Shadow Play:Part Six
"How’s this for a study space?” Blackwing asked as he opened the door to a lounge with plush chairs and round tables. Bookshelves lined the walls, and large windows let in plenty of light. “There are other, smaller private rooms down these halls,” the Wocky said, pointing to the corridors in question. “Make yourself at home. Can I get you anything else? Sheesh, I sound like a waiter,” he muttered to himself.
“No,” Zoltan said, marching toward one of the hallways. “I’ll glean the information I need and then I’ll be on my way.”
“Sounds good,” Blackwing said with a nod. “Judge Hog will be happy about this. I’m sure whatever you do will help those other mages we hired—“
Zoltan jerked to a stop and whipped around. “You hired other mages?” he asked, his magic streaks flaring with light and his mane bristling.
Blackwing cringed. “Is… that bad?” he asked.
The Kyrii slammed the binders onto the nearest table and stalked back over to the others, pinching the bridge of his muzzle. “Of course it’s bad!” Zoltan said. “Don’t you know the first thing about magic?!”
“Actually, I don’t,” Blackwing said. “My superpowers apparently have something to do with virtual particles generating energy in a quantum field… anyway, all I really know about magic is that it’s sparkly.”
Zoltan rolled his eyes and ran his paw down his snout. “If I attempt to undo this spell while anyone else I don’t know about is trying to do the same,” he said, “it will cause a magical interference that could blow this entire city to Faerieland!”
“Um,” Blynn said, “Faerieland isn’t up in the sky anymore. Have you been living under a rock for the past nine years?”
“I know about Faerieland’s fall,” Zoltan growled. “It’s a figure of speech.”
Isengrim shifted his weight. “Actually,” he said, “I’ve had those mages on my mind these past few days… I am concerned that some of them may actually be working for Vile, and have been confounding the efforts of the law-abiding magic users.”
Blackwing’s gaze fell. “Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that. I guess none of us did. Gummy rats.”
“You’re going to need me to take care of this alone,” Zoltan said. “I cannot have other magic users interfering with my spellcasting—especially when I have no doubt that some of them will be working against me.”
“We Defenders will have to discuss this in our morning meeting tomorrow,” Blackwing said. “Can you hang tight until then?”
“That will give me time to conduct my research, at least,” Zoltan said, going back to pick up the binders.
He did not look happy about what was going on, but Terra figured he never really looked happy. She felt very sorry for him, and she wished she could do something to help him. He worked so hard to try to keep other Neopets safe, but it seemed he did not give any thought to his own happiness. Isengrim was probably the only person who’d cared about him in a long time.
“Feel free to hang out at HQ for as long as you need to,” Blackwing said. “Do you have a hotel you’re staying at for the night?”
Zoltan paused and scratched behind his ear. “I was… planning on finding a park bench somewhere,” he muttered.
“Hey, that’s no good!” Blackwing said. “You can use one of our suites—free of charge!”
“It’s all right, Zoltan,” Isengrim said when the Kyrii gave him an unsure look. “We’re staying here as well. Their accommodations are quite comfortable.”
Zoltan looked down at the binders in his paws. “I may need quite a bit of time with this information,” he said quietly. “I don’t require anything extravagant. Your smallest suite will be fine.”
“I don’t know about that,” Blackwing said with a grin as he led them back to the lifts. “Our smallest suite was designed for Jubjubs. You’d have to crawl inside. Nah, I’ll get you a nice studio-size flat, on the same floor as Isengrim’s family.”
As Blackwing retrieved the key to the flat from its storage room, Zoltan said, “Are you always this generous?”
“Yep,” Blackwing said, tossing him the key. “We put the ‘hero’ in ‘superhero’. Like Judge Hog says, it’s not just about protecting Neopets from physical danger. It’s important to help everybody feel cared about, too. I think a lot fewer crimes would happen if Neopets cared more about each other.”
“I think so, too,” Terra said with a smile. “I’m really impressed by what the Defenders are doing.”
“Thanks,” Blackwing said. “That’s great to hear."
Zoltan gave Terra another odd look as they made their way to the suites, but he wisely kept his muzzle shut in front of Isengrim. The flat that Blackwing had picked out for the Kyrii was decorated in the same way as Terra’s family’s, but was much smaller, consisting only of one central room with a futon couch.
“This will do,” Zoltan said with a nod. He paused and looked down at Blackwing. “Thank you… for your hospitality,” he added, as though it pained him.
“All in a day’s work,” Blackwing said. “I’d better go—our receptionist probably wants to head home. See you in the morning!”
As he headed down the hall, Isengrim said to Zoltan, “We were planning on ordering Pizzaroo for supper. Would you like to join us?”
Zoltan looked at the Werelupe and his family, and his purple-flecked eyes gleamed like the gears in his head were turning. Terra thought she saw a spark of emotion there, but it faded quickly. “I shouldn’t,” the Kyrii said, turning to his own flat. “I have much work to do here—no time for frivolities.”
“Won’t you be hungry?” Terra asked. “I—I’m worried about you.”
He looked over his shoulder at her. “I never asked you to worry about me,” he said with a scowl. Stepping inside, he closed the door rather forcefully behind him, and locked it.
“Well, he’s a piece of work,” Hyren said as they returned to their own suite.
“He has his issues,” Isengrim sighed, “as you and I once did. I am saddened to see that not much about him has changed over the years. He is just as stubborn as ever…” He reached for the notepad and pencil on the counter. “Well. I am sorry about his behaviour. May I make it up to you all with some pizza?”
“Yes, please!” Blynn said. “I want a pixel pizza! That low-res taste is so interesting!”
Isengrim laughed as he wrote down her order. “Pixel pizza for Blynn,” he said. “Terra?”
“I’ve been wanting to try their cauliflower and lentil pizza,” Terra said. “Roasted cauliflower is amazing, so I’ll bet it tastes really good on top of pizza, too!”
“Got it,” Isengrim said.
“Chili cheese pizza for me,” Hyren said. “I need something spicy. It’s been a long day.”
“I hear you,” Isengrim said. “I’ll go with my old favourite, cheesesteak pizza. And for dessert?”
“Jelly bean pizza!” Blynn said, and Terra gave her a high-five.
Isengrim finished writing down their orders and then went to drop the Neomail in the mail chute. “While we wait,” he said, “let’s finish that game of Nimmo’s Pond.”
As they sat back down on the couch, Terra gave him a hug. “Thanks for being awesome,” she said.
Her Werelupe hugged her back. “And thank you as well,” he said.
They had just completed the game when Lightning Lenny appeared at their door. “Pizza’s here!” he said. “If you give me the money, I can bring it down to the lobby and bring up your grub.” They gave him the necessary Neopoints, plus a generous tip for the deliverypet, and he zoomed away. Twenty seconds later, he returned, carrying four pizza boxes.
“Have some for your trouble,” Isengrim said, handing the superhero a slice of cheesesteak pizza on a napkin.
“Swell, thanks!” Lightning Lenny said. “G’night!” He took a bite of the pizza and disappeared in a blur.
“I’m sure that’s a choking hazard,” Hyren said.
For a while, as they ate, Terra was able to forget about everything else going on and just enjoy food with her family. The cauliflower and lentil pizza turned out to be pretty good, and Blynn let her try some pixel pizza, which really did taste interesting, although Terra thought it probably appealed more to 8-bit Neopets. And as always, the jelly bean pizza was delicious.
“Oof… that was great,” Terra said as she finished off her slice of the ridiculous dessert. “Who knew jelly beans could work so well on a pizza crust?”
“Except when you get a licorice one,” Blynn said, making a face as she picked an offending black jelly bean off of her pizza.
Terra looked at the remaining pizza on the table, and then over at her Werelupe. “Hey,” she said. “Do… do you think maybe we could give the rest of this to Zoltan? I’m not sure he’s going to eat anything otherwise.”
“Unfortunately, I think you are right,” Isengrim said, his shoulders slumping. “From what I remember of him, he never gave much thought to taking care of himself, and it seems that still holds true today. Are you two finished?” he asked Blynn and Hyren. When they nodded, Isengrim began consolidating the remaining pizza into fewer boxes. “Perhaps if I offer him food, he will accept it,” he said. “At least he still acknowledges our connection.”
“Would you like me to come with you?” Terra asked.
“After the way he’s been giving you the stink-eye all evening?” Blynn asked.
“I’m not trying to be his best friend or anything,” Terra said, “but I want him to know that I care and I’m not just all talk and no action. And that we’re here for him if he decides to let us in.”
Isengrim looked at her for a moment, and then smiled. “I think that is noble of you, Terra,” he said. “Perhaps he has mellowed out now that he has had some time and space to himself. Let’s go.”
They carried the leftover pizza to Zoltan’s flat, and Isengrim knocked on the door. When the Kyrii mage opened it, Terra saw small marks made with chalk by the front door and the windows. Those were warding sigils, Pharazon had told her once. Zoltan was nothing if not cautious, it seemed.
“What do you want?” Zoltan asked before he noticed the pizza boxes. “What is this?”
“Delicious Neopia Central cuisine,” Isengrim said, “and it is for you.” He nudged the boxes toward his associate. “It was Terra’s idea, actually.”
Zoltan stared at her, taken aback for a moment—and then his eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe I asked for you to mother me,” he said to her.
Terra cringed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I just thought—“
“You need to stop pestering me,” Zoltan said, “and let me do my job. Don’t get in my way with your sniveling attempts at manipulation. I have no interest in an emotional attachment.” He took the pizza and moved to close the door.
Isengrim’s hackles rose and he thrust out a paw to prevent the door from closing. “Zoltan,” he said, ears pitched forward and crimson eyes afire. “I would ask you not to speak to my owner that way. You are my ally, but she is my family. If you cannot be civil toward her, then do not speak to her at all. Understood?”
Zoltan’s ears drooped and his grip on the pizza boxes tightened. “Understood, Lord Isengrim,” he said quietly. “I won’t bother your family any longer. Good night.” Slowly, he shut the door.
Heart aching, Terra began to wander back to her family’s flat. Having kindness reciprocated like this was one of the worst feelings in the world. Why did people have to be so hurtful sometimes?
“I’m sorry,” Isengrim said as he caught up with her. “I had hoped that would go better.” Terra turned to look at him and swallowed the lump in her throat, and that was the only cue her Werelupe needed to crouch down and wrap her in a hug. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. “You did not deserve that.”
“He doesn’t like me,” Terra said, her voice cracking. “I’m trying so hard to be nice to him—” She buried her face in her Werelupe’s shoulder.
“You are such a caring person, Terra,” Isengrim said. “It must hurt you grievously when you are not cared about in return. It was nothing you did wrong. From what I know of Zoltan’s past, he has not had it easy in his life. I get the impression he does not open up to many people—I am surprised he is friendly with me at all.”
Terra sniffed. “Well, you did save his life,” she said.
“True,” Isengrim said. He smiled at her. “Clearly, he is not completely a lost cause. Just keep being your wonderful self, Terra. I believe Zoltan is the sort of Neopet who appreciates sincerity, and eventually he will see that your kindness is sincere. Remember that I was once much like him, and look how quickly you won me over.”
His owner chuckled. “Good point,” she said, taking off her glasses to wipe her tears on her sleeve. “If my experience with you is any indication, I should at least give him a full day to come around.”
“Exactly,” Isengrim said with a laugh. He mussed her hair. “At any rate, I like you, and I am just as difficult to impress.”
Terra grinned. “And I care way more about what you and your siblings think of me than anybody else,” she said. She glanced over at Zoltan’s door. “But it still hurts when people are jerks.”
Isengrim gave her another hug, then stood up and put an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry about Zoltan from now on,” he said. “I’ll deal with him, and I’ll make sure he takes care of himself. He has proved that he is not ready for what you have to offer him.”
Terra gave his arm a squeeze. “Thanks,” she said. “I feel awful for him. I hope someday he comes around, for his own sake.”
“Me too,” Isengrim said as they walked back to their suite. “But let us have hope. Perhaps just being around us will soften his heart, and someday he will have the desire to make things better for himself.”
“I hope so,” Terra said. She believed everything happened for a reason, and she saw evidence of that in all of the adventures her family had been on. Maybe they had crossed paths with Zoltan at this time because they could help him. But it would be his choice to accept that help. That was what worried her.
To be continued…