Backfire!: Part Four
The race to Neopia Central was agony. The sky was darkening, and temperatures were dropping. The cold air was ripping at Redsy's lungs, but he didn't dare stop. Sure, Kaz had been planning to give that necklace to Ashalica, so it couldn't have been too drastic. But still, it was Kaz, one half of the Torture Twins, teamed up with Jhudora. How could any of them be sure that the explosion wouldn't hurt anybody?
"How much longer until--?" gasped Redsy. He didn't have to finish.
Kaz was out of breath, but still annoyed. "Two hours--and twelve minutes... just like it was when you asked me thirty seconds ago!"
"Quit talking," Kizzy ordered them. "We'll get there faster!"
The dense forest contained a direct trail to the Neopia Central, but the trip felt longer than usual. Maybe it was something about the lives of many hanging in the balance. Redsy quickened his pace to a sprint, pulling ahead of the others. This Rainbow Lupe was meant for speed. This was crazy--he hadn't even been a part of this conspiracy. But then, he had been the one to bomb little Benny with water balloons, prompting Asha to blame Kaz, putting the whole thing in motion...
"Almost there!" came Kizzy's voice behind him. The trees began to clear, revealing the blood red of the sky stained by an inky blue--twilight. Faded constellations were taking shape. Redsy sped up.
The Marketplace seemed to spring up out of nowhere. Suddenly, Redsy found himself barreling through a crowd of shoppers, struggling to skid to a stop. Nearly bowling over a pair of Shoyrus, Redsy whirled around to see the twin Cybunnies not far behind.
"We need to find--Taylor," Kizzy gasped, struggling for calm. They were all out of breath, breathing hard.
Kaz was gasping for air when he choked out, "Over there!"
It wasn't Taylor--but it was Ashalica, their oldest sister. She was at an outdoor table near the Smoothie Shop, sipping daintily at a smoothie, her eyes on a male Zafara across from her.
The three sprinted for her table. In his enthusiasm, Redsy almost knocked it over, crashing into the male Zafara, who'd been about to reveal the punchline to a stupid joke that Asha didn't understand but laughed at anyway. Asha's bewildered gaze flashed from Lucas, who was on the ground, massaging his shoulder, to her siblings, at whom she glared. "You'd better have a good reason for mauling my friend."
"Have you seen Taylor?" demanded Kaz, getting straight to the point.
"Go away," was the helpful reply.
Kaz and Redsy exchanged meaningful looks, then, simultaneously, each grabbed one of her arms and lifted her, smoothly dragging her away from the table, even while she kicked and struggled, hissing a stream of sufferings that she hoped were inflicted upon them. Nearby pets stared.
"What's your deal?"
Asha tore herself away from her brothers, glaring at them. "Why should I tell you?"
"It's urgent, Ash," Kizzy said, glaring at her.
Asha crossed her arms in defiance. "She went, like, that way." They all looked in the direction Asha was pointing, as if hoping to see Taylor bursting heroically onto the scene with the necklace in hand. "She was headed for the guild, to meet up with everyone. They'll circle back this way soon, though. Now, if you'll excuse me--" She took a step away from them, but Lucas, the dreamy Zafara, was gone, apparently under the true impression that Asha's siblings were hazardous, and that he'd be in danger by association. Asha pouted. "He left!"
"We've got more important things to worry about," snarled Kaz.
Kizzy thought for a moment. "Kaz, go to Jhudora and see if there's anyway to reverse the spell."
Asha snapped to attention. "What spell?"
An uncomfortable silence descended. Redsy spoke up. "We should just tell her."
"No way!" Kaz growled.
"Tell me what?"
"She'll find out," Kizzy added, sneaking a look at Kaz's watch. "In one hour and thirty-two minutes, I might add."
"What?" whined Asha.
Kizzy stamped her foot and the story came out. "The necklace! The one Kaz gave you, he had Jhudora put a curse on it--it was set to explode, in four hours, from the time she cursed it!"
Asha fixed Kaz with a furious glare. "You were going to give me an exploding necklace!?"
Kaz's gaze was murderous. "At least I didn't ruin your favorite sweater!"
The effects of these words rendered Ashalica incoherent. She sputtered in anger, glaring first at Kaz and then at Kizzy, and finally managed, "I--you--ARGH. I don't think Kaz should go to Jhudora alone. What if he gets her to make more explosives?"
"Yeah, that's been my plan all along," mumbled Kaz sarcastically.
"Someone should go with him," urged Asha, still red-faced with fury.
"Not you," Redsy snapped. "You'll push him off the cloud! How about me?"
Kizzy, still angered by Kaz's betrayal, blurted out, "Not you, balloon boy!"
Kaz rounded on Redsy for this. "Balloon boy?" It dawned on him. "You did it? You? Of all people--" His gaze landed on Kizzy. "And you kept the secret for him! There was no limited edition plushie--how could you stoop so low?"
"How could I stoop so low?" Kizzy's shouted words were drawing attention. "Me? You blackmailed me into helping you plot against our owner--"
"You're a good one to talk about blackmail, Kizzy!" Redsy snapped.
"And you!" Kaz was snarling again. "THE ONLY REASON I WAS PLOTTING AGAINST TAYLOR WAS BECAUSE YOU FRAMED ME--"
This came from behind them, and all four pets wheeled around to see none other than their owner, loaded with boxes and wearing an expression appropriate to being struck by lightning.
"How... er... much of that did you hear?" Kaz's voice was suddenly small.
"Not enough, apparently." Taylor looked dazed, as if she were trying to force herself back into reality. "What's this about a cursed necklace?"
The explanation came out in a torrent.
"--Kaz got this necklace from Jhudora--"
"--I made her put a curse on it--"
"--convinced her, really--"
"--it was for Asha, it was set to explode in four hours--"
"--for revenge, for, you know, ratting me out--" Kaz looked bitter.
"--which was like, totally unfair--" Asha interjected.
"But then," Kizzy started up the narrative again, "Asha lost it--"
"--and Pippa found it, she had it in her mouth--"
"--she buried it in one of the boxes that you were taking here--"
Taylor held up her hands as if to signal a time-out, glaring at all four of them. "Okay. We'll skip the part where I yell at you and tell you what a disgrace you are, because I think you four pretty much covered that. Which box was it?"
Kizzy struggled to remember. "I think there was a green sweater inside. Lime green."
"Ugh," was Asha's opinion. "That was Kaz's. Lime green. Yellow stripe. Very tacky."
"You got it for me," mumbled Kaz.
"Not the point right now." Taylor broke up the argument. "Someone's carrying that box for me!" She turned to face a mob of twenty-or-so guild members, all heavily loaded down with boxes, chatting amongst themselves, completely unaware of the danger. "Where's Tally? Look for a green Shoyru named Tally!"
They scattered. Members were soon bumping into each other, chirping, "Tally! Where's Tally? Have you seen her?"
Taylor pulled Kaz aside. "How much time do we have?"
"Just over an hour!"
Kizzy grabbed Kaz roughly by the shoulder. "Go to Jhudora and see if you can reverse the spell somehow!"
Taylor snarled, "And if you get another exploding necklace, Fyora help me, I'll tie you to your bed for the next forty years!"
With that profound bit of motivation, Kaz took off.
There was an eruption of cheering as Asha dragged forward a bewildered Shoyru. "I found her! I found Tally!"
"Tally!" Taylor said quickly. "That box I gave you--the one with the bright green sweater inside--"
"The tacky one," Asha chimed in.
"Where is it?" Taylor said, getting them back on track. "Do you have it?"
Tally looked confused beyond imagining. "Oh, that box? I gave it to Rudy!"
"Look for Rudy!" Taylor cried. "Red Scorchio! Go!"
The story leaked out. One of the boxes contained an exploding necklace. Members were diving through the crowd, dropping their boxes, terrified that they could be holding the designated one. Items scattered. Heaps of them were kicked aside in the mad scramble. Passersby began to stare, nudging the nearest Neopian, asking for information as to what could have caused nearly thirty people to drop all their things and begin to search as though possessed. Was it some disease? Was it catching?
Kizzy stood, feeling completely hopeless. It was bedlam. How would they find the necklace in all this?
And then she heard it.
"Look, Mommy! Look what I found on the ground--such a pretty necklace!"
To be continued...