A Not-So-Stealthy Christmas Tale
"Sir, I'm afraid I need to see another form of identification. This quarry worker's license expired several months ago, and your... signed head shot... does not fulfill the qualifications needed," said the Tonu clerk at the counter.
"Aw come on, man. We've been planning this vacation for months now!" Stealth cried, flapping his silvery wings in frustration. "What if I let you keep the head shot?" Jacob, a brown Kougra and Stealth's loft mate, carried the duo's luggage, unamused.
"You still have your regular ID, right? Just use that, Stealth." Jacob wobbled a bit from the weight of Stealth's luggage on his back.
"But my mane looks funny in it..." Stealth complained, as Jacob glared at him. "Oh, fine..."
The clerk looked at the ID. "Well, when you contacted us and claimed you were an Eyrie named Stealth, I figured you would have been, well, Stealthy, and not Silver."
"...The brush didn't exist at the time, okay?" Stealth said, losing a bit of patience. His name was a rather sensitive subject for him.
After leaving the counter and allowing the bellhop to take their luggage, Stealth and Jacob headed to the fourth floor, where their quiet room awaited them. The halls were lined with garland and wreaths, and stars adorned the ceilings.
"The Neolodge sure does go all out for the holidays, huh?" Stealth said as he gazed at the ever-present decorations.
"What did you expect? Neopia Central tends to get a lot more festive than Moltara. I blame the weather. There aren't exactly any white Christmases there, you know?" Jacob said, chuckling to himself. He had finally saved up enough money this year to take Stealth and himself to somewhere more cheery for the holidays, and all seemed to be going well for once.
"It's nice how you're not constantly worrying and on-edge for once," Stealth said.
"Blame the calendar, Stealth! I'm always in a good mood this time of year," said Jacob.
The duo made their way to their room and turned the key, opening the locked door. To their surprise, the room was already lit up with sparkling multicolored lights and ribbons and bows. A tree was sitting in the corner, its lights twinkling in delight that some pets had waltz into its vicinity.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Jacob said, clapping his paws together and letting his eyes glimmer almost as much as the lights.
"How much did you spend on this again?" Stealth asked.
"Oh, it doesn't matter too much. It's the holidays!" Jacob started to unpack their things. "And they even let us bring the petpets along. Neither are really a problem, I guess. I mean, H.O.O.T. is a robot and Chimney, well..." Jacob took out the small jar containing the petpet. Chimney was a Christmas Pile of Soot, about the only petpet Stealth could take care of and only sometimes forget to bring home after walks. "Anyway, I'll be out doing some Christmas shopping. We should split up though to keep some surprises, well... surprises. I'll be back later, Stealth!" With that, Jacob left the room, whistling Neopian Christmas carols along the way.
Stealth stood silently for a moment, and then glanced over to Chimney. "Oh Chimney, what am I gonna do? Look at how much Jacob is enjoying this. He's actually ENJOYING something! And here I am, flat broke, to the point where I couldn't even get my part of the rent together this month, while Jacob pays for this vacation for both of us!" Chimney just looked at the Eyrie, as always. "You're right. I need to do something special for him."
Stealth quickly took the last bits of his money and set out to the shops in an attempt to salvage his self esteem, as well as to give his best friend the time he deserved.
...And then he came back to bring Chimney along.
Neopia Central at this time of year was even more of a bustling metropolis than it normally was. These pets made sure to make the most of the cold air. Hot cocoa sales were through the roof, and Uni's Clothing had been seeing a huge increase in the amounts of scarves and hats sold.
"Okay, Chimney, we don't have a lot to spend, but I think I have enough to get the ingredients for a few gingerbread cookies. Jacob always liked those," Stealth said. "Ginger, sugar, flour, an egg, honey, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Shouldn't be too hard to get, I hope."
When the two arrived at the Food Shop, the line was practically half way to the NC Mall. "Oh, you've gotta be joking," Stealth said. "Well, I guess waiting's the only option. Anything you wanna talk about, Chimney?" Chimney rolled his eyes.
After about an hour of waiting, Stealth had made it to the front counter and was greeted by a very jolly Chia.
"Good afternoon, sir," Stealth began. "I have quite a list of things I need." The entire swarm of pets behind him collectively groaned. "I'll need all of this." Stealth held up a list for the Chia to save time. As he waddled to the back, he took the various ingredients off the shelf and gave them to Stealth.
"Well, I was able to find everything except for one thing," the shopkeeper said. "Looks like we're fresh out of flour."
"But where am I supposed to get flour now?" Stealth asked. "I'm afraid the next shipment doesn't come here until next week."
Resigned, Stealth paid for the ingredients and left, once again almost forgetting Chimney.
"So, you need some flour, huh?" asked a tall blue Krawk wearing a top hat and trench coat.
"How'd you know?" Stealth asked.
"I overheard what was going on in there. I'm actually a... traveling salesman. Yeah. I have one more sack of flour, if you'd be interested.
"How much are you asking for?"
"How much do you need?"
"Just enough to make a batch of cookies for my friend. I just want to show him that I'm not a freeloader, you know?" Stealth explained.
"I'll tell you what. I'll give you enough flour to make the cookies. It's a special kind of flour, you see. It'll change the way your friend sees you, and himself, guaranteed."
"Wow, that sounds intense. What makes it so special?" Stealth asked.
"I'll take it," Stealth said as he gave the Krawk a fist full of Neopoints. "Thanks again, sir. And by the way, great Scrooge cosplay! Nice to see you getting in on the holiday fun!" Stealth said as he flew back toward the Lodge.
"What an idiot," sneered the Krawk.
"And just a few minutes in the oven, and they'll be done." Jacob burst into the room finishing off a carol and carrying a few packages.
"What's that smell, Stealth?" Jacob asked.
"Surprise!" Stealth said. "I'm baking you some cookies as a treat. You were nice enough to bring me here, so I wanted to return the favor."
"Wow, Stealth, I'm touched. Thank you," Jacob said.
"Guess they're done. I'll be giving them to you in a jiffy, Jacob!" Stealth said.
Within a few minutes, the cookies were ready, and Stealth rapidly flapped his wings to cool them down. After icing them a bit, he served them to his friend.
"By Hagan's beard, this is delicious, Stealth!" Jacob said as he took a bite of the cookie.
This was it. Stealth had done something right for once. Right in time for the holidays, too!
"That being said, though, they made me quite tired. I think I'm going to rest up now."
"Sounds good, Jacob. I'll hold down the fort," Stealth said with a chuckle. He had a date with the comic section of Neopian Times, after all. They likely had a ton of holiday comics this time of year.
As Stealth was reading, he was interrupted by Jacob's snoring. "That's odd, he doesn't usually snore," Stealth whispered to himself. Upon looking at Jacob, though, he met with a gruesome sight. Jacob was transforming before his eyes and completely unaware of it. He couldn't utter a sound. Before he knew it, Jacob had become a Kacheek.
Stealth quietly left the Lodge out of the balcony and flew farther away.
And then he screamed.
"What am I gonna do, Chimney? Jacob's a tinkerer! He's used to working with his paws. How is he supposed to adjust? What if he CAN'T adjust?" Chimney just stared. Stealth could feel the complete and utter contempt the soot had for him at this point. He knew. He knew Stealth was an idiot. He knew he shouldn't have bought the flour. "I wish you had a mouth, Chimney," Stealth said as he burst into tears. He was interrupted by a siren.
"What's all the ruckus about, sir?" It was the Chia Police.
"Officers, I need to report a crime."
"Well, quiet down first!" said the other officer. "What's the issue?"
"Okay, so I wanted to make cookies, but then a Krawk, and flour, and Neopoints, and and long lines! And now boom! Kacheek!" Stealth said as he hyperventilated.
The two officers just stared at each other for a minute. "Okay pal, we know you can use words now. How about sentences this time?"
"I think I bought some strange flour, and now my best friend turned into a Kacheek, which could really ruin his career."
"It sounds like you bought some Kacheek Flour. Who sold it to you?" asked the first officer.
"It was a blue Krawk. He was tall and wore a top hat and trench coat," said Stealth.
"Krawley... looks like he's still at it. He could be anywhere in Neopia by now though," said the officer as he took notes.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but it seems you got duped. The best thing to do at this point would be to come clean to your friend with what happened. It's better he knows the truth, because I can guarantee he'll notice his change of species. Maybe he'll understand," said the second officer.
"And what's the worst that could happen? Can't be any worse than getting coal dust in a bottle for Christmas," said the first officer, staring at what was in Stealth's paws.
"...That's my petpet, sir."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"But I suppose you're right. It'd be a really inconsiderate move to not come clean with him, wouldn't it? But I do have a question," Stealth said.
"And what's that?"
"Do you guys ever get jealous of the fact that the Defenders of Neopia have their headquarters here and get way more publicity, all while stopping much more serious crimes?"
"Do you want a citation for disturbing the peace?"
So Stealth returned to the Lodge.
"Stealth why am I blindfolded?" Jacob asked as he sat in bed.
"Jacob, I need to tell you something. Just please don't hate me for it."
"What is it?"
"Well... it turns out that the flour I used to bake your cookies belonged to one of Neopia's most wanted criminals, and had some...side effects. But I wanted to attempt to make it up to you, so I got you something, too."
"What... side effects are you talking about?" Jacob asked.
"...It was Kacheek Flour."
The room stayed silent for what felt like fourteen eternities. In reality, it was seven seconds. Stealth just suffers from a short attention span.
Jacob removed the blindfold and stared at his paws, now stubby, small, and blue. "Stealth..."
"Look, I know I royally mess-"
"This is absolutely incredible!"
"Stealth, I'm a tinkerer. I have to deal with the inner workings of complex machinery on a daily basis. Do you know how often my paws got in the way? I can do so much more now! And my smaller size can even get me INTO certain machines. I can't thank you enough," Jacob explained.
Stealth just smiled. He'd done it. He truly made Jacob happy. "I still have something though. I flew over to the Advent Calendar this morning and they were giving these out. This should at least get you close to your original color." Stealth pulled out a Christmas Paint Brush. "I know you also love this time of year, so it works out pretty well, I think."
With a few good strokes of the magic brush, Jacob turned Christmas-y, once again donning a coat of deep brown.
"I don't know how to thank you, Stealth. You don't realize how much I appreciate having you as a roommate. Sure, when you do things like making paper airplanes out of the mail, getting your petpet all over the rug, and tearing up my good pillows trying to make a fort, it can get difficult, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. You're my best friend, Stealth. And because of that, I wanted to get you this." Jacob pulled out a small wrapped present. "You gave me an early present after all. I figured I'd reciprocate."
Stealth hastily tore open the wrapping paper to find two old socks and a few buttons, along with a spool of thread.
"How did you know I wanted sock puppets?!" Stealth said, as he began making the two fight in a battle to the death. "Take that!"
"...Never change, Stealth."