Coronation: Part Seven
Also by bookworm7
I laid the Grave Shovel against the tombstone. The Toothy Grin Mask had shattered into pieces and was sinking into the mud. I waited for the excitement of victory to sink in, but it never came. I felt impatient. Then I felt the insatiable desire to finish off the remaining five masks, but at no point did I feel happy about breaking that mask. Of all the masks, this was the one I had hated the most, yet I felt no joyous satisfaction after my victory over it. Why wasn't I satisfied?
Five more masks to go.
"Sin! We need to talk!" Yuruyuki shouted. I turned to see where the voice was coming from. Yuruyuki and Saskia were approaching the gate that surrounded the graveyard; I had been spotted!
I grabbed the bag of remaining masks and turned to run, but the mud made my feet slide from beneath me. I landed crookedly on the bag, and my breath was taken away. I turned to lay on one shoulder and gave up my escape.
Yuruyuki flew to my side. "Sin! Please stop running away. You need to know something."
"I'm sick of running; that's for sure. Sorry, Yu, but I still need to get rid of these masks." A sharp pain shot through my thigh. I grimaced and pulled Fyoras Looking Glass out of my pocket. The glass had shattered; my reflection was nothing but a mass of random glimpses.
Saskia walked up to us and crossed her arms. "Yuruyuki told me that you were dumb enough to grab onto the Clockwork Amulet." She leaned forward and made sure I was making eye contact with her. "Sin, you are being hypnotized by it."
"What do you mean?"
"The amulet is making you destroy my masks."
I rested my head back against the soft earth and closed my eyes. The rain had become a soothing drizzle. "That was a long time ago, and the Clockwork Amulet has nothing to do with your Masks of Dread. That doesn't make any sense."
"Listen to this. In Y13, you had no problem with my masks, right? It wasn't until Y14."
"And what happened between the Y13 and Y14 Haunted Faires? You took on the Clockwork Negg."
"So did Yuruyuki! She can't hear the masks."
"Well, maybe the Clockwork Amulet chose you to be its next victim."
"Look, I'll admit that I'm not myself, but it's not the Clockwork Amulet! That thing is long gone. It's these masks that are trying to take over me. That's why I need to destroy the remaining five."
"What kind of a solution is that? Besides, what are you going to do about the thousands of identical masks that I handed out to the rest of Neopia's citizens? Are you going to start breaking into neohomes and raiding closets to get at them?"
"No, I'm not that stupid."
"Then stop taking your anger out on inanimate objects and keep searching for the answer!"
I sat up and wiped the mud from my hands onto my pants. I slipped the mirror back into my pocket. "What else am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to search? There's no one who can help me figure out what's wrong with these Masks of Dread."
Yuruyuki chimed in. "What about Fyora's mirror? She gave it to you to help you figure out the truth!" Saskia agreed and knelt down next to us.
"So far it hasn't shown me anything," I murmured as I re-removed Fyoras Looking Glass from my pocket. It was no longer shattered, and I was left looking at my normal reflection. "It's not doing anything at the moment."
Saskia grabbed the bag of masks and pulled out the Fairest of Feathers Mask. "That's because you need to put this on first."
"Are you nuts?" I exclaimed. "I'm not putting that thing on me!"
Saskia tried shoving it into my face. When I put my arms up to block it, she grabbed my hand and put it in my grip. The mask did not cry out.
"There's no way I'm putting this thing to my face."
Yuruyuki stated, "This was your favorite mask from the Y13 Haunted Faire. You've worn it plenty of times!"
After a moment of agonizing hesitation, I finally gave in. "Fine, but you better remove it at the first sign of trouble," I demanded as I shook my index finger into Saskia's face.
I lifted the Fairest of Feathers Mask up to my face. The inside of the mask pressed warmly against my skin; I felt its pulse.
"No way!" I shouted as I yanked the mask away.
Saskia grabbed my arm and said, "Calm down, Sin! We're right here next to you, and we won't let anything bad happen to you."
I gaped at Saskia appreciatively. If I was not mistaken, it was the first time she had ever called me by my actual name, and the first time she had acted supportive of me. "Well, if anything does go wrong, know that you will be the first ones to be attacked by a mask-wearing zombie." I put the mask back up to my face and secured it in position. I breathed once deeply and relaxed.
I heard someone breathing heavily, but it wasn't coming from me. Oh, yuck! I could hear the mask breathing! I couldn't wait to get this thing off of my face. I grabbed the mirror and held it up. It was hard to see through the mask, but I finally lined up the mirror where I could see it. At first all I could see was myself wearing the Fairest of Feathers Mask.
Then it began to change. The feathers pulled back and began forming a veiny scalp. The mask melted into my skin and my face began to wither, making my eyes bulge out as though they were going to fall. My jaw stretched forward, pulling my lips away from my menacing, pointed teeth. I wanted to look away, but my gaze was fixated. What hideous monster was I becoming?
My left hand flew to my face, grabbed the mask in a viselike grip, and threw it to the ground. "I knew it! I told you the masks were evil!" I shouted. I looked into the mirror to make sure what I had seen hadn't actually happened.
Saskia said, "Calm down! Tell us what you saw."
I nervously pressed my hands together in my lap and recounted what I had seen.
Yuruyuki and Saskia exchanged accepting looks.
"Let's go home," Saskia said afterwards. "Get you out of the rain and warm again with some stew. Okay?" Then she bluntly added, "And this time, don't push anyone over for a bag of masks."
They helped me up out of the mud and back to Saskia's house. After everyone cleaned up from our dirty adventure through the Haunted Woods, we enjoyed Saskia's favorite meal, Gummy Rat Stew, while talking about the strangest foods we had ever eaten. Saskia then invited me to sleep in her bed that night while she slept on the sofa, but I refused her offer. I had a hidden agenda.
Shortly after midnight, when both Yuruyuki and Saskia were sound asleep, I crept into the kitchen and filled a large pot with water. I sat it on the stove and brought it to a rolling boil. From the bag of masks, I quietly removed the Floral Bouquet Mask and placed it in the steaming pot. I then grabbed the container of salt and dumped it all in. Within minutes, the Floral Bouquet Mask had withered and drained of all color. I snuck past Yuruyuki in the living room and took the pot outside.
Four more masks to go.
Later as I laid back down on the sofa, I couldn't help but think about the possible connection between the Clockwork Negg, the Masks of Dread, and me. If Saskia's hypothesis about the Clockwork Amulet's influence over me was correct, then it would easily explain why I couldn't control my actions at times. Also, the timing of the Clockwork Amulet between the Y13 and Y14 Haunted Faires could explain why the masks didn't animate to my touch until Y14.
But the more I thought about it, the less the hypothesis matched up with anything else! The Clockwork Negg had been sent to Neopia over a thousand years ago, while Saskia's masks, on the other hand, were only one year old. How was there possibly a connection? Besides, the Clockwork Negg was designed to blow up a planet. If the Clockwork Amulet really were brainwashing me, then why was it making me chase down some evil, haunted masks?
I needed help. If I were going to investigate the connection between Saskia's masks and the Clockwork Negg, I was going to have to find someone who knew about both. But who in Neopia knew both about ghosts and the forgotten neggs? I began thinking of everyone who had come in contact with a forgotten negg.
Yuruyuki, Kari, and Zaira; the Geraptikan Empire and the Hidden Negg Society; Rutu the Botanist, Hurok the Knight, Selvin the Wizard, Voughn the Explorer, and Ricky the Blacksmith; the Snowager, an ancient king of Brightvale; the Darkest Faerie and the other Twelve Heroes of Altador; the Khonsu Dynasty and Princess Sankara.
Everyone I could think of was either long-gone or knew nothing about ghosts. Why was I stuck carrying the heavy burden of this mystery alone? Why could only I hear the murderous cries of the Masks of Dread?
Murderous. The word stood out in my mind and reminded me that someone had been murdered.
King Coltzan III! When Princess Sankara poisoned him at his banquet over a power struggle, his body was buried in the tomb with her Sand Negg! Maybe he could help. No, I knew that he could help. Certainly a benevolent spirit who was buried with the Sand Negg for a decade would be able to prove to me if there were a connection between the Clockwork Amulet and my ability to hear the ghosts of the masks. It would be a long journey into the desert, but I felt that I could finally be on my way to understanding the mystery that had been thrust onto my shoulders...
To be continued...