The Secret of the Kiko Bandage
Abhari had only a split-second to react, as he heard first a bump, then a THUD, then a sound like a Yooyuball being flattened. "Oof!"
Somehow a young Island Kiko had managed to trip going upstairs, a challenging feat for a Neopet who usually floats in mid-air. She must have misjudged the steps, thought Abhari as he darted through the air to her aid, his iridescent faerie wingtips extended to their fullest. As a Hissi, Abhari's normal wings did the real flying, but his faerie plumes gave him a special aerial finesse. Alighting by the dazed Kiko, he asked, "Are you all right?"
"I -- I'm fine," she managed, with some embarrassment. "Just a little bruised." Abhari gently placed the end of his Ice Staff on the Kiko's swollen knee (or where a Kiko's knee might be, if Kikos had knees) as a makeshift cold pack. After a few minutes, the Kiko had perked up considerably and returned to her normal healthy complexion. With a final thanks, she half-bounced, half-floated away.
Later, during his shift at his owner's shop, Abhari recounted his adventure to four friends: Anneslace, Zeyn_, Senhal, and his fellow Hissi Pystry. They were helping close the shop so that they could break early and get in a few practice rounds of Yooyuball while there was still moonlight. "How fortunate she didn't get a nasty scrape. But I guess she already had a bandage. Every Kiko I've ever seen has one. I wonder why?"
"I know," chirped the unfortunately named Nachmacharin_zeynep_, who was now a red Kau -- and a girl -- after a series of visits to the Lab Ray. Her friends had long ago given up trying to pronounce her name and just called her Zeyn_ for short. "Long, long ago, even before Sloth tried to invade us, there was a great Kiko warrior who was injured in battle. She bravely threw herself in the path of an arrow that was headed straight for the king, ignoring the danger to herself. The arrow grazed her head, but she saved his life! The Queen was so grateful that she personally bandaged the Kiko's wound. Ever since then, Kikos have worn a bandage to remember that heroic event. That's the reason they shoot arrows in Tubular Kiko Racing, too!"
"Are you sure about that, Zeyn_?" asked her Ruki friend Anneslace, who was taking advantage of her height to dust the top shelves in the shop. "You're supposed to dodge the arrows in Tubular Kiko Racing. Besides, I heard a different story. I heard that a lowly Kiko grapestomper fell in love with a Hissi prince. The prince's evil landlord had locked him in a high tower with only one window. When the evil landlord found out that the prince had met a brave and beautiful grapestomper, he set a trap, coating the tower walls just below the one window, way up high, with a dark faerie concoction. Not only did it smell bad, it turned extra-slippery when combined with grape juice. The poor Kiko fell a hundred metres onto an Annoyingly Hard Tree Stump. She fell unconscious. Only a bandage woven by the prince using a magic plushie spinning wheel of gold could awaken her, and that's why Kikos wear a bandage to this day."
"That story doesn't make a lick of sense," puzzled Pystry, who was using one of his mutant Hissi heads to double-check his other head's tallying of the shop till. "Why would a Kiko be a grapestomper? How could a Kiko be a grapestomper?"
"And how could a Hissi be trapped in a tower? We could just slip between the bars and fly away!" added Abhari.
"I don't know," sighed Anneslace. "Why don't you ask those JubJub miners in the Altador quarry how they use a pickaxe? Why don't you ask Balthazar why a mighty bounty hunter is thwarted by a wooden Petpet pen small enough for a Kacheek herder to use? In Neopia, things aren't always what they seem to be on the surface and aren't defined by their apparent physical limitations."
"But it was because of Kikos' physical limitations above the surface that they got their bandages. That's what I heard, anyway," countered Senhal, their Kyrii companion, who was admiring his plushie mane in the shop's picture window. "Kikos all come from Kiko Lake, right? They used to live entirely underwater. But when they saw Nimmos and Quiggles going back and forth between the deep water and the dry land, they decided to try being amphibious. They could breathe just fine in the open air, but without feet, simple things like rocks were terrible obstacles."
"Hissi don't have feet, and we do just fine," hissed Abhari, perhaps a bit too tersely. One of Pystry's heads smiled enigmatically.
"Yes, of course, but you're not round. You can slither," Senhal hastened to add. "Those early Kikos could only drag themselves by their fins. More to the point, you Hissi can fly. Kikos couldn't. At least, not until..."
"Until what?" the others chorused in unison.
"Until they made a terrible bargain," Senhal whispered. Behind the counter, Anneslace turned aside so no one could see her smile. She recognised when Senhal went into thespian mode, milking every last drop of drama in front of an audience. In hushed, conspiratorial tones, the Kyrii continued, "Carried by a churning purple cloud, flanked by minions each more sinister than the last, no less fearsome a personage than Jhudora herself, blinding in her dark radiance, descended upon the struggling Kikos." As Senhal gesticulated grandiosely, Anneslace ducked behind the counter to keep from giggling audibly. "Jhudora offered them a little magic to let them float in mid-air, just as they were accustomed to float in the lake's currents. She sealed the pact with a magical bandage as an eternal sign of the Kikos' debt to her... a debt that, some day, they will be asked to repay. For that boon came at a terrible price... which remains a secret known only to Jhudora and the Kikos to this very day."
"Oh, come now, Senhal," objected Abhari, "this is unbelievable even for one of your yarns. Wouldn't we have heard about a secret debt owed by an entire species?"
"Until last year, no one had ever heard of Moltara," said Zeyn_ quietly, "and it wasn't so long ago that all of Altador's history was hidden by a powerful spell. When you've faced the Lab Ray as many times as I have, you learn to accept how many things are possible."
The others all got quiet for a moment. No one wanted to admit it, but they knew that with their special paintjobs and carefully chosen names, they were unlikely ever to face the Lab Ray... provided that the Defenders and Heroes of Neopia kept awful villains like Sloth at bay. Yet Zeyn_'s experience as a humble lab rat had given her a quiet wisdom they sometimes forgot to respect as much as they should.
"What do you think, Pystry? Which of these stories is the right one? You've read more than the rest of us put together," Abhari said, breaking the silence. He knew that Pystry was good at seeing more than one perspective on a situation and finding answers to difficult problems.
"I couldn't say," Pystry mused. "I once read that it was because there's nothing ickier than finding a bandage in the water while you're swimming. They don't want Kikos to be afraid of the water, so all Kikos are given bandages when they're very young. That way, they don't think twice about seeing a bandage in the water." Pausing in thought, Pystry added, "Although maybe they just keep hitting their heads on the bottom of those glass-bottomed boats. You know, like birds sometimes fly into plate-glass windows." Abhari rubbed his nose in sympathy, recalling the first time he discovered in mid-flight exactly where Fyora's Hidden Tower lay.
"Or maybe it's just a fashion statement," suggested Anneslace, and Senhal nodded.
"It doesn't really matter where they came from," said Zeyn_. "What matters is what they mean to us now. I think... I think maybe they're a reminder that things heal. That no matter how bad things get, someone like Abhari will always be around to help patch things up, to help others in need."
Abhari was grateful that his Hissi Knight Helmet concealed his blushing.
And with that, the five friends closed the shop and went out to play.