The Petpet Detectives: Case of the Lost Lizark - Part Two
That night had been one of the worst any of us had ever endured. I slept three hours at the most and spent the rest of the time pacing or talking to Damien through the bars of his cell. Geraptiku had a dungeon where, at one time, the most infamous Neopians were held as they awaited their fate. It was hard to think of Damien as infamous, and also, what would become of him if we couldn’t prove him innocent.
Speaking of that, the Defender Kougra and the three of us had a long and painful chat at ten o’clock that evening.
“This is a very rare situation,” the Kougra said, crossing his arms over his yellow suit, “one which requires special rules. You will be given one week to prove Damien’s innocence and relocate the lost Lizark. If you fail to do so, your partner will be taken back to Neopia Central to be handled accordingly.”
Luna, Charlie, and I were listening intently, not believing the circumstances.
The Kougra continued in his stony and direct tone. “You may spend three hours per day visiting with him under supervision. At the moment, he is the primary suspect. I hope you are aware of my generosity, for if he were not a member of one of the most respected detective teams in Neopia, he would be whisked off to the headquarters immediately. Is everything understood?”
My brain felt like someone was taking a sledgehammer to it with every sentence, but somehow I heard myself mumble a confirmation in chorus with Luna and Charlie.
We turned around to face Raia, who managed to smile weakly.
“Hi,” she said, peppy for the late hour. “If you need a place to stay for the next few days, there are some extra rooms at the base station. They’re not exactly, um,” she fumbled for the right word, “luxurious by any means, but I just thought you might appreciate them.”
Even though we were all tired, the three of us were grateful for her kindness and gave our thanks.
“No problem,” she replied. “There are a lot of people that believe Damien is innocent, you know. I certainly do,” the brown Wocky added. “If you need anything in the next few days, please let me know. After seeing what you did back in the Lost Desert...”
She handed us two sets of keys to our rooms at the base station and we turned in almost immediately.
Following those drastically different conversations, a very heated discussion began between Luna and I just after midnight.
“What did Damien tell you?” I pressed.
Luna, who was growing steadily frustrated, massaged her forehead. “He said he was walking, passed out, and woke up in the clearing.”
“Yes, but what happened between walking and passing out?”
“I don’t know! And I don’t think he does either.”
Seething, I turned to face the wall to prevent myself from yelling or punching something. “Come on, there has to be something he told you.”
Luna sighed exasperatedly. “He said there was someone else in the jungle. A red Neopian of some sort -- Damien seemed to think it was an Ixi -- approached him just before he lost consciousness. Umm...” She endeavored to remember more. “He said he was going to get his blue collar.”
“Yes, that part we know.”
“Oh!” said Luna, on a roll. “Damien also said there were voices in the jungle.”
“What voices?” I demanded.
The Yurble looked ready to explode. “I. Don’t. Know.”
“You were right there with him when he was spilling all this stuff! Weren’t you at least taking notes or something?”
“Marlo, stop yelling!” Luna pleaded, her voice going shrill. “What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to say ‘I know who took the Lizark and framed Damien!’”
“Stop!” a small voice cried from the top bunk. Charlie was standing now, all of two inches, with his green arms crossed. “Arguing isn’t going to help anything,” he added, shooting me a glare. “Let’s think rationally. We aren’t going to get anything done with anger and impatience.”
I felt my entire body stiffen and I prepared to launch a retaliation but growled angrily instead. “Fine, fine, good Fyora, I’m sorry.”
Charlie exhaled loudly and plopped down on the bed. I slouched over to the single bed and collapsed onto it, feeling all of the muscles in my body unclench. Waves of fury were finally subsiding in my stomach, but there was still a horrid pounding in my head that I couldn’t control.
Luna was seated on the bottom bunk below Charlie, staring at the stone floor.
“Luna,” I said softly, and she glanced up. “I’m sorry. Really, I am.”
She sighed. “It’s okay, it’s all right.” The Yurble wiped her eyes. “What will happen to Damien if we can’t...?”
Charlie and I both knew what she was going to say.
“Don’t worry,” said the pea Chia. “We’ll solve it.”
I knew I wasn’t going to be sleeping well here.
Aside from the fact that Damien was in a dungeon and framed, the base station was not a very comfortable place. The beds felt like stone. The air was stale and dusty. The so-called conveniences were not very convenient.
Geraptiku itself was miles into the Mystery Island jungle, which meant no civilization apart from the small community of archaeologists studying the Lost-but-now-Found City. I thought this might be able to help narrow down the huge list of suspects, but realized that plenty of Islanders had arrived in Geraptiku in carts from various parts of the island. There was a slight chance that whoever framed Damien could have been long gone.
A communal kitchen was in the center of the base station, complete with a few stoves, long tables, and an icebox to store drinks and dairy products. I sat at one of the tables. A green Eyrie was cooking something on the stove that smelled like meat. My mouth began to water, but oddly enough I was not in the mood for breakfast.
“’Morning,” he said cheerfully. “And here I thought I was the only one who woke up early.”
It wasn’t dawn yet, but I could see the night sky becoming gray with morning. The place was quiet except for the sizzling of food and the Eyrie pawing around for a spatula.
“What time is it?” I asked.
The Eyrie checked his wristwatch. “Just after six o’clock and already I’m slaving away at the stove so everyone can find a warm meal when they wake up.” He gave the pan a toss and flipped a pancake effortlessly.
“You cook for everyone?” I asked.
“Yep, and they should be up and about soon,” the Eyrie said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like doing it. I’m London, by the way.”
He offered his paw and I shook it. “Marlo.”
“Would you like some breakfast, Marlo?”
“Umm, thank you,” I began, “but I’m not hungry.”
“Are you sure? I went to culinary school for a year before deciding to become an archaeologist. I make a pretty good omelette.” He gave me a pained smile. “But then again, after all that’s happened, I don’t suppose you would be hungry.”
I had been waiting for him to bring up the case; by his friendly demeanor, I guessed that he was one of the archaeologists on our side. My mind switched to thoughts of the previous hours, wrapping itself around a statement that Damien had made about a red Ixi being in the jungle. I asked London if he knew anybody of that color and species.
He rolled his dark eyes. “That would be Victoire, the self-proclaimed Goddess of Geraptiku. She’s really quite odd. Pops in to say hello here and there, slinking around after dark. But she did win some award for ‘supplying the archaeological community with a wealth of discoveries’ or something.”
I nodded slowly, processing the information. Victoire definitely sounded like a suspect from what this Eyrie had said and he was obviously not too keen about her. There were a few moments of silence and when London set down his plate to eat, I rose from the table.
“May I borrow the key to the petpet chambers?”
London shrugged. “Sure.”
“Thanks. It was nice meeting you,” I said as he tossed me the key ring. The other Eyrie waved as I headed down the hall.
Instead of heading towards the exit, I slipped into the storage facility and closed the door behind me. There were shelves of torches, lanterns, brooms, towels, buckets, mops, magnifying glasses, and other paraphernalia lined the shelves and stood in corners. I located what I was searching for immediately. Damien’s old clothes were folded neatly on a shelf across from me.
The Aisha had changed out of them and was now dressed in clothes that resembled the archaeologists’ attire. I cautiously tore off one of his old white sleeves coated with a dark substance along with a clean piece of his collar.
“Sorry,” I said with a small smile. I hoped that completely ruining Damien’s almost-ruined shirt would be worth it.
The air was already sticky when I stepped outside and there was an eerie fog hanging around the trees that the sun hadn’t yet caused to evaporate. The slight breeze ruffled my feathers.
Damien was probably not awake yet, though because his current living situation was worse than ours, it was possible that he had been up all night as well. I ruled out the possibility of visiting him. If he was sleeping, I definitely didn’t want to wake the Aisha. Plus, I needed to head to the petpet chambers anyway, preferably without a team of hostile archaeologists around.
Step one’s contribution towards proving Damien innocent would be simple enough.
The petpet chambers were located just a half-mile or so from the base station. I could have flown, but it may have been hard to discern in the thick island foliage. Like the other buildings in Geraptiku, it was a rock-type hut that descended into the hard earth. I unlocked the wooden door and climbed down the stone steps.
The room was dimly lit by torches hanging from the walls. A few of the Geraptikan petpets scrambled around in their cages, pressing their little faces against the bars.
“No breakfast at the moment,” I said as I skimmed the cages, searching for the one that once contained a Lizark. “My apologies, little guys.”
As fun as it would be to observe all of the fascinating, rare petpets around me, I was here for another reason. My eyes were able to find the empty cage almost instantly. It was on the end, marked Specimen 8 – Lizark followed by a list of behavioral and physical descriptions. The door was ajar and I opened it, peering inside. Then, using the clean piece of Damien’s shirt I had brought with me, I swabbed it around the inside of the cage and then on the outside, and on the rock walls.
Yesterday evening we had been told that an unusually large amount of graphite had been discovered in this particular cave. If it was true that Damien was in here sometime last night, the black substance on his sleeves would surely match the sample I had taken just now.
My pulse quickened as I stepped out into the first rays of sunlight. I held out both samples at arms length. Even though it wasn’t incredibly bright out, there was a noticeable difference.
I smiled. Bingo.
To be continued...