Of Heroes, Heroics, and Other Such Things
Also by qazfan
Effri sat idly twirling the pale hair of her ponytail and staring fixedly at the three in her Roodoku puzzle. It couldn’t be there, she’d decided about five minutes ago. However, it was there, and there was no altering it. The silver Usul was beginning to wonder if it was even possible.
She was seated in the Coffee Shoppe, behind the counter filled with various coffee makers, espresso machines, and chipped mugs. Seated throughout the rest of the shop were a few regulars. The Neopian Times newsboy Chia was sitting in a corner, taking the time to read over his own wares, and two other tables were occupied by a pair of poets staring off into the distance. It was a fairly slow day, as not many Neopians bothered to visit the Catacombs, apart from a few artistic types and the occasional coin collector. Of course, there was almost always at least one poet in the shop, but they didn’t really count. They invariably ordered the cheapest coffee they could, and took up space for several hours on end. Still, it paid her salary.
Effri sighed, setting her pencil down. It was hopeless. She wasn’t likely to become King Roo’s accountant even if the job was offered. As she looked up, however, an article in the Chia’s Times caught her attention. “Hey, you got a spare copy of that?” she asked. “I’ll give you a Phear Coffee for one.”
“Sure, miss,” he replied, tossing one of his papers.
Effri glanced at the front page, and then absent-mindedly made up the promised coffee. A theft at the Art Gallery... that was right nearby. Upon examining it further, the situation did little to improve. There weren’t any traces left, not even so much as a fingerprint or a snagged tuft of fur. Some criminal was running around loose in the area and the Chia Cops had no idea who. Lovely.
The door’s bell jangled, and Effri hastily flipped the paper shut and slid it down the counter, doing her best to look industrious. A yellow Shoyru flapped in with a forcedly cheerful smile on her face. “Good morning, Ms. Arca,” Effri said dutifully, all the while contemplating the possibility of blowing the espresso maker up in her employer’s face by pressing all of the buttons at once. Unfortunately, the work was still marginally better than fighting for a job at the Faerieland Employment Agency.
“Afternoon, actually,” Ms. Arca corrected curtly. “Mornings are busier than this.” Down in the Catacombs, of course, there wasn’t much to base it on, so it was rather easy to lose track of what time it was.
Effri, though tempted to sigh, knew a lecture would be forthcoming if she did. Employee morale, and so on. Instead, she gave a polite nod as Ms. Arca began to wax eloquent on the imperative nature of making every single cup of coffee the best it could possibly be. Perhaps merely exploding the espresso maker wouldn’t be enough. Something really vicious, such as switching the regular and decaf. That would feel good. Of course, Ms. Arca might not even notice. She couldn’t stand coffee herself. Why she owned a coffee shop, Effri had never quite been able to work out. Something a little closer to head of abduction and mutation for Virtupets seemed to fit her management skills better.
“- important to balance the amount of sugar and cream,” the Shoyru finished, oblivious to Effri’s musings. “The secret to the downfall or success of any business is in the product it provides.”
She was a veritable financial fortune cookie, Effri thought to herself. Probably a little cracked, too. She smiled at the thought of the Lunar Temple handing out bags of bosses to people who guessed the wrong phase of Kreludor. Her reverie was interrupted as the coffee maker let out a puff of steam and began blinking its light spasmodically. Blink, pause, blink, blink, blink, pause... “Oh, it looks like the coffee machine is on the fritz again,” she interrupted, glad of an excuse to break the monotony. “I’ll take a look at it next time I’m in. I really have to be going now, though.”
Grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder, Effri headed for the door, pausing to grab the newspaper she’d purchased. That might hold a clue or two. She gave a smile as she exited into the cool of the caves.
Ms. Arca took a look at the machine, which had stopped blinking. It did that at least once a week, blinking in some sort of odd pattern. Almost as if it was transmitting a message... She scoffed at the thought, and set about polishing the tables and counter. After all, who on Neopia would want to send a message to someone at the coffee shop?
Effri had suspected that she’d probably get called in over the Art Gallery burglary. Anyone able to get past the security guards, through the surveillance system, and to a picture without leaving any trace at all was good. Anyone able to get out past those guards and system while carrying the picture- in this case, an oversized portrait of a dark faerie- wasn’t playing by the conventional rules of physics. Of course, neither did she, when it came to that.
She strode quickly through the increasingly sparse crowd, heading along the winding passageways to an old cave she’d stumbled upon years ago. She had to pick up her work uniform.
She finally reached it, and, checking to make sure nobody was nearby, pulled back the screen of fake lichen that concealed the entrance. A few minutes later she emerged, now garbed in light blue with a large snowflake emblazoned on the shirt. Her fur glistened with ice crystals, and her face was concealed behind a white mask.
This was no longer Effri. This was Über Usul, the hero of Neopia, terror of evildoers, and champion of the law. “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” she muttered under her breath, and set off in pursuit of justice.
Some time afterwards...
“Up... up... up some more... and away...” the voice echoed amidst the rock. “Almost there.” Über Usul climbed hand over hand up the subterranean cliff, leading to the lower levels of the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters. Every time she touched the sheer face, ice formed against the rock, making handholds. “Some day, they are going to have to make a staircase.”
As she finally reached the top after several minutes of strenuous climbing, she hauled herself up onto a ledge in front of an inconspicuous door. It was marked with the warning, ‘Do not enter, superheroes and janitorial staff only.’ She brushed her suit off with a sigh, and walked into the well-lit corridors of the DoN HQ. “At least they manage to keep me in shape,” she commented idly to herself.
Two turns to the left, one to the right, another to the left, go straight, then three doors past the large scorch mark. Über Usul knocked on the door, and from inside a low drawl answered. “Come on in. Sent the message nearly ten minutes ago. You’ve probably got the fate of a few dozen Neopians in your hands, you know.” She stepped in, revealing the speaker to be none other than Lightning Lenny, slumped in a swivel chair in front of an impressively complex control panel.
“We aren’t all quite so speedy as you, you know. Besides, you don’t have do a blasted Shenkuu Warrior impression just to get to work,” she retorted. “If you’re in such a hurry, what is it?”
“You see the headlines today? Well, of course you have. It’s your job. Anyways, we’ve got a bit of profile for the creep. Not much, I’m afraid. Right before the security cameras’ lenses were smashed, they all saw nothing.”
The Usul snorted derisively. “And how does that do us any good? Is it another invisible pet with delusions of grandeur? We normally let the interns handle that.”
Sitting up, Lightning Lenny shook his head. “No, then they’d see the carpet or whatever they were looking at. I mean they saw nothing- a patch or arm of black void. It crept up onto the lenses, then punched right through them.”
“Ah, that is serious. So I’m guessing I’m on lookout duty until we find something else.”
“Exactly. Now- hold on, that’s a call,” the Lenny interrupted himself as there was a ringing down the hall. He got up and dashed out, creating a breeze as the air rushed into the spot he’d occupied a split second ago.
A minute later, he returned just as speedily, skidding to a halt in front of his chair. “Change of plans. We just got a report of an attack on the National Neopian, and it’s the same individual. The Chia Cops’ Battledome weapons aren’t doing any good, and they’ve had to back down. Go in and see what you can do.”
Über Usul was already racing down the hall and narrowly avoiding a collision with one of the janitors.
The security system of the National Neopian Bank had been intended to prevent criminals from entering and robbing the bank. If somebody looked like a criminal, the bars were dropped down and the matter investigated. It was as simple as that. And if there was a mistake, the individual was paid a small sum for their trouble.
The system was not, however, designed to stop perfectly ordinary looking checkered Kyriis from walking in with the apparent intent of making a deposit. That would be silly. What kind of criminal would waltz into a bank in broad daylight without so much as a mask? Well, apart from the Meerca Brothers, but they were easy to spot.
By the time the checkered Kyrii had entered and was surrounded by a mass of black substance apparently at his beck and call, there was very little that could be done by the Skeith managing the security system. None of the lettered buttons in front of him would do anything useful.
“Don’t bother with the money,” the Kyrii snapped at the teller, a tendril of darkness grasping the unfortunate employee’s throat in a very persuasive manner. “Get the gold from in back. And hurry, or you’ll find there are cheaper ways than paintbrushes to become a ghost.”
Up above, the skylight smashed inwards, and somebody dropped from above. “Hold it right there,” Über Usul called, the air around her hands sparkling with a lace-like network of ice crystals. “Or should I just say freeze?”
“Took you long enough,” the crook said snidely, dropping the gasping teller to the ground and turning his attention to the new arrival. “What was it, lunch break?”
“Coffee, actually,” she retorted. “But you’re getting ahead of yourself. We’ve yet to be introduced.” With this, the hero formed a pair of snowflake-shaped throwing stars out of ice, and flung them across the room. “You already know who I am, I presume.”
With deft precision, an extension of the darkness encircling the Kyrii snapped up, smashing the projectiles. “Indeed. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Just call me Nihil. And I assure you, people will soon know who I am.” The inky black arm snapped forward, heading towards Über Usul, and thinning out as it lengthened.
“The pleasure is all yours.” The cryogenic crusader ducked and grabbed the void as it shot overhead, intending to freeze it. But the ice just slipped off it, unable to find any purchase. “Wha-?”
“Aww, are our the ickle little superhero’s powers not working? There’s nothing there, you know. Quite literally. It’s stable nothing, keeping its shape by keeping everything, even light, out.” The Kyrii grinned wickedly, and the nothing swept down to grab the Usul. “It will be wonderful. Finally everbody will know that nothing can stop the Defenders’ precious slushie slinger.”
The blue clad champion rolled to the right, getting up and running forward. “Actually...” She jumped over a tendril snaking towards her feet. “I make...” Another extension caught her in the back of the head, smashing her to the ground. But as it closed in to bind her up, she whipped around, a shield of ice in her hands. “Popsicles!” Why did everybody have to make the same dumb slushie jokes? She would have said frappes, but that would have given too much away.
Nihil grimaced, snatching back a number of the arms waving about for his prey. It was too taxing to concentrate on so much of the void at the same time. “I’m sure Terror Mountain could always use another ice cream cart. You really should look into retirement.” He directed the remaining three tentacles to sweep from both sides and above. “The Defenders have a terrible health plan, you know.”
“Yeah, but at least they have a good pay check. Everybody knows that crime doesn’t pay. Maybe you could be a waiter? I’m sure a few extra limbs couldn’t hurt.” A sharp edge formed on the icy shield as another layer of frozen water was added. “Catch!” she called, throwing the shield like an Altadorian discus just before the darkness closed in on her.
The villain was unable to maintain his concentration and react. All three branches of vacuum lashed back at the shield, knocking it off course. It shattered on the floor a few feet from him, shards flying outwards like diamonds.
When he looked back up again, his combatant had reached the wall, and appeared ready to stab it with an icy dagger in her hand. What was she doing?
“Nighty night...” Über Usul muttered, jabbing the ice in and short-circuiting the power. The lights overhead winked out, leaving the place almost entirely dark, only a little illumination filtering in through the skylight. Now she only had a little time to take advantage of. There was no way she could make ice fast enough to freeze the Kyrii before he knocked her unconscious with that void. But if everything worked out, she wouldn’t have to.
Nihil instinctively drew the nothingness protectively around himself while his eyes adjusted to the relative dimness. When they had, however, the Usul was nowhere to be seen. “Is this how the Defenders fight? Hiding from darkness in the dark?”
Über Usul continued to climb up the pillar, icy handholds forming in the porous stone. Funny how the most unusual talents came in handy with this job, she reflected. Almost there... She stretched out her arm, smashing a sprinkler head. Water began to spray out, and the other sprinklers started to do the same as soon as the first one was triggered.
The Kyrii’s head snapped up. There she was! Ignoring the water falling from the ceiling, he struck with every bit of the void at his command. “You won’t stop me with a little rain!”
“Oh yeah?” The hero leapt from her vantage point, grabbing at the darkness to slow her decent and letting go before her nemesis had a chance to react. She raced along the ground as tentacles whipped back at her heels. In panic, Nihil brought the darkness around him in a shell, peering out through a small hole. As she reached him, Über Usul simply whispered, “Tag,” and reached out to touch the cocoon. The water dripping along its surface and the Kyrii’s fur instantly froze. “You’re it.”
Later that day...
Judge Hog himself was there to personally congratulate the hero of the hour once Nihil had been locked away at last. “Great work. It seems that nothing stops these new Defenders.”
“Almost,” she replied.
“Almost nothing? What on Neopia do you mean?”
“No. Nothing almost,” Über Usul said, and smiled.
Author’s note: Many thanks to Qazfan for assistance in writing as well as the use of Über Usul/Effri. Pictures are on www.neopets.com/~effri.