Life's A Stage
The clattering of freshly-polished copper pieces resonated sonorously through the musty old room like a chorus of wedding bells. Wrenches rattled; cogs began to turn and tumble. The machine had once again been made functional. Given life, if you will. This was all in a day's work for Jacob, however. He brushed off his sweat-covered brow with his paw and adjusted his goggles.
"There, that should do it," he said quietly to himself. "Let's just hope the gears stay in place this time."
Jacob lived a relatively calm lifestyle, one quite unusual for a Neopian, but he didn't mind at all. In fact, he quite liked it. Once again odd for a Neopian, Jacob was a bit of an introvert. He much preferred staying inside tinkering than going out and meeting new friends. The majority of his social interaction came from his jobs working with paying customers. This brown Kougra was a Moltaran tinkerer. He picked up the trade fairly early on, and since then, it has become an integral part of his life, both as a source of income and as a hobby. He had to put his intelligence to use somehow, after all.
It was at that moment that H.O.O.T., Jacob's petpet Albot that he crafted (Hours of Ornithological Tinkering, for those who were curious), entered the room with something strapped to its back. Not usually one for conversation, he whirred into view, spun around once, deposited the package, and left the room once more. The item deposited was, in fact, an invitation. Or, at least, Jacob assumed so. There was quite a fancy font used on the stationary, after all. Jacob opened the letter and began to read:
We are pleased to announce that you are cordially invited to this year's Brightvale Gala of the Elite. This is a tremendous honor, and as such, we expect you to treat it in such a manner. Notable Neopians from around the planet (and beyond, in some cases) have already been invited to attend, so be mindful of this. No RSVP is necessary. Please consider spending your evening with us.
With warm regards,
King Hagan of Brightvale."
Had Jacob read that correctly? A gala in Brightvale for notable Neopians, and he was invited? There had to be some sort of mistake.
"Well, I wouldn't want to upset King Hagan. He's practically an idol of mine, H.O.O.T., since he's a symbol of enlightenment and intelligence. Oh, what I could learn from those Brightvale scholars..." Jacob began to say as he was cut off by a sense of dread. "Oh my. What if I make a fool of myself there? I could very well ruin my chance of showcasing my knowledge before I get a chance to say one word to them... Just keep calm, Jacob. Everything will work out just wonderfully," he said, trying to boost his self-confidence. With nary a word, he began to pack his things and leave his home.
"I haven't been to the surface in a long while, H.O.O.T., so I hope I can adapt easily. The last time I was up there, Faerieland was still in the sky," Jacob said with a nervous chuckle. H.O.O.T. was unfazed.
Jacob had reached the lifting station in downtown Moltara. Here, one could rent steam-powered wings to get to the surface with ease. Luckily, Jacob got the service at a discount rate. He helped design the system after tourism to Moltara spiked in recent years, after all. With the pack strapped on and a friendly Scorchio worker helping to carry his luggage, Jacob was en route to the surface. Luckily no impending doom stood in his way as of yet.
Upon reaching the stone gates of Moltara, Jacob boarded the first boat to Brightvale, wondering what the future would hold for him at this gala. With ample luck, the ends would justify the means, so to speak. The concept of conversing with Brightvale's sharpest minds overshadowed the dislike of social gatherings in Jacob's mind.
"Are the preparations completed as of yet?" King Hagan asked with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"Not yet, your majesty. The tinkerer you called for has yet to arrive," stated one of Hagan's guards, a green Techo. "Not to question your leadership, of course, but why exactly did you outsource to Moltara to hire a tinkerer at this short of notice?"
"It... seemed like a good idea at the time. It helps our foreign relations, after all. We haven't had much correspondence or communication with Moltara at all prior to
this," Hagan explained.
"Good plan, your majesty, if I do say so myself," the guard stated.
"Flattery gets you nowhere with me, lad. I just wanted a straight answer."
"Um... right! A thousand pardons, your majesty."
"Just get back to work already..." the King said in exasperation. "And once the tinkerer shows up, take him to me at once to discuss important matters. And be sure to let any visitors know that I'm out for the day, so I cannot judge their knowledge at this time!" The Techo was already making his way down the long green-and-gold hallway at this point. "Fyora help me..."
Jacob took a long look at the kingdom that had come into full view. Beautiful stain glass windows and gorgeously sewn tapestries invaded his vision with a battalion of colors and patterns. The smells of freshly-polished armor and roasted meat came into full fruition before his very nose. The locals were chatting about and having a merry old time with each other, sharing the day's local news as they went about their daily lives. It was almost overwhelming for Jacob. As the boat finally docked, an orange Quiggle with a very fine mustache stepped aboard.
"I am looking for a 'Jacob.' Jacob from Moltara? Does that fit anyone on board's description?" the Quiggle asked as he looked at the passengers. He noted Jacob's manner of dress. "Would you perchance be Jacob?"
"Yes sir, I received the invitation that was sent to me," Jacob explained.
"Ah, yes, come with me. King Hagan would like a word with you."
Jacob was absolutely terrified. He had planned to ease into the whole "socialization" thing when he arrived, but now he was being thrown to the Lupes, so to speak. He did not wish to disrespect the King, however, so he complied with the Quiggle's orders. "Do you know why King Hagan wishes to see me?" Jacob asked his escort.
"I'm afraid I'm only a messenger, lad. I do not know anymore about the nature of this call than you yourself do," the Quiggle explained. "Feel free to enjoy the sights that Brightvale has to offer on our way back to the castle, though."
As the duo made their approach toward the castle, Jacob noticed a family's door was removed from the frame, and they were having trouble re-hinging it. Without hesitation, he went over and applied more robust and reliable hinges, and then returned to the Quiggle.
"You fixed their door that quickly?" he asked Jacob.
"Hinges are one of the easier things to reattach. Back in Moltara, sometimes entire tumbling mechanisms and boilers had to be replaced. Now those take quite a bit of time," Jacob explained. It was strange. Normally he wouldn't converse to that extent, but when it came to mechanical tinkering, he could go on for days on end.
As the two finally reached the castle gates, the Quiggle departed back to the docks to bring in more guests. In turn, Jacob was left with a guard Techo.
"Ah, you must be Jacob! We must return to King Hagan posthaste!" the Techo exclaimed before practically dragging Jacob into the foyer. "King Hagan! We've finally found him!"
King Hagan turned around to see Jacob and the Techo standing there, the former visibly confused and the latter brimming with absolute joy. "Ah, good to see you. Jacob, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. I'm really sorry if I seem nervous, but may I ask why you called me here?" Jacob asked, wiping the perspiration off his goggles.
"Did you not read the invitation?" Hagan asked, perplexed.
"On the contrary, your majesty. I actually still have it with me as we speak," Jacob explained as he pulled out the letter. "I mean no disrespect toward your judgment, but I don't exactly know what makes me qualified as an 'Elite' Neopian. Could you perhaps shed some light on this?" Jacob asked.
King Hagan looked at the invitation once more. "Did you receive the project plan that was sent with this letter?" Hagan looked a bit crestfallen.
"I can't say I did, with all honesty. What was I missing?" Jacob asked with audible nervousness.
"Essentially, you were invited due to your talented mechanical craftsmanship. We received word that you have a penchant for knowledge and that you have earned awards for some of these mechanical creations," Hagan explained. Jacob turned bright red at this. In his earlier days, he had won a few local awards for his rather modest inventions. One of these actually included H.O.O.T., whom Tangor had let him craft on his own due to Jacob's notable level of expertise. "We needed a tinkerer to create an intricate mechanical turn-table, of sorts. Essentially, we wish to have a stage right in the main dining hall that would rotate into the back wall, where different guests could stand in place as the stage brings them to the podium. Essentially, we wished to create a "History of Neopia" presentation to show at the gala during the dinner portion. It would cover everything from Sloth's first steps onto the barren wasteland up until present day. I felt that a rotating stage would help accomplish that, but we currently lack the mechanical experience to put the idea into use. That, in turn, is why we enlisted your aid. Should you accept, dinner and housing will be provided until the gala's completion. Are you up for the task?" Hagan asked. It was a hefty workload, sure. Jacob would need to prepare the stage, create the turn-table, and put the two together, to put it briefly. Obviously, the work involved is not nearly as abridged.
"Sure, I can do it if you need me to. But as far as..." Jacob started.
"...Payment, I'm guessing? How much do you charge per hour?" Hagan asked.
"No, no... I actually wanted to know if I could get something else in return. I am in no need for monetary gain at the moment. You see, I'm not the most confident Neopian, but one thing I do pride myself in is the pursuit of knowledge. From what I understand, many of Brightvale's scholars are also going to this gala. If I were to do this, would I be able to speak with some of these scholars? If not, I can understand, but this would mean quite a lot to me," Jacob proposed.
"I'll see what I can do, sure. It'd go against our kingdom's mission to deny one the right to pursue knowledge," Hagan said reassuringly. "Oh, before I forget, since you're now a part of the planning committee, I feel it's only fitting that you see the guest list. The ones who are presenting on stage during the dinner have a star next to their name. This may help you plan your design."
As Jacob received the list of invitees from King Hagan, his heart nearly sank at not only the length of the list, but also at the importance of the guests on it. "Is it safe to have all of these important figures in one place?" Jacob asked.
"This gala is genuinely unknown to most Neopians. Only those with an invitation know it even exists, so any issue regarding safety is taken care of. All of the different Neopian worlds have had their leaders go in the past. All they do is up the amount of security if a threat arises. The public doesn't know the difference," Hagan explained in order to reassure Jacob.
Jacob read the list over once again. "Jeran, Hanso, Brynn, Hannah, Roxton Colchester III, King Kelpbeard, Kauvara... wow, this is quite the guest list," Jacob noted. "...King Roo?"
"He's providing most of the entertainment. He's terrific at entertaining guests."
"Gotcha," Jacob said. "Anyway, where was I... oh yes! The Tyrannian High Counsel, King Altador, King Skarl, The Defenders of Neopia, Thyassa, The Shop Wizard, Illusen... Fyora? The Faerie Queen herself is coming?"
"Yes indeed. She finally has time this year, so we're excited to have her. I'm not sure if you noticed, but Professor Lambert will also be in attendance. He's the head of the Seekers, a group dedicated to solving Neopia's mysteries and uncovering anything there is to know about our world. Based on your search for knowledge, I felt that'd be a notable thing to tell you.
The pressure was mounting on Jacob. An exclusive group that is built upon the concept of gaining more knowledge? And they were coming to the Gala of the Elite? The job suddenly became much more of a personal matter to Jacob. If the Seekers granted Jacob entrance to their organization, so many doors would open up. He'd be able to learn things that the general public hasn't learned yet. He'd be able to study advanced-level topics that the greatest universities in Moltara wouldn't even cover. All of that information could be his, so long as he didn't mess up at the gala.
"Professor Lambert will be there... King Hagan? Just give the orders and I'll start creating the stage. When is the gala?" Jacob asked.
"Tomorrow night. Sorry it's a bit short notice, but the trip from Moltara took longer than expected. I hope this is enough time," Hagan said.
Jacob took in what was said to him. "That's just... perfect!" It was anything but perfect. He still had to find supplies and make a concept sketch of what he wanted to do. He couldn't let anyone down, though. His reputation as a tinkerer depended on this. "Do you know where I can get some supplies around here? I'll need many gears, sheets of brass, and a welding torch, at the very least. Support beams and a few pistons would be nice, too," Jacob explained.
"I'll have my guards on it right away. We can't waste time, after all," King Hagan said.
Jacob readied his blueprint paper and pencil, with which he began to plan his idea for the stage. Upon coming up with a basic sketch, a thought occurred to him. "King Hagan? Do you know where I can find a music box at this late of hour?"
"I do hope they're giving free refills. If I have to pay for more water again after what happened last year..." King Kelpbeard said as he began to ramble. The Moehog who was acting as his valet rolled his eyes.
Jacob looked out the stain-glass window and saw that the guests had started to arrive. After twenty hours straight of working on this project, he finally felt that his plan had been realized. All he had to do was operate the stage from behind the curtain. It wasn't anything too complicated. It just required good timing to pull levers and crank cranks. The stage was pretty efficient, for the most part. It was getting the small boiler underneath it that was the hard part. A necessary burden, really.
It would pay off in the end... hopefully.
The castle's kitchen staff began to seat the guests at tables. Every pet in attendance was dressed to the nines. Despite the formal look of the guests, they still retained an air of casualty in their manner of speech, for the most part. They were the Elite, after all. They could afford to have a good time at a place like this.
King Altador even had a relaxed look on his face, which was usually quite uncharacteristic of him. King Roo and Aristotle A. Avinroo were having a game of Dice-A-Roo (which AAA was losing, much to his chagrin) and the Tombola Man was busy making the Soup Faerie laugh at his jokes. The house lights were then brought down, signaling the start of the show, and giving Jacob his cue. A drum rolled in the background. In response, Jacob began to crank a crank, starting a music box-sounding melody to fill the room. It gave off an air of peacefulness and the room went silent.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the voice of King Hagan rang out, breaking the silence, "On behalf of Brightvale, I am pleased to welcome you all to the Gala of the Elite. Now that your dinner has been served, I would like to thank you all for all of your various accomplishments. You all have shaped Neopia's history in a valuable way, intentionally or otherwise. To celebrate all of your achievements, allow us to relive Neopia's past." With that, Jacob pulled a lever, bringing King Hagan to the back of the stage. Out on the front of the stage, the Space Faerie appeared.
"Many eons ago, the nefarious Doctor Frank Sloth came to Neopia. No one knows where he came from, however. Upon finding our desolate little planet, he began to fill it with mutated abominations in an attempt to spread his creations across the galaxy. Suddenly, a bright light appeared, and the mutants dissipated into piles of sludge. Life was finally coming to our planet," the Space Faerie started.
Backstage, some of the castle's guards were helping to set the scene for the next transition. They were taking down the plain back curtain and replacing it with a more fitting background. Jacob was quite pleased with how this was turning out, and returned to the mechanics.
"And with Doctor Sloth finally gone, the first Neopets were created. Towns and cities started to emerge, and life as we know it was starting to take its most basic form. But this was not the end of Doctor Sloth's encounters with Neopia. No, he had plans for this planet," the Space Faerie concluded before taking a bow. Applause from the audience signaled Jacob to switch the stage again.
"I'm quite pleased with the smoothness at which this is going," Jacob said to himself. The night continued to go off without a hitch. About a half an hour later, the presentation had reached the discovery of Moltara, at which point Jacob felt quite a bit of pride. It was his homeland, after all. He still remembered the day when Roxton had first visited the Steam District of the city. Now he was up on stage giving a presentation on Moltara's discovery... the nostalgia was almost too much for Jacob.
As fate would have it, it was a bit too much after all. Jacob had missed his timing at pulling the lever, and in a panic-stricken frenzy, he had pulled it too hard. As a result, the stage was in a constant back-and-forth swinging motion. The audience was quite confused, over all.
"We are experiencing some... technical difficulties. Please keep calm while we sort this out," a red Pteri in the crowd stated. Eyes from across the room looked to him.
"What? It's kind of my job to say that..."
H.O.O.T. moved over toward Jacob and made a small whirring noise. From a little tube installed in his upper forehead, a small stream of motor oil leaked out, oiling the lever. Jacob was in too much of a panic to notice for a bit.
Upon finally noticing the Albot's work, Jacob adjusted the lever, with a sigh of relief. Everything was now once again in order. The presentation switched to Queen Fyora, who described the fall of Faerieland, as well as the heroism of Hanso and Brynn. Jacob was mortified. Had he really just made that large of a blunder on perhaps the most important event in recent Neopian history? His chances of joining the Seekers looked grim at this point. Regardless, he still had a job to do. As the presentation by Queen Fyora was coming to a close, Jacob pulled the lever for the penultimate time. The current presentation was covering the War of the Obelisk. This was one event that the Seekers had been a great part of, so naturally their head, Professor Lambert, gave part of the presentation. After all, no one knew how to contact the members of the Sway, so they couldn't get an invitation. Jacob sat in the control box in amazement as the Gnorbu spoke. He was eloquent and refined, but in no way came off as a snob. He described the various methods and motives that were involved in trying to claim the Obelisk, as well as the extent of the damages that needed to be repaid. Upon the completion of this segment, Jacob gave the final pull, in which Professor Landelbrot would detail the incident that occurred with The Coincidence, as well as the unfortunate inflation that took place because of it.
As the crowd gave the final applause, Jacob's job was completed. He cranked the music box-like device that played an upbeat tune as King Hagan took the stage once more.
"And as we can see here, ladies and gentlemen, we have come a long way as Neopians, accomplishing feats we'd previously only dreamed were possible. We took risks. We stepped out of our comfort zones for the good of our ever-expanding world. What does the future hold? That's up to you, my friends and colleagues. Please enjoy yourselves the rest of the night. You've all earned it." King Hagan then took a small bow and exited stage left.
Jacob emerged from the booth and pulled back the curtain. He was a bundle of rapidly-firing nerves at this point. This only worsened when he saw King Hagan approach him. His foreboding appearance and grand stature made Jacob shrink in his boots.
"Well, Jacob, with all honesty," Hagan started.
"I am so unbelievably sorry for the issue with Queen Fyora. I've likely brought shame to myself, but for the good of my people, please don't think of this as an example of the work of all Moltarans. They are far better mechanically than I, evidently," Jacob said in a nervous tone.
King Hagan's eyes widened. "On the contrary. You're making a mountain out of a Symol hill, lad. That took an extra five seconds at most," Hagan said with a chuckle.
"The important thing is that you expanded your world, lad. Haven't you learned anything by listening to this presentation?"
The metaphorical light bulb went off for Jacob. "I see what you mean, sir. I took the risks necessary to grow as an individual, didn't I?"
"Indeed. By the way, I talked with Professor Lambert for you. He would be extremely interested in having you join the Seekers. He feels your wish to learn more about the world around you is merit enough for the organization. He also took quite a bit of interest in your stage design, if it helps calm your nerves. What do you say we go talk to him?" King Hagan said, putting a reassuring hand on Jacob's shoulder.
"I couldn't agree more," Jacob said in reply, beaming with excitement. For once, things were really looking up for Jacob. As he approached the Gnorbu professor, he felt as though he had overcome his fear of the outside world at long last. Life's a stage, after all, and Jacob finally found his true role in life.