Celandine: Part Six
"My limp," said Narcis. "That's what ended my Battledome career. I broke my leg and it wasn't set properly. I could have been a mildly successful contender, but I had tasted the glory of being the best. So I turned to the underground. I had skills, many skills I'd picked up along the way, magical and otherwise. I did anything I was asked to do, all kinds of underhanded jobs. Theft, acts of revenge, espionage, the works. I was one of the best again."
They were in Jedd's shelter, sitting inside the cozy reception room, more than a little warm thanks to the exuberant Moltenore, Firestop. Narcis, dark, spiky and sharp, looked quite out of place in the cozy, cushion-filled interior and his discomfort showed.
It hadn't taken Narcis long to realize the full significance of what Lanshar was offering him. Breanja's library was packed to bursting with books any collector would consider himself blessed merely to be in the same room with. She had offered him his pick of any book he liked should he help them. He had remained somewhat skeptical, despite his obvious interest, until Lanshar had offered her Golden Compass as well. She hoped Ryshu would forgive her for giving away his gift.
"There are some things money can't easily buy and a Golden Compass is one of them," Narcis had said. "As for the book, money can most certainly buy that from me. Lots and lots of it, in fact. I could build my own Battledome arena with the money I'll get from it. I'll never have to work again."
Upon examination of the Compass, he had come to the startling conclusion that it was badly in need of repair. They weren't supposed to point North, as Para had stated, but they weren't supposed to point in any old direction either. Narcis wasn't particularly clear on where they were supposed to point. Lanshar had a feeling he didn't actually know.
Lanshar had been crestfallen. "But Ryshu told me that it would help me find my way, and I've trusted it all this time!"
"Well," Narcis had replied, "it helped you seal an agreement with me, didn't it? And I'm helping you find your way. Works out pretty well, don't you think?"
Lanshar was still not sure what to think of that. But she had more pressing matters on her mind.
"A limp? Aw, you poor thing!" exclaimed Para with sympathy. It hadn't taken her long to recover from her shock. Narcis had been pleased to show her exactly where she'd gone wrong in not distinguishing between her natural insight and outside forces. Reunited with her Faerie Eizzil and quick to take care of the sad little Cirrus (now causing a little rainstorm outside the shelter in misery over missing his Jedd) she was back to her old cheerful self. "That must have been awful."
They had not been able to find Buttercup. Narcis claimed not to have seen a Faerie Polarchuck and, Lanshar reasoned, he had no reason to lie considering the circumstances. Unless he was hiding her to use as a final bargaining chip should she refuse him his rare book. But why would he think that? And why wasn't Buttercup nearby? She might be a chubby, lazy thing, but she was brave and selfless to the last and would never let Jonquil get in trouble without trying to help. It worried Lanshar.
"Eh, fame's overrated. Now I just want enough cash to set things straight and figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Finding that Searex was going to be my big break, until you two came along, that is."
"And if a bigger break comes along?" asked Lanshar, still on her guard. She didn't trust Narcis but they had enough valuable books to keep his interest should his tenuous loyalty ever fail. She would just have to deal with him until all this was over. Even if the idea of bartering Brea's precious books gave her no joy.
"Oh, you could kill a Pet with those eyes of yours, little Lanshar," said Narcis. "I assure you, I may deal with unlikely sorts but I've never been involved in the really nasty stuff. If that Petpet's really as powerful as you think she is, then I don't want her being used as a weapon any more than you do. I'm sure you think I'm quite self-absorbed, which I am, so my own safety is always at the front of my mind, you know."
"Lanshar, don't worry, he won't betray us," said Para with certainty. "He's not a bad Neopet after all. He never hurt Jonquil one bit." Lanshar had no choice but to trust in her.
"Oh, well, she wasn't my target, you know," said Narcis, looking rather pleased with Para's compliment.
"You're doing a good thing, helping this Searex. She's very sick, you know," she said.
"I heard she was injured in a storm?"
"Yes, but there's something else. Her wounds have healed but there's still something wrong."
"She's probably been in captivity for too long. I don't know how long my employer had her in his care before Jaime broke her loose. He was sparse with the details. Being locked up can rob one of their spirit," said Narcis. "But you know, even if you find out what's wrong, it will only do so much good. Word is spreading. Everyone wants a powerful weapon these days, especially in Maraqua. She'll be on the run for the rest of her life."
"Yeah..." sighed Lanshar.
"Too many cushions in here," Narcis muttered, shifting around on the sofa "You'd think the owner was made of glass or something."
"But they're so nice," said Para, "and they make everything cheerful and cozy."
"If by that you mean gaudy and florid, then sure, why not?" he growled.
"Oh!" said Para, jumping up. "They're here." She was out the door in a moment. Narcis and Lanshar exchanged a glance, then followed.
Back at the small cliff by the sea, they found a dripping wet and shivering Jedd, alongside Jaime and Celandine. Jedd's arms were wounded badly. Breanja was not with them. Celandine was cuddled close next to Jaime, shaking.
"Breanja--she didn't--?" Lanshar gasped, her heart in her throat.
"She transported us ahead of her," said Jaime angrily. "I told her I'd take care of that witch but she wouldn't listen."
Lanshar felt tears spring to her eyes and a surge of pride. She knew, she knew when it came down to it that Breanja was not a coward.
Jedd slumped forward. "Rainne," he mumbled incoherently, "where's Rainne?"
"He needs immediate attention," said Jaime. "Para, can you take care of him?"
Para nodded. "Of course. We found Rainne, Jedd, you'll find he's cried you a little river just outside the shelter. Let's get you fixed up and you two can be together again." Her tone was bright but she cast a nervous look back at them as she lead Jedd away.
"Narcis, I trust you are on our side now?" Jaime asked, regarding him for the first time.
"Of course. She gave me an offer I could hardly refuse," replied Narcis, grinning despite the chilling circumstances.
Jaime faced Lanshar. "Celandine is even more powerful than we'd guessed. And in much, much more danger," he said.
"Celandine?" asked Lanshar. "Is that her name?"
Jaime nodded. "Breanja's old friend was quite eager to find out what was wrong with her, once she knew the extent of her powers, but she said there was nothing wrong with her. Just longing. She's sick with desire for something."
Lanshar frowned. Could it really be that simple?
"She decided that she wanted Celandine for her own and attacked us. That's when Breanja sent us here. Celandine knows only one thing; to suppress her powers. Any excitement or agitation could set her off, make her lose control. I realize now, she's what caused the storm that injured us. We can't let her in the hands of anyone who would exploit her, but we can't just take her ashore either. Even on land she would not be safe, word will get out."
"Seems to me that little creature is more trouble than she's worth," murmured Narcis.
Lanshar spun on Narcis and gave him a look. He threw his hands up. "Hey, I don't let my personal opinions get mixed up in business. I'm here to help."
"It was Jedd who saved us, really. I didn't know he had it in him," said Jaime, shaking his head in disbelief. "He knew she wasn't to be trusted. He exposed her in front of us and then just threw himself at her and grabbed Celandine. He's a lot braver than I gave him credit for."
"Maybe I'm missing something, but it occurred to me that if she's so powerful, why can't we just teach her to defend herself?" asked Narcis.
"She just doesn't care anymore," said Lanshar sadly. "But even if we taught her, how do you fight a whole world trying to capture you? It would be a never ending fight."
Jaime nodded. "I'm going back for Breanja. First Jedd, now her, it seems I owe everyone my life these days."
"I'm coming with you," said Lanshar.
He shook his head. "You need to stay here and keep an eye on Celandine and Jedd."
"I could go with Jaime," offered Narcis.
"You're being awfully charitable," said Lanshar, folding her arms.
"Not at all. I'd really rather risk my life down there than face those horrible mismatched cushions again. I don't know what sort of designer Number Four hired but they should never be let inside a house ever again."
"Well, if that's the way you feel about it." She paused. "Narcis? Why do you call Jedd 'Number Four'?"
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Don't you know? He used to be the test subject of a rather deranged scientist. His fourth one, in fact. The guy went through Neopets like tissues, performing tests on them, then getting new ones. That's why his name is the way it is; it’s not really a name, more of an identification code."
Her hands were pressed against her mouth in horror. So that was why he was like that, all nervous and jittery? "I never knew... never even guessed," she whispered hoarsely.
"Yeah, well, I had some dealings with that scientist, nutty guy. He's locked up now, thankfully. But the damage is done, you know? I met Jedd before, once, when he was still with the guy. Couldn't put two coherent sentences together. He's still a nervous case, but being in the fresh air has done wonders for him." Narcis spoke with a kind of careless indifference that angered Lanshar.
She could either stay or trust in Narcis to take care of her sister and friend. Not to mention being left alone with the valuable Searex. She wanted to do both but this was what Ryshu was always lecturing her about. You just couldn't do everything yourself. Jaime had proven himself, she thought, so it would probably be better to leave Narcis with him while she guarded the Searex herself.
"All right, I'll stay here," she said.
Narcis borrowed Jedd's pearl and gave Lanshar her Golden Compass back.
"Just in case you need it," he said, "But don't get any ideas, it's still mine."
And they were gone. Lanshar stayed on the beach, thinking. What to do next? She heard a whirring sound in the distance. She spun around, ready for the worst and was surprised to see Buttercup, Breanja's Petpet flying towards her.
"Buttercup!" she exclaimed! "Where have you been?"
The Faerie Polarchuck landed in a heap in front her, gasping for breath. She was not quite as plump as she remembered and was holding a letter in her paw. She held it out to Lanshar, an urgent look in her eyes. Lanshar unfolded the letter and read it. Her heart sank. It was from Narcis's employer, Terrens. He had found out about his betrayal somehow and was sending more forces to find and capture Celandine. Celandine's original owner, Romaine, was also looking for her. It seemed Terrens was desperate to capture the Searex before Romaine could reclaim her.
"So that's where you've been, Buttercup. Spying for us," said Lanshar. "Thank you. It’s bad news but at least we know what's coming." She brought Celandine and Buttercup inside. Jedd was asleep on a large green couch with blue striped pillows. Para leaned against his soft fur, looking tired. Lanshar joined her on the couch and told her that Jaime and Narcis were going to help Breanja and about the message Buttercup had just brought her.
"Her message came just a few minutes too late," said Lanshar. "I would have asked Narcis to stay behind to guard Celandine but at the time I just wanted Breanja to be safe."
She fell silent, aware of Para's eyes on her, waiting for her to come up with an idea as she always had. She had never understood why Para depended on her so. Nothing came to her mind. Lanshar felt like screaming with frustration. Every idea she could think up was a dead end, a quick solution that would not ultimately solve the problem. Her hands were clenched in tight fists.
"Can't you think up something?" she asked Para. "Just--just know--"
But Para shook her head. "I don't control what I see, it either comes to me or not. I wish I could control it, but I can't. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Para," said Lanshar.
Jedd yawned and rolled over, knocking a strange pillow to the ground. Lanshar looked at it. It was a strange pillow, covered in rainbow swirls. There was an inscription on it. She leaned closer and read it. Then it hit her. She looked at Para. Her heart was beating fast.
"I know what to do," she whispered.
Para smiled at her. Then the smile faded from her face. "It's over," she said.
"They're here, they've sent them. They want the Searex and they will stop at nothing until they have her. It's over," she said. Her eyes were wide with fright.
To be continued...