The Gatherer and the Rogue
He didn't know exactly how he ended up here in Altador. Many parts of his memories were a blur. Faintly he could remember something about the long journey up to here, but before that? The last thing he could remember clearly was being rescued by the Petpet Protection League, after being caught in his own trap.
Once again, his old mistake had caused everything he had planned to fail. The Petpet Protection League had cast him out, only because he preferred to use a pen. It had driven him insane, quite literally. While at it, he had done things he was now regretting. This was why Yurius had come to Altador, to find the only person who would love Petpets even more than he did; maybe she could help him.
On a small hill at a short distance outside the city of Altador, there was a little shrine dedicated to the Gatherer. It was a beautiful place and many Altadorians loved to come there to enjoy the peace of it, the scenery, and the many Petpets that dwelled there.
The Yellow Acara, who was walking up to the shrine, had escaped the busy city and her duties to get a moment of peace. She didn't notice the Skunk Kyrii at once, while walking up to the shrine, but rather thought him to be an overgrown Altachuck. With a quick movement, the Acara shook her long red hair behind her back again. She'd better not tell this to Jerdana or Siyana. Mostly likely they wouldn't stop laughing when they heard it.
It was then she noticed the Kyrii was crying. Tears from his eyes were leaking onto the ground. She walked up to him and asked whether something was wrong and put her hand on his. He didn't answer her, but didn't reject her friendly gesture either.
They sat a while together, but after some time, the Acara realized she had to go again. She left the Kyrii alone, with whatever problems he was facing. At the same time she felt bad there wasn't any more she could do for him. Strange, thought Fauna when she walked towards the city again. He didn't even recognize me. She wasn't used to that.
"Are you sure you'll manage?" Jerdana asked skeptically. She knew Fauna wasn't too fond of receiving visitors. Once a week, she held an open court where all Altadorians could come if they had problems with their Petpets, but receiving visitors for something different... It would be tactical to say the Yellow Acara wasn’t what you would call a diplomat. If Fauna had any chance to pass those tasks over to the Blue Aisha, she would do so.
"Yes, you can let my guest in. Is there something wrong with him?" Fauna asked. "You seem so..."
"I don't know, Fauna, there's just... something about him. Like he's been very close in touch with darkness in the past." Jerdana opened the door of the private room to let a Skunk Kyrii in.
"You!" Fauna shouted when she recognized him. "You were at the shrine this morning."
Jerdana had withdrawn herself to the corner of the room. She pulled down a red and gold orb, from beneath her dress and with it in her hands, she made a few gestures. Fauna had seen that before. It was a simple act of magic, simple for Jerdana at least, to reveal if someone was to be trusted or not. Then Jerdana gave her a nod and disappeared. Fauna had gotten the message. Whatever else might turn out of what the Kyrii was saying, because of Jerdana’s little work of magic she knew he could be trusted, for if he wasn't, Jerdana would have dealt with him right away.
Though Fauna might not be used to receiving a visitor, she did know how to treat him. She ordered him to sit down and offered him something to drink.
"It's called Black Cherry Tea; it's been given to me as a gift from Shenkuu." She paused for a bit, and then continued talking. "Now, please tell me who you are, why you are here, and why you were crying there at the shrine. It seems to me, you're carrying quite a lot with you."
"My name is Yurius. You might have heard about me right now."
"I'm fairly sure word about my actions has gone through all offices of the Petpet Protection League by now, and it's not a nice story." Yurius was surprised. He didn't expect he would have to tell his whole story again.
"I'm sure that has happened, but as long as it doesn't directly concern Altador, I'm not interested in those loads of paperwork." There was a bit of annoyance in Fauna's voice, which had nothing to do with Yurius, but everything with the Petpet Protection League. "So, tell me your story."
Yurius started to tell, and Fauna listened. She heard how he started as a young student at the Petpet Protection League. He had clearly been an outstanding student, who appeared to have all the capacities to become an agent, and his love for Petpets wasn't questioned. It was the tiny things that caused problems. The fact that he forgot for many times to write with the required pencil seemed to be the biggest problem. It seemed the Petpet Protection League made the choice for rules over ambition, in the end, and Yurius was fired.
When she heard this, Fauna felt sorrier for Yurius than she could tell. Because the Gatherer knew one thing: everything you wanted to achieve in life, it all starts with ambition; it starts with a dream. Once she followed the dream of a White Lupe. Although in the end it had shown her evil in its purest form, Fauna wouldn't have missed the things she had done in her life for anything in the world. She had become much more than a farmer’s girl could have ever wished for.
"Go on, what happened next?" She had to ask, because suddenly Yurius had fallen silent.
"I became bitter with the PPL, and I was angry at them. But at the same time, there was nothing I would rather do than work for them. Then I found out about some secret plans: the plan to make a park solely for the fun of Petpets. Some new species would have to be brought to Neopia through different portals."
"Humph," Fauna said. "Petpet Park. Don't get me started about it."
"Special agents would be assigned to open the portals and bring the Petpets to safety. When I found out about that, something broke inside of me. It should have been my job to help on such a mission, and I was sure I would have done a better job than they would do. It drove me mad, literally."
Yurius paused. Tears were leaking from his eyes.
"I still had some of the equipment needed for it. Then the idea formed in my mind to open the portals instead of the assigned agents, take the Petpets from it, and bring them to Petpet Park. I was sure if I appeared there, carrying the new Petpets with me, they would take me back as an agent once again. I was so wrong about that..."
"Your plan failed?" Fauna asked gently, more gently than Yurius would have expected her to be after he told this part of the story. "Have some more tea; it's said to have a soothing effect."
Yurius took a few sips of tea. "They were better than I expected; the agents entrusted with the missions, I mean. Already during the first missions, they noticed I'd been there too, but didn't manage to open the portals. After all, they did have more up to date equipment for it. I suppose they contacted Weltrude about it and she made some kind of villain out of me, like I was evil and wanted to harm the Petpets. I never wanted that, not even in the end, when I did manage to open the portals before the agents came. I did hide the Petpets from them, but I never meant to harm them. The Petpets were all safe! You should have heard those agents talking to them, when they 'rescued' the Petpets: they called them poor things and frightened, as if I did something terrible to them, and I never did!"
"You'd better not have," Fauna said dryly. "How did this end?"
"It ended in Maraqua, where I had trapped myself and the agents. I think I was rather walking on the edge around that time; I was obsessed with proving I was a better agent. I had us both trapped, and the one who figured out the secret combination to escape first would have made it out safely. It's terrible, I know, but that's how low I had sunk. One could say even lower than that, because I already had the answers. Except I wrote them down with ink. You can figure out what happened with it in water... Oh, it was terrible... I was fired because I always write with a pen, and now I'd failed everything because I did the same." Yurius buried his face in his hands, crying. "I don't... I don't know what happened next. They took me to Mother Bruce, I suppose, but what happened there, or how I got here, it's... it's all a blur to me. I only knew I had to be here to tell you what I had done."
Fauna walked up to him and held the crying Kyrii in her arms for a while. "You didn't hurt the Petpets. Please remember that Yurius. You've done many things wrong, but you've always made sure the Petpets were never in danger."
"Have you ever heard of anything more evil than what I have done?"
"Yes, Yurius, I have. You know this is Altador. I assume you are familiar with the city and why it exists in this time. I've seen evil, I've seen the ultimate evil at work and at one time, I called her a friend, like the others."
"The Darkest Faerie..."
"Exactly. I've seen her at work, against Pets and Petpets, and I can tell you one thing, Yurius: compared to her, you're more of a good guy than a bad guy. It is important to me that you never hurt any Petpets."
Fauna paused for a moment, and then continued. "The Yooyu is the sacred Petpet of Altador. We founded a pact with the twelve original Yooyus at the city’s earliest history. We cared for them and kept them happy. Then, during the darkest days Altador had known, we found them dead in their cages. Killed by one single spell. Her spell..."
"It was; but to answer your question, bad as your story may be, I've seen worse."
"So even as a villain I fail..."
Fauna laughed. "It’s a good thing too. Someone with your talents shouldn't sink that low, especially not when our lovely Weltrude is at play."
"Sarcasm?" Yurius asked in surprise.
"Yes. I might be Fauna, the Gatherer. They say a kinder heart than mine never existed. However, this doesn't mean I can't dislike anyone. The list of people I dislike is short, that's true. But that doesn't mean I don't have one."
"Let me guess, Weltrude's on it?"
“Weltrude... let's say that on that list she's outnumbered by the Darkest Faerie, but otherwise... I'll have to say I can't get along with the Petpet Protection League anyway."
"But you founded it."
"More than a thousand years ago, I started an organization for the welfare of Petpets. At that time, some Pets still treated their Petpets cruelly or thought they were only there to work for them. We worked hard at making Pets realize cooperation should be an important base for relations between Pets and Petpets. Those ideas have been taken into Neopia, and in the thousands years that followed, the Petpet Protection League emerged. I'm not sure whether I can be considered the founder of it. I do know, however, that the way we get along nowadays is not the way any respecting organization should treat their founder."
"What is the problem between you and them?"
"It all started when Altador returned from the thousand years’ slumber. To protect us against the Darkest Faerie, Jerdana had to take our memories away. I didn't have any memory about founding an organization for the protection of Petpets anymore; neither had anyone else. Then the Petpet Protection League struck: they annexed everything there was about Petpet welfare in Altador into their own organization. You should realize, it was Weltrude who was behind this move. She and her henchmen took everything I worked on so hard for many years for themselves, and the only thing I'm good enough for is for the ceremonial things and the logo. Even for that, Weltrude uses her own. So you understand, after everything she did to me, she's not the person I'd like to have a cup of tea with."
Yurius did indeed remember how Weltrude replaced the logo of the Gatherer constellation by the well-known logo of a paw.
"Next to that, now we have the great wonders of Petpet Park," Fauna continued. "Petpets should remain Petpets; they can be our best friends when we play with them, our partners when we work and of course we have the duty to take care of them, but dressing them up, teaching them to play games and all? That's one step too much for me. If you're doing that, you do not love Petpets, you're cuddling them until they don't know what they are anymore. Let Weltrude have her Petpet Park. I somehow have the feeling the Petpets at my shrine are happier." Fauna stood up and walked to the door. "Come with me, Yurius. There is something I have to show you."
They walked through Altador for a while. First in silence, because Yurius had a lot to think about, like how Fauna disliked Weltrude so much. This surprised him. Yet the things she had said had made sense, much more than some things he had learned when he still worked for Weltrude. Because, somehow, he realized, Fauna did understand Petpets in a deeper way than Weltrude ever could.
"Where are we going to?" Yurius asked in the end.
He had thought Fauna would take him to the shrine again, but as little as he knew about how to find his way into Altador, they were going in a whole different direction.
"I'm taking you to the Colosseum."
"The Colosseum? That would be where..?"
"Yes, where each year the Altador Cup takes place. Winning the Cup is the highest prize one can get in the game of Yooyuball, a game that uses a Petpet, the Yooyu, as the eleventh player. Weltrude had to call Yooyuball 'a game of unnecessary cruelty towards this venerable species of Petpets' in a recent article. It’s not like she knows anything about it. It’s not like she's ever been inside the Colosseum and seen the Yooyus who enjoy the game even more than some of the players. For a Yooyu, it's an honour to play in the Cup."
Fauna continued after a while.
"You should realize cooperation between Pets and Petpets has always been one of the things I've been working for. Yooyuball is one of those things of cooperation. Yooyus have lots of energy; that's what makes Yooyuball the perfect game for them. They'd be bored and therefore start to do mischief if they didn't get regular training."
"You say that's what makes Yooyuball the perfect game for them, like Yooyuball is there for the Yooyus?"
"Yes, because, long ago, the basics of the game were invented to keep the Yooyus busy. Not for our own pleasure, although the inventors did rather enjoy it. You see, Yurius, the Petpet Protection League can have an opinion about many things, and easily talk about cruelty against Petpets, but for many times they don't know what they are talking about. That is the problem Altador has with them. We have our own history with Petpets and they tend to forget that."
When they had almost reached the Colosseum, Fauna turned to Yurius again.
"There's one thing I'd like to know."
"Why do you always write with a pen?"
Yurius gave Fauna a sad smile and showed his right wrist. Barely visible, there were small scars on it.
Fauna gasped. "Something bit you."
"A Gallion. It wasn't mean. It was trapped in a rock-slide and was very, very scared. I got it out of there, but not without... quite some hassle."
"And so you got injured." Fauna concluded.
Yurius nodded. "Yes, the bite did quite a bit of damage. It healed nicely, but if I write for long periods of time, it can act up again. I use a special brand of pen to prevent that. Pencil is... too painful for long periods of time." He paused. "It's not that they didn't know about it at the PPL; I told them. But they couldn't make an exception to their rules. It's ironic. I've always loved Petpets. It was that love that caused me to free that Gallion, but because of that, my future at the PPL was ruined."
"It shouldn't be that bad." Fauna said. "There's a new future waiting for you."
Inside the Colosseum, they met a rather unusual sight.
"You monster! I can't leave you alone for just a single minute before you escape again!"
A Yellow Eyrie was yelling angry at a Darigan Yooyu, while chasing him. If anyone of Weltrude’s people would have talked this way to a Petpet, they would have been fired on the spot.
"Hi, Fio." Fauna, however, didn't seem impressed at all with the Yellow Eyrie’s outburst. Neither did it look like the Darigan Yooyu who was now happily sitting on the Eyrie’s shoulder suffered any mental damage from her outburst.
"Did he escape again?" Fauna asked.
"It's the off-season and he's bored." The Eyrie laughed. She looked rather energetic with her long blonde hair and athletic posture.
"Then I wonder what his excuse for escaping at the time during the Cup will be." Fauna laughed too.
A white Eyrie had entered the room as well. "In that case, it will be: it's the Altador Cup period and he needs a break."
"Herme, you are just the one I was looking for," Fauna said.
"Of course, you were looking for me; why else would you have come here?" he replied in a way that showed he had known Fauna for a very long time. "What's the problem you have?"
"This is Yurius. He worked some time for Weltrude, but he was fired. Now..."
"He's more than welcome here. Anyone who has problems with Weltrude is my friend," Herme replied.
"There's a little more to that," Fauna said.
Herme chuckled. "I love it when you say 'There's a little more to that'. I'm sure you'll tell me, girl, but for now, what do you want me to do?"
Fauna took a deep breath and looked at Yurius. "Yurius, this is Herme. He's the head Yooyukeeper. That means he's responsible for all the Yooyus that play in the Altador Cup, throughout the year."
Yurius shook hands with Herme. "Nice to meet you."
"Now," Fauna continued, "Herme could always use a lot of help. I'm making you the following offer. You say you regret everything that you have done. I’m willing to give you one more chance, but before I do so, I'll have to put you to the test. I want you to work here with Herme and the others for a month as a test to see if you really care for Petpets and don't mind the hard work that can come with working with them, and also just to find out if I can really trust you. Do you accept that?"
Yurius nodded. He was glad Fauna had given him a task for the next month, and that she still had trust in him. He would also work with Petpets again, even if it was at a place the reader of the PPL instructor had called 'filled with evil which promoted cruelty against Petpets'.
He thought about the happy looking Darigan Yooyu at the Yellow Eyrie's shoulder. He sure looked like he was one of the Yooyus Fauna had talked about, the ones who started to do mischief if they didn’t get regular training. He also thought about the Fire Yooyu who was floating around Herme and couldn't keep his eyes off him. They looked well cared for and not like they were suffering from the game they had to play in. He wondered how well they would be doing in Petpet Park. At best, they would be enough to drive all the employees crazy, and somehow he was sure they weren’t the kind of Petpets that would love to be dressed up and play games.
Except for one game. Their game. Yooyuball. If even Fauna said they actually liked it more than many of the players, why would he question her, even if the PPL said otherwise? This was her country, and her wisdom.
“Just remember, Yurius, this will most likely be the last chance you'll ever get," Fauna said to him."
"As long as you allow me to write with a pen, I won't mess it up this time."
The Gatherer smiled in a mysterious way. She knew how much Yurius could use the help she had given him, but it had been a good deal. For she could always use someone with his talent, his ambition, and his love for Petpets. A love that was only outnumbered by the many, many Petpets that lived in Neopia.
Yurius kept his word. He knew the chance Fauna had given him was the very last chance he would ever get. He passed his trial period at the Colosseum, he passed the several tests Fauna put him through, and he began to appreciate the way she handled Petpets more and more. Then one day, when Weltrude with her agents came to Altador for a ceremony, to ask the Gatherer to give them good luck for her Petpet Park, Yurius was sitting next to Fauna as her personal assistant.
Biggest thanks to the NCMCC and the Yurius people. You know who you are ;) I couldn't have done it without your support!