A Different Route
Once upon a time, nothing happened. Not a very exciting start to a story is it? That was the problem Ned had. He wanted to write a story that would be the best thing since sliced Neggs, but he had absolutely nothing interesting to say. Ned was like every other yellow Buzz in Neopia; there was nothing special about him or his life. His only family was a sister who worked in some Mystery Island shop (she worked in the back room so nobody ever saw her). Ned’s job was slightly more exciting; at least he got to fly around Faerieland. 700 weeks. Almost 13 and a half years. That was how long Ned had worked for the Neopian Times. It had started off as a summer job but it never ended. Instead, Ned learned that he loved the written word. His original plan of becoming a banker was instantly pushed to the back burner. Suddenly he had a new goal in life: he was going to be a writer. He figured he would start small, deliver a few Neopian Time issues for a year or two, and then he would work his way into the inner circle. Eventually he would begin writing for the Neopian Times and everyone would love him. That was 700 issues ago. That was the way Ned looked at things now: During issue 200 his sister moved out from their home in Meridell, issue 300 was when she started working in Mystery Island, and issue 376 was when he was given the Faerieland route. It was a coveted route, everyone wanted to catch a sight of Queen Fyora, but it was still a newspaper route and not a writing position. However, every time he tried to write it ended with the same thing: an empty page. Laila, his sister said he “lacked an interesting life.” He wasn’t entirely certain how to fix that though and neither was she. So here he was, 700 issues later, still delivering the Neopian Times to the people of Faerieland.
“You’re just so boring! Do something interesting with your life,” Laila had said when they last spoke, like she had any right to say anything. He had already delivered the Times to Marina at the Healing Springs and Naia at the Rainbow Fountain when his sister’s words echoed in his head. Usually he went straight to the depths of Faerie City at this point and completely skipped over Jhudora’s Bluff because she had canceled her subscription after the first issue (something about how she was never portrayed in a positive light). However, he decided today was going to be different. He was going to go and try to deliver this issue to her. After all, it was the 700th issue. It was a monumental issue; it was something everyone should be proud of, even her. Ned took a deep breath, convinced himself this was a great plan, and flew towards her home. However, the closer he got to Jhudora’s Bluff the more he began to doubt the wisdom of his decision; he even began to talk to himself, a sure sign that his confidence was wavering.
“What does Laila know anyways,” he said as he began to slow his progression. “Laila hasn’t done anything great and wonderful; she left to become the best and strongest Buzz in all of Neopia and instead she works in the back of some store.” Ned began to turn around when he heard an evil cackle that brought goosebumps to his flesh.
“Welcome to my home,” Jhudora said, causing Ned to turn back around slowly. “Oh good! You brought the final item that I needed.” Ned was thrilled to discover this comment, and the previous one for that matter, had not been directed towards him. He glanced down from the hill he stood on and saw Jhudora and a Poogle in a heated discussion.
“We had a deal, Jhudora,” the Poogle was attempting to sound brave, but his voice quivered just enough to let Ned know he was actually afraid. “I promised to get you that thing,” he gestured at the item in Jhudora’s hand, “and you promised to give me a portable cloud!”
“I told you I wanted it within 15 minutes. You failed to meet the deadline; be thankful I am allowing you to walk away at all!” Jhudora roared, seemingly growing in size the louder her voice became.
“But it has only been 15 and a half minutes,” the Poogle protested, rather bravely Ned thought.
“Fine. I will give you a gift,” Jhudora began, but the Poogle realized something was wrong and had already begun backing away. “Here is my gift” she shouted as a flash of purple and green flew from the wand in her hands. Where the Poogle stood was now a Bartamus, a very confused and upset Bartamus, but a Baramus nevertheless. Ned flew away as quickly as possible but he could still hear Jhudora’s laughter ringing in his ears.
“That’s it! No more adventures for me. My boring, uninteresting life suddenly looks a lot better! At least I’m still me and not some Bartamus in the Bluff,” Ned said, figuratively washing his hands of the whole affair. That would have been that except the closer Ned got to Faerie City the more he realized that even though he wasn’t a Bartamus the poor Poogle was, and that wasn’t entirely fair.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Ned muttered as he flew back to Jhudora’s Bluff. He found her exactly as he left her: cackling while she gazed at the item from the Poogle. Evidently Jhudora suffered from the same thing as Ned because he was shocked to discover she was talking to herself.
“Finally things will go my way! No longer will I have to live with people calling me evil and running away. Finally people will listen to me and do as I command. People will think I am nice so they will do whatever I ask. Finally I have everything I need.”
Ned was extremely curious and wished to listen to Jhudora a while longer but his fear won out and he quickly spotted the Bartamus. Now came the difficult part. How was he supposed to fly down and save the Bartamus without Jhudora catching him? Worse, how was he supposed to change the Bartamus back into a Poogle? From what he knew of magic, aka from what he had read in the Neopian Times Issue 29 when Tom the blue Buzz told his story, the only person who could change the Bartamus back into a Poogle was the very person who had changed him in the first place: Jhudora. For some oh-so-strange reason Ned had a feeling that Jhudora wasn’t going to do that.
“First thing is first,” Ned said as he flew down to grab the Bartamus.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?!” Jhudora had appeared out of no where just as Ned grabbed the Bartamus.
What Ned wanted to do was explain himself. What Ned wanted to do was plead Jhudora for mercy. What Ned wanted to do was beg for her to change the Bartamus back into a Poogle. What Ned really wanted to do was to have ignored his sister’s words and stuck to his normal route. However, all Ned could do was stammer.
“Speak up, Buzz, unless you want me to give you a gift like the one that Bartamus got,” Jhudora smiled as she spoke but rather than easing Ned’s fear, the sight of her teeth made him severely wish he had never wandered into the Bluff.
“Leave him alone, Jhudora!” a disembodied voice said. Ned struggled to find the source of the voice but Jhudora had no such issues; she stared directly into a tree behind Ned’s head.
“Or what? I’ll be sorry?” Jhudora said mockingly.
“Not to be a complete cliché, but yes.” Even knowing where the voice was coming from didn’t help Ned actually see the speaker.
“How cute. You actually think you stand a chance against me. Fine. Let’s put this to the test,” Jhudora said as she lunged towards Ned.
What Ned wanted to do was scream. What Ned wanted to do was run. What Ned really wanted to do was to have ignored his sister’s words and stuck to his normal route. However, all Ned could do was curl up in a ball and hope Jhudora ignored him.
Instead, just as Jhudora was about to reach him, a Stealthy Buzz leaped from the tree and blocked her attack. The Buzz turned to Ned and shouted for him to run. Finally Ned got to do what he really wanted to do: he grabbed the Bartamus and ran. He ran as far as he could before having to stop to catch his breath. He gazed down at the Bartamus and suddenly felt the need to explain how he came to be in this situation.
“It’s all my sister’s fault really. Little sisters can be so annoying sometimes,” Ned finished his story. He wasn’t certain, but he could almost swear he saw the Bartamus nod and he wondered, not for the first time, what the Poogle’s story was.
“Let me get this straight,” the same voice from before said as the Stealthy Buzz flew in front of Ned, “of all the days you could choose to listen to your AMAZING little sister, you decided TODAY was the day to do it? Seriously?!” Ned couldn’t help but feel like this Stealthy Buzz had completely missed the point of his story… perhaps she had only heard the end of it?
“You don’t understand,” he began, trying to explain how this whole thing really was Laila’s fault, “Laila is a really nice sister, but she stuck her nose in my life and now look where I am. I never should have listened to her.”
“Or maybe, just maybe, you should have done what she meant and gone out to look for a different job. Take a leap of faith and start writing. You grew too comfortable in your route delivering newspapers and that isn’t exactly conducive to writing articles, Ned! This is just like you to blame me.”
“LAILA?!” Ned stared at the Stealthy Buzz in shock. “But you work in a shop in Mystery Island…”
“Well what was I supposed to tell you? I trained at the Ninja Training School until I became an expert? That really isn’t something you tell somebody over the phone.” Laila said as she held back a sigh of exasperation.
“It isn’t something you keep from your only brother either!” Ned began fuming. Who knows how long they would have continued fighting if it hadn’t been for two things. First, the Poogle-turned-Bartamus started flying in their faces and secondly, Jhudora’s evil cackle as she interrupted them.
“Don’t let me stop you. This is great. At this rate I won’t have to do anything to you two; instead, you guys will finish each other off and I can go back to my plans,” Jhudora said as she gazed down upon the two Buzz.
“Your plan is an awful idea,” Laila said as she positioned herself in front of her brother and the Bartamus. Even when she was angry at him, he was still her brother and she had to protect him.
“What’s her plan?” Ned asked quietly, trying to attract as little attention from Jhudora as possible.
“She is going to use that mirror the Poogle gave her to change her appearance with Queen Fyora at the celebration for the 700th issue of the Neopian Times later today,” Laila said, never removing her eyes from Jhudora.
“What good would that do?” Ned asked, not quite understanding.
“If I look like Fyora every one will do as I ask because everyone loves her… while everyone hates me,” Jhudora said, her shoulders drooping just a little as she spoke.
“Can you blame them?” Ned couldn’t believe his ears. That was his voice… why did he speak? He wasn’t supposed to talk. He was supposed to be quiet and be invisible so Jhudora would forget he existed. Even Laila had turned around to look at him in shock.
“Do you know how hard it is to overcome everyone’s expectations? Everyone assumes that I will always be evil just because I was once evil. I want to be more than what is expected of me,” Jhudora said, actually appearing to be honest.
“I have an idea,” Ned said, still inwardly begging himself to stop talking, “how about you turn this Bartamus back into a Poogle and we will make sure everyone knows how good you were. That will help change people’s expectations!”
“That is a great idea!” Jhudora seemed genuinely pleased and Ned was about to congratulate himself and rub Laila’s nose in his brilliant idea when Jhudora started laughing.
“You thought I was serious? How cliché would that be? You really think one good deed would erase all the bad things I have done? You think that would honestly make a difference? More importantly, you think I want to change? I want to remain evil but have everyone do my bidding of their own free will. Well…. Now you know too much. Goodbye,” and with that Jhudora shot a blast of purple and green rays at Laila and Ned. However, Laila, being a master ninja, managed to dodge Jhudora’s rays and grab Ned (now a Bartamus) and the Poogle-turned-Bartamus. She flew away as fast as she could, trying to think of a cure to Ned’s curse. Suddenly she had an idea: Marina at the Healing Springs could help him!
“I will try to help, but you must remember that my magic is limited so, if this spell doesn’t help the Bartamus you will have to wait at least thirty minutes,” Marina said once Laila had explained the predicament to her.
“He’s not a Bartamus; he’s my brother. Also, don’t forget there are two of them!”
Marina said a few magic words and then… handed Laila a wet snowball.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Laila asked.
“I’m sorry,” Marina said before continuing, “I did warn you that my magic was limited. I wish I could help more but you will have to come back later.”
“So you are saying that my brother has delivered the Neopian Times to you for 700 issues and you can’t be bothered to help him!” Laila was really upset now and Ned considered correcting her (he had only been delivering the Neopian Times to Marina since issue 376- before that he was in Meridell), but then he realized that really wasn’t the point she was trying to make.
“Your brother is the young Buzz who brings me my Neopian Times each week?” Marina said. “Why didn’t you say so! I love that young boy; he is always so kind to me and he stops to talk not just to beg favors,” and with that Marina cast another spell and Ned was returned to his old self.
“Thank you so much, Marina!” Ned was thrilled to have his real body back.
“You stay here with the Bartamus and try to turn him back into a Poogle. I need to go get the rest of the ninjas to help stop Jhudora,” Laila said. Before Ned could protest she had flown away.
He realized it really wasn’t his adventure any more so he sat down and began telling Marina the true story of what happened that day (Laila had told it all wrong; she really wasn’t author material). By the end of the story the Bartamus had received three hit points back and they had another wet snowball, but he was still not a Poogle.
“I can’t stay here any more,” Ned exclaimed, breaking the silence that had overcome them since he finished his story.
“I’m sure he will be cured soon,” Marina said soothingly.
“No. I mean I can’t stay here. Laila is out there stopping Jhudora and I’m here. You saw how she just told you about our adventure today! If I’m not there to watch her defeat Jhudora that story will never be told properly! I need to be there.” Finally Ned had a story; he had an adventure and he wasn’t about to let Laila be the one to tell its ending. He flew to the center of Faerie City and what he saw when he got there almost scared the wings off him.
Instead of coming to witness the ninja’s defeat of Jhudora he was witnessing something else entirely. The entire square was full of Bartami. Only his sister remained, flying high above, trying to dive bomb attack Jhudora. Just as Ned was about to scream a warning, Jhudora zapped Laila and she fell to the ground, just another Bartamus among the crowd. Jhudora slowly approached Queen Fyora, the item from the Poogle in her hand.
What Ned wanted to do was run. What Ned wanted to do was be anywhere else but here. What Ned really wanted to do was to have ignored his sister’s words and stuck to his normal route. However, Ned dug around in his pocket, pulled out the wet snowballs from Marina, aimed (somewhat poorly) and threw them as hard as he could.
The first snowball landed directly in front of Jhudora, which was perfect because the second one hit her in the back of the head. This made her turn around and, while she wasn’t looking, she slipped over the other snowball. As she fell, the item from the Poogle went flying straight into Ned’s waiting hands. As she was momentarily stunned, Queen Fyora acted. Before Ned could even reach the stage, Queen Fyora had gotten everything back under control, Jhudora had fled. He quickly handed the item to Queen Fyora, wanting nothing to do with anything that evil or magical.
“I guess we will have to celebrate the 700th issue tomorrow,” Queen Fyora said with a sigh. “Maybe that is a good thing though; I haven’t gotten to read my copy yet because the Buzz who delivers it seems to have taken a different route today,” she said, winking at Ned as she spoke.
By the next day all of the Bartami had been returned to their old selves and all of the ninjas had returned to their training center, or maybe they were off saving Neopia; Ned hadn’t asked and his sister hadn’t even bothered to say goodbye. Ned finished delivering all of the Neopian Times for the 700th issue and he now stood in the middle of the square, just another face in the crowd, and never had he felt quite as happy.
Queen Fyora gave a long and glowing speech about how glorious the Neopian Times was and how special this issue was, but then she surprised everyone by saying the following: “Is Ned out there?” As everyone glanced at Ned she continued, “Without Ned this issue wouldn’t be in my hands. Without Ned every issue from 376 wouldn’t have been in my hands. More importantly, without Ned, I would not be here talking to you about the Neopian Times. We all owe Ned a round of applause,” and then, to Ned’s surprise, everyone started clapping. Queen Fyora continued on with her speech for a little bit more, but Ned wasn’t really listening anymore. She had acknowledged him. She had noticed when he started delivering the Neopian Times. He mattered.
It took Ned almost an hour to leave the square that day because everyone kept stopping him. Everyone kept begging to hear the story of what happened. Finally, he turned around and was just about to tell the story of the previous day when a voice interrupted him:
“You will just have to wait until the next issue of the Neopian Times. I hear my brother is writing an article for it all about this.” Ned turned in shock to stare at Laila. “What? You didn’t think I would actually leave without saying goodbye, did you?” Laila actually managed to look a little offended.
They spent the rest of the day together and they finally caught up on all that had happened. Ned finally got to hear about what happened to Laila after she had left home all those years ago, but that’s another story and Ned already had a story to tell. He glanced at the clock. Already past midnight and yet somehow Ned didn’t care; he had a story to tell, so Ned began to write:
Once upon a time, nothing happened. Not a very exciting start to a story is it?