Messenger: The Trouble With Selkets - Part Six
“No!” Midnight cried, pushing herself through the crowd in an effort to get at her daughter. “There must be some mistake! That’s my DAUGHTER!”
“No mistake, ma’am,” said the guard who was holding Bluecloud. “She doesn’t actually have the necklace, of course, but she was fetching a flower from the palace gardens, which are right next to the palace treasury. There was no one else around that area at the time.”
“But. . .wasn’t the door locked? You could question the staff; maybe one of them has the key, took the necklace, and ran!” Midnight stuttered.
“No one has the key except for the princess herself,” answered the guard. “And what good would it do for her to steal her own property?”
“A master locksmith could have duplicated the key,” Midnight retorted anxiously.
The guard snorted. “Right. This key is specially designed and is impossible to duplicate. Here it is.” He held up a strangely shaped key, hewn from silver with several strange bumps on it and three prongs on its tip. With a sickening jolt, I realized that the key was practically identical to Bluecloud’s favorite lock pick—the Trident of Peace. Bluecloud was truly the perfect suspect—she was right next to the treasury at the time of the robbery, she had an identical key, and she had the motive: if she didn’t get a large amount of neopoints soon her family would lose their tent. If I hadn’t been her best friend, I would’ve believed that Bluecloud had stolen the necklace without a doubt. But our friendship stretched past all accusations and evidence, so at that moment I became determined to defend Bluecloud until she had been cleared and freed.
“You can’t just throw her in the dungeon!” I shouted. “You need solid proof that she stole the necklace, not just evidence.”
“The evidence is quite overwhelming,” the guard snorted, tossing his red Uni mane angrily.
“Dungeon? Where?” I whirled around to see Clark pushing his way out of Wosret’s tent, Pecan and Star crawling after him. “Now, you can’t just throw Bluecloud in the dungeon. Sure, she’s a thief, she has the perfect motive (she needs the money in a week to save her tent), and she has a lock pick identical to the key. But she’s not the thief.”
“You just provided these two oafs with even more evidence against her,” I snapped under my breath, grabbing Pecan and lifting him up onto my shoulder.
“Sorry,” he whispered back, lifting Star up from the sand and handing her to Midnight. He looked embarrassed. “I didn’t think they would hear, I was only thinking out loud.”
“What does it matter?” called someone from the back of the crowd. “Who else could have stolen it? This Chomby basically admitted she’s the thief. Throw her in the dungeon, even if she didn’t steal the necklace.”
“I have good reason to believe that she stole the necklace,” exclaimed a smug-looking Kougra standing near the palace steps. “She is a very malicious little girl and would steal the necklace just to sell it and get rich off of palace property.” The crowd murmured angrily after his words, glaring at Bluecloud.
“Petbe!” Midnight shouted, turning to the haughty Kougra and glaring at him. “You’re just saying that because you want our tent.”
“Maybe so,” Petbe retorted smugly, “but I must say, it’s too late now. The entire city is against her now.” He was right. I would’ve been surprised if a single person in Sakhmet still believed that Bluecloud wasn’t the thief now.
“You must let her go.” Midnight fell onto her knees and looked imploringly up at the guards. “Please, she’s only a child.”
“Yes, and she’ll grow up and become a dangerous criminal,” said the guard holding Bluecloud. “Better to stop her now than wait for the worst to start. We have too many people in Sakhmet, anyway, what difference will one Acara make?”
“Is there any way you’ll let her go?” I asked, looking out at the angry crowd and the helpless look on Bluecloud’s innocent face, and feeling all hope draining out of me.
“Not unless you can provide solid proof that she didn’t do it,” said the guard haughtily, before turning away and heading into the palace. I sighed, and followed Midnight, Clark, and Wosret back into the tent.
“Well, we all know Bluecloud didn’t do it,” said Midnight immediately, closing the tent flap and throwing herself down onto the sand in despair.
“Of course WE know that,” said Clark impatiently. “But how do we prove that to THEM?”
“We’ll just have to find the real thief and solid evidence that Bluecloud is innocent,” sighed Wosret.
“But why would they steal it?” I broke in. “I mean, I understand that it’s worth an enormous fortune and all that, but if they tried to sell it to someone in Sakhmet, they’d reveal themselves to the city and prove that they stole the necklace.”
“They’d sell it somewhere else in Neopia,” Midnight said glumly. “Why, they could even sell it in Qasala, or to some traveling gypsy in the desert. And then eventually everyone would forget all about it, even Princess Amira, although I understand that this robbery is most upsetting to her. And they’d forget all about Bluecloud, too, and she’d spend the rest of her life in the dungeon.”
“We could help her escape,” Clark offered hopefully.
Midnight shook her head. “No, it’s too heavily guarded. And besides, where would we go? The whole of Sakhmet is after her. We’d have to move out of the Lost Desert. We’re too poor to buy any property, anyway. I almost wish we DID have that necklace, or at least the money from it.”
“Well, I think Petbe stole it,” said Clark confidently. “He certainly has enough reason to. He was pretty close to the palace when the necklace was stolen, and I’m sure anyone in Sakhmet would love to get their hands on all those neopoints, especially that greedy Kougra. And he would love to frame Bluecloud for it.”
“Yes, but how would we prove it?” Midnight asked listlessly.
“We’ll talk to him,” Wosret answered. “Come on, let’s go. We’ll see if we can get anything out of him. It’s worth a try, right?”
“I’m coming,” I answered immediately. Pecan wagged his tail in agreement. But Clark and Midnight shook their heads.
“I’m going to the palace to try to reason with those guards,” the shadow Acara announced. We all nodded and waved as she padded away, but none of us had any hope for success.
“I’ll have to stay here with Star, then,” sighed Clark. Star giggled happily and patted the sand with her tiny blue-furred hands.
“Come on, then. Bye, Clark,” I said. Clark waved wearily as Wosret, Pecan and I trotted outside. The hot sand burned my feet, and my headache was beginning to come back again from all of the shouts of an angry city. Wosret knew where Bluecloud used to live, so she led me through the crowds, into the dusty, forgotten courtyard where Bluecloud and her family’s tent was. Wosret strode bravely into the patched, dirty tent, ignoring the angry snarls of Petbe inside.
“NOW WHAT?!” the Kougra shouted, leaping to his feet. “I’ve had enough of your annoying interruptions! Or do you have the money? Ha! Like you’ve ever seen that many neopoints in your life!”
“We aren’t here to talk about Midnight’s tent,” said Wosret calmly, folding her arms and planting her feet firmly on the ground. “We’re here to question you about the robbery in the palace today. Do you think Bluecloud stole the necklace?”
Petbe snorted. “Duh. The little thief would steal anything just to get her tent back. Like she’ll ever succeed. This is my property now, and I don’t plan to give it up.” Petbe folded his arms and looked Wosret in the eyes, glaring at her. He said it with so much confidence that I had trouble believing that he was lying.
Wosret nodded. “I see. Where were you at the time of the robbery?”
“I was at my friend’s pottery stand, looking at a Misshapen Pot,” Petbe answered readily. “I wandered around the stands a bit before purchasing a Scarab Cookie for lunch. I went over to sit on the palace steps while eating it, and about ten minutes later those two guards dragged out your little friend.”
“Do you need the money?” I prompted. “You must be poor, living in a tent like this. Wouldn’t you want the money the necklace could provide?”
Petbe snorted. “Obviously. Who wouldn’t? I make my living helping out at the Battle Supplies shop and going to the Fruit Machine daily. I don’t need to stoop so low as the thieves stealing food on the street. I have quite enough to feed myself, thank you very much. But still, it’d be nice to have a little more.”
I nodded. “Good, thank you. Oh yes, and before we go, could you answer one last question?”
Petbe glared at me. “Be quick about it.”
“Do you grow any Cheops plants?”
Petbe looked surprised and annoyed. “Don’t try my patience with trivial questions, fool. I told you, I buy all my food. Now get out!” He leaped at us, his teeth bared, and we ran for it, not stopping until we were back at Wosret’s tent.
“Do you think he stole the necklace, then?” Wosret asked as we ran back to her tent. The sun was low in the sky, throwing red and orange clouds over Sakhmet’s horizon. Midnight and Clark were in the tent with Star and Seth, Wosret’s Anubis. Midnight looked sad, and I guessed that she had had no success trying to reason with the guards.
“I have a hunch that the person who stole the princess’s necklace might have also been the person who poisoned me,” I explained. “To pull off both of those heists, they would have had to be more intelligent than the common Sakhmet street-dweller. From Petbe’s hostile nature and poor lifestyle, I can guess that he probably isn’t who we’re looking for. Also, he seemed pretty confident that Bluecloud is the thief. He didn’t come off as smart enough to steal the necklace.”
“Maybe,” Wosret mused. “But he’s still a suspect.” I nodded in agreement.
“Emma!” Clark leaped to his feet and ran toward us. His eyes were wild as he looked at me with panic.
“What?” I asked, alarmed. Pecan grunted with surprise and dashed across the sand to look up at Clark, who was waving his arms in panic.
“The princess!” Clark shouted. “Princess Amira has been kidnapped!”
To be continued...