Above The Ashes: Part Four
Also by imogenweasley. Art by imogenweasley.
Kyruggi raged silently as she watched the other delegations filing out of the conference room, chatting about inconsequential topics. They seemed pleased to be through with the meeting. Worse yet, they had come to no conclusions, and now the conference had ended with no future discussions scheduled. To the Kyrii, it was absolutely hopeless. It was as if because they could not come up with any form of plan, they settled on simply ignoring the problems at hand.
She could not bring herself to move. Frustration and shock had seized her mind, immobilizing her in the conference room. Silently she gazed at the now empty tables, reading each nameplate over and over, trying to remember what their contribution to the discussion had been. She consistently came up with nothing.
“Um, excuse me,” a voice said from the Kyrii’s right, startling her. It was the volcanologist. The Fire Faerie, Elisse, was with her, her amber gaze focused intently on the Grand Elder.
“What do you want?” Kyruggi growled. It seemed like she had sat there for mere minutes, but the angle of the sun outside seemed to indicate otherwise.
“We want to speak with you about today’s events,” the Lenny replied tentatively.
“What’s there to talk about? It’s over. We’re just supposed to go home and pretend that there’s nothing wrong. Isn’t that right, Doctor?”
Dr. Fetther nodded. “Please, call me Lula. And while that may be what the rest of them wanted, it’s not what we’re going to do.”
“We don’t need the rest of the world to form a group to investigate this,” Elisse added. “We were the ones who were affected personally. We can get to the bottom of this ourselves, without anybody interfering because they disagree.”
“How?” Kyruggi asked, raising an eyebrow. “We don’t have any leads, any clues; we’ve got nothing.”
At this the two exchanged glances with each other uncomfortably. “Well... we were hoping you’d have some ideas,” Lula replied.
Kyruggi smirked. “I’m no detective. Perhaps you should have thought this out more clearly before approaching me.”
The faerie quickly folded her arms firmly. “Well, excuse us for concerning you with this,” she retorted. “I simply thought you of all people would be interested in returning what was stolen from you.”
“Oh, I do. But without any clues, how are we to find him?”
“It sure doesn’t sound like you’re too motivated to find that beast,” Elisse replied angrily. “I guess you don’t care that it’s now on the loose.”
“Don’t try to bait me,” the Kyrii growled. “I’m sure you’re very hurt that your friend up and disappeared, but if you ask me, my Scorchio is far more impor—”
“How dare you—” Elisse spat, before Lula stepped in hastily.
“That’s enough,” the Lenny said sharply, cutting off both women. “Need I remind you we’re all on the same side here? There’s no need for bickering.”
The two relented, though they continued to glower at each other. “Thank you,” she said. “Now, do either of you have any ideas of where to begin looking?”
Silence, then Kyruggi spoke up. “If we’re here in Neopia Central, might as well try the bank,” she grunted.
Lula nodded. “That’s as good a place as any to start, I agree. Let’s not waste any more time, then,” the Lenny said with a smile. “I have to say, I feel good about this, I really do.”
The others smiled half-heartedly and pursued the lithe Lenny out of the conference room, paying no attention to a sleek robot Ruki that watched them intently from across the corridor. It whirred for a moment, processing the trio, and then silently exited after them.
Most of the National Neopian’s marble floor was still roped off from the events of the days prior. A large portion, including six teller stalls, was covered with a vivid yellow tarp. Ten guards now stood watch around the perimeter of the massive building, with an extra three blocking the entrance to the vaults. The farthest right section of the bank was unaffected by the explosions. Three harried bankers attempted to deal with the exceedingly long lines of impatient Neopians, which had now grown long enough to continue outside the building. A large sign was situated at the entrance to the bank, with the statement “We are currently undergoing some renovations. We apologize for the inconvenience.” written in bold letters. Kyruggi snorted when she laid eyes upon the sign.
“Renovations, eh?” she muttered. “Like anyone here doesn’t know the real story.”
Lula surveyed the massive room. “How are we going to get close to the site of the explosion with all these guards?”
Kyruggi grinned toothily. “Look at them; they can barely stand, they’re so out of shape. C’mon, they’re nothing to worry about.” She pushed through the crowd towards the blockade. Ducking under the rope quickly, she made for the yellow tarp.
“Well, I’ll give her one thing; she’s forward,” Elisse said. “Let’s go.”
The two approached the Kyrii, who had sunk to her knees while removing the massive tarp from the floor.
“Hey!” a Bruce guard shouted. “You’re not allowed over there!”
Kyruggi paid him no attention, continuing to lift the tarp. “You guys gonna help me, or do I have to do this myself?”
Lula glanced nervously at the converging guards. “Kyruggi, I think we’re going to have to come back some other—”
“Nonsense,” she replied. “I told you, they’re nothing to worry about.”
“What are you three doing over here?” the yellow Bruce asked heatedly. “This area is closed to the public!”
“Ah, but we’re not the public,” Kyruggi said matter-of-factly, standing once more. “Don’t you know that I am Grand Elder Kyruggi of Tyrannia?”
“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here,” the Bruce said.
Affronted, Kyruggi was about to retort when Lula spoke up. “I’m a scientist!” she squawked. “I need to be here to study these scorch marks, thank you very much,” she said, feigning anger.
The Bruce was uneasy. “Well... our instructions were to keep this area secure from any interactions,” he said. “But if you’re a scientist... they must have called you here, right?”
“Exactly,” Lula replied, drawing herself up to her full height. “Now, if you’ll please leave us to our work?”
The Bruce nodded sheepishly, turning on the spot. The others, an orange Wocky and robot Ruki, returned to their posts.
“Nicely done,” Kyruggi muttered, still slightly stung by their disregard of her title. “Now, help me get this tarp off.”
The three quickly removed the covering. The crowd of Neopets quieted considerably as they noticed the trio. Dark streaks had been imprinted on the dazzling white floor in every direction, forming a shadowy starburst with the center directly in front of the teller’s booth. The marks extended over and beyond the teller’s desk; there were even some black spots on the ceiling, nearly twenty feet above.
“What in the world?” Elisse mumbled. “Whoever made this must have been immensely powerful. A faerie, perhaps?”
“What are you guys doing over here?” a new voice asked.
“We told you, we’re scientists!” Kyruggi said, still gaping at the scorch marks.
“Really? Are you studying the explosions from the Pteri?” the voice asked eagerly. With surprise, all three looked up to find a rather scrawny checkered Kougra leaning on the rope that divided the bank into two.
“Pteri?” Elisse asked, disbelief clear in her voice. “There’s no way a Neopet could have caused these marks.”
“It was; I saw him,” the Kougra said. “I’m dead certain it was a Pteri.”
“You were here when it happened?” Lula asked.
Kyruggi’s eyes widened with realization. “The guard mentioned a checkered Kougra was the one that revived him!”
He nodded solemnly. “That was me. I’m Titem.”
“Is there anything more you can tell us about the thief?” Lula inquired.
Titem twisted the rope in his paws anxiously. “He was painted some bright color, I believe. Yellow, or orange, or something like that. But it was hard to tell. I wasn’t really paying attention until after he lit up the entire bank.”
“Are you certain this thief wasn’t a Faerie?” Elisse asked uncertainly. Kyruggi rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
“Why don’t you think it was a Neopet?” Titem asked.
Elisse frowned. “Because it’s impossible that a Pteri would be able to survive this. A fire faerie might be able to sustain an explosion of this magnitude, but a Neopet? No, it should have killed him.”
Titem shrugged. “I don’t know why he wasn’t affected. But I clearly saw him slip into the vaults after the explosion, and he seemed perfectly fine.”
The group was silent for a moment as they considered the new developments.
“So... what kind of scientist examines scorch marks?” the Kougra asked.
“The kind that doesn’t like nosy kids,” Kyruggi retorted. “Thanks for your help; now scram.”
Titem’s curious expression faded into a frown. “No way! I have to find the Pteri,” he said.
“And why is that?” Elisse inquired doubtfully.
Titem faltered. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said stubbornly. “I just have to find him.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t want some random kid following us around because he wants to do something,” Kyruggi retorted. “Either tell us what you’re up to or leave.”
He sighed and closed his eyes, steeling himself. “I have to find him because... my sister was with me that day in the bank. And now she’s in the hospital. I need to find the Pteri because he hurt my sister, and not... not me.”
“Why weren’t you injured?” Lula asked, eyes shining with concern.
“I don’t know. It was chaotic, how could I tell why I was the only one to remain unhurt?” he asked, his voice getting sharper suddenly.
“Why aren’t you with her now?” Kyruggi asked with a hint of disdain.
“Because I’m determined to find out who is behind this,” he remarked, brow furrowed. “For my sister.”
“Your sister would want you there with her,” Kyruggi said, disdain turning into anger.
Titem stared at her, eyes shining, but said nothing.
“Look,” he said after a moment. “All I know is, not one person has come to look at these marks until today. I don’t know what’s going on with the governments, but this mystery has to be solved. And I may not be the smartest or the strongest, but I want to help. I need to help,” he said firmly.
The three women glanced at each other.
“I still think you should be with your sister,” Kyruggi muttered. “It’s not right to leave her alone.”
“Drop it,” Titem said. “I don’t need your advice.”
The Kyrii glowered at the teenager. “You’ve got quite a bit of nerve, you know that?” she spat. “Your priorities are completely out of whack. You shouldn’t be avoiding your sister in her time of n—”
“I said drop it!” Titem snapped. “I have my reasons, okay?”
“There is no such thing as reason to avoid your sister in the hospital.”
The Kougra grew flustered. “Yes, there is!”
“Go ahead, then. What’s your reason?”
“I... she... it’s because she shielded me!” he confessed, looking at his feet. “She blocked me from the explosion. That’s why I’m okay, and she’s not. I just... can’t believe that my younger sister would sacrifice herself to protect me. It should have been the other way around. I should be the one in the hospital.”
Lula stepped forward to comfort him, wrapping one of her large wings around him. “It’s alright, Titem,” she said quietly.
“It’s not alright!” he shot back, shrugging off her wing. “You think it’s alright that my sister is injured? I should have protected her!”
“It was a split-second thing,” Elisse said solemnly. “You didn’t have time to think about things like that.”
“But I should have,” he said resolutely. “Look, I failed to protect Alandra the first time. This is my chance to make it up to her. I can find that Pteri.”
The three women regarded him silently. He returned their stares with a determined glower, paws clenching the rope.
“Very well,” Kyruggi said after a moment’s wavering. “But I’ll tell you right now, I’ll not have any of that attitude.”
He nodded slowly, not really listening. “Look, can we please get out of here?” he said quietly. “I’ve seen enough of this bank to last me a lifetime.”
Kyruggi nodded. “We’re not likely to find anything else here; scorch marks won’t tell us much. The kid’s right. Let’s go.”
“You know,” Lula began as the quartet emerged into the staggering sunlight, “If we’re done here, I think I’d like to investigate your friend’s house, Elisse. Things just don’t add up.”
“You think they make sense to me?” Elisse replied halfheartedly. “I’ve gone over it so many times in my head; I could pinpoint the specks of dust in Avere’s carpet.”
“Well, four pairs of eyes are better than one,” the Lenny replied.
“Fine,” Elisse muttered. All three looked expectantly at their new ally. Titem had remained silent since they left the scene of the explosion, while Lula informed the hopeful guards they needed to run some tests. Now he seemed to be lost in his thoughts, staring across the Neopian plaza in deep concentration.
“Hey,” Kyruggi said sharply. The checkered Kougra glanced at her for a moment, and then returned his gaze to the marketplace. “Is there anything you need to do before we head off to Faerieland?”
Titem shook his head tersely.
“Good,” Kyruggi said, rotating quickly on the spot. “Now let’s get going.”
“... No. Wait,” he said suddenly. “I need to say goodbye.”
Without waiting for their replies, Titem leapt forward and shot across the plaza, dodging shoppers as he approached the hospital.
“Well,” Kyruggi said with a hint of surprise. “Good to see we got through to him.”
To be continued...