SNRPG: Series 1
Knowledge is Power
In a classroom at Neopia Central Junior High, a math teacher was scratching an algebra problem on the board with yellow chalk. It was the weakest stick of chalk she had, the one that never showed up; but the rest of her chalk had gone missing recently, so she was stuck with it.
A pair of girls in the fourth row were having a conversation that undoubtedly had more to do with polyester than polynomials, but calling them out would only result in coy apologies and a resumption of the conversation as soon as her back was turned. So the teacher helplessly resumed her scratching. When she finally finished, she turned to face the class.
"Can anyone tell me what to factor first?"
Most of the students weren't even paying attention. They were chatting, passing notes, doodling, or staring out the window. The teacher did notice one hand, however; it belonged to a girl in the front row who seemed much shorter than her peers. She had an expectant, if slightly naïve, smile on her face.
The teacher sighed.
"Anyone other than Miss Bay?"
Kaen really wished NeoCola would make its packaging more faerie-friendly. She was using a bottle cap as a cup, sipping juice from it, but the little plastic spiky things would gouge her lip if she didn't pay attention.
She had better things to pay attention to. The first few days without attacks after Lupe Day had been days of relief, but now a week had passed. It was too long. She was sure Sloth was regrouping, getting ready to hit much harder.
Furthermore, they hadn't run into any more sailors. There were still a lot to find; would they all manage to find each other before the Chaos Faerie fully regained her powers? It made Kaen worry.
While the faerie fretted over her wards' futures, Leslie watched TV. It was a slow news day: a local reporter informed the audience about dangerous new side effects of Step Out Shoes, a Kau who claimed to have been cheated by an illegitimate faerie seller, and a warning to those who dared to visit the Usuki store at night . . . alone.
"Next on Channel One News, those adorable little Sailor Neopets: they may look cute, but can appearances be deceiving?" asked an anchorlupe, acompanied by some footage of what could have been a shot of Sailor Lupe attacking an innocent bystander, if not for the mutant off camera.
Leslie looked hurt, but she didn't object; she just turned off the TV. "I'm going to work in the garden for a while," she told Kaen hesitantly. "Do you . . . want to come help?"
"No, I'm going to the library," replied the faerie. "Maybe I'll find something about the enemy. Anything better than just sitting around."
In the bowels of the base that extended into the heart of Kreludor, a little red grundo named Motti was hauling a bag of trash towards the incinerator. Something blue was leaking from one corner; it was only the trash from the kitchen, but the grundo was taking care not to let it touch him.
Motti pressed a series of keys that opened the door to the incinerator room, let the door close behind him, looked around the small room to make sure it was empty, then went forward and pressed another set of keys on the keypad attached to a small grate. When this one opened, a rush of hot air hit his face.
The actual flames of the incinerator were twenty meters below. It was a powerful and dangerous thing, and Sloth took no chances with its security.
Motti hefted the bag in and pushed the grate closed. As he was backing away, it popped back open again.
With a frown, the grundo closed it again. It sprang open.
"My, aren't you cute," purred a voice in front of him.
The shady figure that materialized around the voice was one Motti had never seen before, but Dr. Sloth had, and all of his subordinates had been duly warned. It was the Chaos Faerie.
Now, Motti was a small grundo, and of low rank, but he was still an adult. "Madam, do not patronize me," he said firmly.
The shadow continued talking as if she hadn't heard him. "Tell me about your boss.
"I don't know that I should be telling you anything," Motti told her. He pushed the grate closed until it clicked, then held it there for a moment.
"Very wise," replied the low voice, as Motti let go and the grate slid open again.
Her voice was abruptly behind him. "After all," it whispered, "it's my fault that won't close."
Then Motti felt small hands grasping his antennae, and before he realized what was happening he had been dragged through the opening and was suspended over the flames of the incinerator.
"But - that shouldn't - there are safeguards - it's not that big - what's going on?" he stammered.
"Now," murmured the voice dangerously, "tell me about your boss."
Motti looked down at the fire below him, then squeezed his eyes shut and recited, "He's the conquerer of a thousand worlds, third place winner in the three legged man race, creator then destroyer of the Rtyargs Empire, owner of the Lost City of Atlantis, avid comic book collector, writer of a hundred beautiful love poems, including one which he sung into the #1 slot for a solid 215 years and counting, and all around nice guy, for he is Dr. F. Sloth."
There was silence, and he hoped that would be enough. Then, without warning, there was nothing more holding him up.
The gate slid closed behind him, and stayed that way.
Thirty seconds after leaving Leslie's house, Kaen flitted her way through the magically clean bookcases of the Faerieland Library, hoping to stumble across something that would not only help her in her quest but would be small enough for her to lift.
The first promising thing she came to, though - a tome called Magic Moments, which looked like it might have a chapter on early magic users - was almost as tall as she was. With a sigh, Kaen started to grow. Her native height, and the one she preferred, was about a foot tall; but she could change to almost any size she wanted if necessary.
Even being a meter high was so awkward, though. She didn't know how users managed.
Once she had hefted the book and plunked it down on one of the tables, she returned as quickly as possible to her normal size. You didn't have to be tall to turn pages.
"Oh, that's a good one," said a voice across the table, and Kaen looked up to see a girl - younger than Leslie and even Keiko, with reddish-brown hair, green eyes, and a cheerful smile on her face. "I checked it out a while ago. It talked about how Kauvara got her start. Pretty interesting," she concluded.
"That's nice, but I'm looking for something a little more . . . antiquated," Kaen informed her.
"Oh, I don't think that one covers the older stuff in detail. You might wanna try that section over there," the girl replied helpfully, gesturing with a pen at a rather dusty pair of bookshelves before tucking the pen back behind her ear.
Kaen didn't look that way - the Legends section was the one she knew best - but focused on the girl as she asked, "Could you show me that again?"
"Sure! Right over . . . there." Kaen looked at the pen more closely this time. It was definitely a transformation pen, green with silver trim. She wasn't sure how it had gotten into this girl's posession, but it didn't matter. They had a new ally.
"Excuse me, I never introduced myself. My name's Kaen; what's yours?"
“Zelda. Zelda Bay. Nice to meet you!”
The Chaos Faerie materialized in front of Dr. Sloth as he was returning from his lunch break. He sat down in front of his preferred terminal to find that it had developed fuzzy edges and a pair of glowing eyes. "There you are," he said, refusing to look surprised at her display of power. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to."
Lines of orange text appeared on the normally-green terminal: It has occurred to me that, before we develop a working relationship, I ought to know more about you.
"And how much do I get to know about you?" countered Sloth.
As much as that little program of yours calculated before I shut it down.
So that was why terminal eleven had fried. "All information from that was lost when the program failed," the doctor lied. "We're still on even ground. Unless, of course, you've gotten anything out of the five staff members who've gone missing in the past week."
You like it even, I take it, printed the terminal, ignoring the insinuation of guilt. Any suspicions Sloth was forming about her involvement, though, were distracted by the next line, which glowed from the screen with an intensity that he was sure his monitors didn't posess. I hate even.
"Unfortunately," replied Sloth evenly, "that's how I work. It's only fair."
A broad grin spread across the monitor. A final line printed below it: You underestimate the value of what I will give you. Then lines of static sliced across the screen, and within second it had winked out altogether.
A few simple diagnostics revealed that the hard drive was intact; only the monitor's circuits had been scrambled. The damage was minor enough that Sloth couldn't tell if it was supposed to be a threat, or if the Chaos Faerie simply couldn't help leaving something torn apart when she appeared.
Leslie had just changed out of her gardening overalls and was washing the dirt off her hands when there was a knock on her door. She opened it to find Keiko on the other side. The younger girl's otherwise forgettable outfit earned a second look with the neon shoelaces in her sneakers. "I got here as soon as I could. What's up?"
"Kaen's found a new sailor," Leslie explained. "She met her in Faerieland, so she flew back here to tell me, then flew to Faerieland to guide the new sailor here. That's when I neomailed you."
"Ah." Keiko paused. "When's she going to get here?"
"I don't know . . . however long it usually takes to travel from Faerieland." There was another pause, then Leslie stepped back. "Sorry - come in. Have a seat. Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thanks. It's almost dinnertime anyway."
"Okay. Please, sit down; I just want to finish washing up. I was in the garden," Leslie explained nervously, holding up her arms as evidence.
She was drying her fully washed arms with a fluffy yellow towel when there was another knock; Keiko got to the door first. "Sailor Acara, this is Sailor Zafara," Kaen introduced them. "Zafara - Acara. And this here is Sailor Lupe," she added, as Leslie came up to them.
"Now that there are three of you," continued Kaen, "we can train properly. Each of you can face off against the other two in turn, to build up your skills and endurance. This way you'll be able to practice even when there are no enemies around to fight . . . Lupe, are you all right?"
For Leslie had made eye contact with the new girl and was looking at her intently.
"You're our fearless leader, right?" asked the brunette, holding out a hand.
"That's me. Leslie Tuatara. And you're Zelda Bay, aren't you?"
"Yeah! You know me?"
Leslie looked embarrassed, but took the hand and shook it. "Could you maybe . . . help me with my algebra homework?"