Petpet Adventures: Mistress Maxie's Marvellous Circus - Part Five
"She must have been an illusion," Labez was saying to the others.
He had hurried over as soon as Mistress Maxie had disappeared, and taken the beads back from Eva, carefully inspecting them before stringing them on his back. Then all the petpets had streamed out of the tent – completely ignoring the objections of the pets behind them. Well, the pets that hadn't been too busy holding their eyes, anyway.
They finally reached their destination, and milled around uncertainly. Labez stepped forward and rapped Oscar's shell three times. With a grunt the giant Turtum woke from his sleep and stared blearily at them.
"What is going on?" he mumbled, lifting his massive head.
Labez quickly explained what he had seen the night before, and then the magic illusion that he had dispelled earlier.
"But the Grarrl stayed the same, so maybe I was mistaken about an imposter and it is Max. Either way, Mistress Maxie is missing, and no one has seen her at all this morning. We thought you could help us, being the oldest and all, and knowing her the best," he concluded finally.
Oscar's eyes had narrowed throughout the course of the story, and now he pulled himself to his feet, his immense shadow falling on the gathered petpets.
"It's not Maxine," Oscar said. He was the only petpet to call her by her full name and without the title the others gave her, as the two were great friends. "It can't be."
"What do you mean?" Karnu demanded, tail twitching.
"Maxine would never leave Max for any length of time. It's something to do with the lab ray that changed her into a Floobix. If a petpet zapped by the ray leaves their pet for too long, or strays too far, they revert back to their original form, and Maxine would never want to do that."
Eva was intrigued; maybe Oscar could settle the raging discussion that had been going on since the circus petpets had found out about the lab ray and Mistress Maxie. Then she realised the implications of what he was saying.
"So does that mean...?" she began.
"That faerie Grarrl in there is not Max," Oscar concluded grimly. "No matter how much he may look like Max, it can't be him, or Maxine would be nearby."
"I knew it! I just knew it!" Tarla declared from where she was perched on the rim of Oscar's shell. "Never, ever, trust anyone with a goatee!"
"Let's not give up yet," Oscar said, and the petpets fell silent. "I say we try and find Maxine, and if we can't, we'll decide what to do."
"We should warn the pets," one of the Hasees piped in.
Oscar sighed and shook his head. "Do any of you speak Pet?" he asked. There was a low muttering as everyone shook their heads. "I think the only petpet in this circus that can speak any Pet is Maxine, and she's nowhere to be found. I want everyone to search the camp for Maxine, and meet back here in half an hour."
"But we have to rehearse," one of the Faellies said, fluttering her wings nervously. "The show is two days away, and our pets will round us up soon."
Oscar gave her a narrow look. "I think Maxine is more important, but if you must rehearse then do so." The Turtum didn't have to rehearse himself, as his sheer presence was usually enough to awe the crowd.
The petpets split up, and Eva looked at the other Noils. Karnu and Az were arguing, and then they turned to Eva.
"We've decided we can practise without you two," Az said, indicating her and Harro. "We've been practising without you for most of the last two days anyway, because you're training Harro, so it should be fine."
Eva felt faintly hurt, but then realised they could probably manage without her. The Noils bounded off and she stared at Labez and Harro.
"Where should we go?" she asked.
"Mistress Maxie's caravan," Labez said at once. "After all, that's where the imposter will be living."
"Isn't it locked, though?" Eva asked him as the Magmut set off.
"Not for petpets," he replied, grinning.
Max's caravan wasn't actually as large as one might expect from his size. In fact, it was about the size of Eva's, and contained his personal items, as well storing the huge tent that could have fit five of him comfortably inside, which is what he actually slept in. The caravan was painted the same colour as his scales; a bright orange with spots of pink and yellow. And on the either side was a black top hat, as well as his name underneath in curly script.
They reached the steps and stopped. No one had ever thought to break into Mistress Maxie's private caravan before, but now that they were attempting it, they met their first obstacle. There was no petpet flap in the door.
Labez paced in frustration, beads bouncing on his back, every so often letting the door know how he felt with a glare. Eva also was nonplussed.
"I know Max locks the caravan, so how could Mistress Maxie possibly get in by herself?" she mused to no one in particular.
"Mistress Maxie can fly," Harro said, stating the obvious and solving the puzzle.
"Of course!" Labez said.
He scurried around the wagon, staring at the sides. Eva bounded ahead of him – it was quite easy, because his legs were so stumpy – and reached the front. Up above her was a green square of wood the same colour as Mistress Maxie's feathers, and splattered with pink and yellow like the rest of the wagon.
"I think I've found it," Eva said, pointing with one paw.
"Yes, and how are we going to get up there?" Labez asked.
Eva and Labez watched in astonishment as Harro did a run up, then leapt up onto the side of the caravan. His claws unsheathed and dug into the wood, and the Noil swiftly scaled up the vertical surface, peeling paint left in his wake. He reached the little ledge under the flap and hauled himself up, into the wagon. There was a loud crash.
"I am not going to try that," Labez said, proving this sentiment by backing up several steps and sitting down firmly.
"Suit yourself," Eva said, trying to sound confident. If Harro, who to her knowledge had no experience at crazy manoeuvres, could scale the wagon, then she could too. Hopefully.
Swallowing her trepidation, Eva leapt at the wagon. Her breath was immediately knocked out of her body, and she clung tightly, heart beating fast. She could already feel her claws unhooking from the wood, and quickly reached up to get a better grip. Soon she realised that if she went swiftly she would be fine, as long as she didn't rush with trying to get a grip.
She reached the flap and poked her head into the wagon. Harro was sitting on the floor amidst some glass and several books, shaking more glass out of his mane. The wagon was similar to Kaulisa's, with a built in desk at one end and cupboards on the side, and Eva carefully used the cupboards to climb down to the floor, carefully avoiding the broken glass.
"Well, now Max will know someone was in here. I mean Not-Max," she hastily amended. "He's an imposter, even though he looks and sounds the same."
Harro was done grooming and stepped delicately over the glass to join her. He pointed the door.
"I don't think anyone would be able to break in without him knowing," he said. "So he'll just assume it was an accident or someone knocked the wagon."
Eva looked closer and saw a faint web of green over the door, concentrated near the lock. She quickly glanced up at the petpet-flap, but to her relief there was no green near it at all.
"Well, he obviously doesn't expect anyone to try the petpet flap," Eva said. "I mean, no pet could fit through anyway, and they always underestimate us." Then she glared at him. "And what made you think of climbing the wagon? That was a crazy idea!"
Harro grinned. "I was a stray in Neopia Central," he said. "I've had a lot of practise climbing walls. Trust me, this was a piece of cake compared to climbing stone."
Eva could only stare at him.
"Anyway, what do we do now?" Harro asked.
"Um..." Eva thought hard. "I wish Labez was here with us: this was his idea in the first place." She nosed around the floor, and then glanced under the desk. "This looks interesting."
Under the table was a large wooden chest. There was a lock, but it was hanging off the chest, obviously broken. Eva skirted the glass and bounded up to it, trying to lift the lid.
"Harro, help me lift this, please," she grunted, and Harro joined her, straining against the heavy wood. It suddenly popped open, bouncing off the wall and almost shutting again, but instead crushing Eva's paw.
"Ow," she hissed, lifting the lid again, more carefully this time.
They both peered inside, tails twitching with curiosity. There were several books, and envelopes which appeared to contain letters. Slotted down the side was a wooden box, and Eva dragged it out, opening it.
"Oh," she said.
"What?" Harro peered over her shoulder, and they were both silent as they looked at piece of paper that was on top.
It was a picture of two Maxes.
Except for the goatee that one of the faerie Grarrls wore, the two were identical, and looked exactly like Max, minus a few wrinkles. Eva studied the two again and again, trying to find some flaw, some difference, between them. But aside from the tiny beard, they were exactly the same. The two Grarrls had their arms around each other and were grinning.
"They must be twins," Harro said. "I honestly can't see how else they would look so similar."
"Twins," Eva nodded. "So whoever that is pretending to be Max out there is his twin? That doesn't make any sense. Why would Max suddenly leave and give the circus to a twin no one knew about? I'm sure any other pet here is more qualified to take over than this Not-Max. And Max loves his circus, not to mention Mistress Maxie. I think she would die of unhappiness if she had to leave."
"Then maybe she was forced to leave?" Harro suggested.
"Let's show Labez," Eva said. "Who knows when Not-Max will be back, and we have to meet Oscar soon anyway."
They hurriedly stowed the box back into the chest. Eva tried to wedge it down the side again, but the envelopes had all shifted so that she had to settle with placing it on top of them and squishing the lid down onto it. She eyed the broken glass.
"There's nothing we can do about that. Hopefully Not-Max doesn't look too far into it."
She bounded onto the table and then climbed up the wall to poke her head through the flap again. Labez was still where she had left him, in a rapidly wilting patch of grass, but there were no pets around. In fact, she could still hear a commotion inside the grand tent. Pets were so slow with organisation and such. Then she looked straight down.
"How are we supposed to get back down?" she hissed at Harro, pulling her head back in.
"Climb?" he said, through a mouthful of paper
"Well, that's easier said than done," Eva muttered.
She eventually managed to latch her claws on the caravan again, and lowered herself down. When she was a metre above the ground she let go, and executed a perfect forward roll. Labez applauded, sparks flying from his paws, and they watched as Harro climbed down, the picture gripped in his teeth. There would be puncture marks, but it would have to do. And it was much better than giving it to Labez to hold. He landed with a slightly less graceful roll, but managed not to crumple the picture, which was impressive in itself.
They hurried back to Oscar, who was surrounded by a few dejected-looking petpets. Armac spotted them – for once he wasn't juggling something – and waved them over.
"We couldn't find her anywhere," he told them. "Mistress Maxie is gone. Are you sure your magic thing didn't make her physically disappear?" he asked Labez suspiciously.
The Magmut looked affronted. "Of course I'm sure!" he scoffed. "But Eva and Harro found something."
The petpets eyed the stowaway with interest, and he looked uncomfortable. But then Eva snatched the picture out of his mouth and waved it around.
"We found a picture of Max, and someone who we think is his twin. But the twin has a goatee," she said.
There was a burst of discussion as the petpets tried to make sense of all this, and then Oscar asked for the picture to be shown to him.
Eva complied, holding it in front of one of his huge eyes. The Turtum blinked slowly and cleared his throat.
"That photo was taken in Faerieland," he said. "I can just see the Faerie Palace in the corner, and the clouds are whiter than normal, so it must have been before Faerieland fell." He squinted his eye and inched his head forward. "I think you're right about the twin, and I can simply say Maxine would never let Max just give up and leave us, so I think that his twin has done something. I'm not sure what, but I think the answer lies in Faerieland."
The petpets fell silent, and then Tarla spoke up. "What are we going to do?" she asked.
Labez stepped forward. "Well, I'm going to look for her," he said stubbornly. "I'm not in the performance anyway, and most of the potions have already been mixed. Kaulisa can work without me. But you guys have to stay and make sure the performance goes smoothly, otherwise Mistress Maxie will have our heads when I do find her."
"Well said," Oscar said, smiling.
"I'll come," Harro said suddenly, stepping up beside the Magmut. The Noil's body was tense with the scrutiny of the other petpets. "It's not like I'll be any good for the performance anyway."
The other petpets nodded, realising that Labez was right; Mistress Maxie would still want the show to go on. And Max would as well. After the two petpets had left to prepare, Eva raced after them. She caught up to Labez by the food wagon, rummaging around for supplies.
"I'm coming too, you know," she said. "I can't let you have all the fun. Besides, Az and Karnu already decided they can do their routine without me, so it's not a huge problem."
Labez shook his head, a faint smile touching his lips. "I knew you were coming," he said, pointing to the three piles of food already beside him. "Now hold this."
To be continued...