The Co-Worker and the Missing Sister: Part Four
Rose woke up, startled. She'd had the strangest dream. Her old co-worker and friend Alistair had asked her to help him with a case – only to throw a Slumberberry Potion in her face! She'd been knocked out instantly, and that was when she woke up. It was so odd. Why, she hadn't seen or spoken to Alistair in years. And anyway, had she overslept? She was surprised Engtortia hadn't come knocking for her, because – Rose glanced around, distracted suddenly, bewildered, as she took in her surroundings. Where was she, exactly? This bedroom was definitely not hers. It was turquoise coloured, with ruffled frills on the four poster oak bed and flowery wallpaper. There was a large open wardrobe full of what looked like expensive outfits. She was still wearing what she was wearing yesterday, she realised. The bed, though very comfortable, wasn't hers, and she'd have to leave before she caused trouble. However, when she walked across the plush carpet, she noticed the door, and her eyes widened in astonishment.
The door was not a plain wooden door, oh no. It consisted of large iron bars and a huge padlock on the outside, that was locked, with the keys hanging on the opposite wall outside of the room. Rose was in a dungeon of some sort. A very fancy dungeon, it seemed. This wasn't making sense.
She tried to rattle the bars, but they were too heavy and solid. She tried to squeeze her slim form through, but failed. She was still too wide for the tiny space in between each bar. She had to resort to what she didn't want to do. Call her captor. Because she had already come to the conclusion she had been deliberately captured for being a Defender of Neopia. There were lots of evil Neopets out there who hated her, it had been only a matter of time before she caught. So why couldn't she remember this? Had they taken her in her sleep? But no... she didn't remember going home to bed. All she could remember from last night was saying good night to King Skarl, then walking along the path, and then...
The dream! She clapped a hand to her mouth. It wasn't a dream at all! But oh, it couldn't be. Why would Alistair, her oldest and previously dearest friend, do this to her? She'd never had a friend like him and probably never would again. Why would he want to ruin that? She banged on the bars, hurting her fists slightly but she didn't care anymore. She was angry now.
"Alistair!" she shouted. "Alistair, come here right now!"
* * *
A young blue Grundo ran through the craters of Kreludor, many many years before Engtortia and her sister existed, happily enjoying the place he lived. But after a while, he noticed there was no one outside with him. Where was everyone? Was something going on? The planet was practically empty. Everyone must have been inside. He sensed suspicious movement behind him and started to walk briskly back to his home, trying not to show his fear. He coughed (the Grundo was always coughing, even though he wasn't ill, it was a bad habit he'd picked up) and that signalled to whoever was nearby there was someone else there, because a huge dark figure stepped out from the shadows and showed themselves. And the Grundo gasped in shock, because this was the infamous, but not yet known for all of his evil deeds, Dr Sloth.
His eyes were red, and his cloak was the colour of darkness. He outstretched a finger towards the Grundo, pointing at him. An evil smirk rested on his lips. "Young Grundo, what is your name?" The malevolent being hissed. "Mine is Dr Sloth. And I can make all of your dreams come true."
Dreams? The Grundo managed to meet Dr Sloth's eye. It was his biggest dream to become a famous chef, just like the Mutant Grundo who owned the food shop. But he wanted to be even bigger and have his very own secret recipe only a select few knew, and he was the only one who made it. Could Sloth really make that dream come true? He was an extremely powerful being after all, wasn't he? Unfortunately, this little blue Grundo was easily influenced and couldn't resist replying rather than running away, as fast as his tiny legs could carry him. No, he did the opposite, and stepped forward, hopefully.
"My name is Fiarrold. Luiner Fiarrold," the Grundo answered quickly. "My dream is to become a famous chef, you know, just like –"
Dr Sloth cut him off with a wave of his hand. "If you follow me and go through one small trial, I will fulfil whatever ambition you have. You just have to help me first."
Fiarrold nodded, elated. "Yes, yes, oh please!"
They walked together through the empty outside world of the planet, and it didn't cross Fiarrold's mind that everyone was inside because Dr Sloth was the scariest being to ever have existed, and he spelled trouble with a capital 'T'.
Scratching his stubble, the old Grundo shifted his position in his seat. He was reading one of the books needed to complete his task of creating the dangerous potion. It was battered at the edges, like it had been read well. There were notes from the previous owners of this book instructing ways to make each ingredient more powerful and more effective. He was in the basement, alone, waiting for his master to come back. The notes on the potions were laughable, however; he knew far better ways. After working with potions for so many years, he knew exactly the right blends to use for every single one there was, are, and ever will be. He realised he was arguably the best potions maker and developer in the whole of Neopia, but that wasn't his goal. Fiarrold glanced at the cookery books on the shelf dismally. He still hadn't found an amazing secret recipe, or made one himself for that matter. But there was still time.
Fiarrold had been thinking back to his childhood, where he was tricked and captured by Dr Sloth. The wounds of time had cut deep into him and he wasn't so naïve anymore. He was still easily influenced though, which he detested, because his master was commanding him to do this with the same promise Sloth gave him. To make his dreams come true. Why did Fiarrold trust someone again? Because there was nothing better to do. And it wasn't like with Sloth. He wasn't held captive here. He could breathe fresh air and go for a walk outside in the rain or sun.
No, this wasn't like his ten years with Dr Sloth at all. But he was lucky. Because he was the only one to ever manage to escape from his grasp.
It was the abandoned chef book that did it. It was lying in the middle of the underground laboratory, obviously dropped by some higher up servant of Dr Sloth that got personal belongings. Fiarrold bent down, picking it up, and clutched it to his chest. He had been in this laboratory for ten years now, and he had grown into the biggest mutant Grundo anyone had ever seen.
He wasn't the cleverest of Neopets, not by a long shot. But he was smart enough to hatch a plan in a fit of desperation and longing, put into action by his secret knowledge that he knew was stronger than any other mutant Grundo too.
It was when they were bringing in new neopets that Fiarrold did it. He knew Sloth was away lurking Faerieland, waiting to pounce on Queen Fyora and give her the biggest shock of her life. So he elbowed the guards out of the way with his brute strength, and ran. He had never run so fast. Ever. But he kept running, pushing past people, shaking off the guards trying to hold him down, then smashed down the large door. Without wasting a second, Fiarrold was on the first Eyrie he saw, and was shrieking at him to fly, quickly, before they could catch up. Just as they were soaring down to Neopia was when he saw them all run to where he had been, shaking their fists in anger. But some of them stared at this Grundo with the look of pure respect for doing something so brave. Because who knew when he would face the wrath of Sloth for escaping.
Right now, though, Fiarrold didn't care. He was free, and as they touched down on a land named Meridell, he breathed in the cool air and lay in the grass. For once, he could relax. Just this once.
Then he overheard someone walking around in an act of desperation, asking people if they were any good at making potions. Fiarrold sat up, intrigued. He was very good at making potions indeed. The Neopet asking was a Gelert with only one eye and a tired face. He seemed innocent enough, just affected by time, like him. The Grundo edged closer to the Gelert until he realised he was there, and waved awkwardly.
"What do you want?" the Gelert asked gruffly. He wasn't the politest of fellows but Fiarrold sympathised. He'd obviously gone through a hard time just like him.
"I happen to be very skilled at making potions." Fiarrold ignored the glare of disbelief he was given. "I escaped from Dr Sloth's lair and in return for helping you, I want to get revenge on him." Being a chef could wait; this was what he wanted now.
The Gelert grinned. "My name is Alistair," he told Fiarrold. "and I think what I am planning to make can help you there."
Fiarrold stared at the books again, and coughed. The plan was almost complete, and it had taken years.
* * *
Alistair stood just outside the room Rose was held in. He avoided eye contact and was definitely uncomfortable. He didn't have the whole suave villain thing going on; his face was a mixture of depression, anger... and something else Rose just couldn't place when he observed her. She'd lost her anger quickly after she saw him amble towards her guiltily. Because that was certainly what he was. Guilty.
"I don't understand," she murmured. "Why have you captured me? What have I ever done to you?"
He laughed at that, confident suddenly. "That's exactly the point. You omitted doing anything to help me, and look where that got me. Fired for not keeping up with you." He deflated quickly, losing his brashness. "I was jealous of you, Rosie. I was jealous of the closest person to me. My best friend. My best friend turned out to be the person who ruined my career. I was a great agent! But you just made me look rubbish." His tone grew quiet and more a sort of mumble. "When King Skarl fired me, it destroyed me. So I just ran, and I had to... had to do something drastic to – to get my revenge."
Rose chewed her lip, concerned. "Alistair." She sighed. "I had no idea. I wish you had told me this before any of it happened. Before all of this. So this is your revenge? Catching me? Imprisoning me in this dungeon? What next? And why did you wait all of these years before doing so?"
Alistair looked at Rose for a long moment, collecting his response in his mind. He licked his lips anxiously. "This was just a... a moment of madness. I saw you there. And then I wanted to just show you I could be great too. So I brought you here. You can have as much food and water as you want. And anything else, too." The one eyed Gelert took a deep breath. "Do you remember our thirteenth mission?"
This caused Rose to gasp. "Alistair – no..."
He was saddened as he glimpsed her astounded expression. "And I'm sorry, Rosie. I'm sorry."
The Grundo fended for himself by making recipes from the cookbooks he collected over the years and stealing ingredients while under Sloth's power. He made no friends, and cried every night for a way out.
* * *
Engtortia and Oliver hesitated outside of Rose's bedroom, standing cautiously in the doorway before Engtortia forcefully strode through the threshold. Then she stopped, and looked around. The walls were cream, the carpet brown; it was a very boring colour scheme. Oliver stepped in after her, nervously. They weren't supposed to be in here. Engtortia had never been in Rose's room before, nor had Rose been in hers. It was simply off limits, an act of privacy. But now Engtortia didn't have any other option; she had to search her room to find out where she might have gone.
Did she run away? Was she taken? Engtortia couldn't answer these questions any more than she could answer maths nightmare ones, but she had to try. She opened her wardrobe first, but just found endless amounts of clothes with shoes stacked at the bottom. There were also several sheets of poetry. Engtortia was surprised. She hadn't realised her sister was an avid writer of poetry. Then Oliver looked in her bedside table, and gasped. There was a box, small to medium sized, with the large print MEMORIES AND WORK on the top. He pulled it out so it was on the carpet, then beckoned Engtortia so she could have a look.
"Should I look?" she muttered, more to herself than Oliver, but he nodded in response. Silently, Engtortia lifted the lid of the box and peered inside.
It was organised; she'd give Rose that. On one side of the box were lots and lots of photos, on the other side were lots and lots of case notes. Then, in the middle, there was a photo of Engtortia's and Rose's parents, plus a case note underneath them. Engtortia took this out first, and put it to one side to read in a few minutes. Then she flicked through each photo, feeling herself grow sadder and sadder. Rose had the photos Engtortia had in her doctor's office of their parents. Then there was one of Rose herself, at her first day of work, then one of Engtortia as a baby, looking very cute and innocent. The last photo Engtortia came to was very surprising. It was a photo of Rose and a Gelert with only one eye, the other covered by a patch, laughing at something as the photo was being taken. They seemed the best of friends.
Engtortia frowned at the picture. Why did this Gelert seem so familiar? It was bothering her, so she put this photo to one side like the case notes and picture of her parents. Oliver was rifling through the case notes now, but shrugged. These all dated from years back, they couldn't be the reason for Rose's disappearance. He did notice that the earlier ones had 'Rose and Alistair' to be working on it, then the later ones just had 'Rose'.
"Alistair?" Engtortia repeated. She packed away the other photos, then shut the box and pushed it from her. She picked up the photo of a laughing Gelert and Rose. "Do you think that this is Alistair? I wonder what happened to him."
Oliver shrugged. "Let's go down to the dining room and lay what we've found on the table. I think it's time for your special thinking chocolate cake." He grinned.
Engtortia smiled despite the situation. Whenever something difficult came up in her life, she made her chocolate cake. Only herself, Rose and Oliver knew about it now. It had been her mother's recipe, passed down through each generation to the second child of each family, and kept a close guarded secret. It was the best chocolate cake anyone had ever had in their lives if they'd tasted it, but Engtortia kept it even more secret by only allowing her sister and best friend to have a slice. There was a special secret ingredient only Engtortia knew about – not even she would tell Oliver about that.
After making it, she lay it on a plate, then put it on the table along with the case notes and pictures. Oliver instantly grabbed a piece and gobbled it down. There was never anything better to eat than this as a far as he was concerned. He glanced at the picture of Rose and the Gelert that may or may not be Alistair and chewed thoughtfully.
"First, I'll read the case notes," Engtortia decided. "Why would Imogen have case notes on our parents anyway? Unless perhaps it was for something to do with their work? Maybe something got stolen from them."
Instead, she found herself reading a confusing document that she couldn't understand. There were sentences such as: "Subject A delivered the Case Item 4 to Subject B in addition with the event of the Plan X." Rose could write and understand this? Engtortia's head was reeling. She passed it to Oliver but he couldn't understand it either, and was more occupied with eating the cake.
"Come on," Engtortia said firmly. "The only person we know who understands this is King Skarl. We'll have to go see him again."
Oliver nodded. "Let's go," he mumbled, unclear through the mouthful of chocolate cake.
Engtortia grabbed the case notes, and the pictures, and put them in her satchel, then grabbed Oliver by the arm and was out of the house down the path before Oliver could even swallow what he'd been eating.
* * *
Alistair lurked in the shadows, waiting for them to inch nearer before making his appearance. He smirked. It was all too easy getting his revenge, but he wanted to add this little anecdote before fulfilling his overall plan. A stab of guilt hit him as he thought about Rose, but he shook it away; this was how he'd show her he could be clever and successful too, even if it was in the wrong sort of way. Engtortia had a little friend with her, but that didn't matter. He was used to dealing with Grundos. Now he would step out, they were close enough to see him. So he did, and when the light hit him he heard Engtortia gasp in surprise, and in recognition of who he was.
"You!" she cried. It was the rude Gelert she'd bumped into the night before. No, wait, it was the Gelert in the picture. No, wait... it was both! "You're Alistair!" She spoke her realisation out loud.
"How did you know that?" Alistair gaped at Engtortia. Then he shook his head and composed himself. "No matter. I have grave news that I need to tell you. Oh, I see." He sneaked a peek at what Engtortia was holding and saw the picture of Rose and himself. "You put two and two together. Well, you might not want to carry on finding... Rose once you've heard what I have got to say."
Engtortia frowned. "What do you mean?" she inquired, curious. "And how did you know Imogen was missing?" She was suspicious immediately. This Gelert had been extremely rude and now he wanted to talk to her? It didn't make sense.
"Engtortia, we need to go and see King Skarl to find out what these case notes mean," Oliver reminded his friend, wary of his Gelert. "Unless..." Here he made eye contact with Alistair. "You can explain to us what they mean. We found case notes on Engtortia's parents regarding something or other but the language is not one we can comprehend. Would you be willing to help us? It says that you worked on this case too. 'Rose and Alistair'. That's what it says. Though you aren't in any of the later ones regarding different things nearer the present."
Alistair chuckled. Again, too easy. "But that's what I was going to talk to you about. What a coincidence." He gestured at them to follow him and he lead them to a clearing with benches that the three of them sat on. "I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, Engtortia," he added, gravely. "But you had to find out the truth sooner or later. It's just unfortunate it had to be the latter, and it had to be me. Rosie – er, Rose, your sister, hid something terrible from you. A deep, dark secret that only I knew about, being her best friend at that time. But when she told me what she'd done, I had to run away from her, and that is the reason I am no longer in those case notes. I had to get away."
Oliver and Engtortia stared, speechless, at Alistair. Then Engtortia found her tongue. "How do we know you aren't lying?" she accused him. "I can't believe my sister would hide something so terrible from me."
"What would be the point in lying? And anyway, the pieces of the puzzle will all fit together to form the truth, you shall see." Alistair leaned back, resting his head on his hands with his elbows propped in the air. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, to show he was deep in thought, then opened them and began his sorry tale, with Oliver and Engtortia listening intently, spellbound.
To be continued...