Gruselda sighed and reflected on her name during her break. Gruselda. What an ugly name. But ugly pets got ugly names, and Dr. Sloth deemed her ugly. What could she do? She was purple with orange spots. She might have found her color attractive, but she withstood so much teasing from the white Grundos, she came to hate it. Dr. Sloth found the white Grundos’ beauty amazing, and gave them beautiful names like Tessalia. He let them have comfortable rooms, and didn’t make them work as long or as hard.
Purple Grundos were created so he could have someone to tease. Gruselda hated Dr. Sloth. She absolutely hated him, and the plans he made to destroy Neopia. None of them ever worked, but she hated them all the same. She hated how he hid his spaceship from even the most avid tourists so there was no chance of any of them seeing Gruselda and taking her back to their wonderful neohomes on Neopia. She hated all of Dr. Sloth’s commanders, the big, hulking mutant Grundos that lumbered through the halls blabbering instructions in deep voices as if they were the most important people on the spaceship. But though she hated them, this was her only home, and she knew that she would hardly be able to leave it. One of the filthy commanders came towards Gruselda now, telling her that her break was over and to clean the dungeons. She hated the dungeons most of all. She knew she had five more minutes until her break ended, but she didn’t say a thing to the commander. Not a single thing.
A bunch of other Grundos were roused from the benches, and together, they trooped toward the dungeons. The prisoners were moved into an even smaller prison when their dungeon was cleaned, where they sat with their heads in between their knees, the cold damp wall pressing down on their fur. Gruselda always cleaned the dungeons exceptionally faster than she cleaned everything else; she would hate to have to be down there, thinking that if too many Grundos stood on the floor above them, they might be squashed by the stone and no one would ever know, or care.
After the group stumbled down the stairs to the prison, they heard commotion. The mutant Grundo by Gruselda looked confused; this was obviously not planned. Two loud male voices were arguing loudly. Taking advantage of her guard’s surprise, she broke free of his grip and ran toward the noise.
A yellow Lupe was being restrained by two mutant Grundos, one of them mute. They had tied up his hind legs but he was using his forelegs to smack the Grundos as he jumped and performed contortions in an attempt to get loose. Gruselda was pleased to see a touch of fear in her commanders’ eyes.
“You!” one of them snapped at Gruselda. “Get over here and help us with him!”
Gruselda shook her head and turned around and ran, right past the guard that had been slowly lumbering after her. She burst into the dungeon where the other Grundos already were, sweeping and dusting. Gruselda knew she was close to tears, and she knew the other Grundos could tell, but she didn’t care. She grabbed a sponge and scrubbed the floor with vigor. All the while, she could not get rid of the image of a yellow Lupe, struggling in a futile attempt to free himself from his bounds. He knew he would fail, yet he kept fighting. He was so little compared to the mutant Grundos, yet he kept fighting and showing valiant bravery. There were mixed feelings inside of Gruselda; she felt jubilation at the sight of seeing someone used to being powerful defied. Sadness welled up inside of her as well, all that fighting and bravery gone to waste, both in the short and long run.
When the guard Gruselda had slipped past twice came into the dungeon, she pretended to be so occupied with cleaning he didn’t stand her aside and publicly punish her, like he would have. He probably thinks I’ve been inspired by that Lupe, she thought bitterly. She knew she would never be brave enough to defy her commanders outright.
Dr. Sloth always called on Gruselda to paint pictures of and for him. She had talent with a brush, and every time he hatched a new evil plan, Gruselda had to call upon her imagination and paint a scene of how a place in Neopia would look, were this plan to work. Fortunately, Sloth didn’t mind if most of Gruselda’s paintings looked identical, so she could let her mind wander, for she had memorized practically every brushstroke on the canvas.
She thought about a Lupe, but she just called him “the Lupe”, for she didn’t know his name. She resolved to find out where he was held. All other prisoners she had seen were blank-eyed; they had given themselves in to their fate. However, their fate wasn’t so bad. When Dr. Sloth had extracted all the information he could, he removed their memories and set them loose on Kreludor. He wouldn’t have done it, but it was through the efforts of Grundos like Gruselda that he had been convinced to. Still, all the other prisoners had given up hope; they had stopped fighting. Here was a Lupe who refused, Gruselda saw in his eyes, to cease fighting, and he would do that until he was released. Yet, he would never succeed, but he still fought. Gruselda admired him for that. She would have lost hope all too soon.
The next day, she asked another mutant Grundo where prisoners of the last two weeks were being held. Evidently, he hadn’t heard about the Lupe incident, so he obliviously listed off prison numbers.
“7, 5, 2, 18, 25, and 36.” Gruselda just nodded in thanks.
Prison 7 was empty, so Gruselda supposed the commander had gotten confused. 5 held a sleeping Wocky, but nothing else. Prison 2 was the prison for Grundos that misbehaved, so Gruselda didn’t check there. It was unlikely that Dr. Sloth would be stupid enough to put a good fighter with rebellious Grundos that shared a common enemy – him. Prison 18 was being cleaned, but Gruselda didn’t want to check in the small, slimy prison where you huddled down if your normal sized one was being cleaned. She resolved to check 18 later.
Even though there were only two prisons left to check, Gruselda was hungry and needed to eat before her break was over. She shoved some apple pie from the café down her throat, and then ran to prison 25. A crowd of Rukis gathered around a slab of stone awaited her. They were all telling stories simultaneously, and the noise was next to unbearable. Gruselda quickly scanned the room, but saw no Lupes. She was running down to prison 36 when a horribly cold hand grabbed her arm. She looked up to see Dr. Sloth’s face staring into hers. She squealed and tried to break free, but he grabbed her even tighter.
“Your last work was... beautiful.” He began to cackle. “But sadly, it wasn’t enough to earn you this.” He waved a white paint brush in her face. There was nothing Gruselda wanted more than to grab that paint brush and run, but she resisted.
“White? White?” she shrieked. “Why would I want white? So hideously ugly, so disgustingly pure, so terribly appalling...” She continued under her breath, and Dr. Sloth recoiled. He enjoyed breaking the spirits of his purple Grundos, and Gruselda had just been a slap in the face for him.
More or less by accident, his grip loosened and Gruselda began edging away, still muttering about the atrocities of white. Finally, he was out of sight. Dr. Sloth scared Gruselda, scared her badly, but she had stood up to him. She was proud of herself for that.
She was too shaken by what she had done to go to prison 36 or 18, the last two dungeons the Lupe could be in. She sat down and took a deep breath. She then closed her eyes and spent the rest of the break in silence.
The next day, she snuck toward prison 36. She didn’t want anyone to catch her by surprise like Dr. Sloth had yesterday. And he isn’t even a doctor, she thought to herself.
When she reached the prison, she stared through the bars at the figure of a shivering, tied up Lupe. His front and back paws were bound together, but it seemed that he could hop.
“Hey, hey you,” Gruselda whispered through the bars. His ears perked up, and he spun around. When he saw Gruselda, he snarled and attempted to pounce, but just fell over backwards.
“No, I’m not going to hurt you!”
“Oh really? Aren’t those the same words that got me in here in the first place?” Gruselda gulped.
“No, I really don’t want to hurt you.”
“Oh, okay then.” The Lupe’s face softened.
“What? You’re going to trust me, just like that?”
“Well, if you did want to do anything to me, you would have already, instead of just standing around and talking.”
“Oh. I guess I would have.”
“If you didn’t come to hurt me, why did you? And aren’t you that Grundo that refused to help tie me up?”
“Thanks. But why did you come?”
“Just to see if you were okay. I liked seeing someone stand up to Dr. Sloth like that.”
The Lupe laughed. “It wasn’t Dr. Sloth. If he were trying to tie me up I would have passed out in fear.”
“You stood up to his officers.”
“That’s different. Now tell me, what’s your name?”
“Really? I think you deserve a prettier name.” Gruselda almost smiled. She knew that the Lupe’s words were true; he didn’t seem like one to lie.
“Thanks. Now, what’s your name?”
“How did you get here?”
“I’d rather not talk about that.”
An awkward silence followed.
The next half hour of Gruselda’s break was spent listening to Randhir’s childhood stories. She had to stop herself from smiling after each one. She didn’t ever smile in the Space Station. Never. It was too unhappy a place for smiling.
For the next couple of days, Gruselda visited Randhir every time she had a break. He was the only one she had ever really talked with, and he didn’t like to call her Gruselda.
When Randhir heard about the white paint brush and Dr. Sloth incident, he roared so loudly that Gruselda had to walk away for fear of someone coming and seeing that she spent time with Randhir.
Three days after she had first met Randhir, Gruselda heard distressing news: Randhir was to be taken off the ship and flown to some distant place. The rumors where that the “distant place” was really another spaceship flown by some incredibly powerful being for whom Dr. Sloth worked. Gruselda doubted it; the plots that were constantly surfacing were made by a person that couldn’t be smart enough to make allies of people like Dr. Sloth.
Still, she worried. They might take Randhir to some distant moon, drop him off there and confine the rest of his days to utter loneliness. Randhir was the only friend she had ever had, and she didn’t want Dr. Sloth to take him away.
Two days after the first bit of news had arrived, stories began to spread about the fact that in four days time, Dr. Sloth would leave for Lutari Island. Gruselda made up her mind, then and there, that when Dr. Sloth left for Neopia, Randhir would too, and Gruselda was going to help him.
Randhir begged for Gruselda not to do it, he asked her to not endanger herself for his sake, but she saw through him. She knew he wanted to escape, and he wanted to badly. So when he finally gave in, Gruselda knew that she had given him the greatest gift a friend could.
Gruselda barely slept the night before her grand adventure. There were so many things that could go wrong, not the least of which was there was endless opportunity for them to be discovered. Several times she told herself to forget about the plan, it was stupid, she was endangering not only herself but also Randhir, but deep inside, Gruselda knew she had already made up her mind long ago.
When the other Grundos were roused from sleep, Gruselda forced herself to eat, knowing that her time of action was 24 hours away, and she would need food before then. She completed her morning chores normally, then bolted down some more lunch. During the afternoon, she cleaned rooms, scrubbed floors, and inspected dungeons as she normally would. However, she “accidentally” forgot to lock the door to one of Dr. Sloth’s small spaceships that he used for excursions to Neopia after she finished cleaning it.
Then Gruselda could do nothing but wait.
The evening was bright and clear – or as bright and clear as in evening in the Space Station could be. Only when Gruselda was sure all the other Grundos were asleep did she dare to sneak out. She went to Randhir’s prison first. He was already awake.
“I’ve decided I’m not coming,” she whispered to him. The space station was her one and only home, and she didn’t know how tolerant Neopians were of ugly pets with ugly names. If no one discovered her role in Randhir’s escape, she could continue living here.
“Oh.” Randhir’s voice betrayed none of his emotions.
“Well, we need to get to the kitchens.”
“Wait, I have something to do.” Gruselda snuck to the kitchens alone, wondering what on earth Randhir needed to do. When her cloth was full of different foods, she tied it up and returned to Randhir’s cell. He huffed into sight half a minute later. In his own cloth, he was carrying something, but Gruselda couldn’t see what.
“They saw me.” Randhir said in response to Gruselda’s questioning look. “They were still in bed, so we have a definite advantage over them.”
“What’s in the cloth?” Just as Gruselda asked, there was a bang from where Randhir had came.
“It looks like they managed to get up. Come on!” Randhir urged Gruselda, already running.
They reached the outdoor port where Dr. Sloth tethered his mini-space ships. Gruselda gasped. They had changed formation. Dr. Sloth did this when he decided that the way they were all facing was getting boring, and evidently his temporary replacement did this too.
“What?” Randhir asked.
“Oh, they changed the positions! They physically move them around, though, they push them to their new places, so they wouldn’t have discovered that a door was unlocked. But we have to find it!”
“Hurry! Find the one that isn’t locked!” Gruselda was already running and trying doors.
She heard the bangs become louder and get dangerously closer. What are they doing, to be causing that sort of noise? She wondered frantically pulling on more doors. Finally, Randhir met her in the middle.
“They’re all locked! What’re we going to do?” Gruselda racked her brains. Suddenly, two sleepy-looking but fierce commanders burst in and spotted them.
“The other side!” Gruselda screamed. “I unlocked the other side!” As the two commanders burst into the room, more Grundos came streaming into the room. Randhir growled and shot away from her. Gruselda frantically pulled on doors, but none of them gave way.
“Who’s the Grundo?” one of the commanders asked. They were standing around the entrance as if afraid to do anything.
“Dunno. HEY, YOU!!! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”
Gruselda gulped, but didn’t say anything.
“I think it’s a male... definitely a male...”
“Shadow or purple, but probably shadow, ‘cause I can’t see any spots...”
A small blue Grundo piped up, “Ya know, while you two are contemplating who the Grundo is, it and the Lupe might get away.”
The commanders looked stricken, as if they had only just realized this themselves.
“Well, AFTER THEM!” one roared. The Grundos began charging all over the place, but none came toward Gruselda. They must not have been able to see her, and for once, Gruselda thanked her color for keeping her hidden. A white Grundo was sure to stick out. However, she couldn’t see Randhir. She continued silently pulling on doors, only to get to the last one and find it locked. The unlocked one was on Randhir’s side. She tried groping her way through the dark, scared to death that she would run into another Grundo. Their footsteps were echoing all around the hall, and the mingled yells of the commanders were hardly heard above the din.
Taking a chance, Gruselda ran – straight into a Grundo who had just appeared from a row of spaceships.
“It was here!!! It was here!!!” The orange Grundo’s yells somehow managed to carry over all the other yells, and the Grundos slowly began running to the spot where Gruselda had knocked over the orange one.
Gruselda, however, kept running. Then she heard a shout.
“Oi! You! Over here!” It had been Randhir’s yell. She ran towards it, along with the other Grundo’s behind her. Gruselda was closer, though. She ran, and Randhir grabbed her from behind a spaceship.
“I found it, it’s over here! Come on!” The other Grundos had reached the spot from where Randhir had shouted, but Gruselda and Randhir were slowly moving away from them.
“Thanks for not using my name.”
“Don’t mention it. In fact, don’t mention anything, just keep RUNNING!” A commander burst into the passage behind them, but he was no match for Gruselda and Ranhir. They easily outstripped him.
Panting, they got to the door of the designated ship. Randhir pulled it open and clambered inside. Gruselda threw her food bag in, but Randhir gave her the cloth that he had.
“Open it back in your room!” he hissed.
Gruselda looked at the doorway leading back to the main spaceship. It was so close, the Grundos wouldn’t catch her. She would slip into bed and wake up in the morning, not knowing anything about the incident. She looked back at Randhir, wanting to say something, and then realized that she didn’t want to stay with Dr. Sloth. She wanted to stay with Randhir, her first true friend. And she still couldn’t say anything. The words kept getting stuck in her throat.
Finally Ranhir looked up and saw her, and Gruselda saw he didn’t want to leave her any more than she did. Gruselda opened her mouth to try to explain, but Randhir talked first.
“Come with me.” And despite the danger she was in, despite the Grundos running around trying to recapture her, she smiled her first true smile.
Thanks for reading! Any feedback is appreciated!