A Thousand Words
The sky was dark. Streaks of pale amethyst criss-crossed across the indigo plane, the duo unbroken save for a spattering of twinkling diamond stars, and a rusty red moon, covered by Neopia’s rapidly encompassing shadow.
Laluzi was feeling dark, too. She watched the eclipse in brooding silence as the rest of Neopia slept.
In fact, the only part of the Draik that wasn’t dark was her scales.
They were pink.
She’d suffered her fair share of identity crises for the past months. Laluzi had spent a long time as a Darigan Kougra, which was just fine for her – it suited her own fondness of nighttime, and her lack of fondness for company. When her owner had morphed her into a Draik, she’d been fairly miffed, but at least she was mutant, which still suited her, even though a bit of her brain was poking out of her skull. And the disdain she generally got from being a Kougra amongst three Draiks was gone, which was a relief.
The exposed-cranium deal was relieved when she got painted Purple, and she’d been very satisfied, for a time. As the color of twilight, she was almost the same as her old Darigan self, minus the fur and stripes.
And then Diana, Safalaan, and Artemis had to go play that abhorrent prank on her – on her birthday, no less – and mix the payload of a Pink Paint Brush into her shampoo, and then add a vial of Rainbow Pool water into the bathtub.
It was revolting, nauseating. She couldn’t even come close to blending in to her favorite nighttime scenery anymore, couldn’t pull pranks from the shadows. Suddenly, every clique in Neoschool thought she was a girly-girl, all the guys thought she was an airhead, and all of the owners she met wanted to stuff copious amounts of popcorn in her mouth for whatever reason.
For a pet with a Darigan mind, Pink was a long shot, as far as compatible colors went.
She had been born Pink, actually. A Pink Kougra. Oh, but she’d been young then, and pretty stereotypical. She had loved flowers and playing and Usukis and everything any little girl did, and although she’d been painted Darigan to be able to fly, she’d had a total change of personality with the winged brush’s strokes. And she’d never wanted to see the color pink again.
And it looked like now, so many years later, she was seeing it a lot more than she needed to. She hadn’t spoken a civil word to any of her siblings since the incident, and yet, they were all playing dumb about the whole thing, like they didn’t even know what was wrong!
Artemis was a Royal Draik, which was a dashing color that even she had once envied at times. Safalaan was Royal too - unlike Artemis, his scales were purple instead of blue, but he still maintained his dignity with his sharp blue eyes.. Diana was a girl Draik, but she got to keep her tomboyish outlook evident with Speckled scales.
And she, Laluzi, was bright and Pink.
It just wasn't fair.
The eclipse's shadow began to move away from Kreludor, leaving the dark shroud in her mind without a partner.
And she drew away from the window and cried herself to sleep.
“As we’re finishing up the school year,” the teacher said, her Aisha’s ears flopping lazily in the heat, “It’s about time we settled down. Today, we’re working on an easy assignment, to let your writing muses run free. This is your homework – here, is anyone...?”
A Poogle – also a revolting shade of pink – volunteered to pass the sheets out, and the Draik idly wondered how the pet could stand the color. She actually seemed to like it. The Poogle was young, a few years more so than she, and had a spring to her step that amused Laluzi. She knew her at a glance – her name was Lily, and she was shy but loved to write; hence why she was in Laluzi’s literature class. Eventually, Lily laid a worksheet down on Laluzi’s desk, giving her a strange look – probably a why-are-you-staring-at-me kind of glance, which Laluzi ignored.
Laluzi’s red eyes grazed the words on the paper, and she snorted in disbelief.
Write about a person or group of people that you know and respect, and what caused you to see them in that light. Must be 1,000 words minimum.
She rolled her eyes and crumpled the paper into a tight ball in her fist, tossing the assignment into her backpack and stowing it deep into the trash coating the bottom.
Why should I like anyone? Everyone in my family is a complete jerk. Not even my owner cares that the rest of them did this to me.
No, she’d rather fail the paper than pretend she actually respected anyone she knew.
Laluzi glared at the pair of words ‘you know’. If not for them, she could easily prepare an essay about somebody she did look up to, like the famous Alstaf Poogle, the Storyteller, or Chet Flash. But no, it was hardly that easy.
Dear paper, she wrote, a person I know is Artemis, my brother. I respect his ability to pull large-scale pranks. Bye.
“Nine hundred and eighty-one words short,” she sighed aloud, her words lost in the breath. She crumpled up that sheet and threw it away.
The bell rang, then, foiling any half-hearted attempts to finish her homework early. The Pink Draik sighed again, hefted up her backpack, and set off to endure the rest of the day.
By the time she reached her Neohome, Laluzi was thoroughly annoyed.
When she’d been Darigan, she’d gotten a little breathing room. And people kept their distance. Big black spikes and claws had that effect on people. When she’d been transmogrified into a Mutant Draik, people had mostly stayed away, probably because of the cruel-looking features, talons, random dripping slime, and exposed brain. And after that, when she’d been Purple, people had viewed her with a distant sort of respect. She was a Draik - high-class, people tended to automatically assume.
But now that she was Pink, some unspoken stigma had flipped.
“My owner told me he’d paint me Halloween if you can come over to my house later and he could get you to eat popcorn or something,” one young Hissi had pled.
“Seriously,” another pet, a Pink Zafara had informed her, walking up to the table where Laluzi sat alone to deliver the message personally, “copying me is, like, so not cool.”
“Oh my gosh, you are soooooooooo amazing! I wanna be that pretty!” a group of younger pets had swooned, storming all around her like she was some kind of princess.
"Can your owner give me a pink paint brush?" a Blue Aisha begged her. "Mine's really poor, she can't even afford omelettes."
All in all, not the kind of attention she liked.
She swung open the door with much more force than necessary, every inch of her aching to flop down on her bed and ignore the world.
And standing in front of her was nobody else but Artemis.
His words were utterly mocking. “Hey... you okay?”
“Go away,” she growled, pushing her brother to the side and heading for her room.
The Royal Draik suddenly turned away, glaring at the wall. “Laluzi, what’s gotten into you? For the last week or so, you’ve been a complete... jerk!”
Some sane little part of her that had been holding her together for the past week snapped.
“Like you don’t know?” she half-snarled, half-sobbed, whirling around to face her brother. Not only had he taken part in this atrocious prank, but he had the nerve to act like he wasn't in the loop?
He was visibly shocked by the sudden outburst, but his words were still defensive. “No, I don’t!”
“Then I’ll spell it out for you, Sir Memory-Loss! P-I-N-K!”
Artemis’s blue eyes widened, the thick brow above them creasing. “What... Laluzi, what do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean!” The Pink pet was just about to explode. Tears streamed down her face. “When you just had to go and change my color without any sort of permission – and you had to do Pink, of all the Meepit-covered things!”
“Laluzi...” Artemis looked genuinely confused now. “I... I... You don’t like being Pink?”
The other Draik shot him a pathetic look. “No, I absolutely adore looking like a box of pastel vomit.”
“But...” A distressed expression crossed his face. “Our owner told us that you were born a Pink Kougra, and that you were pensive sometimes because you missed it. Now that you aren’t Darigan... She said it would be the greatest surprise for you if you could be Pink again, because as a Draik you inherently have wings, so you could have had everything you originally wanted. Safalaan was the one who thought of the bathtub idea, and Diana said it would be the best surprise tactic. We’ve been saving up for months. I can’t even remember what regular food tastes like. It’s just been omelettes and jelly. And I’ve actually gotten very good at rolling Turmacs into tree stumps.”
“...” Laluzi expressed in a most passionate, articulate manner.
Her whole world flipped then, and she metaphorically hit the ceiling with a metaphorical bonk as gravity took a metaphorical vacation. Metaphorically.
They... had been trying to make her... happy?
The notion was impossible. Insanity. And yet...
She could see it in his eyes that he was being utterly serious. There were no lies or sarcastic remarks to his words, only transparent, worried honesty.
“Oh, sweet Fyora, Laluzi, I’m so sorry.” Artemis’s eyes pled forgiveness. “I had no idea. We can go out and buy a Turnip Tonic right now, and I swear, I’ll put every Neopoint of my lunch money towards a Purple – no, wait, a Darigan Paint Brush to get you back to normal. Honest, let’s go.”
She thought about it, thought about all the care that had been relished for her, the months of living on freebies that she hadn't understood, and suddenly, it didn’t matter that her scales were a color she detested. What really mattered was what they stood for – the family that had cared for her a lot more than she cared for them.
But how could she not care for them now? They were misguided, sure, but...
She respected them, even.
“Actually,” she said, surprising the other Draik to the point of forgetting to breathe as she flung her arms around him in a tight hug, “it’s starting to grow on me.”
The Pink Draik sat alone at the desk in her bedroom, twilight’s purple light washing over her scales in a faint memory of a time not so long ago.
The assignment lay in front of her, the ever-familiar words inked onto the crumpled, broken paper, the message undeterred by such vandalism.
Write about a person or group of people that you respect, and what caused you to see them in that light. Must be 1,000 words minimum.
She smiled to herself – a true, sincere smile, without a trace of the sarcasm or malice that had long been characteristic to her. Maybe it was time to get back to her ideals as a little Pink Kougra child, to start being as extroverted and caring as she had been then. Perhaps she'd have a talk with Lily. To brush up or something.
Maybe her family was actually worth a thousand words. Or more.
Then again, I wouldn't push it.
She picked up the pencil and started to write.