A House Divided Cannot Stand: Part Five
"Good morning, madam, and welcome to the National Neopian. How may I help you today?"
Lola grinned at the red Usul sitting behind the high desk. Her hair was cut into a neat blonde bob and her clothes were crisp and neat; Lola couldn't help but approve of such a smart uniform.
"Hello, yes, good morning," Lola said. "I'd like to make a withdrawal, please."
"Certainly," the Usul said. Lola squinted at her nametag and saw that she was called Annemarie. Lola decided that 'Anna' sounded a lot better, and resolved to call her that from now on. "Name?"
"Lola Soul," she replied. Anna flicked through the pages of the huge tome in front of her with a practised paw and looked at an entry. She smiled at Lola as she told her the current account balance. "I'll have five hundred thousand, please."
"Of course. If you would just sign here, and enter your pin number here. Thank you, please wait while your points are withdrawn."
"Thanks a lot," Lola said cheerfully as Anna handed her a bag of neopoints a couple of seconds later.
"Thank you for using the National Neopian; come again soon!"
Lola waved cheerfully as she walked out of the bank, tucking the bag of neopoints securely into her bag. She slung the bag over her shoulder and rested her paw protectively on the bag.
"Took you long enough," was the only warning before Lola suddenly felt a heavy weight pounce on her shoulders. She managed to stop herself just before she rammed her elbow into Ben's side. The Kougra laughed at her disgruntled expression. "Really, what were you doing in there, having tea?"
"I was having a very deep and meaningful conversation with a one beautiful Annemarie," Lola said, sniffing disdainfully. Ben laughed, starting to pull Lola along the boulevard. It was bustling with pets and owners, all flocking to the shops and the National Neopian, enjoying the warm weather and bright sunshine. A few fluffy white clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon, cruising steadily across the sky.
"Did you get what you needed?" Ben asked, his voice becoming more serious. Lola nodded. "Me too. I think I see Nes waiting at the fountain already."
The robot Ruki was sitting on the fountain in the main square of Neopia Central. He was clutching a bag tightly on his knees, locking his arms around it. Lola sighed as she walked towards him.
"You are painfully obvious," she told him. Nesmachintiyi scowled.
"We can't all be professional crime lords like you are," he said. Lola laughed.
"Oh, my dear, sweet Nessie. You have the complete wrong end of the stick, honey; I'm the law."
"I hate to break it to you, but I think you might need to reconsider your career choices after this," Ben said with a wry grin. Nes chuckled. "Where's Zeru?"
"She's gone to get some food. From the Bakery, I think." Nes said with a roll of his eyes. "Used to be her favourite, she said, before she moved to Meridell."
"When has Zeru ever lived here?" Lola asked, letting herself fall down next to Nes. She kicked her boots off and dipped her toes into the cool water of the fountain, sighing in blissful relief.
"Zeru's lived everywhere, when you think about it," Ben said. Nes hummed in agreement and they sank into a comfortable silence. Lola wiggled her toes and splashed about with the water, trying to see if she could splash Ben before he evaporated the water. Neopia Central was as busy and cheerful as ever, and the three of them found that the good mood was infectious. The worries and annoyances of the past week faded away, and when Zeru found them half an hour later, they were sprawled peacefully over the edge of the fountain.
"Lookit you lot," Zeru snorted, shaking her head. "Yer like a bunch of kids."
"Happy kids," Lola said, grinning.
Zeru handed out the pastries and bread buns which she had bought and perched on the fountain wall, watching the people walk past them as they ate.
"You know, even though we'd get the job done a lot quicker if there wasn't a limit on how many neopoints you can withdraw in one day," Nes observed with his mouth full, "I suppose it's kind of nice to have the excuse of coming here every day."
"Fer the next couple o' days," Zeru amended. "We'll be done with a couple more goes. We'll have ta hightail it outta 'ere after that."
"Given any thought yet as to where we're going to put everything?" Lola asked. Ben nodded.
"Zeru and I have sorted out some places," he said. "Besides, I wanted to give Trawney some. For putting up with us for so long, you know?"
"That's a nice idea," Lola said, nodding.
"He'll never take it," Zeru told them. A determined glint came into Lola's eyes.
"Then we'll just have to make him, won't we?" she said deviously. Zeru rolled her eyes and grinned.
"No one can resist you two when you pair up," Ben said warily. "Please don't do it."
"No one can stop us!" Lola cried triumphantly, springing up and striking a victorious pose. Zeru whooped and stood next to Lola, slinging her arm around her shoulders.
"Team Hook and Chainmail!" Zeru said proudly. "Where no one plays by the rules and everybody is right!"
"Oh, Fyora, they're mad," Nes sighed. Ben patted him on the shoulder in understanding.
Dragon sighed dramatically as she flopped onto the bench next to the kitchen table. Tenori turned the page of her newspaper and ignored her. Dragon pouted. She sighed again, louder this time, and shuffled along to drape herself over the table miserably. When the blue Lupe continued to ignore, she cleared her throat loudly. Tenori abruptly folded the newspaper and smacked it lightly in Dragon's face.
"Couldn't you see I was reading?" she asked irately. Dragon pouted exaggeratedly.
"I want my pets back," she whined. Tenori sighed.
"We've talked about this before," Tenori said sternly. Dragon looked dejected, her mouth pulling down into a small frown. Tenori ignored it and kept talking. "You want to abandon Zeru. Just remember all of those times she disappeared without telling you. Made you worry your little socks off, didn't she?"
"Yes," Dragon admitted reluctantly. Tenori nodded slowly as if she was talking to a child.
"And think of all of the times she's been in jail," Tenori continued, "dragging the good Soul name through the mud."
"Yeees," Dragon whined.
"Remember all of those times she's embarrassed you in public? Cost you thousands of neopoints in damage control?" Dragon nodded. "Yeah, those all happened. You don't really want her back. You've just been spending too much time with Moondatta."
"But what about Ben and Lola? And Nessie? I miss Nessie," Dragon muttered petulantly.
"They'll come around eventually once Zeru's gone," Tenori said. She raised an eyebrow languidly at her owner. "I don't really see the problem here. You still want Zeru gone really, you're just overthinking things again."
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right," Dragon said, nodding determinedly. She looked resolutely set on her decision for a moment before doubt crept into her expression again. "But... Don't you think it's a bit horrible?"
"What is, abandonment? It's not so bad. The Pound's actually a pretty nice place, despite what everyone says about it."
"Well, yeah, that too," Dragon said. "But I was talking more about your plan. I just think it's a bit... cruel, you know, tricking her like that and then kicking her out."
"It's no worse than what she's done to others," Tenori said sharply. Dragon gave her an odd look and she calmed down again. "But still. How else are you going to get her to the Pound?"
"By reasoning with her and apologising until she forgives me?"
"No," Tenori said, shaking her head. She grinned, baring her teeth, and Dragon frowned a little at the dark expression which came over her face. "The only way you'll ever get Zeru in there is by forcing her to protect one of her friends. In this case, Tatsu. It'll all work out fine in the end, you'll see. Just trust me."
"Are you sure it's alright, though? It won't make me a bad person?" Dragon paused. "Or worse than just abandoning her would make me, in any case."
"Of course not, people do it all the time," Tenori said. She put her paw and Dragon's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Dragon smiled.
"Thanks, Tenori," she said happily. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"There's only one thing left to do," Tatsu said seriously and completely in earnest. "Move to Maraqua."
"That... won't solve anything," Pazu said, looking at his sister in confusion. Tatsu groaned and let her head fall against the desk.
"I can't think of anything else!" she complained, her voice muffled. "I've gone through every single idea I have and at least one of you reckons it won't work!"
"After the last one, you shouldn't be so surprised that we doubt your plotting skills," Pazu said wryly. Tatsu sighed. Moondatta scratched the wooden windowsill, carving small lines into the wood. The patch of sunlight she was sitting in was suddenly cut off by a cloud and the Aisha looked up glumly. "Don't worry, though, while you've – tragically – been unable to think of anything, I've done at least something productive."
"You know how we're going to fix this?" Moondatta asked hopefully, her head whipping around to look at Pazu as she heard his cheerful voice. He shook his head and she deflated again.
"No, but I know someone who might," he said. Tatsu looked up, jealously written all over her face. "I sent Klarrin a neomail. I thought since Ben's left, she would be the next best person to ask."
"Besides, Ben is pretty rubbish with relationships anyway," Tatsu said. "Otherwise he would have figured something out by now."
"Maybe he just doesn't want to do anything," Moondatta said with a sigh. Then she brightened slightly. "But you're right, asking Klarrin was a good idea. Hopefully she can help us."
"Well, then," Tatsu said, clapping her hands cheerfully. "Then I guess all we need to do is wait for a reply. How long ago did you send it?"
"Right after the last plan failed. So we should get her reply in a couple of days, if she answered it straight away."
"Then that's that," the Eyrie said. Then she grinned. "So, who wants to out for some ice cream?"
Before either of the others could answer, there was a soft knock on the door. They turned around and saw Tenori leaning in the doorway, paws on her hips. She looked at them coolly.
"Hey," she said. "What are you lot up to this time?"
"None of your business," Tatsu said, turning her nose up. She glared at the Lupe and folded her arms, turning away.
"We were just talking," Moondatta said.
"Right," Tenori said, clearly not believing a word. She shook her head and sighed. "Anyway. I need to talk to you."
"Well, I don't want to talk to you," Tatsu muttered and Tenori snorted.
"I didn't mean you," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Moondatta. Come with me for a moment?"
"Um, alright," Moondatta said. Pazu looked at her curiously but she could only shrug as she followed Tenori out of the room. On the way out, she almost bumped into Dragon, who growled out an apology and continued with a furious look on her face. The Aisha looked back at her curiously as she hurried to catch up with Tenori. "What's wrong?"
"Dragon's got a plan," Tenori said as she walked. Moondatta pricked her ears. "You're not going to like it."
"Is it about Zeru again?"
"Of course; what else?" Tenori lead Moondatta to her room and ushered her inside. She closed the door behind them and leant against it, looking at the small Aisha. "Dragon still wants to get rid of the Gelert."
"I know, that's the problem," Moondatta said. She looked around at the bare walls and empty shelves of the room and suddenly felt very out of place. "What's the plan?"
"Since she can't get a hold of Zeru, she wants to get rid of Tatsu instead now instead," Tenori said, watching the Aisha closely. Moondatta gasped and her eyes went wide in horror. "She said, and I quote, 'I guess Tatsu is next.' I thought you should know."
"Why?" Moondatta asked, her voice faint. She could already see it now: half of the family refusing to associate with them, Tatsu in the Pound, and the rest of them living with an owner who became increasingly jumpy and bad-tempered. It was horrible, all of it, and Moondatta couldn't let that happen.
"I don't know. Why would she tell me that?" Tenori paused for effect, hiding a smirk at Moondatta's reaction. "I'm just the messenger."
"When?" Moondatta asked quickly.
"Right now," Tenori replied. "She's already gone to get Tatsu; they're probably on their way by now."
"I need to stop them!" Moondatta said, running towards the door again. Tenori opened it just in time and watched as the small Aisha stormed along the corridor, footsteps heavy on the floorboards. Tenori grinned.
"That's right," she called after her. "Do whatever you can to stop them! Maybe Zeru can help you!"
"Yes!" Tatsu jumped, turning around to see an irate Dragon standing in the doorway. She folded her arms and glowered at Pazu and Tatsu. "What? What is it? I haven't done anything this time!"
"It's the others," Dragon said darkly. "They've been taking money out of my account. Almost everything is gone."
"What?" Pazu gaped in surprise. Seemed like something they would do, he supposed, especially Zeru; but Zeru had never stolen from family before. It was an unspoken rule for her concerning her less than acceptable activities: never include the family.
"They've been stealing my neopoints!" Dragon exclaimed. She started pacing and took to gesturing wildly with her hands. "It's revenge, I know it. They're trying to get back at me for trying to abandon Zeru. The little sneaks! This is unacceptable and you —" she suddenly pointed at Tatsu, who flinched, "—have to come with me!"
"Why me? What am I supposed to do?" Tatsu asked defensively, puffing her feathers up nervously. "Don't ask me what to do about it!"
"I need you to give me a lift to Neopia Central," Dragon said, slightly more calmly. Tatsu relaxed a little.
"But it's raining," she said, pointing out of the window. Dragon shrugged.
"Then put a coat on," she said, turning around again and stalking out of the room. "Come on, get going. We're leaving ten minutes ago."
Tatsu looked at Pazu, who shrugged.
"Better go with her," he said. He frowned slightly. "In the meantime, I'm going to see if I can find the others and ask what in Neopia they were thinking."
Tatsu sighed and followed Dragon downstairs, grabbing a coat as she went. She zipped it up as she shoved her shoes on.
"Ready?" Dragon asked impatiently, glancing upstairs. For a moment Tatsu thought she looked nervous, but the expression disappeared and was once again replaced with anger. Tatsu nodded.
The Eyrie pulled her hood up and drew it close around her head as she stepped out into the rain. Dragon did the same, pulling her collar right up over her ears, and waited for Tatsu. Tatsu dropped down onto all fours and spread her wings, letting Dragon clamber onto her back. The girl held onto Tatsu's mane tightly as the Eyrie beat her wings, launching off the ground with a powerful beat. Dragon gasped slightly as the cold rain was driven into her face.
"Hey, is that Moondatta?" Tatsu asked loudly, pointing down at the rapidly shrinking ground. The small Aisha was standing in front of the door, waving excitedly. "What's she saying? I can't quite hear."
"I think she's asking for some doughnuts," Dragon said quickly. A sharp stab of panic hit her as she saw the Aisha and she tried to suppress it quickly. "If I have any money left by the time we get there. Hurry up, I need to find out what's happening."
"Geez, fine," Tatsu said with a heavy sigh. She spread her wings and caught a wind current, speeding away. "You owe me big time for this, Dragon."
Moondatta and the house faded away as they flew, quickly disappearing out of sight. Dragon grinned determinedly as she looked ahead towards Neopia Central.
To be continued...