SNRPG: Series 1
Day of the Lupe
"Wake up, Leslie!" The green-haired girl sleepily opened her eyes to see FirePrinse crouched by her bed, speaking in a hushed voice. "It's Lupe Day!"
Leslie sat bolt upright. "Oh, wow, you're right," she whispered back. "Why are we whispering?"
"Your faerie's asleep." 'Prinse nodded towards the desk, where Kaen was dozing on a pile of papers. She was using a broad leaf for a blanket and an eraser for a pillow; Leslie had promised to get her a more appropriate bed later on, although the earth faerie said she'd sleep in the garden when the nights got warm enough.
"Good thinking," Leslie murmured, and got out of bed as quietly as possible. "We'll see if she wants to go out and celebrate this afternoon. I hope it's a nice day."
"Er . . ." began her lupe as Leslie went to the window and drew back the curtain.
"'Prinse! It's still night!"
FirePrinse grinned nervously. "I . . . wanted to start the festivities as soon as possible?"
Leslie sighed and looked up at the moon.
Neopia's moon was generally agreed to be a nice place. Neopians usually called it "the moon"; the grundos who had lived on it had named it Kreludor.
In the wake of Dr. Sloth's attack on Neopia, many grundos had moved to Neopia to live, and become quite comfortable with the pet structure. Some (mostly orange, as it happened) had never been comfortable with Neopia, though; and as their native planet of Doran was destroyed by Sloth, they ended up founding a colony on Kreludor. Gravity was less than a third of Neopia's, but an intensive terraforming program had brought the atmosphere to nearly 90% of the planet's quality.
Travel to Kreludor was not yet a cheap or easy thing, which meant that the moon was fairly isolated from the rest of the planet. The grundos on it liked it that way.
Dr. F. Sloth liked it that way too.
"Tarkin! Run the quantum interlocutor through the standard tests, and bring me a comprehensive report. That means one with all the semicolons," he barked as he marched down the hall. "Venka! Make sure the mechanics in Sector 5 have the maintenance at least thirty percent complete. Motti! Get me a cup of Neocola."
Grundos scurried in all directions in response to his orders. There was nothing else for them to do. Sloth could shout as loud as he liked, fire as many weapons as he wished, and do whatever he wanted to all the grundos he could get. They were buried deep under the surface of Kreludor; nobody outside would ever know.
It wasn't that Sloth was brutal - usually. He was a tough boss, but fair - if you were on his good side. And the compound was an okay place to live - as long as you didn't mind not leaving it, ever.
"Here's your Neocola, sir," said Motti, a little red grundo, handing a Sloth Mug to the would-be conquerer of Neopia. When he was in a good mood, Sloth loved his own merchandise; it was deliciously ironic.
Right now, Sloth was not in a good mood. Something was wrong with the transporter room - that was where he was striding so forcefully - and none of the technicians could figure out what.
"Take it away," he snapped, "and bring it again, and in a less stupid cup this time."
"Sir," stammered Motti nervously, running to keep up with the six-foot-three doctor, "the only other clean cup, sir, is the I Love Neopets mug. Sir."
"Why do I even have that mug?" demanded Sloth. Motti was bright enough to know that this was a rhetorical question. He just kept running.
"Fine," said the doctor at last, and snatched the mug. "Go . . . make yourself useful. Clean the bathrooms, or something."
"Yes, sir," said Motti, and trotted in the other direction, towards the nearest supply closet. He knew Sloth wasn't joking; the man would be checking under the toilet seats that evening to make sure the grundo had done his job.
Sloth came to the door he was aiming for and slammed his hand on the palm scanner next to it. "Error," said a calm female voice. "Excessive force has caused an error in detection. Please try again, and be gentle this time."
With a grumble, Sloth pressed his hand to the scanner, gently. He could have upgraded the scanners, but he knew they were a good gauge of his temper: when the scanner told him to calm down, he had to check himself. The door slid open, and he walked in, anger under control.
"What," he said, slowly and dangerously, "is the situation?"
Piett, a tall (for a grundo) blue grundo with rimless glasses and a badge that denoted his rank as a senior special technician, looked up from the main console. "Doctor, if I knew, I would tell you. All diagnostics have come up fine. The transporter simply isn't able to bring Lorth back."
Sloth strode over to the console, and Piett stepped smoothly out of the way. The conquerer of worlds focused intently on the console's screen, looking over status reports. Piett held his breath. If he'd missed anything, and Sloth caught it, that would be his job, and probably his head.
But Sloth stepped back with a pensive expression. "This should have been a routine pet-catching mission," he said, thinking out loud. "Get a few lab brats for the next experiment. In and out in a day. What went wrong?"
Piett, too, knew when Sloth didn't want to be interrupted. He stayed silent. Sloth continued: "The 'porter checks out. No recognized errors. But we can't transport Lorth. We can't even get a lock on Lorth." He looked up. "Do we have radio contact with Lorth?"
"No, sir. We lost radio contact when Neopia Central turned away from Kreludor, and we haven't reestablished it."
"Why not? We've been able to see Central for hours. That's where we deposited Lorth, isn't it?"
"So why haven't we regained contact?"
"I don't know. We haven't been able to."
Sloth slapped his forehead. "You should have told me that earlier," he growled. "That probably means his radio's been destroyed. Which may mean we've lost Lorth, too."
"Odds are low, sir," said Piett respectfully.
Striding over to the room's intercom connection, Sloth punched a number into the keypad. "Communcations room," said a voice from the other end.
"Communcations, it's me. What happens when you try to contact Lorth?"
"Just the person I wanted to hear," the voice replied, ignoring the question. "Doctor--"
"Answer the question," growled Sloth.
"Sir, listen," pleaded the voice. "There's something on the news that you need to see."
Leslie and FirePrinse made the chilly trek down through the rift in the Ice Caves, reaching the prehistoric preserve of Tyrannia. It was already near noon in this time zone, and people were up and about, but Leslie and 'Prinse didn't get distracted. They were on a mission, and it had to be accomplished before school started in Central.
They shed their coats and scarves as they climbed down the rocky side of the mountain: a little shop had sprung up at the edge of the ice where you could check your coats, and it was doing a booming business. 'Prinse was still in fur, but the shady Tyrannian jungle was not as warm as, say, the sun-baked plateau, so he was all right.
"There it is!" exclaimed Leslie at last, pointing to a stone building. The sign outside read Tyrannian Petpets.
"Gal-aka-aka-bo!" said Pacha, the Tyrannian elephante shopkeeper, as they walked in. "Nah-de!"
"Um, Neopian . . .?" began Leslie uncertainly.
"Of course I speak Neopian. But some visitors like the local flavor," Pacha replied with a warm smile. "Be with you in a minute." He finished feeding the stego he was holding and set it down in a comfortable-looking bed. "She has a stomach virus, poor thing - the medicine's nasty, but she'll take it in a mash if it's sweet enough. What can I do for you?"
"We're here for a petpet for 'Prinse," Leslie explained. She looked down at her pet. "What do you think?"
The lupe was looking carefully through the cages. Scados, searexes, airexes, stegos, uggatrips, gruslens, and of course pet rocks sat on the shelves - all different shapes, sizes, and colors. One of the gruslens scratched its ear with its hind leg.
"Tell me about that gruslen," said 'Prinse slowly.
"Oh, gruslens aren't as harmless as they look," Pacha informed him. "That one's a sweetheart, though. Loves to play - but the tusks get in the way. Tell you what. If you buy him, because it's Lupe Day, I'll throw in a free copy of Gruslen Grooming."
"I'll take him," 'Prinse announced. "How much?"
The elephante opened the cage and picked up the gruslen, who wriggled in his grasp. "How about 8,480 NP? I think that's fair."
The lupe hesitated. "How about 7,500?"
"Surely you'd pay at least 8,000 for this gruslen?" teased Pacha.
"Well, maybe 7,700."
"I won't take less than 7,980," the shopkeeper announced.
"Let's call it 7,900," relented 'Prinse.
"I accept your offer of 7,900 NP!" said Pacha brightly, handing FirePrinse the gruslen. It wriggled again, slipped out of his paws, landed on the ground, and bounced.
"I think I'll name him Tigger," said 'Prinse with a grin. "Doesn't he look like a Tigger to you?"
Pacha handed Leslie the free book. "Here's his case history, too; your local vet will ask for that if he gets sick. Would you like anything to go with him? A collar, a leash?"
"We'll pick up some stuff back at Petpet Supplies," Leslie replied.
"Thanks!" added 'Prinse, and meant it.
Alone in his office, Dr. Sloth stared thoughtfully at the screen. The video had finished playing a minute ago, but he was still considering it.
That had clearly been Lorth in the background, and Lorth had been destroyed. Utterly. Wiped out of existence, turned into dust. Normally, pets can be knocked out, but killing them - and in such a destructive way - was almost unheard of.
Why, she'd been turned into a pile of sludge. That was supposed to be Sloth's trademark.
A name had been floated - "Sailor Lupe." It didn't sound familiar to the doctor. It even sounded a little silly. But Sloth already had some respect for the threat she posed.
"Sailor Lupe," he said to himself. "Who is she?"
"I can answer that," said a low voice that sounded like it was right next to his ear.
Sloth jumped, then switched on all the lights with a button. He scanned the room, one hand poised to pull out the ray gun concealed in his sleeve. "Who are you?"
"Your new best friend," laughed the voice. Female - alto range, for the most part - but it would turn high and cackly or low and rich at the drop of a hat, with no apparent pattern. It set Sloth's plumes on edge.
"Show yourself," he ordered.
"I'm trying," hissed the voice. "You think it's easy, rematerializing after fifty years? - Ah, there we go."
The shape of a female faerie appeared in front of him. She had wild, frizzy hair and wings with ragged edges. The skirt that fell from her hips also had a tattered edge, looking almost as if it were fading out of existence. In fact, the whole of her looked slightly blurry - like a television station with bad reception. Bits of her flickered in and out. She was adorned with a lot of jewelry - rings, bracelets, pendants - but it kept shifting, and Sloth couldn't focus on what exactly she was wearing where.
"There," said the faerie, grinning a broad grin and staring at him with empty eyes. "You'll just have to put up with this, because it's the best I can do right now."
Sloth aimed the ray gun at her head. "Tell me who you are."
"Put the gun away. It won't do any good," she snapped. "Dishevel me, discorporate me, demolish me - it's useless. The only thing that can stop me is Sailor Lupe and her ilk."
"You've been watching me."
"Of course I have. Ever since I learned that Sailor Lupe and Sailor Acara had destroyed - your creature. You don't like them." She smiled a perky smile. "So here's the deal. You help me get rid of them."
"And then what? We go on to conquer the planet together?"
"Oh, my, no. You can conquer it yourself, if you wish. I simply desire to destroy those infuriating young women."
Sloth was still suspicious - he wasn't stupid, after all - but this sounded worth a try. "All right. Let's say we do become allies. You gain my technical prowess, all my mechanical feats, and an army of enslaved and mutated pets. How do I benefit from this?"
"Don't you know anything about this planet?" said the faerie scathingly. Her moods were changing as rapidly as her jewelry. "Most of my power is still sealed away, but I'm a faerie. I can bless pets. And that's only the beginning."
Leslie and FirePrinse met up after school and stayed out for another two hours - buying supplies for Tigger, picking up ingredients for dinner, and playing games. There were Lupe Day promotions going on across the land; 'Prinse got discounts and perks wherever they went. They thought about going out for dinner, but Leslie realized they should go back and check on Kaen.
When Leslie opened the door of her house, the television was on, and the faerie was watching it, looking panicked. "Sailor Lupe! What are you doing here?" she exclaimed on noticing them. "There's an attack!"
"What?" Leslie looked at the television; Channel One News was down in the bazaar, cameras trained on the pale-green mutant grundo walking down the main street.
"What are you waiting for? Go!" cried Kaen.
Leslie dropped the bags she was carrying, turned tail, and ran.
This mutant was different from the rest. It wasn't trying to snatch any pets. It was just walking down the stone path and grasping pets and users by the head, then letting them go. They didn't look hurt by this - not even bruised - but they collapsed anyway.
It was by the Shop Wizard's tent, so there was a crowd, trying unsuccessfully to disperse. The running people kept tripping over people who'd been rendered unconscious.
Sailor Lupe had only caught a glimpse of the scene on television before she took off. Now she wished she'd had time to study it further. But there was Kaen, flying alongside her. "What's it - doing?" panted Lupe as she ran. "The grundo - I mean. - Faerie attack?"
"What do you mean? --Oh, I see. You want to know if it's a faerie ability the grundo's using, right?" Lupe nodded. "Not quite. It operates something like Drain Life - that's a high-level Darkness-sphere attack - but it's not. It's different. I know where it's from; it's on the tip of my tongue . . ."
They arrived at the stone arch that marked the gateway of the marketplace, and Lupe could now see the crowd coming around bends in the road. She was now moving upstream; people gave her weird looks, but anyone who planned to stop was swept away by the crowd.
Then she was in the clear, jumping over the collapsed bodies, which Kaen stopped to examine. The grundo was directly in front of her now. "Stop right there!" yelled Sailor Lupe. (She felt much braver than she ought to. Maybe it was the skirt.)
The grundo kept going. In fact, now that she thought about it, it was heading straight for . . .
"It now appears that the attacking mutant is heading straight for us! Will we survive? Stay tuned. This is Tricia Tapira for Channel One News."
The news crew. Oh joy.
She had no time to lose; Lupe held up her hands. "Lupe Lunge!" The powerful paws shot from her gloved palms and smacked the grundo.
It didn't even flinch.
"Sailor Lupe!" cried a terrified Kaen, swooping up next to her. "It's Chaos Leech! The attack! This pet has chaos powers. You're not strong enough to defeat it! Run!"
Though shaken, Lupe didn't move. "I can't run," she said slowly. "The reporters - the people - I have to protect them. Nobody else can do it, right?"
"We'll call for Sailor Acara. We'll call the Queen. We'll get backup. You can't do it alone. You'll die."
"I can't just do nothing," Lupe replied, feeling eerily calm.
"You'll die if you do," repeated Kaen seriously.
Lupe sighed. "Some Lupe Day, huh," she said as she started forward. "Hey! Big and green! Get away from those reporters!"
"This is a Channel One exclusive! Authentic, live footage of Sailor Lupe!" Tricia Tapira announced to the camera.
"Lupe Day," Kaen murmured to herself. "Lupe Day, some Lupe Day, it's Lupe, Sailor . . . Sailor Lupe! You have a chance after all!"
"Oh good! What is it?"
"Lupes get enhanced power on Lupe Day! Extra attacks. That goes for you too!"
"What extra attacks?"
"I don't know, I don't know. They should come to you. Just concentrate."
The grundo had turned towards her when she shouted; now it turned back. "Lupe Lunge!" she yelled. That got its attention, if nothing else. For a moment. Then it faced the cameras. Grr, how dare it ignore her . . .
Grr . . .
"Lupe Growl!" she roared.
A thunderous growl echoed across the marketplace, and the press nearly fainted with delight as the grundo collapsed. It got up, but this time it turned and began lumbering towards her.
"Don't let it touch you," Kaen ordered. "It'll use Chaos Leech - then we'll be in real trouble -"
The grundo reached out one giant fist.
"Lupe Shield!" exclaimed Sailor Lupe, and a dome of green light swelled from her tiara. The mutant scrabbled at the shield for a moment, found it couldn't get through, and then turned back towards the news crew.
"Lupe Shield!" repeated Lupe, and the dome around her shrank to reappear around the news team - cameras, personnel, and all. "Lupe Shin Kick!" she added, delivering a sharp kick to, well, the mutant's shin. A burst of green electricity flashed where she kicked, and then the leg snapped.
"Lupe Lunge!" the exhausted sailor shouted, and the mutant felt this one. "Lupe Lunge! Lupe Growl! Lupe Lunge!"
"Just our luck," murmured the flickering faerie shape (only a shadow at this point) at Sloth's side. The two were watching Channel One News, where the mutant Sloth had deployed earler - enhanced by the faerie's abilities - was getting pummelled. "Sailor Lupe, on Lupe Day? She's out of our league."
"Speak for yourself," murmured Sloth, although he could see for himself that the grundo was losing. "What good do your 'chaos' abilities do, if this Sailor Lupe is still too powerful?"
"She's not 'still' too powerful," explained the shadow patiently. "She was not this powerful before, and she will not be this powerful until next year. However, a single Sailor Neopet on any other day could not have stood up to that mutant of yours."
"So all that energy absorption it did was a waste of time."
"Oh, no. Not at all," cackled the shadow. "The energy didn't go to it, you see. It went to me."
Sloth was startled, but didn't show it. "I didn't realize that was how it worked. Forgive me, but you don't look stronger."
"I'm conserving my power now." Her voice got suddenly low and threatening. "I will not make any mistakes this time."
On the screen, the grundo collapsed into a pile of sludge.
That evening, Leslie, Kaen, and Keiko sat on Leslie's Ultranova sofa, where the lupe-tail-haired girl was explaining the events of the day to Keiko. Actually, Kaen was doing most of the explaining: she chimed with the technical explanation and background to everything Leslie mentioned.
FirePrinse was outside, playing with Tigger; he and Leslie were going to the movies that night (so 'Prinse could get the Lupe Day discount), and he wanted to make sure the gruslen was happy and tired enough to leave alone.
"So . . . if one of these things meets me, and it's not Acara Day, I won't be able to fight it?" asked Keiko when the explanation was finished.
"Certainly not," replied the faerie. "You and Sailor Lupe together may manage it. You'll just have to stick together and pay attention. Of course, this will get easier once you've found a few more sailors, and can spread the duty around."
Keiko nodded thoughtfully. Then she added, "All the pets and users who were attacked - I heard they're all in the hospital now. Extreme exhaustion. Why? I mean, Leslie destroyed the mutant."
"That's the power of Chaos Leech," Kaen told them. "It turns a pet into a vessel, a channel, a pipe. It takes the energy from people and sends it straight to the Chaos Faerie."
The name sent a chill through the room.
"She's absorbing the energy to rebuild her power. I have no idea how strong she is already. And it looks like she's allied herself with Dr. Sloth."
"We have got to find some more sailors," said Keiko. "Otherwise we're dead meat."