The Cursed Coffee of Qasala
“Lucas!” The sound of the strawberry Gelert’s owner, Helena, woke Lucas up from his sleep. With a slight groan, he tried to bury himself in his blankets and pillows to block out the noise, but it just kept coming. “Lucas, hello? Anyone in there?”
Finally, he gave up. “Yeah, Mom, I’m here, having woken up to the unfortunate incident of a disturbed sleep.”
“Good for you,” Helena’s laughing, sarcastic voice came again. “Come on, get up. Gracie’s here.”
“Oh, okay! Let me get dressed and I’ll be down in a sec!” Lucas quickly jumped out of bed as if it were made of nails and rushed to his dresser. “Come on, where is it, where is it,” he mumbled to himself, scanning the top of the polished wood. “Aha!” He put on the camouflage baseball cap and dressed in a yellow T-shirt and cargo Capri shorts.
Lucas and Gracie were both seventh-graders at Maraqua’s Fins N’ Feet Middle School, or FNF for short. The two were nearly inseparable, living on the same street and visiting each other quite often to go on... well, Gracie called them ‘adventures’, and Lucas called them ‘things I should have never agreed to do’. After all, while he was adventurous, he wasn’t a daredevil like his friend.
Lucas rushed downstairs, hopping on one foot as he put a sneaker on the other. He managed to grin besides the fact that he was tying his shoes and walking at the same time. “Hey, Grace.” He was the only one allowed to call her that, as she was the only one allowed to call him Luke.
“Sup?” The brown Lupe walked over to him so they could do their handshake, one that took about thirty seconds to do and involved patty-cake, the polka, and a cartwheel. She had on the same hat that he did, one that they both wore whenever it was time for their adventure.
Helena recognized the hats and smiled. “Well, you can’t go out adventuring on an empty stomach, can you? Here, I just made some pancakes. Help yourselves.”
The twelve-year-olds thanked her before wandering to the kitchen and grabbing a plate, loading breakfast onto the porcelain. Helena wasn’t an extraordinary cook, so Lucas wasn’t surprised to see an open box of pancake mix sitting on the counter. He drowned the hotcakes in syrup and ignored Gracie’s bizarre looks, noting that he was probably using about half the syrup bottle. He ate his quickly, but his friend took her time, claiming that ‘eating slower is a healthier habit’.
“Go ahead and leave the dishes there,” Helena said, “And then go ahead and do whatever you want to do, but remember the rules... ”
“Be safe, don’t blow all your money, and be back by dinner,” the two recited together with a small, resigned sigh.
“Aaaaand what else?”
“Don’t become public disturbances and get the Defenders on us and create a reputation as corrupted as Hubrid’s?” Gracie offered. Seeing Helena’s raised eyebrows, she added, “Oh come on, I bet I was close.”
The human got up from the couch and handed Lucas his backpack, already filled with the basic necessities he might need. “Don’t do anything crazy. Alright, well, if you want to make it to who-knows-where, go ahead and take your leave. I’ll see you guys at dinner!” She opened the door for the two as they skipped out of the room with a cheery goodbye and wave. She laughed as she watched them jog down the street, talking to each other amiably. “Crazy kids.”
“So, where are we going?” Lucas asked excitedly. “Please don’t say Haunted Woods. I don’t think the Brain Tree would appreciate our visit after what happened last time.”
“Well, you get a kite stuck in his brain and suddenly you’re the bad guy.” Gracie rolled her eyes. “Anyway, we’re going to the Lost Desert! Qasala, to be exact. You’ll never believe the crazy story I heard, and I want to check it out.”
“Well, supposedly, if you drink this special coffee, you become cursed.” She was jumping up and down with eagerness. “I thought I could have you try it out.”
“You mean, have US try it out,” Lucas corrected.
“Whatever. Anyway, if we take a ship, we should be able to make it there in about two hours. Then we’ll have until six in the afternoon to get cursed! Oh, and I brought about 5000 Neopoints in case we need to shop around a bit. I had a one-on-one basketball match with May; we both threw in 2500, and winner got the money. She would have won unless she hadn’t tried to pretend to fall, but I knew what she was up to and scored.” She grinned.
Lucas shook his head. “I guess she’s not so shy and innocent if you know her,” he replied. He’d met her a couple times, and ‘shy’ and ‘innocent’ were the exact words to describe her at those meetings.
“Nope, she’s not. She’s devious! But fun,” Gracie added. “Anyway, we should get to a ship. I wonder how the sea is up at the Lost Desert? I don’t think it’s at all like over here on the Island. It’s so choppy at times and swarmed with pirates!” She snorted. “I’m surprised we’re supposedly safe here. Or, so they say. And did you ever noti – hey, there’s the dock right there. Let’s go!” The chatterbox grabbed her friend’s forearm and tugged him over to the harbor, searching for the boat that usually didn’t charge for passengers, since it was only a cargo ship and had but a couple dingy rooms for anyone who decided to ride. With a bit of luck, the Lupe managed to find it and climbed aboard with the permission of the captain.
The ride over there seemed to go quickly by, maybe because Gracie and Lucas decided to try their hands at break-dancing in their small cabin. The room was a bit dirty and there was more than a fair amount of spyderwebs hanging in the corners of the ceiling, but the two had been through worse; have you ever tried going through the Krawk Island sewers in the dead heat of summer with only a bandana and peanut butter sandwich to live through it?
Anyway, when the cargo boat docked at the shore and the bell was rung for crew members to get to work and the passengers to depart, it seemed like only a few minutes had passed since they left the island. With a mixture of excitement and anticipation, they jumped down the small plank that served as a staircase and onto the hot white sand.
“Ooh, look!” Lucas brought the pair of binoculars hanging around his neck to his olive eyes, drinking in every detail of the scorching desert. “That’s Coltzan’s Shrine! Isn’t it cool? I studied Qasalan and Sakhmetian language for two years, so maybe I can figure out what those symbols mean.”
“Well, you can watch me beat some poor suckers at tug-of-war,” Gracie declared, looking through her own binoculars. “I bet I could cream them! I have a few tricks I’ve been wanting to put to the test.”
“So what do you want to do first? Recreational stuff or that coffee that you mentioned... I-I mean, um, shopping,” Lucas said, “Yeah, shopping. That’s what we came here for, after all, right? Heh heh.” He rubbed the back of his neck in the hopes that Gracie wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear him say anything.
His hopes withered and died like a wilted flower when she laughed and said, “We can do some shopping after we’ve tried a taste of that apparently ‘cursed’ coffee. Don’t try to weasel your way out of this!” She pointed a finger at him in mock accusation and grinned. “I remember what you did last time you tried to change my mind, and I still can’t believe that you can be as smooth of a liar as a thief!”
“The lead tongue turns to silver,” Lucas quipped. “Fine, I won’t do anything weird this time, but I have a bad feeling about this. Well, I guess if you really want to, we can go. I see it over there, on the other side of the river. We aren’t going to get hexed by standing here, so I suggest we start!” He adjusted the straps on his backpack and began the trek to the ancient city of Qasala.
It only took three minutes to reach the beautiful metropolis, thanks to a couple of kind Unis that offered to fly them there. Gracie gave up 200 Neopoints to thank them for their unexpected but much appreciated service, and she looked up at the old, stone buildings.
“Qasala,” she muttered, taking off her backpack and searching it for her sketchbook. “I wonder if we get to meet Jazan! Wouldn’t that just be grand, Luke?”
“Yeah, if you don’t get on his bad side like you do with everyone else,” he replied, watching as his friend began to quickly draw the city with a sharp, pointy pencil. She was becoming an aspiring artist, and a good one at that. Lucas himself wanted to become a sailor, and spent much of his time on the beach or in the sea, so the sudden absence of water was getting on his nerves. “But I’m sure you’d get along just fine with Nabile – nice, but a daredevil and never looks before she leaps.”
Gracie put her small notebook away and chuckled. “Sounds like me,” she agreed. “Anyway, let’s go find the nearest food shop so we can get cursed!”
“You sure are happy about the possibility of getting turned into a zombie.” He let her lead him through the streets and into the main plaza, gawking at the magnificent palace of King Jazan and Queen Nabile. He saw his friend once again take her sketchbook out and make a quick drawing of it.
Once she had returned her possessions to her backpack and taken a sip of ice cold water from a flask, she pointed over to a food stall in a section of the plaza. “Over there,” she declared, already walking, “Maybe we can ask the shopkeeper if there’s any of that coffee left.”
Lucas ran up to her side and sighed. “I don’t get why you have to be so... so... adventurous in a not good way.”
“I don’t get why you have to be so scaredy-Meowclops,” she retorted, giving him a playful shove.
They arrived at the stall in a matter of seconds, where a mysterious green Techo in an eggplant shawl greeted them. “Hello, children,” she acknowledged. “Would you care to look at my wares?” She gestured to the stock of delicious looking food.
Before Lucas could answer, Gracie quickly responded, “Actually, ma’am, we were wondering if you had a Cursed Coffee Service for sale?”
The Techo’s smile faded only slightly, so that only the ever-observant Lucas could tell. “Yes, I do.” She reached under the stall for a suspicious looking tea set and placed it gently on the wooden booth. “Made fresh. That’ll be 1601, please.”
“Is it dangerous?” the Gelert asked as they paid. “I mean, we won’t explode or anything, will we?”
“What?” the shopkeeper said, apparently offended. “Of course it’s safe to drink! Why would I sell you anything that wasn’t? I’m a merchant, not a witch!” She handed the tray over to him and smiled. “Enjoy your drink, kids.”
Lucas led Gracie to the shade of a nearby alley, and poured the coffee into the cups. “I still don’t think we should do this... ”
Gracie dismissed the comment with a wave of her paw. “Relax, will you?” she said, “It’s totally fine. You heard what the shopkeeper said, didn’t you? It’s safe. Now come on.” The Lupe took one of the cups and grinned, lifting it to her parched lips. “Cheers?”
He hesitated, but Lucas finally picked up the other cup and replied with a timid, “Cheers.”
Both gulped down the coffee.
“BLECH!” Gracie cried, scrunching up her face in disgust. “Now I remember why I hated coffee! GROSS!”
Lucas’s mouth pinched in distaste. “And now I know why I never tried it. Eew... ” He rinsed out his mouth with some water from his canteen and took a look at the silver pot. “Well... I don’t feel any different.”
“Neither do I,” his friend concurred. “What a letdown. Oh, well, I guess we can go shopping now.” She got up to take a step out of the alley, but suddenly, the world got bigger, and bigger, and bigger!
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF NEOPIA?!” she yelped. “What happened to me???” She looked over at where Lucas was, but his tall strawberry form was replaced with a small, slimy petpet. “OH MY GOSH, YOU’RE A SLORG!”
“So are you!” he yelled, panicking. “Wh-what happened?” His now big and round eyes widened. “It must be the curse!”
“So I was right,” Gracie mumbled, “But this isn’t the time to say ‘I told you so’, even though I did.”
“Do you think this will wear off?” Lucas continued, ignoring her comment. “I can’t live the rest of my life as a petpet! I was actually enjoying my height advantage.”
“This is going to put a damper on my tug-of-war ambition,” the Lupe said glumly. She sighed heavily and silence stretched between them for a few moments. “Well, we should be getting home. SOMEHOW. How fast are Slorgs, anyway? We won’t be able to make dinner at your house.”
“We might not be able to get to my house in the first place. But I agree. Let’s at least try.”
“No harm in trying, right?”
“I guess not.”
And so the two slippery friends slid out of the alley and out into the streets, trying to drag their backpacks behind them, leaving a trail of slime behind them.
“Is this okay to drink?” a yellow Bruce asked, pointing to the tray of coffee.
The green Techo shopkeeper smiled with a suspicious glint in her eye. “What? Of course it’s safe to drink!”
Happy 500th birthday, Neopian Times! *hugs a white Weewoo*