Vanity: Part Three
As the sun reached its zenith, the Bori peddler began to revive. Andrea had been holding the cold smoothies to his head for several minutes and was glad to see him struggling to sit up. She helped him to a sitting position and gave him one of the smoothies to drink while she took the other and sat down herself. Upon taking her first sip, she found that she was incredibly hungry and had to drink half the smoothie before she could remove her mouth from the straw.
When brain freeze compelled her to stop drinking, she turned to the Bori. “Are you feeling better?”
“Maybe better than a few minutes ago. But not better than this morning,” he grumped, holding the back of his head with one paw.
“Do you need anything?”
“Nah. Oh, thanks for the smoothie.” He held it out to her in gratitude.
“No problem. We could probably both use one.” She held out her paw. “I’m Andrea.”
The Bori studied her paw as if trying to decide if wanted to shake it. Insulted, she almost drew it back, but before she could he made up his mind and shook her paw. “Cliff,” he said.
“Well, Cliff, do you think you’re feeling well enough to walk? You probably need to go to the hospital to get everything checked out.”
“Fat lot of good that’ll do me.”
“I won’t be able to pay my bill, Miss. My whole cart is gone. Rolled down the hill into that huge bolt of lightning. Wasn’t even moving,” he muttered to himself as if he still hadn’t gotten over the shock of what he had seen.
Andrea stared at the glass sculpture for a minute, sipping on her smoothie. “So, you just want to sit out here and bemoan your lost sand bottles?”
“If bemoan means feel bad about, then yes.”
“Look at the beautiful sculpture it created, though. And I have to thank you properly. Your cart of sand saved my life.”
“What was that huge bolt of lightning doing, anyhow?”
“I’m not exactly sure. There were more, smaller ones, and another big one behind me. I think--I think someone sent them after me.”
“Why would anyone do that? Have you done something to make someone upset?” He winced a little and held his smoothie to his head.
“Not that I know of. But the lightning was headed right for me. I would have been a goner if your cart of sand hadn’t... The sculpture!” She turned her head to look down the hill at it, her breath catching in her throat at its beauty as if she was seeing it for the first time.
“I think you were missing some words in that sentence. Are you feeling okay yourself?”
“No, no, no. The beautiful sculpture. It’s yours. You should sell it to make your money back.”
“Hey, that’s a good idea. I bet some fancy place like the art centre would buy it for a good sum. But wait.” Suddenly he eyed her suspiciously. “What keeps you from trying to sell the sculpture yourself?”
“It wasn’t my sand that created it.”
“Must have been some special sand,” he said, gazing at the glass formation.
“I think it was a special lightning bolt. And not a friendly kind of special,” Andrea replied, shuddering as she thought about it.
“Magical?” He took another sip of his smoothie, but kept his eyes on her.
She nodded. “I think so. Let’s get you to the hospital.”
* * *
“Andrea?” She felt pressure on her arm as Sarah poked her.
“You sound surprised to see me,” Andrea responded groggily, rubbing her eyes. She propped herself up on the couch with her elbows and saw that it was dark outside.
“I just didn’t... didn’t expect you to be home, um, yet.” Sarah was wringing her paws together and looking very puzzled. Andrea thought about it for a minute, but she thought she remembered her sister always being so nervous when she was in a beauty contest.
She sat up, yawning and stretching. “What time is it?”
“Uhh... Eight o’clock.”
“Wow, I slept for a couple hours. Time for some dinner, I guess.”
There was a loud knocking on the front door just as she walked by toward the kitchen. Slightly wary of the coincidental timing, she opened the door a crack. A Blue Ogrin was standing outside, muttering to himself.
“Chastings!” Andrea threw open the door. “Are you all right?”
“Me? What about you? Is that singed fur I smell?”
Andrea leaned in to murmur, in case anyone heard her, though she wasn’t sure why she cared. “Chastings, that was frightening. What was that this morning?”
“I’m not sure. But I think you need to be very careful from now on. We may just have to see how this plays out.”
Andrea nodded. She didn’t like it, but she understood.
“Well,” said Chastings. “I have some votes to gather for the beauty contest, but I wanted to come by to see if you were okay. Get a good night’s sleep; you look exhausted. I’ll be picking you up late morning tomorrow.”
“Don’t you think I’ve had enough adventures for a lifetime?” Andrea asked, the full weight of her tiredness finally hitting her.
“This one will be fun,” Chastings reassured her with a wink and a tilt of his head.
“That’s not something I’ve heard you say before. Okay, see you in the morning. And thanks for coming by.”
* * *
Andrea stumbled into the bathroom before her sister the next morning, all her muscles aching from the previous day’s activities. She was groggy and not paying attention to much, but when she thought about what going outside again might mean, her breath caught in her throat. The lightning bolts from the day before had not been an accident. Something or someone was after her, and whoever it may be was powerful enough to control lightning. She had just finished brushing her teeth when Sarah pounded loudly on the door.
“Andrea! Let me in. I have to get ready.” Her sister’s voice made her feel uneasy. She chalked it up to a lifelong dislike for conflict.
“Well, this certainly is a familiar scenario,” Andrea teased.
“Let me in!” shrieked Sarah.
“All right, all right already.”
As soon as she opened the door, Sarah pushed past her and began to comb her fur with a plastic purple comb.
“Where’s your fancy comb?” Andrea asked.
Sarah’s eyes darted around in her head. “It’s being shined,” she said, avoiding Andrea’s eyes.
“Looked pretty shiny when I saw it.”
“Keep out of it,” Sarah snapped.
Andrea opened her mouth to retort, but thought better of it and closed it again. “Okay, see you around,” she said instead.
“You most certainly will,” Andrea thought she heard Sarah mutter, but when she turned around Sarah was carefully applying lipstick, not even paying attention to her.
A knock on the door announced Chastings’ arrival.
Andrea went to go answer the door, wondering why she was so paranoid all of a sudden.
* * *
Slumped over the edge of the boat, Andrea learned that she and the rocking, rolling sea did not have a fondness for one another. Each wave that lapped the wood of the boat, large though it was, made her insides churn and her face turn a darker shade of green. She was just about to ask Chastings how much more rocking and nausea she would have to take when she saw land straight ahead. She raised her head and strained her eyes through half-closed lids to see where she might be going, but all she could see at the moment were the turrets of a magnificent castle.
She lolled her head to the side and rested it on the boat, wishing for some relief for her angry stomach. They hadn’t been on the sea that long, she could tell because the sun hadn’t even reached its zenith. And they weren’t even out on open sea, just the little bit of water between Neopia Central and the next mass of land. But the sloshing of her stomach made it feel like days already.
Now that they were almost to land, the turrets of the castle were almost completely hidden by trees. Andrea all but jumped off the boat before it had completely docked.
“Welcome to Brightvale,” a Green Draik said warmly as he smiled and helped her from the dock to the shore.
The grass under Andrea’s toes was the most lush she had ever seen. It was a vibrant green, screaming with life and health.
The Green Draik led their little party down a winding path and, through the trees, Andrea could catch glimpses of the royal palace. “Chastings,” she murmured nervously. “We aren’t going to the castle, are we?”
He laughed and Andrea noticed his blue fur looked shinier and his jacket more formal. “Should I have worn something nicer?” she asked, worried. They were going to see the great King Hagan and she was wearing nothing better than a purple dress she had found in the back of her closet.
“You look fine,” Chastings reassured her.
She turned to look at the other members of their group. There were only three, a Red Aisha, a Disco Kacheek, and a Brown Moehog, but they were all dressed in very fine attire. An unshakable nervous feeling rose in her throat.
“I wasn’t going to tell you until later,” Chastings whispered so low she could barely hear him. “But I fear you’re in very real danger. I thought this outing might be a nice getaway, not to mention good for getting votes by showing your face around Brightvale.”
“Do you know the rest of these pets?” Andrea was beginning to wonder how she got chosen to go in this group of five.
“They’re frequent beauty contestants. We’ll be attending a contestants’ dinner this evening. Brightvale figured out it could make neopoints by inviting the beauty contestants to dine with King Hagan every couple of contests. And I do admit we drop a lot of neopoints at the shops here in one afternoon.”
“So this is a big banquet?” Now Andrea knew she was underdressed. Nothing Chastings said would be able to convince her otherwise.
“And here we are, folks,” the Green Draik announced. “Central Brightvale. Feel free to shop around. Dinner will be served at the palace in a few hours.”
The view took Andrea’s breath away. They had come out at the side of the castle, its gold exterior shining brilliantly in the sun. Its green and gold turrets stood high and proud against the golden sky, banners waving in the breeze. And down below was a blanket of green grass, dotted with a variety of charming shops and stalls and one giant wheel that read “The Wheel of Knowledge.”
Chastings had already started down the path that led to the shops and stalls. She ran after him, desperately wanting to tumble down the hill in the grass as she saw several children doing.
“We have to spruce up your outfit just a bit,” he said when she caught up.
“I knew it.”
“No, no. You’re young, so it’s right that you wear something simple. But you need a few accoutrements.”
“Accoutrements?” Andrea imagined one large pendant hanging from her neck.
Chastings stopped short in front of a stall selling jewelry. “This isn’t my thing,” he admitted. “Maybe you could find an inexpensive piece that you like?”
Andrea looked at the jewelry on display. Why did she never remember that outings with Chastings always took neopoints? Now she would have to allow him to pay because he was right, her outfit needed something before she saw the king.
“A pretty necklace for a pretty lady?” asked the aged Desert Aisha running the stall, holding a silver necklace out for Andrea to inspect.
“Oh.” Andrea took it in her hands. The necklace was indeed pretty. Andrea clasped it around her neck and found that it looked even more elegant on than off. It was thick enough to be noticed, but not so thick that it overpowered her neck. Better yet, the silver took on the purple color of her dress ever so slightly and made the two a perfect match. “That’s beautiful,” she told the Aisha, who beamed.
“We’ll take it!” Chastings announced, not even looking at the price tag. He had obviously already had enough of standing around looking at jewelry.
To be continued...