The Adventures of Trina: The Glass Key: Part One
Author’s Note: New and old readers – visit http://www.neopets.com/~Trinandra for a summary of the story thus far, character guide, and more. That should be sufficient to jump right into the series with this installment. Neomails are greatly appreciated as well. Your journey begins now! Enjoy!
I was skimming over my notes for the second time of the night when I was called down to the holding chamber.
When my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the stone room, I could see why the Meerca took so many months for us to capture. His body didn’t even fill half of his seat—yet a favorable physique for a thief—and he was a veteran at his craft. On top of that, he boasted an elite record, having been an accomplice in the theft of King Coltzan’s crown.
Meerouladen was looking down at his desk as I paced the room, circling over and over again as I carefully structured my thoughts. The Meerca ignored my presence, uninterested as ever and completely not intimidated. Well, that was going to change.
“Are you sure I’m the one you want?” he asked in a high-pitched voice, half-grinning. “My brother looks just like me, ya know…”
“We are sure! Both you and your brother are our prime suspects. And I know all your tricks up your sleeves. You’re not one to stay out of the spotlight.”
“It’s always pleasing to know that we’ve become so famous, others can tell us apart!”
“Pay attention,” I said monotonously before clearing my throat. “Were you in the Lost Desert anytime during this past spring? I would suggest that you answer honestly…lying just makes my job harder…and I’m told the Defenders of Neopia would love to offer you a nice, long stay at their housing facilities.”
“Yeah,” Meerouladen said calmly. “So what?”
“Did you or your brother at any time ally yourselves with a Skeith by the name Malkus Vile?”
“Oh, that guy? Pfft, we cut ties with that fiend ages ago! He wasn’t giving us our share, said he needed more to feed his muscles—as if his gut could take any more in—so we told him to scram!”
“And you expect me to believe that?” I said loudly. The brown Meerca gave me a quick nod and a cheesy grin. I threw my fists onto the desk, and finally the Meerca jolted to full alertness.
“You expect me to believe that someone so puny forced a built, criminal mastermind to turn his back on a lucrative offer?”
“Yes, that’s basically how it went down,” the Meerca said audaciously. The manner in which his mouth moved made his cheeks appear appropriately pronounced.
Devious, indeed: This guy could see my weakness all over my face, in the twitches and lips quivers it made to remain stoic. He was sure of it from the start. I’ve seen it all before. A Cobrall for a tongue, he played an arrogant game, known for undercutting real information and withholding false cards to wiggle free of his crimes, getting exactly what he wants. But unlike the others this scoundrel opened a wound, and already he was sure of it. More than anything I needed the truth, the list of names, the shovel to unearth secrets and bury the past…This round belonged to me.
“How long did it take you to come up with that story? A minute?”
“It’s true,” he insisted.
“Of course it is! Word’s been that he rode off with Kelland’s blade since the Month of Running! Why would he let anyone in on stealing from one of the Heroes of Altador, who prior to that title was the most renowned thief of his time?”
The Meerca was dumbstruck with confusion, eyebrow protruding into his forehead. If my sketch artist was here, that face would’ve dazzled every file we had on him.
“The Altadorians will be calling it the theft of the century once it leaks to the print. But we know the details…Travelers spotted him crossing the Lost Desert in the spring. Used some petty crimes as a distraction to give us the runaround—plundering around the desert after robbing the Defense Magic shop—because he had his sights on hiding the real treasure…”
I had him now. He must divulge some real information if he wants us to track down Malkus Vile out of vengeance. No one as egotistical as Meerouladen would react kindly to betrayal, after he thought his purpose was merely to stage a distraction, and then to be insulted further: stripped of his credit by a fellow robber. Honor among thieves. This was the code he had risked everything by, and in his mind it had just been broken…
“That traitor! He made a deal with some light faerie!” he said quickly, anger in his voice. “I don’t know who she was or anything, but she gave us a quest for some battledome items as a cover to get the reward. A hefty sum, it was!“
“What was this deal?”
“It must’ve been for the blade, that fiend! I never did get that reward! That coward probably spent it all to pay off those little neoschoolers for causing so much trouble, and then likely had to spend some more to steal the rest of the faerie’s reward back from ‘im!”
“Who are you talking about?” I said, and instantly my body froze, my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t dare to make even the smallest sound, in case I would mishear a single word.
“This lot of girls—some Chia, Usul, Shoyru, and this annoying Wocky. Coulda sold off a fine treasure had that spotted Wocky not run off with our prize: Dr. Sloth’s staff, or at least that’s what I used to think! That Malkus…all a diversion in the end!”
Meerouladen’s testimony rang in my ears, again and again, too much for me to comprehend all at once. At last! Alhasutek’s staff! The staff that had driven poor Alhasutek to fear his own reflection…the most powerful staff in the history of Neopia…
Hours later, once I squeezed every detail out of Meeroladen’s narration until the conversation spun in circles (and only ended when he fell asleep), I returned to my notebook, but as a different person than who had scribbled the salutation of a letter on the page before me. As I held the pen, I imagined I could feel the staff’s cold exterior, its sleek black finish, along the rough fur of my fingertips. So much fear present in one object, in one single stroke…
I ended up crossing out many words, for my hand trembled too often, and soon any excuse compelled me to rewrite them in different fashion. I let my hand flow freely, until my h’s looked like d’s and each of my o’s had faces. Yet no amount of curves and loops could draw away its meaning. I always knew the letter would have to come to light eventually, with all the somberness stained onto the paper, and the quest to find its thieves meant that the Staff was so much closer, and then the letter would have to be read. So for the first time, I read it through…
There are some stories that should never be told. To some, that goes without saying. But as an explorer I was, naturally, a hunter for forgotten histories. Even now it hurts when I look back on how mistaken I was, how naïve I was, but I must always look back. I don’t have the privilege of forgetting. Even the worst of tales will be remembered, the more you try to shake them off, rewrite them to make them not sound as unsettling. Like an obsession, this is a story that I have dedicated to studying, and I as you will come to know, I have sacrificed the greatest treasure to make that a reality.
Before my eyes could pick up the next word, I ripped out the rest of the page in frustration and tore it down the middle. Yet a segment of the letter had eluded me. It floated to the floor, upright, taunting me.
You see, if there is one thing that I must do with these hands, it is to prevent this story from being spoken, uttered in hushed voices to soothe its biting words. I take this tale to heart to end it here, abruptly. For if the next generation is raised to hear this story…and is finally able to understand its contents…
There won’t be a world anymore.
I hope that you can forgive me.* * * * *
I have trekked through a desert, climbed a pyramid, sailed with pirates, defeated some of Neopia’s most nefarious misfits and powerful villains, and saved a secret island, yet the one thing that has completely and utterly has frozen me in fear, that has taken my breath and glued my feet to the doorstep, is High Neoschool of all things.
“If it helps, Trina, I’m no more freaked out then you are,” said the jelly Scorchio that trembled beside me. “I’ve never been to a real neoschool a day in my life. Ever! Anything I learned beyond the basics was taught during magic lessons, whenever someone found the time.”
A group of Poogles slipped by me and entered the large hallway beyond the glass against my nose. I couldn’t see their faces, but I heard chuckling. I smashed by palm against my face to conceal the redness.
“C’mon,” Tomaru gestured. “On three, we go together…”
“Can it be five?” I said. There’s no way I’m going in there!
No, not now! It’s too soon!
Couldn’t we just turn back and try again later? I just can’t—
I opened my eyes, and a new world opened up around me – or at least, I wish it had. Hallways, lockers, and rows and rows of identical doors. Same old, same old. This was just like Middle Neoschool. I sighed again, but really, what was I expecting? That ancient tapestries would be spread across stone walls? That my feet would glide over marble floors?
Yet, in a sense, everything had changed. Within any of those doors could be the knowledge that would help me become an archeologist. Whatever was to unfold, I will make the best of it.
“There’s no going back from here,” I said, deciding to savor the freshness of this moment, down to the acrid smell of floor cleaner in the hallway.
I turned to hear Tomaru’s reply, but his cheeky grin was lost in a daze as he ooh-ed and ahh-ed the lockers around him. I couldn’t bring myself to mention it, but I was quite worried about him. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the students here would want to eat him alive—literally. There’s a reason jelly was taken out from the school lunch menu last year…
Before I could budge, I felt warm arms around my shoulders. “You’re here!”
“Hey Cassie,” I greeted the moment I saw the happy green Usul.
“How’s life?” Cassie asked with a smile.
“Great! Tomaru makes sure I never have a moment of rest—really!”
Tomaru had lived on the secret island we visited in the summer, Arugahi Island, until he decided it was time for him to explore the world. Thus, when we returned to Neopia Central he had no place to stay. He did bring a good amount of Neopoints with him, but he insisted that he must make his own way if he was to walk his own path. According to his logic, that meant accepting my offer to live in my house. The extra bedroom had belonged to my mother, and for so many years the wallpaper of dust kept the memories inside. Now sunlight could fill the silence.
I met up with Linny and Pat in the main hallway. We compared our schedules, and I realized I was the only one that wasn’t so lucky. Cassie, Pat, Linny, and Tomaru were set to have classes together, all without me.
A bell chimed from the ceiling, signaling me that my next chapter was ready to begin. * * * * *
History class had breezed by. So fast, I felt like a fool, believing that we’d actually get to explore new topics on the very first day. Juicy current events were written into the Times in the last few months, and I was hungry for discussion. Crestfallen, I wandered to my next class, and it struck me that my enemy was staring me in the face: science.
Unlike Pat, with a knack for all things scientific, learning the inner workings of the physical world has always been beyond my understanding. So much to memorize and prepare for, I just can’t handle it. My friends tell me I’ve never been one to prepare, and there couldn’t be more truth in their words.
I took a lone table in the back of the room. I couldn’t have expected differently: cold lab desks, giant wall posters, cloudy beakers, and flimsy foam models all around me, just like last year. Soon the class filled every seat but the one next to mine, and waited for class to start. Seconds droned into minutes, and the clock was still ticking without a teacher in the room. I was about to reach for the novel in my backpack when I was interrupted by a quiet voice beside me.
“Is anyone sitting here?” a Red Zafara squeaked with a stack of textbooks in her arms.
She whirled around sharply for her backpack, and the stack of books loosened and spilled forward.
“Let me get those for you,” I said quickly and caught the books just in time. An Astronomy textbook flashed by my line of vision, and instantly my ears twitched.
“Astronomy, huh?” I said, gawking at the swirling mass of stars, a collection of lights among a black void. It was only a painting, but it was beautiful, whatever it was.
She nodded with a slight smile.
Beside the textbook were two thinner hardcover copies of Light Faerie News and Faerieland: a History.
“Wow, these are cool! You like to read?”
She nodded again. “Yes. There’s a lot out there to learn.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but the door had opened, and all eyes locked themselves on the empty doorway. The room fell silent and still.
Suddenly, a rolling chair zoomed into the room, crashing into the wall at full speed. A shelf of flasks shattered below.
“Ooh, sorry about that! Somebody ran off with my chair,” said a green Kyrii, his brown eyes wincing at the pile of shards on the floor.
Despite his roaring entrance, the teacher’s hair was the winner for the center of attention. Shaggy and overgrown, it was a shrubbery growing from his head. The front had been combed upward, but he must have given up on the rest of his hair. His off-beat fashion sense was no better. A blue shirt was layered with a long coat, except that this coat didn’t even reach his knees, and the sleeves were skin-tight. Unmistakably a hand-me-down, it was almost forgivable if it wasn’t for the vertical stripes across his shirt.
An overstuffed briefcase in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other, he faced the class. “Lots of new faces in here—actually all of you are new faces…hmm…”
His eyes scanned the paper, presumably the class roster. “That’s right…Physical Science Level One, 10 a.m.,” he paused again to check his watch. “Well, I see you all had a good 30 minutes to all get to know each other, so I guess you wouldn’t mind if I skip over the introductions, then! Onward!”
Spectacles hanging from his shirt pocket flickered as he drew in a long breath of air. “My name’s Frank Aardo. For you, Mr. Aardo. I would write it on the board but apparently someone thought it was funny to run off with my markers, too. It’s easy enough to pronounce so you shouldn’t need the spelling anyway, but if you’re curious you’ll find it on the syllabus.”
He then proceeded to recite his expectations for the class, words flying off his tongue as if he knew them by heart, while spinning on his rolling chair. A strange sight it was, but hardly unexpected, coming from a guy where the only thing normal about him were his shoes.
If he was trying to be cool, he had faceplanted, I decided. I giggled to the Zafara beside me, but she kept a straight face, which might as well display in bold letters: “let’s get on with it already.”
I only vaguely followed his lecture about lab safety—I usually let my group members handle the chemicals—until the sound of a consent form struck me from my dreamland. My heart sank like a sinking ship, engulfed by fear as Mr. Aardo looked directly at me, his gaze strict—a cutting wound. What was I supposed to do? There was no way I could asks ghosts to sign my form, and I would never hide behind a fake signature. At the same time, I couldn’t hide from my weakness, the greatest one of all.
My cheeks grew rosy. Always would I be helpless against what were trival matters for other people. Always would I feel less than they were…Hours into the school year, and the beast had already shown its fangs.
“What’s wrong?” the Zafara finally said in a hushed voice.
“It’s nothing,” I replied as I rested my head on the cold lab desk. “I just hate science class.”* * * * *
After class, I wasn’t sure how to begin. “Umm…Mr.…”
“Aardo. But I don’t mind if you call me Frankie, either, just in this class.”
“Mr. Aardo…err…Frankie, about the safety form, well…I don’t really have anyone around to sign it. You see, I do have grandparents, but they live away and it would be a hassle—”
“Ahh, I understand.” He nodded as he was marking papers. “Back when I was your age, my parents didn’t want anything to do with me or my career. It was easier to send me off skydiving than to convince them to sign a form. Of course, that meant a lot more freedoms for me. What a trouble maker I was…all those experiments I did in their basement…” he mused, lost in thought.
Noticing my confusion, he snapped back to the present. “Oh, don’t worry about it! While it might take some time to process, I’m sure I’ll be able to make an exception for you. I did for another student earlier today, and he was a lot less polite. In all honestly, though, I highly doubt there are any teachers in this building with more expertise in lab recklessness than I.”
Between those last words, I couldn’t help it but to picture Tomaru in a lab setting. Sporting a white coat, he would be doing something along the lines of pouring colorless liquids everywhere he could, trying to create new potions while dodging exploding flasks and jumping around acids bubbling on the floor.
“If you stray from the instructions,” he continued in a casual voice. “I’d know well before you would. Trust me. You’re safe in my class.”
“Thanks so much.”
“And by the way,” he added as I started for the exit. He paused to stare directly at her. “I’m sure your parents couldn’t be more proud of you taking my class, wherever they are.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I winced uncomfortably, and then left the classroom. This’ll be one weird class, I thought on my way out. A tinge of hope fluttered within me. Perhaps that was a good thing. * * * * *
“You didn’t have to run, you know,” the teacher, a yellow Pteri sporting a pair of tiny spectacles, said as I dashed into the full classroom. “Tardiness is no big deal on the first day!”
All heads turned in my direction. Lucky for me, my face couldn’t possibly get any redder. How was I supposed to know? It didn’t help that I was the only Scorchio in the room, as far as I could see, at least. There was a hooded head in the far left corner, in a patch of shade from the window.
Panting, I grabbed the only empty seat in the back row. Once situated, I ran my fingers across the desk, which was covered in scratches on every side, and something squishy was underneath. Neon posters draped the walls, along with foreign portraits of well-dressed Neopets. So this was Language Arts! Somehow, I imagined it to look akin to a brainwashing station, which I had to admit, sounded a lot more exciting.
At once, the teacher introduced herself, complete with a life story. The class was practically drooling on their desks, until, in unison, they jolted awake at the sound of a pop quiz.
My heart jumped back to life. I quickly glanced at my neighbors, but they were too busy shuffling for papers to hear my heart drumming. Me, just a fish out of water, was about to jump into the frying pan—and I never did like fishsticks. Frankly, if every day was like this, I’d be done for. And with all those books at Trina’s place, what would she think?
Luckily, it was just a single sheet of paper. Ten sentences. The instructions were simple enough: correct them, except that I didn’t see anything wrong with them in the first place. Surely, they were trick questions. Against me, they were Master Iko’s greatest weapon. Or perhaps I was thinking too hard, and that was the trick, to make me overthink easy questions. Either way, I’d give it my all. Besides Trina, what was the worst that could happen?
I huddled around my desk—in case some unfortunate soul tried to copy my answers—but then I noticed that everyone had already finished. I could feel the class’ cold stare in the sweat drops that gathered in my palms. The tapping of pencils and the ticking clock, although rhythmic, became a cacophony in my ears. Finally, it was all over.
Turns out that the quiz was meant to measure how much we had learned, and to our surprise, force us into seating arrangements. Groups of two would be forged from our quiz grade, with both members having similar scores. Supposedly, this was done so we could work to overcome similar weaknesses, not out of annoyance as the class was insisting, judging by the eruption of groans in the room. Regardless, I knew I possessed no aptitude for words, at least not according to these foreign standards.
Each quiz was marked with our score and a number. I got a 7. I almost leapt out of my seat; that was better than I expected. But then the teacher added that the blue markings were our group number, and I sank in my chair. The number two, in thick, red marker, had marred my name. Two out of ten!
I threw my face against the desk, but I couldn’t escape the cloud of shame that hung over me. Lifting my eyes, someone now sat in the adjacent desk. And at that moment, my world had stopped spinning.
It was not their score which matched mine that knocked the wind out of me, nor the quiz that sent my head spinning, my hands trembling. The hooded figure had turned around, in such a way for the light to reveal his face, and I stared into the eyes of pure evil. Eyes filled with such malice that could have only belonged to Evrilin Shinski.
The afterimage still stained me as the world was swallowed in black.
To Be Continued…