After ACX: Part Six
After AC X: Part Six - Fire
We burst through the doors of The Royal Neopian, chattering happily. We swarm up the stairs and separate, heading to our own rooms to continue the night’s fun. I bump my friend from behind, giggling.
“Thank Fyora we don’t share the floors with the others, eh?” I ask him. He spins upside down, and shoves the door open. Within no time at all, we’re in our room and bouncing off the walls gently. That’s not a metaphor, or a simile, either. We are bumping from one wall to the other, hitting the beds, the platforms and the swinging from the hammocks, swimming through the air easily.
“Thank Fyora indeed!” he cries noisily, rolling along the ceiling, racing around the edges of the room on a make-believe track. It looks like so much fun that I join him, chasing him around the imaginary circuit.
“Can you imagine-” I pant, as we pass the door. “If the Snows were next to us!” as we zip past the window. “We’d have to be-” the door again. “Silent!” and we fall to the floor by the window.
“We’d have a bedtime!” he croaks, rolling onto his back to stare at our race track.
“We’d have to be quiet!” I cry, copying him.
“We’d have to BEHAVE!” he laughs, and I dissolve too. As our giggles eventually subside, I can hear that our neighbours are equally jubilant, cries and shouts of laughter drifting through the thin walls here and there.
My mood turns sombre, as I think about our future. Next year we will be Snow, sooner than that even, we will be repainted in less than a month. We’ll spend the off season back home on the Isle, getting used to our new limitations. Snow will be our penultimate year, in our seventh year we are Clockwork, and then released.
“Snow next.” I sigh, and my friend joins in.
“Yeah.” He sounds just as morose as I do, as we consider the prospects.
“We’ll have to slow down.” I think aloud.
“We’ll have to help the newbies.” He joins my train of thought.
“We’ll have to behave sensibly.” The thought is almost enough to make me cry, and I know I’m not the only one.
“You know, I’ve spoken to some of this year’s Snows, and they said it’s really not that bad.” I stare at him incredulously.
“Are you serious?” I can’t believe that, but I also can’t help the little spark of hope that flares inside of me. I’ve spent my life waiting to be the Fire that I am now, and now that I’m here, it seems to be slipping away even as I try to hold on. I can’t believe we’re in the third week of the competition already.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s not going to be everyone’s experience, obviously, but there are apparently loads of challenges involved in going slowly.”
“But going fast is so much fun!” I cry, and can’t contain the energy any longer. I burst into the air, and resume our ceiling race track. He doesn’t join me though, and I do two quick circuits before settling on the platform in the corner.
“They don’t do anything fun, they go slowly, they sit carefully, they don’t explore!” I catch my breath.
“Why, why do we have to be repainted?” I’m despairing now, and couldn’t stop the oncoming rant even if I tried.
“Why do we have to change every year? Why can’t we just stay the same? I love being Fire, I’ve paid my dues, surely I can just stay? I was Normal, and Faerie, and Mutant and Darigan, I did all that as I was told to, I did it well and I did it without complaining, and now, and NOW, I have to give up being what I love because of, what? Why?”
I wail the last few words, and in desperation fling myself off the platform, and continue my frenzied tour around the room’s perimeter. I push myself faster and faster, nipping through the spots that have barely cooled since the last time I passed through them. I’m trying to outrun the inevitable, but eventually, even I have to admit I can’t.
I slow down carefully, lowering my route until I’m just jogging a metre off the ground, my flames hardly heating the walls at all. I plan my last circuit carefully, and pull into a perfect dead stop just above my friend. Through my mini meltdown, he has remained silent, simply watching me from his spot under the window.
“The power we have now. Look,” I demand of him, executing a perfect hover before him. I tuck, and flaunt, tuck, and flaunt, practically daring him to criticise my form. I breathe in sharply, and, from a hover start, charge across to the door, pulling up quickly, spinning on the spot and back again. I am textbook perfect, I have not lost a thing since training over five years ago.
“See? See what we can do?” I breathe heavily, trying not to pant as I continue. “The players love us, the fans love us, why can’t we stay as Fire? Why is it not in their best interest to have some experienced Yooyus show the ropes to the newbies?”
I’ve held his attention for a while now, and as he watches me calmly, it occurs to me that he may be waiting to speak.
We’ve been friends since training, we were among the first in our year to master the hover, and we were among the first allowed to fly out on our own over the Isle. We got to know each other as we followed the signs around our new home. We became friends when we followed our noses into a mysterious cave. We became best friends when we faced the horror within.
There are some things that you can’t go through and not become friends, and exploring a mysterious cave, and the subsequent pact of silence, those are at the top of the list of experiences that create unbreakable bonds.
We’ve shared a room since basic training, and the in jokes have grown since then. From our first year as Normals, giggling about the Shootout Showdown goalie, to our most beautiful second year as Faeries. I seem to remember we didn’t want to get repainted, we begged Naia not to change our glorious colour that year, particularly not to Mutant.
And then we were Mutant, and subverting expectations with ease, and laughing at the Faeries in the year below us, preening in front of mirrors. We wouldn’t let each other remember quite how embarrassing we had been just one year previously. What else are friends for, right?
Then last year, Darigan. The sassy, malevolent ones in the Used Room today reminded me how much I loved it. Being wicked, it was just lovely. We got to do whatever we wanted, and no one was upset! The freedom! If we did what the player wanted, they loved us, and if we completely ignored the futile attempts they would make to aim us along a set path, that was to be expected, and no one got mad.
But the best has been this year, by far. I don’t know what it is about being Fire, maybe the heat, or the lightness, but something about Fire makes us quicker. We are stronger, invigorated by the least little thing.
I’ve drifted down to the floor now. He’s still just staring at me, smirking slightly. I know I’ve been hovering, deep in thought for a few minutes now.
“Sorry.” I sigh, and slump on the floor completely.
“Change is a part of life.” He’s leant forwards, looking at me earnestly. “Everyone’s life, not just us. Neopets and regular petpets and us alike, we all grow and change. You know that.”
He speaks gently, as though he doesn’t want to set me off again on our race track around the perimeter. I stretch, and settle myself down, clearly showing that I’m done with the pointless exercise.
“There are pros and cons to every stage of life. It’s just, for us, it’s so much more obvious.”
“There’s no one like us.” I agree, softly.
“No one!” he exclaims energetically, attempting to buoy my spirits, and it works. I find a smile quivering on my face.
“Who else gets to be a part of the most famous, most treasured, most important sporting event in the Neopian Calendar?”
“Who else has a major sport, that brings together the whole of Neopia, named after them?”
“Who else gets to spend ten months of the year relaxing on a private island?”
“Who else gets to spend a month in an exotic corner of Neopia helping Neopets improve their game?”
“And who else gets to have every spectator following their entire move, breathless with excitement, for a whole month?”
“NO ONE!” I cheer, and together we leap into the air, spiralling around each other in our own unique way.
I push aside the doubts that tell me that within the month, the flames inside me will be extinguished with Snow. I won’t let myself think about being Clockwork, the year after next. I refuse to consider the blackness of the future of me and my friend in three years.
For now, me and my similarly unnamed best friend are happy to swirl around above the beds, caught in each others fire and slip stream, too powerful not to move, too energetic to stay still.
To be continued…