Backfire!: Part Six
"It's not in there!"
Panic. Instant chaos. There were so many screams and shrieks that Taylor was almost certain no one would hear the explosion, anyway. In danger of being trampled, she and her four pets straightened up, all wearing similar wild expressions of varying degrees of panic.
"How much longer?" Kizzy demanded.
"Eleven minutes!" said Kaz, in anguish.
Asha stamped her foot. "This is all your fault, Kaz!"
"My fault? If you hadn't blamed me for that water balloon mishap in the first place--"
"Meaning it's Redsy's fault! He's the one who actually did it!"
"But Kizzy covered for me!" Redsy shouted. "If she'd told Kaz the truth, he would've tried to get revenge on me instead of Tay and Asha!"
"Are you kidding me?" Kizzy was belligerent. "You were only too happy to go along when I said I wouldn't tell!"
"You blackmailed me!"
"You let me take the blame!" snarled Kaz.
"Asha's the one to blame here," snapped Redsy. "When Taylor asked, 'Who did it?' she pointed to you!"
"Not fair! It's all Kaz's fault!"
"Shut it, Asha."
"No, really. And it all started with that tacky green sweater!"
Kaz stared. "What in the name of White Weewoos are you talking about?"
"When I asked you what you wanted for Christmas, you said nothing; I told you I couldn't just get you nothing, I'd look cheap, and when I casually suggested, 'How about a sweater?' you pointed out the tacky green one, so I got it, and I wasted two thousand Neopoints on it, too, and you didn't even want it, so obviously, months later, my subconscious was trying to get back at you and blamed you for the water balloon episode so -- in conclusion -- it all comes back to you!"
They stared at her.
"Well, that makes sense," Kaz snapped sarcastically. "There we go! At least we're all clear on who exactly we should blame here!"
"Not that we need any help in that particular area," Kizzy growled, glaring at him.
"Moron," snapped Kaz.
"YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT BLACKMAIL, KIZZY!" roared Redsy.
"I COULD'VE TOLD KAZ ALL ABOUT IT!" Kizzy bellowed. "But no! NO! BECAUSE THEN, OF COURSE, WE COULD HAVE AVOIDED THIS WHOLE MESS, AND WHO WOULD'VE WANTED THAT?"
Taylor pushed through the crowd, her eyes wide. "Kizzy! Kaz! All of you -- stop it!"
"While we're assigning blame here," Kaz blurted, "how about you? If you'd listened to me in the first place, Tay, this wouldn't have happened!"
Her eyes narrowed now. "Are you saying you wouldn't have wanted revenge on Kizzy anyway, for trying to blame you?"
"I wouldn't have had to resort to an exploding necklace if you hadn't grounded me!"
"Yeah, I could've let you off the hook, but past experience has taught me better! No one's forgotten when you dyed the Rainbow Pool orange, or when you pants'd the Happiness Faerie--"
"Still blocking that out, but thanks for bringing it back," Kizzy snarled.
"You could've just, you know, not made an exploding necklace in the first place," piped up Asha, examining her nails, as if this weren't perfectly obvious.
"And miss all the fun?" Kaz's eyes were alive with fury. "I think not."
And he charged at her -- it was a combination of all the anger that had been built up, from the moment he'd been grounded for something he hadn't done, until now -- and there was Asha, still as impeccably perfect as she always was, looking at her nails. And Kaz lost it.
There was a gasp from the spectators, and people dashed out of the way just in time. Kizzy and Redsy had leapt forward to restrain their brother, but there was too much momentum -- Taylor tried to snatch Asha out of harm's way, but the combined force of three of her Neopets sent them all flying backward... straight into the Rainbow Pool.
Asha's shriek was barely human. "My dress! It's wet! You jerk!"
She launched herself at Kaz, pushing him underwater. Redsy was shouting as he pushed Asha off of him, and Kizzy was yelling as she shoved Redsy out of the way. Asha was screaming as she dove for her brother again, and Taylor, her black braids drenched, was trying to sort all of her pets out, snarling, "Idiots! Idiots!"
The Chia Police approached them cautiously, and one timid Chia said, "Excuse me, ma'am, please control your pets--"
Two paws and one hand snapped out of nowhere and dragged him in, too.
"You know, as long as we're here," growled Kizzy as she fought off Redsy and shoved Kaz underwater again, "we might as well blame Pip, for putting the necklace in her mouth in the first place!"
"Yeah, we should," Kaz sputtered, gasping for air, when he came up again, missing the sarcasm completely.
"You're such an arrogant--"
"Wait!" Kaz popped up again, pointing. "Is that -- Pippa?"
Taylor, Kizzy, Asha, Redsy, and the poor Chia Police member looked up, soaking wet, at the Faellie as she flew (literally) down the path, her wings fluttering, panicked, her eyes wide and terrified.
"Pip -- what's wrong?" Redsy said, distracted. The Chia took this lull in the action as an opportunity to escape, and climbed out of the Rainbow Pool, heaving. "How did you get out?"
"Someone left the door open," Kizzy said, throwing a nasty look at Kaz. "I wonder who."
"Wait!" Redsy said suddenly, before the tension escalated out of control again. He looked shocked. "What if -- what if Pippa never put the necklace in the box?"
There was a split second of ringing silence. Kaz looked at his watch.
"Three... two... one..."
The explosion in the distance looked like a cloud of fire and smoke. There could be no doubt in anyone's mind that this explosion came from Cairn Close. From what they could tell, the houses around theirs were untouched. But there was nothing left of theirs.
"You were going to put that around my neck!" Asha ranted, for the twelfth time.
"Spare me the guilt trip," Kaz mumbled. "I'm sorry, okay?"
"Oh, you're sorry..."
Taylor's expression silenced them at once. All four pets were sitting on Taylor's bed in the NeoLodge, fidgeting and squirming under her gaze, waiting for the ax to fall. She didn't look particularly angry, just bemused, in a way. She blinked, as if the whole thing hadn't really sunk in yet. "You know, someone's got to be the adult in this family," she said sheepishly. "And usually -- well, most of the time -- it's not me. But in this situation, I guess I'll have to take responsibility. So -- mass groundings."
Taylor's steely blue eyes landed first on Asha. The Royal Zafara smoothed out her dress and straightened her hat, looking ashamed.
"Asha, you're grounded for tattling on Kaz when you knew he didn't do anything, and, in a chain reaction, starting this whole mess."
Arms crossed, Taylor moved on to Redsy.
"Redsy, you're grounded for bombing little Benny with water balloons, and, of course, for lying about it, and letting Kaz take the blame."
The Rainbow Lupe's ears drooped.
"Kizzy, you're -- need I say it? -- grounded for ruining Asha's sweater and then covering for Redsy about the whole water balloon mess and blackmailing him, and then plotting against me."
The Shadow Cybunny's ears twitched as she stared stonily at the wall.
"And Kaz." Taylor snorted. "I'm surprised you're not in the Gallery of Evil for this one. I'm shocked to think that there's not even a wanted poster in your honor. Here it goes." She took a deep breath. "You're grounded for... having a cursed necklace created to get revenge on your sister, and for lying for Kizzy about Asha's ruined sweater, for blackmailing her into helping you to plot against me, and for plotting against me in the first place, and, in a nutshell, for endangering the whole of Neopia Central and being responsible for the explosion of our house and all of our possessions." She paused. "I think that's about it, isn't it?"
"Sounds about right," Kizzy said.
"I especially like the part about the Gallery of Evil," enthused Redsy.
"But really -- not even a wanted poster!" Kizzy shook her head, disappointed.
"And those Defenders of Neopia waste their time on the Pant Devil and Meuka," snorted Asha.
"Move over, Dr. Sloth," agreed Kizzy.
Kaz nodded thoughtfully. "I'm impressed, actually, Taylor. With the whole authority thing."
She shrugged. "I've got to act responsible some portion of the time."
They were silent for a moment, glancing around at the hotel room. "How long are we here for?" asked Redsy finally.
"Until they can build us a new house. Shouldn't take too long."
"That necklace made our house into a crater," Asha said, looking sour. "And you were going to have me wear that!"
"And you know the funny part?" Kaz bounded across the room, where there were four backpacks containing their few possessions. He shoved Redsy's aside -- it made a strange squishing noise -- and pulled something out of his own backpack, holding it up. "The necklace is the only thing that survived the explosion. More irony!"
This was greeted with stony silence.
"Anyone want it? For sentimental reasons?"
Redsy lunged for his backpack, for the water balloons that he'd been saving for such an occasion, the rest of the family hot on his heels. Pippa the Faellie looked on with interest as Kaz was pelted with water balloons.