The Eye of a Newshound
Art by tamia_silverwing
The rain was coming down freely now, streaking the world with cold silver, and pets still on the streets of Neopia Central below scrambled for the comfort of a dry building. Many held umbrellas and newspapers over their heads in an attempt to deflect the rain -- newspapers whose pages, Tanya Deanyn reminded herself smugly, were filled with articles composed by none but the best reporters in Neopia. Such as herself.
Thunder roared outside, and sheets of bright lightning lit the sky. It was an awesome spectacle, and it was distracting, so she yanked down her blinds impatiently. Nature was an annoyance to her. No matter where she traveled, it always seemed to be there, crashing and pouring and scorching and blowing, always in the way of her getting a good story. But right now, she refused to let anything distract her. She was going to write the best commemorative article Neopia had ever seen for Issue 300.
But what to write about? she pondered, pensively tapping a Weewoo quill on her desk.
It was only after this that she discovered she did not want purple ink spots on her office furniture. Hissing exasperatedly, she fumbled in her drawer for something to blot up the mess with. She whipped out a much-torn sheaf of papers and used one corner to rub out the ink... then stopped.
From under the layer of wet ink now filming over its edges, Tanya was able to read some of the writing scrawled on the paper. It was certainly her writing, down to the painfully purple ink it was written in, and it looked like the original manuscript for one of her old stories... a very familiar story. One of her undisputed favourites.
The soft fur on Tanya’s Usul paws was soaking up a bit of a stain as she read through the tattered pages, but for once she didn’t care.
Yes... she thought, smiling a little to herself. I can work with this.
Pulling out a brand-new stack of paper that seemed to be itching to have her words poured onto it, she again took up her quill and began to write.
Tales have been told around a camp fire at night, she started, tales of ghosts, of monsters, of unspeakable terrors that haunt the world around us. Fewer tales are told of the heroes of our time. After all that we have seen, in the time it takes to leap from Issue 1 to Issue 300, we know that we must depend on these heroes now more than ever. Neopia, we need a new hero to look up to, a new name to stand in awe of. And I have just the name for you.
Kiyoshi Paco sat in the rain. It was a nice night, and the rain was falling in a fine drizzle, not quite cold enough to be uncomfortable, so he let it soak him.
Until a few minutes ago, he had been gazing upon a brilliant night sky, an endless black sheet pricked by myriad dazzling stars. However, that sky was mostly covered with a blanket of stormy clouds now, so he contented himself to lean back against his favourite tree trunk and watch his Karren flit about the forest as she dodged rain drops and darted after insects foolish enough to still be without shelter.
He wondered what Tyra and Jeri were up to. He suspected Tyra Magena would be holed up in her apartment as usual, fiddling with obscure pieces of the Virtupets station that had fallen to Neopia recently. As for Jeri, he knew that the Bori was currently taking a so-called “break” from Neopia Central in the company of one of his old friends, a tomb-plundering adventurer Zafara by the name of Aidne Lilith. No doubt he was either stuffing his face with Desert food even as he thought... or just as likely, being chased by hordes of murderous pirates across some uncharted island.
His thoughts were interrupted by the impact of four Karren feet touching down on his shoulder. The petpet huddled inside her wings, shivers running along her streaming brown body.
“What’s the matter, Delta?” he whispered distractedly, then realized that the rain was beginning to feel very cold. If the Shoyru weren’t blue already, his exposed skin would probably be displaying an icy tinge by now. And if he was uncomfortable, the poor petpet was probably freezing.
Allowing Delta to cling to his dripping T-shirt, he heaved himself up and moved stiffly towards his distant neohome, not for the first time wishing his central garden wasn’t quite so easy to get lost in. He was still wending his way through the maze of trees and thorny bramble when a sound from behind startled him. By the time he had spun around, he was facing a snarling mountain of shaggy white fur that stood slightly taller than Kiyoshi himself: a snowbeast.
The beast howled to the heavens and stood glaring at him, water coursing down its fur. Although Delta bristled in alarm, the Shoyru stood his ground.
“How did you get in here?” he asked dubiously.
The snowbeast’s mouth opened as if to reply, but he caught himself and continued to growl, swiping his claws in a manner that wasn’t particularly frightening.
“My house goes all the way around this garden. How’d you get in here?” he repeated, a little annoyed.
After making a few more attempts at an intimidating roar, the sopping beast paused, breathing heavily and scowling at him. “Aren’t you going to do something?” it said finally. “Fight, run, anything?”
“I’m quite used to this one, actually,” he replied evenly, remembering the snowbeast stunt Jeri had once pulled on a crowded Neopia Central street. “My friends are great at it.”
Furiously, the beast pulled at its own horns, dislodging a ruffled snowbeast mask and revealing the face of an unfamiliar green Yurble beneath it. “Well, that’s another of her supposedly brilliant ideas that didn’t work,” he muttered darkly, inspecting the unconvincing costume he still wore.
“Pity. How did you get in here?” Kiyoshi repeated yet again. “And why?”
“I didn’t go inside the house, if that’s what you’re wondering,” the Yurble answered wearily. “I came over the roof. There were plenty of overhanging branches to help,” he explained, gesturing to the overgrown forest in the garden.
“What do you want?”
He hesitated, then snorted dismissively. “I just want to keep my job. Once Tanya sets her mind to something, your job as assistant is to help her like there’s no tomorrow. Failure isn’t an option.” He grunted again as he spread his arms. “Oh dear. It looks like I’ve failed.
“Tanya?” Kiyoshi echoed. The name stirred something in his memory, and at the same time sent unpleasant chills throughout his body.
“Tanya Deanyn,” the Yurble said, tired. “Ace reporter for the Neopian Times. Likes to set up false encounters to get her stories. A real piece of work. There’s no point in lying now; my fate’s as good as decided.”
Normally, the Shoyru’s sympathetic side would have been more interested in the Yurble’s plight, but right now, he was worrying about other things. Tanya Deanyn... now there was a bad memory. Strangely enough, he mused, his last encounter with the Usul reporter had been on the same occasion as Jeri’s own snowbeast masquerade.
“Well,” said the Yurble at length, “I may as well be off. Sorry about the whole misunderstanding.” He nimbly leapt up the gnarled branches of a nearby tree. Before he disappeared over the roof, he turned back and added ominously, “Good luck.”
If Kiyoshi had been paying more attention, he might have found it strange that the Yurble, doomed to face the wrath of the conniving reporter, was wishing him luck. As it was, however, Kiyoshi was otherwise absorbed as he recalled the details of one of the worst days of his life -- worse even than any of the real snowbeast encounters he’d had.
The Yurble had forgotten the headpiece from his snowbeast costume on the wet ground, and Kiyoshi stooped to pick it up. As he held the furry mask in his hands, he reflected that it looked very much like Jeri’s old costume.
At the present, however, Jerafiyell the Bori had more pressing matters at hand than the question of what he had done with his old snowbeast costume, or who had happened to walk by that particular dumpster on that particular day and find it lying discarded there.
“Staff!” Aidne was yelling.
“Sorry!” Jeri replied, watching Aidne’s weapon bounce over the edge of the sandy cliff. The two moved until they were back to back, alternately facing the dozen or so remaining pirates. “You know, we really should consider investing in some decent weapons.”
“It looks that way, yeah.”
“Don’t trip on ‘em. That sea’s a long way down.”
“No -- rocks!”
Armed with a handful of heavy stone projectiles apiece, the two friends waged a brutal offensive against the pirates. Like a well-oiled machine, they slowly managed to push the crew back. Under rapid fire from the savage Bori and Zafara, the pirates ran the risk of getting knocked out by some of the larger rocks. Finally they turned and fled, yelping as the last stones bounced off their tails.
Laughing triumphantly, the two red pets were surprised to hear the buzzing from Jeri’s backpack on the sand. Warily, Jeri removed the hulk of metal from inside and hit a prominent red button on the device’s side.
The metal device, or simply the ‘comm’ as they liked to refer to it as, was in truth a rewired jumble of damaged bits and pieces from the Virtupets station... courtesy of Tyra, of course. It served one very important function: it allowed a pet to communicate with someone else over any distance by sending an image and voice transmission two ways.
Presently, the familiar face of a split Aisha blipped onto the open display.
“Tyra,” Jeri enthused delightedly.
“Heya Jeri.” The Aisha returned his smile, but it seemed a little feeble to him. The slightly staticky broadcast continued. “I hate to interrupt your vacation, but there’s been an... incident back home. Nothing major,” she added quickly, “but Kiyoshi could really use our help. The three of us.”
“Kiyoshi sure can pick them, can’t he,” Jeri mumbled. “And just when I was beginning to have fun, too.”
Tyra’s image gazed at him sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Jeri. Really sorry. But there’s not much time left until Issue 300 and....”
“Issue 300? What are you on about now?”
“I’ll talk to you later, Jeri, in Neopia Central. See you then.”
Muttering darkly, Jeri snapped shut the comm and stuffed it into his backpack. Aidne had been getting lunch ready on the beach, and was now beginning to unpack numerous containers of provisions.
Jeri sighed. “Just when you’re having the time of your life being chased by hordes of murderous pirates across some uncharted island, something like this always has to happen.”
“Tell me about it,” Aidne said through a mouthful of cheops plant. “Have some Desert food.”
Shortly after, an Aisha, a Shoyru, and a Bori whose red pelt seemed deeper in colour than usual, due to what could only be assumed was sunburn, gathered around a small wicker table in the heart of Kiyoshi’s cramped kitchen.
“So... here we are,” Tyra started, brushing a lock of dark blond hair away from her face. “I think I speak for both of us when I say that Jeri and I have no idea what exactly the problem is... as usual.”
“I hope there’s a reason this time,” Jeri chimed in, turned away and tapping at an ancient sledding trophy. “I’ve had my fill of lost Warfs and Pant Devil sightings for the time being, thank-you-very-much.”
Realizing that some of the things he had gone to his friends for in the past seemed a little trivial now, Kiyoshi could only mutter. “Worse. I’ve got a reporter.”
“I don’t understand why this is a bad thing,” Tyra commented. “No one even knows the Ghostchasers exist, let alone that they crusade around saving other pets’ skins on a regular basis. What’s wrong with a little extra publicity?”
“Tanya Deanyn,” he explained, catching Jeri’s eye.
“My favourite!” the Bori burst, laughing.
“Stop it. She’s a real threat.”
“To what? The honoured emptiness of your bank account? People knowing about you can only be a good thing,” Tyra argued over Jeri’s continuing laughter.
“When I was walking home from Yooyuball practice today, I was ambushed by a walking Dr. Sloth costume in an alley,” Kiyoshi said darkly.
Recovered slightly, Jeri giggled. “You’re sure it wasn’t the real thing?”
“There were two of them. Two Sloths. At the same time.”
Tyra frowned. “And this is all her doing?”
“She likes to report interesting things.”
“And you’re the target? Why?”
He went crimson. “Fyora knows....”
Recovered, Jeri cleared his throat. “As much as I’d love to see how this whole episode turns out, it seems like it’s my duty to tell you that you need help.”
“Serious help,” Tyra agreed. “Our help, preferably.”
The Usul rolled her padded chair back from the desk until she sat glowering before her hapless assistant. “Nothing at all?”
The assistant, an orange Gelert in a rather sad Von Roo suit, felt his knees tremble inexplicably. “No... well, wait,” he said quickly. “Sort of... I mean, he did say something... he said to tell you he’ll be ready next time, that’s what he said. That was before I blacked out,” he added.
“Blacked-? He hit you?” Tanya sat up, intrigued.
“No,” he replied miserably. “The grass was wet, and I kind of fell. There was a tree,” he explained, wincing as he touched a spot on the back of his head. “Woke up leaning against the office door down there, safe and sound. That Paco’s got a bit of heart to him. You could do something with that.” His voice was hopeful.
But Tanya was not interested. “He’ll be ready next time,” she repeated, lost in thought. “We’ll see about that. I suppose I’ll just have to think of something more convincing than a costumed lackey.”
“What about me?” the Gelert squeaked, cursing inwardly for drawing attention back to himself.
“You can go home,” she said dismissively, rubbing her chin. “Have a nice year.”
“But where’ll you get a new assistant?” he blurted out, crestfallen.
“I can buy myself twenty at any market. It’s gotten me this far. Now go home.” She waved her slender paw with an air of finality.
With the stumbling footsteps of the devastated ex-assistant fading away down the hall, Tanya was all business. She shut the office door, turned on the brightest reading lamp she could find, and set herself down in front of the old Ghostchaser manuscript.
“Something more convincing,” she mused, leaning on her forearms. Her expert eyes scoured the pages. “I’ll get my story out of you, Paco, just you wait and see.”
Kiyoshi was panting heavily by the time he left the floor of the Yooyuball court. Jeri, lounging on a cushioned bench on its outskirts, looked up.
“Good to see you back in one piece, mate,” he said, turning back to the tissue he was carefully folding. Finished with another origami sculpture, he put the flimsy crane on display with the rest. The side table was steadily filling with facial tissue marvels. “I was getting bored.”
Nodding warily at the display, Kiyoshi drank from his water bottle. “We need the practice.”
“Huh. Yay team Meridell and all that, right.” He altered the wings on one of his models.
One of the forwards of the team, a short yellow Kacheek with an orange ponytail, walked by and bumped Jeri as she passed. “You aren’t a player, are you?” she said over her shoulder, eyeing him disdainfully.
“He’s waiting for me,” Kiyoshi bristled. “What’s wrong with that?”
The Kacheek turned to face him now, a bored expression on her face. “And what about you? You’re a player?”
“I’m your goalkeeper,” he replied dryly.
“Right, whatever,” she said without interest. “You’re always behind me when we’re playing, so I wouldn’t know.” As if struck by a sudden thought, she mentioned, “By the way, my name’s Jess. Jess Ember.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jess Ember,” he said, nodding skeptically. Turning to Jeri, he asked, “You done?”
“Yup,” the Bori replied, springing to his feet and shoving the tissue creations into his backpack. “Any time now.”
“You’re quite the sociable one, aren’t you?” Jess scoffed as they prepared to leave the indoor court.
“Sorry,” Kiyoshi apologized, not feeling very much like talking. After all, he was expecting another -- possibly more creative -- encounter with members of Tanya Deanyn’s staff.
Outside the building they had been practicing in, Tyra was sitting cross-legged on the grass beside one of many large, ivory fountains on the lawn. In her lap rested a sizable stack of newspapers. “This Deanyn is a nightmare,” she declared passionately, “and a disgrace to all of journalism. My dad’s a reporter, and he isn’t a fraction of the pushy, manipulative, underhanded story-machine that Usul is!” She gestured to the newspapers. “She’s loathsome!”
“Glad to see you’ve come around,” Kiyoshi commented casually, trying to hide his pleasure and failing.
“Well, as our loathsome Usul is likely plotting the worst day of our life right now, we may as well walk back to Kiyoshi’s place and get it over with,” Jeri suggested.
“No alleys, though,” the Shoyru requested uncomfortably. He felt his slingshot in his pocket and hoped he wouldn’t have to use it. “I don’t want to see another Sloth again, at least until Hallowe’en.”
Tyra rose, hefting the stack of newspapers she still scowled at. “I hope we meet Deanyn this time. I’d have something to say to--”
She broke off at the sounds of splashing and a struggle. All three pets whipped around to witness what looked like a writhing black mass of arms shooting out of a nearby fountain and coiling themselves around the yellow Kacheek who stood beside it.
Jess Ember screamed. “Help!” She tore at the dripping black arms, but they held fast, dragging her into the fountain. “Somebody, HELP!”
Tyra was saying something, but Kiyoshi’s response was automatic. He careened towards the fountain, drew his slingshot and held it between his teeth. Wrapping his arms around those of the creature in the water, he endeavored to free the struggling Kacheek from their grip.
“Paco!” she cried, panicking. She was momentarily pulled under the water. “Do something!”
Kiyoshi did the only thing he could think of. With a grunt from around the slingshot, he stomped down on the first piece of wriggling black he saw.
There was an earsplitting screech from the monster as all of the arms convulsed at once. Jess was dropped over the side of the fountain, and squealed as she landed on the grass.
Relieved, Kiyoshi made to back away, but one of the arms was quicker. Like a whip it snapped around his torso and yanked him head over heels, until he was dangling practically upside-down above the fountain. From the water below rose the leviathan-like head and glinting red eyes of an immense Maraquan Spyder.
“Maraquan Spyders don’t live in fountains!” Jeri was yelling, but his comments were drowned by the wail of the enraged Spyder.
Kiyoshi cried out, trying to snatch at the precious slingshot pebbles that were falling from his inverted pocket. By some miracle his hand caught one, and the slingshot was armed in as much time as it took to load the pebble and draw back the elastic.
The Spyder shrieked as the stone contacted one of its lamp-like eyes, flinging Kiyoshi about and sending up towers of water as it thrashed. The Shoyru landed heavily on the sopping grass, and as quickly as the attack had started, it was over. In a sudden motion, the Spyder’s eight arms withdrew beneath the water and the tormented creature shrank away and under until it was little more than a black blob near the fountain’s center.
Kiyoshi had just pulled himself back to his feet when he glimpsed a familiar figure scurrying away. “You! Wait!”
The Usul was fast, but Kiyoshi was a Shoyru. He cut her off just before she reached the sidewalk. She looked up vexedly, but her expression changed to one of genuine delight when she realized who she was looking at. “Why hello, Mr. Paco! Nice day for a swim, don’t you think?”
Dripping and trembling, he ignored her. “What’re you playing at?” he said loudly, so that other passersby turned to stare. “That Kacheek could’ve gotten hurt!”
“Good thing you were there to ghostchase her to safety, then, don’t you think?” she said slipperily, moving to escape. He blocked her.
“And she honestly thought you’d live up to your end of the deal?”
“What do you...” She laughed suddenly, waving her paw. “You think I made her -- oh, Kiyoshi, please don’t joke.”
“Does this mean I don’t get my shopping spree?” came the whisper from a crushed Jess Ember.
“I don’t recall ever introducing myself to her, yet she sure could scream “Paco” pretty well,” he explained.
Dumbfounded, Tanya could only stare. “Alright, so I had a little help setting that up,” she sniffed. “But surely you understand. I’m a reporter. I needed that story. It’s all in the eye of a newshound, you see.” She sighed, drifting away surreptitiously. “Well, I suppose--” She tripped over a stack of something on the sidewalk. Shocked, she watched as dozens of newspapers spread over the cement, sliding up to the feet of the bystanders.
“Hey,” one of them said suddenly, bending down to peer at the pages. “You were the one who wrote that slander about the Twisted Roses?”
A blue Acara gasped as she too read the headlines. “The faked Neohome Spotlight scandal!”
“The retired paint brush editorial!”
“Jimmy Finke’s bike accident!”
Murderous expressions coated the faces of the darkly muttering crowd. Tanya backed away, honestly alarmed.
“Ms. Deanyn, you aren’t the most popular reporter with the general public, it seems,” came a voice. A calmly triumphant split Aisha was leaning against the fence on the sidewalk. “Apparently, some things are more important than being a Times superstar.”
“But it’s Issue 300!” Tanya wailed desperately. The mutterings of the crowd increased.
“There are more important things, don’t you think?” Tyra raised her eyebrows.
Looking from the dripping blue Shoyru to the menacing crowd and back to the unnerving gaze of the split Aisha, she bit her lip. “Fine!” she burst out. “I’m sorry! I apologize for my mistakes. I apologize for Jimmy Funky or whatever his name was. I apologize for everything I’ve ever written! Are you happy?”
“No,” Tyra replied, a grim smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “But it’s a start.”
Incredulous, the Usul broke the staring match and stumbled off down the street, her blond hair wet and frazzled. Behind her trailed a mob of now riotous Neopians, whose indignation could be heard long after they disappeared from sight.
Kiyoshi walked up beside Tyra. “Too bad for her those newspapers were lying in the middle of the sidewalk,” he noted.
Tyra shrugged, hiding a grin. “That was pretty forgetful of me. I don’t know what possessed me to just leave them there, in the way of everyone.”
“Shame,” Jeri agreed. He pondered. “Why would someone go so far just to get into a special issue of the Times?”
“I dunno,” Kiyoshi replied. “I guess it’s that sort of pull the Times has on us. It’s not the Weewoos, it’s not the trophies, it’s not the avatars. It’s just... the Neopian Times. It always will be.”
Tyra considered this. “Crazy,” she mused.
“Crazy,” Jeri agreed, biting into an ummagine. He offered them his open backpack. “Desert food?”