Strange Cases: Behemoth - Part Three
NSB HQ, 4th DAY OF SWIMMING, YEAR 9, 11:00 AM
“Okay,” Junior Agent Tanner said finally, arms crossed, “when do I start?”
Agent Steele looked astounded for a good while, his jaw making the effort to work up and down even though his brain refused to let his tongue do a thing other than hang limply out over the side, but experience had taught the shadow Scorchio to quickly overcome his surprise.
“Why, right away! Right, Sir?” He turned to Head Agent Fuller for confirmation. The red Techo looked equally surprised but was having trouble to overcome the sensation himself, finally resorting to nodding dumbly (although he was secretly glad to have found a new recruit who hadn’t run a mile at the word ‘supernatural’), and left the two new partners to their work, closing the door quietly behind him.
As Steele moved to gather a few items from the various filing cabinets strewn around the miniscule, broom-closet of an office, Junior Agent Tanner pulled up a chair, unsure which direction to face until the older agent pulled down a white sheet across the left-hand wall of the office. Confused and eager in equal measure, the young cloud Kougra swung his chair around on one leg as Steele fetched something entirely unexpected.
“A bottled Light Faerie?” Tanner was clearly baffled, but the Scorchio simply stood stock-still, observing him with a crooked smile.
“Kid, you have so much to learn,” was all he would say originally before getting back to work. He set up the bottled Light Faerie on the opposite side of the office from the blank white sheet. When the entire makeshift canvas was eventually bathed in light, he hovered over to the desk and snatched up an envelope with the words ‘Virtupets Photo Labs’ stamped across it in dark red lettering. Tanner’s perplexed frown deepened unflatteringly; where was all this going?
The answer turned out to be surprisingly simple, but amazing nonetheless. From the envelope Agent Steele picked out a handful of small, transparent pictures, which he began to hold up to the light of the Faerie one at a time. The image was then projected against the screen on a much larger scale.
“Yeah, bet they didn’t teach you about this little trick in Agent Training, huh?” Steele grinned triumphantly as he watched the Kougra’s jaw hit the floor. “I shared your amazement the first time I was shown this onboard the actual Virtupets Space Station; amazing little trick, huh? And don’t worry, it doesn’t count as cruelty to Faeries – we sort of ‘pay’ for their services; we keep them for projecting, and Fyora gets constant, ‘anonymous,’ donations... but anyway, I digress, to work!”
The first shot Steele held up to the light was of a location both agents knew well, only he left it to his new partner to put a name to its crystal-clear waters and idyllic lakeside town.
“Kiko Lake,” Tanner stated flatly, his awe from the new experience already dampening by this disappointment. “We have to go to Kiko Lake? Why in the name of Sam Hill...?”
“Whoa, whoa! Hold up, there! Don’t go riding off into the sunset until you’re sure you won’t get burnt... sheesh, what is it with new recruits these days, they’re always so impatient to get things done! I don’t know...”
“A-hem.” This came from the bottled Light Faerie herself, her pip-sized hands on her elegant hips.
“Oh, yeah, right, sorry, tangents, wild-variety, got it.”
The second slide was of a small campsite not too far from the lake’s edge.
“We’re going camping?” the young Kougra groaned. “Suddenly I feel like I’m back in my childhood days... are you bringing the banjo? I think I remember how to roast marshmallow...”
“Hey, Tanner,” snapped the Scorchio dryly, “if you want me to work on my bad habits, then I strongly suggest that you cut down on the so called ‘witticism,’ okay? My tolerance levels aren’t that high as it is, and the doctor says over-indulging could be hazardous to my health. Besides, we’re a partnership now, so it has to work both ways, y’hear? Can’t go round, expecting me to change for the better and not –”
“Ahem!” this time it was Tanner and the Faerie.
“Okay, okay! Anyway,” Agent Steele went on, “in answer to your question, we are most certainly not going camping – at least, not at Kiko Lake anytime in the near future.”
“Oh?” young Tanner’s curiosity set alarm bells off in his skull. “And just why not?”
“What, are you looking forward to it now? Honestly, make up your mind!”
Tanner’s answer was the third shot, its peculiarity silencing him completely. It showed another campsite, but this one was radically different from the last. The campfire was doused and – at least at the time the picture was taken – still damp. But that wasn’t the most extraordinary thing about the slide; a trio of various-sized, pet-shaped impressions was pressed deep into the soft, wet muddy ground. Junior Agent Tanner’s gulp caught in the back of his throat.
“The... the campers...?”
“Don’t worry, Kid,” Steele smiled grimly, “they all survived – barely, but at least they’re alive... although... ”
“Well,” the Scorchio shot him a bemused glance, “their stories are somewhat, shall we say... odd.”
There it is, the new agent felt a rising surge of excitement and anticipation. “But, that’s good for us,” Tanner already found it second nature to use the collective term. “Uhh, isn’t it?”
“Well, it would be... heck, it should be!”
“But,” sighed the Scorchio lamely, “none of their stories match-up, which I guess can only be expected after having gone through such a traumatic experience.”
“Well, what else do you call barely escaping a death by drowning, suffocation and being crushed?”
There was a long, awkward silence as Junior Agent Tanner choked back an embarrassed cough. “Touché... right, sorry, go on Sir.”
“Whoooa!” The picture vanished abruptly as Steele dropped it in his hurry to fly over to the seated Kougra, planting himself down face-to-face with Tanner, hands gripping the arms of his chair. “Enough of that ‘Sir’ schtick, okay? In the NSB, everyone’s equal, save for the Head Agent, of course. I call you ‘Kid’ because you’re a Junior Agent and, heck, because I know it annoys the blazes out of you. You,” he added after some brief consideration, “can call me Steele, Agent Steele when introducing or speaking about me, and – if you really must – Max, but only my friends call me Max and, in case you hadn’t cottoned on, I don’t have that many pals. So, are we clear?”
“Crystal,” Tanner muttered, shuffling uneasily under Steele’s piercing stare. “So... there were three different stories?”
The other agent’s disapproving scowl slowly gave way to a look of confusion. “What...? Oh, right, the statements! Well,” he flew back to the photos, rifling through them to find the next in line, “the one thing all of them agree on was that it happened soon after midnight, so absence of light is the common explanation for the extreme differences... one, a Kiko, says a giant mutated sea slug with legs rose up out of the water and stamped on them like Mootixes – or is that Mootixi? Maybe just Mootix, plural and singular? I dunno... anyway, the second, a Lupe, claims it was a giant water spirit, conjured by a malevolent Faerie – no offence, Lumia – or something, and that they weren’t stamped on, but had a soaking great rock dropped on them. The third, and final – a Nimmo, I think the reports said he was – says it was, guess what? A giant.”
Tanner, evidently expecting a little bit more, turned around. “A giant...?”
“Just a giant.”
“Oh... right, of course, can’t forget your average, everyday run-of-the-mill, ‘Light a Fire On My Swim Day and Me Squash You Good’ lake giant,” Tanner rolled his eyes, but Steele couldn’t see so he just sighed in exasperation.
“Yeah, well, he was obviously the more addle-brained of the trio, what can you do, huh?”
“So, what do we do about it?”
“Do?” the Scorchio repeated this as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. “Do? What we do, Tanner, is what we’re paid to do... in-vest-ti-gate.”
“Uhh, there’s no double-tee in ‘investigate’.”
“Smart, Kid, real smart,” Steele muttered darkly as he packed things up. Grabbing his pitch-black jacket, the flying agent flitted over to his door, opening it a tad before turning back to the young Kougra. “Well? Are you coming, or is your butt glued to that seat?”
“I’m coming, I’m coming...”
HEAD AGENT’S OFFICE, TEN MINUTES AGO
Head Agent Fuller entered his office next door to the Strange Cases division, shutting the door and slumping against it, heavy with relief; at last, after five years of searching, he had a new agent working the division. A new, young, impressionable and responsible Junior Agent who would, no doubt, report back to his Head at the first sign of inappropriate conduct.
It wasn’t that Agent Steele was an untrustworthy person in Fuller’s eyes, far from it. He was just always careful and guarded when reporting back from an assignment, as if there had been much more taking place that he didn’t wish to divulge to anyone else. But now Fuller had another man on the inside, a Kougra who – if the Head Agent was any judge of character – would immediately disapprove of any unprofessional conduct. The red Techo let out a sigh of relief within his own, small private confines; he would be kept in the dark no longer.
“There is a new operative working within the Strange Cases division,” a flat, echoing voice stated with obvious disapproval. From the darkest corner of the Head Agent’s officer stepped a strange figure. Decked from head-to-toe in a flowing dark-grey robes with a deep-red flame pattern rising up to the waist, the figure’s hood came to a diamond-shaped point, it’s face completely swamped in the shadows... except for the eyes. Two burning discs of white light, the edges flickering like holy fire. But this didn’t make the figure appear angelic in the least, and if anything it just emphasized on the sinister mysticism emanating from its very being.
Head Agent Fuller was taken aback, but only for a second. It hadn’t been the first time he had met the strange person and, as always, he knew all too well that it would not be the last time, either. “Matthias.”
The robed figure had revealed his name from the start as, despite his appearance and background, he frowned upon what he deemed as ‘unnecessary secrecy.’ He knew the Head Agent’s name, so to him it was only fair that he imparted his.
“I see your endless persistence has finally paid off, as we knew it eventually would.” He had also explained, from the off-set, that the term ‘we’ was any act of pomposity on his behalf, but simply down to the fact that there was more of his kind. “We do not approve, of course.”
“Of course,” Fuller nodded, somehow allowing himself a smug smile in the presence of those burning eyes. “Need I ask why?”
“We suppose you could refer to it as the old mathematical term of... probability. You see, two agents are twice as likely to discover the Secret twice as fast.” The ‘Secret’ was, obviously, one of the things the mysterious Matthias never revealed in any detail other than name.
Fuller stared at the robed Neopet – or was it a Neopian, a human? It was impossible to tell under that enshrouding material – with a cocked eyebrow. “And I suppose your people will be twice as persistent to make sure the so-called ‘Secret’ is never discovered?”
“Even if we have to take extreme force, yes.” Even under the hood, Matthias could see the shock on the red Techo’s face. “But do not mistake us for fanatics, Leonard – the Secret is, indeed, sacred to us, and we are prepared to kill to protect it. But only as a last resort, of that you can rest assured.”
That was another thing about Matthias that irked Fuller and made him shiver; once the man had taken that one, revealing step out of the shadows, he never moved anywhere else other than back to where he first appeared.
“Well, you need not be so concerned for now, Leonard... destiny does not bring your now-two precious agents to crossing paths with us for some time. The case they have just left for, for example,” he added as, to the Techo’s ears, the door to the Strange Cases office closed shut (Did Matthias have eyes that could see though walls? the Head Agent wondered uneasily), “holds nothing of interest to us, so we will not hinder their progress, we will not interfere with any of their discoveries. I will take my leave of you now, Leonard,” the cloaked Matthias stated, stepping back into the shadowy corner of the room, the gloom swallowing him hungrily. “This meeting tires me...”
Fuller did not need to see the figure’s eyes extinguish, or to feel around in the darkness to know that Matthias had simply vanished. It was his usual mode of departure, a fact that made a wish of the Head Agent’s for an increase in security for his office aggravatingly redundant.
But, if Matthias had spoken true, that Steele and Tanner’s first mission together was of no interest to the mysterious group with no known name, the Head Agent wasn’t sure he knew how he was supposed to feel – happy, relieved, sad, disappointed? Should he be glad the pair would get a chance to build their working relationship without outside interferences? Or would he have rather had them pitted against the sinister group, their skills tested to the limits as they were, most likely, thwarted at every turn?
Whilst Head Agent Leonard Fuller sat as his desk to contemplate on his encounter and the mass of thoughts that had resulted from it, Agent Steele and his brand-new partner, Junior Agent Tanner, were signing out of the NSB headquarters, ready for their first assignment together.
But if he thought, just for one moment, that just because there would be no involvement from the ‘group’, that the pair’s mission would be simple, he was dead wrong.
To be continued...
Note: I’d love feedback and comments on the story so far, even if it’s just guesses at what the mysterious group Matthias belongs to is and whatever their hallowed Secret might be. It’s taken me an age to come up with the ideas, plots, twists and such, and it would just be rewarding to know how they’re being received.