The Viridian Gloves: Part Three
The shadowy figure in the Tyrannian plateau quickly grabbed the shoulders of Shalina and Harlath and yanked them into the cover of the cliff with him. Clapping a hand over each of their mouths, he hissed, "Be quiet. It's okay. My name is Orig the Great."
Shalina immediately relaxed. Harlath squirmed for a second, shouting things into the hand, then calmed himself and fell silent. After a second, Orig released the Krawk and Bori. As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they saw that it was indeed the same caped Lupe they had seen earlier that day at Defenders of Neopia headquarters.
Orig sighed and motioned them to look at the village. "I was warned that you might be here. My job is to solve the mystery of the thefts that have been plaguing Neopia, so I can't make you go home tonight. But you're much better off going home right now. Either nothing happens and you sit here bored all night, or something does happen and you get in the way of justice, and endanger yourselves."
For once, it was Shalina who spoke impulsively. "What if we promised to stay here no matter what?"
Harlath picked up on the thread. "You can always use more witnesses, right? More pairs of eyes? If we just stay perfectly still and watch, even if something happens and you after them, we can report it! Or we can just help you compile your report! You know, provide more observations!"
Shalina jumped back in, "And we're not afraid of boredom. We can sit here all night if it'll help save Neopia!"
Orig regarded them both for a while, then shrugged. "If you stay right here and watch, I guess there's no harm. Just stay quiet and stay out of the way."
The trio sat in silence for a long time, watching the village and the nearby concert hall. Finally, Orig whispered, "What made you decide to come to Tyrannia tonight?"
"It seemed like one pattern in the thefts was pointing to Tyrannia. Did you see the patterns too?" Harlath muttered excitedly.
"I wasn't sure it was conclusive, but I did see the pattern that was at least a place to start looking." Orig paused and looked back at Harlath. "Wait, did you say patterns?"
Shalina began to explain, "Harlath found two-"
Harlath hurriedly interrupted, "Do you have any suspects in the case?"
Orig looked out over the Tyrannian plains for half a minute without answering. The moon was nearly full, lighting the village fairly well for the dead of night. Unlike Meridell, which had a small population of nocturnal petpets, nothing at all seemed to be stirring. He briefly stepped out from the shadow of the cliff and looked along its wall, as if assuring himself that no one else was listening. Returning, he finally fixed Harlath with a stern stare. "This information is not 'confidential', per se, but nevertheless could be damaging if it was spread as gossip." After neither youth reacted beyond a nod, he continued. "We already have a 99% match to the style of the burglaries. It is almost certain that they were committed by the Meerca Brothers. However, the grand nature of the thefts, the penchant for hitting major sites in multiple Neopian lands, and the extravagant distractions suggest that even if the burglaries themselves are a caper of Meerouladen and Heermeedjet, there is a bigger, more sinister intelligence behind them. We don't know where the Meercas are. But even if we did have their location, we wouldn't move to arrest them. The framework of the plan is such that its overseer could easily switch in any other thieves out there and it would still work. So until we bring down the mastermind, Neopia will not be at peace."
Harlath pondered this for a time. "That seems pretty simple. The Meerca Brothers are associated exclusively with Malkus Vile, right? We find Malkus, we find them and wrap everything up."
"Unfortunately, the Neopian justice system isn't quite that simple. We can't assume anyone is guilty by association. If Vile is the culprit, we'll have to prove it by finding the Meercas and following them to their boss."
Several hours passed with no event in Tyrannia. As the sun started to rise, Orig led Harlath and Shalina back towards Neopia Central. He proposed simply dropping by their home, but they insisted on following him back to headquarters. Orig pushed through the door and found the office in the initial stages of beginning to swarm with activity. "Status report!" he called to one of the assistants entering information into a database.
"Sir, another robbery has occurred. Over seven million neopoints worth of paintbrushes was stolen from the painting stand in the Haunted Woods. As before, the robbery was preceded by a fire. This time, the first was set in a shop rather than a home. The merchandise and building were insured in this case, unlike some previous instances. Also unlike previous instances, a piece of evidence was left at the scene. This is a pair of custom utility gloves colored viridian. We have cross-checked this evidence against all known sales records in Neopian shops and have not identified any purchase orders that would indicate a purchase of this kind. However, our records are not complete enough to cover all the possibilities."
Harlath pulled Shalina aside. "I didn't mention the second pattern to Orig. I think he'll figure it out by himself, but maybe it's better if he doesn't. That way he will stake out another Neopian land, and if we are still wrong we have all our bases covered."
Shalina sighed. "You really do think you're the world's greatest detective, huh? I'll only do it if we follow the rules he set for us back there. We observe only. Take notes on what we see. Don't try to catch anybody."
Harlath hesitated. "It's a deal. Tonight we go back to Tyrannia. Now we'd better head back to our houses before anyone notices we're gone. Get a good rest because tonight, we get some answers."
After a long day of searching through crime scene reports for evidence, Orig the Great was no closer to identifying the culprits of the Haunted Woods heist than he was when it happened. The heist was committed entering through a skylight with a rope system, a hallmark of the Meerca Brothers. But as before, no trace of the thieves' current whereabouts was available even if the style of the crimes had been enough to convict them.
The thieves would not return to the Haunted Woods that night, Orig mused. Perhaps there was something awry in the calculations that had led both Harlath and himself to Tyrannia. Perhaps a simple error in math had switched two locations. If Haunted Woods, which was supposed to be tonight, happened last night... maybe Tyrannia, which the pattern had as last night, is tonight.
Not a very strong lead to go on. But it was better than stumbling blindly around until another crime scene bogged him down in another mess of crime scene reports.
Closing the last of the report-laden folders, he laid back in his chair and took a brief nap, the only sleep he had manage in the last thirty hours. After about forty-five minutes of fitful sleep, he arose, left the office, and began the journey to Tyrannia.
Sitting in the shadow of a tree outside the village as the sun began to set, he pored over a set of reports again, focusing on the houses burned down as a distraction. If I want to catch the mastermind of this plot, I have to stop the arson in the act. Comparing the records of each past fire, he finally noticed that the location tended to be the house or shop farthest from the actual target, but still adjacent to other houses or shops in order to make the threat more urgent to any guards or witnesses. But what would be the target here, if Tyrannia was indeed the place to be? With no central bank or royal palace, it must be one of the shops, or the concert hall. Orig studied the village. That means if there is a fire, it would be...
Mentally drawing lines across the village, he slowly walked over to another vantage point from which he could see every house on the edge in question. Narrowing the arson target down to one house was impossible, but using the locations of past fires, he felt reasonably sure that if anything in the business district was to be targeted, the distraction would be stages in one of the four or five houses now closest to him. Settling in to another shadowy watching post, he waited for several hours without seeing anyone.
Shortly after midnight, a sudden light flared in the window of a house. Orig had maintained careful watch and was completely certain no one had entered the house in the last three hours. The arsonist must still be inside! Of course, Orig wasn't sure this was anything more than a resident lighting a candle for a midnight snack, but midway through a second night of fruitless stakeout, Orig couldn't help but feel an adrenaline rush either way.
Moving very deliberately in such a way as to keep all doors and windows of the building in sight at all times, Orig moved towards the house. Finally, opening the door, he stepped inside – only to find a kitchen now completely engulfed in flames! It was too late to put it out... but was the owner or the culprit trapped in this house?
From his studies of the structure from outside he knew that only one large room and its washroom lay behind the kitchen, but crossing now through the flames would be too dangerous, even if someone did need rescue in the room beyond. But there was another way. Exiting quickly, Orig circled around the house and went to a back window. This would lead into the lone bedroom. Wrapping his fist in his cape, he smashed the window with his hand, pushed out the broken glass and stepped carefully through.
Already flames were licking at the door. Orig gave both rooms here a thorough investigation and found no one. As the door burned down and the fire began to spread to this room, Orig escaped through the window.
"The crime must be in progress now," he said out loud. "But I can't let this fire spread, it could destroy the whole village. Maybe if I wake enough people fast enough, they can handle it on their own and I can quickly get over there to stop the crime!"
He sprang into action, pounding on a neighbor's door – but not before pausing and wondering out loud, "Empty house, no one inside; no one has been there for many hours. How does an empty house burn down on cue?"
To be continued...