The Misadventures of a Neopian Times Reporter XV: Part Two
I tucked Yanli into bed and kissed her forehead. "Be good for Chloe while Mommy is gone."
Yanli nodded vigorously and I left the room. I headed upstairs to my bathroom and walk-in closet to get ready for the dance. I did it as quickly as I could, the faster I got this over with the better. I hurried downstairs and was met by Chloe in foyer.
"Do you really have to?" Chloe asked.
"Do you really want Sloth to come to the house tomorrow and make a scene? How is that going to look for you, DoN Secretary?" I asked. "I hate the idea of this more than you do, but I'm doing you a favor."
Chloe sighed and muttered something under her breath that I didn't catch. I hugged her and hurried out the door. I was to meet Dr. Sloth at a nearby park and then we would head on to this dance, which was apparently somewhere close by, as it was being held in Neopia Central.
Little did I know that I was being watched by better spies than I could ever be.
"Sit still, Ella!" Yanli whined as her Faellie dodged away from her. "I wanna put these bows in your fur! Ella!"
Ella jumped to Yanli's shoulder, snuggled against her cheek, and then dived under the bed where Yanli couldn't reach her. The Zafara sighed, that was the end of that. When Ella went under the bed it meant no. Yanli flopped on her bed and sighed with boredom. Below her she heard the door close.
"Kristy's gone out, Ella. Where do you suppose she is going?" Yanli asked.
Ella chirped from under the bed. Suddenly her Wocky-Talkie buzzed and Bluejay's voice came through it asking her to come to his room. She snuck out and down the hall.
"What are you doing out of your room, Yanli?" Chloe called from downstairs.
"Bluejay called me!" Yanli shouted back.
"Oh, all right, but one hour and back to your own room. Don't make too much noise, I'm about to put Inna to bed."
"Got it! You're the best, Clo!" Yanli shouted and raced to her brother's room.
She ran in and jumped up on his loft bed, then noticed he was sitting on the ground looking out the window. She jumped over to him.
"Whatcha doing?" Yanli poked her brother as she asked.
"Kristy just left wearing new shoes. They were dress shoes," Bluejay replied.
"Yeah, so?" Yanli was unimpressed.
"I'm going after her," Bluejay said as he opened the window and flew out.
Yanli gasped and looked after him for half a second. Bluejay wasn't the impulsive type. Bluejay didn't sneak out after dark without permission. Bluejay was awesome tonight. She flew out after him. They stayed high up and far enough behind Kristy that she wouldn't notice them.
"Why are we doing this?" Yanli asked. "Chloe will be so mad if she finds out and Kristy will ground us."
"Because I want to know where Kristy is going tonight wearing new shoes," Bluejay explained.
"Bluejay, I went outside in new shoes last week and you didn't trail me," Yanli pointed out.
"This is different," Bluejay insisted.
"Why?" Yanli asked.
Bluejay made a frustrated noise.
They flew on in silence until Kristy reached a little park not far from their home. There was someone already there. The cloaked figure turned when Kristy approached. Kristy stopped and seemed to talk to him. He offered her a bouquet of roses and she took it. They obviously couldn't hear what was being said, but their imaginations worked well enough, though both on completely different lines. Then the cloaked figure adjusted his hood and they both clearly saw his face, Dr. Frank Sloth. Bluejay's beak fell open and he forgot how to fly. Yanli caught him as he started to drop.
"Bluejay, you're too heavy. Start flying again or they'll see us. We'll be so grounded. I don't want to be grounded. I don't get any cookies or gum when I'm grounded!" Yanli wailed.
Bluejay began to flap his wings again. Kristy and Sloth walked off and Yanli grabbed Bluejay's tail and began to haul him back towards their home.
I walked down the street to the park, marveling at how balmy the evening was for mid February. I came to the park and saw a cloaked figure waiting there. The figure turned as I approached and I saw that it was Frank.
"Hello, Frank. Nice night, huh? Turned anyone to sludge recently?" I asked.
"Oh, there you are. Yes, I did, in fact. But, you don't really want to hear about that," Sloth replied.
I noticed a bouquet of roses in his hands and suppressed a disgusted groan. He offered them to me and I took them.
"I'm flattered," I said dryly.
"Don't be, they aren't real roses. They're our admission to the dance. It has to look as normal as possible," Sloth explained.
"As normal as people in black cloaks on Valentine's Day can look," I replied sarcastically.
Sloth adjusted the hood of his cloak and replied, "Enough with the snarky comments, I'm no more pleased about wasting a night like this than you are."
"But, this is the most important political event in the villains' society and all that junk. Yeah, I know. Just one question, the Feepit Overlord won't be there, will he? Because, I can't write a report on this and I'm not sure how I'm going to explain this if he asks. You and Jhudora and possibly Garoo might know about my Meepit connections, but no one else does."
"Yeah, he'll be there. Your boss already contacted me to warn me that I'm dead if I slip up and let out your secret. I can't believe I have to take orders from a creature that barely comes up to my ankle. You owe me a few favors still to thank me for not turning your Pteri to sludge," Sloth replied.
"He has a name," I reminded him.
"Yeah, Mira's stupid little fanboy, but that's a mouthful," Sloth shot back.
No one insulted my Bluejay to my face and Sloth quickly realized he'd crossed a line he shouldn't have when I was doing him a favor. He cringed and apologized profusely. I kept my face expressionless while laughing inwardly at the fact that Frank was groveling to me of all people.
We walked in silence to our destination, I felt very awkward carrying the large bouquet of roses. I just hoped no one I knew spotted me walking with some stranger carrying a bouquet of roses on Valentines Day. I didn't know how I would explain that one.
We came to one of the local ballrooms. Two guards stood outside the door, both wearing dark cloaks too.
"Oh, this doesn't look suspicious at all. You do this every year? How hasn't the DoN noticed you guys yet?" I asked.
"We register it as a sort of anti-Valentines Day thing. A gathering for all the people who can't stand all the mushy, lovey-dovey chocolate giving," Sloth said. "Makes the black cloaks understandable."
I handed the bouquet to the attendant and he examined it with some Virtupets scanner. When the scanner registered it as authentic, he and the other attendant opened the doors for us. We walked through into the coat room. I removed my dress coat and hung it up. Sloth took off his cloak and I saw that he was wearing a sort of modified suit, with the usual dress shirt with a collar, but the coat being like his usual robes. The worst part was that he was wearing a red bow-tie. Overall, it was kind of ridiculous looking.
"I can't believe I have to be seen with you," I said, dropping my face into my hands.
"The best part of this is people will think we dressed to match," Sloth said with a snicker, examining my black and red dress.
I had just chosen something classy, appropriate for a formal gathering, and in colors that looked good on me, failing to remember that black and red were Sloth's usual colors. I just hoped everyone else would be dressed in similar colors.
"Shall we?" Sloth asked, offering me his arm.
"You're enjoying this way too much," I complained.
"I am. If I have to waste an evening like this, I might as well find a way to enjoy it. You know how I love the suffering of others," Sloth said with a malevolent grin.
"I hate you so much."
"You flatter me. Now, come on already, before they start to think I'm a no-show," Sloth said.
Reluctantly, I took the offered arm and we walked into the ballroom. It looked like any ordinary dance, dimmed lights, band playing slow music, tables along the walls filled with refreshments. The only jarring element to the otherwise normal scene was that the party was filled with some of the most notorious villains in Neopia.
"Okay, I've got a question. How do you all manage to congregate in Neopia Central for one night without attracting the attention of everyone in the area?" I asked Sloth as I looked around.
"A combination of magic, technology, and private transportation. Dark Faeries are very willing to offer teleporting services to those further out from here, or who can't do it on their own," Sloth explained.
"I see. This is very well run. You'd better hope I never turn good," I said with a smirk. "This story would make my career. I'd be a legend."
"So long as you have so many lovely, sweet, delicious children, I've no fear of that," Sloth chuckled.
I frowned, of course he would think the Meepits' methods of keeping me in check were funny. I put back on my smile as we made the rounds, looking pretty on Sloth's arm as he mingled with his fellow villains. I noticed he kept glancing across the room at Jhudora. She and Scarblade were chatting with a few other notables, Masila, Tax Beast, Boochi, Iron Skeith and a few others. Sloth carefully steered away from both the Feepit and Meepit Overlords, making sure to keep the chances for trouble to a minimum.
At first, people didn't seem to question who I was or why I was there. I don't know if they assumed I was some budding villain or what, but I guess being with Sloth was credit enough. We reached Jhudora's group and joined the circle. Scarblade was laughing boisterously at something he had just said and the others were managing polite smiles. Jhudora looked more green than lavender and she was rolling her eyes.
"Frank, Kristy, so good to see you," Jhudora said, sounding actually genuine.
"Good to see you, Jhudora," Sloth said. "You look lovely tonight."
Jhudora ran a hand across the ruffles on the skirt of her dress. It was a knee length dress with a layered ruffled skirt in her usual colors.
"Good to see you again, Jhudora," I replied.
"How are the kids?" Jhudora asked.
"All of them are quite well. I've added a new one to the family since the article," I told her. "Thank you for asking."
"Oh, that's lovely," Jhudora said with smile.
Scarblade made some stupid comment about if I ever wanted to make some dubloons, he was always looking for more deck hands. I gave a non-committal answer as he laughed heartily at his own supposed wit. I wondered what was up with him, he was hardly the intimidating pirate he'd been portrayed as.
"So, wait, human," the Iron Skeith cut in. "You're a journalist?"
"Yes," I replied. "Is that a problem?"
"Yes!" he cried. "What is a journalist doing here, Sloth?"
"She's not going to break the story if that's what concerns you," Sloth said in a calm tone.
"Journalists don't count as villains. Heh, Slothy couldn't find a villain willing to come as his partner," the Iron Skeith started snorting with laughter and Scarblade joined in.
Sloth paled with anger, but held his tongue. Despite owing Sloth no favors, I still didn't like the gall of the Iron Skeith. In spite of Sloth's not so great track record, he was still far more successful a villain than the Iron Skeith could ever hope to be.
I shoved my face into the Iron Skeith's, only being tall enough to do so thanks to four inch heels and glared.
"Shut it," I snapped, pulling out all of my one-time alter-ego Eva Starender's attitude. "Being a journalist is my day job because I like it. I'm the new partner to one of Dr. Sloth's former top agents. I'm here because I respect my partner's former boss. Now, if you don't stop that snorting, I'll show you my moves aren't limited to the dance floor."
The Iron Skeith swallowed hard and nodded. This confrontation only seemed to set Scarblade off worse. His laughter became hysterical and high-pitched. Jhudora seized my arm and smiled weakly.
"How about we go get some refreshments?" she suggested.
I let her lead me away from the group and to one of the tables of refreshments. I helped myself to a chocolate covered strawberry while she poured herself a cup of Borovan. She drank it down in one gulp, despite the fact that it was hot, and then ate a chocolate covered strawberry almost as fast.
"Jhudora, is everything all right?" I asked hesitantly. "You're rather more genial than usual, and Scarblade is, well, not what I pictured."
"No, he's not the pirate he usually is. He gets hyper on sugar. Can you believe it? He can drink that awful, caustic grog like it was water, and he eats little pirates for breakfast, but he gets as giddy as a six-year-old after a few chocolate candies," Jhudora fumed.
"Oh, take it from experience, he's not that bad. You'd be running for the hills if he lost that much self-control. A six-year-old in a sugar rush is not a pretty sight," I said, watching as Scarblade broke into another fit of laughter across the room.
Jhudora stuffed another strawberry in her mouth and said around it, "You're lucky, you know."
"I am?" I asked, wondering how I could be described as lucky after finding myself roped into a night with a bunch of villains at a mockery of a Valentines Day party.
"Yeah. For all his bumbling, Sloth's still a gentleman. He'd never make you look like a fool at an event like this. I'm just hoping my reputation won't suffer for this. You know what an important event this is. I thought going with Scarblade would be a good move. Fyora, was I wrong," Jhudora explained.
I thought about that. All of the snarky comments Sloth had made had been between the two of us. He'd been perfectly polite when in the earshot of others, even introducing me in a way that always made me seem like some possible up and comer in the villain world. Not something I needed, but probably made the other villains treat me better. Sure, maybe it was a little bit politics, making himself look good through his potential alliance with another super villain, but maybe it was also to shield me from things like the attack Iron Skeith had tried.
"You know," I said as I poured myself a cup of Borovan. "This event happens yearly. I'm sure Sloth wouldn't mind a partnership with you for the night in the future. Who knows, one of these days, he might make good, or bad, whichever you guys would say. It would look pretty good for you then."
"I suppose there is some truth in that," Jhudora said contemplatively. "Perhaps. One thing is sure, I'll never accompany Scarblade again."
This time, Scarblade's high-pitched laugh was high enough to hear it across the room. I winced, feeling bad for Jhudora. Still, I hoped that my suggestion would take root. I never wanted to have to spend Valentines Day with the denizens of Neopia again.
"A word of warning," Jhudora said with a sigh. "Scarblade will want to dance, probably with everyone he thinks he's ever spoken to, and pirates do not do slow dances."
I walked through the front door of my house at a little after midnight, trying to be as silent as possible so as not to wake any of my kids in the rooms above. I took off my shoes, glad to finally be standing normally again. The added four inches were nice, but tiring. I trudged up the stairs and stopped on the second floor to to peek in on my little ones. Inna and Yanli were sleeping soundly, looking the picture of childhood innocence. When I came to Bluejay's room, I could hear sniffling from inside. I quietly pushed the door open and looked up at his loft bed. From his position, I could tell he wasn't sleeping, though his face was buried in the pillows.
"Bluejay?" I asked quietly.
The Starry Pteri jumped about a foot into the air and spun around, his eyes were red.
"Baby boy, what's wrong?" I asked, walking in and closing the door behind me.
Bluejay pouted at me. "I know where you were tonight."
I dropped my head into my hands, I didn't need this additional headache. The question, though, was how. Chloe wouldn't have spilled the beans, I had asked her not to.
"Bluejay, what did you do?" I asked.
"I followed you to the park, and I saw Dr. Sloth, and the flowers." His eyes overflowed. "He's Mira's arch enemy, Kristy."
"Bluejay, Bluejay, Bluejay," I sighed. "There are reasons you're not supposed to stalk Mommy. Yes, there was Sloth, and there were roses, and I've had one of the most awful nights of my life, and I honestly cannot tell you anything other than that Sloth now owes me a favor for making sure he didn't look loser tonight. That's all. I still think he's a derp."
"Really?" he asked.
"When have I ever been Sloth's fangirl? I'm still just lucky you didn't get us turned into sludge years ago," I chuckled.
Bluejay looked down at the bed, looking a little ashamed. "Wow, Yanli was right for once. She said you were probably on some undercover mission for the Meepits or something. I'm sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusion."
"Your sister might be absentminded and have no attention span to speak of, but she knows people. You can trust her on occasion. Now, come here," I said, holding out my arms.
Bluejay jumped from the loft and flew into my open arms. I hugged him tight and then tucked him back into bed. I went upstairs and peeked in on Molly before going to my room.
As I collapsed into my bed half an hour later, one thought crossed my mind.
"Valentines Day stinks."