SNRPG: Series 1
Tail of an Eighth-Grade Nothing
It was the end of the school day, and Leslie only had to get across the yard to be out of reach. If she could get through the milling crowd of students - all users, here at Neopia Central Junior High, although some of their pets had shown up - she'd be home free for the weekend.
As usual, she waited around the corner of the building until the cliques had pretty much solidified. Everyone was talking to someone; most of them were standing in circles, totally absorbed in their conversation. Leslie scanned the crowds; she didn't see any particularly poisonous faces on her path. Good.
She started walking.
Halfway across the yard, someone called, "Hey, freak!"
"Don't talk to her," another said loudly. "She'll probably bite you."
"Think Freaky-Hair has rabies?" chimed in a third.
Leslie walked faster.
"Aw, I just wanted to play fetch," said the first voice. "C'mon!"
A stick hit Leslie in the back of the head, and half a dozen voices burst out laughing. It wasn't large enough to hurt, but she didn't doubt that that could change. She ducked around another group of students - in this case, girls with bright blonde hair and too much makeup.
"Careful, Lupe-Tail Hair," said one of them with a sneer. "Mess with my hair, and you die."
Leslie ran. She didn't stop running until she reached home.
Leslie pushed open her door and, after dropping her backpack just inside, flopped face-down on the sofa.
"Bad day?" asked a voice from the next room. Leslie heard her red lupe padding in from the kitchen. Their NeoHome only had four rooms, as her garden took up the rest of the land; but it was enough for Leslie and her pet. Kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, that was all they needed.
"About usual," said Leslie quietly, brushing her hair out of her face.
Her hair . . . that was the problem. It was dark green, which in itself wasn't too strange for Neopia; but about four inches of the end was pale yellow, giving it an uncanny resemblance to a lupe's tail. She'd tried cutting the yellow part off, but the shorn ends of her hair just changed color overnight.
"Here." The lupe set a plate down on the Ultranova table; Leslie looked up to see that it held a slice of tigersquash mince pie. "You look like you could use this."
"You were supposed to get bread, not pie," Leslie chided, but she sat up and took the fork.
"Got mistaken for some troublemaker down at the Food Shop," said the lupe with a shrug. "I did say that even though my name's pronounced FirePrince, it's spelled with an S . . . but the chia who owns the place still didn't trust me, so long story short, I went to the bakery instead."
"And got pie?"
Leslie glanced at her pet suspiciously. "'Prinse . . . you didn't get any gingerbread lupe treats, did you?"
FirePrinse squirmed. "Maybe one or two."
"So you got pie to buy me off?" Leslie set the plate down.
"No!" FirePrinse jumped onto the sofa and snuggled against his owner, who began absently stroking his fur. "Leslie, come on. You know me. I'm not like the people at your school. I got you pie because I actually want you to feel better. C'mon, cheer up. Let's see if there's anything on TV. We're still planning to go to the Wheel of Excitement later, too, right?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Leslie hugged her pet and picked up the remote. After switching the TV on, she handed it to her pet, so that she'd have two hands free to eat her pie.
As the closing credits to the rerun of Grarrlmore Girls started playing, FirePrinse idly flipped the channel. Commercial for NeoCola . . . commercial for Achyfi . . . commercial for a Mystery Island resort . . . commercial . . . commercial . . . commercial . . . He stopped paying attention as the images flicked by, and almost didn't notice when they stopped changing.
"Time to change the battery in the remote," murmured Leslie.
"I changed them yesterday . . ."
And only then did they notice the message that was being broadcast on every channel.
WARNING! DOCTOR F. SLOTH HAS BEEN SIGHTED IN NEOPIA. CITIZENS ARE ADVISED TO TAKE EXTREME CAUTION AND NOT GO OUT ALONE OR AT NIGHT. KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON YOUR PETS AND STAY ALERT! STAY TUNED FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS. WARNING! DOCTOR F. SLOTH . . .
"Omigosh," whispered Leslie. "I didn't lock the door!"
"I left the windows open!" barked FirePrinse at the same time.
There was a brief frenzy of closing, locking, and double-checking every entrance to the house. Leslie took a quick inventory of the bedroom while FirePrinse checked the kitchen. It wasn't as if she had much of value - even her plants outside were mostly, well, garden-variety. The furniture in her room was from the Sunny Yellow set, along with a wooden desk. FirePrinse didn't have any Battledome weapons, or even a petpet. Still, she was worried.
Leslie's panic subsided as nothing proved missing, not even the codestone hidden behind the health food in the cupboard. "I think we're safe," said FirePrinse at last.
"I guess we won't be going to the Wheel today," said Leslie with a sigh. Dr. Sloth was worse than the bullies at NCJH. He didn't even have to be there to make her miserable.
"We can still go," FirePrinse reassured her. "It won't be getting dark for a couple of hours. We just have to stick together."
"I guess that's true. Grab some NP; I'll just go change." The still-uniformed Leslie ducked into her room, and came out a minute later in a fitted tee and brown slacks. The lupe handed her a bag of 200 NP, which she tucked in her pocket, and off they went.
Handing the light faerie attendant at the Wheel of Excitement 150 NP, FirePrinse hoped it would land on something to cheer Leslie up. His owner had unbelievable endurance, but this past week she'd seemed more worn out than usual. It was spring - school would be over in just a few months, and then she'd have the summer to recharge. She just had to hold out until then.
A perky pair of young light faeries was already spinning the wheel; when the attendant snapped her fingers, they darted away, leaving it to whirl on its own: rapidly at first, then less quickly, then slowly. It inched along the last few slots: some NP . . . the Pant Devil . . . the Über-Light Faerie.
And then it stopped, and a vision of gold floated down from the clouds above.
The Faerie looked from Leslie to FirePrinse with a calm and piercing gaze, like a laser. Leslie felt as if she were being judged, and resisted the urge to squirm.
After a few moments (which, naturally, felt like hours), the Faerie held out her hands, and an ornately jeweled silver goblet materialized above them. "This is the Sacred Chalice," she told them, handing the cup to Leslie. "Use it well."
But it was 'Prinse who paid the money . . . thought a puzzled Leslie.
She was about to speak, but before she managed to say anything the Faerie had flown away in a swirl of gold, and all was quiet except for the excited whispering of the wheel-spinners behind her. The hum of the wheel itself was conspicuously absent.
"Excuse me," said the girl quietly to one of the faeries. "Do you know . . ."
"I can't believe you got the SACRED CHALICE!" squealed one of them.
"You could sell it for, like, a million NP!" added the other.
The attendant, who had been staring openmouthed, was brought back to reality by her employees' voices. "All right, you two, back to work," she directed.
"But she got the SACRED--"
"Yes, I can see that. If the Über-Faeries want to give away sacred artifacts, they must have a reason, and this girl will probably not be safe if we go telling every Psellia, Nereid, and Maelstra that comes along, now will she? You're here to spin that wheel. Now get it spinning again."
To the stunned Leslie and FirePrinse she sighed, "Interns."
"Sacred . . . faerie . . . artifact?" stammered Leslie. "Why me?"
"I have no idea. But I advise you to take it straight home and lock the doors."
"We had a trip to the VirtuPets Space Station scheduled for Sunday," remarked FirePrinse as they entered the neohome of leslie_83, "but I'm not sure that's a good idea now. Not with the Sloth sightings."
"The Space Faerie's in that station now," pointed out Leslie. "She'd keep us safe." Thinking about faeries, she looked down at the chalice in her hands. After locking the door behind her, she sat down on the Nova couch and took a closer look.
The metal gleamed like a newly minted coin, but the engravings in the bowl and the stem gave it the feel of something ancient. A ring of precious stones sat in the bowl, and a matching one encircled the top of the column; the base was heavy and wide, laden down with richly colored spheres over carved faerie names.
It's gorgeous, but what am I supposed to DO with this? Not drink out of it, clearly. I don't know.
"Let's keep an eye on the TV," suggested FirePrinse, who didn't seem nearly as engrossed in the Chalice.
"Good idea," said Leslie, and switched it on. While the television repeated the same warning it had started earlier, she stared at the Chalice for a few moments longer; nothing changed. She sighed. "Care for a game of kacheekers?"
The two fell asleep in the living room, Leslie on the couch and FirePrinse on the Nova rug next to it; the Chalice sat quietly on the table, reflecting the flickering light of the television.
It was around one in the morning when the TV started blaring something new. "WARNING!! ALL NEOPIANS SHOULD BE ON FULL ALERT!! A PET HAS VANISHED AND BEEN REPLACED WITH ONE OF DOCTOR SLOTH'S DESIGNS!! WARNING!!"
Leslie jerked awake and hurriedly switched to Channel One News. The text of the warning was running across the bottom of the screen, but the regular programming was back, advertising Full Coverage, Bringing You Updates As They Happen. "We're here at the, er, home of the missing Neopet's owner," said the News-a-Roo reporter a little doubtfully, gesturing at the dingy neohome behind him and rocking back and forth on his tail. "Miss de la Cruz, can you tell us anything about the missing pet?"
"She's a green pteri. Name of Spooky_sez. Doesn't talk a lot. What's the point? None of you are gonna find her. She got snatched up by this big purple grundo mutant an' taken away."
"Poor girl," said Leslie sadly. "Don't you disappear on me, FirePrinse."
"I won't," said the red lupe sleepily. "Promise."
The next morning, the two ate breakfast in front of the TV, which was playing repeated warnings every fifteen minutes or so. At last FirePrinse said, "You know, we were in the middle of a round of Cheat! the other day."
"We're still on alert, 'Prinse."
"We could go to the bank. Get a Safety Deposit Box and put that chalice thing in."
Leslie picked up the chalice from the table. "I don't want to let go of it . . ."
"You don't even know what it does."
"You could go to the Trading Post . . ."
"I'm not selling it!"
"No, no, I wasn't going to say that! I mean, it's got to be one-of-a-kind. The only place where those get talked about is the Trading Post, and maybe some elite guilds. You could ask them what it's for."
"I guess so." Leslie stood up, holding the chalice. "Right then . . . let's head to the Island. I hope they haven't closed down boat rentals, or anything."
Neopia Central was eerily quiet. Leslie and her pet weren't around the main shops, which would probably be active unless a bomb hit; but back in the small end of the marketplace, where little shops crowded each other around and peddled a few cheap objects each, nobody was out. Many of the shops were actually closed, the shopkeepers opting to stay home.
"Stay close to me, 'Prinse," murmured Leslie. She had the eerie feeling that if she talked too loud, something unwanted would hear.
She looked down at her side, where FirePrinse wasn't.
Leslie's heart leapt into her mouth. "'Prinse? 'Prinse, where are you?" she said, in a normal voice at first, and then louder: "FirePrinse!!"
Whirling around, she ran back up the path she'd come down, clutching the Chalice - which felt cool and comforting under her sweaty palms. She didn't have to run long: around the first corner she nearly ran into a massive grundo-like creature, pink and mottled with ragged little wings sticking from its shoulders like a parody of a shoyru. A struggling FirePrinse was held in its huge, rough-nailed fists.
Leslie skidded to a stop with a gasp. The creature reached for her with one hand - and as she leapt backward, FirePrinse chomped down on its finger. It didn't seem to notice.
"Let go of him!" yelled Leslie, trying to sound braver than she felt.
She clutched the Chalice's stem so hard that her knuckles turned white - and then the chalice glowed white itself, and an orb of light flashed within it. The glow was gone in an instant, replaced by . . . an oddly decorated pen.
It was dark green, ringed with pale yellow; at the top was a circle with a capital N of the same dark green in the middle, set on a pair of fluffy white wings. The pen was glittering ever so slightly. Leslie nervously took it in the palm of her hand, and words filled her head with such intensity that she let the Sacred Chalice drop.
They had to be said. They demanded to be said.
"Lupe Neo Power, Make Up!"
She was surrounded by light -- glorious light -- suspended in a vortex of light and color -- a shower of glitter -- ribbons whirling around her -- wrapping around next to her skin -- flowing into an outfit that was alien but impossibly comfortable --
And then she was back in the real world, wearing a short-skirted outfit of dark green and pale yellow. Her headband was still on, but everything else had changed: boots replaced her shoes, gloves covered her hands, and the ribbon-decked, short-skirted bodysuit covering (half of) the rest of her. The colors, she realized with a wince, were the same as her unfortunate lupe-tail hair.
But there was nobody around to see, nobody around to tease, just her and her pet and this monster, which she had to stop.
"Get away from my pet, mutant creature!" shouted Leslie. "I don't know what just happened, but I am Sailor Lupe . . . I think I am, anyway . . . and in the name of all Neopets, I'll punish you!"
"Punish?" grunted the creature. "Not possible. Puny user. No match for creation of Sloth."
Sailor Lupe shuddered. "So you are one of Dr. Sloth's . . . things."
"You are . . . obstacle."
"You're stealing pets! What do you expect?"
"Obstacles are eliminated."
The grundo-like creature reached for Leslie/Sailor Lupe again. She dodged; although it wasn't particularly quick, she felt like she herself was faster. So I can dodge it. I've got to attack it, though - get 'Prinse back. But I don't have weapons or anything. What am I supposed to do, kick it in the shins?
She held up her hands - and felt words in her mind again, not quite as urgent as the last phrase, but useful all the same. One of the lupe Battledome attacks, it sounded like . . .
A pair of green lupe paws shot from Sailor Lupe's gloved hands, ramming into the creature's chest. It was knocked backward, and then - to Lupe's complete astonishment - collapsed into a pile of slag, which disintegrated into dust.
"Thanks," said FirePrinse shakily. "So we know it's Dr. Sloth behind this."
"And you almost died," said Lupe, "or were kidnapped, which might be worse when it's Sloth involved." As she spoke, her new uniform unobtrusively faded back into her regular clothing. "And what happened to me?"
She looked to the Sacred Chalice, still sitting quietly on the ground. "It's that thing . . . something about it . . ."
"This is big," FirePrinse murmured. "Bigger than just you. You know what I think?"
"I think we should go back to Faerieland. See if any of the Über-Faeries can tell us something, rather than just handing you a cup and taking off."
Leslie looked up to the clouds. Somewhere up there, the Faerie City floated, with its faraway castle in the sky. Neopia's wisest and most majestic beings, the leaders of the faeries, were there - along with secrets and magics and artifacts beyond what anyone on the planet could imagine. She would never have expected to have any connection with that - but as she picked up the Sacred Chalice, it felt suddenly inevitable.
She held it close. "You're right, 'Prinse. Forget the Trading Post. We're taking this to Faerieland."