A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 131,950,016 Issue: 271 | 22nd day of Celebrating, Y8
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Sloth's Christmas Carol


by schefflera

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Dr. Frank Sloth sat in a sleek, shining, high-tech office in a spire towering over Kreludor. The only reason it wasn't any higher than the highest mountain on the moon was that he didn't want to draw too much attention from anyone looking around. The Space Faerie, for instance. Or maybe even the little Astronomy Club down in Altador. He doubted they would notice him; given their odd obsession with constellations, they rarely looked at the moon. The Space Faerie was, he hoped, otherwise occupied. She could certainly look at Kreludor any time it suited her (Sloth admitted this grudgingly), but the blue-haired biddy did seem to be exceptionally preoccupied lately for some reason.

     His door beeped. He liked that much better than listening to someone merely knock.

     Dr. Sloth flicked a long green finger out to stab at the button on his desktop control panel reading "Access Granted" and called out, "Enter!"

     He brought his hands together and steepled his forefingers as the door opened, regarding the new arrival with interest. "Commander Garoo," he said. The high-ranking steely blue Blumaroo looked exceptionally sour this evening, which was a considerable accomplishment given his usual attitude. Sloth became jovial in response. "What brings you to my office tonight, Commander?" He smiled broadly, displaying his teeth. "And, ah... why the long face?"

     Commander Garoo's expression grew more sour still, his nose actually appearing to lengthen as he drew it down over his mouth. "I have a message for you."

     "Let's have it, then," Sloth said.

     "Tonight, Dr. Sloth," Commander Garoo said nasally, "you will receive visits from three...." He appeared to struggled with the word. "Ghosts."

     Sloth waited for a moment, nonplussed, for further elaboration. "Well," he said when none seemed to be forthcoming, "what's so odd about that? It's not one of the base colors, but there are plenty of ghost Grundos about." He frowned and picked up his electronic Planetary Dominion Assistant, a new invention of his own, and called up the calendar function. "Although I don't seem to have given any of them an appointment tonight."

     "I don't mean ghost Neopets," Commander Garoo replied.

     Sloth banged a fist on his desk. "Well, then what the dickens are you getting at, Commander? Ghost Faeries?"

     Commander Garoo managed to look more unhappy still. "No, Doctor Sloth. Only one Faerie."

     "Well, I'm absolutely sure I didn't grant an appointment to any Faerie," Sloth snapped. He paused and reflected for a moment. "Though I suppose a ghost Faerie would be interesting."

     "It's not a ghost Faerie." Commander Garoo was beginning to sound harried, though he still stood militarily straight, as was correct. "I don't believe any of them are properly ghosts."

     Sloth stared at him for a moment.

     The Blumaroo commander stared back, sweat beginning to form on his nose.

     "Then why," Sloth asked with dangerously exaggerated patience, "did you start out by saying they were ghosts."

     A drop of sweat rolled down to the end of Commander Garoo's nose. "They are... they are like ghosts," he tried. "And there are three of them. They may be demons," he added uncertainly.

     Sloth sighed harshly. "Who are they? And who gave you this message for me?"

     The drop of sweat fell off Commander Garoo's nose and splashed to the gleaming floor, leaving a dull damp spot that hastily evaporated and left a dull salt-encrusted spot. "The Three." And with that, he bowed stiffly, took a smart step backward, and let himself out the door again.

     Sloth sat still for a moment, entirely stunned by such preposterously insubordinate behavior from one of his highest ranking, most loyal, most ferocious commanders. Then he surged to his feet in a fury, both fists coming down knuckles-first on the desk with a bang. "The Three WHAT?"

     *****

     Frank Sloth went to bed that night in an extremely ill temper. He never had caught up to Garoo to demand an explanation of his behavior. The Blumaroo had almost sounded frightened, which was entirely implausible. None of Dr. Sloth's minions had any business being frightened of anybody worse than they were of Dr. Sloth himself!

     And he still didn't know who these three whatevers were who were suborning his Commander as a messenger boy and claiming they had an appointment to visit with him tonight. Ridiculous. Who went visiting on the night before the Day of Giving, anyway? And if they insisted on doing so, couldn't they find anyone to bother besides him?

     Grumpily, he flopped backward into his comfortable Orange Hoverbed. It sank slightly beneath his weight before the hover mechanism compensated and forced it back up. He threw the blanket over himself and closed his eyes.

     He could still see orange behind his eyelids. He really ought to get this thing dyed green.

     Nevertheless, he soon drifted off and was soundly and deeply asleep. (Very soundly. Dr. Sloth snored.)

     He woke with a violent start to the sound of an old-fashioned clock striking midnight with a massive metallic "BONNNNNGGGGG" (followed, as he counted, by eleven more just alike). This wouldn't have been nearly so startling if not for the fact that, Clockwork Grundos and various other gadgets and gizmos all aside, there was no old-fashioned clock anywhere on Kreludor to strike midnight or any other hour. Besides, Kreludor was modern and used a twenty-four hour clock. Midnight wasn't twelve; it was zero.

     Sloth rubbed the stickiness of sleep out of his eyes and squinted around the room blearily, trying to figure out where the unwelcome and anachronistic clock had come from. He looked to the left first, and back behind the head of his bed; then he looked around to the right, and at last his gaze returned to the foot of the hoverbed.

     There was a Skeith there.

     At least, there was something shaped like a Skeith there. Being an expert (or so he liked to think) in the making of counterfeit Neopets, whether toys, weapons, or merely decoration (or some combination of all three), Sloth did not like to take it for granted that the creature was a true Skeith. For one thing, the jiggling body beneath its open hooded cloak was translucent, showing white bones through the flesh, and it let off a soft, blueish green glow.

     Sloth scowled at it. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my bedroom?" He yanked a QX-92 Neutrino Blaster out from under his pillow and leveled it at the intruder.

     The Skeith seemed unmoved by the threat. He only blinked slowly and showed Sloth a slow, broad grin full of sharp teeth with gaps between them, and food caught in the gaps. This inspired in Sloth a new and wholly unexpected appreciation for the Tooth Faerie, as well as a certain amount of nausea. "I am Greed," said the Skeith.

     Sloth glared at him. "That's one question answered. How about the other?"

     "What was it?"

     "What," Sloth gritted between his teeth, "are you doing. In my bedroom?"

     "Oh." The Skeith grinned more broadly, which looked as if it should have caused his head to fall off. "I am one of the Three."

     Sloth sighed. "Oh. You. Couldn't you have just shown up during office hours?"

     The Skeith, Greed, rumbled with laughter. "What do you want, Dr. Sloth?"

     "My room to myself, so I can go back to sleep."

     "Not right this minute, Dr. Sloth. Or should I call you Frank?"

     "No, you shouldn't."

     "What do you really want?" The Skeith leaned closer. "Riches?"

     "I have them," Sloth said, lifting his chin with some pride.

     "You could have more." If the Skeith leaned any further and left his mouth open like that, he was going to drool on Sloth's feet. "I could... help you." He left the foot of the bed and sidled around to Sloth's left side; Sloth scowled deeply and kept the QX-92 Neutrino Blaster trained on him, which meant that it ended up poking the Skeith right in the nose. Evidently the Skeith wasn't troubled by this, since he neither moved back nor stopped talking. "I could give you all the wealth of Neopia. Of the Alien Aisha Empire, even."

     "Somehow, I don't think you own it," Sloth said crossly. "If you did, I would simply take it from you now, not make agreements." He jabbed the Skeith in the nose again with the Blaster.

     "I do not own it," the Skeith agreed, still in that maddeningly slow, hollow voice. "But I can give you the power to obtain it. To grasp and hold all the wealth of Neopia," and he reached out one fat, translucent, jiggling, glowing paw and touched the fingers of Sloth's left hand, disregarding the Blaster held in it, "in this hand?"

     Sloth pressed the muzzle of the QX-92 Neutrino Blaster against the Skeith's nose, gradually increasing the force until the Skeith gave way, just a little, to keep his nose from being smashed in. It was only a lean back, not a step, but Sloth took this as a victory. He freed one hand to adjust his black nightgown over his knees. The Skeith didn't move in again. "I," Sloth said, "own Virtupets, Incorporated. I own Krelufun Industries... but that's a secret. I own Kreludor and all the mines, factories, shops, and Neohomes on it. I brought the Grundos here. I own the Virtupets Space Station, even if I can't get at it right now. What I want, I take. I don't need your help."

     And then another voice spoke, this one from the direction of his feet again. This voice was deeper still, and the vibrations of it shook the very bones in his toes and sent the buzzing feeling rolling up his legs and into his chest. "But you can't get to the Virtupets Space Station right now, because the Grundos and the Space Faerie took it from you."

     Sloth's eyes widened, and he kept the QX-92 Neutrino Blaster trained on the Skeith with one hand while he yanked an Asparagus Powered Ray Gun out from under his pillow with the other hand, and used that to cover the tall, bearded Gelert looming at the foot of his bed.

     The Gelert, like the Skeith, seemed undisturbed. He spoke again. "Doesn't that make you... angry?"

     "Of course it does," Sloth snapped. "So does having idiots come into my bedroom in the middle of the night when I am trying to sleep. And who are you?"

     The Gelert stepped sideways, this time toward Sloth's right side. This was irritating, but Sloth kept the Ray Gun pointed at him nevertheless. Each of the Gelert's footsteps dropped onto the floor like the weight of doom. "I," boomed the Gelert, "am Revenge."

     "Good for you," Sloth sighed.

     "Do you want to avenge yourself on those who have wronged you?" Revenge intoned.

     "Who doesn't?"

     Evidently the Gelert hadn't been finished; his speech rolled on as if Sloth had never interrupted it. "Do you want to see the Grundos on the Space Station punished for their rebellion, Sloth? Do you want to see the Space Faerie humbled, with her wings in tatters?"

     "Say, that's not a bad idea!" A grey Space Faerie. Not a bad idea at all.

     "Do you want to see all of Neopia crushed, the vile Neopets and the plants and flowers, the very sunlight extinguished in penalty for the time those thousands of years ago when it drove you out?"

     Sloth caught his breath at that. "How did you know that?" he asked, and then shook himself and snapped, "I do want all that, and I'll see it done, too!"

     "I can give you the power," the Gelert breathed. "All you have to do for me in return is to seek that payback in my name, make them pay and pay until there is nothing left and then pay more, and I will give you Neopia to crush," and a long, shaggy, clawed finger left the hilt of his massive sword to touch the heel of Sloth's right hand, heedless of the Ray Gun held in it, "in this hand."

     "I don't know what's wrong with you two," Sloth complained. "These are all things I'm going to do anyway. I don't need your help to conquer Neopia."

     "Do you want to conquer Neopia?" The new voice, the third voice, was not deep and low and rumbling; instead it was as high and cold and distant as starlight. The form from which it came was tall and slender; her hood was thrown back, her hair black as night, and her wings were clear and softly gleaming. (Of course, starlight was the product of a mindblowingly powerful nuclear fusion reaction and was, if you got close enough to it, not merely hot but likely to devour you alive. As the voice in question was coming from a Faerie, Sloth thought it likely that this was a good analogy.)

     Unfortunately, now he had three weird intruders, the latest of whom was a Faerie, and only two weapons. This was inconvenient. Sloth aimed his QX-92 Neutrino Blaster at the Skeith Greed, the Asparagus Powered Ray Gun at the Gelert Revenge, and his best Evil Glower at the Faerie. "Of course I do," he snarled. "I've only said I was planning on it every day for the past two thousand years."

     He realized a second later that this was a mistake, as the Faerie smiled and leaned over the end of his bed. She placed both hands on the coverlet and folded them over his toes. "It sounds as if it's taking you quite a while. Would I be correct, then, in saying that it might qualify as your dearest... Ambition?"

     "If that was an introduction," Sloth said, "you're not my dearest anything."

     The Faerie threw her head back, baring a long pale column of throat, and laughed. "I am Ambition indeed," she said. "You want Neopia. I want to see you take it. If you will serve me... if you will serve us... then I can give you the power," she said, her grip tightening on his toes, "to tread all of Neopia under your feet."

     "Serve you?" Sloth burst out. "Serve YOU? Let go of me!" He yanked his feet out of her grip and stood up on his bed, turning to this side and the other to menace each of them in turn. The Faerie withdrew her hands to the footboard, looking infuriatingly surprised. As if she'd expected him to be some crawling supplicant! Him, Dr. Frank Sloth! Rightful ruler alone of Neopia! "Listen to me!" he roared. "I am Sloth! I am one of the wealthiest beings in Neopia, you--!" He stood on one foot to plant the heel of the other on the Skeith's forehead. "You lump of gluttonous blubber! And I'll own it all before I'm through! And you--!" He put his foot down and pivoted, then lashed a kick across the Gelert's muzzle, which wrinkled in a snarl. "You counterfeit Fate! I can devise my own punishments for disloyalty and insult! And you...."

     The Faerie drew himself up as he approached her, growing in height until even standing on the floor while Sloth stomped across his mattress, she was nose-to-nose with him when he reached the end of the bed, both the Blaster and the Ray Gun aimed straight ahead, heedless of her two companions or heralds.

     Sloth's voice lowered to a deadly snarl. "I won't take snide remarks about my timing from any sniveling Faerie. I won't come asking you favors and I won't come kissing your feet. Get OUT!" He kicked out and caught her under the ribs, and the Faerie stumbled back.

     "Some power," Sloth sneered, turning to look at them one after the other. "If you're so powerful, why just stand there and take it? Come on! All at once or one at a time! Try something!" He shook his head as they only stared at him in silence. Perhaps they thought it was spooky.

     "I'll have Neopia," Sloth shouted, "owned and humbled and bowing at my feet! I have my own power; I don't need any of yours! And when I'm done," he said, leaning down to bare his teeth in the Faerie's face, "I'll have you too."

     The Faerie had recovered from his kick, and now she stood straight again, and her shadow lips curved into a smile. "They told us we could not corrupt you," she said. "They told us we wouldn't be able to buy you. They were right."

     "Who?" Sloth snapped.

     "You don't need to know," she said. "But it doesn't matter. Your service... is without a price."

     "I don't serve you," Sloth growled. "Now get out of my room."

     And, feeling that they were obviously not much of a threat if they hadn't done anything against him already, Sloth threw himself down on his bed and thrust his weapons back under the pillow, shutting his eyes.

     He dreamed (and was sure he was dreaming) that the Faerie drew a flask of glowing multicolored water out of her gown and threw it over him with a wet splash, which he ignored, and then swiped a paint brush over him with a wet sticky feeling, which he also ignored. And then the Three were gone, and Sloth sank back into a comfortable, and now dreamless, sleep.

     *****

     He woke up in the morning feeling greatly refreshed. So what if he'd had nonsense dreams, and Commander Garoo was acting strange? Odd things always happened around the Day of Giving. It was as if Neopia went a bit mad. Well, madder than usual.

     Sloth stretched expansively and got out of bed, intending to dine on a nutritious breakfast of Radioactive Sloth Cake.

     At the second step he stopped, puzzled, as he heard jingling. It stopped, so he walked onward.

     More jingling.

     Seized by a horrible suspicion, Sloth turned and jingled his way over to the wall, where he hit a switch and was rewarded by a section of smooth wall turning into a perfectly reflective full-length mirror.

     The sight that met his eyes was horrible to behold. His customary black clothing had turned to a bright cherry red, offsetting his green skin nicely. It was trimmed at the waist, neck, ankles, and wrists with something white and fluffy. And indeed, on the toes of his otherwise still respectably black boots, there were jingly bells.

     "AUGH!" he shouted. "I've been painted CHRISTMAS!"

     *****

     After breakfast, it occurred to him that this might have even more possibilities than the Happiness Faerie.

The End

 
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