Telzleh's Quest: Part Five
Telzleh opened her eyes slowly as her vision became hazy. The last thing she remembered was the painful crushing of the arms of Zoriaz Boggbroxx's walker and then the beautiful shooting star in the Kreludan sky. After that, everything became blank.
Her eyes slowly focused to the dim light and saw a ceiling made with thatch above her head. Looking forward, she noticed a wall with what looked like scrolls hanging from it. Most showed anatomical references and even strange herbs pictured on them. Aside from the scrolls on the wall, the bed she was on and the small wooden table with a single ornate vase on it, this room was quite sparse. Where did the amulet take her now?
She then heard a noise to her side and slowly moved her head to see a curtain open up to reveal an old Ruki with long white eyebrows and a moustache come in. As soon as he saw her wake, a warm smile spread over his face.
“How wonderful! You finally woke up, my dear,” he said as he walked towards her. “I was beginning to lose hope that you would ever wake up. My efforts in helping you recover were not in vain.”
“Wh-who are you? Where am I? How did I end up here?” Telzleh asked as she sat up in bed, looking confused.
“My dear, don’t you remember how you managed to get all the way up here to Shenkuu? I sincerely hope you don’t suffer from amnesia...” the Ruki wondered aloud, worried.
Shenkuu?! The amulet sent her to Shenkuu? Now for sure she realized she managed to get the energy from Kreludor and the amulet sent her here while she was unconscious. Only question was how long she was out of it.
She shook her head. “No, I remember who I am. My name is Telzleh. I’m from Neopia Central. I just don’t know how I managed to get here and for how long I was out. Please tell me.”
The Ruki crossed his arms. “I see now. Well, my name is Anshu. I’m a doctor. I brought you here to my abode around, say, four months ago. Quite strange how I found you, I might add. You were found inside the gardens of the Emperor’s Palace itself! At first the guards thought you were a spy, but even with all their efforts to rouse you, you didn’t budge. The Emperor then noticed you were badly injured and had you sent to me. I’ve been taking care of you ever since.”
Telzleh closed her eyes as her mind was racing. Being unconscious for four months and then teleported right into the Emperor’s gardens? The amulet had a rotten sense of humor. Lucky she was comatose or else she would have ended up in prison for trespassing. Still the four months made her worry. What if the one who held her energy was long gone? What would happen now?
Anshu cleared his throat and said, “You must be hungry. Let me bring you something to eat. I hope you don’t mind simple rice.” He then left the room to go elsewhere.
As she waited for him to return, Telzleh realized the helmet she wore was gone. She then felt around her mane and sighed relief as she felt the amulet still there. Then again, it was impossible to be removed as Zuxie had shown her by getting the shock of her life.
Anshu returned moments later with a small tray carrying some rice which she carefully ate despite her unfamiliarity with chopsticks. After finishing her meal, she asked him, “Anshu, I wish to know. Where is the helmet I wore while I was unconscious?”
The Ruki nodded in response. “Ah yes. That fishbowl helmet didn’t fare well and was broken beyond any repair. Still, it was quite valuable to some merchants I knew and they paid most handsomely for it. In fact, I used the Neopoints of the sale to buy all the medicines I used for your recovery. I hope you aren’t angry.”
Telzleh shook her head. “Thanks for taking care of me, Dr. Anshu. Am I free to go?” she asked him.
“Well, according to your charts, you may be a bit sluggish when walking, but that is because your muscles were hardly moving these past few months,” Anshu explained, “but I made sure the salves I applied kept them strong and vibrant. Food has been of no consequence for you despite not being able to eat solids for a while. I personally feed you some tea to help maintain energy. Lucky for you that you still had swallowing reflexes, which made it easy. Other than that, you are free to go. I only hope you find your purpose for being here in Shenkuu.”
Telzleh smiled as she got up and felt her muscles tensed up for a few seconds, but she finally was able to move around quite easily.
“Here. In this pouch are the Neopoints I had left from all the purchases I made with the sale of that fishbowl. Keep it safe and have a pleasant journey.” Anshu said as he placed a small silk pouch on her paw. She quickly hid the bag close to the amulet under her mane and then waved him good-bye as she walked out of his house.
As he saw her off, Anshu shuddered as he remembered trying to remove that strange amulet she wore around her neck. The energy it shocked him with would teach him never to remove personal belongings like that again. Still, he felt rather uneasy about it and hoped his worries were unfounded as he walked back into his house.
The mutant Usul walked along the stony paths outside and wondered where she would go from here. The amulet had not flickered in a long time and she was worried she would never find the energy here. Lost in her thoughts, Telzleh was quickly snapped out of it when she heard someone yelling in the distance.
“Come back here, you!” the irate voice said as well as frantic wailing.
Eventually, Telzleh noticed a scared yet very majestic Quilin scampering away from a rather scruffy-looking skunk Poogle holding a knife in his hand as he ran after the frenetic petpet.
Horrified at what was going to happen, Telzleh got down on her knees and waited for the Quilin to jump into her arms and held it tight. The Poogle finally caught up and he scowled.
“You there, Mutant girl! Give that Quilin to me!” he snapped at her as he held out his hand.
“For what? By the looks of you, you’re up to no good and you’re likely to harm this little guy,” Telzleh answered back as she slowly patted the Quilin’s mane.
“Quit stalling! Hand it over to me or you’ll be feeling the business end of my knife!” he shouted as he swiped the air with his weapon.
“No way! I won’t give him to you! Beat it!” the Usul said sharply as she stamped her foot.
The Poogle approached Telzleh until his eyes looked up to something behind her and his expression turned to fear.
“Uh, look at the time. I think I’ll just be going now. You take care of your darling petpet now. Bye!” he said as he turned around and ran away.
She wondered just what happened until she looked back and gasped. Before her eyes stood a yellow Acara with long red hair and wielding a staff in her hands. She knew who she was even without remembering all the stories she read in the Times: Fauna the Gatherer, one of the protectors of Altador.
The Acara’s expression turned serious for a few moments and mused, “The nerve of that Poogle. How could he even think about harming that little one? I swear these youngsters have no respect for petpets nowadays.”
Telzleh gulped as she looked down, unworthy to even face one of her longtime idols. She felt a hand over her head and looked up to see Fauna smile at her.
“You are indeed brave, little Usul. Despite your exterior, you hold internal beauty and courage. You know how to respect petpets and for that you have my blessing,” Fauna said as she bowed her head down in gratitude.
“L-lady Fauna, I am undeserving to be in your presence, but why are you here in Shenkuu?” Telzleh stammered nervously as she looked to the sides.
“I journey all around Neopia after Altador was finally freed from the curse of the Betrayer, trying to help wayward petpets find a good home and making sure those who do them harm do not go unpunished. I was on my way back home when I saw you. I was lucky to have arrived before this beautiful Quilin was harmed,” Fauna replied as she held out her hands.
Telzleh acknowledged the gesture and handed it over. The Acara started to softly rub the petpet’s head and mane.
“Yes, you are quite beautiful, are you not? I can tell your owner cares for you very well,” she said to it. The Quilin started to whimper and Fauna immediately noticed it had a collar and tag. “What is this? ‘FU. LADY NAIRU. SHENKUU IMPERIAL OPERA HOUSE.’ Oh, you must live there, don’t you?”
“‘Opera House’? What’s Opera?” Telzleh asked her.
“Think of it as theater, only sung. You must see it to understand it, little Usul. Come now. Follow me,” Fauna responded as she started to walk away.
Telzleh slowly nodded. This was an experience that comes once in a lifetime. She still felt nervous going along with such a famous Acara as her, but rejecting such an offer would be a bigger insult.
After a long walk, Fauna stopped in front of the entrance of a large, elegant building. A sign outside read: SHENKUU IMPERIAL OPERA HOUSE. Telzleh furrowed her brow. Was this Opera?
Fauna turned back to face her as she held out the Quilin. “This is as far as I will go. I must be on my way to Altador. Please take this darling petpet back to his owner in my stead, yes? I’m sure you’ll be greatly rewarded.”
The mutant nodded and took the Quilin from her hands. As she did, the petpet fidgeted and swiped away at her mane. The unintentional tussle caused the amulet to reveal itself. At the sight of it, Fauna gasped and looked concerned.
“Young one, wherever did you find that medallion?” she asked sternly.
Telzleh gulped. Unlike Thackery and Zuxie, she felt uncomfortable trying to lie to someone like Fauna. “I got this from a stranger who said it would help me make my fondest wish come true,” she finally responded.
Fauna became alarmed. She reached a hand down to the amulet but quickly drew back. “Powerful magic protects it. I don’t know why but I sense uneasiness around it. Be careful, young one, you may be tapping into forces that even you are not ready for...”
Telzleh looked at her with worry. What had come over her? Her amulet was for granting a wish, wasn’t it? She then shook her head and looked firm. “I already am halfway there. I can’t give up now. My return to Acarahood is just three energy recharges away!” Nodding once more, she replied, "I shall keep your words in my heart, my Lady. Please do not feel concern for me. I am perfectly all right." With that, she turned around and entered the opera house with the Quilin in tow.
After watching the Usul enter, Fauna’s face was clouded in anxiety. She knew she had seen that amulet elsewhere but couldn't remember where. She really had to get to Altador right away and quickly talk with both Jerdana and the Archivist to see if they know anything. Holding her hands in prayer, she was swept up by a fair wind called forth by her ally Psellia and rode the current back home.
Telzleh let out a whistle seeing the interior of the building. It reminded her of the Tyrannian Concert Hall, only much fancier and decorated in ornate yet soothing colors. The floors were covered in elegant carpets and the walls were decorated with paper lanterns and various elaborate tapestries and painted scrolls, and this was just the lobby! Telzleh headed towards the back where a Bruce blocked the door.
“Sorry, the performers are in the middle of a rehearsal. Return on opening day,” he said rather sternly.
Telzleh immediately replied, “I bring this little Quilin who has this tag saying that he belongs to someone here. I came here to return him.”
She held it up for the Bruce to see and his expression changed to one of relief. “You found Fu! Lady Nairu will be pleased you have found her missing petpet! Please, do go in!”
The Bruce then stepped back as he opened the door for Telzleh and the mutant headed inside.
As she accustomed herself to the low levels of light, Telzleh let out an astonished whistle as she saw the theater. A large well-lit stage stood at the far end of the room as rows upon rows of seats were placed below it. Telzleh looked up and saw small boxes with seats inside for those who would like a much more aerial view of the stage different from seating below. More paper lanterns dusted with gold were hanging everywhere and scrolls were placed everywhere along the walls. All in all, the atmosphere of this place was that of regal bearing only Shenkuu could provide.
Lowering her eyes, Telzleh noticed a large group of Neopets talking at the front of the stage. A blue Lutari wearing a red silk coat and white trousers was pacing impatiently up and down in front of one the first row of seats as he waved his arms around impatiently. A larger group was standing around the stage listening to his words. Some were dressed in beautiful ceremonial costumes, and some wore more modest clothing carrying various musical instruments in their hands and paws.
One in particular caught Telzleh's eye in the form of a beautiful pink Ogrin female with long black hair running down her back with a gem-encrusted gold-plated hairpin stuck visibly at the top of her head. She was also dressed in a far more elaborate silk outfit in comparison with others on the stage. The Usul could sense great sorrow and pain in her cheerless face as she sat on the floor of the stage.
“What is wrong with all of you? Focus on the performance! Have you any idea what would happen if the Emperor doesn’t like it? We are all finished, that’s what!” the Lutari grumbled loudly.
“Guonji, you don’t understand. Fu is my only joy. I can’t concentrate knowing someone out there could be harming him. I just can’t! Unless he is back, I won’t be able to sing the way you want to,” she said sadly.
The Lutari threw his hands up in the air and responded, "Nairu, are you still worried about that Quilin of yours? Listen, I even asked the imperial guards to help out. So just sing for us, will you?"
The Ogrin just shook her head and crossed her arms. Guonji closed his eyes and slammed down on the seat as all the other Neopets in the vicinity could only muse among themselves. Finally, Telzleh reached the front row and cleared her throat which quickly grabbed everyone’s attention.
"Excuse me, but did anyone lose this little guy?” she asked as she held up the Quilin.
Guonji looked up and silently mouthed a “thank you” before turning his gaze back to Telzleh. “Thanks a lot, Miss. You’re a real lifesaver. Nairu, here! Your petpet is back at last.”
He took the Quilin from her grasp and lifted it towards Nairu on the stage. The Ogrin at first looked worried but quickly softened her face. “Oh, little Fu... I missed you so much. I’m so happy you’re back,” she said as she petted his head and stroked his mane.
“Well, Miss. I guess we should thank you for this. What’s your name?” the Lutari asked.
Telzleh replied, “Telzleh, sir, and might I add I’m really curious about this opera of yours since...”
Guonji started to tap his foot impatiently, interrupting her. “Okay, okay, okay. Time is golden here! Shall we finally get started on the rehearsal? Let’s go!” he said as he clapped twice on cue.
The actors went to their places as the musicians climbed down to a smaller stage set as an orchestral pit and began tuning their folkloric instruments. Nairu sighed sadly as a Kiko stagehand appeared to take Fu from her hands and he went bouncing off. Despite having her petpet back, the Ogrin looked sadder than before. Telzleh wondered why this was so.
Guonji then cleared his throat and Telzleh turned to face him. “Telzleh, right? As a reward, well... I don’t have any Neopoints on hand, so why not stick around and watch us rehearse? Consider it an honor!” he said as he patted the seat next to him in the first row.
Telzleh nodded but felt bitter. This guy was obviously full of himself and looked dishonest. Then again, she did want to know what opera was about. She sat down on the seat as the rehearsal began.
The Usul never imagined opera to be such a blend of music, song and story-telling that was so pleasing to the eyes and ears. This play combined high flying acrobatics, graceful yet powerful fighting sequences and magnificent singing from the performers themselves, despite the play itself being tragic of nature. As she listened to the grandiose voices of all the performers as they acted and sang to the tune of the musicians, Telzleh felt herself immersed in the story, feeling what they felt and rooting for the heroes while jeering the villains. This was quite an impact on her and she knew it.
Nairu was the star of the show as she portrayed the tragic heroine, and for good reason. Her singing was like a faerie choir. Telzleh could feel herself in another plane of existence listening to her melodious aria. She was truly a diva with a golden voice. Despite the fact she didn’t do much in the form of acrobatics or fighting, Nairu’s voice was more than enough to make her a fan.
As Telzleh’s eyes wandered around as she was transfixed by the beautiful singing, her third eye suddenly noticed something amiss with one of the sandbags at the top of the stage. She observed it was starting to sway without anyone noticing until she realized that Nairu was singing directly in front of it. Suddenly, the sandbag snapped loose and headed straight down.
Telzleh stood up from her seat and shouted, “Nairu, watch out!”
The diva stopped singing and turned back, only to gasp in fear. Luckily, she managed to jump out of the way just before the sandbag slammed down where she was standing with a resounding thunk.
The performers and musicians ran up to the site of the accident as Guonji started to groan loudly in frustration. As he did, Telzleh felt her amulet start to flash. The energy recipient was near. Carefully exposing it without anybody noticing her, she slowly started to point it all around. The compass stones flickered madly in front of Nairu who was slowly helped to her feet by some concerned actors. She had found her target.
“No! No! NO! Why do these things happen to me? Is this some cruel joke?!” Guonji moaned angrily.
A Tuskaninny actor looked down at him and said, “Master, have you not realized poor Nairu could have been hurt? Maybe we should cancel this next performance.”
Guonji looked up at him with a glower. “No! We have come this far and we can’t stop now! Just go rest up. We will start another rehearsal in an hour! Be ready! We must be flawless!”
With grumbling and complaining under their breaths, the performers and musicians shuffled off to the sides of the stage. Before she left, Nairu walked up to Telzleh and bowed. “Thank you, noble Telzleh. I am indebted to you.”
Telzleh looked behind her to see the frazzled Lutari drum his fingers against the armrest of his seat, muttering to himself. She realized if there was a way to get close to Nairu, this was possibly the best start.
“What’s wrong, sir?” Telzleh asked him as she sat down beside him again.
The Lutari looked back at her and explained. “It’s none of your business, but if you want to know, I’ll tell you. Ever since I hired Nairu a few months ago, we’ve had a run of bad luck. Sleeping pills in tea causing performers to nod off in the middle of the opera, sandbags like that one you saw earlier falling mysteriously and nearly injuring my singers, and even accidents where my crew are mysteriously injured by falling props! If things keep going like this, the opera house will be closed and we’ll all be out of jobs!”
With that, the haggard Lutari started to massage his temples. Telzleh could only shake her head. Suddenly, she had a brainstorm. If she could help find the saboteur, then she could find out how to get the positive energy out of Nairu.
“Calm down, Sir. You know, maybe I could help you. I’ll find your vandal. Once I do, your little opera can go on without a problem and you’ll get real positive reviews!” Telzleh said as she gave him a thumbs-up.
Guonji looked at her with a wide grin. “You will? That’s great! Ok, Miss, help me run things smoothly and I shall pay you enough Neopoints for you to live in luxury for the rest of your life! Now, get to it!”
First things first, she had to check on Nairu. If these accidents all started when she first appeared, then she might know something. She quickly climbed onto the stage and headed towards the back. The backstage area was quite busy with stagehands fixing and carrying props and sets, tailors mending costumes, musicians tuning their instruments and practicing various chords, and actors rehearsing various acrobatic routines, fighting sequences and even practicing their singing with assistants nearby to help them.
As much as she disliked bothering the opera house troupe, Telzleh asked them for directions to where Nairu would be and was led towards the dressing room hall located at the edge of a flight of stairs leading down towards the back exit.
As Telzleh approached the door leading to Nairu’s private room, two large Tonus wearing thickly-stitched coats and trousers stood guard at opposite sides of the door.
“Halt!” said the red Tonu snapped making her freeze. “State your business!”
“I’m here to check on Nairu,” Telzleh explained. “Your boss Guonji gave me permission to look into the saboteur affecting your performances. I wish to talk with her about some details. Please let me through.”
The split Tonu on the other side shook his head. “Sorry. The Lady is currently indisposed at the moment. Even if Master Guonji gave you access, she said her privacy must be respected. Please come back later when she feels better.”
The Usul pouted and cursed her luck. She noticed the stairs and the door at the bottom, and wondered where they led. As she walked down, one of the Tonus called out, “Wait! If you go out that back door, it will automatically lock. You must walk all the way back to the front, so don’t even try to knock. Nobody will open the door for you!”
Telzleh paid no attention as she went down the stairs and through the reinforced steel door as it slammed shut behind her. Realizing her mistake, she tried to move the knob of the door but it wouldn’t budge. Irritated, she found out she had no other choice but head back through the front. Before she did so, she decided to walk over the entire perimeter of the opera house.
As she rounded a corner, she quickly noticed something peculiar. She found what looked like a piece of sturdy rope that went all the way up to one of the open windows on the second floor.
Curiosity overtook her as she crept up to the side of the wall and inspected it. Testing her claws, she found she could climb up the wall with no problem. Scaling the rocky surface, she finally reached the window with the rope attached. She was just under it when she heard voices within.
“That was close. Even if that curious mutant girl wasn’t there to warn me, I knew exactly when to move away as I reached that aria during the performance. And didn’t I tell you to make sure Fu was well hidden? I mean she found him and I had to accept him back or else Guonji would suspect,” said Nairu’s sweet tone.
“Well, what was I supposed to do? I was on my way here to cut that sandbag over the stage when that Quilin of yours escaped! I knew you told me to keep it safe and I even threatened that girl to give it back but someone else showed up and I had to run!” said a gruff voice that sounded familiar to Telzleh. It was that Poogle from before! What was going on?
Without thinking twice, Telzleh leaped from her point on the wall, through the open window, and landed inside the dressing room. She immediately noticed Nairu stand there along with the skunk Poogle from before. Both looked very shocked seeing her appear like that. Nairu dashed straight for the door until Telzleh intercepted her.
“Not so fast! Out with it! Why are you doing with this petpetnapper? Tell me or else I’ll report all this to Guonji!” she threatened.
Nairu’s face went white in fear as she froze up. “Wait! Don’t do it! It’s not what you think! Honest! I just... I just...”
Telzleh tapped her foot and crossed her arms. “Ok, start talking. I’m listening.”
The Ogrin diva sighed as she walked towards a chair near a vanity nearby and slumped down on it. The Poogle walked over and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Please, you must understand. I am doing all this for my own health. I’m sick of Guonji taking credit for everything I write and my good friend Shobei here was simply trying to help.” Nairu sighed sadly as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.
“‘Credit’? Just what is going on here?” Telzleh asked as she finally stopped blocking the door and sat at the corner of a bed nearby.
Nairu removed her hair ornament and brought out a beautiful golden comb to slowly start grooming her long black tresses.
She then started to relate. “You may think of me as some natural singer, but in fact I’m a writer. Ever since I was a little Neopet, I liked to write beautiful stories of joy, love, peace and heroism. In fact, my wish is to one day have my stories published and read by all Neopians.
"Things changed when Shobei convinced me to enter this contest held by Guonji to look for the first opera diva a few months back when the opera house was constructed. Shobei was my friend from youth and he always enjoyed hearing me sing so he said I was a natural and that I could win that contest. I thought it was just for fun and I didn’t put up much effort. Still, I managed to win, despite the fact I was no acrobat or a fighter which were other qualities a Shenkuu Imperial Opera star must have. Guonji didn’t care since I was made the main actress of the troupe and that I would not do much in that way except sing. So there I was, my dreams of writing dashed while I used my beautiful voice to sing.
"Then Guonji learned I was a writer. One day he told me to write him a story. I did so, he read it and immediately made changes to it. Horrible, distasteful changes making everything a tragic tale with heartbreak, sadness and death. I told him why he did that and he said, and I quote, ‘Opera has no happy endings.’
"When the story was made into an opera through Guonji’s means, it got outstanding reviews and was even acclaimed by the Emperor much to my surprise. That’s when my relation with him changed. Now he wants me to write all his next plays for him or else I will be fired... I couldn’t do that because so many people here in the troupe would suffer under his tyrannical direction, so I was forced to be his prisoner to be the shining light to them all. All he did was get richer using me as his own little puppet.”
She stopped her story only to bury her face in her hands as she silently sobbed. Shobei sighed and hugged her out of comfort. Telzleh gulped as she heard everything. Guonji was a monster and this was the true sadness Nairu felt. Now more than ever, she would do whatever it takes not only to help her, but also gain the positive energy from her.
After wiping her tears with a silk handkerchief, Nairu resumed. “It was Shobei who realized the folly of his ways and tried to find a way to make Guonji treat me with more respect. The only way how was to subtly vandalize the opera house and its performances. We used sleeping powder, allergens, and even set off minor accidents and such, all without the knowledge of the other performers and crew. We both thought with all these misfortunes Guonji would reconsider his horrid treatment of me, but he didn’t. We then tried one desperate attempt to have my beautiful petpet kidnapped but after that failed along with the latest sandbag stunt, I feel this is all futile...”
Shobei gazed down at her with a concerned look. “Nairu, do not give up. There is still one last plan we could use. If this one doesn’t work, then I am out of all options.”
The pink Ogrin looked up in confusion. Shobei leaned down and whispered something into her ear. She then looked shocked, then her gaze turned to Telzleh showing concern, and finally she nodded.
As Shobei moved away, Nairu said, “Telzleh is your name, yes? You said it when you introduced yourself after finding Fu. Well, I want you to be a part of this plan. If Guonji put you up to find the saboteur, he must not know I am behind it all.”
“Understood. I myself wouldn’t trust him with all the PIN numbers of the National Neopian...” the mutant mused.
Shobei finally spoke. “Instead you’ll be our spy of sorts. Here’s what we will do...”
“So I take it you found nothing yet?” the pompous Lutari showman mused while drumming his clawed fingers against the desk of his small office backstage.
“Mr. Guonji, I am ashamed to admit I found no traces of your saboteur. I really think you should cancel the performance so we have a chance to really inspect everywhere,” Telzleh said with a shrug of her shoulders.
Guonji pounded his fist on the desk and snapped back, “Preposterous, girl! The opera will go on and the Emperor will be proud of my... I mean, our great abilities and nothing shall stop it!”
“Well, all I say is if Nairu or any of your performers end up really hurt or worse, all this will be on your head, you know. An impresario who doesn’t take care of his team will be seriously frowned upon,” Telzleh said smugly as she herself started to drum her claws against the desk.
“Listen here. I dislike those with big mouths who think they can tell me what to do. If you can’t help me, then leave my opera house!” Guonji snarled.
Telzleh twitched her eyebrow but kept her cool. She had to stall him as much as she could. She then heard founding footsteps approach and smiled under her breath
“Master Guonji! Horrible news!” the red Tonu guard said exasperated as he and his partner burst in.
“Lady Nairu is no longer in her room! We knocked on the door to ask if she felt better. When she didn’t answer, we barged in and she was gone! All we found was this piece of paper,” added the split Tonu as he handed the Lutari the aforementioned paper.
His former cocky demeanor vanishing, Guonji silently mouthed the words and then sat back on his chair with a catatonic gaze in his eyes. Telzleh grabbed the note and read it.
“‘Guonji, I am through. I’m running away to where you will never find me. I’m sure your ‘genius’ will produce more operas to please the Emperor. To all my fellow actors and the crew, I’ll miss you all. Nairu’,” Telzleh read aloud as Guonji could only shake his head silently.
“Master Guonji, what should we do?” the split Tonu guard asked.
The Lutari was still staring blankly ahead but eventually managed to mutter, “Call everyone. Emergency reunion. Now.”
All the actors and crew slowly began to assemble around the stage in front of a lone chair placed in the middle. They started to talk among themselves wondering what was happening. Finally, Guonji and Telzleh appeared from the side of a curtain and walked towards them. The Lutari sat down in the chair as the Usul joined the rest of the crowd.
“Everyone, I have horrible news. Our diva has fled. She has run away,” Guonji said solemnly. The entire troupe gasped in disbelief and started to talk to each other hurriedly.
Guonji raised his hand and they all ceased talking. “Rest assured, I will try and locate her whereabouts and try and talk some sense in her. We really need her back and I will do whatever it takes to bring her back. I know I’ve been pushing all of you through a lot but that’s because I care! We must understand that...”
One of the lobby doors in the back suddenly opened up and the Bruce guard called out. “Master Guonji! There’s someone out here who needs to speak with you. He says it’s urgent. Wait. Let him tell you himself.”
Everyone turned around and were surprised to see, but more to Telzleh’s shock, the form of Shobei limping down the aisle. The skunk Poogle was badly injured with bruises and bumps over his face and body. His own clothes were torn and ripped in some areas. Telzleh could do nothing but shake her head. What happened to him? But more importantly, what happened to Nairu?
Shobei finally reached the end of the aisle in front of the stage as Guonji got up from his chair and moved closer to see him. “Wait! I recognize you!” the Lutari said, “You’re that Poogle youth that escorted Nairu to her first tryouts! What are you doing here? Speak up!”
Shobei breathed heavily despite his injuries but managed to say, “It’s horrible! Nairu... has been kidnapped by bandits!”
Everyone gasped once more, but Telzleh was twice as dumfounded. Guonji shook his head in disbelief. “What happened? Tell me everything!” he demanded.
Shobei sat down on the floor and tried hard to maintain consciousness. “She asked me to come to her room. She said she was running away and needed my help to get her out. I helped her escape and we were just about ready to have her stow away on a ship leaving Shenkuu when this band of thieves appeared. I tried to defend Nairu, but I was badly beaten. They then took her away and told me to tell you that they want two million Neopoints in ransom for her safe return...”
As everyone started to whisper among each other, Telzleh mentally sighed relief. Shobei was smart enough not to mention the sabotage or that she was in on the plan. But the fact she got kidnapped made things more complicated.
Guonji, meanwhile could only let out a shout of frustration as he raised his hands to the sky. “Why?! Why do all these things happen to me?! This must be a dark faerie curse! It must be!”
“Master Guonji, we really must alert the Imperial guards right away or even the Defenders! What is your choice, sir?” a Jetsam seamstress asked him. Everyone turned to face him and see what he had to say.
The Lutari impresario just stood there silent. He then turned his back and lowered his head. “I... I must go lie down. I must think of all the possibilities now. No one, repeat, no one must do anything until I say so,” he muttered sadly as he shuffled off the stage towards the back. Seconds later, a loud slam was heard as a door was closed noisily.
Telzleh watched everyone panic and knew she had to find Nairu both to save her AND get her positive energy! The only one who might know is Shobei so she had to enlist his help.
Jumping down from the stage, she helped the injured Poogle to his feet. “Everyone, stay here. Don’t panic! I’ll go take this guy to a doctor. I’ll be back very soon,” she said.
A Chomby musician piped up, “Are you sure you don’t need our help? He’s far too injured to...”
“No! It’s ok. I can do this by myself. Just stick with Guonji.” Telzleh said as everyone nodded.
Once she took Shobei outside, she immediately asked, “Shobei, what happened? Didn’t you say you and your men would see to it that Nairu would be safely taken to a house to await news on Guonji’s reconsideration of his treatment towards her?”
Shobei answered rather painfully, “Curse them! They rebelled against me! They found more profit in kidnapping Nairu and than keeping her safe. I’m sure they took her back to the hideout to await the delivery of the ransom. If any guards or even Defenders appear, they swore Nairu would be hurt! I can’t let them do that! What can I do?”
Telzleh looked at him sternly. “Take me there, Shobei. We’ll figure out a way to rescue her.”
The skunk Poogle shook his head. “No. Impossible. See how they bested me. You won’t stand a chance!”
“No way to know until I try. Now, lead the way!” Telzleh reaffirmed once more as she dragged Shobei to their destination.
The Poogle eventually led her to an abandoned building nestled in a valley close to the mountains. It was already dark when they finally arrived and Shobei didn’t fare any better as he groaned and moaned in pain throughout the entire journey.
Telzleh moved some thick brush aside to see the building up close. The building looked deserted except for a faint light coming from inside. No doubt Nairu was kept there.
“This used to be an old pottery factory before they closed it down for a larger building in the city. The boys thought it would make the perfect place to hide Nairu,” Shobei explained and the mutant nodded.
Setting Shobei against a tree, Telzleh tried to formulate a quick plan of stealth like the one she made back in Kreludor. As all her attention was focused on the building and finding a way in, she failed to notice a large blunt object over her head which struck down on her. Telzleh went out like a light as she landed on the floor.
When she finally came to, she felt her head. That blow really hurt. Her eyes quickly adjusted to her surroundings and she realized she was stuck inside what looked to be a gloppy mass of clay covering her entire body. Despite having the consistency of goo, the clay was sturdy enough for her to not even be able to move a muscle. She was stuck tightly. The only part of her body exposed was her head.
Looking around, she realized she was in a large chamber strewn about with empty crates and a large kiln with a roaring fire inside. No doubt this was the nerve center of the pottery factory before it closed. To her side, she saw the pink Ogrin diva shackled by her ankles and wrists. She looked very afraid.
“Nairu! Are you all right?” Telzleh asked she tried to move her head to see her.
“Miss Telzleh, you finally regained consciousness. Please let me out of here. These hoodlums look like they will hurt me! I’m scared!” she said with tears.
Telzleh bit her lip, realizing she was completely helpless herself. Suddenly, she heard a set of double doors opening at the far end of the room and noticed a Draik and Krawk enter the room. A dark looking figure followed closely behind them.
“Well now, I see you all have fallen right into my trap. You are all so gullible,” said a voice that was all too familiar to both Telzleh and Nairu.
The figure stepped into the light and was revealed to be none other than Guonji himself. He looked ever more threatening than before now with the dark smile spreading across his face.
“Master Guonji? Why are you here? What is going on?!” Nairu snapped at him.
The Lutari wagged a finger at her. “Did you really think I was blind, you foolish girl? I knew all about your plans to accredit yourself for all the wonderful stories you supplied me with for my operas! I admit, you got me there with all those injuries to yourself, but luckily... I had a man on the inside...”
Before both could fathom this betrayal, an even greater one awaited them as Shobei himself stepped through the doors and joined Guonji by his side. A cruel smirk was on his face. Telzleh seethed in hatred while Nairu was beside herself in shock and distress.
“Shobei...You too? But why? What did I ever do to you? I thought you were my friend...” the Ogrin said in a half-broken voice.
“Oh, don’t blame your little friend for what he did. He had no choice. It was either helping me or going straight to the dungeons after he had the gall to pickpocket me,” Guonji said with scorn.
“It’s like this,” he explained, “I began life as a simple musician playing in the streets of Shenkuu. Despite poverty, I had great dreams. I wanted to be an opera impresario. To have a musical choir under my control! Create spectacles of theatric art to be long admired after I leave this world! A glorious dream! But sadly, I had no money and I was stuck being a lowly street musician...
"A few months afterwards, I met him... My sponsor. I don’t know what his business was nor did I care. He gave me an opportunity. He would personally fund my dream of creating a theater just for me! I agreed to it and soon, in less than a day as if by magic, the opera house was built! I then started to search for able members to start as my troupe. Performers, musicians, stagehands, tailors, prop makers, everything! Neopoints were of no consequence. My benefactor helped me every step of the way.
"But then, a problem arose. Despite my musical genius, I was... inadequate in creating stories to set to music. I need to find the perfect pawn to write the stories so I could set them to music. That’s when I found my next ally...this young street urchin. After he unsuccessfully tried to rob me, I was ready to throw him in prison until he started to plead for his life saying he knew someone with a beautiful singing voice. When I said to him I had enough female singers, he told me she also had the gift of imagination in creating wonderful works of poetry and prose. That’s when I knew I had to have...you, my dear Nairu.
"It was easy for him to convince you to enter my ‘rigged’ competition. I would allow you to win anyway despite your inability to fight or be acrobatic. That’s when I finally had you in my grasp and I was ready to start my career. Before he left me though, my benefactor said that from them on the only kinds of operas he wants me to do are tragedies and similar tales like that. If I should ever create any that isn’t, all my donations would cease. That is why I had you write such stories, my dear. I had to protect my interests.
"However, my good friend informed me you were getting a bit impatient and angry with me. I knew I couldn’t fire you so I decided to endure your foolish little tricks to get me to change my mind. That is, until my good friend gave you the idea to run away. That’s when I realized I had my perfect opportunity.
"There was only a little flaw in my plan. I needed... a scapegoat. Someone whom I could blame for the ‘unfortunate demise of our beloved diva’. That patsy ended up being... You, mutant girl! All it took was giving my friend a few lumps and it would look like his cohorts betrayed him. Now you’re in my clutches...
"Yes, I can see it now! ‘Brave Impresario finds out that both the saboteur and leader of the gang of bandits is a monsterous mutant Usul who was jealous of Nairu’s beauty. He then storms the villain’s hide-out only to see her bathe the unfortunate diva in clay and burn her in the kiln! The brave hero sends the hideous criminal to her demise but not before losing a voice that brought joy to us all!’ Oh, a story fit for the Times! I will be even more famous!”
Telzleh could not believe her ears. This guy not only was an egomaniac, but also crazy! She started struggle even more but the clay was too thick for her to escape.
“You... monster! You will never get away with this!” Telzleh screeched at him.
Guonji shook his head. “Actually, I will. After we free you enough from your foundation, we’ll throw you inside the kiln where you will meet your maker. And Nairu? She’s far more valuable to me alive. I mean, I need her to continue to write my operas for me! If she doesn’t, well, I could be quite persuasive...” He then started to chuckle.
Nairu was speechless. The mere shock that both her superior and best friend since childhood betrayed soon made her cry out in anguish.
“Now without further ado, let have a roast!” Guonji said as he pointed a finger at the Draik and Krawk slowly approach her with shovels. No doubt she would be freed enough for them to grab her and throw her to a fiery demise. That was all she could take and she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.
Suddenly, the entire building began to vibrate with great intensity as a small source of light began to emit from the center of the gooey clay prison.
Guonji could shake his head in disbelief. Nearby, Shobei and his men huddled close together as they slowly started taking a few steps back. “You know what, Chief? I think me and my boys will be going now. I hope you enjoy the rest of your operas! Don’t call us, we’ll call you!” he shouted as he, the Draik, and Krawk scampered off.
“Cowards! Come back here!” he yelled only for the shaking to be even louder and the light source shining even brighter. Telzleh opened her eyes and looked at Guonji with a powerful three-eyed stare as she gnashed her teeth. Before the Lutari could realize what was happening, a loud explosion from her body sent the clay flying out, heading straight at him. Guonji didn’t even have time to scream before the clay crashed down on him, leaving a lumpy pillar of clay where he stood.
Nairu looked on dumfounded as she gazed upon the now-destroyed cube. Glowing with an unnatural aura, Telzleh stood in the center, completely clean of the clay which a moment ago was all over her fur. The mutant closed her eyes in thanks. The amulet had once again saved her life. First the Snowager’s icy blast was repealed and now this near-fatal encounter. The aura soon dissipated and she ran over to Nairu.
Finding the keys to her shackles carelessly placed nearby, she quickly unlocked everything and released her. The Ogrin could only look down in shame.
“I was a fool. They all tricked me. My best friend and my manager... Why was I so blind?” she said as she started to cry again.
Telzleh softly hugged her and patted her back. “It’s ok. You just never know.”
Helping her to her feet, they quickly walked over to the large pillar of Guonji’s clay-encrusted form. “Is he... alive?” Nairu asked with worry.
Telzleh crept up to the pillar and held her ear out. She could made faint yells of frustration from inside. She then grabbed huge globs and clay and finally managed to expose Guonji’s irate head.
“You fools! Once I get out of here, I swear I shall send you all on a one way trip to Oblivion!” he yelled out.
Telzleh said smugly as she leaned her head in enough for him to smell her breath. “Kidnapping? Extortion? Attempting to destroy an innocent Neopet? Oh, I’m sure the Emperor will throw the book at you, Guonji.”
The Lutari growled only for him to smirk again. “Then everyone will be out a job! How do you like that, Nairu? You tell everyone they are all fired! You’ll all be out on the streets!”
Nairu, who until that moment felt sadness and fear, looked sternly at the Lutari as she walked up to his imprisoned form. “You are wrong, Guonji! You think acclaims and sell-out crowds are what opera is all about? You are mistaken! We don’t need a fancy opera house to tell a story. We need imagination, emotions, and positive energy to see us through. Besides, the Emperor will look favorably upon us and I’m sure he will help us. You can enjoy writing your so-called ‘musical genius’ compositions from a cell in the dungeons!”
Nairu then turned to Telzleh with a hopeful smile. “Telzleh. Thank you. You have finally freed me from the shackles of repressing my talents. I will be both a singer AND a writer. I shall show the opera world joy, hope, and peace. Things Guonji fails to notice which gives everyone reason to go on. It is all because of you. You are truly a blessing of the faeries...”
With that, Nairu closed her eyes and then let out a beautiful aria of joy. As she did, Telzleh noticed her shine with a familiar aura. It was time.
Telzleh revealed the amulet as the ball of energy flew from the diva’s body and landed on the stone to be recharged. Only two more left...
With her objective cleared, Telzleh vanished. Before Nairu could open her eyes, her entire body froze as it slowly and quickly turned into a stone statue. Her body stuck in the middle of the aria she had yet to finish. Guonji could only stare in shock seeing what happened.
At that moment, the double doors burst open, showing the Draik and Krawk running inside in panic.
“Here! I’m sure I saw that girl here!” the Draik called out as he and his partner were shaking in fear while footsteps were heard behind them.
Fauna appeared along with King Altador and Jerdana in tow. The three protectors looked around and noticed the trapped Lutari in his mound of clay and the statue nearby.
“We are too late,” Jerdana said sadly. “She has been drained. There is nothing we could do.”
“Heroes of Altador! Listen to me! This girl removed something from dear Nairu and vanished! All she left was this statue of her! By the faeries, I have never seen anything so horrible in my life!” Guonji said with feigned shock.
“Unsettling news, indeed. The amulet carrier must have already disappeared. Can you find her, Jerdana?” the regal Lupe asked her.
The Aisha shook her head. “I can’t. There is not enough magic residue to find where she is now. I’m sorry, your Majesty.”
Fauna looked down in shame. “I’m sorry, everyone. If I only knew earlier about the power that amulet held, I would have taken her with me.”
Altador shook his head and smiled. “Do not blame yourself, Fauna. You did well in informing us. Now, we must notify Queen Fyora immediately to enlist the aid of all the faeries to find her. We have no time to waste.”
“Wait! Can you please release me? I came here trying to save that poor Ogrin girl only to be immobilized by this clay! I really must get back to my opera house!” Guonji pleaded.
“You big liar! You’re our boss and you nearly had us killed if we didn’t retreat!” the Krawk yelled back.
“What? Those filthy street urchins are the real liars! I am simply a humble man of opera! I must return now to my theater to start my next performance!” Guonji retorted.
Fauna approached him again and held her palm out, only to frown. “He is fibbing. We must take him to the proper authorities before we head off towards Faerieland.”
Jerdana nodded and immediately shot out a beam of magic energy out to snatch the two thieves who tried sneaking out under them. “Not to mention this duo as well. We must not waste any more time. We have to hurry!”
Shobei placed a hand over his rapidly-beating heart. He was lucky to get separated from his men after the disaster. One second more and those three strangers would have found him as well.
He then looked up and saw a shadowy form appear in front of him, causing him to jump up in fright. The figure moved closer and the Poogle relaxed realizing who it was.
Shobei laughed and said, “Ah, it’s you. You were right. That mutant girl broke free from the cement just like you predicted. Guonji was none the wiser. Honestly, I was tired for working for him and I’m glad to be free of him. Anyways, you promised me a great reward for helping you, so give it to me!”
The figure’s hand began to emit a dark aura as a ball formed above it and quickly fired the orb to the unsuspecting Shobei. Soon, where a Poogle once stood, there was now a Blechy crawling away as fast as its body could take it.
The shadow frowned. Things got much more difficult now that Altador and his company know of the plan. The carrier must complete her mission at all costs. Without any more reason to alert anyone of its presence, the shadow disappeared in a puff of black smoke.
Fyora again observed the hallway where the statues of the cursed were placed. Ever since the Space Faerie brought a trio of Grundos who were affected by the plight, there were no more events of the sort since then. Was it over? Before she could fathom this further, the front doors burst open and a faerie guard appeared.
She quickly knelt before her and said, “Your Majesty. We have visitors and they have brought an unsettling gift.”
At that, she looked up and saw Altador and Jerdana appear with the statue of Nairu floating in the air behind them held up by the Aisha’s magic.
“King Altador? What is the meaning of this? To what do I owe your presence?” the Faerie Queen asked.
The Lupe only shook his head. “We know the source of the curse. All of Neopia is in grave danger...”
To be continued...