Behind the Mystery of the Kougra's Paw: Part Two
When the Lost Desert Ixi reached her rooms, she found Suta
in a flustered state. "Where were you, Lady Hali?" the Nimmo demanded.
"Out and about," Hali replied elusively.
"More investigating, I presume?" Suta asked harshly.
"I swear, there is no stopping you when you have your mind set on something.
What do you plan to do now, travel to Mystery Island and question every Kougra
Hali smiled in response. "There's an idea; I've
never been to Mystery Island."
Suta threw up her arms in exasperation. "Very
well, Lady Hali, if you can convince the queen to let you go to Mystery Island,
I'll get out of your fur. But if she does not agree, you have to leave it to
"Well, I can't very well go to Mystery Island
without more evidence than the fact that the criminal is a Kougra… wait… how
did he escape?"
"No one knows, Lady Hali; the guards chased him
clear up to the parapets, but when they got to the top, there was no sign of
"I'd like to see where it was that he jumped,
as presumably that is what he did. We should find out what ships left the harbor
during the night, and where they were bound. Come on, Suta!" Hali beckoned,
pulling on a thin cotton shroud to shield her face from the sun when they went
Suta followed resignedly, giving up all attempts
to hold the eager Ixi back. Hali led the way out of the Palace to the southern
walls. She examined the ladder leading to the parapets carefully, finding thin
claw marks along its length.
When she was content, she climbed up the scarred
ladder to the wall and walked slowly along its top, searching for any irregularities.
Finally she found something of interest. A small bit of crimson fur was clinging
to the edge of the wall. Hali stepped up to the edge and looked down. All that
met her gaze was sand. Would the sand have cushioned his fall enough for him
to have jumped? Deciding she could puzzle out that answer later, Hali led the
way towards the harbor, shadowed by Suta.
The harbor was filled with ships, all tugging
at their ropes as though eager to fly over the waves once more. Hali sought
out the brusque harbormaster, a yellow Flotsam.
"Okaii," Hali called, crouching down to gaze
into the murky blue of the water.
The Flotsam surfaced, looking at her expectantly.
"How may I be of assistance, Lady Hali? Please try to be quick; I have business
to attend to."
"I just wanted to know if any ships left the
harbor last night, and if so, where they were headed."
"I'll take you to the records. Right this way,
quickly now." Okaii dipped under the waves and sped alongside the dock, leaving
Hali to jog along after him. When they reached a large weatherbeaten book laid
out on a desk, Okaii resurfaced.
"Turn the page to yesterday and you'll see a
list of what ships departed at what times as well as a record of where they
were going and what they carried. I hope you find what you need, Lady Hali."
Hali turned the page and ran her hoof down the
list, stopping at a ship that had left shortly before midnight. There were two
others after it, both of them in the early morning, far before the sun had risen.
"Suta, what time was it that the guards lost
track of the thief?"
"I think it was around midnight, Lady Hali."
Hali looked at the two ships that had departed
in the early morning. One was bound for Tyrannia, and the other for Meridell.
"That's odd…" she said, staring at the ship names.
"I thought for sure one of them would be headed for Mystery Island."
"The thief could be hiding somewhere in the desert,
Lady Hali. Or perhaps he intended to throw us off by travelling to another land."
Hali smiled secretly; she could tell that the
Nimmo was slowly growing interest. Still, they had come to a dead end, and she
disliked the feeling.
On the way back to the palace, Hali shuffled
her hooves, sending up clouds of dust. She didn't notice the young Chia running
towards her until it was too late. They collided, both jumping away from each
other in alarm. Neopets collectable cards fluttered in all directions, landing
on the road in a scattered mess.
The Chia looked at it all with a sorrowful pout.
"My cards…" he moaned. "I'll never get them alphabetized again."
"I-I'm sorry." Hali stammered, bending down to
hurriedly gather some of the cards. "I didn't see you coming, I'll help re-alphabetize
them if you want…"
The Chia looked up from his fallen cards, noticing
her headdress and gold-hemmed cape for the first time. "Oh no, my lady! You
mustn't dirty up your cape, I'll get the cards. It's okay, really."
"No, no, I'm perfectly fine with helping out;
it's my fault anyway."
Suddenly, one of the cards caught her eye. Hali
gently moved the other cards away and studied the picture. It showed a bold
red Kougra, flames licking the areas his paws touched. His narrowed eyes seemed
to stare into hers. She looked at the card's title, 'Fire Paw'.
"This is it," she whispered, pausing to read
the card's caption: 'Fire Paw was abandoned in the fiery region of Tyrannia.
He was taken in by a group of Scorchios who treated him as one of their own.
Now fully grown, Fire Paw has an amazing resistance to heat.'
"What is it, my lady?" the Chia asked tentatively,
clutching the rest of his cards to his chest.
"I've found our thief… and I think I know where
Suta read the card over her shoulder, frowning.
"How can you know that this is the criminal?"
"Don't you see?" Hali asked impatiently. "Look,
flames surround his paws; that explains the scorch marks. He was raised in Tyrannia,
so it seems only natural that he would retreat back to his childhood home to
lie low. He must have taken the ship bound for Tyrannia. And the soldiers, one
of them said that he had a red tail. Well, here it is."
"What do you propose we do?" Suta asked warily,
her tone conveying that she still dreaded getting deeper into the mystery.
"First we need to show Queen Vyssa the card and
explain my theory. I only hope she'll let me come along when they go to Tyrannia,
I'd like to meet this Fire Paw."
"Lady Hali!" Suta cried, appalled. "Just look
at him! He's a sly scoundrel, not some cordial lord."
Hali ignored her, turning back to the Chia instead.
"Can I borrow this? I'll be sure to take good care of it."
The Chia hesitated, apparently afraid to say
'no', but too protective of his precious card to say 'yes'.
"Please?" Hali fixed her most melting gaze on
him, hoping that it would win him over.
"Alright," he said resentfully. "But you have
to give it back by tomorrow, my lady. I'll meet you in front of Osiri's Pottery."
"Thank you so much! I'll bring you one of my
favorite pastries from the palace." Before the Chia could change his mind she
was off, nearly running in her haste to find Queen Vyssa.
When she reached the palace, Hali asked all of
the servants and guards she came by where the queen was. She was soon flustered
when they stared at her blankly, confused by how rapidly she spoke and how urgent
her tones were. In the end, Hali found one of the queen's ladies in waiting.
She found out that Queen Vyssa was in her study attending to her daily paperwork.
Hali burst into the study as soon as she found
it, nearly breathless with contained exhilaration.
The queen looked up from a parchment she had
been reading, surprised. "Lady Hali, is anything wrong?"
"No, Your Majesty. I think I've found the thief,
look!" Hali proffered the card, thrusting it into Queen Vyssa's hesitant hand.
The queen studied the card, a slight frown on
her face. "How can you know that he did it?"
"It's all linked up, can't you see?" Hali asked,
struggling to keep the incredulity from her voice. "The soldier claimed that
he had a red tail, there it is. The paw print in the treasury had burn marks
around it, that's why. A ship left the harbor at roughly two in the morning
for Tyrannia… you see? All of it connects!"
The queen was silent, staring at the card contemplatively.
"What was the ship's name? The one headed for Tyrannia?"
Hali opened her mouth to reply, but realized
she hadn't bothered to look.
Suta answered for her, "It was called the Airax."
"I will send the Desert Wind and a squad of men
after her," the queen decided. Hali gasped, the Desert Wind was the queen's
swiftest ship. "Lady Hali, would you go with them? You know better than they
what to look for."
Hali grinned roguishly, pleased that the queen
had asked her. "I would love to go, Your Majesty."
"Excellent, I will arrange for you to depart
To be continued...