The Co-Worker and the Missing Sister: Part One
J. R. Engtortia was a shadow Gelert, and eight years old at the time this event happened. It was an ordinary morning in the household. House wasn't quite the word for the ramshackle bungalow in which Engtortia and her family lived. Professor James Engtortia and Doctor Morgan Engtortia hadn't built up enough neopoints between them to buy a grand mansion for their two daughters to inherit, but this was enough. The second daughter, sixteen years of age the time this event happened, was known as I. R. Engtortia, and commonly referred to as Rose, from her middle given name, to everyone apart from her family. The eight year old, the youngest, went by Joanna to her family, and Engtortia to everyone else. This family was a peaceful, untroubled one. There were no secrets here. The only problem was the important jobs Engtortia's family all had. The Professor and Doctor were always busy with something or other, even on their days off, and Rose was always away at her work. Engtortia wasn't sure what Rose did, but it made her happy, and that was the main thing, wasn't it? Engtortia did not work yet, but it was her dream to become a famous detective. She often read books about famous detectives, and it was her wish to become as good as them, better even.
Rose, who had been acting agitated all morning, stormed into the breakfast room where Morgan and Engtortia were eating and slammed the Neopian Times down on the table. Her eyes glared into her mother's. Rose had unique eyes: one was green, and the other was brown. They were fringed with dark eyelashes and made her look very beautiful. But today she looked angry, and lately had been acting somewhat... withdrawn from her family. "Have you read the newspaper today?" she demanded of her mother, who looked a little startled. "The front page?"
Morgan Engtortia put on her reading spectacles and read the front page of the Neopian Times with dull interest. She frowned as she read on, until she eventually slapped the paper back down onto the table. "And the significance of this is...?" Morgan waved her hand, expecting Rose to pick up where she left off. Morgan did this a lot; expect others to finish her trains of thought.
Engtortia picked up the Neopian Times for herself, and peered at the front page. It read:
GRAND OPENING OF THE GELERT BOUTIQUE!
Today is the day many Gelerts around the world celebrate after the year long construction work of the Gelert Boutique has been completed. The Boutique, rumoured to have only the finest designer clothes and accessories for only Gelerts, is open today and has announced to rejoice in its grand opening, is slashing prices up to 50% off! The owner of the Boutique, Ella Fox, released this statement early this morning: "Our most expensive dress in the store will be given away to the customer who buys the most clothes – absolutely free!" More of this on page two.
In other news, the stolen books that hold the information to creating the dangerous potion that almost affected millions still haven't been found...
The Gelert stopped reading at this moment; the news had gone onto something else. She glanced upwards at her sister, a little perplexed. This hadn't been a family interested in fashion by no stretch of the imagination. Her mother especially lacked interest.
"The significance," Rose told them, as their father strolled in to grab some bacon omelette, "is that we never have a family day out together. Or rather, you two never go out anywhere if it's not work." She directed this at James and Morgan. James, who was looking slightly confused, sat down at the table and began to eat. "Go to this store and buy Joanna a lovely dress or something. Joanna?" Rose nodded at her sister. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Uh," Engtortia mumbled. "Not really."
Rose threw her an exasperated glance.
"See, Joanna doesn't even want one." Morgan shrugged, and started to get up to walk out of the room.
"I don't care. Buy me something then. Just go." Rose's tone was quiet suddenly, and this made Morgan sigh impatiently.
"All right," their mother agreed, reluctantly. "It's on our way to... to the Food Shop anyway, isn't it, James?"
The Professor raised an eyebrow. "Why does Imogen want us to go so much, hmm?" He wondered. "I don't want to waste my time and effort going to this Boutique to buy you just something. It would also waste money. Joanna, why don't you come with us?"
Rose looked alarmed suddenly. "No, no." She was adamant. "Joanna can stay here. I have to talk to King Skarl so I'll be gone for about half an hour, but I'll be back then to look after Joanna while you two go out. In fact," she started to turn away, "I have to leave now. Just go to the Boutique and then... the Food Shop, just the two of you. I'll be back soon, Joanna!" The last part came out in a burble, unlike the well spoken Rose.
There was a silence that followed the outburst of the eldest daughter. Rose suddenly hugged her parents goodbye. This was an odd enough act for her, but then Engtortia saw the tears in her eyes. What was going on? They'd be back in a few hours. She didn't get to comment on this though as Rose left the home soon afterwards without a backwards glance, seeming upset about something or other. Morgan cleared away the plates and James had a read of the newspaper, looking smug about something. Then they both stood up and asked Engtortia if she wanted to go with them.
"Imogen wanted me to stay here," Engtortia stated stupidly. Her parents already knew this.
"Well, we cannot go leaving you alone. Come on, we'll pick out something nice for all of us." Morgan wrinkled her nose to mark her unenthusiastic attitude. "Fashion is vanity. But whatever Imogen wants, I suppose she'll get. Come on, James. Joanna? Are you coming?"
The prospect of staying in the house on her own frightened Engtortia a little, not that she spoke this thought out loud. Engtortia wasn't scared of anything. Well, apart from... "I'm coming," she murmured, and followed her parents out of the door.
The fresh morning wind hit her; it was wonderful. Engtortia hadn't been outside for a few days and now she embraced the new air wondrously. She was a little disappointed as she stepped into the carriage the servant Unis they employed were driving. Morgan made sure that part of her wages went towards chauffeurs despite the little amount of wages she got. The Shadow Gelert hated being in small spaces, especially with other people, even if these other people were her parents. In truth, Engtortia knew little about them. She knew it was better to go to her father, rather than her mother, if she woke up scared in the night from nightmares, and it was better to go to her mother rather than her father if she wanted an educational discussion on what she had been doing at school that day. Her sister was the one she confided everything in, though now that Engtortia thought about it, she didn't know her sister that much either. She felt isolated, and that was one of her biggest fears. Being ignored, being alone, it was something she couldn't cope with. Now, she lay her head on her mother's arm as the carriage started to pull away.
"Joanna, you cannot be tired." Morgan sighed, wriggling her shoulder so Engtortia sat up. "Sit up straight, girl. We did not raise you to be slump around in a lazy manner."
James glanced up from the Neopian Times he had taken with him. "Leave her be, Morgan," he muttered. "Have you read the other story on the front page by any chance?"
"About the books?" Morgan made a tutting sound with her tongue, sounding irritated. "Disgraceful."
Engtortia's father nodded, keeping his facial expression composed. "Terrible, isn't it, that someone would do such a thing. You'd think the neighbourhood was safe but oh no."
Morgan shrugged, smiling. "Whoever they are, they have to be pretty clever to be able to get away with this."
"Oh, do you think so?" James raised his eyebrow again, smirking in disbelief, and proceeded to read out a few snippets of the article. Morgan listened, trying to stifle a yawn.
Tuning out of her parent's conversation, Engtortia peered out of the window to see the view. They were climbing up the large cliff that lead to the shopping centre. Soon they'd be there, and she hoped they wouldn't be long, because Rose would be angry to come back to an empty home and find out Engtortia had gone with her parents after all. The drop down below was far. Engtortia was fascinated by it, though; she looked at all of the trees and nature happily living while she was up here and they were down there.
Suddenly, the carriage bumped a little and she saw a shadow darting across the road a few metres away. Something was wrong. Engtortia sensed it immediately, and while her parents continued to talk, she leaned out further to get a better view. She thought she saw the tail of a neopet, and then she saw the two Unis detach themselves from the carriage and run to the other side of it, the side Engtortia couldn't see.
"Morgan!" Engtortia screamed.
Her mother stared at her, alarmed. "Whatever is the matter, Joanna? Will you calm d –"
She didn't get to finish her sentence, as her face paled when they felt the carriage trying to be pushed onto its side. The carriage wobbled, then hit a bumpy part of the road – and fell. It fell down the cliff, rolling and rolling, crashing against the rocks until it landed in a heap at the bottom, where only moments ago Engtortia had been looking. As the carriage had fallen, she thought she heard a soft voice saying: "Not Joanna!"
But she couldn't be sure, because at that moment, the world went black around her.
* * *
Engtortia opened her eyes, feeling bleary. Her vision blurred for a few moments, then cleared so she could see a perfect white ceiling above her. She was lying in a comfortable bed, in a white walled room. She smelled the cleaning products of Neopia, every single one. Tilting her head to the left, she saw a bedside table, chestnut, with a glass a water on top. A giant window was on the wall behind this, and Engtortia could see tall trees and a grey sky, with rain drizzling down the glass. Her throat felt dry, but when she tried to sit up her body ached. Then she heard a door opening, and two pairs of footsteps entered the room. She closed her eyes tight. They were silent for a while and then Engtortia heard the scraping of chairs from her right hand side and voices.
"Joanna is making a fine recovery, Miss Engtortia. She should be waking up any time today." This was a deep voice, but kind. "She's got a scar just below her left eye that she'll have for life but luckily there aren't any other serious injuries. For a moment I thought her tail had been removed during the accident but after reading her file I realise she was born that way."
"Yes, yes, she was born without a tail, there's no injury there." This voice Engtortia recognised, and she relaxed instantly. It was her sister's. "So apart from the scar, she's fine?"
"As far as we can see, yes. We'll have to check when she wakes up though."
"Imogen?" Engtortia opened her eyes once more. Her voice sounded raspy from dehydration. "Can I have some water please?"
Rose jumped up immediately. "Oh, Joanna, you're awake, thank goodness. Of course." With the help of the deep voice, who turned out to be a green Skeith and a Doctor, Engtortia was helped to sit up and drink the water. "Do you remember anything? About the accident?" Rose asked quietly, after the drink was finished.
Engtortia swallowed the last gulp of cool water and exhaled deeply. What did she remember? It was all a blur. There was the carriage – and the Uni servants suddenly running away – and then they fell, and fell, and fell, and all the while Engtortia had her eyes tightly shut until they crashed at the bottom. She shivered. "Not really. What happened? M-Morgan and James...?"
Rose slowly shook her head. "I'm sorry, Joanna. Morgan and James were killed in the crash. You are going to make a full recovery, though."
The Doctor cleared his throat. "I'm going to have to ask you some routine questions to check everything is fine," he told Engtortia, whose eyes had widened in shock.
"Imogen, why did this have to happen?" Engtortia cried out. She shivered again at the thought of never seeing her parents again. "Imogen... why did this happen?" she repeated, desperate.
Rose didn't reply to Engtortia's rhetorical questions. But the silence was louder than any words. Engtortia covered her face with her hands for a moment, then composed herself and nodded at the Doctor to start asking her questions. She didn't notice the slight smile on Rose's face. Whether it was relief, joy... or maybe even a smirk, no one could see to tell. Perhaps it was all three. The eldest sister accepted the responsibility of looking after Engtortia without batting an eyelid, and when told of her parent's death she seemed unaffected. But that was just Rose.
She was never what people expected.
To be continued...