The Next Goal
"Come on, come on, come on!" I begged my owner, Kai. She laughed, and sped up. I bounded in front of her, my ears whipping behind me as I ran. I would miss them. I liked my ears, but I loved what was going to be happening soon, just as soon as we got to the bank.
The polite Skeith bank manager was so nice to Kai, asking how she had been, and how her oldest pet, Lorelai, my big sister, was. I bounced up and down on the spot, desperate to interrupt but knowing that would be rude. I settled for shivering excitedly against Kai's leg.
"I think we'd better get a move on; someone is pretty excited!" Kai apologised to the bank manager. With practised ease, she bowed us past her station into the safety deposit vault.
"Name, please?" asked the unflappable white Gnorbu in charge of the vault. He went quickly down the rows and rows of boxes, and retrieved ours.
Bulging at the sides, with unidentified stains and leakages on the edges, our safety deposit box held nearly everything our family owned in the world. Our house was practically empty, we each had a box and a shelf in our rooms that everything had to be stored in. If Kai came in and there were toys on the floor, it was a race to grab them first. If we got it, we could keep it. If she won, it went to the deposit box where we invariably forgot about it. Kai was very proud of her clean house and organisation. None of us had worked up the courage to tell her that chucking everything into the safety deposit box was hardly an organised system.
Grimacing slightly, Kai pulled apart the sticky dividers until she reached the pertinent one, then sifted through the layers of irrelevant items until she gently extracted a small bottle. As her arm came out, she grabbed something else, and laid it on the table.
"You seem very excited." The Gnorbu smiled as he took down the details of what Kai had chosen.
"I am!" I beamed at him. "I've been waiting for this for a long time!"
"Yes, you have, haven't you, sweetheart? You've been very patient and worked very hard." Kai bent to hug me tightly. In a minute, that would feel so different.
"You're to be a Flotsam, I see?"
"Yep!" I squeaked. "Can't wait!"
"Yep!" My voice was very high pitched now.
"For the moment," Kai added, as she measured out the liquid into a tumbler for me.
"Here, have a last look." She held up mirror she had yanked from the depths of the box, and I dutifully stared at myself.
Right now, I'm a striped Gelert. I like my ears, and I like Gelerts, but I like Flotsams more. I want to be able to swim like my sister Lorelai, effortlessly carving my way through the stream through our house, diving to the depths of Kiko Lake and seeing whether the stories of the Kiko Lake Monster are true or not, leaping over the waves on Mystery Island's beaches, all of that is what I've worked so hard for so long for.
And I did work. Every day I spent hours at the Faerieland Employment Agency, desperately searching the shops for the strange things the faeries needed for spells and other mysterious things they do. Then, when they finally turned me away, I went to Illusen, then to the Money Tree. Every day I swept the Forgotten Shore, Ye Olde Fishing Vortex, the Fruit Machine. When I'd circled Neopia helping everyone I could see, scouring the land for forgotten treasures, and trying my hand at all the wheels, I'd pick up my patient brother, Lafayett, from the Wheel of Monotony. He spent so much time with the tedious Tyrannian Quiggle on my behalf, effectively halving my workload.
Lafayett knows about working for your goals. He went to the Secret Lab every day for months, before going to Kai's second house to answer a Fountain Faerie Quest. He looked after our cousins for two months before staying with friends. He travelled Neopia in a different way to me. But now he is happy, if completely rubbish at defending himself. He was the first one I told. I chose him because I knew he would understand, and help me tell Kai and the others.
Kai was surprised when I told her. I had been striped almost since I was born, a green Gelert breathing for the first time on the 4th of the Month Of Swimming, Year 12. When I was a month old, Kai and Cardenio won a game of Key Quest against some friends from our guild. Cardenio was happy as a white Kau at the time, and suggested the Striped Paint Brush be given to me, his newest sister.
I loved it. I loved being striped, the best of both worlds, I used to joke. My delicate colour belied my strength, and I loved surprising opponents in the Battledome. But the first time I was called 'strong' I was confused.
"Well, yes, of course I'm strong, I've just beaten my opponent into a dusty heap. Why are you telling me I'm strong?"
The referee was flummoxed. I think he had meant it as a compliment, but I couldn't see the point of pointing out what I had clearly already demonstrated. I think my quick and decisive victories had robbed him of appropriate words, so he had settled for the old "wow, can a striped pet really dominate in the dome? It turns out yes!" story line. Yawn. I'm not the first, and I won't be the last.
I scared the Neopian Times correspondent when he came by the house. Well, not just me, my siblings and friend helped too, and Kai sat calmly by projecting, what I call, polite menace. He left a broken Lupe, and none of us felt that badly about that.
Don't get me wrong, we weren't rude. We just refused to let him put us in boxes. He assumed my brother Cardenio, by then a Maractite Eyrie was the dread Battledomer he had come to interview. Cardenio blinked at him in bemusement as the Lupe fawned over him.
"Mate, I don't fight. You're looking for my sister."
The Lupe had apologised and cast his eyes around the room, alighting on my cousin Peatasia, cuddled up on Kai's lap.
"Aha! Working for the avatar, I see!" blustered the irritating reporter. Pea is a coward, and she buried into Kai's arms.
"You are here to interview my youngest daughter. Directly behind you, sir, the Striped Gelert." Kai spoke so coldly, it was as though she'd thrown an evil snowball directly at the back of his head, as he whipped around to study me. I smiled nicely at him.
"But... You're striped!" he stuttered. That was the moment niceties went out the window.
"Yes, I am." I beamed without warmth at him. "And a girl, and only just turning one; would you like to make something of those as well? Or maybe that I was born in the month of swimming, will that be the angle you use to explain away my victories? Shall I give you an exclusive, sir? My victories are the result of four things, and four things only. Are you ready for them?"
The poor Lupe gulped, but obediently pulled out his pad and paper.
"Number one. My strength. Which I worked hard for and train constantly to keep up. Number two, my determination. I don't go into the dome to lose, but when I do, I learn from my mistakes and congratulate my opponent. Number three. My family's help, in paying for codestones for training and healing. And finally, number four. My family believe in me. I don't need anything else. Does that answer your questions?"
He just stared at me in shock, his mouth gaping.
"You might also be interested to learn that I'm not the best fighter in this family. Would you like to meet the best here today?"
The Lupe gathered a little of his dignity and nodded. "I should love to," he said, turning to my friend Jezabella, sat on the floor at my feet. My darling Jez burst out laughing, and he recoiled in fear. As a Darigan Kyrii, the effect is rather terrifying, until you know that Jezabella is an even bigger coward than Peatasia.
"You'll have to wait if you want to meet her, Lorelai is out buying supper. She's a pink Peophin by the way, and her stats are double mine. It'll be a long time before I can beat her." I was never rude to him.
"She's a... pink... Peophin."
"Yup! Wanna meet her?"
"I-I-I had better get back to the office. Deadlines, you know... lovely to meet all of you!" He left quickly, head bowed. At the door he turned suddenly, to find me right behind him. To give him his due, he didn't flinch.
"I'm sorry for my assumptions. I didn't mean to be rude." And the door closed noiselessly behind him. I was glad he apologised. Kai's fury is terrifying in its ruthlessness.
I considered all this as I stared at my reflection. Being a striped Gelert had been fun, but now I was ready for new challenges.
I raised my eyes over the mirror to see the Gnorbu secretary and Kai, lovely Kai who had supported me all the way, watching me expectantly.
"Ready?" asked Kai, handing me the tumbler.
"Ready," I stated firmly, swallowing the vile liquid before I had a chance to study it too closely. A moment later I rolled onto my back, gasping for air with lungs that would happily accept water. Luckily for me, Flotsams can breath both air and water, one of the reasons I preferred Flotsam over other aquatic pets.
I studied my new form carefully, taking in each new attribute.
"So?" asked the secretary, his smile hopeful.
"Red's a good start. I wonder what colour I'm saving up for now," I mused, as I swished my new tail through the air. Kai and the Gnorbu burst out laughing, and I joined in. My hard work and my family's help had given me a body I had wanted for a while. That didn't mean I was going to stop working. As we stepped out of the bank into the sunshine, I wondered what my new goals should be. Everyone should have a goal to work towards. That's my opinion, anyway.