"Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Maria."
The Library Faerie cocked an eyebrow at the short
human who addressed her. They were friends, to say the least. They met every
Saturday when Jadestorm tripped to the bookstore, and all incidents considered,
they got along quite well with each other.
She took a deep breath. "Jade, you sound like
you just pounded all four of your pets and drowned at the bottom of the ocean."
"You look like that too."
Jadestorm combed her dark hair with her slender
fingers, before raising her eyebrows. "I - okay, so there is something wrong."
Maria stared at her. The human's eyes were bloodshot,
and her cheeks were a tired shade of puce.
"Oh, you poor -"
"Not with me," she said quickly. "It's about
The faerie twisted her angular face, struggling
to match the name. "Stripes... Stripes... isn't that the pet who cleaned
out your fridge?"
"Yep. That one. The Xweetok."
Hazel eyes frowned in puzzlement. "But isn't
cleaning the fridge a noble act?"
Jadestorm shook her head. "Right, so it probably
is, but recently, he's slipped back to where he was before - worse, actually."
"You're obviously not very good at discipline,
The owner looked downwards and twiddled her fingers
for a while, buying the time to say something reasonable rather than something
uncommonly stupid. "Now see here, Maria," she finally explained, "you can't
really blame me when there's nothing to do about it."
She shook her head. "Stripes, you see, has been
sneaking out every night to do something suspicious, and none of my traps have
ever stopped or snagged him in his process. And you add it on to the fact that
he always brings that shovel with him..."
Stripes stuck his shovel into the dirt.
At once, three pairs of foreign eyes followed
its path as the iron sheet dug into the ground, releasing clouds of dust that
glowed wanly in the light of the full moon. The Acara, Aisha, and Buzz raised
their eyebrows simultaneously.
"Bunch o' dirt again," the blue Xweetok groaned.
He threw the grime back, where it landed with a thud on something moving. Someone
gave an audible moan.
"Your turn again, Marcia299999102."
Stripes stood back once again, and leaned on
his shovel. He had dragged it out of his house with much difficulty - particularly
owing to his owner Jadestorm. What was it now - a giant wall only destructible
once some excruciatingly difficult trigonometry brainteasers had been solved
and decoded? Well, it might as well have done him in. Only the fact that the
hapless girl had left the answer key on the dinner table gave him some luck.
It was worth the risk, what he would get on this
"Donut," said the Acara, bending down to pick
something up. She immediately gobbled it down.
The waiting was boring, but the prizes were fine.
He'd heard tales of people digging up paintbrushes and striking it rich overnight,
and he'd heard a lot of them. Well, who knows...?
Stripes was suddenly shaken out of his gold-filled
reverie by a well-defined poke in the backend with an abnormally sharp shovel
tip. The Buzz, apparently well-known for his lack of patience, was starting
to lack his patience very eagerly.
The Xweetok gave an apologetic smile that turned
promptly into an annoyed twist of his mouth. Turning away, he dug in again,
and immediately felt something as hard as wood. "Yeah, we're done," he shouted,
chucking the earth away.
An elongated hexagonal box came into view, combined
with a slightly ghastly smell that was reminiscent of something ancient. "In
Loving Memory" was inscribed in fading italics at its middle. The hinges gave
way quickly as an overly enthusiastic Gelert tore it open, holding a vial of
violet potion. "Negative," he called out. "Where's my hundred NP?"
"N00b," Stripes spat. He kicked the surplus of
dirt that had mounded into a mountain. It would be five minutes before he could
have another go at it.
His foot caught something furry, and it shot
out, landing right on his palm. A Meepit, with large, emotionless eyes, stared
Ignoring his dignity, Stripes gave a loud whoop.
A Meepit was one million in the trading post, and one million could buy a lot.
With a wide grin, he put the Petpet in his sack, and set off for another open
Digging up dead people was definitely profitable.
"Stripes, there's suddenly a million NP in our
bank account, and I wanna know where they're from."
The Xweetok got up from his book, stretched,
gave a loud yawn, before giving a barely coherent reply. "I'm coming!"
He made a mad dash for the kitchen table, knocking
over several cupboards in the process, and before he had a chance to savour
the delicate tinkle of broken porcelain, he was face-to-face with a half-confused,
Jadestorm shook her head. "One million Neopoints
don't appear overnight in a normal family bank account."
"Well, this isn't exactly a normal family," Stripes
reasoned, "and besides, why are you asking me? I'm sure Princess -"
"The thing is, when you start sneaking out with
a shovel in the middle of the night, people usually begin to ask you funny questions."
Stripes gave a daft grin and stared at the fridge.
Bits of mould still clung to its sides, but it wasn't much of an issue any more.
A week after the thing had been cleaned, they'd stopped using it entirely. Little
bits of muck were only minor issues compared to the big issue the Xweetok had
found himself in right now.
"You should throw the 'frigerator out, Jade,"
he said warningly. "We could get into a situation again."
"No, I shouldn't, but please don't change the
topic." Jadestorm glared at him sternly. "I just want to ask, exactly what have
you been doing?"
"Planting trees," Stripes replied automatically.
Jadestorm buried her head into her hands. "Oh,
The Xweetok waited patiently for his owner to
resurface. "Do you need smelling salts?" he asked politely.
"No - just that you don't really go about planting
trees at one-thirty in the morning."
Stripes gave a quick and pert blush.
"Okay," he managed to say. "Um, by the way, thank
you for leaving the answer sheet to sine 90 to-the-power of cosine 120 degrees
on the kitchen table where it was fully available to me, my dear owner."
The Xweetok managed to escape before the explosion
was heard. He was several metres away, in another room, when the boom and crash
noise so commonly sounded out in the Jadestorm household came into audibility.
His owner had plunked her head into the dining-room
table, and it had created a decent-sized dent in the tiled floor.
The midnight clock swung fatefully. Dong...
Stripes lay in his bed, feet propped up patiently.
... dong... dong... dong!
The twelfth toll sounded decisively as the Xweetok
shot out of his room, grabbing his coat and shovel which both hung conveniently
beside the nearest exit. He gave a contented grin. This was the fastest yet.
Jadestorm, after three days of struggling with
locators and traps, seemed to have finally given up, because today, locators
and traps didn't exist to bar his frantic way.
Frost shone on the branches of the bare trees
outside as he dashed down the road, a simple shadow in the countless alleys
- clandestine shortcuts that he'd discovered over the hours of grave digging.
He wasn't aware of it, but something was following
him, closely but discreetly.
Stripes pushed open the cold graveyard gates,
bronze and black in the night, and made a beeline for the nearest undisturbed
tombstone, already surrounded by three other pets. The Flotsam, Jetsam, and
Eyrie greeted him kindly and grinned.
"Ready to dig?" Stripes shouted gruffly.
Stripes waited courteously, leaning on the plastic
shovel handle, as his companions eagerly plundered the secrets of the dead,
picking up the occasional donut. More dirt spewed out, blocking the glow of
the stars momentarily.
"Hey, you Xweetok, it's your turn!"
Stripes gave a wide, social smile, and lifted
his shovel. Perhaps, like last time, he'd get something valuable, like a Meepit.
Perhaps, even a Halloween paintbrush. He pondered that. Perhaps...
"Not so fast!"
Stripes abruptly spun around, frozen with shock,
just in time to see an outraged hand with slender fingers beat down on him in
an excellent display of martial arts, before stars came dancing into his eyes
like what happened in babyish theatre shows. He fell to the ground in an overly
dramatized act, sighing as if in a hackneyed swoon.
Jadestorm glared at Stripes.
She glared at the shovel.
She glared at the tombstone, which was standing
dumbly, firmly planted into the earth.
"What now?" she muttered. "Ah..."
She picked up the shovel and began digging.