The Best Present Ever: Part Two
Ruby grimaced as two paws fidgeted around on his back, kneading on his spine. He grunted impatiently, very grateful that the outside decorations were taken care of.
"Hey! Hold still! I'm almost done hanging this kelp garland." A green Ogrin stretched attempting to nail the slippery garland in place. "Seriously though... why are we putting up kelp? It's squishy, smells weird, and very difficult to hang."
"Two words," Sand the talking kepru commented from her comfortable perch on the couch. "Free decorations."
"Alright then.... that's not so bad." Storm's, the green Ogrin, gray-blue eyes lighted up in excitement and he hopped off his Lupe footstool. "As long as I get plenty of presents!"
"So is that what this holiday is about?" Sand asked since she had not ever celebrated Christmas. "Getting stuff? Or eating fruit cake and pretending you like it?"
"What? No, Sand," Ruby answered. "It isn't about getting stuff. It's the giving. See-"
"Yes!" Storm interrupted, smirking. "Giving is better than receiving.... so I'm doing you a favor by taking all those presents from you. So you can enjoy the giving part."
"You know," snapped Lucky, a usually quiet Bori, his mismatched eyes flashing, "the world doesn't revolve around you!"
Frowning, Ruby glanced at Violet, who was setting up the tree nearby and looking worried. They had both found it surprising when their owner had adopted a third pet so soon. Lucky, a calm, somewhat shy yellow Bori with one pale blue eye and one brown eye, had been slowly adapting. Only a few months later, a fourth pet joined the family. Storm was quite a bit wilder than Lucky and the clash of their personalities caused numerous arguments.
"Hey guys, I'm back!" Their owner, a tall teen girl, walked in the door, oblivious to the former tension. "I'm going to Terror Mountain in an hour to get a few more things for the Christmas party tonight. Who wants to come?"
Storm and Lucky froze when they realized they had spoken at the same time. Awkwardly, Storm tried to find something to say, but Lucky seemed to just ignore him altogether.
"I've got to set the snack table up." She glanced at the clock. "Come on, boys! Let's move it so we stay on schedule!"
Relieved and a little guilty at the feeling, Ruby watched them leave, hoping they could settle into being a normal family again sometime soon.... well, as normal as any family that lived in a haunted castle with ghosts and living statues (generally friendly, but nevertheless it was strange).
After they exited the room, Sand snorted. "So should I pity her or them? The spazzy human or the polar opposites?"
Violet sighed, rolling her eyes at Sand. "Ruby, would you help me with the ornaments and the nova?"
As Ruby picked up the sparkling nova, he had the ridiculous urge to leap onto the tree in attempt to reach the top. Smiling at the thought, he instead brought a ladder.
"So... I still don't get it," complained Sand. "I mean, why do you love this holiday so much? A fat dude breaks into your house and you leave out food for him. That's just... creepy."
Violet laughed. "I don't think Santa would appreciate being called creepy."
"I have an idea!" Ruby exclaimed. "I need a present for Mom. Why don't you come with me? Then you could see some the Christmas lights, the Money Tree all decked out and eat the gingerbread cookies they have free at The Coffee Cave during the caroling at the Art Centre."
"Well..." Sand reluctantly stood up. "Okay."
"Have a good time, but don't be too long!" Violet reminded them. "The Christmas party starts at seven."
~*** *** ~
Puffs of steam rose from Ruby's mouth as he stepped out of the Uni carriage into the cold streets of Neopia Central. Shivering Sand clung firmly to his pelt to avoid being trampled by the other departing carriage riders.
"What time is the next flight to Meridell?" Ruby asked one of the Unis.
"At six o'clock," a blue Uni replied politely. "Thank you for fling with Air Stallion. Have a wonderful Christmas Eve, sir."
Generously tipping the Unis, Ruby quickly paid his fare and explored the crowded shops.
"So what are we looking for?" inquired Sand, squinting through lazily spinning snowflakes.
"I don't know," Ruby admitted. "I want to get a really special gift. I was just going to wait until something felt right."
Grumbling loudly, Sand snarled, "Well, that narrows it down to any shop in sight. I refuse to stay out here all night waiting for your 'instincts' to kick in. I'd be a kepru-sicle!"
"Hey! Look at that cart over there! Genuine Gnorbu fleece sweaters." Ruby started towards the merchant's stall. "Wow! Mom would love one of those!"
"Well, don't be naive. Everybody and their petpet claims to sell stuff that's 'genuine', but then you bite into that delicious looking squash and find out it's made of sand. Believe me, a sand squash may be labeled as food, but it is hard to eat, let alone swallow!"
"Excuse me." Ruby approached the neopet, who was wearing a huge jacket, behind the sweaters. "How many colors do these come in?"
At first when the neopet turned around, Ruby didn't recognize it. Trying not to stare, he finally realized it was a Gnorbu with sheared fur.
"Well at least we know these are genuine!" Sand snorted to Ruby, not caring if she was overheard.
"Yes." The speckled Gnorbu winked as he carefully laid out a variety of colors. "The sweaters sell out every year so I celebrate Gnorbu Shearing Day a bit early."
"Red is Mom's favorite color." Ruby picked a plush crimson one and handed the shopkeeper a heavy bag of neopoints.
"Merry Christmas!" he responded cheerfully tucking away his earnings.
"Alright." Sand grinned in good spirits. "Let's get those free cookies, then go home!"
After waiting until Sand had a secure grip on his back, Ruby bounded through the crowd, easily slipping around people and neopets despite his large size. Panting, Ruby stopped near the Money Tree to catch his breath. Before he could step out of the way, a small neopet tripped on somebody's foot and ending up elbowing Ruby in the neck.
"Hey kid!" snapped Sand perched precariously atop Ruby's head. "Watch where you put your paws, for crying out loud!"
A baby Kougra looked up at them sheepishly. "S-sorry, mister Lupe, sir. I was looking for my sister."
"If you haven't noticed," Sand deadpanned, "this isn't your sister, kid."
"Are you alright?" Ruby offered a paw to the trembling Kougra. "My name is Ruby and this is Sand. What's your name?"
"My name is Felix, mister Ruby. My sister- Have you seen my sister? Her name is Koral. She is a Maraquan Gelert."
"No, but don't worry. We'll go and look for her together." Ruby handed the sweater to Felix. "Put this on. It's very cold today."
"Oh!" Felix smiled shyly. "It's so soft!"
Ruby crouched so that the Kougra could climb up on his back, ignoring Sand's growls of displeasure. "Where was the last place you saw your sister?"
"We were outside the Plushie Palace. I really wanted to go in, b-but she said it was time to leave. Then a bunch of neopets walked out and I couldn't see her anymore. I didn't know what to do."
"It will be okay," Ruby reassured him. "We'll find her, I promise."
Loping toward the plaza, the frigid wind rushing through his fur, Ruby,adrenalin pulsing in his veins,scanned the area for Koral. Feeling the excitement, Felix let out an exhilarated shout earning them some puzzled stares and grumpy muttering from Sand. Nearing the plushie shop, they spotted her.
"Koral!" Felix squealed almost leaping off Ruby before he could stop.
"Felix! Thank Fyora! What happened?" The Gelert hugged her little brother tightly.
After Felix had explained everything and Koral had thanked Ruby and Sand numerous times, Felix started to give the red sweater back.
"It's alright," Ruby told him. "You can keep it. It's an early Christmas present. If you're not busy later, come by our house! We're having a party."
As they waved good-bye to Felix and Koral, Sand asked, "So you gave away the sweater to the kid--that's nice and all--but what are you going to buy now?"
"Let's go see if that Gnorbu is still there."
*** ~ ***
Despite wandering all over Neopia Central, they could not find the same shopkeeper again.
"I bet everyone is in the catacombs now," Ruby said. "There will be plenty of things to buy."
Descending the frosty stone steps, they entered into the soft glow of candle light and cheerful caroling. In awe, Ruby and Sand gazed at the beautiful glass ornaments hanging on the massive tree in the middle of the catacombs. A delicate hand-made tree skirt fanned out from beneath and glittering presents of all sizes were placed around.
"Wow." Sand admired the detailed glass nova on top.
They stepped in the Coffee Shop and were greeted enthusiastically by a yellow Shoyru, who immediately began chatting with them as if they were old friends.
"Hello there! How are you? Business is doing very well today. Sir, here is your Double Shot of Espresso and Snowberry Delight! The place is packed! Here take a seat. And I would love to open a shop on Roo Island, but I haven't got enough money quite yet so it might take a few years, but I don't mind waiting too much because those Roo Islanders are friendly,but sometimes a bit too friendly as in they jabber on and on and on until you can't hardly tell one sentence from another... And here are your free cookies, dear!"
Ruby's eyes had glazed over so he just about dropped the food in surprise. Sliding into a small booth in the corner, Ruby set the gingerbread cookies down for them to share.
"These are delicious!" Sand commented as she nibbled at the cookies. "We should have Violet make some at home."
Waving to the yellow Shoyru, they exited the cramped shop. Ruby circled the huge tree looking for anyone selling presents. A orange Kacheek was starting to pack up his wares, which were enchanted,specially made ornaments. Curious, Sand and Ruby watched colorful swirls of magic illuminate the crystal.
Sand whispered in awe, "I can feel the pull of the magic... it's so.... happy."
"A spell of joy." The old wizard's eyes twinkled. "It becomes even stronger when you give it as a gift with kindness in your heart."
Caressing the surface of a glowing nova, Ruby asked, "How much are they?"
The Kacheek sighed with sincere regret as he stated the high price, "I'm afraid they are not easy to make."
Ruby counted out the neopoints he could spend, only saving enough for the Uni carriage fare, "Sir, this is all I can spend."
"Well." The wizard was surprised. "I suppose this will do."
"Ruby." Sand grimaced. "Don't you know anything about haggling?"
"No, it's okay," Ruby said decisively, handing the bulging bag to the Kacheek,who had carefully placed the selected piece into a small box.
"Here you are." The Kacheek gently set the box in Ruby's paw. "Have a wonderful Christmas Eve!"
After they had walked far enough away, Ruby explained, "Did you notice the shards of glass in the display case? Somebody broke a few while trying to steal them. Those negative feelings caused the rest of the magic to dim. After that, I bet it was hard to sell them."
"How do you know so much about it?"
Climbing the steps carefully, Ruby returned into the frigid weather outside answering, "The newspaper did a spotlight article about them. These joy ornaments are a huge deal--quality ones are difficult to find and expensive to buy."
"Finally, we have the perfect present! Now let's go home," Sand sighed, imagining a ginormous cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket. "What time is it? I don't want to miss that carriage. I suppose I could try a another portal, but without the right object to focus the magic through it might be just as bad as last time."
"Five forty five." Ruby skidded across the crunching snow and icy sidewalk, determined not to be late. Once they had tried using a portal to go to Mystery Island and had ended up in the rough waters near Lutari Island.
While nearing the edge of Neopia Central, they heard a sob. Sand bristled whispering into Ruby's ear, "There's some kind of weird magic tainting the area.... I don't like it."
Hesitating, Ruby located a figure on a bench and called out, "Are you alright?"
Unfurling her drooping wings, the mournful faerie glanced at Ruby and Sand and lamented bitterly, "It doesn't matter anymore. My power is leaking out and there aren't any faeries around to help. I'm shifting into a grey faerie...."
Slowly, he approached, recognizing her as a fire faerie, "Maybe we can help you, Miss.....?"
"Elvannia," she murmured. "Don't bother wasting your magic on me. You won't be able to break the curse."
"Ruby." Sand frowned. "As much as I'd love to restore her power, I can't fix this. She needs a boost, but it would be impossible for me to drain myself that low."
Ruby unwrapped the nova,which was glowing softly. "We can use this!"
"That doesn't ha- Whoa!" Sand blinked in shock as the nova burst into radiance.
Shattering, the crystal reached the ground releasing the magic. Elvannia quickly stood up and gathered the power to her. It only took her a few seconds and then she managed to dispel the curse. Her amber eyes shone with gratitude as she turned to Ruby, "I won't ever forget this, my friend."
Snapping open her fiery wings, the faerie launched herself into the air, completely melting nearby snow. She smiled before fading off into the darkening sky's horizon.
"That was amazing. I must admit, I didn't think you could create that much magic," Sand watched as snow flurries began to fall fierce and thick. "But we're back to square one again... and we don't have time to stay here any longer if we want to catch our ride."
"I know," Ruby continued on. "Mom will understand--she would have done the same."
Reaching the carriage stop, they noticed a large group of unhappy neopets arguing. The polite blue Uni that they had met before now looked frantic dealing with numerous dissatisfied costumers.
"What's going on?" Sand demanded the Uni.
"Oh, hello there... please don't yell at me, miss. This is a very unfortunate situation that I cannot rectify at this time. You see," The blue Uni, whose name was Edward, explained. "My co-worker Ron sprained his wing when we landed and can't fly the remaining routes. I can't pull it by myself. It's no use sending a message to headquarters either.... nobody else is on duty. These folks refuse to accept what I am telling them. Refunds won't calm them down; they want to get home. "
"Sand?" Ruby asked, excitedly. "Can't you-"
"You've got to be kidding!" Sand growled, guessing his intention. "Fine, fine... I know you'll guilt me into this somehow, but we are going to be late for the party!Not to mention that it is incredibly dangerous... but I suppose that has never mattered."
"I never would've thought of that, but let's give it a try," Edward said once they had revealed their plan.
"It'll be fun!" Ruby barked as Sand rolled her eyes.
"Pump your legs, Ruby! No, faster and run, don't flail around!" Sand coached from behind Ruby, peering uneasily at the distance to the ground below. "Keep pace with Edward.... don't drag him along!"
It made a strange sight with a Uni and a Lupe- wearing spelled branched antlers- hauling the Uni carriage. The heavy antlers caused Ruby's head to tilt, occasionally poking a disgruntled Edward. The unstable magic affected it in strange ways- setting it on fire, shooting confetti and smelling like maple syrup.
"Yeah, that spell is a bit unpredictable." Sand shrugged, dowsing a small fire. "You should be glad I used it on the antlers."
"Last stop!" Edward called to the remaining passengers. "We will be arriving at Kiko Lake in five minutes. Please keep your tails, paws, flippers and other limbs in the carriage as we land."
Observing a clock in a store, Ruby inquired, "So where to now?"
"Almost done," he replied, preparing to take off. "We just got to return it to headquarters-that's in Brightvale. I certainly appreciate you finishing those trips with me. I don't know how to repay you."
"Don't worry about it!" Ruby joined his friend with colorful confetti streaming everywhere. "If you want, you can come to our Christmas party."
"And bring some gingerbread cookies!" chimed in Sand.
*** ~ ***
Swiftly sprinting on the slippery snow and ice, Ruby half flew, half ran back home.
"I see the castle!" Sand yipped. "Go faster or the magic will wear ou-"
Tumbling headfirst into a snow drift, Ruby abruptly lost his flying ability. With a grunt, Ruby and Sand heaved themselves out. Rapidly shaking clumps of snow off his pelt, Ruby set a brisk stride home.
"There you are!" Violet swung open the door when they rang the doorbell. "What have you been doing? And why do you smell like pancakes?"
"It's a long story... see when-" Ruby began.
"Tell it after we go inside!" interrupted Sand. "I want a warm blanket,a tall mug of hot chocolate and something sugary!"
Settling down in the house, Ruby and Sand told their adventure to everyone.
"A magic ornament?" Lucky paused deep in thought. "Perhaps I could replicate one."
"Antlers that make you fly?" Storm laughed. "Awesome! I bet I could use them for some amazing pranks...."
"Ruby, you are such a sweet boy!" Their owner hugged him. "I'm so proud of you!"
Violet started when the doorbell rang again. "Who is that? Everyone's here.... our neighbors and cousin Roxie with her pets."
She returned, followed by a large group- a baby Kougra,holding a Maraquan Gelert's paw with several other neopets, a serious looking Uni carrying a basket full of cookies and a red weewoo with a letter in its beak. The party was fantastic; all of Felix's sibling had a great time and even Edward stayed to sing a few carols. Xsteriod, Roxie's Xweetok, began an annual neggnog drinking contest. Storm managed to drink seven cartons before giving up; Ruby ended up the victor chugging a total of twelve.
At one point, Ruby was pulled aside by his owner. "Thank you for giving me the best present ever!"
- - - -
"...and I felt kind of weird after drinking all that neggnog so fast." Ruby took another sip of water,his mouth dry from the long story. "But the best part was that Mom loved the party!"
A timer buzzed from the kitchen and the smell of freshly baked cookies reached the room.
"That was fast." Violet frowned as Saphire nervously grinned. 'Strange... because I remember you complaining how they wouldn't be done for another half an hour."
"Good! Then we have something to go with this!" Xsteriod pulled out the cartons. "Who wants to try to beat the record?"
While everyone else crowded around the table, Artemis hesitated and asked Ruby, "What did that letter say? You forgot to mention it."
Sand and Ruby looked at each other, then Sand cryptically replied, "Let me put it this way: helping a faerie can be... profitable, but their business isn't something to get mixed up in lightly."
"But-" Shouts of panic interrupted his question.
"SAND!" Saphire yelped as she swatted away attacking gingerbread cookies.
Grimacing, Sand shrugged. "I thought that it might have been the wrong spell."
"Saph!" Fi scolded, crushing the swarm with her hooves. "I told you not to have her use any magic!"
"Sorry!" The Gelert growled at the menacing surgery horde. "I forgot about one batch and I wanted it to get done a little quicker...."
"Ruby, Emerald! Go behind them! X, come here and help me." Violet lost no time in shouting out orders. "Saph, Fi, explain Emergency Plan D to our guests. Lucky, Sand, start working on a reverse spell."
"How many times has this kind of thing happened?" Lil stared in shock at the gingerbread troops.
"Too many," Fi snorted. "But we're usually prepared."
Gleefully, Emerald and Ruby chased the angry food,wiping out entire sections with one big chomp. Working together, Violet and Xsteriod guarded Lucky,who was desperately searching through a book. Sharp Beek and Kai circled above,diving down to snatch unwary cookies. Lil and Artemis ducked behind a couch as Storm started a powerful gust of wind to knock some into the Lupes' path.
"I can certainly say this," Artemis commented above the battle cries. "I have never been to a more... exciting party."
Hearing him, Sharp Beek responded, "We should definitely come back next year!"
Hello again, readers! I was so excited when I had an idea for a Christmas story--it's my favorite holiday. Thank you kca_98 for being an awesome cousin and letting me use your neopets. RC(romanian_cutee), thanks for allowing me to include your pets too. Merry Christmas, everyone! ~thedoggirl_97