The Shadow of a Nightmare
The annual Gathering of Evil was just getting under way. Every villain whose name resided in the infamous Gallery of Evil was there, plotting their next nasty act and comparing to each other just how diabolical they were. Dr. Sloth stood on a raised platform made of wooden crates, proclaiming himself the most evil of them all while some of the lesser villains, such as the Jelly Chia and Masila did their best to argue him down. Benny grumbled to Captain Scarblade that this event was never held on Krawk Island (as he did every year another location was chosen.) Over in the corner, Razul amused himself by turning all of the food he could reach into piles of ash. Hubrid Nox and Eliv Thade carried on a heated argument about which of them was most feared denizen of the Haunted Woods.
As usual, the Shadow Usul was widely ignored by her fellow villains. Only the Spider Grundo took any notice of her, simply because she was standing against the white wall and he wished for a target for one of his glowing webs. She dashed into a dark corner, narrowly avoiding the sticky mess, which hit the wall with a loud splat.
Balthazar’s roar caught their attention, bringing the meeting to order. Dr. Sloth nimbly sprang onto the surface of wooden crates they had thrown together for a stage.
“Fellow villains!” he called. “Once again we come together as the most feared beings found in Neopia!” Loud cheers went up from among the crowd. “Now, it is time for the Awards of Evil!”
Every year it was the same story. The scariest smile went to the Darkest Faerie. The most frightful costume was that of Hubrid Nox. Vira took the prize for most selfish. The best accent went to Eliv Thade, mostly because no one could understand what he was saying. Captain Scarblade received his prize for most impressive scar. And finally, as he had every year since the Gathering had begun, Dr. Sloth claimed the most evil Neopian villain award for himself. The Shadow Usul growled under her breath, but the sound, much like her shape, was quiet as a shadow.
She glared at the crowd through narrowed yellow eyes as they feasted (backup food was always provided, given Razul’s odd form of entertainment). She listened attentively as they all came together as a group. They closed every year by making a pledge to be always at their most evil, and to strike terror into the hearts of good Neopians everywhere. She slipped through the door beneath the starry night sky without attracting the notice of anyone.
Her hideaway was beneath the roots of an ancient tree in a tiny swamp hidden between Neopia Central and the Haunted Woods. She was the only one who knew of its location, for few dared venture into that unknown dark place. Inside her dark home, she brought out her latest creation. It looked like an ordinary Rainbow Gun, but was painted in shades of blue and yellow, with a black stripe on each side. She had created it after growing tired of hearing about the superb weapons of her fellow villains. One blast of its light blue beam would send the one she aimed it at into their worst nightmare. On this night when the moon was full, the Shadow Usul knew it would be the perfect time to test her invention.
Her first target lived in the Haunted Woods. Eliv Thade’s castle shone with a dull silver glow in the moonlight. The Shadow Usul climbed its walls with ease, slipping through the tiny window of the crypt in which he slept. She took careful aim, and fired.
* * * * *
All around him, the Haunted Woods fell silent. He could hear the little petpets in the leaf litter breathing heavily. Their fear was heavy in the air. And how could they not be afraid, in the presence of a villain as powerful as he was?
“I claim the Haunted Woods as my own domain. None may come or go from this place without asking my permission!”
Stunned silence met his proclamation. And then it started. Loud, rolling laughter rumbled up from the very ground. Jeering calls of “Where are your anagrams now?” rang in his ears. He had lost his ability to speak in jumbled words, and now all of Neopia was laughing at him.
“GRAH! Taht aws hbrolire!” He stood and walked to the window, not noticing the snickering shadow which clung to the stones just beneath. “On wdneor m’I hvnaig dba dmeras; I fgroot to ceovr het wwinod.” He grumbled under his breath for a few more minutes before returning to his creepy coffin bed.
Excited by her success, the Shadow Usul knew she must find more subjects to test her ray on. She moved on to Meridell, and the cave of Balthazar the Faerie Hunter.
* * * * *
He could see the glow of their wings ahead. There must be hundreds of faeries in that clearing, so brightly did they light up the sky. He would be rich, rich beyond his wildest dreams!
He crept forward stealthily, his paws making no sound in the waving grass. He was unstoppable when he was on the hunt. Faeries beware his quick paws and unbreakable jars. They were spelled against all forms of faerie magic, even cruel dark faeries were powerless when he captured them!
He could see the wingtip of his first target on the edge of a berry bush ahead. He leapt forward with a powerful lunge, swiping his jar had the shimmering yellow glow of a light faerie.
His jar came back empty, and a loud thudding met his ears. Six faeries, one of each kind, emerged to make a circle around him. Their size could rival the Giant Grarrl, and they were not happy to see him. The dark faerie grinned savagely, and brought from behind her back a large jar of her own. She scooped him up easily and the faeries marched, dancing and singing, across the fields of Meridell. The familiar fields of Samrin the Kacheek came into view. He was dumped into a paddock with bars spaced too close together for him to escape. The faeries, Samrin, and all his annoying little petpets danced around him singing tunes straight from Faerieland.
He awoke snarling and growling, snapping his teeth at the empty air where a petpet had just been. Before he could whip his head out the cave entrance and look around, the cause of his nightmare had slipped away.
* * * * *
She visited other villains much in the same matter. The Spider Grundo dreamed of being caught in his own web as a starving Quiggle with large fangs came forward for dinner. Captain Scarblade became Cabin Cleaner Scarblade on one of King Kelpbeard’s mighty Maraquan ships. Razul was banished to the depths of Maraqua for the next thousand years. Hubrid Nox was pursued by a very angry MAGAX who shot fireballs at him.
The Shadow Usul saved Virtupets, and its scheming master villain, for last. He was deeply asleep, muttering the phrase “Neopian Domination” over and over beneath his breath. The bright blue blast hit him right on the nose, but like the other villains he could not battle a nightmare.
He stood on a high platform looking over the entire planet of Neopia. Every eye was trained on him; fear was the dominant feeling among his many subjects. They could see only his dark cloak and narrowed red eyes he knew, and felt a thrill at what terror that must be causing below.
He threw off his cloak with a flourish. There was absolute silence below. He waited for the screams of terror, the begging for him to spare their puny selves from his sludge ray. Below, all was silent.
Furious, he called out. “How dare you! I am your master, the ruler of the universe! Bow down to my evilness.”
A chant went up below, only adding to his fury. They were shouting “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
He whipped out his Sludge Ray, ready to reduce them all to gray piles, only to find he was holding a giant basket of easter eggs. Bewildered as he was, it was nothing to how he felt when, against his wishes; his feet began to move in a strange cheerful dance!
Angry and confused, he looked down at his feet. He was not wearing his own dark outfit, but a bright pastel dress in shades of pink and yellow. Reaching up to confirm his fears, he found o his head two ears remarkably similar to those of a Cybunny. As his dance came to an end, a ridiculous girly giggle escaped his lips. Dr. Sloth had somehow been morphed into a bizarre version of Rosie the Grarrl.
His yells could be heard from each world below all the way to the distant moon of Kreludor. For hours after, he blasted every minion who came into the room with one of his many ray guns, and could not help but reach up every few moments to assure himself the ears were no longer there.
* * * * *
Once again the villains of Neopia met to brag and compare their levels of evilness. Benny still grumbled about location, Razul still made cinders of any food items he could get his hands on, and the Spider Grundo still took time for target practice whenever he could take good aim at a fellow villain. There was only one noticeable difference. When it came time for the awards to be passed out, Dr. Sloth paused at the end. The winners had been all the same, as always, but a new medal had been added to the group.
“This year we give the first ever most cunning villain award to the Shadow Usul,” Sloth grudgingly said. He held the cheap medal away from him as if the smell of it offended him. It was gone in a flash; none of them could tell where the Shadow Usul had come from, or where she had disappeared to in the room. They looked around uneasily, but could see no sign of her.
They all heard her parting call, though it was little more than a whisper.
A cackle, a shadow in the doorway, and she was gone. It would be a very long night for the villainous population of Neopia.