The Sorcery Society: Part Ten
Saying that I wanted to strangle Jhidaya at that moment would be an understatement.
I had to find Xav, Zach, Merah and Vidla, and then I had to go to the attic and try to save Ru. Suddenly, I grimaced, remembering that Ru, when constructing the house, had built a wealth of nooks, crannies, and hidden compartments in the house - perfect for hiding gagged-and-bound victims. Not only was I unaware of the location of even one of these secret little areas, but I was also looking for the four victims in the pitch dark, with only a flashlight as the silver lining to this awful cloud.
With a sigh, I got up, walked over to what I believed was the middle of the living room, then slowly moved the flashlight, searching for anything unusual that might hint at a hidden compartment of some sort. But what I found, instead, at first frightened me - and then stunned me.
It was a portrait, a gorgeous portrait, hanging graciously over the living room's fireplace. It only took me a second to realize that it was a portrait of a very beautiful spotted Lupe with a long, ebony hair. I had no doubt in my mind that it was Ancti.
I knew that there was an extremely important task at hand, with little time to complete it, but I couldn't help myself - I stepped forward, slowly, until I was very close to the portrait. Then I ran my fingers over it lightly, only to find that it was covered in thick glass. I looked up at the portrait of Ancti, a little mesmerized by it; I felt like I was finally meeting the Lupess from Ru's journal. For some reason, I was shocked by how beautiful she was; her closed-lip smile was sweet and serene, and her dark eyes were half-opened and peaceful. Her dark hair was tied into a low unitail, and she was looking away at something to her right, showing off her lovely profile. The Lupess wore a pretty lavender dress with white lace that I envied, and on her right ear dangled a silver chandelier earring.
"She's so beautiful," I said aloud.
A moment later, I was startled by a loud bang coming from the portrait. I jumped back in shock, my heart rapidly. The loud banging continued, and, at first, I was pale and frozen, horrified that I might've angered some portrait-dwelling demon. Then I realized that the banging wasn't coming from the portrait - it was coming from the wall.
My heart still beating quickly, I climbed onto a nearby coffee table, and, fitting the flashlight under my arm, I carefully lifted the heavy portrait from its place, only to accidentally dropped it to ground. I silently apologized to Ancti as I turned to the wall, shining the flashlight onto where the portrait had been. There, inside a small square compartment perfect for two little boys, was a squirming pink Usul with huge, bright blue eyes. She was bound and gagged, as I expected, with a white note taped to her forehead.
Momentarily ignoring the Usul's squirming and muffled cries, I ripped the note off of her forehead and held it under my flashlight.
Congrats, sweetheart! You found Merah! A pity, though, since she really is an irritating girl. You shouldn't have bothered. Really. Good luck with the others. Remember, I'm waiting.
Jhidaya's notes were almost kind, something that I found disturbing. After reading the note, I ripped the tape off of Merah's mouth, and she spit out a few handfuls of cherry blossoms onto the ground.
"Ack!" she cried, gagging. Then she turned to me and scowled.
"Who are you?"
"No time for explanations," I told her as I began to untie the rope binding her, "Let's just say I'm a friend."
I could tell Merah was suspicious of me as I helped her down from the compartment, but I honestly couldn't blame her.
I shone the flashlight on her for a brief moment. She was tall and slender, like her brother, albeit a little shorter. But the similarities ended there. She had long, hot pink curls that bounced right beneath her shoulders, and unbelievably blue eyes ringed by long, dark lashes. She was extraordinarily beautiful, with a button nose and high cheek bones. She wore a black pencil skirt and hot pink high-heels paired with a pretty, hot pink blouse that matched her shoes hair. Merah's fur was a pastel pink in comparison to her scruff, shirt, hair, nose, and tail.
"Okay," I told her, "Now let's find Xav, Zach, and Vidla."
"Xav and Zach are here?!" Merah cried.
"Yup," I said, handing her Jhidaya's first note, "According to her."
Merah scowled after reading the note. "That no-good - "
"C'mon," I interrupted her, "Let's go." After a few minutes of us wondering, I asked her: "Do you know anything about this place's secret areas and stuff?"
Merah rolled her eyes. "No. That's why I always lose when the twins wanna play Kacheek Seek." I nodded before continuing to look for Vidla and the twins, although the twins were our priority.
After a while, I found myself growing frustrated. "XAVIER!" I screamed, "ZACHARY! WHERE IN NEOPIA ARE YOU?!"
"This is awful," Merah whimpered, becoming more like the Usul I'd grown accustomed to in Ru's journal entries, "We'll never find them. We'll never find Vidla. We'll never save Ru. This is awful, awful, awful." She began crying - yes, crying - right there in the living room. And then she was sobbing.
I could've slapped her across the face. But I didn't get the chance - because I tripped.
"For Fyora's sake!" I cried, "What did I - " I stopped short as I shone the flashlight on what had so callously tripped me: a crank, jutting out of the wall. "Look, Merah!" I cried. I ran over to the crank and attempted to turn it, but it wouldn't budge. "Hey, stop the waterworks and help me," I commanded.
Merah let out another whimper, her ears flattened against the back of her head. "Okay," she whispered, her voice trembling.
Although she didn't look like it, Merah was actually pretty strong. As the crank turned and turned, we heard the loud sound of something, somewhere, moving. After a little while, the crank wouldn't move another millimeter, no matter how hard we pushed. "I guess whatever it did is done," Merah said, her voice choked up, but I didn't know what that was supposed to mean.
I shone the flashlight around the room and smiled. Concealed in the very corner of the living room was a small, square door, my view of it half-obscured by a floral print sofa. I walked over and peered in with the flashlight as my guide; to my immense pleasure, the light shone directly in the eyes of one of the twins.
"Gotcha!" I whispered as I reached inside and pulled out the two baby Lupes, who had been shoved together. Jhidaya had left no note, but she did creatively tie their bandanas around their mouths. Once I'd untied them and allowed them to spit all of the cherry blossoms out of their mouths, the slightly bigger one of the two, who I assumed was Xav, looked at me and crossed his arms.
"Well, I guess she can't be Sloth in disguise," he said, disappointed.
"But maybe she's still an alien! Just a nice one!" Zach chirped.
"Listen, boys," I told them, "I need you two to climb down the tree, you hear me? At the bottom you'll find a faerie Gelert and a baby Uni. You stay with them, okay? And there also might be some Barbats, but the Gelert and the Uni will help fight them off."
"Cool!" Zach practically squealed, before turning to his brother, "Awesome, right?"
"Yeah!" Xav yelled.
Merah and I watched Zach and Xav descend the first few branches before closing the door. It might've been better to let them stay and show us all the secret areas of the house in order to find Vidla, but I wasn't too keen in enlisting the two fun-loving, over-enthusiastic Lupes to help us. And, to ensure that they wouldn't try to come back inside, I rolled the floral print couch on top of the trapdoor with the help of Merah.
"Okay," she said between sniffles, "Now we just have to find Vidla."
Merah and I searched the entire living room, but we didn't find anything else unusual.
"Maybe she's hidden in plain sight," I suggested.
"Or not," Merah sighed.
We scoured the entire first floor but found nothing. We went to the second floor and searched, but, once again, we found nothing. I was ready to punch my fist through a wall; Merah looked like she was about to start bawling. Eventually, too angry and frustrated to continue, I flopped down on Xav's bed and sighed. I stared at the ceiling, knowing that the next floor was the attic, and, there, Jhidaya was waiting with Ru. Why? I wondered, somberly. Why is this happening to me? Of course, I wasn't the type to enjoy wallowing in self-pity, but Merah's sorrow was contagious.
After a while, I got up, shone the flashlight on Zach's bed to find the Usul weeping loudly, muttered "I'm gonna look around more" to her, then began to scour the second floor once again.
After only a few seconds, I walked straight into the wall. I had been shining the light on a suspicious-looking spot in the corner, since anything even vaguely out-of-the-ordinary had become suspicious at that point.
But I did gain something from my pain. My forehead had hit something small that was jutting out of the wall; when I shone the light from the flashlight at the hollow, I was delighted to discover that it was a tiny knob with a keyhole.
I turned to Merah and cried, almost giddily, "Merah! Do you know where Ru keeps his keys?"
The Usul sniffled. "Yeah," she murmured.
Merah led me into Ru's bedroom, took my flashlight, and began using it to scan the room's trinket-covered, mint green dresser. She wiped her eyes before handing me a round silver keychain from which hung maybe ten keys.
"Wh-wh-why do you n-need Ru's k-k-k-k-keys?" Merah stuttered. I didn't reply before fleeing to where I found the keyhole in Xav and Zach's room. I picked the tiniest key and jammed it into the keyhole; the tiny silver key fit perfectly. I twisted it left then right until I heard a satisfying "click."
Then I tugged on the tiny knob and found a huge, square piece of the wall coming down on top of me.
At first I thought I was going to be crushed; then, with relief, I realized it was just a thin, wooden door. I took a step back and allowed the door to lightly fall to the ground, then smiled at the closet-sized room inside, where an Island Lutari was snoozing in the corner. How can you sleep at a time like this? I wondered, but maybe she wasn't really sleeping, because, as soon as I shone the light in her face, her dark green eyes snapped open.
"Vidla!" Merah cried, happily, through sniffles.
I dragged the Lutari out of the compartment, untied her and took the cloth off of her mouth. She slowly spit the cherry blossom flowers into her paw before delicately placing them on the floor.
She then turned to me and said, matter-of-factly, "She still has Ru."
I was glad to have a calm head around.
"Yeah," I said, "I'm Emme, by the way." I held out my paw for her to shake, but she just nodded before turning to Merah and giving her a pull-yourself-together-woman look.
The Lutari was as beautiful as her mother. She had chin-length, golden waves of hair that reminded me of honey, dark green eyes made me think of pine forests, and wore a simple yet beautiful spring green blouse paired with white skinny jeans and dark brown high tops. She also wore a loose silver chain around her neck, from which dangled a lovely ruby heart, and a procession of silver bangles jingled on her left arm.
"Jhidaya is keeping him in the attic," I informed her, then, I added, awkwardly, "Uh - did Jhidaya - like - stick a note on your head or something?"
Vidla rose an eyebrow at me. "No."
I nodded before saying, to Merah, "Come on. Lead us to the attic. Let's go save Ru."
To be continued...