Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 133,024,427 Issue: 274 | 12th day of Sleeping, Y9
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Master and Pupil


by yatomiyuka

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“Another rejection,” the Ogrin muttered dejectedly, rolling the parchment into a neat scroll and throwing it into the overflowing waste-paper basket. He ran a blue paw through his mane, trying to gather his thoughts. He knew it was irrational to feel the way he felt. Neopia was full of aspiring writers... artists... musicians... Battledomers... architects... but it sometimes seemed like everyone was better than him at everything he tried to do. Of course, his teacher would tell him that good and bad were subjective and that talent wasn’t a thing you could be born with; it had to be earned, and he was right. It was just difficult to make himself believe that, sometimes.

     “Some pets have natural predispositions to specific talents, but they have to work just as hard as everyone else to make their dreams into reality.” He’d had the lecture hundreds of times before and didn’t need to hear it again. All the same, it felt like cheating not to tell Kiro about the latest failure. No doubt his patient advisor would take him through the basics again and try to help him fix his travesty of a manuscript, but the simple fact was that he wasn’t good enough and he didn’t believe he ever would be.

     Come on, Musa. You have to stop thinking that way. The only reason you fail is because you don’t let yourself win. The blank grey walls of his home seemed to bore into him, dragging him into a familiar headachy slump. He’d been living there six months and still hadn’t gotten around to decorating the place. What would his family say if they could see him now? I’m a complete and utter failure. Scolding himself again for his negative thinking, the dejected Ogrin smoothed out a new sheet of paper and scribbled a hasty neomail to Kiro.

     Kiro: I got another rejection notice today. I’m sorry for being such a burden on you, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and you are my biggest inspiration for continuing my work.

     ~Musa.

     Musa cast a critical eye over his letter, considered changing a few things, then decided it would have to do.

     “Valiant, I have a job for you.” A small Vaeolus came tottering up to the Ogrin, churring wildly and rubbing against his legs. “Yes, yes, I love you too,” Musa laughed. It took only a few seconds to attach the letter, and Valiant immediately knew what was required of him, having delivered neomail to Kiro on numerous occasions. Spreading his short wings, he hopped up to the window and let the wind carry him away in the direction of the catacombs.

     “Good luck! Don’t come back without a reply!”

     Well, he won’t be back for a while and there’s nothing to do here. Maybe I’ll go to the marketplace for lunch...

     ***

     Kiro was an old Shoyru, and not growing any younger. The days of his youth had been spent pursuing riches and fame, just like all the other young fools he had known at the time. Yet, even in those days, it hadn’t been just about the trophies and the neopoints. He had always found great joy in telling stories, from his greatest epic to the simplest poem he had ever written. Each one was dear to him, because each one contained something pure and honest that he had invested and could never take back.

     Now, his Times career was long over, and he was spreading that simple joy the only way he knew how: by passing his wisdom down to a new generation of poets and storytellers.

     “What’s this?” A sharp rapping sound startled him out of a doze. He immediately glanced at the window, and his eyes met with those of a small Vaeolus. “Ah, it’s just you, Valiant.” Standing up, he stretched his wings and unlocked the window. “Have you got a message for me today?”

     “Chrr. Chrr.”

     “I suppose that means yes,” he said, and untied the scroll from Valiant’s outstretched paw. It took only a few seconds for him to read it. When he was finished, he let out a long-suffering sigh and picked up his quill to scratch out a reply.

     Dear Musa,

     I know it can be discouraging. Your big break is coming up soon, I just know it. Maybe all you need is a bit more confidence... a break from the old routine... you know, this has given me something of an idea. Meet me by the Money Tree tomorrow morning at 6:30. If you cannot attend, write back ASAP; I expect you to be there unless there is an emergency.

     Yours Faithfully, Kiro

     Kiro sighed. He loved his work at the academy, but he had fallen into something of a rut in recent years, and his mind wasn’t quite what it had been... yet this idea, if it worked, could prove to be the thing that broke him out of it. Just a little friendly competition, that’s all, he thought to himself.

     Smiling genuinely for the first time in more than a year, the old shadow Shoyru tied his letter to Valiant and bid him on his way.

     ***

     Musa handed over a hundred neopoints in return for a red juppie burger and took a seat not far from the shop. The streets were full of busy shoppers, just as always. No two pets were the same. This world was a fascinating place to him, but not as wonderful as the worlds he created for himself to hide in. From now on, I’m going to put my best into everything I write. I can’t give up now. It means too much to me. But what was it, really? Why did it mean so much?

     When it gets right down to it, he realised, I don’t know. Unnerved and sleepy, he threw the uneaten half of the burger away and set off home.

     The young Ogrin turned the corner to see his Vaeolus waiting for him. In one claw, he held a thin parchment scroll. The dull brick seemed unreal next to his vivid, tropical feathers.

     “Chreee! Chreee!” Valiant appeared to be in a frenzy, flapping around in circles so fast he seemed to be nothing more than a blur.

     “Sorry, little guy. That was fast! You must have really pestered him.” He gave Valiant a half-hearted stroke then turned his attention to the scroll, which would no doubt be full of confidence-boosting anecdotes and empty wisdom beyond his understanding, along with (if he was lucky) an invite to meet him somewhere at some ungodly hour of the morning.

     “Well, that’s just great,” he groaned, stuffing the letter into his pocket. Pushing past the aging door with its flaky, faded red paint and creaky, irritable hinges, he stepped into the hallway of the place that passed for his home. I guess I’d better go. I don’t want to ruin a good friendship...

     ***

     Dawn was breaking over Neopia. Most of the pets out at such an hour congregated at the catacombs, where they felt safe and sheltered from the strange world of night. The first rays of the newborn sun cast a magenta shade over the shops and the houses clustered around the area known as Central Neopia.

     In one obscure street, a battered door crept open and a blue figure slipped out, closely followed by a smaller, brightly glowing creature with blue wings. Together they walked until they reached their destination; an old gnarled tree whose roots were heaped with unwanted junk.

     “Glad you could make it.” Stealthy as always, their instructor had seemingly popped up out of nowhere, an ability he attributed to his shadowy scales. “Now, about my idea.”

     “Be quick. It’s not summer any more, you know.” He shuddered slightly.

     “Okay, I’ll try. Since we’re both struggling recently, I thought it might be nice to have a friendly competition.”

     Musa raised an eyebrow. What is he planning now? “That sounds nice.”

     “I haven’t finished yet,” Kiro snapped. “Sorry about that. Things have been getting on top of me recently. Anyway... my idea is this: We both write a short story with the same central idea, in the same time frame, and see what we come up with.”

     There must be a trick buried in there somewhere, Musa thought.

     “Sounds like a great idea!” he said enthusiastically. “So, what can we write about?”

     “I’ll leave that up to you,” Kiro responded, his eyes glittering serenely. Their breath rose in pillars of icy mist.

     “Well,” Musa said nervously, thinking back on things that had interested him, old ideas he had forgotten, any source of inspiration he could find. “Maybe we could write about a young pet lost in the heart of Sakhmet,” he began. “That could go any number of ways.”

     “You speak well,” Kiro replied. “It’s as good an idea as any I have these days.”

     “So, er...”

     “I’ll meet you back here in exactly one week! Don’t be late!” Just like that, he was gone.

     “Wait! Do you think we could meet a little later next—“ Musa yelled after his retreating back, but his ears seemed to be closed. “Time,” he sighed, ruffling Valiant’s thick orange fur. It was going to be a long, difficult week.

     ***

     Kiro spent every moment of his free time on the story. Between eating, sleeping and the various classes he taught, that wasn’t much. For the first time in his long memory, he was having trouble with a story. At this rate, I won’t even get half of it finished before next Monday. I have lessons to plan for tomorrow, and it’s nearly 1:00 now. I’d better turn in...

     The old Shoyru dropped his quill and left his paper lying on the desk. Maybe tomorrow, things would seem clearer. Trying to write a story that didn’t want to be written was an exercise in futility.

     Several indigo-black scratches indicating failed beginnings covered the first half of the parchment. Below this, a few lines of curvy blue script which read:

     “Thunder was not like the other children. He was a quiet and unassuming Krawk; though his friends were few, they were loyal and dependable. One day, his parents assured him, he would be a great sorcerer--just as they were. None of them had dared to dream that things could go so wrong. Yet they had, and Thunder was stranded in the heart of the Sakhmetian desert... completely and utterly alone.”

     ***

     Shadows crept over the bare walls, cast by the soft glow of a tiny flame. The vague and flickering light was starting to fade; soon it would be gone, and Musa had no candles left. Give it a rest for today, he told himself dismally. It’s not the end of the world. At least you’re trying to write something.

     He glared down at the tatty notebook and battered grey-brown quill, as if willing them to work. Nothing happened. None of the words moved or changed, in his mind or on the paper. It was a poor start, he thought, but better than nothing at all.

     “Thundra was different to the other children. He was a quiet and well-mannered Kyrii with few friends to speak of, though those friends were the best he could have asked for. His mother and father were skilled practitioners of magic, and promised him that he would become even greater... but it wasn’t to be. On their journey through the desert towards the heart of Sakhmet City, disaster struck. Thundra had never dreamed so much could go wrong in such a short time, but it had... and now he was stranded in the desolation, completely and utterly alone.”

     Maybe Thundra is a little much, Musa pondered sleepily. Maybe I should just change it to Thunder...

     ***

One Week Later, 6:30 am, Money Tree, Neopia Central

     “Impossible.” The word seemed frozen in the still air like a lasting echo that is sensed rather than heard. Beneath the boughs of a skeletal Money Tree, wrapped in thick coats against the frost which had begun to creep across the concrete, two pets pored over two different manuscripts in shared disbelief. Musa’s eyes were narrow and suspicious.

     “How did you manage it?” he asked, honestly curious. “I hardly left the building all week long!”

     “What do you mean?” the tutor snapped back, wings flared. “You must have been spying on me! I have never seen the like of this before!”

     Both stories had been written by different pets, at different times, in different places. Yet, apart from the occasional word or phrase, they were almost exactly the same.

     “Well...” Musa started hesitantly. “I believe you, but I would never do anything like that. You know me, don’t you, Kiro?”

     The Shoyru sighed in resignation. “Of course I do. But this... this is impossible.”

     Silence hung over them as the sun rose, paled by mist and thin cloud, offering no warmth and very little light. Musa chewed the matter over in his mind, searching for a possible solution to the riddle.

     “Maybe we didn’t write the story at all,” he said at last, moving slowly through the conversation, searching for the perfect words to express this strange idea. “Maybe when we write stories, something else is moving through us... writing through us...”

     “What? Faeries, you mean?” Kiro scoffed. “I stopped believing in them long ago...”

     “No, not exactly,” Musa said. “It’s... hard to explain.”

     “It doesn’t matter,” Kiro sighed. His eyes were bright and interested. Musa could almost hear the gears working behind them, trying to fit the last piece into place. Was it possible that they had stumbled upon a great secret, or was it something they had known all along, without realizing it? Was it even close to the truth?

     “For better or for worse, this is where we’ve ended up. If one of us is going to publish this, I’d rather it was you.”

     “Me?” Musa asked in a scratchy voice. “I couldn’t do that... it’d be sort of like plagiarism.”

     “I don’t think it would. Because you didn’t steal anything, you just drew from the same... mental reservoir.” He smiled his knowing smile, and Musa felt the sudden urge to laugh until he cried. “Go ahead and submit it... I think you might be pleasantly surprised.”

     “Thanks,” the Ogrin said at last. “I think I will.”

The End

 
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