Milo was not happy.
The shadow Aisha searched frantically through the chaos of random that was his bedroom for any sign of the crystal, the crystal that would save everyone. I'm the protagonist of this tale, he'd thought, and I'd better start acting like one.
No one had told him that having a clean room would make being a hero easier, but he was quickly figuring that out for himself.
Digging through what appeared to be a pile of clothes, he flung aside his El Picklesaur Brand Wrestling Cape and his Blue Kacheek Group Shirt -- Milo was a percussionist at heart -- and underneath found his faux Hubrid's Puzzle Box. The Aisha grinned at the discovery. A master at everything puzzle- and strategy-oriented from Eye of the Storm to the Anti-Gravity Rainbow Cube Toy, Milo unlocked the box easily and opened it to reveal...
Nothing. "Curses!" he wailed to no one in particular. It should have been here! He had placed it here! What would be the fate of Neopia now?
His younger sister traipsed into his room. "Milo," the pink Acara started with concern on her face and in her voice, "I heard you all the way from below. What are you doing?"
"Looking for the Crystal of Ultimate Power!" The Aisha moaned. "I swore I left it in my puzzle box."
The Acara frowned. "You mean that pink crystal-shaped--"
"YES," Milo practically screamed as he leapt up and grabbed his sister by her shoulders. "Annabelle, where did you see it?" he asked her hurriedly.
"Downstairs, on the kitchen table," his sister replied with innocence in her tone. "It looked pretty so I--"
Milo shook her shoulders slightly. "So you what?" he interjected.
"Stop shaking me!" she crossly countered. "So I put a string around it, made it into a necklace, and wore it when I went to the park." She curtsied slightly and the folds of her pink tartan skirt widened. "It matched my outfit perfectly."
Her brother facepalmed. "You're kidding." He sighed. "Of course you're not." Opening his eyes wide, he stared at her, through her. "Where is the crystal now?"
Annabelle held up a shiny and tantalizing-looking Big Bag of Sweets, the confection inside half depleted. "I traded it," she said nonchalantly.
"YOU WHAT!?" the Aisha roared.
"It looked pretty but it wasn't even edible," his sister rebutted as she dug her paw into the pouch and pulled out a handful of the pre-wrapped sugary treats. She offered them to Milo.
He furiously knocked them out of her hand and the candies further contributed to the mess of random strewn about. "Do you understand the significance of what you've just done?" The Aisha buried his face in his hands and slumped down against the nearest wall of his bedroom. His bottom hit a randomly-placed, slightly sharp object near said wall and Milo quickly stood erect once more. "That crystal was going to save everyone," he muffled with melancholy through his paws.
Treading carefully, the Acara, narrowly avoiding a Rubber Duck, approached her brother near the wall. She took his hands and moved them off his face. "Look," she began slowly, "it's OK. I only traded it to Brody."
"Brody..." Milo trailed as his already shadowy figure darkened. "My prime frenemy." The Aisha recalled the situation well.
It was during one particularly heated game of Sorcerer's Skirmish -- the ultimate game of puzzle and strategy, the game the feeble-minded would cry at, the game of heroes -- that Brody first laid eyes on the Crystal of Ultimate Power.
"What's that crystal you have there?" Brody asked.
"Er... nothing," Milo lied. "You're imagining things." The Aisha frowned. He'd have to work on his subtlety. Maybe find a box to hide the artifact most precious.
The wraith Uni sitting across the sea of pieces frowned and tilted his head. "Just like you're imagining you're winning?" Brody advanced and took one of his opponent's Gelerts. He smiled crookedly.
Milo scowled. "It's the Crystal of Ultimate Power," the Aisha revealed, his mouth a neutral line. "One day I'll use it to save everyone."
Brody nodded slowly whilst his mouth twitched itself into a devilish grin. "Save everyone, eh?" He absent-mindedly moved his Eyrie. "I've always wanted to be... the protagonist."
The Aisha opposite him laughed. "Bad move, Brody." Milo took the piece and the game was over.
The Uni smiled at Milo with a sparkle in his eye. "You'll make yours eventually."
The two reset the board and played another game.
It dawned on Milo. Now was eventually. "BROOODYYY!!!" the Aisha, back in his bedroom at present, wailed.
Annabelle had to cover her ears. "For Fyora's sake I'll just take you to him!" she yelled through his shout. He stopped screaming. The Acara scrunched her face at her brother.
"Just wait one moment, sis." With utmost determination, Milo looked around his room for the sharp object from before. 101 Uses for Ice, the snare from his otherwise broken Heart Drums, a stray slice of Cheesesteak Pizza... Ah. There it was.
Treading carefully over the piles of random, he picked up Brynn's (slowly dulling) Legendary Sword of Wraith Smiting. Milo smiled mischievously at the thought of using this on his frenemy. "Let's go."
The siblings walked through the park and over a hill.
"That's where he was before," Annabelle commented. "And he's still there by the looks of it." The Acara pointed to a small table at the park where a Wraith Uni sat eating a sandwich with one hoof and stroking his new crystal with the other.
Milo nodded. "I'm going to go up there and 'surprise' it from him," her brother declared in a hushed tone, a resolute grin on his face.
His sister nodded back. "I'll see you at home," Annabelle said. "Good luck, Milo. And I'm sorry I got you into this in the first place."
"It's fine," the Aisha assured with a self-satisfied smile. "I'm the protagonist. And the protagonist always wins."
As he approached his frenemy slowly from behind, she, walking in the other direction, passed a nearby sandbox and wandered home over the hills.
Brody, eyes closed, continued munching on what appeared to be a Chokato Ghostkersandwich. His frenemy neared him, sword wielded...
The Uni spun around. Their eyes met. "Why if it isn't Milo?" he asked rhetorically, his voice smooth like honey... poisonous honey. "I've been waiting for you." He paused. "Lower your sword."
The Aisha, his look of determination and resentment unwavering, did as instructed; it would do no good to cut the hand holding such a precious artifact. "What do you want, Brody?"
Milo's opponent folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "The same thing you want. To save the world." He paused. "And the recognition, of course." He smiled with self-satisfaction. "I mean let's face it... what's the point of being a hero if no one knows you're a hero?"
"Heroism isn't about the fame!" the Aisha retorted. "It's about helping others and thus being helped yourself!" He raised his sword again.
Brody didn't flinch. "That's your definition of hero?"
His counterpart nodded.
The wraith giggled nasally. "And you really think," said Brody through a grin of pure condescension, "that you'll thus be 'the hero' by piercing that sword through me?"
After several seconds of deliberation, seconds that flowed and ebbed around him, seconds that seemed to stretch into minutes into hours into infinity... Milo dropped the sword. He breathed a heavy sigh. "You win."
But then a new thought entered the Aisha's head. He pointed to his frenemy. "Sorcerer's Skirmish. You, me, right here, right now. Winner takes all."
The Uni shrugged. "Why would I do that? I've already won." Taking another bite of his sandwich, he picked up the crystal pendant and placed its string around his neck. With a slight wave to Milo, Brody turned around facing his back to the Aisha. "Everyone's the protagonist of his own story," the wraith commented. "You've just become the antagonist of mine." And stuffing the last bit of food into his mouth and swallowing, he started to walk away.
Milo sighed. It was over. He had lost.
And then coughing pierced the air. Brody was choking!
Hurriedly, the Aisha wrapped his arms around his frenemy -- it was weird, essentially hugging a wraith -- and thrust his paws inward, repeatedly. After several seconds of frenzied intensity, the mushy piece of Chokato was forcefully ejected from the Uni's throat and he spit it out.
The two, panting heavily, fell to the ground. Awkwardness accented the atmosphere.
About a minute later, Milo broke it. "So... Does this mean I can have the crystal?" he inquired politely.
Three more breaths and Brody replied with a curt, "No."
The Aisha leapt up and stared down at the crumpled wraith. "But I saved your life!" he pleaded.
"And I," the Uni rebutted between breaths, "am going to save everyone."
"But how do you know that?" Milo anxiously argued.
Brody smiled wanly. "Because I'm the protagonist." He halted for dramatic flair. "And the protagonist always wins."
His opponent was speechless.
Slowly, Milo's frenemy rose. "But... You're no longer my antagonist," he said slowly before turning around once more. "You're just another NPC in the game that sees me as the hero." His back again facing his opponent, the wraith took a few steps forward.
The shadow-painted Neopet hesitated, wondering if his query was wise to ask; "Are we still on for Skirmish this upcoming Tuesday?"
The Uni tarried, momentarily ceasing his depart. "Of course we are."
Begrudgingly, Milo added, "Good luck, Brody. You'll need all you can get."
A pause. "Goodbye, NPC." Finished, Brody walked away and disappeared over the hilly horizon in accordance with his new destiny.
Defeated, Milo trudged back towards the table and his fallen sword, fallen like his confidence, fallen like his heroism. He was no protagonist.
He bent down to pick up the long and dulling dagger, but another hand reached it first. Great, he thought to himself. Yet another battle I'll have to fight today. He craned his head upward to see who had laid claim on his wraith smiting weapon.
It was a tiny Meerca. She smiled at him and adjusted her pink bow more proper on her head. "No matter what they say, you'll always be a hero to me," she greeted with a smile as she handed the sword back to him.
Milo's mind raced as he accepted the forged metal. "I... Wha?"
"I watched the whole thing from the sandbox." She pointed to it, where a very nice wedge of cheese had been created from the tiny brown particles. The Meerca refocused her attention back on the shadowy figure in front of her. "As much as that Uni teased you, and laughed at you, and even stole your pink candy-necklace-sugar-thing... you still went back to save him. You even wished him well afterwards." She grinned. "You did something so difficult for you, but in the name of justice. That's what I say a hero is."
The Aisha reflected. Perhaps he'd have to expand upon his own definition.
The Meerca's grin increased. "I wanna grow up to be like you some day." Bidding a girlish wave to the Aisha, she went back to her sand-cheese, jumped on it to smithereens, and then exuberantly skipped off to nowhere Milo was going.
Alone in the park, he paused. He supposed he didn't need to "save the world" to be a hero. Heroic acts could be achieved anywhere, on any scale.
Even after all the trauma of today's events... Milo found himself smiling. Sword in hand, he walked back towards home. He'd leave the weapon there and then go in search of some other good acts to fulfill.
Milo opened the front door, entered, and subsequently closed the door before walking about the house to the kitchen. At the stove stood an annoyed Lupe. She folded her arms and stared through him. "Milo, clean your room."
"Will do, Mom." He sighed... but it was a sigh of determination rather than discouragement. Of course I'll find good acts to fulfill... after I clean my room. Having a clean room does make being a hero easier.
Besides, somewhere amongst the mess are a few pieces of candy...
He shrugged, smiled, and went upstairs.
Milo was content.