Orlitz and the Geraptiku Scandal: Part Seven
With the smugglers a good way ahead of them, Iskeen—followed by Orlitz, Almos, Vin, and Sparta—raced up a trail which, according to Vin, would take the group to Geraptiku's northern exit and straight to the docks. The plan to intercept the smugglers seemed prone for failure, so Captain Tora had opted to head back to Orlitz's bungalow and fly to the southern docks with Chet, the Shadow Eyrie with whom she had arrived. Despite her plan's fallibility, Iskeen was determined to make it to the southern section of the island before the smugglers. With her athletic legs, the Island Ixi ran some way ahead of the group, promising that she would explain her idea as soon as they reached the docks. The group did their best to keep up with the energized Ixi as they ran on a slightly-soggy trail through the city. Almos, who was nearly as agile as Iskeen, managed to run beside her, but the others jogged some way behind.
Orlitz and Vin ran side by side.
"Why didn't you ever investigate that grid behind your shop?" the Cybunny asked suddenly between gasps for air.
"I thought it was just a part of the city, for decoration!" the Mynci replied, pushing her blonde hair out of her eyes.
"And, I've been meaning to ask you, why did you pretend to be a PPL agent?"
"Because (ouch, cramp!) it's much easier than having to explain that I actually run the petpet shop and (can't your friend slow down?) ruin the illusion that the shop is run by no one! And I've been meaning to ask you, what were you really doing here on the day we ran into each other?"
"What I told you wasn't an absolute lie (wow, that's a slope), I was visiting the city research an article I'm writing, but I was investigating as well!"
The two stumbled along, having trouble keeping up with Iskeen and Almos. Both were glad to have settled their unanswered speculations.
* * * * *
Iskeen's wristwatch read 4:15 AM and the light rain had finally subsided, allowing rays of early sunshine to shimmer through the breaks in the clouds. Thin wisps of morning fog seeped through the jungle, and the chirps of unknown island petpets filled the air. Despite the urgency of the matter, Iskeen couldn't help but enjoy the refreshing and tranquil atmosphere. Although not a morning person by nature, the Ixi sometimes woke up extra early to hike up a trail on Techo Mountain and relish the view of the sunrise. Of course, now was not the best time to enjoy a peaceful morning walk. The group needed to reach the docks as fast as possible, and no time could be wasted.
The muddy trail ended right at the gate of Geraptiku. Iskeen had never visited this part of the desolate city, but the gate was similar to the one at the entrance. A few feet outside of the city lay a sandy boardwalk, already bustling with a few tough-looking islanders. Several sailboats of different sizes lined the pier, most of which were getting ready to launch. The air smelt of fish and salt, and the turquoise sea rippled gently beneath the boats.
Iskeen waited for everyone to catch their breath before she finally revealed her plan. The idea was simple: borrow the fastest sailboat they could find, and maneuver around the west side of the island and down to the southern docks, where they would intercept Tinaw and the other smugglers.
"I know how to sail," she assured them, "I've been sailing for years, and sailboats can go real fast, if driven properly." Following Iskeen, the group walked down to boardwalk, observing the variety of sailboats tied to the port. Finally, Iskeen stopped in front of a small Cutter, which seemed less populated than the other boats. The boat was built with a single mast and a white mainsail. At its front flapped two headsails. The boat's hull was colored with a dark blue hue that had long since chipped, and the name "The Sandpoint" had been boldly written in white paint at its hull. The sailboat was in wonderful condition, evidently used but never damaged. A single fisherman worked on the boat, readying the sails which flapped merely in the wind.
"This one should do fine," Iskeen noted.
"Excuse me!" she called out to the lonesome fisherman. The Lutari looked up from his work. Iskeen summoned him off his sailboat, and the Blue Lutari obliged, climbing off the boat and joining the Ixi and her group. The Lutari was younger than the other fishermen. He wore a ragged pair of trousers and his face was much less weathered than the older sailors.
"Could we borrow that cutter-rigged sailboat of yours, mister?" Iskeen immediately asked. The smile on the Lutari's face quickly vanished.
"The Sandpoint?" he demanded. "And why in Fyora's name would I lend her to ye?"
Taking control of the situation, Orlitz quickly stepped in and explained the urgency of their predicament to the fisherman. Iskeen added that she had a sailboating license. Almos and Vin merely stood to the side, unsure as to whether they could intercept the smugglers in time. Despite their efforts, the fishermen refused to lend them his boat. After a minute of arguing with the reluctant fisherman, Almos finally stepped in front of the Lutari, flashing his PPL identification card before his eyes.
"Listen, mate, this is a state of emergency for the PPL as well as the Defenders of Neopia, so kindly step back and lend us your ship," he declared, before pushing the Lutari aside and climbing onto the Sandpoint. Surprised at his sudden outburst, Iskeen, Orlitz, and Vin all followed the Kougra onto the boat, passing by the stunned Lutari.
"It's a boat," Iskeen mumbled once she had boarded the vessel.
* * * * *
Exhausted and anxious, Orlitz couldn't help but admire Iskeen's handiwork as she skillfully maneuvered the Sandpoint out of the dock and onto the open sea. The Cloud Cybunny wondered how her housemate found so much time to practice so many strenuous activities, when she hardly ever partook in any island sports. Orlitz fought sleep. Having been up all night and finally being granted a moment of rest, the reporter struggled to keep her eyes open and focus on the water. Almos and Sparta faced the same struggle. Sitting among fishing supplies and unused lines, the three slowly dozed off, letting the breeze dry their damp clothes. Vin, on the other hand, was far more energized, and had claimed the post of first mate as she helped Iskeen maintain the boat's lines.
The Sandpoint sailed smoothly. With a strong coastal wind and favorable water currents, Iskeen was able to drive the ship speedily over the calm water whilst maintaining a close range to Mystery Island's coast. If these conditions remained continuous, as Iskeen expected them to, they would arrive at the island's southern docks in less than twenty minutes. Pushing her dark hair away from her squinting eyes, the Ixi observed the sky. The clouds had cleared up above the island, allowing a pink-hued sky to reveal itself. In the distance, she spotted a dark patch flying over the island. Vin, who had found a pair of binoculars, was able to identify the flying specimen as the smugglers. Ataso, the Eventide Uni, hulled a crate-laden cart with powerful strokes of his wings. Tinaw and Emuk sat atop the cart. Observing the smugglers through the binoculars as well, Iskeen was impressed at how powerful a flyer Ataso was. Few Unis could manage to aerially transport a heavy cart for such a long distance. Despite this impressive feat, the Ixi was excited at their progress. Given their location, she was certain the Sandpoint would arrive at the docks well before the smugglers did.
Heartened, Iskeen steered on. The speed at which they travelled put them at a wonderful advantage. The Ixi inhaled deeply, enjoying the salty air.
* * * * *
The Sandpoint arrived effortlessly at the Harbour and docked at the pier. The port was placed at a level lower than the rest of the surrounding area. A set of stairs without railing connected the boardwalk to the elevated section. Apart from weewoos flying overhead, the Harbor was oddly vacant.
The way down from Geraptiku had been eventless and calm, but upon arriving at their destination, the group could see without difficulty the approaching smugglers. Orlitz was the last to climb onto the boardwalk before the enormous Uni landed. The Cybunny had noticed a small dinghy tied at the port upon arriving, which she assumed would take the smuggled petpets to a ferry waiting off the coast of the island. At all costs, Orlitz had to stop this transaction from happening. Closely followed by Iskeen, Almos, Vin, and Sparta, she ran up the port's stairs to greet the Uni. Tinaw, followed by Emuk, hopped off the cart to confront the Cybunny.
Despite outnumbering the smugglers five to three, Orlitz felt a pang of panic. In a fight, Ataso alone could easily overcome them.
"You cannot possibly think that you'll get away with this," she sneered, crossing her arms and stepping in front of the stairs, which led directly down to the boardwalk.
"Listen, kid, I don't want any trouble," Tinaw growled, stepping toward the Cybunny.
"That's a shame, because the Defenders of Neopia are on their way!" Iskeen interjected. A sudden look of worry flashed over the Spotted Kougra's eyes, but was quickly replaced by a scowl.
The Kougra shoved Orlitz aside. Losing her balance at the edge of the stairs, the Cybunny tumbled down the ledge—crashing down the plywood stairs—and hit her head against the boardwalk with a thud. The Cybunny lost consciousness for a moment. Her attempt to stand up caused her to stumble backwards into the water.
Iskeen followed suite and, jumping off the ledge—with a large gulp of air—she dove into the water. Orlitz's thoughts became fuzzy. Her trench coat, heavy in the water, forced the Cybunny to sink downwards. A few feet above her, Iskeen swam after her friend. The murky water stung her eyes and blurred her vision. The water was deeper than expected. Losing air, Orlitz regained consciousness, and struggled in confusion, unable to think clearly. Overcome with exhaustion and out of oxygen, the Cybunny ceased gesturing her arms and helplessly sank further down. Down, down, until her body touched the bottom of the port. Calmly, she chided herself for never having participated in swimming activities. Being a trained swimmer certainly would have helped her in this predicament. Iskeen, a well equipped swimmer, followed her best friend to the murky bottom. She grabbed hold of Orlitz's coat, planted her feet firmly into the soft bottom, and kicked hard. The pair shot upwards through the water, but weighed down, Iskeen struggled to reach the surface.
After what seemed like an eternity, they broke the surface. Iskeen pushed herself up onto the boardwalk and helped her friend out of the water. Both girls gasped for air.
Meanwhile, Tinaw had run down the stairs to reach the dinghy. Almos ran after Tinaw and—tackling him—the both landed at the edge of the boardwalk. Vin was left with Sparta, who growled angrily at Emuk and Ataso. Frightened, she hit the Checkered Bori, who staggered back into Ataso. Her efforts couldn't be more futile, as the Bori and Uni continued to draw nearer, forcing Vin to the end of the ledge.
A sudden high-pitched screech caught the attackers off guard. The looked up in shock at the mammoth Shadow Eyrie swooping down toward them. Riding on his back sat Captain Tora, her firy hair whipping aggressively behind her. Chet glided at incredible speeds towards the Uni and the bori, and with one agile movement, tackled both of them to the ground. The Fire Kyrii hopped off the Eyrie and pulled off several pairs of handcuffs from her tool belt. Expertly, she clicked the cuffs the two smugglers and secured them to a nearby post in such a manner so they couldn't escape. Quickly—and tailed by Vin and Sparta—the Defender ran down the stairs and performed the same procedure on Tinaw, whom Almos had been struggling with at the end of the boardwalk. By this time, Orlitz and Iskeen had both recovered and were wringing their dripping hair. Joyfully, Sparta lept into Orlitz's outstretched arms, who smugly trudged up to the disheartened Spotted Kougra at the other end of the dock.
"You didn't get away with it after all" she snickered.
* * * * *
Three defeated-looking smugglers sat at the end of the pier under the watchful eye of Chet. Orlitz and Iskeen, accompanied by their two friends, sat nearby. The day was warmer than it had been before, and sunlight dried them up quickly. Despite feeling well after her fall, Orlitz felt a wicked bump selling where her head had hit the boardwalk. The sun had risen high enough to cast the entire island in fresh sunlight, and the sky was now void of clouds. The group awaited for backup to arrive. Almos has contacted the PPL headquarters the previous day, and he expected a team of agents to arrive any minute now. Meanwhile, a small crowd of bystanders collected around the docks, observing the three smugglers.
"What's on that cart?", "who are those three handcuffed neopets?", "what happened here?," the bystanders murmured amongst themselves with agitation.
Orlitz yearned to move the crates back to Geraptiku and release the captured petpets, but Almos firmly told her to await for the other PPL agents to arrive. The Cybunny constantly glanced over at the still cart, worried that something had happened to the creatures. The petpets made no sound.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a sleek sailboat appeared at the horizon. The boat travelled quickly, nearly flying over the waves rather than skidding on the water's surface.
"It's about time," Almos grumbled, checking his watch. It was nearly seven in the morning—the group had waited at least over an hour.
The vessel, a white catboat equipped with one sail, docked at the port. It's side was marked with "PETPET PROTECTION LEAGUE" in bold red colors. Four passengers jumped out, each one adorned with a uniform navy turtleneck. The leader of the group, a tall Speckled Uni, stepped up the stairs to greet Almos. The two hugged like old friends. Three other agents followed suit: a Brown Wocky who introduced herself as Isabelle, a Red shoyru called Jay, and a pretty Striped usul who went by the name of Pim. Orlitz shook hands with all four of them and introduced herself as well.
Lumi, the Speckled Uni, requested that Orlitz explain the entire situation to the team. The Cloud Cybunny obliged. She told the agents and Captain Tora everything, from the first day at Geraptiku until today, including the reptilliors currently residing at the bottom of the pit behind the Petpet Shop.
She showed them her damp notepad in which she had written all of her notes, and explained how the smugglers referred to the petpets as "lilacs" in a secret message she had decoded.
"Tinaw mentioned that the smuggling operation is far bigger than just his team of three," she finished, gesturing to the angry Kougra sitting silently next to the other two smugglers. The Cybunny added that she suspected a large to be awaiting the smugglers someway off the coast of the island.
"Yes, we passed a ferry on our way here" replied Pim. It's location appeared suspicious, so we sent a few of our agents onboard to check it out... just in case."
"I think they'll find plenty more petpets and smugglers on board," cut in Almos.
"Is that so?" asked Jay.
The PPL agents walked over to where the smugglers sat. Emuk nervously admitted that the operation reached out all over Neopia, only to be elbowed in the side by Almos.
Lumi turned to Captain Tora and Chet. They decided that the PPL agents would release the petpets back into the Gerptiku jungle and take the smugglers to headquarters. The smugglers, in turn, might help the PPL find the other petpet smuggling posts around Neopia. Meanwhile, Captain Tora and Chet would fly back to Neopia Central to report the smuggling operations at Defenders of Neopia headquarters, after inspecting the smugglers' ferry.
Almos decided to join the team of PPL agents. He turned to Iskeen and Orlitz and hugged them
"I guess this is where we part ways," he declared, petting Sparta who yowled at his feet. The Yellow Kougra saluted them.
"It has been an absolute pleasure working with you, m'ams." he grinned. The friends exchanged farewells and watched the Kougra hop onto the cart, now pulled by Lumi. Vin thanked the duo as well and followed the cart headed back for Geraptiku, promising to take care of the reptilliors still in the pit at Geraptiku. The other three agents stayed behind to board the smugglers onto their vessel. They feared the smugglers' boat waiting off the coast had long since left.
"All's well that ends well," sighed Iskeen, observing the cart roll away, "by the way, Orlitz, I'm so sorry to have yelled at you yesterday."
"My fault," her friend muttered, "I need to stop thinking that my article is a number-one priority."
The two friends grimaced at each other and hugged.
Orlitz was glad to have resolved the scenario, but sleep overcame her. The Cybunny hadn't slept for a good twenty-four hours. She realized that she had been up all day and night on Monday, and desperately needed to rest. Iskeen too, was utterly exhausted. Captain Tora walked up to them and shook hands, thanking them for their help.
"We'll give you a ride back home, free of charge," she laughed, observing their sleepy expression and mangled hair.
* * * * *
Chet was a powerfully-built Eyrie, and transported Captain Tora, along with the housemates and Sparta, back to their bungalow on the western part of the island without difficulty. The flight was short, but the girls snoozed on the Eyrie's back the entire journey. The Defenders deposited the them in front of their house and thanked them once more, before taking off. Spent, the two friends and Sparta stumbled into the still bungalow and collapsed into their designated beds. Orlits was so drained, she didn't even bother changing out of her damp clothes and dirty coat, and slept all through the day. She awoke Wednesday morning to the smell of pancakes.
The Cybunny showered, changed into a flowery sundress, brushed her blue hair, and joined Iskeen, who was diligently cooking in the kitchen. The Ixi had managed to prepare the first batch of pancakes without burning them, but wasn't as lucky during her second attempt. She did try to hide the burnt flavor with an extra amount of maple syrup, though. Orlitz grabbed a plate and sat down at the table.
"Finally, a moment to relax," she sighed, biting into her breakfast.
"Don't you have an article to write?" Iskeen asked casually, waving her spatula in the air.
"Arti—," she choked on her pancake, "I have a deadline tomorrow!" Orlitz cried, jumping off her seat. The Cybunny rushed to her bedroom and made a mad dash for the typewriter and unfinished article placed at her desk.
* * * * *
Friday evenings at Poppy's Grill tended to be the busiest of the week, as everyone on the island drifted toward the beachside restaurant at the end of the day. Orlitz made her way into the restaurant (having reserved a table to shorten the waiting time) followed by five other neopets. The group seated itself at a table be the window that allowed for a beautiful view of the setting sun outside. To thank them for their services, Orlitz had invited Almos, along with Isabelle, Jay, Pim, and Lumi, to dine at Poppi's Grill before they left Mystery Island. Once seated, the group was greeted by a familiar face.
"Hey, Or'!" Iskeen laughed, wearing her typical "Poppy's Grill" t-shirt. She handed everyone a menu.
"Might I recommend the Coconut Soup this evening?— it's a favorite with tourists and locals," she suggested. Having made their orders and received their beverages, Orlitz found the opportunity to share with the PPL agents what she had been yearning to show them.
From her bag she pulled out a fresh copy of the Neopian Times, and placed it on the table. In the headlines was a picture of a fleeper perched on a branch, accompanied by the title "Band of Petpetnapers in Geraptiku Nabbed." In smaller print below the title read "by Orlitz 'Or' Livia."
The Cybunny beamed. Her first submission to the Neopian Times had made the front page! Everyone around the table applauded and congratulated her, even Iskeen, who nearly spilled their orders in her excitement.
"D'you think you'll have the chance to unveil another mystery in the future?" Almos inquired between mouthfuls of bread.
"I think another mystery isn't very far off," the Cybunny winked.
"Well, it is called Mystery Island for a reason!" Almos chortled, and was smacked by Iskeen.
Afterword: Thank you to Raven, Charlie, Syd, and Ade for proofreading this story. Writing it would have been a nightmare without your help!