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The Neopian Artist


by terukiyo

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     "What a lovely drawing,” a Maraquan Acara murmured at a painting of frolicking green Unis, her yellow eyes sparkling.

      A few other Neopets—a Xweetok holding hands with a Jetsam, and a lone Eyrie—milled about in the Art Gallery, viewing the old and new artworks on display, though no one was close enough to hear Sapphire if she spoke out loud to herself. The sun was about to set, and the Acara wanted to admire all the new pieces before it grew too late. She loved to draw and paint as well, and often had her own pieces shown and bringing home prizes.

      Sapphire moved a few paces down to the next piece of art on the wall, a detailed portrait of a regal-looking Darigan Eyrie, done mostly in bold, ragged-edged strokes. Something caught her eye in the background behind the Eyrie's throne. “What's this on the floor? Looks like a fan.” She leaned in closer, then took a few steps back and squinted.

      Rendered in incongruously delicate lines, the “thing” had three points on one side, and slightly narrowed on the other side—both the shape and two-tone colour, though shadow concealed both, reminded Sapphire of an underwater-type Neopet's ear, perhaps a Maraquan Kougra's ear, or her own ear.

      “Weird. Is this some sort of Easter negg, or just a slip of the hand?” But she still had many more pieces to see, and the thought about a Maraquan Acara's ear soon faded to the back of her mind.

      The memory came back to her three days later, when the Art Gallery announced its latest exhibit, and she rushed in among the noon visitors to gaze upon the Bori Day art. The crowd bumped and chattered and distracted Sapphire so much that she spent less time in front of each artwork. When she reached the sixth, she stopped so suddenly that the flapping soles of her Tower Princess Shoes (a terrible fit for her feet, though she loved the design) screeched against the floor. A staff member coughed twice, as if in warning.

      A group of Boris, all painted different colours, smiled down at her from the canvas. They seemed to be gathering autumn leaves in Meridell. The artist had done well with the shading: even the piles of leaves at the Boris's feet had amazing depth and colour. But what drew Sapphire's attention was the shape outlined in the largest mound of leaves. With two longer shapes in the centre and two fan-like bits on the sides, it looked like the head of a Maraquan Acara.

      “What a funny coincidence,” she remarked, without entirely convincing herself.

      The staff member who had coughed looked over at the sound of her voice and approached. “I see you're drawn to the Gerson piece,” the skunk Nimmo said in a haughty voice. “He's quite the genius painter, and an eccentric recluse. The Neopian Art Gallery features his work frequently. You might have seen his 'Untitled Eyrie' from last week?”

      “Gerson? Could you tell me more about his work?” asked Sapphire. “Like, have there been rumours about anything, uh, disturbing or evil about them?”

      “Of course not.” The Nimmo narrowed her eyes. “The Curator hand-picks each piece for the Art Gallery, as the prizes are often worth millions of Neopoints. Nothing disturbing or evil gets through the selection process.”

      “Really? Check this out.” Sapphire pointed to the Maraquan Acara head in the leaves. “This head. What is it doing there? Why did Gerson paint a decapitated Neopet head into fall foliage?” Her voice came out higher than usual, and she saw a nearby camouflage Kougra staring at them. She blushed

      “A head?” The Nimmo looked annoyed, but gave the painting a close look. A second later, she straightened up. “I find when one surrounds oneself with art, one is more likely to understand an artist's influences and intentions, and less likely to--” She coughed again. “--see themselves in everything.” She smiled coldly at Sapphire. “It might help if you read more works in the Poetry Contest, or open a copy of the Times once in a while. Enrich yourself, and you wouldn't be afraid of art.” The skunk Nimmo nodded and walked off to another Gallery patron.

      “You'd be afraid, too, if you found chopped-up Nimmo pieces hidden in art,” Sapphire mumbled in the direction of the skunk Nimmo's back. She checked the remaining artworks cursory glances, finding no Acara-related secrets in any of them, and went home.

      Sapphire ran down to the Art Gallery as soon as they announced the Jetsam Day update. Trembling with agitation, she sprinted and ducked her way down the long hall—she didn't want the skunk Nimmo to see her—until she found a Gerson piece.

      “I—I knew it!” Sweat rolled down the Acara's sleek, green forehead, though she wasn't feeling warm. She stared at the pastel drawing on the wall.

      Rather than the mere outline of an Acara's head, Gerson had drawn an Acara's head with a simple face. The face wore a wide-eyed expression that mirrored Sapphire's own as she stared at the drawing. She rushed to the archives and looked for older Gerson works. Since she paid little attention to artist names, she noticed only now that many of her favourite pieces bore Gerson's signature. None of them until “Untitled Eyrie” contained hidden Neopet parts, however.

      As the Acara hurried out, she nearly smashed into a camouflage Kougra in the foyer. He turned around and opened his mouth, but Sapphire shouted all her apologies over her shoulder without stopping.

      Through the rest of the Month of Collecting, and a week and then two into the Month of Storing, the Acara found herself at the Art Gallery as if she were a flimsy paperclip pulled toward Down for Maintenance Pteri's Magnet of Destruction. On Symol Day the Acara head developed shading and dimension; For Korbat Day, Gerson added its shoulders. Sapphire forced herself to stay and admire the other artworks, feigning calmness. On Halloween the Acara expanded down to the waist, but Sapphire chatted nonchalantly with the camouflage Kougra, Tiger, about art history and contemporary artists. She liked having a new friend to discuss these things with. Besides, she was possibly slowly losing her mind, and appreciated having Tiger as a friendly presence at the Art Gallery.

      Slorg Day, the Pteri Flying Championships, and Vandagyre Day passed, with Sapphire watching in morbid awe as her doppelganger grew fully fleshed out before her eyes. How could the other Art Gallery patrons not see this? Or did it not bother them so much, because they weren't Maraquan Acaras? Twice she had broached the topic with Tiger, but he looked uncomfortable discussing Gerson. She figured he didn't like Gerson's work as much as she did, and dropped the subject.

      One morning in mid-November, Sapphire sat staring down the day's issue of the Neopian Times next to her Happy Face Latte and Starry Yellow Birthday Cupcake. If the Art Gallery put on a Neopian anniversary exhibit, she had to go. It was her birthday as well, and she knew she'd have the most fun spending it at the Art Gallery, chatting about art and everything else with Tiger. But if a new Gerson piece came out… Without checking the news, Sapphire dashed out.

      Tiger waved at her from the entrance to the Art Gallery. “Morning!” he grinned. “I have, uh, something to tell you today.”

      “Good morn--” Sapphire began. Then she turned the palest shade of moss green.

      Behind them, near the entrance, hung the first piece of the exhibit commemorating the founding of Neopia. It was an enormous new painting by Gerson, and the central figure in it was a Maraquan Acara. Not just any Maraquan Acara—Sapphire herself. In the larger-than-life-size painting she wore her favourite Maraquan Light Blue Dress and stood gazing up at another painting.

      The world spun before Sapphire's eyes. All she could make out was a roundish object in painting-Sapphire's hands, something green and shaped like a head…

      “What do you think about this newest piece?” Tiger asked, pulling something out of a bag. something green and head-shaped. “I, uh, painted it for you.” His last words were drowned out by Sapphire's scream.

      Sapphire noted the object in his hands only vaguely out of the corner of her eye, as she stared at Tiger, or Gerson. “You've been doing this?” she said. “You've been trolling me since before we even met? What the Warf?”

      “No no no no!” The camouflage Kougra looked panicked. “It started out when I wanted to practice drawing you. I see you at the Art Gallery all the time. You don't often look in my direction, so I perfected drawing your ear first. I don't really have artsy friends to talk to. They call me a recluse, but I'm just socially awkward--”

      “You're trying to make friends by offering me a decapitated head?”

      “What? That's--that's not a head.”

      Sapphire turned toward the painting again. Indeed, the painting-Sapphire appeared not to be holding an Acara head. Sapphire couldn't identify the object.

      “You mentioned it was your birthday this month,” Gerson said with a red face. He handed her the green object in real life. “So I made this for you. Sorry, I didn't realise the painting thing seemed so sinister from your perspective.”

      Sapphire laughed and took the item. “Thank you so much!” She squeezed Gerson's hand. “I'm happy we became friends. But what is this?”

      “It's your birthday and Neopia's, so I tried to bake my own, bigger version of the 12th Birthday Garden Party Cupcake.” Gerson turned red down to his neck. “Looks like I'm probably better at painting than at cake decorating, but I had to paint it accurately. Happy birthday!”

The End.

 
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