The Co-Worker and the Missing Sister: Part Six
Alistair knocked on the bars of the door three times lightly, just enough to wake the sleeping Rose. She groaned something blearily – she wasn't the best of morning people – then sat up, running a hand through her curly dark hair. When she realised it was Alistair that had come to see her, she leaped out of bed quickly and stumbled over to him, wearing a long white nightgown. She blushed, embarrassed, and Alistair smiled at her absent-mindedly, before seeming to realise he was doing so and referring back to his neutral expression. They stared at each other for a few seconds in silence, then Alistair coughed and averted Rose's gaze.
"I came to say something. I told your sister the truth," he informed his old friend, guiltily. "Except... not the whole truth. About your parents."
"You did what?" Rose screeched, wide awake and even angrier than before. "What are you talking about, Alistair? You told Joanna that I was responsible for the accident? Oh Meepit... you told her how I lied about their deaths?" She was suspicious, suddenly. "How did you know about that? The last part? I'm sure that was just between me and King Skarl..."
Now Alistair looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "Your parents are still alive?"
"I -! It's a long story." Rose was flustered. "You...? Would you explain to me just what exactly you said to her?"
Alistair sighed. "I'm sorry, Rosie. I made it seem you were evil, and your parents were good. It was just to anger her, make her go to King Skarl, let him know it was me who had taken you. I wanted him to try and stop my plan so I could succeed with pride. Taking you was just, er, a spur of the moment type thing when I saw you and now it's all spiralled out of control." He seemed saddened; guilty. "I just wanted to get my own back on King Skarl. He ruined my dreams. Why not wreck what he achieved? He got what he wanted – I didn't."
The brunette Gelert stared at the other curiously, sympathetically. She had known him for many years and if there was one thing Rose knew about him, it was that he took his dreams very seriously and lived to achieve them. When he got fired, she didn't even give it a think about how crushed he must have been. In fact, she let them grow apart and barely cared. Now, though, she cared. Looking into his sad eyes, seeing the lost little Gelert he was, and the angry adult Gelert he is now, she remembered seeing happiness there once. When he was working with her. Together, they were beating the bad guys and living the dream. Now, he was the bad guy and she had to decide whether to help him or defeat him, both with different outcomes. She had to think of the consequences. First of all, this could all be an elaborate trick set to make her feel sorry for him and make her in a worse situation than she was currently in. She highly doubted this (for her his upset and frustrated nature was genuine) but it could be a possibility. Second, if she did decide to help him, how could she do this while stuck in this dungeon? He would continue with the plan regardless of her feelings and she had to stop that. She wanted to help him and not just hand him over to King Skarl, which was the third (and much more difficult to achieve) option. So it looked like option number two was the way to go.
She was furious with him. Livid. But she was also tired of walking around with that secret clouding her mind, like a big heavy weight. Now that Engtortia at least knew some of the truth, it was lifting, bit by bit. If she did go to King Skarl, then he would have told her the truth. Completely. And the weight was gone. She smiled, relief washing over her. In a way, Alistair did her a favour. Engtortia would be sure to shout at her in anger at hiding the truth from her all those years, but Rose could handle that. She was tougher than people thought. Though her sister probably knew this.
But something still troubled her mind. "Alistair," she questioned him now, in a low voice, "just how did you get this all together? And how did you get those books? This 'plan' of yours? What even is it exactly? I'm so confused. You talked about our thirteenth mission and then this Grundo came up and talked about getting revenge on Dr Sloth –"
"Fiarrold was up here?" Alistair interrupted her. He focused behind her and saw the empty glass of water and scroll, half full of elegant script. "You've been writing poetry?"
"Don't change the subject, Alistair." Rose rolled her eyes expressively. "Are you going to explain to me exactly what is going on, or will I just have to guess?"
"No, no." Alistair sighed; defeated. "I'll tell you. Our thirteenth mission was to capture your parents in the act and record the evidence of this. They were trying to recreate the potions made by Mr Krawley to transform neopets into monsters. We caught them, and then you organised the 'accident'. Engtortia was accidentally in this, and your parents died. Though, apparently, they are still alive. I need to know more about this. Later, you told me to throw the books in a fire. I pretended to do so and kept them, reading them with simple interest, no intention to actually follow through with the plans written inside. But your father, being a Professor, had developed the cure to this, and was going to sell it for millions of neopoints a piece. This would have perhaps given it away he was the culprit in making the potions in the first place but he was going to destroy any evidence and, being the only one with the cure, people would have had to have listened to him."
He wiped a hand across his mouth. Rose was nodding. She knew some of this already, though she was surprised Alistair would just keep the books like that. "When the King fired me, I was so angry I wasn't thinking straight. I ran into a Grundo who just so happened to be an excellent potions master – this was Luiner Fiarrold – and it seemed like fate was telling me to do this. To do what your parents couldn't, because they were caught. And this took many years to bring together. We should have the potion finished any day now, enough to make a thousand doses."
"I'll tell you about my parents some time, Alistair. It's complicated." Rose rubbed her differently coloured eyes. "And when these thousand doses are drunk... what happens then?"
Alistair looked puzzled for a moment, as if the thought hadn't crossed his mind. And clearly, it hadn't because he didn't give Rose an answer. He may have been extremely clever, but the common sense that something would have to happen after the plan was completed was lost on him. "I don't care what happens after." He murmured quietly. But this didn't sound genuine.
"Is there any way I can make you stop this?" Rose asked sadly. "Will you at least let me go eventually?"
"I will let you go when the potion has been consumed by a thousand neopets," Alistair replied shortly, then stood up, brushing imaginary dust off of his trousers. "I wrote you a poem, by the way."
"Me?" Rose took the piece of paper Alistair had taken out of his pocket and studied it. When she looked up, Alistair had retreated a few metres, seeming embarrassed. "Alistair, this is really good," she said, frowning. "Why can't you become a poet, rather than an evil mastermind?" She was being serious, but a playful smile reached her lips at the thought of him being an 'evil mastermind'.
Alistair smiled too. "You think so?" But he wrinkled his nose. "I'm not evil. I'm just... angry."
"Normal people talk about their feelings, Alistair." Rose sighed. "I'm so disappointed in you. We used to be so close, best friends, maybe even –"
"And look what happened there!" Alistair interrupted crossly. "I get left behind while you swan off with your successful career!"
Rose opened her mouth, then closed it again. He had a point. She had never made a true effort to stay friends with him, despite their many years together. When Alistair disappeared one day, and she never heard from him again, she didn't go looking for him. Now, it looked like this was the biggest mistake she could have ever made. His anger was so strong, so cold, and revenge seemed the only way out. Rose didn't know how to solve this case. She had to think about this one carefully. It was the hardest task she'd ever done, and she wasn't even assigned to this officially.
Her old friend bent down and picked up a scrap of paper next to Rose – one of the poems she'd been writing. He read it intently, then tossed it back to her. "Not your best work," he muttered bluntly.
"You were always the better poet," Rose told him. "You could have become famous..."
Before Alistair could reply, they heard heavy footsteps bounding up the stairs in an excited manner. Fiarrold appeared at the top and, breathless, exclaimed to Alistair, "The potion is ready!"
"Alistair!" Rose cried, reaching out her hand instantly. Alistair was already on his feet and looking Fiarrold's way. "Don't do this – please."
He gave her a last unhappy gaze, then turned his back and her and followed Fiarrold back downstairs. Rose was left in the dungeon. She plucked at her nightgown helplessly, then picked up the piece of paper with Alistair's poem on it and read it once more, ignoring the damp patches that were her tears.
Because Rose never cried. Not now, not ever. She couldn't. She had to protect her sister, protect the world. And she was failing at the latter right now, as she sat in a dungeon in a tower while below the world was coming to an end as people knew it.
* * *
Engtortia opened her eyes. She was squinting at the concerned heads of King Skarl's guards and Oliver, who helped her up when they realised she had come to. Her head felt a little woozy for a second, and then she remembered why she'd fainted in the first place. Information overload. It had all gotten too much. First, her parents were killed by her sister. Then, her parents were evil. Then, her parents weren't even dead. It was a lot to digest in less than five minutes, and she was going to hear even more now. Oliver looked surprisingly calm about the whole situation; perhaps Skarl had told him everything while she'd been unconscious. It wouldn't have surprised her, or bothered her for that matter. Oliver was in this with her together. They were best friends.
She was put onto a plush chair that had been brought in for her when she came to. Oliver had also been given a seat, but he was on his feet, excitement radiating from him. This was big. Nothing interesting had ever happened to him so he couldn't help feeling great to be included in this huge family secret. Engtortia exhaled through her nose impatiently. Oliver flushed and sank to his seat. King Skarl, by contrast, rose from his.
"It was after the accident. It was intended to knock them unconscious, so that Rose could bring them to a secret location where they would be living with all the other huge villains of Neopia. This place was a mountain on Lutari Island, where only the rich or famous visit. No civilian lives there, so it was the perfect hiding place, and any visiting areas were on the opposite side of the Island." King Skarl stared directly at Engtortia was he was explaining this, wanting to make sure she understood. "When your parents woke up, it was Rose's job to explain to them that she knew exactly what they had been planning and they'd been brought here to live a life without any access to potions, spells, books, anything." He cleared his throat. "They've been living there for many years now, and Rose visits them once a year. They do ask about you."
"Hold up!" Engtortia's head was swimming again. "You're telling me that while they've been alive all this time, Imogen has been visiting them? I don't... ? Why couldn't I just be told about this rather than be kept in the dark?"
King Skarl sniffed. "It was Rose's decision, and I respect that. While your parents are to stay on that Island, they are very happy there after the first initial shock. They have a better quality of life after accepting what they did was wrong and showing genuine remorse for their actions. It was your mother that was sorry first. Your father took a few weeks. He wanted to get money to move you into the mansion of his dreams, according to him, and after selling the cure to that dreadful potion he would be able to. They didn't actually intend for anyone to stay that way, but it was an unacceptable thing to do."
This was unbelievable. Engtortia nodded stiffly. "And... they've really asked about me? They're doing okay?" She should have felt terrific anger towards her parents, but she didn't. She hadn't seen them in so long and believed them dead; arguing with them now after all these years would have been pointless. As for her sister... well, there was still the issue of her going missing to resolve. Her eyes widened. She'd almost forgotten about that in the heat of the moment! "Why would Alistair have lied to me, though?" she asked, confused. "I thought they were childhood friends? He told me I was just a thorn in Imogen's side." She shivered at the memory and looked away. Outside, it was beginning to rain.
The King leaned forward in interest. "Did you just say Alistair?"
* * *
"...and that's why we can't trust Alistair. He was fired and therefore angry and I just know he is plotting something in revenge." King Skarl chewed his lip, concerned. "That must be why he contacted you. He knew that I would be informed as you were on your way to see me – oh!" His expression cleared. "Of course. It all makes sense."
Oliver and Engtortia exchanged a glance, perplexed. "What makes sense exactly?" Oliver asked.
"Alistair telling you about Rose. It made me recall your parents' mishap. Which links to the books, and then Alistair is now planning something, I'm sure." He ordered them to rise, and beckoned them to walk with him down a corridor into another room. "In here is a file recording Alistair's current location. He doesn't realise, but we keep track of all fired agents in case they start acting strangely."
He brought out a sheet of paper with a neatly printed address. It was a tower on the outskirts of Meridell. "I have no doubt that Rose is there. Engtortia, you and Oliver go and sort the situation. If you do not reappear within a day, I will send my guards to come and fetch you and catch Alistair. Perhaps I am wrong. But I do not think so this time."
Engtortia nodded. She just wanted to see her sister again, to tell her she didn't care what she'd done, kept this a secret. And she wanted to tell her that things were going to go back to how they used to. They weren't going to argue (as much) anymore, she would come home as early as possible, and she would help with any chores around the house. It was a burning urge eating away at her to just rescue the sister that had always protected her in the past, though Rose hid this well with the sense of her finding Engtortia a burden. But Engtortia knew better now, she knew the weight Rose had to hold over her head, this secret, and while it was her own choice to do this, she was doing it to protect Engtortia from the awful truth of her parents' evil scheme.
She and Oliver took the paper and thanked King Skarl. Before they left, he murmured, "Engtortia, you can visit them, you know."
She turned back, and smiled. "Maybe," she replied, and then she left the room, Oliver in tow, to go on her first mission. It was strange, really; she was doing Rose's job, practically, but another side of her thought about her old detective dream. She'd managed to track down where she was, hadn't she? Maybe there was hope for that yet. Right now though, it was time to get Rose back.
* * *
The basement's large cauldron was bubbling and sizzling, steaming and almost overflowing. The liquid was frothy, but creamy, and the colour of the midnight sky. The moon seeped through the high small window at the top of the stone, grey wall, lighting up the otherwise dark room. The door opened, making a loud screeching noise that caused a small Spyder to find a hiding place in a crack in the wall. Two Neopets hurried down the built in stone steps, a huge Mutant Grundo and a one eyed Gelert, whose clothes were dusty and scuffed, unlike his usual pristine condition. But lately this certain Gelert had been forgetting about trivial matters such as these. It was time to take action. The potion was finally complete.
On a long wooden table, one thousand bottle flasks were laid out in ordered rows. Ready to be filled with the dangerous substance, and sent out into the world. The two both set to work immediately on filling these glass bottles, one by one. It took hours, but just as the last bottle was sealed with a cork there was a loud banging on the door. It was pouring with rain outside so perhaps someone was coming to shelter. This was the Grundo's fault. The Gelert thought differently, a frown creasing in his forehead. A bad feeling washed over him and he knew this wasn't someone innocent sheltering from the cold, the storm. They were the storm, coming to catch him in the act. He exhaled impatiently as the knocking persisted, confirming his suspicions. The Grundo nodded slowly at his companion.
"I'll deal with whoever it is, Fiarrold," Alistair informed him, sighing. "I'll deal with Engtortia." Because he knew it would be her, come to get her sister, though he didn't know how she found him. "The potions are complete. Why don't I bring in the first Neopet?" He smirked. "Perhaps her friend can be that test subject."
They both laughed, then Alistair walked upstairs and dashed across the hall to the front door. He opened it, and raised an eyebrow knowingly. It was just who he expected.
* * *
Rose peered out of her window, but she couldn't see anything because of the rain. She flopped on her bed and thought about her sister with a saddened smile. Was she ever going to get out of here? She almost didn't want to. Because getting out would mean a thousand neopets being subject to the mutation Bruno suffered. Slowly, she drifted into sleep.
The battle was almost over, and yet it hadn't even begun. The scent of challenge rose up into the air, as the sodden duo Engtortia and Oliver stared Alistair out. He stepped backwards, allowing them into his home, and the door slammed shut behind them. He propped his elbows into the air, leaning on his head, and groaned. He wasn't in the mood to sort out these two right now. He had work to do. But he eyed Oliver, interested. This was a non family member Neopet, so Rose wouldn't be too angry or betrayed, he thought, grinning. Perhaps he could be the first neopet to drink the concoction. Yes... maybe their little visit wasn't such a big loss after all. But before he could speak, Engtortia punched him full pelt in the face, rage boiling around her.
Alistair flew backwards, hitting a wall and knocked off his feet. He panted for breath, surprised at this sudden attack. But he was used to being attacked – he used to be a Defender of Neopia! The Gelert picked himself up and stood ready for any other blows coming his way. But Engtortia had subsided now, content with just glaring at him, while Oliver looked at him too, furious with him.
"What was that for? A little immature, no? For a doctor?" Alistair smirked. He brushed off some dust on his navy shirt and shrugged. "Why are you here?"
"As if you don't know the answer to both of those questions!" Engtortia snarled, clenching her fist once more. "That was for lying to me about Imogen. How – how dare you even act so nonchalantly, like this isn't even a big deal, when you know exactly what you've done! Where is my sister? Where is Imogen? What are you planning?"
Alistair tried to fight the urge to glance upwards at where Rose was located. He managed to, but just barely. "I take it you've found out the real truth then?" he guessed, raising an eyebrow. "What's the harm then? So I told you only half the truth, made out Rosie was evil..."
"Rosie?" Oliver repeated, incredulous, then blushed at his outburst.
"A nickname," Alistair snapped, embarrassed. "What I mean is, it was all just so you would tell King Skarl that I was around again. So he would realise I was going to make sure I got my revenge on him." This time he couldn't help it and stared at the ceiling, where a winding staircase lead to Rose's room above. "Your sister was the best Agent. She'd have found out and brought me down before I could even give the potion to three neopets. I had to stop her first."
Engtortia frowned. "Potion? What are you talking about? Is this the plan you are plotting?"
"Oh, for goodness sake!" Alistair exclaimed, frustrated. He told her the details of the plan, as briefly as he could. "I don't want to have to explain myself to you. Now, if you would just leave, your sister will come home in two or three days when the scheme is complete –"
"Alistair?" Fiarrold appeared in the doorway of the door leading down to the cellar. "You were taking a long time, so I thought I would come and check." He nodded at Engtortia and Oliver awkwardly. "Who are you two?" he wondered. "Are these our first neopets?"
Then, soft at first, but growing slowly louder, the faint call of someone demanding to see Alistair – Rose!
Engtortia was on it in a flash, pushing past everyone, even Fiarrold, determined to follow the voice, willing her sister to carry on calling, as she ran as fast as she could up the stairs, not caring she was running out of breath or energy. When she reached the end of the staircase, she saw the bars of a room, and a locked door, and then, she saw Rose, standing at the front, holding onto the bars, her mouth open in shock at the sight of her younger sister. They gaped at each other for a minute, and then – as she heard the others begin to catch up – Engtortia glanced around wildly and saw the keys hanging on the opposite wall. She grabbed them and unlocked the door, then Rose flew out and hugged her close. It was such a good moment; a great moment. Alistair reached the top of the stairs to find them embracing and shook his head, hands covering his face. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all.
Rose broke away, and rounded on him. "Alistair." Her voice was low; tired. "Just what is going on?"
He swallowed, nervous. Rose was always a good attacker whenever they went on missions. She could beat the The Drenched single handedly – with just her fists! He realised it must be a family trait, remembering Engtortia's hard punch and touching his cheek delicately. It still stung, and there would definitely be a bruise tomorrow. What was he going to do? He had to think fast. This wasn't usually hard for him, but he was beginning to regret ever starting this whole thing. It was all starting to spin out of control. And now Fiarrold was downstairs with...
"Imogen, how could you lie like that?" Engtortia blurted out suddenly. She kept her focus on the ground. "And visit them? I couldn't believe it when King Skarl told me. I'm an adult now, a doctor even! I think I could have handled it now."
Rose chewed her lip. "Not right now, Joanna. We'll speak later okay?" Her sister nodded. "Right. Alistair, the game is up. Turn yourself in, and maybe King Skarl will be more lenient. There's no point resisting." She put her hand on his arm. "Do you understand?"
Alistair smiled. He had one trump card left. "Engtortia," he murmured. "Where is your little friend?"
Engtortia whirled around, finding no sign of Oliver. She'd just assumed he was behind her, as usual. Fiarrold wasn't here either. She didn't like the look of this at all. Rose didn't either, she took Alistair by the shoulders and shook him fiercely. "Where has your common sense gone?" she yelled. "I've tried being patient, and a friend! But you're just not going to change, are you? Am I going to have to spell it out? You'll end up like our parents! On a deserted island for a long, long time, with no chance of escape." When she saw Alistair wasn't going to reply, she gave up and took Engtortia's hand. "Come on, Joanna! We have to save Oliver before it's too late!"
* * *
Oliver sat uncomfortably on the floor of the basement, feeling cold. A draught was getting in here somehow, but Fiarrold didn't seem affected by it. He was probably used to it now. What was going to happen to him? He didn't know. All he knew was he had to avoid drinking that potion in front of him as long as possible. But it was getting harder to resist the temptation. Fiarrold must have read a spell book – this had some sort of hypnosis on it, making anyone want to drink, besides the creator, presumably, as Fiarrold went about his business not so much as looking in Oliver's direction. Oliver reached out, hand shaking, and clasped the bottle. He unscrewed the lid, and brought the flask to his lips.
"No!" Engtortia burst into the room, followed by Alistair, and jumped from the steps to reach Oliver in time. As she landed with a crash on the floor, she looked up to see him swallow the liquid until the entire contents of the bottle were gone.
To be continued...