It's All in the Presentation
A roar of rage came from the Rainy Hollow Armoury. Lofty wrinkled his nose at the sound and entered the long building. To his very great surprise, a baby Skeith stood in the middle of the space, meaty hands clenched, green eyes glaring. Lofty approached the other baby, unsure of the stranger. Then, it came to him in an instant.
Lofty knew who this was!
“Brawnson!” Lofty exclaimed, thick blue fur bristling in shock.
The baby Skeith turned to face Lofty. “Yes.”
“How did this happen?”
“Boochi happened. If I ever get my hands on that Bruce…”
Brawnson’s words hung heavily in the air. Lofty barely managed not to shudder.
“Thank Fyora Split Paint Brushes are cheap,” Brawnson muttered.
“You’re not going to stay baby, then?” Lofty asked.
Brawnson stared at the baby Yurble as if he never seen him before. Then, he snorted.
“No, I’m not. Lofty, you know I’m the armourer of Rainy Hollow. How can I do that if I’m a baby?” Brawnson’s green eyes still shone with heat.
“Have you tried?” Lofty flicked his cinnamon roll ears as he looked at his friend.
“Why would I do that?”
“Look, Lofty. You chose to be painted baby. I definitely did not. All I want is to go back to the way I was.”
“Actually, Brawnson. I did not choose this for myself. I was completely happy as a Christmas Wocky. My momma wanted a baby Yurble. She asked if I would like to be morphed and painted. I’ve always wanted to make her happy, so I agreed. It was an adjustment for me. I still miss being a Christmas Wocky. Though, I have found happiness as I am now.”
This information was not something Lofty shared with just anyone. In fact, the only ones who knew this were Sweet, his younger sister and Trouble, his blue Babyca. Brawnson listened in silence. He seemed to be lost in thought. Then, he shook his head.
“Alright, Lofty. I’ll try for one month. If it doesn’t work out, I’m going back to being split, understand?” Brawnson’s expression was stern.
Lofty nodded. “I understand, Brawnson.”
The baby Yurble turned to leave, interested to see how the rest of the month went.
Later that day, a burly white Chia entered the Armoury. “Brawnson! Brawnson?”
The Chia stopped abruptly, having caught sight of the baby Skeith. He blinked with surprise as he recognized the once formidable Skeith.
“Yes, it’s me, you great white snowball,” Brawnson snapped.
“You’re-You’re a baby!” The white Chia burst into raucous laughter but swallowed it back as Brawnson froze him with a fierce glare.
The white Chia shuffled his feet and left the Armoury.
Over the next week, Brawnson adjusted to life as a baby. His smaller size irritated him but Ohnee, his fire Cyodrake, was an immense help to him. Brawnson rearranged the Armoury, making things more accessible and those things that just couldn’t be moved, Ohnee was willing to get. Then, he had to adjust to handling things with a much smaller grip and weight to him. He slowly got the hang of handling weapons that were twice his weight and size.
Brawnson struggled to lift the handle of a war hammer with both hands when he had once been able to lift the entire hammer with a finger. This frustrated him but he kept at it, adjusting his grip and his stance. After many failed attempts and after making a mess in the Armoury, Brawnson managed to lift the hammer. He had to quickly drop it but he had done it. It had left him breathless and shaky but he had done it.
Brawnson the Armourer had been the most respected Neopet in Rainy Hollow. After the Chia had left that first day, word had spread quickly. Others had tried their luck but all had soon learned that Brawnson had retained his quick temper. Even so, every female around would smile fondly at him. They couldn’t help it, it being their nature to mother every small cute thing in sight.
Then there were the children. Brawnson had almost been drowned when he a sea of them surrounded him while he was walking through the village the day after he became baby. They had bombarded him with questions:
Who was he?
Where had he come from?
How old was he?
For the first time in his life, Brawnson had felt claustrophobic. It had taken some time to get them to understand. They had gone away disappointed and Brawnson was unable to go on, unencumbered. Now he got stared at when he was out and about. He hoped that would pass as they got used to his new look.
One plus was that Brawnson was now small enough to ride Ohnee. He didn’t do it often, preferring to walk but just to have the option was enough. His fire Cyodrake had been the first to recover his treatment of his owner. He had been a bit gentler due to their greater size difference but other than that, their relationship had remained the same. Brawnson was thankful for that.
The armourer had come to the realization that being a baby was far harder than it looked. His admiration for lofty only grew. At least he had remained the same species. Lofty had been morphed and painted. Brawnson knew he wouldn’t have been able to handle being an entirely different species on top of being baby.
Despite himself, the Skeith began to relish the challenge that his new color brought him.
Two more weeks passed, leaving only one to go.
The word sent a thrill of tension throughout Rainy Hollow. Nestled in a valley in the shadow of Mount Tofenna, the villagers were mostly shepherds. Over the past week, they had found livestock missing. There were no signs of predators. The defenseless Babaas had just vanished without a trace.
Bandits had been an issue before but not within the last couple of years. To have them resurface put Rainy Hollow on edge. Patrols and watches were set up. Brawnson kept himself busy, making sure that every weapon was ready to use. Then, there was a period of quiet with no suspicious activity.
Some of the villagers began to hope that this meant the bandits were gone for good. Brawnson wasn’t fooled. The Skeith sensed that the bandits were merely biding their time, waiting for the perfect time to strike. It was shortly after midday, when the patrols and shepherds had left. Rainy Hollow was quieter, with almost everyone working away from the main buildings.
The silence was broken by a single word.
A young sketch Blumaroo burst into the Armoury, gasping for breath. Brawnson came up to him as he managed to say more.
“Bandits!” the Blumaroo exclaimed, eyes wide with panic.
“Attacking?!” Brawnson reached for the nearest weapon.
“No! They said that they had heard rumors that you were now a baby. They wanted to see for themselves that it was true. They’re waiting at Cobrall Corner for you.”
“Ohnee, let’s go.”
Brawnson sent the Blumaroo to fetch reinforcements before he and Ohnee traveled the short distance to Cobrall Corner, the beginning of the trail that led through the mountain range that curved around Rainy Hollow. The group of ten bandits seemed to be lazing around but an unusual looking speckled Elephante, with an almost completely white face and a scar under his right eye, noticed the arrival of Brawnson. He went to meet the Skeith, a sneer on his face. Had Brawnson still been painted split, he would have matched the Elephante in size but now, as he towered over Brawnson, their difference in height was painfully apparent.
“The mighty Brawnson reduced to a pinkie. Don’t trip over that sword, kiddo. I’d hate to see you get hurt,” the Elephante said.
Brawnson felt his rage boiling up but he kept himself under tight control. At the moment, he was the only one between Rainy Hollow and this group of thugs. He couldn’t help but think the bandit leader was right. How could he possibly stop them? Then, it came to him.
The baby Skeith fell to the side, letting his fire Cyodrake spurt a blast of fire at the speckled Elephante, making the bandit leader stumble away from the flames. This gave Brawnson enough time to scoop up some stones and leap onto Ohnee’s back. They had never done this before but Ohnee didn’t hesitate to become airborne. They circled above the bandits, now on their feet and gripping a variety of weapons. Brawnson was berating himself for foolishly grabbing a sword, forgetting his new disadvantages with such a weapon.
“OK, Ohnee, let’s pelt them,” Brawnson cried, forming a new plan.
The baby Skeith dropped a stone so that fire Cyodrake could hit it with his powerful tail. Their aim was spot-on, helped by an occasional fire blast from Ohnee every now and again. The bandits began to panic and some had already run away. Three had been knocked out cold. With a slight pressure on his Cyodrake’s skull, Brawnson gave the signal for them to land. Brawnson dismounted and gripped his sword.
There was only one bandit left to deal with.
“Let’s finish this now!” Brawnson roared.
The speckled Elephante raised his own sword and the two ‘pets met with a clash of steel. Brawnson was almost thrown back by the power of the impact and he felt a sudden chill. This was a fight he could not win. The Elephante’s eyes gleamed with malice. Despite himself, Brawnson roared and shoved back, unbalancing his opponent.
Brawnson swung his blade in an arc and if it hadn’t been for a quick block by the bandit leader, the Elephante would have gone down. The pair began to fight in earnest, Ohnee looking on. Over the sound of clashing blades, Brawnson heard the welcome sound of pounding feet. The villagers were on their way! The Skeith was awash with relief because he was beginning to tire.
Sensing his weakness, the speckled Elephante pressed harder. Brawnson felt his knee buckle. He locked gazes with the bandit leader. The villagers were really close now and there was a glint in the Elephante’s eye. Brawnson was completely at his mercy.
The Elephante suddenly took a step back, lowering his sword. “Next time, pinkie.”
Brawnson watched the Elephante retreat. “We will finish this.”
The rest of the villagers surrounded Brawnson and Ohnee. Some of them trussed up the three unconscious bandits who awoke as they were handled. The armourer explained what had happened to the curious faces surrounding him. As he did, he could see their full confidence restored in him. It warmed Brawnson to know.
As they headed back to Rainy Hollow, the baby Skeith was already thinking about the future.
Lofty returned at the end of one month’s time, as they had agreed upon.
The baby Yurble’s eyes shone as he looked at his friend. “I heard about what happened. That’s absolutely incredible!”
Brawnson shrugged. “It’s no different than times before.”
“We both know it was.”
Brawnson locked gazes with Lofty. The two had known each other too long for pretense. Slowly, the Skeith blew out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and nodded.
“So, have you-“ Lofty began.
“Decided?” Brawnson finished the Yurble’s question.
The Skeith did not give his answer right away. Instead, he began to walk the length of the Armoury, inspecting the weapons as he went. Lofty walked beside him and waited patiently for him to speak.
“I have given this a lot of thought, Lofty. When I first changed, I never dreamed I could live this way. Then, you challenged me to try. I have come to see that it is possible. Staying a baby will mean more adjustment to how I view the world. Like focusing more on strategy and not just raw power. Returning to being split will remove all of that.”
Brawnson came to a halt and turned to face his friend squarely. Lofty stopped too, studying the Skeith in silence.
“My admiration for you has grown considerably. I never realized before the difficulties you faced. I had always believed babies to be spoiled brats, entitled, leading easy lives without a care in the world. Now I see how truly wrong I was. I have decided to remain a baby, like you, Lofty. I just hope that I’ll be half as good at it as you are,” Brawnson said with a dip of his head.
Lofty broke into a broad smile. “I’m glad for you, Brawnson. I knew you just had to give it a chance.”
Lofty took his leave shortly after that. Ever since he had become baby, he had been changing stereotypes associated with his color. He felt pleased that he was able to add one more friend to that number.