So I Heard You Like Faellies
It was nine in the morning, and the customers were few.
Xylona wasn't surprised, really. With the peeling walls and cramped space, she wouldn't want to enter as well. The shop looked like it'd been around since the dawn of Tyrannia, and if she had to be honest, smelled like it too. She'd been trying for ages to convince her big brother Archyl to renovate, or to at least change the decor. The attempt had gone over as well as rotten omelette.
Her plea to bring in the new Petpets, such as the Feloreena that Xylona would itch to call her own, were similarly dismissed. "We live in Faerieland now, it's different here!" she'd told Archyl. "No one wants Snowmen and Wadjets that come in plain colors anymore," Xylona had insisted, and no one would want to buy anything when the "paint chips were flaking into the Floud tanks."
Alright, that was an exaggeration; it had been little sister Tamri who claimed that. Xylona remembered this line clearly as it was highly fitting, and because it was one of the last few times she remembered hearing Tamri speak.
Sadly, Archyl matched the decor through and through; after bringing up the 'old-fashioned' issue for the nth time, he'd stoutly informed the Xweetok that the day he renovated would be a cold day in Moltara. "It's a Petpet shop! Neopians don't come here for the decorations, they come for the Petpets! Not every single one of them has to have wings, Xylona, take your Faerieisms somewhere else!" Seeing the dulled plumage on the Eyrie's wings, Xylona chose not to argue and excused herself, silently heading into her room.
She called it "keeping up with the times". Archyl called it "troublesome".
Archyl had his own reasons, of course. In between providing for his two sisters and trying to find a stable job, it was indeed financially unsound to put in that much time and money to invest in something that was 'troublesome' to maintain. With the numerous Petpet shops dotting the clouds, the only reason the shop hadn't folded yet was due to the patronage of faithful customers, helping provide enough for Archyl and his siblings to survive another week, while the Eyrie continued his efforts to convince a potential employee that his rough, Moltara-bred manner was 'value-added' for Faerie customer service - by calling it 'straightforwardness'.
There had been a memorable incident at the colouring pages once, where a rude customer had snobbishly asked for a drawing of "as many kindly and beautiful faeries as possible," to which Archyl had replied, "Sorry, they don't exist." Needless to say, his snark was hardly appreciated among the Faeries. In contrast, Xylona was polite to an extreme, having lived among the clouds for as long as she could remember. Archyl himself had been born in Moltara, and had spent many a day with his old owner, waiting for the Tonu guard at the pool to fall asleep. It had never happened. One night, when his owner had been keeping guard duty, Archyl had woken up to see him gone.
This being Moltara, it wasn't an uncommon sight to see homeless Neopets on the streets. Moltara was a hotspot for the ambitious, but hardly suitable for raising two little woodland Neopets who missed the forest. They'd relocated to Meridell, and it had been in Brightvale, where Xylona was running an errand, that she had caught sight of the castle in the sky. Instantly enamored, she proceeded to devour all she knew about Faerieland and its customs, and pleaded with Anarchy to move to Faerieland. It had taken all her efforts to convince Archyl, in the face of Tamri, her little Ixi sister, protesting thoroughly. But the career prospects had won him over, and he finally agreed.
Her little sister had refused to talk to her ever since.
Xylona hadn't enjoyed what she could remember of her past, be it Meridell or elsewhere. Yet, this wasn't what she'd expected when she'd arrived in Faerieland. And since she was still in school, she couldn't exactly change much, could she? At most, she was able to help tend to the Petpet shop. It was easy, near the house, and the vacuum of customers left her plenty of time to study. Running such a nondescript place was hardly a hindrance, and the Petpets gave her a sense of calm she found hard to achieve elsewhere. So really, she had no reason to complain.
She just wasn't satisfied, still.
"Excuse me? Ms. Xylona?"
Broken out of her reverie, Xylona jumped in surprise. Faeries (and Faerie Neopets) still caught her off guard, especially the ones with smaller wings, which made less noise. "I'm sorry, sir, I wasn't-" she reflexively said, before her eyes locked with the speaker and she stopped.
She knew it was rude to stare, but it was hard to tear her eyes away. Metallic grey hooves that looked deadly enough to knock her out with a hit, skin as dark as sin, and a paint job so lacking in colour it made Checkered look colourful, was a Shadow Uni in the living flesh. Xylona had never actually seen a Shadow Neopet before. They were strongly associated with the likes of Jhudora, whom Xylona had studiously avoided. She had to blink repeatedly to make sure she wasn't hallucinating, as she warily assessed him.
Her eyes roved up to his... fedora?
And on top of it, there was a small, yellow tuft of fur peeking out from it.
On his fedora.
The look was highly... unusual.
"Before you ask, no, it's not a wacky customization," the Shadow sounded positively bored, a raised eyebrow directed at Xylona, as if daring her to speak her mind. His voice was deep and all over the place, as if a swarm of Weewoos were flying around, echoing his words. It was very different from a lilting Faerie, though no less charming, she noted in surprise.
Flushing, Xylona arched her back hastily, similar to Faeries who did it to un-crumple their wings when uncomfortable with the situation. "Welcome to Archyl's Pets, sir. I apologize deeply for my dis-courteousness, which was extremely uncalled for-"
"Save it." The Shadow Uni waved a hoof dismissively, effectively muting Xylona as she blinked in bafflement. "Have you any food for Faellies?"
"For your own Faellie, sir?"
"Yes." The Shadow looked slightly perturbed, as if he'd just realized something that never occurred to him. "What do these creatures eat, at this age? Worms?" He motioned upwards with his horn, and the sudden motion startled the Faellie into a string of cheeps.
Like any average Neopet, Xylona had a highly attuned fondness for cute things, and the little yellow ball of fluff definitely counted as one to mollycoddle and coo over (working in a Petpet shop did not help this urge). "Ah sir, I believe it would be better for me to examine the Faellie myself, to determine its age for its choice of sustenance... Also, it really doesn't look very safe that high up-"
"-No need to worry, Goomy's hardy enough to hold on. He won't fall." The Shadow turned away from her, lazily scanning the area and ignoring Xylona's panicked eyes as she watched the Faellie sway. "Is this shop new? I've never seen it around, but the condition suggests otherwise."
Hearing that, stated in such an indifferent ton, snapped Xylona's already hyper-sensitive feeling of not belonging. Sharply, she replied, "That's not true; it wouldn't be able to hold on long, nor would it survive the fall from such great a height. This may be Faerieland but its wings look too underdeveloped for flight, and Faellies are highly sensitive creatures by nature and could be easily traumatized by such a fall. Please let me have it."
The Shadow stopped his surveillance, glaring warily at Xylona in reply, as he leaned his head down gently for 'Goomy' to descend onto the counter. The Shadow grace sure came in useful. "Are you satisfied?" the Shadow said dryly, as he callously nudged the back of his Faellie's head before flicking it back towards the direction of Xylona. For all the rough treatment it was getting, it seemed to be in perfect condition, chirping with fervor and practically clamoring for his owner's attention, which merely glided over to a nearby cage, presumably to harass yet another Petpet. Xylona was reluctant to return the Faellie after examining it, but it definitely seemed eager to, if the continuous plaintive chirrups were anything to go by- unlike the Kimbi the Shadow was bothering, who was snarling in such a vicious manner Xylona would have been worried, if not for the perpetrator and her knowledge that the Kimbi's bark was indeed, worse than his bite.
"That Kimbi, I think Silky would like him," the Shadow mused out loud, as he returned to the counter and let his Faellie hop back onto his fedora, and to Xylona's eternal relief, made no jarring movements. The Faellie was highly trusting, its only sign of complaint a slight nibbling of the Shadow's horn, which was a bright eerie Darigan purple. "It's definitely as tetchy."
Xylona couldn't bring herself to understand why, but this Uni was really starting to irritate her. Whoever this Silky was, she had to be a saint. She said nothing, however, and proceeded to climb up the ladder to retrieve the proper food-mix for the Faellie. She couldn't recall which shelf it was at, though, and was thus forced to listen to the Shadow drone on as she searched.
"So, Ms. Touchy, how much is that Kimbi in the window?"
Xylona nearly bumped her head against the top of the ceiling.
"I would appreciate it if you were to address me by my proper name on the tag, sir."
"Are you ignoring my question?"
"I'm very sorry if I did." Grasping the food-mix tight, she slowly lowered herself from the ladder, cursing her lack of wings. The sooner she got this, the sooner he would leave.
Visibly annoyed, the Shadow persisted anyway. "I asked about the Kimbi. It's a fine looking Petpet, and even looks magnificent enough to hunt by itself-"
"He's reserved," Xylona quickly interrupted, slapping the food-mix down onto the counter. "For, er, Illusen."
"Illusen." Pause. Absorb. "The Earth Faerie of the Glades? I didn't know she would peruse such a shop."
Annoyed, she retorted, "I didn't expect you to, either." Xylona's eyes widened and she instantly regretted all the life choices she'd ever made. The Shadow was a new customer! How could she have said that? A mental image of the Faeries shaking their head entered her mind. Oh Sloth, was she channeling Archyl now?
She didn't know to be relieved or not, when the Shadow didn't instantly storm out of the store. He merely snorted, and looked her calmly in the eye. Xylona morbidly wondered if he was considering the best way to get rid of her body without anyone noticing. Unexpectedly, he lowered his head. "I apologize. It's just been a bad day," he muttered, which was the closest she suspected was grumbling for the Shadow Uni. Now that he was mollified, his voice was less grating, and was smooth as silk. "I don't normally act like this, but I got force-fed a Negg by my owner, and I hate Neggs."
"Too sweet for your dark soul?" she couldn't help rebutting in disbelief. She'd never even tasted a Negg before.
"Too many calories."
"Uh, well, I'm sorry I snapped at you, you're a customer. I just... I don't see your kind around much here, and I got wary."
"It's true; I wouldn't be here, either, but this Petpet's a Faerie type. The Petpet store owner at Neopia Central told me to fly here." He sniffed dismissively, swishing his tail. "Clearly with no regards for the trials and tribulations I'd have to endure."
He probably just wanted to get rid of you. Xylona thought. Sheepishly, she mumbled, "I thought you lived in the Haunted Woods."
"No, you mix me up with Ghosts. Shadows live everywhere; that's the point. We blend in everywhere we go. Well, 'adapt' would be a better way to phrase it." He eyed her. "Have you lived in Faerieland all your life?"
Xylona shook her head. "Not exactly. I wasn't born here. I don't remember where I was born, but I was adopted by Arch- my owner in Moltara." No one knows you don't have an owner, she chastised herself. We're lucky enough the person we rent the shop from believes our owner is on holiday. "We decided to come to Faerieland to make a living."
"Because everybody looks happy here," she admitted.
"I live everywhere, and I'm happy." The Shadow Uni smiled warmly. "I'm more than happy, I'm spiffy."
"How?" Xylona asked, nonplussed.
"I'll tell you when I get my food-mix," the Uni chuckled, placing the Neopoints down on the counter.
"Right!" Flushing once more, Xylona hastily punched in the buttons on the cash register. It was odd; now that the Uni had recovered from his Negg crisis, he seemed even more charming-but-annoying at the same time. She had been expecting more of a mysterious, stealthy being. True, he had managed to catch her off guard in the shop and speak in ludicrously calm and formal tones, but apart from that he didn't seem all that 'Shadow'. She certainly hadn't expected a Shadow to wear a Fedora and spaz over Neggs, for sure. He seemed to be the type to remain an annoying little Turdle, even when Grey, Darigan, or whatever.
"I don't think I'd want to be spiffy, though," Xylona said slowly. "It seems like a lot of work. No offence to you, of course."
"Fair enough. It's not for everybody; it takes a well-travelled soul. And forgive me for introducing myself so late; I'm Luthario. We might not have met on pleasant terms, Xylona, but endings are better that way, aren't they?"
"Just a line I invented." Luthario sighed. "Guess it didn't work. Again."
"Well, here you go." She passed him the paper bag. "Please don't try to balance this on your head too."
"Thank you for the service, Xylona. I'll be in the City for a while to check out the sights. The Wheel of Excitement in particular has my interest; I wish to see if I can somehow bend it to my will. Feel free to join me if you're available."
Xylona smiled absentmindedly. "I just might take you up on that offer."
As the Shadow made his way out, Xylona lifted her eyes to meet the clock, and saw that it was close to lunch. Humming to herself as she made her plans, she felt as if a weight had lifted off her shoulders. Why not stop by Jhudora for a quick quest? Or heck, even following Luthario just to see what else he was up to.
After all, a little darkness never hurt anyone.