A Life Less Interesting: Part One
Oscar bowed low in front of the Emperor. It was a bow so low that his knobbly little yellow Kacheek chin almost touched the floor. A thin bead of sweat dropped down from his brow to the floor, making a large splashing sound.
“Are we covered?” the Emperor of Shenkuu asked impatiently.
Oscar gulped loudly and brought himself up to his normal height slowly. He shuffled the mounds of parchment in his hands nervously before speaking.
“I regret to inform you that your policy does not cover rockslides, your highness,” Oscar said carefully.
The Emperor mulled this over for a few moments.
“It strikes me as strange,” said the Emperor, “that a policy taken out in a mountain region such as Shenkuu would not cover something as simple as a rockslide. In fact, I should think it is one of the principle things that it should cover. Do you agree?”
There was a sharp edge to his words which Oscar thought made the blades of the palace guards look positively dull. Oscar was sweating, he could feel it. He adjusted the collar on his shirt to give himself more air.
“I have double checked the policy, your highness,” Oscar explained, “both your copy and the copy head office provided me with. Rockslides are explicitly excluded; such a policy would of course cost more. Perhaps this is why your advisors-”
“I,” the Emperor said pointedly, “am the Emperor of the Ancient land of Shenkuu, city in the mists. I am one of the richest people on the face of Neopia; I can afford any insurance policy I should like! I mean really, I knew it was a bad idea, there’s more than enough gold in the treasure house to pay for the repairs to the east wing, no need for silly insurance policies, I told them...”
Indeed he was right; the idea of the monarchy of any land needing insurance had been a matter of much talk back in Neopia Central. Nevertheless, it had sparked a trend. King Skarl and Princess Amira had taken out substantial policies soon after.
“I do apologise, your eminence,” Oscar replied.
He tried another bow, noting that the Emperor had taken it remarkably well. Oscar had a feeling he would not receive the rest of the news in quite the same manner.
“There is more, sire,” Oscar ventured as he rose from the bow.
The Emperor raised one of his eyebrows.
“Your recent history with the company has led us to decline you further insurance,” Oscar blurted out so fast that the Emperor had difficultly understanding.
Oscar could tell it was one of those days; he was always given the difficult jobs. The sweat was beginning to run in rivers from his face.
“What recent history?” the Emperor asked in a voice edged with so much acid that it could have melted lead doors.
“Well... A claim was made by one Captain Tuan of the Cyodrake’s Gaze last year for trade lost due to losing a crew member in a storm...” Oscar told him.
He had taken out a pen and was writing meaningless notes on the papers in his hands, attempting to avoid the piercing gaze of the Emperor.
“Yes, I know the incident well,” the Emperor conceded innocently.
There were few people alive in Shenkuu who didn’t know about Hoban and Bonju’s expensive little feud.
“Well, your highness, soon after we paid out the crew member was found, and it transpired he was in fact pushed overboard by another crew member. Both these revelations were not reported to head office, nor were the Neopoints refunded to the company,” Oscar said, darting his eyes up from the paper only briefly.
“Ah...” the Emperor hesitated.
It was not often he was caught off guard.
“There is more,” Oscar said with a whimper.
“Go on,” the Emperor replied with a hint of trepidation.
“A few months ago, you took out a large life insurance policy on both your daughters. The policy included cover for injury, death... and kidnapping,” Oscar said, reading from the papers he held.
He paused before he continued, not daring to look up.
“Not a week after the policy was confirmed; your daughter mysteriously disappeared from the palace, did she not?”
“It transpired she staged a kidnapping, did it not?” Oscar interrupted, attempting to get to the end of the conversation as quickly as possible.
He knew what was coming, and wanted to get it over with while he still had a head attached to his shoulders.
“Your highness, Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. does not tolerate clients defrauding us. The board themselves have decided to terminate all of your policies immediately. I am sorry, your majesty, it was a pleasure doing business with you...” Oscar said, reciting the speech his supervisor had told him to.
As he finished his speech, he felt the nerves take complete control. It was when clients absorbed the information that they got angry. Oscar didn’t like it when people got angry; it normally ended in people throwing things in his general direction. He held out one of the papers to a nearby guard. He rushed forward and took the termination order gingerly.
“How dare you!?” the Emperor bellowed as the weight of the conversation finally sunk in.
“I am sorry your highness,” Oscar squealed, providing another low bow.
He turned to leave the throne room as quickly as he could. The Emperor was a reasonable person, but reasonable people were rarely reasonable when faced with an insurance policy that wouldn’t pay out.
“Seize him!” the Emperor yelled.
Immediately the four guards that had been in the throne room multiplied into at least a dozen, without any doors appearing to open. Oscar stopped in mid run and dropped his papers on the floor in fear. His eyes darted around the rapidly closing circle of guards. All of them had their weapons drawn.
“Stop, I have...” Oscar cried, fumbling in his pockets.
His hands closed around the first object he found. He thrust it into the air with all the force of a holy blade.
“...gum?” he questioned.
He threw the small packet at the first guard that caught his eye. The armour clad Mynci barely flinched.
Oscar let out a brief sigh; things always seemed to get to this point. As the circle pounced, Oscar dived through the legs of a guard and high tailed it out of the nearest door, ripping straight through the thin paper it was made of.
Oscar did not stop running until he was out of the palace, and the yells of the guards were lost in the mountain mists. Life as an insurance broker was not as easy as he had hoped it would be when he applied for the job. He had hoped to land a desk job, where he could spend his days doing nothing more exciting than finding a refill of ink for his large rubber stamp. Instead, he had been made a field agent, whose job it was to investigate the claims made by policy holders. Fires, murders, thefts and damage were Oscar’s daily routine; it was enough to give any respectable coward an ulcer. Oscar always had ulcers.
He rested himself against the stone face of the mountain to catch his breath. The stitch in his side took full hold, and he found himself unable to move as the air barely touched his lungs before being heaved back out. As his body recovered from the run, Oscar told himself that there must be easier jobs. He’d heard of people whose only responsibility was cleaning the Hall of Heroes in Altador, or spinning the tombola on Mystery Island. How he longed for a job where no one tried to kill or imprison you.
He thought to himself that quitting was the first thing he would do when he got back to head office. Perhaps the cleaner needed an assistant. He just had to make it out of the mountains alive. He gulped and looked back towards the palace; he hoped one of the Emperor’s flying ships wouldn’t follow him. He hated flying ships. As far as he was concerned, ships were built for sailing and sinking, nothing else. If ships were getting silly ideas like flying, what would be next, Neoschools? He shuddered at the thought.
A small tweet alerted Oscar to the fact that he wasn’t alone in the mist. As he looked around he caught a glimpse of a White Weewoo perched lightly on the rope supporting a nearby bridge. It was wearing a postman’s cap and had a satchel considerably bigger than itself thrown haphazardly over one shoulder. Oscar approached the post Weewoo and it nudged his hand with its beak. Oscar recognised the Weewoo; the company sent it out whenever they needed to deliver Neomail. Oscar opened up the satchel and took the only letter from within. At once the Weewoo tweeted gently and spread its wings, soaring off into the dense mists and taking the impossibly large satchel with it.
Left alone once more, Oscar quickly tore open the envelope and read the message inside. It was an order from head office. He groaned slightly; it was an order to investigate a tavern fire on Krawk Island. Oscar didn’t like Krawk Island; it had pirates, and pirates always made things difficult. He tucked the documents into his pocket and surveyed his surroundings. He quickly decided that perhaps pirates would be better than the alternative of rotting in the Emperor’s dungeons. He straightened out his clothes and marched off into the mist. Perhaps there would be a ship in Altador, or new employment prospects. Oh how he hoped for new employment prospects.
To be continued...