Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 194,126,976 Issue: 740 | 15th day of Swimming, Y18
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Orlitz and the Search for the Emerald Crown: Part Two


by josephinefarine

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      A warm ray of light streamed through the small slit between the curtain covering the large cut-up windows. The gentle light awoke Orlitz who hid under the quilts of an enormous bed. A clock on her bedside table notified the Cybunny that it was time for breakfast at the lodge. She sighed, saddened to have to leave the warm embrace of the blankets, and rolled out of bed. Last night, the ferry had docked at Happy Valley quite late, and the friends had drowsily checked into the ski lodge and immediately dozed off the moment they reached their rooms. Orlitz had slept soundly all night, and felt well-rested. First things first, she had to freshen up.

      Dressed in snug, wintery clothes, Orlitz made her way downstairs and into the busy dining hall. She found Iskeen already seated at a table, devouring a towering stack of pancakes. The Cybunny ordered a plate of waffles and joined her.

      “Sleep well?” she asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee.

      “I slept like a baby,” the other replied between mouthfuls of food. “I’m heading out to the slopes as soon as I’m done here, I hope you don’t mind.”

      “No problem,” Orlitz smiled, “I was planning on relaxing here all morning anyway. Besides, I have to meet up with Julian and Faye anyway, they should be arriving later this morning.”

      Finished with breakfast, Iskeen excused herself. Orlitz made her way to the lobby and busied herself with reading a book. Yet, however much she tried, she couldn’t stop thinking about the red-haired Aisha. She hadn’t spotted her on the ferry, yet the Cybunny was certain she would encounter her again in Happy Valley. Unable to concentrate, she left to lodge to explore the village outside.

      The streets were busy—far busier than Neopia Central. Orlitz figured that, as a result of the holidays, neopets from all over Neopia were indulging in the festivities unique to Terror Mountain. Despite the crisp air and the overcast sky, Orlitz enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere. She was especially enchanted by the strings of light decorating every tree and house. Having explored the quaint shops, she returned to the lodge. Noting that it was nearly lunch, she was sure her friends would arrive soon. To her delight, she spotted them right as they entered the hotel.

      “Hey guys!” she greeted, running up to the Lupe and Xweetok.

      “Orlitz!” they returned, hugging their friend, “it’s been so long, how are you?”

      The Cybunny hurried her friends inside, eager to catch up with them over lunch.

* * * * *

      At lunch, the group eagerly recounted their stories from the last few years. Since having left Brightvale, Orlitz hadn’t had the chance to speak with her friends, other than the occasional letter. She was relieved to see that they had not changed all that much since they had parted ways. Julian was a handsome Pastel Lupe who had been friends with her for as long as she could remember, and who shared her interest in journalism. Faye, a Green Xweetok, had been Orlitz’s neighbor and school friend in Brightvale.

      They laughed, sharing jokes and stories for what seemed like hours. Orlitz recounted her adventures on Mystery Island; Julian, his experience working in the Brightvale Castle; and Faye, her time exploring Neopia. Finally, cafeteria staff forced them to leave as lunch service had ended. So, the group made its way to the terrace outside, where they ordered hot cocoa.

      “Is it true you’re still solving mysteries?” Faye asked, having finished retelling her misadventure as a tourist in the Haunted Woods.

      “I guess so,” Orlitz sighed, “honestly, I tend to accidentally stumble upon things.”

      “In other words, you haven’t changed since Brightvale,” chuckled Julian.

      Orlitz ignored the tease. “Actually, I think I might have stumbled upon something new yesterday,” she mused. The Cybunny told her friends of her experience at the Neopia Central docks.

      “So, the Aisha lost her purse, big deal,” Julian interjected, sipping his cocoa.

      “I don’t think so,” Orlitz retorted, “I found it awfully strange that she ran away from those two Lutaris, for starters.”

      “I hope she’s not in danger,” Faye interjected, “didn’t you say you found her address? Maybe you should return her purse and ask her if she’s okay…”

      Orlitz agreed. She noted that the address wasn’t very far from the lodge, and promised that she would go there later today to return the Aisha’s purse.

      Having finished their hot chocolate, Orlitz, Julian, and Faye walked to the ice skating pond at the center of Happy Valley.

      “You guys have fun, I’ll be back shortly,” the Cybunny promised as her friends slipped into their ice skates, “I’m going to that Aisha’s address.”

      Having asked for directions twice, Orlitz finally found the house mentioned on the address. It was much farther from the lodge than she had planned, a small, run-down shack hidden behind some trees on the outskirts of Happy Valley. The Cybunny noticed that the snow around the cabin had no footprints and was completely undisturbed, despite it not having snowed recently. Still, she attempted to knock on the door, and was not all that surprised when no one came to answer it.

      “May be Emilia left a key in here,” she muttered, rummaging through the red purse. As expected, she found a key, and cautiously pushed it into the lock. With a click, the door swung open, revealing a plainly-furnished living space covered in a thin layer of dust. Dismayed, Orlitz realized that no one had lived here in months. She wondered why the address would lead to such a house, and decided it would be best to leave. Unfortunately, her curiosity got the best of her, and the Cybunny couldn’t help but explore the rooms.

      Stepping inside, Orlitz was surprised by how cold it was. Shivering, the Cybunny explored the house, finding that each room was sparsely furnished and quite empty. As she turned around to leave, she accidentally kicked an empty bottle on the floor, and it rolled against a wall, which produced a hollow echo. This piqued her interest. Knocking against the wall, she realized that there must be a space behind it, but as hard as she looked, she could not find a door. She did notice a door-shaped indentation behind the wallpaper, and turned her attention to the furniture in the room, convinced that somewhere was hidden a trigger to open it.

      Running her hands over a dusty chimney, she found a tiny obstruction hidden in between the bricks. Holding her breath, she pushed it. To her delight, the hidden door swung open revealing a little room obscured by a cloud of dust. Through the dust, Orlitz could make out some bookshelves. She had stumbled upon a small, secret library. The temperature in the room chilled her to the bone, but Orlitz was determined to keep searching until she found something. She examined the bookcases, running her hand over the dusty tomes lining the shelves. One book appeared less dusty than the rest. Eagerly, she took it from the shelf, and was surprised when a key tumbled out from between its pages. She examined the key and her eyes drifted to the locked closet in the back of the room. She had attempted to open it earlier, but now she noticed that the metal of the key matched that of the closet’s lock. Pressing her luck, the Cybunny pushed the key into the lock and turned it. She grinned when she heard a tell-tale click.

      The closet was empty, except for a pouch placed haphazardly at the bottom. Intrigued, and shivering, she opened it. She reached into the pouch and her fingers brushed against something cold and metallic. Orlitz gasped as she pulled out the object. In her hand was a beautiful crown, sculpted in meticulous silver and adorned with enormous emeralds and shimmering diamonds. The crown was heavy, decorated with over a hundred gems of different sizes and cuts. The silver had been shaped into elegant swirls and fragile leaves. Without hesitating, the Cloud Cybunny stuffed the headpiece into her own purse and stumbled out of the dusty room.

* * * * *

      In the soft pink light of the setting sun, Orlitz’s mind raced. How had such a priceless ornament come to be in such a desolate location? Who did this crown belong to? How was Emilia, the Blue Aisha, connected to all this? Before she knew it, Orlitz had arrived at the ski lodge. Barely able to suppress her chattering teeth, she hurried into the dining hall for a cup of hot tea. There, she saw that Iskeen, along with Julian and Faye, were seated around a table, playing a board game.

      “You seem really out of breath!” remarked Iskeen as Orlitz slumped down into an empty seat.

      “You have no idea,” she sighed, sipping her tea, “how was skiing?”

      “Surprisingly easy, considering I’ve never done it before,” the ixi chuckled, “I really want to ski down the summit next!”

      “Ice skating was great too!” added Faye, “it’s a shame you didn’t come back in time to join us—you should have seen how many times Julian fell on his butt!”

      Orlitz smiled. She was disappointed that she hadn’t had the chance to spend time with any of her friends so far. Still, the thought of the abandoned cabin lingered in the back of her mind.

      “Guys, you wouldn’t believe what I just found.”

      To be continued…

 
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