Orlitz and the Geraptiku Scandal: Part Six
Orlitz regretted her plan of action the moment she stepped out from her hiding spot. In a futile attempt to stop the her, Almos tumbled out from behind the bushes after Orlitz and and fell over the Cybunny. The two crashed into the mud, much to the surprise and horror of the three smugglers they had been spying on only moments ago. Though they had surprised the crooks, they were completely trapped. Even if Orlitz tried to bolt, she wouldn't go far in the slippery mud. Besides, she would surely not abandon Almos. The Cybunny realized that their cover had been blown, that it was pointless to try and escape to get help. On the other hand, she needed to distract the smugglers long enough to keep them from delivering the wild petpets. Hopefully, Iskeen would notice her prolonged absence back at the bungalow and send help.
"Speak of the Pant Devil..." Tinaw growled, gazing down in shock of the pair covered in mud and struggling to stand up. Behind the Spotted Kougra, Emuk looked extremely alarmed as he paced back and forth, his eyes darting in every direction.
"We've been caught," he muttered, "it's all over, that accursed Cybunny found us out."
"Shuttup, Emuk!" the Kougra roared, grabbing the panicked Checkered Bori.
"It's not all over, these two snoops may have caught us, but they are trapped!" Emuk calmed down and agreed with his boss reluctantly. Tinaw grabbed Orlitz and Almos, and tied their hands with a length of rope he had hanging from his belt. Orlitz protested and struggled, but Almos remained calm. The Cybunny recognized that her attempts to ward off her captor would not amount to anything, but she needed to stall her captors for as long as possible. Soon, their hands were bound before them.
"What do we do with them now?" asked the Bori cautiously.
"We hide them somewhere they can't escape," Tinaw answered, matter-of-factly. Orlitz was frightened. Her heart pounded against her chest, and her breathing grew uneven. What would become of her and Almos? The Cybunny forced herself to think of the positive aspects of their situation; she and Almos might be able to stall the smugglers long enough for someone to come looking for them.
"Iskeen, please look for us," she wished, regretting the quarrel she had had with her housemate a few hours ago.
"This will take longer than planned, but no matter," the Spotted Kougra growled, "I know exactly where to drop these two snoops off." Orlitz was relieved to find that upon Tinaw's orders, Ataso would not take off with the petpets until she and Almos had been taken care of. The Uni grudgingly followed his boss through the jungle as they led the prisoners back to Geraptiku. The pair followed the Kougra, who seemed to know the way through the jungle like the back of his hand. The cart and petpets had been left in the triangular clearing, only guarded by the skittish Emuk, and Orlitz hoped that an unlikely neopet would come across it.
"You will get caught, you can't get away with this," Orlitz said through gritted teeth as the they trudged on through the dense foliage.
In front of her, Tinaw chuckled. "Kid, we've been smuggling for months now, you think one tiny set back is going to get us caught?"
Perfect. If she could keep him talking, she could stall the group even longer.
"You've been catching petpets near Geraptiku all this time?"
"Up till now. We'll be setting up camp elsewhere after tonight. Wouldn't want to completely drain our supply of petpets, after all."
"So, lilacs stands for the petpets," she muttered under her breath, "by the way, was it you who was in the jungle last night? I ran into a cloaked figure by the petpet shop."
Tinaw chucked again.
"Nope, the person you saw was that idiot, Emuk. He was sent there last night to scare you out of the city, and find the message I wrote out for him. Clearly, he didn't try hard enough," he scowled at the Cybunny.
"That's because I found the note before he did."
"I assumed as much, that's why I had to personally come down to this stinkin' city yesterday to personally deliver the information myself."
"But why is Emuk part of this operation, anyway?"
"He found us out a few weeks ago. Promised to keep everything quiet if we bribed him," the Spotted Kougra sighed.
Orlitz slowed her pace. They were almost out of the jungle. Behind her, Ataso shoved the Cybunny.
"Keep walking," he growled. The Uni was evidently more impatient than ever, anxious to return to the cart and deliver the cargo.
"So all three of you have been smuggling petpets out of the jungle for a few months now, and you've been communicating via encoded message," she accused. If the Spotted Kougra continued revealing his plan, Orlitz would have plenty of evidence to back up her article. If she could get herself out of this situation.
"I'm surprised at you, you were clever enough to figure us out. But no, not just us three. Our smuggling operation is far bigger than just us three. How else do you think the shops at the Marketplace manage to sell such exotic petpets?"
"Shut up, you're telling her more than she needs to know," muttered Ataso from the back of the group. Tinaw smirked.
"As if she'll be able to recount what she's learned," he grinned. The Eventide Uni grimaced, but did not reply.
"So it's a global operation then," whispered Almos, who was walking beside Orlitz, "wait till the PPL headquarters hear about this." Orlitz nodded subtly. The Cybunny was furious that a smuggling operation had been going on right under everyone's' noses, and that nobody—not even the PPL—had noticed. The reporter promised herself that if she managed to get out of this mess, she would do everything in her power to reveal the whole operation to the world.
Eventually, the group tumbled out of the jungle. The night sky was still hidden behind clouds, but the rainstorm has let up, leaving a faint drizzle in its place. Orlitz estimated it being two in the morning, so Iskeen should have noticed that her roommate was missing by now. If she could delay the smugglers a little longer, she and Almos might be saved! The Cybunny did her best to slow her pace, but her heart sank as they neared the petpet shop. She did not have to guess what would happen next.
The shop was dark as the group walked silently around it.
"Vin must be gone," Orlitz assumed, gazing up at the store's dark windows. The group reached the pit behind the shop. Almost walked around the trench, scrutinizing the couple of crates that had been strewn near its perimeter. He kicked one particular box, which provoked a dull hiss to erupt from its contents.
"Our trek ends here," smirked Tinaw. Orlitz peered down the trench in horror, but could not see what lay inside.
"In case you're wondering what's down there, you're about to find out," the Kougra said, as though he had been reading her very thoughts. The two prisoners were pushed into the pit, landing with a hard thud on the soggy ground below. The fall wasn't very deep, but it did hurt. Orlitz scrambled up into a standing position, doing her best to ignore the ache in her bones caused by the fall. The pit was pitch black, and the Cybunny could not make out a thing in the dark. She could only hear Almos's heavy breaths as he scrambled up beside her.
"I'm sending down a little present to keep you two entertained," Tinaw called down. Orlitz heard two heavy objects being dropped into the pit, and a dull hisss.
"Oh no," murmured Almos. The rope tied around his wrists was loose enough to allow him to reach for the torchlight strapped on the side of his shorts. Swiftly, the Kougra clicked the light on and they let out a horrified gasp. At their feet slithered two enormous, fanged, wild, and unmistakably angry, petpets.
"Reptilliors..." murmured Almos with a trembling voice, "why did it have to be reptilliors?"
* * * * *
The bungalow was ablaze with light in contrast to the dark street it stood on. Iskeen sat at the kitchen table, unable to sleep, absentmindedly stroking Sparta who lay on her lap. The clock on the wall read 1:53. A light rain drummed outside. Iskeen had returned home from work a little before midnight, and was becoming increasingly worried that Orlitz had not yet come back. The Ixi tried to convince herself that her friend was still safely staked out in the jungle with Almos, but something seemed off. Surely a stakeout should not take this long! Or did it? The Ixi had no prior experience with stake outs, but she assumed that the feeling of dread churning in her stomach was not a good sign.
"It's probably because we argued earlier," Iskeen reasoned, feeling guilty about their recent feud. Yet no matter how hard she tried, the Ixi could not shake the feeling that her roommate was in trouble. Lost in thought, the Ixi did not hear the sound of a person trudging up the bungalow's patio; the sudden sharp knock at the door caused the Ixi to nearly fall out of her chair. Sparta leapt up from her lap in fright, and scurried under the table.
"Who could that be, at this hour?" Iskeen thought, clutching her heart and stepping quietly to the front door. She peered cautiously through its peep hole. Outside stood a well-built Fire Kyrii in an orange getup. A bold "K" mark the front of her attire, and the mysterious individual was accompanied by a large Shadow Eyrie. Curious, Iskeen opened the door a crack.
"Can I help you?" she asked, peering at the Kyrii.
"Captain Tora, Defenders of Neopia," the other replied curtly. She pulled out a small card from her belt and displayed it to the Ixi. The bright red Defenders of Neopia logo adorned the top of the card.
"We received your neomail, I believe you sent it two days ago. You wrote about a suspicious activities in Geraptiku. The matter seemed intriguing, so I was sent over to check it out." Captain Tora spoke quickly and clearly, without wasting her breath. Baffled, Iskeen let the defender in. The Eyrie said that he preferred to remain outside.
The two sat down at the kitchen table and Iskeen introduced herself to the Kyrii. She explained that she was Orlitz's friend, and they, along with the PPL agent Almos, had stumbled upon many odd happenings when trying to discover why the petpet population of the jungle had suddenly declined. She recounted how a meeting was thought to take place tonight at midnight in a clearing they suspected was involved with the mystery, according to a scrap of encoded paper which Orlitz had come across.
"We also discovered a bunch of crates behind the Geraptiku Petpet Shop filled with wild petpets," the Ixi stuttered, struggling to retell the story with as many details as she could remember. Iskeen continued by telling the defender that Orlitz and Almos had gone to the clearing tonight to hopefully figure out who had sent the note, and that Orlitz had not yet returned. When she had finished, Captain Tora contemplated the Ixi with dark, unreadable eyes. Finally, she stood up from her chair.
"We'd better go looking for your friend, Iskeen," she declared, walking towards the door. Not knowing what else to do, the worried Ixi followed her, grabbing Sparta from underneath the table.
"He might help us find her," she explained sheepishly. The pair stepped outside, Iskeen carrying Sparta in her arms.
"Is he taking us to Geraptiku?" she asked, gesturing at the majestic Eyrie standing in front of the house.
"No, Chet is not flying us there, he just flew me down from Neopia Central," the Kyrii replied.
"I need some rest," the Eyrie winked at Iskeen, before plopping down onto the damp porch. Before she could protest and have him nap inside the house, Iskeen was dragged away by the defender.
"Do you know of another way we could make it to the Lost City?" Tora asked expectantly. Iskeen proposed that the UNI Transport, but suspected it to be closed. Regardless, she and the Kyrii ran to the station located at an intersection of streets, where they found a platform dimly lit by a lamppost.
"The transport takes about fifteen minutes to get to the city, but it's closed, and no one drives it until six in the morning." Indeed, the platform was empty, only occupied by a large wagon. Captain Tora suggested that a transport Uni must reside somewhere nearby, and opted to knock at nearby houses to find one. It took a good twenty minutes to find Brimeer before Iskeen found his house and forced him to grudgingly answer the door.
She and Tora bribed him to take them to Geraptiku, but it wasn't until they had pooled in eight thousand neopoints and a free meal at Poppi's Grill that he agreed take them there. It took an additional ten minutes for the sleepy Uni to ready himself.
At half past two, the group was finally pulled away from the station and rode swiftly towards Geraptiku. Iskeen sat opposite Captain Tora, nervously cuddling Sparta. The Island Ixi tried to convince herself that nothing bad had happened to Orlitz, for her feeling of dread persisted.
The cart stopped in front of Geraptiku's eerie gates, and Tora jumped out, followed by Iskeen and Sparta. They jogged into the city, the defender carrying a tiny torch to dimly light their path. Upon reaching the visitor's center, the group witnessed a short figure carrying a sack exiting the building.
"Halt, who goes there!" yelled Captain Tora, pointing her light at the figure. The light dazed the White Mynci, who froze and dropped the bag of petpet litter she was carrying.
"Vin!" Iskeen exclaimed, running towards the confused Mynci. Vin explained that she had been cleaning the petpet shop's cages, and the Ixi promptly told her about the situation at hand, telling her how they were looking for Orlitz and Almos, who had been staking out in the jungle.
"I don't know why, but I think she's in danger," she muttered on their way to the petpet shop. Upon reaching the store, Vin offered to help them look for Iskeen's friends. The group walked behind the building and made for the dark jungle, when a muffled hiss! caught their attention.
"The pit!" Vin and Iskeen both said, simultaneously. Sparta, who had been resting in Iskeen's arms, jumped to the ground and bolted towards the giant hole next the the petpet shop. Captain Tora, Iskeen, and Vin followed closely behind.
* * * * *
Orlitz felt her heart sink as she heard the excited yips of her gruslen and approaching footsteps from a party marching towards the pit. She and Almos had scrambled to the other side of the pit, as far away from the reptilliors as possible. The ditch was now void of crates, providing no safe place to stand next to the angry petpets. Reptilliors, as Almos has explained drily, were some of the most aggressive and venomous petpets in Neopia, as they produced extremely potent poison, and one bite from their enormous fangs could prove deadly. The trick, he said, was to remain completely still and silent, as the petpets detested noise due to their sensitive ears.
"They're also sensitive to light," he remarked hoarsely before turning off his torch and plunging the entire chamber into darkness.
The Cybunny held her breath, forcing herself to remain calm and collected. She hoped to Fyora that the noise coming from above the pit wouldn't angry the reptilliors. In the darkness, she could only hear the scaly petpets hissing and snapping, but she felt relieved that the noise had not come closer. The reporter yearned to cry out and make her position known to the search party above ground, but any noise would alarm and anger the reptilliors.
Suddenly, light flooded the ditch, and Orlitz was momentarily blinded by the brightness. For a second, she was horrified at her state. Every inch of her was absolutely covered in mud! Forcing herself to look away from the mess, the Cybunny looked up and winced at the light. She made out the silhouettes of three figures. The three figures called down various remarks and jumbled phrases, filling the room with noise. Panicking, the Cybunny sharply moved her finger over her lip in an attempt to shush the crowd, but it was too late—the damage had been done. Angered, the reptilliors' hissing and snapping increased. Now that the earthen pit was ablaze with light, Orlitz could see them clearly. The scaly petpets slithered aggressively towards Orlitz, yet the Cybunny remained frozen. Any sudden movements on her part would agitate the petpets all the more.
Above her, a tall Fire Kyrii reached down her hand between the gaps in the grid and stretched out her palm.
"Grab on!" she yelled. Orlitz could not hear the shrill command, but Almos, who was more adept to these sorts of situations, grabbed the Cybunny around her waist and jumped up, seizing the Kyrii's outstretched hand. The two dangled there while the Kyrii did her best to pull their combined weight up. The pair was still within striking range of the petpets. They fought and kicked, warding off the creatures' approaches. With one final swing, the pair scrambled up onto the edge of the pit, narrowly avoiding venomous bites from the petpets
Almos and Orlitz were pulled out from the pit and holding on to each other, gasped for breath. The Cybunny regained her composure and allowed her racing heart to slow down before examining her rescuers. She recognized Iskeen, who was carrying Sparta and Vin, and stared inquisitively at the Fire Kyrii in the bright orange jumpsuit.
"Captain Tora, Defender of Neopia," the Kyrii saluted them.
"I was sent here to put an end to the petpet disappearances in Geraptiku. Your friend here suggested that unlawful smuggling could be the culprit," she motioned to Iskeen, who looked as dishevelled and pallid as Orlitz.
As quickly as they could, Orlitz and Almos told the group everything they had overheard during their stakeout in the jungle, ending with their dread that the smuggled petpets would be shipped off from the docks on the opposite side of the island soon.
"I don't know how we'll manage to catch Tinaw and the people working for him," finished Orlitz, disheartened, "they have the advantage of flight, and are at least halfway to the docks as we speak."
Sitting down by the pit, the group mumbled in agreement. Vin suggested the group run to the nearby docks on the northern part of the island, a ten minute walk from Geraptiku, but was silenced when Orlitz grudgingly explained how the option was much too slow. In retaliation, Vin mumbled how sitting on the ground in Geraptiku was no better of an alternative. Captain Tora offered to call for backup, but sheepishly said that it could take hours for the backup to arrive. They were running out of options, and a wave of despair washed over the everyone. Well, that is to say, everyone but Iskeen, who jumped up, ears perked with excitement.
"Why don't we run to the northern docks?" she demanded, "we could take a fisherman's boat and sail down to the other side of the island!"
"Because that way is too slow," Orlitz sighed.
"What's to say?" Iskeen winked with a gleam in her eye.
To be continued...