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Finding Home: A Collection of Letters


by tsiegred

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     It was just after sunrise when Veronique the Island Xweetok finally landed on the beach. The salty ocean breeze was warm and comforting, and the soft sway and rustle of the palm trees reminded her she was home, a notion that was more foreign to her than she expected. The sky was a beautiful dark purple. She looked for stars but couldn’t find any. Fires burned quietly in some faraway corners of the island and she could see faint glimmers of light far into the distance. Two small Myncies played volleyball somewhere on the beach, but save for the crunching of their footsteps and the occasional slapping of the ball, the world seemed remarkably still.

     So, this was it, right? This was the eight-hundred and fiftieth day of traveling. All that remained was going home. The journeys—some fun, some unpleasant, some perilous—had finally come to an end. She wouldn’t have to worry about being pursued by raucous pirates, chunks of Faerieland mysteriously tumbling from the sky, or finding meaning in constellations in the sky. She crossed the esplanade flanking the beach, cut across a pathway at the end, and traversed a shadowy glen (not without minor scratches), and walked until she found her home. 850 Cairn Close, a small hut on the outskirts of the island, right off the Lost City of Geraptiku. She opened the door and turned the light on. Everything was more or less how she remembered it: the same large bookshelf packed with adventure and history books, the same faint smell of Tigersquash lingering in the rooms, and the same furniture that creaked a little when she sat down on it. For the most part, nothing had changed, but there was a hefty scrapbook on a wooden table in the parlour. On top was a note:

     Dear Veronique and Clarissa:

     Everyone on the island thanks you for the letters you sent while you were away! We’re so happy you’re back and we made you a little something to remember your trip by! We thought your letters were wonderful, so even though we all loved them and wanted to keep them, we decided to make a scrapbook of all of the ones you sent us. We know how much you love archives and having souvenirs, so we thought it’d be a nice “welcome home” gift, even if you already know what’s in it. We only ask that you let us look through it occasionally when we stop by. Hope you’re ready for the celebration tomorrow!

     Warmly,

     Waleia

     The adventures were over, at least for now. All she’d have to worry about now was gathering food and making sure that Clarissa was taken care of. Clarissa was Veronique’s white Weewoo and inseparable companion that had stuck with her since she was a baby Xweetok. The two wrote letters on her travels to their fellow villagers or to Veronique’s parents. Clarissa enjoyed writing the letters and Veronique always carried paper on her, so at the end of each day, the two would write about their travels. Veronique would dictate the stories and adventures of the day to her Weewoo, who would write the stories with her gorgeous quill. After finishing the letter, she would fly away and deliver it to its recipient. More, Clarissa would always come back before it was time to write the next letter. Their first letter was to Ryshu, the Nimmo in charge of the Mystery Island Training School. She opened the book to look at it:

     Day 1:

     Dear Ryshu,

     I’ve landed safe and sound in Faerieland. Have you been here since it fell to the ground? Although one does miss the clouds, it’s still very beautiful. It remains a lush and magical place and everything bustles with life; I wasn’t expecting it to be so verdant, but it’s hard to complain. The city never seems to rest! It’s full of Faeries and Neopets on important business, whether they’re taking jobs at the employment agency or buying expensive items from the Hidden Tower (which I still haven’t found). There’s an alluring balance of nature and architecture here, and naturally a lot to take in. Faerieland has a very deep lore and lately I’ve been spending my time researching the fall of the city. But, for now, we’ve sort of gotten lost in the Faerie Caverns and we took a break to write you this!

     Thank you for your training and your work around the island. I’d love to get a letter from you, too. Write back when you can.

     Veronique and Clarissa

     ***

     Why did she leave? She still wondered sometimes. Originally, she told herself that she’d left because there was nothing there, really; although the locals talked about the nearby Geraptiku being haunted or sinister somehow, the town offered little in terms of adventure. What, the possibility of running into a ghost should she venture too far into the tomb? The city itself was dead. There was nothing awaiting her but the half-deserted streets of her little village. Sure, it was not without its charm—it had no shortage of amazing food; the residents, though scarce in number, were always pleasant; and above all, it was a peaceful, stable environment. But there weren’t many Neopians there and there was nothing to do. It was boring, sometimes lonely.

     The trip wasn’t her first time away from the island, of course; as a young Xweetok, she lived with her parents in the Virtupets Space Station; her parents were technicians for the ships. After settling on Mystery Island, she’d often make brief trips to Krawk Island to eat at the Golden Dubloon. Occasionally she’d stop Little Nippers to play with the Petpets, too (this made Clarissa a bit jealous). However, this was her longest journey—for eight hundred and fifty days, she decided to leave the comforts of her little Mystery Island home. She worried often before leaving. Would she be happy? Would she miss the few locals there? What would it be like not having a place you could call home for such a long time? Who would she meet? Where would she find Bubbling Kraku Thickshakes, her favourite drink? She was worried, but desperate to leave. The village became increasingly quiet as the months went by; Neopets went home earlier and earlier since it began to get darker sooner. She fretted and wondered, Is it always going to be like this?

     She couldn’t bear the thought and decided to head out before winter. She sent all of the village residents a letter the night before she left informing them of her departure. Her closest friend, Waleia, an Island Wocky, visited her the morning after she received the message.

     “So, you’re really heading out, huh?” the Wocky asked. She frowned a bit, but something in her expression hinted that she understood.

     “Yeah, I think so,” Veronique said. “I need get out and see more of the world, you know?”

     “We’ll hear about you in the news, I’m sure. Our very own Veronique, explorer extraordinaire. ‘Island Xweetok Discovers Famous Treasure in Ruins!’ It’ll be all over the Neopian Times!” She laughed, then sighed. “Write me when you can, okay? Often. I’ll be waiting for your letters.”

     “I will, I promise.”

     “Okay,” Waleia said. “I’m going to miss you, you know? And I can’t wait for you to come back.”

     “I know. I’ll be back, I promise.”

     ***

     And here she was. Her favourite letters were the ones she wrote about the Brain Tree. She hated the Haunted Woods in the moment, but thought the incident was funny in retrospect:

     Day 309:

     Dear Waleia:

     I hope you’ve been well. I’ve been staying in the Haunted Woods for the past week. You’d think it was so strange! The trees have no leaves, even in the summer. The air is heavy with decay and you choke in disgust when you breathe it in. I’m staying in an abandoned chateau in the heart of the Haunted Woods, said to have been owned by Eliv Thade himself. It’s not bad lodging for the area. Though it is creepy: occasionally, when I’m about to sleep, I hear tormented moans and whispers. I can never make out what the voice is saying, even if sometimes it sounds like it’s trying to speak to me. I’m scared, but, hey, it’s not adventure if you aren’t a little bit afraid, right?

     What am I doing here? Good question. While I was in Faerieland, I was almost crushed by a chunk of old Faerieland; it seems that somehow, even years later, pieces have not stopped falling to the ground. The Brain Tree might have some information, but he won’t give me answers until I complete his quests. In the meantime, I’m consulting anyone I can find for help—the Neovian Printing Press’ shopkeeper, the Esophagor, Edna, even the Quiggle in charge of the Coconut Shy game (he just laughs, shakes his head, and holds his hand out for a couple Neopoints). Nothing so far, but I’m optimistic. I’ll talk to you later!

     Veronique and Clarissa

     ***

     Day 322:

     Dear Waleia:

     We’ve left the Haunted Woods completely disenchanted. We spent a month in the chateau waiting for an answer from the Brain Tree. We answered all of his stupid questions about which Neopet died and where and, I admit, I got annoyed. I asked him when, exactly, was he planning on giving me the information I had asked for: specifically, about why chunks of Faerieland were still falling to the ground years after the fall? He didn’t know and he told me to leave the premises immediately. So much for that!

     I’m not sure if I’ll really continue to research it. I want to, but I’m at a loss for sources. Anyways, I’m in the Lost Desert right now, specifically in Sakhmet. Oh, one nice thing: I befriended a fruit vendor, a Desert Kyrii named Alphorz, the other day. He noticed the scrolls I was carrying under my arm. He hailed me down in the street and smiled. “So, you are familiar with the literature of Sakhmet?” he asked me. I told him that I knew of a few scrolls, specifically curses. He seemed to love that, since we talked for a while about our favourite curses. As it turns out, we both love the same one: You Will Get Verrucas! He’s very kind; if I run into him at night before he closes his food stall, he hands me his leftover Bagguss and Ummagines for free, and he covers the basket with a little bit of papyrus, which sometimes has a bit of text from a scroll he doesn’t need anymore. He smiles, bids me goodbye, and says he’ll see me tomorrow.

     You know, Sakhmet’s palace is mostly closed to the public, but for an hour a day, right before sunset, there’s this moment where the guards will let you sit on the stairs if you ask nicely. You can see the whole kingdom from there: the food stalls; the Petpet stores; the stations where they hold games like Sakhmet Solitaire and Scarab 21… and it’s really beautiful watching everyone come and go, seeing the ebb and flow of the city and watching Neopets swarm and scatter all over. And you remember that, to an observer, you’re like that, too, just someone wandering, rootless, among the streets of the city. I remember how you loved sitting at the beach during tourist season and, while watching everyone here in the Lost Desert was wonderful, I couldn’t help but think about how much I would have loved to have you right beside me here with a bunch of Tigersquash, just like how it was when we were younger.

     Write back when you can. How are things on the island?

     Yours,

     Veronique and Clarissa

     Veronique had traveled to every major land in Neopia. She visited Shenkuu and played Kou-Jong with Linae, she bought some very rare necklaces and seashells from Maraqua’s shops, and she attended rock concerts every night at the Concert Hall when she stayed in Tyrannia. But she began to feel very lonely sometimes. It was almost imperceptible at first: she felt a little sad, for instance, when she spent too long picking matching tiles in Kou-Jong and the conversation with Linae fell flat. She couldn’t entirely describe the feeling, but it was something like realizing, Wow, you and Clarissa are really all alone, aren’t you?

     It wasn’t like they couldn’t make friends—they could and did—and it wasn’t like Veronique wasn’t excited, either. She enjoyed the concerts in Tyrannia, she loved climbing up to the peak of Terror Mountain and feeling the cool air fill her lungs, and she loved watching Turdle Racing. But, at the same time, she realized that she missed home. When she left, she had gotten so sick of it that she wanted to take some time to figure out what she really missed about it. She found that she missed the idea of permanency; she missed her friends and the smell of the island and the rhythm of the life she’d had beforehand. She missed the idea of having something to come back to. She felt similarly when she left her former home in Virtupets years ago.

     Veronique flipped through the book and was surprised to find a letter she wrote her parents inside. Wow, Waleia really did her research, she thought. She’d told her about the fact that she was visiting her parents, of course. But she didn’t think she would contact her parents and get the letter she had sent them! She looked at it and smiled. She’d even gotten the envelope and everything. Veronique saw the Zurroball Stamp she sent the letter with—Dad’s favourite game, she remembered fondly.

     Day 556:

     Dear Mom and Dad:

     I’m really glad I could visit you! Thanks again for letting me stay at your place—it’s the first home I’ve really been in since I left Mystery Island. Mom’s Roast Gargapples and Iceberg Sundaes are still just as wonderful as ever. I’m glad we could talk for a while about traveling and what it’s been like being away for so long. And I’m glad I could clarify something: I only left Virtupets because I needed time to find out what I missed about it. Ultimately, that turned out to be not much but you two, so I decided to stay on Mystery Island.

     It’s interesting, though, you know? When you’re gone for so long, you begin to feel like a tourist no matter where you go, and I wonder if I’ll feel that way when I come back home. Will home feel like home again? Will I ever find another place that felt like home? I wondered that for a really long time after I left the Space Station, actually.

     Thank you so much for everything. I’ll be sure to write back more. Tell me all the funny stories that come up with the Oscillabots and Rotowheels, and let me know how the work on Gargarox’s ship is coming along when you get the chance—I know you’ll do great work on it.

     Warmly,

     Veronique and Clarissa

     ***

     Not every visit was as nice as that one, though. She remembered the end of the Maraqua trip; though Maraqua was mostly lovely, she’d had a terrifying brush with some pirates coming out. The letter in the scrapbook was a little damaged from the brine and the rain, and it was written in uncharacteristically shaky penmanship.

     Day 792

     Dear Waleia:

     It looks like we’re safe, thankfully. We’ve spent the whole day on the run! We were exiting the Ruins of Maraqua after a short excursion to the Bubbling Pit. On our way out, we came across a sign that said, “WARNING: NO VISITORS ALLOWED,” and, honestly, we should have left it alone, but what’s an adventure without a transgression or two? So we ignored it. It was fine, at first; in fact, the ruins were actually quite beautiful. It was the crumbling detritus of Old Maraqua. Maractite runes covered the wreckage that once made part of a beautiful city.

     Well, it was beautiful until I heard Clarissa coo, “wee-woo, wee-woo, wee-woo,” and we heard the cannon firing. A large cannonball shot through the water, narrowly missing us. We panicked, naturally, and we could do nothing but slowly swim up to the surface, toward our ship, and far away from wherever the cannonball came from. When we got to the boat, we saw a massive dark ship slowly surface from below. Pirates. Dangerous ones, too, out for treasure. They’d found a place and they were intent on taking out anyone who knew about it. We set sail. They fired the cannon and missed us again, but came close, and water splashed up from the cannonball’s impact it and flew into our boat. Fortunately, we’re unharmed; the ship didn’t seem to give chase at all. We’re in a deserted shanty near Krawk Island. It’s raining and you can see lightning and whenever the thunder rumbles, all I can think of are the shots from the cannon. We’re still shaking out of fear. I hope they weren’t watching out for us.

     Veronique and Clarissa

     ***

     She smiled. They were on the run for three more days after the letter! The ship had called for reinforcements! They eventually avoided them by taking a quick detour to Moltara; the pirates seemed uninterested in pursuing them there. She turned to the last letter, which was also to Waleia. What attracted Veronique the most about Altador wasn’t the Colosseum or the Archives or the Hall of Heroes, but the stars.

     Day 849:

     Dear Waleia:

     In Altador, my favourite thing to do was to look at the stars before I fell asleep. On warmer evenings, Clarissa and I would find two trees by the sea and we’d set up our hammock there and listen to the ebb and flow of the tide as we looked up at the sky. The sun would set and the sky would darken almost without us noticing and a star would come out very meekly, almost like a dancer performing for the first time. Then another, then another. Then at some point there were so many that sometimes it felt like the sky could barely contain them. And when the sky was like this, we would start looking. We always tried to find two or three stars that were connected in a way that resembled one of the Altadorian Constellations. But the sky was like a map, and there was something so beautiful but also overwhelming and sad looking at it when it burst into this enormous display of stars trying to find two or three specific ones. An arrangement, a sign; we were looking for a piece to a puzzle. How do you begin to look for some kind of order in the sky, though? And what about the stars that aren’t part of a constellation? Are they lonely, are they isolated, or do you think they’re part of something larger and they’re content with that?

     By the time we finished, it was very dark. On cooler nights, we saw Pteris huddled together in the trees. They were silent. I like to think that sometimes they were looking at the stars too and thinking about the same things we were. And it’s strange, but I thought it’d be a great time for some Tetraberry Pie. All the thoughts of home came swimming back to me: the food, the way the fires looked at a distance, and the soft bubbling and the savoury smell of whatever was brewing at Jhudiah’s Cooking Pot.

     In the end, we never found any constellations. We looked hardest for The Wave; I remember when you and I were younger, we would sit by the beach and hold seashells to our ears as we looked out and saw the waves roll and break on the sea. I liked the memory, so I wanted to find that one, but I never did. We thought we saw one constellation, The First to Rise, but the position of the stars wasn’t right. That isn’t the only thing we did while at Altador, either, I should explain. We visited the Colosseum, checked out the Altadorian Archives, and visited the Hall of Heroes.

     I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’ve been traveling lately. I’ve been getting homesick, too. I miss you and I miss home. But there’s no need to write back: I’m coming home tomorrow!

     Veronique and Clarissa

     ***

     Veronique laid in her bed, half-asleep. Clarissa’s bed was right across from her, and the white Weewoo was lying on her belly snoring. The soft inhale and exhale—the “wee-woo, wee-woo”—made Veronique smile. She’d have to write this letter without Clarissa, for once. It was fine; she knew her Petpet would deliver the letter the first thing in the morning.

     ***

     Day 850

     Dear Mom and Dad:

     Memory’s pretty funny, isn’t it? After everything, I still know my way perfectly from the Mystery Island beach all the way home. But even now, I’m beginning to forget things I did as early as yesterday. I’m so confused now that I don’t even remember all the bands I saw in Tyrannia. I guess you never really forget home, though.

     Say, you know that when I left our home for Mystery Island, I was really lonely some nights, right? And I’d get a letter from you two that read “From Virtupets Space Station, With Love”—Jean, your white Weewoo, would drop it off at my Mystery Island home. Knowing I could count on a letter and a Roast Gargapple from you every day made the first nights away much easier. And, ultimately, I think everything slips away but the thought of home, honestly. I can’t even remember most of what I’ve done in my eight hundred and fifty days away. Not that it wasn’t great—it was. And luckily, I have these letters and I’ve journaled here and there, but if you asked me, I definitely wouldn’t remember. But you remember the things that are important, like the taste of your mom’s Iceberg Sundae or the sound your chair makes if you lean back in it the right way.

     When I went on this trip, I was sick of the monotony on Mystery Island, but being away from home for so long felt like another kind of monotony. Always traveling, always adventuring, but never really finding a place to call home, a place that felt stable. So I always dreaded the inevitable move from one land to another, the setting of the sails, the farewell to the friends I had made—there was something very sad and, ultimately, exhausting about realizing I’d be going to another place only to repeat that cycle once again.

     There’s plenty of time for another adventure someday. But, for now, I’m content just staying here. Are you going to come back for the return celebration? Waleia, in spite of my protests, has decided to arrange one for me. The whole island will be there. I know the heat upsets you two and you’re both busy with your work, but it’d mean a lot if you could find time to come.

     Clarissa is exhausted. She flew across the globe every day to deliver letters for over two years; that isn’t exactly easy work. I sometimes asked her if she wanted to take a break, but she always declined; she was determined to send those letters off. But I guess this is our last one, at least for now. The moment we came back, she cooed, fluttered over to her bed, then collapsed belly-first on top of it, and fell asleep. I smiled and I asked her, “Why did we want to come back here, after all?” And, even though she couldn’t talk, I knew what she meant: “Because it’s home.”

     Love,

     Veronique

     The End.

 
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