Orlitz and the Geraptiku Scandal: Part Two
Orlitz was excited by the new turn of events. If Vin's assumption was correct, and something was purposely removing the petpets from Geraptiku, then this changed everything. The disappearances were no longer the fault of the intricate and complicated Mother Nature. No, now they were part of a plot and motive that Orlitz had every intention of figuring out and stopping.
"Something is deliberately making the petpets disappear?" Orlitz repeated excitedly, scrambling to find her notepad and a pen in the mud.
"Could be," the Mynci said thoughtfully, "Or it could just be an increase in tourism. Either way, the PPL is worried. The petpets of Geraptiku play a key role in keeping the environment in balance, and without them, the entire ecosystem might collapse in on itself."
"And that's bad, right?" Orlitz asked carefully, scribbling down information in her notepad.
"If the system is out of balance, it could cause other life forms relying on the petpets to die out."
"So, what are you planning on doing now?"
"I... I don't know. The best thing to do now is continue to look for evidence and keep a close eye on the petpet population to see if any more dramatic changes occur."
The girls assembled all of their positions and stood up, brushing off the lumps of mud sticking to their clothes.
"Might I ask why you are here?" the Mynci inquired, scrutinizing her appearance.
"I'm also doing some research on the decline in the petpet population. It's for an article I'm writing," she replied casually, brushing off the question.
Orlitz itched to go and explore the premises, so she shook hands with Vin, said a brief goodbye, and continued her walk towards the Geraptiku Petpet Shop.
The hike to the rundown house was uneventful. Orlitz did not see anyone along the way, and the city remained as still and gloomy as ever. The petpet shop was a tall tower-like building with a grass roof. Unlike the other huts around it, its walls were made of stone, not straw, and crooked vines crept up its sides. Behind the desolate building stood a small gazebo-like structure and a large, square pit over which a wooden grid had been placed.
Orlitz had trouble maneuvering her way towards the store because its grounds were overgrown with tall and prickly vegetation. She was forced to crouch to avoid being scratched by the protruding branches of the plants. Despite her efforts, the Cybunny's trench coat got caught in the plants' thorns, and she had to free it to avoid tearing the fabric.
Eventually, after Orlitz had fought her way through the overgrown plant life, she stumbled into the dark store, exhausted. Taking the time to catch her breath, the reporter took in her surroundings. She was not in the least bit surprised to find that no shop owner was present. Instead, a money-filled jar had been placed beside an old parchment sign, onto which the words "Please leave money in jar." and been messily scratched on. The circular stone room was almost entirely bare except for the small wooden crates piled against the walls.
Orlitz approached one to investigate its contents. The crate suddenly roared, causing the Cloud Cybunny to stumble back and let out a cry. Forcing herself to remain calm, she pulled a torch from her purse and cautiously shown it at the wooden cage. Inside it sat a taigar baring its teeth and growling dangerously.
"Oh my Fyora..." the Cybunny gasped, running her light across the other cages. Dozens upon dozens of other Geraptiku-native petpets were sitting or sleeping in the small wooden cages. Price tags had been slapped on each cage, naming the amount of neopoints each petpet was worth. Yet, despite the dreary environment and enclosed space, the petpets seemed rather content.
"But who feeds you?" she asked them "who runs this shop?"
Orlitz made a thorough search of the lonely store, the petpets keeping her company. They observed her curiously as she moved from one side of the room to the other, looking under cages, in between the cracks of stone in the wall, and on the ground.
Nothing. Zip. Zero. There was not a single fragment of evidence in the shop that connected to the wild petpet disappearances. The petpets in the shop had purposely been placed there, but all seemed tame and trained. None of them had come directly from the jungle. Defeated, Orlitz left the store and fought her way through the foliage once more. How would she possibly solve this mystery if she had not a single lead to work from?
The Cybunny sat down on a boulder and ate the sandwich that she had packed this morning. Where would she go next? Orlitz studied her map and decided that she could visit the gazebo-like structure behind the Geraptiku Petpet Shop. Having finished her late lunch, the reporter packed up her things and headed towards the abandoned shack behind the store.
The shack was not really a shack. Its dried grass roof was supported by four creaky pieces of wood which had been stabilized with four horizontally placed branches. The pieces of wood were tightly attached together with rope, yet Orlitz doubted its sturdiness. Beside the hut-like structure was a square-shaped pit. Each side was roughly eight feet long, and a gridded wooden frame had been placed on top of it. Even though the frame had been placed above the hole to keep anyone from falling, the spaces in the wooded grid were so wide that even a Grarrl could slip through.
Orlitz walked alongside the hole, carefully avoiding any bits of crumbling soil. She squinted her eyes, trying to see what was hidden in the deep space, but the trench was pitch black. The Cybunny pulled out a small torch from her purse (which she was glad to have brought along) and shined its light into the pit. The faint light of the torch weakly illuminated the pit's walls. She explored the trench with her light. The dim glow weakly lit up the bottom of the ditch. Orlitz could barely make out the silhouettes of several crates stacked on the floor.
"How am I supposed to get down there?" she asked herself in exasperation, scrutinizing the bottom of the pit. She noted that jumping down the hold was not a possibility, as she would surely injure herself from such heights. The Cybunny decided that she would need a rope, an item that she had not thought to bring with her.
"Something else I'll have to come back for," she sighed, unwilling to spend even more time in the creepy city.
Orlitz stood up, pocketed her torch, and turned her attention to the leaning structure standing behind her. The hut was much smaller than the hole, being about a third of its size. Its floor was made of cracked dry soil, accented with several large pebbles and stones.
"This might have been a stable, or a gazebo of some kind," the reporter thought as she studied the structure.
"Hello, what's this?" A crumpled piece of paper stuck underneath a dusty stone had caught the Cybunny's attention. Orlitz kneeled down and pushed the boulder aside, revealing a folded up scrap of notebook paper. She unfolded to page and deciphered what it said.
Beside the jumble of letters, three circles connected together with three lines had been sketched. Together, they formed a triangle.
"What?" Orlitz muttered, stumped by the strange, seemingly random jargon. The Cybunny placed the fragment of paper in her purse and decided that she would go home and attempt to make sense of the scrambled letters.
* * * * *
The reporter made her way back to the visitor center, walking on the outskirts of the jungle, deep in thought. What was at the bottom of the pit? What kind of code was the message written in? What was the meaning of the triangular symbol?
A sudden "snap!" caused the Cybunny to jump and nearly slip in the mud again. She stood perfectly still, perking her long ears and holding her breath. Her hazelnut eyes scanned over the dark jungle. Another "snap!" resonated through the trees, and footsteps could be heard squishing in the mud. Orlitz saw the leaves of a tall fern rustle, and then another.
"Stop!" she demanded, her voice quivering, "show yourself!" The footsteps and rustling ceased. Orlitz waited rigidly, scrutinizing the jungle's dense vegetation for the slightest movement. There was not a sound. The jungle was as still as it had been before. The Cybunny itched to go into the humid forest and follow whoever had caused to disturbance. She looked around to make sure that no one was looking, and pulled out the torch from her purse. Orlitz cautiously stepped into the dense undergrowth.
The vegetation was thickly clustered together, and Orlitz had to push it apart to move forward. She forced her way through the leaves. The Cybunny sensed she was coming nearer to the source of the noise. Another step and..
Orlitz jumped in front of a startled antwerph. The creature had been pulling apart of fallen branch in search of petpetpets, but scampered away at her sudden approach.
Orlitz let out a disappointed sigh and scrutinized her surroundings. The jungle was dark and misty. Without the proper equipment, it would be almost impossible to walk through it without getting hopelessly lost.
"Another thing I'll have to come back for," Orlitz muttered as she strode back towards the jungle's entrance.
The moment she tumbled out of the undergrowth, Orlitz nearly bumped into a very tall and very angry-looking Checkered Bori. Emuk, the worker at the Geraptiku Visitor Center, glowered down at the Cloud Cybunny. His arms were crossed, and he stood so tall that Orlitz was forced to tilt her head back to look at him.
"I told you to stay out of the jungle," the Bori growled dangerously, glaring at her, "You need to leave, now."
Although she was intimidated by the towering figure, Orlitz forced herself to stand her ground.
"Hello, 'E'," the Cybunny replied as calmly as she could, "I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind."
Was it her imagination, or had Emuk's green eyes just flickered a look of fear? Orlitz had no time to answer that question, for by the next moment, they had returned to glaring down at her.
"I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind," she repeated coldly, glaring right back.
"Get lost, miss, you are no longer welcome here," he growled before running off in the opposite direction. Orlitz was inclined to follow him, but gravitated to believing that Emuk would probably not let her stay in the city a moment longer.
"I'll get ahold of you, one way or another," the Cybunny promised. She hiked out of the city and hopped onto the leaving UNI Transport Cart heading for home.
* * * * *
A warm breeze picked up when the UNI Transport halted at the Western Island station. Orlitz jumped off the wooden cart and made her way towards the nearby beach. She was eager to find Iskeen and share what she had learned at Geraptiku, as well as the puzzling fragment of crumpled paper that she had found near the petpet store.
Because it was a warm Friday evening, Poppi's Grill was even busier than usual, and the Cloud Cybunny had to force herself through the crowd in the hopes of finding her waitress friend. However, as hard as she might try, Orlitz was unable to push herself past the line of awaiting hungry customers, who shoved her back roughly as they protested to her rude impatience.
"Get in line like the rest of us, lady!"
Irritated, Orlitz slunk back to the end of the line. She wanted to show Iskeen her findings now, and not be forced to wait for a group of pesky tourists to be satisfied with their meal. The line leading into Poppi's Grill was moving at an impossibly slow speed, and Orlitz angrily realized that she might have to wait hours before seeing Iskeen. Stamping her foot in annoyance, a sudden idea surfaced in the Cybunny's mind.
"Excuse me," she yelled impatiently, pushing her way through the line, despite the angry protests of the waiting customers, "coming through, this is an emergency!" Stunned, the customers stepped aside to let the muddy Cybunny through. Orlitz grinned maliciously; her plan was working perfectly!
"This is an emergency. I must speak to Iskeen!" she yelled upon making her way into the busy restaurant.
"Of course 'mam," a Gelert waiter replied worriedly, eyeing her dusty brown clothes and hands. He led her to the restaurant's kitchen, instructing her to "sit tight" and wait for Iskeen to join her.
Orlitz took a seat on a sealed crate set in the corner of the steamy kitchen. The sound of sizzling food, roaring flames, and clattering plates kept the Cybunny alert as she waited for her friend. The cooks were so busy filling the rush of orders that they ignored her completely, so she sat back comfortably and busied herself by twiddling her thumbs.
An Island Ixi approached her, followed closely by the Gelert waiter. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a high ponytail, and she wore her usual "Poppi's Grill" T-shirt and a pair of khaki trousers.
"What's wrong?" Iskeen asked worriedly, upon stopping in front of Orlitz. "Did something bad happen at Geraptiku?"
"A lot of things happened at Geraptiku," Orlitz replied excitedly, "Wait until you hear what I found out!"
"Orlitz, what's the emergency?" Iskeen demanded, frowning.
"There wasn't exactly an emergency, I was just trying to get ahold of you—"
"'Or', you can't just pull me out of a dinner rush like that! You have to be more patient!—"
"But this is important—"
"It might be to you, but it isn't a priority to me. You can tell me when I end my shift," Iskeen whirled around and exited the kitchen, tailed by the Gelert, "Now if you'll excuse us, we have customers to feed."
"But Iskeen!" Orlitz yelled after her friend, furious. The events of Geraptiku were most certainly of high priority, even to Iskeen. And yet, her friend had bailed on her, deciding that waiting tables was more important. The Cybunny stormed out of the restaurant, ignoring the gasps of the people she shoved past, and walked home, fuming.
The sky had grown significantly darker, and a pair of twinkling stars appeared. The evening was still and beautiful, yet Orlitz was too busy feeling embarrassed at her own behavior to take much notice of her surroundings.
"Maybe I was too impatient back at the restaurant," the Cybunny muttered on her way to the bungalow which she shared with Iskeen. "I suppose what I had to say could have waited."
* * * * *
The sound of keys rattling in the at the door disturbed the silence in the peaceful house. In the darkness, a pair of floating, glowing eyes seemed to appear out of thin air, and flew towards the bungalow's front door.
The door swung open, casting a stream of pale moonlight into the empty house. Orlitz stepped in, taking care to close the bamboo door behind her, which threw the house back into absolute darkness. She scrambled to find a light switch, but froze when a low growl broke the silence. The Cybunny's finger felt the switch on the wall and flipped it, lighting up with house's entrance hall.
At her feet stood a small orange gruslen, growling up at her. After a moment, the petpet recognised its owner and happily mewled, pawing at her feet.
"Hello to you too, mister Sparta," Orlitz greeted her little friend while scratching his striped head. The gruslen followed Orlitz through the small house as she flipped lamps on. She prepared some Spicy Tomato Soup in the house's small kitchen, and settled down in a cushioned armchair. Sparta followed suit and jumped onto her lap, settling down contently.
Orlitz pulled out the fragment of paper that she had found at Geraptiku, a notepad, and a pen from her purse and mused over it while petting the purring petpet. She contemplated the scrambled letters and the odd, triangular symbol, testing out different ways they might have been coded.
"This makes no sense!" Orlitz muttered, baffled at the writing. After an hour of trying to crack the flummox of letter, the Cybunny had made no advancements at figuring out what it said.
The jingling of keys interrupted Orlitz's thoughts. She heard the door swing open, a pair of hooves clopping on the wooden floor boards, and the door closing once more.
"Orlitz?" Iskeen called out, stepping into the living room where the Cybunny had perched herself on an arm chair.
"You're still up?"
Orlitz glanced at the clock hanging on the wall, and realized that it was nearly midnight. She had lost track of time in her attempts of unscrambling the message.
"I'm sorry for earlier," Orlitz muttered in embarrassment, recalling her past actions, "It wasn't fair of me to pull you out of work like that."
"It's fine," Iskeen replied, "everyone gets carried away at times." The Ixi walked over to where Orlitz sat.
"What's that?" she asked, curiously eyeing the fragment of paper in the Cybunny's hand.
"That's what I wanted to show you," said Orlitz, handing her friend the paper, "I found it in a little shack behind the petpet shop at Geraptiku. It's written in code, but I haven't been able to crack it yet."
"What have you tried?" asked Iskeen, scrutinizing the paper.
"Well, I've tried unscrambling the letters and reading them in another order several times but nothing's worked so far."
Iskeen studied the encoded message for a bit.
"Maybe try looking at it a different way?" she suggested, handing back the paper to her friend.
"Maybe," Orlitz pondered, pocketing the fragment of paper.
"I think I'll take a break for now, though." The Cybunny stood up, allowing Sparta to jump off of her lap. Stretching, she stepped into the small kitchen and placed her empty soup bowl into the sink.
"Did you find anything else at Geraptiku?" Iskeen asked, having followed her into the kitchen.
"I did," said Orlitz, picking up Sparta, who had been mewling on the kitchen's linoleum floor. She told Iskeen about Vin, the PPL agent, and what the White Mynci had told her about the deliberate petpet disappearances. She complained about Emuk, the aggressive Geraptiku Center employ, and the pit behind the petpet shop in which mysterious crates had been placed.
"Right before I left, I heard some footsteps coming from the jungle. I tried to go in and find out who it was, but then Emuk came out of nowhere and kicked me off the premises."
"Strange," muttered Iskeen, "I wonder why this jungle is off limits..."
"So do I," replied Orlitz, scratching Sparta's head. "That's why I was hoping to come back tomorrow night. That way, we won't get caught by Emuk."
"We?" Iskeen glanced worriedly at her friend. "You're pulling me into this?"
"Of course! I'm not going alone in the jungle at night."
"But I have to work my shift at Poppi's..." stuttered Iskeen, trying to form an excuse.
"Don't be silly, you don't work during the weekend. Besides, I'll need all the help I can get."
"Yeah, but couldn't you find someone else?"
"I doubt I could find anyone more willing than you. Please Iskeen, I need this for my article!" Orlitz pleaded, looking at her housemate with sad puppy dog eyes.
"Fine," finally sighed the Ixi, defeated, "but you owe me!"
"I'll buy you ice cream, okay?"
"Buy me a Kiwi Sorbet, and you've got yourself a deal."
"Fine. Deal." Orlitz grinned.
The two shook hands, and turned in to their separate rooms. They would plan their nighttime jungle trek the following day.
To be continued...