Tribulations of a Quest Sceptic: Part One
Everyone around seemed so fixated upon them, as if nothing could be more important than dashing off to some far-flung region of Neopia in order to retrieve a mirror for an impatient, sneering Dark Faerie, or braving the wilds of some forsaken realm in order to ensure that Edna had Poogle fur clippings to add to her latest, noxious brew.
Saba kicked a pebble in the road, defiant and irritated. The pebble bounced several times, ricocheting off similar small stones, but it didn’t seem to address the issue of Neopia’s quest fixation, nor did it bring the fuming Draik who had kicked it any real satisfaction.
Everyone is so busy doing the bidding of the Neopians who demand random items, they hardly have time for anything else…
The thought was tinged with bitterness and resentment, never a good combination, and one that only soured the malicious sulk Saba found herself sinking into. Even a wander along her favorite walkway had done nothing to restore her serenity- everywhere were more reminders of the reason none of her friends were ever around anymore. Neopets desperately haggling in shops for items to appease creatures who might grace them with some pittance of a reward. Panicked, urgent calls, echoing around the central markets.
“I need socks! Jhudora said she needs socks right away!”
“You don’t understand! If I can’t get Baby Kougra Custard, Edna is going to turn me into a moldy piece of toast!”
“Blue and Orange Drawer! I can’t return to Taelia without a Blue and Orange Drawer. I can SO carry it up Terror Mountain!”
“Coffee! Please, I need coffee!”
Okay, so the last one was just a stressed looking Chia, apparently having had a rather busy night scouring the Money Tree for goodies, if the pile of random fishing cast-offs and books he dragged around were anything to go by. That wasn’t the point. Everywhere, everyone, focused and fixated on providing quest items.
Saba rolled her eyes at a bright-eyed Nimmo as he leapt past, his excited ramblings about high levels in Jhudora’s Quest making her fight the temptation to stick out a foot and send him sprawling.
For a few Neopoints? For some stats?” Not everyone wants to spend their time taking up arms against the Sway!
It had been something of a shock when her friends began questing. One moment they had all been playing with Usukis (Saba prided herself on a rather impressive collection, although one marred by incidents of her younger brother finding them and insisting on creating new and experimental hairstyles.) The next, everyone was getting together to do Illusen’s bidding, or placate Edna. There wasn’t anyone to chat with, or spend time with. It was just her, alone, wandering the forlorn path she had once found a merry and exciting place. Angrily, she stared down at the ever-present, not at all helpful pebbles before her, prodding another with her toe and snorting in disdain. It was probably this insistence on sulking that meant she remained oblivious, right up until…
Both Saba and the figure she had walked right into emitted matching sounds, the type of noise that one makes when one’s merry wander through Neopia has been abruptly ended with a collision. Stunned and irritable, Saba scuttled to her feet, brushing the dirt from shadowy, webbed wings and lifting her gaze to cast what she sincerely hoped was an expression of disdain at the figure she had just run into.
One glance at the Chia before her and the attempt to appear scornful melted away. The figure was far too familiar, evoking memories of childhood play and merrier moments. Vodi may have been a little taller (although this was debatable, Saba noted), and perhaps a bit stouter, but he was still the same Plushie Jubjub she had grown up with. Goodness. How long had it been?
“Vodi! I didn’t see you. Sorry, I was just…” Her voice faltered. To admit she had been indulging in a sullen session of self-pity and bitterness seemed immature now. She settled for an uncomfortable cough, but the Jubjub didn’t seem to notice.
“Oh, Poogles and Problems! Sorry, Saba! I wasn’t paying attention to where I was headed. All my fault. They do say I would forget my own name if my mother didn’t insist on writing it on all my stuff.”
Saba stifled a smile. This wasn’t an exaggeration, Vodi’s reputation as a scatterbrain was no secret; however, his genuine humor, happy-go-lucky approach to life and kindness made up for moments of disorganization.
Vodi looked sheepish, his big, dark eyes apologetic. “I didn’t mean to rush like that, but…” He seemed to falter, and Saba recognized the look that washed over his features.
Shame? What could make Vodi look that way?
Gently, she steered her friend to the side of the path, where they were out of the way of the afternoon bustle, and able to speak. How many times had they played Usuki Dolls under the shady, benevolent boughs of the old tree, whose viridian canopy cast the path below in a myriad of shadowy patterns.
“Vodi? Is something the matter?”
The Jubjub released a sigh, looking uncomfortable. “Not really… I mean… I don’t want to burden you. I know you’re not into Questing, and I’m really not supposed to say anything, the others said…”
Saba felt her jaw tighten and the mention of those quests again, but she forced her grimace into a sympathetic smile, mulling over her friend’s words.
“Wait… The others?”
Vodi nodded, looking miserable.
“I don’t know if you heard… A few weeks ago, I completed my eighteenth Illusen’s Quest…”
Saba managed to keep her eyes from rolling in exasperation. She actually did know this; everyone at school had been chatting about it. The chances of bumbling, jovial Vodi being the first in their class to reach such lofty heights of achievement had bordered on the surreal.
“I think I heard something about that.” The muttered reply wasn’t easy to mistake for admiration or commendation, but Vodi appeared too unhappy to notice.
“I guess I let it get to my head a bit. Showing off and stuff. But you know what everyone is like. They never expect someone like me to be the one everyone notices. They think I’m just…”
The word hung in the air, even if it remained unspoken. Sometimes, Saba pondered, words didn’t need to be uttered. All who partook in the conversation intrinsically knew what should have been said. How many times had she joined in the laughter? When Vodi managed to glue his own feet together in art class. When he accidently brought his baby sister’s Forest Fruit Baby Food to school for lunch? When he fell over his own toes practicing Yooyuball? Or… When some of the others had tried to use him AS the Yooyu?
Saba studied her friend with genuine concern. “So you bragged a little. Big deal. The others would have done the same, if they had gotten their first.”
Vodi winced, shaking his head sadly. “They said I must have had help, or gotten asked for easy items out of pity. They said I wasn’t a quester.”
Saba sighed. Who would want to be one?
“So… Kensi and Charlie dared me to do a quest for Edna.”
Saba shrugged. Kensi and Charlie were, without question, the two biggest show-offs around, so why they felt the need to pick on Vodi was anyone’s guess. She steered clear of both of them, ever since Kensi had seen her in the Usuki shop, purchasing the new Negg Faerie Usuki Doll. The teasing from THAT little incident had been enough to make her think carefully about where she bought her toys from. The laughter and comments about ‘toys for little kids’ still rung in her ears.
“Well, Vodi, quests for Edna can be tricky, I suppose. I know it’s a long way to the Haunted Woods, but you head off early, you’ll be there by lunch. I’m sure the item won’t cost that much. I think she just asks for ingredients…” She trailed off. Her friend was shaking his head softly.
For Lupe’s sake. How did he complete Illusen’s quests if he’s this worried about some Zafara witch in the woods?
She bit her tongue, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Look. How about if I go with you? We’ll leave at dawn, head off, be back for afternoon tea. Hey, we could go to that café near the Money Tree.”
Vodi’s dark eyes slowly widened, and for the first time since their encounter, he glanced up, tentative, but hopeful.
“Yeah? You would go with me? It would be much easier if I had a friend. It’s so creepy. You promise you’ll come?”
Saba laughed, unable to help it. Vodi was so relieved, and her mood had lifted. Perhaps there was something in doing things for others.
“Fine. I promise.” She smiled, her good mood returning. The quest would be boring, but maybe they would get some quality friendship time in. “We’ll head off at dawn. The woods aren’t even scary, the sunlight comes through the trees”
Vodi winced, scuffing his foot on the ground.
Wait. What did I just agree to? Why isn’t he meeting my gaze?
“The thing is, Saba…” The Jubjub looked uncomfortable. “The quest has a stipulation attached.”
Saba held her breath.
What isn’t he telling me?”
“The dare they set… What I promised to do… Was complete one of Edna’s quests… At midnight.”
To be continued…