Worse Than Disguised Dr. Sloth!
The ticket feels small and feeble in his bright yellow paw as the fire Lupe walks slowly up the marble stairs. His black tail swishes behind him, picking up dirt and dust. “You can do this,” he says to himself. “The rumors aren’t true; they’re just stories to scare babies. And I’m no baby,” he growls fiercely, gritting his teeth.
The art exhibit has been open for quite some time, yet Jace, whom his friends all know draws and paints dutifully, has not ventured to purchase a ticket. He finally has, after persistently telling himself that the old mutant Lenny, who leads the tour through the exhibit, could not possibly be Dr. Sloth in costume.
The large oak double doors open silently, blasting Jace with cold air. He enters after shaking his paws free of dirt; a good choice, considering how ornate and luxurious the room is. The flooring is a dark wood, making the stark white walls very dramatic. Modern cream colored sofas and plush chairs provide seating in front of glass tables. While there is no color in the furnishings, the accessories around the foyer provide random, bright spots around the room. The chilliness of the space makes Jace shiver, and he can’t help but notice how empty it seems...
“Whoa,” Jace whispers. “This place is so... so...”
“Modern?” a voice finishes, making Jace jump. “Cool? Decorative? Bright? Is that what you were going to say, boy?”
Jace looks for the source of the low, deep toned voice. Behind a counter next to another wooden doorway, two yellow menacing eyes glare at him.
Jace suddenly wishes he had listened to his friends.
“Do you have a ticket?” the Lenny asks dryly, not waiting for an answer as he comes from behind the counter.
“Y-yes,” Jace stutters.
The vulture-like Lenny stares at him, waiting. Jace stares back for a few moments before he realizes.
“O-Oh!” he exclaims. “Right!” He walks hesitantly forward, ticket in hand. Is it too late to ask for a refund? he asks himself. The Lenny seems even more intimidating up close. When he takes Jace’s ticket, Jace involuntarily flinches. The Lenny doesn’t seem to notice.
“There are a few rules before we continue,” he says in the same dry, low tone.
“I didn’t get your name,” Jace says, interrupting.
“That’s because I didn’t give it.” The mutant Lenny gives Jace an annoyed look. “It’s Preston,” he says. “Eaglefurt Preston. May I continue?”
“There will be no touching of the windows- -“
“Windows?” Jace asks, interrupting again.
“Yes,” Eaglefurt says, annoyance plain in his voice. “This is a stained glass window exhibit.”
“Oh.” I guess that’s why the gallery is called Colored Glass, Jace thinks, feeling sheepish.
“Like I said, there will be no touching of the stained glass windows. Please stay with the group at all times,” though there is no group to stay with, Jace thinks, “and no photography is allowed. This way.”
Why aren’t there others with the group? What group? The only people here are me and Eaglefurt, Jace thinks, confused. However, he shrugs it off and follows the Lenny.
Eaglefurt leads him to the door by the ticket counter and opens it with a muddy brown wing.
On the other side is a long hall. The walls and floor are made of marble like the stairs Jace ascended to enter the foyer, and the black and white veined stone matches the colorlessness of the foyer exactly. The roof is clear glass, allowing sunlight to pour in through the lengthy, open hall. There are no furnishings, save for a rope barricade creating a gap between the windows and visitors. The effect the sunlight has on the windows is what makes the Lupe stop in his steps: the hall is filled with rainbows. Bright, sparkling colors of green, yellow, red, and blue reflect from the stained glass, rippling the air with color.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” It is more of a statement than a question. Jace doesn’t have an answer anyway, as he is suddenly at a loss for words. He’s surprised to note that the old Lenny actually sounds loving when he speaks of his gallery.
More stained glass windows than Jace has seen in his life are hanging on the marble walls. Flowers bloom in their frames; landscapes are eternally serene; heroes smile at him; villains scowl.
Jace has never thought of stained glass windows as being pieces of art. He has never considered the work that went into creating such beautiful windows. He realizes his mistake now as the colors dance across his face.
* * * *
After leading him through the hall and discussing each window, Eaglefurt turns right into a smaller room, decorated as the hall had been. He tells Jace that each window was crafted carefully by a Blue Draik named Enrettni in a shop called Brightvale Glaziers.
“Did you buy these windows from him?” Jace asks as he looks up at a white snowflake.
Eaglefurt lets out something like a laugh. “Buy them? No, no, no, boy. Enrettni donated the windows to the gallery long ago when it opened for the first time. These are the first windows Enrettni ever created. When the museum closed down because of poor business, these windows gathered dust.” Eaglefurt’s voice turns cold. “No one set eyes on them for nearly twenty years before I came along and renovated the space. I made sure these windows were looked upon again.” His yellow eyes grow distant as he gazes into his past.
Jace walks around the room, stopping at a stained glass window of a beautiful faerie draped in a light blue cloak. Eaglefurt comes up next to him after shaking his head from his flashback.
“That’s Taelia, the Snow Faerie,” he says. “She lives in an isolated hut in the peaks of Terror Mountain. She prefers the snow to Faerieland. Taelia helps lost Neopets find their way home from the mountain. It’s said she even brings them to her hut to warm them up and heal them. There is not a curse she can’t cure, according to the Neopedia. Her skills in alchemy are marvelous, and she has the powers of ice and blesses objects.”
“She’s beautiful,” Jace says.
“That she is,” Eaglefurt replies, using the same kind voice he had while speaking of his windows.
Eaglefurt leads him on through the small room. Jace learns of the Space Faerie and her telepathy powers which saved Neopia from Dr. Sloth and his Mutation Ray. He sees an evergreen tree sparkling in many prismatic shades of green, a fire mote with flames just as bright as Jace’s coat; Hannah grins down at him from her frame; the Soup Faerie reflects brilliant colors and kindness shows in her eyes.
Jace is glad that he gave the gallery a chance. Even Eaglefurt turns out not to be as bad as Jace originally thought. How can Dr. Sloth be hidden underneath those feathers? Jace thinks foolishly. He was dumb to listen to his friends. Eaglefurt is a passionate Lenny who- -
The next room they turn to stops Jace up short.
It’s not the layout of the room that startles him; in fact, this room is slightly bigger than the last they entered. It’s the stained glass windows hanging up that surprise him.
He thought a third room was too much for all of the windows in Neopia, and he was right. These windows are unlike any he had ever seen, and not in a good way. Neopets frightened and surprised cower permanently, etched in different pieces of glass. There are Usuls throwing their hands up as if blocking, Gelerts covering their heads with their paws, Shoyrus attempting to fly away, Grundos staring wide-eyed.
“What is this?” Jace asks, his stomach abruptly feeling queasy. “What happened to them?”
Eaglefurt actually looks surprised. “You don’t like them? They’re my favorite ones? They are unique and each one differs from the rest. Now my stained glass windows will never be alone.”
“What do you mean alo-...You’re crazy! These are real Neopets? You ca—”
“I can’t do this? But I have! And soon you’ll join them!” Eaglefurt lunges at Jace, his wings just missing the Lupe’s fur as Jace dodges. Eaglefurt doesn’t realize his own weight as he stumbles toward the spot Jace had been moments before.
As the mutant Lenny skids against the marble wall, Jace takes the chance and dashes through the room. He streams through the doorway to the next exhibit and slides into the large front hallway. Frantically, Jace looks around for a hiding spot, spotting a column against the right hand wall he has not noticed before. Heart beating furiously, Jace hurries behind the column and collapses against its smooth, cold surface.
Why was I not smart enough to stay home? My friends are right! This guy is a wacko! He’s completely obsessed! This is so much worse than him being Dr. Sloth!
The sound of talons clicking against the floor makes Jace hold his breath slightly. He scrunches up into as small a crouch as he can, so that the Lenny won’t see him.
“Come out, boy,” Eaglefurt says slowly. “I won’t harm you.”
Does this guy think I’m crazy?! Of course he wants to harm me! That has to be the most clichéd line for villains!
Eaglefurt’s steps sounding closer, Jace wills his heart to slow down. He’s sure Eaglefurt can hear it as it pounds against his chest, seemingly through his fur. A beak suddenly thrusts to the side of the column, just inches from where he would be able to see Jace.
Jace holds his breath.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeats. “It will be a quick transformation. Think of it: You will never be alone; the stained glass windows will be appreciated along with you.” The Lupe barely breathes as the Lenny stays silent, listening. After a moment, the beaks disappears.
Eaglefurt’s steps fade away further down the hall, and Jace slowly, silently, lets out his held breath. When Jace doesn’t answer, Eaglefurt shouts, “Your friends will be next! Your fate cannot be changed! Theirs will be your fault!” Eaglefurt’s voice echoes through the long hallway as the sound of his steps subsides.
Thinking he has gone to the lobby, Jace creeps slowly from behind the column.
“Gotcha!” Two wings wrap tightly around Jace’s torso, squeezing the breath from him.
“Let me go!” Jace screams. He struggles, kicking his legs and thrashing in the Lenny’s wings. Jace’s strength enables him to wiggle free, and he runs down the hall. The Lenny follows close behind, his talons rapidly clicking against the floor.
The only thing he can think of, Jace jumps over a rope barricade and pulls down a stained glass window. Its weight catches him off guard and unbalances him. Eaglefurt rises over the barricade in half-flight half-jump and lands on his talons next to Jace. He doesn’t see the stained glass window Jace holds until it smashes on top of his head.
Shards of glass fly around the Lenny, and Jace throws a protective paw over his eyes. Eaglefurt collapses in a mess of fragments, unconscious.
Now to free the Neopets, Jace thinks as he backtracks through the rooms to the frightened pets. He stands in front of a pointing Ruki, her face contorted in fear.
“How do I free you?” he asks out loud. Should he break the windows? No, that would only keep them trapped there forever with no chance of getting out. Jace looks over his shoulder, expecting to see two yellow eyes glaring at him as Eaglefurt approaches. However, the room remains empty except for Jace.
He examines the stained glass window carefully. The Ruki’s eyes are wide, not looking directly in front of her, but straight out, at an angle. And she’s pointing....
Jace turns around, looking through the door. The other room remains lit from the sunlight. He looks in the direction the Ruki is pointing, knowing before he sees it that the way to save the pets is there. Taelia.
Knowing he only has moments to spare before Eaglefurt wakes, Jace runs through the open oak doors, his paws thumping against the marble floor. The Taelia window comes from its hook easily, as if it wants Jace to take it down. He sets it on the floor carefully, and looks at the wall, seeing that the window concealed a square indention in the wall. He reaches his paw in and grabs what feels like two handles. When he pulls the objects out, he realizes they are the handles to two hand mirrors.
The only difference between the two mirrors is the color: one shines gold as the other one is black, the shiny color of obsidian. The vines of flowers are carved into their handles, curling around the glass of the mirrors, and rubies and stones of jade blossom into flowers on the vines. Images flit in the reflection of the mirror and Jace watches them closely.
As the last image fades away, he knows what he has to do. He runs back to the frightened Ruki, and follows her gaze this time instead of where she’s pointing. She’s looking at an empty frame. He takes it down just as Eaglefurt slams into him from behind.
“You will not foil my plan!” he shrieks in rage. “I will trap you here and smash your window so you will never escape!”
The impact of the crash knocks Jace down, the black mirror slipping from his grasp. Surprisingly, the mirror does not shatter and Eaglefurt does not notice it or the twin mirror in Jace’s paw. The frame lies a few feet away. Eaglefurt drags Jace up, and faces him. A hair’s breadth separates is all that separates the enraged Lenny from the Lupe.
“Your friends were right,” he whispers sinisterly, echoing Jace’s former thoughts. “I’m bad news. Have anything to say before you turn into colored glass?”
“Yeah,” Jace says. “Look down.”
Confusion etched on his features, Eaglefurt looks down. The sunlight shining through the glass ceiling reflects from the mirror, and an enveloping glow surrounds him.
A look of horror passes through his eyes. “No!” he screams. “No!” The glow seems to pick him up, and suspend him in midair. The Lenny flaps his wings in panic, trying to escape the glow’s grasp. Eaglefurt seems to flatten out, until Jace can barely see him. The empty frame sucks Eaglefurt’s glow into its enclosure. As Jace looks, stained glass begins to appear through the frame, forming the image of a panicked, flapping, mutant Lenny.
Wasting no time, Jace grabs the black mirror, and with a look of triumph throws it to the ground, demolishing it into a million different shards. Stepping over the window of Eaglefurt, Jace goes around the exhibit, tilting the gold mirror at an angle to the portrait of the pointing Ruki. A glow, more pure and stronger than that of the black mirror envelops the stained glass window. Before his eyes, the frame seems to drip its image, and the Ruki is free. She is speechless, but all of her words show in her eyes.
It is a slow process, but Jace goes around to each window, freeing the pets. Their beautiful glass prisons will trap them no longer.