Tales from Neopia Central: Part Two
A Tale of Two Countries – The Socialite's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and too quickly for Miss Tobik.
A wealthy socialite from the rich Hills district on the west of the city, Tobik had never really seen much of the changes that had affected most of the city. She had married a wealthy businessman, joint partner in Neopia Central Insurance, Inc., and after she had been widowed she had never wanted for anything.
The Hills had always been decadent, filled with the high-class parties and charity galas that the old blue Bruce called home. She flittered between conversation and anecdote, a lady that everyone knew. Her shrill laugh, at least, often preceded her.
But now things were different. Mr. Jennings was dead. Now Miss Tobik understood just what he had been keeping control of in the criminal underbelly of the city's slums.
Of course, she'd always been aware, as had everyone, that he had been a criminal – but it wasn't the sort of thing you brought up in polite conversation.
But now it was clear – clearer than ever – Miss Tobik had been burgled.
"It's simply awful!" the blue Bruce bawled into the waiting arms of the zombie Chomby, Arthur Munroe. "Who could even contemplate such a thing!?"
Together they beheld the reception room of Miss Tobik's once lavish Hills mansion. The paintings had been stripped from the walls, furniture removed, and even the curtains had been stolen. What was left was a lifeless shell.
"Horrible, of course," Munroe comforted her. "I shall contact the Defenders immediately on your behalf."
"There's no need," Tobik sobbed. "I called them immediately, but they said with all the rioting going on... well, there's simply no way to locate the stolen goods."
"Terrible," Munroe agreed. "Though I must confess... I am confused as to why you didn't hear the culprits – they appear to have been quite meticulous; it must have taken time."
"I was lodging with Mr. Worthington-Smythe-Foxley," Tobik told him, a wistful look appearing in her eyes as she attempted to forget about the present. "He throws the most notorious soirees, don't you know? Why, I was surprised not to see you there."
"I was otherwise detained," Munroe answered. "Zombie League work, you understand. Some of the boys in the Old Quarter... they are getting quite restless."
"They are zombies," Tobik observed. "Aren't they always restless?"
"More so," Munroe supplied.
There was silence for a moment until Tobik caught sight of the place where a rather fetching cabinet had once stood, launching her into fresh bouts of tears.
"Of course, it will be impossible to replace such things," Tobik cried. "But there is small comfort in the insurance, of course."
"Yes... the insurance," Munroe answered diplomatically.
Munroe, as well as being a figurehead for the zombie rights movement in the city, was the owner of Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. – one of the most successful companies around. He had once been partners in the business with Tobik's late husband, and as a result the woman had a rather lucrative and robust insurance policy on her home.
"Is something the matter?" Tobik asked.
"There have been... issues at the office," Munroe confessed. "Insurance is inherently based on making money off people to whom nothing bad ever happens... but with the crime and looting on city streets these past few days... well, we're paying out on hundreds upon hundreds of policies. To be frank, the company is on the verge of going under."
Tobik fought back tears. "My dear Clancy would be turning in his grave – no offence, Arthur – should he think that I would be the one to finish off his beloved company. I shall not claim on my policy, you have my word on that."
"Are you sure?" Munroe asked.
"It will be a struggle, of course," Tobik answered. "But I shall soldier through. It is the least I can do."
Tobik, of course, had more than enough money to refurnish her home and blow a few million on hats – her idea of lean spending was gold leaf instead of gold brick.
She stared bleakly out of her now curtain-devoid windows.
"It makes me wonder," she said absently. "My home is effectively gone, so is my husband, and maybe soon his legacy... what need is there for me to stay in this city?"
"You are thinking of leaving?" Munroe asked.
"No, no, of course not," Tobik shrugged the comment off. "A silly little remark, think nothing of it, Arthur."
The thought, dismissed by Tobik initially, settled in her mind. There, it grew over the following weeks as the situation beyond the Hills worsened. There were rumours that the Defenders were reaching maximum capacity in their cells, and that when they exceeded it, the rule of law would effectively end.
It was disquieting for those in the Hills. They were all acutely aware that, as they had the most, they also had the most to lose should things turn sour.
Word soon began to spread amongst the finely maintained privet hedges – Miss Tobik was planning on leaving the city to escape the madness. It was an evacuation – to Meridell perhaps? Anyone who was anyone was going. They were going to move their entire community to a different country. And, why, some had even heard that the Defenders would be escorting them out of the city. That made it official.
And so Miss Tobik quite accidentally found herself organising a mass exodus of her peers from a city she really did love quite dearly. The Defenders, upon hearing the rumour that they were helping out, promptly sent Orig the Great to talk to the woman. He intended to give her a lecture about improper use of Defender time and spreading false rumours.
Miss Tobik, largely out of indomitable will and the peculiar charm Hills people held, managed to turn the Lupe round to her side of the argument – and he left with the promise that he personally would be escorting the convoy out of the city to ensure its safety.
The date was set. Tobik was leaving town – before the town turned on her.
"Are you sure, Arthur?" Tobik said, holding the Chomby's decomposing arm as if it were a priceless jewel.
"I am sorry," he replied. "But the zombies need my help, I cannot leave them in this – their hour of need. They are being pressured in the Old District, and perhaps, now with so many vacant properties in the Hills, we can find refuge here. Regardless, the company still needs me."
"But Walter and Henry are both coming!" Tobik insisted.
She gestured to the long line of fine carriages waiting behind her, each from a different household in the Hills. Most were piled high with luggage, the homeowners not wanting to leave a single piece of furniture to the looters that would surely be coming in their wake.
At one of the nearer carriages, a purple Lenny and Tyrannian Draik waved to the pair. They were Walter Lavender and Henry Gilt, the owners of the two insurance companies who most closely competed with Munroe's company.
"They closed their offices a week ago," Munroe pointed out. "I will not do the same. Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. will close over my dead body."
It took a moment before the zombie realised what he had said, and he added, "You know what I mean."
"It simply will not be the same without you," Tobik pressed.
"I am sure you will find Lady Celeriac most welcoming," Munroe told her. "Very generous of her to house you all."
"It is temporary," Tobik said, feeling the need to stress it. "This trouble will all blow over, I am sure. And when it does, I will return – as will we all."
Munroe nodded. "Have a safe journey."
"It's you I am worried about," Tobik said. "These rioters, they will turn on zombies eventually."
"They can hardly kill me," Munroe pointed out.
"No," Tobik agreed, somewhat sadly. "But they may be able to do worse."
Their assigned Defender of Neopia, Orig the Great, approached them from the line of carriages. The caped green Lupe nodded to the pair.
"I believe we are all set," he announced. "We were waiting on Martin Childer, but he's just arrived. If you'd like to make your way to your carriage, madam?"
Tobik bit back her tears, and bid a tearful farewell to Munroe. She climbed into her carriage, which she would be sharing with Viscount Hatterly and Reginald Worthington-Smythe-Foxley for the journey after the theft of her own. The convoy, led by Orig the Great, soon got underway.
It was a sad affair, almost like a funeral parade, as no one truly wanted to leave their homes. They travelled slowly as to keep together, but all that had the effect of doing was slowing down the scenery so that Tobik could see each any every street that she would be leaving behind.
"I imagine this will all be blown over by Christmas," Viscount Hatterly, the grey Shoyru across from Tobik, said cheerfully. "It is nothing to worry about, my dear lady."
"I've holidayed away, of course," Tobik observed sadly. "Many summers have been spent in the tropics of Mystery Island or the mountains of Shenkuu... but I've never felt as if I was actually leaving before. I can't shake the feeling that, somehow, we might not be coming back."
"There's no need to be so pessimistic," the blue Nimmo that was Mr. Worthington-Smythe-Foxley assured her. "This will all blow over."
"How?" Tobik asked. "Mr. Jennings, as I now understand, was exceptionally capable. How can this ever blow over unless someone else as capable arrives to pick up the pieces?"
"What makes you think someone will not?" the Viscount asked. "My understanding is that Mr. Jennings was hardly unique – why, Lady Celeriac, whom we are to lodge with, she is widely regarded to be just as capable in Meridell as Mr. Jennings was in Neopia Central. Someone else will come along, we can be sure of that."
"But it won't be the same," Tobik sighed.
The Viscount smiled sadly. "Nothing ever is."
The procession of carriages left Neopia Central, heading east on the Meridell road.
"What is it, son?" the island Kougra asked as the Bori dragged him along the beach.
"I've found someone!" the Bori answered, pointing to the Krawk lying in the sands.
The Kougra rushed over to the Krawk, checking his vital signs as he turned him over. The Kougra paused in shock for a moment at the face he saw.
"What is it, dad?" the Bori asked. "Is he alive?"
"He's very weak," the Kougra replied. "He's dying."
"Then we need to take him to the witch doctor!" the Bori said, moving forwards to grab the Krawk's feet.
"No," the Kougra cut across him. "Aden, this man isn't from Mystery Island. The witch doctor's magic is only for natives."
"The island sent him to us!" Aden replied. "The spirits must mean for us to help him somehow!"
"How can you know that?" the Kougra asked.
"You say he's not from the island," Aden explained. "Then what are the chances of his washing up here, in this state? What are the chances of him washing up on this exact spot – and for us to just happen to be nearby and find him? That's not coincidence, dad! The island spirits have sent him to us! To leave him, it would anger them!"
The Kougra gave his son a sceptical look, but relented under the stare of the pleading eyes that looked up at him.
"Alright," he agreed. "We'll take him to the witch doctor."
To be continued...