I, Sloth, King of Meridell...: Part One
Also by sytra
The day the contest was announced, I was giving Space Station tours. Before Sloth’s last defeat, for a henchman of my ranking, such a job would be embarrassing; however, Sloth had little power now, and compared to the rest of his minions, my job was brilliant.
“So here,” I said, pointing to the space armour room, “is where you can buy... space armour. Any questions?”
The group of tourists glanced over at the armour room, and a red Uni with ribbons in her hair said, “So, Mister Purple Grundo Tour Guide, what’s like, so special about space armour? Is it like, more spacious?”
In my glory days – Sloth’s glory days – I would not have even considered answering such a daft question. But now, such inquiries were routine, and if I did not reply, I would most surely lose my job.
“No, it’s not more spacious,” I told the bubblegum-smacking Uni. “It’s just... space-like.”
“Oooh,” she replied with an empty nod. “I, like, guess I get it.”
“Well then, let’s continue on,” I said, and with that, I moved toward the next and final stop on the tour, the Grundo Café. I always savored this part, for after I was done explaining the different food options, I was free. The tourists would go and wrestle for a good place in line, and I would creep off to my cozy dwelling in the very back of the Space Station, having a few precious minutes to myself before the next group of bumbling tourists showed up wanting to be shown around.
“... so, that’s what you can buy at the café. Thanks for letting me show you around, and have a nice day!” I finished calling out the menu a few minutes later. The tourists gave me an unsure look – as if to say ‘We paid 1,000 Neopoints for THIS crummy tour!?’ – but before anyone could question me, I had disappeared into the shadows.
Soon I arrived at the tiny sleeping space I called my own. All along I had been planning to take a short nap once I got back, but my plans were dashed when I saw a figure lurking next to my bed. When I figured out who it was, my heart skipped a beat.
Sloth! I hadn’t seen him in a while, and no matter how much I wanted that nap, it would have to wait; Sloth rarely ventured into his henchmen’s sleeping quarters, so if he had found his way into mine, something important had to be brewing.
“What is it, sir?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Hello, Fluffy.” Sloth turned to me, smiling evilly. “I found something interesting in the Neopian Times today. Something I wanted to share with you, my very favorite henchman.”
“What is it, sir?” I repeated, as if stuck on a loop.
“A contest,” Sloth said, his voice brimming with excitement. “A very wonderful contest!”
"Contest?" I blinked, sitting down on my Deserted Carnival Bed. I tried not to look at the giant headboard, which boasted the large face of the Chia Clown. I shivered, turning back towards Sloth, who sat down beside me. I never liked that bed. It was creepy and evil and the Chia Clown's teeth, which hovered over my innocent little head at night, were brown.
I don't know why I’m complaining about an evil bed, because I am supposedly evil, but... the thing is, I have a secret. I'm not really evil, not in a normal sense of the word. Sure, I’m no Jeran. There's a reason I'm in this business with Sloth. There’s a reason I’m his favorite henchman. But--
"Yes. A contest." Sloth cleared his throat, interrupting my train of thought as he chuckled manically. He shoved the most recent issue of the Neopian Times in my face and I took it from him, a little hesitant.
"Read," he said, pointing at an article on the front page.
I nodded, quickly skimming it.
Skarl's One and Only Become-the-King-of-Meridell Contest!
Dear citizens of... Neopia,
I, King Skarl James Fleesh Entee Dubble Yueff of Meridell, am becoming... let's face it, too darn old to be the King. I'm tired of putting up with whiny peasants and listening to your stupid jokes. None of them are funny, okay?
Anyway... I am informing you all right now that I am, regrettably, retiring from my current position as the supreme ruler of Meridell. I know you will be terribly horrified at this announcement and have no clue what you will do without such a wise, noble leader, but this is a necessary step for me to take.
So, in one week's time, I am going off to Mystery Island to bask in the sun with my family of ickle pink Snowbunnies.
Since I have no written-in-stone successor, I am being forced to choose someone random to lead Meridell upon my retirement.
That is why I am holding the first and only Become-the-King (or Queen?)-of-Meridell contest. Come to my big shiny castle next Sunday, the 24th of Running, to take a stab at it. Only the elite and most dedicated will win.
Do YOU have what it takes? Obviously nobody can completely replace ME, King Skarl, but--
Oh, I'm running out of space? Darn. Well, there are no rules, limits, or restrictions. Come and be yourself (or... maybe not) and see if I like you. And I don't like many people, so you're going to have to be extremely awesome if you want to win.
I looked up at Sloth, raising a brow. "Y-you're not serious...?"
Sloth's thin lips curled into a tight smirk. "Oh, I am. Deadly serious."
I grimaced slightly, handing the Neopian Times back to my overlord. He took it, wrapping his long, pointy fingers around it.
"So. The contest is on Sunday. We have exactly six days to make the necessary preparations,” Sloth said.
"Do you have a plan?" I asked feebly.
Sloth shot an annoyed look at me. "Of COURSE I have a plan, Fluffy. What do you expect from such a handsome, evil man?"
"Well... we DO have less power right now that we've had in years --"
"Do not remind me of such horrors!" Sloth covered what would have been his ears -- if he had any -- and screwed his eyes shut.
"Sorry, sorry!" I apologized frantically, hoping he wouldn't punish me.
But he wouldn't punish me. He hadn't in months, years! I had graduated from puny underling to one of his most trusted advisors, and he favored me above all of his other followers.
Sloth sighed, his arms falling to his sides. "It's all right, Fluffy. You know how much you mean to me."
"Uh... I'm sorry, I don't know how to respond to that."
Sloth frowned, his pale green skin looking sickly in the dim light of my room.
"No matter. I have a plan for the contest. A plan that will ensure our victory. Fluffy, in one week's time, I will be the king of Meridell!"
Later that night, under the cloak of a jet black sky, Sloth gathered his most trusted henchmen in an abandoned air shaft that had acted as a meeting room during earlier invasion attempts. Long ago, such a place would have been brimming with activity, but now, the metal walls had rusted over, and it seemed possible that at any minute, the entire room would give way, sending all of us out into unprotected space.
Trying to push this frightening thought from my mind, I huddled in the back of the room next to a minion named Max. Unlike most of us, Max was not a Grundo; rather, he was a dashing green Lupe with thick fur and a smile whiter than pearls.
“I’m excited,” Max whispered to me, as Sloth flicked on a dusty old lamp in the front of the room. “I read the Neopian Times article about the contest, but I dunno how Sloth’s gonna successfully infiltrate the competition without being recognized. I can’t wait to hear his ingenious plan! I’m sure that —”
“Enough talking!” bellowed Sloth from the front of the room, interrupting Max mid-sentence. The Lupe’s cheeks flushed, and he turned towards Sloth.
“Sorry, Mister Overlord!” he called sweetly.
Sloth waved a hand through the air, disregarding Max’s attempts at not getting blasted into space. The jobless ruler simply said, “Now, for my wonderful plan!” With that, he dramatically pulled a piece of white chalk out of what appeared to be nowhere and turned towards a black board that had been set up behind him. Dead silence engulfed the room as we all watched Sloth sketch a crude figure on the board.
When he was done, he moved away from the board and smiled, seeming to approve of himself. All of us henchmen stared at the figure, lost.
Eventually, Max tapped my on the shoulder and said into my ear, quiet enough that Sloth couldn’t hear him, “What is it?”
“I haven’t a clue,” I murmured back, squinting my eyes, trying to look at it a different way. But it didn’t matter how I looked at it. The fact was, Sloth was a horrible artist, and even in a million years, I wouldn’t be able to unearth the true meaning of the squiggles on the board.
“You should ask him, Fluffy,” Max said. “Sloth likes you. He won’t ex-communicate you.”
“No buts!” Max said, and then he turned towards Sloth and cried, “Sloth! Fluffy has a question!”
Before I could stutter a reply, Sloth said, “A question? That’s wonderful! What is your question, Fluffy?”
“Um, er... uh...” I took a deep breath. “Okay, my question is... what, exactly, is your drawing of?”
“Good question!” Sloth said, surprisingly cheery. “The drawing is of my disguise.”
“Disguise?” I asked.
“Yep,” Sloth said with a hearty nod. “My disguise! After all, dear henchmen, no one is going to give me the throne of Meridell if they know who I am. Therefore, I have to go undercover! And guess what, Fluffy?”
“Since I want to prove that I have the future of Meridell all planned out already, for the next generation, you’re going to go undercover, too!”
“As what, sir?” My heart was pumping a million times a minute.
Without skipping a beat, Sloth cried, “My son!”
To be continued...