Orlitz and the Geraptiku Scandal: Part One
The gleeful sound of laughter resonated through the park, disturbing the resting beekadoodles perched high on the swaying palm trees. The trees in turn cast a cool shadow onto the mossy grounds below, providing the perfect place to walk through on a hot day. Today was such a day.
A laughing Cloud Cybunny sporting a red sundress hurried through the small forest, her short pastel blue hair bobbing happily on her head. In one hand, she held a sheet of paper while the other clutched her tan-colored purse. Her long ears flopped behind her, and a section of her hair curled tastefully into itself on her forehead, giving the illusion that a pastry roll had been placed there. Her pelt was pure white, and a mane resembling a cloud hid her neck from view. If it weren't for the dark blue streaks in her hair and her hazelnut eyes, the Cybunny could have been mistaken for a snowman.
"What a day," she thought contently as a pair of giggling youngsters hurried past her. Orlitz had finally achieved her dream job—being a field reporter for the Neopian Times, and was flustered by the fact that she could now tackle her very first reporting assignment for the major newspaper.
Orlitz had worked for a smaller newspaper in Brightvale when she still resided in the quaint countryside. She had been a skillful newshound journalist, and had exposed many hidden stories to the public. Some had admired her snooping, but others despised her for revealing their secrets. Now that she was relentlessly toiling for the biggest newspaper in Neopia, she would finally be given the chance to put her skills to the test.
The Cybunny exited the woods and walked briskly towards the neighboring beach.
One of the greatest things about living on Mystery Island was the sparkling water surrounding the island. The Cybunny had decided one particularly warm morning while she relaxed by the shoreline, that that much was true. The water sparkled like gold underneath the setting sun and the clear waters lapped gently atop the white sand. Neopets; both tourists and locals, were appreciating its beauty. Some islanders were surfing and fishing, while the visitors preferred to float in the warm waters or play on the beach. All around, Neopians had gathered to enjoy the beauty of Mystery Island together.
As she approached the beach, little huts placed alongside the shore's boardwalk rose from the dunes. The Cybunny quickened her pace as she walked towards the biggest, and seemingly most populated, of the shacks.
A stripped surfboard had been pinned above its door, the words "Poppi's Grill" painted on it in a bold green color. The smell of smoked fish and grilled burgers wafted through the broad doors, beckoning the Cybunny, along with many others, inside.
The shack was bustling with hungry guests awaiting an early dinner. The sounds of clanging silverware, shifting chairs, and dozens of talkative customers filled the quaint room. Its walls were decorated with photographs of surfers, pictures of Mystery Island, and awards. Cheerful young waiters and waitresses rushed from table to table, serving food and taking orders. Orlitz understood why this restaurant was so popular: Not only was its menu delicious and well thought out, the hospitality offered was welcoming and unlike any other. Most tables were entirely occupied, but Orlitz managed to squeeze herself atop a stool by the tiki counter. The restaurant was very warm even though the room was equipped with several ceiling fans, and Orlitz began to fan her face furiously with her paper.
"How can I help you, 'Or'?" A smiling Island Ixi with long dark brown hair tied back in a ponytail approached her from behind the counter. A pair of dimples adorned her cheeks, and her forehead was decorated with several white tattoos. She wore a white T-shirt, the words "Poppi's Grill" printed onto it and struggled with an enormous tray on which half a dozen plates of burgers had been piled.
"Hey, Iskeen!" the Cybunny greeted her friend energetically, grinning broadly, "I think I'll have a Twirly Fruit Juice tonight."
"Coming right up!" Iskeen set her tray down on the counter and rummaged around for a glass and the juice.
"You seem quite happy today, what's up?" she asked the Cybunny while she poured the swirling green concoction into a cocktail glass.
"Nothing much... except I got my first reporting assignment!" she laughed, waving the sheet of paper before her housemate's face.
"That's great!" her friend replied just as enthusiastically, placing the drink down on the counter with a quiet clink. The Ixi then took the heavy tray and balanced it in one hand while the other rested on her hip.
"What is it?"
"I have to write an article about Mystery Island by next Thursday," the Cybunny replied, gesturing at her paper, "but it must be about something lesser-known."
"I'm sure you'll find something; the island is filled with hundreds of hidden secrets." During her conversation with her friend, the tray in the Ixi's hand had been neglected. Iskeen let out a shriek as she noticed the tray sliding from her palm. "I have to go, see you tomorrow!" she hollered over her shoulder as she rushed off.
Orlitz smiled after the Ixi. Iskeen, despite her accidental clumsiness, was a great friend, housemate, and listener. The Cybunny drank the Twirly Fruit Juice, savoring its spiciness. She placed a bag of neopoints on the counter and said a brief goodbye to Iskeen before setting off for home. Orlitz promised herself that she would tackle her assignment the next day.
* * * * *
The following morning, Orlitz woke up to the smell of brewed coffee lingering in the house. Putting on a pair of trousers and a shirt, the Cybunny washed up and tidied her pastel-themed bedroom before heading towards the kitchen while struggling to comb through her tangled hair with her fingers.
"Good morning," she greeted Iskeen, who had woken up early and was juggling two mugs of hot coffee in her hands. Iskeen worked late shifts at "Poppi's Grill", so it was no surprise to Orlitz when she saw her best friend in a tired hazy state in the morning. The Ixi's hair was a tangled mess, her pyjamas were crinkled, and two dark circles arched underneath her brown eyes.
"Hi," the Ixi replied sleepily, handing her friend a mug. "The Neopian Times came this morning," she stated, pointing towards the rolled up grey paper that lay on the breakfast table.
Orlitz lunged towards the newspaper and flipped through it as she sat down, her hazelnut eyes scanning over the headlines. Her flickering gaze halted as one particular title caught her attention.
"'Petpet Wildlife Decline in Geraptiku'," she read out loud, "how interesting."
"It probably has something to do with the temperature," stated Iskeen matter-of-factly over the Cybunny's shoulder. The Ixi had already finished her cup of coffee, and was attempting to pour herself another. Unfortunately, half of the dark beverage was poured onto the floor, and with a groan, Iskeen reached for a kitchen towel and slapped it over the puddle, using her foot to drag the rag around the spill.
"It's worth taking a look at Geraptiku," she replied excitedly, not having noticed Iskeen's clumsy mistake. The Cloud Cybunny leapt to her feet and grabbed her trench coat and purse on the coat rack by the entrance.
"I'll look into this, there might be more than meets the eyes."
* * * * * *
Having prepared a lunch and packed her purse, Orlitz set off through the busy West Island streets of Mystery Island.
"I hope I can catch the next UNI Transport cart," Orlitz thought to herself as she ran through the mingling crowds. Several market stands had been placed alongside the roads, and many Neopians had taken them as an opportunity to do some early morning grocery shopping. Orlitz nearly fell over an Elderly Ogrin, and was was forced to apologize multiple times before continuing her run towards the UNI station.
Despite all of the urgency, the morning truly was beautiful, and Orlitz could not help but appreciate the fresh air and chirping pirakets flying above her.
A cart was already placidly awaiting passengers as the Cybunny neared the station.
"Perfect," she sighed in relief, "I can make it."
The stout Red Yurble standing on a small wooden stool beside the cart greeted the incoming Cybunny with a dismissive wave of his hand. The shiny name tag on his flower-print shirt said "Aldar."
"The boarding fee is twenty-five neopoints," he mumbled, looking up at her expectantly.
"Right," Orlitz fumbled, digging through her purse for some spare neopoints.
"Will this do?" she asked, dropping a handful of the golden coins into the Yurble's outstretched hand. Orlitz had a tendency to overpay, and did not realize that she had given the Red Yurble five neopoints too many.
"Yes," Aldar replied, pocketing the money. He allowed her to board the Uni-drawn cart, and Orlitz squeezed herself between two other passengers. The UNI cart began moving and the pulling Unis set off at a lazy pace. Orlitz leaned back on the wooden bench, impatiently awaiting the cart to reach Geraptiku.
* * * * *
It was nearly noon when the Uni-drawn cart came to a halt at the entrance of Geraptiku. Orlitz eagerly hopped off the vehicle and strode towards the city's visitor center, following the tourists that she had arrived with.
Geraptiku was the desolate, dark, and dank ruins of a once prominent city. After it's discovery, the city had become a popular tourist destination, despite its utter creepiness. A wooden arch had been placed at the city's entrance, and the words "Geraptiku" were etched into the slab of rock attached to the old wood. Multiple skulls decorated the arch, although Orlitz assumed that they had been placed there to give the attraction a more "haunted" flair. Some of the tourists were, however, fooled by the faux decor, and had pulled out their cameras to snap several pictures of the sign.
The Geraptiku Visitor Center was a shabby little grass hut decorated with various posters and maps. The Cloud Cybunny entered the run down building and was greeted by a dimly lit, cluttered room. Its walls were aligned with dusty shelves, on which various outrageously priced knick-knacks had been arranged. At the end of the room stood a bamboo desk and a Checkered Bori, whom Orlitz assumed was in charge of the visitor center.
"Excuse me," she asked him, striding towards the desk, "would you happen to have any maps of the city... Emuk?" Orlitz stammered, scrutinizing his nametag.
"Please, call me 'E'." The Bori grinned. "As a matter of fact, I do." He pondered, then dove behind the desk. Orlitz waited impatiently while Emuk rummaged noisily through the drawers. She desperately wanted to explore the premises of the lost city, and worried that she would not be able to before the sun set.
The Bori popped back out from behind the desk and handed her a crumpled pamphlet.
"There you go, miss," he stated cheerfully as Orlitz took the map from him.
"Thanks... uh... 'E'," the Cybunny replied before spinning on her heels and walking towards the door.
"Come back later for souvenirs!" Emuk called after her, "and stay out of the jungle!" Orlitz whirled around and stared at the Bori curiously, who seemed to have regretted saying that.
"Why?" she murmured inquisitively, her hazelnut eyes boring into his green ones. "What is in the jungle?"
"Oh, nothing!" Emuk stammered, avoiding the Cybunny's intense stare. "Just the, uh, wildlife is very hostile and protected in these parts. Just stay out of it, okay?"
"Right," Orlitz replied, her mind buzzing with possible reason as to why the jungle was off limits.
"Well, see you later then." Orlitz turned around once more and exited the little shack.
Once she was in the gloom outside, the Cybunny looked at the dark surrounding jungle with a burning interest. She ached to know what was hidden within, but realized that she would have to somehow sneak inside when Emuk had his back turned.
"No," she confirmed, nodding, "I'll come back at night when I am better prepared." The Cybunny had a sneaking suspicion that the Bori knew more than he was letting on.
"In the meantime, I had better take a look around the city," she decided.
Orlitz studied the map and chose the Geraptiku Petpets Shop as a good place to start her search. The Cybunny hiked towards it, deep in thought. What had 'E' meant by not wanting her in the jungle? What secrets lay within? The desolated city was very quiet, the only sounds coming from Orlitz's boots as they sunk into the muddy ground and the end of her trench coat flapping in the breeze. Where had all the sound of wildlife gone? The Cybunny pondered this odd silence, not paying attention as to where she was going.
"Oof!" Orlitz huffed. She stumbled backwards and fell onto the damp ground, covered in mud. Across from her sat a small White Mynci in the exact same predicament. The Mynci's bag lay askew, its contents scattered everywhere in the damp soil. Orlitz realized in dismay that her own purse fared no better, and her camera, magnifying glass, notepad, money, lunch, and other possessions had sunk into the mud.
"I am so sorry!" the Mynci exclaimed, attempting to stand up, "I wasn't looking where I was going..." She managed to maintain a standing position, but lost her footing and slipped, landing once more onto the wet dirt.
Orlitz suppressed a giggle. Their situation was rather comical, after all. "No, no, it's my fault," she insisted, collecting her things, "I was in the clouds..."
The pair looked at each other, realizing how ridiculous they appeared. The Mynci's white pelt was splattered with mud, and her long blonde hair was a tangled mess. Her trousers and top were in the same muddy dilemma as her fur. Orlitz thought that she probably looked just as chaotic.
When the two caught each others surprised gaze, they broke out in laughter. "What a strange way to meet someone!" Orlitz managed to point out while gasping for air.
"Indeed!" The other chortled.
"Let me help you," offered Orlitz after regaining her composure, "I think most of our things sank in the mud." She giggled, using her already brown fingers to dig through the squishy substance.
The Cybunny pulled out a card from the ground. She wiped off the grime from its cover and studied it.
The words "Petpet Protection League" were inscribed onto it. Underneath the title was a picture of the White Mynci, her name, age, and other information.
"I believe this belongs to you, Vin," she said, handing the Mynci the identification card.
Vin pocketed the card. "Yes, it does, thank you, miss."
"Orlitz," the Cybunny corrected her, nodding, "I'm a reporter. So, what is the PPL doing here?"
"I was sent over to scout the surroundings," she explained, continuing the task of collecting her things. "There's been an unnatural decline in the petpet wildlife at Geraptiku."
"I heard about that. So, what do you make of it?"
"I'm not quite sure what to make of it at this point," Vin sighed, scratching her head, "All I've concluded for now is that the decline is certainly not caused by natural factors. More than likely, I think something is deliberately making the petpets disappear!"
To be continued...