Masquerade: Part Eight
Also by bookworm7
Yuruyuki's muscles tensed as she flapped her wings vigorously beneath me. We were soaring our way to Shenkuu, rejuvenated in our race against Zaira. There wasn't much I could think to do other than to locate the source of the problem, the hollow Clockwork Negg, and take the Professor's parchment to Kari for inspection. Fortunately, the trip would be very short; we were going to get to Shenkuu just in time to steal the Clockwork Negg under the cover of nightfall.
"Are you feeling better, Yu?" I shouted. The wind blew fiercely in my ears, and I could barely hear my own voice. Yuruyuki was working hard, so I wasn't sure how long she could keep us both up in the air.
She nodded her head as a reply. I trusted her capabilities.
I leaned forwards and put my head near Yuruyuki's neck so I wouldn't have to continue yelling. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect us. I should have recognized that Zaira was yet another victim of the neggs, but the Plant Negg was just too powerful. It wouldn't let me think, it wouldn't let me deduce... If only I had had it while we were trying to figure out Rutu's puzzle on who-took-what-negg-where, then maybe I would have gotten it right!" I breathed out one quick laugh and then sighed to myself. This wasn't the time for cheap jokes.
"Okay. So, this is what I think I know is correct. Zaira used to live in Faerieland, dependent on her parents, and had an extravagant, carefree life to do whatever she wanted. Then suddenly, she experienced the tragedy of the Faeries' Ruin and was forced to help rebuild their lives. She wanted nothing more than to return to the whimsical and free life she once had. Why did she have to work to repair a mess that wasn't her fault?
"So she ran away from home and, innocently, into the forests near Kiko Lake. Zaira didn't want to be a slave to Faerieland, and the Plant Negg sensed her weakness and called her to it. When she fell victim to its influence, it whispered to her to get a job at the Neggery. By working there, she would get free food, free lodging, and an easy job as an apprentice while being able to support her parents! Of course, the Plant Negg had an agenda of its own.
"After only a few days of working at the Neggery, Zaira came across Rutu's journal buried behind some dusty cabinets — and only TNT knows how it got there. Well, the Plant Negg made her realize that she could set up a win-win scenario; by ripping out the first journal entry, she could hand the journal over to us, let us do all the work behind solving the mystery, and then she would be the one to get the credit.
"She followed orders, but something didn't turn out quite right. The Plant Negg had promised her fame and enough rewards to give her the life of luxury she used to have, but all she got was honor, the Clockwork Amulet, and a big label on her forehead that said 'I love working for other Neopians!' Well, this made her angry at the Plant Negg.
"She kept her façade but secretly hated Neopia for giving her such meaningless rewards. The Plant Negg kept nagging at her to locate the remaining neggs, but Zaira, unknowingly using the mind-clearing powers of the Clockwork Amulet, decided that she would stay at the Neggery and instead do light research on the other neggs from there. Going out into the world and searching for the neggs seemed like too much work. Plus, she thought that the other neggs were only useable by her because of her unique Amulet; she'd grab the neggs when it was convenient.
"Well, this is when we came in. Upon intrusion, Zaira 'accidentally' mentioned to me that the neggs were a threat to Neopia. She saw that we would lead her to the rest of the neggs without her having to do any work, so she used the Plant Negg's powers on us to keep us from seeing what she was doing. We led her from place to place, informed her on where the neggs had gone, and even showed her how to use the Glass Negg."
I closed my eyes and listened to the howling wind. We had just passed the mountains between Altador and Shenkuu, and a chilling fog began to fill the air. It was hard to keep warm and focused.
"I really shouldn't have spent so much time thinking while we were on the boat to Altador!" I said with a frustrated sigh. "The Plant Negg kept deterring my brain and made me pre-conclude that Zaira had been given the Clockwork Amulet before she had come across the Plant Negg. The Plant Negg was draining my diligence and made me take the easy way out. Finneus later inadvertently warned me about forcing conclusions: if you have to prove Zaira's innocence to yourself twice, then you are probably ignoring information to make it easier on your mind!
"Zaira asked for Sugar Coated Leaf, a Faerieland special that was only ever eaten in luxury by the richest faeries. Now that Faerieland has fallen, it's practically considered rarity180. I should have made the connection that Zaira was used to the posh life and not used to the life as a hard-working Neggery apprentice.
"To make things worse, when the waiter notified us of a possible error in our order, my mind was trying as hard as it could to recognize the fact that I had completely ignored the possibility of Zaira discovering the Plant Negg first. By the time we got to Altador, you and I were completely drained of willpower while, on the other hand, Zaira had been feeding on it for her source of energy.
"I am so frustrated with myself! We have got to stop her. I don't even think she realizes that she's under the Plant Negg's control!"
Yuruyuki began descending into the lower Shenkuu mists. The silhouette of the city rested peacefully in the distance against the horizon. It was nearing eventide, perfect for our heist. I stroked Yuruyuki's feathers and rested my head against her as she prepared to land.
We soon found our way towards the cave that had once been crowded with Neopets trying to crack open the Clockwork Negg. The cave was far below the city, nesting midway down the cliff. A few torches had been lit and secured at the cave entrance, yet the cave seemed desolate and empty. Everyone was waiting for the new-and-improved Altador Cup to begin in the neighboring city.
"Yuruyuki," I whispered, "do you remember the way to Rutu's hiding spot?" Our shadows danced against the cave walls in the firelight. There were many caverns to travel through, but I couldn't remember which one.
"It was somewhere on the right. I remember filming the scene with too much light coming in from that direction." She looked around and faced towards the right wall. Her eyes reflected firelight, and she looked determined. I walked forwards into the darkness and felt around for where to continue. I hoisted myself over some rocks and stumbled further into the cave.
Yuruyuki briskly advanced past me and retraced her steps from long ago. Her wings flapped open to keep herself balanced as she stepped on the blunt rocks. I followed haphazardly in the darkness, bruising limbs against unseen rocks. Eventually came the light at the end of the tunnel.
Rutu's hiding spot had been lit by hundreds of candles, placed solemnly throughout the room in her honor. Several bouquets of Red Poppies and other flowers rested against the pedestal that housed the hollow negg — the Clockwork Negg.
It watched us in silence.
I walked towards the pedestal, removed the negg from its resting place, and cradled it in my arms. It's cold shell pressed against my skin. It was denser than any common material found in Neopia, making it surprisingly heavy for its hollow structure.
It watched me in silence.
"Let's keep moving," I said as I put the negg in my shoulder bag. We retreated from Rutu's presence and into the barren cliff sides. Yuruyuki abruptly took flight as I positioned myself on her back. We were headed off to see Kari in the Ice Caverns.
I had no idea what Zaira was up to. By now she had collected all four mysterious neggs and was being led to some final destination. What satisfaction was there in destruction?
I rested my head against Yuruyuki's back and closed my eyes. I was planning to sleep until dawn, but it was hard to do so while she beat her wings so vigorously to carry my proportionally enormous extra weight. My brain churned hackneyed data in an attempt to find a way to stop the Clockwork Negg from succeeding. I felt the negg's weight in my bag.
The Clockwork Negg was hollow and silent. It had served its purpose and unleashed chaos into the world. It was dead weight. It was nothing but the box things came in, and there was no way to return it. We had signed the contract and accepted our fate. There was no way to prevent the destruction, and there was no loophole...
To be continued...