The Greatest Show In Neopia!: Part One
It all began - interestingly enough - with one single neopoint. The golden coin in question was currently being held tightly in the hand of a smartly dressed young Ogrin who wore his camouflage colouring with the jaunty confidence of a born leader. His name was Kadar, and he was currently alternating between throwing the shiny neopoint up into the air and casually rubbing his thumb across its surface in an absent, loving sort of way whenever it came back down.
“Could you stop that for a minute, Kadar? It’s awfully distracting,” a voice complained from nearby.
The voice belonged to a rather flustered Lenny called Jarvis, one of Terror Mountain’s most famous scholars. He had made his generous living writing a series of books which explored the maze-like structure of the Ice Caves, and he was well known for his fond love of exploration.
His Eventide feathers were ruffling gently in the evening breeze as he poured over a ragged paper map of Neopia which was covered with his own neat, precise notes and diagrams. He was struggling to make sense of some of the directions listed, as the woods grew ever darker around them.
“Sorry, Jarvis,” the Ogrin replied, “It’s just that I was thinking about our meagre neopoint situation and wondering if there’s something we can do about it. So far I haven’t come up with much of anything, how about you?”
Jarvis sighed and wrestled the crumpled map back into a loose scroll before tucking it neatly into his leather knapsack along with all the other books and papers he’d insisted they bring along.
“I know. We’re stuck in the middle of the Haunted Woods. We seem to be hopelessly lost, and that coin - which you’re going to lose if you’re not careful -” he raised his bushy eyebrows meaningfully at the Ogrin, “Is the last little bit of money we have left.”
As Kadar handed over the single neopoint with a slightly abashed grin, the woods around them seemed to burst into a cacophony of musical life. Little multi-coloured lights began dancing on the nearby tree trunks, and an eerie carnival melody began winding its way through the moonlit leaves.
Kadar - a renowned adventurer from Mystery Island - was instantly on the alert, and was already drawing the bone dagger he kept close to his side when he realised it was simply the sounds and lights of a large fairground set up deeper in the forest. He visibly relaxed and turned to the Eventide Lenny, a questioning grin on his youthful camouflage face.
“No, we cannot go to the fair,” the Lenny snapped angrily, annoyed that the sudden radiance of the forest had managed to startled him, “We don’t have any neopoints remember? What exactly do you want to do, steal yourself a hotdog?”
He rolled his eyes as Kadar laughed aloud at the poor joke.
“I’ll tell you what, Jarvis, let’s just go and have a look around. We might not be able to afford anything, but it’s got to be more fun that sitting here and staying lost, right?” he asked hopefully, “We can at least ask for directions to the nearest town from there, plus it’ll be fun, think of the sights, the sounds -”
“The distractions?” the cynical Lenny inquired sweetly. “Fine, we’ll go to the fairground if you insist, but just remember we have a job to do. I can’t map this area properly if I don’t even know whereabouts in the Haunted Woods we are, can I?”
“Relax, Jarvis. We’ll ask for directions and then get straight out of there. I promise.” The Ogrin smiled reassuringly, but he held his furry fingers crossed tightly behind his back the whole time, there was no way he was going to pass up an opportunity to enjoy the sights of the fabled Deserted Fairground.******
Less than a hour later, two slightly dirty and exhausted Neopians arrived at the huge wrought iron gates which led to the fairground they’d been searching for. The music was so deafeningly loud here that it almost drowned out the sounds of the crowds of Neopets laughing and screaming in joy as they entertained themselves with all the attractions this illustrious fair had to offer.
Kadar’s eyes lit up with childlike joy as they passed into the grounds, and they were immediately bombarded with cries from several different gaudy booths encouraging them to come and try their luck. The poor Ogrin was very nearly hopping from foot to foot in excitement as his eyes danced across the things before him, trying to take in everything at once.
The Lenny at his side was much more mature, but he placed his blue wings on his hips and shrugged assent, letting Kadar know that if he wanted he had permission to go and explore the delights that awaited him in the depths of the carnival. Immediately the Ogrin bounded off towards a small booth that was covered in bright colours and flags, and Jarvis watched as he was swallowed up by the bustling crowd.
The Lenny found himself alone in the loud hustling environment that was quite unlike anything he’d ever experienced before back home in Terror Mountain. There were so many other Neopians around - jostling and laughing, shouting and running - that he was quickly overwhelmed by it all, and began wishing his confident companion had stayed by his side a little while longer.
When he’d agreed to come on this Neopia mapping expedition, he’d been told that Kadar was the best explorer that Mystery Island had to offer, and he had to admit that while he hadn’t expected the youthful exuberance of the camouflage Ogrin, he was indeed fantastic at what he did - he was fearless and unfailingly enthusiastic about all of the strange places they had been visiting.
So far, they’d been away from their respective homes for a little over a month, and they had already managed to thoroughly map the areas of Kiko Lake, Neopia Central and Roo Island. In fact they’d managed to get a good portion of the way through the Haunted Woods too, before they’d found themselves hopelessly lost in the twisting maze-like trees.
Jarvis was recalling how much they’d managed to achieve in their short time together, when he almost bumped right into someone who stood before him like a small unmoveable rock. He stumbled backwards a step and regained his balance before finding himself peering into the sly cunning face of a particularly devious looking Mynci.
“Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry,” he stuttered nervously, “I didn’t mean to -”
The Mynci cut him off with a quick wave of its paw and pointed towards his elaborate stall with a challenging grin, “Test your strength, friend? It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll walk away with more than you pay. You look strong, are you going to have a go, sir?”
Jarvis was about to turn down the challenge automatically and make his excuses, when he noticed how low the scores seemed on this particular game. All the other booths he’d seen had much higher scores to beat, and he found himself thinking that perhaps he’d stumbled upon what some people liked to call a ‘sure-thing’.
He had been vigorously training himself for months before this expedition in anticipation of the difficulties they might have to face, and he was quietly confident that his wings would be strong enough to hit a score high enough on this machine to make it worth his trouble.
His eyes sparkled as he allowed himself to imagine how pleased Kadar would be when he saw that he’d managed to earn them some more funds for their travels. He smiled confidently back at the waiting Mynci who was fiddling patiently with his red bowtie, and with only the slightest hesitation he handed over their very last neopoint.
Taking the mallet in his wings he was surprised by how light it felt for such a comically large tool, and as he swung it down towards the bullseye he couldn’t seem to gather any momentum at all - it was rather like wafting a giant feather at a stone.
When the mallet landed squarely on the trigger it barely even quivered, and he stood in dumbfounded shock as the laughing Mynci snatched the mallet from his paws, “Not as easy as it looks is it, friend? Oh well, I guess you’ll just have to go back to the gym. Now, move aside so everyone else can have a go.”
The poor Lenny found himself being pushed back by the surge of Neopets who had been lining up to play the game. His protests were lost as he found himself being jostled and herded backwards until he was quite a distance from any of the gaming booths he’d been standing beside just a few seconds before. He was finally beginning to think up a plausible excuse for losing their last scrap of money, when a very familiar figure came racing around from the back of one of the grand striped tents.
Kadar was running as fast as he could, his camouflage fur plastered back against his face from the speed at which he dashed. Following close behind him was a young Ruki girl, she was yelling angrily and chasing him with a look of furious determination on her delicate gold face, and Kadar was beginning to look a little worried until he spied Jarvis a short distance away.
He arced around in a large curve as he changed the direction of his sprint, knocking several Neopians off balance and earning himself a few choice words as he raced past. He paid them no attention whatsoever and almost hurled himself right into the startled Lenny as he dove behind him for protection.
“What on Neopia -?” Jarvis began as the gold Ruki caught up to them and started trying to grab Kadar from behind him.
“Hold on, stop it!” he demanded, “What exactly is going on here?” He used his sternest possible voice, and for the first time the young lady stopped what she was doing to look directly at him.
“Do you know this… this thief?” she demanded primly, pointing accusingly at the Ogrin who was still dancing out of her reach behind Jarvis.
“Thief? I do know him, but I think you must be mis-”
“He took a turn on my Cork Gun stall and then refused to pay up! He said he hadn’t got any neopoints.”
“Well, I haven’t,” burst our Kadar, still hiding behind his companion, “But he has. Give her the coin Jarvis, she just won’t leave me alone until you do and she’s scary when she’s angry, like a monster or something.”
Jarvis looked at the Ogrin for a second in hopeless despair and then turned his blue eyes back towards the young Ruki. “I’m very sorry, Miss, but I don’t have any neopoints either. I seem to have… misplaced our last one since arriving here. I’m sorry my friend has caused you so much trouble, but isn’t there something else we can help you with to repay his debt?” he looked at her and risked - what he hoped was - a reassuring smile.
She snorted in frustration, tossing her long red hair over her shoulder, “Fine then, if you’ll not pay me what you owe then you’ll have to come with me. We’ll have to talk to the Ringmaster,” she turned to stomp away and then called back over her shoulder, “And it’s not ‘Miss’. I hate all that formal stuff. My name is Constantina.”******
The inside of the Ringmasters huge tent was dim and gloomy, more like a storage tent than a meeting place. There were many strangely shaped objects crowded into the corners covered in old cloth that disguised whatever could lay underneath. Jarvis felt a shudder run down his spine as he thought of what could be hiding beneath them - his imagination running wild in the creepy darkness - and he watched in mute horror as Kadar poked and prodded at the bulbous shadows with his perpetual curiosity.
Constantina stood a little way off to the side of them tapping her heeled foot impatiently, and occasionally shooting vicious looks from her black painted eyes to the Ogrin who was managing to ignore her perfectly.
The curtain flap which served as a door lifted up slowly and a small robotic Chia dressed as a clown in striped trousers and face paint whirred into the empty space holding a lantern, sending the sawdust that coated the floor flying up into the still air. It stopped before them, the light filling the tent with a welcoming glow, and lifted it’s painted face upwards, looking at them as though they were an audience at a show.
It spoke in a clipped machinery fashion which even gained Kadar's full attention, “Now. Introducing. Ladies. And. Gentleman. The. Ringmaster.”
It leaned forwards sharply as though bowing and scuttled off to the side to make way for the huge shape of a blue Tonu that was pushing through the curtain behind it. The Ringmaster was a very large Neopet indeed, and Constantina smirked to herself when she saw Kadar gulp a little as he took in the size of the gentleman before him.
The overbearing Tonu was dressed head-to-foot in a bright red uniform with glittering silver buttons, and he wore an over-sized top hat that somehow made him appear ever taller than he already was. He looked quite terrifying, and for a brief moment both Jarvis and Kadar were completely lost for words.
Recovering first, the Ogrin stretched out a steady camouflage paw and smiled widely, “My good sir,” he began politely, “There appears to have been some sort of misunderstanding between -”
The Ringmaster raised a giant hand to cut him off, “Connie tells me you owe her a neopoint, is this correct?”
“Well, I suppose in a way -”
“Is that correct?” he demanded again, snorting through nostrils the size of two lumps of coal.
Jarvis stepped between the two of them quickly, “Yes sir, it’s true. We seem to be in debt to Constantina here but we don’t have any neopoints left at all. We’re on an expedition of Neopia, and funding is rather difficult to acquire, I’m afraid. Is there something else we could do to repay you both?”
He looked pointedly at Kadar, willing him to add an apology of sorts but the Ogrin just turned away and began plucking at the cloth covering one of the mysterious bulging objects again.
The blue Tonu stroked his beard thoughtfully as he looked at the two Neopets before him, then he beckoned Constantina to join him as he walked a little distance away. The Ruki and Tonu began whispering animatedly to each other in hushed voices, and with each word Connie seemed to be growing more and more upset, until finally she stopped objecting and just nodded in irritated agreement with whatever was being said.
The Ringmaster returned to the centre of the tent and addressed his small audience strictly, “Connie insists that you pay off what you owe her. She acknowledges that you have no neopoints at present, but still demands that you must pay in full. She has decided,” and here he glanced in her direction as she sighed theatrically, “That she will accompany you on your travels until your debt is paid off.”
Kadar jumped forward outraged, “But she can’t! We’re on a dangerous journey and she’s... I mean, it was only one neopoint. Come on, just let it drop, okay?” He shook his head in disbelief at the absurdity of dragging this gold Ruki along with them into the great unknown areas of Neopia.
“To you it may be just one neopoint,” the Tonu boomed, “But to Connie it is part of her livelihood. If everyone refused to pay her what they owed she would not be able to remain here at the fair with us, and we are so fond of her. Everybody must learn to pay their debts, do you understand?”
This time it was Jarvis who answered humbly, “Yes. I think it’s an excellent idea, after all it won’t take long to earn a single neopoint. I happen to think that in the meantime Constantina will make a fine adventurer.”
"Please, call me Connie."
For the first time since they had met, Jarvis was blessed with a genuine smile from his new companion, and an equally genuine scowl from his old one. ******
When the three unlikely travellers had exited the tent bickering amongst themselves, and the Ringmaster had followed on quietly behind - from a forgotten corner the small robot Chia whirred back into life. It beeped to itself thoughtfully a few times, flashing several red and blue lights around the interior of the tent and then rolled through the curtained door, its gears making a sharp clanking noise as it sped back to its own tent in a secluded area of the large fairground.
To Be Continued...