Starfire Detection Agencies: Part One
"According to legend, the amulet which now bears the name 'Thyora's Tear' harkens back to the tale of an Eyrie named Thyora. Supposedly, one day a Water Faerie came across Thyora as she was -"
"Abridged version, Mald. Some people, believe it or not, don't function their best at 6 a.m. in the morning." Star flicked her pierced ear and met the Gelert's coal-black eyes with her own pale blue ones. "Coffee would also be good," she said with a grin.
Mald immediately plugged in the kettle. Having worked for Star for nearly five months now, he had become an adept at the coffee-making art. "Basically, the Faerie feels sorry for Thyora because her brother died fighting some Skeiths." Mald shook some brown coffee power into the mug and stirred. "Thyora stars crying, and the Faerie turns one of her tears into a magical necklace, which she says will stop Thyora from 'befalling the same fate as her brother'. The Tear momentarily protects the wearer from any attack. It's very rare - valued at over fifty million Neopoints at the Trading Post currently." He handed her her cup.
"Well, I can see why someone would want to steal it." The Electric Wocky took it, had a cautious sip, and smiled appreciatively. "You're getting better at this. Could start up your own business soon."
Mald paled, because he knew she wasn't talking about coffee. Detective work was all very well when he was just Star's assistant; all on his own it would be frightening. "Don't want to get rid of me, do you?" he said, with a laugh.
"Partner maybe... let's see how you go on this case, eh?" She grinned at him and leaped to her feet, taking her leather jacket off its hook and setting her Jazzmosis hat at a jaunty angle on her dark spiky hair. "The client's house is in Neopia Central, yeah?"
Mald consulted the file. "On the outskirts, yes."
"Good. We can walk there. Those Uni carriages are always raising their prices these days. Inflation - ha!" Star snorted contemptuously and walked out the door, her simple Island sandals making hardly a sound against the smooth linoleum floor of the passageway outside. Mald followed behind, locking the door behind him.
Miss Star LaFlagro, the plaque on the door read, and, in bigger, squarer letters above it, STARFIRE DETECTION AGENCIES. They were located in the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters, Neopia Central, and dealt with everything from vandalised property to stolen valuable objects.
The clients lived at 17a, Cairn Close. A pricey part of town. Then again, if they could afford a Thyora's Tear, they obviously had plenty of money to spend. The house, when they found it (it was hidden at the end of a long, winding driveway through picturesque grassland with several expensive Petpets wandering around looking pretty), was built of marble. Not the most expensive building material, surprisingly, but certainly the most impressive-looking. It rose up like some kind of bizarre and intrusive white rock formation from the surrounding landscape. Star didn't like the look of it at all, but you couldn't be too picky with clients, particularly not ones that would pay through the nose to get their - she glanced at the file on the clipboard Mald carried - 'priceless family heirloom' back.
The door was opened by a pretty but tired-looking Cloud Cybunny. When she saw them, her expression immediately lightened. The Electric Wocky, with light, fine fur and piercing eyes, sounded just like the 'Miss Star LaFlagro, Detective' advertised, and she recognized the Red Gelert from earlier, when she'd asked for his help.
"Miss LaFlagro, Mister Drew, do come in," she said politely, opening the door further. Star stepped past her and shot her a smile.
"Mrs Edita Odile?" she said, hanging her hat and coat on the hat-stand. The Cybunny nodded. "We're here about the Thyora's Tear you reported missing earlier today..." Much earlier. It must have been important to her if she reported it missing at 5:30 a.m. Most people waited until a decent hour.
Star and Mald followed Mrs. Odile into the extensive sitting-room. Star settled into an armchair and watched the Cybunny closely. It seemed odd that she'd come to the door personally instead of sending the butler or one of the servants, but then again, she seemed earnestly worried. Star found herself liking the Cloud pet despite her riches.
"So," Mald said. He normally dealt with the paperwork. "Before we take on the case, we have to know what kind of fee you'd be offering."
"As I've already told you, this is very important to me and my husband." The last two words were said with a lot of enthusiasm. Mald smiled to himself. Happy couples were so sweet. "If you recovered the Tear within a week, undamaged... I couldn't go a point below five million Neopoints. It was my engagement present."
Star's expression stayed calm, but inside she was reeling. Five million! But of course, the Odiles were rich, and had plenty to spare. The Tear was worth substantially more than that. Star smiled at the Cybunny.
"We'll take it," she said simply, sounding as though it wasn't a big deal. Mald wrote something down on his clipboard. "Now, to business." She stood up with feline grace, her bushy tail sweeping behind her. "When did you realize the Tear was missing?"
"2 a.m. this morning," Mrs. Odile said promptly, also getting to her feet. "I keep it in the hall, and it was fairly obvious that -"
"What were you doing up at 2 a.m.?" Star asked, her eyes narrowed.
"I couldn't sleep, so I was going to make myself a hot chocolate. The hall is on the way to the kitchen from my bedroom, so I immediately noticed -"
"Where's your husband?" Star said, more for politeness than anything else. She had noticed Mrs. Odile's enthusiasm for the topic.
"Aldie?" Mrs. Odile seemed surprised. "He's away. Out working. He left about an hour ago, probably won't be back till late. He's a busy man. Very important," she added, with a hint of pride.
"What kind of Neopet is Mr. Odile?" Mald asked, just for the sake of the record. He wrote down the species of all their clients, and their names. It helped to keep things organized.
"He's a Lutari," Mrs. Odile said, and then added, "a Green Lutari."
"Good. Thank you. Can you show us where the Tear was stored?" Star said. The Cybunny nodded.
"Certainly. Right this way."
A Shadow Aisha was sweeping the floor as they entered. At a sign from Mrs. Odile, he bowed deeply and left the hall.
It was very big, and richly decorated, with a gleaming floor made up of a mosaic of the Twelve Protectors of Altador. Shining chandeliers chinked faintly. Other than that, it was very quiet. An elegant pedestal rose up from the floor near the wall, but the glass bubble at the top was cracked, and the plush purple velvet where the Tear should have reclined was empty.
"Ah," Star breathed, going over to it. She examined the pedestal for a few minutes, looking all over it and the surrounding area. Then she frowned. "Has anyone been in here since then?"
"Well, yes. The cleaner - you saw him, didn't you?" Mrs. Odile said.
"Aishas are some of the best thieves in Neopia," Star murmured. "Did you know that, Mrs. Odile?" She cast the Cybunny a sideways glance.
"Well - yes, I'd heard, but whatever you're suggesting, I want you to forget it right now. Purrow has been working for us for only two months but I assure you he is very reliable!" Mrs. Odile said, looking offended.
"Purrow?" Star said, her eyebrows shooting up. "Now there's a name I know! When was it, Mald?"
Mrs. Odile looked confused. Mald frowned in thought. "We caught the Aisha Twins, Purrow and Meesha, for that Codestone heist..." Mald raised his eyebrows. "A little over two months ago."
"Ah, good ol' Meesha and Purrow," Star said. Mald could have sworn she was grinning. "Better opponents I couldn't wish for! They break themselves out of the DoN HQ cells almost as quickly as we put them there... but this isn't really their style. They do stuff like that Great Chocolate Heist, petty theft... they wouldn't go for something this high-profile." She started pacing. "Unless somebody paid them well to do it... so now we're looking for a big villain, probably one with an equally big budget." She sighed. "I hate those."
Mrs. Odile, who had been following the conversation with some bewilderment, now took the opportunity to add something. "Well, if Purrow is the candidate, why don't you chase after him? He is only a few minutes ahead, after all."
Star looked surprised, and then, seeming to remember that not everyone was a detective, explained. "He was probably just here to make sure that they hadn't left any signs behind that would identify them - or more likely their boss, since Purrow didn't take any measures to make sure he wasn't recognized. He wouldn't have had the Tear on him, anyway. I've tried to find their hideout a couple of times before, but they've always lost me in the sewers." Star sighed. "Ruined my trench coat. Now I just have that jacket. Come to think of it, I still have a score to settle with them over that..." She glanced over at Mald. "Do you see anything I'm missing?"
The Gelert flushed. "Um, well, there's, uh, Purrow left his broom." He pointed towards it. "There could be a clue there... maybe? And it's not like we have any other leads."
"Now what have I taught you?" Star chided lightly. "There's always a lead. In this case, we could have headed down into the sewers and waited 'till Meesha or Purrow came to us. There's something about this case - it doesn't have their usual slickness to it, somehow. Maybe they have something to tell us." She walked towards the broom and lifted it with two fingers, turned it over and over, and combed through the bristles. Something fell out.
Mald ran over and examined them. "I think they're Gormball Sugar Cookies," he said, at a loss. "Um... purple ones."
"So Purrow was having a snack? Great. Never knew he was a Gormball fan." Star sighed. She didn't particularly want to go into the sewers, but if that was their only option...
"Maybe it's a message?" Mald suggested tentatively.
"Some message," said Star drily. "A nicely-written note telling us who their boss is would be preferable... but you're right, we shouldn't rule out any options." She ran a paw through her ruffled hair.
Mald looked at the Wocky curiously. Star seemed tired. Normally, she would be leaping all over the place, making clever deductions and generally confusing the living asparagus out of Mrs. O, and he'd be left to run along as best he could in her wake and try to discern which of her ideas were brilliant and which were ridiculous. (The ridiculous ones turned out to be true just as often as the brilliant ones, mind you.) But today... she seemed to lack her usual zazz. Could be because of the early morning wake-up, or the long walk here - it had taken nearly an hour to reach the house, and right now Mald would place it at seven-thirty or so in the morning. Too early for most people to be up and about. Mald would be reading through his copy of the Neopian Times if this was a normal day, or maybe sleeping in after a hard night's research if they had a case. He looked closer at Star. She really did look tired. He didn't know why he hadn't noticed before. Her eyes were lidded and she seemed on the brink of yawning.
Mrs. Odile must have noticed too. "How about rest in one of the guest rooms while you try to figure out what happened?" she said kindly.
Mald gave her a smile of thanks as the Electric Wocky nodded and left the hall. "Is there something wrong with her?" she hissed to him as soon as Star was out of earshot. The pretty Cloud Cybunny looked worried. The Tear obviously meant a lot to her, or perhaps she felt empathy for her fellow Neopian. Maybe a mixture of both.
"Just... the early start, is all. She had a hard day yesterday." Mald wished that that were true; all they'd had done yesterday was wander around the Catacombs in their welcome spare time. He hated lying to clients. "Just wait a few hours; she'll be fine." He gave his practiced reassuring smile, picked up the cookies and left after Star.
This way... ? Maybe not... Star sighed as she came to another dead end. The house was huge, but she had a feeling that normally she'd be able to navigate it with ease - explore all over, find clues, weasel information out of the kitchen staff and still get to the guest rooms before Mald. Ugh... Star found herself by the doors. Fresh air's all I need, she thought with a little of her usual jauntiness, and she swung the doors open and leaned against them on the other side, not wanting to wander too far away from 17a Cairn Close.
Right. So. Aisha thieves. Gormball cookies - sorry, PURPLE Gormball cookies. A rich Cybunny. This has all got to add up somewhere. Maybe... maybe... She yawned, then started. Good grief, I'm falling apart in the middle of a case! she thought frantically. I can't just fall asleep when I'm probably so close to the solution... those five million Neopoints will help a lot... She felt overcome with lethargy. I have to find the... the... the... Tear? Star would have panicked, but... She yawned. I'm just so... so... tired...
The Electric Wocky yawned again, blinked, slumped against the door and slid slowly to the ground. The coffee, some still-functioning part of her brain thought, and then she slept.
To be continued...