The Quest for the Moonlit Orb: Part One
Nalina, a female Starry Zafara, often noticed that the word “homeless” was usually applied to pets that had no owner. In her opinion, “ownerless” would have been the more appropriate term. She and her brother, Narros, were considered homeless; they had no owner, nor did they remember ever having one. But they had a home, in a way.
A few years ago, a human boy gave Narros, a Blue Shoyru, and Nalina his shop because he never used it, and it had quickly become neglected. Narros and Nalina gave the boy almost all they owned for the shop, but it was worth it. There was the front room, which was used to display all of the products for sale, and a back room that, in a typical Neopian store, was a simple storage room, or a place for employees to take breaks. However, Narros and Nalina lived in this back room. Narros had found an abandoned furniture factory two years previously, so they sold all of the usable items in their shop and furnished their “home” with the broken items that could not be sold.
They sold a variety of other items as well. Narros, being a Shoyru, flew all over Neopia to collect free things. Omelette from Tyrannia, a Tombola ticket, a Fruit Machine spin, free jelly (What? Where could you possibly get free jelly? Jelly World doesn’t exist! How silly! Free jelly from Jelly World! Hah, the very idea!), et cetera. Nalina never went anywhere, because it cost a lot of money to ride on a boat or ferry. Nalina had never been out of Neopia Central. She stayed and ran the shop while Narros was away.
When Narros came home from these journeys, he was often very tired from the long flights, so he rested for a while before starting another trip. If their food ran out during these times, Nalina would search Neopia Central, visiting the Money Tree and searching alleyways for bits of food. Nalina had developed a talent for finding forlorn and neglected objects; she also excelled at haggling with shopkeepers.
Every winter, at the end of the month of Storing, Narros made the trip to Terror Mountain. He never went any other time, because winter clothing was too expensive for him to go more often. But every year, the Advent Calendar lured him there. Luckily, Narros met a Blue Gelert named Ruhr who lived with his band of homeless pets in an empty Ice Cave. Ruhr and the others let Narros stay with them, and some of the pets also helped Narros carry the heavy items he won from the Advent Calendar back to Neopia Central. While he was there, Narros also had some broken toys repaired, and he stopped by the garage sale every day, because Mika and Carassa often gave him a good deal. Then in January he flew back to Neopia Central with some of Ruhr’s gang, loaded down with items.
However, their life was not very easy. They occasionally ran out of food and Neopoints. They lived a poor, simple life, without materialistic pleasures.
One afternoon in the month of Awakening, Nalina sat in a chair (one that had a leg broken off) behind a dusty counter. Rain was falling outside the dirty window. She was waiting for Narros, who had been away almost a month. He was usually never gone that long, unless the weather delayed him.
Nalina and Narros did not own a clock, so they had to rely on the position of the sun to tell time, but as it was raining today, Nalina had no idea what time it was. Surely it was close to noon, because Nalina’s stomach was growling. If Narros wasn’t back soon, Nalina would go to the Soup Kitchen, where she could get food for free. She had finished all the food they’d saved up two days ago.
Just when Nalina was about to brave the rain, Narros came in, soaking wet but triumphant. After greeting her brother Nalina got blankets and dry clothes from the back room so that Narros could dry off. Then they sorted through the items Narros had brought. Two Ummagines, a Healing Potion, 200 NP, a box of Trifle Mix, three omelettes...
The two pets had a quick lunch, and then they put all of the items they wished to sell on the bare shelves and priced them reasonably. Then Narros went to the back room and lay in the half-broken but still usable bed, because he was quite exhausted after the long flight. While he relaxed, he told Nalina all about his journey.
“First, I went to Tyrannia, where I hid in a cave in the jungle. Every day I traveled on foot to the Tyrannian Plateau to get some free omelette. After three days, Tyrannia’s sweltering heat was making me feel a bit sick, plus my feet were sore from walking so far each day, so I crossed the sea and visited Maraqua. I had no luck at the Underwater Fishing, and my sleeping quarters were very wet, so I flew to Mystery Island. It’s probably my favorite place in all Neopia. It’s beautiful, Nalina, with soft sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. The jungles are vast and lush—and you should see the palm trees swaying in the cool, moist ocean breeze...”
Nalina closed her eyes and imagined it as Narros spoke. He told her of these places every time he returned, but she never tired of hearing about them.
“I had my fortune told at the Island Mystic, and played Tombola daily. Prices at some food stalls were nice and cheap, so I bought some tropical fruit. One day I visited the beach, and I saw a few games of Mynci Beach Volleyball. It’s fun to watch. Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything but Trifle Mix at the Tombola. Do you remember Octa? That human girl that lets me stay with her? She said to tell you hi, and she gave me a few spare NP in case I needed them. I ran into foul weather crossing over Faerieland, but it wasn’t too hazardous. I knew I had been gone long enough, so I didn’t attempt going to the Lost Desert, although this is the best time of year to go, with it being so much colder. Anyway, I landed on shore about two hours ago, and walked the rest of the way here.”
When Narros finished, he fell asleep, and Nalina went to the front of the store again. She couldn’t help but long to visit some of these places. She knew Narros made it sound amazing, and left out the bad details, like what the awful conditions were in that cave in the jungle, or in Maraqua at the bottom of the sea, or how difficult it was to fly in nasty weather, or what would have happened if he didn’t know Octa, or if she wasn’t kind to him, or if he ran out of food or Neopoints. But these places must be so amazing, so beautiful and exotic...
Just then, the rusty bell hanging above the door of the shop rang, and a young human girl and her pet, a Yellow Poogle, entered the run-down shop.
“There it is!” the Poogle cried, and ran over to a shelf displaying plushies. Her owner glanced at the dirty shop critically. She looked Nalina up and down, and then turned back to her excited pet.
Nalina was always nervous when someone entered the shop. If they saw the back room and figured out Nalina and Narros lived there, the two might be taken to the pound.
Nalina watched the two customers apprehensively, but nothing happened. The Poogle found the toy she wanted, and her owner pulled out the Neopoints to pay for it and dropped them with a loud clink on the grimy, dusty countertop. Nalina sneezed as dust filled the air. The ecstatic Poogle and her owner didn’t notice, however. The girl was already pushing the Poogle out the door. The bell chimed again as they left.
With a sigh of relief, Nalina picked up each and every Neopoint and locked them in a hidden drawer in the back room, where Narros was still awake.
“Who was it?” he asked sleepily.
“Some snobby owner and her pet, a yellow Poogle. They bought a plushie,” Nalina replied, hiding the key to the drawer.
“Snobby?” Narros asked curiously.
“Yes. They won’t be back. The girl probably thinks this shop is owned by burglars or something, the way she looked around.” Nalina picked a piece of trash up off the floor and discarded it in the rubbish bin with peeling paint.
“Well, the shop is filthy,” Narros said, rolling over on his side.
“Then get up and clean it!” Nalina said teasingly. Narros threw a pillow at her, but she ducked and it missed. Nalina picked it up, being careful not to tear it further, as the stuffing was already coming out, and launched it back at her brother. She had perfect aim. The pillow hit the Shoyru in the face before falling to the floor. A brief pillow fight followed, but after a few moments the siblings began to lose energy and returned the pillows to the bed.
Nalina grabbed a well-worn book she had found in the street a few days ago and left the room. She sat down on the three-legged chair and cracked open the novel. It was stained with dirt, and a few pages were missing. Whoever had owned it previously had scrawled illegibly in dark green ink across the first few chapters, but Nalina was glad to have something to read. Today was the perfect day to curl up with a mystery, while the storm raged outside the shop windows.
Nalina was deeply engrossed in her book when a loud clap of thunder shook the store, and lightning flashed outside. One of the items on display atop the busted windowpane fell to the floor with a crash. Nalina sighed, marked her place with a scrap of paper, and then crossed the hard wooden floor to the window, where she bent down to pick it up. Because she was picking it up, she did not notice that dark shadows passed by as three mysterious figures crossed in front of a streetlamp as they tried to find shelter from the violent storm. Nalina put the item back, then headed for the back room to check on Narros. Suddenly the overhead lights flickered and went out. For a few minutes Nalina was plunged into complete darkness. She did not hear the back door of the storeroom, which lead outdoors, slowly creak open, for she was focusing her attention on not tripping over herself in the sudden darkness.
But Narros heard, and sat upright in the bed. He thought surely it must be the wind, but what if...?
He searched the room for the flashlight under the bed. When he turned it on, he could clearly see the outlines of three creatures. He let out a soft, startled cry. But the figures evidently did not know they had been seen. They were whispering to themselves. At that moment the electricity returned and Nalina entered the room. She instantly understood something was wrong and remained very still.
Outside, a deep voice said, “Do you think it’s okay to go in?” No one replied, but a second, high-pitched voice shrieked, “My tail’s on fire!”
“Shh,” said the first voice.
“Sorry,” said a third, slightly sarcastic voice. The third voice was the most unusual. It did not sound much like a pet at all, but some other type of creature. It wasn’t very deep, so it sounded like a female’s, but it was puzzlingly different from a pet or human’s voice.
“Let’s go inside,” said that mysterious third person as lightning lit the sky, “out of this rain.”
Narros gripped Nalina’s hand. Nalina was always the calm one under pressure, but he was more likely to panic. Nalina was the brave, adventurous, daring one, always looking for excitement. Narros would gladly trade jobs and stay here while Nalina flew around Neopia, but he was the one with wings.
This time, however, even Nalina was frightened. She was almost positive the people outside were burglars. She began studying the room, looking for something they could use to attack the intruders if they needed to. Maybe they could scare the burglars off, if only they had some kind of weapon. But she didn’t think fast enough. The three figures entered the room. They looked startled to see Narros and Nalina.
First to come in was a Shadow Uni, black as night except for her tail and mane, which were gray, her horn, which was purple, and her eyes, which were a piercing blue. She jumped at the sight of Narros and Nalina. She had expected the shop to be empty.
Following her was a large Red Scorchio, whose head grazed the ceiling. Nalina’s hope of scaring the intruders was gone. The Scorchio was much larger than she was. And he could probably breathe fire. The Uni had sharp hooves and a horn, and both of them could fly.
Instinctively, she and Narros backed up towards the front of the shop.
The last figure to enter was a fire faerie, one of the few faeries Nalina had ever seen. Now they were really in trouble. Who knew what kind of spells that faerie was capable of?
Narros noticed the unexpected intruders looked just as scared as he felt. After a few tense moments of silence during which the two groups stared at each other, the Uni spoke.
“Um, sorry to barge in like this, but we thought all the shopkeepers had gone home for the night, and, uh, we’re not exactly from around here; we’ve been traveling all day and just arrived a few hours ago, and we needed to get out of the rain so we thought we could stay in an empty storeroom until the storm let up. The wind blew the door to yours open.” She spoke very fast, in only a few sentences. Nalina’s head was spinning. They weren’t burglars?
The faerie was studying the room. “Do you live here?” she asked, and Narros recognized her as the third voice he had heard. The Uni had a high voice, so she must have been the second.
Nalina was pondering the faerie’s question, not her voice. How should they reply? The faerie seemed to take their silence as a yes. Finally, Narros addressed the Uni, who was still waiting to see if they could stay there for the night. “Come into the front; it’s warmer,” he said weakly, trying not to let them hear the edge of fear in his voice.
The Scorchio spoke for the first time, saying, “Thank you,” and followed Nalina into the front of the shop. The Uni smiled, shook little drops of water out of her fur, and trotted briskly after the Scorchio. The fire faerie took one last critical glance at the room and eyed Narros suspiciously before following, and Narros came last behind her.
Nalina and her brother passed a bit of their food to the weary travelers (if they really were travelers). Over the small meal, the Uni again broke the silence by saying, “My name is Cleotheneis, by the way, but please call me Cleo.”
“I’m Nalina, and this is my brother, Narros,” Nalina replied. The Scorchio then said, “I’m Cleo’s brother. My name is Tenedos, but call me Ten.”
Everyone turned to the fire faerie, who said, “I’m Mysia,” and then remained silent.
“So,” Narros said, “where are you from?”
The guests exchanged glances. “Faerieland,” Mysia said finally, and then asked, “Why are you living here?” in a manner that made Nalina suspect she didn’t really care; she just wanted to change the subject.
This time it was Narros and Nalina who looked at each other. Cleo smiled when she saw them. “It looks like we all have our secrets,” she said. There was silence. Then Cleo continued. “Look, you’ve got a good reason not to trust us, and we’ve got a good reason not to trust anybody, so how about we all just tell the truth? We can all swear we won’t tell anyone, and then we’ll all know we can trust each other. Besides, if you tell someone our secret we can tell yours, and vice versa.” Nalina could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that they didn’t really like the idea, but Cleo was right. None of them trusted one another, with good reason.
“You go first,” Narros said firmly. Mysia shook her head immediately. “I know you won’t believe me, but our secret is far more important than just about anything you’ve got to say. You go first. We won’t tell anyone,” she said flatly, giving Cleo a glare as she did that clearly said, “Why did you get me into this?”
“All right,” Nalina said finally, deciding it was the only way to learn the truth about their visitors. Quickly, the brother and sister told their visitors how they lived, while Cleo looked on wide-eyed and Ten looked at them with a mixture of kindness and pity in his eyes. Mysia still didn’t say much.
Afterwards, Ten said, “All right, it’s our turn. I wonder how to begin...”
Nalina had a sudden strange feeling in the pit of her stomach, as though something exciting was about to take place. She glanced at her brother and saw he seemed to feel the same. At last Ten seemed to compose his thoughts and said the one sentence Nalina and Narros did not expect at all.
“We are embarking on one of the greatest quests of all time...”
To be continued...