The Price of Ambition
The next morning, Annie was woken up by her alarm. The two feelings that she noticed from the moment she opened her eyes were anxiety and excitement. The anxiety was for her finals since she wanted to do well on them. Although she wasn’t at the top of the class, she wanted to get on the Honor Roll to make Poppy proud. And the excitement was for the potion. Tonight after she got home, she would be drinking it and seeing what effects it would give her.
After getting dressed but before she went to the bathroom to freshen up, Annie decided to hide the potion in a place that nobody would think to look - her sock drawer. Bryn wouldn’t have much time to snoop since her last day of school was that day as well, but she wanted to be absolutely sure that it wouldn’t be found like the note was. With it good and hidden underneath all of her socks, she went downstairs, ready to eat some breakfast.
When she got downstairs, SB was quizzing Saorsie on things that would be on her final. “How far below sea level is Moltara?” She asked, reading from a flashcard.
“Um, 7000 feet?” Saorsie replied, fiddling with the hem of her dress.
“Got it!” SB flipped to the next card. “What are the two materials most commonly exported from Moltara?”
“Obsidian and… and…” The Cybunny trailed off, looking up at the ceiling as if the answers would be written up there.
“Red Moltite, right?” Bryn chimed in. “I read that in a book one time! It was this really interesting book about-”
SB shot a disapproving, but teasing look at her. “Hey! No helping. Saorsie has to come up with the answers on her own.”
“Hey, I totally knew that! I was gonna get it! I just needed a few more minutes…” Saorsie huffed, but let it go quickly. “Um, ask me something else.”
“Alright, what was the name of the Kougra who…”
Annie stopped paying attention as SB continued to quiz Saorsie. She looked over at Poppy, who was giving a plate of eggs to an eagerly waiting Bryn. “Good morning!”
Poppy looked up after setting the eggs down. “Good morning to you too! Are you ready for your finals? Did you study a lot last night?”
“I think I’m ready. I’m nervous about math, but I think everything else will be fine.” Geometry was not her best subject, so she was glad for that to almost be over.
“To think, next year, Saorsie’s going to be in her last year of school, and then you’ll be in your second to last!” Poppy walked over and placed her hands on Saorsie’s shoulders.
“Hey! I’m trying to concentrate!” The Cybunny whined, gently swatting her owner’s hands away. “We haven’t finished going over Moltara yet!”
Annie watched her owner and siblings interact, feeling the anxiety and excitement wash over her again. She really hoped that Poppy wouldn’t be mad when she found out about the secret potion, but she was sure that once she saw how strong she was becoming, she would be happy. Her excitement was making her hungry, so she scarfed down her eggs as soon as they were placed in front of her.
After they finished breakfast and left the house, there was a spring in Annie’s step as she walked to school with her sisters. She was so excited that, for a few times, she lifted up and flew around a bit. Bryn had to be the one to complain so she would come back down. When Shylark and Moluimge approached, not even their bad moods could dampen her excitement.
“What’s got you so happy?” Shylark asked, her voice just barely audible.
“I’m just excited for school to be out!” Annie said, even though that didn’t cover all of her excitement.
“But we’ll just have to go back again in the fall…” Molly said with a sigh, dragging her feet on the ground. “And in the summer, it’s gonna be all hot and sticky…”
“Annie’s excited right now, let her be,” Saorsie said with a calm smile.
Bryn scoffed. “I don’t know why she’s so excited, considering she’s -” Annie shot her a glare before she could finish her sentence. “...Gonna be super busy. Too busy to have fun.” One bullet dodged. But she wouldn’t be out of the woods yet until the end of the day when she was at home and ready to change her life.
Her demeanour was still sunny throughout the rest of the walk, and even when they got to school, she was cheerful. In years past, finals made her nervous enough to be chewing on her pencils by the time she sat down. But today, she was confident that she would come out alright, even if she didn’t get straight As. When she sat down at the desk for her first exam, she was practically wiggling in her seat with excitement. The sooner the test was over, the sooner she could go home.
Every test went about the same, with Annie speeding through, but trying not to be so excited that she was sloppy. The only test she was worried about was geometry, but even taking that test made her feel jittery. She did the best she could, but she wasn’t expecting a top grade on it. When the test was finished and they were released, she shoved everything into her backpack and dashed straight to the front of the school. Bryn was already home, but Saorsie would be waiting to walk home with her.
As Annie approached, the Cybunny looked at her curiously. “You’re still looking as excited as you were this morning,” she said softly.
“I’m just happy that school’s done! Even if I have to stay home, I won’t have to do any homework!” Annie lifted up into the air and did a little spin before coming back to the ground. Although her statement wasn’t fully a lie, it did omit some of the truth.
The two sisters walked home, chatting leisurely and enjoying the summer air. It wasn’t so hot and humid that being outside was miserable, but the sun warming her feathers felt nice. If Annie wasn’t so excited, she might’ve considered laying out and taking a nap in the sun. But she was too wired to do anything else.
When they walked through the door, Annie called out to Poppy. “We’re hooooome!” Saorsie cringed a bit from the sudden loud noise, but the Eyrie just shrugged it off.
Poppy came downstairs, a smile on her face, and SB joined them from the living room. “Welcome home, girls! Now that everyone’s here, I can get out the treat I got for you all,” their owner said, heading to the kitchen to get something out of the fridge.
At the word treat, Bryn was summoned, bounding down the stairs. “A treat! A treat! What is it?” She bounced eagerly on her paws. If she could take off like a helicopter, Annie thought she would at any moment.
Poppy pulled out a large box from inside the fridge and set it down on the counter. With a flourish, she pulled the top off and revealed a cake with ‘last day of school’ written on it in frosting. “Ta-daaaa! It’s half vanilla, half chocolate, so you guys can pick out which flavour you want.”
“Am I included in this? I’ve long graduated at this point,” SB said with a small giggle.
“Of course, SB. This cake is too big for just four people.” Poppy pulled out a spatula for the cake and dug into the vanilla side. “Who wants vanilla and who wants chocolate?”
After passing out the cake, everyone went and sat down in the living room. Annie stood awkwardly in the kitchen while everyone walked over. She didn’t want to hang out with everyone; she wanted to go upstairs and use her potion. “Poppy, is it okay if I take this upstairs? There’s a book I wanted to finish reading.”
Poppy looked over, her eyebrows furrowed a bit. “Why don’t you grab it and bring it downstairs? We haven’t had a family night in a while. You can read here if you want, I think SB and Bryn are doing the same thing.” SB already had her nose in a book about the Influence of Potatoes in History, and Brynettia was still finishing her cake.
Annie let out a disappointed sigh. At this point, she had to follow through with her book story, so she went upstairs to get it and bring it back downstairs. Once she was back, she sat down on the couch next to Poppy, who was sitting in the middle next to Saorsie. SB was in one of the comfy chairs, and Bryn was on the floor, paying close attention to her book.
“I’m going to put a movie on, but let me know if you want us to turn it down,” Poppy said, taking the remote and putting something on.
Trying to relax on the couch, Anerada was a little bummed that she was going to have to wait even longer. She liked being with her family, but tonight, there was something more important that she wanted to do. Then, once she was strong and could win money from the Battledome, she could treat her family to all sorts of nice things.
The movie felt like it went on forever. It was agony for her to have to sit still and occasionally look down at her book. When she looked over at her sisters and owner, she saw that all of them had pleasant, happy looks on their faces. None of them seemed to be as stressed or antsy as she was. Annie tried to settle in and do some deep breathing exercises that she had learned during her training, and it at least helped her mind to not go at a mile a minute.
When the movie finally ended, Poppy stood up and adjusted her clothes a bit. “Alright, I think I’m going to head upstairs and do some work. You guys are welcome to hang out down here or go relax. You deserve it for all your hard work this year.”
After Poppy had gone upstairs, Annie was the first to spring up from her seat and start heading towards the stairs. Before she could hit the first step, Bryn lifted her head up. “Where ya goin’? Got something better to do?”
Normally, she could’ve used the excuse that she had homework to do, but she wasn’t able to get away with it now that school was out. So instead, she offered a fake smile. “I’m just gonna try to get a little training in before I go to bed. Poppy won’t be mad since I don’t have to get up early tomorrow, right?”
“I understand if you get a bit stir-crazy,” Saorsie said, also getting up. “Hopefully your punishment doesn’t last too long. You can come out shopping with me sometime as soon as you’re allowed to again.”
Annie wasn’t as into clothes and girly things as much as Saorsie was. Although she did like having a couple of nice things to wear, her main focus was battle equipment. “Alright, sounds like a plan to me.” And with that, she bounded up the stairs as fast as she could, almost slamming the door behind her when she got into her room.
The first thing she did was dig through her sock drawer to find the potion. Fortunately, it had been left untouched, buried below all of her socks. If Bryn or someone had found it, she probably would’ve already known anyway. As she pulled it out, the green liquid swirled inside the glass. It was as if it was begging for her to drink it. A slow smile spread across her face as she watched the liquid settle. Despite her anxiety, she was ready.
When she uncorked the bottle, the first thing she noticed was that it smelled very strongly of green apples, but it had a slight chemical smell to it as well. Although the green apple scent was nice, the chemical taste would likely be unpleasant. Ready to get it over with, Annie plugged her nose and chugged the contents of the glass bottle as quickly as possible. Whatever chemicals were in there that made it taste bad made her feel a little sick, but she reassured herself over and over that it would be worth it.
When the whole drink had been downed, Annie sat back on the floor, waiting to feel something. So far, there was no sensation, other than the gross taste in her mouth. Dr Slade had never told her how long it would take for the concoction to have an effect. She started to kick herself a bit for not asking. Would it be minutes? Hours? Days? If it took days to kick in, she was going to be pretty annoyed, but maybe it made sense that it would be a gradual thing and not an immediate result.
After waiting on the floor for about five minutes, Annie got up and sat down on her bed. Hopper came up to her and tugged on her wig, making a small, squeaky noise. She looked down at him, a little worried. “I don’t know when it’s gonna kick in, Hop! I’m trying to be patient…” Being patient was difficult. She had never been a very patient person, and it was evident in everything she did. It was why she had taken the potion after all - she wanted a fast track to being strong.
Minutes passed, then hours. It was getting to the time that she usually went to bed, and she found herself yawning. She wasn’t supposed to be tired though, she was supposed to be changing! With each passing moment, she was getting more tired. Eventually, her head hit the pillow, and it was an intense struggle to keep her eyes open. And when she could take it no longer, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Annie had never slept as long as she did during the night. Even if she was getting a good night’s sleep, she would get restless as her muscles itched for a fight. But the previous night had been different. She passed out pretty quickly and slept for ten hours - way more than she expected. But since she didn’t have an alarm for summer, she just chalked it up to her body catching up on sleep she hadn’t gotten during the school year.
When she began to rise from bed, she found that her body was starting to feel different. A rush of excitement ran through her. Already, she felt more nimble, and maybe a little stronger and sturdier. The potion’s effects had hit!
However, she noticed something else strange. Her body was feeling as if it changed somehow. Her vision was different as if she was more perceptive and could see things she hadn’t seen before. Her fur and feathers felt different like they were smoother or scaly. Were these effects of the potion? Her head started to spin a bit, and she didn’t like it.
And then, the worst came. Annie stumbled towards a mirror, wanting to check to see if her appearance had changed somehow. She would be okay with a little less fur, or her wings looking a little different. But when she looked in the mirror, she let out a yelp. Whoever was staring back at her was someone she didn’t recognize. So much so, that she whirled around to see if there was someone standing around her. But when she found that she was still alone, she looked back to the mirror, gazing at the horrible creature that was now there.
Most of her skin had morphed into varying, hideous colours of green, like something she’d seen in a swamp. But even Swamp Gas Neopets didn’t look this disgusting. At least they still had the recognizable features of their species. Annie thought she barely even looked like an Eyrie anymore, maybe just in form at most. Her beak was more jagged, she seemed to have grown two extra eyes, and there were new scales and spikes on her body. Her mane was even different - it was brown and much more shaggy and off-putting.
As she took in her new form, tears began to form in her eyes - all four of them. Although her body felt different in some of the ways she’d expected, it had also morphed her into a disgusting monster. She may have been familiar with morphing potions, but this was more than that.
Annie had heard of transmogrification potions and Mutant Pets. But the potion she took yesterday didn’t look like one at all. In all the pictures she’d seen, they looked like something foul, not the green liquid she drank last night. Was turning Mutant an unintended or intended side effect of the potion? Her first thought was that she should try to get in touch with Dr Slade. Transmogrification potions came from the lab of the evil Dr Sloth, so maybe he accidentally, or wait -
She couldn’t hold her tears anymore. Falling back onto the ground, Annie began to loudly weep. She didn’t care if anyone else heard her. There was no hiding it now; she was a horrible, disfigured monster. Her ambition had gotten to her for the second time in a week, and this time, the price was even worse than she could imagine. Her previous punishment was the furthest thing in her mind. What would Poppy make her do now? Buy herself a new morphing potion? Extend her grounding to the end of the summer?
Her train of thought was interrupted by somebody opening the door. “Annie, why are you screaming? What’s - AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!” It was Bryn, and the look on her face was something Anerada had never seen before. It was pure horror. The Gelert started to smack her sister with the book in her hand. “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY SISTER? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Annie screamed in response, raising her arms up to try and protect herself. As she did, she noticed that she felt a little sturdier. While the book might’ve hurt yesterday, it felt more like a gentle smack now. “Bryn! Brynnie stop! It’s me!” Her voice even sounded different, like it was more gravelly and phlegmy.
Bryn still got a few more whacks in before looking closer. “You don’t sound like Annie. You look like if Annie got dunked into a radioactive waste dump!”
“If I’m not Annie, I wouldn’t know about when we went to Brightvale and you gave King Hagan a crayon drawing of you two being friends!”
“You promised you wouldn’t tell anyone about that!” She pointed an accusatory finger at Annie but then realized what that meant. “Oh, so you really are Annie then… what in Neopia happened to you?!”
She hung her head in shame and sighed. “I… made a big mistake. I met someone yesterday and he told me he could sell me a potion that would make me a better fighter. So I took it last night, and then when I woke up this morning, I looked like this!”
“We gotta tell Mom! I’m not even trying to get you in trouble, but maybe she can help?” Bryn looked back and forth between the stairs, Poppy’s room, and Annie. “She could get you a brush or something like when she painted Saorsie, right?”
Annie brushed down her body, feeling all of her new scales. The texture was rough and unpleasant. The fear of having to look like this was beginning to dawn on her. “I guess so. I don’t wanna stay like this forever…” Her beak was quivering, like she was going to cry again at any moment.
“I - I’ll go get Poppy!” Brynettia looked like she was going to cry too as she ran downstairs, yelling their owner’s name. Within about a minute, the two had come up the stairs, and Bryn stood in the doorway. “Look! Look! Look what happened to Annie!”
Poppy gasped when she saw her and had to grab onto the door frame to keep herself steady. “A-Annie… what happened to you?”
Annie looked up, all four of her eyes brimming with tears. “I made a mistake, Poppy. I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault! I messed up! I ruined e-e-everything!!” She started sobbing again, rubbing her eyes with her new claw-like paws.
Getting down on her knees, Poppy placed a hand on Annie’s newly scaly shoulder. “Oh, sweetie, what happened? What did you do? Did you take a transmogrification potion?”
“When I was waiting for SB to pick me up at school the other day…” Annie began, having to stop a few times to rub her eyes or sniffle. “A Krawk said he’d sell me a potion to make me stronger. I bought it from him and… and it didn’t look like a Mutant potion! It was bright green! I know I shouldn’t have bought a mysterious potion, but he seemed so trustworthy! And he said he had other satisfied customers!”
Poppy took a deep breath in, and let it out for what seemed like forever to Annie. “You don’t need me to tell you that that was very dangerous. You’re lucky you weren’t seriously hurt. Hopefully, this will be a lesson for you. I know this is scary, but it’s not permanent.”
Annie rubbed her eyes again. “You’re right. I’m sorry…”
“What I do want to know is about the man who sold you this potion. We’re going to have to report him to make sure he doesn’t do this to anyone else. Can you tell me a little more?” Poppy asked, getting up and going over to Annie’s wooden desk. She grabbed a notebook and pencil from her school supplies, ready to write everything down. “I can make sure a bulletin gets put out in the Neopian Times. If we turn it into a story, my editor will eat it up.”
“I’m starting to get a bad feeling about him,” the newly-Mutant Eyrie said, getting up and sitting down on her bed. Both Bryn and Hopper came over and joined her, sitting on one side each. “He was a green Krawk wearing this big cloak that seemed to hide a lot of his body. I’m absolutely one-hundred percent sure that he was a Krawk. But the colour of his skin looked… sickly. A little like mine.” She was ashamed to say the last sentence.
Poppy’s eyes widened a bit as she wrote, and she looked up at Annie the second she finished writing. “You don’t think it was…”
“Dr Sloth? Yeah, I was starting to think that. He said his name was Dr Slade. I don’t know how I didn’t see right through it! I’m such an idiot.” Annie’s cheeks felt warm and held her face in her hands.
“He isn’t capable of changing his form though, right? He’s not any species that we know,” Bryn said before getting right back off the bed. “Hold on, I have a book about him!”
“If he was green and went by a name like Dr Slade, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that it was him,” Poppy said with a frown. “But why would he want to give a Transmogrification potion to some random Neopian like that? I’ve heard he occasionally gives them out, but he doesn’t hide what they are.”
Brynettia came back in only a few moments later. She brought in multiple stacks of books that she had been tugging along in a bag with her mouth. Annie opened her mouth to ask how she did that but decided against it. “We have Dr Sloth Lost Battles, the biography of his dad, Secrets of Sloth, The Complete Guide to Dr Sloth, the one about him and the Space Faerie…” She read off the titles, looking at the back descriptions as well. “There’s some other books on him but they’re too expensive. I hope the answer isn’t in one of those!”
“We can all read through these and see if any of them help.” Poppy took Secrets of Sloth and set it down on the floor next to her. “But the next thing we have to think about is getting you back to normal. I’ll have to double-check, but I think a Purple Eyrie Morphing Potion is within our means. But I’m going to have to withhold your allowance for a little while as punishment.”
Annie sighed and nodded. She would pay anything to get her back to normal. “I guess it’s good that I’m grounded, ‘cause I don’t wanna leave the house looking like this.”
“I dunno, I think it’s an improvement!” Bryn said with a chuckle but stopped when Poppy shot her a glare. “Sorry. I thought it was funny.”
“I’ll work on getting this description to my editor, but then I’ll go out and get you that morphing potion. Hang tight until then, okay? SB made some breakfast, I can go downstairs and get it if you don’t want her to see you, but she and Saorsie might ask about the screaming,” Poppy said, taking the notebook and book before getting up from the desk.
Getting up and taking Dr Sloth Lost Battles, Annie nodded solemnly. “Thank you, Poppy. I’m really really sorry. I won’t do it again, I promise.”
“I’d rather not have you learn your lesson like this, but that’s the way it goes. You’ll be all better by dinnertime.” Poppy came over and gave Anerada a reassuring one-arm hug, then left the room. Bryn followed her out, but not before giving her sister a sympathetic glance.
When both of them had left the room, Annie laid back on her bed, trying not to cry yet again. She was relieved that Poppy was willing to help, but there was a fear within her that somehow, it wouldn’t work. Not to mention that she did actually feel stronger. When Bryn had been hitting her with the book earlier, she took it better than she had taken any blow before - even if her baby sister was a weakling.
With that in mind, she decided to get up and test her strength. Annie picked up one of the fluffy pillows from her bed and threw it up in the air. It wasn’t the first time she’d done so to try and practice hitting a moving target, but when she did it this time, the pillow shot across the room and hit the wall upon contact. Both her accuracy and power had improved overnight, much to her excitement. While she picked up the pillow, she began to wonder whether the benefits outweighed the one, horrifying side effect. Could she live with looking the way she did now? There were plenty of Mutant Pets in the Battledome, and part of their gimmick was that opponents feared how hideous they looked.
But when she looked in the mirror again, she just knew deep down in her heart that she would be miserable. Although she would give just about anything to be a famous Battledome fighter, she didn’t want people to recoil in disgust when they saw her walking down the street. No matter how famous she was, she still wanted people to respect her. That was why she would never consider dirty tricks in fights, and also why she regretted getting close to the Thieves Guild.
Annie sat down on the bed again and picked up the book. While she read, she became more and more determined to fight against what brought her to her current position. It’ll all be over by tonight. Then, I can pursue a bigger goal: making sure Dr Sloth pays for what he did.
To be continued…