Lost on the Day of Giving
The snow whirled, sprinkling its excitement in great showers of sparkles. There were lights on the ground too, blue and yellow and red and green, winking with merry anticipation. Through all this brilliance, the graceful figure of a purple Draik swooped, landing with a gentle splat in front of a Neohome.
"Ta-da, I'm home!" cried Blippita.
Her elder sister Yinna opened the door, but instead of the usual "Let's see what you got from the Advent Calendar!", a quiet frown disturbed her smooth Grundo features.
Blippita put down her armload of goodies. "What's the matter, Yinna?" she asked worriedly. "Is everything all right at home?"
"Oh, thank goodness you're home, " whispered the orange Grundo, closing the door. "I was so scared you'd be gone too. We sent Yoofyoof out to get a music box, but he hasn't returned, and it's been more than three hours... Everyone else is here, even those who usually stay at Swordlilly. We did the decorations and got the dinner ready, and it was all going to be a perfect Day of Giving, but then Yoofyoof had to go missing..." She looked as if she wanted to cry, which truly shocked Blippita. Bossy big sisters did not cry. That was a certified law of nature.
Blippita spoke hurriedly to prevent the collapse of reality. "What are we going to do now?" she asked.
"Good question," came the monotonous answer, even though it was obviously a very bad question. It was the kind of useless question that got asked under dire circumstances, for example when the Snowager woke up with a roar and blocked the exit, or when Chef Bonju cooked up a new explosive.
It wasn't the kind of question normally asked in a pretty, warm Neohome, snuggled under a covering of snow. But here they were, two unhappy sisters, walking toward the dining table with that question hovering between them.
Their owner Yoyote, a usually composed white Wocky, was sitting forlornly in front of an array of gourmet food. The other pets in their family were seated around the table in glum silence. Ayllee the Halloween Lupe stared blankly at the cake, trying not to appear greedy. The two fruit pets, Zor and Zappie, huddled together, looking literally sweet despite their fearful expressions. And lastly there was soft pink Lucroh, blinking her pretty Usul eyes.
"He'll be fine," said Yoyote, somewhat more to herself than to her pets. "He's old enough now to take care of himself... the last time he went wandering off was a long, long time ago. I'm sure he'll show up soon... he's been late to dinner before..."
"But still, he's Yoofyoof," said Blippita. When this statement met with little response, the Draik proposed, "Well... should we go looking for him?"
Yoyote glanced at the clock, at the window, and at the clock again.
"I can fly," Blippita continued helpfully. "And I've taken a few classes at the Swashbuckling Academy. I've brought the Advent Calendar goodies, too."
"Yes, you have," said Yoyote, and Blippita could see pride even in that weak smile. There was a short pause, filled with the ticking of the clock and the tinkling of the snow... Then Yoyote gritted her teeth and stood up. "All right, we'll go look for him together," she said. "Lucroh, Zappie, and Ayllee, you three stay here and keep watch. If Yoofyoof gets back safely, one of you can come out to tell us. I trust that you have enough common sense between you to keep one another safe. Yinna, you're the Battledomer in our family. Use your keen eyes and quick reflexes to guide us. And Zor, I know you'd get bored and develop dangerous ideas if we left you here, so you're coming with us."
Little Zor perked up. "Can Blippita carry me?" he asked. The pea Chia had always cherished a passion for flying, even though he lacked wings and did not even have a cape.
Blippita picked him up, which he took to be a yes.
Yoyote was still hovering at the door. "We'll be close by," she said again, her eyes distant. "He can't have wandered far. Take care... we will be back soon."
Lucroh, Zappie and Ayllee listened to the door close. Then they crowded around the window together, just watching. Even after the wind and snow had blurred everything, they continued to watch.
The stillness was finally broken by a small rumble from the Lupe's stomach.
"Could we start on the dinner, maybe?" said Ayllee meekly. "I'm hungry."
"How dare you!" cried Zappie, looking very much like a great Evil Coconut as he whirled around. "Our brother is missing and you...!"
"Don't scold her," said Lucroh, restraining the Jubjub with her gentle paw. "She can't help being hungry. Let's just get some plain bread and butter, shall we?"
"You two go ahead and eat," said Zappie fiercely. "I'm going to guard the door."
Ayllee followed Lucroh nervously into the kitchen, and together they ate a very humble snack.
Blippita flapped her wings. Snow fell steadily from the heavens, like feathery touches of ice. Zor's small body was a pulse of warmth in her grasp. Below her, moving steadily through the snow, trudged the beloved figures of her owner and her sister.
With the sensitivity and awareness of a Grundo, Yinna searched the landscape for any sign of her little brother. Yoofyoof the gold Krawk, so powerful and yet so fragile, always in some degree of a dreamlike state. He could create such exquisite art pieces... he was so much like an art piece himself, perfect in form but delicate in essence. The merest wind could have whisked him away.
Let alone this wet, vicious gale.
"Yoofyooooof!" Yoyote roared at a tangle of bushes. Her voice rolled away across the footpaths and flailed against the rows of Neohomes.
"Yoofyoof, where are you?" Blippita shouted into the wind.
"Come play with me, Yoofyoof!" added Zor. "Toss me up and down like you used to!"
Lights were beaming in the other Neohomes. Hints of delicious smells curled through the dampness. It was the night of the Day of Giving, a time when families came together...
"Yoofyoof!" called Yinna for the hundredth time, but no response came.
She pummelled a tree in frustration.
Yoofyoof gradually became aware of a warm orange glow around the edges of his vision. He rubbed his eyes sleepily. Where was he? Just a few moments ago he was in the toy shop, looking for a music box...
He was sitting on a soft, furry rug the colour of fresh grass, and beside him glimmered a dainty fir tree. Shiny objects dangled from it, illuminating a gorgeous pile of gifts beneath. And there was fragrance, of candles, candy, and rich, rich food.
But this wasn't home...
The door opened, revealing a figure dressed in a glorious red coat, complete with a fur-lined red hood and gleaming black boots. The figure smiled at Yoofyoof.
"What?" said Dr. Sloth in annoyance, looking down at his festive suit. "Do you not find this welcoming?"
"What are you doing?" gasped Yoofyoof, scrabbling backward. "Why have you taken me away from my family?"
The notorious villain attempted a kind smile, which only made the poor Krawk tremble more. "I am only conducting an experiment," said Dr. Sloth. "I wish to discover what this thing called 'love' is. It is a great nuisance that keeps getting in the way of my world domination plans, so I hope to understand it. I have heard that it is in abundance on the Day of Giving, especially in the proximity of a decorated tree, a pile of gifts, a festive suit and a quality dinner. So I have prepared the conditions for love, and selected a random Neopet, which I understand to be some sort of catalyst. Now the love should be manufactured at any moment, should it not?"
He came closer and looked around expectantly.
"You don't understand!" cried Yoofyoof. "Love isn't something you can just manufacture like this. "
"Why not?" demanded Dr. Sloth.
"It... it... it comes from the heart."
"I have a heart," said Dr. Sloth. "All Neopians have a heart. It's just a machine like everything else. Machines run or manufacture things."
Yoofyoof was at a loss. Debate or explication were not part of his repertoire of skills even under the best of circumstances.
"I'll try to show you," he said instead. "I need a pencil and paper."
Dr. Sloth pulled the wrapping off one of the gift boxes. "As you wish."
The shops were beginning to close, and the streets were emptying of shoppers. Everyone was going home to their warm, yummy dinners.
Blippita whirled past the Clothing Shop. "Anyone seen my brother Yoofyoof? He's a Krawk, doesn't have great fashion sense, but draws wonderfully... some of you might know him if he came by for inspiration..."
The well-dressed pets said, "No, sorry," and strode off to their winter parties.
Zor leaned forward as they passed the Health Food Shop. "Have you seen my brother Yoofyoof?" he asked the cabbages and carrots. "He's a big gold Krawk, very friendly... hasn't eaten me, and wouldn't eat you either."
The vegetables said nothing and were silent and mournful.
Yinna sprinted into the Book Shop. "Has my brother Yoofyoof come here by any chance? He's the shy young Krawk who's always looking at colouring books..."
The Nimmo shopkeeper shelved a book, turned around, and shook his head sadly.
Yoyote charged into the Toy Shop. "Please, have you seen my pet, Yoofyoof? You know him, I've taken him here a few times for shiny balloons and kaleidoscopes... He would have been looking for a music box."
The Lupe shopkeeper blinked once or twice. "Why, yes," he said. "Last I saw him, he was right over there."
All shops have a special corner, especially old shops. Things that never get bought gradually migrate to this special corner, where they accumulate magical properties. Sometimes they just crumble away. Sometimes they disappear into another world. Sometimes they become a portal. And always they hide under a layer of dust.
The special corner of the Toy Shop was hidden by an array of music boxes. But if one were patient and curious enough, one would discover a path through, to a strange little circle of Dr. Sloth Toy Blocks...
The door burst open. There was a moment of awkward silence, and then,
"Yoofyoof!" exclaimed Yoyote, Yinna, Blippita and Zor in chorus.
They rushed forward to embrace him. Dr. Sloth noted with displeasure that the Grundo had knocked over the festive tree. So much for his well-prepared conditions for love.
He wasn't prepared for the outburst that came next.
"You evil!" the newcomers railed at him, as they hugged the Krawk between them. "You almost destroyed our Day of Giving!"
Dr. Sloth sniffed. "I have a reputation for being frightening, you know."
"You aren't dressed for the occasion," the Draik pointed out.
Dr. Sloth looked down at his costume in resignation. "I merely wished to test my hypothesis."
"What hypothesis were you testing?" asked Yoyote, clutching her pets close.
"That love could be found in such a room," said Dr. Sloth, making a vague gesture and feeling stupider with each passing moment.
"Then you've found it," said Yoyote. "You separated an innocent Neopet from his family, and we came for him. Because we love him."
"I see," said Dr. Sloth. "Well, thank you."
"You're welcome," answered Yoyote, "and I wish you better luck with your future experiments. Come on, Yoofyoof, we'll get you some hot Borovan after this ordeal. Zor, don't touch those gift boxes, they aren't ours..."
"What a very sticky thing love is," mused Dr. Sloth, as he watched the group go.
All the Neohomes had bright, warm windows, all except one. Until four happy figures sped through the snow, entered that Neohome, and brought it to life.
"We rescued him!" shouted Blippita, striking a majestic pose with her wings unfurled. "We charged into Dr. Sloth's lair and conquered the dark villain!"
"Oh, it wasn't nearly as dangerous as that," laughed Yinna. "Being a Grundo, I did feel instinctively afraid, just slightly, but how afraid can a Neopet be when the supposedly evil villain is dressed in festive clothes?"
"He was dressed up?" said Zappie incredulously, but was quickly interrupted by his sister Lucroh, as she bounded forward to receive Yoofyoof.
"Oh, dear Yoofyoof, you're safe! Were you very frightened?" Lucroh's voice painted a loving pink aura around the Krawk.
"Dr. Sloth wasn't very scary actually," said Yoofyoof, sipping his Borovan shyly. "He just wanted to know what love was. I... I felt sorry for him. I tried drawing a picture to show him how--"
"Don't you go feeling sorry for a villain!" cried Zappie. "If he ever comes close to you again, I'll, I'll knock him on the head!" And he puffed out his tough coconut husk as well as he could.
Nearby, the little pea Chia was bouncing happily. "I'm just really glad you're back," said Zor.
Ayllee, who had been silent all this time, finally could restrain herself no longer. "So, now that everyone's here, I'll go get the cake, shall I?"
"No, my silly Lupe," Yoyote admonished gently. "We start on the main course first."
Laughter, music and faint, delicious smells came scattering out upon the silvery night.
Dr. Sloth frowned down at the half-finished drawing that the Krawk had left him. He traced his long greenish finger ponderously along the lines.
"I do not understand," he said finally.
As he tossed the drawing into a bin, he felt the familiar smirk sneak up onto his face. He stepped out of his ridiculously fancy outfit and put on his sleek dark robes. Ah, they were so much more comfortable.
"MUHAHAHAHAHA!" he said, to get back into the mood. And then, feeling much better, he sat down to draft his next plan for world domination.