Masks and Roses: Part Eight
Eira emerged from the brush just about the time Kat was beginning to think the Shoyru thief had abandoned her. Her own clothes were streaked with mud and grime, and balanced awkwardly in her arms was a pile of assorted berries.
“Where did you go?” Kat asked, ignoring the obvious.
“Breakfast,” said Eira, plopping down beside the Wocky. She popped a bright red berry into her mouth, then offered the pile to Kat.
Kat grabbed some berries for herself and placed them in her mouth, savouring each one before she swallowed. “Thanks,” she said to Eira, wiping the red juice from her chin.
“No problem,” Eira said. “Take as many as you want.”
Kat did, and the two ate in a comfortable silence. When all the berries were gone, Eira suggested they pick up their search for Gwendolyn’s headquarters, and Kat agreed. Soon, they were soaring over Mystery Island again, brushing against the treetops, keeping a vigilant eye out for anything unusual.
Soon, the searching grew monotonous; everything seemed to blend together. And then, in midday, they found it.
Kat was the one who first spotted the headquarters, and even then, it was so small, so vague, that she nearly missed it. In fact, initially, Eira passed right by it, and Kat had to tell her to turn around.
When Eira saw it, too, the Shoyru stiffened. She swooped down a bit and hovered, squinting her eyes at the tiny speck in the jungle. It was steely and grey, with a thatched wooden roof that hardly matched. It was nestled snugly amongst the trees, almost like an icon. Tiny dots hovered around it, and upon further examination, Eira and Kat realised the dots were no other than pets – guards, perhaps.
“I think this is it,” Kat said to Eira, her voice a tight whisper.
“Yes,” said Eira, “but it looks like we’ll have to use some wit to get in. We can’t very well walk right up to the guards and ask for entry. We’ll be captured.”
“How do you suppose we’ll get by them?” Kat asked.
Eira rose a bit. “Well, we can try to sneak, which might backfire miserably. Or...” And although Kat couldn’t see it, a crafty look spread over the Shoyru’s face.
“Or what?” Kat asked, half-dreading the answer.
“We can swindle them.”
“How are we going to swindle them?” Kat inquired. “They’re like a bloody army, and most probably aren’t that dense.”
Eira just grinned slyly. “You seem to have forgotten, Katalynn,” she said in a singsong voice, “just who I am.”
“Oh?” Kat asked, her heart hammering in her chest. “And who is that, Eira?”
The smile growing larger, Eira shot even farther up into the air and cried, “A thief!”
“This plan is bloody ridiculous,” Kat growled about an hour later. Of course she wanted to rescue her mum, but Eira’s idea was positively absurd.
The two of them stood in the jungle, pressed against the side wall of Gwendolyn’s camp. For a while after discovering the headquarters, they’d watched it from the treetops, as if to scout it out. Soon, Kat and Eira discovered that the guards were all concentrated in two areas: the front and the back. There were two groups of them, and they all remained loyal to their specific area, never crossing between them. So Kat and Eira landed towards the side of the building, and that was where the Shoyru thought up her plan. The first time she explained it to the Kat, the Wocky thought she was joking. But Eira insisted she was not. She said she wouldn’t joke of such things, not in such a serious situation. And eventually, Kat started to believe her.
However, belief didn’t equal approval. Kat hated the plan with every bone in her body. It would never work; she told Eira this. The plan back at the first dungeon had been iffy enough. That was a one-in-a-million shot. So was this.
And no one, not even the luckiest pet in the world, could be successful in such dodgy feats twice in a row!
Unfortunately for Kat, the Wocky didn’t have any better ideas. She racked her mind a hundred times over, but nothing came up. Failing to think of her own plan, Kat then squabbled with Eira for a while, but eventually, she gave in. It was either take the one-in-a-million shot or let her mum wilt away forever.
So that was how Kat found herself with no shoes and no socks, standing barefoot in the ankle-deep Mystery Island mud. Eira had thrown Kat’s disgusting shoes off into the trees, but she’d put the socks to work. Stretching them out as far as the thin cotton would go, the Shoyru then linked them together, into a rope of sorts. After she’d done that, Eira fastened the “rope” around Kat’s wrists, into a fairly sturdy bind.
That was to make Kat look like a prisoner. It was the first part of Eira’s plan. The second part was to disguise herself. To do this, Eira kicked off her own shoes and pulled off her socks. Wrinkling her nose as she sunk down into the thick mud, the Shoyru tossed away everything but a single, black sock. Then, she stretched it out and used her sharp nails to poke out holes for her eyes and mouth. As Eira then pulled it over her head, she let out a frosty breath and grunted in approval.
The rest of the plan was simple: Eira would impersonate one of Gwendolyn’s henchmen, and she’d ‘return’ the escaped prisoner, Kat. From their perch in the treetops, Kat and Eira had seen that a smattering of guards wore crude facemasks like the one Eira had just created. She would blend in fine. However, the blending in part wasn’t what Kat was concerned about. It was what would happen after Kat and Eira got inside.
Kat was skeptical that the guards would let a mysterious ‘minion’ from outside lead a highly wanted prisoner to the cells all alone. Surely one of them would accompany Eira, even if they had no doubts of her identity. Eira made it explicitly clear that she wasn’t going to go gallivanting around Gwendolyn’s headquarters if Kat was locked away in a cell somewhere; the Wocky had to be with her. And if another minion accompanied Eira to the cells, Kat would be locked away.
It was a total mess.
Still, Kat forced herself to keep her hopes high, and she tried not to think of what might happen if Eira’s plan failed as she thought it would. As the Shoyru carefully led Kat to the front of Gwendolyn’s camp, the Wocky just stared down at the sticky, muddy ground. This was for her mum. Kat kept telling that to herself. This was to rescue Rose. She couldn’t be a coward. She had to rescue Rose!
“You won’t guess who I found!” Eira chirped as she and Kat reached the front of the steely building.
A dozen heads were immediately looking toward the two of them, and a sick feeling hung in the back of Kat’s throat. She looked up at the minions, who were all studying her and Eira quizzically.
“Bloody Sloth, it’s Rose’s kid!” a green Peophin cried.
Eira nodded with a false grin. “Found the little imbecile wandering near the Harbour. Snatched her up without a word. I wanted to deliver her myself, to Gwendolyn.”
“You an Alternate?” a skunk Poogle questioned.
Eira paused, then nodded. “Yeah.”
“What station?” queried a red Flotsam.
“Um... I haven’t been at a station for a while,” Eira said hesitantly. Kat looked up at her, and she could tell the Shoyru was flubbing her lines as she went along.
Still, the minions seemed to be eating it up. The first pet – the green Peophin – nodded. “I was scouting for a while, too. Then I went back to that wretched Grey station. Finally, I got transferred here.”
Eira smiled pleasantly. “Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get transferred here, too.”
“Take her to the basement cellblock,” a red Mynci said. “You know how to get there, right?”
“I haven’t been in a long time,” Eira said, her voice still smooth and perfect; the Shoyru hadn’t exaggerated when she told Kat she was good at swindling. “How do I get there again?”
“Sharp left once you get inside, down the flight of stairs. Just find an open cell and put Rose’s lovely daughter inside. I’ll get someone to tell Gwendolyn; she’ll probably come down to see her. If you want to talk to her in person, I’d wait around. Maybe you’ll get a reward.” The Mynci grinned.
“Thank you,” said Eira. “Wish me luck with the reward.”
“Luck!” called the Mynci.
Eira and Kat began to step inside, but before they did, Eira asked one last question. She said to the minions, “The basement – that’s the same cellblock Rose is in, yes?”
“Yeah,” said the Mynci. “She’s in the cell at the end of the hall. Super cell, that’s what I call it.”
“Oh, right. I think I knew that.” Eira smiled, then convincingly dragged Kat into the building
Stale, metallic air greeted them, and Eira gingerly shut the thick wooden door behind them. As the two then made a sharp left like the Mynci had told them to, Kat couldn’t help herself; she giggled.
“You’re a bloody genius, Eira,” the Wocky said.
Eira grinned. “Don’t tell me that, Kat,” she said. “I already knew.”
To be continued...