A House Divided Cannot Stand: Part Four
"Ready?" Tatsu asked, putting on her hat. Dragon smiled at her and looked around. Moondatta, the last to get ready, was just tying her laces. "Let's go. Hurry up, Moonie, we're going to be late."
"Late for what?" Tenori asked. "The Old Bridge is open all night."
"I still want to get the Sunday dinner, and they only have it until three," Tatsu said with a grin. "Come on, come on. This happens every time, guys. Every time."
Dragon chuckled as she stepped outside. She breathed out heavily, fanning her hand in front of her face in an attempt to combat the boiling midday heat. Tenori stepped out next to her and scowled distastefully.
"But now is everybody ready?" Tatsu asked impatiently. Moondatta sighed and nodded, pulling up her hood despite the sweltering heat. Tatsu grinned excitedly and hurried out of the house, taking to the air as soon as she was out of the door. The heavy beat of her wings created a welcome breeze and Dragon and Tenori sighed in relief. Tatsu grinned sheepishly. "I really, really want that Sunday dinner."
The Old Bridge was a squat, cosy inn at the edge of Meridell City. It had long since been overtaken by bigger and more popular inns closer to the city centre, but it still maintained a small yet very loyal group of regulars. The Soul family were but a few of them, and regularly went to the Old Bridge for family meals. It was probably a good thing, if they were honest with themselves, because even though they ran up huge bills every month, it was better than getting food poisoning from the food they attempted to cook themselves.
Dragon was the first to enter the inn. She hesitated for a moment, but then turned and chose a table near the entrance instead of heading to their normal table. Moondatta and Pazu noticed this and looked at each other sadly. The Bori patted Moondatta's shoulder comfortingly and took a seat, pulling the menu towards him. He sent a doubting look at Tatsu, then hid behind the menu.
"Are you all having your usual?" Dragon asked, giving a cursory glance over the menu. The day's special was written in brightly coloured lettering across the top of the page. The pets around the table nodded, apart from Pazu and Tenori.
"I think I'll try the chicken soup today," Pazu said thoughtfully. Tenori looked at the menu, unimpressed.
"Chip butty," she said. "With sausages. And peas."
"Right away," Dragon said, standing up. She walked away to order the food and Tatsu tapped Moondatta on the shoulder. She leant down to whisper in the Aisha's ear.
"How long do we have until the others get here?"
"Quarter of an hour, if they're on time," Moondatta whispered back. "I'm hoping we'll have the food by then. It might calm everyone down a bit."
"What are you whispering about?" Pazu asked, raising his eyebrows. Tatsu straightened again and leant back in her seat.
"Nothing, bro," she lied easily. Tenori looked at her suspiciously from across the table but didn't press any further. Before they could say anything else, Dragon came back carrying a tray of drinks.
"They're out of banana juice today, so I got you zeenana instead," she said to Pazu. He looked at the drink with a forced smile. "I hope that's alright. It was the closest thing they had, so I just assumed it'd taste kind of the same."
"Ah, thanks," Pazu said, then after a moment: "I'm allergic to zeenanas."
"Oh," Dragon said, the smile slipping off her face. "Oh, sorry."
"Here, I'll swap," Moondatta said, pushing over her cherry and raspberry juice. Pazu smiled at her gratefully and gingerly gave her his glass, trying not to touch the drop of juice which had spilled over the side. Dragon shrugged and brightened again, clapping her hands to get everyone's attention.
"Before we start, I just wanted to say thanks for inviting me, Tats," she said happily. The Eyrie smiled and scratched her ear bashfully. "I don't like having the whole family arguing. It means a lot that we're back together again now. Cheers!"
They lifted their glasses in toast and took a deep drink, sighing in satisfaction. Tenori burped and covered her mouth with her paw. Dragon chuckled.
"Pardon me," Tenori said. At the same time, the door of the inn opened again and a short ghost Yurble walked in, followed by a magma Kougra. Moondatta was the first to notice and her eyes grew wide. She fidgeted nervously, tapping a finger against the side of the glass. Pazu noticed her sudden shift in behaviour and followed her gaze. He saw who had just come in through the door and quickly looked back at Dragon.
Suddenly, he had some very great doubts as to whether their plan would work.
"Better out than in, eh?" Dragon said with a laugh. Pazu forced a grin as Tatsu laughed loudly. At her boisterous laugh, the blue Gelert coming in through the door turned to look at them and froze in her tracks.
"Hey Zeru, what's up?" Both Tatsu and Tenori heard Lola as she turned back to look at Zeru. They turned around and saw Zeru standing in front of the entrance, staring at them with a dark expression on her face. Lola saw what she was looking at and the easy-going expression on her face dissolved into anger. Tenori caught Zeru's gaze and smirked.
The door opened again, setting the bell above the door jingling. Dragon looked up with a smile, expecting to see another of the regulars, and froze with her drink halfway to her mouth.
Everyone was silent.
"What is this?" Lola hissed, narrowing her eyes as she took a step towards the table. She glared at them and Moondatta sprang up.
"Oh, it's you guys!" she said, forcing her voice into a cheerful tone. She spread her paws out in a welcoming gesture. "It's so nice to see you again!"
"And totally a coincidence," Tatsu said quickly, waving a paw dismissively. "Funny how things like this happen, isn't it?"
"Tatsu," Pazu said, sighing. He put his head in his paws.
"What?" Tatsu asked in bewilderment. Moondatta sat down slowly, cowering before the vicious glares which she was receiving from her three oldest siblings. Tatsu looked at them and grimaced. "Oh..."
"You know about this," Ben said slowly. "You did this on purpose."
"We just wanted you to talk!" Tatsu said desperately, leaping out of her chair and approaching them. "We thought we could work something out. Together!"
"When 'ave I ever implied tha' I actually want to talk to 'er?" Zeru said icily, looking down on Tatsu. The Eyrie looked down guilty, but then glanced back up hopefully.
"Yeah," Dragon said, surprisingly calmly. Everyone turned around to look at her in shock. Lola growled angrily at the sight of her owner. "Sit down. I'd really like to talk."
"We're leavin'," Zeru said sharply, backing away. She turned around and yanked the door open again, slamming it against the wall. The quiet hub of the inn silenced abruptly and everyone turned to watch them.
"No, wait!" Moondatta cried, jumping up again. "Please, let's just talk about it, like calm, rational adults—"
"It's fine, we can talk outside if you want," Dragon said with a smile, standing up. Ben looked at her suspiciously. Suddenly his eyes widened and he snarled.
"She's trying to get Zeru," he said. Lola flared up and stomped towards them, paw reaching to where she usually kept her sword. Zeru grabbed the back of her shirt and pulled the Yurble back.
"We don't hit family," the Gelert muttered darkly as she wrestled Lola out of the door. Moondatta winced as she heard a loud thud: Lola had kicked the door in her anger. They heard Lola's angry voice drift back into the inn.
"They were trying to bait you into the Pound!"
"Even if they do that."
The door slammed shut again and their voices were cut off. Ben drew in a deep breath and attempted to calm down in the silence that followed.
"I wasn't doing anything like that!" Dragon protested. "I only wanted to talk to her! Ben, you're sensible. You'll talk to me, right?"
"Not after this," Ben said, his voice cold. He turned his gaze to Moondatta and she flinched. "You set this up."
"I didn't want it to end this way, I didn't know—"
"We told you that we don't want anything to do with them," Ben said harshly, gesturing at the rest of the family with a sharp wave of his hand. "You knew that and you still brought us here. You had it all planned out, didn't you? You wanted us back so that Dragon could put Zeru in the Pound. Admit it, that's what you wanted."
"Well, yes, but – no! Not like that! I wanted you back, of course, but not for Zeru... Not for her to – I want Zeru to come back, too!" Moondatta exclaimed desperately. She took a step towards Ben and reached out towards him, but the Kougra evaded her grasp. He looked at her in disappointment and turned around, striding out of the inn. Moondatta felt hot tears well up in her eyes and spill over her cheeks. She rubbed her face angrily.
"Hey, Moonie," Tatsu said softly, touching her shoulder, "are you alright?"
"Leave me alone!" Moondatta yelled. She grabbed the nearest thing she could find – a glass of bright red cranberry juice – and threw it at the Eyrie. Tatsu gasped as the cold liquid splashed her face and the glass smashed against the wall next to her head.
"You ruined it!" Moondatta cried. "It's all your fault that it didn't work!"
Tatsu opened her mouth to retort angrily, but then realised the truth in her words. She shut her mouth and deflated dejectedly. Moondatta sobbed and spun around, running out of the inn.
"What's going on here?" A deep voice boomed into the stunned silence. Tenori looked up to see Markson, the innkeeper, striding towards them. The hulking green Skeith had a furious expression on his face as he advanced.
"Terribly sorry," Tenori said, folding the napkin in her lap. "We'll pay for the damage."
"If I had a neopoint for every time I heard that from you Souls," Markson said suspiciously, narrowing his eyes. Then he turned around and faced the other customers. "You heard them, they're sorry. Carry on, and sorry for the disturbance."
Tenori smirked secretly as Tatsu sat down heavily. The Eyrie looked thoroughly miserable with the juice dripping off her beak and feathers. Dragon looked at her with an irritated frown on her face.
"You have some explaining to do, young lady," she said. Tatsu sighed.
"So they're with Dragon, too," Nesmachintiyi said, letting himself fall onto the bench with a sharp, metallic clang. Zeru nodded and rested her elbows on her knees. "I'd have thought Moondatta at least would see how wrong this is. Didn't she come from the Pound, back when she first joined your family?"
"We think she was there, fer a while," Zeru muttered. "But she ran away. Found 'er some'err in Kiko Lake."
"Wow," Nes whistled lowly. "Didn't think she had it in her to be so horrible."
"Think she honestly wanted us back," Zeru said, frowning. "Dragon seemed like she wanted t'talk, too."
"So, what," Nes said, looking at Zeru, "you don't want to go ahead with Revenge Plan Tigerfruit? Because I spent ages working on it this afternoon while you went on your little lunch break."
"Hey now, I never said that," Zeru said. She leaned back and grinned darkly at Nes. "Jus' 'cause they're ready to forgive me, don't mean I'm gonna forgive them."
"It's got to hurt just a little bit, though, right?" Nes said after a moment's hesitation. Zeru's ear twitched and she looked away.
"I guess," she said, shrugging. "Most o' the time I can't decide whether I'm angry or upset. Mostly I just think it's angry."
She fell silent abruptly, as if she thought she had said too much. Nes smiled slightly, wistfully, and looked around the park. The setting sun bathed it in a rich red light. Meridell colours, Nes thought; how fitting.
"You'll still have us," he said eventually. He spoke quietly, looking anywhere but at Zeru. "We'll always think you're great. Mostly."
"Then prove it," Zeru said with a grin. "Let's 'ear about this plan of yours."
To be continued...