Tales from Neopia Central: Part Eight
Lord of the Files – the Citizen's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and far too quickly for Oscar Mildew.
Oscar wasn't anyone special. He didn't have any hidden talents or peculiar magical abilities. He wasn't particularly strong, fast, or smart. He didn't have a lot of money, or amazingly good looks.
He was an insurance salesman. And, in his humble opinion, not a vastly good one at that.
Largely out of coincidence and misunderstanding the little yellow Kacheek had seen himself rise to the level of Director of Operations for Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. – but everyone else in the office, aside of course from Mr. Munroe, thought he probably wasn't very good at the job.
Oscar just plodded along in life – and it was in this regard that Neopia Central had changed to him.
Of course Mr. Jennings was dead and there was looting and things, but the change, the real change from Oscar's point of view, was the urgency of it all.
Things seemed to happen so quickly lately, and everyone was rushing. Rushing in case this was the final day before it all fell down around them and the city tore itself apart. Rushing because it helped them take their mind off the chaos that was slowly claiming the city, street by street.
And people were rushing towards the offices of Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. They were rushing to make claims.
Insurance worked on a very basic principle – a lot of people give you a little money, and you hope that whatever you were insuring against only happened to a few of them – ending in profit.
Previously, this had been Neopia Central Insurance, Inc.'s position – profit. Now however, with looting and crime rife on the streets and the Defenders seemingly powerless to stop it, a lot more unfortunate events were happening to a lot more people.
Oscar passed a now regular line of claimants on his way into the office. The company couldn't wriggle around it, they needed to be paid. And Oscar, perhaps because he didn't rush as much as his co-workers, had realised just how much they were paying out. He was keeping it to himself, of course, but he couldn't see how the company could continue to operate under conditions like this.
He passed Helga Ribbons, the company's receptionist. The old blue Tonu was talking to a disgruntled customer with some relish.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you're just not covered," she told him.
The blue Skeith reacted badly, "What do you mean I'm not covered? It's musical merchandise! Animated! I'm their biggest fan, and it's all been stolen! I'll never be able to replace them! I put my life savings into supporting that band!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I've never heard of this 'Animated'," Helga replied. "And even if I had, that wouldn't change the facts – your policy does not cover articles of clothing."
"They were signed T-shirts from the band!" the Skeith protested.
"I'm sorry, sir, but the facts are the facts," Helga maintained.
Oscar continued on his way into the office. That would have been one of only three people they'd been able to turn away in the last week. Things were not going well.
Reaching the office, Oscar passed the desks of the company's two best salespeople. Jack Storm, an electric Shoyru, and Imelda Briars, a pink Ixi, were intensely driven people. Previously they had worked at different companies, but bringing them together and pitting them against each other for sales targets had been a masterstroke.
One that Oscar had apparently come up with – but he assumed someone else planted the idea in his head. That tended to happen.
Oscar sat down in his office and looked through his in tray. Apparently Mr. Munroe had called a meeting for the department heads soon. Oscar thought it couldn't come soon enough.
The time of the meeting came and passed. Oscar was sat alone in the board room. As was Oscar's nature, he waited a full hour before venturing outside. He found Jack and Imelda still working at their desks.
"What are you two still doing here?" he asked.
"Insurance never sleeps," Imelda answered.
"And if she doesn't, neither do I," Jack added.
"Do you guys know anything about the department heads meeting that was meant to be tonight? No one's turned up," Oscar asked.
"No," Imelda answered as she rifled through paperwork. "Munroe was meant to be at one of those zombie rallies in the Old Quarter tonight though – maybe he's been held up?"
"Yeah... maybe..." Oscar agreed.
He made his way down to reception, and was surprised to see Helga Ribbons there as well.
"What are you still doing here?" he asked. "No wait, let me guess. Insurance never sleeps, right?"
"What?" Helga asked in her typically aggressive way. "Mr. Munroe was supposed to be here tonight – I do like to be in the office whenever he is. But he appears to be running late."
She checked the clock on the wall and added, "Very late."
At that moment, the doors to the lobby burst open and two Neopets rushed inside, closing the doors and leaning against them. One was a speckled Elephante, the other a striped Chia.
"Oh thank goodness!" the Elephante sighed in a needlessly over the top voice. "Civilised people at last!"
"You can't make claims after hours," Helga told them bluntly.
"We're not here to make a claim, dear woman," the Elephante replied. "Though I suppose that might be an idea, my gallery can hardly be doing well."
"I'm sure you have more than enough tucked away from all your years of forgery," the Chia sniped.
"How dare you!" the Elephante gasped.
"If you don't want to make a claim, why are you here?" Oscar asked.
"We're on the run from an enraged mob!" the Elephante informed them importantly. "My name is Jackson Greenfern, I run an art gallery on Friars Road. This is-"
"I am Thomas Flaherty," the Chia interrupted him. "I run a tailors shop on the same street. A mob of Neopians passed through there not long since. We had no option but to run."
"What's going on down here?" asked Jack from the stairs, him and Imelda having been drawn downstairs by the noise.
"These two say they are running away from a mob," Helga announced doubtfully.
"Where are the Defenders?" Imelda asked.
"Haven't you heard?" the Elephante, Greenfern, asked. "There's been a breakout at the Defenders Headquarters! They've all been recalled to deal with it. And now this mob is roaming the streets, setting fire to things – I thought I heard them say something about going after the zombies!"
"Mr. Munroe!" Helga gasped.
"I guess that explains why no one turned up to the meeting," Oscar added. "It's not a safe night to be outside."
"Oscar..." Jack said carefully. "It's common knowledge that this company is run by a zombie... you don't think they'd come here, do you?"
Oscar's eyes went wide.
"Were they heading this way?" he asked.
"Possibly," Flaherty replied.
"Then I'm making an executive decision. We're barring the doors. Neopia Central Insurance, Inc is closing for business."
There was another gasp from Helga. "Never, not for one single day, has this company closed its doors... why, Mr. Munroe would be appalled."
"If the mob catches him, he can turn in his grave all he wants," Oscar said, dashing behind the reception desk. "Help me get this against the door."
The others, aside from Helga who objected on moral grounds, helped to push it across the lobby and wedge it against the closed door. A few more pieces of furniture later, they had produced an effective barricade. Then, turning all the lights off as they went, they crept silently upstairs.
Out of the windows, they could already see the approaching flaming torches. Jack had been right.
Jack instructed them to duck down as to avoid detection, but the gathered mob didn't appear to be looking upwards. They reached the doors and tried them, forcing their weight against them in the hopes they might buckle inwards, but they didn't give way.
"The lights are all off," someone in the mob said. "I bet they've run away."
"Cowards!" another spat. "I bet they'll be hiding in the Old Quarter."
"Let's get them!"
More than a few shouts of agreement came from the crowd, and they began to march off to the east.
"That was close," Greenfern sighed with relief. "Am I glad we stopped here and not that grocers like Thomas suggested."
"That was your suggestion!" Flaherty hissed.
"Well, if the office is closed, we can go home," Imelda said, standing up.
"No!" Oscar whispered, grabbing her foot and pulling her back down. "You think that's the only crazed mob on the streets tonight? If what these two said is right, the Defenders aren't protecting us any more – everyone will be having a go."
"So we have to stay here?" Helga asked.
"Just until dawn," Oscar told her. "Everything always looks calmer in daylight."
And so they waited, discussing the possible locations of each of the fires they saw on the horizon. A few hours later, they were stopped by the magical silence, ending their conversation. Oscar recognised the tingle of magic on his fur.
The green flash followed. It was bright, very close from the intensity.
And then the explosion came. The office's glass shattered inwards as the loudest noise Oscar had ever heard deafened his ears. The ground began to tremble, and then the floor started to give way. It was all Oscar could do to shout at everyone to jump out of the now open window.
Behind them, they heard the building crack and crumble as floors and ceilings gave way. They had made it out, but the building slowly collapsed in on itself from the force of the explosion. Around them, many others were undergoing the same treatment.
But Oscar wasn't focused on that. He was focused on the mile high pillar of flame erupting into the sky from only a few streets away.
"That's where the Twelve Ways was," he gasped.
From the size of the flames, several of the surrounding streets had also been engulfed.
"Well, it's not there any more," Jack added.
The green Krawk woke for what felt like the thousandth time, but what could easily have been the first. He was no longer in the shaman's hut – he appeared to be back with Aden and Dennan, though neither was around.
His head felt unbelievably sore and heavy... had the shaman performed some kind of voodoo on him? No, impossible, he didn't believe in voodoo – most of the time he tried to not even believe in regular magic.
"Magic," he cursed. "The bane of my existence."
His words came out garbled, as if he wasn't in complete control of his tongue. Trying to stand up, he found that once again, his feet were paralysed, and fell back down.
The noise appeared to attract Aden from outside, who rushed to the Krawk's aid.
"My father should never have taken you to see the shaman," Aden told him. "He said that doing so brought bad spirits onto the island that possessed you. The shaman is working his magic, trying to get rid of the spirits from within you – but it will take time. You must stay here until his magic is complete."
Aden forced the green Krawk back down, who in his semi-paralysed state could offer no resistance.
"Rest now," Aden instructed, helping him to a little water before leaving him again.
The Krawk found he could do little else. The blood was thumping in his head – somehow, the shaman's magic was overpowering him. He had been made a prisoner on the island, but also within his own body.
To be continued...