They arrived at the Roo Island docks aboard a gaily-colored ferry with a gaily-mannered crew. The journey had taken far too long and far too much of Ilarrah's patience. She crawled across the plank, her miniature green Buzz body advancing a few inches for each exertion, her head down against the cheerful calls and laughter being traded between sailors. “It's too loud here,” she muttered.
“It's full of energy here.” The padded footsteps beside her kept perfect pace for no other reason than it was as fast as the Feepit could go. “It'll be perfect for you!”
Ilarrah maneuvered around a pile of rope and cast an eye over the steepled horizon. “I don't see how bright colors and shouting and six hundred thousand balloons will help me, Ivy Anne.”
“Well, of course not. But being a recluse for the rest of time won't help you, either. It's time to try something new. See?” She waved one stitched paw out in front of them, encompassing a wall of cacophony. Ilarrah squinted at the shops' signs: Souvenirs, Spring Shop, others, all with bustling consumers.
“Yes,” she sighed. “I see many new things. But which will be an inspiration? Which will urge a spark of creative passion? Ivy Anne,” she paused at the very edge of the gangway. “A vacation won't cure writer's block.”
The Feepit leaned down and touched noses with her. “Maybe, maybe not. But you can try to pry a story from misery, or you can be pleasantly surprised while smiling in the sun. C'mon—ooh, there's the Merry Go Round!”
Ilarrah geared up her muscles, gathered about her all her energy, and began the long scrunch towards the crowds.
A harmony arose from a quartet of Meercas who sang about the Kings of Neopia and their great deeds. Beside them, a blue-bearded Tonu with a paunch yelled hoarsely over the music, calling for passerby to peruse his laden cart.
“Need sunglasses?” Ivy Anne asked, gearing up to bounce across the crowded way.
Ilarrah bit lightly on the Feepit's plush arm to hold her in place. “No, but earplugs might not be a bad consideration...or a pastry, perhaps. Does he have that?”
Ivy Anne strained to look through the crowd. “Not sure. Wanna boost?”
The Baby Buzz weighed her sense of pride versus practicality, then sighed and acquiesced to be lifted as high as the little Feepit could reach.
“...He doesn't, but the Acara next to his stall does.”
“Perfect!” Ivy Anne chirped, and began to wade forward through the masses, still holding her Neopet high above her head. They made for quite a sight, the Plushie Feepit and the Baby Buzz, to the point that sometimes other Neopets would catch sight of them and smile in delight and stand aside to let them pass by. Thankfully, Ilarrah's minute proboscis showed little in the way of her malcontent and they were grossly deemed as “cute” rather than “cute but grumpy.”
Within no time at all, they had crossed through the gawkers and found themselves at the feet of an Electric Acara with a yellow apron. She seemed overly-alert for someone who likely woke before dawn to roll and knead and bake, with eyes that darted from pet-to-pet-to-pet and her paws rearranging the placement of breakfast snacks time and time and time again.
“Hello hello dear ones,” she said, her speech truncated by short half-breaths. “What'll it be? Danish? Panini? Muffin? Cinnamon Roll? I've got it, I've got it all!”
Ilarrah felt queasy at the Acara's lightning pace and could only stammer. “N-no, I'll—um—I'll have—I—”
“Two Borovan Doughnuts, please,” Ivy Anne supplied. “And a Broccoli Crepe for later, maybe?”
The baker set straight to work, whisking their treats off shelves into brown bags that crinkled incessantly. “Sure, dearie, sure! One of this and one of that and I suppose today I could part with a sample, too, would you like a bite of a Zafara Cherry Strudel, they're new to my stall, just perfected the recipe, oh, was it yesterday or last Tuesday?”
Ilarrah had to take a breath for everyone it seemed that the Acara missed. “Sure,” she said, exchanging neopoints for the bags and scrunching away to a nearby bench at the first opportunity. Ivy Anne spent another minute or so chatting with the vendor before gleefully hopping her way back to her friend.
“Welcome. She certainly had a bit of...energy.”
“Mmmph.” Ivy Anne nodded. “What do you suppose her story is?”
Ilarrah looked back down the street, where the Acara was now wildly pantomiming the baking process to a new customer. She mused for a while, enjoying the ever-mystifying combination of asparagus and chocolate (with just a hint of cinnamon).
“I'd bet,” she said slowly, the pieces still falling together as she spoke. “That she was once a pirate. A deckswabber, a low-level mate, you see, minding her own business among her brutish shipmates. She chipped in often enough, helped with the sails and the anchors and the plundering, but her heart was never really in it. In fact, her dream was to make just enough neopoints to return to her home in Tyrannia and start up a band—a four-piece jazz-opera fusion. While others salivated over silver chalices, she would count her earnings and dream in five-four time.
“She had saved up just about half the amount she needed when one night, there was a great storm. Thunder rolled, the waves grew fearsome and wild, and great bolts arced from sky to sea. Her captain, a mangy Tuskaninny with a tail-hook, ordered the mates to do this, do that, and to her specifically, to pull up the anchor. Well, without a moment's hesitation she raced right over to the side of the ship and began hauling up the great chain.
“At that very moment, lightning cracked apart the clouds and reached right down to the length of metal she was pulling on. This good-natured, musical pirate was shocked through and through, the electricity making every last one of her hairs stand straight on end. It coursed through her, marking her blue fur with its path, and then dissipated in the same second.
“She didn't realize that she had let go of the chain, and the anchor plummeted at such a great speed that when it hit the ocean floor, the entire ship was yanked to the side, sending the captain and all his mates flying across the deck. No one was hurt beyond a bruise or so—it was quite miraculous that no one fell overboard—but the captain became quite irate and demanded that as punishment, the Acara be remanded to working solely in the kitchen for the rest of the voyage, and at half-wages.
“After this harrowing experience, she developed a great fear of dark clouds and loud noises, and is now constantly on the lookout for any hint of a storm to roll in, eyes twitching in every direction at any time. And as for her time in the kitchen—though she still loves jazz and opera, she found her true calling as a great baker. Though, if you pay close attention, you'll notice that she still speaks in five-four time.”
Ilarrah blinked, coming out of her reverie, to the padded sound of Ivy Anne's enthusiastic clapping. “That was great!” the Feepit laughed. “Enrapturing! I loved the part where she wanted a four-piece jazz fusion band. Do you think she was going to be the soprano or the saxophonist?”
“Oh, the electric pianist, for sure,” Ilarrah smiled, wriggling to displace any dropped pastry crumbs left on her body. “You really liked that one?”
The Feepit nodded. “You should write that one down! I bet the fellows at Swashbuckling Academy would love to have a reading.”
Ilarrah shook her head. “Oh, well, it would need a good deal of fine-tuning, first—a better introduction, better pacing—”
“You're getting into the weeds! Quick, a distraction!” Ivy Anne looked around and pointed into the distance. “Dice-A-Roo, let's go!”
Startled by the sudden change in direction, Ilarrah was left holding the wrappers of their breakfast and blinking in the morning sun. “Oh, well, I suppose...”
Dice clattered in fives all around the room at intermittent intervals, followed by groans and squeaks and deep sighs of relief. Ilarrah was once again being borne aloft by her petpet's strong, stitched felt arms, looking from table to table to spy an opening. One game was going well until the dreaded cross-bones sought its way to the top and a cross Xweetok had to forfeit her pot.
“What does gambling have to do with story-making?” Ilarrah groused once she was put down, squeezing between two revelers to catch up with her petpet. But Ivy Anne had gone too far ahead, scoping out each pit and set of dice, looking for a section that felt lucky.
The Buzz paused by one circle, panting, and watched several rounds. This Bruce was confident: he adjusted his bowtie with a sharp tug just before releasing the six-sided pieces of luck and dismay. In order, he received two neopoints to the pot, another neopoint, a level up, four neopoints several times in a row, another level up...
Ilarrah's focus waned from the game and she began scanning the crowds instead, wondering where in the world her Feepit had wandered off to. She found a glowering red Jetsam, a nervous Elephante, and three twittering Kikos moving through the crowd sweeping detritus from the floor. Her imagination wrapped around each Neopet like a tendril, seeking a unique secret that might belie a dizzying story.
Her frustration was just starting to peak when her small spotted friend reappeared by her side.
“How's it going?” Ivy Anne chirped. Ilarrah sank to the floor, glowering. “What, nothing? But there's so much to see in here!”
“Everyone is doing the same thing: either making money, losing money, or watching others do the same.”
“Well, sure,” Ivy Anne said. “But you can't really understand why until you do it yourself, right? There's a free spot right over here! Maybe we can make enough np for a smoothie later? Yeah? Yay!”
The pair scrunched away to a quieter corner of the tourney hall, where Ilarrah was given a red die for the exchange of five neopoints. She grumbled at first, using her own inability to toss the game piece without the use of arms as a possible escape. Ivy Anne's eternal optimism encouraged her to finally give in, picking up the die with her mouth and spitting it away across the floor.
It tumbled once, twice, three times and then settled. Facing upwards was a black skull.
“What are the odds of that?” Ilarrah grumped, at the same time that Ivy Anne giggled and gleefully shouted, “again, again!”
Her next two rounds went just as badly, with the 'game over' symbol coming up after only a roll or two twice more. Worry crept in as Ilarrah counted the remaining coins in their meager purse—the ferry back to Neopia Central was 30np—but at Ivy Anne's insistence, she agreed to one last round.
“And you should get a different dice!” The Feepit waddled over to a Pirate Blumaroo overseeing various games. “'Scuse me sir, but could we try a different red dice? I think this one is having a bad day.”
The Blumaroo scoffed, but exchanged the red cubes all the same.
“Okay, try now!” Ivy Anne said, handing the dice back to her pet.
Ilarrah spat out the red piece and said as it rolled: “Okay, last game, we should head out—” But the Feepit clapped and squealed: a check mark was facing the ceiling, and with it came three neopoints.
“See, it was just a bad dice!”
“There's no such thing,” Ilarrah said, albeit hesitantly. “Dice don't have bad days...they're toys, they can't feel—”
“But the spirit of the dice can,” her Feepit assured her with a smile. “Keep going!”
So the Baby Buzz, put mildly off-guard, rolled again. Another check mark, another neopoint. Then a level up. She looked at the new blue dice she was given with some perplexity. Then she rolled it and received a whopping eight neopoints.
They continued to play for some time, winning and losing neopoints, until the crossbones reappeared on the green dice. At that, Ilarrah finally withdrew, ruminating on the game, and the pair moved toward the exit.
“See, wasn't that fun?” Ivy Anne closed her eyes and aimed her face upwards to imbibe the warm sunlight. “Playing with dice is just like a story: you never know what's going to come next!”
“The spirit of the dice,” Ilarrah said slowly, still putting together the narrative, “is an unruly fellow. He has six faces and six emotions, but one doesn't always match the other. On his best days, he knows when a level up will mean only tragedy for the player, and when a crossbones can be a mercy. Other days he grows surly and insists on ending every game, just for a brief respite. He is tossed about, tumbled end-over-end, and yet he inevitably rises to the occasion.”
“Oooh, that's quite something! How mysterious.”
“Yes, there's something there,” Ilarrah leaned against her petpet to scratch an itch by her ear. “I need some more time with that, I think.”
“What sort of neopet do you think the spirit of the dice is?”
“Hmm. Maybe a Dimensional Kyrii. Or a Wraith JubJub, rattling around...or,” she had a sudden idea. “Maybe it's not a Neopet at all, but a Faerie we haven't met yet. The Faerie of Luck...”
“If there's a Faerie of Luck, maybe there's a Faerie of Stories,” Ivy Anne also mused. “Or a Faerie of Inspiration!”
“If there's a Faerie of Inspiration,” Ilarrah laughed. “She's invisible and either extraordinarily slow to visit or always busy with other pets.”
They both stood for a moment, watching the hustle and bustle of other pets thread in and out of the Tournament Hall. Some held great, heavy bags of gold; others left with thin pockets but a wave of laughter as they recounted their games.
“Speaking of inspiration,” Ivy Anne said, her effervescent energy causing her to bounce in place. “I have one more stop for us!”
“I suppose one more stop wouldn't be so bad,” the Buzz allowed. “Provided it is a bit quieter this time.”
“I promise, I promise!” Ivy Anne cheered, lifting her pet above her head again and making for the east end of the island.
And indeed, Ivy Anne kept her promise. The next building they stepped into had an enforced 'hush' policy, in order to allow the visitors to fully appreciate the Art Gallery. Of course, this was by no means a silent hall—there were still murmurs and gasps of delight as neopets encountered stunning depictions of heroes and landscapes and memories. Ilarrah felt her crowd-induced stress fall away as she breathed in the unique scent of old oils and paint.
They began with a display of Gelerts in many forms, all illustrated and displayed for the upcoming holiday. Ilarrah was particularly taken with a Grey Gelert who was curled inwards on herself, gazing with indiscriminate sorrow towards the left edge of the frame. Ivy Anne whispered an encouraging inquisition—“what do you think she's thinking about?”—but Ilarrah only hmmed and they continued on.
At the end of this installation, the artist himself was humbly basking in a slew of compliments from other attendees. The motley pair of Buzz and Feepit exchanged their surprise: it was a Water Skeith, who shimmered and sloshed with every movement.
“Doesn't he want to eat all the canvasses?” Ivy Anne asked with pure curiosity. Ilarrah nodded, having had the same thought, and together they went to praise the artist for his fine work.
The Skeith's name was Alistair. “Why, thank you!” His voice rumbled deep, much like the Roo Island Ferry's engine. “I'm lucky to have a number of Gelert friends who offered to pose.”
“Please, tell me, sir,” Ilarrah said, her squeaking voice coming from below the Skeith's knee. He bent forward to hear closer. “Where does your inspiration come from?” She squeezed Ivy Anne's hand before the Feepit could inquire about such a non-existent thing as a “Faerie of Inspiration.”
The Skeith smiled at her. “Sometimes it comes from a Neopet—their eyes or their laugh or the way they avoid anything to do with rain. But in truth, I never run out of inspiration.” He gestured to a small canvas and paint he'd set up by his side, then took up a brush and held it lightly to his liquid arm. The brush soaked up a small amount of the water. He then dipped it into a jar of green oils, and painted a long streak across the canvas. “Because everything I make has a little bit of me in it.”
“Aha,” Ilarrah whispered, subdued. “I had forgotten...thank you, sir.”
He thanked them again and gave his best wishes, then turned to the next patrons. Ilarrah and Ivy Anne scrunched away and viewed the other paintings and installations in silence. As they circled back around to the entrance, Ivy Anne admitted—“'Larrah, if you don't mind, I was thinking we actually have one more stop.”
Ilarrah, still lost in her thoughts, agreed to be carried the short distance across the way, still heading east, to a small gardened area surrounding a humble building topped with a faux book. As her Feepit set her down and pushed open the door, Ilarrah came back to reality with a gasp. Inside, a group of Neopians sat, hushed, as a speaker at the front of the room relayed a grand tale. Behind him, the wall was covered with stories of old, each tacked-onto by the next addition or iteration: a sprawling mess of stories from Neopia's earliest days.
“I reserved a spot for you,” Ivy Anne said hesitantly. “But they're very flexible, so if you don't feel up to it, someone else just moves up the list.”
Ilarrah smiled and snuggled up against her Petpet, the best way she could hug. The Feepit embraced her back, wriggling a little in excitement.
“Thank you, Ivy Anne,” Ilarrah said with a great smile. “I'd be honored to give it a go. And I think I've got an idea for a story already...”
So the pair moved inside with quiet steps so as to not interrupt the current tale, and listened. When the storyteller was finished with his part, they cheered and applauded, and Ilarrah scrunched her way to the front of the room.
“Hello,” she said, a mix of nervousness and excitement rising in her belly. “I'm Ilarrah. And here's how the next part of the story goes...”