Maggie and Igneot's Fire Flower
Maggie the Darigan Kacheek strolled through the aisles of Uni Clothing, browsing the selections of dresses. She had spent all day helping Fyora the Faerie Queen with a quest, and wanted to wind down with a bit of retail therapy before turning in for the night. A long red skirt caught her eye and she pulled the hanger off the rack. Draping the dark red fabric against her legs she saw it complemented her deep purple fur nicely. Satisfied, she made her way down the aisle, skirt in tow, looking for a top to go with it. Distracted by a black, lacy blouse, Maggie crashed into a couple of Royal Kougras who were pushing a Baby Kougra in a stroller.
"I'm sorry!" Maggie exclaimed, gently grabbing hold of the stroller that had started rolling from the impact.
The Royal Kougras turned to her and recoiled. Maggie was taken aback by their reaction and cautiously stepped towards them—extending a paw to quell their unease. They both stepped back, their eyes darting from her, to the stroller, and to each other. Maggie felt awkward, so she stiffly offered the handle of the stroller to the couple. They sniffed and without a word to Maggie, quickly took the stroller from her and hurried away—but not before Maggie caught snippets of their whispered exchange.
"...Kass... can't trust them..."
Maggie felt a chill go down her spine.
They couldn't possibly be saying something about me... could they?
She puffed up her chest and followed the family—determined to ask them to say what they were mumbling to her face—when she heard a snicker from behind. She turned and saw a Dimensional Aisha and a Faerie Shoyru pretending to browse through some t-shirts while casting sidelong glances at her.
"Do you have a problem with me?" Maggie snapped, storming over to the pair.
"Oh no," the Shoyru said, giving his friend a look.
Maggie sighed—tired and overworked, she briefly contemplated letting it go. Strengthening her resolve, she planted her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes.
"I saw you guys looking at me. What did you say to each other that you can't say to me? Out with it."
"No no," the Aisha insisted and nodded to the blouse that was now draped in the crook of Maggie's bent elbow. "We were just commenting on how lovely and... delicate that lace is."
Maggie sensed a hint of a suppressed laugh in the Aisha's voice, and even though the Shoyru was biting his lip, she could see the corners of his mouth turning slightly upwards.
"It would definitely suit you," he added, and lost his composure. The two burst out laughing.
They shoved past Maggie, leaving her stunned. Her new outfit slipped from her arms onto the floor.
Maggie trudged through Meridell; she had walked all the way from Neopia Central, too disturbed to go home and rest. She neared Illusen's Glade. The Earth faerie looked up from attending to a couple of questing Zafaras and gave Maggie a friendly wave. Most of the faeries knew Maggie—she offered her services whenever she found some downtime. An unwelcome thought entered Maggie's mind.
Why is she so eager to please? What is she trying to prove?
Maggie knew it was her own subconscious playing tricks on her, but that little voice in her head sounded a lot like Illusen's.
Without realizing, Maggie was standing in front of the Glade, staring off into space. Illusen gave her a puzzled look and opened her mouth, but before she could say a word, Maggie collected herself and briskly made her way towards Darigan Citadel.
The bleak atmosphere and quiet streets did little to soothe Maggie. She was surrounded by other Darigan pets, but she had never felt more exhausted, terrified, or alone. She clenched her fists, kept her eyes to the ground and made her way towards the chambers of Lord Darigan himself.
She arrive at the entrance to Darigan Chambers, and swung open the heavy iron doors. A regal looking Darigan Peophin and a frenzied Darigan Grarrl, who Maggie recognized as Lord Darigan's aide, nearly collided with her as they exited.
"Easy there!" the Peophin said cheerily and Maggie winced. The contrast between his chipper tone and the dreary scene before her was disconcerting. The two walked away, with the Grarrl walking a half-step quicker, shrilly complaining about misplaced documents.
Maggie watched them disappear over the horizon before entering the chambers and closing the doors. She turned and saw Lord Darigan himself, leaning on a table scattered with complicated-looking legal documents. He took in Maggie's appearance with what she could only place as mild annoyance—his expression betrayed no surprise.
"Can I help you?" he asked in a tone suggesting he wasn't looking for a positive answer. "Just because we're currently at peace with Meridell doesn't mean—" he continued quickly, clearly having had to explain himself many times before.
"What's wrong with us?" Maggie blurted out. The question had been bubbling inside her since that family of Kougras sniffed at her hours before.
Lord Darigan blinked, stunned at both the interruption and the surprisingly emotive outburst. He paused and then let out a short laugh.
"'Us?' What relationship do you have to me?" he asked.
"Well, I—I'm painted in your color—" Maggie stammered, and Lord Darigan gave her an exaggerated shrug. Maggie looked down at her hands, embarrassed. "Everywhere I go, I'm leered at and treated like a monster... I don't even know who I am anymore, sometimes," she added quietly.
Lord Darigan's expression betrayed no emotion. He stayed quiet as tears rolled down Maggie's cheeks. Finally, he sighed and crossed his arms across his chest.
"You know who I am, and you know what those who are ignorant of history think when they see me. Now I was called evil because I had certain... political objectives that not everyone agreed with, but all of that is in the past now. It just takes some dim pets longer to understand the way our various nations work," he said haughtily.
Maggie didn't respond. Her shoulders shook with her sobs and she hid her face in her hands.
"Let me guess," Lord Darigan continued nonchalantly. "You are clearly unfamiliar with these parts and seem to care far too much what other people think. I'm going to assume you work inexplicably hard at something boring and wholesome, right? Are you employed at a health food store? Or do you care for the elderly? Perhaps you spend all your time tailing faeries, desperate for quests so you can seem less malicious?"
Maggie balked. The voice from Illusen's Glade invaded her thoughts again, taking on the Earth faerie's voice once more.
"Listen," Lord Darigan said flatly. "You can't change people's minds. They are going to judge you because it's easy to do so. You can only change yourself and your environment. Might I suggest you purchase some property here in the citadel? We have some remarkable Neohomes for sale, and you won't have to deal with non-Darigan pets ever again. I can get one of my minions to show you at the next open house—"
But Maggie merely shook her head, wiping her running nose with the back of her paw.
"Thank you," she said stiffly, turning on her heel, and leaving the notorious Korbat to roll his eyes and return to his work.
"You can only change yourself... you can only change yourself..."
Maggie finally returned home. It was late and her Neohome was quiet. Her siblings had probably fallen asleep long before. She crept up the stairs into the bedroom she shared with her sister Kiki, the Baby Kacheek. As she entered, she heard soft, even breathing coming from the crib.
"You can only change yourself..."
Maggie switched on the reading lamp by her bed. Faint rays of light illuminated the room just enough for Maggie to be able to make out the outlines of her drawers and closet. Kiki stirred a little in her crib, but rolled over so that her back was against the lamp and settled down.
Maggie slowly opened her closet and shifted through the clothes Kiki and she shared. In a box on the ground, there were leftover clothes they had earned as prizes from their various quests and events. She tugged it out and began rifling through it. Taking an armful of clothing out, she spread the various dresses and accessories onto her bed. She picked up the Fairest of Feathers Mask from a Haunted Faiere event she and her siblings had worked on in Year 13 and held it against her face.
As she pored over her reflection, she heard her sister sit up and yawn audibly.
"Maggie, what's the matter?" Kiki asked from her crib, Maggie turned to see the little Kacheek rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Sorry Kiki, I'll be done soon, go back to bed," she said absentmindedly and returned to her reflection.
"What are you doing with that?" Kiki asked, her voice now alert. She flipped the latch on the crib and let herself out.
"I'm trying to make my eyes less..." Maggie began answering absentmindedly as she picked out a pastel green and purple wig that had remained in the box "...terrifying," she finished.
"What do you mean?" Kiki asked, as Maggie put the negg hunt prize on, brushing the bangs to the side so they rested neatly amongst the mask's feathers. Maggie didn't answer and instead started holding up different voluminous dresses to compare. She pointed to a brightly color mass of fabric and motioned for Kiki to pass her an article as she took off her coat. Kiki passed Maggie the brightly colored apron they had earned from a different her sister worriedly as Maggie piled more and more clothes on.
"This will distract from my fangs!" Maggie exclaimed as she tied on a Colourful Cherry Blossom Necklace. Kiki raised her eyebrows with concern. There was a twinge of hysteria in Maggie's voice. Maggie was aware of it—she was almost delirious with exhaustion.
"You look like the Negg Faerie threw up on you, Mags," Kiki commented flatly.
Maggie pretended not to hear her and looked through their collection of masks from the Masks of Dread quest she, Kiki, and their brothers had helped with. No longer interested in her sister's attempted makeover, Kiki began looking through their closet for something fun to do. In a glass case, she found a beautiful pink flower lit aflame. Igneot's Fire Flower—a prize earned from Moltara's Magma Gnorbu during that very quest. With a laugh she pulled it out.
"Mags, you have to wear this!" Kiki took the lid off the case and offered her the fiery flower.
Maggie took a lot at it and gasped softly. The Shoyru and Aisha's cackling resounded in her head. Her face flushed and she sank to her knees with a resigned sigh. She buried her head in her hands and let out a wail.
Alarmed, Kiki ran to her side.
"I'm so sorry—what did I say?" she asked, rubbing her back in an attempt to soothe her.
"It's not just you," Maggie let out a shuddering sigh. "Whenever people see me, they see me as some destructive, evil monster, I bet. Even you don't think I can pull off this look without destroying it. A flower on fire is perfect for me—I'll destroy everything beautiful."
"Why would anyone call you a monster?" Kiki exclaimed.
"Look at me!" Maggie snapped. "All Darigan neopets are evil. Everyone knows that."
"I didn't give it to you because you're Darigan or because I don't think this look suits you—I gave it to you because I thought it was awesome and think that only you can pull it off," Kiki insisted, but Maggie just rolled her eyes. Kiki stood up and picked up the flower—the flame danced around the petals, flaring out every so often.
"Look, this flower is lovely and pink and cute, but the reason people want it is because it's on fire. And when we think about fire, we think about how it destroys things—how it should be destroying this flower—but it's not, is it? It's making this flower different. It's making this flower special and cool. Right?"
Maggie grudgingly looked at the flower. It continued burning brightly.
"What if this flower was just a flower?" Kiki asked. "It would just be like every kind of okay-looking thing around. But this flower is interesting, and still super pretty, and on top of that it's warm. Like you!"
Kiki poked Maggie, who smiled back sheepishly.
"You don't need to hide the fact that you're Darigan. If you like wearing that wig and that super frilly apron, that's fine. But don't use it to hide yourself away. That's not fair to you or other pets who want to know you. There is nothing wrong with you or the way you look," Kiki urged earnestly.
Maggie took the flower from Kiki and held it with both hands. She turned to face herself in the mirror, taking in the awkward visual of her now disheveled wig, off-kilter mask, and bloodshot eyes. The flame still burned brightly, unaffected by Maggie's own anxieties. Finally, she let out a laugh.
"You're really smart for a Baby," she said, wiping her tears with the back of her paw.
"You're an exceptionally kind Darigan Kacheek and I'm a brilliant and wise Baby. Looks can be deceiving. That's what makes life fun," Kiki said with a wink, giving her sister a tight hug.