck Mikey Ko was always doing. In any case, they weren't the folks I was looking for.

"Mikey, where have you been? I could only make so many alibis for you not showing up for your shows, you know!"

Yeah, I had gotten too busy with my own show that I failed to show up for my own shows. With a mild pang in my stomach, I realized I may be saying ali-bye to my job, and if my play went just as Fyora wanted it to, I'd have nothing at the end. Except maybe my Neopian Times article, never mind that it probably wouldn't give me a prize beyond a new trophy for my cabinet. Precious Kad will just have to write more of An Adventurer's Adventure or whatever -

"Hello? Maraqua to Mikey!" Mordy waved his fin in front of my face. "Please tell me you're here for your shift. Please tell me I'm done making excuses. Where were you?!"

I blinked. Mordy, my cousin, was normally a good-natured Flotsam. But today, he was, naturally, quite annoyed with me.

"Well...it's a long story, and if I tell you now, it'll become an even longer story. I don't have enough time, I've got three days to pull off the play I have in mind. I got Da Rightz to 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum' and Fyora's permission to perform it as a play in her tower. I'm really sorry, Mordy, but I think this might be my real big break, and..."

Mordy looked at me like I had told the story anyway despite telling him that it was a long story. Which I just did.

"Mikey," he said slowly, massaging his ample forehead, "what is this, the Storytelling Competition? You've got an audience waiting!"

Oh. Right. The audience that had lost its appetite the last time I was on stage.

"Wait, you want me to get on stage?"

"Of course I do! Isn't this your job?"

"Yeah, but..." I rubbed the back of my head and whispered, "That's not why I'm here. I...Mordy, thanks for helping me get my first gig, but maybe the Kelp Funny Klub isn't for me. And I really am sorry that I haven't been showing up."

Now I felt like I had just lost my appetite. While running after the rights to Piel's article and managing to score the opportunity to perform in Fyora's tower, I had forgotten all about Mordy. Poor Mordy, covering for me while I was too busy writing an article and interviewing Fyora about Doglefoxes and buttered toast...

Then an idea hit me. It hit me so hard that I took a step back.

"Mikey? What's wrong?" Mordy asked, his forehead creasing like...well, the balled-up drafts from my article battle with Precious Kad Itch.

"Oh, uh...nothing." I shook my head. "Actually, I was about to get on stage."

Forget losing my appetite. I now felt like my stomach had disappeared, or I had left it with Fyora. But when I swallowed, I was fairly sure my stomach was still there, so I got onto the stage of the Kelp Funny Klub.

When the audience saw me, the atmosphere suddenly felt like a scoop of Kelps Signature Ice Cream - cold, and unusual, though certainly not worth travelling from all over Neopia for.

"G-Good afternoon, ladies and gents," I said, gripping the microphone as though it were my lifeline. "Sorry I'm late, I just flew in from Faerieland, and boy, are my arms tired!"

I shut my eyes briefly. I half-expected the silence, punctuated only by awkward, scattered laughter.

"I just met with Fyora. Y'know, the Faerie Queen? As in, featured in 'The Faerie Queen Conundrum'? She's not the perfect queen everyone thinks." I barreled on, fueled by my desire to make her eat her words about my act failing, as one eats a Triple Chocolate Shell. "As expected, she didn't say anything about the Faerieland water crisis, or the Evil Fuzzle outbreak, or even...the whereabouts of the Grass Faerie."

The half-hearted chuckles became a ripple of whispers. I knew they were likely only talking about Piel's article, not me, which was both comforting and...not so comforting.

I decided to go for my big finish.

"Well, all of these Fyora conspiracies are about to come to life!" I declared, pulling Da Rightz out of my jacket pocket. I was about seventy-five percent certain they were waterproof. "Because I got the rights to turn Piel Cazari's explosive article into a real bomb of a play!"

Hang on, whenever one says that something bombed, they meant that it was a flop, right? Okay, poor choice of words there. Judging from how this Jetsam stared at me with a copy of the Neopian Times on his table, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

"I-I mean, the good kind of bomb! I'm going to hold the play in three days at Fyora's tower, and I'm going to need your help, because I can't act out all the other parts, make the props, set up the stage and work the lights all at the same time! What am I, a Krawken?" I laughed softly, awkwardly, wondering if I should've just led this with my Spicy Radish Salad joke.

"Which is why I stand before here you today to ask you - who's with me?"

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Jun 1st
...The entire club was silent. All eyes were on me. I would feel the sweat dripping from my brow if I weren't underwater.

"I wanna do it!" a young voice called out from the crowd. I scanned the crowd before I saw the source was a young Peophin - Tommy! That was his name.

"Tommy, you're not going to go off with some stranger for a play," the mother scolded.

"But maaa! I wanna help the funny man!"

The funny man. My heart swelled at the compliment. At the very least, I hoped it was a compliment. Well, unless otherwise stated, it was a compliment.

The Jetsam with that copy of the Neopian Times looked at the kid, then back at me. "Your silly idea sounds interesting, kid. Maybe it'd be worth going along with."

Slowly but surely, the entire club began to murmur about this play. The murmurs turned to chatter. The chatter turned to cheers.

I had my support.

(And I didn't even have to promise everyone a 50% stake of the proceeds, which had been my backup plan.)

***

Through another overly long montage, I gathered enough skateboards for the denizens of Maraqua to follow me through Neopia. During the entire montage, I had this uneasy feeling as if someone were watching me. Every time I led my crew through some land or explained my play, it always felt like one extra set of eyes was part of the audience.

Maybe the Storyteller really was watching me.

Storyteller? More like storywatcher.

I led my crew all the way to Faerieland, to the gate of Fyora's castle. After giving my clearance to the guards (and filling out a lot of paperwork for my few dozen followers), I led everyone to the front entrance. To my surprise, there was already a small group sitting at the entrance. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was not hallucinating from all the skateboarding I'd been doing.

There they were. Rabs. Piel. Kad. Max. Tiffany Trumpeting Threepwood Xylophone ye Filth. They were sitting in a circle around a map full of (admittedly, impressively decorated) miniature statues. Kad was up and about, motioning greatly with her arms and describing something I had no context whatsoever for. The Zafara stopped her ramblings and looked at me as I approached, everybody else soon following.

"Wait, you all are still here?" I asked, slowing my roll down to a meagre crawl, as to not roll over the map.

"Of course! I would never want to miss my magnum opus on the grandest stage in Neopia!" Piel exclaimed. "And I was willing to wait however long I needed to to see your production!"

"That and this combat encounter is taking much longer than I anticipated," Kad added.

"It always takes longer than anticipated," Rabs continued.

TTTXyF looked over my large group of skateboarding followers. "You gathered yourself quite a crew. Do you need our help preparing them for the show?"

"No, I went over everything in a montage." I stood up as straight as I could and pounded a fin to my chest. "We're as ready as we could ever be!"

As I pounded my chest, I could feel my heart sink into a whirlpool. I wanted this play to go well. Piel's article was a work of pure genius, it deserved as much justice as possible. Yet Fyora wanted the play to fail. If the play actually went well, I would be in royal trouble.

Heh. Royal.

There was only one way this play could go. And I was determined to make that happen.

"Well then," Max declared. They stood up and brushed themself off. "Kad, I do love this so far, but I think we all need a break. Don't you think?"

"I suppose so." Kad picked up the miniatures from the map. "Please remember where you all are for next week."

"I won't even remember what class I'm playing next week," TTTXyF said.

I rolled my skateboard forward and turned so I could face everyone. The small group of writers I had grown to be friends with. The Maraquan citizens on skateboards I had only met one montage ago. I stood up as tall as I could on my skateboard and loudly cleared my throat to grab their attention.

That feeling of extra eyes was on me again. Maybe the Storyteller could feel that I was going to make my way into another montage. Not this time.

"Thank you all for coming here! Your support means the absolute world to me! I would not be where I'm at without all of you." I turned towards Fyora's castle. "It is here the first run of The Fyora Conundrum will be performed. My life's work-"

"My life's work-," Piel interrupted.

"Shhh, he's having a moment," Rabs scolded while nudging his side.

I nodded towards Rabs and continued. "Tonight is the night that will change all of our lives! Now come with me and let's perform a show like nobody has ever seen before!"

Author: chasing_stars44
Date: Jun 2nd
collab with flufflepuff

… by the time we got backstage, we could already hear the buzzes of excitement coming from the audience.

And not just Buzzes, but Quiggles and Hissis and Yurbles too, I noted, peeking out from behind the stage’s plush red curtain at the assembly gathered, presumably, to be entertained by the one and only Mikey Ko. Or, well, by Mikey Ko and The Crew, now. AKA, the Funny Club Ensemble?

I’d have to work on that later.

Drawing a deep breath, I looked back at the writers that had supported me in my quest to gain Da Rightz. Piel, who had previously been looking over my hastily-written script with Rabs, flashed me a thumbs-up, and Rabs grinned to allay my nerves. Even Kad, whom I’d fought toe-to-toe—erm, fin-to-toe—in Fyora’s contest, looked on with interest at the motley crew of actors I’d managed to find. TTTXyF wasn’t looking at anything but her phone, squinting intently at numbers and lines flashing across the screen.

“Any last-minute suggestions?” I whispered at them.

To my surprise, TTTXyF piped up: “I’d like to play the Grass Faerie.” A pause as she looked distastefully at her phone. “It’s about time I saw green somewhere.”

***—Wait, wait, we’re not using asterisks anymore—

… Within a few minutes, everyone had gotten ready. I ran a final costume check and gave everyone assurances that they’d do great in their roles, even if I didn’t feel confident in my own performance. But before I had time to worry too much, it was showtime.

I made my way to the front of the backstage—a mic was already set up for me there—nodding at Kad (who had graciously volunteered as stage manager), when I was ready for her to pull the curtains back.

“Man,” I sighed as the audience slowly came into view, squinting slightly as the spotlight hit me. “I’m not sure if any of you have set up a play before, but it’s HARD work!” I paused just long enough to gulp. “I mean, I feel like a total fish outta water here!”

There was a smattering of laughter, but for the most part, the auditorium was silent. Waiting for the real show.

“But I won’t go on about that too much,” I continued. “After all, water we waiting for? Hit the lights!”

As the spotlight faded, I ran backstage, a smile on my face but not in my heart. I mean, I’d probably be at the doctor if there was a smile on my heart, I reflected, laughing at yet another another another another… another? classic.

“Splendid introduction, Mikey!” Piel said, walking over to give me a pat on the back. “I’ll have you know that I laughed heartily at your introductory set!”

“You did?” Kad asked.

“It’s OK if you didn’t,” I responded quickly, smile unwavering. “Those jokes—much like Spicy Radish Salad—were only appetizers for the show to come.” I didn’t mention that they were uneaten appetizers, but the truth of it weighed heavy on my mind. After all this time, was I still unfunny? Did anyone here truly like me, or were they all gathered to watch what was ultimately Piel’s masterpiece?

I tried not to think about what it would mean if that were true. Instead, I pointed a fin towards a path that would take us to our reserved seats in the audience. “Without further adieu, let’s go watch the production!”

“I think you mean ‘ado’,” TTTXyF pointed out as she shuffled by in costume, making her way to the stage.

Piel chuckled. “Always the editor, that one,” he commented, before following my lead to the audience.

Kad and Rabs stayed behind. “We’ll catch up with you guys in a bit,” Rabs said, waving as we left. “I’ve got to get ready to act, and Kad… looks like she’s got her hands full with the lights.”

I was tempted to use my fast-travel trick once again, but to be honest, our seats were only a minute’s walk from backstage, so it wouldn’t have made much sense anyway. (I hoped the Storyteller would give me a few asterisks back for my judicious use of resources.)

As we took our seats, it occurred to me that Piel and I had missed most of the first act. The Evil Fuzzles virus had, evidently, passed through Faerieland already, with Tommy’s mother—a surprisingly excellent choice for the role of Queen Fyora—sitting atop her tower sipping tea, watching bemusedly with popcorn and opera glasses whilst her citizens fought off the last of the fuzzy invaders with swords, spears, and hand sanitizer for good measure.

“At least we didn’t miss Tiffany’s part,” Piel whispered. “I’m sure it’ll be… something.”

Soon enough, the lights dimmed, and the actors from the first section cleared the stage. A cloud of smoke — was there a dry ice machine somewhere off-stage? — rolled in, bringing the audience to a momentary silence. Then the spotlight faded in to reveal TTTXyF, lounging in a pile of leaves and grass, a flower crown angled gently over the scaly ridges on her head.

I gulped. I hadn’t had the chance to vet TTTXyF like I had the other actors, so naturally, I was a little concerned about her performance.

From the left side of the stage, another actor emerged: Leroy, the Jetsam from the Kelp Funny Club. “Oh, Faerie of Dankness,” he began, delivering his lines as if he’d been acting for years, “I’ve returned with the item you requested of me.” With a flourish, Leroy removed a small, Chia-shaped hedge from the folds of his jacket, and placed it before TTTXyF.

The Hissi blinked slowly, observing the gift, then drawled, “I don’t remember… asking you for that…”

I jumped as the audience laughed. Real laughter—not just the pity laughter that I was used to. Was that joke I wrote for TTTXyF really so funny? I thought. Surely, if I’d delivered that one, it would’ve flopped. Intrigued, I returned my attention to the stage, where TTTXyF was finally accepting that she’d asked Leroy to fetch her a desk hedge, of all things.

“Guess I’ll believe you this time, man,” the Hissi said, fumbling behind herself to grab a packet of chips she’d left on the floor. “I appreciate you, like, so much.”

It was time for Fyora’s—well, Tommy’s mom’s—second entrance. I held my breath. The play was going so much better than I had expected, and I could hardly contain my pride, even if I wasn’t the one up on stage. Maybe you have a career in screenwriting, Mikey Ko…

Before I could gloat too much, the lighting onstage changed. But it wasn’t an expected transition—the spotlight had gone out all at once, plunging Leroy and TTTXyF into darkness. What happened? I wondered as a murmur washed over the audience. Was there a technical mixup backstage?

Just as I was rising from my seat, a small, much weaker light shone out from between the curtains. It was soon revealed to be a flashlight, clutched between Rab’s paws and held beneath her chin to create an ominous effect as she approached the center of the stage.

“Alas…” she began, shaking her head softly; TTTXyF and Leroy took their cue and vanished backstage under the cover of darkness. “With the banishment of the Grass Faerie’s quests, Faerieland was plunged into a darkness — the land was no longer able to light up, some might say — but the worst was yet to come…”

Rabs’ flashlight flickered off, and the stage was left completely dark. But then, a dim stage light — probably a backup fished from the janitor’s closet — flashed to life, showing a new set of actors ready to showcase the next section of Piel’s work: The Faerieland Water Crisis.

I nodded expectantly.  Rabs had turned the technical difficulty into a technical advantage! And now for the water crisis act, I thought.  

As if on cue, someone let out an oath of pain shortly before a heavy THUD.  A sandbag had dropped onto the stage floor, scattering its contents everywhere.  

Before I or anyone else could step forward to fix this, the lights came back on, and I spotted Max covering Timmy’s ears to block out the sudden foul language.  The tiniest sighs of relief escaped me; Max was certainly good with kids.  

   But that sandbag, that really could have hurt someone, I reflected, careful to roll my way over to the end of the curtain while the audience murmured amongst themselves.  

   It was almost as if the play had come to a standstill.    

   I froze in my skateboarded tracks, despite not leaving any.  “Come on,” I whispered, “Keep going! The Faerieland Water Crisis!”  

   Piel was far too far away to hear, but he seemed to understand, and stepped forward into the limelight, oozing confidence as sunny as he was.  That Aisha seemed absolutely born for the stage, such did he captivate the audience’s attention with his mere presence.  “Dry as a desert, filled with sand,” he declaimed.  “From whence will we obtain our sustenance?”

I blinked, peering at him as he held the audience’s attention just like the pawful of sand.   

   “I’d make a joke about this, but I’m not sure if dry humor is for everyone,” Piel continued, garnering—did mine ears deceive me—several hearty chortles popping up like Sillie Daisies!  I hadn’t been too confident with that one line, but Piel delivered it so wonderfully, that—hold on, where did that violin come from?  

   As Piel fiddled the act away, I returned to my quest, fully aware of the pun losing its strength with every repetition.    

   It really shouldn’t have surprised me, but as I reached the end of the curtain, I saw—Kad!  Kad, that royal pain in the tuchus, who was still nursing her very blatantly rope-burned paws.  My strengths were in the common Neopian language, and not maths, but I could still put two and two together.  

   “Sabotage?” I hissed in the fiercest whisper I could muster.  

   “You had no right to those rights,” she growled, the Zafara’s voice a stone.  

   “I’d won it fair and square!” I protested, elbowing her with a fin.  “I’ll show you who’s in the…right!”   

   But before any more scuffling or squabbling or scurrying could occur, another THUD—no, it was definitely a BANG, this time—rang out, followed by a puff of lavender smoke that rapidly spread backstage.  From behind the curtain, I could hear the entire audience gasp.  

   My blood would have run cold if I wasn’t cold-blooded already.  

   Kad and I declared a silent truce with one glance—we understood that if we were to expose the faerie queen, we had to put all squabbling aside and focus on our common enemy. We both peered through tiny gaps in the bottom of the curtain—sure enough, there was Fyora, her wings rigid with indignation. 

   Despite the spotlights in our direction, I could still make out the mix between fear and reverence in the audience’s eyes.  Regardless of the allegations, the play, or the enjoyment the audience took therein, Fyora was, and still, is, their queen.  And this was her stage.

“Surprise, everyone.” Fyora’s voice was cool, but there was a fierce energy beneath the surface.  “Thank you for coming to Mikey Ko’s play.  I’m very glad you enjoyed it.”  

   Such cordiality, sharpened to a rapier point.  I shivered, almost tempted to use the curtain as warmth.  

   “So be sure to check out his other work!” Her voice suddenly grew bright.  Things were quickly moved around onstage, but I couldn’t quite make out the type of machine that was being brought onstage.  Neopian technology was moving so quickly, even I couldn’t really keep up with it.  

   And what other work was she talking about?  Unless…  

   My stomach dropped.  

   Another beam of light shone in my general direction, the cone emanating from one specific point above the stage spotlights.  

   “So my friend Opulente,” a recording began.  

   I gripped the skateboard.  How had Fyora gotten a hold of my first gig at kelp?  My absolute flop! I’d thought recordings weren’t allowed in there!  

   “She went apple bobbing the other day, and I think that’s just asking for it, seeing as she’s a Kyrii—but get this!”

I couldn’t move.  This was going to turn into the worst day ever, and I could do nothing about it.  

   “She doesn’t pull up someone’s dentures, a plushie, or, Faerieland forbid, an apple, but an orange with an apple mask on it!  An Imposter Apple!” 

   “Wouldn’t you know it folks, she broke out in hives anyway!”  

   What was the audience doing?  Were they cringing?  Staring up in pity?  Getting up and walking away?  

   “So when she tells me this, I have to reply, I simply HAVE to: Orange you glad it wasn’t a real apple?”  

   Several audible groans in the recording’s audience.    

  The recording abruptly ended. 

   “Be sure to catch this…incredibly credible ‘comedian’.” The emphasis on that last word dripped with sarcasm.  I knew she had no faith in my abilities, but this just hurt.  “Thank you everyone, and have a wonderful evening!”  

   I turned away from the curtain.  This was just too much, and there was no janitor’s closet to hide in this time.  I had to face the actors I’d disgraced.  It wasn’t just me this time.  I sniffled.

“Now hold on a moment.” Kad, of all Neopians, crawled beneath the curtain and appeared on stage next to Fyora.    

   “Why, Kad,” Fyora’s mouth turned up, but her voice was stoic.  “What a nice surprise to have you join me on the sta—”  

   “Enough with this pretence, your majesty,” the Zafara said, then turned to face the audience.  “The allegations in Piel’s article are more than likely true, but Piel failed to mention something.”  Kad paused for dramatic effect.   

  “The review against the article?  You know, the one that was anonymous?  It was written in mine own paw, at our queen’s behest.”  

   “Kad!” the shock and betrayal on the Faerie Queen’s face told more than further explanation could.  They told the truth.  

But Kad went on anyway.  “Mikey was able to keep going, even after his performance at kelp—he didn’t let failure stop him, but tried a different approach altogether!  Why, that Koi discovered new material, battled me for the rights to that material, swallowed his pride and asked a famous writer for help, got talented writers and kelp’s audience to put on a show in record time for you today!” 

“If anything,” Kad went on, pulling aside the curtain and giving me an apologetic look, “Mikey here is the one who should be taking a bow today.”  

Silence.  

It’s so terribly hard to get used to when you’re onstage.

A sound like an ember popping in the fireplace.  It was just as unexpected.  

   But then—  

   That sound was magnified, amplified, multiplied, as applause bubbled, then erupted throughout the audience!  Those without fins stood up on their two or hind feet, and those with fins climbed onto those without, much to their protest.  

   Glancing at Kad, who nodded, I did as she suggested.  

   I wobbled on the skateboard and bent over, the whole thing feeling so surreal.  

  The applause kept roaring like a bonfire. 

   As if things just couldn’t get more dreamlike, I heard a slight chirruping sound over the din.  Next to me was that little Dandan fellow, that ferret boy, handing me a cherry pie.  

   On that pie was written in edible, flowing script, “Fulfill, my Chekhov.”  

   I didn’t hesitate.  

   The stage veritably EXPLODED in laughter and cheers as Maraschino cherries dripped down our dear queen’s face.

After the play concluded, and Fyora flew off to salvage what she could of the pie (she DID like cherry pie, and as the saying goes, waste not, want not), I was surprised to see Leroy, visiting to shake my hand and commend me on the play’s success.

“Congratulations, Mr. Ko,” he started. “What a lovely experience — I mean, truly, that was grand display of artistic vision! You have a talent for adapting the written word to a theatrical medium.”

“Uh, thanks,” I ventured, not too sure how to accept the Jetsam’s praise. “It was a community effort, you know?”

“Yes indeed.” Leroy gave a short nod, then reached into his pocket and fished out a business card. “I didn’t tell you earlier, Mikey, but I’m a commissioner on the Neopies Council. I spoke with my colleagues earlier, and we’d be happy to nominate your production of The Faerie Queen Conundrum for a Neopie this year. What do you say?”

“What do I say?” I couldn’t breathe. Maybe it was the fact that I’d been out of water for so long, but the thought of being nominated for such a prestigious award show was almost too much. I managed to reach out and shake Leroy’s fin. “It would be my honor!”   

*** (WARNING! ASTERISK RESOURCES LOW!)

“Welcome, one and all, to this year’s Neopies ceremony! I’m your host, Ellsworth, and we’ve got some GREAT nominees in our lineup tonight! Get ready for the BEST OF THE BEST to duke it out live, folks…”

“Hey, Mikey?” The voice belonged to TTTXyF, who was sitting next to me decked head to toe in Grass Faerie regalia. She seemed to enjoy the spectacle of the Neopies auditorium, packed full of actors and actresses from all across Neopia. “You think it’s too late to self-nominate for Best Supporting Actr-hiss?”

“I thought I was the comedian here,” I laughed, ignoring the strange looks the other attendees gave us. “But yes, something tells me it’s a little too late.”

“Next time,” the Hissi remarked. Behind her—well, from the seats to her right, where she couldn’t see—Piel, Rabs, and Kad shook their heads fervently.

The awards ceremony went just about as expected. Ellsworth switched places with another host — Chadrick Woolsworth Tuffington IV, better known as Chadley — about halfway through, retreating to the front row of the auditorium to take a seat besides an Aisha I recognized (to my great chagrin) as The Storyteller. Was she here to commend me on my recent storytelling success, or to strike me down for my less-than-sparing use of asterisks travel and quirky, feel-good montages? I guess I’d have to wait and see.

“…and now, we have our next category…”

I looked up just in time to see the words “Best Comedy Special” flash across the auditorium’s big screen. My stomach churned as the host announced the nominees one by one. This was the moment that I — no, that all of us — had been waiting for.

“… and the winner is…”

I took one last breath to steel myself for the inevitable loss.

“…’The Faerie Queen Conundrum: a Slightly Treasonous Comedy’!”

I almost started laughing. I almost did. But then I realized the host wasn’t joking. “Is he for real?” I mouthed to the writer’s club beside me, standing as if on instinct and giving a short bow. Then TTTXyF was pushing past me, muttering something about a sequel, and I had no choice but to follow her up to the stage. The rest of the group, including the members of the Kelp Funny Club who’d played a role in the success of the Faerie Queen Conundrum, followed shortly thereafter.

Once all of us had gathered on the stage — it was really quite a large group — I took to the mic with only slightly-trembling fins. TTTXyF had already claimed the Neopie (and, of course, complimented Chadley for having a name that was almost as long as hers).

“Hello? Is this thing on?” I ventured, starting with a classic line from my Comedy 101 textbook. Once again, to my surprise, the remark wasn’t met with complete silence; the audience laughed politely before quieting down to hear the rest of my set — I mean, the rest of my acceptance speech.

“So, I’ll keep this short and sweet,” I continued, looking to my left and to my right at the crew who’d made this moment possible. “I want to thank everyone who helped make The Faerie Queen Conundrum possible.” I gestured to the crowd gathered on stage, adding, “As you can see, there are a lot of us, so splitting up the Neopie might be the real conundrum here.”

More laughter rang out, wiping away whatever nervousness lingered in my chest. At that moment — perhaps much too late — I realized it wasn’t my content that had made me flop in the past… it was my stage presence. In all my comedic career, I’d been so worried about putting my fins in my mouth that I held myself back from being the real Mikey Ko: The Mikey Ko that parents would want their kids looking up to. I remembered what Max told me: That they loved what I wrote because it was just that — real. Though it had taken a convoluted chase and a full-length theatrical play for me to connect the dots, it was about time I’d finally found my confidence.

“With that said,” I continued, not missing a beat, “I’d also like to thank everyone else who’s supported me as I work to become a better comedian… my cousin Mordy, for one..." The cameras briefly panned to Mordy in the audience -- he was so proud of what I became, and I was proud to have exceeded his expectations when he got me that gig at Kelp. "And, of course, my friends, Piel, Rabs, Kad, and… uh… Tiffany Tyrannian Trafalgar—“

“—you MEAN, Tiffany Triumphalante Torchbringer Xylobar ye Fifth,” TTTXyF interjected, grabbing the microphone with a free hand. “And you’re welcome, Mikey.”

The crowd surged with laughter. Partially because of what TTTXyF had said, and partially because of her Grass Faerie getup. Either way, I thought that was a good enough ending to my acceptance speech, and took a deep bow as applause and laughter rang out.

But then, as I was rising, I remembered someone. The Storyteller. Maybe I was pushing my luck here, but I thought I’d tell one last joke while I had the spotlight…

“Before I go, I thought I’d take this opportunity to test the waters with some new material,” I tried. “You all know The Storyteller, right?” I raised a fin to my forehead and looked around the auditorium. “I think she’s in the audience with us tonight, actually…”

I looked at the Storyteller, who sat with a notebook in hand next to Ellsworth. She appeared surprised, but not too upset, that I was engaging her in a comedic bit.

“Well, I was thinking about it, and I thought she’d make a great comedian — you wanna know why?” I paused for effect. “…’cause she’ll be here all week! Or should I say, all three weeks?”

I was so focused on the audience that I hardly noticed Ellsworth making his way onto the stage, muttering angrily about how I’d offended The Storyteller with my last joke. “Thank you everyone! Have a good night!” I called, turning to wave at the star-studded audience. I was just starting to walk off the stage with the rest of the crew, when…

SLAP

Everything froze.

Mikey Ko? More like, Mikey K.O.

*** —ASTERISK USAGE EXCEEDED

CRITICAL FAILURE  

   YOU REALLY SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO THE STORYTELLER, MIKEY—  

   A sound of glass breaking—oh?    

Hey!     

What kind of Neopet are you? Have you been reading this whole time? Huh, you kinda remind of those folks I met in the Lost Desert, just a little less fluffy and scaly…

… but that doesn’t matter now. What REALLY matters is whether you’re willing to help me tell my next story…

THE END

… or is it? …

Author: tttxyv
Date: Jun 3rd



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