Pay It Forward
Being a newbie in Neopia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Between my little yellow Aisha JessaBlessa (Jess for short) and I, we barely had two neopoints to rub together. Usually our days involved little more than a tour around Neopia, visiting the tombola and taking a chance at the Poogle races. But every so often we struck out on an adventure, something unusual or exciting…
Our biggest adventure started out like an ordinary day – at the giant omelette, scrounging for a spot of breakfast.
“You know, I’m not entirely convinced this is hygienic.” Jess commented, staring up at the mound of egg and cheese in front of us. “I mean it’s out in the sun all day roasting away and we just go up to it and pull a piece off? How do I know it’s not going to give me some illness?”
“Jess it’s magic.” I explained patiently. “But by all means, if you’d rather starve, I’m quite happy to walk away.”
“Hey let's not be too hasty…” Jess replied quickly. I laughed as her stomach gave a huge rumble. Sounded like hunger had won out over any concerns she had. Together we took a few steps forward and tore a handful off the giant omelette. Cautiously, we gave it a quick sniff – despite all my reassurances that it was safe we had got a rotten omelette in the past. Today it looked like our luck was in though; it smelt like bacon.
“Mmm, bacon omelette!” I exclaimed happily and took a big bite. So engrossed were we in eating, we didn’t notice the crowd slowly stop talking and eating and turn towards us. Nor did we notice the small glowing shape hovering behind us getting larger and larger. There was a polite cough.
Another, more pronounced cough.
I became aware of the deafening silence around us.
“What’s everyone looking at?” I whispered to Jess.
“Probably me.” A cheery voice said behind us. We span around to see a beautiful faerie in a bright aqua dress standing in front us. Her long blonde hair was peppered with aqua streaks and she was looking at us both with an expression that was somewhere between bemused and frustrated. I figured she must be famous and a rare sight, judging by the mixed looks around us. Some looked excited, some looked envious and some looked a bit confused.
“Sorry,” I began hesitantly. “But I don’t know who you are.”
“I am Naia, the rainbow fountain Faerie.” The faerie exclaimed proudly.
“The what?” I replied. Jess smacked a paw to her forehead.
“Naia the rainbow fountain Faerie!” Jess replied. “The rainbow fountain… She can grant passes to the fountain that allow neopets to change colour! She just needs to grant us a quest…” Jess looked to the faerie with hopeful eyes. “She doesn’t give out quests often though.”
“Well, purpledaisychain – today is your lucky day. I require an item and if you can retrieve it for me, I will grant you a pass to my fountain.” The faerie smiled at us both.
“But why me? I barely know how to get to the shops!” I replied. The crowd groaned.
“I’ve been watching you for a while. I only choose neopians I feel are up the challenge. I think you and JessaBlessa will be perfect to fetch a rainbow smug bug cookie for me. If you can bring me the item, I will reward you with a token for JessaBlessa to bathe in my pool. I only have one rule – you may not go to the shop wizard for help.” Naia beamed, clearly expecting us to be delighted. There was a pause, which quickly turned into an awkward silence. The faerie’s beaming smile slowly slid off her face, to be replaced with a frown. “Surely you should be delighted – I very rarely request items from neopians and my reward is so great. Why do you not look thrilled?”
“It’s not that I’m not happy,” I replied at last. “I mean I’m really pleased you’ve asked us and everything, but I don’t understand why you can’t just go and buy the item yourself. I mean the shop wizard’s usually so good at finding what you need.” The crowd gave a gasp and broke out in angry muttering. Even Jess looked shocked I hadn’t just accepted the request.
“It is part of the magical laws that bind us all – the shop wizard’s magic works against ours. He cannot assist a person on a quest for a faerie, be warned he will always know.” The faerie replied. “So what say you, purpledaisychain, will you help me?”
“YES!” Jess yelled quickly before I could say anything else. “YES! She does! Daisy come on, you’ve gotta say yes.”
“I guess that’s your answer.” I added with a small smile.
“I will be waiting at my pool in Faerieland for my rainbow smug bug cookie. Good luck to you both.” And with a large pop, the faerie disappeared. Immediately the crowd rushed up to us.
“Wow, the rainbow faerie…”
“You must be really special-“
“- can you help –“
“- what are you going to do-“
“HEY!” I yelled over the chattering crowd. “Does anyone have a rainbow smug bug cookie on them? It’ll save us a lot of time and effort.”
Immediately the crowd fell silent. I became aware of hundreds of pairs of eyes avoiding my gaze. “Guess not then. Right, come on jess, let’s go.” We cut through the group with purpose, striding away from both the omelet and the crowd. “Any ideas?” I whispered to Jess. “We’re flat broke and these cookies sound expensive.”
“Well… I know she said not to use the wizard but how is he going to know we’re on a quest? I mean, he’s magical and all, but not psychic.” Jess pondered. “If we just stroll up and casually ask him to look up these cookies for us, he might help. He doesn’t need to know we’re on a quest.”
“I’m really not sure about that Jess.” I replied thoughtfully. “The faerie seemed pretty convinced he’d know we were finding the item for her. There’s loads of neopians that have had quests in the past and he’s never helped them. What makes you think he won’t know we’re on one too?”
“I think we should try.” Jess replied stubbornly. “There’s always got to be an exception to the rule or else there wouldn’t be rules.”
Whilst I still wasn’t convinced, I couldn’t doubt her logic.
“Ok - looks like we’re going to see the wizard!” ***
The shop wizard was an aged Jubjub wearing robe of midnight blue with stars on and a matching hat. He sat upon a podium directing neopians around the busy marketplace. No one knew how he could find not only the cheapest price for an item but answer so many questions at once – the common answer was it was magic. Jess and I (being flat broke) very rarely visited the wizard. We were banking on the lack of familiarity being on our side. We joined the back of the small queue snaking towards the wizard, trying not to look too nervous or guilty. Secretly I was convinced he’d know and refuse to help but it was worth trying.
“Hmmm… piece of secret laboratory treasure map?” The wizard said to the Neopian in front of us. They stood tall and proud with a trio of well-groomed Kougras next to them. All three were painted beautiful colors and looked strong and lean. I glanced down at Jess. She was badly in need of a wash and a little on the scrawny side. I couldn’t help but feel a bit self-conscious. Why had the faerie chosen us when she could have chosen someone like the person in front? “That’s not going to be cheap, best deal I can find is 81000 neopoints, here’s the address.” The wizard handed over a piece of parchment with an address neatly printed. The trio of Kougras and their owner walked away and Jess and I stepped forward.
“Hello! We’re looking for a rainbow smug bug cookie please.” Jess said in an overly confident tone. The wizard looked at us both.
“You are on a quest for a Faerie.” It wasn’t a question. “You would have been told of the rules, I cannot assist you in your quest. You may use the auction house or the trading post. I cannot help.”
“But…” Jess began.
“There are no ifs, buts or bending of the rules JessaBlessa.” The wizard said sternly. “I cannot help you on this quest.” There was a finality in his voice that suggested any begging would not work. I sighed and looked at Jess.
“C’mon Jess, we’ll try somewhere else. I doubt we could afford it anyway.” We both turned away empty handed and walked back out towards the town center. Sitting down on a grassy bank, I turned to Jess. “So the auction house is probably out, we can’t afford to get into a bidding war with someone. We haven’t got anything worth trading so where else could we go?”
“We could try the bakery?” Jess suggested.
“And do what precisely? We can’t afford anything fresh - if we could we wouldn’t have to take a chance on the giant omelette every morning.”
“It was just a suggestion.” Jess replied in a wounded tone.
“I’m sorry Jess, I didn’t mean to upset you.” I replied, putting an arm around the hurt little Aisha. “It’s just a bit stressful. I don’t understand why she chose us and I don’t know how we’re going to get hold of a cookie when we can barely afford to feed ourselves. Maybe we should just give up and let someone else help her?”
Jess shrugged my arm off in disgust. “Give up? GIVE UP? What sort of person are you if you just give up when it gets a little difficult? We’ve got to keep going Daisy, Naia chose us for a reason!”
“You’re right!” I replied, standing up. “Let’s keep going – we’ll have a hunt around the money tree, we might get lucky.”
“Get lucky!” Jess’s eyes shone. “Let’s try the wishing well!” She began to stride towards the little well stood to one side of the market. It was a small grey well with strange symbols carved into it. Every so often, a pet or their owner would walk over towards it. Closing their eyes and muttering under their breath for an item they desperately wanted, they would throw some coins into the watery depth. Most of the time, they opened their eyes to find their wish hadn’t been granted but sometimes… just sometimes… they’d open their eyes to find the item they needed at their feet as if by magic. I couldn’t help but feel a bit skeptical and worried, we barely had enough neopoints for lodgings tonight and if we threw our last coins into the well with nothing but hope, how would that help up? I opened my mouth to dissuade Jess and stopped. How could I take away Jess chance to be a painted pet?
I followed her over to see her eyes screwed tight, concentrating all her might on the coins held in her paw. I could see her muttering “rainbow smug bug cookie” over and over again under the breath. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the last coin I owned. It was worth a shot. “Rainbow smug bug cookie…” I whispered and with my eyes shut, dropped the coin into the well. I heard a small splash, followed by several more as Jess dropped her coins in. For a moment, we stood silently with our eyes shut, too scared to open them and see whether our wish had come true.
“On three?” I whispered.
“One… two… three!” We opened our eyes. Nothing. It looked like our wish hadn’t come true.
“Never mind,” Jess said, clearly trying not to let her disappointment show. “There’s people much worse off than us. Let’s keep going.” I could see her eyes shining with tears but it was obvious she didn’t want to show how upset she was. She turned around and walked off in the direction of the money tree. I rubbed my temples, feeling a headache brewing and then headed off after her.
The money tree wasn’t so much a tree made of money, but a large willow tree that stood towards the edge of the marketplace. The canopy hung low over the grass surrounding it and there seemed to a slight glow to the tree. There was a small pile of donated items scattered around the tree, which neopians were going through. I couldn’t work out how the items appeared, every time I blinked there seemed to be different items.
Jess had got to the tree before me and was furiously diving through the pile of items, her heart and mind set on the cookies. I helped her look, going through the piles of items searching desperately for the item we both needed. For a while we worked in silence, determined to find the cookies and our ticket to the rainbow pool. It seemed like a bit of a long shot to find something so valuable in the midst of torn clothes, smelly piles of dung and the occasional ripped books.
“Jess…” I said quietly. “I don’t think we’re going to find them here.”
“I know Daisy,” Jess replied brushing her hands down. “C’mon, let’s just keep going.” We stood up and walked away from the money tree despondently. “We’ll never find this rainbow smug bug cookie.”
“Excuse me?” A voice said from behind. “Did you say a rainbow smug bug cookie?” We turned around to see a young Poogle stood in front of us. She was a pale lilac colour with brilliant pink wings sprouting from her back. She was smiling at us both.
“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s for a quest.”
“I have one.” The Poogle replied. “I was just going to donate it, but it seems your need might be greater…” She pulled out a small parcel.
“Oh wow!” Jess exclaimed, taking the parcel. She opened it to find the cookies. “Thank you! Thank you! How can we ever thank you?“
“Just pay it forward.” The Poogle smiled.
“Wow!” Jess beamed. “Let’s go get our rainbow fountain token!” ***
We reached the rainbow fountain at sunset. Naia was sat at the edge of her pool, smiling at us both.
“Have you retrieved my cookies?” Naia asked as we approached her.
“Yes.” Jess said solemnly. She held out the cookies in her paws. “Here are your rainbow smug bug cookies, as requested.”
“Thank you purpledaisychain and JessaBlessa.” She closed her eyes and closed her fist over the cookies. There was a flash of light and she opened her fist up. In her palm she held a small token. “This is a rainbow fountain token. Use this when you wish to change your colour. Thank you.”
I took the token from her. It was a multi-coloured coin, a little bigger than a dubloon. I felt a strange mixture of excited and responsible.
“So what colour do you want to be then Jess? Endless possibilities, anything that you want to be…” I turned to look at Jess. She was staring with a funny look on her face. A little way from the fountain, there stood a young boy and his Lupe. They looked thin and pale, staring at the fountain with longing. I heard the young boy sigh. “One day Frankie, I’ll get a quest. Then I’ll make you a maractite Lupe…”
“Daisy,” Jess said. “I’m actually quite happy being yellow for now.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked her. Jess nodded. “Hey kid!” The young boy looked up at us. “We’ve got this token for the fountain that we don’t really need. Do you want it?”
He looked at us both with shock.
“But they’re so rare, why would you give it to me?”
“Just pay it forward, ok?” I smiled and handed over the token. “C’mon Jess.” Together, we walked off, leaving the young boy and his Lupe looking at us with an incredulous expression. “What a day!”***
Even though we completed a quest for no reward, I never looked back on our big adventure with regret. I knew we had done the right thing handing over the token, paying forward the gift that faerie Poogle had given us. The concept of paying it forward would continue, I knew our gift to the young boy would be paid forward in some way, and his gift would be paid forward and that gift would be paid forward…
And in the meantime?
“Daisy, seriously, no more omelette!”