Strange Cases: Behemoth - Part One
KIKO LAKE, 3RD DAY OF SWIMMING, YEAR 9
The full moon found itself enveloped on all sides by light, soft clouds. So much so that those of a particularly artistic disposition would say it looked like a calm, unblinking eye staring down at its own reflection on the tranquil surface of the lake. Cries of all the nocturnal creatures filled the air, their soft melodies a tempting lullaby to the small, close-knit group of campers nearby.
They’d lit their campfire close to the water soon after twilight, passing the quiet hours with stories and songs to the sounds of the tide breaking lazily on the pebbles.
There were three of them sitting around the crackling flames at triangular points, roasting their marshmallows and warming their feet. Larry, a grey Nimmo and the musician of the trio, continued to strum impromptu tunes on his guitar even though the other two had stopped singing long ago. But they didn’t move to silence him, as the music made a nice melodious accompaniment to nature’s symphony. Kevin cursed under his breath and swatted his blazing marshmallow off of his stick and into the fire that had ignited it. The blue Lupe had never been able to properly roast a marshmallow, but continued to try nonetheless, adamant that a good camping trip required marshmallows and the roasting of them. James the red Kiko was the real, undisputed roasting king, but he said it was just down to the fact that he was good with his hands, that he had very little choice in the matter.
Larry was well into his fifth tune when James finally silenced him, putting a finger to his mouth and quietly handing him a perfect, golden-brown mallow. “Thanks,” he whispered gratefully, but the Kiko slapped his hand over the lizard’s mouth.
“Did either of you guys hear that?” he asked, eyes squinting with the effort to pick out the one noise he felt didn’t quite belong.
“What?” asked Kevin through the side of his mouth as he placed the roasting spear carefully at his paws. Even his species’ keen sense of hearing hadn’t heard anything out of the ordinary.
“A sort of... I don’t know, bubbling, I guess.”
“Could be anything, James... fish, Water Faeries, hey – there are even Kikos living down there, right?”
“I know, I know,” murmured the little Kiko uneasily. “It’s just that what I thought I heard was way too big to be any of those things...”
“You’re saying you heard a bubbling too loud to be –”
“I know what I heard, and you know what I meant!” James snapped irritably.
As if on cue, a large number of bubbles broke the surface of the lake, each one at least the size of the Cooking Pot before it burst with more of a dull ‘bang’ than a pop. It had been close to the three campers, and although only Kevin had seen them clearly, the sound alone had been enough to send them huddling together on the far side of the campfire, its flames and light standing between them and whatever was making such large disturbances in the water.
“What do you think it is?” whimpered Larry, clutching his guitar to his chest, “Another Giant Slug?”
“What, this far from Maraqua?” the Kiko laughed nervously, poking the dying fire with his spear, desperately trying to get the ash and charcoal to reignite. “Heh, yeah, right... and how did it get here, may I ask?”
“Maybe it was already here?”
There was a heavy, awkward silence as the Nimmo and the Kiko tore their eyes from the shimmering surface of the lake to glare at the canine.
“Hope not, of course,” Kevin added quickly. “But it could happen... put some more wood on the fire, quickly!”
Larry didn’t hesitate to comply, picking up the two nearest logs and throwing them onto the red-hot embers.
The flare-up from that alone was enough to send whatever it was creating the bubbles into a rage well before the Nimmo had a chance to put any kindling on the fire. Something huge broke the surface, throwing a large quantity of water up into the air, the liquid column arching back down soon after upon the three campers, soaking them to the bone and dousing their fire beyond relighting. For a second all the three dripping friends could see was the merciful light of the moon, but soon even that was blocked out by the clouds... and it.
It rose out of the lake, rising up and up and up until it was nothing but a gargantuan black shape beyond all recognition, water dripping off it like heavy rain. It roared a low, bubbling roar that filled the air with its booming might, scattering the birds and all surrounding nightlife. Everything except the campers, who were too frozen with fear to move, to run, to even scream.
With the sound of a thousand buckets of water poured to the ground, the soaked behemoth took one step forward and out of the lake. Just the one step was all it took. It lifted a foot – was it really a foot? It was the size of a broad tree trunk! – and slowly, painfully slowly, brought it crashing back down upon the sizzling fire’s remains...
... And the campers.
The Defenders of Neopia work as hard as they can, but there are things even they can’t solve – things they don’t even know about. But if the Defenders aren’t there to right the wrongs, who does that leave?
That leave the NSB, the Neopian Secret Branch, an organization so covert that no one knows about its existence until absolutely necessary and, even then, they’re sworn to secrecy. How, then, does the Branch receive new recruits if no one knows they exist? The answer is simple: you don’t ask to join for the NSB, the NSB signs you to join... if they find your intelligence to be up to their high standards, and if you’ve got what it takes.
Where is the NSB Headquarters then, I hear you ask? What would you say if I told you that the answer’s probably been under your feet all this time?
NEOPIA CENTRAL, 4TH DAY OF SWIMMING, YR 9
They didn’t look too suspicious, walking around in their navy blue suits. There were many businessmen seated around the shopping district and its parks, checking up on the stock market by reading the latest issue of the Neopian Times, but they were all on their own, careful to keep their individual successes a secret; the red Techo and the cloud Kougra were the only two together, as well as being identically dressed.
They stopped for a coffee. They browsed the Bookshop. They donated at the Money Tree. They did everything a normal pair of Neopets would do.
Then they went into the National Neopian Bank, and that’s where their normality ended. For one thing, neither made to remove their Plain Black Sunglasses, even though the lighting in the Bank was considerably dimmer than the blazing summer sun. Together, they moved to the edge of the long serving counter, whereupon the Techo muttered something in the nearest clerk’s ear whilst the evidently younger Kougra looked around him as if for the first time. Whatever the elder suited pet had uttered to the clerk, it achieved the desired effect, as the Yurble nodded obediently and led the two mysterious pets to the vaults.
When they reached their destination, the clerk pointed to a particular, golden vault door that stretched from the floor to the ceiling above their heads, more for the Kougra than his companion, who merely coughed and waited for the clerk to leave. When he was sure they were alone, the Techo finally removed his shades and turned to the vault’s combination lock, entering a seemingly simple six-digit code:
The result was nothing the young Kougra could have expected. Behind the vault’s thick door came a strange humming noise which went on for some time, gradually getting louder and closer before the door simply swung open with a ‘click!’
Inside the vault was a platform separated on all sides by a gap a foot wide. From the ceiling hung a small, black box with just one red button, set squarely in the center.
“Mind your step,” the older Techo advised as he hopped nimbly across the gap. “It’s quite some drop, as Agent Wright could probably tell you.” This memory brought a smile to the lizard’s face as he watched the small and inexperienced Kougra step cautiously over the gap. “Ready? I’d sit down if I were you,” he added, taking hold of the suspended device. “This thing always starts with a jolt, and rookies usually tend to take a few weeks to acquire what we in the agency call our ‘lift legs.’ See?” he added again, not even waiting for the Kougra to reply, let alone make to be seated before pressing the button.
‘A jolt’ was an understatement if ever there was one. A jarring, shake-your-teeth-clean-out-of-your-mouth judder was closer to the actual thing. It was such a violent buck that it sent the Kougra sprawling to the floor, whilst the red Techo simply laughed, having remained stock-still the entire time, releasing the device as, together, they rode the lift down... deep down.
“Remember that,” he laughed softly, wiping a tear away with the back of his hand. “Others won’t warn you at all, they like their little jokes. Also, remember this when you’re alone topside; It took seven founders... twenty-four months to build the NSB HQ... one-hundred and sixty meters underground. Seven-two-four-one-six-zero. Got that? Good... oh, and you can uncover your ID now.”
So saying, the Techo reached up to his suit’s breast pocket and tore it off. Hidden underneath was a laminated badge with the Branch’s name and a photo of him looking somber and his name, twice – the first in block capitals, the second in his own handwriting.
His name was Head Agent Leonard Fuller.
The rookie agent quickly followed suit, his paws more clumsy when it came to revealing his badge, but when it was finally visible it pronounced him to be one Junior Agent Francis Tanner.
“Agent Tanner, you’ve been selected to be a part of the NSB because of your intelligence and your open-mindedness. It is for this reason that the Board and I have decided to partner you with Agent Max Steele.
“Now, as I assume you’ve already been informed, the Neopian Secret Branch is divided into seven divisions. The six main divisions are Major Crimes, Anti-Megalomania, Natural Disasters, Plots, Encryption, and Communications. But Agent Steele works alone in the otherwise-ignored seventh division... the Strange Cases division.”
“Why is he working alone, Sir?” asked Tanner, nose wrinkling. “What is it about these... strange cases that’s so off-putting?”
“It’s the name of the Division, Agent, but never mind that right now... anyway, I’m not quite sure myself... I’ve offered the position to many new agents who I personally felt would make the grade.” Fuller frowned, perplexed. “But, as soon as they’ve been told what the division actually does, most of them either laugh their way to another division or politely refuse, seeing it as a waste of time... you’re the second person to take the job if you will... Fyora knows the second one didn’t last long.”
What did that mean? the Kougra wondered. “Yes, Sir... but what would I actually be doing in Strange Cases?"
Head Agent Leonard Fuller thought about his response momentarily before voicing it. “I think I’ll let Agent Steele tell you that, because I’m obviously putting it across wrong. Anyway,” he added as the lift came to another jarring halt. “We’ve arrived.”
As the door before them now swung lazily open with the same familiar click as before, Agent Tanner blinked in surprise against the sudden change of light as the room beyond came into focus.
“Welcome, Junior Agent Tanner... to the NSB.”
To be continued...
Author’s note – Hey, long time no see! Sorry I’ve been away for so long, people, but I’m back now and (hopefully) better than ever! So, get ready to blast off on a mystery-adventure like none other!