The Petpet Detectives: Case of the Lost Lizark - Part Three
Luna and Charlie awoke somewhere around eleven and I anxiously shared my findings as we sat at the long table in the communal kitchen. It was already Friday morning and the three of us seriously needed to get working.
“That’s great!” exclaimed Luna; the Yurble’s cheerful voice bounced off the stone walls. She flung her arms around me. “We can send one of Damien’s sleeves to the Virtupets Space Station. They can run some tests on it and tell us what the real substance is!”
Charlie was sitting on the tabletop, nibbling on some corn flakes. “And when they get back with us, we’ll be closer to solving the case.”
Damien, however, was not as excited when we went to visit him. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great start!” he added, upon seeing my slightly crestfallen expression. “But it’s not going to be enough to get me out of here. The darker substance just proves I was framed. And didn’t the Defender specify that if you guys don’t find the real kidnapper then I’d be taken back to Neopia Central and held there?”
I heaved a sigh and leaned against the dungeon’s iron bars.
Damien stared out his small window, too frustrated to say anything else. The royal Aisha did not look so royal anymore. Aside from the fact that he now donned a khaki jumpsuit in place of his pricey attire, the usual glow in his face was nearly nonexistent. The energy in his eyes had faded and his mouth was a hard, solemn line. No pearly whites to flash for a while.
“I don’t understand,” he said at last. “I heard voices in the jungle right before I blacked out, but I couldn’t understand the language. And I could’ve sworn there was someone behind me, but...”
“But what?” Luna urged, anxious for any new information.
Damien bit his lower lip. “It’s like... it’s like looking at a fuzzy photograph. You can see the main idea, but the details are blurred.”
Those details are so important, I thought, biting my tongue to keep myself from saying it aloud and aggravating the Aisha even further. He was already behind bars and struggling to remember what happened the night before.
“You should talk to Felix,” Damien told us. “I’ve been hearing his name mentioned quite a few times around here. To my knowledge, he’s the Head Archaeologist.”
I could see why that would be crucial. If Felix was indeed the leader, he’d know everything about his team, this particular dig, and Geraptiku itself, all of which could be essential to solving the case.
“We’ll find him,” Luna promised.
She gave his paw a squeeze through the bars and we said our goodbyes.
“Damien did say he was hearing voices,” I commented to Luna and Charlie as we exited the small, stone building. “Maybe he just had too much sugar at the festival.”
“Marlo!” the shadow Yurble exclaimed. She elbowed me in the ribs a little harder than usual. You would think by now she’d be used to my dry sense of humor.
Charlie was as quiet as a Miamouse atop my feathery head, accustomed to my poorly-timed, sarcastic comments. “We can probably find Felix at the base station,” the pea Chia suggested. “I mean, it is the central building in this part of Geraptiku. If Damien really was hearing a kind of foreign chant, perhaps Felix would know about it.”
“Then let’s hit the sky. We’re on a deadline.”
Luna climbed up onto my back and I sprang from the ground almost effortlessly. My Eyrie wings spread over clusters of branches and we glided over the treetops. Without Damien’s added weight, flying was slightly easier and more enjoyable.
But if Damien could be with us, I’d gladly accept the heavier load.
Felix was much harder to find than we originally thought.
A group of archaeologists were seated at the picnic tables for lunch in the communal kitchen when the three of us trudged in from the brief flight.
“Could someone tell us where Felix is?” Luna asked.
The five faces that stared back at us revealed identical blank expressions.
I smirked. “Don’t everyone speak up at once.”
This time Luna did not nudge me in the ribs.
And then a small voice came from the back of the room. “Felix, did you say? He had to fly to Neopia Central for a few days.” It was Raia. The Wocky smiled. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Felix left his team for a few days? That’s not at all suspicious... Although we would be unable to speak with him until his return to Geraptiku, I felt a rush of gratitude towards Raia’s offer.
“Excellent,” I said.
Feeling five pairs of eyes burning on us, Luna offered, “Shall we take a walk?”
Raia grinned. “Sure.”
The four of us trekked across the dirt path, the only noise being our muffled footsteps and the sounds of exotic petpets chirping over our heads. The air had become humid, settling over Geraptiku like an uncomfortable blanket. I swatted at a pesky Vernax that buzzed in my left ear.
“We’re terribly sorry that all this is happening... again,” started Luna. “It must be stressful to go through this process a second time.”
Raia nodded. “It feels somewhat familiar. Maybe I just attract mysteries too easily.”
We came to an area of Geraptiku where a dozen or so Neopians were kneeling in a large pit that rested two or three feet into the earth. In plastic bags were pieces of colored stone, bones, and ceramic shards.
I spotted London in the center, dusting what looked like a smooth rock with ancient markings on its surface. The green Eyrie was hard at work with a magnifying glass in one hand and an open book at his feet. He worked more anxiously than the other Neopians, brush moving back and forth with longer strides. Wow, I thought. Now that’s dedication.
“I really love archaeology,” said Raia suddenly, also gazing out at the Neopians excavating the area. “The thrill of a wonderful find can’t be beaten.” She turned to us. “What is it you wanted to talk about?”
Luna faltered. “Well, this might sound funny, but have you ever heard of chanting in the jungle?”
“Chanting?” Raia repeated. “I think my inexperience is beginning to kick in... you should ask Felix upon his arrival.” She smiled and started to turn, but an idea sprung to my mind and I called her back.
“At the festival, there was a photographer from the Mystery Island Monthly,” I began. “Do you know who he is?”
Raia thought about it. “Oh, yes! The red Lutari taking pictures? His name is Kale. He worked with us a few weeks ago as well when we first began excavating.”
“Do you know where we can find him?” Charlie asked.
“You’ll have to go into town. He has an office at the Mystery Island Monthly building on Harbor Lane.” She gave us the address, and Luna pulled the notepad from her Faerie Back Pack to jot it down.
“Thanks,” I said.
Luna was nodding to herself as Raia disappeared into the pit with her brush and magnifying glass at the ready. “Right. The kidnapper wouldn’t have shown up in a lot of pictures because he or she would have been in the jungle and not at the festival.” She grinned. “Good plan.”
We took off immediately for the office building and discovered it in the center of Harbor Lane, large, sandstone-colored, and with lots of windows. It reminded me immensely of the Neopian Times office building as we entered: bustling Islanders hurrying from station to station, the sounds of clacking typewriters, printing papers, and a buzz of chatter.
An Acara at the front desk smiled pleasantly. “Can I help you?”
“We’re looking for a photographer named Kale,” said Luna, flashing our official card before the Acara could ask if we had an appointment.
“Down the hall and to the right,” said the Acara, returning it. “Number twelve.”
We thanked her and began down the narrow corridor. The door to number twelve was ajar, and streaming from it was a bright light. Luna knocked and slowly pushed the door open.
The walls were a soft blue and a few beautiful photographs hung from them. Two large filing cabinets faced a small desk cluttered with strips of film and notebooks.
A red Lutari appeared from behind the door, expression professional at first but then turning curious.
“I’ve seen you before,” he said, holding out his claws to make L shapes and frame us. He closed one eye and focused. “Ah! Geraptiku’s annual festival. You’re Neopia’s Petpet Detectives, as was captioned in the Mystery Island Monthly. Am I right?”
“Very much so,” I said. “I’m Marlo, and these are my partners Luna and Charlie.”
The Lutari offered his paw. “Call me Kale. Come in. What can I do for you?”
“As I’m sure you know, a Lizark has gone missing and our fourth partner, Damien, was framed for the petpet’s disappearance.”
“Ah, yes. That I’ve heard about; it’s been the buzz around here for the past couple of days. What a tragedy. But at the same time, I wish I could’ve gotten a few more shots of the chaos. It would’ve paid double or maybe even triple what I normally make per shot!” Kale paused, noticing our expressions. “Nothing against your friend, of course, but when you’re a photographer, you have to know where the wind’s blowing.”
Luna nodded slowly. “I understand. What we came here for was to ask if you had copies of the shots you took from the festival a couple of nights ago.”
“Yeah, I took a bunch that night. My partner Viv and I both did. Are you looking for anything specific?”
“Actually,” I began, “would it be possible for us to see all of them?”
Kale shrugged nonchalantly. “Sure. There’s about forty in total.” He dug around in a filing cabinet and pulled out a white envelope. “Here you go.”
“Well, that was easier than I thought,” Luna commented. “And we can keep these?”
“They’re all yours,” said the Lutari. “I still have the negatives.”
I smiled at how simple the task had turned out to be. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” replied Kale. “It was nice meeting you all.”
As we headed back outside and into the breezy jungle, I eagerly anticipated the contents of the white envelope and the project we now had on our hands.
Moonlight pooled into Damien’s cell at a late hour that evening, causing white strips to lie across the stone floor. The air was still as moist as it had been earlier in the day, but now it brought with it a chill from the sea around them. Damien shivered in his khaki attire, which was nowhere near as warm as his regular clothing, and wrapped the old blanket from his cot around his shoulders.
The royal Aisha never quite felt safe in his stone prison. All around him, tree branches rustled and the lights from the torches flickered ominously. The Neopian who was supposedly guarding Damien had fallen asleep in his chair. It now stood on two legs, the back resting against the wall.
And to make matters worse, every now and then the eerie chanting rang in Damien’s four ears.
“Imek nowaah siskaturma, shigon lazra utel punak. Imek nowaah siskaturma, shigon lazra utel punak...”
Damien closed his eyes, trying to focus on the language as opposed to shutting it out of his mind. It had to be of some help to the other detectives. When the voice soon faded, Damien opened his eyes once more.
A cloaked figure was standing at the entrance to his cell.
Damien jumped as if he had been doused with icy water.
“Shh,” said the figure, acknowledging the snoring guard.
The voice was soft and light, feminine. She had red hooves and a slightly pointed face. Two horns protruded from under her hood.
“Hey, I know you,” said Damien, rising from his sitting position. He slowly approached the red Ixi, fearing she would flee. “I saw you in the clearing just before I blacked out. Did you...? Are you the one who--?”
“Do not tell the others about this visit, Damien,” she said softly, in an accent he couldn’t place, “and please keep your voice down. My name is Victoire. I have some information for you.”
To be continued...