The Mysteries of Mr. Cuddles: Part Six
Zillie thought she had dozed again – the next thing she knew, Mr. Cuddles was nudging her and there was the sound of a key rattling in the lock. She stood up, ready to punch whoever came through the door.
But it was the Shoyru, Asander, and Zillie's arms were pinned behind her back by a wraith before she could do anything. Another wraith picked up Mr. Cuddles, and they were off on another dizzying flight.
They ended up in a massive, circular hall of stone, with a staircase leading up to a balcony above and several large portraits of a blue Chia with a cape and a girly shirt. There were finally windows in this tower, and Zillie could see that night had fallen. It had almost been a full day. Where had Katrina gone?
When the wraiths let them down, Zillie scooped up Mr. Cuddles before anyone could stop her. If they were going to get out of here, they needed to stick together. The four sorcerers stood facing her – Lirai and Theer both had looks on their faces like they'd smelled something rotten.
Zillie wasn't sure whether their problem was with her or with Mr. Cuddles, but she started looking around as subtly as she could for something she could hit them with if she got a chance. Sadly, all of the candlesticks and furniture in this grand hall looked too big and heavy for her to lift, let alone swing.
Theer complained in her raspy voice, "Where's the Overlord? He was supposed to return when night had fallen!"
Lirai sighed. "He thinks he can lord over us as well as his rodent subjects."
Theer hissed. "All of you. Plotting. Planning. Silliness, all of it."
Lirai rolled her eyes. "We'll have one of your lectures on the primacy of magic later. After we've gotten our hands on Nox's horde. The old boy was quite a sorcerer himself – don't ask me how that jumped-up Xweetok laid him low."
Zillie remembered what Joraskan had said to the Meepit Overlord. The odial sphere, the noxious blade, the puzzle box, and the Book of Death. All of them but the third sounded ominous. Maybe the puzzle box was one of those cubes where you had to make all of the boxes on each side match. Zillie had always thought those were evil.
Asander said, "Don't move a muscle, girl, or you won't like what happens."
Zillie found herself utterly lacking in a comeback that would encompass just how much she hated this man at this time. Instead, she sniffed and turned her nose in the air. She tried to look as snooty as Lirai, who would probably get along great with that jerk Cersina at school.
And then she heard... she wasn't sure if she actually heard anything. But the words came to her mind as clear as if they'd come through her ears.
I have come, Joraskan.
"Here are the girl and the abomination, as promised."
Zillie looked around. Where was the Overlord?
And then she saw him at the top of the grand staircase. The small pink figure had a spiky Mohawk and a fairly impressive moustache, and he looked comical as he waddled his way down the blood-red carpet on the stairs, but Zillie knew better than to laugh. Still, she gave Mr. Cuddles a little squeeze – he was trembling.
But even though she couldn't laugh, she wasn't willing to be silent. She informed him, "I can't say I think very much of all your evil plots if you're relying on these four lunatics."
Somehow, she knew that the next thought was only heard by her. They serve a purpose. When that purpose is completed, I will have no more need for them.
Well, wasn't that charming. Evil villains backstabbing each other. Hadn't they ever read a Defenders of Neopia cartoon? That never worked!
Of course, it might work for just long enough for Zillie and Mr. Cuddles to end up in some serious trouble. Not that they weren't in serious trouble already.
Joraskan came up behind Zillie and grabbed her firmly by the shoulders. He was more than a head taller than she was, and twisting away was unlikely to lead to any success. He said, "We have upheld our end of the bargain. Where are the objects?"
The Meepit went to one of the doors around the edge of the hall, not too far from the biggest, which clearly led outside.
Lirai said, "We should have known. But it resisted all of our spells trying to get it open."
Theer added, "And a battle-axe!" She cackled at her own joke, but Zillie didn't find it funny – and, from the glances that everyone else cast toward the zombie, they agreed with her.
It was hidden well and locked tightly. Nox wished no others to have access to his creations – unless, of course, it was to further his own plans.
Lirai said, "Okay. Enough with the drama, Overlord. Tell us how to get through the Fyora-blasted door, or I swear we'll give the child a sack lunch and send them both home!"
The Overlord turned from his perusal of the door and bared his teeth. You threaten to go back on our bargain? You threaten me? Brothers, come!
And the balcony around the hall was suddenly full of little figures in all colors – pink was the most common, but blue, green, red, yellow, and more exotic shades abounded as well. There were dozens of the potentially vicious little Petpets, and Mr. Cuddles turned and buried his face in the skull design on Zillie's thermal shirt.
Joraskan cried, "You accuse us of treachery? When you come to our castle with an army at your back?"
This is not treachery. This is... insurance.
Joraskan snapped, "This is the slimiest piece of back-stabbing two-faced double-dealing that I'm likely to find outside a pirate's lair!"
Zillie filed the insult away for future use.
Had you fulfilled our bargain without hesitation, you never would have known that they were present.
Joraskan bit his lip, and then said, "We have not gone back on our bargain. Our deal was that you would have the abomination and the girl after the treasures are in our hands."
But as it happens, I have no need of the girl – she is not the mistress of her house, who kept the errant one from us. You are the one who has need of her.
All eyes turned to Zillie. The Overlord continued, Only Nox's hand or the hand of a child may open the door. It was a weakness of the spell he used.
Wonderful. Zillie held Mr. Cuddles even tighter – he squeaked quietly in protest – as she said, "You know, I would have been a lot more likely to help you if I hadn't spent the last day sitting in a cold dungeon with no food. I'd even eat spinach right now, and Katrina would tell you that that's a sign of the end of Neopia as we know it. Of course, even if you hadn't locked me up and maybe hurt my sister, I wouldn't have helped you anyway. Because you're such a bunch of obvious evil maniacs that I can't believe no one's caught on to you yet."
Joraskan raised his staff. Fire gathered at the end of it. "It doesn't matter whether you want to or not, child. You will open that door."
Zillie challenged, "Or what?" It occurred to her that that was why the Overlord had wanted Katrina – she was probably too old to open the door herself, but Zillie would have had to do it if they threatened her big sister.
Mr. Cuddles turned to look at her. There was something quiet and reassuring in his eyes as Lirai said, "Or the abomination will suffer for it."
Zillie knew exactly what Mr. Cuddles was saying to her. "As if he won't if you hand him over to the Overlord? Come on, guys. You should have taken lessons from Captain Scarblade or Emperor Razul or someone like that, because your evil villain acts are not up to snuff."
Wraiths curled up around Asander. Colored sparks started forming around Lirai's hands. Theer grabbed something from off her belt, and the flame on Joraskan's staff grew even bigger. Perhaps Zillie had gone a little too far...
But it occurred to her that she always made stupid mistakes whenever she was angry. There were doors all over the place. If she could make them angry enough that it would cause a distraction for the Meepits as well, she might be able to make a run for it. "You're a bunch of bullies and thieves, and you're all mad as mutant Meepits if you actually think that either of us will ever help you. Right, Mr. Cuddles?"
Mr. Cuddles squeaked defiantly, "Meep! Meep! Meep!"
Joraskan snarled, "You have thirty seconds to open that door before I force your hand onto it. Do you understand me, child?"
She retorted, "And, for the record, my hair is no more obnoxious than Lirai's outfit. It's so overdone."
The sparks in Lirai's hands gathered into balls of multi-colored fire.
But she didn't have time to throw them before the main door exploded.
As she was thrown to the floor by the blast, Zillie kept one arm around Mr. Cuddles and used the other to shield her head and neck. As soon as the world stopped spinning around her, she scrambled to her feet – but a wraith hoisted her into the air before she could run.
Five people stood in the doorway. A Wocky, a Kougra, a Xweetok, and an Ixi were there, but she didn't care about them. The one she noticed was Katrina, standing on the rubble where the threshold had been, hands on her hips.
"Put my sister down. Now."
To be continued...