The Price of Ambition
That night, when Poppy came home from work, Annie shot up in her bed the second she heard the door shut. She had been reading and thinking for most of the day, with a little more of testing her new strength just within her room. Her abilities really had extended beyond what they had been before. If it hadn’t come at such a high cost, she would’ve been elated. As she went downstairs to meet with her owner, the biggest thought on her mind was that she hoped the effects would stay even after her appearance went back to normal.
When she hit the bottom of the stairs, SB was sitting at the kitchen table and Poppy was leaning on the kitchen counter, holding a paper bag. The Peophin offered Annie a sympathetic smile, and Poppy looked optimistic. “Hey kid, you ready to get back to normal?”
“More than ready. Hit me.” Annie said with a smile. She took the potion out of the paper bag and examined it carefully. It was in a glass bottle like her other potion had been, but the liquid was purple, and it had little Eyrie wings sticking out from it. Just the sight of it made her feel reassured. She would be back to her old self as soon as she drank it.
Not wanting to wait any longer, she uncorked the bottle and downed the potion as quickly as possible. It didn’t taste as weird as the other one had; it had the consistency of milk, but didn’t have a strong taste to it. At least it wasn’t making her gag. Once it was all down, she set the bottle down on the counter. “How long does it take? The one I had last night didn’t hit until I was asleep,” she said, eager and smiling. But when she saw the look on Poppy’s face, she felt a chill down her spine.
“Kauvara said it was supposed to take effect instantly. She didn’t know anything about the potion you got, but she said that if it was just a Transmogrification potion, that this would undo it in a second.” Poppy looked in the bag and pulled out a small piece of paper. “Yeah, the instructions said that you just drink it and you’re good.”
SB looked just as worried. “Kauvara is the best at what she does. There’s no way the potion just wouldn’t work.” She grabbed the instruction paper as well, as if she would find some answer that Poppy hadn’t already found.
Annie’s eyes were filling up with tears. She looked back and forth between the empty bottle in her hand, Poppy, and SB. Was she a freak somehow? Would it have worked on anyone else? Was she going to be stuck like this forever? “Wh-what’s wrong with meeeee?” She started to sob for what felt like the millionth time that day.
“It’s okay, Annie! It’ll be alright, really. We can go to Kauvara and ask her, how about that? Bring the card Dr. Slade gave you, and we’ll ask her if there’s anything she can do.” Poppy wrapped an arm around the Eyrie, rubbing her back to reassure her.
“Okay… if you think it’ll help…” Annie rubbed her eyes, still disturbed by her new hoof-paws and the second set of eyes she had now as well.
Before leaving, Poppy told Saorsie to watch Bryn while they were out, and Annie went upstairs to get the bottle from the potion that turned her Mutant. Saorsie grabbed a cloak for Annie to wear while she was out of the house so no one saw her, but it didn’t stop the Eyrie from hanging her head low in shame as they walked. Her eyes shifted back and forth, trying to see if people were staring, or if anyone she recognized was out and about. Fortunately, she didn’t see anyone, and they were in the clear once they got to Kauvara’s Shop.
The bell above the door jingled as the trio entered, and Kauvara didn’t turn around from potion stocking. “Sorry! Give me a moment!” She called out, carefully trying to slide a fragile red bottle into a cupboard. While they waited, Annie looked around. They were the only ones in the shop, which she was grateful for. If any of her training buddies showed up, she’d be a laughing stock. The odds of one of them coming by for something new to use in battle were pretty good.
When the Kau was done restocking, she turned to the group. “Oh, you’re the one who came in earlier, right? You bought the purple Eyrie morphing potion!” She looked back and forth between Poppy and Annie, suddenly looking panicked. “Wait, did something bad happen? My potion didn’t do that, right?!”
“Well, no, it wasn’t that. The problem was that it didn’t work,” Poppy said, pulling the aforementioned bottle out of her bag. She then pulled out the bottle from Dr. Slade and put both of them down on the counter.
Kauvara came over and carefully examined the bottle that came from her shop. “Nonsense! I have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. No one has ever told me their potion didn’t work, unless they were lying.” Then, she picked up the other bottle. “What’s this? It doesn’t look like one of mine.”
SB nudged Annie, who had been zoning out a little. “Why don’t you tell her? It’s your story, after all.”
Annie sighed, then pulled back the hood of her cloak. Fortunately, Kauvara didn’t look shocked or disgusted. She probably saw Mutants all the time in her line of work. “So the other day, I bought a mysterious potion from someone. He said it would make me stronger. I drank it, and although it did what he said it would, it also turned me into a Mutant. My owner bought the potion from your shop and gave it to me, but it didn’t work…” She felt embarrassed telling that story because she had acted so foolishly. Plus, Kauvara probably wouldn’t even believe her.
“Hmm, I know of Transmogrification potions, but I’ve never seen one that made a pet stronger.” The Kau picked up the other potion bottle. “Is this that potion? It actually still has a drop of liquid in it. I could examine this, if you’d like.”
“That would be great,” Poppy said. “And if you don’t believe us about your potion, I could buy another morphing potion from you to prove it. Whatever the cheapest one you have is.”
Kauvara walked over to her shelves and picked up a Pirate Eyrie morphing potion. “Here, if you’re okay with being pirate instead of purple, drink this.”
Poppy paid for the potion and handed it to Annie. The Eyrie looked at it, but didn’t hesitate to uncork it and drink it. She didn’t care if it turned her into a red Koi - as long as she wasn’t Mutant anymore. But as they feared, the potion had no effect.
Kauvara leaned back a bit, placing a hoof to her chin. “Well I’ll be… it really didn’t work. I’ve never seen that happen to anyone before, in all my years of making potions!” She looked at the bottle from Dr. Slade, swirling the tiny drop of liquid around. “Where did you say you got this from again?”
Even more embarrassed, Anerada looked down at the ground. “It was a green Krawk. But he looked weird. Like, unnaturally green. My sister and I read some books, and we think that maybe it was Dr. Sloth in disguise somehow. He said his name was Dr. Slade, so I guess it makes sense. I’m an idiot for not thinking of that…” She handed the business card to Kauvara, who looked even more horrified.
“Dr. Sloth? I’m certainly familiar with him and his evil deeds. I’ve had plenty of Neopians who were tricked by his Transmogrification potions come in to pick something up that would change them back. But every time that happened, the potion worked and they’d go on their merry way,” Kauvara said. “And you said the potion made you stronger, too?”
“Stronger, sturdier, faster… yeah.”
The Kau looked perplexed. She set the bottle down and began to pull out a few other bottles, as well as some strange equipment that Anerada didn’t recognize. “I’m going to need to do some tests on this. This may help me determine what exactly is in this potion and how to reverse it. If you come back tomorrow, I should have an answer for you.”
“Tomorrow?!” Annie exclaimed. “But I don’t want to wait any longer! I want to be able to see my friends and go out again!”
Poppy gently tapped her on the shoulder. “Don’t forget, you can’t go out and see your friends right now anyway. You’re still grounded.”
Annie’s shoulders slumped. “You’re right. Sorry.”
“Is there anything we can do in the meantime?” SB asked, looking back from the shelves. “To help Annie, or to get to the bottom of this.”
“You said you read some books on Dr. Sloth, yeah? If you have any books about potions or magic available, you’re welcome to try those. But this seems to be something I’ve never seen before, so I don’t know how much help they’ll be.” Kauvara stopped for a moment and gave the group a sympathetic smile. “I’m really sorry this happened to you. I promise I’ll do my best. Come back around nine in the morning, and hopefully I’ll have an answer.”
The fact that Kauvara said ‘hopefully’ wasn’t very reassuring to Annie. What if she drew a blank on it? The fear of being stuck as a Mutant forever was growing stronger and stronger with every moment. It was like the walls of the shop were closing in on her. Her body told her that she needed to get out of the shop as quickly as possible. “Thanks,” she mumbled, before turning and running out.
When she got outside, she took a few deep breaths, letting the fresh air fill her lungs. As she looked up at the sky, she tried to focus on anything but her current situation. There was still an hour or two before the sun set, so the sky was bright and sunny, tinged with the beginnings of its evening colors. Neopians were out and about, so she quickly pulled the cloak over her head again so she wouldn’t be spotted. It made her feel like an outcast, shunned from all of Neopia, but she had no choice.
Poppy and SB came out of the shop moments later. The eldest pet wrapped an arm around Annie in an attempt to reassure her. “Kauvara’s gonna do her best, okay? By tomorrow, we’ll have an answer.”
“But what if it’s an answer I don’t like?”
SB chewed her lower lip in thought. “We can cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“You know we’ll love you the same no matter what you look like, right?” Poppy added.
The words rang hollow to Annie. Even if they loved her, she felt like she couldn’t love herself with the way she looked. She was a monster, and none of her friends would look at her the same ever again. “I know.” Her answer was short and clipped as she shook SB’s arm off. “Can we go home now? I just wanna hide in my room again.”
“Alright, let’s get going.” Poppy gestured to the way home, and the group began to walk in silence.
It stayed quiet, save for the noises of Neopians around them, until SB spoke up. “You know, Annie, I think we know someone else that might be able to help, but probably not in the way that you want.”
“What do you mean?” Annie asked.
“Well, I think one of our neighbors could help you see things from a different perspective. Do you know who I’m talking about? He lives over-”
Annie interrupted SB quickly once the realization hit her. “No. Absolutely not.”
Both Poppy and SB’s faces changed to ones of disappointment at her statement. “Anerada, you should be respectful of our neighbors, even if you think they’re-”
“But he’s gross and weird!” Annie said, interrupting again.
“That’s a little ironic, don’t you think?” Poppy said, stopping in place and putting her hands on her hips. “I think SB is suggesting him because he’s Mutant too.”
“Besides, have you even met him? Or have you only seen him at the store or walking down the street?” SB asked. “I’ve been to his house before, and it’s really rather-”
“What, are you saying I’m as gross as him? That I’m as weird as him?” Annie also stopped walking and raised her voice at both her owner and her sister. “I don’t wanna be a freak like him!”
“Annie, I just thought it would help you. Being a Mutant isn’t a death sentence. Even if you don’t want to talk to him, the least you could do is show him some basic kindness. All Neopians deserve respect, no matter what they look like,” SB said, before sharing a knowing nod with Poppy. “We’re not saying you have to stay Mutant forever, but talking to him would help you understand the experience.”
Annie turned away from the two and sighed. SB was right about her having never met him before. She had seen him a few times, though, and he looked gross and weird. She could only imagine that he lived in a swamp, or some dirty, disgusting house. “Ugh. Only if someone goes with me in case he’s creepy or weird.”
“I told you, I’ve been to his house, and he isn’t creepy or weird,” SB explained. “It’s not far down the road from here. If you’d like, we can wait and go tomorrow since it’s almost time for dinner.”
Although she was very reluctant, she had a feeling that Poppy and SB weren’t going to let it slide. So she nodded, and the three of them headed home for dinner.
Annie woke up the next morning to SB shaking her and Hopper doing what he did best - jumping up and down on her bed. “Nnngh, what is it?” She asked, her voice and body heavy with sleep. She had been tossing and turning for most of the night, either worrying about being permanently Mutant, or having bad dreams about Dr. Sloth torturing her and her friends all shunning her. So when she was woken up, she felt like she had only gotten five seconds of sleep. Just the thought of waking up to being a Mutant again made her feel like she never wanted to get out of bed again.
SB’s face didn’t make it any better. She had the kind of upward arch in her eyebrows that people had when they were about to tell you bad news. “We got a message from Kauvara. She said the qualities of the potion were unusual, and that she’d never seen anything like it before. It had some of the qualities of a Transmogrification potion, but not all, and there seemed to be some new elements to it as well. She wants to study it more, but she doesn’t think she’s gonna have a cure ready for you anytime soon.”
“Really?” Annie asked, as if it would somehow change the answer. When her sister nodded, she groaned and shoved her face into the pillows. Her hope was draining minute by minute. She wasn’t sure how much more bad news she could take.
“I know, it’s disappointing to hear, I’m sorry.” SB sat down on the bed, wringing her hooves. “I’m a little nervous, myself. But all we can do is hold out and wait for her to figure out just what that potion was.”
Annie finally sat up. Although her body was still enjoying its new, stronger form, exhaustion from not sleeping well was catching up to her. Hopper jumped into her lap, but it only got a small chuckle out of her instead of the string of giggles that she used to get from him. “Are you still gonna make me go out and visit that Mutant today?”
“He has a name, Annie,” SB warned. “His name is Tuskgus. He’s very polite.”
“Yeah, Tuskgus. Whatever. Ugh. He’s probably gonna see me and think I’m one of him,” Annie said as she got out of bed and stretched her limbs. Hopper was still eagerly following her, and it reassured her to know that he didn’t think she was a hideous monster. She had to throw the cloak Saorsie gave her on again, because most of her other clothes didn’t fit her anymore. She wasn’t ready to get new clothes just yet, because doing that would mean having to accept that she was going to be like this for longer than just a day or two.
The two sisters walked downstairs and stopped before heading out the door. SB went over to the counter and picked up a small gift basket that contained colorful fruit, various pastel grooming items, and some flowers. “I picked these up from Mystery Island this morning to give to him. I think you should hold onto it. He’ll warm up to you instantly.”
Annie looked at the basket, then back up at SB. “A creepy Mutant is gonna like stuff like this? Don’t they eat petpets alive or something?”
“You’re a Mutant and you still like nice things, right?” SB replied, handing the basket over with a look that told Annie she didn’t have a choice but to take it.
The two left the house and SB led her down their street. As they passed each house, Annie was waiting to see one that looked like it would belong in Darigan Citadel or the Haunted Woods more than Neopia Central. When they turned the street corner, she still hadn’t seen any weird-looking houses yet. Every house they passed looked like something that belonged in their suburb. Most of the houses looked the same anyway, like they all came out of cookie cutters. People decorated the outsides to look pretty, but the structures of the houses didn’t have much variation.
Finally, they stopped in front of a house that was lavishly decorated with all sorts of bright, happy colors. A beautiful garden seemed to completely surround the home, leading up to a pond the size of a small pool surrounded by lush, green plants. The house itself had even been painted a soft, sunny yellow as opposed to the various browns and greys the other homes in the neighborhood had. The steps up to the front door were adorned with little yard trinkets, and a cutesy welcome mat greeted them when they finished walking up.
“No way. You’re not telling me this is his house, right?” Annie asked in disbelief. Why would a Mutant want his house to look like somebody from Faerieland decorated it?
“I’ve been here many times. This is definitely the place,” SB answered before ringing the doorbell. It had a nice, twinkling chime to it that sounded different from the traditional tone at their home. When nobody answered, she rang it again.
“Well, looks like he’s not home! We sure tried. Can we go home now?” Annie asked, ready for the mini-adventure to be over with.
The Peophin shook her head and turned towards his lawn. “No, not just yet. He may not be inside, but I do know one other place he could be. Follow me.”
Annie followed her sister to the pond in the back of the house. He didn’t seem to be out eating the flowers in his garden or anything, so why were they back here? But SB seemed to know what she was doing, and she gently swirled a hoof in the water.
“Gus? It’s Swimmer Buddy. I brought my sister today,” she said, before sitting down and dipping her tail in.
From underwater came a beast of a Neopet, pulling himself up on the side of the pond. He was a hideous sort of brown, like the color of dung, and the icky green spots on his body weren’t doing him any favors either. Two large tusks hung down from his mouth, and Annie quickly understood why his name was Tuskgus. Although he didn’t have any fur, sparse hair seemed to sprout from various places on his body, but they were all slicked back from being wet. Annie could tell that he was a Tuskaninny, but just barely.
“Oh, you brought friend! Hi!” Tuskgus pulled himself further up so he was fully on the ground. “I’m Tuskgus. Your sister very nice. Brings presents.”
When Annie first saw him, she had expected him to smell like rotten fish or expired milk. But when he got closer, she found that his scent was much more sweet, like exotic berries. How could a Mutant be like this and not creepy or scary? “Um, hi. I’m Anerada. Nice to meet you.” She wasn’t going to offer her hoof, but when Tuskgus offered one of his flippers, she felt like she had no choice.
“Annie, new friend. Nice to meet you.” There was no simple way to describe the quality of his voice. It was low, but not gravelly in the way that Dr. Slade/Sloth’s had been. It had more of a dopey tone to it, like he was talking to a class of elementary schoolers. “Come inside! Have treats!”
Annie was hesitant to follow, but when SB got up from the pond and gestured for her to come along, she knew that she had no choice. She walked towards the back of Gus’ house, where he opened the patio door to let them in. “Sorry if mess. Gus need to clean,” he said, closing the door after they had gotten inside.
She would’ve expected that his house would be a filthy mess with dirty dishes and trash all over the floor. But to her surprise, it was just as aesthetically pleasing as the outside of his house had been. Not all of it was pink and flowery, but a lot of care had been taken in the placing of his decorations. There were freshly cut flowers, luxurious curtains for the windows, and a sleek living room with a big TV. The only thing that could be considered a ‘mess’ was one or two dishes sitting in the sink, a blanket laid out on the couch, and a few home and garden magazines spread out across the table, marked up with post-it notes. SB set the gift basket on the kitchen counter.
“Want fruit? Or biscuits? Thank you for nice gift.” Gus waddled over into the kitchen, opening the fridge and pulling out a small container of cut fruit. Annie could see cantaloupe, strawberries, grapes, and bananas that looked like they had been just cut that morning. He set it down on the table, then opened the cupboard to pull out a box of butter biscuits. SB and Annie sat down at the table, letting him serve everything on fancy yellow plates with clean napkins.
“Thank you, Gus. Your hospitality is always top notch,” SB said, using her spoon to dish some fruit onto her plate. Annie took a few biscuits, but eyed them as if they were going to be poisoned. He didn’t seem to be disgusting, but he could still have some sort of malicious intent.
“Gus not know you had sister like me,” he said, after everyone had eaten a little bit.
“That’s the reason we came,” SB explained, setting her silverware down. “Annie just became a Mutant recently. She drank a potion someone gave to her and it turned her Mutant.”
“Transmogrification?” Gus asked, tilting his head. The little fin ray that dangled over his head flopped to the side as he did so.
“Not exactly. The potion didn’t look like it was supposed to be a Transmogrification potion. We took it to Kauvara, and although she said it had some of the qualities of one, but other parts of it that she couldn’t understand yet. But the most important thing was that it made her resistant to any other morphing potions. She drank two and nothing happened.”
Gus’ eyes widened a bit, and he looked up, pondering what had just been said. “Very strange. Gus not know about that.”
“Well, we didn’t exactly come in expecting you to have the answers. We were just hoping that you could give Annie a little perspective on the situation. You’ve been Mutant your whole life, right?” SB asked, looking back and forth between Gus and Annie. The Eyrie munched on a biscuit, trying to not make eye contact.
“Gus not remember childhood much. Gus taken care of by nice lady working in Faerieland. Faeries very nice, but others not. Faeries help Gus, give him nice things,” He had a wistful look in his eyes as he spoke. “People mean sometimes. Tell Gus he scary or ugly. Made Gus sad. But friends told Gus he good.”
“Being a Mutant doesn’t mean your life is over, Annie,” SB said, giving her a hopeful look. “Gus has lots of friends and he lives a happy life.”
“Yes, Gus very happy. People mean to Gus not important. Gus ignore them,” he said. “If not happy with being Mutant, that okay. But Annie can still live good life as Mutant.”
Annie sighed. She didn’t want to live a good life as a Mutant. She wanted to be herself again, even if she could never fight in the Battledome again. She would definitely prefer having both her old self and her fighting skills, but at that moment, she just wanted to be normal. Even if Gus did seem to live a nice life, how did he not hate himself whenever he looked in the mirror? Before she could think about it, she was blurting that very sentence out. “How do you not hate yourself when you look in the mirror?”
“Annie!” SB cried, sending her a look of horror.
When Anerada saw the look on Gus’ face, she instantly regretted saying it. He looked crestfallen, like the happy bubble he lived in had just burst. He looked down at the table, deep in thought. “Gus understand. You not mean it,” he said softly. “You just hurt. It hard to be Mutant.”
Annie started to cry, so she wiped her eyes with the fancy cloth napkin he had given her. “It is. It really is. At least everyone has always known that you’re a Mutant, none of my friends have seen me yet! If they see me like this, they’ll be horrified!”
“If they real friends, they not care,” Gus said solemnly. A small smile returned to his face, and he pushed the biscuit plate over to her. “You have last one. You need it.”
She let out a sigh and nibbled on the biscuit. It didn’t make her feel any less guilty. But she had to admit that he made a good point. Good friends weren’t supposed to care about superficial things like the way you looked. Maybe her friends would see past her appearance and instead see how strong she was now. If she could find a way to look in the mirror and be happy with what she saw, she could still go on and live a fulfilling life, even if she was different from everyone else.
After that, SB and Gus spent a while chatting. They talked about books, music, and art, and Annie found that Gus had a very sophisticated taste in just about everything. She was starting to understand why the two of them got along so well. But she also wondered if Gus thought that she was vapid now that she had made that whole statement about the way he looked. Even when Gus asked her what her favorite songs were, she felt like her answer was silly, even though he responded positively.
Finally, after at least thirty minutes or so, the visit came to an end. “Well, I think we should go home now,” SB said, standing up. She looked over at Annie with a gaze that told her they would be having some stern words on the way home. “Thank you for hosting us, Gus. You’re welcome to come over anytime. I do really want to introduce you to the rest of my family.”
Gus stood up as well, beginning to gather all the dishes and silverware. “Thank you for coming! Nice to make new friend. Gus sure we will stay friends.” It made Annie feel a little better knowing that he wasn’t holding her little outburst against her. Now that they had been through it all, she actually respected him.
The two sisters left Gus’ house with promises to see him again soon, and they walked down the steps together in an awkward silence. Even while walking back to their house, neither of them said anything until they hit the driveway.
“So, did you learn something from that experience?” SB asked, turning to Annie.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” she said with a sigh. Although she wanted to look down at the ground in shame, she decided to keep her head up and keep eye contact. “I don’t know how to feel now. He made a good point about real friends not caring about what I look like. But is it bad that I still want to change?”
“You should only change for you. If you want to go back to the way you used to look, then do it. But don’t do it because you’re afraid of what other people might think,” SB said before turning and heading up the driveway. Annie followed her, thinking about what she said.
When they got inside, Poppy was in the living room with Brynettia. They were both watching something on TV, but Bryn looked like she was beginning to doze off. When the door closed, however, her ears perked up. “Oh! Hi! I wasn’t tired! Nope!”
Poppy rolled her eyes playfully. “Yeah, sure,” she said, before looking back to SB and Annie. “So you went and saw Tuskgus today, right? How did it go?”
Annie was afraid that SB was going to say how rude she had been, but fortunately, she didn’t. “Oh, it was nice. We didn’t stay too long, we just had a little snack and then went on our way.”
“Did you learn anything, Annie?” Poppy asked.
“Um, yeah. I think I did,” she said. She was originally going to just leave it at that, but it seemed as though all eyes were on her. “He was different than I expected. Really nice and into lots of fancy stuff.”
“That’s what I’ve heard from SB,” Poppy replied before getting up from the couch. Bryn seemed to have dozed off in the middle of the conversation, so she covered her with a fluffy blanket before walking towards the kitchen.
“You haven’t heard anything more from Kauvara yet, have you?” Annie asked hopefully.
“Afraid not. Trust me, if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
When Annie sighed in disappointment, SB looked down at her sympathetically. “Do you want to relax for a bit? We can watch some TV or play a board game together?”
“Yeah, sure. I guess.”
To be continued…