The Tal Files: Case of the Missing Mystery
It was one of those days that made you glad to have some sort of shelter. You know the type... windy, rainy, cold, and just plain dreary. In short, it was nasty. While we waited for the weather to get warmer and drier, my pets and I spent the day going over the paperwork in the shop.
I should mention that my shop is also our home. It’s not like I’m poor or anything, but a Neohome is not on my list of things to get in the near future. The office space right above my store is just big enough for a cot and two mats. My Kougra, AngelCeres, and my Lupe, TelRith (although I call them Cere and T.R. respectively) have never complained about this arrangement. Other things, by Fyora, yes, but not our living space. I guess in that area, I was pretty lucky to have them.
In return, they help me with my crazy, harebrained schemes. It’s an unspoken rule to never, ever mention the Jelly Incident again in our home. Or, for that matter, the Snowball Incident. Or the... you get the idea.
Just a while ago, I came up with a brand new idea. I had a Lupe who was rather intelligent and a Kougra who had one of the best noses in Neopia. Then there was myself, and I can usually solve whatever puzzle I come across, so I figured, why not become a detective and start a business? My pets groaned when they heard about it, but gave in. I put a sign up by the register, and when the shop was closed, I locked up the merchandise but left the front door open for any potential customers. The first month or so, I didn’t get any seekers, so they relaxed a bit.
Today, though, was different. We were lounging around in our office/living room/bedroom, when we heard someone coming up the stairs from our shop. T.R. put down the puzzle he’d been working on, and put on a menacing look on his face. Cere, as all felines are known to do, stretched and swiveled her head towards the door, a bored expression on her face. I tried to look busy, but that’s hard to do when the only papers on your desks are mails from your friends.
The door opened, and all three of us looked at the newcomer. Well, we tried, at least. The figure was covered in a black cloak, and the only way we know that it was a Neopet was because of the shape of the cloth.
I waited for the newcomer to speak, and I guess he/she/it waited for me, because there were a few minutes of silence. Finally, I heard “Excuse me, but could you get PrinceTalron for me?”
I sighed. “That’s me, but everyone calls me Tal.”
There was a short pause. “But... Prince... You’re a woman!”
I sighed again. This always happened to me. “It’s a long story.”
Another pause, as the figure seemed to think about it for a second. Then, the hood was slowly pulled off, revealing a red Ixi with a blue scarf around her neck. I knew her instantly, as any good Neopian would.
“Well, well, what have we here? Welcome to my humble abode, Miss Tarla. What can I do for you?”
Tarla looked as if she were unsure of me. It’s a look I’ve seen directed at me many a time.
“You’re a detective, aren’t you?”
I shrugged modestly, and I just knew that T.R. and Cere were sniggering very softly at me. “Well, I’d say so. What do you need a detective for?”
Tarla smiled. “I’m missing a mystery. Can you help me find it?”
I froze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw T.R. and Cere do the same. Missing a mystery? What in Faerieland was that supposed to mean?
I guess I thought that out loud, because Tarla smiled at us. It was the kind of smile that made us wonder what was going to happen next, and not in a good way. “I’ll need you to come with me.”
The next thing I knew, we were traveling on Tarla’s private boat to Terror Mountain. As T.R. told me later, I had just nodded dumbly, and she had us escorted to the harbor. I guess it was a combination of meeting a celebrity and actually getting my first detective job that made me go into mild shock.
Tarla must be making a fortune in that shop of hers, because she had spare winter coats for me, T.R., and Cere. They turned out to be quite handy as we climbed up past Happy Valley, through the Ice Caves, and up to the top of Terror Mountain.
At the sight of Tarla’s famous shop, we all stopped. T.R. and Cere had abandoned their dignity somewhere back in Happy Valley, and had been frolicking in the snow. Even I had thrown a quickly-made snowball at them. But the sight that met our eyes was awful.
The shop sign read “Shop of.” The Mystery was gone!
T.R. immediately started looking around the shop for clues, while Cere went to the sign to try and get a scent. I looked at my pets, somewhat astonished. They acted like... like professionals!
“I’m guessing you haven’t actually done this before.” Tarla looked at me with knowing eyes. Well, it didn’t take a genius to figure that out, because I just knew I had a dumbfounded look on my face.
“Er, you’d be correct,” I said, half-expecting for her to immediately fire me and leave me to get back home by myself.
Tarla sighed and just shook her head. “That’s okay. Everyone is a newbie at some point. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
I felt heartened by her words, and was basking in the good feelings running through me when she whispered, “Now would be a good time to ask me when I first noticed the Mystery missing.”
“Erm, yes,” I coughed into my hand to regain my bearings. “Miss Tarla, when did you first notice that your sign was incomplete?”
The Ixi nodded at me in approval. “Well, I first noticed something was odd when I woke up this morning. You see, I always like taking a walk around the top of Terror Mountain after the snow falls in the night. When I left my shop, the sign was like it normally is, with the Mystery. The walk lasted about twenty minutes, and when I got back, the Mystery was gone. Without the Mystery, I can’t sell my mystery bags!” As I questioned further, I discovered that the Shop of Mystery’s Mystery was magical. It made every item for sale appear as a bag with a question mark on it, no matter the size of the item. The Mystery also blocked out any sense of smell, touch, or abilities as a pet came nearer to it.
Now I knew why someone had stolen the Mystery. Buying from Tarla’s shop was a gamble, and if you won, the price you paid was worth it. I had heard stories, and if they were true, taking the Mystery out of the Shop of Mystery would benefit everyone but Tarla.
As I was thinking, my pets came up to me. “Tal,” T.R. gently swatted at my leg to get my attention. “I saw some tracks leading up to the sign. It looks like someone who has a big tail, because I couldn’t see any paw- or hoof- prints.”
Cere was next. “I smelt Tuskaninny all over the sign.” Her duty done, she yawned, and started staring at T.R. I just knew that sooner or later a fight would break out between them, but I ignored it for now. I had a job to do, and I think I knew who was behind the Missing Mystery.
“Miss Tarla, I have to go question a suspect right now. Would you like to come with me, or would you prefer to stay here and watch over your shop.”
The red Ixi looked at me as if I were crazy. Again, it was a look I was familiar with. “Lead the way,” was all she said.
I started walking, and I was aware of the Ixi, Lupe, and Kougra following behind me. It might have been easier if they broke the snow in front of me, because I know I looked ridiculous trying to wade through.
It took maybe five minutes to get to who I suspected was the culprit. We waited for a Neopian and his Camouflaged Draik to collect their winnings and leave, and then I approached him.
His name was Clifton, but everyone knew him as the Cliffhanger Tuskaninny. He had one of the hardest jobs in Neopia. What most people didn’t know was that there was a safety net at the bottom of the cliff he fell off of every time someone got an answer wrong. What no one knew was when the net would break. The spikes below the cliff were made out of Icy Jelly, a rare substance that was made especially for Clifton’s Cliff, and while they would break your fall, it’s unknown what else you’d break. Luckily for Clifton, the Water Faerie was always willing to make a special trip from the Healing Springs.
“Hello, are you here to play Cliffhanger?” Clifton approached me with a friendly smile, like he does with all Neopians there to play.
I smiled back, although later, Cere told me I looked like her when she was ready to pounce. “Actually, I’m here to ask you a question.”
Clifton looked puzzled. “Okay, what did you want to know?”
“I want to know where you put the Mystery from the Shop of Mystery.”
Immediately, the Tuskaninny paled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, lady.” He turned to run.
If T.R. had been used to the snow, he could have caught Cliffton in no time. Cere had better luck running on the snow, but she was younger than T.R., and didn’t have his speed. Tarla was fast, but not fast enough.
As it was, Clifton found himself in a familiar position; right on the edge of his cliff. I could see that he was about to jump to safety.
“Don’t do it, Clifton! Just tell us where you hid the Mystery, and we’ll forget this ever happened!” My voice is not the loudest in the world, but thanks to Terror Mountain’s ever-present wind, I know he heard me.
I could see he wasn’t buying it. T.R. nudged me. “Tal, I can see down below. The ropes in the safety net look fragile, and the new Icy Jelly spikes haven’t grown up yet.”
He was in trouble, and it looked as if he was going to need the Water Faerie urgently if he jumped. Her magic was unpredictable, though, and even if she could direct her strongest healing powers at Clifton, he would still be laid up in the Neopian Hospital for a long time.
“T.R., run and tell Taelia to contact the Water Faerie. Tell her it’s urgent, and for the Water Faerie to bring loads of Healing Potions.” Responding to my whisper, T.R. snuck off to the Snow Faerie’s house. It wasn’t that far away, but to a Neopet who wasn’t used to the terrain, it would take some time.
As I kept one eye on Clifton, who was looking at us, I caught movement from the corner of my other eye. While I was busy giving instructions to T.R., Cere had completely covered herself with snow, and was now stalking Clifton. No pet can stalk like a Kougra, and Cere was no exception.
To distract Clifton, I started shouting again. “Take it easy, Clifton! We don’t want to harm you!”
It seemed as if my shouting only agitated him. “For the love of Fyora, don’t do it, Clifton!” I tried one more time.
Clifton ignored me and turned to jump. My shouting, however, had done the trick. Cere had gotten close enough, and just as he leaped, she bit into his tail. His weight, however, hindered the rescue process, as did the lack of traction on the snow-covered cliff.
Still, Cere put up a valiant effort, and stalled Clifton’s fall long enough for Tarla and me to go over there and help her. Not that we were of much help, of course. Ixi don’t exactly have fingers, and I’m not that strong.
We were losing the battle, and were about to be pulled over the edge with Clifton, when we heard yells. I turned my head and saw one of the most beautiful sights ever; T.R. running towards us with the Snow Faerie flying above.
An hour or so later, the four of us were relaxing in Tarla’s shop. With T.R.’s strength, we were able to pull Clifton away from the dangerous cliff, and the Snow Faerie put the Tuskaninny in an ice prison until the Water Faerie and the Defenders of Neopia could arrive. Once everyone was healed and full, thanks to the Water Faerie, the Defenders were able to get the location of the missing Mystery out of Clifton, and then took him away. The net and Ice Jelly Icicles were replaced with stronger stuff, and Clifton’s older sister Brink was taking his place while Clifton was away.
“So why did you suspect Clifton?” Tarla came out of her kitchen with cups of hot Borovan. T.R. and Cere gratefully took a cup, and I set mine on a side table.
“Actually,” I smiled, a little embarrassed, “I just guessed. He was the only Tuskaninny I knew who could have had time to go to your shop, steal the Mystery, and hide it without having trouble in the snow.”
The red Ixi nodded. “Yes, I guess someone who wasn’t a local would think that. The Defenders of Neopia will let me know why he stole my Mystery once they’re done with questioning him. I don’t understand why he would do it, though. Clifton has always been nice to the newcomers here on Terror Mountain. Well, I suppose he is a little bit crazy to think that falling off of a cliff is a fun job...” Tarla mused.
I leaned forward in my chair, and saw T.R. and Cere look at me. “I think I know the answer to that. First, he wanted the money the Mystery could bring him. With your Mystery, he could open his own shop, and make a fortune selling junk, and no one would be the wiser. Or, he could sell it and get money that way. Clifton would also naturally hate a mystery. After all, that’s what sends him plummeting to certain pain every day, so he must resent it at some level. Your Mystery offended him, so he stole it.”
T.R. nodded thoughtfully. “That does make sense, Tal. I’m just glad you solved it before Tarla opened shop. She would have lost a lot of money.” Cere made a purr of agreement from her place near her brother’s side.
“Well, now that Mystery is found, I think I want to go home. It’s too cold up here for me.” I gulped down the warm Borovan and stood up, stretching. T.R. and Cere also rose, shaking their stiff limbs out. I’m guessing that they echoed my sentiment.
“Oh!” Tarla exclaimed. “I almost forgot! To thank you for your help, why don’t you pick out a Mystery bag for free?” The Mystery had been re-installed almost immediately after Clifton had revealed its location in a snow drift.
I was unsure about this, but nonetheless, picked up a bag. I was about to open it, when Tarla stopped me. “The Mystery is now in effect, especially since it got re-installed. You won’t be able to see, hear, or smell anything until you get out of range.”
We agreed, exchanged good-byes, and then made our way back down the mountain. Tarla had arranged transportation back to our shop in Neopia Central, and promised that she would refer us to anyone who needed help solving some mysteries of their own.
When we got to our shop, I was taking off my shoes when Cere approached me. “So, what’s in the bag?”
I shrugged, and held the bag in my hand. It was heavier than when I first picked it out. A quick glance at Cere and T.R. let me know that they couldn’t see or smell anything. I guess the Mystery’s effects were slowly disappearing.
The ribbon was untied, and the cloth fell away. I stared at the object I held in my hands. T.R. rolled his eyes, and Cere walked away slowly, shaking her head.
I tossed the Pack of Gravel to the side and sighed.
Case of the Missing Mystery: SOLVED!
Inclusion of Case into Tal Files: Check!