The Witchern's Egg
“AHHHHHGH, Kimmy, I’m so bored.” Kaldamoore swiped a tired tongue over his nose. “What can we do for some entertainment?”
The Happiness Express was back in Meridell from their worldwide journey for a cheap vacation. After a day of relaxing, Kaldamoore, the Darigan Bori, was already tense with boredom. This was bothersome to the oldest member of the express, White Coal, but that’s not a surprise. These two had such conflicting personalities that almost anything that came out of one’s mouth was sure to annoy the other.
“There are no flashing slot machines or Dice-A-Roo here, Kaldamoore,” the Mutant Buzz said. White Coal walked behind the other two because of his twisted right leg forced him to limp. When he was a White Grundo, White Coal suffered from a horrible accident, but never told anyone what.
“Shut it, gramps. Every nation gambles.” Kaldamoore gave White Coal a raspberry. Shaking Kimadollus’s shoulder, he asked, “Come on, Kimmy, what do they do here: poker, races?”
The Ghost Zafara smiled and shrugged. “I can’t tell the games apart.”
“What!” Kaldamoore gasped. “Kimmy, the difference between games and real games is—”
“Is that gambling takes all the money from fool’s pockets ‘till they’re dry,” White Coal barked. “That’s enough from you, Kaldamoore. We don’t need to gamble. There’s hardly enough points for food as it is.”
“But we could get lucky today—”
“No.” White Coal pointed a sharp claw at Kaldamoore. “That’s the kind of attitude that wastes five thousand points at Bagatelle.”
“Hmph.” Kaldamoore snorted at the memory. “Could've won if I had a thousand more.”
To break up the fight, Kimadollus stepped in. “We’re close to my third great uncle’s place. We could visit him. He tells the greatest stories.”
“That’s a fine idea,” Coal said.
“What makes his stories good?” Kaldamoore picked his nose. Stories were okay, but they never gave him a rush like luck did.
“Every time he tells them they’re different,” Kimadollus said. “Uncle Ulkie likes to drink medicines even though he’s never gotten sick once in his life. They cause him to forget details, so he always has to make up new ones.” The Ghost Zafara looked up at the clouds, pondering. “I would like to hear The Witch’s Egg. It’s the only one he doesn’t change because I think it’s true.”
Kaldamoore and White Coal looked at each other.
“I think I might like Uncle Ulkie,” Kaldamoore snickered.
“You would.” White Coal sneered.
The Happiness Express walked through the wild paths of Meridell’s country. Kimadollus skipped in front, Kaldamoore lumbered in the middle, and White Coal limped in the back. After a half hour they reached Ulkie’s farm. It was a neglected pile of rubble with barely tamed Wibreths wandering all over. The ground was so wet and filthy from generations of petpet-keeping that the grass wouldn’t grow. Kaldamoore held his nose. White Coal restrained himself from doing the same, but his nostrils winced in pain. Kimadollus did not seem bothered.
“Uncle Ulkie?” The Zafara knocked on the ancient door. “Uncle Ulkie, you there?”
“Eh, who’s that?” A blue Ruki in haggard overalls and a molding straw hat came out. “I know you?” The smell of strong medicine smoldered form his toothless gums.
“It’s me, Kimadollus.”
“Ah, one of Constance’s boys.” The Ruki backed behind the door slightly as if to defend himself. “You the bad one?”
“Naw, you don’t look like it. It was the green one that turned nasty. What was his name? Mogilev. All right, but no tricks or I’ll get my rake.” Ulkie stepped out. “So, what’s up? You look dead.”
“Just a mishap,” Kimadollus said, as if death was as minor as stubbing your toe. “Uncle Ulkie, my friends and I would like to hear a story. The Witch’s Egg.”
“The Witchern’s Egg?” Ulkie mumbled, scratching his chin. “I’m not sure. There were some chores I’ve been meaning to get to...”
‘Since when, twenty years ago?’ Kaldamoore thought.
“But I think I can set them aside. Wait here.” Ulkie disappeared in his house and came back with a bottle of Healing Potion XIV. He sat on a stool he had on the porch that he used for story telling. “Let’s see, The Witchern’s Egg...” He popped the cork off the potion and took a long drink. He smacked his lips, savoring the sour taste, and drummed his claws against the bottle’s glass.
“I’m a petpet breeder,” Ulkie began, “and I’ve breed Wibreths longer than I can remember. Years ago my prized Wibreth, Quay, laid an egg overnight. When I checked on it in the morning, I dropped the feed I was carryin’, I was so startled by what I found.
“Underneath Quay was an egg bigger than her with blue blotches, wasn’t clear white like a normal Wibreth egg. I kept it cause I thought something good might come out of it. Witches' magic, I believed to be the cause. They’re always playing tricks ‘round here.
“My wife and I helped Quay take care of the egg. We’d put extra bedding in the nest and turn the egg over so it wouldn’t get a cold spot. It took almost the entire summer for that egg to hatch. In the month of Hiding it finally did. What came out sort of looked like a Wibreth, but it sort of didn’t too.
“The critter was a round, light green-brown little puff ball with wings a pointy hair on top its head. Had no tail or neck like a Wibreth. My wife thought it was cute, and I admit that its red eyes were cute back then. She named it something long. She always liked fancy names. Let’s see.” Ulkie closed his eyes and sucked his gums. “Doctor Francis Q. Slothberg Esq.,” he recited.
“Why would she name it after Dr. Sloth?” White Coal asked.
“Eh, what’cha mean? She’s always been one-hundred percent original.” Ulkie took another gulp of medicine and gave White Coal an annoyed glare.
“Never mind, please continue. I’m interested,” Coal said.
“Anyways,” Ulkie tried to find where he left off, “We kept the thing, though I wasn’t sure what to do with it at the time.
“Slothy, my wife liked to call ‘im, was pretty normal despite his appearance. He got along with the other Wibreths, and he and Quay had the strongest bond I’ve ever seen. For as long as they were together, they slept in the same nest every night.
“As a petpet breeder, I always go to Darigan Citadel to train my lot at the Petpet Arena. By the time Slothy reached the age of maturity Wibreths did, I took him and his father there to train. Well, I’m not sure if it was his biological father, but it was the only rooster I had at the time, so I assumed it was so. Slothy’s father was called something fancy too, another of my wife’s names: He-Who-Never-Forgets, or Forget for short. Forget was the toughest monster I’ve ever raised. I took Slothy along to the dome so he’d see someone with experience fight.
“Forget was having a good time that day. Every petpet he came across he swiped at with his claws and tried to pluck every fur or feather. He won enough battles to level up. Right when we were about to leave an orange Kougra asked to buy Forget. Offered double the amount for an ordinary Wibreth. Sold Forget right there. Think it broke Slothy’s heart. Wouldn’t stop crying ‘till I bopped him on the head.
“A while later a paint salesman came in the neighborhood, had a sale on petpet brushes. I’ve always wanted to paint Quay, so I took her with. Slothy followed. Ever since I sold Forget he was being more protective of his mother. Never let her out of his sight.
“Other pets were there. Miss Clare, the Royal Zafara; Mike, a Yellow Tonu; and Poke, the Pink Cybunny. They’ve all passed away now, I reckon.
“‘Haven’t you got anything better?’” Miss Clare complained. ‘My Fluffy must be beautiful.’
“‘Is fifty thousand enough?’ Shy Mike asked.
“‘I’m not sure...’ Poke was mumbling.
“I was just about to ask the salesman for a Fire Paint Brush for Quay when Miss Clare sneered at Sloth.
“‘What on earth is that, Ulkie?’ She covered her mouth like she was trying to avoid smelling him. Not sure why. My wife gave all our petpets a bath regularly.
“‘Don’t know, Miss Clare,’ I told her. ‘Quay hatched him.’
“‘He’s interestin’,’ Mike said.
“Poke sort of looked at Sloth closely and shrugged his shoulders. ‘A bit plain. You gonna paint him?’
“‘Haven’t thought about that,’ I told ‘em. ‘Don’t even know what color I could use.’
“‘Why not try?’ the salesman handed me a Blue Paint Brush.
“First I was a bit nervous, but it was only a blue brush. I dabbed some color right above Slothy’s eye. Nothing happened.
“‘Try this one.’ The salesman handed me a red brush.
“I swiped red on Slothy’s hair tuft and still nothing happened.
“‘You’re doing it all wrong,’ Miss Clare said. She grabbed a checkered brush. Trying to look very delicate, she painted Slothy’s back. ‘What on earth is wrong with it?’ she shrieked when her technique didn’t work.
“‘Let me try.’ Poke grabbed a Mutant Brush and slapped Slothy’s cheek.
“Mike joined in. Everyone started grabbed every brush the salesman had and tried them out. Slothy tried running away, but I got him by the foot and made sure he stayed put. I was real curious about what kind of color he could become. After all the brushes were tested and some of them were reused, Slothy was a rainbow mess.
“‘So silly,’ Miss Clare giggled.
“‘Since it seemed that Slothy couldn’t be painted, I lost my spending mood and went back home. That little feller wouldn’t stop whimpering and begging to be picked up. I wasn’t going to do that, though; he’d get my clothes dirty. My wife tried to clean ‘im when we got back, but the paint had dried and turned hard as rock. I had to pluck him. Boy, was that hard to do. Some of the chucked feathers had to be pulled off with a pliers. Slothy’s skin was red all night.
“Next day he looked better, but featherless. Only the tuft on his head grew back. Beggars can’t be choosers, though.
“I’d wanted to take him to the Petpet Arena after his feathers grew back, but after three days nothing was growing back so I took him there anyways.
“I got Slothy into a fight right away. Soon as I dropped him into the pit, everyone started laughing, though. Have to admit that he did look pretty silly.
“Slothy’s opponent was an Angelpuss. When the fight started, the Angelpuss scratched him. ‘E must have been distracted by everyone laughing at him still. That Angelpuss started hitting him real bad. Thought it was going to be an easy out. After one deadly hit, Slothy fell over and the Angelpuss backed off to catch its breath. Slothy got up panting and shaking from his injuries. Not sure why, but he snapped or something. Let out a big roar and jumped on that Angelpuss, fighting harder than He-Who-Never-Forgets. Slothy won. A new petpet was tossed in and he beat it, then another, and another. The crowd was cheering. It was the best thing they’ve ever seen.
“Course, such fighting can’t be kept up forever. At the end of a difficult battle with a Tigermouse, Slothy fell over and fainted. I took him home and let him sleep on our bed as a reward for his fighting spirit. Bought my wife the fanciest coat I could find with out winnings.
“So Slothy earned himself a career in the arena. Didn’t last long, though. Either it was because I plucked his feathers or he was becoming too strong, Slothy started to change. He got bigger, too big for a normal petpet. His little wings turned into arms and he started growing a body—looked more like a waddling beanbag. Sloth was turning real mean too. Outside he’d fight with the other Wibreths and sometimes pluck their feathers. Winning so much must have been getting to him, I think.
“Eventually Slothy got too big to fight other petpets. Wasn’t fair for the other folks who wanted to compete. This became a problem for us. Because Slothy couldn’t fight no more, he became restless. Once he snuck in and trashed the house. Tore up every book, broke out plates, and scratched holes in all the walls.
“My wife, bless her, found a way to deal with this before I decided to throw that curse into the river.
“One morning it was raining and my wife was doing a puzzle. Normally I keep the petpets in the basement so they wouldn’t get wet. Slothy wouldn’t go in, and he’d break the door if I forced him, so I let him wander. He was ready to go into another fit, I could tell. His hair tuft was sticking up and he gritted his teeth while pacing around. Those puzzle pieces caught his eye, though. Forgot that he was angry as he watched my wife put the colors together—can’t remember what puzzle it was.
“‘Would you like to try?’ my wife asked.
“Calm as pie, Slothy nodded. He picked up a piece and tried to find the right spot. First try didn’t work out, be he figured it out on the second. Slothy picked up the idea very quickly and solved that puzzle faster than my wife ever could. She got out another puzzle. This time she let Slothy finish it himself.
“‘Aren’t you bright?’ my wife said and patted his head. It was the first time Slothy didn’t try biting someone who got close. ‘I’m afraid we don’t have any more puzzles, dear. Would you like to look at a book?’
“Not sure what my wife was thinking, since Sloth destroyed most of our books before, but he nodded his head. She picked out a book with lots of pictures—problem was that they weren’t interesting. They were just pictures of engineering stuff. Kept him quiet, though, so I didn’t object. Slothy looked at every picture and possibly every word even though he didn’t understand words. After he finished that one, Sloth picked another book himself. Like the smart books the most.”
“Smart books?” White Coal asked.
“Yeah, smart books. Ones with the pictures of tools and no color, bunch of words. Hissed at the storybooks. Can’t understand it. They were only colorful pictures of happy pets eating ice cream and playing in the flowers,” Ulkie said. He scratched his head looking back on that day and wondering. “Strange critter Slothy was.
“Well, next morning was when it stopped raining. Slothy went outside and found my tools in the shed. He didn’t know what to do with them, but for the whole day he did nothing but experiment. Sort of built something, actually. Made himself a fort with logs from the fireplace. He liked staying in there and only left to sleep with Quay in the henhouse.
“Things went on like that for awhile. Slothy took our books to his creaky fort and always tried to build stuff. He’d use sticks to make models of the pictures in the smart books. Sometimes he’d get frustrated and break his models, but he’d never get angrier than that.
“My wife encouraged his little experiments. She started teaching him how to read. I didn’t think it’d work cause I thought he was just a brainless petpet trying to do more than he’s supposed to. Those reading lessons did more for him, though. He started talking like a pet! Slothy even started standing too. Really scared me. On two legs he was taller than me.” Ulkie raised his hand over his head. “‘Cause Slothy was acting like a pet my wife wanted to buy him some clothes and maybe send him to school. Told her she couldn’t. Slothy would have thrown the teacher out the window or something. She settled with clothes and bought him a black cape. Slothy like it a lot. Became as close to it as his mother.
“It all seemed pretty good back then. Slothy’s temper was getting better and his inventions were turning out nicely. He made something, but I didn’t know what it was. Some kind of carriage with wings.
“So what happened?” Kaldamoore asked, picking his teeth with his claw.
Ulkie made a regretful sight. “Getting to that part.
“My wife took Quay for a stroll and ran into Turmaculus. She wanted to try out her luck and had Quay wake the king of petpets up. She was never a lucky person, though. Turmaculus woke up and ate Quay and my wife. Soon as Sloth heard what happened, he took his flying contraption and left. Haven’t seen the critter since.”
The Happiness Express was silent in the end. Kaldamoore, not one who had the patience for stories, was for once intrigued and appeared satisfied. Kimadollus swayed with a smile on his face. No one could be sure if he had actually listened the whole time. White Coal, who had always hated the space tyrant, had listened with a look of disgust becoming more apparent until his face fumed with scorn.
“Thank you for the story, Mr. Ulkie,” White Coal said, holding back his aggression. He stood up and brushed dust off his scales. “It was entertaining. We must be leaving now.”
“Bye, Uncle Ulkie,” Kimadollus waved and followed his friends back home.
Eyeing Kimadollus with suspicion, Ulkie took a sip of his medicine and burped.
“That overmedicated buffoon, trying to pass off nonsense like that!”
“You didn’t like the story?” Kimadollus asked. For the entire walk back to their burrow White Coal ranted. Kaldamoore had his claws over his ears.
“Like it, how could I? Everything that came out of that pet’s mouth was filthier than the ground he lives on and insulting to anyone with intelligence. Any simple-minded person can read a history book and learn that Sloth came from space two thousand years ago.”
“Well, Uncle Ulkie is old,” Kimadollus said.
“Bunch of garbage. An insult to those who’ve given their lives in war—”
“Cool it, gramps!” Kaldamoore growled and pulled on his ears. “It was just a story.”
“Fiction like that turns pets idiotic,” White Coal hissed.
“How do you know it’s fiction?” Kaldamoore said.
“Don’t tell me you believe that pet’s story.” White Coal stepped in front of Kaldamoore’s way. Every muscle became tight with anger. Kimadollus stepped back, sensing that a fight was coming.
“Why not? I thought it was pretty believable.”
“Explain.” White Coal pressed his face up against Kaldamoore’s nose.
“I go to the arena a lot, so I understand petpets. They won’t fight over arguments like we do, but it’s in their blood to fight until their opponent’s beaten.”
“What would that have to do with Sloth?” Coal snorted.
“If Sloth was some kind of weird petpet, it would explain his determination for victory. He’s not fighting other petpets, though, but the world,” Kaldamoore said.
“Please.” White Coal waved his hand in contempt. “He’s been defeated before.”
“Defeated but not destroyed. A good petpet never gives up.”
“Kimadollus, this is complete nonsense, don’t you agree?” White Coal asked.
The Ghost Zafara’s ears were dropped and he appeared like a weak mist. “I just hoped you guys would like to hear a nice story.” Kimadollus walked away, kicking the dirt.
The two pets stared each other down, declaring a silent truce.
“Hate hurting his feelings,” Kaldamoore grumbled shamefully.
“Hmm,” White Coal nodded in agreement.
They went up to Kimadollus and went home, hands over each other’s shoulders.