The Petpet Detectives: Case of the Lost Lizark - Part One
A great, cackling fire erupted from the large pit in the center of the jungle, sending embers flying into the night air. The crowd cheered on the flames as their warmth spread through the surroundings. The lighting of the fire officially began the event and some of the natives were passing out torches.
Islanders danced with spears as a performance for the guests. It was Geraptiku’s annual festival, after all, and the excitement level was high. A group of archaeologists were chatting animatedly on two fallen logs, no doubt discussing their latest findings. A crowd of tourists oohed and aahed over the knife-jugglers.
“What a great way to kick off the festival,” I commented to Luna, a shadow Yurble, whose eyes were fixed on the orange fire.
“Yeah!” she exclaimed, now watching a Techo and Kyrii whirl around the flames, their steps in perfect equilibrium. “Who knew the Islanders were so artistic?”
The mysterious city of Geraptiku did not often open its gates, so we were all very grateful to have been invited. Raia, a friend from a case we solved in the Lost Desert, had sent us a letter two weeks ago to explain the Lost City’s annual event. The Desert Wocky we once knew was now just a brown Wocky wearing a khaki shirt and shorts. She had traded in her long robes and obelisk jewelry to take a position with a different archaeological team, who was uncovering the ruins of Geraptiku. Understandable, seeing as the case back in the Lost Desert had created awkwardness and isolation among her and the other archaeologists.
The archaeologists had just recently received permission to dig up the Lost City and were now split into six different locations in the jungle: the base station, and five regions where remains were predicted to be most abundant. After a brief security check at the base station, the four of us were free to wander until sunset, which is when the festival commenced.
“Enjoying yourselves?” Raia asked, appearing at my side.
“Definitely,” I said.
She smiled. “Good. Let me know if you need anything.”
The brown Wocky disappeared into the crowd, and my gaze wandered over to where my brothers were. Being a large Eyrie, I could see Damien standing close to the fire. The royal Aisha acknowledged us with a wave and smile. I waved back.
The gentle air was warm (not surprising, as Neopia was now in the Month of Hunting) and the sky held a multitude of twinkling stars. The wind carried scents of the salty ocean surrounding us, exotic fruits, and fire. I loved it. Mystery Island had always been one of my favorite worlds.
“It’s nice to be here without anything to do,” I said to the shadow Yurble standing next to me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job of solving petpet-related mysteries, but it was wonderful to be here as a tourist and not as a detective for once.
“Smile for the Mystery Island Monthly!” A red Lutari poised his camera and Luna and I grinned, holding up a torch.
Although we weren’t solving a mystery, we did get to see some of the rare petpet species that were being held for observation in Geraptiku. We had hiked a half mile or so into the jungle, and then into a stone cave with graphite embedded into the walls. It was quite interesting, and not just to a geologist. The petpets were probably the most amazing, though, some with shell and rock armor, intricate patterns on their skin, and feather jewelry.
“I wonder if they possess any of the magical abilities like their ancestors once did,” Luna had commented.
“These little guys?” I had asked her, allowing a Mimbi to lick my paw through the bars of its cage. “They look pretty harmless to me!”
“Hey,” said Damien, suddenly next to us and knocking me out of my thoughts. “I just realized I left my blue collar at the base station during the security check. I should probably go find it before it gets lost or someone picks it up.”
Luna’s expression indicated that she disapproved of him running off into the jungle at this hour, but she gave in. “If you’re going to insist on walking there in the dark, at least take this.” Luna pushed the torch she was given into the royal Aisha’s paws. “It’s a one-mile walk through the trees.”
“Thanks,” said Damien. He placed Charlie onto my head, which was the pea Chia’s normal spot. “Be back later.”
It had been twenty minutes since the royal Aisha had left the festival and he knew the base station had to be close. He was being extra cautious of not turning his ankle on a loose rock or tripping over a fallen log.
Damien trudged on through the thick palms, determined. It was difficult to discern the path at times with only the faint glow of his torch. The flame would occasionally lick the branches that hung overhead, singeing their outer layers of bark. If he wasn’t careful, an entire tree would end up in flames.
That would be a disaster, Damien mused. After being so kindly invited to Geraptiku’s annual festival by the most prestigious archaeologists on Mystery Island, setting the jungle on fire would be an exceptionally kind thank you. He smiled lightly in amusement.
Suddenly, the Aisha paused. The stillness of the warm, summer night had been shattered by an unknown sound, different from Tigermice scurrying through the brush or the wind in the trees. Damien’s extra set of ears was picking up a faint murmur, a whisper. But the words sounded jumbled in his head.
“Imek nowaah siskaturma.”
Damien froze, the fur on his neck prickling. “Hello?” He had heard rumors that evil trees whispered in the night, filled with the lost spirits of Geraptiku but he never actually believed it.
“Shigon lazra utel punak.”
Perhaps any sane Neopian would have fled, but Damien’s boots were glued to the dirt path. When he finally did take a step, it was towards the strange chanting. Scared and excited at the same time, Damien continued walking, his torch swinging wildly as he slipped through vines and branches.
“Imek nowaah siskaturma, shigon lazra utel punak. Imek nowaah siskaturma, shigon lazra utel punak...”
With the shadows dwarfing him, the moon half hidden behind a cluster of palms, and the jungle growing denser, the situation weighed in as dangerous. Damien continued nevertheless, intrigued by the eeriness.
He stumbled into a clearing encircled by trees that stretched for nearly a hundred yards. A rocky edifice loomed ominously in front of him, its craggy shadow almost touching the tip of his boot. And all at once, the chanting stopped. The Geraptiku jungle was still, but not vacant. Damien spun, convinced he was not alone.
In a matter of seconds, a swift figure advanced towards him from behind. Damien whirled around but not quick enough to protect himself. Out of the figure’s cloak came a blast of power that filled the entire clearing with light.
Damien fell back and squeezed his eyes shut, stricken by a hot burst of whatever the brightness was. The heat rolled off his body in waves and fuzzy images blurred before his eyes. Now on his back, Damien heard two distinctive thuds coming from his left and saw the blurry figure standing over him. His or her features were impossible to make out in the night.
The figure bolted. Damien’s head spun dizzyingly. Moments later, a new Neopian stood over Damien. He or she watched him with dark eyes, red fur poking out from a dark cloak, black hooves pressed together anxiously. Damien had no time to analyze his sudden guest.
Blackness engulfed the Aisha’s senses and he remembered no more.
An inky swirl of purple spun before Damien’s eyes that began to crack open. While unconscious, Damien could feel an icy hand gripping his mind, sending shivers rolling through his body. But now as he came to, the pleasant wind tingled on his skin. He could feel the grass and cool patches of dirt beneath him.
How long have I been here?
Damien soon discovered that sitting upright was near impossible. An invisible weight was pressing on his chest, pinning him to the earth. The Aisha looked up, searching for answers in the starry sky.
He recognized the voice; it belonged to Luna. Unluckily for him, it sounded distant. The Yurble could have been heading in the opposite direction for all he knew.
The second call was definitely closer. A burst of energy propelled him into a sitting position. The weight had been lifted. Damien inhaled slowly, suddenly energized. For the first time since he could remember, he observed the setting by swiveling his body. The wind scattered leaves and carried the scent of a campfire somewhere close.
The bushes ten yards in front of him rustled and out sprung an anxious Yurble carrying a flaming torch. Upon spotting the Aisha sitting in a pool of moonlight, she rushed forward, blending perfectly with the shadows of the trees.
“Holy Tyrannia, Damien. Where the heck have you been? While you were gone – for over an hour, by the way – a Lizark went missing from its cage!”
Luna’s remark caught him off guard. Damien was almost expecting her to fill in the blanks for him: Why was he on the ground? Why was his head spinning so nauseatingly? Who was that other Neopian in the clearing? But instead, the Yurble had informed Damien that he had been lying here for quite some time and that one of Geraptiku’s petpets was missing.
“Lizark?” he repeated.
Luna studied Damien’s dazed expression with concern. “What happened?”
The Aisha struggled to recall the scene after he left the campsite, but he was coming up blank. His mouth was drier than sawdust. Before he could continue to stare at her blankly, she lifted an object from his chest. “What’s this?”
Damien glanced down at himself. Around his neck was a red string and hanging from the string was a brass key.
“I don’t know,” said Damien honestly.
“What’s all over your sleeves?”
Luna’s torch light illuminated a powdery, black substance that coated his front paws and sleeves. Damien was beginning to feel dizzy again.
“This is the key to the petpet cages!” Luna exclaimed, and then she turned to his sleeves. “These black marks... I think they’re from the petpet chambers.”
“You mean all of that graphite?” Luna asked. “But how...?”
Fear and anxiety settled into Damien’s stomach. Could he have been running to the petpet cages and not remembered it? Running to the lost Lizark?
“I don’t remember,” he said finally. “I heard these whispers and went to see where they were coming from.”
Luna stared at him for a long time as if trying to coax the information from his mind. Moments later, the bushes parted once again and a monstrous blue Kougra appeared. They had seen him just a couple of months ago after closing a case in Faerieland. He was a Defender of Neopia, and dressed appropriately in a yellow body suit. Damien scrambled to his feet.
“Good evening,” said the Kougra in his bass tone, taking a few large steps forward to greet Damien and Luna. “I’ve been informed that a Lizark is missing from its cage near the base station. I know this is typically your job, but could you tell me where you were between the time you left the festival until now?”
“I left the festival...” Damien began, heart racing. “I... I heard something strange in the jungle, like chanting. I went to see what it was and...”
The Kougra raised his eyebrows and leaned forward. Luna chewed her bottom lip.
“...I don’t know,” Damien admitted. “I think I passed out. Saw trees blur before me and stuff. There was a red Neopet standing over me. An Ixi, maybe...”
“What Ixi?” Luna asked quickly.
“Where were you headed?” the Defender said at the same time.
The Defender’s question was more important, Damien knew, and struggled to remember his destination. “The base station!” he exclaimed. “I left my necklace on the table by accident during the security check.”
“Were you able to find it?” asked the Kougra.
Damien just stared. “I don’t remember.”
“Will you empty your pockets, please?”
The royal Aisha thought this was a rather silly request, but he did as he was told. Out of his trouser pockets came bits of lint, fuzz, and, to his own surprise, a dark blue collar with the golden ‘A’ perfectly intact.
Damien knew exactly what this looked like. Somewhere between the time he had left the festival and now, he had been to the base station to retrieve his necklace, taken the key to the petpet chambers, stolen the Lizark from its cage, confiscated it somehow, and ended up in this clearing.
“That’s the necklace, I presume?”
Damien bowed his head. “Yes, but--”
“And around your neck is the key to the petpet chambers?”
The Defender’s pressed his lips together, his mouth now a solemn straight line. He turned to Luna. “Will you and your team be investigating this disturbance?”
“Of course,” said Luna hastily. “Seeing as Damien’s been framed--”
“I’m sorry, but it is my duty to judge on what is apparent. Your partner is holding the key to the petpet chambers, his paws are covered in graphite from the surrounding area and he has no memories of the past hour.”
“You can’t think he’s involved!” Luna blurted out. “You know us. You know Damien. He would nev--!”
“Please,” said the Defender, holding up his blue paw and Luna quieted. Damien gulped noisily and shot a fleeting glance at her. They both waited for the verdict.
The Defender of Neopia sighed. “I’m sorry, Damien, but until further notice you are suspended from this case.”
To be continued...