Orlitz and the Search for the Emerald Crown: Part Four
Orlitz had trouble maneuvering her way through the crowds. The platform was so packed with people, she quickly lost the thief in the midst of all the commotion. The Cybunny reached the end of the platform, trying to find the red-headed Aisha, but she was not so lucky. Upset that she had lost her assailant and her bag, she grudgingly returned to where her friends had been. They all shared their concern with her, but Orlitz was not reassured.
“I’m sure we’ll find your bag,” offered Faye, who patted her friend sympathetically on the back. Orlitz was ready to search for the thief immediately, but her friends did not share her enthusiasm.
“For now, I think it’s a lost cause to look for the thief,” said Julian, “we’d better go on with our plans, and we can search for them later.”
“What if there is no later!” Orlitz retorted, peeved that no one shared her worry, “for all we know, the thief could be leaving Happy Valley—with the crown—today!” The cybunny didn’t have the chance to keep arguing; the sudden ringing of bells silenced everyone. A bruce with a megaphone announced that the next sleigh bound for the Ice Caves was boarding. Orlitz was ushered away by her friends, and the cybunny could only look back at the crowd in dismay, troubled that she wouldn’t ever catch the thief.
The sleigh was enormous—pulled by a team of eight bikas, it contained two-dozen seats. An acara was handing out complimentary hot cocoa and cookies to the boarding passengers. Orlitz and Julian sat together, Julian contently devouring the free cookies. The cybunny stared glumly out the window. She wanted to share her friend’s excitement for the trip, but how could she, when the only thing on her mind was the likelihood that the Brightvalian crown had been lost forever?
Julian noticed her dejection, and tried to reassure her.
“Hey, Orlitz,” he said, “you deserve a break. We’ll find that crown later!”
“Later,” she sneered, “that crown is a symbol of Brightvale, how can you be so blasé about it?”
The remainder of the ride was spent in silence. Orlitz hated having to dampen the mood, but she chose to remain quiet, so as not to ruin her friends’ enjoyment.
After half an hour, the sleigh pulled into the Ice Caves station. All passengers disembarked, gawking at the gorgeous sight before them. The Ice Caves were a massive system of frozen caves, all sheltered underneath a enormous glistening ice dome. Sunlight trickled through cracks in the ice, creating intricate patterns in the frozen walls and glittering ground. Everything looked so delicate that Orlitz feared one misstep could create an irreparable crack in the ice. Iskeen led them through a frozen tunnel. From there, the group would hike up to the top of the mountain. For the moment, the gorgeous setting preoccupied everyone—even Orlitz, who managed to forget her worries.
“I’ll have fun,” she promised Iskeen with a smile as they trudged up the mountain.* * * * *
The hike took longer than anticipated. Eventually, the four friends found themselves at the Terror Mountain peak, exhausted by the walk but amazed by the view. From their position, the could look down on all of Happy Valley. They toured the peak, hardly bothered by the cold wind. Faye was especially impressed by Taelia’s palace, a magnificent fortress made of snow.
Soon, they found themselves in a cozy cafe overlooking Happy Valley. Iskeen ordered a plate of doughnuts for them to share and the group discussed what they should do, now that they had reached to mountain peak. Julian suggested that they go ahead and ski down to mountain, as planned.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” cautioned Orlitz, peering out the window. Outside, heavy snow had begun to fall and wind rattled violently through the trees. Although it had been sunny in the morning, the sky was now filled with dense clouds.
“I think we’re in for a blizzard,” replied Faye, eyeing the sky.
“If that’s the case, it would be better if we headed down the mountain as soon as we can,” added Iskeen, “we don’t want to get stuck in the storm.”
So, after finishing the plate of doughnuts to the last crumb, the group hiked back down the mountain, keeping a wary eye on the cloud formations above.
“Sorry we couldn’t stay here all day,” offered Orlitz when she noticed Iskeen’s gloomy face, “we’re still vacationing here for a few more days, I’m sure we’ll have another chance to ski at the peak.”
“Yeah, maybe,” sighed the Island ixi, “for now, it’s better we head inside, maybe you’ll find some clue of the thief back at the lodge.”
Orlitz smiled at her friend’s attempt to make her feel better. Iskeen had always supported the cybunny. For an instant, she felt a twinge of shame creep into her thoughts. The cybunny’s downcast mood had nearly ruined the excursion before they left.
Suddenly, Orlitz stepped into a frozen puddle and slipped, falling into the snow. Everyone stopped in their tracks and tensely stared at her, but she could only laugh as they helped her up. At least she had lightened the mood.* * * * *
“Where should we eat dinner?” was the first thing Julian said when the sleigh reached the Happy Valley platform. Orlitz sat up and stretched. Faye motioned to a clock outside, chiding Julian that it was only 5:00, and much too early for dinner. Still, everyone agreed that they were famished. Upon leaving the sleigh station (and thanking the acara for the complimentary hot chocolates), the four friends found a restaurant, The Icicle Lodge, and eagerly went inside.
“Here are your menus” the shoyru waitress said, having seated them at their table. Orlitz hungrily scanned the paper, plainly aware of her growling stomach. As she reached for the complimentary bread basket, her eyes noticed a flash of red. The cybunny choked on her roll when she realized that the individual seated two tables away was none other than Emilia, the mysterious aisha from Neopia Central! Thoughts of the morning’s thief flew through her mind as she eyed the aisha. She was drinking a coffee, evidently waiting for someone. Abruptly, the aisha spotted her guests: the two lutaris that had shoved Orlitz back at the ferry pier! Orlitz also noticed a bag hanging from her chair—her bag!
“Is that?--” Faye whispered, following Orlitz’s gaze. The cybunny nodded.
“I’m going to see if I can listen to their conversation,” she murmured. Before her friends could protest, the cybunny had silently moved to the table adjacent to the aisha’s. Ducking behind her menu (and ignoring the protests of the table’s original occupants), the cybunny perked her ears, listening to the conversation taking place.
“Well, well,” the aisha snickered, inviting the lutaris to sit.
“Emilia,” one said, her voice smooth as honey, “our patience is running thin. Where is the crown?”
“Oh, this old thing?” she patted the bag, “it was such a hassle to find.” The lutaris scouled.
“We hired you to take it from the Brightvale Library unnoticed, which you did beautifully, but now, we ask that you hand it over.”
“You don’t think I’m so stupid as to not realize the value of this crown, do you? No, no, the original payment will not do. This crown is far too valuable for that.”
The other lutary slammed his fist on the table, scattering silverware everywhere, “give us the crown or—”
“Or what?” the aisha demanded, “you forget, my friends, that we are in a very public place. You will not compromise my safety so long as we are surrounded by other Neopians. I have the crown, and you want the crown. Unless you pay me triple the sum you offered me, we are at an impasse.”
“Fine,” growled the first lutari, evidently the ringleader, “we will give you a third of what this crown sells for on the market. You can rest assured that it will be sold for an unimaginable sum of neopoints. Now, hand it over.”
“In public?” the aisha asked incredulously, “I didn’t bring the crown here. But I’ll mull your offer over. You will hear my answer in the next few days.”
“So be it,” the other replied cooly, “but if the crown does not manifest itself by tomorrow, you can rest assured that we will come find it ourselves, and this time, we won’t be so courteous. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” Emilia sipped her coffee, “let this be a lesson to you! Never hire a thief unless you’re willing to pay for their trouble,” she called after them as the lutaris left.
“What will you be ordering?” a hand grabbed Orlitz’s shoulder, which nearly caused her to fall out of her chair. The cybunny looked up in annoyance, and was met with the gaze of a frowning Iskeen.
“Not now,” she hissed, turning back to the aisha’s table. The seat was empty, and she glanced around in a frenzy. Emilia had paid her tab and was leaving the restaurant.
“I’m going after her,” the cybunny pushed the ixi’s hand away before jumping out of her seat and following the Blue aisha out the door.
As she passed her friends’ table to leave, the cybunny smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry,” she mouthed before slipping outside.
To be continued…