The Mystery of the Maraquan Ball: Part Six
Together, they flung themselves over the side of the lighthouse and into the rushing current of water that formed a curtain around the building. The water was moving so quickly that Grey forgot to worry about her new way of breathing. Instead, she worried about what the wave they were riding was about to send them slamming into. She screamed as she narrowly missed hitting a shelf of coral, but Lady was not so lucky.
"Owww..." Lady groaned. They both lay on the ocean floor, exhausted from the rush of adrenaline that had accompanied their ride. "I bruised my wing. Look at that knot," she whined.
"We don't have time to do anything about it. At least it's not broken," Grey answered as she urged her sister up. "We need to get going. I think I can hear really faint music coming from the glass dome."
Overall, the plan to sneak into the dome went better than expected. Most guests arrived in special underwater boats, but some had swam and appeared in dripping evening clothes that made Lady and Grey's soggy uniforms look normal. Apparently being wet didn't ruin anything, as the party guests still laughed gayly and mingled with one another.
"I see being soaked doesn't put a damper on their night," Grey whispered to her sister.
"That is possibly the worst joke I've ever heard," Lady responded. She grabbed a silver tray from one of the tables and moved out among the guests.
Grey followed along behind her sister with a pitcher of sparkling water. She was surprised to discover that it was quite easy for her to wait on others. Grey hid her curiosity behind an easy smile and soon was nearly indistinguishable from the real Kelp servers. Lady, on the other hand, could not help but let her spoiled, hoity-toity nature shine through. She blanched when a rowdy socialite dropped an hors d'oeuvre on her foot, and she could not restrain a hissing a snarky comment when a Zafara painted Royal said something about the dirt on her uniform. She was soon sent back to the kitchens as punishment by the head waitress, and Grey was left to fend for herself in a room full of wealthy Neopian strangers.
"Tough crowd," Lady commented to the chef. She had been banished to the kitchens for her behavior and was now being forced to assist the Peophin as he slaved over a large boiling pot of Borovan.
"I didn't say it would be easy," he responded mysteriously and continued to stir the thick brown beverage.
"What?" Lady asked, her brow furrowed.
"When I wrote you those tips, I never said it would be easy. But you've done a good job getting here. I did send that yellow Kiko out for more kelp on purpose though. I figured you might have gotten lost on the last stretch. This place is in the middle of nowhere, but it's hard to miss a bright yellow Kiko bobbing about."
Lady gawked at the Peophin chef standing beside her. He had just divulged the information that he was the mystery informant, but at the moment he seemed more intent on stirring his pot of Borovan than explaining himself.
"You wrote on those napkins...? You snuck into my petpage...?" Lady asked.
"I have a full-time job at Kelp, but sometimes I help out at the coffee shop because I'm one of the few people in Neopia who knows how to not ruin a good cup of Borovan," he stated matter-of-factly. "That coffee shop owner is hopeless when it comes to Borovan."
"That's all very good and well, but shouldn't we be talking about more important things... like this giant paint brush heist?" Lady asked and put a paw over his hoof to stop him from stirring. It was distracting.
"Does Feather know you're here?" the Peophin responded, completely ignoring her statement.
"No, we jumped off the- well, just no. She has no idea where we are."
"Excellent!" the Peophin stated happily. He moved his paw and continued to stir the Borovan, but he did make the effort to nod towards the end of the counter. "There's a..." he stumbled over the words for a moment, "I think it's called a computer. I'm not sure. I used to work in the cafe on the Space Station and they had one. I know how to take them apart and look at all the gears, but I don't actually know what they're called... anyway, you post your hits on that, right? Post one right now aimed at Feather. Tell her where you are and blow this operation wide open."
"Wait a second... if you don't know how to work a petpage, then how did you get into mine? And how do you know Feather's name?" Lady eyed him suspiciously.
"Never said I didn't have help," the Peophin told her mysteriously. "And Feather and I go way back. Anyway, just fire that thing up and send out your hit. She'll come running."
Lady pulled the keyboard forward and rested her paws on the keys, but she hesitated to type anything. This Peophin... was he really the informant? Something didn't quite sit right with her. She felt uneasy about nearly everything he had told her. "I forgot my password," Lady finally said after dawdling over the decision for a long moment. "If you give me a tray of food to carry, I can slip out and ask my sister Grey." Without waiting for an answer from the Peophin, Lady grabbed up a tray of Neovian cannoli and linzer tortes and hurried out of the kitchen.
"Are you okay?" Grey asked her frantically as the two met up at the punch table. "I saw you get in trouble but I thought one of us should stay out here and try to find out what's going on."
"No, I'm not okay. I think something fishy is going on here. I just met the chef... he claims he's my secret napkin-writer," Lady answered. Her eyes darted from side to side as she kept a close watch for people that might be eavesdropping on their conversation.
"That's good! Did he explain what the mystery is? Because I can't seem to find anything out."
Lady offered a nearby Kyrii a bit of Techo funnel cake before turning back to her sister. "No, he refuses to give away anything. For some reason I just have this gut feeling that we don't know the whole story. He's trying to get me to put a hit out on this place right now so Mom will come and break up the party. What kind of chef keeps a computer in the kitchen? The entire thing is too convenient... I think he's playing us."
"How does he know Mom?" Grey asked and then took a step backwards suddenly. A Peophin in a tall white chef's hat was barreling towards them through the crowd. "Is that... him?"
"Yup," Lady replied and let out a heavy sigh. She assumed she was about to receive a second stern lecture for the night, and she was entirely correct. After the Peophin was done fussing she followed him back to the kitchens with a pathetic glance over her shoulder directed at Grey.
"You have the password, now you put out the hit," the Peophin told her sternly and shoved Lady towards the end of the counter.
"I don't like the way you're talking to me," Lady stated flatly. "I'm not going to do anything of the sort until I know it's the right decision. You acting this way makes me doubt that I should say anything at all. You haven't even told me for sure what these socialites have done wrong."
"You should know," the Peophin replied and gestured towards her newly-painted fins and tail. "You're in on it too, now. I know you used one of their brushes to get down here. Didn't you see the papers? Those wealthy, costumed Ball-goers stole the hard-earned paint brushes from honest Neopian galleries. You have the proof. It's time to take them down!" He picked up a tin of olives and held it up as if he would throw it at her. "Put out that hit now, or you're going to be sorry."
Lady had noticed that the Peophin's left eye twitched constantly as he spoke to her. She was positive now that he was lying. She had played Cheat too many times to miss such a noticeable twitch, but she wasn't sure if she had the courage to stand up to this fierce Peophin and his tin of olives. She gathered her strength and puffed out the bright teal ruff around her neck. "I'm not going to!"
The Peophin growled and tossed the tin of olives across the kitchen. It hit the opposite wall with a loud Clink! that made Lady jump. The Peophin grabbed an evil-looking bottle from the cabinet beside him and held Lady by the shoulders. "I was given this malice potion by Jhudora herself after I helped her find a certain color wall paint for her Neohome...if you don't put that hit in right now, we'll see just how malicious it is!"
Lady gasped and struggled, but the Peophin's grip was strong. "Grey!" she yelled loudly, but her sister was nowhere in sight. She tried to lash out one more time at the Peophin before hanging her head in shame. "Fine...I'll do it."
"Excellent!" the Peophin said joyously and let her go. "Now hurry up. We're on a schedule."
Lady smiled slightly after she turned her back towards the Peophin to face the keyboard. Her paws raced over the keys as she typed out a message. Before the Peophin could read over her shoulder, she had sent in the hit.
To a certain Neopian who knows me best: As ashamed as I am to admit it, I'd be nothing without you. I have a case I can't bust on my own. If you want to help, come to the sunken lighthouse mansion due west of Maraqua. Make sure you take your time getting here. A fashionably late entrance is always favorable over an anticipated one.
To be continued...