Her name did not roll off the tongues of Neopians as easily as the other faeries’ do, yet she had no need of one to precede her. The mention of Fyora’s name carried power before the Queen could even make an appearance to the ones that uttered it, and Jhudora’s struck fear before a Neopian could stick a single foot into past barrier of her bluff.
Nuria was neither Fyora or Jhudora, good or bad. Nuria was a traveler of the Lost Desert, a Fire Faerie enacting justice when she saw it necessary and retreating into the shifting sands when it was not. Sometimes, this meant disbanding bandit groups or safely returning cargo stolen by common thieves – mercenary work without the pay. Sometimes it was administrative work, watching each town unnoticed to ensure that they had proper food and water for their residents. She readily admitted that she did not have the right to act as judge and jury for the Lost Desert. But without her, the desert was without a faerie’s protection. Faerieland’s inhabitants were tied up in preventing future attacks on their land, something that seemed to be happening more and more these days. Even those faeries not currently warding their homeland up to its ears found themselves occupied by becoming defenders of the entire world, their protection spread thin across Neopia’s continents. Nuria had to protect the Lost Desert. If something happened, help from the other faeries could be entirely too late.
She was alone in these efforts. Somewhere along the millennias, she had forgotten how to ask for help. It was not fear of the residents of the Lost Desert that encouraged Nuria to keep her identity a secret as she enacted her work, wrapping her face under a scarf and binding her fiery wings to a spell within her spine, perfectly hidden unless she chose to withdraw them. Nor would she ever consider bothering the faeries of Faerieland for assistance. Truth be told, it was fear of expectation. That some Neopian would tell her the truth she dreaded to hear – that she wasn’t doing enough. She knew that. She knew that she could be doing much, much more. But there were only so many hours in a day, and only so much power that resided within her. There were whispers that it is ancient magic that keeps faeries alive for so many centuries, a power that can only be tapped by them. Nuria couldn’t help but feel that she was being kept alive by the pure flame of her shame.
It was a night like any other for the fire faerie. The ring of thieves sat around a midnight fire, digging into large portions of roast and drink as they detailed the day’s events. Nuria had flattened herself against a nearby sand-dune, so flesh against the sand’s grains that they didn’t even so much as shift as she inched her way closer to the bandits. An obsidian dagger sat at her hip in its holster, a weapon foreign to the Lost Desert but enchanted heavily by her magic. She brushed its hilt lovingly as a last reassurance before leaping from the dune and landing within the thieves’ firepit. The roast went clattering to the ground, and the bandits yelled, jumping to their feet.
“Flee now,” she yelled, the flames safely licking her legs as if they were Spardels, “before the offer expires.”
The power in her voice that most faeries have left them with little doubt that this was a fight that they could not win. They took off into the night without a word, masters of silence even in their fear, and left behind everything but themselves. Bags of gold and weapons far too expensive to have been their own sat around the fire, knocked over in the brief scuffle – though it was hardly worth calling it that – and Nuria stepped out of the flames to begin taking stock. From the looks of the weapons, they had all been lifted from the local bazaar in Qasala. She would do what she always did: deposit them within a safe location near the victims, and then vanish into the desert, leaving them to discover their turning fortune come the morning. They would never suspect who was to thank for their good luck, and that was the way that Nuria liked it. It was then that the chest caught her eye. It has been sitting there all along, but only now had she noticed it – not because she had turned her head, but because it had begun to shake violently.
Curious, she approached it slowly, dagger itching against her skin. Whatever it was, she was not ready to go down without a fight. Drawing one hand forward and another arched towards her weapon, Nuria flipped open the lid of the chest and gripped the hilt of her weapon, ready to strike down with a fatal blow.
A baby Blumaroo stared back at her.
Blood drained from Nuria’s face. Reflexively, her grip loosened on the dagger. She lifted the Neopet out of the chest, who didn’t struggle against her touch. It stayed silent, looking into her as if simply curious as to what she would do next. It was far too young to be able to speak.
“Little one,” she said, the first words she had said to any Neopian who was not someone she was trying to scare in a long time, “whatever are you doing in here?”
Of course, it didn’t answer, but Nuria’s eyes fell on a slip of parchment within the box. With her free hand, she picked it up.
“For delivery to the Neopian Pound,” she read aloud. “Well, my little one, I hate to be the one that tells you this, but you are quite the distance from Neopia Central.”
The incident was no reason to not go about her nightly duties, so Nuria sat the baby Blumaroo atop her head and began to wander the desert, careful enough that she would not dream of springing on any more bandit groups with the child in tow but keeping an eye out for imminent threats nonetheless.
“I have no idea who paid them to take you,” she said to the child as much as she did to herself, “but what cowards they were to leave you behind like that. You’re not even old enough to hold a rubber axe, no less properly defend yourself.”
The Blumaroo grunted in what she’d like to imagine was agreement but might have perhaps been a snore. It was all right. They were nearing their destination. The outskirts of Sakhmet greeted her, and she jumped willingly into the shadowy streets.
The orphanage was a place that Nuria had never been, personally, but she knew where it was. Perhaps this was not the case of whoever had first abandoned the Blumaroo, or perhaps they wished to be as far removed from the child as possible. Whatever their cruel reasoning, they had overlooked the orphanage of Sakhmet, a much kinder place to its inhabitants than Neopia Central’s pound from what Nuria had heard in passing. And if it wasn’t? She of all Neopians would be the first to know. There were benefits to living unheard and passing unknown.
Nuria gently lifted the Blumaroo off of her head and confirmed that he was indeed asleep. His baby-blue skin, which she had not been able to appreciate in the dark of the desert, shone under the full moon. The movement did not wake him, but he sighed in his sleep, flipping over in her arms. She smiled gently. The orphanage sat before them, a tall building sitting within a white spire. It was simple in its appearance, but it would do. She approached the doors and knocked them firmly with her fist. She could hear footsteps before they could so much as touch the door. Settling the Blumaroo down, she unbound her wings quickly and took off into the night. A Desert Elephante opened the door. He took in a deep breath of what smelled like singed air before looking down and discovering the surprise that the night had left.
Nuria had a goal. It still involved looking after the Lost Desert. It always would. But now, she had a focus. The children of the Lost Desert were in danger. And she would keep a special eye out for them.
Overpopulation within the cities of the Lost Desert lead to the mass abandoning of young neopets, as she had quickly discovered. Some took drastic means to rid themselves of the children and thus unburden themselves of the expense of raising a child within a place desperately competing for resources – some far worse than the case of the Blumaroo she had first rescued so many years ago. But not if she could help it. Over her years, she had gathered more children in the dead of night, distributing them to the orphanage. She now left gifts along with her deliveries, small goods that she had pocketed from the bandits before returning the rest to their rightful owners – money, and foods, and spells to protect the place from thieves.
It was a night like any other for the fire faerie. She approached the orphanage with a baby Moehog swaddled in her arms, protected from the cold of the desert night. Light flames now illuminated the orphanage, making it easier to spot in the night. She deposited the child on the steps and was about to take off when she just so happened to read the sign hanging above the orphange’s door, the smell of fresh pain drawing her head upwards.
“Nuria’s Orphange”, it read.
Her eyes turned even further upwards as if drawn to something. Her heart hammered in her chest. Had someone noticed her?
Within an illuminated window sat an adult Blumaroo with baby-blue skin, smiling down at her. He pointed down at the sign again, as if encouraging her to re-read it. In smaller letters, she noticed an additional statement:
“Now maintained and operated by Administrator Blumaroo.”
She wanted to ask him how he knew who she was. How long he had been watching her. But instead of questions swelling her head, she allowed pride to bloom in her chest. She stepped back from the sign, smiling. She unfurled her wings and shot up into the sky like a comet, leaving a trail of spark and smoke behind her. The Blumaroo watched the spectacle, then opened his window to inhale the singed air that she had left behind. Maybe they would talk another night.
Because she was around, he knew that there would always be another night.