Proofreader's Note: There's a prequel to this called "Helga On The Scarecrow's Couch," and it can be found under Edward's profile. This is a HA/DC crossover of awesome proportions, but unfortunately, I think a lot of people don't look at the crossover section, so I'm sticking this in the HA section. It deserves some attention and love. :)
Helga Pataki stepped off of the plane to San Lorenzo and gazed up at the sun.
"Criminey, that was a ten hour flight! It's miracle I'm still standing," she grumbled.
Helga, having just recently graduated from middle school, decided to spend her Spring Break searching for Arnold. After finally reuniting with his parents, Arnold had decided to move away from his hometown of Hillwood and live with his parents. Helga, heartbroken but understanding, had stayed behind. For a while, Helga truly believed she had moved on, but recently, her old feelings were beginning to return in full form. Arnold was her whole world. She had to be with him.
"Ah, the warmth of the San Lorenzo sun," replied Helga's companion as he stepped off the plane.
Upon reaching the conclusion that she needed to find Arnold, Helga began doing a little research on where to start. It had been a long time. Maybe Arnold and his family weren't even in San Lorenzo anymore. This thought brought Helga to another conclusion: she would not be able to do this alone. If she were to ever reunite with her one true love, she would need help from someone who knew what they were doing. Someone who specialized in finding people. She needed a detective. From what she had been told, she had hired the best.
"I must say, Helga, the luxury of city life can spoil a man," Edward Nigma replied as he adjusted his purple sunglasses.
"Save it, Eddie," said Helga. "I've had a long trip, and my back is killing me. I just want to find Arnold and get home."
Nigma grinned. "Just remember, Eyebrow," he said while poking Helga in the stomach with his cane, "I don't travel halfway around the world for all my other clients. I expect to get paid handsomely for the trouble I've gone through. I even offered to pay for the flight simply because I found your cause to be a very noble one. I don't want any lip."
"Yeah, yeah," Helga sighed.
This was going to be a long vacation.
The two weary travelers made their way towards a local hotel. Edward had suggested that the two begin the investigation by gathering information from the locals in the area. San Lorenzo was obviously teeming with mostly jungle. This meant that if Arnold's family were still here, chances are it wouldn't be too hard locating someone who would know where to find them. Fortunately, being the master detective he is, Nigma was able to get his hands on a photograph of Arnold that was taken two months ago. From what Helga had seen, her football-headed love-god had not changed much. He was taller, for one thing, and he dressed in clothing suitable for the hot, humid climate of San Lorenzo. He still had his precious childhood hat, though. Helga sighed longingly as she stared at the photo, then folded it up, placed it in her locket, and put it behind her shirt. She would always keep it close to her heart.
"Well, it seems we're on the right track," Edward replied as he approached the young woman. Nigma had traded in the spiffy green suit for which he had been known for a simple, yet stylish buttoned-down short-sleeve green shirt, cargo pants, and purple shades. Not a man to be caught unprepared, Nigma had also brought along a stylized wooden cane which feature a gold question mark wrapped around a silver orb at the top of the cane.
"Some of the locals have told me that the Shortmans have a small house out in the middle of a clearing in the jungle. It's close to an area where they've been conducting a great deal of research."
"Did you find out, where it is EXACTLY?" Helga asked as she crossed her arms. "'Cuz last time I checked, the jungle was a pretty big place."
"Well, we'll just have to do a little hiking then," Edward respond as he turned back towards the hotel lobby. "I'm going to grab some breakfast, recharge my batteries, take a shower, and then we can begin our expedition. I suggest you do the same."
Helga entered her room and locked the door behind her. She was a girl who valued her privacy, especially after being around a plane full of people for over ten hours. She unpacked her laptop, set it on a nearby desk, and hooked it up. She took out a USB cord from her backpack and plugged one end into her computer and the other end into her cell phone which was in desperate need of re-charging. She had already picked up some breakfast on the way to her room, so she wasn't very hungry at the moment, but she was in need of a shower. She walked to her laptop and turned on some music, then stripped off her clothes and headed into the shower to wash up.
She walked out about fifteen minutes later and examined herself in the mirror. She had a few minor scars scattered across her body that she often felt proud of, almost like a badge of honor. Two of them, however, only brought bad memories. One was located on her head, hidden under a layer of hair. It was the first scar she had received at the hands of Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, years before. The second, also caused by Crane, was located on the side of her stomach. She sighed and slipped on a pink-and-red shirt and a pair of cargo shorts. She then removed a cigarette from a pack she kept in her backpack, placed it between her lips, and lit the tip. She then inhaled deeply and lay down on the bed, ashtray close by. Her thoughts were of Arnold. Of how much she missed him. How much she wanted to be near him again. How much she longed to feel his touch and the sensation of his lips pressed against hers. She turned on her side, grabbed a pillow, and held it close to her chest.
"Arnold, my love," she whispered to herself.
"I will see you again, soon…I just hope beyond hope that you still want me..."
She sighed and got up, still clutching the pillow and thinking about Arnold. Helga tossed the item back on the bed and headed over to her guitar case. She removed the shining black-and-brown electric guitar from the case, sat down on the bed, and strummed a few notes. Ever since Arnold had left for San Lorenzo, she had taken up learning guitar, probably as an attempt to fill the void that he had left behind. The pig-tailed young woman was a very quick learner and, over the years, had all but mastered the instrument. After a bit of guitar practice, Helga put out her cigarette and dropped to the floor.
"One, two, three, four," she counted under her breathe as she pushed and lowered herself to-and-from the floor beneath her hands. She then flipped over and began her sit-ups next. After about thirty reps of each exercise, Helga made some space in the room for her to practice her hand-to-hand combat. She swung, kicked, and dodged invisible blows, delivering swift and efficient counter-attacks. Helga's encounter with the Scarecrow had made her feel helpless. Weak. She hated that feeling. She vowed to never be helpless again. She took several martial arts courses, even learned a few moves from Arnold's grandmother, and had become quite the badass little lady.
"Get ready, Helga, we're moving out in five minutes and I want to get back before nightfall," Nigma shouted from behind the door.
"I'm comin', keep your shirt on," Helga shouted back as she slipped on her socks and shoes. She opened the door to find Edward leaning against the wall across from her door, twirling his cane.
"I was able to get my hands on a map the jungle from a fisherman," he replied. "With any luck, it should lead us right to Arnold."
Helga flashed him a thumbs up and headed downstairs.
"A 'thank you' would've been nice," Edward sighed. He flipped up his cane and went after Helga.
"Ouch!" Helga yelped and swatted another mosquito off her arm. "Should've brought some damn bug spray or something."
Edward was too busy cutting down vines and plant life to hear Helga's complaint. To her credit, she had been quite the pleasurable company on this trip, recounting to Edward about her misadventures as a little girl. She even told him of her encounter with Jonathan Crane (something most people wouldn't live to tell). All-in-all, Edward was impressed by the young woman. She had, of course, undergone her share of bad luck during their expedition. Once she was nearly bitten by a highly poisonous snake. Another, she was almost mauled to death by a panther. The jungles of San Lorenzo were turning out to be quite treacherous indeed.
Edward stopped for a second to pull out the map and check their location. "It seems we're almost there, Helga," Edward replied. "We should be coming up on a research center any minute now."
Sure enough, out in the distance Edward could spot a small building beyond the trees. Vines and greenery had slithered up the facility's walls, making it seem like the building had been there for ages.
"Curious," said Nigma.
"What'd you say, Eddie?" Helga asked as she swatted away a large beetle.
"The building," Edward pointed a finger towards the facility. "It's covered in plant-matter."
"So? What's your point, Ed?"
"My point," Eddie began, slightly annoyed, "is that this building can't have been around that long. The place looks like an Aztec ruin."
"What do you think?" Helga was suddenly very serious.
"I think that we're about to pay a much unexpected visit to an old friend of mine…."
Pamela Isley, better known as eco-terrorist Poison Ivy, took a vial of green liquid and held it up to the sun, examining it closely. "Looks good so far," she said under her breath.
Pamela had spent the past two months in this building, studying various chemicals and experimenting on botanical genetics. She was hoping to evolve the Red Root Vine of San Lorenzo into a plant that could defend itself against the greedy corporations that sought it out to create beauty and hygiene products. People could be so careless.
"Well, at least I can prevent you from going extinct, my little pretty," Ivy told the plant.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Ivy's face displayed visible suspicion. Who'd be interrupting her research all the way out here? She put down the vial and headed for the door.
"Ivy," Edward Nigma replied as he bowed politely.
"What are you doing in Lorenzo, Nigma?" she asked, a slight edge to her tone.
"I was about to ask you the same question, Ms. Isley."
"I work here," Ivy replied angrily through clenched teeth. "Now what are you doing here?"
Edward's face twisted in confusion. "You have a job?"
"Yes, I have a job!" Ivy yelled. "I work for an environmental protection company. Sometimes, I like to get paid legitimately for what I do. Now what are you doing here, Nigma?"
Edward cleared his throat and removed a photograph from his shirt pocket. He presented it to Ivy. "Recognize them?" he asked.
Ivy took the picture from Edward and studied it for a moment. "Yes. The Shortmans. The male, Miles Shortman, is an anthropologist. The woman, Stella, is a biologist and physician, and a brilliant one at that. I've worked with her before. She's quite a woman."
"Do you know where they are now?"
Ivy shook her head. "They disappeared a few months ago."
"Did they have a boy with them?" Helga asked as she ducked past Edward and towards Ivy. "He has blonde hair and a little, blue baseball cap." She reached under her shirt, pulled out her locket, and opened it. She removed from it the recently taken photograph of Arnold and held it in front of Ivy, who studied the picture.
"Ah yes," she grinned. "I remember him. Sweet boy. He kept talking about a girl named Helga. That's you, I assume?"
Helga nodded excitedly. "He…he mentioned me?"
"Ha!" Ivy laughed, "Only every five minutes. I would have gotten sick of hearing it if not for how sweet it all was. That young man thinks the world of you, Helga. Should you find him, I suggest you don't let him out of your sight. Men like him are very rare, trust me."
Helga nodded again.
"Well," Ivy sighed, "since you're already here, why don't the two of you come in. I'll make us some green tea."
Ivy, Edward, and Helga sat in the lounge of Ivy's lab. It was nice, although a bit messy. Research notes and lab equipment were scattered throughout the room.
"I must say," Edward remarked, sipping his tea, "it's a bit messier in here than I expected. I always assumed you were something of a neat-freak."
"Yes, well, that has a little to do with my former unofficial lab partner, Harley. She was here a couple days ago, and I haven't really had time to clean up her messes."
Helga raised her brow. "Harley Quinzel?" she asked.
Ivy nodded. "You know, Harley?"
"Yeah," Helga responded, "I met her a few years ago back in Hillwood. She's pretty cool. How do you know her?"
"Harley and I go way back. I saved her from Joker several years ago. We've been close friends ever since."
"She was attacked by the Joker?" Helga asked incredulously. "She never told me that. That must've been pretty scary."
"Oh, she didn't care," Ivy shrugged. "It wouldn't be the last time."
"Wait." Helga put a hand up. "Hang on a sec...how many times has this happened?"
"Harley never told you? She's in love with the Joker."
"WHAT?" Helga gasped.
"As much as I'd like to continue this discussion," Nigma interrupted, "I'm on the clock. Ivy, Helga and I are searching for Arnold and his family. Any information you might have on their disappearance or whereabouts would be of great use to us."
Ivy sighed and leaned back in her chair. "It'll cost you," she replied.
"I'm not made of money, Ivy," Edward growled.
Ivy directed her eyes towards Helga and grinned. "Maybe your friend here can help me with my research a little bit...I happen to have concocted a little something, and I wouldn't mind testing it on a live person," Ivy suggested.
Edward turned to face Helga. "The choice is yours, Helga," he replied.
"It's not gonna kill me, or turn me into some horrific plant monster, or give me terrible acne, is it?" she asked.
"No, it's just a little injection of this serum I've been cooking up. It makes people immune to plant toxins."
"Sure," Helga shrugged, "but I want the info first."
Ivy nodded got up from the couch and motioned for the teenage girl to follow. "Miles and Stella were researching some chemicals they had discovered in a cave southeast of here," she spoke while leading Helga to a small lab station. "Apparently, the chemical was to be used in the creation of a miracle drug that could cure nearly any disease. Even cancer." She took a vial full of green liquid from one of the racks of chemicals on the table, then placed the vial into a hypodermic injector gun.
"So, this chemical…it had healing properties or something? What happened next?" Helga asked as she lifted up the sleeve on her right arm.
"No one knows," Ivy shrugged while dabbing Helga's arm with sterilized cotton swab. "Nobody's seen the Shortmans in months. Search teams were sent out but so far they haven't had much luck. Such is the way of the jungle. This may sting a bit, Helga," Ivy warned and placed the gun up against Helga's skin.
"So you think the jungle got 'em? Like maybe they were attacked by wild animals or something?" Helga flinched slightly as Ivy pulled the trigger, delivering the serum to her bloodstream.
Ivy pulled out a band-aid from one of the drawers on the table and stuck it on the girl's arm. "The jungle is a harsh, unforgiving place, Helga. People disappear in its dark embrace all the time. It's not surprising. How do you feel?"
"I don't...feel any different...," said Helga.
"That's good," Ivy responded. She took an ophthalmoscope from another drawer and examined Helga's eyes.
"I'll have to head to this cave and see what I can find," said Helga. "Maybe there'll be a clue as to what happened."
"If I were you, Helga, I'd give it up. Like I said, these things happen. If you continue your search, it'll happen to you, too. Edward's an experienced villain, but not even he would last long out here in the wild."
Helga shook her head. "He wouldn't give up on me," she replied.
Ivy just sighed. "Alright," she said and put away the scope, "everything checks out okay. Now we just check to see if it worked."
"Okay," Helga began, "so what do we do, stick me with a poison flower or-"
Helga was cut off as Ivy grabbed her by the small of her back and kissed her. Her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, and she pushed Ivy back. "What the hell?" she cried and spat on the floor. "Lady, I don't know what you heard, but I don't swing that way. I mean, sure, I've been curious before, and there was that one time when Phoebe stayed the night, and we compared breasts and...well, things got a little weird...but we've come to terms with that. It was a one-time thing."
"Helga," Ivy laughed," I just had to-"
"I think me and Ed need to get going, anyway," Helga interrupted as she backed out of the room. "It was nice meeting you, Ivy, but I really better head out." She turned and made her way over to Nigma, who was still sipping his tea. "C'mon, Eddie," she replied as she grabbed his arm, "time to go."
"Okay...nice seeing you, Pam," Edward waved as Helga pulled him out the door.
Ivy smiled and waved as the duo exited the building. She waited a few moments after the two had left and pulled out her cell phone. She hit a button for speed dial and held the phone to her ear.
"Report," the voice on the other end of the line ordered.
"I just had a couple visitors who were asking about the Shortmans," Ivy replied.
"Names?" the voice asked.
"One was Edward Nigma. The other was a girl named Helga Pataki."
The line went silent for a moment.
"Still there?" she asked.
"Repeat the second name," the voice commanded.
"Helga. Pataki," Ivy repeated.
The line went silent for another moment.
"What did you tell them," a different voice spoke on the other end of the line.
"I told them the truth. That the Shortman's were researching the cave southeast of here when they suddenly disappeared."
"What did they say?"
"The girl...," Ivy sighed, "she's a stubborn one, but don't worry; I injected her with a little something that'll slow her down."
"Very good, Ms. Isley, very good."
"When can I expect to get paid?" Ivy asked.
"You will be paid when it is deemed necessary and not a moment sooner. Return to your station. We will contact you again when your information is verified."
The line went dead.
"Whatever," Ivy sighed again as she put away her phone. Her attention turned towards the hypo injector gun and the chemical she had injected Helga with. Her thoughts went to Harley Quinn, and she smiled.
"What happened back there?" Edward asked Helga once the two were out of the building.
"She friggin' kissed me! Right outta the blue, no warning or anything!"
"That's how she tests her anti-toxins. Her kiss is quite deadly; if the serum had not worked, you would have been killed. She didn't mean to offend you or anything."
"Well, she could have warned me, at least," Helga grumbled.
"Tell me, Helga, did you notice anything unusual back there at Ivy's?"
"Ya mean besides the kiss?" Helga thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, the place seems a little isolated for a research center...and I didn't see any logos or insignias on any of the equipment. Or the building."
"Very astute observation, Helga," Edward remarked, genuinely impressed.
"While you and Ivy were...fooling around in her lab, I took the liberty of doing a little detective work and snooped around her building."
"Well," Nigma began, "for starters, she lied to us. The funding for her research isn't coming from any 'environmental protection organization'."
"How could you tell?"
"Receipts. I searched that place practically from top to bottom and found nothing regarding where she gets her funding. No receipts, no checks, no bank notes, nothing. Whoever's funding her is doing it with cold, hard, untraceable cash. Which means three things." Helga watched and listened as Edward began pacing the area. "One, they don't want anyone to know that Ivy is working for them. Two, they don't want anyone to know who they are. And three," he stopped and turned to look at Helga, "they are very, very, wealthy. Especially if they're paying in cash. This also means that whoever we're dealing with, they're most likely quite dangerous."
"Any idea who it might be?" Helga asked.
Edward put his back to Helga and rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "I have a theory...," he said quietly. He snapped out of his thoughts and turned back towards Helga. "Anyway, it's just a theory. Come on," he twirled his cane as he talked, "let's head to this cave and find out for ourselves."
Helga shrugged and followed Edward back into the jungle. A bead of sweat ran down his brow. If his theory on who is behind the disappearance of the Shortmans was correct, he and Helga were in terrible danger.
It was a good three hour trek through the jungle before they finally reached the little house the cozy research lab the Shortmans had called home. Throughout their journey, Edward had taught Helga a few lessons about being a detective.
"A mystery," he had said, "is a lot like a puzzle. You have to look at it from every conceivable angle. You can't just walk onto a crime scene and start forming a hypothesis. Solving a crime isn't easy. For one, it takes an incredible amount of observational skill. You have to be able to see things that even the killer himself missed. Also, it requires patience. Patience, Helga is the key to any successful endeavor, especially crime solving. You have to have the patience to check every possible detail. Every carpet fiber, every object, every last piece of evidence must be analyzed and studied carefully."
Helga nodded and listened carefully to everything Edward Nigma told her. She was a tomboy with a big mouth, but she sure as hell wasn't stupid. She knew that every word Edward had to say was something worth hearing. She knew the eccentric detective was nobody's fool.
Edward stopped Helga just before they entered the house.
"What gives?" Helga asked.
"Just wait here for a sec," Edward replied suspiciously.
He put his back to the wall adjacent to the door, looked at Helga, and put a finger over his lip. He gently pushed the door open and stuck his cane inside. He waited for a moment before peeking his head in. The place was trashed.
Clothes, science equipment, and other random objects were littered throughout the room. The doors to the other areas of the house appeared to have been broken open. He entered the building and took a good look around, examining the room carefully.
"Shit, what happened here?" Edward heard Helga say as she entered the house.
"Thought I asked you to stay outside?"
"Yeah, well I was getting eaten alive out there by goddamn mosquitoes, bucko. Besides, I'm not a little girl anymore. I can handle myself."
Edward merely grunted and stooped down to examine the scene a little more thoroughly.
"So whaddya think happened here?" Helga asked, and Edward cringed a little as he heard something crunch beneath her feet. "Did they get attacked by wild animals?"
"No," Edward shook his head, "The fridge is wide open, but there's still food inside. If animals had done this, they would have gone for the fridge, too. Plus, there aren't any signs that animals have been in here. No, I'd say this was done by people."
"You don't think they...hurt them…?" Helga asked with visible alarm.
"No, there aren't any signs of a struggle."
"Whaddya call this then," Helga asked as she gestured around the room, "a house party?"
Edward, still studying the crime scene, ignored Helga's sarcasm. "There isn't any blood or torn pieces of clothing. There aren't any weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon, lying around. Whoever did this was looking for something."
"Why would they leave the place so trashed then? They had to have known somebody was gonna come looking for them. It'd look WAY too suspicious."
"Very true," Edward replied, raising his index finger, "but there are two possible reasons for this: either the intruders needed to find whatever it is they were looking for in a hurry, or...they wanted to send a message."
"Why?" Helga queried, lifting her brow.
"Because Ivy told them we were coming, and they wanted to scare us away," Nigma answered as if the question were obvious. "Let's go check out that cave," he said as he got up and brushed himself off.
Fortunately, for the two weary travelers, the cave was a mere fifteen minute hike from the house. Edward and Helga paused outside the entrance and peered in. Nothing. They looked at each other, nodded, and headed inside.
The cave wasn't unusual from any Helga or Edward had seen. Running along the ceiling of it were wires with lights attached to them, safely illuminating their way.
"Echo!" Helga called, and she was met by the sound of her own voice reverberating along the walls of the cavern.
"Never speaking, still awake,
Pleasing most when most I speak,
The Delight of old and young,
Tho' I speak without a Tongue.
Naught but one Thing can confound me,
Many Voices joining round me;
Then I fret, and rave and gabble,
Like the Laborers of Babel.
Now I am a Dog, or Cow,
I can bark, or I can low,
I can bleat, or I can sing,
Like the Warblers of the Spring.
Let the Love-sick Bard complain,
And I mourn the cruel Pain;
Let the happy Swain rejoice,
And I join my helping Voice;
Both are welcome, Grief or Joy,
I with either sport and toy.
Tho' a Lady, I am stout,
Drums and Trumpets bring me out;
Then I clash and roar, and rattle,
Join in all the Din of Battle.
Jove, with all his loudest Thunder,
When I'm vexed, can't keep me under;
Yet so tender is my Ear,
That the lowest Voice I fear;
For I hate a silent Breath,
And a Whisper is my Death.
What am I?" Edward recited.
Helga looked up at Edward.
"That was beautiful," she replied with admiration.
"Yes, it's one of my favorite riddles."
"What's the answer?"
"You already said it." Edward stopped and crouched down to examine something on the cave floor.
"What is it?" Helga asked anxiously.
"We're not alone...," Nigma ominously replied.
"Bears?" Helga glanced around nervously.
Edward turned to her and grinned. "Bears? In the jungle?"
"Or...something else?" Helga shrugged.
Edward chuckled and got back to his feet. "People, Helga. Most likely the same people responsible for the Shortmans' disappearance."
"You don't think I gave us away with that echo, do you?"
"No," Edward shook his head, "whoever these people are, they're professionals. They already know we're here. Just act casual. We'll allow this mystery to unfold before us. C'mon, let's keep moving."
The two continued their journey to the end of the cavern and whatever it was they would find at the end of the tunnel. Every so often, when the two travelers came upon a fork in the path, Edward would halt their progress and kneel down to examine the ground. He would then point out the proper direction, and the two would continue.
"So Helga, what do you intend on doing once this little quest of yours is over?" Edward had asked along the way.
Helga thought for a moment. "Well, I guess it would depend on Arnold. Once, he told me he cared about me more than nearly anything. I loved him...and...I hoped that he loved me. He told me he did, but..."
"But he wanted to be with his parents," Edward finished.
"Yeah. I just have to know if he really does love me. I'm willing to wait for him, if he ever decides to come back to Hillwood..."
"And if he doesn't?"
Helga was silent for a moment. "Well...then I'll just have to go back to Hillwood, I guess..."
She tried hard to keep the sadness from showing in her voice, but Edward Nigma was a master detective. He gave the young woman a comforting smile. "Well, Helga," he said with a twirl of his cane, "I've often found in my line of work that sometimes when you find the answer to a question you've spent your whole life asking, it just doesn't seem like much of an answer anymore."
Helga pondered the meaning of Edward's cryptic metaphor. "Am I wasting my time here, Edward?" she asked sadly, melancholic expression on her face.
"True love is never a waste of time. It's one of life's greatest riddles." Helga was silent for a moment. Edward cleared his throat. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you...," he began.
"Yeah?" Helga asked.
"How did you get the money to pay me? My services don't exactly come cheap. Though you did, of course, only pay me half of what you owe as is customary, but ten grand is a lot of money. Especially for a fourteen-year-old girl and I know you aren't particularly wealthy, either."
"My sister loaned me the money," Helga replied.
"That was nice of her," said Nigma, a slight hint of suspicion in his voice. "Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money. She must be doing quite well for herself."
"Yeah, she's...she's doing...great..."
This was only partially true. Not long ago, Olga had gotten a major role in a Broadway show about a cheerleader who contracts cancer. The show was a big success, and Olga's performance was, as usual, perfect. Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to land another audition and was losing money steadily due to her new high-maintenance boyfriend. As such, Olga was only able to loan Helga six thousand, four thousand less than she actually needed, but it didn't matter. Helga was sure she would be able to work something out with Nigma. All she cared about at the moment was finding Arnold.
"Well, I'm sure your parents must be very proud to have two very creative children."
"HA! Yeah right," Helga sneered. "My 'parents' idolize Olga. I'm lucky if I ever get an honorable mention."
"Oh?" Edward raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah," Helga continued, "my 'dad' doesn't give a shit about anybody but himself. That's how it's always been. The only reason he even piles on all the adoration for her is because she's SOOO damn prefect, and it makes HIM look good," she sighed. "They don't even notice me..." Helga saw something out of the corner of her eye. "Wait a sec." She leaned down to observe a puddle of greenish liquid by the cave wall.
Edward walked over to Helga and crouched beside her, observing her find.
"Better not touch it," Helga warned, "it's toxic."
Edward gave Helga a curious glance. "How do you know?" he asked.
"Well, for starters, it's friggin' green. Secondly, it doesn't appear to be natural in this cave. The walls and ceiling are bone-dry, so it's not coming from anywhere in the tunnel," she gestured with her hand towards the walls and ceiling of the cavern.
Edward nodded and rubbed his chin. "Just a theory though. Still," he turned to Helga and smiled. "it's something I didn't notice, and it's a damn good theory with reasonable observations. You've been paying attention. I'm proud of you."
He patted Helga on the shoulder and got back on his feet. Helga stared up at him for a moment. It was something about the way he said it: 'I'm proud of you.' It felt...REAL. Genuine. Nobody had ever told her that before. Oh sure, some of her teachers had complimented her creative writing talents before, but she didn't really pay too much attention to what they had to say. What did they know about her? They were just teachers. However, Edward was different. He was highly intelligent, a certifiable genius; and not some robot-building, mad scientist genius. He was a genius in a more modest, realistic way. He was a genius of words and creativity, not so unlike Helga. She actually took interest in what Edward Nigma had to say, and now, he said he was proud of her. Something her parents never even once told her. She blushed.
"Are you coming, Helga?" Edward called ahead of her.
Helga snapped out of her thoughts, got up, and headed towards Nigma. "Hey, Eddie?" she asked as they continued their trek down the cavern's tunnels. "What were you like as a kid?"
Edward palmed his chin for a moment, reflecting back on his childhood. "It was...typical, I guess? I was a bit of a character in school. Never had a whole lot of friends though. My father was abusive. He would hit me, call me names, sometimes just outright ignore me. Truth is, he was jealous. I was very successful in my academic endeavors and, sadly, this caused me to be bullied by not only my father, but by a few of my peers as well. One day, the class was involved in a contest. There was a puzzle; it was sort of a cross between a Rubik's cube and a jigsaw puzzle, and there was a reward for whoever solved it the fastest. Naturally, I won the competition and was rewarded with a large book of riddles. I swear," Nigma laughed, "I must've read that book from cover-to-cover at least fifteen times."
"Wow," Helga remarked.
"Yes," Edward's smile faded, "but my father...he wouldn't have any of it. He came at me hard that day. Broke my jaw, my arm, knocked out a few of my baby teeth. He said I had cheated. That I was...stupid. A nothing... LESS than nothing...a cheater." Edward let the sentence linger.
Helga just stared at him, shocked by what she had heard. She had father issues, too, but...damn. "I'm sorry," she replied in a comforting tone.
"Don't be," Edward sighed, "he was right." Suddenly, he halted his advance and flattened against the wall, motioning for Helga to do the same.
There were voices coming from around the next corner, but they were speaking a language Helga couldn't understand. She saw Eddie's eyes widen. He suddenly looked ghostly pale.
"What're they saying?" Helga whispered.
Edward spun around and gripped Helga's shoulders. "Get back to the house now," he whispered.
"What?" Helga asked in bewilderment. "What're they-"
"Just do it!" Edward whispered harshly.
Helga shook her head. "I'm not leaving here without you."
Edward pulled a hidden sword from his cane. "I'll be fine, but this is something I need to do alone. Now go. Hurry!"
"What if they come back?"
Edward shook his head, irritated. "They won't, they got what they came for. Now get GOING."
She turned and reluctantly hurried off to the ruined home of the Shortmans. She turned back once to see if Edward was okay, but he was gone.