Backfire!: Part Five
Kaz was close to passing out when he finally came upon Jhudora's Cloud, exhausted. His head ached horribly, but he knew what the consequences would be if he didn't get back in time, and it spurred him onward. He weaved through the crowd and made a last-ditch effort to sprint. A line had formed, but he shoved his way through, darting around them all. A general outcry began, but Kaz, far from apologizing, snarled to them, "Move it!"
Jhudora looked shocked as he collapsed before her throne. "It's rude to cut in line, you know."
"Jhudora!" he cried. "Lost -- necklace -- explode -- soon -- need -- help--"
The Dark Faerie was impatient as she drummed her claw-like nails on the armrest. "I don't have all day to listen to your babbling, Kaz."
"The necklace!" he managed. "The exploding one! I need to reverse the spell!"
This threw her for moment. "Are you developing a conscience, Kaz? That's not like you."
"No, it's not that." He inhaled deeply and got to his feet with what dignity he could manage, still breathing heavily. "I just -- my sister lost it, then it wound up in a box of stuff that Taylor was planning to donate to the Money Tree -- now we can't find it and someone might get hurt!"
A full twenty seconds of silence followed this ominous outburst. Then Jhudora threw back her head and laughed. It was an unnerving sound, almost like a cackle, but not quite. A few pets in the line behind him scampered away.
"No, not funny," Kaz said heatedly, still breathless. "Someone could have that necklace, and they wouldn't know it!"
"You know, I may not even need my cunning deceit to take over the world from the shadows," Jhudora mused, stifling laughter. "I'll just unleash you and your siblings upon the unsuspecting world, and that would be that."
"Can you reverse it?"
She paused. "I can only reverse it if it is in my possession... which, sadly, is the problem."
"C'mon, Jhudora, don't you have anything for me?" wheedled Kaz. "I'm already a dead man, but if I go back empty-handed--"
"Sorry, Kaz." She looked as if the suggestion of violence inflicted upon Kaz was not such a bad idea.
"Can you at least tell me what kind of explosion to expect? I told them all it's nothing, just a tiny ka-boom -- but they don't believe me -- something about you being inherently evil--"
She sighed, as if wondering how best to phrase this. "Kaz, you know me..."
Kaz was instantly alert. "How big are we talking?"
Jhudora looked thoughtful.
"That big, huh?" Kaz said, dreading the worst.
"It wouldn't have caused your sister too much pain... she would have lived, anyway..."
The Shadow Cybunny groaned. "Aw, Jhudora! You've got to be kidding me! If I go back there and tell them that--"
The Faerie took pity on his manic, babbling form and gave a swish of her hand, producing a small vial filled with clear-colored water. "Here. If you find the necklace, pour this mixture on the heart -- it will reverse the effects."
"Thank you! Thanks!" Kaz grabbed it, looking elated, and wheeled around, beginning the long run once again.
"But hurry!" Jhudora called after him with a grim smile, as though she didn't think it would be entirely unpleasant if the necklace remained lost. "You only have forty-six minutes left."
Redsy perked up at the same instant Kizzy did -- along with nearly twenty other frantic searchers. He located the little girl with his keen Lupe eyes in an instant -- a small yellow Aisha, holding up a beautiful necklace -- the necklace! -- in the light of the newly risen crescent moon.
He didn't even pause to think. He lunged for the little girl with a battle cry. "The necklace!"
The Aisha gave a terrified, bloodcurdling scream and backed away from him. "Ahhh! Mommy!"
She ran to her mother's waiting arms, and Redsy skidded to a halt, already babbling, attempting to explain, when a force of nature the likes of which he'd never seen before -- in the form of the little Aisha's elderly grandmother -- promptly began beating him with her purse.
"Ah -- I just -- OUCH! -- wanted -- the -- OUCH! -- the necklace! Crazy lady! Get off me!"
"Don't you hurt my granddaughter!" croaked the ancient Aisha. "You'll learn respect! Respect your elders, young man!"
Taylor grimaced and approached the old lady slowly, calmly, like she would a particularly ravenous Snowager that had a tiny Angelpuss in its mouth. She was trying to explain why Redsy did not deserve to be treated like Punchbag Bob, but the old woman was apparently very deaf or enjoying herself too much to listen. Kizzy was right next to her owner, the corners of her mouth twitching, but Asha didn't even try to disguise her laughter.
"YOU THIEF, YOU DON'T JUST STEAL NECKLACES FROM HELPLESS LITTLE GIRLS, DO YOU!?"
"Argh -- get away from me!"
Redsy vaguely wondered -- between crying out in agony and denying that he had any plan to hurt her granddaughter -- how many cement blocks the old lady had in her purse. Every time he attempted escape, her purse seemed to be right there, smacking him back into place. It was like being trapped in the vortex of a particularly loud, mean, and opinionated hurricane.
The Chia Police were summoned. The head Chia, looking coolly intimidating with his shiny black hat and sunglasses, dissuaded the old lady from her violent course. "Calm down, please, ma'am. What seems to be the trouble?"
"This hooligan tried to attack my granddaughter!"
"No, no!" Taylor stepped in. "We were donating items to the Money Tree, it was a guild effort, and then we -- found out that a cursed necklace... accidentally--" Kizzy snorted at the word, but Taylor quieted her with a look, communicating to her in silence that they didn't need to go into all the gruesome details--"got into one of the boxes, and we think she has it."
"Miss," the Chia said after a moment's consideration to the little Aisha, inclining his head politely, "may we see your necklace?"
The Aisha bit her lip, looking to her mother, who nodded encouragingly, and her grandmother, who was swinging her purse threateningly. She took a deep breath, and then slowly handed it over. Dozens of pairs of eyes were on it. But even from a distance, Kizzy knew.
"That's not it," she said in a hollow voice.
It looked similar -- shockingly so. But the intricate designs were not the same.
"Back to square one," whispered Kizzy.
"No!" Asha was on her feet now, standing tall. "Look! Over there! It's, like... Kaz!"
The Cybunny pounded onto the scene, completely out of breath, and his knees hit the pavement as he collapsed amidst his family, guild members, the Chia Police, and curious shoppers. Kizzy dove for him, shaking him by the shoulders.
"Tell me you've got something!"
Kaz held up a paw. "Just give me... a minute... to catch... my breath..."
It seemed as if the entire Marketplace roared its disapproval of this idea. There were shouts of impatience and fear, and an empty smoothie cup was thrown from the crowd, hitting Kaz squarely in the face.
"Yeah, that makes sense," snapped Kaz, chucking it back. "Throw stuff at the guy with answers! That'll help!"
The Chia Police made menacing moves at the impatient audience, and Taylor sighed. "What've you got, Kaz?"
He took a deep, exaggerated breath, smirking at the crowd, all of whom waited under the eye of authority, not daring to challenge the Chias. Asha growled. "Today, Kaz!"
"Jhudora gave me this," he said, scowling at his older sister for hurrying him along, holding up the vial for all to see. "If we find the necklace and pour this on, it'll stop the explosion!"
"We've still got to find it!" cried Kizzy, leaping to her feet.
And this time, it really did seem as if the whole of Neopia Central was helping them search. The word got out. More Chia Police members arrived on the scene, evacuating women and children from the area. Mothers hurried their kids out of the way. The Defenders of Neopia showed up eventually, determined to help out. Shops boarded up. News reporters from the Neopian Times flooded the area, nosing around and asking questions. There were cries and shouts from the mob of searching Neopians. It was pandemonium. Empty boxes and discarded items were flying this way and that.
Suddenly, a guild member bellowed, "The box! I found it!"
All eyes landed on a solitary box. A lime green sweater spilled out of it ("Tacky," mumbled Asha, "very tacky--") and Taylor, Kizzy, Kaz, Redsy and Asha descended upon it at once. They tore open the box. Dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of pairs of eyes peered inside as everyone crowded around it...
To be continued...