The Mystery of the Maraquan Ball: Part Five
Amidst their own grumbling the two Neopets changed into the uniforms, re-taped their fishbowls, and headed back out into the open sea. Lady nudged Grey and they steered slightly west. They swam for quite a time without seeing anything. Unfortunately, the tape had started to break down and both of them were running out of air, and fast. Lady pulled on Grey's leg to signal that they should head back up, but Grey's stubborn nature led her to refuse.
Something bright yellow shone through the murky water ahead of them. Grey grinned at her sister haughtily from behind the glass of her fish bowl and swam faster. When they were only a stone throw away from the yellow object, Grey suddenly grabbed her sister and pulled her behind a large clump of kelp. "KIKO," Grey mouthed over and over until Lady finally nodded and peeked out from behind the kelp.
Wordlessly, Lady gave up on going back to the surface for air. They must be close to the ball's location or they wouldn't have seen anyone. Together she and Grey followed in the path of the Kiko until they reached their goal... what looked like a giant sunken lighthouse attached to a giant dome of glass.
Grey was starting to get anxious. Her fish bowl helmet seemed to be leaking quite a bit more than Lady's, and the water had reached her throat. They needed to find a way inside the sunken lighthouse mansion, and fast. Despite the danger, she couldn't help but gawk at the sprawling building before them. It seemed to be made of the same grey, dilapidated stone that the Maraqua Ruins consisted of, but all sorts of coral had attached themselves to the many balconies and decorations. There was a main building which was completely open to sea water from the looks of open doors and windows lining its wrap-around balconies. The west wing of the building opened up into a massive glass dome where uniformed Kelp employees were dashing about busily. Other Neopians were hanging decorations and one Kyrii was even suspended from the ceiling so that he could clean the glass dome. Grey didn't know why he even bothered- the glass sparkled like a jewel. On the east end of the mansion a gigantic lighthouse stood in ruins. There were great holes in the masonry which were so deep that one could see straight through to the central spiraling stairs. A strange current of water spewed from the top of the lighthouse, suggesting that some sort of pump was at work.
Lady recovered from the shock of seeing the hidden building first and glanced towards Grey. She was immediately horrified to see that the water in Grey's fish bowl was nearly up to the Uni's mouth. She reached with one paw to grab Grey's leg and together they swam across the murky water, making a break for the shelter of the mansion. Lady silently hoped that they could find an out-of-the-way room in the mansion with some air. She wondered if it false hope to think that there must be some trapped air in the sunken mansion.
Grey swam furiously from room to room in the sunken lighthouse mansion with Lady right on her heels. They were currently speeding through an eerie hall of mirrors, but they had also passed through elegantly decorated bedrooms and art galleries with elaborate paintings of long gone Neopians. Once they had had to dodge behind a thick, red velvet curtain as a train of Neopets dressed as maids swam by, but for the most part their presence had gone unchallenged.
Lady spied a closed door to the right and motioned to Grey that they should try this one before heading up the next flight of stairs. She twisted the doorknob with her shoulder and instantly the two sisters were hit hard by a blast of air bubbles streaming from the room. They fought their way into the room and were relieved to find that it seemed to be full of air... or at least it had been. Opening the door had released a tidal wave of water so strong that try as they might, Lady and Grey could not close the door again.
"What do we do?" Grey gasped after removing her leaking helmet. "This room is going to be full of water in less than ten minutes and we have no idea where we should be looking..."
Lady removed her helmet and shook water from her neck ruff by swinging her head violently from side to side. "Look around you, Grey... I think we found part of the mystery already."
Grey's eyes widened as she took in the fact that they were standing in a room full of paint brushes. They were stuffed in boxes and thrown casually on the floor, and some even lined the shelves around them. Most of the paint brushes were cheaper ones though. There were no Faerie, Baby, or Maraquan brushes to be seen.
"Oh no!" Lady squealed and jumped onto a nearby box. "The water is washing off the paint. Look at your feet!"
Grey studied her feet, which should have been white from the Christmas Paint Brush that Feather had bought for her years ago. Orange and purple swirled up her legs and here and there green speckles dotted her coat. "Mom is going to kill me!"
Lady chuckled and admired her own feet, which were glowing. Except her back right hoof, which seemed to be invisible. "Wait a minute..." she said and snatched at an empty stand on the shelf near them. Sure enough, she felt a paint brush there even if she wasn't able to see it. "What if we paint ourselves invisible? Then we can sneak around and find out what's really going on here!"
"Brilliant!" Grey said.
As the girls worked at painting one another, they had to climb higher and higher onto boxes and furniture until they were both crouched on a large display cabinet with their backs touching the ceiling.
"There must be another way out of here," Grey stated as she coated Lady's right wing. "Otherwise the water would have already ruined the paint brushes here."
"I think I see it, actually," Lady replied and pointed towards a missing stone in the ceiling.
"Where?" Grey answered. "Your leg is invisible, so stop pointing."
Lady blushed, but it didn't matter because Grey couldn't see that either. "Okay, look up and to the right three squares," she said and then stretched out her wings. "I'm going up."
Grey followed behind and soon the two were stealthily flying through the attics of the sunken mansion. Thankfully the old passageways seemed completely airtight, and they had no problems flying directly through to wherever they led. The only sound that could be heard was the rustle of air through their invisible feathers.
"I think we're near the lighthouse," Grey finally whispered as they reached a dead end. "Look, there's a hole way up there."
Lady followed as Grey led the way into the tower. Both sisters had trouble not gasping in shock as they reached the pinnacle of the lighthouse. Before them a large room opened up to the sea with a large round balcony, but somehow the water had not breached the unsealed gap. There was a loud sucking noise, and soon they saw that the water which would been forced by gravity into the lighthouse was instead being pulled away by a series of white tubes that lined the floor of the balcony and disappeared into the deep waters outside.
Paint brushes so expensive that most Neopians can only ever dream of having one lined the floor in neat stacks according to type. There were Darigan brushes, Faerie brushes, and even Royal brushes. The floor was a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes, and Lady and Grey could not help but stop and stare. Their minds began to imagine all those times that they had seen Feather sigh as she examined the colors catalog at the rainbow pool, wishing she could paint them to have fins or royal crowns.
Lady shook herself away from that depressing thought and said quietly, "Wasn't Mom reading about a bunch of galleries that have been broken into recently? And the only thing stolen was paintbrushes...?"
Grey took the wadded up mystery note from her pack and tried to read the second paragraph again, but it was so soggy from their swim that she could not make out the words.
"It's okay, I know what it means now," Lady told her and repeated the lines.
I only tell what truth I know
The latest fashions aren't just sewn.
Don't look for me; you'll just waste time
Stone towers always collect the most grime.
"That part about the latest fashions is a hint about these paint brushes," Lady said and then nodded towards the stone lighthouse walls around them, "and I think by 'grime,' our spy meant moral deprivation... not actual dirt."
"Very good!" Grey told her in admiration. "So you think these paint brushes have been stolen. Okay, but why?"
"I think we'll have to go to the ball to find out," Lady replied and reached towards a pile of Maraquan paint brushes.
"No, Lady we can't," Grey told her sister as she saw two paint brushes floating in the air before her. "Those belong to the citizens of Neopia... If we use two of them, it will be just like stealing them."
"No, it won't. Think about the situation. We can leave all these paint brushes and come back without any proof of what's actually going on... then no one gets their paint brushes back. Or we can use two and save everyone else's. Besides, we've already ruined a room full of the cheap ones. We might as well finish the job."
"Fine," Grey said. "Although I have to admit that I relent so easily because I've always thought that I would always look quite fetching painted Maraquan..."
Lady giggled and began painting her legs. "It's okay, I won't tell anyone our ulterior motives."
"I doubt even the Rainbow Faerie could have done a better job," Grey said slyly after they were done painting. Both of them managed to squeeze back into their Kelp uniforms despite the changes they had undergone. "I'm glad the uniforms have skirts instead of pants," Grey said thankfully.
Lady nodded and edged toward the side of the lighthouse room. "Okay... we need to just jump out into that current that's being vacuumed away from the lighthouse... I think it will spit us out into the ocean. Then we can swim down to the dome and start 'serving' the socialites until we figure out what's going on."
"Do you think it will be hard to learn to breathe in water?" Grey asked.
"I don't think so. Just make sure to use your gills instead of your nose when you go in... I bet it comes naturally," Lady answered and smiled at her sister reassuringly. "Ready? Let's go!"
To be continued...