The Adventures of Trina: The Glass Key: Part Eight
IFollowing a flash of red light, Cassie and a Brown Wocky appeared in the middle of the room.
“You’re back!” I said while I sprang to my feet and greeted Cassie.
“It’s settled,” she said to my ear. “We’re going after Trina.”
The Wocky stepped forward. He was middle aged and much taller than I, impressive considering he was slouching. Like Mr. Aardo his hair didn’t know what a comb was, either. I wasn’t sure that he even cared. Dark bags under his chestnut eyes made him look stressed, like he hasn’t laughed in days.
“After much deliberation, we’ve decided to grant you temporary membership to the Glass Key,” the Wocky said, a trace of optimism in his voice.
The Kyrii beside me caught sight of my open mouth and my spaced-out expression, and he urged us to sit in another room.
Like the other rooms I was in, this one was almost completely unfurnished. Except that this room, wide and with 20-foot tall walls, had no excuse. Looking at all of the empty space, I almost felt agoraphobic, and maybe a little queasy from what was in there. I flashbacked to Master Iko’s place. There, every square inch was littered in potions, books, robes, wands, and occasionally last night’s meatloaf. Here, three sofas, one barrel for a coffee table and that was it.
Those sofas were an embarrassment to Neopia.
“Don’t mind the furniture,” Mr. Aardo said, without a doubt responding to my disgust.
I half expected him to add “we’re remodeling,” but no makeover could save this place.
“This building you’re in right now is our underground headquarters. We are an organization known as the Glass Key. To put it simply, we are entrusted with protecting Neopia from harmful artifacts and magic.”
I immediately sat up in my seat. Magic! Perhaps this was the answer I’ve been looking for.
“Uh…don’t the Defenders of Neopia already do that?” Linny asked.
“We’re NOTHING like them!” said a harsh female voice. The White Kougra who fought me earlier plopped on the seat beside me. “Trust me, I was one of them.”
Startled by her sudden appearance, I scooted to the farthest end of my seat. If she was holding a grudge against me, I’d rather play it safe. I’ve rarely fought anyone that skilled before.
“Oh, the name’s Kail.” She leaned toward me, too close for comfort. “I don’t bite.”
The brown Wocky glared at her and she backed away.
“The Defenders are responsible for enforcing justice in Neopia, more so than the Chia police, but in reality we’re far more capable than both of these groups combined,” Kail elaborated, relaxing her arms behind her head. “We need them, of course, but they need us more. We’ve got better things to do to pursue run-of-the-mill criminals all day.”
“So, I take it you guys are higher ranked then both the Defenders and Chia Police, but what about the faeries?” I asked. “Don’t they help you guys out with their powers?”
The Wocky unexpectedly repositioned himself in his chair, gritting his teeth.
“The faeries have vowed to help maintain order around the world, but in reality they’re no longer actively involved,” Mr. Aardo answered quickly. “And we, unfortunately, are not as powerful as them.”
“Huh? I thought faeries would be eager to help Neopians…that’s what I’ve always been told.” I said.
“You are mistaken,” the Wocky grumbled.
“Wait—” Mr. Aardo interjected.
“No…these young ones are risking their lives…they have a right to know what they’re really fighting for.”
With that, Mr. Aardo’s shoulders sunk in his coat.
At the sounds of ‘risking their lives,’ my body shook uncontrollably, more out of anger than fear. They knew something I didn’t. And worse, their words struck me like darts. I was so offended. I know exactly what I’m fighting for. How do they think they are, doubting my intentions? If I could teleport out of the room, I’d already be a mile away! I almost felt that if they kept yapping, smoke would fume out of my ears and I’d breathe fire, destroying these ugly sofas!
The Wocky paused, lips twitching and wiping his forehead before exhaling a long sigh. “Long story short, the faeries are the reason why we’re here. They are the problem. We are the solution.”
“Wh-what?!” Pat threw herself to her feet in a second. “Their magic has helped countless lands, and who knows how many Neopians throughout history!”
“I thought you said you’re on our side!” Cassie added.
“You are correct. However, that same magic has tormented countless lives, countless times. Especially ours. Nearly all of the dangerous artifacts on our list are faerie artifacts.”
“Are you saying that magic is bad?” Tomaru fumed.
“It is…troublesome,” the Wocky admitted. “Or rather, it’s certainly not what it used to be…”
He now stared at me.
“You, young Scorchio, I’ve been told you’re a magician. Be honest, how often do you use magic?”
“Quite often, and I’m proud of it! Even when I make mistakes I’d never take back a spell I cast. I’ve learned magic from the best. I can handle anything.”
“Are you sure about that?” Kail taunted as she spun her silver staff between her fingers. As much as she bothered me, close up, her staff was a piece of work. Complete with a sleek, flawless finish, the shape resembled a very elongated “S” with a transparent marble at the tip.
“How often do you use magic to fix your mistakes, boy?”
“Err…a lot.” It stung to say that.
“Would you have made those mistakes without magic?”
“Don’t use magic unless you absolutely must. Those mistakes add up, and sometimes not even the most powerful magic can mend them.”
I didn’t need him to lecture me about magic.
“I’m not afraid of making mistakes. I am afraid of failing others because I couldn’t protect them with my powers. I’ll never hesitate to use magic to help someone in need! And if I do slip, I have friends who are willing to break my fall.”
“I understand your obligation to help your friends, honestly. But I, too, have taken up wizardry, dedicated to protecting others, and I can see myself in your eyes, back when I founded this organization. Don’t rely on your strength to come from magic. If you fail to comprehend this, you have no place here. I’ve vowed that when I’m through with my ultimate goal, I will destroy my weapon and never cast a single spell again.”
“Who are you to tell me ‘my place’?” I spit in his face. “You may hate magic, but if you don’t believe I belong here, that magic can do great things, I’ll show you otherwise.”
“I see both a fighter and a gentle soul in you. You belong here. But without your magic, boy, would you still speak to me with that same tongue?”
“Of course. I’m not good at learning other languages.”
I watched his scowl curl into a smile for the first time.
“In all seriousness,” I continued, “my magic is a part of me, like a third arm. Feeling ashamed by it means I’m ashamed in myself. I won’t let sour emotions spoil my potential. After all, jelly isn’t meant to be sour. I know who I am—who are you?”
The Wocky didn’t answer.
“Alright then, let’s show you around, shall we?”
I honestly didn’t care what they had to show me; I just wanted to rescue Trina already. * * * * *
The cabin Trina was staying in was rather quaint, practically stuck in a time capsule. Fur pelts were everywhere—draped over the windows, blanketed over the sofa, carpeted the uneven floorboards, and hung on the cabin walls. Flames danced to the crackling of the firewood in the brick fireplace, its mantel decorated with love. Picture frames showcased Boris, both young and old, smiling in sepia tones.
“That there’s my whole family,” he said, pointing to a sketch of a dozen Boris. Everyone was organized by height, standing in three rows. Adults smiled, some embracing Baby Boris in their arms. Young Boris at their feet looked bored, and she couldn’t blame them; with so many family members, the artist must have had a hard time.
“That’s my mom. See?” He wiped dust from a black-and-white photo on the far right. A female Bori in a parka was running after her children, having a great time. “Yup, those were the good old days…”
She came across a picnic basket overflowing with beadwork, all unfinished. Spirals of twine were frayed and tangled together with a pattern of beads, large tan ones and small brown ones alternating throughout, and in her palms she could see that they were each incised by hand, its scratches and imperfections as clear as day. Yet each die-cut and curve was the work of a master.
“It’s gotten more painful to make a bracelet these days,” he murmured, looking away.
She turned to see his mother’s aged figure hunched over the table, lifting a blue Negg between her hands, but her claws fought to fully grasp it. They shook violently as she tried to wrap them around the mouth of the Negg. In pain, she clenched her teeth and tightened her face as she carefully brought it against her lips.
“They’re beautiful,” she complimented in sadness. “Can I buy one?”
“Yeah…but it’s been a rough year so I’d have to charge you full price. I’m not so sure she could finish all of those…”
“Fair enough,” she said before feeling around for her coin purse. Nine-hundred neopoints then changed hands. Although only a few coins were left in her purse, it was a worthwhile trade. This string of beads was a story in itself. No pattern, just beads of several unique shapes—never the same one twice—ranging from cubes to grains of rice.
An hour later, his mother went to bed while they were finishing up dinner.
“Thanks for the Neggs,” said a blue Bori situated by a round table, claws patting his belly. “Food is very scarce on this side of the mountain—not to mention overpriced.”
“No problem, Joss,” Trina said after swallowing another chunk of a Negg. She spread herself out on a ratty sofa. Her muscles screamed in protest as she reached for the Negg with a witch hat on the coffee table—which was actually a wooden crate.
“Put that one down!” he startled her. “I wouldn’t eat that one if I were ya. Has odd side effects.”
“Thanks,” she said and grabbed a pink Negg instead.
“Say, where’d you get them? Colored neggs ain’t a common crop over here.”
“It’s a secret,” Trina replied with a smile, “but it was quite an adventure. You know, it’s not so bad here. It’s actually beautiful.”
“Clearly you’re not from around here. You think it’s beautiful now, wait ‘till ya see all the snowbeasts, famine, illness, and avalanches that ravage this area on a daily basis.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, heartbroken. “I’m only here on a quest. I would’ve never known…that sounds awful.”
“Yeah, well that’s life,” Joss said flippantly. The way his mouth moved revealed that several of his teeth were chipped, and there was a gap near his upper lip where one was missing.
Even though this Bori was a complete stranger, she sought to sympathize with him. Upon a closer look, his eyes were lumps of coal, his arms were thin and frail, and from the little that peeked out of his coat, his shell bared scars, and parts had been flaked away. He reminded her of how she felt before she found the Staff.
“Would you like to join me on my quest? I could use someone familiar with the terrain. Forgive me if I’m wrong, it looks to me like you want out of this place…”
“Where ya headed?” he asked while chewing.
“To the Heart of the Mountain, whatever it is. I need three grams of it, that’s all.”
“The Heart?” The Bori couldn’t believe what she had just said, as he repeated himself many times, and placed his hand on his forehead, trying to make sense of it. “But that’s so well protected! You’ll never get over there.”
“Why? What’s the deal?”
“Well I don’t know much ‘bout it myself, ‘cept that it’s incredibly valuable. They say the richest in Happy Valley wear jewelry made of the Heart—all sorts of brooches and pennants and stuff made in the old days, before they banned it. It’s got magical properties, I hear.”
“It’s…banned?” If that was true, what was Brightstar expecting her to do?
“Yeah. Guess it can’t be valuable if everyone gets a slice. Though there’s only one Heart, so I see why they’d want to preserve it.”
“Hmm, I need to get to this Heart somehow—a kind faerie’s counting on me. What do you think I should do?”
“Take me with you,” he pleaded immediately. “We’ll get some of that Heart. My mother would be proud with just a speck of it. Would make a nice ring, and might be worth the trouble.”
“But you said it’s unsafe!”
“Yeah, neither is living here. Snowbeasts everywhere! You don’t know how many times we had to repair the walls, the roof—and empty our piggy banks—and I’d fought ‘em off a few times. I’m sick of this place. Let’s leave at sunrise!”
So before winding down for the night, Trina and Joss packed their supplies, nearly tearing the home apart in the process.* * * * *
A yellow Xweetok dashed by, forcing a stack of files against Mr. Aardo’s chest. “Hey, Frankie, you might wanna ‘ave a look at this…”
The green Kyrii flipped on his spectacles and murmured hmms and ahs to himself.
“Oh just spit it out already!” Pat said, tapping her foot.
“This changes everything,” he began. He lifted a portrait that was hanging from a bulging file.
“Recognize her?” he asked.
A female red Zafara dressed in a plaid collared shirt smiled at them.
“That’s-that’s…” Cassie gasped. “Liz!”
“Yeah, she’s definitely that girl that’s been hanging out with Trina.” Linny mumbled, now shivering.
“Pssh! I knew she was trouble…” Pat said, spraying her words out with bitterness.
Mr. Aardo pulled up a chair. “You’re right, but her name isn’t Liz. Her real name, in fact…”
He dropped the massive file on a nearby table, which, along with everyone in the room, quivered from its heavy weight. Cassie estimated it must have been a solid twenty pounds.
“…is a mystery. She’s had many identities. If had a neopoint for every name she’s had, I could furnish this entire building! I’d even bet that she’s been every species twice over!”
It was hard to swallow, but Cassie knew he wasn’t joking. Photos of Gelerts, Nimmos, Kacheeks, and more species than she could name were sprawled across the table, and there were dozens more in sketches. How could this all be the same person? Surely some of them are speculation, right? And most unnervingly, why was she still on the run? What would such a hardened criminal want with Trina?
“According to this report,” he said as he flipped through pages, “when our agents visited her address this morning, her Neohome was a showroom. It was up for rent. There’s no one on record living there… It must be hard for you, but whatever friendly emotions you associated with her, let them go now! My eyes cannot lie, that girl was after your friend. I thought I noticed something…odd about her, but as a teacher I had no authority to perform any background checks. I was simply there to observe…”
He threw his head in his hands, lips pursed and muscles tense. “I should’ve known. She was avoiding handing that class experiment, I remember—the one that dissolves morphing potion residue.”
“Wait…I thought you needed a license to use a morphing potion?” Linny asked with slow breaths between words.
“Likely she was unregistered. Our enemies don’t exactly play by the rules.”
“Then we were deceived,” Linny sobbed. “We were so caught up with Evrilin being the enemy we didn’t even consider…”
“No, it’s not your fault. Darn, she finally got me.” He shook his head side to side, shocked and sweating. “She’s truly a master of deception! If there’s anyone to blame, it’s me.”
“Then I’ll blame you!” Pat declared. “Until Trina is back here, safe and sound, you deserve—”
Cassie elbowed the Shoyru. “Pat, stop! That doesn’t matter right now. We need his help to find Trina. Yes, we’re all stressed and confused but we need to focus. Liz—or whatever—must be stopped at all costs!”
The Kyrii’s ear twitched. “At all costs?” he repeated.
“At all costs.” Cassie, Linny, and Pat answered together. * * * * *
“So, they’ve told me ‘At all costs’…” Frankie began as he leaned against the doorway. “That reminds me a lot of someone…”
“I doubt they understand what that really means…” I said. “What would they know about cost?”
“They’ll soon find out,” he said quietly, and I could see every wrinkle in his face move as he said it. “It looks like the windmills of fate are turning again, after all this time…Let’s hope that finally, the winds are in our favor. Things will change.”
“Things will change,” I repeated.
When Frankie left the room, I lingered in the darkness, and although the walls were thick and the rattled voices were hushed my ears still rang from the young comrades prattling away, plotting their next move. I felt sympathy for them…like flightless birds searching for a rare ant, unable to grasp how big the jungle actually is. Part of me wishes I was still that naïve…
The rest of me hopes things don’t change too much.
To be continued…