Orlitz and the Geraptiku Scandal: Part Five
The weather on Mystery Island tended to change unexpectedly. After several days of warm weather and clear skies, a sudden blanket of dense clouds covered the sun. Most locals recognized the signs of an oncoming tropical rainstorm, and remained indoors in preparation for the hurricane. Winds had picked up throughout the island and blew violently through the palm trees, that bent and swayed rhythmically. The air outside was incredibly humid and the ocean swirled aggressively around the island. Rain was expected to begin falling later in the day. Most tourists had left on an early ferry back to the mainland, marking an end to the weekend, and many more were anxious to beat to the oncoming storm.
Orlitz was up bright and early in the kitchen to feed Sparta. Her gruslen munched happily from the dish of petpet food she had prepared as she made herself a bowl of Cinnamon Toasties. The Cybunny gazed worriedly out the kitchen window at the clouds brewing in the sky. As planned the previous day, she and the PPL agent, Almos, would stake out tonight in Geraptiku in the hopes of solving the enigma plaguing the jungle. Orlitz was sure that she would understand why the petpet wildlife was vanishing after the stakeout, but she feared the tropical storm would disrupt her plans.
Orlitz brushed her worries aside and finished her cereal. Almos had agreed to pick her and Iskeen up in the early evening to head out to Geraptiku, so the Cloud Cybunny had some time on her hands. She busied herself with packing provisions for the stakeout and tidying up the bungalow. Her roommate had not come out to the kitchen for breakfast, leading Orlitz to assume that Iskeen was surfing at the beach to enjoy some tall waves before it rained. When she had finished sweeping the house's plywood floors, the Cloud Cybunny decided to begin writing her article. With all the commotion happening in Geraptiku during the past few days, the reporter had entirely forgotten that she was, in fact, a reporter, and had a deadline as well as a story to write.
Finally given the chance to concentrate, Orlitz became absorbed in her story. The Cybunny paid particularly close attention to the details on the petpets of Geraptiku, so as not to leave out any important facts. If she played her cards right, and kept her article exciting and informative, she might land her story on the front page headlines of the Neopian Times. However, because the mystery had not yet been solved, Orlitz could not finish her story. She sat at her desk and stretched in her chair, noticing for the first time the sound of large raindrops rattling against the window. Orlitz let out a sigh; the rain would make a stakeout in the jungle awfully muddy, and the Cybunny was not looking forward to sitting on a muddy ground. Leaving her typewriter, the Cybunny walked through the quiet house and stepped outside onto the front porch, wondering why Iskeen had not yet returned.
It was early afternoon, yet Orlitz was anxious to leave for Geraptiku. Set on finding her roommate, Orlitz threw her trench coat over her shoulders, grabbed an umbrella from her closet, and stepped out into the raucous rain. Her umbrella nearly flew out of her hands as the Cybunny struggled to open it. The wind had picked up immensely since this morning, and palm leaves swung through the air, detached from their trees. Sparta followed Orlitz and the pair sprinted towards the beach. Despite the umbrella and her upturned coat collar to protect her from the wind and rain, Orlitz was already dishevelled and soaking after the short run to the beach.
The Cybunny gazed around, but the beach was empty, aside from a few abandoned beach chairs. The ocean was dark and swirled angrily, its waves inconsistent and high because of the strong winds. Orlitz was not surprised to find no surfers braving the unsettled waters. Determined to find her roommate, the Cybunny trudged on, Sparta following closely behind her. The beach was completely empty as far as she could see. Eventually, the two made their way onto the boardwalk. The boardwalk was only slightly populated, but mostly by local islanders who darted into nearby restaurants and diners to escape the raging storm. On a hunch, Orlitz made her way to the biggest shack at the end of the boardwalk. The surfboard marked "Poppi's Grill" pinned over its door swayed dramatically in the wind. There was no line outside the restaurant today; though still a popular destination, the restaurant was only slightly busy.
The Cybunny attempted to wring out her light blue hair and fix her appearance before entering the grill. The last time she visited the restaurant, Orlitz had made quite a scene, covered in mud and angrily shoving past hungry patrons. This time, she entered calmly, holding her head up with dignity.
"Excuse me," she waved at the hostess, an Island Bruce. "Is Iskeen here?"
The Bruce said yes and pointed at the circular tiki bar in the center of the room. Iskeen was working behind it, serving smoothies to the few patrons seated there. Orlitz could have smacked herself upside the head. How could she have forgotten that Iskeen worked during the weekdays?
Spotting Orlitz, the Island Ixi waved at her friend, nearly knocking over a bowl of islandberries placed dangerously close to the edge of the counter.
"What are you doing here?" Orlitz asked dumbly, taking a seat at the bar.
"Snagging a free smoothie." Her friend grinned, handing the Cybunny a towel. "How long were you dancing in the rain?"
"Would you believe me if I said fifteen minutes?" she smirked, dabbing the drops of rain clinging to her face.
"It's that bad outside, huh?" Iskeen reclaimed the towel and glanced out a window on the opposite side of the room.
"Fyora, we haven't had this bad a storm in a while."
"Listen Iskeen, you're still coming to the stakeout tonight, right?" Orlitz whispered. "You said you would."
Iskeen's smile vanished.
"I never agreed to anything. And I have work."
"Maybe not, but you're kind of in on this whole plan, so I was counting on you coming with me and Almos to Geraptiku."
"I am so sick of that stupid, creepy city, Or'." Iskeen scowled, focusing her attention on pouring a bowl of sliced mangos into a blender.
"I never asked for any part in it. You go on your stakeout without me."
Orlitz was frustrated at her friend. Even if her friend had to work, she could make an exception for such a breakthrough discovery as the stakeout.
"You know, I'm really sick of your attitude toward this mystery, Iskeen. Petpets' lives are endangered."
"And I'm sick of you always making me come with you on your silly adventures that I don't want any part in!" Iskeen raised her voice so that customers at the bar tilted their heads to look at her.
"I don't care about those stupid petpets! I have other things to do—things that I want to do!"
"You're so selfish, you know that?" Orlitz snapped in retaliation.
"Am I? Than what are you?" Iskeen yelled, slamming a smoothie down on the counter.
Orlitz was taken aback by her best friend's sudden mood change. Blinded by her own anger, the Cybunny had no intentions of apologizing. She jumped off her stool and stormed out of the restaurant, followed by her confused petpet, without saying goodbye.
"So much for being dignified," the Cybunny sighed, opening her umbrella.
* * * * *
Almos picked up Orlitz at precisely six o'clock in the evening. The Cybunny had forgotten about her argument with Iskeen and was all ready to go. She had packed her bag with several necessities, including torches, some rope, sandwiches, and binoculars. Equipped with darkly colored raincoats and hats, which Almos was smart to bring, the pair left Sparta behind at the bungalow and jumped into the EDAC—the eyrie cab—that the Kougra had ordered.
The rain did not let up and the brief flight to the city was extremely bumpy, as the eyrie cabby struggled to fly against the powerful gusts of wind. They landed eventually, and Almos paid the eyrie extra for the trouble. Draped in shiny rain coats and hats, the couple sloshed through Geraptiku and toward the jungle, careful not to shine their torches until they were safely under the cover of the trees. Their boots made wet squishy sounds as they splashed through the flooding ground. Any footprints they left behind were quickly washed away by the torrents of rain.
The jungle provided a slightly dryer cover, as the canopy of trees blocked most of the water from seeping down to the ground. Almos led the way to the triangle of trees, expertly maneuvering himself through the dense vegetation. Her heart racing, Orlitz followed closely behind.
The hike to the triangle was difficult. The pair had entered the jungle at a quarter to seven and had arrived at their destination three hours later. It was only 9:45, and the two reasoned that they had over two hours of waiting before midnight. Orlitz found a relatively dry patch of ground hidden behind a cluster of bushes where she and Almos could stakeout with a good view of the triangle. They ate their now-soggy sandwiches and waited.
* * * * *
"Midnight," Orlitz thought, squinting at her wristwatch. Over two and a half hours had passed since she and Almos had begun staking out. The rain and the wind had let up slightly, yet the two shivered drowsily behind their cover of bushes. Wide puddles had formed by their feet. The wet noise of drop falling from above, paired with the swaying of the palm trees overhead, made for a soothing environment nonetheless. The Cybunny drifted in and out of sleep, disappointed that nothing had happened thus far. She feared that nothing would happen, and that the note she had intercepted a few days ago had never been received by the original recipient.
"If nothing happens for another hour, we're heading back," Almost murmured in a decisive tone. Orlitz could do nothing but solemnly agree.
Sudden footsteps obstructed the silence, and the two woke with a start. They perked their ears and listened attentively. Orlitz heard two pairs of boots sloshing through the mud, but could not see who their perpetrators were. The two hikers seemed to be pulling a cart, for the Cybunny could hear the distinct sound of wooden wheels dragging through the wet dirt.
"You're sure you told Ataso when we were meeting, right?" said a gruff voice, upon reaching the three palm trees. Orlitz racked her brain. Where had she heard that name before? And that voice?
"I did, like you said to," replied another, much less gruff voice. The Cybunny recognized that voice instantly.
"That's Emuk!" she whispered excitedly. Almos nudged her in the side, and placed a finger over his lips. Orlitz clamped her mouth. The last thing she wanted to do was reveal their location.
"Now quick, light the torches. Let's get this over with," ordered the rough voice.
A match was struck and a tiny flame illuminated the clearing. The Bori made his way to a torch placed against one of the palm trees and lit it. He promptly did the same to the remaining two torches. The triangle was suddenly ablaze with light. Orlitz recognized Emuk, as well as the Spotted Kougra he had been speaking to the previous day.
The Spotted Kougra peered up at the clouded sky visible from the clearing.
"Ataso better be here soon," he grumbled. The cart they had pulled to the clearing stood to the side. Wooden crates of different shapes and sizes had been randomly piled up onto the cart and tied down with a piece of rope. Orlitz assumed they were the same as the crates she had seen at the bottom of the pit behind the Geraptiku Petpet Shop.
"Those are the smuggled petpets," she whispered. Almos only nodded.
"He's here," Emuk motioned, pointing at the sky. The flutter of a heavy set of wings obstructed the calmer air. Almos and Orlitz perked their ears and listened attentively. The sound of flapping wings came closer until their perpetrator touched down onto the ground with a splash. Orlitz's eyes widened. The Eventide Uni who had just landed was none other than the one she had questioned on her second day at Geraptiku. Ataso was from the UNI Transport cart she had ridden!
"Evenin', Tinaw," the Uni greeted the Kougra, clopping over to the cart.
"These are the 'lilacs', then? The package you wanted me to deliver to the Harbour?" Ataso surveyed the wagon. For the first time, Orlitz realized how big the Uni was. He would have no trouble flying the cart all the way across the island.
"Forty wild petpets, to be sold at the Neopia Central Marketplace this week," confirmed the Spotted Kougra. "
"You'll deliver them to the Harbour, as always, where a small ferry will be waiting for you."
Orlitz frowned. Vin's suspicions had been correct. The native petpets of the jungle were being smuggled out of Mystery Island and sold.
"We have to stop them!" she whispered, her voice quivering.
"I know," Almos replied, "but right now, there is nothing that we can do." The PPL agent was right, after all. All Orlitz had thought of bringing was a short piece of rope. Shakily, the Cybunny did the next best thing and pulled out her notepad and pen from her pants pocket, scribbling down all that she was witnessing.
Meanwhile, Emuk had grown restless. Suddenly, he turned to the Spotted Kougra.
"Listen, I helped you out, okay? I kept the whole thing hush-hush and helped you capture the petpets. Now I want to get my fair share of what you promised and get out of here."
"Of course, Emuk," the Kougra smirked, "as promised, 150,000 NP for your troubles. You did good, helping us capture these wild beasts," he gestured to the crates. "You will be paid handsomely tomorrow, I will personally bring you the neopoints due at your little visitor center."
"Hold on, you promised me half a 200,000 neopoints! Capturing those petpets in this part of the jungle was not easy!"
"Emuk, you failed to keep the matter hush-hush," the Kougra chuckled, "you made that nosy Cloud Cybunny far too aware of what's been goin' on. But no worries, this will be our last meeting in this part of the jungle."
"That Cybunny was downright stalking me!" Orlitz suppressed a snicker. Emuk was laughably jittery.
"Well, you should have gotten rid of her when you had the chance. No matter now."
Orlitz pieced the information together. The smugglers had captured petpets in the part of the jungle bordering Geraptiku, but were now making plans to move to another part of the island. The petpets were to be delivered to the Harbour and then shipped to the Marketplace. And along the way, who knows what could happen to those wild petpets? Neopia Central was as much of a danger to them as they were a danger to Neopia Central. These smugglers had to be caught before they vanished!
"I'm all ready to go, boss," Ataso said, stretching his enormous wings and shaking the water out of his mane. On his back was a complicated harness and girth, meant to be attached to the cart's traces, no doubt. Orlitz did not question Ataso's strength to carry the to-be-airborne cart. His wingspan was bigger than she was, and his wings as thick as a eyrie's.
She grew restless, aware that they were running out of time. She and Almos would not be able to make it to the Harbour at the southern side of the island in time, nor did they have any help to stop the smugglers. Yet Orlitz was desperate to stop them, one way or another.
"We have to stop them now!" she argued with him, doing her best to keep quiet.
"I know, treasure! But we can't just barge into their meeting, be sensible!" he hissed, grabbing her wrist, realizing what she was about to do next.
The Cybunny struggled out from his grasp. Without thinking, she jumped out from her cover, yelling "Stop right there!"
To be continued...