Celandine: Part Three
"Who's gone?" asked Lanshar, looking around the room. She caught sight of a bowl filled with water and a little pool. "The Searex?"
Jedd nodded mournfully, shrinking inside of his bright green scarf.
"I was just coming in to give her some breakfast!" he wailed. "Jaime is gone too. I would never have thought that he would... would do something like that." Tears filled his eyes. "It's all my fault. I fell asleep without checking in on her last night. Now it's too late to even look for them! It's all over." He sniffled.
Lanshar felt a little awkward. What could she say?
"Do you know where he might have gone?" she asked.
"To Maraqua, I suppose. I guess this proves you really can't trust anyone," moaned Jedd as he wiped his teary eyes with a corner of his scarf.
"That's not true! You can trust me--and Para, and Brea. We'll help you," said Lanshar.
"Not that it will do any good," mumbled the inconsolable Acara, picking up the broken pottery. "It's all over, the Searex will never get better, I'll never see Rainne again and then the shelter will be shut down--who will want to stay here any more once they hear what happened?"
Lanshar slipped out, not knowing quite what to say.
Brea was in the reception room watching Firestop in the fireplace as he merrily darted around. She hadn't heard the crash over the roaring of the burning logs. Lanshar told her what had happened and Brea rushed to the hallway, looking concerned. Para was still deep asleep on the overstuffed couch, her fur dried in spiky clumps. Lanshar, with nothing else to do, went outside.
The only sign that last night's storm had really happened was the amount of muddy puddles all around the shelter. Other than that, it was all clear skies and cool sea breezes. Lanshar sat on the porch and gazed at the hilly lands around her. She supposed they'd go back to the library now that the Searex was gone for good. Maybe that Peophin was taking the Searex back to her owner. Why was Jedd fretting like that?
She went around the shelter to the back and sat at the edge of the short cliff, staring off into the horizon. It was only a few feet above the lapping waves. A crisp breeze blew the scent of salt air her way. Fluffy clouds dotted the sky. Lanshar thought of her compass, tucked underneath her pillow and wondered where it would be pointing today.
There was a sudden splash and a Tyrannian Peophin in regal gear broke the surface of the water. He had a long reddish mane that fell in his eyes and a powerful air about him. He looked up at her.
"You there, Aisha," he said, tossing his long hair back with a flick of his head.
"Yes?" she asked, curious.
"Any chance you can tell that idiot Acara from the shelter that I've been waiting for him all morning? There's something important I need to tell him."
"Oh! Are you Jaime?"
"Yes. Tell him I have the Searex with me. He'll understand. No doubt he's inside crying over the unfairness of the world thinking I stole it away," he said, snorting with derision. Next to him a small Petpet broke the surface of the water. It was a slender, greenish creature that shimmered slightly, and had dark eyes. Her eyes widened. The Searex.
"I'll go and tell him," she said.
"Yeah, you do that," muttered the Peophin.
Lanshar ran to the room where Breanja and a not quite awake Para were both unsuccessfully trying to console Jedd, who was lying on the floor, sobbing.
"I found Jaime," she told them, "and the Searex is with him!"
Jedd didn't even look up. "There's no use trying to make me feel better. I might as well close down the shelter. It's all over for me. I've failed. I was so silly to trust--"
"Jedd!" snapped Lanshar. "Jaime is out back there waiting for you to come so he can tell you something important, so come now!" And saying so she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him down the hall and out to the beach.
"There," she said. "See?"
Jedd blinked through his tears. "Oh, hullo, Jaime," he said sheepishly.
Jaime snorted. "I don't know why I bother putting up with you. Look, the day after you left, one of the ghost Petpets told me that there was a Darigan Aisha with a limp prowling around the area. Narcis. I knew he wasn't around a quiet place like this for some relaxation; the only explanation was that he'd been hired to try and find the Searex. I hid her and when he showed up asking questions, told him you had taken her away."
So that's why Narcis had headed straight to them.
"Well, that was brilliant" said Lanshar angrily. "He came right after Jedd and broke into our home!"
"I didn't tell him where Jedd had gone; just that he'd left. Anything else and he would have stuck around to break into the shelter. I don't know how he found out where Jedd was going; he must be as good as the rumors suggest. Would you rather I have told him that the Searex went for a stroll in Meridell?" sneered Jaime. "Or I could have told him she was having a swim right here; then he'd have found her even quicker."
"I suppose you did the right thing, considering the circumstances. Still, no need to be rude," chided Jedd, quite over his fit of anguish.
Jaime shrugged and didn't reply. Lanshar said nothing, but her face burned.
"No harm done, after all," continued Jedd. "Well... we did lose our Petpets... and for all we know he burnt the place down after us--"
"Did you find out anything at the library?" interrupted Jaime hitting the water with his tail impatiently.
"Yes," replied Jedd. "Apparently Searexes were once powerful, magical creatures who ruled the five seas of Neopia. But they were tricked into granting a nasty fellow's wish who changed them into the Petpets they are now."
Jaime studied the little Searex. "Perhaps their ancient powers live on. This Searex might have shown signs of magical abilities."
"This is what I thought," said Jedd.
"It would explain their eagerness in trying to get her back," said Jaime. "Narcis's services do not come cheap. Only those who are dead serious would hire him to find something."
"How did you come across this creature?" came Breanja's voice from behind them.
"You are Breanja?" Jaime spoke with a measure of respect while addressing her. She nodded. Lanshar wondered how he knew of her, since it was obvious Brea had never met him before.
Jaime continued. "One of my... clients, a Neopet of high status in Maraqua, was informed by their network of spies that a rival of theirs, Romaine, was in possession of a powerful weapon. They sent me to investigate and I came across this creature in a vaulted room. I thought perhaps she was a decoy, meant to distract me from the real weapon, but when I left with her, he sent his people after me. I was only able to escape them thanks to the storm, but it almost killed the two of us in the process."
Lanshar watched the Searex as he spoke. She floated indifferently in the water, staring listlessly around her, and ever so often, gazing at the sky. She remembered Jedd's words. She's dying.
"Do you know what's wrong with her?" she asked.
"No. But it's not anything good," he replied, without much feeling.
Something occurred to Lanshar. If Jaime was caught up in some kind of power struggle down in Maraqua and if the Searex did have some ancient power, he would probably want to use her for his own gains. She did not know anything about what this Peophin was like, but if Jedd had been so quick to assume he'd betray him, then perhaps he was dangerous. Maybe he was only interested in helping the Searex so it would live long enough to be exploited. She met Brea's eyes, wishing she could tell her what she was thinking. Jaime would only laugh at her if she started questioning him. Brea nodded at her as though she understood.
"Jaime," said Brea slowly. "I must ask you about your intentions regarding this creature. If she is possessed of great magical powers, then what?"
"What you mean to say is, do I plan on selling her to the highest bidder?" asked Jaime carelessly. Jedd flinched. "But I don't. Once we bring her like into the arena, who knows what other dark powers they'll drag along to compete against her. No good will come of that. I could just leave her to die and not have to worry about the whole thing but I owe Jedd here a favor. I will help you cure the creature and be on my way. She will be your responsibility from then on. My clients need me too much to care if I don't succeed in this one instance."
Brea looked at him long and hard.
Jedd cleared his throat nervously. "I--I trust Jaime explicitly," he stammered, managing to sound completely nervous and totally sure all at the same time.
"Very well then," said Brea. "May I?" she asked Jedd, who nodded. She reached into the water and lifted the Searex out. Holding the small creature out before her, she studied her carefully, looking into her eyes. Then she closed her own eyes, a look of concentration on her face. Lanshar could feel Brea's magic, an old, powerful magic, seeping through the air. From the look on Jaime's face she could tell he had never guessed the extent of Brea's powers. She was no ordinary librarian.
Then her eyes opened wide and she seemed about to drop the Petpet in her hands.
"It's like... a cloud... I can't see anything clearly," she murmured. "I feel a great power, restrained and a great sadness, but that is all." She shook her head as though to clear her thoughts. "It's not much help, is it? It’s about as much as we suspected. Jaime, can you lead me to the Ruins of Maraqua?"
"The Ruins? I could."
"An old friend of mine, Lilith, lives down there, hidden in the Ruins. She's a witch of sorts. Her magic is... powerful, a tad on the dark side, but we may need a hint of darkness to know exactly what we're dealing with."
Jaime's nod was curt. "Do you have any devices for breathing underwater?"
"I do," said Jedd.
Jaime blinked in surprise. "Wherever did you get them from?"
"Oh, I acquire a whole manner of gifts from people; they're very kind," said Jedd, tugging his scarf and looking at the ground. "I'll go get them," he said and turned to run to the shelter, bumping right into a distraught Para.
Ignoring Jedd's fervent apologies for knocking her over, she cried, "Jonquil is in danger. Buttercup, and Rainne too. It's Narcis. We have to help them!"
Jedd paled and his eyes widened at the news. Brea stared in disbelief. Disheveled as she was, there was no laughing at the intent, urgent look in Para's eyes.
"What do you mean?" asked Lanshar. "Brea said--"
"I know what Brea said," said Para, looking at Lanshar with urgency, "but they are in a lot of danger. He wants to use them to barter for the Searex!"
Lanshar reminded herself to trust Para. She had already said something she regretted to Breanja and gotten herself in trouble at the Training School. She did not want Para angry with her as well.
Jaime was watching Para closely. "This little one, she has a touch of foresight?" he murmured to himself. Lanshar overheard the words not meant for anyone's ears.
Jedd just sat where he was, looking stunned. "I--I should have turned back right away. Poor Rainne, poor little guy, he doesn't deserve having an owner like me, I abandoned him, my own little friend..." He started sniffling.
Lanshar was quiet, thinking furiously. Narcis was out there with their Petpets in his hands while one dying Petpet who desperately needed both help and protection was in a whole other lot of danger. Asking for help was out of the question where the Searex was involved. Until they were absolutely sure of what she was and what she was capable of, the more other Neopets knew of her, the more danger she was in. The last thing they needed were more Neopets trying to get a hold of the Searex's powers for themselves.
The Searex was seemingly unaware of the danger she was in, or even her own sickly state. Then she seemed to catch sight of something and looked upwards. A sparkle came into her dark eyes and they glistened. Lanshar felt a movement at her throat; it was the Compass again. It was pointing at the Searex. It occurred to her that the poor creature was nameless. Lanshar hadn't had a name either when she'd first come to Breanja's library.
Light glinted off the compass. The Searex glanced up and their eyes met. Lanshar felt something, gazing into those dark, mirror-like eyes. There was something there, hidden under layers of hurt and confusion. Something bright and waiting to come to life. She decided that she would help the Searex. And she knew exactly what to do. It might not be easy. But she knew what to do.
"I will go and save the Petpets," she said, looking at each of the Neopets surrounding her. "I'll save them and meet you back here. In the meantime, the rest of you need to find out more about this Searex and see if there is any way we can save her. I'll deal with Narcis."
"Lanshar, certainly you don't mean to go by yourself!" exclaimed Brea.
"Of course not," said Para. "I'm going with her." She looked at Lanshar defiantly, daring her to say no.
Lanshar wanted nothing more than to keep Para behind, keep her safe. Yet Ryshu's voice was in the back of her mind. Your self-confidence is admirable yet you must realize there are others worthy of your trust. And then he'd handed the Golden Compass to her. To help you find your way
How a seemingly broken compass was to help her find any way at all was beyond her but that wasn't important now. What was important was saving their Petpets and if Para wanted to tag along then she should let her. Maybe she would be of more help than Lanshar thought. She nodded at Para, who beamed back at her.
"You do realize Narcis may just take the two of you to use as hostages once he's lured you in with your Petpets?" asked Jaime.
"Narcis won't attack us as long I have the Golden Compass in my possession," replied Lanshar.
"Do you even know how to use one, girl?" asked Jaime with derision, wrinkling his nose up in the way disgruntled Peophins had.
"No," she admitted. "But Narcis doesn't know that, does he? He may be powerful, but I'm sure he isn't stupid. He knows I'll give him a fight. When we met in the library, he didn't attack at once but spoke and threatened first. All I need is a chance to speak with him. I have an idea, but first, can you tell me all you know about him?"
To be continued...