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||You are on Week 299
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Two Hundred Ninety Nine Ends November 17
"Thank you for the soup!"
"You're most welcome."
"You're the best, Soup Faerie! I'll see you tomorrow!" Arley beamed as she sniffed at the hot soup and prepared to skip away.
"Oh my, I forgot to mention," the Soup Faerie said, setting down her ladle and patting the Xweetok lightly on the head. "As of tomorrow, I will be on a short vacation, so I might be gone for a few days. Don't look so gloomy, though," she added upon seeing Arley's dejected expression. "I'll have someone covering for me at the Soup Kitchen!"
"Yes, but we'll still miss you," the Xweetok said sadly. Her face then brightened. "You deserve a break, though. I hope you have tons of fun!" With that, she scurried home.
* * * * *
Arley frowned as she walked toward the marketplace the next morning. Certainly, there was always a constant bustle and general air of organised chaos, but today felt slightly more unruly than usual. The Neopets lined up outside the Soup Kitchen were not their usual quiet, respectful selves, but rather they kept arguing and talking loudly in confusion.
"I'm telling you, we need to let her know!" one Uni said insistently to her friend.
"She's on vacation; she deserves a break from all this trouble! How do you know she didn't assign this substitute herself?" the Pteri argued back.
"Excuse me, but what's going on?" Arley asked timidly.
"The Soup Faerie's gone, and in her place is this crazed-looking green faerie who’s dressed in black. She doesn't quite have the typical faerie complexion, if I may say so myself," the Uni sniffed haughtily, flapping her wings, "and her wings look like they're made of cardboard! Not to mention she keeps talking about how she wants to spread 'happiness' through Neopia..."
Author: is very, very happy|
Date: Nov 10th
"...How is that a bad thing?" Arley asked, her focus on the Uni already on the roam. Baking beneath the whirlpool of disgruntled Neopets hungry for their morning brew, the concrete of the Marketplace sent up in heated whuffs the smells of purpose, of ice cream cones tipped by squalling children. Outside the Soup Kitchen, life seemed hungry, harried and humble; the way it always was. The way it could, would ever be.
Arley took in her breath, and held the moment like that last square of chocolate melting on her tongue, as long as she could. Soup Faeries could come and go, but this would always be a good place to be. She hoped.
"Well, all I'm saying is that she hardly comes up to the usual standards of Faeriedom," the Uni huffed, somewhere beyond the children that were crying, past the pies roasting on the windowsill of Arley's favorite bakery. "I doubt that our Soup Faerie would have left a hooligan in her stead. Particularly one so badly-dressed."
Something snapped with Arley that sent her forward; a desire arose within her to meet this sower of infamy, this green marionette who had launched a thousand doubts; and more, many more. But how was she to know? Arley, the Xweetok whose nails had broken alongside her parents' at labor as she watched her agemates take plastic buckets filled with fruit over the farmland road and around the corner, where they left her world until the late-coming afternoon. Arley, who had heard of Sloth only in picture books, in headlines never read.
"Perhaps her skin is as green as yours," Arley said to the Uni, and stepped forward into line.
* * * * *
Several flakes of gild left themselves on the door after the airborne lamp had thudded against it. The bronze plate barring its panels dangled at right angles to its former position, which in less frustrating periods of strife would have read, "Detective Criar." As of now, it read the same way if you happened to exit the room while tilting your head somewhere below your neckline.
"Peace!" exclaimed the Yurble whose presence majestically failed to fill his office. The private detective looked about for something else to throw, preferably something heavier. He was forced to settle for saying something quite creative and very impolite, seeing as the only thing he could find was his folder of cases. Which was considerably lighter than the lamp had been. "Prosperity! How I loathe it." Seeking now an audience, Criar picked up his paperweight (also considerably lighter than the lamp, out a lack of necessity), and addressed it as such. "Where are the scandals? Where are the masqueraders and wicked plots? Where are the Neopoints, Fyora curse it! What's a detective to do?"
He then dropped the paperweight with considerable alarm, continuing to stare at it suspiciously as his secretary's head poked through the door. "Sir!" she yipped, bright with the eagerness of someone who hasn't worked at an office very long. "Possible fraud in the Marketplace! Have a look."
Criar's eyes never left the paperweight as he took the papers she handed him. He grumbled, "As long as it's nothing to do with the mayor losing his Doglefox. Again." The paperweight looked back in silence. "I'm not in the mood for anything silly."
* * * * *
"Hello darling!" Arley was greeted by something that, despite her years of farmlife, she had never quite expected to come up again; a plate of mashed limes wearing lipstick which could initiate a conversation. And farmlife made you expect to come up against quite a lot. "I'm so sorry," the face gushed, its features the only things visible from the crack in the Soup Kitchen's door. The Xweetok found it somewhat difficult to follow along with the words that the bulbous green lips formed, as she was still having a problem with the existence of the lips themselves. "We've just run out of soup, come back in a few-"
Arley interrupted, "Couldn't I at least come in?" Curiosity overruled revulsion, twice over.
The lips pouted, and she was finally able to expand her area of acceptance to include them. "Well," the face loomed at her. "There are a few errands I've been needing help with..."
Date: Nov 13th
..."I'd be glad to run errands for you," Arley said eagerly. Her belly was grumbling as if she had stored a small Bearog cub in that area, but there couldn't really be one, as it felt far too empty for that. Other Neopets who had been turned away were grumbling too, as they went, which didn't seem to bode well for the strange new faerie's plan to spread happiness. But if they were out of soup, why then, they were out of soup. The least Arley could do, she felt, was to help replenish the supply.
"Oh, excellent," the mashed limes crooned, and then a large, well-manicured green hand shot out through the crack in the door and yanked Arley through it. The door slammed behind her. The Xweetok gasped, but the lipsticked mashed limes were smiling down at her, and she could smell fire and hear bubbling, although she couldn't quite see anything around the faerie's massive bulk. Perhaps she was some unusual kind of earth faerie. Very earthy. That did seem like the sort of person the Soup Faerie would make friends with.
"I need," the faerie said, scribbling a list on some strange, presumably magical device that did not look at all like paper, and occasionally threw off sparks. (The Faerie interrupted herself to mutter angrily and smack the pencil against its surface on these occasions.) "I need these things." She handed the little Xweetok the list. "And if you bring me all of these, I'll have something special for you!" She chuckled. "My own little quests, who'd have ever thought...."
Arley looked down at the list. Kau Pats, Sun Dried Techo Claw, Grundo Stix, Blumaroo Steak, Wing of Korbat, Meerca Pie? Dung Cookies, Dirt Pie, Grundo Toe Lint? The imaginary Bearog cub in her stomach was no longer growling; it was trying desperately to climb up her esophagus and escape. But there was another concern. "Miss Faerie," Arley whispered, shame making her almost inaudible, "If I could buy all this, I wouldn't take soup that poorer Neopets needed...."
"Oh!" The green Faerie shook her head and handed the little Xweetok a bag of Neopoints. "Now, now, I didn't mean it to come out of your own pocket, of course, not if you're one of the dears the Soup Faerie normally feeds, and... er. Yes. Go on then!"
Arley darted back out the door and off into the surrounding marketplace.
* * * * *
Detective Criar had spent some time prowling around the larger, well-advertised shops and malls, making them and their customers extremely nervous due to his resemblance to the irascible Bob the Yurble of Lost Desert and Altadorian fame. It seemed natural to him that the advertisements would be the logical source of fraud. At last, having spotted no evidence of this, he glanced down at the papers his eager Chomby secretary (who really could tilt her head to an angle somewhere below her neckline, and indeed her feetline given the opportunity) had brought him.
"The Soup Faerie, a fraud?" he asked loudly of the nearest tree, and set off at a thundering run.
He was approaching the Soup Faerie's home and place of business from the rear, but he didn't mind this. From a sufficient distance he could see even from behind that Neopets were being turned away from the door grumpy and hungry. When he approached closer, he slowed down and stole (although he had never liked that term for sneaking) up near to the cauldron-shaped house.
He nearly stepped, to his astonishment, on a faerie.
It was not the Soup Faerie, nor was it the odd green creature the papers suggested she had turned into. It was a dark faerie; he could tell from the bony bat-wings and the angry grunt when he trod on them. However, it was not a normal dark faerie. It was tied up hand and foot, gagged, and its wings were pinned together by a giant metal clothespin. All the color seemed to be leaching out of them; they were a dusky lavender at the edges, and next to the clothespin they were almost bleached grey. She had a nasty purple lump on her temple.
That was really odd. He'd seen bottled faeries before, but not clothespinned faeries. "Pardon me," he said to her. "Are you supposed to be hung up somewhere to dry?"
The faerie glared at him.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, the Pteri -- who had been just far enough ahead of Arley in line to get a bowlful of soup -- was staggering about. The soup had been wonderful, warming, hot and cold and tingling like mint and ginger; no, that didn't do it justice. It had been like drinking space and starlight. He'd gone soaring up to touch the sky in glee.... But he didn't quite remember what he'd been doing since. Flying erratically, he suspected. Walking erratically now. He stopped to lean against the trunk of the Money Tree as a whole-body muscle spasm took him; in fact, though he was sure this was impossible, he thought his bones were spasming....
Date: Nov 14th
...The crowd of shoppers, usually noisy and bustling, had fallen silent to watch the transformation of the unfortunate Pteri. It was a thoroughly unpleasant spectacle. His feathers first turned a murky, pale colour, then began to molt, covering the ground in a travesty of dead autumn leaves.
"Somebody," he choked. "Anybody. Help me." No one did. They were all transfixed, practically unable to move... or merely unwilling. Finally the cacophony of gawkers parted to reveal a hulking green Grundo in a clumsily-made hospital-nurse outfit.
"Stand aside. I will take this pet to the hospital." The Pteri clutched the wall of the nearest building protectively.
"I can get there myself, thank you," he said weakly. Now his feathers were entirely gone. He struggled to run, but Pteris were not built for moving quickly when confined to the ground. Several times he stumbled and fell, bravely picking himself up each time, before the Grundo reached him.
"Calm down. I am here to help you. Come tomorrow, you'll be just as happy as ever," the Grundo said.
* * * * *
With great care, Detective Criar removed the gag.
"I don't have to listen to this," the faerie hissed ungratefully. "Get me out of this mess. Hurry up, we've got to stop that imposter!"
Criar cast his mind back to his last encounter with a dark faerie. The memories were somehow blurry, but he was somehow sure of at least one thing: it had ended badly. It would be best to help the faerie and go back to his job.
Unfortunately, it was easier said than done.
"Stop struggling!" he snapped. "You're practically tying my paws together with that stupid string!"
"I wouldn't struggling if you weren't so heavy handed, you great brute," the faerie returned. He continued to struggle with the clothespin, but it was firmly wedged in place.
This did nothing to improve his increasingly sour mood.
* * * * *
Passing the spectacle of the Pteri without a second glance, Arley scuttled on all fours between the legs of dilatory shoppers. It was an uncomfortable way to move, but it was faster than running on two legs, and speed was greatly needed.
Luckily, the Shop Wizard's home was just down the street from the huge cauldron, and she reached the tent in less than thirty seconds.
"You in a hurry?" the Jubjub blurted. "Me too. Everyone needs me today, so make it quick!"
She carefully recited the list of ingredients to the Shop Wizard, who listened intently and made a mental note of each item. When she mentioned Dirt Pie and Dung Cookies he raised one furry eyebrow in curiosity, but had the sense to keep his silence.
"Hurry," the Xweetok begged. "It's urgent."
"Don't worry. I was born to be fast!" Momentarily, he darted from the star-spangled tent and out into the crowds, leaving a fretful Arley to ponder the morality of helping a lump of squashed limes create a soup for needy people using primarily dung and body parts. She decided it was none of her business...
Date: Nov 14th
...since after all, the Soup Faerie herself did sometimes have lumps of dung turn up in her soup. Faeries did do magic, after all. And there wasn't even anything on the list that technically qualified as a Gross Food. (Apparently the substitute faerie preferred Haunted Woods cuisine to that of the Alien Aishas.)
The Shop Wizard zoomed back to her with a sheaf of notes and moved on to the next customer, and the little Xweetok clutched them tightly, counted the Neopoints in the little bag, and pressed her thumb to activate the "transport" spell next to the first shop. The Jubjub was a pretty good wizard, after all.
* * * * *
"So hot," the Pteri whispered, hobbling through the gigantic metal room with the Grundo nurse holding his wing. He barely noticed the other Neopets, each tended by a Grundo, each in his or her own throes of agony and deformation. "Too hot...."
The Grundo gave him a rather alarmed look. This may not have been concern for the Pteri. The Pteri's de-feathered skin was a deeply unhealthy color, true, but the Grundo's hand where it gripped him was starting to blister.
* * * * *
"The clothespin isn't coming off," Criar panted.
The dark faerie groaned and twisted around to look over her shoulder. "And it's keeping my powers in check."
Criar let go of it in alarm and stepped back. "In that case, Madam, I'm not at all sure I want to remove it," he said severely. "I support the law, and a dark faerie in restraints likely has a good reason to be in restraints."
The faerie, who had taken to biting at the bindings on her wrists with her sharp teeth and by this point had shredded the first layer of them, stopped and glared at him. "Do you pre-judge everyone that way?" she snapped. "The Soup Faerie asked me to fill in for her today!"
"Then what are you doing back here?"
"You idiot," she hissed. "I was hit on the head and tied up by a lot of Mutant Grundos."
* * * * *
The Grundo dressed up as a nurse shouted in pain as the Pteri burst into flames.
* * * * *
Arley dashed back toward the Soup Faerie's house, panting, with no Neopoints at all left but all the requested ingredients. She pounded on the door.
"Hello, darling, I'm sorry, but we're all out of soup -- oh, it's you!" And Arley was once again yanked in the door. "Do you have everything?"
"Ye-yes, I think so," Arley panted.
The faerie turned and dumped out the bag into the cauldron, which bubbled up so that the little Xweetok thought it might boil over. Then all the bubbles popped with a noise exactly like an enormous belch and a smell like sulfur.
At this point, Arley was astonished to see a Mutant Grundo burst through the door. "Doc--"
"Don't call me that," the Faerie interrupted in a hiss.
"Sorry. Madam," the Grundo said uncomfortably. "Something's gone terribly wrong...."
* * * * *
The Pteri felt feverish, roasted, broiled... terrible. Perhaps it had been starlight after all. He'd heard stars were really great burning suns, hadn't he? From somewhere.
He really was burning up, he realized vaguely. The metal floor beneath him no longer felt cool, as it had when he'd collapsed on it. It felt hot. His skin was literally on fire; there were flames flickering up from it. It hurt terribly, although it didn't look like he had blisters, and the skin remained pale instead of reddening.
And come to think of it, it itched. He tried to scratch himself with a claw, but he could barely move, and when the tip of his claw did touch his burning skin, it tore painfully, and the fire boiled out.
And then there was flame erupting out all over him, where his feathers used to be, and it didn't hurt anymore at all.
The Pteri rose into the air again, soaring, looking down at himself in amazement. It had hurt, oh it had hurt, but he was painted Faerie!
And to think he hadn't trusted the Soup Faerie's replacement, or the odd Grundo dressed up as a nurse. He swooped out of the room to go thank them...
Date: Nov 15th
..."What do you mean, something's gone wrong?" Faeries were born with a natural inclination to pout on those rare occasions when they could not magically bully Chance into tilting their way, but this hulking behemoth managed what even those winged few could seldom do; she looked miffed. The replacement Soup Faerie drew herself up, a weathered wing crumpling itself against the Soup pot. "I am the Soup Faerie!" she shouted gallantly, slamming her fist against a petite wooden side table. "I forbid things to go wrong! I forbid it!"
The table's breath wooshed out into the room, and it crumbled. The typical wings-of-leaf, bones-of-sculpted-stardust faeries that Arley had seen living on pages in her grandparents' story books must have gone out of style.
Apparently, the Grundo sheathed in cardboard armor felt the same, for his voice was sullied as he said, "Boss, I think you're getting a little too into this." He still spoke softly; the only one of the two who seemed to remember that Arley was staring at them from the corner stool where her grocery bags lay barren. "The potion isn't working, it's actually making everyone-"
"Be happy! Forget a fall or two!" The wooden boards beneath their feet heaved as she shifted herself across the room, hugging a forgotten Jar of Eyeballs to her chest as someone would a child, a lost summer eve. The limes laid across her face shriveled, and then she was herself again; at any rate, whatever "self" that Arley could imagine to make out. "Go twist some levers. That's what I hired you for, wasn't it? Pull some knobs while you're at it. But remember the levers."
As Arley scanned his face, she saw the Grundo stop to think about this. She watched a moment more, and saw him stop to think about the consequences of stopping to thinking about this. Then he took the wiser road of kings, and just didn't think at all. "Yes... m'am." The mounds of verdant muscles trembled under their own bulk, threatening to burst with every step of his stalk to the door. His mutter drifted back, struggling to reach her ears through the bitter blue pungence of what lurked now within the Soup Pot. "Happiness my eye. True happiness, now, that's the clincher! What'll it be, old doctor, what it'll be when the universe takes you for the truth..."
"I'm sorry," the faerie, whose name Arley realized she still did not know, said when he had gone. The smell of sulfur was wafting about her brain now, and she found it hard to think. "He doesn't mean to be so crude, it's a talent from creation. I'd know. Well, since we've a fresh batch now, let's open up the doors again."
Arley reached to the preparation counter and grabbed a ladle.
* * * * *
They gazed at one another, faerie and detective, one who was about the size of the other's fist. But locked in her gaze, Criar forgot which of these was which. A perfect example of why no one, in all history's folds and follies, has ever won a staring match with a dark faerie, short of another dark faerie. Or a Kadoatie arguing for its dinner.
"Why were you attacked by a bunch of Mutant Grundos?"
"Do you honestly think that I chose to be bound and gagged behind an alleyway twenty feet from where I'm supposed to be filling in for a friend?"
No one except another dark faerie, a ravenous Kadoatie, and one private detective named Criar.
"You idiot," she mouthed again, helpless in both body and in an amount of rage that would have burst at the seams a lesser, larger Neopet. Dark faeries were hardy little stoics; they had to be.
Criar smiled; he could almost ignore the crowd of curious passerby that had gathered around him and the seething creature, if it weren't for the fact that one very large stick was now being prodded into his backside. Hence the word almost. "Which way did the Grundos go?"
She shrugged the one arm that had managed to wind half-way through its bonds, gesturing to an abandoned pastry shop somewhere beyond where Criar had just approached from.
"Thank you." And with a nod for cordiality's sake, Criar promptly proceeded to go in the opposite direction, towards the Soup Kitchen.
"Where are you going?" the dark faerie howled after him, her voice almost rising above the squeal of his shoe soles against cobble.
He called back, "Away from where the Grundos went."
As the detective stepped into the line of Neopets awaiting warm gruel to slosh about their stomachs, something wailed at him from a distance; perhaps it was his conscience. He wouldn't know, because he'd never heard it say anything to him before. "You still haven't taken this clip off my wings!"
* * * * *
"Here's to a hard day's work, my dear," the green-skinned faerie's sigh rattled about Arley's bones; dear Fyora, her bones rattled about her bones. Never again would she underestimate the true Soup Faerie; serving soup a task best left to the experts.
For the first time that she could recall, the Xweetok's insides gasped relief at hearing the Soup Kitchen's doors swing shut. That same ladle lay limp within her palm, now doused in celery, and something tendril-like and crawling.
The replacement Faerie's back was turned to her once more, no different than it had been as they'd served the newly-made soup to a hundred, a thousand, tens of thousands of eyes bright in hunger, soft with poverty. "Why don't we revive ourselves?" The cheer in her voice rattled Arley back into consciousness, though that same ache of bone remained.
Then at once, the wreaking sulfur was below her nose, trailing over her eyes. Before the faerie and herself now sat those last two bowls of soup. After this day, the Xweetok doubted that she would ever touch a spoon again; until the hunger made her cave. "Eat up..."
Date: Nov 15th
...A fleeting image of the ghastly assortment of ingredients that had surrendered their existence as they'd known it to create this bowl of soup flashed before Arley's eyes, taunting her the same way images of The Three had no doubt taunted Kass in the moment before he vanished into a heap of ash. The very memory of it was enough to make a Neopet's life flash before her eyes.
Of course, so was the mental picture of an angry Faerie. A small, delicate brown paw curled around the handle, and the spoon dipped into the reeking broth, any protest it had against the injustice held prisoner within the voiceless wood. Arley lifted the spoon to her lips and took a tentative sip as if sampling a concoction made by Dr. Sloth...
And then sat up straight in surprise.
It was delicious. No, that was an unforgivable euphemism. It was like sun on the snowy crown of a mountain, a waterfall serenading the crystal air through which it plunged, frosty, pristine starlight caressing a deep, clean, mirror-smooth lake. It was warm as a mother's embrace. It was cool as a cup of clear water. It was perfection.
Suddenly the spoon could not make the journey from bowl to mouth fast enough. The horror of the individual ingredients was forgotten in the glory of the whole they had created. Splashes of soup sloshed onto the table, and something inside Arley wept in lament; but the rest of her was too focused, too intent upon the edible miracle in front of her to slow down and be more careful.
Realisation struck and, barely pausing in her frantic eating, she asked with her mouth full, "Aren't you going to eat? You haven't even touched yours, and it's the best thing I've ever tasted!"
The Faerie shook her head. "Oh, my, I was so busy watching you enjoy it that I completely forgot."
"It's marvellous," Arley complimented her, again with her mouth full.
The replacement smiled warmly at her. "Why, thank you. I'm so glad you like it." She winked. "It's my own special recipe. I've found few things make people happier."
* * * * *
Criar eyed his bowl of soup suspiciously. He had a lot of questions, and the evidence was confusing at best. Some Pteri had come barging into the crowd, blaring away about some glorious transformation that had apparently taken place because of the soup, and things had gotten so hectic that an ordinary Neopet might have been tempted to flee the area. Criar, however, was not an ordinary Neopet; besides, following that ancient dictate known as self-preservation, most Neopians tended to be reluctant to inflict too much jostling on a Yurble. His erected quills had generated a wide enough radius of no-man's-land around him to give him space to breathe, think, and evaluate the situation.
Most Neopians had eyes only for the substitute. And why not? A black-garbed Faerie with cardboard for wings and a cherry-eyed pear for a head tended to draw attention. But as a private detective, Criar knew that when it came to committing a crime, the devil was in the details. And so he had focused on the Xweetok assistant.
She had been a scrawny little thing, a little scruffy too, and a little haggard-looking. The second two might be attributed to a long day in the kitchen; but people who work in kitchens don't get scrawny. Unless, of course, their boss deserves to be locked up. Which, equally obviously, was what Criar was here for.
Of course, there was always the possibility that the Xweetok was a new recruit. OK, that was still strange. Usually you don't sign up for a job on the same day that a talking pear shows up and takes over. But there was always the possibility that the replacement had simply found herself in over her head and sent an S.O.S.
All right, then, why had the Xweetok looked so groggy? The vile smell that was coming from his soup bowl seemed like a pretty good explanation, but unless there was something dangerously wrong with the soup, it was hardly a case worth investigating. So many fish to smell, and too few rats.
As a routine precaution, Criar ran his finger around the rim of the bowl. If some lethal powder had been sprinkled in after the soup was poured, there might be a bit on the bowl's edge.
His finger came away squeaky clean.
Well, there was nothing else to do for now. Besides, after all this futile effort, he felt he deserved a break. Shrugging his spiky shoulders, Criar raised the bowl to his lips and prepared to tip it back.
For a few minutes, for the first time in his life, the jaded, cynical Private Detective Criar experienced pure joy.
And then the transformation began...
Date: Nov 16th
...It started at the ends of the crowd, with the ones who had been the first to try the new batch of soup and the first to leave. A few cries escaped the throats of the once-smiling creatures; alarmed, they threw their paws, wings, and claws to their necks as if to force the soup back out, but it was to no avail. Lodged within their stomachs, it began to boil and froth and work its sickly magic.
The cries moved through the crowd as if choreographed, a cacophony of horror, fear, pain and madness. Even the faerie Pteri began to molt, sloughing his feathers in a torrent of color, trilling a shrill cry of terror.
Detective Criar retched as the pain in his stomach doubled him over; coughing sulfur-scented bursts of air into his claws, he fought to keep his balance, but his trembling knees refused to hold him up. He sprawled face-first to the ground to join the mass of writhing, moaning creatures that littered the area outside of the Soup Kitchen.
Standing in the doorway, the replacement faerie watched it all with a satisfied glow in her cherry eyes.
Fire burst around Criar's body, burning all about his skin without consuming him. The pain was excruciating, but even as he opened his mouth to scream he gulped in a lungful of smoke and broke into a new fit of coughing. The roar of the fires around him was deafening, louder even than the cries of those who still could scream.
The door of the old abandoned pastry shop across the way burst open, releasing a tide of Grundos. They marched around the twisting flames without so much as flinching; even their lurching, bulky steps hit the ground with well-practiced rhythm. As soon as they'd formed a perimeter around the afflicted creatures they stopped short and turned uniformly, grasping fearsome blaster guns.
The motion of the twitching creatures slowed, and one by one they began to rise on strange, thick limbs. Long, fleshy antennae rose from their heads, wiggling curiously in the smoke-infused air.
Where the flames had danced, Grundos stood.
Laughter echoed across the pavilion, harsh and cold and deep -- an eerie contrast to the lighter faerie voice that the earth faerie had possessed all day. "Thank you!" called the imposter faerie as her chuckling subsided. She seemed to be speaking to one Grundo in general, a dizzy-eyed creature who had one remaining Pteri feather sprouting from his forearm. Blankly, he pulled it out and held it as if he couldn't quite remember why it had been there.
"Thank you," the faerie repeated, "for opening your big beak, when you had one, and encouraging all these fine Neopets to try the wonderful soup. And thank you," she added, turning to a scrawny Grundo at her side, "for getting the ingredients I needed for the second potion -- the one that got straight to the point, with no fiddling in between with faerie nonsense."
She ripped the cardboard wings away, grinning into the crowd with oversized red eyes. "Foolish followers, those who doubted me," she murmured sharply, and a couple of the armed Grundos slid back, beginning to tremble. "You think I didn't know what I was doing? You think it wasn't all part of the plan?" Her blazing eyes returned to the crowd. "What, are you not happy? I have given you meaning at last, you worthless Slorgs! I have given you purpose -- to work for me! Doesn't that make you happy?"
As the newly transformed Grundos looked to each other, blinking, they realized that the nothingness they felt must indeed be happiness of a sort. After all, there was no inner conflict, no confusion -- only a faint sense of duty. Happiness.
From where she hid behind the Soup Kitchen's corner, a tiny clothespinned faerie raised her hand to her mouth in horror...
Date: Nov 16th
* * * * *
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear..."
The powder blue Chomby scurried down the cobblestone lane in wincing purpose, a manila folder overstuffed with variously hastily stapled papers clutched in one paw. To anyone else, it may seem a little off to have the road to oneself at high noon in Neopia Central. And it couldn't be particularly encouraging that the only signs of life to be seen left footprints the size of one's head. Most would be alarmed on the basis that smoldering remains of feathers and fur littering the ground did not equate a tremendous good time.
But when you worked for Detective Criar, your priorities had a tendency to go out the window. And right now all on his secretary's mind was to get these files to her boss, possibly at the cost of her own right mind.
Not long after Criar had set off toward the Marketplace, she had learned from another employee at the office that there were more notes on this case that she had neglected to see. Chances are it wasn't important, but the point remained -- withholding anything from Criar was... well, she might as well paraphrase her entire contract and jump out the window before her boss could get his paws on her.
She had, of course, gone to find said elusive papers on his desk. But a detective’s workspace -- wouldn't you know it -- full of papers.
So now, after risking life and limb in the uncharted wilderness of the office, Oricla tore through the Marketplace in search of Criar. Which would be easier said than done, seeing as the last time she laid eyes on him, he much more resembled a Yurble than a colossal green mound.
A guilty expression passed across her face, and then came back and camped there. "He's going to be so mad," she whimpered to herself.
"Hey! Hey, you! Stop!"
Oricla paused mid-stride. Casting her dusty bottle green eyes downward, she found herself staring at a rather peculiar dark faerie whose wings were clipped back in a... clothespin?
Oricla didn't say "that's weird." She wouldn't have said "that's weird" if a flock of Baabaa had cycled past playing violins. Instead, she gushed, "Oh my! Are you alright, dear?"
"Does it LOOK like I’m alright?! Listen, you--"
"I'm no doctor or anything, but I'd say that clip can't be good for your wings!"
"No? You astonish me," the faerie replied dryly. Of course, the ONE person still intact after this whole ordeal just HAD to be a complete pea-brain. "Listen, don't go any further! And keep your voice down!" She glanced apprehensively behind her. "Everyone here has been transformed into Grundos by Doctor Sloth, and he's put this clip on my wings to sap my powers, so--"
She was interrupted as Oricla broke into a lovely peal of laughter, which irritated her very much. She rather liked her misfortunes to be taken seriously.
"What?" she snapped.
"That's silly! Here, I'll get that off you, but then I really can't stay and chat. I must be going!" She smiled dumbly and kneeled down.
The faerie growled, the sort of sound that starts in the back of one's throat and ends in someone else's. "You idiot! Didn't you hear me?! This was made by Doctor Sloth himself! There's no way you could possibly--"
With the practiced ease of one who does these sort of things for a living every day, Oricla plucked the clip off and stood, grinning from ear to ear. "You've obviously never had a desk job." With a deep breath, she swiveled to resume her mission. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find my boss!"
"Wait! You can't go out there! You'll be beaten into a pulp!" the faerie called, her initial surprise speeding off as she fluttered into the air.
Oricla hardly seemed to acknowledge her existence, apparently holding her job in a position higher than her general physical state, as she strode headlong into the midst of the gathering of transformed pets. The dark faerie was simply too small to do any good at attempts to hold her back (well, she was only a centimeter below average, but even one centimeter can make an awful lot of difference when you don't have many to spare), and instead hung back out of sight and cringed visibly.
Oricla's job was on the line. It would take an eight-foot wall of raw, bulging muscle, fists like watermelons and arms like brick walls to stop her.
Which was very unfortunate, seeing as that's chiefly what these Grundos were composed of. The Chomby collided with one, staggered back, and fell with a yelp onto her behind.
Looking up into that face was the stuff of nightmares. Oricla shrieked and backpedaled wildly, flinging her folder in a flurry of loose papers. Nobody noticed one of the Grundos twitch impulsively...
The faerie groaned and wrung her hands, her mind buzzing with desperate loose-ended plans, any way that she could stop Sloth before it was too late for them all. This couldn't be happening! This dim-witted secretary was her only help!
The Grundos had all turned to blink one eye at a time at the figure on the ground. In unison, they all looked to their leader in guidance.
When he smiled, as he did now, one almost expected vampire fangs to sprout from his gums. "I see we have a latecomer."
The same Grundo suddenly felt an unquenchable urge to break a chair over her head...
Oricla jolted at the bellow and looked up wide-eyed at the Grundo. She swallowed hard, fighting back her budding terror. This was worse than Doctor Sloth. She knew that vein-popping fury, and that customary morning greeting... "M-Mister Criar...?"
The dark faerie's eyes flashed. It hit her. "That's it!"...
Date: Nov 17th
...Although she customarily preferred the dark, the faerie's blinding flash of insight was the most welcome thing she had seen all day. Ignoring the twinge of pain from from the bruise left by the tenacious clothespin, the faerie fluttered her wings authoritatively and shouted at the inane Chomby secretary.
"Hey, you! Miss Chomby!" The Chomby was quivering pathetically and looked close to tears. Her eyes flickered toward the faerie, but the snarling Grundo before her always drew her gaze back again. She took a hesitant step backward and gulped. But her secretary training almost completely prohibited her from not answering when she was directly addressed, and she called back in a quavering voice: "Wha-what is it?"
The faerie herself was trembling from anxiety coiled together with hope. This just had to work.
"You have to talk to your boss some more! Your voice seems to bring back his sense of self and revive him from Dr. Sloth's spell!" The faerie was used to being obeyed, and her face darkened malevolently as the Chomby hesitated, looking as though she would much prefer to return to her safe, predictable desk in Criar's office. "Come on, you ridiculous airhead! What are you waiting for?"
To the faerie's surprise, the Chomby's eyes shaded suddenly from fear to indignation. The Chomby glared at her beadily and snapped, "Excuse me, I am not an airhead! I graduated first in my class from secretary school! And my name is not 'Hey, you.' It's Oricla, MISS Oricla to you!"
The faerie felt a twinge of annoyance at this impertinence, but was too worried about what might happen if MISS Oricla didn't get it together in a hurry. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes at the mention of "secretary school", she nodded.
"Right, but do as I say! You can do it!"
Gathering her papers, Oricla plastered a bright smile on her face and stepped forward to the Grundo that had been her irrepressible boss.
"Mister Criar, I've got the forms together for the Wilmot case as you requested. I've also alphabetized your filing cabinet again, and I'd appreciate it if you made an effort to keep it that way, and did you request cream or sugar with your morning Borovan?"
It was beginning to take effect, the dark faerie could see it in the Grundo's face. It was looking a little perplexed, the malice gone from its garnet eyes, and glimmers of recognition were flickering there. Memories were powerful things.
But another factor that the faerie had forgotten suddenly made itself forcibly known.
"Oh, no. I don't think we can have that," said a cool, sneering voice. The Grundos parted like sheep for the striding figure of Dr. Sloth himself. He glided purposefully towards Oricla, who, to her credit, was keeping up her flow of restorative memories to Criar despite Sloth's threatening presence. "You're too tense, Miss Chomby. I think you could use some hot soup as well..."
The faerie looked around desperately. There had to be something here... her eyes fell on a single fiery feather resting on the ground at a Grundo's clumsy feet. She zipped crazily on frantic wings to where it lay, snatched it up and waved it furiously in the Grundo's ponderous face.
"You! You were a Pteri! Remember these? Feathers!? Remember flying?"
A comprehending light grew in the Grundo's dull eyes, and he shook his head like one waking from a deep slumber.
"What? Where am I?" he started. But the faerie spoke over him.
"No time for that! But for Fyora's sake and the sake of all Neopia, you have to attack Sloth!" She pointed. "Now!"
She was lucky to have chosen an unquestioning sort of Neopet. The Pteri-turned-Grundo assessed the situation swiftly. He broke into a rolling run and lunged at Sloth's back, bowling over the black robed figure just as Oricla's steady chatter finally took effect on Criar, and he emerged as a Yurble once more.
"What? What's going on? Did I solve the case? Oricla!" Oricla snapped to attention out of habit. "Where's the villian who caused all this trouble? I'll bring them to justice!" He was working himself into a fine criminal-arresting mood, and all he needed was Oricla's pointing paw to set him eagerly upon the unconscious Sloth. Oricla looked around at the faerie, who smiled.
"Well done, MISS Oricla." She gestured around at the rest of the Grundos. "Think you can do the same for the rest of these before the Soup Faerie gets back?"
Oricla grinned. "I think we can work something out."
Date: Nov 17th
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