To Be a Defender
This is Neopia Central, the bustling hub of activity in Neopia, housing a wide variety of shops. This is where tens of thousands of Neopians would frequent daily, where the population of natives are dwarfed by the sheer number of visitors.
Picture the streets of Neopia Central. Warm, golden rays of sunlight caressing the skin of your body. The heavenly waft of freshly prepared food. The buzz of lively chatters. A brilliant rainbow stretches from the Central of the pool to the horizon.
It is Neopian Central in daytime, the one that everyone would think of and says, yes, that’s the Neopian Central I remember.
The sun sinks into the midnight blue of the sky. The last of Neopians heading back home, taking with them the latest gossips and the last sounds of life. Above, the silver moon-sliver wanes.
Picture the streets of Neopia Central without the embrace of everything warm and lively. Tendrils of the night wrap around every possible corner, swallowing the land, transforming it into something else entirely.
This is the Neopian Central that not many Neopians will notice.
1. A person who defends someone or something.
The Defenders HQ stands in the midst of the Neopian Plaza, a little further from the main shops. This is the place run by Judge Hog, leader of the Defenders of Neopia, whose name is known to every Neopian in these lands. They know, as long as they request for help, Judge Hog and his team of Defenders will be there to assist them.
Reports of the Pants Devil stack high on the desk. Complaints of the Money Tree Ghosts are filed. There are occasional claims of sighting of the ever mysterious Shadow Usul, and new villains disrupting the peace of the society once in awhile.
It is a taxing job, sure, but it was nothing they cannot handle on their own.
Not yet, anyway.
But the current HQ is silent, dominant.
Days upon days of work might have taken their toll on the Defenders.
1. A medium-sized bipedal Neopet, with soft fur, two extremely large feet, and a good sense of balance that allow it to use its feet for most tasks that would normally require hands or paws. It is widely known to be a shy and secretive creature.
1.1 A Neopian belonging to the JubJub specie
Jamie is a soft-spoken JubJub, born and raised in Neopian Central. He has a fluffy coat of yellow, and eyes the colour of cerulean. He loves his family, and treasures his friends. He likes to eat freshly baked pizza from Pizzaroo, and his favourite drink is the JubJub Orange Juice. He doesn’t like spicy food, though, the flavour is too unbearable. But his dream? His dream is to become…
“A Defender?” the teacher read, looking over the page at the JubJub, who only fidgets in his seat.
“Erm, y-yes!” He squeaks when he realises that the teacher is waiting for his response. “It is, my- my dream.”
Jamie, face aflame, feels like burrowing a hole in the ground.
There is a sudden hush in the classroom, as every eye is suddenly fixated on him, studying him, and Jamie fights the urge to hide behind his feet.
Then, as if the spell has been broken, the students burst into laughter.
“Haha, no way!”
“You, a Defender? But you’re only a JubJub!”
“Yeah, JubJubs are no Defender material!”
The Cybunny sitting in front of him twists her body around, her whisper barely a hush. “You’re… joking, right?”
No, I’m not, Jamie wants to say, it has been my dream since I was little.
But it hurts—it hurts so much, and the words die in his throat.
Jamie was nine and impressionable.
He was nine when he had first caught the sight of the Defenders in action, dealing with a rampant Neopet. It was a long time ago, and the memories were fuzzy, but there was one thing he could remember vividly.
The Defenders, they were so strong and powerful. They had defeated the bad guy so easily, and the crowd had cheered for them. The victim had thanked them, over and over, even as them grinned, bright and victorious, and said that it was their job to protect everyone.
The Defenders, they were so cool, Jamie decided, eyes sparkling in awe.
But what does it mean to be a Defender?
“What happened, sweetheart?”
Jamie slumps into the couch. “Nothing, Mama.” he says, and winces, because the next moment has the older JubJub giving her son a look. Jamie wonders how she could detect every lie he spouts, but that might just be attributed to the fact that she is his mother, and all mothers are specialised lie detectors—especially when it comes to their own children.
He sighs. “Mama, do you think I can be a Defender?”
His mother chuckles, and teases lightly, “look at my boy, all grown up now!”
She ruffles his fur with one foot, but the younger JubJub turns away, pouting.
“Mama, I’m serious!” He says, “Today… my classmates all laughed at me for wanting to be a Defender. ‘JubJubs can’t be Defenders’ they said, and even that Cybunny—the nice classmate I’ve been telling you about the other day—asked me if I was joking!”
The older JubJub sits beside her son, and turns to look at him. “Who is you favourite Defender, Jamie?”
Jamie blinks at the abrupt change of topic. “Judge Hog, of course.”
“Do you know, that a long time ago, Moehogs were treated as servants for the Skeiths? And after the age of civilization, they are still thought to be subservient and meek? No one expects them to stand up for themselves, much less for others. ”
Jamie shakes his head. “But how? Judge Hog is the most famous Defender in all of Neopia!”
His mother smiles, “that’s right. Judge Hog has always done his best to help Neopians, and decades ago when he was younger and not as strong as he is now, he was still fearless in the face of bullies. But you know what was his favourite line back then? ‘My specie does not define me’, he used to say, and he had defied almost everyone’s belief of Moehogs by founding the Defenders.”
There are stars in Jamie’s eyes. “That—That’s so cool! But Mama, how do you know all this?”
“That’s not important.” And his mother’s smile turns positively mysterious, as if knowing an inside joke he is not aware of. She continues, “think about why I have shared this story with you.”
So Jamie ponders.
Nothing grows character quite like first hand experience, as Jamie is about to find out.
It is when the day and night blends together, the sky an amber-orange hue as the first stars blinks sleepily upon the earth.
Jamie hurries home, having held back slightly for remedial lessons, before a shriek, short and sharp, stops him in his tracks.
It is a Water Jetsam with a mean look, and he is holding a hostage—an Usul with a pretty rainbow ribbon—at knife point. Two Defenders, whom Jamie remembers as Lightning Lenny and Mammoth, are trying to fight off the threat, but to no avail.
A small crowd has gathered, Neopians with worried frowns and murmurs of ‘Are the Defenders losing? Why hasn’t Judge Hog come?’
Jamie can see it, how the attacks of the Defenders are ineffective as they pass through the body of the Jetsam. Water, he realises a beat later. It is intangible to physical attacks, practically invincible to speed and strength.
“It’s no use, we don’t have powers that can take care of him.” Mammoth’s voice is gruff, and laced with frustration.
Lightning Lenny responds, resigned, “all we can do is wait for someone with a more suitable power.”
Jamie prays for the Usul. A Defender… someone… will soon come and save you.
I’m only a JubJub, I can’t do anything. Not when these Defenders can’t resolve this situation.
But that Usul, she is so terrified, and her fear only continues to grow. Her gaze searches and crowd, and for a moment, for a very brief moment, their eyes meet.
Jamie’s thoughts dissipates, and he acts before his mind can register it.
Why did I run out? What am I doing? Why?!
His mind is chaotic.
What do I do? What do I do at a time like this?
JubJubs are shy and secretive creatures. They aren't aggressive, but they can defend themselves with their deafening screech when threatened.
Jamie is a JubJub, with no talons, no teeth, no claws, and the only thing he does, the only thing he can do, is—
“Cover your ears!” He shouts, noting that the Usul complies immediately.
And Jamie screams, right into where the ears of the Jetsam might have been.
The Jetsam turns into violent ripples.
“That was reckless, young man.” Mammoth chides, arms akimbo.
Beside him, Lightning Lenny grins, “don’t be like that, he’s the one who saves the day. A young JubJub, no less! He’s going up the headlines of the Neopian Times!”
Jamie resists the intense urge to shy away behind his feet. “U-uh, I’m sorry?”
The Tyrannian Elephante nods, satisfied, while his partner elbows him playfully. “But seriously,” the Lenny says, crouching down so he can make proper eye contact with Jamie, “you are a great help there.”
Jamie feels his face heats up, but it is not an unpleasant feeling. “Lightning Lenny, Mammoth,” he calls, because he won’t have another opportunity as good as this. “Do you… do you think that a JubJub like me can be a Defender?”
Mammoth guffaws, “why would we care about you being a JubJub? No, species matters nothing.”
Lightning Lenny adds with a chirp, “it’s the character we are looking for.”
And the next words have Jamie catch his breath in grateful wonder.
“—And we, the Defenders, are in need of Neopians like you.”
To have the words you yearn to hear being echoed back to you, it is an amazing feeling.
“Hey, haven’t you hear? The Defenders of Neopia are recruiting.”
“I've heard that Judge Hog is overseeing the selection test himself!”
“How long has it been since the last one?”
“More than a decade!”
“Well. we'll just have to see if the third generation of Defenders are up for the test. Neopia will be waiting for them."
“Cheers to the third generation!”
And when the selections are over, there might just be a bright yellow JubJub in the third generation of the Defenders Team.