The clock struck midnight.
Neopets cheered and embraced, weeping joyously at the arrival of a new year. Confetti sprinkled the streets lit in dazzling yellow light. Every corner of Neopia Central seemed to shine: from the trees that embellished the city; atop buildings, their roofs lined with sparkling ornaments; from the moon that shone brightly that night; from the glistening white snow beneath their feet; and even from Neopets themselves, those who were daring enough to wear their shimmering purple boas with pride. They chanted, clapped, and sang songs all through the night. All was merry and all was peaceful.
Somewhere in Neopia, however, a lone figure nestled in the darkness. It rustled its wings at the faint noise outside. From a distance, the figure looked like nothing at all; it blended perfectly with its surroundings, a shed whose only light came from the small window near the ceiling. A closer look would give the figure an appearance of something rather obscure - something as thin as paper, with the shape of a bird, and somehow both and none at the same time. A pair of what appeared to be eyes glowed from the top of the figure, large, round, and deep. The Quintilc blinked.
All was going according to plan. Although the gaps between the planks of wood holding together the shed let in bitter whips of wind, she stood perfectly still beside an oversized Blechy hat in a pull along cart. She stifled a shudder and waited.
It was fifteen minutes past midnight when a slight sound could be heard. Something creaked. She did not move. A few seconds passed. Suddenly, there was a loud thud, and amidst the silence, what seemed like a thunderous roar of something rolling closer and closer until the object fell onto the cart with another loud thud. The Quintilc sidestepped calmly and watched it roll past. It hit the front of the cart where the hat lay, and landed softly. The cart began to move forward.
She was glad that, in winter, ice was so abundant and easy to manipulate. This was what the cart was rolling on now - a smooth path of ice leading exactly where she wanted it to. By twenty minutes past the strike of midnight, the cart rammed itself against a tree, and its contents spilled onto the snow below. Although she would have to rid of it by morning, the upside down cart at the base of the tree made for good shelter against the biting chill of the night. There was nothing particular about the tree at which it stopped, nothing that would make it stand out from the rest. But this was her tree: Fei's tree.
Fei noticed, when she first caught sight of it, that one of its branches stuck out at a peculiar angle. On this branch was a slight twig, sturdy enough to withhold the weight of a Quintilc, that looked over the rest of the Neopian Marketplace. This was where she collected information.
Earlier that day, she had seen a fierce-looking Nimmo berating a Warf about being of some use in the Battledome. He was menacing and mocking, sneering at his own Petpet and calling him names. The Warf was called useless for not being able to hold against a battle with the Pant Devil, weak because he could not throw a punch at a creature over twice his size, a humiliation because the Pant Devil left the battle victorious and laughing. No Petpet should be expected to fight a battle that wasn't his own, Fei decided angrily, especially if the Neopet was incapable of fighting himself. Fei dug up pebbles from the snow and dropped them on the Nimmo's head, and while it distracted him for a moment, she knew it was not enough; she would have to take further action. She witnessed scenes like these from her spot on the branch every day, and every day she exacted revenge on those who abused Petpets.
Fei concluded, after having observed Neopets for so long, that all Neopets were selfish at heart. They always wanted material things. They fought with each other in order to gain items. They argued and yelled at one another for the sake of an object. The month of Giving every year became a month of getting - Neopets would rush to any opportunity to gain an item, frown when they did not receive it, or do everything in their means to always get more. Even those who were much calmer and less confrontational did things for objects, though they were much shinier and more difficult to carry than the average object of the ones who fought. Knowing this, she watched the Nimmo wander to his small Neohome, beside which stood a shed in ruins. But this was where he kept his items, and it would be losing an item that the Nimmo would find most upsetting. Justice would be served.
It was much shorter notice than to which Fei was accustomed, but she quickly drew up a plan. Because she was too light to be able to lift many things, she often resorted to using simple tools to help her. Her favourite had always been to stack together thin strips of wood on top of a roll of yarn until it acted like a thicker, more solid piece, and placing the object she wanted to move on top of one end. The other end would hold a cup, and she would place pebbles inside the cup, one by one, until it was heavy enough to lift the other end.
It did not take her long to find faults in the shed, that the top shelf that held a codestone was weaker than the rest. She loosened one side by plucking at splinters and stacked pebbles on it until it leaned on one side. She ensured that it would slide from the top shelf onto its rounder side so that it could roll. It was hours of preparation, but being small and careful as she was, she was completely unnoticed for the entire day. Now she sat with the codestone to her side and a warm hat on top of her. She almost smiled to herself, knowing that she had outwitted yet another Neopet and caused the same anguish to him that he had caused his poor Warf, holding back tears as his owner screamed down at him. She closed her eyes. It was a grave mistake.
When she opened her eyes again, it was morning. She awoke to voices. But something was strange - why were they so loud? Why did they seem so close by, as if they were right beside her?
Fei started and squirmed from underneath the hat. She peeked outside of the cart and saw three shapes nearing her. They scrutinised the scene and looked around the tree, creating gaping holes in the snow as they walked. Fei was about to hide back inside the shelter of the cart when one of them spoke.
"Hey, what have we here?"
"An upside down cart?"
"No, you dolt, the thing under the cart."
Fei froze. They had noticed her.
"Aww, it's a little Quintilc!" said of the Neopets with a jeer.
The other laughed. "Let me see!"
A strong arm lifted the cart from above Fei's head. She stared at the figure of a Kyrii, the cart held well over his shoulders.
"I think the little thing is scared!"
There was laughter. Fei could not make out any of their speech afterwards; she was much too horrified to listen to what they were saying. Though the codestone lay safely under the hat, Fei was left in the open to face three Neopets. One of the remaining Neopets reached past the Kyrii to make a grab at her. She did what came to mind first and kicked snow into her would-be aggressor's eyes. She knew that she needed to think, and quickly, too. She was surrounded, it seemed; the Acara was directly in front of her, the Ixi to her far right, and the Kyrii was standing dumbly to the left with the cart still in his hands. The cart had a handle that could easily swivel and smack the Kyrii in the face, and the Acara that had reached for her was busy enough for the moment. The Ixi, however, was quite a distance away and she knew she was not capable of fleeing faster than the Ixi could move. If she tried to escape, the Ixi could catch up to her, and if she made for the Kyrii, the Ixi could make use of the delay before her escape. What could she do?
"You guys sure are lively on a new year's morning."
The Kyrii and the Ixi's attention turned to a new voice. A Kacheek walked towards the Ixi.
"Happy Year Eleven!" he said with a grin.
"Go away," snarled the Ixi.
"Whoa, is that the way a young lady should speak?" the Kacheek said, shaking his head.
"Don't talk about how a young lady should act," said the Ixi, turning a violent shade of red.
"Quite true. It shouldn't be how a young gentleman should speak, either."
She didn't appear to hear him.
"A-and what about you? You... you play with plushies!" she continued, pointing dramatically at the seasonal attack pea plushie in his arms.
"Yeah. So what?"
"So boys shouldn't play with toys anymore, especially at your age. Even I don't, and I'm a girl!"
"And I suppose you spend hours putting on cosmetics instead." He paused and stared intently at her face. "Wait, I guess I'm wrong. Those things are supposed to make you look good, right?"
The Ixi turned even more red, if it were at all possible, and looked ready to pounce at him.
"You act tough, but I bet you'll be crying when you don't have your little toy to comfort you!" she said as a last attempt to insult him.
"I just might, since this thing is pretty expensive."
At the word "expensive", all three of the faces jerked up and stared at the plushie in the Kacheek's arms.
"Want it?" He grinned. "Go get it!"
He chose a direction at random and tossed the plushie into the air. It disappeared some distance away. All three of the Neopets looked at each other, scrambled to their feet, and hurried towards its general direction. The Kacheek laughed as they scurried away.
A few seconds later, he turned to face Fei.
"Hello, little one," he said with a grin. "They must have given you a fright. I was watching for a distance, but I didn't notice you for a while; I thought they were going on about nothing."
He sat down beside the Quintilc and reached into his bag.
"Would you care for some crispies?" he said, taking out some and setting them on the ground beside her.
Fei rustled her wings and watched at him munching away at his crispies with the expression of utmost awe. His generosity boggled her. She didn't understand him. Didn't he care about the plushie? Why was he offering her food? Why had he stopped to help her at all?
"If you're worried about that plushie," said the Kacheek, as if reading her mind, "I think I'll probably be able to find it before them. In any case, the well-being of a Petpet is more important than some object. Even if it is attack pea merchandise," he added with a grin.
Fei did not think she would ever hear a Neopet saying that. Perhaps there were more Neopets like him, however few she had found so far in her lifetime. She peered down at the hat and pulled it aside. She gestured toward the codestone. She wanted him to have it.
"Are you implying that I need more training?" the Kacheek said with a laugh. Then he stopped and paused for a moment, deep in thought. "Hmm, maybe you're right. Yes, I suppose that is a good idea."
He helped himself up and hastily brushed away the crispies' crumbs from his fur.
"Yes," he said again. "I haven't left Neopia Central in ages, so it'd be good to get away from the city for once. Thank you for the suggestion. Oh, but do try not to get into that kind of trouble again, although I'm sure you could have just flown up the tree." He smiled.
Oh. Yes, she could have.
With a wave, he ran towards the direction at which he had thrown his plushie, all the while muttering to himself about something having to do with journeys and traveling and adventure. The codestone lay exactly as it had since twenty minutes past midnight. Fei gazed at it and decided that perhaps not all Neopets only cared about objects, after all. Perhaps there were some who cared about other things, perhaps there were some who cared about everything - perhaps. She wasn't quite sure yet.