Card House Secrets: The Prince - Part One
A beautiful Royal Cybunny stepped down delicately from the magic-propelled carriage and eyed the area around her in distaste.
“Downtown Neopia Central?” she asked her escort in her pronounced Meridellian accent. “Bartholomew, this is positively insulting. Are you sure he’s here?”
A Blue Elephante in stiff formal dress bowed deeply. “I’m afraid so, milady.”
She looked around once more, at the warehouses and crammed together brick and concrete buildings. No class at all. And they expected to find him here?
“I know, I know,” she said. She fixed her tiara and walked up to knock on the huge wooden door of the building they’d stopped in front of.
They waited. And waited.
“My dear lady!” exclaimed an elegant voice behind them. “Are you quite sure you have the right address?”
The Cybunny jumped slightly and whipped around, only to gasp at the incredibly handsome Brown Wocky standing not five feet from them.
The Elephante guard stepped protectively in front of her, eyeing the Wocky’s expensive, well-cut black suit. His left paw hung loose at his side, the right carried some sort of tube, of the sort architects carry blueprints in.
“We are quite sure as to our bearings, sir,” said the Cybunny, a little stiffly.
The Wocky’s brilliant blue eyes danced in good humor, though his smile was small and controlled.
“I’m afraid The Card House won’t be open for some hours yet. If I may inquire as to the nature of your business, miss?”
The princess seemed surprised at this stranger’s eloquence. He even had a slight accent, enunciating every consonant and vowel, clear as a bell. Very proper. Almost... Brightvalian?
“It is a matter of utmost urgency. I must speak privately with the owner of this establishment.”
The handsome Wocky laughed. He had a delightful laugh, rich and mellow--the kind you only heard at the theatre.
“Indeed, milady. Continue.”
His eyes suddenly narrowed and he raised a paw to hush her.
She caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye and a flash of metal streaking towards them. Before she could react, the Wocky shifted position and the next thing she knew, he held a knife delicately in his paw. He lowered his paw to eye level and examined the weapon with mild curiosity.
“And my employees wonder why I don’t get out more often,” he said, smiling. He gestured towards The Card House. “I’d invite you in, but we haven’t been introduced. I am Black Jack, the owner and manager here. I believe you requested a meeting with myself?”
Bartholomew looked worriedly up at the roofs and the Cybunny trembled, too shaken to form words.
“Oh, please. Neopian Central pets know when they’re outmatched. We’re quite all right.”
After a moment, the Cybunny nodded regally. “I am the Princess Nadania de la Croze Frenchesca Louise Seacrest-Lambado. This is my escort, Sir Bartholomew Frederick. We wish to discuss--”
Black Jack gave another short, delighted laugh and suddenly swept into a bow fit for any court.
“Princess,” he said softly, still bowed formally.
“Yes?” she answered regally.
He glanced up, those amazing blue eyes dancing.
“You’re a marvelous actress. Have a wonderful day, would you?”
Without another word, he swept past them and entered the building, shutting the door firmly behind him.
A large Red Kougra stood just inside The Card House, looking out the special panel over the window next to the entrance. From the outside, the window looked blacked out. From inside, one had an excellent view of guests.
He turned and smiled as the Brown Wocky entered. “Errand done, Black Jack? Still not gonna tell me ‘bout it?”
“Please, 10C,” began the Wocky, tucking the tube under his arm and holding the knife out to his head bartender, top bouncer, and best friend. “If you must have something to do, have Ace take a look at that. He should be dropping by tonight.”
“Can do, boss,” said the cheerful Kougra, taking the knife and tucking it into the apron around his waist. “Who’s the dame?” he asked, turning back to watch the twosome arguing as they reluctantly got back into the magic carriage. “Another of the Secret Service?”
“Just a linguist,” said Black Jack casually. “Not an agent herself, I’m fairly sure, but perhaps working on a request from them.”
“Clearly. Did her homework too. Made the mistake of dropping that name, however. With herself clearly using a Meridellian accent.”
10C laughed. “Maybe they didn’t know it’s thanks to you there’s no more Seacrests, eh?”
Black Jack frowned as they watched the carriage finally leave. “No, I’m quite sure she purposefully dropped the name. Since they couldn’t possibly know about that, I assume they’re searching for the prince.”
The huge Kougra shrugged. “They were bound ta, sooner er later.”
Black Jack rubbed his forehead with his eyes closed, then nodded to himself. “Be extra careful tonight, 10C. I believe we can expect at least one newcomer, with plenty of questions she doesn’t need answers to.”
10C laughed, a great guffaw, and clapped the club owner on the back, knocking him forward. “Yeah, yeah. An’ lighten up, Jackie. We can handle anything, eh?”
Black Jack smiled, though unconsciously he took a firmer hold on the tube. “Of course.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WAS SUPPOSED TO FAIL?!” demanded Dr. Louis, the Cybunny linguist who’d so recently tried to pass herself off as royalty.
A Darigan Hissi with an eyepatch over his left eye tilted his head as he patiently waited for her to finish her rant.
“You didn’t actually think I’d hired you to do an agent’s job?”
The fight went out of the Royal Cybunny, now dressed in a simple black skirt and red blouse (minus the tiara, naturally). “Well...”
“I hired you as a consultant. Now, do give me an analysis of our mysterious Mr. Black Jack.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “All you wanted me to do was analyze his voice?! Why did you bother giving me that whole weird story about a missing prince? Was that even TRUE?!”
The Hissi was holding a pen in his tail, waiting to take notes, providing she ever got around to doing something worthwhile that is. He clicked the end impatiently.
“Everything I told you, to the extent of my knowledge, is absolutely true. The last of the Seacrest bloodline disappeared without explanation at least 10 years ago, probably a bit longer. Whether he was killed, kidnapped, or running away from something is unknown. All we know is he was a royal, which should distinguish his attitude; a prince, which should distinguish his voice, even if he’s tried to change it; and that he has four paws, a tail, and no wings, which substantially reduces the possibilities but not nearly by enough. Skarl certainly won’t tell us anything, and apparently the royals of the prince’s time clammed up, even to servants and advisors, making it highly likely some sort of disgrace was involved. Anything else?”
“Why Black Jack?” asked Dr. Louise pointedly.
“His business is approximately seven years old and before that we can find no record of even his existence. He fits our requirements and admitted assumptions. Now will you please do what we paid you for and deliver an analysis?”
Dr. Louise leaned back in the chair and looked around at the rushing Neopets, cluttered desks and cubicles, and complete lack of windows or doors. A specialty branch of the Neopian Secret Service, the Hissi had said. But why the faeries everywhere helping out? Not to mention the complete lack of professionalism and panache the NSS was known for.
She sighed and folded her paws over her chest, still a little huffy. “He’s not Meridellian. I’m sure of it. Perhaps he’d spent some time there as a child, but nowhere near enough to be its prince.”
“Continue,” said the Hissi, already writing.
“I’d say more Brightvalian, with a trace of Altadorian. His syntax is similar to Shenkuu’s, but his speech methods are clearly highbrow Neopian Central. An upper-class gentleman, well traveled and well cultured. I’m under the impression he’d be at home anywhere on Neopia, from the Lost Desert to Mystery Island.”
The Hissi frowned and clicked his pen a couple times in annoyance. “That is astoundingly unhelpful. It is common knowledge Black Jack never leaves his precious club, let alone goes globetrotting.” He stretched his wings, thinking deeply about the matter. “However, it is also strange that a Neopet who regularly associates with and wins the trust of innumerable hoodlums would be so refined.”
“His sort of voice could only come with a solid Brightvalian foundation and a good deal of time spent with different cultures. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d actually studied language and culture growing up.”
The Darigan Hissi frowned, then slid his notepad and pen over. “Make a list of all the places he likely spent time in to develop his accent. Also another, separate, with, if possible, any places he definitely has no relation to.”
She did and slid the notepad back.
“Just as I thought,” he mumbled, staring at the two lists.
He showed her the lists she’d just written. “All the places you say he could’ve been have ports, coastlines, or are accessible by some sea route. The few places he hasn’t, again, according to your analysis, are completely land bound, without so much as a river connecting it to the ocean.”
Dr. Louise glared at the Hissi, knowing he was looking down on her for even asking questions. Not that that would stop her. “And what does that mean?”
The Hissi shrugged his wings. “Probably nothing. Anyway, thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, do contact me over the prescribed secure neomail channel.”
He caught the eye of one of the faeries, a young light faerie, who flew over and took the Cybunny’s paw.
And they disappeared.
“Finally she’s gone!” exclaimed an impatient voice that was, in itself, completely indistinctive.
A Red Pteri that had been sitting at the impeccably neat desk next to the Hissi’s came over and, without asking, picked up the Hissi’s notepad. With his free wing, even as he read the pages, he fidgeted and fixed some paperwork and odds and ends on the Hissi’s desk.
“Guess we got the wrong pet, XP,” said the Darigan Hissi, ignoring the Pteri’s fidgeting and studying his face. “You heard the girl--he's not Meridellian. He’s hiding something, certainly, but not some secret royal blood.”
XP ignored his, not that the Hissi expected anything else. The Pteri continued staring at the notes.
“You know, Sax,” he said suddenly, and with complete disregard to whatever the Hissi had said previously. “I’ve met no less than four distinctly separate myths about this secret prince in my research. One myth is the prince ran away to marry his true love, a common girl. Another is the prince disappeared overnight, leaving his crown and possessions behind. Another insists he was kidnapped by pirates.” He grew silent.
“The fourth?” prompted Sax.
“I don’t believe it’s related, since it apparently originates in Brightvale.”
“Try me. I’ve been bored lately.”
XP gave him a slightly puzzled look, but shrugged and went on. “It speaks of a lady who forsook her position to marry the Pirate King. The lady’s position is not noted, so I haven’t dismissed the possibility of her being a princess.”
Sax thoughtfully rubbed his chin with a wing. “If there’s any truth to that last one, it could explain Mr. Black Jack perfectly, while still preserving the possibility of him being our prince.”
XP frowned, again staring at the notes. “But not a Meridellian prince.”
The Darigan Hissi clicked his pen a few times as he thought. “You know, Skarl and Hagan are brothers. It would make perfect sense for the old royal families to be closely related as well. Are we absolutely sure the missing prince is Meridellian?” He paused, but XP was ignoring him again. “By the way, XP, where did you come up with the name Seacrest?”
XP clicked his beak and narrowed his eyes at the Hissi. Sax remained unfazed, lazily watching the Pteri through his good eye. XP huffed. “I have a hunch. It has to do with those myths and one of my personal mottos.”
“Which one? Wash your wings every five minutes? All objects must be placed on surfaces in ninety degree increments from corners? Or was that forty five degrees?”
XP glared at him.
“Thirty degrees? Oh, c’mon--you know I’m kidding. Which motto?”
“There is truth in every tale. It is up to me to find it.”
Sax laughed. “You don’t mean you think--”
“I’m off to the lab ray. I will be very busy tonight, so leave me alone. Oh, and who’s our contact for information on pirates?”
“I believe that would be 00Hog.”
XP sighed. “Can’t help it, I suppose. Request his cooperation, would you? I want everything on this so-called ‘Pirate King’.”
“Sure thing, and do remember I was assigned to assist you on this mission. Meaning, remember to keep in contact.”
The Pteri nodded absently and disappeared, teleporting himself off for another trip to the lab ray.
Sax got back to work.
End Part One of Four
Thanks to everyone who kept neomailing me, pushing me to keep trying to get published again. Hope everyone enjoyed part one! Also, I’d love to hear what you readers think, so please drop me a neomail!