850 Meters: A Kass Basher Tale
The second I hear the fanfare, I know I’m in for it.
You see, it’s one thing to be a plushie modeled after the great hero Kass—well, hero to the Darigan Citadel, at least—and have the pleasure and privilege of wearing a well-known face instead of looking like an ordinary Neopet. That by itself would have been a nice life. Some little Darigan Acara or Skeith would have begged their owner to take me home, and I would have been played with, well-worn, loved.
But no. It’s another thing entirely to be a Kass plushie who spends year after year being dropped from a tree and whacked around on the pretense that Kass just happened to sort-of get corrupted and be the antagonist in the Battle for Meridell that one time. But is that any reason to doom a stuffed Eyrie to eternal pummeling? I’m innocent! I’m stuffing and buttons! I’m not a crooked overlord! Do I look like the real Kass?
…Don’t answer that.
What I’m getting to is this: Neopians love their game avatars. And me, well, as the face of Kass Basher—the Kass who is bashed, if you will—I have the ability to grant them one. The trick is that they have to wallop me 850 meters or more into the Meridell wilderness. Remorselessly.
So I hear the trumpets—they grate right into your ears, honestly. Someone hauls me up to my usual place on the tree branch. If I weren’t made of stuffing, I would’ve left a permanent dent on that branch by now; someone’s always in the mood to whack the daylights out of me, so I basically live there.
Here comes that someone now: the avatar-seeker of the moment. I never see them in person, but they’re in charge of telling that Blumaroo when to hit me and how hard. Did you know, I’ve been smacked around for more than a decade by the same guy, and I don’t even know his name? He doesn’t speak, that Blumaroo. Just works his 24-hour shift in unwavering silence. Usually he gives the vaguest, curling hint of a smile. Like he enjoys his job a little too much. Jerk.
The wind opens at 9 meters/second, so I don’t even get the chance to close my eyes and make a wish to the Faeries before I’m unceremoniously dumped off the branch and into the whipping air.
I hold my breath and brace for impact—and nose-dive straight into the grass.
Clearly a first-timer, this one. Swung late. Wasted a perfectly-good wind. You know, this whole endeavor would always be over a lot quicker and more painlessly if these Neopians would just smack me properly on the first try.
I smash into the ground—again, again, come on, three more times. Whoever hired the Blumaroo today, they must be too impatient to wait for the wind; they’re firing me repeatedly at the earth to restart the level until they get another 9 m/s.
Which is fine, great, fantastic. I love nose-diving. Really does wonders for my beak, and doesn’t hurt at all. By all means, keep going.
Eventually they get it together, and the baguette comes flying at my face. At least whoever designed this cruel sport lets me ease into it. Players start with some nice, squishy bread before they bring out the bat and pretend I’m a baseball without feelings.
Anyway, I’m off. I don’t get too far with the baguettes, which is nice, because then I never have to worry that the Turtum will lose track of where I landed and leave me to disintegrate in the woods somewhere.
Speaking of landing—oof. Face plant. Every time. That shreds fabric, you know. My skin is fabric. Think about that.
And speaking of the Turtum, secondly—here he comes. I don’t know his name, either, but unlike the Blumaroo, at least he talks to me. As much as a Turtum can talk—which, oddly enough, is mostly in old-timey rhymes for this guy. He really takes that Medieval thing to heart.
He plants the flag to prove my distance—a whopping 182 meters. 850 is far out of sight. Then he picks me up, pats the grit from between my seams, and smiles at me.
“Kass, ye taketh one more hit,” he says, “Shall they continue or shall they quit?”
My inanimate little body doesn’t let me give that the deflating sigh it deserves. How I wish they’d quit. How I wish they’d all quit. Is this one avatar worth my suffering? Can’t you all go count Babaas with Imiya and leave me alone?
I think these questions very loudly, but the Turtum can’t understand my thoughts. Probably because I have no vocal chords. So he just whistles, and escorts me back to the tree, where that Blumaroo waits with his wicked little sneer folded into his cheeks.
The Neopian unlocked the stick. I know it. He knows it.
There really aren’t words to describe the difference between being hit with bread and being hit with a small log. Seriously, try it sometime and you’ll know where I’m coming from.
“But you can hit things farther with wood!”
At what cost?!
By now, I’ve resigned myself to how sore I’ll be in the morning. In every morning, for eternity. They might have to sew my little arms back on, or fix the miniature belt buckle they thought would make me look more regal. Like there’s any dignity in this.
My current player is even worse at wielding the stick than the bread—which, I mean, I understand; it’s arguably the hardest level. Getting to 450 meters with a small chunk of wood you stole from my tree (you’re welcome, by the way) is a frustrating task for even the most skilled whackers.
But what that means is that nasty blue Blumaroo gets all kinds of extra chances to pummel the stuffing out of me at the demands of this avatar-hungry Neopian. Oh, he looks so thrilled about it. I have all these fantasies of hurtling him into the air one of these days for a change.
For now, I take a few more flying lessons and a few dozen more nose-dives.
The Turtum keeps whistling as he comes to pick me up. I don’t think he understands how much he’s a part of this system—and doubly so! He’s not only a perpetrator, hired to tow around my defeated body like a limp sack of Extreme Counter potatoes, but he’s a victim, too. He’s on his feet literally 24/7, on an endless march to the edge of the woods and back again. He’s responsible for sniffing me out, hunting me down, dragging me back to that unperturbed tree. And I’m heavier than I look! Why do you think it takes so much wind to get me airborne? There’s no way me and Mr. Turtum aren’t suffering together.
This aforementioned Mr. Turtum, however, sees no issue with any of this. He says, “Farther ye have come, yet farther ye shall fly; let us return to thy tree, so ye may return to the sky.”
I try to at least enjoy the scenery on the way back now that it’s not drowned out by motion-blur, but I get queasy all the way to my talon-tipped toes when I see the Blumaroo now wielding an enormous spiked bat. I think those teeth on the bat are smiling wider than he is. I hadn’t even noticed the upgrade, the 450 meter victory; I was too busy imagining a life where someone hit me so hard, I ended up in a warm cottage in Brightvale.
The bat hurts the worst. For obvious reasons. I know everyone out there reading this likes to fling the bat around like a Wet Snowball when they play Kass Basher, thinking it’s not going to hurt anyone—but it hurts me. I need you to pause and think about all the times you’ve impaled me with spikes just to get your daily 3000 Neopoints over the years. Please, please, just consider the amount of Neopians per day who put me through that kind of trauma. It’s bad enough you all need this avatar, but there are so many less violent games out there that would win you just as much for your bank every day. I promise.
Well, might as well get this over with. Not that I have a choice.
I stare down at the bat from my tree. The ever-sunny day makes the spikes gleam with a promise. A very painful promise.
850 meters—what about 850 cupcakes? Or 850 pats on the back? Why can’t I have those things instead?
The wind creeps faster, two clicks at a time. I watch it strike 9. I feel the tree slip out from under me. I wish with all my little stuffed heart that this Neopian, whoever they are, will reach the avatar score on the first try.
I can tell from the angle of my take-off they will not.
Still, I have to admit, the spiked bat gets me the best view. I can see Meridell’s castle from up here, the way the day’s brightness beams off the gold trim and the Feepit-blue sky makes the flags fly prouder. It’s no Darigan Citadel, but it’s nice. The grass is always green here in Kass Basher, and the clouds are always soft and marshmallow-y. I suppose that’s one thing I can’t find fault with.
I can, however, find fault in getting to feel the wind through my seams and the sun on my beady-eyed face only to be abruptly jarred by a mouthful of dirt and a boink amongst a long-dead forest.
Then there’s the fear that follows: the fear of being lost. How the heck does that Turtum find me, anyway? Always so timely, too. I never have to worry for long. Maybe someone should give him a pay raise.
But at this point in the cycle, I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m desperately wishing for a nice soapy bath to get the grit and twigs out of my fabric. There’s one stuck in my left side right now, and it’s only going to get further jammed in there the more they hit me. Talk about the world’s worst splinter.
I’m going to get on my soapbox again while the Turtum carries me back (partially because I can’t bear to listen to him sing). Neopians, I try to be excited for you on this avatar journey. I try to remember that my suffering brings you joy and Neopoints and honor amongst your elitist avatar-hoarding colleagues. I even try to look past how impersonal that Blumaroo is and remember there’s a real person behind him, doing their very best.
I try to do all that and the thank you I get is another whack upside the head.
And another. And four more. And—you get the picture.
I’d better buckle in; it’s going to be a while. I let myself get lost in the flight instead of staying caught up in the spikes and dreadfully-hard wood of it all.
What I was saying before, about the view… You know, the more I think about it, maybe I should stop eating Crabby Apples for breakfast and try and appreciate what I’ve got going for me instead of ruminating on all the ways Neopians make me feel like I’m painted grey instead of Darigan. After all, is there any other plushie who gets to fly like me? Who gets to feel each breathy gust of that 9 m/s wind take them right up into those soft, gooey clouds? If I were playing at home with someone’s baby Aisha, no way would I have that chance.
And I’ll never have to face war the way the real Kass did. I’m set for life, repaired again and again without the fear of ever being discarded. I’ll take to the sky for as long as Neopia will have me. And, I guess, as long as Meridell’s contempt for my predecessor remains. Which will probably be, uh, forever.
I’m flying through the blue on one particular smack when it hits me. Not the bat, for once. No, the idea that maybe…maybe I’m just fine where I am. Doing this. Being the bash-ee. Helping Neopian after Neopian, flying 850 meters at a time. It’s a nice distance. It’s just far away to get that first sniff of freedom, you know? But it’s also got the safety of knowing Mr. Turtum will be there every time to take me back to my branch—which isn’t so bad, either. It’s cozy with the blowy canopy of leaves above it. It’s almost like a home, I guess.
That’s the way I’m feeling when my face bumps into the dirt on attempt number twenty or so. I’m a little dizzy with it, a little more exhilarated than I care to admit.
I hear the shuffle and crunch of the Turtum’s approaching footsteps, and weirdly, I’m ready to be taken back and smacked out here again. What does that say about me? Oh, Coltzan’s Shrine, I’m getting soft, aren’t I? Maybe I really have been hit one too many times. I’m losing my stuffing.
And that’s when the Turtum says, “Congratulations be in order! Ye be over 850; they crossed the border.”
The flag post goes up. 916 meters, it reads.
The Turtum keeps rambling—something about the lucky new avatar recipient quitting and going off to enjoy their victory—but I can barely hear him over the whip of the wind.
We trudge back. I’m placed back on the branch, to wait for the next player to persuade that ridiculous Blumaroo into whacking me about. Not that he needs any persuading. He’s just like that.
It’s lonely up here, the wait. Just me, little plushie Kass, alone on a branch under a sun that will never set. The Turtum isn’t here, either; he’s gone off on break until he’s needed again. Until I’m needed again.
So I lie here, and watch the wind warp itself back and forth. No one drops me from my perch when the meter says 9. No one signals the Blumaroo to give me his all with a loaf of bread, or a freshly-chopped branch, or that dreadful bat.
Man, I can’t help it: all I want in the world right now is to fly another 850 meters. Are you sure that player’s final score sent? Are you sure no one else is in line for their avatar?
Please, if you’re out there, reading this, come give me a break. Let me feel like I can fly like a real Eyrie. Remind me that my purpose might not be too noble, but it’s one breathtaking, sky-reaching trip, that’s for sure. Give me a sign that the people of Neopia appreciate my sacrifice.
Even if it rips at my seams just a little bit.