Will Rise Again
Somebody was groaning pitifully. He could hear them, yet he couldn’t connect the voice with anyone he knew.
Did he know anyone at all? He wondered.
He couldn’t remember. Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember anything at all. But he could feel, and he could feel a lot, and he could feel it acutely. It ached, all of it. His whole body seemed to be nothing but a mass of unexplainable pain.
He rolled onto his back, disliking the redundant view of white tile flooring he was currently seeing as he lay awkwardly on his stomach, and he realized it was he who was groaning. He gazed up dumbly at an overheard light that was blinking on and off dismally, losing the battle to stay lit for any great amount of time.
Where was he? He wondered.
He closed his eyes against the disheartening light, and tried to recall how he’d gotten here to this strange, plain room that contained nothing but himself, four dirty white walls, and one of which had a large dark square cut into the center of it that was blocked with a grim-looking sheet of glass that he couldn’t see through, but, after he forced himself to stand, he could see his reflection in it, and he looked horrible.
The enormous Lupe regarded himself in the mirror, eyeing his rumpled blue and yellow fur. There was a large knot on the side of his head, and it throbbed resiliently and painfully. He groaned again, not daring to touch it, and wondering angrily who had put it there. It was easy enough to deduce that someone had knocked him unconscious and stashed him in this room. After all, it was unlikely he would hit himself over the head for no apparent reason.
The Lupe wondered who he was, studying his own face for the answers. His head snapped around at the sound of an intercom crackling to life.
“Balthazar,” a booming voice spoke to him. “Glad to see you’re awake.”
The Lupe jolted. He could see his eyes widening in the reflection of the glass as he remembered. Yes, Balthazar. That was his name. Balthazar the Bounty Hunter. The realization felt as if it empowered him, as if it rid the sense of weakness he had begun to feel only seconds before when he’d stared at his reflection, nameless.
“Who’s there? Who are you?” he heard his own gruff voice respond as memories of who he was began to filter in, along with bits and pieces of how he’d ended up here.
The more he remembered, the angrier he found himself becoming.
“Only a friend,” the voice replied in a tone that could not be mistaken for the relationship he implied. Balthazar was sure that this was no friend of his. “I was hoping now that we have you here, where you aren’t able to make those destructive displays you insisted on creating the first time I tried to speak with you, that we could talk rationally.”
Balthazar growled, his paws becoming fists at his sides. The corded muscles in his arms bunched threateningly, giving no false pretense of wishing to go along with what the voice asked.
“Talk rationally while you have me caged like a beast?” Balthazar snorted. “You are no friend of mine. I have nothing to say to you.”
And he was more sure of the truth behind his words as memories began to seep in, and he slowly began to recall who exactly his captor was.
“Balthazar.” The voice had dropped several degrees to where it sounded as if it was coated with a layer of ice. “I beg you to reconsider. We could make a wonderful team.”
The Lupe folded his massive arms across his broad chest and tilted his head to the side. “I wouldn’t consider someone who locks me up in a room a trustworthy team member.”
There was a pause and then an audible sigh. “Very well.”
After a delay of only a few minutes, Balthazar heard the clicking of what sounded like a dozen locks releasing themselves. Then, across the room, Balthazar saw a piece of the wall shudder and then swing inward, showing itself in its true form. It was a hidden doorway.
And then, slowly and grandly, his captor appeared through that doorway, his long, black cape and clothing trailing the floor like an angry cloud. Balthazar stared into the face of Dr. Sloth and sneered. The sickly green creature only smiled in return.
“Is this more to your taste?” Dr. Sloth asked him.
Balthazar shrugged. “I’d rather not be here at all, if it’s all the same to you.”
Dr. Sloth clucked his tongue. “Now, now, Balthazar, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We both have a common goal and purpose: to bring misery upon others, particularly a select few that have injured us in the past. I come to you with a proposition of an allegiance.”
Balthazar raised a furry brow and studied the wicked doctor. His past was impressive, his feats of destruction and evil were admirable, but, all the same, Balthazar preferred to remain friendless, and he told Dr. Sloth as much.
“I work alone.”
Dr. Sloth smiled and shook his head. “And there, my friend, is your problem. Alone you are efficient, but not extraordinary. With me, you could be undefeatable.”
Balthazar did not particularly trust anyone who would knock him on the head and lock him up in a room before asking for an allegiance. What was he with friends like this?
“I’m not agreeing, but, for the sake of time, I’ll listen to what you have to propose,” Balthazar told him, deciding it would take less time than continuing to butt heads.
Dr. Sloth folded his hands together before him and made a steeple with his long, green pointer fingers, and then a smile bloomed on his strange, alien face that Balthazar could describe with no other word but wicked. A malicious gleam found its way into his eyes to add to the effect.
“Everyone knows of my thirst to conquer the whole of Neopia, to reign over it with an iron fist, and to have thousands of minions to do my bidding,” he began, and waited until Balthazar nodded in agreement. “And, everyone knows that you make it your job- no, your duty- to capture the faeries of Neopia and sell them to the highest bidder.”
“Your point is?” Balthazar asked irritably when Dr. Sloth paused again.
“My point is,” Dr. Sloth continued, “those faeries harbor a large and extraordinary amount of magical power. If you captured enough of them, combined their forces would be undefeatable.”
Balthazar said nothing at the next pause, only stared, because he could guess where this was leading.
“You enslave the faeries, bring them to me, and with what I can create, you and I could rule over Neopia,” Sloth explained.
Balthazar laughed, one of the few ever brave enough to laugh in the Doctor’s face. When Sloth leveled him a dangerous look, the Lupe merely shrugged.
“Do you forget the Defenders of Neopia? Don’t you think it’d look a little strange if I began to keep all these faeries I capture? Don’t think for even a second that Judge Hog hasn’t been monitoring me extensively through my entire career. If he found out he could peg something like this on me, the ignorant Moehog would leap at the chance,” Balthazar informed him, “and, not only them; there are hundreds in Neopia who would rise to the chance of facing us. You forget all the little heroes Neopia has a habit of breeding.”
Dr. Sloth pursed his lips. “Are you scared of them, Balthazar?”
The monstrous Lupe glared in response. “I fear no one.” He waited to see if Dr. Sloth would challenge his statement, and was satisfied when he did not. “I merely see no gain in switching tracks. I make a profit and keep myself happy with how I do things now. If I helped you, I’m not foolish enough to believe you’d share the throne if we got that far.”
Dr. Sloth’s lips twitched. So maybe the Lupe wasn’t as ignorant as he had first believed.
“So, you are saying no to the offer to rule over Neopia? To creating an empire unlike any ever seen before?”
Balthazar nodded. “Ruling is for Neopians like Queen Fyora. I won’t risk my happiness in attempts to help a washed-up villain.” He sneered when Dr. Sloth tensed in response. “And that’s all you really are, isn’t it? Neopia hasn’t seen hide nor hair of you in ages. You’ve gone into hiding, just like any typical coward would do. Pathetic, I say. I’ll never know what crazy inkling made you believe Balthazar the Bounty Hunter would help you.”
Dr. Sloth barely controlled the tremors of rage that threatened to shake his body. Tight-lipped, he pointed one of his long fingers to the doorway that still remained open.
“I see,” he said very carefully. “Well then, it’s your loss. You can leave now, and I hope you’re quick about it. One of my Grundos will show you the way.”
Balthazar looked down his nose at Sloth, feeling superior. He was very confident about his decision.
“If you’re going to rule Neopia, try not to give into any of those cowardly whims again, like hiding,” Balthazar advised and strolled out of the dreary, white room, barely missing being pummeled by the waves of rage that were rolling off of Dr. Sloth like mad.
He did not control the trembling when it started now, didn’t even try to clear the haze of red that played around the outskirts of his vision. So, the Bounty Hunter thought him a coward? He would have to add him to his list of people to repay when he became ruler of Neopia.
Sloth stared at the empty doorway, not really seeing it. Balthazar would be disappointed how quickly that time would come, and even more so now that he had refused to give aid, to take some of the glory for himself. It was just as well; he wasn’t very good with sharing.
Soon, very soon, Balthazar would be made aware that when he thought Dr. Sloth to be hiding, the evil mastermind was really plotting, planning, and creating. It would be a delightfully cold and dark day, pummeled with rain and lightning, when Neopia realized their true master. And it would be soon.