The Co-Worker and the Missing Sister: Part Five
"It was an ordinary day for anyone in Neopia. An ordinary morning in Meridell. But one Gelert had a plan..."
The wind whistled through the trees, making it sound like they were singing. A Pteri swooped past, creating a shadow that passed over the three Neopets' heads. Then it was silent, and Alistair continued his tale.
"She was jealous of her parents and her sister. So she planned to get rid of them. She organised that they go shopping, and paid the Uni servants to abandon the carriage and help her push it off the cliff. She succeeded in killing two out of three."
Engtortia gasped, her mouth falling open. "W-what?" she whispered.
Alistair grimaced. "I told you it wasn't a nice thing to tell. Or easy for that matter. Rose wanted to inherit any of your parent's fortune herself. She wanted to work alone, live alone... she hates you, Engtortia. You're the one who lived when she didn't want you to. King Skarl knew about this too."
"I don't believe you." Engtortia was shaking her head in disbelief.
"Again, why would I lie? You're... just a thorn in Rose's side."
Alistair avoided looking into Engtortia's eyes. He was feeling guilty enough already, but to say this to Engtortia, to finally tell her some truth in her life, he could almost see Rose's disappointed eyes boring into him. What was he doing? He didn't know. But he couldn't stop now.
He patted Engtortia's shoulder as she bred tears from her eyes, falling silently like droplets of nothing, and sadness, at the same time.
* * *
Rose should have been figuring out a way to get out of here. Or she should have tried yelling for Alistair again, even though she knew he'd gone out. She should have tried convincing him not to follow through with his plan. Instead, she was now lying on the borrowed bed in this strangely relaxing room, trying not to go mad with boredom. That was right, you heard correctly. Rose was bored, there was only one word for it. Her mind wandered to what else might be in this tower. Because she knew it was a tower now – she'd stared out of the one small window often enough to try to spot something interesting, and saw it was at the very top of a long stone tower, right on the borderline between Meridell and a vast space of just forest and nothingness. The problem was, her window faced the space of nothingness, so not even peering outside could entertain her. She looked through the bars of the door keeping her in here, but saw only the set of keys far across where she could never reach, and a long winding staircase with a red rug covering the steps. There were lit torches on the stone walls to keep the area visible, but Rose could only observe flickering flames for so long. This had to be the strangest dungeon ever.
She'd tried on every outfit in the wardrobe, selecting her favourite by the end, which was a crimson frock with scarlet high heeled shoes, and sank onto the bed, which was where she was now. How long had she been in here? A day? Two? It had felt like forever. Then a thought crossed her mind. Alistair couldn't possibly be doing this whole scheme on his own. What if there was someone else in this tower? She leaped up, smoothing the creases in her dress, and leaned as far out of the iron bars as she could without getting stuck.
"Hello?" Rose called. "Is anyone else in here? I need a drink of water!"
There was no reply; Rose dropped to the floor in defeat. But then her ears pricked up – she'd heard something, she was sure. Yes! Footsteps, coming up the staircase. Heavy ones, frightening ones, slowly making their way up to Rose. She tried not to feel nervous – after all, she'd dealt with many scary villains. But she hadn't been in such a vulnerable position before...
"You wanted some water?" A deep, gruff but kind voice broke into Rose's thoughts. There was a huge mutant Grundo stood outside her door, holding a cup of water and a scroll, an ink Pteri feather balanced on top. He passed them through to her and stayed where he was. "Alistair told me you might ask for a scroll to write poetry on. He said you'd always wanted to be a poet."
Rose flushed, embarrassed. Yes, that was her secret dream. She'd told Alistair in a moment of weakness when she saw that he wrote poetry too. But for him it was only a hobby, and he was so naturally good it made Rose jealous as she had to work hard to do just as well. She wondered for a fleeting moment if this was how Alistair felt about work – except he couldn't even beat Rose so it must be far worse. Sympathy washed over Rose as she thought about Alistair now, but there was still some anger in there. She smiled at the Grundo. She had to take advantage of his company while he was still there. "I can't believe Alistair told you that. I made him swear to secrecy." She gave a nervous laugh, sizing up just how big this Grundo was. "Who are you, anyway? What are you doing here working with Alistair?" She sipped the water gratefully.
"I am Luiner Fiarrold, but call me Fiarrold," the Grundo replied, almost shyly. He sat himself down with a sigh. "I am working with Alistair because he promised me if I make the potion successfully he will let me create an army to overthrow Dr Sloth and get my revenge. He took me when I was a young Grundo and I suffered for ten years before escaping, the only one to ever do so." He paused, eyeing Rose cautiously as if wondering whether or not to go on. "My real dream was to be a chef, with an amazing secret recipe, but Dr Sloth destroyed that dream and now I have to get revenge."
Rose shook her head firmly. "No, Fiarrold!" She told him, crossly. "No, you don't! Dr Sloth didn't ruin your dream. You can still achieve it. Alistair is just trying to get revenge King Skarl by doing what he tried to prevent my –" She broke off abruptly, looking startled for a moment. "Don't do this."
Fiarrold hesitated. He seemed as if this was the first time such a thought had entered his mind. "You don't understand. These pets will be under my control, and I will lead a huge army to defeat him," he concluded eventually.
"You're stupid to do this!" Rose exclaimed. "I don't understand why you would think revenge is the best option."
But Fiarrold had picked himself up after a sly smile at her comment, and was walking away without looking back, disturbed by her anger and negative response to his dream.
* * *
Engtortia practically threw the guard out of the way as she stormed through the castle. She reached King Skarl's room, wrenching open the door, with Oliver scuttling apologetically behind her. The door slammed behind them, and King Skarl stood up, startled. The guards either side of him held closer to their swords cautiously and stepped forward, but the King shook his head at them. He'd realised it was Engtortia by now but hadn't quite gathered why she was so angry as of yet. The Gelert didn't stop her angry striding until she was right up close to him, eyes blazing, paws clenched.
"How could you let Imogen do that to my parents? When you knew she was going to do it?" she screamed, letting loose her built up inside feelings of just wanting to be wild for once. "To me? How could this be such a secret? They'd never done anything wrong in their lives! I –"
"Wrong," King Skarl cut across her carelessly with an impatient wave of his large hand. His eyes flared; he was very protective of Rose and hated people who were angry or cross towards her for no just reason. This was one of those times, though he did understand Engtortia's frustration. It was time she knew the real truth, he decided, and inhaled deeply. "Engtortia," he murmured, sounding sympathetic suddenly. "You do not know the whole truth. I didn't just know what she had done – I had ordered her to make them leave my Kingdom." He coughed uncomfortably. "Unfortunately, Rose did this in a slightly extreme manner, which resulted in the collision, but I take full responsibility."
Engtortia blinked at the King, truly astonished. "You ordered her to do this?" she whispered, glaring at the king, arms folded, unable to believe his ruler would do this. How could they serve under such a king now? It was unbelievable.
King Skarl sighed. "If you would just listen to me before jumping to conclusions about me suddenly being a bad guy," he snapped grumpily, living up to his nickname. "Engtortia, your parents were not what they seemed. They were both working on creating a potion from old spell books leftover by Mr. Krawley all those years ago."
Oliver gasped. He had read the book on the history of Neopia, and knew exactly who Mr. Krawley was straight away. "Engtortia's parents tried to be copycats to him? How did you find out?"
"Hold on a second!" Engtortia growled. "Just what are you implying? Who is this Krawley guy and why were my parents making a potion?"
"Mr. Krawley was a Krawk around many years ago who created several potions with the power to change the form of any Neopet," Oliver explained, shyly. He was a little embarrassed to talk to King Skarl, such an important figure. "But they were evil concoctions! Bruno... do you remember him from that discussion we had a few months ago? He was turned into a monster and blamed for everything until a cure was discovered. It has been so long since, though, the cure has not been reproduced and the results could be disastrous. Everyone thought the books had been destroyed, and no complete record was kept of the ingredients for the cure. There was a flower of some sort, if I remember correctly..." He shook his head. "I thought I had read every book in Neopia but clearly, these books have been kept well hidden."
The Gelert's eyes widened. "Are you telling me my parents tried to recreate this dangerous potion?" she asked. "I can't believe it. I don't believe. I..." She frowned. "What other secrets do I not know? Why didn't Imogen tell me this? Why was I in the carriage when we crashed? Why did they have to die? Where are the books now?"
Her questions brought silence in the throne room for a few moments. King Skarl was carefully collecting his response. He licked his lips, almost nervously, then ploughed ahead with his answers. "You were too young to know the truth at that moment, and by the time you were old enough to understand properly the implications of what your parents had done, your relationship with Rose had grown... shall I say, strained. She felt it best to keep you in the dark and hope you never found out. The carriage... Rose didn't want you to be in the accident, I'm sure."
Even sooner than he had spoke, Engtortia remembered her sister's urgent demands that Engtortia shouldn't with her parents to the shop. How nervous and agitated she had been acting, how weird her goodbye was to them. It was all starting to add up. Wait! Another memory flashed back at her. The newspaper article, the one below the fashion store. There was something about books not being found, and her parents were having a conversation about it in the carriage on their journey. Her parents had seemed smug, now that she thought about it. She was too young to understand before, but now the realisation her parents were not what they seemed stabbed at her, the feeling of disappointment washing over her and making her upset, and angry. But part of her was still angry at Rose. Did they have to die for what they did? How could King Skarl order such a thing? Usually his most harsh punishment was a month in the dungeons, with only gruel to eat and the entire underground to clean.
Then the King cleared his throat, clearly looking reluctant to say what he was going to say next. Engtortia stared at him, wondering what in Neopia could be worse to say than all of this. Her head was reeling. It was like a nightmare. Who'd have thought that she, a simple Doctor from Meridell, would be involved in all of this chaos. It was surreal. Oliver must have been thinking so too.
"You asked why did they have to die," King Skarl stated. Engtortia nodded slightly, wondering where he was going with this. "Well," he told her, letting the last secret pour out of his mouth and into Engtortia's ears, "they didn't die. They're still alive."
Engtortia took one look at his sincere face and fainted.
To be continued...