Goldrun: A Petpet Rescue! - Part One
The sun was an orange puddle, melting as it set in the near-dusk sky. This was odd, I thought. It was round and yellow a few minutes ago, and directly above our heads. It was releasing its gleaming rays in the vast blue sky as we gathered for our lunch at Dane and Sierra's house. And it began to dawn on me, then, that this was not the only major difference in the surroundings here. Before us lay sand for miles, with the odd cactus sprouting from the dry ground. The oriental houses we'd once grown used to were now replaced with yellowing, crooked buildings made of wood: we were no longer in Shenkuu.
"Oh, my. What have you done this time, Henry?"
Sierra rose first. She brushed off the excess sand stuck to her golden jewellery, and ruffled her hair. Being the only Desert pet (and the "only nicely painted pet!") out of the three of us, she took particular care in her appearance. Her limbs were adorned with gems and delights, handed down from Coltzan himself; her fur was a warm shade of tan, which glowed in the low sunlight. Usually the cheerful and carefree member of our select group, she didn't seem particularly pleased with the outcome of my curiosity.
"Would you care to explain what has happened, Henry? If I recall correctly, a moment ago I was standing in my front yard with a sandwich in my hand. Now, I have neither a front yard, nor a sandwich, and I'm in a place that I've never seen in my life!" Sierra's best attempt at anger was laughable. With a slight crease in her forehead and a hint of annoyance in her tone, I could easily see that she was secretly quite excited at this unexpected turn of events.
Dane, on the other hand, was not as appreciative as Sierra appeared to be. Because he was Sierra's brother, you would typically expect more similarities – the only obvious one, however, was that they're both Gelerts. Sierra grasped the new environment almost immediately, gazing around in wonder and practically itching to explore. Dane refused to stand up at all to begin with, and shivered at the thought of being more than a mile away from home.
After a shaky start, Dane reluctantly stood up with Sierra and me. He gave a hesitant smile, and began to take in the new surroundings we'd landed in. Amongst the sandy residue that vastly spread before us were several buildings and citizens of this newfound land. Signs announced why each building took its place; I noted that several of these buildings could also be found back home. The food store appeared to have a large delivery of meat-based products – a muscled Mynci heaved large crates of grub through the doorway. There was a pharmacy, similar to the restoratives hut I had frequented once back home when I'd come down with a bad case of headaches. A shop that advertised petpets was next door to the pharmacy, but they didn't seem to have a lot of business today. In fact, I had to wonder if the store was still open.
We turned around, and another large sign stood five foot above us. It hung from two posts dug deep into the ground, held on by two rusted chains that creaked eerily in the wind. It simply read, in chapped black paint, "Goldrun".
"Hold it right there, ya darn'd trespassers."
All three of us looked over in the direction of the voice simultaneously. Before us stood a Spotted Kau, in rather different attire than we were used to. She wore a brown waistcoat, with a white blouse underneath, and blue denim jeans with chaps. Around her neck rested a red and white checkered bandanna. Her feet boasted pointed western-style boots with complicated patterns on the heel. In one hand, she held a hat to cover her face, as if we reeked of an awful stench. In the other hand, she held a Cork Gun, facing in the direction of Sierra, Dane and me. The last thing I noticed was a badge stamped on her waistcoat; the words ‘Sheriff' were imprinted in gold. She stepped closer, with her Cork Gun still pointed towards us. She watched us carefully, her eyes sharpened in a suspicious manner.
"So, y'all gonna spit it out, already? Where are they?"
* * *
It was a normal Saturday. Every Saturday, I'd go to Dane and Sierra's house. We would quickly exchange greetings on the doorstep, and make our way inside. I'd say "hello" to their mother. She would make sandwiches and squeeze fresh orange juice for us, and we'd eat our lunch in the front yard if it were a sunny day.
Today was sunny, so I walked down to their house this morning. I was excited – my father had given me a new book called The Spotted Kau, and I couldn't wait to read it with Dane and Sierra. I knocked on the door, and read the back of my highly anticipated book. "This is about a spotted Kau, not a speckled Kau!" It made me giggle, and Sierra opened the door with a smile.
"What are you laughing at, Henry? Come on in. Dane's just washing the dishes for Mother." She fluttered her eyelashes, and opened the door wider for me to enter their home.
It was approaching 12pm NST, and we were sitting on a picnic table in the front yard once again. Dane was happily munching a peanut butter sandwich, whilst Sierra was running away from a stray Buzzer trying to eat her lunch. I was skimming through my new book, when I came across a small piece of folded paper inside page 14.
"Hey, Dane, I've found something. I think the shopkeeper left it in here."
Dane shuffled over to examine the paper. We opened it, and it was covered with sandy residue. We began to read it aloud, at the same time, as Sierra strolled over to investigate. Half of the note was too dirty to read, but we continued nevertheless.
"To whoever may find this, we need your--"
"--help. Our town is suffering from a--"
"--at high noon. Signed, Sheriff Ellie of Goldrun."
We had little time to discuss it. A quick, confused glance at each other was all we could muster. High noon, it was - and all of a sudden, we were being pulled off of the ground and into the unknown.
* * *
"Whoa, now! Calm down, Miss!" Dane shouted, throwing his hands in the air in a bid of useless defence.
The Kau's eyes widened at Dane's back chatting, and began to rant in reply. "Who ya tellin' to calm down? You're the ones causin' ma good people endless weeks o' sorrow, ain't ya? Months, I been waitin' on some'un to come forward, some'un to come help, some'un to give ‘em back! I demand to know where ya put--"
"Please! You're misunderstood, ma'am." I dared to interrupt, and waited. The Kau stopped, and her ears perked up to listen. Although I didn't know why, or how we got here, I tried to explain. "We found your message back in Shenkuu. I think... I think we're here to help. You... would be Sheriff Ellie of Goldrun, no?"
I didn't have the faintest clue what I was saying; I was hesitantly quoting the shreds of the message we had found. The Kau, however, appeared to be satisfied. She finally rested her arms and let them hang by her sides; the Cork Gun was back in her pocket, and her hat was perched on her head where it belonged. She held out her hand, and we each shook it in greeting.
"Yes, I am. I am Ellie, Sheriff of ma good land, Goldrun. I welcome ya, Neopets, an' I do apologise for ma uppity behaviour. May I ask o' your names?" She gave a warm smile – a completely different side to the powerful, authoritative Ellie we met a few minutes earlier.
"I am Henry, ma'am." Ellie inspected my Lupe figure, my messy brown fur, and my hat that was ever so similar to her own. "These are Dane and Sierra. Brother and sister, and the best friends I could ask for." Dane grinned in delight and bowed. Sierra gagged behind him before giggling, and curtseying to the Sheriff.
"Well, it's certainly a pleasure to meet y'all. Our land has been waitin' an' waitin' for a miracle, an' hopefully y'all can help us."
We hesitated, and I sighed at having to be the one who asked the questions. Dane, of course, was probably still terrified at the aspect of being away from home. Sierra, however, was simply being ignorant.
"Ma'am, I'm not sure what we're here for. You see, the message you sent was a bit messy and unreadable, at parts..." I began, but was quickly interrupted by a persistent Ellie.
"O' course not! D'ya think I woulda put our problem in writin', to send across Neopia? Don't be such a fool, ‘Enry!" She beamed, almost laughing in our expense at our complete confusion. "In fact, I won' tell ya what's wrong with lil Goldrun; I'll show ya instead. Come with me."
At first, I thought Ellie was going to take out a rope and lasso us into a bundle to lead us around, in the style I would have assumed her personality would allow. Typically, Dane appeared to be horrified of following this stranger, lassos or not. However, she whistled to us and we obediently trailed after her around the now deserted streets of Goldrun. We passed the food store and the pharmacy, and Ellie appeared to bow her head as we trotted past the petpet shop. She looked up again shortly after, in front of a building with swinging, wooden doors. She sighed, and swiftly opened the door to let us in.
The building appeared to be a café of sorts; a saloon, perhaps. Neopets sat around tables in a glum manner, exchanging small talk. The lighting was created by the low sunlight leaking through the cracks in the walls and the small box windows, which made the room have a slight haunted atmosphere. No background music played – only the chatter of sad Neopets, the creaking of the saloon doors, the tumbleweed bouncing outside and the slow trickling of smoothies and slushies dripping out of the several barrels at the counter sounded.
"So, what d'ya think is wrong with ‘em, huh? ‘ny guesses?" Ellie turned around to us, breaking us away from our sudden sympathy for the Neopets surrounding us.
"...I'm not sure, ma'am. Everyone seems very sad, but I don't know why," Sierra whispered, most likely hoping Ellie's first impression of her wasn't a bad one.
"Well, young Gelert, why don' we go ask ma lovely Laurene over here, huh? She's lookin' very lonely t'day."
I turned around to where Ellie was watching, and there Laurene was. A beautiful white Acara with curly brown locks, and the presumed owner of the saloon, was standing behind the counter. She buried her face in her hands, and looked vacantly out of the window every so often. There was an atmosphere of sadness and mourning as we approached her, and I suddenly felt uneasy. Dane's terrified facial expression hadn't left his face just yet, but he clutched Sierra's paw, as a protective brother should.
"Oh, Ellie. Nothin's the same here without ma precious Alabriss around to ‘elp me with movin' these big barrels around and mixin' the smoothies in the back. We ain't got no custom, an' I ain't happy without ma best friend here to keep lil ole' me company no more. Ellie, it's breakin' ma heart." Tears welled up in her eyes as she quickly told her story to get it out of the way, and had to excuse herself to hide her sorrow. "I'm sorry ‘bout this. I'm jus' findin' it hard to cope."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Dane and Sierra taking in all of the items behind the counter. The barrels Laurene had mentioned were dripping continuously with a rainbow of colours. We could only presume that Laurene's Alabriss would have helped her with simple chores, like tightening the pumps on the barrels, cleaning up afterwards, making sure the smoothies weren't a peculiar colour like a variety of them appeared to be – but where had her petpet gone?
"Laurene, please don't be upset." Sierra stepped forward to place a gentle paw on Laurene's shoulder in comfort. She looked back at Ellie to confirm that she could befriend Laurene, and Ellie nodded. "When was the last time you saw your Alabriss?"
Between sobs, Laurene looked up to the Desert Gelert that stood over her. "Months ago - I los' count after abou' 78 days... we were gettin' a delivery out back, an' I was countin' the Neopoints we'd made the day before. Celia - my darling Alabriss - didn' return after half an hour, so I went to look for her. Nothin'. The barrels o' goods were everywhere, but Celia was gone. Petpets had started goin' missin' before then... but... I was hopin' they wouldn' get to Celia..."
Laurene trailed off in a loss for words. Sierra's eyes fell to the ground, as if she had no comforting words left. Me and Dane began to speak at the same time, since we were both now eager to help, but Dane persisted in whisper, as to not cause Laurene anymore distress.
"So, do you have any leads? Y'know, as to where the petpets may have gone? I'm sure we can help. Sierra and I used to always play Detective when we were younger, and we always solved it..."
Ellie giggled at the thought of two young Gelerts chasing around a back yard in search of clues, perhaps with props like a magnifying glass and a cloak. We paced away from Laurene, and silently bid goodbye to the sad Neopets that flocked the saloon. Swinging the doors once more, we breathed in the sandy fresh air and turned to Ellie for the next steps of our rescue mission.
"Well, we don' really have ‘ny leads right now, but the petpet store would be the best place to look for clues first, don'cha think?"
We all nodded in unison, and made our way to the seemingly abandoned shop.
Now that we'd gotten closer to the petpet shop, I noticed a few differences that I hadn't taken in earlier, when we had first arrived. The windows on either side of the door had been somewhat boarded up, but it had been a poor job. Any passers-by could still view what was inside, although there wasn't much to be delighted by. A few stray chairs lay scattered on the floor, and the counter looked bare and cobwebbed. There were empty cages hanging from the ceiling, which appeared to be fragile through lack of usage. Ellie coughed, and we were brought back to her attention.
"This is the Goldrun petpet store. As ya can see, it' been out of business for a while now. Y'all can go through the back an' look for clues, but I'll have to stay out here."
I looked at Dane in surprise. Dane shared the same shock. We had both assumed Ellie would be with us every step of the way, to guide us to the right clues and people to ask.
"Why aren't you coming with us?" Dane asked politely, hoping that she would rethink the matter.
"Well, it appears that the owner o' the petpet store don't trust us Goldrunnians ‘nymore. Says some'in' about us not bein' trustworthy, since he thinks one o' us took all the petpets. An unlikely story, huh? Where would we hide ‘em?" Ellie snorted. "So y'all have to go through the back wi'out me, I'm afraid. The owner don' answer the front door ‘nymore, and he don' trust me. Good luck!"
Admitting defeat, we started our short walk to the back of the shop. Dane typically started to worry once more, sweat beginning to soak the roots of his fur upon his forehead. Sierra seemed determined, which I admired. I was curious, but I certainly wished we had the support of the Sheriff.
We arrived, and stood still for a few moments. The wooden door was old and crooked – reminiscent of all the forgotten furniture lurking inside of the shop. One swift kick, and the door would have tarnished, fallen and become a wreckage upon the sand. We collectively took a deep breath - Sierra boldly grasped the door handle, twisted and pulled, and we stepped into the darkness.
To be continued...