The Artist's Home
Getting lost in Neovia hadn't been your brightest idea. Even years after the curse had lifted, the lack of sunlight still sent a shiver down your spine as you struggled to get your bearings. Maybe it was just the absence of stars in the sky and overabundance of dead, twisting trees, but you'd found yourself stumbling through the streets like something undead yourself, gripped by a ferocious sense of unease by every cottage and citizen you passed. You shudder to think of the tailor's leering glass eye behind his dusty monocle, and recall with dread the unnaturally wide grin of the absurdly-named crumpetmonger. No, there was something unsettling about this place, you'd be sure to tell your friends when you were seated safely back in Neopia Central with a warm mug of hot chocolate and the hustle of ordinary folks all around. Something not quite right. Better to be left undisturbed.
It was lucky you'd met the gentleman when you did.
He was a strange fellow himself, to be certain, yet immeasurably less intimidating than his peers. Tall, but not impossibly so - slim, yet not skeletal - unusually dressed, but without suspicious dark stains or the ever-present funerary garb so many seemed to don in this town. He'd approached you as you shivered beside the cathedral and, like a person possessed, you'd followed him through lanes and alleys to a surprisingly charming little house right on the edge of Neovia. Though crooked and looking as though a strong wind would send it tumbling down, the windows glowed with a warm orange light that both comforted you and allowed you to see this mysterious gentleman clearly for the first time.
In the soft glow of a candlelit chandelier, you see an immaculately-dressed Peophin of indeterminate age. His mane is rich and silky, his hooves a brassy gold, the lids of his narrow eyes painted to match. His suit is clearly old but well cared for, and he wears a burgundy silk scarf knotted neatly at his throat. A red rose, as perfect as that of a fairy tale, sits upon his lapel. Though his posture is proud and his eyes somewhat haughty, you sense a wary kindness behind his strong demeanour. After all, he invited you into his home out of kindness... right?
"Would you care for some refreshments? Tea, coffee, a crumpet or two?" His voice is rich and velvety, the kind you'd expect of a noble-born.
You choose a hot beverage to drink and gratefully nibble upon something sweet. Strange, how as soon as you made your choice, the refreshments you desired appeared before you as though a silent presence had been listening to your every word. Still, in this dainty parlour - brocade wallpaper, plush rugs, a roaring fire before your feet - your earlier sense of unease seems to be evaporating. You offer your host a tentative smile.
"This is delicious, thank you so much. I can't tell you how glad I am to be somewhere so comfortable." The Peophin smiles charmingly. His teeth are as white and even as a string of pearls.
"The pleasure's all mine, my friend. You may call me Luchn. I am thrilled to make your acquaintance. It's not often I receive visitors to my humble abode, but it warms my heart whenever I am fortunate enough to receive a guest."
His sincerity startles you. "Y-you're certainly a generous host."
"I certainly hope to be so." His dark eyes sparkle with an almost child-like glee as he sips from his own dainty teacup. "But please, what brings you to Neovia?"
You tell him your reasons for visiting - to your surprise, in more detail than you'd intended, but the dapper Peophin has such an inviting presence, somehow. His quiet listening prompts you to tell him of your travels through the mountains of Shenkuu, the sands of Lost Desert and the oceans of Maraqua. You find yourself speaking as animatedly as though you were speaking to a lifelong friend. He nods and smiles, offering well-timed comments, until you mention your escapades in the depths of Maraqua. At this, he seems to become more alert.
"I see you have visited my childhood home!" Luchn exclaims, a hint of nostalgia in that velvety voice. "Though I reside in Neovia, Maraqua is still very dear to me. I would love to return some day."
Of course, many Peophins call Maraqua home. Far more than Neovia, to be sure. But the sense of loss in his tone surprises you. "Why don't you pay a visit? I'm sure you must have friends and relatives there?"
At first, you think your questions may have been too personal, but Luchn answers before you can fumble together an apology. "Alas, I have resolved to never return. The people of Maraqua and I have some... creative differences, and I regret I am no longer welcome amongst the familiar faces of my youth." The loss in his voice is so strong now, it brings a pain to your heart.
"I am sorry to hear that. But how strange! What ever could have upset them so?" Luchn seems so passionate and inspiring. This Peophin, a rejected exile? The thought baffles you so much, you forget to worry about minding his privacy. Fortunately, Luchn seems content to share.
"I may be a Neovian, and a Maraquan through birth, but beneath all of my titles and trappings I am an artist. To create art is why I live and breathe. Unfortunately, my peers do not approve of my fervour, and thus I find myself outcast."
His solemness leaves you indignant on his behalf, as though your own beloved sibling or lifelong companion had been scorned. "How awful for them to treat you in such a way. There's nothing wrong in following your passions." The anger in your voice would startle you, were you not lost in Luchn's story.
Luchn smiles wearily. "I am glad you feel such a way. I am enchanted to meet another who values the arts as highly as I. Truly, enchanted..."
You bask in the warmth of his approval. Something about this fellow seems to inspire servitude, or at least an overwhelming desire to meet his approval. You notice several paintings adorning the walls of his parlour - rich, oil canvases depicting Neopets of different species, all of them portraits painted in exquisite detail. How could his Maraquan neighbours have despised them so? The attention to detail is stunning, from the unflinching gaze of a Ghost Lupe to the small, sweet smile of a Red Elephante.
It's not just the talent of the artist. In fact, there is a familiarity surrounding these paintings that leaves you a little unsure. You don't know the names of these individuals, and you definitely haven't met them - yet their images seem known to you, somehow. Are they famous people? Your brain seems to associate them with newspapers or posters, but for the life of you, you cannot say why. But you have a more important question:
"Did you paint all of these?"
"Yes, every one." Luchn beams with pride. "In fact, you are presently surrounded by my most favourite paintings of all."
"Each of these paintings depicts an honoured guest who has visited my small home here in Neovia. I am loath to forget a visitor, and so I strive to keep an image of them here, in my home, for as long as I remain."
You blink. Every visitor? That's some real dedication. "Wow, that's just incredible. You mean to say you paint every guest you ever receive?"
Luchn nods importantly. "Precisely. In my lonely home, these paintings fill me with joy. Travellers are fleeting and gone before I truly know their souls, but now? It's as though they've never left."
"How lovely..." your voice trails away as you examine each painting more closely.
There is no mistaking the passion in Luchn's words. It is quite moving, if a little - well, very - dramatic. He must be a very lonely fellow, to have such strong feelings for the travellers he meets here in Neovia. Already, you can tell he regards you as a close friend. The thought flatters you, but inspires a certain pity for the dapper Peophin. No matter how noble and articulate he may be, to only receive the friendship of passers-by is a solitary existence indeed.
As you finish your drink, you notice how tired you are suddenly feeling. It's not just your worries that have melted away - now, you feel so worn out, it takes an effort just to place your teacup back upon its saucer. Ever a thoughtful host, Luchn notices your weariness.
"All your adventures must have tired you. Would you like to stay in my home? I have a very comfortable guest room, just upstairs."
Though ordinarily you would be alarmed at the thought of staying overnight in a stranger's home, you haven't the energy to refuse his offer. Groggily, you offer your thanks and stumble to your feet. It's funny - though your brain feels fuzzy with sleepiness, the paintings around you seem sharper and clearer than ever. The faces of each Neopet loom out almost supernaturally. It's like they're trying to tell you something, silently and inanimately. The Maraquan Kau's eyes seem to bulge with something close to terror. The Pink Lenny reaches out with an urgency that cannot be mistaken. You marvel at the emotions you feel from each portrait, even in this haze of sleep. Such a gifted artist, to inspire such strong feelings with simple portraits!
Your thoughts have not gone unnoticed. Luchn sighs theatrically as he leads you up a winding staircase.
"Yes, my paintings truly are remarkable, if I do say so myself. They make the most wonderful company. All my guests who stayed for just one night... they keep me company forever."
You haven't the energy to respond. So strange, to become sleepy so quickly. It's like something is draining the life from you.
Presently, you are ushered into your room for the night. You are grateful to find an inviting bed, full of plush blankets and soft pillows. Unusually, you see an artist's easel perched at the foot of the bed. Well, Luchn did say he rarely takes guests. Maybe this guest room doubles as his art studio? The thought does not trouble you for long. Before you know it, you are sinking into a deep, deep, sleep...
"Good night, my friend. Sleep well. Sleep deeply. Sleep forever."
The artist sits beside his easel. Vivid colours leap onto his canvas - oils exactly the shade of your eyes, capturing precisely the tone of your skin. His own eyes are alight with joy as you murmur in your cursed sleep, blissfully unaware of your fading presence in the land of the living. With each stroke of his paint brush, your form becomes less tangible, less real - but in his painting, you shine as brightly as a star. Luchn admires his work with a zeal close to idolatry. Perfect. He'll be sure to hang this in his parlour, ready to awe his next visitor, whenever the lucky soul finds its way into his home. It's a pity you'll never know just how lucky you are.
After all, who wouldn't want to live forever in a painting?