The Sorcery Society: Part Seven
I had four items.
Ru's watch; Merah's ring; Ancti's bracelet; and Vidla's earring.
But it wasn't the time to use them; not quite.
I had never been inside the Defenders of Neopia headquarters before.
The lobby was fairly ordinary, and I was able to entertain myself with the most recent issue of The Neopian Times while I waited for the blue Buzz at the reception desk to call my name. I had made an appointment to meet with the Head of Prisoner Placement, an individual by the name of Harriet Littlebly - or, to her fellow DoN members, Captain Littlebly. I'd been waiting in the lobby for around forty-five minutes when the Buzz buzzed in an unnecessarily loud voice (since I was the only one in the lobby):
"Echarpe, Emme! Two o'clock appointment!"
I quickly sprang from my seat and walked over to the counter, where the Buzz handed me a slip of purple paper that had the numbers "29834783" scrawled on it.
"That's the number of Miss Littlebly's office," she told me, before pointing to the middle door out of three behind her. "Take that hallway. Don't worry, you won't have to pass by 2-9-8-3-4-7-8-3 doors just to find her office. The doors start at 2-9-8-3-4-7-5-0." The Buzz turned away from me and rummaged through the mess that was the counter; after a moment, she pulled out a sleek silver key. She inserted it into the middle door's keyhole and turned the knob, then gestured for me to go in.
I had just entered a long, white hallway, lined with grey doors, when there was the sound of the door shutting behind me, along with a decisive click. With a start, I realized that the Buzz had just locked me inside the hallway - not a very comforting thought. Deciding not to dwell on this, I urged my feet to move forward, and found myself walking, rather reluctantly, down the hallway, which was full of jagged and sudden turns. The colors were dizzyingly dull, as well; the floor was checkered in black and white, the walls were white, and the doors were grey. Not a particularly lovely sight.
After more walking than I'd like to talk about, I arrived at a bright blue door with a gold plate that read "29834783." I took in a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Is that my two o'clock?" a hard, female voice asked.
"Yes," I replied, as loudly and clearly as I could manage.
"Then what are you waiting for? Come in!"
Harriet Littlebly's office wasn't very different from any other business office I'd seen, except for the fact that one entire wall was covered in framed awards, medals hanging from silver hooks, and trophies lining nailed-on shelves. I was absolutely stunned by this sight - I'd never seen so many awards together, gleaming gold and silver, in one place before.
Harriet Littlebly, a pretty pink Aisha, caught me staring and smiled. She gestured for me to sit down in a chair across from where she sat at her desk. I sat down and looked at her. The Aisha couldn't have been a day older than twenty-nine. She had clear skin, pretty green eyes that seemed to emit their own ethereal glow, and a lovely head of bubble-gum colored curls, which trailed all the way down to her hips. She wore a well-fitted purple suit that covered her entire body, as well as her neck, hands, and feet, with the letters DoN embroidered in white on the chest.
"Hello - " Miss Littlebly looked at a paper sitting on her desk, " - Emme. Now, what would a young fourteen-year-old girl such as yourself be doing, visiting the Head of Prisoner Placement? Is this for a school project?" I gulped, wondering exactly how much Harriet Littlebly knew about me.
"I - I came, Miss Littlebly, to - to inquire about a certain villain kept in a certain DoN prison in Maraqua. Her name is Jhidaya, she is a dark faerie, and I'm very interested in being allowed to visit, and talk to, her."
Harriet Littlebly's green eyes were piercing as she leaned back in her chair, hands folded on her desk. She seemed to be trying to gauge me for reason - "Why?" she seemed to ask. But that's not what she said next.
"Alright, Emme Echarpe. I'll allow you to visit this Jhidaya, but the circumstances may not suit you. You are not the only neopet who requests such things of me. By next week, I will have sent you a neomail containing the exact location of the prison and exact date and time at which you are to arrive there. You will have precisely thirty minutes to speak to the prisoner - no more, no less. If this time and date does not work for you, then you will have to make it work, because you will not be given another."
After a pause, she asked, "Is this clear?"
I nodded stiffly.
Harriet Littlebly's eyes narrowed. "I said, is this clear?!"
She smiled, albeit coldly, before looking away from me. As she began to pile together the various papers scattered on her desk, she said, "Then you are you dismissed, Miss Echarpe."
"Kay, so you ready for this, kid?"
I looked, nervously, at my reflection in the deep, blue water. I wasn't a particularly good swimmer, but I could go into deep water and not drown.
My great lack in swimming skills, however, was the basis for why Trish wanted to hire someone to swim to the DoN Maraquan Prison Base with me. Of course, I couldn't tell Trish that I was going to the DoN Maraquan Prison Base - so, instead, I told her that I was going to Kelp with a friend. When she asked "Which friend?" I couldn't think of any friend who was wealthy enough to spontaneously take me on a trip to Maraqua to eat at Kelp, so I replied, nervously, "Athy. You know, she works at the library." Although Trish had been rather reluctant and suspicious, she allowed me to go, and hired a nice, professional deep-sea diver named Dan to accompany me.
Although Dan, a green Krawk, was dressed in a wet suit and wore a glass orb around his head connected to an oxygen tank, all I wore was a navy blue T-shirt (I opted out of wearing one of my trademark sweaters, since you're supposed to dress light when you go in the water), denim shorts, and one of those magical seaweed necklaces that Isca gave Garin in the Curse of Maraqua plot.
I turned to Dan and said, with a nervous smile, "Yup."
"Alrighty then. Ready - set - go!"
As he grabbed my paw and pulled me to the ocean, I screamed, but my scream was stolen away by the cold, icy waters.
I swore Dan to secrecy, convincing him not to tell my mom about my rendezvous, then instructed him to wait outside as I went inside the DoN Maraquan Prison Base.
The base was situated on a bed of pink coral, and was constructed out of metal and steel; it had no sign declaring its name, and was surrounded by three tall, stone walls laced with barbed wire that were spouting off ten-thousand-voltage electricity. I told my name and the time of my appointment to the armed, orange Quiggle standing at the front gate. He checked to make sure my appointment was legit with a fellow DoN member through a talk box, checked my identification, then frisked me before, finally, letting me inside the boundaries of the high-security building. Once I was inside the main lobby, a spotted Kau listed the rules of the facility: No physical contact, no angering the prisoner, no taunting, no mocking... and such.
What surprised me about the DoN members, however, was that they didn't ask me why I'd come. When my curiosity got to me and I questioned the Kau about this, he simply told me that I have a right to privacy - they can frisk me and annoy me and make all the rules they want, but they cannot violate my personal reasons or business. To them, it was not a rule; it was etiquette.
The Kau led me down a flight of twirling metal stairs to the basement level; the ceilings and wall were stone, and the long, murky hallway was characterized by icy waters and dreary looking jail cells. I'm not saying that the conditions were awful; it was just... it was just not a place I would like to be doing time. As the Kau led me down the hall, I found that most of the inmates were curled up on their beds; from some angles, I could see that they were staring at the wall, as if waiting for a window to open up, to see a little peek of the outside world. I shivered.
Some of the inmates, however, were actually... jolly, I suppose. Not exactly happy, but not despairing like some of the others. A lot of them were playing card games, like Cheat!, and a few of them were even playing Cell Block, which was humorous, if not ironic. A group of pink inmates were even giggling over what I assumed was jail gossip.
Eventually, the Kau led me to Jhidaya's cell - cell 92343. Now that I was there, I felt myself suddenly become frightened and nervous; I was meeting face to face with a dark faerie! She could - she could curse me! I felt my face paling as the Kau tapped a chair in front of the dark cell, which, I assumed, had been prepared for me. For a moment, I blanched, unable to move.
"Don't worry," he assured me, reading my thoughts. "This jail is one-hundred-percent-magic proof. She won't be able to hurt you, not even a little."
I relaxed, albeit slightly. "Thirty minutes," the Kau reminded me as he walked away, "I'll be back to take you back to the outside world then." I found the way he said "the outside world" chilling.
Awkwardly, I sat down in the chair. In the dark cell, a dark faerie sat, strange and beautiful. She had a soft, oval face, with short, dark purple hair cut into angles that jaggedly framed her face. Her skin was smooth, clear, and lavender, and her lips were full and scarlet; her eyes, I found, were extraordinary, and were so black that they seemed almost unreal - pools of ink and ebony, I thought. She wore a long, dark purple dress with bright red trim; it trailed over her feet and pooled on the floor. The sleeves were long as well, so long that I couldn't see her hands, but only her nails - her incredibly long nails, which were painted a blinding red. Her wings were unusually small, and shaped like Korbat's wings. They were the color of the night - a starless, hopeless night.
She looked at me. For some reason, I didn't shiver as we made eye contact.
"You're Jhidaya?" I asked.
She rolled her eyes.
I decided to be quick and to-the-point. "Did you chop down the tree containing the treehouse of Ru Ralander and his friends?" I pried, as determined and unrelenting as a news reporter.
Jhidaya said nothing.
"Did you truly curse the four fourteen-year-old teenagers, or was this just superstition/belief combined with coincidence?"
Again, Jhidaya said nothing.
"Did you - "
"Look, kid," Jhidaya sighed. "What are you doing here?"
I stared at her, blankly. Jhidaya's expression was not one of amusement or shock at my presence or questions; in fact, she seemed disinterested and bored, like she'd rather be doing something else. It wasn't like she had much else to do, though - she had her own cell all to herself, and it was empty besides her bed and a pile of dusty, old books (which I assumed were waterproof).
I cleared my throat before replying, "I just want answers, ma'am."
Jhidaya looked at me, sighed, and looked away, resting her chin in her palm. "Well, you're wasting your time. Why do you want answers, anyway?" She looked back at me. "It happened ten years ago, for Fyora's sake. Plus, you're obviously too young - and too inexperienced - to be a reporter. I can tell. Why don't you just go home? I'll be here another forty years, anyway, so it's not like I can hurt anybody."
I blinked, unsure of how to continue. It was obvious I wasn't getting any answers from the faerie - she wasn't going to confirm her wrongdoing, and she wasn't going to deny it, either.
I stood up and sighed, knowing that my "interview" with Jhidaya had only lasted about five minutes. Well, I'd been informed previously that I could leave early if I desired.
I was already walking away when something struck me, sharp and clear as an arrow. I turned back to Jhidaya and stared at her briefly; I examined her beautiful profile - her high cheekbones, her lips, her eyes. Then, reassured, I spoke.
"You aren't Jhidaya, are you?"
The faerie's eyes met mine, and, for the first time, she smiled.
"Smart kid," she said.
Then, taking a deep breath, she added, "No. I'm not Jhidaya. I'm her younger twin sister, Jhidayna."
I stared, taking this in, before asking: "Who did the crime?"
Jhidayna looked down at the sleeve of her dress. "Jhidaya did."
"Why did you take the fall?"
"Because I owed her. She saved my life when I was little. And because she asked me to. I would've done anything for my big sister - for all of her malevolence, I still love her."
I thought of Citrus, and about unconditional love.
"So Jhidaya's still out there?" I asked, softly.
I was already walking away when the faerie called out, "Wait. Kid. How did you know?"
I looked at her over her shoulder; her bright eyes shone with genuine curiosity.
"I saw a sketch of your sister," I told her, "It was crude, but you could see it in her eyes - the malice. I can tell that you're incapable of having that same look, even if your faces are the same."
"I see," she said. And then I left.
To be continued...