Bottled Faeries Inc.: Part Four
"Well,” I said, adjusting the brim of my sunhat to block out the harsh sunrays, “this was probably the worst thing that could have happened.”
Soon after Marty and I had fled Jhuidah’s cooking pot, I had received a neomail. The small, enchanted yellow envelope had repeatedly jammed itself against my thigh until, grudgingly, I had plucked it from the air and opened it. It had been a letter from the Eyrie Cab Company associated with Bottled Faeries Inc. The driver had been notified of my “release” from the bottle, and said he would pick me up at 5:00pm, leaving Marty and I a couple hours to do some sightseeing before we had to head back to Faerieland.
Marty wasn’t too pleased that I refused to take him into the haunted temple in Geraptiku, but we did spend some time poking around the abandoned huts and examining some ancient discarded pottery. We played a game of Tombola and won a bottle of sand, jumped in line for the second half of a guided tour around the base of the volcano, and even visited the home of Titi, the Kougra who specialized in personalized haikus. Mine had read: Far from your hometown/Adventure was your one goal/Did it go as planned? Marty was convinced that Titi must have heard us bickering about the trip as we walked down the path to his hut, but I liked to think that he had some secret intuition about the whole thing.
With the Eyrie Cab set to arrive in just a few minutes, we had settled onto the beach, deciding to soak in the last few sunrays before darkness fell over the island.
“Let me put some more sunscreen on you,” I told Marty, brandishing the bottle we had bought from the trading post.
“I’m working on my tan,” the Bartamus grumbled.
I frowned. “Do you really want to turn pink?”
He shuddered. “Jhudora, no. Anything but that.” He reluctantly let me lather the lotion onto his thin wings.
As we watched the sun set, I tried to focus on its colors: the swirls of pink, blue, orange, and purple that stained the sky above the glistening green ocean. I wondered if this whole trip had been worth it. It definitely had not turned out as planned, just as the haiku Kougra had said. I had been in the bottle for only five days. In that span of time, we had been tossed about by the sea, shown Altador during a quick walking tour, and placed in a store for mere minutes before being purchased and thrown into a dark bag. After three days of darkness, we had arrived in Mystery Island, only to nearly be sacrificed in a magical pot. We escaped just in time, thereby forfeiting my right to any sort of money I was supposed to make, and we had only gotten to explore the island for a few measly hours. The Eyrie Cab would arrive shortly, and then we would head home, back to the dullness of life in Faerieland.
Was it worth it? I thought.
Honestly, I really didn’t have an answer.* * *
Marty and I were the only ones inside the Eyrie Cab. I was hoping to see other faeries in there as well; I wanted a more logical explanation for why the Neopet had tried to shove us in a cooking pot besides complete and utter sadism. Unfortunately, there was no one to ask. The Eyrie Cab ride was completely silent. I spent my time looking out the window as we flew among the clouds over the ocean.
The driver dropped us off at the Bottled Faeries Headquarters. The building was still shielded in invisibility, so it took a few tries for me to make it through the doors.
“Nice going, Leah,” Marty muttered from his hiding spot inside my bag as I bumped into an outer wall.
“Quiet,” I hissed, feeling my stomach sink as the interior of the factory materialized in front of me. A fire faerie with a clipboard watched me as I crossed the atrium and she made a few marks on her clipboard.
“Miss Leah?” she asked.
I nodded in confirmation.
She scribbled a few more notes and then said, “Mr. Balthazar would like to speak with you.”
My stomach churned. “Does he… really need to? I’m personally not feeling too well—”
“It’ll only take a moment,” she said with a weak smile. She gestured for me to follow her, and then ushered me through a set of office doors. She shut the doors behind me quickly; clearly she did not want to stay for the confrontation.
I turned slowly and saw Balthazar sitting behind his desk, shuffling through some papers with a pointed talon. I should reiterate how strange it is to see a large, burly, terrifying Lupe dressed in a three-piece suit. Today, his tie was purple.
After a moment, Balthazar looked up at me and smiled. The Lupe’s sharp canines glinted. “Leah! Welcome back.” He checked his watch. “That was a rather short journey. Definitely not the fastest one I’ve seen, but most definitely on the short side.”
He gestured for me to sit in the padded chair across from him. I did so reluctantly.
He reached for a single sheet of paper on his desk, blank save for my name written atop it in beautiful calligraphy. But as I stared at it, the page suddenly filled with words. An enchanted piece of paper, clearly.
“These are Cynthia’s notes,” Balthazar explained with a vague wave at the door. I assumed that Cynthia was the fire faerie who had led me into this room. “Now, let’s see what we’ve got…”
His eyes scanned her notes. I shuffled nervously in my chair, and silently thanked Fyora that Marty had the decency not to squirm around in my bag.
“Hmm.” Balthazar glanced up at me. “So, Leah, would you like to explain what happened?”
“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” I asked slowly.
Balthazar tapped the page. “It says here that you left the bottle on your own in Mystery Island. You were not released by a Neopet. I’d like to know why.”
I gripped the armrests. “It wasn’t my fault. I was purchased by a crazy Kougra who thought it would be a good idea to throw me into the magical cooking pot. And no offense, but I wanted to live.”
Balthazar eyed me funnily for a moment. He looked both confused and somewhat amused. “So… you didn’t hear the announcement?”
I blinked. “What announcement?”
“There was an announcement made in everyone’s bottle starting a few days ago. It was regarding my deal with the Battle Faerie.” He glanced down at my checklist and frowned. “Ah, I see. Apparently your announcement device was disabled.”
I nearly smacked my messenger bag, but I kept my calm. “What was the deal?”
Balthazar laced his long claws together. “Developers are planning to renovate all the Battledomes. When Aethia told me about it, we began to develop a new system to bless Neopets with abilities. It all came together just a few days ago. All Bottled Faeries are now being re-branded as Fading Bottled Faeries. Neopets are told that if they purchase three of these faeries and mix them together in Jhuidah’s Cooking Pot, they will receive a new weak bottled faerie.” He dug into his desk drawer and withdrew a small bottle; the glass was blown into the shape of a lick of fire. The surface of the bottle was an opaque orange and red color, and it was impossible to see the form of a faerie inside.
As if reading my mind, Balthazar explained, “There is, of course, no such thing as a ‘weak’ bottled faerie. When the faeries are combined in the pot, they are simply transported back here, to our headquarters. Jhuidah then gives the Neopet one of these empty bottles, which they then can exchange with Aethia for a blessing.”
“So…” I said slowly, “had I just waited to be thrown into the pot, I would have just been transported here and not had to forfeit my money?”
“Precisely,” Balthazar said.
I frowned. “That is really unfair,” I said. “How could you change the whole system like that?”
“Leah,” Balthazar said, tapping a claw on his desk, “Bottled Faeries Inc. is, first and foremost, a business. And this deal was good for business. I’m sorry that I did not tell you about this deal before you went in the bottle, but it was not finalized at the time. And as soon as the deal was completed, I sent announcements to all the bottles with clear instructions on what to do. You are the only faerie who tampered with your announcement device and missed the message. That is not my fault.”
I set my jaw out. I was trying my best not to cry, but I felt a bit like a loser. This had been my first job, and I had messed it up. “So that’s it then,” I said, hearing my voice quiver. “I just go home now, without making a single neopoint?”
Balthazar smiled at me gently. “Leah, I don’t think you understand. Did you not enjoy yourself this week? Even if the trip was confusing and somewhat terrifying, did you not enjoy the little bit of sightseeing you got to experience? The walled city of Altador? The jungles of Mystery Island? Even the vastness of the sea?”
I laughed dryly. “The sea really isn’t all it’s cracked out to be…”
Balthazar’s smile widened a bit. “Although it’s against our company policy to pay for any faerie who releases herself, your actions weren’t so inexcusable that I’m looking to ban you from ever working here again. If you wish, you can have another go at it. We can set you up so that you’re in another bottle by tomorrow morning, exploring another part of Neopia.”
“Is there something I can do so that the announcements aren’t so terribly annoying that I have to resort to vandalizing Bottled Faeries Inc.’s property for a second time?”
The Lupe winked at me. “There’s a volume switch hidden in the copy of Tarlas Mysterious Travels in the bookshelf. It won’t stop the announcements, but it will definitely make them more bearable.” He grinned. “So what do you say?”
I hesitated for a moment, thinking. There were so many lands that I had still never seen: the ice caps of Terror Mountain, the molten core of Moltara, the flying ships of Shenkuu. Balthazar was giving me a second chance.
I glanced down at my lap, where Marty was looking at me through a small opening in my bag. The Bartamus nodded his head eagerly.
I looked back up at Balthazar and extended my hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”