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Rosalina and the Way-Weird Beast


by downrightdude

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PART TWO

     Rosalina was surprised to wake up alone: Margo’s bed hadn't been touched, the sheets still crisp and unwrinkled. There were no dishes in the sink, the Neovision wasn’t turned on, and nobody was singing loudly in the bathroom. After confirming the sink and bathtub were bone-dry, Rosalina was certain her sister hadn't returned yet. “Oh-hum, guess she’ll be back soon,” she said, glancing at the kitchen clock. It was seven, and the shop needed to open at nine.

     Humming, Rosalina fixed a quick breakfast of cereal and toast before getting dressed and tying her hair back in her signature, curly ponytail. Content, she ran down the stairs to begin sweeping up the apothecary shop. Whatever tune she was humming was so catchy, she was completely immersed in its melody that she quickly lost track of time, only becoming aware when she glanced up at the store’s clock and saw it was ten minutes to nine.

     Now she was worried. Her heart was thumping loudly as she unlocked the door at nine o'clock, lit the OPEN sign, and ducked behind the front counter, preparing for the worst. Where's Margo?? Rosalina thought as she watched the front door, fearing any customers barging in and demanding things from her.

     Ten minutes after nine, everything was still eerily quiet. It was nice that the store hadn’t received any early-morning visitors yet, so there was no need to fear any customer-related interactions. Margo’s absence, however, was the most alarming thing—for the usually punctual and perky Xweetok to be late on a weekday was odd, and Rosalina couldn’t help but think about all of the bad things that could have happened the previous night or even the earlier morning hours. Was Margo robbed on her way to or from her patient’s house? Had she been struck by a mysterious illness and was lying somewhere, delirious? Or was her hunch about Margo's secret affiliation with the Defenders of Neopia true: she was either a hero-in-training, a spy, or a receptionist that lived a surprisingly exciting life.

     Before Rosalina could think up another crazy explanation for Margo’s tardiness, the green Bruce from yesterday entered the shop, adjusting her square glasses before waving at Rosalina. “Hello!” she cheered.

     “Hello.” Rosalina kept her guard up, expecting the weird and hopefully not-dangerous Bruce to request candy.

     “My Meepit has a terrible rash, and I was wondering if your lil’ shop here sells any petpet ointments,” the Bruce said. She chuckled and added, “If only I’d thought of asking you the last time I was here! That was yesterday, right?”

     Yes, now go away, Rosalina thought, biting her tongue lightly to keep back the words. Instead, she handed the Bruce a tube of cream and took pleasure when she charged the Bruce fourteen hundred neopoints. “Thank you, ma’am,” she said as she deposited the money into the register.

     “Please, call me Wendy,” the Bruce insisted. She took a quick glance around the shop. “Um, isn’t somebody else working here today? You know, that lady who knows medical stuff?”

     “That’s Margo, and she’s not here yet,” said Rosalina. She strummed her fingers on the counter impatiently. “I don’t know where she can be. She should have been home by now, gosh darn it!” For the sake of not wanting to offend Wendy, she kept her mouth shut about not wanting to interact with any more customers and her desire to spend the rest of the day either locked up in their apartment or playing games at the arcade.

     “Oh yeah. I remember seeing her get into a black carriage right outside of your shop,” Wendy remarked. “I couldn’t make out the driver, but I believe they were going towards the woods.” She shrugged. “It was unusually foggy last night, so I can’t be certain.”

     “Why would she go into the woods?” Rosalina wondered. “Nobody lives out there. Only the village has inhabitants.”

     “You sure? Because I heard there’s this really fancy stone house in this deep thicket of trees and brushes,” said Wendy. She twirled once. “My friend can take us there if you wanna check it out.”

     Rosalina surveyed the empty store. As much as she disliked the idea of playing shopkeeper, abandoning the store while Neopians were suffering from an unknown ailment seemed wrong. What if their loved ones needed medicine? Or worse—what if that pushy Elephante from yesterday wanted to buy more soothing stores, or if she demanded a refund?

     Contemplating her options, Rosalina replied, “Look, I’m afraid I can't leave the shop right now. How about we meet at sunset, and your friend can take us then.” Because going to a spooky old house in the middle of the night is SUCH a brilliant idea! How ingenious!

     Wendy clapped. “Splendid! I shall see you tonight.”

     ***

     “And now it’s tonight!” Wendy cheered as the sun began its nightly descent. She turned to admire the pink and purple clouds that sailed majestically above them.

     Rosalina was beginning to question her life choices. She was shivering as she followed Wendy down a path shrouded with darkness. The tall green-leafed trees she always admired created a black world around her, making it appear like the whole world was engulfed in a shadowy darkness.

     “Um, why didn’t we bring a torch with us?” asked Rosalina as she passed a towering, fat boulder.

     Wendy stopped to admire the rock’s reflection in a slimmer of moonlight. “I don’t know. Hey, doesn't this boulder look like a Bruce to you?”

     “No.” Rosalina sighed. “How much farther? Where is this ‘mystical friend’ of yours hiding ...and why are they hiding??”

     “Eh, Lenny’s not mystical in the slightest,” Wendy insisted, “and I don’t know where he is. Maybe he painted himself invisible again? Ooh, or shadow? Can Unis be painted Shadow? It’d be so boss if they could!”

     Rosalina turned away to avoid replying. Then she facepalmed at the sight of a chipper Strawberry Uni approaching them, whistling cheerfully. Oh no, please don’t be Lenny! Just pass us. We don’t exist! I repeat: WE DON’T EXIST!!

     “HIIIIIIIIII Wendy-doodle-dee-doo!” the Uni said in a singsong way.

     “Just in the nick of time, Lenny,” said Wendy.

     “Was on my way from the Lab Ray when I remembered about our lil’ meeting time.” Lenny trotted in a proud circle. “Well, how do I look? Don’t I look delicious? That’s what a baby Kacheek said at the bank, and I was so thrilled. Then again I never cared for strawberries, but this makeover makes me so adorab—”

     “Can we PLEASE hurry this up?” Rosalina snarled impatiently.

     Wendy made the introductions, declaring Lenny as her best friend and Rosalina her ‘new friend with the pretty chestnut hair’. Rosalina didn't know whether to blush or cringe at this, but she trailed behind Lenny and Wendy as they trekked deeper into the woods, the two in front blabbing about whatever came to their minds.

     “I am SO excited for the Chocolate Ball this year,” said Lenny. “Maybe I should paint myself chocolate again.”

     “You know that banana bread recipe I read about in that cooking magazine who’s name I can't remember right now?” asked Wendy. “Well, I baked a loaf last Sunday and it was faboo!”

     “Ooh, maybe TNT should debut a Banana Paint Brush next?” Lenny suggested.

     “I never did care for the Elderly colour,” said Wendy. “Then again, I was never a fan of old Neopians.”

     Rosalina was going to ask the pair how much distance they had remaining till they reached their destination—and to politely shut them up for the remainder of their trek—but stopped when Lenny halted in front of an iron-wrought fence. A pair of ornately carved gates stood in front of them, the iron a bit rustier than the surrounding fence.

     “Uh, are you sure this is the place?” Rosalina gulped, eyeing the grand manor house that stood behind the gates. The estate was made of stone, and though a breathtaking sight, it also seemed rundown and dilapidated.

     “Yep. I saw the carriage pass through those pretty gates,” said Lenny.

     Wendy looked around. “Are you sure? It’s awfully spooky here.” She shivered. “I feel like I’m in a scary NT story.”

     “What’s really scary is that I’m one NT trophy away from ten!” Lenny remarked. “Boy, time sure flies when you write plushie and toy-related articles.”

     “Rosie, are you sure you wanna go in there?” asked Wendy.

     Ignoring her rapid heartbeat, Roslaina forced herself to nod. “Yeah, I have to if I want to find Margo,” she said with fake confidence. “Also, uh, don’t call me ‘Rosie’. Please.”

     “You sure? Because I heard something really interesting about the homeowners,” said Lenny. “Now I don’t know for certain if it’s gossip or not, but I think these folks are from the Haunted woods and they work in the brick industry.”

     “I heard they know Eliv Thade and that ghost Chia vampire whose name I can't remember,” said Wendy with uncertainty.

     “That sounds a lot better than my rumour,” said Lenny.

     Her impatience increasing every second of their dawdling, Rosalina forced herself to push the heavy gates open and trek on the brick walkway towards the front door. If those two weirdos weren’t going to demand answers, then she would have to do it alone.

     To be continued…

 
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