A House Divided Cannot Stand: Part Six
Nesmachintiyi jumped slightly as the door was thrown open with a slam downstairs. He sighed, rubbing his temples, and cursed whoever had chosen Ben and Lola to go out again. All they ever did was argue and get the wrong type of bread.
"Zeru!" someone shouted as frantic footsteps hurried up the stairs. Nes frowned in confusion; that wasn't Ben or Lola's voice. The blue Gelert in question emerged from the kitchen, drying her hands on a chequered towel. "Zeru, are you in here? Zeru!"
"What's happenin' this time?" Zeru asked, ears perking up as she listened. Seconds later a small mutant Aisha burst into the room, coat hanging haphazardly off her shoulders and water dripping everywhere. She looked panicked as she ran over to Zeru and grabbed her by the arms.
"Zeru, I'm so glad I found you, I'm really sorry but it's important and it's terrible but I really need you, and we don't know what to do, it's really bad and –"
"Calm down," Zeru said, putting her paws on Moondatta's shoulders and pushing her down onto the sofa. Moondatta pressed her lips together and tried not to start crying. Zeru patted her shoulder and crouched down to Moondatta's eye level. "Now slow down, cut out all o' the worrying, and tell me what's wrong."
"Dragon's gone to Neopia Central," Moondatta blurted. "Since she can't abandon you, she wants to put Tatsu in the Pound instead!"
Zeru was silent as she stared at her in shock. Nes gaped in surprise.
"That has absolutely no logic in it at all," Nes said. "It's ridiculous even for Dragon's standards."
"Why aren't you doing anything?" Moondatta asked desperately. "You're supposed to be doing something! They're already on their way to Neopia Central!"
"Oh, dung," Zeru swore. She stood up abruptly and paced around the room, ruffling her hair as she thought.
"I know what you're thinking," Nes said, watching Zeru carefully.
"Course that's what I'm thinkin'," Zeru muttered agitatedly.
"You do realise it's probably just another trap, right?" Nes said. Zeru stopped pacing and stared out of the window at the raindrops splashing against the glass. Nes frowned. "Somehow you'll probably end up in the Pound yourself if you go over there now."
"It's not a trap," Moondatta said. "Neither was that time at the Old Bridge. Dragon didn't know anything about that, I swear. It was just us – me, Tatsu and Pazu – who set that one up. You know Dragon can't really organise anything to save her life."
"Dragon would never abandon Tatsu, either," Nes countered. "Tatsu's her favourite; has been since she became the only one with a normal hobby."
"We all though' Dragon wouldn't never abandon me, neither," Zeru said flatly. She suddenly whirled around to look at Moondatta. "Who tol' yer about Dragon?"
"Tenori," Moondatta said and Nes sat up triumphantly.
"Ha, see? It was Tenori! She's behind this. Dragon might not be able to engineer a plan like this, but Tenori certainly could. Don't forget, she still wants you gone, Zeru – I wouldn't put it past her to do this."
"Yer right," Zeru muttered. She paused for a moment, thinking. Then she grabbed her coat and rushed towards the stairs before Nes could stop her. "And if Tenori can do that, she can convince 'er to abandon Tats!"
Nes sprang up and ran after Zeru, closely followed by Moondatta. He watched as the blue Gelert thundered down the stairs, straight past Trawney, who was looking at them with a none too pleasant expression on his face.
"Do I even want to know what's going on?" he asked them. Nes shook his head and sighed as Moondatta ran outside too.
This won't end well, he thought. And after all of the effort I went to to keep Zeru out of that place.
"Trust me, you don't ever want to know what's going on," Nes said.
At least I tried. No one can say I didn't try.
Despite the miserable weather, Neopia Central was crowded as usual when Tatsu touched down. Dragon jumped off her back and grinned in delight when her boots splashed into a puddle. Tatsu looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
"I think you have more important things to think about than puddle jumping, don't you?" She asked. Dragon quickly sobered up and the serious expression returned to her face. She nodded determinedly.
"You're right, let's go," she said and quickly hurried off in the general direction of the bank. Tatsu rolled her eyes and followed her owner. She shook her wings in an attempt to shake some of the water off before slowly padding after Dragon.
She had used the flight to think about the whole situation. The more she thought about it, the more she realised what an excellent but unlikely plan it was. Dragon loved her money. Hoarding was her favourite pastime of all, and her riches were what she was most proud of in the whole of Neopia. Taking that away from her would be the perfect act of revenge – it would upset Dragon just as much as losing Zeru would upset everyone else.
But would Zeru actually go as far as to steal from Dragon? Zeru never stole from family. Lola had no qualms with taking all of their money during a good game of cards, but never by dishonest means; Ben was probably one of the most uptight pets Tatsu knew, and Nes was fundamentally against breaking laws. None of them would actually do anything like that. They wouldn't, right? Tatsu didn't think so. It was exceedingly strange that this should be happening.
While Tatsu had been lost in her musings, Dragon had led her further into Neopia Central. Sneaking a quick glance at Tatsu and seeing her vacant expression, Dragon took the next left instead of turning right – away from the National Neopian and heading straight for the Pound. Tatsu didn't notice, she was so engaged with her thoughts, and Dragon congratulated herself. So far everything was actually going well.
There were only a few owners in the reception at the Pound, queuing in line for the adoption desk. There was only one person in the line for abandonment and the quiet crying of the pet in question finally caught Tatsu's expression. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and looked about, a comic look of confusion taking over her features.
"Dragon," Tatsu said, taking an uncertain step back. Alone the falsely cheerful atmosphere of the place was enough to put her on edge. "Dragon, it might just be me, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't the bank. What are we doing here?"
"Sorry, Tats," Dragon said, putting a hand on Tatsu's arm. She smiled, seemingly friendly, though her touch was a warning. "I just needed you to be here. Don't worry, I don't plan on abandoning you."
"Then what – oh!" Tatsu exclaimed, cutting herself off. Everything suddenly became clear in her head and she backed away quickly. "No. No way! You are not using me to bait Zeru!"
"Sorry," Dragon repeated. She looked around and felt her cheeks heat up as she realised people were staring at her disapprovingly. She smiled awkwardly, trying to act as if everything was alright. "Now shush, don't make a scene."
"Don't make a—? Dragon, that's my sister you're trying to get rid of!" Tatsu exclaimed. "I'm not going to just let you do that. Let me go!"
"Everything alright?" the Techo behind the desk asked, looking at them over his glasses. Tatsu gulped but frowned determinedly.
"No, no it isn't, she—"
"I'd like to abandon, please," Dragon said firmly, ignoring Tatsu's protest. She tightened her grip on the Eyrie's arm. "But, er, my pet hasn't arrived yet, so can I fill out the paperwork while I wait?"
"What is this, a meeting place?" The Techo muttered in annoyance. He mumbled to himself under his breath while he rummaged about in the drawers underneath the desk and pulled out a thin wad of paper. He handed it over to Dragon with an unfriendly glare. "Fill everything in and sign on the dotted line. Don't forget your pin number otherwise you can't abandon him. When your pet arrives, just bring him and the paperwork over here."
"Thanks," Dragon said with a smile. She retreated to the bench next to the window, frowning at the sight of the many boxes and forms. She sighed and pulled out a pen to start filling them out.
"I can't believe you," Tatsu said, shaking her head in disappointment. Dragon glanced up and was taken aback by the look of utter betrayal on Tatsu's face. Dragon opened her mouth to try and explain, but Tatsu took a step back, paws held up defensively. "You've gone too far, Dragon. This is too much. I'm going."
With that, she turned around and headed out of the room with quick steps. Dragon gaped at her back.
"Zeru already knows you're here!" She called after Tatsu. The Eyrie paused slightly. "She's probably on her way here now. Even without you, I'll have her right where I want her."
"Not if I find her first," Tatsu said determinedly. She stepped out of the Pound and launched herself into the air. Dragon watched her and sighed. She looked back at the forms and once again wondered if she was really making the right decision.
Zeru wasn't good for the family and she knew it. Someday, Zeru would get the whole family into trouble, and there was no telling what would happen to them then. It was bad enough that Dragon had to worry about Zeru being hurt, but the rest of her pets, too? It was more than she could handle at the best of times. No, abandoning Zeru was the best option for everyone. It wasn't as if they had to completely stop seeing her. Dragon just didn't want to responsible anymore.
But with the way everyone had reacted, Dragon thought that perhaps she should have explained herself a bit better. She should have asked them all beforehand instead of just blurting it out in a fit of anger; should have explained her reasoning and showed them how it would be better. There were so many things she should have done differently, but choosing to abandon Zeru was not one of them. At least, Dragon thought, Tenori would always stand by her. If Tenori thought that what she was doing was right then it couldn't be too bad.
Dragon looked at the forms in her hands with renewed vigour and started writing.
"Ben," Lola said after Nes had explained everything. He and Trawney were silent, staring at the floor in worry. The ghost Yurble turned to her brother. "Ben, we need to do something."
"I know," he said. "Sloth, does she not even realise it's a trap? It's so obvious!"
"We need to get to Neopia Central," Lola said, standing up. Ben followed her and grabbed his jacket, already heading towards the stairs.
"I've already got an idea," Ben said. Lola grinned.
"Hey," Trawney said, and Lola paused at the top of the staircase. She turned around to look at him. "Bring her back."
"Don't let them put her in the Pound," Nes said seriously. Lola nodded, and hurried down the stairs.
Zeru burst into the main reception of the Pound and looked around wildly. The door slammed against the wall and the pink Uni behind the adoption desk flinched. She was the only one in the room and Zeru hurried towards her.
"I need ta know," Zeru said immediately, planting her paws on the desk, "has Dragon Soul abandoned any pets today?"
"I'm sorry, I can't tell you that," the Uni said, frowning slightly. "That's confidential information."
"It's urgent. Tell me!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't do that. I suggest you go and find her yourself if you really need to know."
"I can't do that," Zeru said darkly. She leaned forward slightly and the Uni drew herself up to her full height, trying to look as imposing as possible. "Just tell me: has she abandoned someone today?"
"I haven't done it, Zeru," came Dragon's voice from behind her. Zeru froze, a fierce glare on her face. The pink Uni cleared her throat.
"I'll just go and get Dr Death for you," she said, nodding to Dragon. The Uni quickly left and closed the door behind her. Zeru turned around and looked at Dragon, folding her arms. Dragon waved the forms in front of her.
"See here? These are your abandonment papers," Dragon said.
"Go ahead an' hand them in, then," Zeru snarled. "I'm lookin' forward to it. Leastways I won't have to stay in a family of liars anymore."
"That's rich, coming from you!" Dragon snapped. Then she snapped her mouth shut and seemed to regret speaking so harshly. "D'you know why I want to abandon you?"
"'Cause yer don't care for me, I'm not important enough, new starts, yadda yadda yadda." Zeru said, waving a paw flippantly. "Can we skip all this and get to the point?"
"I don't want to keep worrying about you every time you disappear," Dragon said instead. Zeru snorted.
"Aye, right," she said, sarcasm heavy in her voice. "Great excuse. Sending me away ain't gonna stop yer from worrying. Flawed logic as always."
"Would you just stop it!" Dragon exclaimed. "I hate it when you do that! I do my best, alright? I don't actually want to abandon you, but if you keep being like this, then maybe Tenori's right. Maybe I should just ignore my better judgement and do it anyway."
"Go ahead," Zeru said. "Yer 'judgement' didn't stop yer the first time, did it?"
Dragon spluttered and gaped at her in surprise.
"That was years ago! I thought you'd gotten past that!"
"Yer left us to fend fer ourselves," Zeru said darkly. Her left ear twitched in agitation. "Scratch that, yer left me to look after my little sister when I was only a kid meself. D'yer know how hard that was? Do you?"
"I had my reasons! I couldn't stay anymore!" Dragon exclaimed defensively.
"So instead yer got yerself a new family," Zeru ignored her. "No time fer us, but everything for them. Am I right?"
"You're being unfair!" Dragon said hotly. "I told you all about that. I was ill, I couldn't keep going. When I got better, I just couldn't go back to Krawk Island, I couldn't."
"Couldn't come back to us, neither," Zeru said. Her mouth was set in a deep scowl but her eyes were sad. Dragon looked at her again and Zeru quickly turned away. "Go on, then. Sign those papers. Aye, I saw you'd left that blank. Forget it, Dragon, I ain't comin' back so yer might as well."
"Fine," Dragon said icily, just as the Techo came in through the grey door at the back of the reception. He saw Dragon and raised his eyebrows.
"So your pet finally showed up?" he asked. Dragon nodded and signed the papers with a flourish. In the same moment the door opened and two very dishevelled looking pets stumbled in. The Yurble saw Dragon signing the papers and groaned.
"No!" Ben exclaimed, rushing forwards. Dragon looked up in shock and clutched the papers to her chest protectively. Dr Death groaned.
"What, is it national drama day?" he muttered grouchily. He sighed and sat down, rolling his eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Dragon asked, staring at Ben and Lola. Tenori entered the Pound after them, slinking in, barely noticed by anyone. She settled herself on one of the chairs and watched with a smug smile as the drama enfolded.
"We're here to stop you from abandoning Zeru," Lola said boldly, folding her arms. "We're not going to let you do it. Zeru's family, no matter what, and we're not going to let you tear our family apart like this."
"You're too late, I've already signed the papers," Dragon sniffed.
"Maybe, but you haven't put your pin number on yet," Ben said. His voice softened as Dragon looked down at the papers with a doubtful frown. "Dragon, you don't really want to do this. Think about it – if you really wanted Zeru gone, you would have done it long ago."
"I had to wait until Zeru got here," Dragon mumbled softly. "It's only been a couple of minutes. I can't do stuff that quickly."
"I meant altogether," Ben said gently. "You would have abandoned her the first time she disappeared if you really had a problem with her piracy. If it's just because of the worry, then you would have done it after that time in Year 11 – or after Mystery Island – or any time, really. Face it, Dragon, you don't have any reason other than Tenori telling you what to do."
"I have to disagree," Tenori said, startling the others. She stood up and walked over to Dragon, standing between her and the others defensively. "Don't listen to them, Dragon. Remember what they've done to your neopoints."
"You're right!" Dragon said in surprise, and her expression hardened into triumphant grin at having found another reason. "You've lost me everything!"
"They're all in yer house," Zeru said before Lola or Ben had a chance to justify their guilty faces. They looked at her in surprise and Zeru shrugged. "Took them out of yer account and hid them at yer house. Wouldn't actually steal from yer."
"I knew it," Ben muttered. "I thought it was too strange that you would suddenly go against everything you've always promised us."
"And what's that?" Tenori asked, raising an eyebrow. Ben looked at her seriously.
"Never hurt family," he said. Zeru looked away, either in embarrassment or annoyance. It was hard to tell. Dragon's triumphant grin faded and crumbled into a guilty frown. She looked at the papers in her hands and realised that her hands were shaking.
What was she thinking, really? What was she even doing here?
"Nice try," Tenori was saying. "But Zeru still needs to go. I've had enough of her."
"Wait, you have?" Ben said sceptically. "It's not up to you. This is Dragon's decision; she's in charge. You have no say in this at all."
"They're right," Dragon murmured to himself. She looked up at them, looking as if she had just realised the wonders of the universe, and suddenly burst into tears. "I-I'm sorry!"
Ben smiled in relief and Lola whooped, punching the air. She slung her arm around Zeru and did a little victory jig.
"D'you know what this means? Eh, eh?" she asked her older sister, nudging her in the side. Zeru rolled her eyes. She didn't share the twins' enthusiasm. "This means you won't be getting abandoned after all! We saved you!"
"Oh, for the love of Fyora!" Tenori snapped. She grabbed the papers out of Dragon's hands and flicked to the back. Before the others could even realise what she was planning, she had inked in the four digits which would officially render Zeru abandoned. She slapped the papers on the desk in front of Dr Death with a satisfied smirk. "There, done. There you go, Dragon, I did you a favour."
For a moment, Dragon just stared at her.
"What h-have you d-done?" she sobbed. She lurched forward to try and snatch the papers back, but the Techo had already filed them away. He grabbed Zeru by the arm and was pulling her towards the black door behind his desk. Lola held onto Zeru's other arm, trying to pull her back.
"No, wait!" Lola exclaimed. "Give her back! Didn't you see that it wasn't our owner who did it? That's illegal! It shouldn't count!"
"Whether it's illegal or not, it still counts," Dr Death said through gritted teeth. "Take it up with the police if you must. But this one's coming with me."
"Let go o' me," Zeru told Lola. When she didn't listen and continue to pull on her arm, Zeru shook herself free angrily. Lola stumbled and was forced to relinquish her grasp. "Just lemme go! I tol' you I wasn't goin' back. Stop it, all of you – it's fine."
"Zeru, I'm sorry!" Dragon exclaimed, trying to give her one last hug before Dr Death pulled her through the door. Zeru avoided her grasp and looked at her coolly.
"You leave me alone," she said coldly and with that, she was gone. The door closed behind her and the last thing Zeru saw was Tenori smirking as she slunk out of the Pound.
"I'm sorry, but we can't return your pet. Abandonment is final."
"Then I'll adopt her!" Dragon said frantically, looking at the pink Uni. "You can't stop be from adopting her!"
"I'm afraid that's not possible, either," the Uni said sadly. "You can't adopt a pet within two months of abandoning one. Those are the rules."
"They're horrible rules! It wasn't even me who abandoned her, someone stole my details. There has to be something you can do."
"I'm sorry," the Uni repeated with a worried look on her face. "However, if someone really did steal your details, then I suggest you report it immediately."
"Dragon, come on," Ben said, coming up behind her. He put his paw on his owner's shoulder and she slumped in defeat. "Let's just go. We're not going to get Zeru back like this."
"But she's all by herself in there," Dragon said in a small voice. Ben pulled her away from the desk and smiled apologetically to the pink Uni. "She thinks we've abandoned her."
"She doesn't care," Ben told Dragon, though it was most likely an outrageous lie. "She still knows that we care. We'll see her again eventually."
Dragon rubbed her eyes as Ben guided her out of the Pound. Outside, Lola and Tatsu were waiting, sitting dejectedly on the sidewalk. Tatsu looked up hopefully as they emerged, but Ben shook his head.
"We're going home," Ben said to them. He sent one last look at the Pound before turning to face his sisters again. "Zeru's not coming back."
"I couldn't find Tenori," Lola said in a low voice. Guilt lay heavily in the pit of her stomach and she buried her head in her arms. "She disappeared."
"We'll find her eventually," Ben reassured her. "When we get back we'll get a proper search going. But first we just need to get home. We need to tell the others."
"This is all my fault," Dragon mumbled miserably. Tatsu stood up and turned away from her.
"Yes," she said, "it is."
Zeru sat on the bed she had been given and kicked her shoes off. It was a small, windowless room which she had to share with two others, but it wasn't so bad. At least she would have her peace here. At least she didn't have to worry about being left anymore.
The blue Gelert sighed as she leant back and crossed her legs. She stared up at the ceiling.
It hurt. Zeru couldn't pretend well enough to convince herself that it didn't. She had known that Tenori wanted her gone, but that Dragon would go through with so much before realising that she couldn't do it actually hurt Zeru's feelings. When she got out of this dump she would make sure to keep away from her as much as possible.
A lanky green Lenny entered the room and sat on one of the other beds before noticing Zeru. He smiled at her slightly.
"New here?" he asked. Zeru nodded. "You'll get used to it. Is it your first time here?"
"Aye. The name's Zeru."
"Jarvis," the Lenny said. "I've been in here several times already. Sorry to say, but you don't look the type to get adopted easily. Just so that you're prepared."
"I ain't plannin' on bein' adopted in any case," Zeru muttered. She glared up at the ceiling and crossed her arms behind her head lazily. "Family ain't my cuppa tea."
"You'll change your mind soon enough," Jarvis said, nodding his head knowingly. "You'll see."
I've already seen, Zeru thought and closed her eyes.