Masquerade: Part Five
Also by bookworm7
The overpowering stench of old books filled my nose as we entered the maze of the Archives. Several Neopets browsing through books instinctively glanced up at us before returning their gazes to their own tasks. Without even pausing to look at the books on the nearby shelves, I walked forward to one of the doors that led deeper into the Archives. After walking through a couple more doors in the same manner, I came upon a room with no one in it. Yuruyuki and Zaira followed and quietly shut the door behind me.
I turned and softly said, "Well, we will have our privacy now from here on out. No one would dare venture any deeper into the maze. During the nighttime, there are so few Neopets to help out finding the way back."
Yuruyuki was getting nervous. "Sin, then how are we going to get back?" Zaira looked a little hesitant to continue on with me as well. Getting lost in the Archives had made many Neopets become permanently insane.
"Yuruyuki, you can step back out into the lobby and wait for us there if you would like, but there's no need to worry whether you come with me or not." Luckily I was speaking rather quietly, or that would have sounded rude. The time was getting late, and my mind was therefore having difficulty controlling itself.
I reprimanded my careless behavior and resumed speaking. "There is only one thing you must not do if you want us to remain safe: while we are here, do not read aloud any book that you come across! It would be an unpleasant experience to see your skin change colors. More importantly, these books may activate perilous magic if you are unlucky." I turned again to Yuruyuki. "Would you mind handing me the Glass Negg?"
Yuruyuki spread her wing and pulled out the negg from beneath her feathers. I moved the Book of Ages into my non-dominant hand and let it rest against my chest. I took the Glass Negg from Yuruyuki and stared into it. I saw nothing but the distorted palm of my hand. Zaira looked at it as well, but she stayed at a distance from me. "Is it going to help us?" she asked.
"According to King Hagan's story, the Glass Negg showed the King how to achieve what he wanted. Yes, the negg did trick him into finding only a tragic substitute for what he truly desired, but I am sure that under the influence of your Clockwork Amulet, Zaira, the Glass Negg will clearly show us how to obtain the information which we seek." Zaira slowly put her hand up to her chest. I breathed out quickly through my nose in an attempt at laughter and smiled. "Don't worry, I trust you enough to handle the Amulet. I'm not trying to take it from you." I handed her the Glass Negg and stepped back. Zaira sheepishly smiled and looked into the Glass Negg, waiting for images to appear of where we should go.
I knew that I trusted her with the Amulet, and sure enough I did, but that's not what bothered me. I didn't feel like thinking for myself anymore; I just wanted Zaira to do the searching for me so I could remove the burden of leadership off of my shoulders.
I stared intently into the Glass Negg while she held it, but nothing seemed to happen. After a few patient moments, Zaira suddenly turned and began walking towards the door at the opposite end of the room. Yuruyuki and I followed her through room after room, passing hundreds of untouched bookshelves. Sometimes Zaira suddenly turned around and changed direction on us, so I didn't bother keeping track of where we were going. I knew that she would be able to find the way back to the lobby for us when the time came.
Finally in one particular room, Zaira stood in front of the negligible closet door and opened it. Instead of revealing a stuffy closet, however, it revealed a stone passage that led downwards into the cellars beneath the Archives. The Glass Negg truly did contain the power of sight!
We quickly followed her down the stone staircase and into the darkness. The musty air was not a pleasant experience for me. My head felt dizzy, and I felt the very bones in my body exert force up my spine and to my skull every time I took another step deeper underground. My shoulder bag felt heavy.
When we had reached the end of the staircase, Zaira rapped her knuckles on the Glass Negg, which began to faintly glow. She held it up into the air, and I excitedly looked around the room.
We had found our way into the largest mass of books I had ever seen; not even the original Faerieland Library matched the size of the collection. The bookshelves ran parallel with our line of sight, so we curiously gazed down a row to see if we could spot the other end of the room. The light from the Glass Negg failed to reach very far, so the bookshelves seemed to vanish into the darkness beyond.
Zaira walked perpendicular to the bookshelves until she found the row she was looking for. She stepped in between the shelves and we lost sight of her. Yuruyuki and I spotted a reading table situated against the wall to our right, so we grabbed a seat and waited for her to return. I put the Book of Ages down and flipped it open, but I couldn't read it in the oppressing dimness.
"Yuruyuki," I whispered. "Are you feeling okay?" She had put her head down on the desk and was motionless.
"I'm just tired," she replied with her beak still pressed along the tabletop, "and my neck hurts. We haven't eaten in so long! I'm glad that Zaira has the energy to keep working." I let my body sag in the chair. She was right. I really didn't have any energy.
After a few endless minutes, Zaira returned to the reading table and set down several things. A scroll carelessly rolled off of the top of her pile and stopped when it hit Yuruyuki's head. Zaira un-stacked the books and put one in front of me. She put her finger on it and said, "Sin, can you interpret this for me?" By the faint light of the Glass Negg, I looked down and saw a thin, flimsy notebook without a title. When I opened the cover, I saw beautiful, cursive handwriting.
"Sure thing." I widened my eyes for a moment to wake myself up. She smiled at me and took a seat. After skimming through a few pages, I said, "This book tells the account of Brightvale when Hurok delivered a strange, near-invisible negg. Apparently the Queen wrote this after the King had had a surprising change in kingship tactics. I'll skip to the end since we've already heard it." Zaira nodded in agreement.
When I skimmed over the last page, it told of the Prince ascending to the throne in place of the banished, monstrous King. "Other than confirming the truth of King Hagan's story, the book is rather useless." I put it down without saying anything more.
"Wait," Zaira said as she reached for the book. "The Glass Negg showed me bringing this book to you. There must be something important in it."
I had read something important, but I didn't want Zaira to hear about it. I wanted to be the one to solve this mystery, not her! I took a closer look at the last paragraph and yieldingly summed it up for her. "The mysterious neggs hide their true power and instead mislead Neopets into seeking for things where there is only weakness."
I looked over at Yuruyuki who didn't understand. "This means that the remaining neggs, without the influence of the Amulet, are 'worthless' because they can be used but cannot be controlled. Do you remember how the Glass Negg only affected the King? His hidden, greedy disposition fueled the negg, so the negg chose him as a victim to feed upon. It tricked the King into endlessly chasing after a dream so that the negg itself could escape from imprisonment in Brightvale. The neggs enslave their user by manipulating their user's weakness for their own purpose: the neggs themselves want nothing more than to be reunited. They create chaos in an attempt to move into... position."
Zaira exhaled and removed the book from in front of me. "Sin, you certainly know how to make conclusions. I'm glad you are here with me, since analyzing all of this would have confounded me for sure! Well then, let's move onto the next one, shall we?" She pushed a thicker book along the tabletop. "This one you may find more interesting. I think this is the one about Altador."
I was very excited to learn about the Cloud Negg and its involvement in the destruction of Altador. Certainly this book would answer some of the questions I had had since the recent discovery of Altador. I opened the book and began reading it to myself. Zaira and Yuruyuki waited for me under the assumption that the books would unleash magic if read aloud. As my bloodshot eyes traveled across the pages, I began to detach my focus from the book. Why was I reading the book? What was I looking for? My neck itched relentlessly, and it was hard to focus.
I looked up at Zaira and realized that she knew I was lying about the magic. The Glass Negg and Clockwork Amulet had surely already told her that my warning about reading the books aloud was a lie. I was previously hoping that, by keeping important information to myself, I would be the one to solve the mystery and claim the credit for doing so, but the charade was over. Zaira was such a kind person for allowing me to play my little game! I was glad that the Amulet had been entrusted to someone so kind and valiant, and not to someone else seeking fame like me.
"Never mind," I said with a sigh. "I'll just read this to you now and save myself the trouble of reproducing it to you." I was no longer one step ahead of Zaira. She held the power of the neggs. She was the real hero on this quest, and I was just her assistant in discovering the neggs' secrets. I began reading to her the story of Altador on that fateful day when a strange traveler visited the kingdom, bearing a curious negg that was unknowingly delivered into the wrong hands...
To be continued...