The Sorcery Society: Part Six
"Eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty - "
I stopped short, confused. I looked around frantically, but, on the dead end street that was Sunset Drive, there was no house eighty-four in sight.
There was, however, a large, empty space right next to house number eighty-three, which was surrounded by a white picket fence. Within the boundaries of the fence, there grew an abundance of lively, colorful flowers that produced a sweet aroma; and, in the very center of the fenced-in area, there stood a frail, young tree, wrapped in barbed wire to give it extra strength.
After swinging my head back and forth for a few, frantic minutes in search of house eighty-four, I spotted an elderly red Koi, dressed in a sweeping blue kimono, walking a drooling Spardel down the sidewalk.
"'Scuse me!" I yelled, waving to her. She hesitantly walked (or, rather, floated) over. "Excuse me," I said, once she'd come closer, "but isn't there a house eighty-four here?"
"Eighty-four?" she asked wearily. "There hasn't been a house eighty-four on this street since ten years ago, when the Vendettes lived there." The Koi looked down and began muttering, almost to herself. "After their daughter - that Annie girl - went missing, they just sold off the land! And suddenly there were this ugly machines zooming down the street, tearin' down the house... and now there's that - that memorial thing, 'in memory of Annie Vendette', even though they never even found the girl's body. For all we know, she could be very happy somewhere - very happy - and here, we have pretty flowers and a tree in memory of her soul or somethin'... makes no sense to me! No sense at all..."
I was a little worried for the elderly Koi, but she was offering me some informative, albeit disappointing, information. "Excuse me, ma'am? But do you know where the Vendettes live now?"
The Koi looked at me in shock, as if she'd forgotten I was there at all. "Where - where?! How should I know! They didn't talk to nobody after the girl went missin'. They was two of 'em - the human daddy and the brother - that little green Bori with the yellow eyes! The two of 'em -"
"Mom!" a voice cried out. A rosy-cheeked, yellow Xweetok, adorning a bright red dress and a pretty pearl necklace, rushed over. She grabbed the Koi's fin and looked at me in embarrassment. "I'm sorry about my mother - she can be, uh, troublesome and, er, ranty at times - "
"Hey, now wait a minute! - "
"Mom, please, stop bothering the nice lady." The Xweetok smiled at me, and, even though she'd referred to me as "the nice lady", she must've been at least ten years my senior.
"Well, I better take her away. Don't want her to bother anybody else now, do we?"
"Wait - she wasn't bothering me at all. I was asking about house eighty-four, and she told me that - "
The Xweetok looked sad. She turned to her mother and, interrupting me, said, "Mom, go on home, will you, please?" The Koi pouted but did as she was told; once she was a good distance away, the Xweetok turned back to me and said, almost mournfully, "She told you all about it, hm?"
I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "Um, I was - I was looking for the Vendettes."
The Xweetok frowned. I'll refer to her as Rosie now, since she had such rosy cheeks, and constantly referring to somebody as "the Xweetok" can be bothersome.
"They moved out long ago," she explained, her voice somber. "They sold the land, but the buyers were compassionate, so they tore down the house and made a memorial for - for Ancti." I noticed that Rosie's tail was drooping, and that her rosy expression was downcast. For some reason, it surprised me that people could be so emotional about something that had happened so many years ago.
"Ancti was my close friend," the Xweetok continued, quietly, "When she wasn't hanging out with Ru or his sister or her cousin, she'd be with me." Her gaze lowered. "She was the best - the kindest, most considerate person I'd ever known."
There was a moment of silence. It got me thinking about the others - the other characters in this story. The unspoken, nameless ones - the people who are part of the story, but aren't recognized as being so. The forgotten ones.
Feeling sympathetic, I smiled, as gently as possible, at Rosie, before saying: "I was looking for the Vendettes - I was looking for the Vendettes because - because Ancti had a possession of mine, and I believe that her father and brother might have it." It was a lame excuse for wanting one of Ancti's possessions, but it was the best I could do. Sure enough, Rosie no longer looked at me with sadness or apology - she looked at me with suspicion. Which was perfectly understandable, since I was, after all, being quite suspicious.
"You knew Ancti?" she asked. "How old are you, like, twelve?"
I didn't like people thinking I was younger than I actually was, and it took plenty of willpower not to scowl at Rosie and offer a nasty retort. Instead, I said, through gritted teeth, "Excuse me, but I'm - "
Suddenly, all of the Xweetok's anger and suspicion vanished. "I'm sorry for being so rude," she apologized, sincerely, "It's just that - that's a soft spot in my past. I oughta get rid of it. Here, come with me."
I followed Rosie up the street to a small wooden house painted a warm yellow. She instructed me to wait on the sidewalk before venturing inside; a few minutes later, she returned with a beautiful lanyard bracelet, which was made from the colors of the sunset: gold, tangerine, scarlet, violet, and rose being among them. She tentatively offered to me; by the look in her eyes, I guessed she was still apologizing.
"This - this was a friendship bracelet Ancti made for me," she explained. "After Ancti's brother, Athan, moved away, I neomailed him frequently - a couple of years ago, his father left Neopia, and Athan broke off contact with me, stopped replying to my mail. So I have no idea where he is. I don't know what Ancti had of yours, but I hope this compensates." She looked at the ground. "It means - it meant a lot to me."
I nodded, wondering if she could see me doing so. Even though it belonged to her, it had, once, belonged to Ancti, so I supposed that it still counted. I gently took the bracelet from her before saying:
"My name's Emme, by the way."
She looked up at me and smiled, frailly.
Never in my life had I seen a true mansion; I'd seen huge, luxurious houses, but not the type you can look at and immediately say, "That's a mansion." But at that moment, I was, definitely, standing in front of a mansion.
The five-story monster loomed above me like a great beast, wrought of white stone, with balconies graced by wicker furniture, a flourishing front garden, a lovely front porch, an extravagant fountain made of gold, and manicured hedges shaped like every famous faerie that ever lived - all surrounded by a wrought-iron fence with delicate, swirling designs that eventually led to a large, and intricately designed, gate. I guessed that the gate was the only entrance onto the property (besides jumping the fence, but I found that idea to be fairly immoral). I gulped, trying my best not to be intimidated by such a gorgeous residence. Briefly, I imagined what it must've been like, growing up in such a place - but I quickly brushed away the thought, reminding myself to concentrate on the task at hand.
There was a small talk box on the front of the gate. I pressed its small red button; a moment later, there was the sound of movement emitting from it, and a delicate, feminine voice asked, "Who is it?"
"Um," I replied, nervously, "I'd like to see Mrs. Maral?..."
"Do you have an appointment?" the voice prompted almost immediately.
"Uh, no, but - "
"Then I believe you should leave."
"But! - Wait! But - I - it's about her daughter, Vidla."
There was a long period of silence. So long that I was ready to leave, convinced that I had been dismissed. But then, in shock, I watched the tall gates swing open before me, with enough grace and grandeur to leave me stunned and still as a stone statue.
Mrs. Maral walked with an immense amount of extravagance, pride, and dignity - and she had every reason to do so. She was, after all, rich, intelligent, and beautiful - something that many neopets can only dream of being. Yet, even so, I couldn't help but be intimidated by the glamorous pink Lutari, or have the feeling that she thought that she was better than everyone else.
I was sitting in what was called the "Grand Parlour," a gargantuan, round room, where the walls were covered ceiling-to-floor in cherry wood bookshelves stocked with books of every color, genre, and size. The floor, which was of glossy, polished wood, was partially covered by a circular, ornate rug, stitched from the colors of cream and gold; and from the ceiling, which was painted blue with white clouds to match, hung a grand, golden chandelier - it gleamed as if it were the parlor's very own sun, shining, bright and round, in the "sky."
Mrs. Maral had a head of short blonde curls and wide, violet eyes. The day I paid her a visit, she wore a knee-length, pink spaghetti-strap dress, paired with shiny black high-heels, a white choker, and a pair of white gloves. She gave me a pleasant enough smile as she entered the room, but I could tell that she had given that same smile to many, many others before me.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting, dear. I'm just busy, busy, busy!" She laughed as she sat down on the loveseat across from mine. "Well, my maid, Ella, tells me that you're here about my sweet Vidla." If Mrs. Maral was, at all, uncomfortable, or made emotional, by talking about her daughter, she sure didn't show it. "Such a good girl - did you know she has a little sister? Lora, sixteen years of age, pretty and blue."
I nodded slowly. "Well, Mrs. Maral," I said, as politely as possible, "I - I happened to know Vidla, and I - I believe that she had a possession of mine."
Unlike Marla, Mrs. Maral didn't show a hint of suspicion, or even a little curiosity about exactly how old I was. She merely smiled and called out in a loud voice, "Ella!"
A moment later, a petite red Shoyru was at her side, dressed in a typical maid's black-and-white, lacy uniform, with a broom clutched in one of her claws.
"Yes, ma'am?" she asked. I could tell she'd been the one I'd spoken to earlier on the talk box.
"Please take this dear up to Vidla's room, and let her take whatever strikes her fancy."
Ella nodded and quickly gestured for me to follow her.
"It's been nice having you, dearie," Mrs. Maral said pleasantly as I was led away, a pretty smile spreading slowly across her beautiful face.
I could tell that she was happy to get rid of me.
To be continued...