Confessions of an Heiress: Part Three
Part Three- Money is Thicker Than Blood
“All right,” Kiran said wearily. She both sounded and looked defeated. “I’ll tell you everything- the truth, I promise. But not here. No, trust me,” she added when Taite started to protest. “This isn’t something you’ll want the public to know. Let’s just go find Dior and Cardea and tell them we’re ready to leave. When we get home, we’ll talk, okay?” All pretenses had fallen away. The fake cheeriness was gone and there were tiny frown lines etched in her face. Her normally perfect posture had fallen slack and her eyes looked vacant, dejected even. Taite had never seen Kiran this way, but she did not let her shock show. “Fine,” she replied calmly. “We’ll go home. We’ll talk. And I want to know everything. No cover-ups. No lies.” She paused. “I’m going to find Cardea and Dior. We’ll meet you outside.”
The Brightvale horizon had never looked so wonderful to Taite. The stars twinkled overhead and the moon cast a warm glow on the buildings nestled in the countryside. It had taken them an hour to fly via Eyrie from Krawk Island and Taite knew that in an hour or so, the sky would begin to lighten and the sun would rise. For now, however, the night enveloped her- an omen, perhaps, for what was about to come. Kiran and Asha had not so much as looked at Taite since they left the Smugglers Cove. Cardea on the other hand had been watching all three very closely, an anxious look on her face. No one had said anything since exiting the party- except, of course, Dior who had remained blissfully unaware of the tension around her and therefore had not stopped talking the entire way home. The Shoyru had only just fallen silent as they set foot upon Brightvale soil.
Now, the entire group of girls stood unspeaking, staring at the fork in the footpath before them. Cardea, Dior, and Asha needed to go one way to get to their homes; Kiran and Taite another.
“Well,” Cardea began tentatively. “I guess this is goodnight. Come on, Asha; we can walk home together...” She motioned toward the path on the left, and looked pleadingly at the Kougra.
However, Asha only glared back. “Sorry, but I’ve got to ask Kiran something. You two can go on without me.” Her voice had taken on a careless tone that Taite knew was now only for the sake of Dior.
Cardea sighed and seemed to sag. Turning, she followed Dior down the path to their house. As the disappeared around a bend, Taite could still hear Dior chattering vivaciously to a silent Cardea.
When the others were finally out of earshot, Kiran met Asha’s eyes. The Kougra gave a tiny nod and the two girls started off down the path to the right. Although the all too familiar feeling of dread had begun gnawing at her stomach again, Taite found herself able to follow.
As she trudged along the well-worn path, her mind was far from the present. She was replaying scenes from the party over and over again—Tiffany and Kiran fighting, Tally’s unwillingness to talk, Asha lying straight to her face, Cardea warning her not to get involved. Taite could not imagine what was so terrible that they all seemed—almost scared?—to talk about it; she almost didn’t want to know.
The one room in her house that Taite had never been in was Kiran’s bedroom. She remembered moving in and getting the grand tour; “This is my room,” she had said. “Don’t go in it. Ever.” And just like that, Taite had been banned. She never dared to break that one rule Kiran had set up, and her sister had never mentioned it again, but Taite had noticed the precautions she had taken to keep her room private. The door was always closed and usually locked; she had avoided entering or exiting when she thought Taite was looking. Little things like that... It was for this reason that Taite was caught off guard when Kiran marched upstairs to her room, opened the door, and allowed the other two girls to enter. She did, however, promptly close and lock the door as soon as everyone entered.
Kiran’s bedroom was surprisingly common, other than the fact that it was obviously decorated by a professional. Her bed was messy. There were a few clothes strung carelessly on the floor. Pictures in their frames showed Kiran with a royal Krawk, and a slender green Gelert. On top of the Gelert picture were scribbled the words ‘Griselda Ruffino. Number One, Year One.’ An abnormally fat scroll sat next to a tall stack of books on her vanity, their spines reading NeoFashion, Usuki Collectors Guide, The Abandoned Acara, Book of Evil Schemes, The Life of a Double Crosser, Dr_Deaths Biography, Ruling the Universe, and Aisha Secrets. It was a strange and intriguing collection of books, but no sooner had Taite thought this than Kiran said quietly, “Sit down.”
Taite turned to see Kiran nodding toward a red bean bag chair on the floor. As she sank into it, her eyes fell upon a strange object on the floor. It appeared to be the head of an Usuki doll; her hair was up in a tight bun, her makeup lavishly done. Her unmoving eyes stared up at Taite. The Usul raised an eyebrow, but nothing more. Taite decided to turn her attention to Kiran instead.
The Acara was sitting at the headboard of her large bed, her dress spread out around her. Asha lay at the foot of the bed, eyes as emotionless as the Usuki’s.
A moment or two passed before Kiran spoke. “Do you know where you were tonight?”
Taite blinked. “Well, Smugglers Cove, but I have a feeling that’s not what you mean...” At this, Asha let out a ‘Can you believe her?’ sigh.
Kiran ignored the Kougra. She was watching Taite so closely the Usul squirmed in discomfort. She was studying her, gauging her reaction. “How much did... Tiffany,” the name seemed dragged from her, “tell you exactly?” Kiran asked incredulously.
Taite hesitated, unsure of how to answer. Tiffany hadn’t told her anything, hadn’t spoken even a word to her. She considered lying, but couldn’t think of what to say. Besides, Taite had a feeling that nothing would irritate Kiran more at the moment than finding out that she had been tricked into telling the truth. This in mind, Taite smirked and said, in a voice much more confident than she actually felt, “Nothing. I never talked to Tiffany, actually. In fact,” she paused, realizing that what she was about to say was true; “I never said I had.”
Kiran continued to stare at Taite, forcing her body language to remain detached, unemotional. Asha’s mouth literally dropped. Not an inch or any dramatic amount, but it did fall slightly open. Her eyes clearly showed defeat, although they still watched Taite carefully, as if seeing her for the first time. When she finally spoke, it was in a shaky, barely audible voice so that she could have been talking to herself—but, of course, she was not. “You’ve been spending too much time with Kiran.”
“I’m not going to take that as a compliment,” Taite spat; then she turned on Kiran. “You can’t keep whatever this is from me. So you might as well start talking.”
“I was trying to,” the Acara murmured with a roll of her eyes, before continuing on in her regular blasé voice. “As I was saying- you weren’t just at a party tonight. You were at one of The 400’s parties. It’s a... well, there’s no other way to put it than this- it’s a clique. It’s the top clique in Neopia, but it’s a clique all the same. Anyway, The 400 is basically what its name states- a group of the four-hundred finest pets from across the world. Each member is ranked according to their current social status. Rankings mean everything, and they are constantly changing. I mean, you wouldn’t go from say, number three-hundred to number one-hundred-and-twelve, but you might go from three-hundred to two-hundred-and-ninety-seven, to three-hundred-and-two. Obviously we all strive to get closer to the double or even single digits, because once you’re there, you’re practically golden.”
Taite couldn’t see what this had to do with Tiffany, but as Kiran was never one to ramble pointlessly, she went along with it. “So who decides the rankings? You?”
“The Powers That Be- our little nickname for the top five pets- deign themselves to the task. And no, I am not a top five.” Kiran hesitated for a moment before murmuring, “Yet.” At this, Asha’s emotional stress became so much that she started trembling slightly. The Kougra curled herself in a tighter ball, eyes flicking around the room.
Taite averted her eyes, deciding it was best to just focus on Kiran. “So you’re not in the top five. What is your ranking then?” Her voice gave way to her impatience. She didn’t want to talk about anything except what had happened between Kiran and Tiffany. And yet... She was the slightest bit intrigued.
From Kiran there was silence. She seemed to not have heard the question at all. In fact, she was staring through Taite as if the Usul wasn’t even there. Asha’s small voice, however, answered her. “Ten. She was number ten. She used to always be number ten. And I, with my number twenty ranking, used to always be so envious... And then she starting bouncing back and forth between ten and eleven, and at first we didn’t realize what was going on. But it was happening even then... That rivalry, that grudge match- even then...” Asha lapsed into silence when she caught the look of absolute disgust Kiran sent her way.
“But what does this have to do with Tiffany?” Taite demanded. She didn’t want to relive Kiran’s twisted past aloud; she just wanted to know what had sparked the miniature catfight tonight at the cove.
“Don’t you get it? It was her! It was Tiffany who ousted me out of my ranking! Once you get in the top ten, you're supposed to keep your spot and gradually make your way toward the top five—that way, when one of The Powers That Be steps down, there is a worthy, experienced person to take their place! I worked long and hard to get from number four-hundred to number ten! I was supposed to stay there, work my forward if anything! I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO GO BACKWARDS!” Had Kiran actually been talking in a normal voice, she most likely would have screamed the last sentence. With her whisper, however, it came out as something like a hiss.
Asha unfolded herself and stretched across the bed to lay a paw of comfort on Kiran’s shoulder. “This all started happening about a year ago, and it was a direct insult for Kiran to keep being placed at number ten, then bumped back to eleven, then pushed forward to ten. Any other number and this would be normal, but like she said, the top ten hold an honored position. And obviously we knew that Tiffany was behind it, as she was always number ten whenever Kiran wasn’t. It became clear that the Powers That Be could not decide who was fit to stay in that tenth slot, so when River came to us...”
Taite took in a sharp breath. Not River. Not the same fake little Uni who was the reason Taite had been abandoned in the pound. Kiran could not, could absolutely not, be in contact with someone like her.
Kiran seemed to know what she was thinking. “Yes, your cousin. The reason- or so you think- that your oh so lovely owner decided to kick you to the curb.” She hesitated for a moment. “And River... Well, she’s a top five, ‘a power that be’. Her family’s blueblood all the way back to the Dark Ages- but of course, you knew that. It’s your family, too.” Kiran shook her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts. “Anyway, River told us that her owner was leaving Neopia, which meant that she was at risk of being pounded. Pounded pets lose their ranking, no exceptions. So we made a deal... I would find someone who could take her in before she was put in the pound and in return, she would put me permanently and rightfully at number ten.”
Eighty tables sat under the mediocre shade of the magnolia trees. They were spaced perfectly out across the colorful sea of grass and flora that was Chameli Gardens, and until a mere hour ago had been undisturbed- their white linen cloths brushed by a kiss of the wind, and the polished china atop them gleaming in the bright sun. Five places had been painstakingly laid at each, and the place cards read not names, but numbers. The table in the center of the garden, for example, housed the numbers one, two, three, four, and five; the tables on the outer edge, however, read larger numbers, such as three-hundred and seventy, or four-hundred. And all this had been left in peace for many hours. But not now. Now faces occupied the numbered tables and there were voices, accompanied by the occasional clanking of porcelain- usually from the circle of places with higher numbers- as someone unfamiliar with the ritual of afternoon tea clumsily handled their silverware. At a table near the center sat a very tense group, composed of a Royal Acara, an Orange Kougra, a Plushie JubJub, a Maraquan Eyrie, and a Desert Aisha.
Kiran Beaumont rolled her eyes at Asha as Tiffany Newberry glanced at the group to her right- which was by no coincidence the top five- and raised her voice. “I’m not surprised I was bumped up to number ten yet again, Delta,” she told her friend. She cast another quick glance in the direction of River and her friends. “After all, we just redecorated the entire mansion with the help of Elle Chatagnier- you know, the interior designer who writes articles for Haute Couture magazine. She actually featured the inside of our home in the last issue and because the article got so many responses, Haute Couture actually paid for me and my sisters to be turned into the species/colour combinations that will be fashionable this season! Of course, they didn’t have to alter my appearance at all, but did you know that Taite is now a Chocolate Usul? There’s only a handful of Chocolate pets in existence! It’s such a sophisticated look, and even those who can achieve the colour can rarely pull it off. Taite manages quite nicely, though. Sashay’s a Pink Lutari now, which of course is as rare a species as Chocolate is a colour. And my baby sister Celia looks just precious as a Faerie Pteri! I never much liked faerie pets or Pteris, but the combination is très chic.” Now she raised her voice as much as was possible without seeming too obvious. For a moment, her eyes strayed from the group next to her and settled on Kiran across the table. “Of course, some of the families here can’t seem to pay for the expense of keeping up with fashion. It’s a wonder how some of them can even be here, looking like they do. Purple pets, for example... The colour is so last season.”
Kiran whisked a royal purple lock of fur out of her icy blue eyes and interjected coolly, “As a personal opinion, I’d respect a pet whose family could pay to buy any paint brush much more than one whose family had found someone else to pay to get their pets the latest colours.”
At this, Tiffany turned a bit red and under the consistency of Kiran’s stare, she finally rose from her chair and walked a few feet away to talk with Cesarette. Tentatively, Delta and Tally followed.
Once they were quite alone, Kiran and Asha turned to each other and began speaking quietly- planning, plotting...
Asha frowned. “Tiffany’s verbal attacks kept coming, and almost always they were somewhere where the top five could overhear. So Kiran and I devised a plan, a perfect plan. We knew River and Tiffany were cousins, although River hated to admit the fact. And Tiffany was so proud of her family’s appearances. She mentioned them whenever she could. So we decided to take care of one thing, and then the other.”
When Asha’s face drained of its color, Kiran rolled her eyes and took over, apparently vivificated. “We knew we could work things out to where Tiffany was spurned and River stayed away from the pound. All it involved was sweet-talking Daddy and Asha’s mom into buying us a couple of paint brushes, then paying a little visit to River’s owner.”
The first thing anyone ever noticed about Bridgette Newberry was that she did not blend into her surroundings. The Haunted Woods in all its grotesque splendour and the Newberry Manor, a decaying mansion that whispered of lost beauty, contrasted so greatly with the fresh, young face of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bridgette that at first, one might wonder what she was doing in the Haunted Woods at all. But further time spent in her company would show just why she fit in so well. Behind her pleasant smile and sparkling eyes lay a wicked temper and a sense of self-righteousness so sharp it was almost malignant.
But Asha and Kiran were not nearly as concerned with this as any normal pet would be. They were used to dealing with such people; and besides, it was only Bridgette’s turpitude that could help them with this plan. Sitting in the formal living room, Kiran tried to remember that as a spyder crawled over her foot. Shaking it off, she addressed the woman before her. “Ms. Newberry, I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re here- and I’d like to ask that this little meeting never leaves the house- but, you see, we have a proposition for you.”
At this announcement, the woman’s face remained unfazed, but Kiran, an expert at reading others, didn’t miss the gleam of greed that lit her cold blue eyes for a fraction of a second. “Of course this is strictly confidential, girls. You needn’t worry about that. You have my word.”
Bridgette’s tone was carefully constructed and obviously put on. The woman was creepy, no doubt about it. Just being around her gave you that same feeling of morbid curiosity that one often experiences the split second before they pull the Lever of Doom. Being no exception, Kiran chose her next words carefully. “If you help us with a tiny little favor, I can personally guarantee you a ticket into next year’s VillainCon, in addition to two million neopoints.”
Again, the flash of cupidity; but in an instant it was gone. “Oh, but the illegality of it all...”
“I have several reliable sources that tell me you were personally involved in the Stock Market Scandal of Y5 and the Neopian Bank Database Crash of Y6,” Asha interrupted. “I don’t think legality is an issue.”
Bridgette’s smile, which had previously been plastered on her face, instantly dropped into a grim line. “Just go ahead and tell me already- what do you need me to do?”
Kiran batted her eyes innocently. “It’s simple, Ms. Newberry. We just need you to convince your sister to get rid of Tiffany and convince her to adopt River.”
“And- and she thought about it, but only for... a second. Only for a second. Then she said it was a d-deal.” Asha was sobbing now and could barely breathe. She snuffled for a moment, then finally choked out, “But this is when things went really, really wrong.”
To be continued...