A Precious Gem: Part Two
"Heads up!" I cautioned. "Mistletoe. You go first, I'll follow; or maybe I'll burn it as a public favor."
Jade cachinnated as she crossed the threshold into the forum. I entered into the room with a sonorous, "Happy Christmas and merry holidays!"
"Merry Christmas!" returned a chorus of joyous, mirthful voices. "Happy holidays!"
The festivities commenced. The ambiance was filled with seasonal jolliness and cheer, and not a frown was to be seen among the FTWers.
At length the time arrived for the exchange of presents. I walked up to Jady with an "I got a little something for you, Jady. Merry Christmas!" and a gift-wrapped parcel.
"Merry Christmas, Patty," she returned, placing a parcel in my paws as I placed one in hers.
"Ladies first," I invited.
She disentangled the bow, tore off the paper, and lifted the lid of the box to reveal the treasure within. "A Hannah Key Quest Token!" she gasped. "Oh—it's perfect, Patty You shouldn't have! You really shouldn't have! Oh, here you are with the perfect gift, and all I got for you is——"
"A Pirate Petpet Paint Brush!" I observed with ebullience. "Jady, this is perfect. Nobody but you would have thought of it. You know what? I'll buy a Petpet special for the occasion—what do you think? Say—a Mallard? Yes—and I'll name her Mallory."
"Mallory?" Jade echoed derisively. "Is that the best you can come up with?"
"No?" I ruminated a moment. "Okay, I've got it. Much better: I'll name her Jady!"
Grinning around every word, Jade commented, "Mallory it is, then. An excellent name, in my opinion."
"Patty, can I ask you a favor?"
"Of course," I responded lief, "any time—except, that is, right now. I'm supposed to be at the dock to meet someone. She'll be here any moment, and I'm late as it is."
Jade said, "I know, and I hate to ask you to miss it, but—it's about the——" she broke off.
"Yes?" I pressed. "About the—what?"
Jade shrugged. "Never mind," she declared, "it can wait. Enjoy yourself!"
With that, she turned and rushed off. I called after her, but she only called a vale over her shoulder as she hied away down the path. I shrugged, assured by her attitude that it was a matter of little consequence.
Within minutes I stood upon the Shenkuuvian docks, beside a ship named The Windsaber, standing face to face with a young Shadow Lupess. She greeted me with a smile and a clockwise wave of her right paw.
"Patt! It's great to see you again!" said she. "How have you been holding up?"
"With my feet, same as always," I responded. "I've missed you."
"Still wearing that same hat, I see," she observed. "How long ago was it I gave it to you?"
"Who can remember? One Christmas or another, the same year I gave you that Snowflake Pendant," I answered, adding, "You're not wearing it, I see."
"Yes, well, it's been a long time. Things get misplaced." The Lupess shrugged. "Shall we go? I'd like to see the city again."
"Of course," I agreed. I lent my paws to her luggage and, side by side again, we padded off.
"So . . ." I began.
"Yes . . ."
"Er . . ."
"Mmm . . ."
Scintillating conversation, I remarked silently. Aloud, I said, "How was Mystery Island?"
"Patt," was the response, "I was in Terror Mountain."
"Oh," I chuckled, "right. How was it there, then?"
"Verily? I never would have guessed."
Not even a smile. She always used to laugh, smile even at my worst jokes. Jade always did. Well, most of the time.
We walked on in awkward silence. This was not at all how I had envisioned our reunion. Even I, clown prince of no sense, could think of nary a witticism to utter.
"Read any—good books?" I asked.
"No, I don't really read much anymore."
The guillotine fell again on conversation. I thought of Jade; she, sure, could lighten the mood. Perhaps, I trowed, I should introduce them. But where is Jady?
I considered. She hadn't told me what the favor she wanted was. It's about the—what?
We were picking our way wordlessly across the peak next the dock when a wind sprung up and my hat with it. I bade the Lupess go on ahead as I pursued the fugitive millinery. The breeze carried it downward, rolling it along the path, until it lost interest and discarded the plaything in a tree.
"Well, this is a familiar scene," I commented, laughing at myself. "Maybe it's an omen. Maybe I'll rescue another hostage. I wouldn't be surprised if——" I broke off with a gasp, leaning over the precipice.
Less than twenty feet below stood a gruesome semicircle of bandits, brandishing spears, dirks, bludgeons, and menacing grins. Between this wall of muscle and the wall of stone atop which I perched, stood a Green Usul, armed with nothing but fists, courage and tenacity: Jade.
I sprang into action. One leap took me into the leaves of the tree to retrieve my garnish, another took me down on the head of an Out-Streeter thug, and a third brought me to Jade's side, sending the villain reeling into his cohort.
I put a paw on Jade's shoulder and smiled into her astonished, albeit relieved, face. "Nice day, isn't it? I was taking a stroll when I noticed you were having a little party down here, and I said to myself, 'Hey, looks like a nice bunch of people, why don't you drop in and introduce yourself?' So, here I am!"
"Get 'em!" roared a substantial Grarrl.
"You heard the gentlepet," said I to my companion, and we met the enemies head on. I ducked a blow from an Eyrie's dagger and with an effective swipe of my claws. Jade grabbed a thrust spear, pulled her attacker closer, and greeted him with a foot to his face. She dodged as a Skeith swung a bludgeon at her, and give his arm a helpful push that sent the club into a Mynci's face. I ducked the claws of a Lupe, seized his arm, and flipped him over my shoulder, while beside me Jade had upset the Skeith's balance. The bandits behind him fought to get out of the way as he collapsed.
I was wrestling with a Gelert when Jade suddenly grabbed me by the arm and pulled me down, and not a moment too soon; a spear flashed past, taking my hat with it. I murmured my appreciation before sending the Gelert sprawling with a kick, springing to my feet, and scanning the mob for my attacker. There he was: the Aisha with the scarred and eyepatched face.
Jade seized a Mynci by the arm and sent him twirling into two cohorts while I ran forth to meet the Aisha. He grinned Lupinely as I approached.
"How nice to see you," said he. "I've been waiting so long for a chance to see you again. You cost us five good thieves and a pretty Neopoint we might have gotten out of that Usul's ransom. And now—here you are again! Like a bolt from the blue! I'm glad you showed up. Come on, then; no arrows, no bridges, no thugs. Just you and me."
The Aisha threw the first punch. I blocked and dealt him an uppercut. He struck me in the stomach, but I caught his leg as he attempted a kick and raised it, throwing him off balance. On his back, he swept his leg at mine; I jumped to dodge, but he rolled to his knees and caught me in midair with a kick to the stomach. He sprang on me and attempted to pin me down, and we struggled on the ground, rolling about in one another's grasp.
The Aisha sent me off him with a kick. We scrambled to our feet simultaneously and sprang at one another. I ducked his swinging arm and headbutted him in the stomach. He bashed my face with his knee and I reeled. A roundhouse kick prostrated me, and I found myself on my back with the Aisha glowering at me through his single, malevolent eye.
Suddenly the face staring down at me became two; Jade had sneaked up by the Aisha's side. She seized him by the arms. He struggled, attempting to throw her off; at last he freed an arm and elbowed her in the face. The Usul staggered. I seized my chance and the Aisha's ankle, and released the ledge. My sudden weight swept the Aisha off his feet and over the edge. I screeched in pain; the Aisha howled as he plummeted.
I watched as he disappeared into the mist below, from my uncomfortable vantage point as I dangled from my tail, grasped firmly in Jade's paws.
She grunted, "Patt—gosh, you must weigh as much as heavy metal music! Climb up already!"
I twisted, got a hold of the ledge, pulled myself up. Jade released my tail and grabbed a paw to aid me. At last, out of breath, chests heaving, the Usul and I flopped down on the safety of the ledge. I tilted my head toward the Out-Streeters; most were lying in an unconscious heap, while one or two others fled while they had the chance.
"But—how—who—where—what in Neopia——?" Jade gasped out.
"I told you," was my response, "I was taking a stroll when I noticed your party here. I can't explain it; the wind tore the hat from my head. You know, the same thing happened a few years ago, the day I found you in that hideout of theirs. . . ."
"Really? Wow, that's an amazing coincidence. It was really fortunate that you showed up in time."
"Coincidence? Fortune? Perhaps," I said dubiously. "But, come now, your turn. What was going on here? 'It's about the'—Out-Streeters? Was that what you wanted earlier?"
"Not exactly, Patty. It was about the package Kat asked me to deliver—the one to Fanciful Fauna? I had heard there's been a lot of Out-Streeter activity in this area, so I was a little concerned—but I decided I was just being paranoid, which I admit I habitually do."
"But you weren't, Jady. You were right! I'm so sorry—I should have listened to you! If I had——"
"I'm just glad you showed up when you did," Jade interposed.
"But I cut it so close! I shouldn't have turned you down. If I had been there for you, this wouldn't have happened."
"But you were there for me, Patty," said Jade. "When it counted."
"But I might not have been. It was an awful thing to do——"
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it was——"
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it was!"
"No, it wasn't! Look, Patty, I understand. It wasn't a big deal, anyway, it was only chance that this happened. You knew her before you ever knew me, so of course—"
"But she isn't the friend I remember. Maybe she never was, veritably. At any rate, she's not you, Jady, and I know now she never was. You're awesome. You've——"
"I am not!" she vociferated.
"You are awesome, Jady. You've always been. You have always been."
"No you don't, you discept," I laughed, elucidating briefly the meaning of the two words. "As you always do, which merely proves my point."
"I'm not awesome, Patty. It was you who saved me; twice now."
"Ah, but Jady, that's not true! What you don't see is that it was you who succored me."
"I suckered you?"
After I explained the meaning of the word succor, Jade denied my claim fervently, as was her wont.
"But I mean it, Jady," I expostulated. "Listen. When I first met you, I hadn't a single friend. In fact, I never really did. If it wasn't for you, I would still have no friends. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have realized the friend I had lost was never a real friend anyway. Thanks to you, I have that which is more valuable than any physical treasure, for its monetary equivalent is inestimable: Sodality."
Jade scoffed. "Which would be——?"
"Amity," I synonymized grinningly.
"Tell me what it means, you dork!"
I laughed. "Friendship."
We exchanged smiles, and with that, I climbed to my feet, lent the Usul a paw to help her up.
"Seems we have something of a mess for the Defenders of Neopia to clean up, here," Jade remarked.
"Indeed." I picked my way through the bog of unconscious thieves to the stone wall where we had been cornered to retrieve my fedora.
"They tore your hat!" Jade, close behind me, observed sympathetically. "Oh, I'm sorry. I know you loved it."
"I did," I said, pawing the hole thoughtfully. "It was a good hat." Then, with a flash of my claws, I tore the Daring Adventurer Hat in two. "There, now!" I proclaimed, placing half on Jade's head and the other atop my own. "It's twice as good a hat."
"Was it really necessary to tear it? The hole could have been fixed."
"Ah, but this way we have two hats! What good is one when you can have two?"
"You're such a dork."
"I know it." I grinned. "Friends?"
And the last sound to be heard by an observer were the mingled tones of our blithe laughter.
I'm glad your birthday was great, Jady; sorry this is so late! But I hope you enjoyed it!
If you're not Jady, thank you for reading! I would love to hear any opinions you have to share.