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Ezanna and the Christmas Craft Fair


by battlesunn

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There weren't generally sticks strewn all about the kitchen floor. Usually, the floor was spotless: a testament to the amount of effort that Mordegan expended while cleaning it.

     Ironically, it was Mordegan, a green Lupe, who was responsible for the mess, which Ezanna discovered as he stepped carefully over the sticks into the kitchen and spotted his Lupine brother sitting at the immense table, which, like the floor, was covered in dozens of sticks.

     "Mordegan, what are you doing?" Ezanna demanded. The Krawk crinkled his black and white striped snout in distaste. The sticks carried an unpleasant, loamy smell. Mordegan grinned apologetically.

     "Sorry, Ezanna. The kitchen table was the only place big enough to make my Stickaments," he replied. Ezanna raised a scaly eyebrow.

     "Stickawhats?"

     "Stickaments!" the Lupe barked happily. "I make them every year at Christmastime. See?" He rummaged through the pile of wood and retrieved a medium sized stick that was decked in a miniature red cap and scarf. Mordegan smiled.

     "See? I bring them to the local craft fair in the Marketplace and sell them. People can hang them on their trees."

     "A craft fair, you say?" Ezanna mused. "I've never heard of those. You say they happen every year?"

     "Oh yes," Mordegan said, nodding. "All sorts of local artisans bring their Holiday crafts to sell and trade. It's always lots of fun; you can come, if you'd like. I could use some help selling my Stickaments."

     "Do you sell many?" the Krawk pressed. He was starting to feel rather excited at the prospect of quick and easy holiday Neopoints, especially with such an extensive gift list looming in the future. Mordegan shrugged in response.

     "Well, you know, a couple here and there… I don't make a ton, but it's more for the fun of it than anything else."

     Ezanna didn't seem to have caught the latter half of Mordegan's reply. He had become hooked at "a couple here and there".

     "I'd love to come," the Krawk said smoothly, already formulating ideas for sales pitches and dreams of spending revenue. "When do we leave?"

     "Tomorrow morning at eight of clock NST," the Lupe chirruped. "It'll be so much fun, Ez! Wait'll you see all the cool crafts and inventions, and meet the people. And the food! Don't have a big breakfast, Ez, there's this one Poogle who bakes really awesome cookies and-"

     Mordegan continued to ramble about cookies and candy canes while Ezanna thoughtfully examined the Stickaments. There were about six-dozen completed figurines: little bits of twigs with festive ornaments attached. Some were drooping over, unable to support the weight of their decorations. Others were flaking and shedding pieces of bark on the linoleum. Ezanna had to admit, they weren't much to look at it. The question, the Krawk thought as he tuned out Mordegan's babbling, was how to make them appeal to a mass market. Then, Ezanna knew, they would generate some income.

     Ezanna yawned as he leaned against Mordegan's booth, shivering against the bitter cold of the Marketplace. There were frigid clumps of snow heaped in irregular piles about the plaza, and the brightly colored decorations-bits of silver tinsel and twinkling Faerie lights-did little to warm the reptilian's heart. All around him were various Neopets peddling their wares, their calls mingling in a cacophonous flurry of voices:

     "Shortbread cookies! Shaped just like little Ixi heads; only five hundred Neopoints a dozen!"

     "Miniature hats made out of acorns! Get your hats made out of acorns!"

     "Stuffed Christmas Lupes made from holly leaves over heeeeeere!"

     The Krawk groaned and stuffed his claws in his ears, attempting to block out the intrusive noise. Mordegan, on the other hand, busily set up his display of Stickaments. The Lupe whistled as he propped up and arranged the decorated twigs to create an appealing tabletop. Ezanna's nostrils flared slightly.

     "Mordegan, why would anybody buy any of this stuff?" He gestured towards a cart filled with what looked like gold painted pinecones. "I mean really, they're charging three hundred Neopoints a pop for those things-who's going to waste their money on a pinecone?"

     Mordegan chuckled as he tenderly fitted a scarf around the neck of a Stickament. "Ez, Ez; it isn't about getting a great deal on some fantastic bit of merchandise-it's about having fun creating and sharing in other people's merriment." The Lupe grinned. "It's art! Holiday art. So come on, Ezanna, lighten up. Why don't you go look around for a bit and I'll hold down the booth."

     The Krawk snorted and grumbled a bit but complied. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he meandered down a row of rickety wooden stands, eyeing the overpriced merchandise. A common trend seemed to be natural objects dressed in little wintry outfits, ranging from Scorchy-Claws rocks to Christmas Ixi chestnuts. Ezanna peered at the outlandish price tag: five hundred Neopoints for a nut with two stick "antlers" glued to its top. The reptilian Neopet was not the only patron to be deterred by the numbers; hardly anyone appeared to be buying anything. The Marketplace buzzed with Neopets, but they had their Neopoint pouches firmly shut, and were merely browsing, not making purchases. Ezanna sighed and trundled back to his brother's cart, feeling bored and despondent. The Lupe was chatting amiably to a group of young Elephantes, none of which, Ezanna noticed, appeared interested in the merchandise. He rolled his eyes and decided then to take matters into his own claws.

     "Mordegan," the Krawk began, interrupting his brother's rambling speech on the virtues of quick-drying glue. "How about if I do the selling for awhile, mmm?" He nudged Mordegan's side gently. "Go on, take a break, check out the wares. I'll hold down the booth for a bit."

     Mordegan shrugged. "Alright." He waved to the Elephantes and flashed his teeth. "Bye guys, have fun, and remember---the trick to make it stick is to apply direct pressure."

     The Elephantes went giggling away as Mordegan loped off to go meet his fellow vendors. Ezanna breathed a sigh of relief and swung into action, cracking his scaly knuckles and drumming his claws on the table. The Krawk stretched slightly and inhaled deeply before beginning his spiel.

     "Step right up," he roared. "Come and check out these limited edition, one of a kind collectibles! Stickaments, yes, Stickaments! Get them here and only here! This is a one time offer!"

     Gradually, and with a steady increase of interest, Neopets began to gather around Ezanna's booth. The Krawk grinned and hoisted one of the Stickaments into his hand.

     "Yes siree, these are most definitely worth your Neopoints! See, each Stickament is different, and some have, uh, special powers! Yeah! Like this one, for example." He gave the Stickament in his hand a little shake, the attached bells tinkling.

     "This one has the ability to tell the future! You can collect and battle with them with your friends and their Stickaments."

     At first the crowd appeared skeptical, but one little Grarrl piped up with an exuberant cry of, "Oh wow, I want one! Buy me one, Stella!"

     The Grarrl's owner complied, and, somewhat grudgingly, dug into her wallet for the appropriate amount of Neopoints, which she then exchanged for the proffered Stickament. She handed it to the Grarrl, whose face lit up like a Faerie snow globe.

     "Thanks!" he crowed, and then turned to his friend, a shadow Zafara.

     "If you buy one then we can battle them," the Grarrl coaxed. The Zafara nodded.

     "Yeah! I want one too."

     His owner rolled his eyes and tossed the Grarrl's a despairing glance, but he too handed Ezanna the five hundred Neopoints needed for the stick figure. Ezanna fought the urge to snigger as he passed the young Neopet a Stickament that had a small felt scarf wrapped about its neck. The Zafara stared at it in awe.

     "Oh cool, which one is this?" he asked. The Krawk leaned on the table and massaged his chin thoughtfully.

     "Why that is, uh, the Magical Scarf Guardian Stickament. It has the ability to wrap its scarf of doom around other Stickaments," he invented quickly. The Zafara cocked his head to the side.

     "But which one is more powerful?" he pressed. "Mine or Higlac's?" The Zafara gestured to his Grarrl friend. Ezanna faltered.

     "Um, well, it depends on how many… uh…" He glanced around before spotting, underneath his booth, a large box filled with assorted beads that Mordegan had been using to embellish some of the plainer Stickaments. The Krawk chuckled and heaved the box onto the tabletop, scooping up a handful of the brightly colored beads.

     "It depends on how many power stones you have, naturally," he said.

     "And how much do they cost?" the Zafara's owner inquired dryly. Ezanna toyed with the beads.

     "Oh, not very much. Let's say one hundred Neopoints for five."

     "I want ten!" the Zafara piped.

     "Then I'll take fifteen," the Grarrl countered.

     "I want twenty, and one Stickament!" said a new voice, belonging to a gangly yellow Yurble.

     He was not the only new customer: a dozen young Neopets were thrusting bags of Neopoints at Ezanna, all requesting Stickaments-- sometimes two or three-- of their own, and scads of the glittering beads. The Krawk couldn't suppress a grin as he handed out Stickament after Stickament, along with handfuls of beads. It wasn't long before he had cleaned out Mordegan's stock, and amassed a small fortune in exchange.

     "Okay," he finally announced. "That's it, we're all out, no more!"

     The declaration was met with a chorus of disappointed groans, but the Krawk simply shrugged and reminded them that they were the only ones who had the special, one of a kind, limited edition Stickaments, which brightened their moods considerably.

     The crowd at last dispersed and Ezanna was left with a large mound of Neopoints, which he quickly began to sort into smaller piles, humming a festive jingle as he did. The Krawk was so immersed in his miserly work that he failed to notice Mordegan, who came loping up to the table, his arms weighed down with various knick-knacks from other booths.

     "Hello Ez! Want to try some of this peppermint liquorice?" the Lupe greeted before brandishing a rubbery strand of red-and white striped liquorice at his brother. Ezanna shook his head impatiently.

     "No, no, it's fine. Look, Mordegan! I sold all the Stickaments!" he crowed. Mordegan gaped.

     "How? I've never sold more than four or five!"

     Ezanna sniggered. "You just don't know how to sell, is all. I gave them some mass-market appeal. You see, people love to collect things. Think about it; Avatars, stamps, coins, cards… It's all a big status symbol. The more you have, the cooler you are. I just made Stickaments a part of the niche."

     Mordegan nodded slowly. "Uh…. Huh. I think I get it." He looked down at his purchases. "Well, I certainly had a lot of fun! Look at all this cool stuff!" The Lupe brightened suddenly, a thought having struck him.

     "Hey, since we did so well today, we may as well go to the really big craft fair at Terror Mountain. It's tomorrow; I've never been before because I've never moved enough merchandise to really justify going up there, but if people like the Stickaments then I suppose I can."

     Ezanna rubbed his claws together in excitement. "Excellent! We'll make even more Neopoints than we did today."

     Mordegan shrugged. "We'll see, I guess. Did you want to look around a bit?"

     Ezanna stared at his brother as though he were insane. "Stay? Of course not! We have to go home and make more Stickaments. We'll need about a hundred, I expect. Come on, Morty, let's get going!"

     Mordegan folded his ears dejectedly but complied and began packing his materials into boxes. Ezanna left the Lupe to his task and concerned himself with the handling of the money.

     Mordegan yawned loudly as he prepared his booth at the Terror Mountain craft show. It was being held specifically in the Ice Dome, which had been booked by the organizers of the fair in advance. It had a distinctly chillier atmosphere than the rustic bustle of the Marketplace, whose patrons were mostly local pets and shop owners. The attendees of the Terror Mountain fair, on the other hand, were richer, and had higher expectations for craftsmanship and product. Even the surroundings were bleak: the aquamarine walls of the towering battle dome seemed to reflect themselves a million times over, giving the entire venue the appearance of a hard, glittering diamond. Mordegan shivered and pulled his Chia-patterned scarf more tightly around his neck.

     Ezanna then appeared, staggering under the weight of a gigantic box of Stickaments. He dumped it on the Mordegan's table and smiled.

     "There we are! That's another fifty Stickaments, which brings our total up to…" He quickly added up the numbers. "One hundred and forty! Now…" The Krawk leaned in conspiratorially, beckoning Mordegan to do the same.

     "The customers at this fair are quite a bit richer, are they not?" he asked. The Lupe nodded and Ezanna lit up.

     "Excellent! So, why not take advantage of this wealthier consumer population by raising our prices a tad? Not a lot or anything, just a couple hundred Neopoints or so…"

     Mordegan was horrified. He snapped up and nearly dropped the Stickament that he was holding. "Ezanna, we can't do that, it's dishonest!"

     "I don't see how it is. They'd still buy them; you haven't seen me sell these things."

     "I don't care! It doesn't matter if the customer has a million Neopoints or a thousand; the price stays the same because that's how much the product's worth." He raised his paws despairingly. "I mean, come on, Ez. They're sticks."

     Ezanna shook his head, screwing tight his eyes and gritting his fangs. "You won't make a profit, you dummy!"

     "That isn't the point! All I wanted to do was have fun making sticks with sparkles glued on. I don't want to extort people."

     The Krawk narrowed his eyes. "Well I DO care about money and profit, and I'm not going to waste my time here on this desolate hunk of ice if you aren't even going to listen to reason."

     "Fine! Leave, then. I don't want you around if you're going to use such slimy business tactics," Mordegan snarled.

     Ezanna bristled. "Fine," he snapped. "See if you're able to sell anything without my help!"

     The Krawk reached into the box, pulled out a jingling, bell-spangled Stickament, and broke it in two, tossing the splinters to the icy ground. Mordegan wilted, his lower lip trembling. Ezanna, however, didn't notice his brother's heartbroken state as he had by this time whirled around and begun to make his way across the dully shining Ice Dome to the waiting Eyrie carriages, which would return him to Neopia Central.

     The Krawk fumed as he clambered into a carriage being carted by two large yellow Eyries, who had been cordially sharing a gingerbread Kyrii cookie.

     "Hey!" Ezanna shouted, rapping impatiently on the inside of the compartment. "Hurry it up, would you?"

     The two Neopets exchanged a mutinous glance but obeyed, flaring their impressive wings and taking off from Terror Mountain. Ezanna settled into his chair and glared out the window, noting with some contempt that his ride was considerably more turbulent than it had been on the way up.

     After disembarking in the Marketplace, Ezanna wandered down the snow-dappled streets, eyeing the various young Neopets who were playing with each other amongst the festively decorated shops. Some, he noted, toted handfuls of power beads and Stickaments from the previous day's sales. He snorted. Who was Mordegan to question his business integrity? The Stickaments made young Neopets happy-what did it matter how much they cost, or how much they were worth? The kids clearly didn't care that they were playing with a bunch of trussed up twigs.

     Two of the young pets, a scarf-swaddled Acara and a his Gelert friend, gamboled over to a snow drift, whereupon the Acara gasped and proclaimed, "Oh, sweet! I found a Stickament on the ground-oh, wait…" The Acara sneered at the stick that he had collected from the snowdrift. "It's just a regular stick." He turned to his friend. "I thought it was an Original Stickament, or something. One that doesn't have any clothes."

     The Gelert sighed. "Darn. Oh well, maybe that Krawk'll be back selling more tomorrow."

     Ezanna watched as the two trotted back to their fellows in the plaza, a disconcerting knot twisting in his stomach. The pets had mistaken a regular twig for a Stickament, and what was more, they would clearly have been willing to pay for a plain stick, had Ezanna sold it to them. The Krawk bit his lip. He was beginning to understand what Mordegan had said about business ethics. Maybe, he thought, it wasn't right to sell a piece of wood for inordinately high prices, even if people were convinced it was a justified purchase.

     He sighed and continued down the road into the heart of the Marketplace. Here he was assaulted with armies of glistening storefronts, all urging him to spend his hard-earned Neopoints on gifts and items. The Krawk was beginning to feel slightly ill, uncomfortable in the knowledge that he, too, had been consumed by greed for easy Neopoints.

     He felt the Neopoints in his coat pocket-they were heavy, a large lump of jangling greed. Ezanna suddenly had a sudden urge to get rid of the Neopoints, though donating them to the Money Tree didn't seem the solution: most of the people who obtained items from the generous boughs of the tree were already well-off, and merely hungry for another source of income to bolster their personal wealth. The Krawk seated himself on a frosty bench, idly playing with the clinking golden coins in his pocket.

     Mordegan would've known what to do, he thought to himself. He's always thinking about things like that… The Krawk allowed his eyes to wander to one of the less garish shops, a simple little hovel that featured arts and crafts items. Ezanna was then struck by an idea: Mordegan loved arts and crafts! That was why he made the Stickaments in the first place, simply to nurture his own love of creation and the holidays.

     The Krawk grinned and leapt up from the bench, striding purposefully towards the shop. He entered and quickly sought out the nicest set of paints and brushes, which he then purchased with all of the money he had made from hustling Stickaments. He nearly skipped out of the shop, clutching the deluxe paint set to his chest. Mordegan, Ezanna knew, would love it, and hopefully it would help to patch things up with him as well.

     Mordegan returned that evening looking bedraggled, tired and a bit sad. His usually glossy green coat had the dull hue of an unwashed chalkboard, and his scarf was ragged and damp. What's more, he carried with him a full box of Stickaments-a sure sign that the Lupe's modest selling techniques had not captured the attention of the Terror Mountain craft fair's finicky buyers.

     Ezanna, upon hearing the door open, abandoned the book that he had been reading and rushed to greet his brother.

     "Hello Mordegan," he ventured. Mordegan narrowed his eyes a bit.

     "Well, you were right," he declared sarcastically. "People really do only buy stupid, useless pieces of junk when they think they're collectible. Pity I'm not as good as you at convincing them that my twigs are a smart investment. I'm going to bed."

     Ezanna stopped him. "Morty, wait, I'm sorry. You were right, it was wrong of me to try and price the Stickaments higher, and to trick those kids into thinking that the Stickaments were a good use of their Neopoints." He smiled. "I got you an early Christmas present, though, and I used the money that I got from selling the Stickaments, so you don't have to worry about our owner's secret funds or anything."

     The Krawk darted into the kitchen and retrieved the paint set. Cradling it reverently in his arms, he returned to the Neohome's foyer and presented it happily to his brother.

     "Merry Christmas, Morty," he said. Mordegan exhaled in disbelief.

     "Oh wow, Ez, this is really cool!" He turned the boxed paint set over his paws, a grin spreading across his muzzle. "I've always wanted a paint set-now I can finally start learning to draw trees properly!"

     Ezanna nodded. "And, hey, if you can learn to paint them with tinsel and glass bulbs, we can sell them at next year's craft fair."

     Mordegan laughed. "We can price them, Ez, but we can't make people buy. But, hey, that's not really the point."

     "No, you're right, it's not the point," Ezanna agreed.

     Mordegan shivered. "It's a bit chilly, isn't it? Come on, Ez, let's go and build a fire..." The Lupe smirked wryly. "We can use all the leftover Stickaments as fuel."

The End

 
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