Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 196,587,192 Issue: 927 | 12th day of Awakening, Y23
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A Hero's Journey: Masquerade


by precious_katuch14

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Part 2: Divide, Conquer, and Party

     Nevermore’s village square was a wide expanse of stone paths, grass patches, and Halloween-themed swing sets, jungle gyms and seesaws. In the middle was a fountain with a large Crokabek spraying water from its beak, while other smaller Crokabeks surrounded it and sent smaller streams burbling into the large basin. Large trees cast shadows under which many villagers had picnics, watched their children in the playground, or simply took naps away from the perpetual sun.

     One such villager was Eriyan, a Halloween Cybunny keeping a close watch on a baby Cybunny and a baby Chomby playing on a seesaw painted to look like a Wadjet.

     “You want to know about Elder Terrivin?” Eriyan said to Mipsy and Velm, who sat beside her on the bench. “She has been Chief Elder for three years, and she’s strict, but fair. You don’t hear any rumours or problems about her. Well, unless you get on the wrong side of the law.”

     “Have you seen her walk through walls?” Mipsy blurted out before she could stop herself. Velm gave her a look, while Eriyan merely stared at her, unsure of what to answer.

     “Er…no, I don’t think so?”

     “Would you say she cares about Nevermore?” Velm asked.

     “Oh, absolutely. Elder Terrivin has been fighting against the construction of Meredith’s office and hotel on this village square for a while now. If we lose the square, we lose an important place for celebrations, and of course, for children.” Eriyan tilted her head toward the baby Chomby and Cybunny, who had tired of the seesaw and started to chase each other around, laughing out loud.

     The red Techo stroked his chin in thought. “What about Meredith? What do you know about her?”

     Eriyan frowned. “Not much. She’s a rich businesswoman who’s building a chain of hotels across the Haunted Woods. Meredith and Terrivin have butted heads many times, and when I heard that the deed to the square went missing, the only one I can think of who could have done it is Meredith. The rest of us would have no use for that deed, really.”

     “But even with the deed missing, is Meredith still trying to get her hotel built?” Mipsy asked.

     “Oh, definitely. I don’t know how she’ll do it if the deed is missing and, according to her, she doesn’t have it. I bet she’ll be using the connections she has around Neovia to figure out a way to put up her hotel.”

     * * *

     Many gold stars and crystal garlands hung from the ceiling of Meredith’s banquet hall. A number of windows were stained glass and depicted scenes from all over Neopia, trees were set up and decorated, and tables almost sagged under the weight of appetizers, dessert, beverages and other food items. In the middle of it all was Meredith, resplendent in a sleek black gown with silver accents, recognizable despite the mask she wore by the pillbox hat with its ridiculously large rhinestone brooch.

     “Everyone knows the plan, right?” Rohane whispered as they gathered beside a post with a glittering red and gold garland wound around it. Then he paused to tug at the silk white cravat at his neck and grimaced.

     “Oh yes, it’s time to do the deed,” said Velm with a completely straight face. “We’ve got a need for the deed.” He frowned when no one laughed. “Come on, those were two perfectly good deed puns!”

     “Mipsy and I will pretend we’re looking for the bathroom, and investigate upstairs, while you and Velm hold the fort here and make sure no one sees us,” said Talinia smoothly, raising her gilded mask to her face. “Let’s go. Wait, where’s Mipsy?”

     “Yeah, she would’ve laughed at my puns,” the Techo grumbled, twirling a lock of hair from his wig.

     The blue Acara, as it turned out, was admiring the way her skirt billowed as she twirled and was answering questions about her wand.

     “That’s a beautiful wand replica, where did you get it?” a Christmas Zafara asked excitedly, peering through a rainbow-coloured mask with curlicues.

     “Oh, you know, fighting monsters all over Neopia,” said Mipsy with the straightest face possible. After a split second, she, the Zafara, and others nearby burst into laughter. “But really, it was a gift.”

     “You must have some friends in high places who can give you a pretend wand that looks so much like a real one,” a yellow Lenny added.

     Talinia walked over to Mipsy and pulled her away from the knot of guests. “Come on, time to look for a bathroom.” Only Mipsy noticed the green Eyrie wink.

     “Already?”

     “Yeah, already.”

     The two of them vanished into the sea of guests, leaving Rohane next to Velm, who frowned and reached up over his shoulder to adjust something beneath his wig.

     “Seriously? I’m your hiding place for your sword?” the healer whispered.

     “Well, I can’t hide it under my suit. Anyway, we need a distraction.” After checking to make sure the mask covering half of his face was still in place, the white Blumaroo stood on tiptoe to search for Mipsy and Talinia, who were already conversing with a cloud Kacheek. “No one has to see them while they’re going up to the second floor, just in case that area’s off-limits.”

     “Don’t worry, I have a plan.” With that, Velm slid away from Rohane and toward the string quartet, which was comprised of a shadow Tonu on the double bass and three purple Myncies on strings. He offered a sheet of paper to the Tonu, which the Myncies likewise read over the Tonu’s shoulder, and immediately the musicians switched from an easy jazz piece to a more upbeat jig that caught not a few of the partygoers off-guard. Several guests pushed toward the centre of the floor to dance, successfully drawing attention away from the Acara and Eyrie hurrying up the staircase.

     Velm was one of those who got onto the dance floor, and he gestured toward Rohane with a grin and a wink.

     “What…are you doing?”

     Without further ado, the red Techo grabbed Rohane’s wrist and pulled him onto the dance floor.

     “All part of the plan.”

     * * *

     Mipsy glanced over her shoulder at the bottom of the stairs and watched the party guests who were beginning to flock toward the dance floor. As she and Talinia reached the top, she tugged at her friend’s sleeve and grinned, tilting her head toward the dancers clustered under a flamboyant chandelier. It was not easy to miss Rohane and Velm in the middle of the spectacle.

     “Who knew the boys were pretty good dancers? Look at them go!”

     The Eyrie allowed herself one glance and a soft chuckle. “Whatever they’re doing is working; no one’s noticed us. Come on.”

     The two of them made their way down the corridor as silently and as quickly as possible, inspecting the spaces under the paintings and tapestries on the walls. They ducked into an empty banquet hall and found tables and chairs pushed to the wall and a huge portrait of Meredith, but not much else of note. Nevertheless, they started knocking against the wall panels, expecting to elicit a hollow sound or discover a secret door.

     “Actually, would she even hide the deed in a banquet hall?” asked Talinia suddenly as she got to the wall with the pink Ixi’s portrait.

     “Who knows? Maybe, if it’s hidden enough. And no one would suspect Meredith of hiding something in a banquet hall.” Mipsy tapped part of the wall with her wand while Talinia continued to examine the portrait, lifting it partway to inspect the wall behind it.

     “She’s wearing that same black pillbox hat in this painting.”

     “Which is the same hat she wore at Nevermore’s city hall,” the blue Acara added. “She must really love that hat.”

     Talinia turned away from the painting. “Nothing here, though. I think we’ve searched this hall enough; let’s try the other rooms on this floor.”

     * * *

     Downstairs, the band was still in full swing, cranking out excitable tunes for the cavorting guests. The Christmas Zafara and the yellow Lenny who had admired Mipsy’s wand were sliding across the dance floor hand in hand, and several other Neopians had gathered in the middle, lifting and spinning each other in time with the music. Meredith and several other guests were sitting at their tables, content to clap along, and still others were gathered around the banquet tables; one yellow Elephante had loaded his plate up and was hurriedly weaving through the tables to find his spot.

     “What a splendid party, Miss Meredith!” a female royal Zafara gushed as she held a notepad and a quill pen. “You have been throwing these New Year masquerade parties for five years…and counting!”

     “What can I say?” the Ixi answered with a dismissive wave. “I enjoy offering everyone in Nevermore a good time, whether through my parties or my hotels. Now then, we were supposed to talk about my plans for a new hotel in this village…”

     “There’s Meredi – whoa!” Rohane gasped as Velm lifted him off the floor, prompting the white Blumaroo to keep one hand over his mask in case it slipped. “Okay, I think you’re getting carried away,” he added crossly once he was back on the floor.

     Velm grinned but remembered to lower his voice. “’Carried’ away, that’s a good one.” Then he let out a breath. “Ooh, my arms…you really are all muscle.”

     “And whose idea was it to lift me in the first place?”

     “It’s all part of our act!” the healer interjected, twirling his partner before ushering him to the far side of the dance floor. “Meredith doesn’t seem to be acting suspiciously…and I doubt she’d hide the deed here while she’s throwing a masquerade party.”

     “There aren’t a lot of hiding places on the first floor anyway. That paper you gave the band…was that what you were working on last night?”

     “I just thought it’d be a lot easier to hide in a crowd that’s dancing it up,” Velm reasoned, smiling triumphantly. “You’re welcome.”

     “That wasn’t the distraction I had in mind, but…it’s working,” Rohane admitted as the two of them continued to dance, their steps properly synchronized. Craning his neck, he looked around at the other guests, and his gaze found Meredith again, who was conversing with two butlers – a chocolate Skeith and a Halloween Lupe, both well-built and carrying crossbows on their backs. The Ixi then inclined her head toward the staircase, prompting the Skeith and the Lupe to head toward it.

     Rohane gripped Velm’s shoulder so they stopped, like an island in the sea of dancers. “Meredith’s sending her butlers upstairs! I don’t know if they saw Mipsy and Talinia, but…”

     “You’re the leader, what should we do?”

     “I think we should – “

     “I say, you two, that was some fancy footwork out there!” The Blumaroo and the Techo froze when they saw a blue Kyrii with a monocle over his simple black mask approach them. “Why are you stopping? This party’s only just begun!”

     Velm glanced at Rohane, who immediately cleared his throat and adopted a gruff, low voice. “Er…sorry, Ve – Viviane and I were just taking a break, but…”

     “Viviane,” the Kyrii repeated. “Hmm, you must be the new business partners Merry was talking about.”

     “Merry?”

     “Short for Meredith. And you are…?”

     “R…Reuben.”

     The Kyrii raised his eyebrows and his monocle popped out onto his palm. “The famous weapon maker from Meridell? My, I had no idea Meredith was expanding into – “

     “No, no, not him. I, uh, get confused with him a lot.” Rohane discreetly elbowed Velm, who hid a guffaw behind his palm.

     The Kyrii laughed, stepping forward so he effectively blocked the way to the staircase. “All right, Viviane and Reuben, come on and show us how it’s done!”

     “Er…”

     Other guests took notice, turned around, and immediately began to clap. The red Techo flashed his most winning smile for them and nodded, leading the way back to the centre of the dance floor. Rohane, on the other hand, could only smile awkwardly as all eyes were on them.

     “I hope you still have a plan,” he whispered to Velm, his expression a mix of resignation and exasperation.

     To be continued…

 
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