A Hero's Journey: Masquerade
Part 3: Revelations
One of Nevermore’s inns was called Corvus’ Roost, and it lived up to its name with a multitude of Crokabeks making their home within the two trees beside it and all over the building. Its owner, Clyde, was a laid-back mutant Bruce who was currently lounging in the dining hall with dark hot chocolate, Ghost Cupcakes, a plate of Ghostkersandwiches, and four famous adventurers.
“Did you know that Meredith once tried to buy my inn?” Clyde said as he took a sip of his hot chocolate. “She had plans to expand it into a full-blown fancy lodge. Obviously, I said no. This was my father’s inn, and before that, my grandfather’s. My grandfather was old Corvus himself.” He pointed up to the painting of a regal-looking mutant Lenny. “That’s him. But Meredith wasn’t about to give up.”
“What did she do?” Talinia asked, looking up from her Ghost Cupcake.
“She tried to bring me to court, claiming that Corvus’ Roost had ties to a smuggling ring based on Krawk Island,” Clyde replied, savagely taking a bite out of his cupcake. “As if that wasn’t enough, she accused me of covering up an accident in our kitchens that injured Gustav, our best chef.”
Mipsy sipped her own cup of hot chocolate before saying, “But that wasn’t true, right? I met Gustav last night at dinner – the Tyrannian Elephante. He seemed cheerful, like no one’s hiding any accidents involving him at all.”
“No, it’s not true. If you’d like, you can ask Gustav himself. He spilt some soup and was a bit clumsy that day, but his leg was hurt because of a Battledome fight.”
Velm whistled. “A chef by day, a Battledomer by night, huh. Pass me the Cheese Ghostkersandwich.” Mipsy pushed the plate toward him.
“So, Gustav set the record straight?” Rohane was quick to steer the conversation back on track.
“He and Elder Terrivin saved me and the inn,” Clyde answered. “Are you sure you don’t want any caramel with your hot chocolate? Whipped cream?”
“No, thanks. Wait, Terrivin was involved too?”
“There’s whipped cream and caramel?” Mipsy perked up, eyes twinkling with delight. Clyde opened his beak to respond but noticed Rohane, Talinia and Velm all shaking their heads and waving frantically at him. “Oh, sorry, I forgot that we’re all out. Force of habit.”
“Aw.” The blue Acara deflated in her seat.
The mutant Bruce continued as Mipsy’s teammates breathed a collective sigh of relief. “Since Terrivin is on the council, she managed to convince the others, based on my and Gustav’s testimonies and the evidence we had, that there was no accident to cover up. She and the other the elders also helped clear me of smuggling charges. After that, Meredith no longer spoke to me, much less tried to take the Roost from me.”
“The more we find out about Meredith, the worse she seems to get,” Mipsy commented.
“She’ll do anything for her business empire, maybe even level Nevermore to the ground,” said Clyde grimly. “I don’t know anything about the missing deed to the village square, but I bet she does, no matter what she says.”
“In-deed,” said Velm, grinning. “Get it?”
“Unfortunately,” Rohane groaned.
* * *
That night – or rather, what passed for night when the sun wouldn’t completely set – Rohane and Talinia were the only ones left in the lobby of Corvus’ Roost, aside from the glowing Grarrl receptionist at the desk who had her nose in a magazine. The Blumaroo and the Eyrie both had cups of Illusen Tea and sat close to the window that gave them a good view of the shops and the road outside.
“What do you think of all this?”
“We still don’t know for sure if Meredith has the deed to the village square, but she has built quite the reputation for herself here in Nevermore as an infamous businesswoman.” Talinia frowned thoughtfully and blew gently on the steam rising from her tea. “I don’t exactly approve of Elder Terrivin’s approach to finding the deed, but if Meredith is as powerful as some say she is, and if there are no other possible suspects, I can’t blame her.”
Rohane put down his cup and steepled his fingers together. “I agree. What Terrivin wants us to do is crash a party we’re not even invited to and dig around Meredith’s property, and then she’ll give us what we need to continue travelling. We’re like spies, mercenaries, or both.”
The archer chuckled softly. “Well, this isn’t the first time we were like mercenaries. But the difference is that…we have standards?”
“Yeah, it’s not like we take just any job for money. We do what we can to help everyone around us, wherever we go. And from what we’ve heard, Nevermore needs our help, and not because it has a monster problem.” A determined light was apparent in his gaze when he said this.
“Meredith really is as merciless as they say. As Elder Terrivin says,” said Talinia quietly. “So, are we telling her that we’re taking the job?”
“I can’t stand around and let her turn the village square and the rest of Nevermore into another piece of her business empire without a care for what the villagers think,” Rohane replied, staring into his cup.
“Then, that’s a yes.”
* * *
“Nothing in Meredith’s bedroom,” said Talinia, heaving a sigh as she locked the door behind her. “Nothing except a huge bed and an even bigger closet. And did you see her vanity set?”
“Not gonna lie, I wanted to take her purple nail polish.” When her friend gave her a look, Mipsy protested, “What? It’s the perfect shade and it’s that brand that’s going for thousands – “
“It seems like every room in this mansion has a portrait of her, too.”
“In her pillbox hat, as usual,” the wizard added as they came to the last door at the end of the hall. She reached out to jiggle the handle of a large mahogany door and frowned. “I was hoping for at least one unlocked door!”
Talinia shrugged and adjusted her sleeves. “Well, the bathroom was unlocked, at least. You know what to do.”
Mipsy nodded and gripped her wand. Tapping the door handle, she whispered a few words that caused the entire door to glow briefly with a pulsing yellow light. One clicking sound later, the door swung open for the two of them.
“Blasting stuff isn’t the only thing I’m good at,” the blue Acara said smugly as she and Talinia slid into the room. It was a bit more spartan than the others on the second floor, boasting only a clean desk, an armchair, bookshelves, a window looking out onto the garden, and a file cabinet, but the obligatory portrait of Meredith dominated the entire back wall – a beaming pink Ixi in a lacy black dress and her pillbox hat with the oversized rhinestone rose.
“Please don’t tell me we have to scan all these books to see if Meredith decided to use the deed as a bookmark,” Mipsy complained, but nevertheless picked up a book and flipped through its pages. She slid it back onto the shelf and pulled out another volume.
“Wouldn’t she be more likely to hide the deed in this file cabinet?” Talinia asked somewhat drily.
“Oh, right, right!” Mipsy immediately approached the cabinet and tapped the lock on the first drawer. “That makes a lot more sense.”
The green Eyrie sighed as she opened the drawer and walked her fingers over the files and folders. “I half-expected this cabinet to have more paintings of Meredith.” She looked up at the painting, her gaze shifting from the details in Meredith’s dress collar, to her smile, and finally, to the pillbox hat. Then she was drawn to the rhinestone rose. The painter no doubt took pains to render the stones and the outline of the petals, but something about it seemed off, magnified a hundredfold by the size of the portrait.
The wizard glanced up from where she was opening the other drawers. “What is it?”
“Take a look at Meredith.”
“Do I have to? I’m sick of seeing her stupid paintings.” Mipsy stuck out her tongue but did as she was told. “She has different outfits in each one, but that pillbox is always there, with its gaudy rose.”
“Look closely at the rose.”
“Am I supposed to be looking for something? Are those rhinestones supposed to be spelling out a clue?”
Talinia pointed to one of the petals. All the rhinestones were lovingly outlined and painted, but two seemed to be mounted outside the petal. A split-second later, Mipsy gasped.
“I thought those were just two stones out of place!”
“We have to tell the boys. Now,” said the Eyrie, her tone leaving no room for further argument.
“I’m sorry, you won’t be telling them anything.”
Mipsy and Talinia whipped around to see a Halloween Lupe standing in the doorway, with a chocolate Skeith right behind him. Both the Lupe and the Skeith were clad in butler suits and toted loaded crossbows.
* * *
“We need to go. Now,” said Rohane through gritted teeth as he and Velm slid past other dancers. “Can’t we find a way out of this crowd?”
“Everyone’s watching us!” Velm whispered. He gasped softly and remembered to spin his partner in place. As the song wound down to its finish, they remembered to step forward and back, raise their arms in a flourish, and clasp each other’s hands. Cheers and applause erupted throughout the crowd, with the female royal Zafara nodding approvingly and writing something down in her notepad.
“That’s the stuff!” the blue Kyrii with the monocle crowed. “Come on, you two, take a bow!”
Surrounded by excited guests and feeling Meredith’s eyes on them, Rohane and Velm had no choice but to bow and hope that they could finally run to Mipsy and Talinia. But as the red Techo bent over flamboyantly, his wig fell onto the floor, as well as his mask. When he straightened up, everyone gasped in surprise – everyone, that is, except Rohane, who winced and clapped a palm to his forehead. Even the band stopped playing, and the shadow Tonu and the three purple Mynci on the stage looked up with wide eyes.
The Christmas Zafara who had admired Mipsy’s wand tugged at the blue Kyrii’s sleeve. “Is that…”
“I’ve seen him in the Neopian Times before!” the Kyrii exclaimed as the crowd began whispering and talking amongst themselves. “He’s one of those adventurers!”
“Yeah, I did a story on them once!” the royal Zafara chimed in, waving her notepad. “Which means the Blumaroo with him is…”
Meredith stood up abruptly from her chair. “What is the meaning of this? Guards, guards!”
Several guards in simple black suits filed into the hall, all of them armed with batons. While Velm tried to just smile awkwardly and wave as though this would turn the tide of their situation, a yellow Chia from the ranks of the guards swiftly pulled Rohane’s mask off, creating another wave of whispering and murmuring and pointing amidst the crowd.
“What an opportunity! Two heroes in your party, Miss Merry!” said the blue Kyrii excitedly. “This means good busi – “
The pink Ixi cut him off. “Can it, Maurice. I don’t care who they are, they’re gate crashers.” The guards immediately circled Rohane and Velm. “Two heroes like you would know better than to invite yourselves to an exclusive masquerade. Shouldn’t you be model citizens?”
“Where’s the deed to the village square, Meredith?” the white Blumaroo demanded as he began mentally counting the number of guards surrounding them. He frowned when he counted five.
“I knew Terrivin sent you.” Meredith sighed, raising a hand to her forehead. “Did she tell you she had my entire property searched?” She spread her arms. “I don’t have that accursed deed! And you two are trespassing on my property!”
As her guests backed against the wall, stepped behind the tables, sought refuge on the second floor, or even straight up left the mansion, the Ixi ordered her guards, “Show them what we do to trespassers and gate crashers.”
To be continued…