Neopia, Year 200 Book II: Earthly Winds - Part Seven
Chapter Seven: Only Coincidence
Yorick groaned and turned on his side as the sun came streaming through his window. Juliana had seen fit to introduce him, Cillo, and Brianne to an increasingly dull array of CCN-related individuals, and without Layla – who tended to be in bed at an early hour – there to use as an excuse, the three had essentially been trapped until Brianne had very unconvincingly faked a coughing fit and said something in the room was triggering her allergies.
Eventually, the Draik rose and headed downstairs to the kitchen. As he passed through the living room, he caught sight of Cillo, who appeared to have just risen and was looking around dazedly, wondering why on Neopia he had been sleeping on the sofa.
Yorick chuckled. “Well, at least you got some sleep.” His brother rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“Very funny. Who’s making breakfast? And where’s Layla?” Yorick shrugged.
“She’s usually the first one up... maybe all this traveling is throwing her off. Does Neocrunch sound good?”
“Sure,” Cillo said, stretching. “Can I go get the paper?”
Yorick nodded, at which Cillo walked over to the front door, opened it, and retrieved that morning’s edition of the Neopian Times from the mailbox. The front page was devoted to a duo of columnists, Laura and Marissa – an Aisha and a Cybunny, respectively. They had conversations about the previous day’s events, talks that were hastily transcribed and published in the next day’s edition.
Laura beamed. “I must say you look absolutely fantastic, Marissa!”
Marissa smiled. “The feeling’s mutual. So, how about that big story about the Cloak? That’s something, huh?”
Laura beamed. “Oh yes! That’s definitely something! You know, there was a breakthrough last night!””
“Really?” Marissa said. “Is it the story about that Bruce?”
Laura grinned. “Oh, Marissa, you always read my mind! Well, it’s not about Juliana Straddleworth-Haybrook—”
“Straddlebrook-Hayworth,” Marissa said, correcting her.
Laura’s face fell. “Yes, well, you know who she is,” she said. “But there’s more. Last night, a piece of maroon cloak was found in the Art Gallery!”
“So the Cloak was there last night, right?” Marissa said.
“It’s almost as if you’re trying to tell my story!” the Aisha said, laughing. “Yes, the Cloak was there last night. He didn’t seem to take anything, though, but the CCN found footprints near the display of one of King Coltzan’s curtains. Of course, there’s nothing behind the curtain, just a stone wall... but tomorrow, aren’t we going to be in the Art Gallery itself?”
“Oh yes,” Marissa said. “We’ll be talking with the CCN about the Cloak and the robbery. I just hope the Coffee Cave’s open... their Purple Juppie Java is sensational!”
Cillo looked up at his brother. “You see? Maybe we should look into this Cloak business. If it’s happening at the same time as whatever Empesta’s planning, it must be important, right?”
“It’s only a coincidence until we know for sure,” Yorick said, sighing and sitting down on the couch beside Cillo. “Besides, if Empesta’s planning anything, she would have done something to get our attention already. Subtlety just isn’t the Valkaeum’s style. And who knows who this Cloak person is? I bet he’s just some common thief.”
“Did someone mention the Cloak?” Layla appeared at the base of the stairs, surprising both brothers, who turned around.
“Layla!” Cillo said. “I didn’t see you there... did you sleep well? You’re usually the first one up.”
His younger sister nodded. “I was just restless, that’s all. What’s for breakfast?”
“Neocrunch,” Yorick said, “but we’d better wait for Kayna and Brianne to wake up first.”
“Brianne was just getting up as I came downstairs,” Layla said. “So, what about the Cloak? Did they find anything out about him yet?”
Her brother made a nod towards the paper in his hand. “They said a piece of maroon cloak was found in the Art Gallery, and footprints by a curtain. And wait a minute... how do you know the—”
“Well, I’d better go wake Kayna up or we’ll never have breakfast,” Layla said. “Be back in a flash.”
As she left, Yorick turned to his brother. “Is it just me, or does Layla seem to be acting strangely this morning?”
The Techo shrugged. “Who knows, maybe she’s still sleepy or something. Didn’t our Owner seem a bit spacey in the mornings?”
“Yeah,” Yorick said. “She did. What was her name again? Charlotte?”
“Oh, and guys?” Layla’s head peeked out from the staircase. “If you’re planning on looking for the Cloak, I would start looking at the businesses around the Art Gallery... you know, the Kadoatery and all that. Just a hunch.”
Cillo stared at his brother. “What does the Kadoatery have to do with any of this?”
“Beats me,” Yorick said. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe she is sleepy. Either way, we’d better start on breakfast.”
“So,” Yorick said to the rest of the group, pointing at the map of Neopia Central he had sketched out on a napkin, “I suggest we split up and tackle each of the business near the Art Gallery.”
“Can we hold off talking about this for a bit?” Kayna said plainly, waving a cereal-laden spoon in the air. “I’m trying to finish my Neocrunch.”
“I think we shouldn’t split up at all,” Layla said, having long since finished her breakfast, as had the rest of the table. “Remember what happened on Mystery Island and Terror Mountain? Each time we split up, it never works out. We stuck together in the Haunted Woods and look how easy it was for us there!”
“Yeah, if you count making a hole in the floor of the Dusty Quill as easy,” Kayna said dryly. “I think we should split up.”
“I’m with Layla on this one,” Cillo said. “Fighting the Valkaeum has always worked best when we’re a team. We’ve got the advantage then.”
“I guess it’s a clear split down the middle,” Yorick said. “Unless, of course, Brianne, you want to tell us what you think...?”
“Well...” she said nervously, “both ideas have merit, like Cillo said. But we have to stick together. Refusing to band together was what nearly caused the fall of Faerie City in the Siege of Faerieland.”
“What’s the Siege of Faerieland?” Yorick said. “You’ve never mentioned it before.”
Brianne shrugged. “I don’t know much about it— I was still in the Faerie Academy when it happened, and the school was pretty isolated from the rest of the city— but what I heard from others afterwards was that a group of pets came to Faerieland armed with some new magical weapon called the Devastation that could rob a Faerie of its elemental power. It was developed by Balthazar, Hubrid Nox, and a Faerie Cloud Racer named Pandora, and it did quite a lot of damage. Eventually, we captured the group’s leaders and split up the Devastation into hundreds of pieces, which were then scattered across Neopia.”
“A Faerie Cloud Racer...” Yorick said, frowning. “Didn’t Persepa mention something about a Faerie Cloud Racer?”
“Didn’t she also try to influence Cillo into joining her side?” Kayna retorted. “Who knows how much of what she said was true?”
Brianne suddenly looked at Kayna, but quickly turned away when the Zafara turned to her.
“Do you know anything about how the Devastation was created, Brianne?”
The Faerie shook her head. “When it was divided the pieces were scattered, but apparently they still contained traces of the Faerie elements. That’s all I know. Should we head off?”
“Sounds good,” Kayna muttered, and she was about to put her bowl of cereal in the sink when Brianne tapped her on the shoulder.
“I would bring your pack with you, Kayna. Just in case.”
“Whatever you say. I’ll get ready.”
Then she made her way upstairs.
“Hey,” Kauthena called. “Have you two seen this?”
“What is it?” Orig and Brexis were at her shoulder faster than a Kadoatie out of water.
“The Times came an hour ago... something about the Cloak revisiting the Art Gallery last night. He disappeared afterwards.”
“Where was he last seen?” Brexis asked. “Get a map.”
Kauthena rummaged about, found a map of the Art Gallery, and pointed at the Embroidery exhibit. “The trail of footprints ended near King Coltzan’s curtain.
Orig paused. “If the footprints ended there, that means...”
Brexis grimaced. “The Cloak knows about the passage. This needs proper thought before we take action.”
“What would you suggest?” Kauthena asked.
Brexis sighed. “I think we all need a nap.”
“Okay,” Yorick said, glancing at the napkin map as he led the group down the main street of the Neopian Plaza. “We’ve searched the Money Tree and the Rainbow Pool. The Defenders of Neopia Headquarters was locked, so that makes the Kadoatery our next stop.”
“The Kadoatery?” Kayna said, raising an eyebrow. “Since when has the Kadoatery ever been anything more than a waste of Neopoints?”
“You never know,” Layla said, shrugging. “Shall we continue?”
In this fashion, the group soon reached the small Plaza street ending in the Kadoatery. By the time they stood in front of the Kadoatery’s door, tension hung in the air like a thick and uncomfortable fog.
Yorick pushed the metal door of the Kadoatery open and glanced inside at the long rows of cages, then beckoned to the rest of the group to follow.
“I still don’t see how we could find anything here,” Kayna muttered as she slipped inside and brought up the group’s rear as they walked down the nearest hallway.
“What are we looking for?” Brianne asked.
“Evidence,” Yorick said as he glanced inside a cage. “Of what, I have no idea. Nothing that seems important here... next row, I guess.”
The group was about to turn into a next row when a sudden flicker of light in a nearby cage gave Brianne pause.
“Was that there before?” she said slowly, advancing towards a cage door and peering inside.
A pair of crimson eyes glowed in the cage’s dark depths. Kayna rolled her eyes.
“Looks like someone didn’t give Jasmine her Blue Draik Egg.”
Kayna blinked. “Did that Kadoatie just... speak?”
“Look,” Yorick said, pushing past her. “That wall just vanished!”
The wall at the end of the corridor was now a shadowy entranceway. The group, moving slowly and cautiously, made their way down the corridor and entered the room beyond the wall.
“What is this place?” Layla murmured, her eyes taking in the table and three doors. Cillo crept closer to the table and examined some of the objects on its surface.
“Most of these aren’t from Neopia Central,” he said, puzzled. “I thought the Council shut down trade between areas of Neopia a few years ago.”
“Really?” Layla hopped on a chair and joined her brother at the table. “Brianne, do you know what these things are?”
“Most of them,” the Faerie said. “There’s a Fyora’s Looking Glass, an Altadorian Initiate Sword, a jar of Fire Snow... ew, even Rainbow Dung...”
“Seems to be quite the armory,” Yorick said. “Do you think these might belong to Empesta?”
“I doubt it,” Brianne said. “Empesta’s not an ordinary Air Faerie. She wouldn’t be a member of the Valkaeum if she didn’t have some extraordinary powers. Why would she need all this?”
“Could it have been meant for us?” Layla mused as she dusted off the Looking Glass. “Maybe the same person that found our packs for us in the Haunted Woods set this up.”
Cillo’s mind returned to the scrap of paper he had tossed away in the Haunted Woods.
“Umm...” he said carefully, “I don’t think the person that delivered our packs, whoever they are, knows we’re here. They were probably just a stranger.”
Kayna returned to the control room, fresh from inspecting the kitchen. “Still,” she said, “it would be nice to know who it was.”
“Yes,” Cillo said, nodding profusely, “it would.”
That was close, he thought.
“Have we looked everywhere here?” he asked. “Kayna, you looked in the rooms over there, right?”
The Zafara nodded. “There’s nothing there, as far as I can tell.”
“That leaves one more door—”
“Couldn’t we just knock?” Layla suggested. “If they ask who we are, we’ll just say we got lost and couldn’t find the way out.”
“Getting lost in the Kadoatery,” Kayna said wryly. “That’s not the least bit suspicious.”
“It’s an idea,” Yorick said.
The Draik took a deep breath and stepped forward. He was about to knock when the door burst open and three pets jumped through. Yorick stepped back.
“Hold it!” a green Buzz in a black cape said.
“You’re not going anywhere!” a yellow Kau with a blue pendant around her neck commanded.
“Um, what they said,” added a sheepish green Lupe in a hastily-donned cape.
Yorick took a deep breath.
“We mean no harm,” he said. “We didn’t know this place was being used. We came in here by accident.”
“So who are you, then?” the Kau demanded. “Are you working for the Cloak?”
“No. We came here on our own accord. We were looking around, and this door opened by accident—”
“Why were you looking around here?” the Buzz snapped. “The Kadoatery closed ages ago. No-one’s been here for years!”
“We’re searching for the Valkaeum,” Yorick said. At this, the Lupe and the Kau exchanged confused glances; only the Buzz had a gleam of comprehension in his eye.
“About time someone did,” he said.
Brianne stared at the Buzz. “You know about the Valkaeum?”
The Buzz nodded. “It’s rather a long story, I’m afraid.” He extended a hand.
“Sergeant Brexis, by the way. I’m the leader of the Defenders of Neopia.”
“I thought Judge Hog was your leader,” Cillo said. “That’s what I remember from History, anyways.”
“He vanished a year ago,” Brexis said quietly. The Lupe cleared his throat.
“Is someone going to tell the two of us about these Valkaeum?”
Brexis nodded. “I’ll make it short. They’re six Faeries, very powerful, imprisoned across Neopia. Some say that together, they could defeat Fyora herself.”
The Kau frowned. “What does this have to do with us?”
The Buzz bit his lip. “Kauthena... one of them is in Neopia Central.”
Kauthena and Orig were silent for a significant amount of time. Eventually, the Kau spoke.
“Well, the best we can do is to try and stop this thing, whatever it is. I don’t want another incident like what happened in the Catacombs on our hands.”
Brexis sighed. “Don’t remind me. If only we had been there...”
“I don’t think he took anything,” Layla said hastily. “I was there.”
Yorick and Kayna stared at their sister.
“I’ll tell you later,” Layla said. “I followed him as far as the mouth of the tunnel.”
Brexis blinked. “You know about the tunnels? They’re not something exactly advertised. Professor Chesterpot wrote at length about them in his journals, but we made sure those particular entries were never released.”
“I don’t know about any other tunnels, but this one was pretty easy to find,” Layla said. “I just followed the Cloak into the tunnel, and when I reached its end, I climbed a ladder and came out by the Kadoatery.”
Yorick gave Kayna a knowing look.
“We’ll have to search the tunnels,” Brexis said.
“You’ll need a map,” Kauthena said, vanishing into the sleeping room and returning with a curled piece of parchment. “It’s old, but still serviceable.”
“Thanks,” Layla said as the map was handed to her, and turned to her friends with a determined expression on her face.
To be continued...