Masquerade: Part One
Co-written by bookworm7
"As a news reporter, it is my duty to follow the rest of this case," I said firmly. "There are more unanswered questions than possible answers. We must investigate!"
My Pteri, Yuruyuki, drooped her head for a moment but resolved in her mind to be more supportive of me. She ruffled her red feathers in an attempt to return some feeling into the tips of her wing that held the News Neocam. "Alright, Sin. I trust your reporter instincts."
We continued up the slippery rocks of the Ice Caverns until we reached the Neggery doors. After several knocks, Kari opened the door and greeted us with a smile. "Welcome to the Neggery! What can I do for you, girls?"
"My name is Sin Hui from the Neopian Times, and I would like to interview Zaira as a follow-up for her hard work in your absence during this year's Festival of Neggs. Is she in?"
Kari clasped her hands together and brightened her gaze. "That's right! Zaira did work so very hard for me and kept the shop running well. Isn't she such an amazing apprentice?" Kari motioned us in as she retreated into the parlor. "Please have a seat right here, and I'll go get her for you."
"Excuse me, Kari," Yuruyuki kindly chimed in, "but I think we would like to have a more personal interview with her. Would you mind if we visited her in her alcove?"
"Oh, I was just making her some tea. You are welcome to visit her there if you deliver the tea for me!" Kari giggled warmly as she walked towards the corner of the room. Suspended above a Fireball Negg hung a steaming kettle, and on the adjacent table sat some fine Altadorian teacups sitting on a tray. She grabbed the teakettle, placed it on the tray, and handed it to me. "We get so busy during holidays, and she works so very hard. I'm glad you want Neopia to hear about her diligence in my absence."
"Thank you, Kari," I replied. Yuruyuki and I walked down the eastern icy hallway. With her free wing, Yuruyuki knocked on the blue, carved-wood doors that led into Zaira's alcove.
From the other side of the door sounded a singsong voice. "Who is it?"
"Zaira, my name is Sin Hui, and I would like to interview you for the Neopian Times. My Pteri's name is Yuruyuki. Do you have a moment for us to visit with you?"
Zaira opened up the door and smiled. "Well of course! I would love to meet with you." I handed her the tray of tea as we walked into the room. "What brings you here?" she asked. Zaira placed the tray on the coffee table and sat in the armchair. "Well, make yourselves comfortable!"
I sat down in the chair directly across the table from her and set my shoulder bag on the ground. "You did an amazing thing during the Festival of Neggs! We would like to thank you on behalf of all Neopians for your help in saving us from the Neggbreaker."
"Oh, that? You are very welcome! I was just doing my duty to help you all solve such a strange mystery that found its way into my hands. I really should be thanking you all for helping me solve it." Zaira glanced over at Yuruyuki, who was looking back at her intently. She noticed the News Neocam resting on the floor. "Yuruyuki, was it? Will you need me to say that again in front of the Neocam? I really would like to thank—"
"There isn't a need for the Neocam yet," I interrupted. "We would first like to ask you for some information regarding the remaining mysterious neggs."
Zaira raised her eyebrows. "Sure. What would you like to ask?" Zaira reached for the tea and began pouring some for each of us.
"With your knowledge in Neggery, we would like to know what you think happened to the decoy neggs that the other members listed in Rutu's journal were in charge of hiding. Certainly if the Clockwork Negg remained until our time, then so did the others." I confidently looked at her while I reached for my poured cup of tea.
Zaira contemplated for a moment as she brushed her hand through her hair. "Well, Sin, I believe that the decoy neggs have most likely degraded with time; since they were merely ordinary neggs, their expected lifetime has been covered several times over since the writing in Rutu's journal."
I had come to the Neggery expecting such an answer, but I had suspicions that it was false. The decoy neggs had been completely overshadowed and ignored, and I believed that it was no forgetful accident. "Were the decoy neggs truly ordinary? I am sure that there must have been something special about them if they were to mask the existence of the Clockwork Negg."
Zaira smiled. "Sin, I can see that you are looking for a gripping story that would send you to a top position in the Neopian Times, but unfortunately those neggs have served their purpose and have vanished with time."
After a brief pause, I glanced down at my watch and exclaimed, "Speaking of time, Yuruyuki, I think the Snowager is napping at the moment. Would you mind trying again for that avatar while we're here?" Yuruyuki nodded as she stood up and quietly withdrew from the room. "Sorry for the interruption, Zaira. Anyway, has the Neggery done any follow-up research on the decoy neggs?"
Zaira continued her honeyed story. "There is no need to worry about the decoy neggs. The Neggbreaker has been defeated with the help of thousands of Neopians, and Neopia is once again safe! The decoy neggs have served their purpose well." I sensed that her cheery voice had forced devotion to it. Her smile was unwavering, but her story kept drifting. She wasn't telling me facts; she was only dodging my questions.
I leaned in and started to give her some drastic attitude. "Zaira, I know that you are hiding critical information from the public. Those neggs couldn't have been ordinary at all! They would hardly act as decoys and be alluring to those seeking for power unless they also contained traces of dark power. You cannot keep this in your own hands and expect Neopia to be fine for much longer." Zaira looked calm and controlled, but I could tell that she felt uneasy with such an abrupt attack. I decided to question further and be harsh about it. "Zaira, tell me more about the nature of those decoy neggs. Why—"
Zaira's eyes quickly narrowed for a moment, and her lips pursed. "You have this all wrong, Sin. The decoy neggs were nothing but fragile red herrings. They contained no power."
"Rutu's journal does indicate that the purpose of the decoy neggs was simply to mask the true location of the Clockwork Negg, but it does not disqualify the possibility that the decoy neggs also contained dark power. These 'ordinary' neggs that you speak so definitively on could still be hiding somewhere in Neopia, and you know what they would be capable of."
Zaira quickly stood up, carelessly knocking over the tea she had placed on the arm of her chair, and walked to the nearby cabinets. As she turned to face me, I could see remorse sinking into her expression. "I have made the mistake of keeping this possible theory a secret, yet it is nothing more than that — a possible theory." She regained her fierce composure. "Sin, you are correct in your decision to come to me, but there is nothing I can do to help other than state that your quest for fame will almost inevitably end in your disappointment. Even if the decoy neggs were still alive in Neopia, they would be lost and powerless now."
"Which is why I need your assistance. With your skills in Neggery, you could assist us on our journey to relocate them. No one would notice your absence from—"
"Sin, you cannot possibly locate the remaining mysterious neggs! Why are you obsessing over such a story? This will not bring you fame; seeking those neggs will only push you into danger more ferocious than the Neggbreak—" Zaira gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth.
I had caught her off guard and finally grasped an answer. "I knew it! You are hiding the true power of the neggs. What is their secret? You cannot hide a world's fate behind a face that dwells within it!"
Zaira ran to her cluttered desk and pulled out Rutu's journal from the top drawer. She held it tightly against her chest. "I hid the truth from Neopia in order to protect it! If Neopia were to hear about traces of dark power, the neggs would certainly fall into the wrong hands and be misused. Sin, you are chasing loose ends that I can handle on my own."
"You must tell me what their true power is. Only you can stop the danger, and you know very well that it's an imminent threat!"
"No!" Zaira snapped. "The remaining neggs are worthless without the original negg — the Clockwork Negg."
"You must tell me everything you know!"
Zaira glared at me silently. I stood my ground and dared not to speak a word until she had run through the situation in her mind and concluded upon my victory over her.
She looked down at the journal and then closed her eyes. "Fine. I will tell you their possible role in the destruction of Neopia, but even I do not know all of their secrets. The mysterious neggs are one in power and purpose. Your journey will prove perilous and—"
"WHO DARES TO STEAL MY TREASURE?" From far outside of the Neggery boomed the breathy voice of the Snowager. I faintly heard Yuruyuki squawk out of terror. Zaira reacted quickly, grabbing an object from atop her desk, and ran outside with the journal in her apron pocket. I grabbed my bag and followed her. I had no idea why Zaira had taken upon herself protecting the fate of Neopia, but I had no choice but to rely on her help to solve the mystery of the forgotten neggs...
To be continued...