Aurora's Assessment: Part Three
It was a typical day in the laboratory. I had started out my morning cleaning glassware, and had plans to meet Ysila for lunch. She was the elderly Ogrin who had directed me to the clinic the first day I had arrived in Moltara. After about a week working at the lab, and living in the dormitories set aside for the experimental subjects, I had bumped into her the first day I had gotten up enough courage to venture outside again. She remembered me easily, due to my very distinct, mutated physical features.
Everyone had been staring at me that first trip into town, and I had mentally prepared myself for that. What I hadn't expected was that when Ysila's gaze fell on me, her eyes would look directly into my eyes with warmth, and that she would approach me so casually, as if we had both been standing in Sevenin and I was my old self again.
She asked how I had been, and if the doctor had treated me well. I assured her that the doctor had been very conscientious and patient, and she nodded in satisfaction. I told her about working at the lab and I thought I saw a slight tightening around her eyes, but then it was gone and perhaps I had imagined it. My own nerves were strung pretty tight as it was. She told me her name was Ysila and that she was on a vacation of sorts in Moltara, but she was from Neopia Central. She showed me a lovely shop that offered delectable molten morsels, and we had a snack there before I headed back to the dorms. Before she said good-bye, we arranged to meet again the following day.
Before long, Ysila and I had become great friends. She had a Barlow that followed her around everywhere named Prudence. Pru was a very dense sort of petpet and loved to sit right on my feet as if trying to help me compact them back to their original size.
The morning that my zapping regime finally resulted in the long-awaited change, I was completely unaware that anything would go differently. I expected to go into lab at 11a for my appointment and then finish debriefing with plenty of time to make my lunch date with Ysila.
When I walked into lab, Dr. Ray was there as always. His slightly disorienting, crazed-looking eyes were peering intently at his lab notebook, but he heard me come in and waved me over to the zapping platform. I headed over complacently. By this point I knew what to expect and it didn't scare me anymore, but I still needed to take a deep breath and remind myself to relax.
As usual, after a few minutes of muttering and consulting his notes from our previous session, Dr. Ray looked over at me and raised his bushy eyebrows. I nodded to him with a small smile to show that I was ready, and he immediately turned to his buttons and dials. I heard the familiar hum of the machine warming up and closed my eyes.
The flash of light lit the back of my eyelids to a glowing yellow and then was gone. I opened my eyes slowly and carefully scooted off the zapping platform. As I hopped down I noticed the silence in the room and the hairs on the back of my head stood on end.
Wait. Hairs on the back of my head? My hand slowly reached up and I ran my claws through the hair on my neck. I had hair on the back of my neck! I curled my left arm behind me and reached up, twisting. My right arm moved down from my neck, stretching downwards as far as it would go. My claws scraped together behind my back. Wait. My claws scraped together behind my back! This was the change that I had been waiting for! Hoping for...
I looked up at Dr. Ray, my mouth open in speechless disbelief. He had a beatific smile on his face. He gestured at me to wait where I was and scurried over to his lab desk. He opened and closed several drawers, rummaging around in their contents, before finding what he was looking for. Triumphantly he raised a simple hand mirror over his head and hurried back over to me. Ever so slowly, he turned the glass to face me.
The Bori looking back at me was a lovely sandy colour, with a few markings picked out in white. I ran my claws over my face gently and felt the softness of the fur. I no longer had a hideous head-plate. I reached out for the mirror and turned my head to try to see the back. My traditional Bori back armour had receded so that it once again started just below the neck. I was overjoyed. My eyes shone with tears and I was completely speechless as I handed the mirror back to Dr. Ray.
Dr. Ray shook my hand warmly and then ushered me into the debriefing room. Today, more importantly perhaps than any other day, they wanted to record exactly what happened and all the experimental conditions. They wanted to double check all my statistics and compare them to my previous state.
I was walking as if in a dream. My thoughts were everywhere and nowhere at once. I thought of my family, and what my life had been up to this point. I thought of Sevenin and my old friends. I thought of my teachers and that fateful geology assessment. I thought of all the time I had spent in Moltara waiting for this day.
When I stepped out of the lab building, exhausted but jubilant, Ysila was waiting right by the door with a worried expression on her face. With everything that had happened I had forgotten all about our lunch date. But in the light of things it didn't seem all that important.
I strode towards her with a huge smile and open arms. For a brief moment I saw her startled face as I hugged her. And then as I pulled away, the confusion cleared and she looked straight at me. Not up, towering over her, but of a height together.
“Isn't it wonderful?” I gushed.
“Dr. Ray! His experiments finally resulted in the sort of change I wanted. That I needed.”
Ysila was speechless for a moment. She gazed up and down at me, taking it all in.
“And so what will you do now?” she asked quietly.
“I don't know, go home I suppose.”
“Back to Terror Mountain?”
“Yes, back to Sevenin. I feel like I might need some time to rediscover who I am...”
Ysila considered me quietly. “Do you know why I'm in Moltara?”
“I thought you were here on vacation?”
She looked at me skeptically. “Do you know anyone who takes six-month long vacations?”
“I...I guess I'd never thought of it that way,” I stammered. It was true, I had stayed in Moltara for the zapping experiments, but Ysila had no reason to stay in Moltara so long if this wasn't her home.
Ysila led me over to a bench and we sat down together. She took a deep breath and started explaining.
“I'm an old Ogrin, my dear. I've been firmly categorized as Elderly for a long time now. I've lived a full life, but I've always felt that there was more to 'me' than even I knew myself. I wanted to 'rediscover' myself, as you say. And do you know what I've learned?”
I shook my head, no.
“The worst way to learn anything about yourself is to be in a familiar place where you can be utterly comfortable. When you're in a place where you feel at home, you get lazy about self-reflection. Nothing surprises you, you're never put in a situation that you can't handle on auto-pilot. You can go through life as if you're sleep-walking and if you have even the remotest tingle of laziness about your personality. you'll fall into this zombie-like state without even noticing it. Your mind will make you think you're just living efficiently, optimizing brain power for the important things. But you'll become complacent with the ordinariness of it all.”
I blinked at this pronouncement of my friend's life philosophy. It sounded harsh, and yet there seemed to be a ring of truth to it.
“But if I don't go home, where would I go? I don't want to stay in Moltara.”
A mischievous grin blossomed on Ysila's face.
“I've been in Moltara for awhile now, as you know, and I'm ready to move on. I've learned a lot about myself these past few months, and you probably won't be surprised to hear that a lot of it was related to meeting you.”
I smiled involuntarily. It certainly would push a normal person's comfort level to befriend a strange, gigantic, mutated Bori.
“I've been thinking of where to go next, and I'd hoped that you would come with me. I was going to ask you to join me on my travels, even before today's surprise transformation, because I thought it was high time you stopped holding on so hard to what you used to be. But I think you've just given me an idea.”
“You've been such a good friend to me,” I interrupted. “I'm sure I would enjoy traveling with you, and I don't really mind about where.”
“With your exotic new colour,” Ysila ran her paw across my arm, pausing at each white stripe, “I think Mystery Island may be fun.”
“Mystery Island! That's practically the opposite of Terror Mountain!”
Gesturing around her, Ysila raised her eyebrows. “Wouldn't you say Moltara, a land deep underground, brimming with lava pools, fits that description better?”
I looked at my toes, embarrassed.
“I know you've never been to Mystery Island before, but I don't believe it will be that much of a shock to you after living in Moltara. You probably feel a bit nervous about the change, but I promise you that the nervousness means that your mind knows it will be a new experience, and a new experience means an opportunity to 'show your quality,' so to speak; to discover more about who you truly are. Isn't that what you want?”---
Ysila and I discussed our impending Mystery Island trip for a long time. We didn't leave Moltara right away. We made out our plans and talked through all of the details before we got ready for our travels. Ysila agreed that we should first make a short stop to Sevenin so I could see my parents and let them know where we were going. When I had gotten somewhat settled in Moltara, I had sent them a short note letting them know I was all right, and a somewhat abridged version of what had happened. I had also included a note to be sent on to the Geologists' Academy, including a statement that I would not be returning to complete my assessment in the near future. We had exchanged a few more letters, but I hadn't mentioned my physical changes or my participation in the experimental lab ray studies. I told myself it was because I didn't want them to worry, or I didn't want to shock them. But I think I just didn't know how to tell them, how to make them really understand.
The road to Sevenin was relatively uneventful. My parents were glad to see that I looked well. The only difference that was noticeable on the surface was my new colour, and I think my parents had actually expected that type of change to occur while I was off at school. It wasn't uncommon for young Bori from Sevenin to take a dip in the Rainbow Pool during their educational years. I think they were just glad I hadn't gotten anything pierced while I was away from home. Before Ysila and I headed off to continue our adventures on Mystery Island, my parents presented me with another gift.
They had noticed the way I doted on Pru, Ysila's Barlow, and thought I would enjoy having a petpet of my own. My parting gift this time around was a Plumpy. He was wonderfully affectionate and got on well with Prudence. The two pudgy petpets loved to nap together sprawled out in front of a warm fire. I named him George.
We spent about a week getting acquainted with George and mapping out our plans. There were regular ships sailing out from Tyrannia to Mystery Island, so we just had to make our way down from the heights of Terror Mountain to the plateaus of Tyrannia, south of us. It was a trip that many had made before, and many made every year. From Sevenin it was just a few hours walk to get to the main road, which would be cleared of snow year-round. From the main road, we would most likely be able to catch a ride with a farmer or tradesman to Tyrannia, and most likely all the way to the sea ports nestled in the Tyrannian jungle.
I won't bore you with the details of our trip. Suffice to say, all went smoothly and we ended up on the shores of Mystery Island without a hitch.
There was so much to see on Mystery Island. Ysila had rented a hut near the harbour, where we had docked. The island itself wasn't terribly large, and you could see most of the sights in a day by taking the Tiki Tour for 50 Neopoints. We settled in and took it slow when it came to exploration. There was something new to see or do every day and we just relaxed and let life take us where it would.
One of my favorite destinations was the Rock Pool, although I always had to keep a sharp eye on George, who seemed suspiciously interested in the Catamara. Despite George's shenanigans, it was lovely at the Rock Pool. Somehow, watching the aquatic petpets swim to and fro was calming to me. Coming from deep in Terror Mountain, we rarely saw liquid water in such large quantities, and I had never learned to swim. George didn't seem keen on entering the water either. He simply eyed the swimming petpets and fluttered his tiny wings in agitation once in awhile.
On one particular visit, I was dabbling my claws in the water, teasing a Tanizard, when I suddenly heard a high-pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and a yowl. Alarmed, I sat up and looked around for George. His wings were beating so hard that he had actually managed to float a few inches off the ground, and his paws were scrabbling around the fur on his stomach. I ran over to him just as he found whatever had bit him, whipped his head down with incredible speed and dexterity for a petpet of his girth, and caught something between his teeth.
“Is this your Plumpy?”
I looked around at the voice and saw a lovely, royal Usul bending over to examine George.
“It looks like he's caught a Jiggybug!” she exclaimed.
“A P3,” she explained. “Rohan,” she gestured at her Weewoo, “caught one here yesterday as well. It seems there's been a bit of an infestation recently. The Kougra who runs this place told me that they come in waves, attracted to the aquatic petpets. Sometimes they'll latch onto the petpets of visitors too.”
“What do I do with the... Jiggybug?” I asked.
“Well, the Kougra told me I could keep it. Rohan seemed to warm to his Jiggybug pretty quickly so I decided to let him have it as a petpetpet.”
I looked skeptically over at George. The expression on his face was decidedly not warm.
“Um... I don't know if George necessarily wants a petpetpet?”
“Oh, where are my manners?” the Usul exclaimed. She held her hand out to me. “I'm Ella. Well, technically it's 'Princess Natinella' but my friends just call me Ella. You'll be my friend, won't you?”
“I... I guess so,” I stammered. “Sure?”
“Wonderful!” Ella clapped her hands in delight. “We were thinking of heading over to the Berry Bash for lunch, you should come too!”
Ella and I had lunch that day, and I found out that she was the princess of a small kingdom just like I was. She had come to Mystery Island to get away from her royal life for a few weeks and try to find some inspiration in the tropical island environment for her painting. We seemed to have a lot in common. She liked art, and colors, and things that sparkled. I told her about the majestic dancing lights in the sky that we had in Sevenin, for which I had been named. We made plans to meet up again and quickly grew to become friends.
Ysila saw that I was meeting new people and was glad that I didn't seem to have any lingering shyness after the affair in Moltara. She met Ella a few times, but preferred not to go out with us, saying that her old bones couldn't keep up with us “young'uns.” Ella was polite and friendly to Ysila, but I could see that she was uncomfortable when Ysila would invite us to sit with her for tea, or a quiet afternoon of reading and knitting.
Pretty soon, the time came when Ella was meant to head back home. On the day of her departure, I made her promise to come visit me in Sevenin when she could, and I would show her the glowing light sky.
“I'll come for sure!” she told me. “It sounds completely wonderful. I'd love to try to paint it.”
“Write to me when you can come and I'll arrange to have someone pick you up if I can't meet you myself. You can stay with me as long as you like.”
“I will. I'm sure I'll be able to get away.”
I tickled Rohan under the chin as Ella patted George affectionately.
“Hey, Rory, did you notice,” Ella said turning to me, “that George still has that Jiggybug that he caught the day we met?”
“He does?” I picked George up and looked him over.
Sure enough, the Jiggybug had attached itself onto George's fur. And surprisingly, George was tolerating its presence.
“Okay then,” I chuckled. “I guess we have a new addition to the family!”
“Isn't it funny?” Ella giggled. “Look at their expressions, they're exactly the same!”
“Uhhh, 'kay that is pretty odd.”
“Is that what you're naming him?”
“You just said to the P3, 'Kay, that is pretty odd,' didn't you?”
“No I said... nevermind.” I made a quick decision. “I think that'll make a good name. Kay.”
“George and Kay!” Ella grinned at me. “So now both of our petpets have Jiggybugs!”
“I guess so!” I said wonderingly.---
After Ella had gone home, Ysila and I stayed in Mystery Island for a few more days before I started really wanting to get back to Sevenin. Ysila seemed ready to move on as well, but she said she had no inclination to go back to Terror Mountain. I knew I'd miss her but we promised to keep in touch, and I knew that we would both keep that promise. I had learned so much from her about life, and about myself. I would never forget that day when I stumbled into Moltara and she was the only one who would meet my eye.
We parted ways, Ysila planning her next adventure in Maraqua, and I heading back home to Sevenin.
When I got back home, my parents were waiting. With all my travels, it had made them realize that they were due for a vacation themselves. They planned to go all over the world, with possibly even a short excursion to Kreludor via the Virtupets Space Station. It was going to be a long trip, and before they left, we held a small ceremony where I was officially painted Royal and named a ruler of Sevenin, to watch over our kingdom in their absence.
After all, I had come of age.