In Search of Kero
"Excuse me, sir?"
The Kougra turned to look at me. He didn't look old, but something in his slow movements suggested years of hardship. He nodded to acknowledge my presence, and then shifted his eyes to the large scar on my forehead. I had foolishly cut myself on a branch in the unfamiliar forests in my rush to arrive here.
"I was just wondering... if you'd seen a blue Scorchio? Youngish, a warrior, goes by the name of Kero."
I didn't like the way my voice had gone so high at the end. I took a deep breath. The Kougra nodded again and turned to his friend, giving me time to observe my surroundings. I was in the grottiest inn I could find in Faerieland; I couldn't decide if there were more spider webs or broken bottles in the place. Under normal circumstances, I would never have entered this sort of place, nor even dreamed or building up the courage to speak to one of the neopets in it. Instead, I had travelled several miles to visit it- not bad for a girl who only a few years ago was afraid to cross the street without her mother's hand in hers. The journey was nothing compared to what was to come, but it was still an achievement.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost screamed when I felt the tap on my shoulder.
"Oh, sorry, miss. Beg your pardon. Heard you was looking for a pet named Kero." I looked up into the face of an alarmingly tall Lenny. I couldn't help but notice as he talked that a significant number of his teeth were missing. "Only, I remember that Scorchio, he came in here, orders a drink, see? And he starts talking, real friendly guy, real nice he was. Said his name was Kero, only I thought it was Carol, and didn't we all have a laugh at that, boys?" There was a general murmur of agreement, and I realised I was not the only one listening to the Lenny. I opened my mouth, but he continued in his stream of words.
"So, this Scorchio, he's talking with us, and you would not believe the things he says. He says he's going to Shenkuu, to find an ingredient for some potion, to cure Faerigan. No, really! I told you you wouldn't believe it, odd guy he was, nice though. Hey, where're you going? Pretty faerie Eyrie like you, at least stay for a drink!"
I smiled and politely declined. Despite myself, I almost wanted to stay for the drink, but I had more pressing concerns. I needed to buy a ticket to Shenkuu.
"Excuse me, madam?"
The yellow Nimmo raised a sauce-stained finger at me, using her other hand to knead the dumplings she was working on. I had heard people raving about the quality of street food in Shenkuu, but if anything they had under-exaggerated its excellence. All around me, hundreds of stall owners were furiously pounding, cutting, mixing and sampling their food, in preparation for the mayhem that lunchtime brought with it.
"Sorry 'bout the wait, now what was it you wanted?" The Nimmo smiled expectantly, and although I had only intended to ask her a question, I knew I'd feel guilty if I didn't buy something too.
"Um... I'll have one of those." I pointed to the least scary looking item, not wishing to repeat this morning when I learnt the hard way just how fiery my mouth could really feel.
The Nimmo scooped a generous helping of the noodles I had pointed at into a disposable bowl, chatting whilst she did this.
"Like I said, sorry for the wait, my sister quit this morning. Said she's going to join a blue Scorchio in his quest to save Neopia, or some other nonsense." Well, that certainly got my attention.
"Did she say where she was heading to?" If my excitement showed, the Nimmo didn't comment on it.
"Oh, I don't know, Tyrannia or somewhere. Kept asking me if they wear clothes there. And she thinks she can save the world!"
I was vaguely aware of the Nimmo shouting at me that I'd left my food behind, as I ran towards the nearest flying ship.
"Excuse me, sir?"
The Elephante lifted his finger from the cave wall he was painting, with a barely masked sigh of annoyance.
"Have... you seen... a blue Scorchio? His name... is Kero." I spoke slowly, praying in my head that this Elephante would speak some words other than the local Tyrannian dialect.
"Gracious young lady, simply because I live in Tyrannia does not mean I have the mind of a small child."
I flushed scarlet, horrified.
"I ought to be too offended to reply to your condescending and demeaning question, but being a neopet of great generosity, I think I shall tell you that a Scorchio fitting your description entered this cave not five days ago, asking for directions to Mystery Island. Now please leave, I am in the middle of a stroke of artistic genius."
I nodded and hurried away. I had little time to be mortified, however; boats to Mystery Island left infrequently from Tyrannia, and I knew I would have to hurry.
"Excuse me, madam?"
The passenger on the boat next to me lowered her book, looking slightly annoyed at having been interrupted. I caught a brief glimpse of the cover, and saw it was on the topic of exotic plants. She indicated to me to continue.
When I first caught sight of Mystery Island, I thought a celebration was happening, and I wasn't wrong. There wasn't a star in the night sky, yet the island was visible from several metres away- bonfires were burning all around the edge, framing the island perfectly. As we drew nearer, the frantic noise of drums beating began to enter my ears. It was beautiful and haunting.
The Peophin whom I had asked my question to shook her head. "I don't know, really. It doesn't look like a typical tribal celebration. Perhaps an exciting event has happened. We'll just have to wait and see."
"Oh. Cool. Thanks." I tried to sound enthusiastic, but I was worried. How could I find Kero in the chaos of a celebration?
The drum beats became more fervent, and I almost felt as if I could feel the heat of the fires burning my feathers. Eventually we reached land, and I felt the delicious crunch of sand beneath my feet. The other passengers stayed around the ship to collect their bags, but I had nothing with me but the rucksack on my back.
Quickly, I slipped into the darker forest area, avoiding the crowds of people partying along the beaches. Even these places were not deserted however, and I was soon accosted by a JubJub attempting to sell me souvenirs.
"Anything to take back home, miss? Anything at all? This necklace would look great on you! Or your friend, or your mother, get several! It's all handmade, you know, completely authentic."
I was tempted for a second- they were nice items, not the cheap tacky things people sometimes bought their friends as gifts back home. However, the lightness of my pockets reminded me I couldn't afford it. I had enough money for one journey, and that was the boat back to Faerieland. If I didn't find Kero here, I wouldn't find him at all.
"They're lovely, but I have no money. Do you happen to know what everyone's celebrating, though?"
"Why, sure! Everyone's waiting for Kero. I couldn't believe it when I heard the news he'd be stopping here!"
"Kero's coming here? When?"
"Oh, not until next week, so we have lots of time to prepare! I can't wait. If you're going to want to join him on his quest though, you'll have to get in line; loads of people from the village are queuing for the honour. Lots of hunters, fighters, healers... those kind of people." I could feel him assessing me, taking in my puny arms, small build, and lack of magic.
"Oh, I don't want to join him. I just wanted to... to see him." I was doing calculations inside my head. A week? Could I wait that long? Would it be worth the risk, when I wasn't even sure what I could say to persuade him?
"I want to see him too! I'm a really big fan of his, he's totally my hero! I even won a prize to get to meet him, isn't that great? I'm so excited!"
"If- if you're meeting him, could you tell him something? From me?"
"Sure! If I remember that is."
"Just... tell him his sister says hello. And that Mother is sick, so he needs to come home. I think he's the only one who could save her."
The JubJub's eyes widened. I could tell questions were forming at his lips, but I turned and walked quickly back to the harbour. I didn't want him to see my tears.
I hoped there was a boat leaving for Faerieland soon. I had left Mother alone long enough, and I needed to return to her. In the light of the bonfires, I saw people wearing images with my brother's face on them. 'Kero- the biggest hero Neopia has known!' read the caption.
I felt a range of emotions looking into the familiar face of my brother: love, hatred, anger, jealousy. I just hope that one day I can feel forgiveness towards him too.