The Storm Without an End
Long ago, when Hibiscus was just a young Lutari, her home island had been one of Neopia's hottest vacation spots. The sun always shown, even when it lightly sprinkled, making the already vibrant feathers that defined Lutari Island décor even more splendid. Large festivals were held all year with pets from all around Neopia, some even from Kreludor, would flock to the island and participate, from sampling the many unique fruits of the island- or so Hibiscus was told, as she hadn't tasted foreign food within memory- to fashioning their own headdresses with the help of the local Lutaris.
Best of all, however, was that not only could outsiders visit the island, but also its natives could visit the rest of Neopia. Those old enough to remember those times told vivid stories of strange lands, including a gorgeous misty land with flying ships, a world of cogs and machines within a land of lava, to a mysterious forest that's said to be haunted and filled with curses. Hibiscus had dreamed of the day she'd be old enough to travel herself, even at that very young age. She wanted to see everything, try every last piece of food, wear every outfit she could, and sniff every flower in Neopia.
Those days had long passed, however, and she never got her chance. Many years ago, out of the blue, a storm formed around Lutari Island. The winds howled off the coast, and twisters and whirlpools surrounded the island like a barrier. Some pets visiting at the time managed to escape, but many were trapped along with the native Lutaris. Lutaris that had left the island found themselves unable to return and were forced to find a home in Neopia's other lands. However, this was not the strangest aspect of the storm that cut off Lutari Island.
The strangest thing is that the weather on the island itself remained mild and calm. You could still hear the moan of the gales raging, the water was deemed unsafe to even dip your toes in ages ago, and the sun rarely peaked through the permanent cover of grey clouds, but the inside of the storm was not unlike the eye of a hurricane. You could step outside and not even feel a breeze, and the temperature remained pleasant. Some of the more scientific minds of the island believed that Lutari Island was in the eye of the storm, but others suspected that something else- something sentient- was causing the winds. Could it be a mischievous faerie? Was it a vile warlock with powerful wind-based magic that had something against Lutari Island? Some even suggested that perhaps someone accidentally did something to curse the island. Whatever it was, no one seemed to know the true cause.
Hibiscus had made it her goal in life to solve whatever was causing the storm. The other residents of the island had called the Pink Lutari desperate and crazy. If the island's elders and wisest scholars couldn't solve it- nor the brightest minds outside of the island, as Hibiscus was once told of a land known as Brightvale that prided itself on its education- what made an average young Lutari think she'd know the answer? Hibiscus couldn't answer that, truthfully. She was never the brightest Lutari in her class, or the most athletic, or even the most charismatic. Maybe that was why she was so determined- to have a title to her name. She'd forever be known as the one who calmed the storm and freed Lutari Island at last. Of course, it was also to follow her dreams of seeing Neopia.
Hibiscus had tried to recruit others on the island- both the Lutaris and the rare other species trapped there once the storm started- but most of them either saw it as hopeless or assumed that the elders would eventually find the answer and that it wasn't worth the effort. She was about to give up on her efforts when one lone pet took an interest in her cause. She was clasping fliers in her claws in the middle of the Lutari Island marketplace. Running out of enthusiasm without any support, she weakly gave a variation of the speeches she had given over her weeks of attempting to recruit help. "Don't you want to see what lies outside the island? Don't you want to help island business boom even more? Stop the storm! Open the gates once more!" A light drizzle had set in- as while the storm didn't rage over the island, bits of it occasionally drifted over- and she was about to set off once more when an older-sounding male voice replied, "hello there. What's this about stopping the storm?"
Hibiscus turned around to see an older-looking Neopet with short, triangular ears and a bushy tail. His fur was yellowish, with a brown stripe going from his forehead to his tail. The ruff around his neck resembled a bush with berries of some kind. She remembered this Neopet being referred to as a "Xweetok" by her mother once, and if she recalled from her class, the color on him was called "Tropical." No, wait- it was called Island, she believed. The Xweetok gave her a warm smile. "It's nice to see at least one young Neopet trying to solve this mystery. When I was your age, I couldn't sleep until I knew the answer to a mystery!"
Hibiscus couldn't help but chuckle at his old pet mannerisms. "I guess someone understands me! Sure, I might not find the answer, but what's the harm in trying? I'm Hibiscus, by the way. You?"
"I'm Banan. Yes, my parents named me after the fruit," he laughed. "It's starting to get a little wet out. Mind if we walk to my Neohome to avoid the rain?"
Hibiscus smiled. "Of course not. Lutari fur dries off quickly anyway since we're built to swim, but I'm not sure if it's the same with Sweetoxs."
"Xweetoks," Banan corrected with a smirk as the two began to walk slowly away from the now closing marketplace and down a path of bright scarlet berries growing on trees. "So, you're interested in trying to solve what's causing this storm? To be honest, I've been wondering for years myself... I came from Mystery Island, you see, and the Lutari Island lifestyle isn't much different, but I do miss my friends and family..."
Hibiscus frowned. "I'm sorry that you have to be away from your family for so long... I had a cousin myself who I was very close to. He was visiting some place called Happy Valley when the storm hit. I haven't heard from or seen him since... My Aunt Bromeliad and Uncle Fern aren't worried. They said he's strong and will be fine out there, but I miss him so much..."
Banan wrapped his foreleg around Hibiscus's shoulder as they walked. "I'm sure we're not alone, either. I'm sure some of the other pets here too have friends and family stuck outside of the island."
"Then why do they shrug me off?" asked Hibiscus, a bit saddened now.
Banan let go of Hibiscus and stared off into the distance as they made their way through some foliage, his paws getting moist from the muddy soil. "I think they just don't want to get their hopes up for nothing. I admit, I was afraid to even consider the possibility of this seemingly eternal storm lifting because it seems easier to just give up then build up your hope, only to see it crushed. But seeing you day after day at that marketplace, trying to rally pets up... It got to me." Banan gave a small smile as they approached a house that looked quite different from the others on the island. Rather than the usual red and blue feathers and dyed grassed topping the hut, there was some yellowish plant matter that almost resembled what Hibiscus had seen called "straw" once in a book.
"To be honest, if you hadn't talked to me today, I would have given up," Hibiscus sighed with a shrug. "You got my hopes back up, too. Perhaps..." As Banan went to unlatch his door, Hibiscus's face lit up with a grin from ear to ear. "Perhaps, if we work together, we can get others to start hoping again too! We can start investigating around the island, and finding clues! And when others see us, they'll start to join in too!"
Banan grinned back, his eyes sparkling with joy. "That is a brilliant idea, young lady! You know this island better than me, and I know the outside quite well, so we could combine our knowledge to solve this riddle!" As he finished his sentence, he disappeared into the house. Hibiscus followed inside. The hut was not quite as ornately furnished as the others she had seen on the island, but there were some rather odd trinkets on the wooden shelves. There was a square mask, a glass bottle filled with bright green sand, a brown shell with what appeared to be an island with palm trees carved into it, and a bizarre totem that looked like a giant head with a large nose. "Are these all from Mystery Island, if you don't mind me asking?"
Banan nodded. "Do you want to hear the stories behind those?"
"Definitely!" chimed the now bursting with excitement Pink Lutari."
Banan began to tell the tale behind the mask on the shelf. Apparently, it is based off one that belonged to an odd creature- a Neopet Banan couldn't even identify- known as the Tiki Tack Man. He spoke of how he ran some sort of game booth where Neopets drew tickets for prizes. As he continued to tell his tales, he began to warm up some hot tea and served some to Hibiscus. Eventually, after an hour or two had passed and Banan had finished speaking about the tradition of bottling and coloring sand on his home island, he took a glance outside.
"It's getting dark out. You should probably head home before your folks worry."
Hibiscus sighed, but reluctantly nodded. After smiling and waving goodbye to Banan, she began to head back down the path they had came to reach the house in order to head home. The rain had since cleared up, and it was a rare night where a sliver of moonlight peaked through the clouds. However, Hibiscus was too busy planning out how to tackle the mystery of the storm to pay much attention to the silvery light. For the first time in years, her dream of seeing what lay beyond the gusts and whirlpools seemed to be in reach once more.