Episode 42: Beware the Lag
Coolio's shop was empty when the Eeveeraptor flew in through a window and roosted on the counter. "One ice cream please!" said Atar happily.
No response. Squinting, the Eeveeraptor leaned forward and rapped her beak against the counter. At once, the girl with Charizard headband behind the coutner sat up in her seat. "Whuh? Oh, hello there, Atar!" greeted Coolio as she rubbed her eyes, blinking but grinning. "How can I help--"
"Actually, I go by cheetah now," said the Eeveeraptor, who was now a cheetah, her forepaws up on the counter, her tail swishing. "I just feel it, well, suits me better than Atar, you know? Anyway, One ice cream, please? Thank you~"
Clouds of dust swirled into the chat lobby as Sky and Maestra strode inside, staring around the room in dead silence. There was no sign that anyone else had been in the room since last night; no lurking Fexible or Whiskas, no staff member behind the refreshment counter, no Twill or Frosti comparing notes. There weren't even any food wrappers on the floor, for goodness sake.
"Wow, this place is dead," said SkyWarrior finally. It felt dumb to say that, but what else could she say?
"Yeah," agreed Maestra. The witch moved to the middle of the room, slowly turning in a circle. Mother and daughter stared at each other for a while, then nodded. "So... should I start it?"
"Sure, why not," answered the Zorua, giving a shrug.
Nodding, Maestra took a thin book from the inside of her robes, flipped it open to a page near the beginning, and started muttering incantations under her breath. Hopping over the counter to fetch a soda, Sky watched as the witch drew a magic circle in the middle of the room. "Wait, is that permanent marker?"
Opening a bookbag by her feet, Maestra took out a Furret, which scampered up her arm and down the other before curling up in the middle of the magic circle. "I figure we might need to use it a lot," replied the witch, taking out a bottle of sweet 'tea' and a picture of a Leafeon and a Raichu kissing on top of a mountain, putting them in the magic circle too.
"I hope this works," muttered Sky under her breath as Maestra zipped her bag and joined Sky on the floor by the counter. Mother and daughter, they watched the magic circle attentively, silent save for their snacks and drinks. A minute passed, then two minutes. Two became five, and five became ten...
"Mae?" said the Zorua, rolling over onto her back, surrounded by empty root beer bottles, her tail flopping around. "I think we failed."
At that moment, the magic circle and the three items began to glow and hum. "Nah, looks like they're nearby," said Maestra eagerly, sitting up and brushing chip crumbs off her clothes. Blinking, Sky rolled back onto her paws to watch as three glowing sillouettes appeared in the magic circle.
"Haha, looks like a real party here," said Frosti dryly as she materialized, glancing around the almost-empty room. "Sorry to ruin everyone's fun, but-- Oh my gosh a Furret!" She squatted down as the Furret gave a happy squeak and bounded up into her outstretched arms. "Come 'ere, little guy. You're a good Furret, yes you are."
"Frosti, you sound like Ellen Muth," said Sparkleaf as he appeared in seven-tailed form. The fox blinked and glanced down at the picture by his paws. "Oh whoa look!" His voice turned a bit high-pitched (which is normal for foxes, of course), and he began to hop and prance around the picture of the Raichu and the Leafeon in a happy dance, his tails wagging.
"Hey y'all," greeted Twill as he too appeared in the circle, looking amused at Frosti's and Sparkleaf's reactions to their respective summoning totems. Then his eyes lit up as he spotted the sealed bottle laying on the floor, and he quickly snatched it up. "Teaaaaaaa!"
Exchanging grins, Maestra and Sky got up and went to greet their friends. But as Twill popped open the sweet tea bottle and raised it to his mouth- *Oopsies!*- time suddenly froze.
Well, all right, it didn't "freeze", exactly. It just slowed to a crawl. It was so slow it might as well have stopped. And it wasn't the sort where everyones' minds went slower too, because everyone was immediately aware of the agonizingly slow passage of time.
And as Sky glanced around the room, she suddenly realized the room was filled with a pale fog that she hadn't noticed earlier. Frowning, the Zorua batted at the fog curiously, but it seemed harmless... except that now everything was happening very, very slowly.
She stared as a single drop of tea slowly descended towards Twill's waiting maw. "Sssssparks, Twiiiiiix, Snoooowy, hooooow aaaaaare yooooou?" said Sky, forcing her words out despite whatever pauses the lag might be imposing on them, forcing her paws to move when she moved them and not a few seconds later. As he heard Sky, Sparkleaf laughed and shook his tails-- all in slow motion.
"Flut....ter," greeted Frosti as Sky moved towards her, keeping her words as short as possible so they didn't get drawn out. "I... am... good." The Furret crawled around Frosti's neck like a scarf, and Frosti knelt down to hug Sky-- all in slow motion.
"Wasurp.... Can...dy?" said Twill, looking disappointedly at his bottle of "tea". He tried to cap the bottle, but his hands simply wouldn't move fast enough, and a good portion of drink sloshed down before he got the cap on-- all in slow motion.
"Damn... this.... lag," grumbled Sparkleaf, picking up the picture with his teeth and turning to leave-- all in slow motion.
"Waaaaait, Ssssssparksssss," called Sky. "Snoooowyyyyy, leeeeeet'ssss maaaaake aaa chaaaatzyyyy roooooom!" Cringing at her own slow speech, she squirmed out of Frosti's arms and caught one of Sparkleaf's tails with her teeth, stopping him in his tracks-- all in excruciatingly slow motion.
Kai burst out of her house with a murderous look to find Metatyph, K-Pop_Here, Arkangel, Antikangel, Riaha_Qesca, Aura-Flare, and Cheetah taking turns to throw paper airplanes at her wall. As each paper airplane hit the side of Kai's house, it promptly exploded with a loud crack like the snap of a three-ring binder.
"What- are- you- doing?" demanded Kai, whipping her braided hair back. All five froze, as she had a very sharp knife tucked into the end of her braid like the sting of a whip. "Stop blowing holes in my house-"
Then, just like at the chat tower, a mysterious gray fog came rolling down the street, and time began to slow as it approached. "Sor....ry Kai, we .... cou....ldn't .... resi...st," admitted Arkangel. K-Pop and Antikangel laughed as the caped Lucario pointed to the bluecheetah leaning against Kai's mailbox as Metatyph and Riaha exchanged grins-- all in slow motion. "And... At...ar, I me...an cheetah-- here...."
"My... name's.... Sylveon... now, actu...ally," said Cheetah, who was now a Braixen with a surfboard, but still leaning on the mailbox. She grimaced as she looked up at her ears, which were wiggling in very slow motion. "I ju...st thi...nk it fit...s me mo...re than Chee...tah, you know? But Ark...angel ma...de the pap...er airpl...anes!"
"Of cou...rs...e he ... did," said Kai, rolling her eyes in slow motion. They all knew Arkangel had this strange habit of manufacturing various weapons for his own amusement. "I thi...nk th...e la...g is ... ge... tti...ng w...or...se--"
As if in response, a long parade of long-eared Eevees came parading down the street through the fog, wagging their tails, all seemingly unaffected by the lag. "Oopsies! Oopsies! Oopsies!" chanted the Eevees as they came down the sidewalk past Kai and the people who were bombing her house minutes ago. "Oopsies, Oopsies, Oopsies-"
"SHUUUUUUT UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!" screamed Kai as she leapt at the Eevees in a furious rage, baring her nails like wicked claws. "GRAHHHHHHHH!"
"Jeez, what the heck was all that?" muttered Maestra as she, SkyWarrior, Twill, and Sparkleaf followed Frosti into a pale green shack bearing a Chatzy logo, surrounded by large pine trees. The hinges didn't even squeak when Frosti opened the front door; this must be a new room. "Maybe that's why no one else was in the lobby."
Inside, the shack was furnished like a living room. Couches were arranged around a coffee table, a few lazyboy chairs placed around the TV, coasters stacked on small tables with glass mugs. "Thank you, water barrel," said Sparkleaf as he rested against a wooden barrel in the corner filled with fresh water. Closing his eyes, the fox patted the barrel with his tails. "Thank you for being cool on the side."
"Sorry, I didn't catch what anyone was saying back there," said Sky as Frosti, Twill, and Maestra lay down on the couch, the door closing behind her. She shook out her fur like a wet dog, hoping to rid herself of any residual fog-of-lag. "How're you all?"
Sparkleaf opened his eyes and looked to the Zorua, grinning. "I'm doing fine... Sssssky," said the fox with a wink, in perfect imitation of her lagged speech earlier.
Scowling, Sky padded over to Sparkleaf and flopped down on his back as hard as she could, causing his legs to buckle. "Chair," said the Zorua tiredly as she took a seat on the fox. "Shush it, Sparks."
"I don't think we've had a fog attack like that since the last TEMCO invasion," said Frosti thoughtfully, popping open a can of peach soda and taking a drink. "Ever wondered what happened to TEMCO, anyway? Haven't seen them in ages."
"Oh, yah," said Twill as he took out a can of sweet tea from his jacket pocket. "I heard they may or may not have gone bankrupt."
"Bankrupt? Don't be silly," said Maestra as she reached for a bowl of figs. Twill let out a 'mrew!' and nearly dropped his tea as the young witch tossed the figs at his head. "TEMCO can't go bankrupt. Unless, of course, it actually does."
"That's it," said Frosti, hopping up. The others stared at her as she took a little jar and a bug-catching net out of her pocket. "I'm going on a quest, hear? And I'm not coming back until TEMCO is in this little ja--"
At that moment, time started to slow and freeze again. "Ooooohhh-hhhh-hhhhh nooo-oooo-ooo-ooo youuu-uuu-uuuu doo-ooo-oon't!" screamed Sky as she leapt up to her paws in slow-motion. "Doooon't eveeeen thiiiiink abouuuuut chaaaasing uuuus heeeeere--"
And then, without warning, time suddenly sped back up to normal. Sky yelped as she tumbled forward head-over-tail, much faster than she had intended. "Yaaargh! Take that!" screamed a voice from outside. "Hahaha! Die! Wheeeeeeee!"
Frosti glanced to Twill and Sparkleaf curiously as the front door suddenly burst open, and a pile of dead Eevees tumbled into the cabin, their throats clawed out-- and their eyes flashing like neon signs, all grins and smiles. "Oopsies. Oopsies. Oopsies."
"What the hell?" spluttered Frosti as they all leapt to their feet; the Eevees were still tumbling into the cabin. "Oh my goodness there are so many of them. All right, 'fess up, who's been making an army of zombvees--"
"I didn't mean to!" protested Kai as she, Metatyph, and the others waded through the still-murmuring dead Eevees. A look of 'sudden authority' came over Sparkleaf's muzzle, and he hopped up onto his hind legs, giving Kai and her bloody fingernails a suspicious look. "No, I'm serious--"
"She really didn't mean to," said Sylveon (who was a Braixen) as she padded inside after Riaha, tapping her wand-staff-thingy on a barrel. "She was trying to save us! Seriously--"
"Atar?" said Sparkleaf as he took out a pair of handcuffs, not yet ready to arrest Kai. He frowned. "Wait, no, Sylveon. What's going on here?"
":33 < Actually I go by Nepeta now," said the Braixen happily, who was now wearing Nepeta's blue cosplay hood. Everyone stared at her as she raisd her wand. ":33 < Ack! Sorry about all the indecisiveness, it's just that... I- I just think Nepeta fits me more than Sylveon. What's everyone staring at me for?"
There was an awkward silence. "Oh, you just forgot the cat puns," said Frosti quickly before the others could reply, hoping to save Atar/cheetah/Sylveon/Nepeta some dignity. "You'll get better at it though. Maybe. Haha?"