Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 192,473,754 Issue: 648 | 6th day of Relaxing, Y16
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The Great Game: Golden Quill Edition - Part One

by secant


Also by rielcz

Police officers across Neopia were all wondering the same thing: who could have stolen the prized antique golden quill, which had been carefully guarded in the deepest vault of the National Neopian Bank for over five decades?

     The investigation went on for several days to no avail. Reporters flocked in the background eagerly, each wanting to be the first to publish the scoop about the thief. But no thief was found—only a list of possible suspects. Even Judge Hog, leader of the Defenders of Neopia and renowned private investigator, was at a loss for words.

     "There are absolutely zero clues," the Moehog told reporters in bewilderment. "We've searched every corner of the vault, the Bank, and a four-mile radius within the Bank. None. It's almost as if some dark faerie did this."

     The list of suspects lengthened to pinpoint more than a dozen villains across Neopia, including (but not limited to) the Pant Devil, Jhudora, and even Hanso. None of the villains were found responsible, however.

     "I was in Mystery Island stealing a pair of shorts!" the Pant Devil was heard to say during questioning. "Why would I want some dumb writing quill?"

     It was rumored that Jhudora also lost her cool at the accusations. "You fools! I can conjure up my own writing quill that's worth more than my wand and ring combined!"

     In one last desperate attempt to solve the crime, Judge Hog turned to the one Neopian who might be able to solve the perplexing mystery. The one Neopian with the capability to surpass even the brightest detectives in his skills. The one Neopian who, once he accepted a task, would never quit until victory was his.

     That Neopian was Aristotle A. Avinroo, the 14-year-old Blumaroo on Baker Street.

     - - -

     "So you're telling me," said AAA, twirling a paper airplane between his fingers, "that I should think of this mystery as a game?"

     Judge Hog, who looked uncomfortable as he sat in the tiny beanbag chair across AAA's room, said, "Well, yes. You help us find the clues and solve the mystery, getting the high score and earning yourself fame and recognition. Er, not that you weren't already famous to begin with," the Moehog added, eyeing the Blumaroo's numerous golden trophies lined along the walls.

     "And why should a master gamer like me waste my time with this silly mystery?" asked AAA in a bored tone.

     "Because this ancient quill is one of the most valuable treasures in all of Neopia," said Judge Hog. "It's a symbol of Neopia's commitment to creativity and innovation. It's a symbol of the hard work that comes from perseverance. It's a symbol of—"

     "Okay, okay, I get it already!" interrupted AAA impatiently. He leaned against his desk, which was cluttered with game controls and Rubiks cubes, and pondered quietly for a few moments. Finally he turned to Judge Hog and said, "I'll do it... on one condition."

     The Judge groaned silently. He was afraid the teenage Blumaroo would try to outsmart him somehow. "What condition?" the Judge asked hesitantly.

     "If I find the thief, I will deal with the thief by myself."

     The Judge blinked in surprise. "Don't be silly, kid. What if the thief is dangerous?"

     "Hey, you said I should think of this as a game. Well, in my game, I play by my rules."

     Judge Hog finally managed to sputter, "Fine! As long as you get the quill back, I suppose all is fair..." The Judge was taken aback by AAA's ego. Not even Neopia's most powerful experts could trace the quill's disappearance; how could the arrogant 14-year-old game master?

     "And now, please leave," instructed AAA, walking across the room and opening his bedroom door. "I must create my master plan."

     Judge Hog stepped out into the hallway, affronted by the curt dismissal. As the door slammed behind him, he saw AAA's little sister Abigail standing nearby, evidently eavesdropping.

     "Hi Judge," said the blue Aisha. "Don't mind my brother's attitude—he's always like that."

     "Is he now?" Judge Hog knew of the two siblings' age-old rivalry but never took much interest in it. After his recent conversation with AAA, however, the Defender of Neopia crime-fighter knew which side he was on.

     As the Judge was about to step out the front door, he turned to Abigail and added, "Abigail... please assist your brother to make sure he doesn't put himself in danger with his delusional overconfidence."

     Abigail gave a salute and laughed. "You can count on me."

     - - -

     Nighttime had fallen over Baker Street. Armed with his backpack, hiking boots, a helmet, and a large trenchcoat, AAA quietly headed for the front door—only to be blocked by Abigail.

     "Off to somewhere?" asked Abigail knowingly.

     "Out of the way, I have a very important case to solve," hissed AAA.

     "Important? I thought you said it was just a game," quoted Abigail.

     "Silly sister, everything is a game. You either win or lose in this world. And losing," AAA added, "is not an option." He adjusted his helmet. "Now, make way for Neopia's number one detective."

     Abigail rolled her eyes. "Since when have you been a detective, AAA?"

     AAA let out an impatient sigh. "Abigail, Abigail. Clearly you don't know me as well as you think you do. Do you not remember who found the missing classroom petpet two years ago?"

     "The Feepit went back inside its cage because it was hungry," Abigail answered. "You didn't do anything."

     "Or how about the time I deciphered the ancient codes of the pyramids on our family vacation in Lost Desert?"

     "That was just a lucky break. The codes were similar to the game Sutek's Tomb, which we all know you play more than any other game."

     "Luck is only an excuse amateurs use when they lose a game." AAA glanced at his watch. "Now, out of my way, please. I need to solve this mystery before school tomorrow—"

     Abigail crossed her arms. "Well, I'm telling Mom that you're sneaking out past your bedtime."

     AAA froze. "But—"

     "Unless you take me with you," said Abigail smugly.

     AAA clenched his teeth. The master gamer saw no other way out, so he reluctantly agreed. Five minutes later, Abigail and AAA headed down the quiet street together. AAA extracted a map and began poring over it, occasionally muttering to himself.

     "Where are we headed?" Abigail asked finally.

     "Every great detective knows you must go to the scene of the crime first. We're headed for the National Neopian Bank."

     "Um, isn't it closed in the evening?"

     "Abigail, Abigail," sighed AAA, shaking his head irritably. "Haven't you been following the news? Nearly every police officer and investigator in town is still trying to solve the mystery of the stolen quill. The National Neopian Bank is forced to stay open so detectives—like me—can search for clues."

     Abigail rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

     The duo headed into the center of Neopia Central. All the shops and buildings were closed for the night, but sure enough, the majestic marble building of the National Neopian Bank was still lit and surrounded by reporters and police officers. Yellow caution tape barricaded the area.

     AAA ducked under the tape. Hesitantly, Abigail followed suit.

     A whistle sounded. "Excuse me! Excuse me, kids—no trespassing." A Chia guard raced over, waving his baton.

     Abigail cowered. AAA, however, just looked mildly annoyed. "I've been assigned by Judge Hog to take over this case," he calmly told the guard. "The name's Aristotle A. Avinroo." He held out his platinum identification card and brushed off his trench coat for effect.

     "Oh—well then, carry on."

     AAA and Abigail headed inside the bank. After asking a few police officers, the pair found their way to Vault 650, the vault that had safeguarded the prized golden quill.

     The vault was enormous, literally the size of a bedroom. All the sides were made of pure steel. A single silver box sat in the middle of the vault; now unlocked and empty, the box once contained the antique treasure that had disappeared without a trace.

     "Um, AAA, do you even know what you're doing?" Abigail quipped, watching her brother study the area around the box with a magnifying glass.

     "The lock appears to use a regular key, nothing too fancy," said AAA, mostly to himself. "The box is rather generic-looking."

     "Perhaps a locksmith will know," suggested Abigail.

     AAA pulled on a pair of gloves and gingerly lifted the box. "It's heavy," he grunted. He placed the box back on the ground and pondered. "That's why the thief didn't take the whole thing with him—"

     "—or her—" added Abigail.

     "—because the box is too heavy. But how did they get the key?" AAA raised the box an inch and carefully inspected the bottom. Written in small cursive were the words, Z Cases.

     "Z Cases?" read Abigail behind AAA's shoulder.

     "Of course! Zenco the Dueling Decks champion." AAA's face contorted at the last word. "Pfft, champion. I can beat him with my eyes blindfolded. He only got lucky at last month's Dueling Decks tournament, as usual."

     Abigail huffed. She knew her brother was letting his personal prejudice cloud his judgment. "Um, AAA, I thought this quill has been locked for over five decades. That box can't possibly belong to Zenco! He's, like, your age!"

     "Nonsense. I always knew he was suspicious." With that, AAA pocketed his magnifying glass and headed out of the vault.

     Stifling a groan, Abigail hurried after her brother.

To be continued...

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