The Mystery of the Maraquan Ball: Part Four
The next morning was a whir of activity as Feather, Grey, and Lady rushed around the house to get ready. Todd, having consumed entirely too much sugar the day before, was still conked out on the couch like Turmaculous after lunch time. Finally they were ready to leave and Lady gathered Todd in her arms and Feather led the way out of the door.
Their journey to Meridell took most of the morning, and when they finally reached the docks Feather spread out a large picnic lunch before them.
"I'm glad the regular ferries to Mystery Island have high-enough guard rails that you won't be able to take a swim," Feather told Lady and elbowed her jokingly in the side.
"She wouldn't need to, anyway. The restrooms on this ferry are equipped with nice full-length mirrors," Grey answered. She had been joking, but a shadow passed over her face as a thought occurred to her. They had the wrong boat. The tour guide ferry probably wouldn't go far enough away from Mystery Island to reach Maraqua... but the transportation ferry would. She was trying to come up with a way to secretly tell Lady her realization when Lady got up in a huff and went to pout at the end of the pier. Grey was relieved that she hadn't had to distract Lady at all- the Eyrie had done it on her own. Quietly she got up and moved towards Lady, leaving Todd and Feather to continue their one-sided conversation about the art of brewing tea.
"Lady... we had the wrong boat," Grey hissed.
Lady tossed her head haughtily, still angry over the mirror comment.
"Okay, okay... I'm sorry," Grey said without much conviction. "But you need to listen to me. We thought the Mystery Island ferry was the right one... but that ferry probably doesn't even go as far as Maraqua. We need to jump off the boat we're about to get on."
As if on cue, the wooden yacht slowly pulled up to the dock beside them. The sisters stepped back to allow the coconut men deckhands some room while they tied down the boat. Lady sized up the guard rails with her eyes.
"There is no way we'll make it over those and still be able to call it an accident," Lady said hopelessly.
"You're right... but Todd can squeeze through them."
Lady gasped and immediately shook her head violently. "I am not telling Todd to jump into the ocean."
"Why would you?" Feather asked, appearing behind them.
Grey and Lady stumbled for an explanation, but were saved when the coconut men waved them onboard. They settled towards the back of the boat on a row of uncomfortable wooden seats and silently watched out the narrow holes between the rail's wooden slats as the ferry pulled away from Meridell's shore.
"You have to," Grey said quietly and nudged Todd towards her sister.
"No I don't," Lady hissed when Feather turned away from them to attempt a conversation with the coconut men. "I'm not putting Todd in danger just to have a good gossip hit on my blog."
"I don't think it's just about that anymore, Lady... I think this is serious. I think there must really be something bad going on that our informant wanted us to find out and expose. What if people are in danger and we sit here and do nothing?" Grey argued.
"Well, I'm not putting Todd in danger," Lady responded.
Grey gave up on arguing with her. The Uni had a plan, but it had to be timed perfectly.
The coconut men passed out fliers that proclaimed, "Halfway there, folks! We're now passing over Maraqua's northwestern border!"
Grey and Lady hadn't spoken at all since their argument about whether Todd should take a swim or not. But Grey had a secret plan. Slowly she withdrew a large tea leaf she'd brought for Todd's dinner from her pack and waved it in front of his nose.
"No..." Lady gasped.
She watched in horror as Grey tossed the tea leaf over the side of the boat and Todd fought to squeeze through the guard railing. Immediately Grey flew up in the air and flung herself over the railing after the kadoatie, and Lady followed while screaming at her sister in anger.
Todd hit the water with a surprisingly large splash and was content to bouy around for a minute before clamping his teeth around the tea leaf he'd been so desperate to obtain.
Above them, Feather seemed to be having some sort of mental breakdown. The coconut men had abruptly halted the boat's progress and were attempting to use their tiny arms to toss a floatation device over the tall guard railing. Finally Feather snatched it from them and chucked it over the side.
"Grey first," Feather directed, "then Lady and Todd."
"Okay, Mom," Grey answered. She took Todd under one arm and swam up close to the side of the boat so they wouldn't be in Feather's direct line of sight.
"I'm never going to forgive you for this. You get on that float right now! We'll find some other way to do this," Lady scolded as she followed Grey.
"Hey, it's going to be okay," Grey said and placed Todd inside the round float. "Okay, Mom, I'm on. You can pull me up!"
"Oh, I see..." Lady murmured and nodded in approval. She and Grey hurriedly dug out the fishbowls and tape they had packed for the trip and donned their makeshift underwater headgear. They had disappeared under the waves by the time Feather realized she had fished up a Kadfish instead of one of her daughters.
Grey and Lady were unable to speak through the glass of their bowls, but the girls swam together until they could make out the dim glow of lights from Maraqua. Their first goal was to snoop through the windows of Kelp to see if they could find anything. Unfortunately, Kelp's scorchio manager chased them away from the front of the restaurant after he got one look at their homemade headgear. Stealthily they swam to the back of the restaurant.
Everything seemed to be locked up tight until Lady happened to find a small hole in the foundation of the building. It was far too tiny for either one of them to squeeze through, but Lady did manage to plug her head into the hole to get a look around. Grey waited impatiently as Lady wormed her head farther into the circular hole. Finally, Lady pulled herself free, grinned at Grey, and then led the way to the collectable seashells shop.
Once they were inside, Lady and Grey hid from the Aisha shopkeeper behind a rack of sea shells and debated in low whispers what they should do next.
"Kelp has a crosswork of water pathways along the floor for decoration," Lady explained. "That hole I put my head through was one of the drains for the floor fountains. I could see everything! Well, everything except the blue Uni waitress..."
Grey grinned and said, "You mean she wasn't there at all? Do you think the Maraquan Ball is today? What if she's already at the location setting up food or something?"
"I think you're right..." Lady agreed. "So we need to snag some uniforms. I certainly don't have the time to make any like we had originally planned. We have a ball to crash!"
"Interesting," a voice said behind them.
Both girls turned around and gasped. The shopkeeper had found them. There was no telling how long she'd been standing there. They really hadn't had a choice though, Grey reflected. There weren't that many places in Maraqua that they could be free to take off their helmets and be free to talk. Most of the shopkeepers did have a room especially for air-breathers. They didn't want to limit their sales to aquatic Neopians only.
The Maraquan Aisha stared at them for a long moment, as if sizing up their intentions. Finally she said, "I have two Kelp uniforms that I borrowed from Lissy this past Halloween. I haven't given them back yet. I think we can make a deal."
Lady's eyebrows instantly rose in surprise at this news. "A deal...?"
"Well, you're Lady. I read your petpage. I saw just recently that you slammed Missy at the grooming salon for a Mootix... issue. As a shopkeeper, I value my reputation."
The Aisha's accent was so thick that Lady could only nod as she attempted to understand. Suddenly she saw where this was heading. "You want me to promise not to put a hit out on you. I can-"
"Not exactly," the Aisha said and grinned at Lady in a slightly alarming manner. "I want you to put a hit out on me... but I want it to be something so scandalous that it draws customers to my shop because they can't bear not to find out for themselves. I don't have anything quite so exciting in my life, but I'm sure you can make something up. Isn't that what you do best?"
Lady rolled her eyes. "I only write things that come from a reliable source or I've seen with my own eyes. I'm not going to-"
"Ah, that isn't true. See, you are lying already," The Aisha interjected and smiled again in her strange way. "What about that mysterious note you received? The tip off for the Maraquan Ball...?"
"How do you-"
"Oh, I know about many things. But I know about this thing because I know the person who sent it," the Aisha said. She reached out her paw towards Lady. "So do we have a deal? Costumes for the price of publicity?"
Lady let out a long sigh and nodded. "Fine. I'll come up with something as soon as I get home."
"Perfect!" purred the Aisha. She returned a few moments later with the uniforms and handed them to Grey and Lady. "Have fun at the ball."
To be continued...