Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part Four
Pystry the Mutant Hissi stretched the full length of his towel, trailing his wingtips and tail in the sand. Christmas was fast approaching, but on Mystery Island's eastern shore, the world-famous coastline known simply as The Beach, warm tropical currents kept the midwinter breezes balmy. Through two straws, he sipped an expertly blended Munuberry Coconut Milk. Still, he fretted with the malaise of a procrastinating student facing an imminent deadline.
The Techo Master had put a stop to his Battledome training, charging him with interviewing six experts who had practical experience using the six elemental combat forces. His friends Bizhiw and Phidianne, an athletic Red Lutari and an accomplished Island Hissi, had found three ideal experts so far. With each successful task, Pystry's magic Pandaphant Doll, a gift from the Techo Master, filled with an additional fifty Tropical Jelly Beans. His three adventures meeting experts in water, earth, and air had earned him 150 jelly beans so far, halfway to the 300 he needed. Finding an expert in fire had proved more challenging.
He sought out Fire Hissies – why ignore the obvious? – but their fiery paint job turned out to be more of a racing stripe than an elemental force. Magma Hissies were more experts in molten lava than in actual fire. Jhuidah's Cooking Pot, as far as he could tell, cooked magically without any flame whatsoever. He'd tried firefighters, tiki dancers, chefs, even lumberjacks – anyone he could think of with experience making, using, or controlling fire. None of them had provided that special moment of insight he needed to bring back to the sensei as fulfillment of his Master Quest, and the Pandaphant Doll remained maddeningly silent.
He could not say that he had wasted his time. These visits had taught him a great deal, and he grudgingly had to admit that the Techo Master had spoken truly. Pystry's scholarship, though appreciable, had some blind spots. He had come to rely too much on dusty tomes and Neopedia entries, overlooking the vast resources of his fellow Neopians. Meeting so many new Neopets, hearing their stories, and gleaning their wisdom, had taught Pystry a new respect for the practical knowledge of his peers.
That hard-won humility, however, hadn't gotten him a single step closer to completing his quest. Then, earlier that day, Phidianne darted into the guest room she had graciously allowed Pystry to use while he was barred from returning to the Mystery Island Training School. Her normally caramel complexion was flushed, and she gripped her tiki totem necklace even more tightly than usual as she shared her news. Phidianne held an honorary position in the Mystery Island Coast Guard, and had pulled in some favours to gain a formal audience with the Tiki Tack Man.
Meeting the Tiki Tack Man did not usually require any special effort. Many Neopets encountered him daily as they visited his shoppe, tried their luck at the Tombola, or sparred with him in the Battledome. Despite his tacky merchandise and relaxed Islander manner, though, the Tiki Tack Man had another side to him that most Neopians have never seen. He served alongside the Techo Master as one of the great Elders ruling Mystery Island, and, years ago, provided vital information in a great quest to save Techo Mountain from the evil Tura-Kepek.
For Phidianne to persuade him to involve himself in the Techo Master's affairs was no small feat. Had Phidianne merely been a great adventurer, or valiantly furthered Mystery Island's political interests, he would not have interfered. Rather, it was Phidianne's tiki totem, made with her own two wings, that changed his mind. She had learned her carving technique from a scrimshander who trained with the Tiki Tack Man himself, and the elder recognized his craftsmanship in her work. Such a bond, he said, could not be overlooked. Phidianne simply pressed her totem to her throat and smiled.
Pystry was less than overwhelmed by the Tiki Tack Man's advice: to go relax on the Beach. When Pystry started to question why, the Tiki Tack Man merely leaned back with a smile, and somehow Pystry understood the audience was over. Phidianne curtseyed with a gentle sway, and led Pystry away.
That was hours ago. Pystry gazed at the waves, letting his mind drift, lulled by the gentle lapping of the incoming tide. The Beach was unusually quiet. A small flock of Stahkees chirped from their palm tree perches. Then, something happened: he heard mysterious chanting coming from far away! He knew enough Island lore to recognize the sound of the native Coconut People. Even if he could have made out the words clearly, he most likely wouldn't have understood the language. Still, something about the jungle rhythm pulled a melody from Pystry's memory, and he found himself humming the song he had learned from a Terror Mountain lumberjack:
♫Kindling wood, kindling wood,
kindling does as kindling should.
When you face the coming storm,
Heed these words to keep you warm.♫
"Hey! I know that song!"
Pystry's four eyes blinked open. A sturdy Hissi of average build pulled up next to him. The stranger's mahogany Brown scales glowed like burnished metal against the beige sand. "Sorry," he said, "Hope I'm not in your way."
"Not at all." Pystry smiled wearily.
"So what brings you to the Islands? I'm guessing you're from abroad, like me."
Pystry rested his weight on one elbow. "I'm looking for an expert on fire. I don't suppose you'd happen to be one?"
The Brown Hissi laughed. "Hardly. Although there are fire pits here on the beach, and I have marshmallows in my knapsack. Feel like sharing some s'mores?"
Pystry rolled his eyes involuntarily and chuckled. "I don't know. The last time I had s'mores, I ended up with a troop of scouts convinced I was an alien set on devouring their souls."
"Well, that settles that," laughed the newcomer. "That tale has to be worth a s'more or two. My name's Frimdy, by the way. What's yours?"
"Pystry," he replied, "and that sounds like the best offer I've had in weeks."
"Enough said. Let me fetch some driftwood, and we'll be all set."
"Ah, nothing like a blazing fire on the beach," sighed Frimdy. "But remind me, why is it you needed to know about fire, anyway?"
Pystry explained how the Techo Master had sent him on a Master Quest to learn more about the world first-hand, and recounted his adventures rescuing a drowning pet, spelunking his way to an ancient shrine, and measuring air currents. "I've been working so hard, trying to find an expert on fire, but nothing's worked so far."
"Seems to me you've learned quite a bit about fire already. Why isn't that good enough?"
"This," said Pystry, dropping the Lucky Pandaphant Doll on the sand with a thump. "It's supposed to fill with fifty jelly beans each time I finish part of the quest."
"But it's only up to a hundred and fifty? It's weird that nothing's worked yet. Maybe you're barking up the wrong tree."
"You keep thinking of fire as a weapon. Something that burns, and spreads, and harms as it goes."
"That's exactly how I've been feeling lately," said Pystry quietly. "Like I've been spreading myself in all directions, pushing as hard as I can..."
"You were all fired up, and you ended up all burnt out. Speaking of which, put some of this green sand on. It'll help slough off that sunburn."
Pystry took the small glass bottle and gratefully poured the sand on his sunstruck scales. Between the s'mores, sand, and socializing, he hadn't felt this good in ages. "So how should I be thinking about fire, then?"
"Like this one right here. As a spot where friends can share a loaf of bread, or at least some marshmallows." Frimdy smiled. "As the hearth that makes a house a home."
Pystry mulled this over. "Fire is all about impulse and energy. You're saying that that energy needs to have a focus, or it will spread out of control?"
Frimdy nodded. "Either running wild or dying out. Like you have been lately, am I right? Maybe all you truly needed was a breather."
"No, I think I needed the wisdom of an expert." Pystry looked pointedly at Frimdy. "And you're clearly more of an expert than you thought."
"Not me, friend. I'm only a straightforward Brown Hissi."
"The Pandaphant thinks otherwise." Pystry gestured to the one-eyed ceramic doll. Its missing eye was glowing with a small yellow flame, the Battledome sigil for the fire element. The Pandaphant jingled with the now-familiar sound of fifty jelly beans magically appearing within, and settled deeper in the sand from the additional weight.
Frimdy's eyes widened. "Cool! Does it always do that?"
Pystry shrugged his wings. "It always clinks, but I've never seen the missing eye glow before. I've never been looking at it at the end of a quest, though."
"I'm glad I could be of help. Two hundred down, one hundred to go. What's next for you?"
"Next, I'm off to find an expert in light. But first, you're going to join me and my friends for dinner."
Frimdy smiled. "I'll have to thank that tall fellow from the tackle shop, who reminded me I hadn't seen the beach yet. He's the one who gave me the green sand, too."
To be continued...