With Many Faces: Part Two
I was gone before Marlene could finish wishing me luck. Or rather, she was gone. The room was exactly the same—except the door was closed, and there was no Marlene in sight. I frowned. What had I done wrong? "Weird," I muttered aloud.
Someone shrieked behind me. I whipped around, wishing I had a weapon of some sort. A candle lit up, and an orange Mynci crawled out of bed, holding up the tiny light and looking extremely scared. Not an orange Mynci. The Orange Mynci. The King himself.
I forgot to focus on a place first.
"Goodness!" the King exclaimed. "You have that Time Box thing. So, you're one of them, eh?" He eyed the box curiously, and then followed it up by eyeing me. "Marlene, Trenn? Which one are you?" he asked.
"I—ah—Trenn, Your Majesty." I bowed slightly, unsure if I was supposed to or not. "I'm so sorry, I was just testing the Box, and then I forgot to think of a place, and—"
He waved away the explanation. "I'm not quite happy at being woken up, seeing as I get very little sleep these days."
And the King looked quite like he had not slept in a while. Huge bags made his eyes pop out like a scared child. He was, frankly, a lot less kingly-looking than the mentor.
The King sauntered over to the window, rubbing at his eyes. "There used to be a big strawberry field right here," he said, gesturing to the area beneath the window. "Strawberries were always my favorite food. And the red always contrasted nicely with the rich, green lands that used to spread out before me." He shook his head and sighed. "Look, Trenn. It's dying. The strawberries have left us forever."
I did look, and when I did, I felt nostalgic for the old land. Compared to what it looked like back in the current time, this was an oasis. The grass died in little patches, and the strawberries were gone, true—but there was still a little green, sticking around like hope. And it encouraged me. "Your Majesty, we're going to fix this all."
"I've been told that a thousand times, by a thousand different people," he said dismissively. "It only dies faster. I can't just watch as my people go crazy, Trenn. One by one, snuffed out like candles on a birthday cake. I don't know what to do anymore. There's no way to stop it, and only you have that silly little Box which could change everything."
As he eyed the Time Box again, I realized something. He wanted it. He really, desperately wanted it. I nearly gave it to him, too, with that look of sorrow and longing in his eyes. The King wanted to be the one to save his citizens himself. He wanted to be the hero.
But... he'd do the wrong thing. He'd mess something up. The King only knew how to rule, not how to prevent a curse from happening. The mentor had clearly been working on it for a while. The mentor, and not the King, knew what he was doing, and he was the only one who could be trusted to give orders. I had not been given the order to allow the King to time travel with the Box.
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty. I truly am. We'll be working as hard as possible to get this kingdom back to the way it should be."
The King raised a hand to the window. "I'm taking your word on that."
He stood there for a while in silence. I found my mind wandering in a thousand different places. How was someone like this going to die? He was dead, where I came from. Even though he worried and worried, he wouldn't even live to see the kingdom restored. Perhaps he would overstress himself or go insane. I simply couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that I was in the presence of someone who had died.
"This wretched curse," the King muttered. "I've tried many things to have it lifted. If you can't prevent it, we're all doomed. My kingdom is emptying itself into my dungeon and I don't like it one bit."
The dungeons. I was down there somewhere, in the dungeon, probably already going bonkers from listening to that Korbat crow at me all day long. I felt the power of the box just then, how many things could go wrong by my being there when I belonged to a different time. If I wanted to, I could go to the dungeon and free myself now. Then the past me could run away to a different land and avoid the conflict. I couldn't imagine where that would put the current me, and part of me knew I wanted to be the one the people turned to for credit when they woke from their madness spell.
What's done was done. I could only look forward.
"Don't ever come in while I'm sleeping again, Trenn. I thought you were an assassin." He crawled back over to his bed and pulled the covers over him. I took that as my cue to leave and set the Time Box forward two years.
I slept well for the first time in ages in the King's bed that night.
The mentor never explicitly told me he was mad at me for going straight to the King when he asked me not to mess with his plans. It was obvious that he didn't trust me after that, though. Marlene was given all of the Time Box assignments for the first week. I waited, antsy, for her to come back with news.
She usually got the Time Box a few hours off, because she didn't care to calculate exactly. When she did come back, she often went straight to bed because of the time spent that I hadn't experienced. She left with the Time Box ten times in that first week, to go to The Land of Magic and stop the curse from happening. Every time, she returned without success. She simply couldn't find the place where the person had been cursed, or the place where they had committed the crime that got them cursed. On top of that, she didn't know if she got the timing right.
I could tell she was enjoying it, despite how frustrated she pretended to be. She got to go through countless forms—Meerca, Nimmo, Buzz, Acara—and countless colors. I didn't want to waste any more of the potions or brushes without actually using them for something, and the camouflage Grundo look was getting old fast.
I hated not being able to use the Time Box. If Marlene was so incapable of doing it, I probably could manage. It was my turn, but every time I so much as brought it up, the mentor would do that half-smile of his. It made me ashamed for abusing that trust, accidentally or not. I should've gone right back the second I met the King, so I wouldn't ruin his plans or whatever he had going on. I wish I knew what he was doing, sending Marlene all over The Land of Magic without any seeming direction. She brought back stories of mystical objects and findings, and she basked in the jealousy that I'm sure I expressed freely.
In spite of all this, the three of us became close during that time. I learned Marlene's life story, and she learned most of mine. The mentor didn't like talking about himself much, and preferred to listen. After one of these dinner talks, the mentor approached me with the box.
"Do you think I can trust you now, Trenn?" he asked.
"I promise to be careful and only do as you ask." I could have groveled on my knees. Waiting had been worse than the dungeon.
The mentor gave me the box. "The key to this, Trenn, is not looking suspicious. You have to look like you belong where you are, even if you have it in your head that this is the right place. Be confident, or you won't get what you want. Hold your chin up, keep your back straight, puff your chest out. Avoid nervous gestures. Marlene has been catching on excellently, and I know you can too."
It was true. Every time Marlene went out, she came back acting more and more like a queen. I wasn't sure I liked the transition, because she had the tendency to talk down to me, but I understood where it was coming from.
"Well, Trenn, it's time for the King to meet you."
I blinked. "We've met. That's why you let Marl go for so long."
"No, he'd already met you when you came to him last. It's time for him to meet you for the first time."
The Box didn't seem so appealing anymore. I wanted to go to The Land of Magic and stop the problem at its roots. "It was awkward last time, mentor. I hardly knew what I was doing and I hardly know what I'll be doing now."
"Making friends in high places is important. You'll be saving his kingdom. You need to know him first, and you need to leave a good first impression on him. That's the beauty of this all: your first impression and his first impression are different. Use it to your advantage." He pulled a Brown Bruce Morphing Potion out of his pocket. "I wanted to choose something unintimidating. I hand-selected this for you, but you're welcome to choose something else."
I regarded it with slight disgust. It wasn't the most appealing thing in the world, especially not to one who had usually been a Grarrl. But the mentor was right about the unintimidating part. Friendly to the King— that was how it was supposed to be. "Okay, I'll do it."
"Three years, 27 days, and 14 hours back," the mentor said. "You'll have to fill him in on what the curse is, why it is, and what caused it. Specifics don't matter much. If you knew more about it you'd seem suspicious, and like I said, suspicious is not something you want to be."
I gulped down the potion and tested out my new body. Flexible, in ways a Grundo and Grarrl weren't, but still a little too soft for my liking. I'd be glad when I could try something else.
The mentor nodded to me, appreciatively or respectfully, and I clicked the numbers of the Time Box into place.
Across a crowded ballroom, I saw the King for the third time.
Much more regal in appearance than the last time I'd seen him, the King glowed upon his throne, surrounded by the royal guard. All around, guests in elegant clothing chatted cheerily. The smell of freshly made pancakes hit me. They were having a brunch of some sort. I couldn't help but feel a longing for this lifestyle. While these people came to the Castle for extraordinary meals and social encounters, I had been hiding in a little home and taking small jobs for small profit. Or worse, I had been in the dungeon.
There was no use thinking about this sort of life. I had a task to do. I maneuvered through the throng of painted and zapped Neopets toward the guards. The closer I got, more of them held up their halberds and bore their teeth menacingly.
"Your Majesty?" I said when I got close enough for him to hear.
His expression was that of distrust. "Yes? What is it you want?"
"I need to speak to you." Goodness, the trees outside were so green. I could see the strawberry field he'd mentioned before. The curse must have not even happened yet. How was I going to convince him that it was all about to go awry...?
The guards diverted their attention from me as a yellow Yurble skidded to my side, out of breath. "K—Korbat!" he panted. "Ruckus! Huge ruckus!"
The King stepped down from his throne, with a trail of guards on either side of him. "What sort of ruckus? What's happening?"
He needn't have asked, for at that moment, a mutant Korbat charged through the ballroom doors, flying at full speed in their direction. The chatter ceased and people parted with shrieks to leave a path for her as she crashed at the King's feet. A Darigan Acara guard stepped in front of the King, his halberd at the ready.
The Korbat clutched at the fur of the Acara desperately. It had to be her. The one who I'd been locked up with. She was missing fur in all the same places. Her eyes had that same crazed look.
To my ultimate horror, I found her staring at me. Her red eyes flitted to the box in my... flippers? She smiled and giggled, in a way no sane person could. "The spotted Grarrl with many faces," she spat. The Korbat rolled over jerkily and then froze on her back. "Kingy, Kingy, Kingy, seen the Kingy's body!" she cackled. "Kingy dead in the strawberry field!"
The guards pressed forward, two of them taking her up by her wings. She only laughed at them and cooed, "Who's going to stop it, who's going to stop it? Are you going to stop it?" The Korbat hung her head, whispering something to herself.
"What should we do with her, Your Majesty?" the Darigan Acara guard asked.
The King scratched his head. "She's causing a ruckus, and she seems to not have her wits about." Before he even said it, I knew what was coming. "Put her in the dungeon for now until we can get her a doctor. Can you use Medicinal Soap on that one?"
The guards took her away, and a Halloween Uni guard turned to him. "Your Majesty, I mean this in the politest way," she started, "but I don't think that's the kind of thing you can cure with Medicinal Soap."
He took her advice into account. "Odd, but I'm glad it's over. Resume positions."
"Your... Majesty?" I was shaken up from the Korbat addressing me, knowing who I was even in a different body. "I have an explanation for that."
"Well?" he asked impatiently.
A nearby faerie Shoyru broke into screams, and began spouting phrases of nonsense. The ballroom was completely silent as everyone turned to the spectacle and two more guards carried her away without a word.
The King placed a hand on my shoulder. "Come to the balcony. Let's speak in private."
I recognized the view from the balcony, having been there during my current stay in the empty Castle. The King must have been very fond of it. He brought only the Halloween Uni guard with him.
"Speak now, Bruce. Make it worthwhile."
I opened my mouth to tell him, and came to the realization that I knew very, very little about the actual curse itself. "The land is cursed," I said anyway. "The people of your kingdom will go mad, one by one, until everyone's lost it, and the land will become barren."
The King raised his brow in disbelief, but another bout of screaming and word-throwing must have convinced him. His guards carried another away. "Why is it cursed, and how to we lift the curse?"
"I don't know exactly what happened, Your Majesty. I know that a wizard was angered by someone who wronged him, and then took vengeance on the wrongdoer's homeland." I showed him the Time Box. "This is the Time Box, and we're trying to stop the wizard from cursing the land before it happens."
He reached for it, and I let him take it. "I've heard of things like this, but I've never seen them before," he said in awe. "So you're from the future."
"Yes. I've been sent to tell you about the curse early on."
"Thank you for that, lad, but by whom were you sent?" The King gave the box back to me almost as though he'd touched a rotten banana.
"By one of the only ones left who can help. I know it's far-fetched, but it's really a simple solution if we can just figure out where in the Land of Magic the curse takes place."
The King rubbed one of his ears absently. "The Land of Magic. Scary place, but I've met with many of the wizards from there, and all were kind."
"I don't think you can properly generalize like that. One of them did this."
"No, the wizards have a set of rules, you know." He paced back and forth across a few feet of the balcony at a dizzying rate. "Even if they're not truly kind, they aren't allowed to go around cursing kingdoms. That's slightly ridiculous. The world would be in ruins if they could."
"I hate to break it to you, Your Majesty, but it seems like one of them has." The more time I spent with him, the more I felt that he truly was a good ruler. He paced and he thought, obvious concern plastered onto his face. He genuinely cared.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Perhaps if you were to find someone in a much less populated area? One with less monitoring and enforcement of their rules?"
If Marlene had been all over the Land of Magic, she knew where the less populated places were. It was an interesting theory. "I'll look into it," I promised.
"I thank you for warning me once more, young Bruce, though I do not know your name."
"It's Trenn. Oh, and there will be some sort of female Neopet running around with the Time Box as well named Marlene. She can be trusted, too. You'll rarely find us in the same form more than once."
"So we will meet again, then, eh?" he asked.
Weird, to think that the time I had barged in on his sleep at midnight was in the future for him and in the past for me. "Yes, certainly."
The King whispered something to his guard, who left him with a solemn expression. "I have things to attend to, if you don't mind, Trenn. Unless you'll be staying for a while, in which case I will set up accommodations for you."
"That won't be necessary, Your Majesty, but perhaps some time in the future." He nodded to me and left.
I had been holding off thoughts of the mutant Korbat who would be, just around now, inserted into my cell down in the dungeon. They said the mad can see what the sane can't, and perhaps that was some reason she saw through my different appearance. Perhaps it was merely another part of the curse, of which I discovered I knew very little. Regardless, it itched at the back of my mind.
I set the Time Box back to the Castle. The same balcony seemed strangely eerie in the absence of guests and decorations, chatter and music. A cool draft hit me and I shivered. The window extending from the floor of the balcony to the ceiling of the ballroom was broken, shards of glass sticking out in odd places. Little shards littered the floor near the window. I secretly thanked myself for never exploring the balcony earlier, when it was darker and I could have missed the glass all over.
Instead of going that way, I circled around the other side of the balcony. Cobwebs and dust tampered with the beauty and intricate wall and carpet patterns. Someone snorted below. I leaned over the railing and found the mentor lying on one of the tables, breathing heavily, his belly facing me. His eyes were wide and he kept flickering them this way and that.
"Mentor?" I called.
His eyes focused and widened even more, if that was possible. I thought I saw a glint of a tear on his face in the dim light.
"What's going on? Where's Marlene?"
"She went out. To get a thing." His voice was so quiet I could barely even hear him.
I took the stairs down to get closer to him. One of his feet was hopping up and down playfully, like a restless child's. "Where?"
"Pla-za!" He hopped off the table and twirled around once, then snorted. "Grarrl with many faces, indeed," he intoned.
It didn't take a genius to tell he was acting odd. And it especially didn't take someone who'd just seen three people fall into madness to know what was happening to him.
The tears came without me asking them to, and I let them. He was too important. He wasn't just the hope of the kingdom. He was my hope, too.
"I'm sorry," I said.
The mentor hummed something about Kyrii. I watched in horror, unable to do anything. It's not like I could have stopped it from happening. Abruptly, he threw back his head and laughed, the whole-hearted laugh of a madman. Fear struck my heart. Something needed to be done.
I left him there, in the ballroom, and headed for the doors to the Castle. Marlene wasn't far away. Her small figure approached, nearly at the edge of the drawbridge. She carried some sort of brown bag. "Marl!" I shouted. "Come quick!"
She hesitated, and then came running to the Castle. Back in the ballroom, the mentor had kicked over a table and was now presiding over it, holding a lordly stance with one foot placed on top and his hand across his heart. "You may call me 'Your Majesty,'" he announced.
Marlene's jaw dropped. Her eyes watered, though to her credit, she allowed no tears to fall. "Wh-what do we do with him?"
The mentor cackled. "I can't stand to live in such a quiet world!" He covered his mouth with his claws. I sighed.
"They've taken all the mad ones to the dungeon. I suppose we've no choice but to let him join them."
She put her paw to her mouth and began biting her Faerie Zafara nails nervously. "He's different, though, Trenn. He was going to save us."
I heaved him up under me, resting his left arm along my shoulder. "We're going to have to do it ourselves."
Marlene lifted him by the other shoulder and, with a little help from her wings, carried him with me out the back ballroom doors and into the open. We led him down a flight of stairs while he spewed nonsense at us, and to the wooden door in the ground I had escaped from not many days ago.
He swung between us lazily. "Kingy, Kingy!" he screeched. "One of them did this!"
Through the musty cold air of the dungeon, we carried him. I picked up a hastily thrown set of keys. They were numbered with the cells. Most cells were full.
We brought him to the end of the hall. I didn't dare to go deeper down into the dungeon, for fear of encountering the mutant Korbat and my old cell again. One of these cells only had about four inhabitants, all of whom banged at the walls and the floor—not as a means of escape, but for fun. I unlocked the door, and swung it open only enough for Marlene to push the skunk Krawk in.
Leaderless and empty, we trudged back to the Castle alone.
To be continued...