Orayny appeared bright and early the next morning. Perhaps
a bit too early; Andromeda, Celestilla and I were still browsing on juppies and
hot borovan when she appeared. I invited her to join us at the breakfast table,
but she declined in favor of pacing the kitchen, mumbling and sighing gustily.
I proceeded to finish a leisurely breakfast, doing my best to ignore my guest,
who kept bumping my chair on her route around the kitchen.
After ten minutes of being jostled painfully
where I sat, I took the hint and cleared the table quickly. Celestilla and Andromeda
meandered off to get ready.
"Why don't you come into the living room?" I
suggested. "You can tell me your story there."
Orayny looked around uneasily for Celestilla.
She seemed to have gotten cold feet about the "exclusive access" bit. "Er, don't
you think we could talk on the way? I thought we'd stop by Neopian Central Headquarters
to see if they…"
I cut her off. "If you're trying to get away
from Celestilla, you're crazy. I can't leave her and Andromeda by themselves.
Besides, you promised her the story. I'd rather not waste time, though. You
can tell your story on the way.
Andromeda and Celestilla reappeared, my Uni
with her trusty notebook and pencil around her neck. She's long mastered the
trick of writing with her front hooves while trotting along on her hind legs.
I haven't figured out yet how she holds a pencil, but obviously she manages
I handed out umbrellas before opening the door.
The rain hadn't abated since last night; a hazy drizzle blurred even the houses
of my neighbors. Orayny bundled Wisteria into her coat and energetically charged
out into the muck with Celestilla, Andromeda, and I bringing up a soggy rear.
We quickly decided that the rain wasn't very
conducive to conversation. At Celestilla's suggestion we stepped into a quaint
coffee shop and found a private corner with a small round table and four chairs.
Orayny treated drinks all round and reluctantly began her narrative.
"This all began two days ago. The shop
was having a busy morning so I left Wisteria and Jessimen in the backyard to
play. They were enjoying a nice game of Neocheckers, according to Jessimen,
when out of the blue Jacko the Phantom Painter appeared. He dropped a Baby Paintbrush
on the ground, gave Jessimen a wink, and scuttled off.
Wisteria came pelting into the shop jumping
up and down and screaming that Jacko had given her a paintbrush, with Jessimen
right behind her shouting that the paintbrush was his! I had to calm both of
them down before I could get any sense out of them. Since the paintbrush was
theirs, I gave them the decision about what to do with it. They agreed that
we should sell it since Wisteria was already Faerie and Jessimen would die before
being painted Baby. Wisteria graciously conceded to buying Jessimen a fire,
fire, your pants on fire paintbrush with the proceeds as long as she got a new
Usuki out of the bargain. Since I had been planning on going to the Trading
Post the next day, I popped it into my safety deposit box and sent Wisteria
and Jessimen back outside."
"I don't think what happened next needs much
explaining," she said, looking up from her coffee with a sad smile. "You have
two pets of your own-" Andromeda opened her mouth, and then shut it again. "-you
know what sibling rivalry is like. Wisteria and Jessimen were playing some meaningless
game and somehow made each other very angry. Now, Wisteria tends to let small
arguments and such slide; she had probably forgotten what the argument was about
before it really started. Jessimen, on the other hand, is a plotter. On the
surface he seems to forget as quickly as Wisteria, but on the inside, I guarantee
he's planning revenge. Oh, the stories I could tell you!" Orayny heaved another
sigh, giving Andromeda a sideways look as she noisily slurped up the end of
her grapity slush. Andromeda gave her a big grin, showing purple teeth. Orayny
quickly looked away.
"Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up to Jessimen
standing beside my bed, crying his eyes out. 'What's wrong?' I asked him, thinking
he or Wisteria had come down with the NeoFlu.
All he could do for a while was hiccup. Finally,
he choked out the story. Wisteria had stolen his Shoyru plushie during their
game the day before. He had planned to sneak into her room, steal it back, and
hide a Slorg he had swapped his friend for in her bed. But, as luck would have
it, I'd set the key to my safety deposit box on top of Wisteria's chest of drawers
when I went to tuck her in, right beside Jessimen's plushie. When Jessimen flew
up to the top of the dresser to get the plushie, he saw the keys… I suppose
you can piece together the rest of the story, Celestilla?"
"He got an even more sinister idea and took
the key, flew off to the bank (which luckily or unluckily is open twenty-four
hours a day) and withdrew the paint brush. He flew away with it in his claws,
sneaked back into the house, and actually painted his sister in her sleep without
her noticing, knowing how much she-and you-hate the Baby color," finished Celestilla
with a flourish of her pen. Orayny nodded, impressed in spite of herself.
"Jacko… the keys… no one noticing as a young
Shoyru flew down the street late at night with an Unbuyable in his claws… sounds
like a string of unlikely coincidences to me."
"Unlikely, but true," protested Orayny. "After
all, is there such a thing as a likely coincidence?" Point for the visiting
team, I thought as my guest gave me a smug look from behind her mug.
If Celestilla had had eyebrows, they would have
been raised to her forelock. She looked at me. "I've reported on stranger stories
than this, Taffy. Everything she says is possible… but it still doesn't explain
the side effect that the paintbrush had on Wisteria."
"Well," said Orayny, standing up, "there's nothing
else we can do here. Let's head on to the Neopian General Hospital, shall we?"
To be continued...