A House Divided Cannot Stand: Part Three
"Where is everyone?" Dragon asked when she finally dragged herself downstairs and into the kitchen. Tenorikumma was sitting at the table, a steaming cup of tea in her paw and reading the Neopian Times. She barely even looked up when her owner entered.
"Tatsu, Moondatta and Pazu have gone to the Castle, last I heard," Tenori said casually. "As for the others, who knows? Haven't seen them for days."
"Ah," Dragon said, sounding rather clueless as she stared groggily at the blue Lupe. Tenori took a sip of her coffee and turned the page of the newspaper. Dragon blinked. "I need Zeru back."
"Changed your mind?" Tenori asked, raising an eyebrow languidly.
"No," Dragon said and shook her head. "I just can't abandon her without her being with me."
"Is that so," Tenori said as a smirk slowly spread on her face. "Well, maybe I can help you with that."
"I've found them!" Pazu called. The Bori waved to Tatsu and Moondatta excitedly as he hurried towards them. They grinned in relief when they heard him. "They're staying with one of Zeru's friends. Or I'm assuming that, at least, but I know where they are now."
"Good," Moondatta said, clapping her hands happily. "Are we alright with the plan?"
"All good to go," Tatsu said in satisfaction. It was fun, this. She could finally see why the rest of her family enjoyed plotting so much.
"Then let's go. Pazu, lead the way."
Meridell market was packed to the brim, bustling with both pets and owners. Pazu lead them along the edges of the market place and into the maze of side streets behind it. Full of cul-de-sacs and twisting lanes; the buildings were high and the streets were narrow. Tatsu looked up as they walked and shuddered: she hated being in small spaces like this. Washing lines were strung between the upped windows, casting shadows across the streets below.
"It's not far from here," Pazu said, noticing Tatsu's discomfort. He nodded up another street and smiled at them. "Only a couple of streets away. It's this way."
They stopped in front a tall stone building, squashed into a corner between the others. The door was painted bright red, paint flaking off around the edges. Pazu stepped forward and grabbed the large bronze doorknocker and knocked sharply on the door. It echoed faintly through the house.
"You really think this'll work?" Moondatta asked quietly as heavy footsteps thudded around inside the house. Tatsu nodded confidently.
"Of course. I thought of the plan myself."
"That's what she's worried about," Pazu muttered. Before Tatsu could retort the door was pulled open and they came face to face with a tall red Gelert. He looked at them in surprise.
"Oh, Trawney!" Moondatta said. Pazu looked between them with a curious expression. "I didn't know you lived here."
"What are you lot doing here?" Trawney asked. He frowned slightly. "Did Zeru get into trouble again?"
"We already know she's here," Pazu said. Trawney flicked his tail in annoyance. "We really need to talk to her. Let us in, please?"
"She's not here," Trawney said.
"You're lying," Moondatta said. "At least tell her to come out here. It's really important."
The Gelert looked at them sharply for a second, silently judging their serious expressions. Eventually he sighed and gave in, stepping back. He turned around and looked up the stairs behind him.
"Zeru!" he yelled, loud enough to make Moondatta wince. "It's urgent, they say!"
An answering call came from upstairs, muffled and inaudible, but Trawney seemed to understand. He looked back at the pets standing outside the door.
"Come in, then," he said, holding the door open for them. "Might as well. Upstairs, straight on your left."
Pazu entered the house and started up the staircase, looking around at the walls as he went. The wall paper was stripy and faded; it was the ancient Meridellian type, the kind that was always used in castles and fortresses. The staircase was narrowed and twisted sharply around the corners; it opened directly into a small sitting room. There was a small sofa and an armchair squashed in along the walls, and on them sat Zeru and Nesmachintiyi. The robot was sprawled all over the sofa, seemingly asleep, while Zeru stared at them from the armchair. She crossed her legs and put her hands on the armrests, flicking her ears. She frowned darkly at them.
"Zeru!" Moondatta said, hurrying past Pazu. She went to give her a hug, but at last moment thought better of it and settled for standing awkwardly in front of the blue Gelert. Her smile wavered slightly but she bravely kept it on her face. "It's so good to see you again."
"Hey, sis," Tatsu said. She glanced briefly at Nes and grinned slightly.
"And what," Zeru muttered angrily, "d'you want?"
"To see if you're alright," Tatsu said with a shrug.
"Obviously," Zeru said shortly. They were quiet for a moment. Trawney came up the stairs behind them and went into the kitchen, taking a couple of pots off the cooker.
"And," Tatsu said and Zeru rolled her eyes, "we want you to come—"
"No. Get out." Zeru stood up abruptly and strode across the room, holding out her arm in an inviting gesture at the staircase. Moondatta quickly jumped in.
"We weren't going to ask you to come home," she said. "I mean, of course we want you to, but we want to sort Dragon out first. We just wanted you to come and talk with us."
"I don't want t'see her," Zeru spat, folding her arms. She glared at them and pinned her ears back.
"I meant us, as in the pets," Moondatta clarified. "We're working on Dragon. We just don't want the whole family to be together again. I hate us being so divided."
"Right," Zeru snorted. She looked at them carefully. "Where's Tenori?"
"She's... with Dragon," Pazu said. Zeru narrowed her eyes and looked away.
"I think she's still holding a grudge against you," Tatsu provided helpfully.
"Yeah," Zeru muttered. "Good fer 'er. That all yer wanted to tell me? 'Cause I 'ave stuff t'do."
"Just don't ignore us, alright?" Moondatta asked. Zeru rolled her eyes. "Come out and have dinner with us or something. Tomorrow at two? In the Old Bridge?"
"Are yer gonna leave b'fore I say yeah?"
"...Fine." Zeru sighed in aggravation. She ruffled her hair with her paws and strode over to the armchair again. "We done?"
"Are you definitely going to come?"
"Yes, yeah, I'll bring the others too, we'll be one big, happy family," Zeru muttered sarcastically. "Now seriously. Go. Show yerselves out."
"Don't worry, Zeru," Tatsu said cheerfully as they headed down the stairs again. Moondatta dragged her feet reluctantly and kept looking back at Zeru and Nes, but Pazu put her arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her along. "We'll sort all of this out. You'll be home before you know it."
"I don't want to go back," Zeru snarled. Tatsu pretended not to hear and waved as she left the sitting room. The Gelert sighed and sank into the seat. The front door opened and closed and the house was quiet again.
Tatsu grinned as she stepped outside of the house, closing the door behind her. She took a deep breath of the fresh air and puffed her feathers up proudly. Moondatta and Pazu looked at her strangely
"I think that went pretty well," Tatsu said optimistically.
"Will you stop groaning like that?" Lola asked exasperatedly. Ben sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "No, seriously, do you have any idea how annoying it is?"
"Let me guess," the Kougra said tiredly. "More annoying than Nes, but less annoying than your constant complaining?"
"You're the one complaining!" Lola complained as she shifted the bags of food in her arms. The two of them were on their way back to Trawney's house. The place – despite it's situation and general lack of space – had become the official headquarters of 'Team Snarky-Pants', as Trawney had dubbed them. Lola and Ben, being the last people out of bed that morning, had been nominated to do the groceries. "I couldn't even sleep last night because you kept tossing and turning."
"Next time, you can sleep on the sofa again," Ben muttered darkly. "Thanks for telling me how uncomfortable it is. I would have just stayed on the floor."
"You could have slept on the floor anyway."
"Yes, sure, considering there was absolutely no space left."
"You just aren't used to sleeping rough like we are," Lola sighed with a shake of her head, turning the simple statement into an insult. Ben rolled his eyes and walked off, leaving his sister to catch up with him.
They made it back to the house with little trouble, even managing not to bicker too much. Lola let Ben go upstairs first and he took the extra bags from her in exchange. In the sitting room, Zeru and Nesmachintiyi were sprawled over the seats; Nes was reading the papers and Zeru was brooding again. She had been doing that a lot since the Argument. Trawney was sitting on the floor, eating a bowl of rice.
"Just stick it in the kitchen," he said as Ben and Lola entered the room. He waved vaguely with his fork and went straight back to his food. Lola huffed and dumped the shopping bags on the kitchen bench, leaving Ben to tidy everything away. The ghost Yurble sat on the sofa, perching on top of Nes' legs. Her grey fur glowed slightly in the sunlight shining in through the window and her red eyes glowed as she grinned at the pets.
"So, I've had an idea," she said. Nes groaned.
"It won't end well," he said. Lola looked at him, an offended frown on her face.
"You don't even know what it is yet," she said.
"None of your plans end well," Nes told her.
"They always work—"
"Oh. Yeah, I suppose they don't. Anyway!" Lola grinned at Zeru, who continued to glare daggers at the wall. "You want to hear it? It involves getting revenge on Dragon."
Taking the older Gelert's silence as an agreement, Lola continued.
"We'll pretend to give up, and she'll take you to the Pound," she said. "But right when she thinks she has you, bang! The rest of us will jump out and it's right into the dungeons for Miss Dragon Soul."
"That's... a bit harsh, don't you think?" Trawney said with his mouth full. He turned and looked at Lola sceptically. "And it sounds an awful lot like your abusing your powers."
"I don't abuse them," Lola waved it off. "I just use them differently and more effectively than anyone else."
"Right," Trawney drawled, unconvinced.
"For the record, I still think it won't end well," Nes said, holding his paw up.
"Same here," Ben said, leaning in the doorway to the kitchen. He rolled his sleeves up and folded his arms. "It's not one of your better plans, Lo."
"Then what do you suggest, huh?" Lola said defensively. "We've got to do something. We can't just let her get away with it. She's gone too far."
"What does everyone else think?" Ben asked. "Do we know that?"
"Your sisters were here earlier," Trawney said. "And your brother, Pabu or whatever he's called. They said Tenori's sticking with Dragon."
"What?" Lola exclaimed. "That mean little—!"
"What did they want?" Ben asked, ignoring Lola's outburst. Years of living with her had taught him that that was the easiest way to deal with her.
"To see you lot," Trawney said with a shrug. "And dinner tomorrow or something. Seriously, if I knew the whole family was coming over, I'd have never agreed to let you stay here. I don't have enough space as it is. Geez."
"Yes, yes, we're very grateful," Nes said quickly. "But what are we going to do? We've got to something about Tenori too, then; I don't want her to get off lightly. She's been in the Pound herself, she knows what it's like – and she still wants Zeru to be stuck in that dump. It's not right."
"Look at you, being all nice and worried about Zeru," Lola said, grinning and poking Nes in the cheek. He swatted at her paw angrily.
"We need to hit Dragon where it really hurts," Ben said. "An eye for an eye. Something as important to her as Zeru is to us."
At that, Zeru roused herself from her thoughts. Her head jerked up and she looked at them determinedly.
"Her money," she said simply.
To be continued...