A Hero's Journey: Masquerade
[b] Part 5: The Grand Finale[/b]
“What’s happening down there?” Mipsy asked. She flinched as the brown Aisha caught her on her cheek with a long knife, which also tore through her dress sleeve. The blue Acara stumbled backwards with one hand on her face.
“Hang on!” Talinia flew out of range of Danny and his blue Grarrl companion; the latter had a slingshot and was taking aim at her. One projectile narrowly grazed her wing, and she landed on the railing of the second floor. She managed only a quick glimpse of what was happening below before firing another arrow at Danny. The Halloween Lupe ducked behind a door to avoid it. “The boys need our help.”
“Oh no they don’t,” the Grarrl snarled. “You’re staying right here.” He laughed as he jumped back from the heat blast from Mipsy’s wand. However, the smile on his face vanished when she raised her wand high and flicked it several times like a conductress, generating a huge gust of wind that blew toward him and his comrades, causing them to tumble down the corridor.
“Anarchic Wind!” she shouted, her skirt rippling in the wake of the spell. Talinia jumped back down onto the floor behind the wizard, digging her heels to make sure she wasn’t swept away as well.
Danny groaned as he shoved the brown Aisha off him. “Don’t let them get away, Winslow!” The Aisha scowled and sprang toward Mipsy, but Talinia pulled her away in time and used her arm bracer to block a strike from Winslow’s baton before grabbing her friend under the arms and taking flight.
“Don’t drop me, don’t drop me!” Mipsy wailed as the green Eyrie hoisted her into the air amidst a salvo of stones from the Grarrl’s slingshot. Then the wizard paused and looked down at what was happening on the first floor. “Holy Meepits, what’s happening down there?”
It was pandemonium on the first floor. Meredith screamed as she took a gob of Berried in Bread to the face and berated her Jetsam guard for failing to protect her.
The electric Jetsam raised his fins as though in surrender. “M-My apologies, Miss Meredi – “ He stopped to push her down to the floor to avoid a flying slice of Pumpkin Pie from a yellow Lenny taking refuge on the staircase.
“There they are!” Mipsy proclaimed, pointing toward a red Techo conjuring a shimmering shield in the air to protect himself, a white Blumaroo, and a ghost Krawk in the middle of the chaos. The Krawk twirled her frying pan and immediately attacked a shadow Gelert whose hands were full of knives. “But who’s the Krawk gal? Wait, get me close enough to that Kyrii with the eyepatch, she’s sneaking up on Rohane – “
“Hang on!” Talinia said for the second time, and they veered toward the red Kyrii who had raised her baton. The Acara pointed her wand at Janet and shouted a single arcane word that sent a chill down the spines of everyone who heard it. Ghostly cobalt tendrils sprang from the crystal tip of her wand and coiled around Janet, binding her before she could bring her baton down.
“Mipsy!” Velm called out before he could control himself; while he was distracted by the display of magic, the Halloween Chomby threw an empty cake pan at him, and it struck him on his left arm. He clutched his arm and cried, “Ouch! Whoa, you mastered the Body Binding spell!”
The electric Jetsam beside Meredith had a crossbow and took aim at Talinia. The bolt flew straight and true, hitting one of her wings and causing her to fall. Mipsy screamed as the green Eyrie steered them so they crashed into the Halloween Chomby, all three of them in a heap until the two adventurers scrambled off her, their skirts catching on the floorboards and scattered cutlery.
“Your wing!” Velm exclaimed. He looked from Talinia, to Mipsy with a long cut on her face, and to Rohane – who was missing his shirt collar and jacket – suddenly getting hurled into the nearest banquet table and getting showered with punch. The red Techo groaned and held out his staff. “Panace – can you not, I’m healing here!” He scrambled to the side to avoid a hunk of cake that was thrown by the silver Meerca who had recovered from Rohane’s stunning hit. “Panacea!”
Mipsy breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived, as the Jetsam continued to fire at them with his crossbow, and several guests were still hurling food in every direction. After a renegade gob of icing splattered onto the side of her head, she grabbed Talinia and the two of them sprinted out of range, the Eyrie pulling out her hunting knife to fend off the yellow Chia guard who blocked their path with his candelabra.
“Meredith!” said Talinia, pointing to the pink Ixi, who was already trying to weave through the overturned and broken tables and chairs, a hand over her pillbox hat. “She’s getting away!”
Velm jabbed out with his staff at the Halloween Chomby, causing her to fall over Janet, who was still magically bound on the floor. “She hasn’t told us where the deed is!”
“It’s in her hat!”
As Rohane, who was still dripping punch all over the floor, covered her, Talinia drew her bow and fired at Meredith. The Ixi ran behind the royal Zafara reporter, who was too slow to avoid getting a faceful of potatoes from a Christmas Zafara. The reporter screamed something that was lost to the melee but had something to do with her dress.
“What?” Rohane parried a strike from Lonnie, who was once again menacing them with knives. He turned his parry into a fluid sword thrust that forced the shadow Gelert to break away. Both of them wound up caught in a crossfire of Bleeding Heart Jelly Sundaes and Deviled Eggs.
“It’s in her brooch!” Talinia sprang onto a nearby table and fired at Lonnie, then at the silver Meerca. “Go, Rohane!”
The white Blumaroo took off, ducking his head to avoid the onslaught of food items, tableware, and even fallen party decorations and a mess of icing on the floor. Unfortunately, his path was blocked by a brown Aisha, a blue Grarrl and a Halloween Lupe.
“End of the line, buddy,” Danny snarled, smacking his baton into his large open palm.
“We’ll see about that,” Rohane shot back. He reached up and ripped his already tattered shirt sleeves off.
The royal Zafara pulled a green Poogle out from where he was hiding under a table and shrieked, “George, George, you gotta draw this! This is Times front page material! I need this for my stor – yikes!” The two of them wound up sharing the table to evade crossbow bolts and more airborne food.
Meanwhile, Mipsy and Talinia were quick to provide backup. The wizard sent Lonnie flying into the wall, while the archer shot at the Halloween Chomby’s legs. Rohane swung his sword in a wide arc, and when the brown Aisha responded by ducking, he swiftly kneed Winslow, punched him in the face, and slashed at his knees. As Winslow went down, the Blumaroo sidestepped to avoid Danny’s wild baton swing.
But Meredith was already getting closer and closer to the banquet doors.
“We’ll hold them off!” Mipsy said confidently but found herself getting hit by the yellow Chia guard’s candelabra.
“We will?” Velm asked. He frowned at his red dress, dirty and torn in several places, before hurrying to her side.
“You guys are talking about the missing deed, right?” the ghost Krawk asked. “I’m in. And so are they.” She gestured with her frying pan toward more Neopians wearing the same uniform as her rushing in from the kitchen. A cloud Kacheek – the one Mipsy and Talinia had spoken to about supposedly finding a bathroom – flung a pan lid like a flying disc toward the electric Jetsam still firing from his vantage point, while a Pteri and a Grundo kept the ghost Moehog busy with more deadly kitchen implements.
Talinia nodded approvingly as she checked her supply of arrows. “That takes care of her personal hired muscle.”
Danny howled his challenge as he rushed toward Rohane, who immediately sidestepped, grabbed the Halloween Lupe, and tossed him neatly over his hip. The blue Grarrl picked up Danny’s baton and moved to attack next, but Rohane immediately drew his sword from his belt and blocked the strike headed for his face. The Grarrl retaliated by kicking out, only to get stabbed in the foot.
“You won’t get away, Meredith!” Rohane shouted, rapidly closing the gap between himself and Meredith, who was a few steps away from the doors. One of his ankles shook as he put weight on it, and as he tried to move, he found himself falling to the floor. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the Grarrl and Danny had each grabbed his legs, pulling him back.
Maurice looked up, his face slathered with icing, cake, and potatoes. “Wait. Why [i]are[/i] you getting away, Meredith?”
“Don’t tell me you do have that deed!” the royal Zafara interjected, holding up her notepad. She looked at her Poogle companion, who was working on a sketchpad without a care for the pie on his head. “Ooh, that’s a good front page spread for the next Times!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! As I’ve said, my entire house was searched, me and my – yaaaah!”
The pink Ixi tripped just before she could reach for the door handles, and gasped when she saw what had tripped her – a ripped, stained cravat in Rohane’s hands used to catch her ankle. He grinned up at her triumphantly.
“Guess cravats are good for something after all.”
Mipsy hobbled over to them and picked up the pillbox hat that had dropped from Meredith’s head. She placed it between her ears and attempted a pose. “What do you think?”
Talinia swooped down beside her and took the hat. Digging her fingernails into a thin groove within the brooch, she pried it open and pulled out a yellowing sheet of parchment paper folded several times to fit. The paper unfolded to reveal text, a map, official-looking signatures, and a ribbon attached to the bottom. Everyone else in the hall gasped when they saw what it was.
“The deed is done,” Velm quipped, flashing a thumbs-up as he leaned on his staff.
“That’s a great idea for a headline!” the royal Zafara commented, gesturing flamboyantly with her pen.
* * *
“I can’t thank you four enough,” said Terrivin, sighing with relief as she gazed at the deed now in her hands. “Nevermore’s village square is safe.”
“We had help, though,” Velm pointed out as he placed a glowing hand over the ghost Krawk’s bandaged head. “Meredith’s servants, and of course, the guests deciding to start a food fight…”
“It was our pleasure,” the Krawk answered, smiling brightly. “We’ll have to look for new jobs, but we’ll manage.”
The Techo snapped his fingers. “I’m sure Clyde from Corvus’ Roost will be able to help you all out. He’s much nicer than Meredith, too.”
“And there is always room at the city hall for new employees,” Terrivin added. “Anyway, I should be getting your payment ready, and I’ll make sure all the shops here know what you’ve done for us; they should at least give you a discount.”
Rohane looked down at his mutilated and stained suit and at his grimy jacket in his hand, which he had managed to retrieve after the chaos. “I’m really sorry about the outfits you rented for us, though. You can take the cost out of our reward money.”
The ghost Aisha chuckled. “It’s a small price to pay, think nothing of it. Besides, I can imagine that a swordsman like you would’ve had some difficulty moving in such a stiff suit.”
“We kept telling him, he should’ve opted for a dress, it’s much easier to move in one,” Velm said with a straight face, folding his arms across his chest. Then he inclined his head toward Rohane. “We’ll buy you one here at Nevermore.”
“And we’ll find one that goes with your eyes,” Mipsy offered while Talinia tried to stifle a giggle.
“Very funny,” Rohane replied.
“There you are!”
Everyone turned to see the royal Zafara walking toward them, smiling from ear to ear as George huddled close behind her. She was trying to clean herself up with a handkerchief as she went and would have skidded on a puddle of punch if it weren’t for the Poogle catching her by her wrist in time.
“I’m a reporter from the Neopian Times, George and I would like to get a group sketch with all four of you, and an interview about how you found the missing deed to the village square,” the Zafara gabbled. “This’ll make a much better story than another one of Meredith’s new year banquets.”
“For sure,” Mipsy couldn’t help but comment, and she and Velm gave each other a high five.
“Uh, can you at least wait until we’re dressed in something more…appropriate?” Talinia asked, wincing at the state of her own dress.
“And, give us some time to catch our breath. We need a break,” said Rohane, who was using his sword as a crutch, refraining from placing any weight on one of his ankles.
“Actually, so do I,” Velm mumbled, collapsing into the nearest upright chair. “A healer’s work is never done.”
* * *
The sun had dipped somewhat during the party, but Nevermore still had a particularly bright late afternoon. Outside Meredith’s mansion, Rohane, Mipsy, Talinia and Velm stood together, away from the efforts to clean up the place and the avid personnel from the Neopian Times. Only the Crokabeks in the trees kept them company.
“That wasn’t quite how I wanted to spend the new year, but that was kinda fun,” said Mipsy, giggling. “And we did it! We caught Meredith red-handed – or rather, pink-handed.”
“I’m glad too,” Talinia agreed. “Nevermore won’t lose their village square, and Meredith won’t be expanding her business anywhere for a long, long time. Now we can continue travelling and stock up on supplies.”
Velm cleared his throat. “Let’s just hope our next tents survive longer around Mipsy.”
“For the last time, it was an accident!” Mipsy wailed.
“Catching Meredith with your cravat was genius, Rohane,” said Talinia, nodding as she rested one hand on Rohane’s shoulder and allowed Mipsy to lean on her.
“Guess you being all muscle does come in handy sometimes,” Velm remarked, merely grinning when Rohane raised an eyebrow and draping an arm over Talinia’s shoulders. “And Talinia, you and Mipsy figuring out where the deed was hidden…that was amazing. Of course, what would any of you do without me, with my sweet distraction and magic skills?”
“At least we gave Nevermore a reason to have a happy new year,” the white Blumaroo said solemnly. Then he gave the red Techo a deadpan stare. “Also, you were the one who gave our disguise away.”
“Maybe, but we caught Meredith anyway and taught her and her guards a lesson.”
“And now we can really celebrate!” Mipsy cheered and clapped her hands. “Happy new year, everyone!”
Rohane watched a solitary Crokabek soar through the sky and settle onto a branch with several more of its feathered brethren. He smiled.
“Happy new year, team.”