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Mae's Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Necklace


by satintiger

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Jovron and Tadriel attempted to get Mae to elaborate on her outburst, but they were out of luck. Mae felt that every good detective she had read about in stories played their cards close to the vest, and so she decided to do the same.

     Brunch went on without incident. Jovron and Khadi-Ra spent most of the meal discussing art pieces, trips to Qasala, and other topics that Mae had no interest in talking about while she was trying to figure out how best to approach her next suspect. Every now and then, one of them would cast a curious glance at Mae, but she was too deep in her own thoughts to notice.

     When the conversation hit a lull, Khadi-Ra turned to Mae. "You've been awfully quiet, Mae."

     Jovron agreed, eyeing her omelette. "You've hardly touched your food."

     Mae looked down at the plate in front of her. Tadriel had made her an Omelette of the Faeries, which she had been prodding absentmindedly with her fork for the majority of the meal. She looked back up, and turned to her uncle. "Brunton said all your guests were still in Shenkuu. Do you know where?"

     Her uncle stared at her for a few seconds. He looked over to Khadi-Ra, who laughed and gave him a shrug. Jovron sighed and put his glass down on the table. "I believe Psylina is an acquaintance of the Koi who owns Fanciful Fauna and is staying with her. Casara rented a pagoda out in the mountains for herself. Sir Palomir never mentioned where he would be staying, but I guarantee you'll be able to find him at either the Wonderous Weaponry or at the Exotic Foods market."

     Mae smiled and nodded, and looked back down at her omelette.

     "Whatever you're plotting," Jovron continued, "I do hope you'll be careful."

     Mae simply smiled and nodded again.

     ***

     As she was making her way through Jovron's mansion to the door, Mae noticed Brunton in the conservatory watering plants. She paused in the doorway, watching him as he carefully poured water over a Star of Paradise. Lush flowers and bushes from all corners of Neopia surrounded him, making the small room look like it was about to burst from all the plants.

     Mae walked towards the glass wall of the conservatory and looked out into the garden. The clouds were blocking out any sunlight, but the foliage only looked greener through the gloom. Even some of the garden pebbles still seem to have a bit of shimmer left in them without the sun's rays dancing across them. The leaves on a large plum tree on the other side of the glass rustled gently in the wind, which was starting to pick up the more the sun became obscured. Even in such dreary weather, it still looked magical.

      "Brunton, can I ask you some questions about last night?"

     He turned away from the Star of Paradise and set his watering can down. As he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and dried his hands, he said, "Of course, Mae, what's troubling you?"

     "You said earlier that you and Uncle Jov searched the house together? Where was Tadriel during that time?"

     Brunton smiled wryly. "Your uncle had him come with us for the search. He was told not to touch anything, but to remain by our side. That, coupled with Mr. Jovron checking his pockets and suitcase, is why I believe he knows your uncle suspects him."

     "And what about during dinner? Whoever stole the Heart of the Sun must've taken it sometime between us leaving the gallery and when Psylina told us it was gone."

     "Well..." Brunton tapped his chin as he thought back. "You all left the study to go to the gallery. Tadriel and I were in the kitchen until he went upstairs, I believe to speak with you."

     Mae nodded in affirmation.

     He continued, "When he came back down, he began preparing your drinks while I was getting the dishes and silverware ready for plating. Once Tadriel had finished with the drinks, I offered to bring them upstairs so that he could continue with cooking dinner. As I exited after giving everyone their beverages, your uncle followed me out of the room. We walked together to the study, where he invited me inside to see the necklace. I can confirm for you that I saw the necklace myself at that point in the night, still safely inside the display."

     "Okay, so between when I saw it and when we got our drinks, the Heart of the Sun hadn't been touched yet," Mae said, trying to arrange all that she knew into a timeline.

     "That's correct," Brunton agreed. "Again, I went back to the kitchen to assist Tadriel with preparations for the main course. We remained there together until he was done cooking, when we plated the food and he brought everything up for you all to eat. I believe around that time is when the incident with Ms. Casara's glass happened."

     "Yes, that sounds right," Mae mused.

     "Right, so Tadriel came to summon me, and I assisted in the cleanup of the glassware. The commotion quickly subsided, and I returned to the kitchen. Tadriel seemed very anxious about what had happened, so I helped him in making the Borovan for everyone. After we delivered the pudding and dessert Borovan, Tadriel cleaned the kitchen while I washed the dishes. It was shortly thereafter that I'm told Psylina's outburst occurred."

     Mae thought through what Brunton had told her. "So it sounds like... the only times you two were ever apart were when one of you was going to or from the gallery? Although several times you came and went together. It doesn't seem like enough time to steal the necklace and get it out of the mansion quickly enough."

     Brunton looked uneasily from side to side. "I suppose there was one other moment when we were not together," he said cautiously.

     "Oh?" Mae perked up, her tail twitching. "When?"

     Brunton's eyebrows raised as he thought back carefully. "It was soon after we returned from bringing dessert to the gallery. I was at the sink, and the window in front of me was open, and I heard the first few drops of rain start to fall. I realized that we had left some of the windows in the conservatory open, and quickly went to shut them. I would say it was under five minutes later that I went back to the kitchen, and Tadriel was right where I had left him."

     "Okay, so a sliver of time then..." Mae sighed. "Maybe he could've pulled it off, but... that seems incredibly risky. And nearly impossible."

     "I suppose so," Brunton said.

     "Well," Mae turned back towards the door, "I suppose I'd better get going. I've got a lot to do today!" She smiled at Brunton. "Thanks for everything! I'm sure I'll be back to bother you soon."

     Brunton smiled back. "Even though it's not under the most favourable circumstances, it's never a bother to chat with you, Mae."

     She thanked him again, and was on her way.

     ***

     The Cyodrake's Gaze loomed eerily over Mae in the distance as she hurried down the riverbanks towards Exotic Foods. The sound of Orrin's humming wafted its way up the path to meet Mae's ears when she got closer, but before she could enter, the Lupe she was looking for appeared on the path coming towards her.

     "Sir Palomir!" Mae called.

     He looked up from the Bamboo Tea he was drinking, raising his eyebrows. "Miss Mae, what a coincidence."

     She fell into step beside him and walked with him up the path. "Where are you off to?" she asked innocently.

     He looked out of the corner of his eye at her as he continued walking. "I was going to finish my tea by the waterfall." He turned his head to look at her for a moment, studying her face, then continued, "Would you care to join me?"

     After Sir Palomir insisted on buying tea for her as well, the two found themselves sitting at a table by the base of the nearby waterfall. It was silent aside from the gentle rush of the water as it rolled down the hill next to them.

     Mae looked at Palomir, who seemed to be staring at the water lost in thought. "What are you thinking about?" she asked.

     The former knight didn't answer right away. After a pause, he replied, "It's quite a mess, isn't it?" He took a sip of his tea, still not looking at Mae.

     "What is? The necklace?"

     Palomir shifted in his seat. "Yes, the necklace. Your uncle..." He trailed off, before a wry smile crossed his face. "He does seem to have a nose for trouble, doesn't he?"

     Mae giggled. "Yeah, I guess he kinda does. It's never boring when Uncle Jov is around."

     Sir Palomir laughed too, a low, quiet chuckle. "I've never known him to not be caught up in some sort of pandemonium. It's as if he thrives on disruption." He looked away from the waterfall to stare off into the distance, his smile growing. "Even when we were just kids, he seemed to go looking for chaos. Sneaking out at night to go watch matches at the Battledome, getting lost for days searching for treasure in the Haunted Woods, spending all his Neopoints on something at the Trading Post that turned out to be worthless... Yes, in the many, many years that I've known your uncle, I've learned that one thing he certainly isn't is careful."

     Mae nodded. "I always love getting his letters about whatever faraway adventure he's on. I could only dream of having a life like his." Her tail twitched. "I heard he even got kidnapped by Captain Bloodhook and his crew of pirates one time!"

     At this, Palomir turned and looked at her, furrowing his brow. "Miss Mae, I think it would behove you to avoid hoping for a run-in with any of Neopia's notorious pirates." He let out a haggard breath. "It's a shame you had to be present for the events that transpired last night. It was reckless for your uncle to invite you at all, besides the fact that a jewel thief isn't appropriate company for a young Kougra like yourself."

     "Speaking of the jewel thief..." May started carefully, attempting to be nonchalant. "Could you tell me about what happened when you left the room last night to get the towel for Casara?"

     The knight's eyes widened. "Why Mae, what are you asking about that for?"

     "I'm... Um, I'm just curious. Everything happened so fast I..." She itched her ear with her finger. "I was just trying to remember whether you were the one who I bumped into in the hallway. My bracelet broke during all the commotion and I think I dropped it when I was going to the bathroom, so I was wondering if maybe you found it."

     He again paused before answering, and Mae swallowed hard hoping that her lie would fool him. But he looked back towards the water and answered. "No, Mae, I don't recall seeing you in the hallway last night. I believe I was alone."

     "You didn't see anyone at all?"

     Palomir thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I'm sure I didn't."

     Mae felt her heart start to beat a little faster. She looked away to the waterfall, avoiding his eyes. "Not even Khadi-Ra?"

     Palomir didn't answer this time. She could feel his stare boring into her as she continued to focus on the water streaming down in front of them. Palomir sat back in his chair. "...Mae?"

     She moved her gaze down to her paws in her lap. "Well, it's just that... He went to the bathroom too, at the same time, to get the bandages. Isn't it strange that you two didn't run into each other? Your paths should've crossed either in the bathroom or in the hallway."

     The silence between them was deafening. It was a few moments before Mae looked up from her hands, and met Palomir's gaze. His eyes were darker than they were before, his expression grave. "Miss Mae, I'm not sure what you're doing, but whatever it is, I'm sure neither your uncle nor your parents would approve of it."

     Mae stiffened. She sat up straight and took a deep breath before responding. "I'm just saying, something doesn't add up. How could you both go to the same place within seconds of each other, but both of you claim you saw nobody? It's impossible!"

     "And you assume it was I, not Qasala's shadiest art dealer, who lied about where he went that night?"

     Mae could feel the colour seeping into her cheeks. It was true, doubting the word of one of King Altador's finest knights seemed foolish. "I... I just--"

     Palomir waved his hand and grinned. "Mae. It seems like there's a grave error in your knowledge of the incident with the glass. You've made an assumption."

     "I... What?" She leaned forward in her seat, her ears perking up.

     "When I used the ground-level bathroom earlier in the evening, there were no towels. I brought it to Jovron's attention, and he informed me that all the bathroom towels were in the laundry. After the incident with Casara's glass, I realized that there would not be towels in the second-floor bathroom, so I instead went downstairs to the kitchen. You can ask Tadriel if you don't believe me; he handed me the towel himself."

     Mae's mouth opened, but nothing came out. She shut it, then tried again to speak. "But you... You said before you didn't see anyone when you left the room."

     A twinkle crept into Palomir's eye. "Well, Miss Mae, I wasn't aware that when you asked me 'whether I'd seen you in the hallway,' that you meant 'had I seen Tadriel in the kitchen.' Forgive me."

     For the first time since meeting Palomir at the market earlier, Mae felt herself relax. She slumped back in her chair. "Huh." Again the two sat in silence until Mae broke it. "Do you know the other guests?" she asked suddenly. "You made a comment before about Khadi-Ra being... shady?"

     "In addition to his penchant for mischief, your uncle also seems to be a magnet for some of Neopia's more... unsavoury citizens," Palomir said dryly. He took another sip of his tea. "Perhaps it was unfair for me to refer to him as shady. It's simply difficult for me to believe that all of the incredible works he manages to come upon were found... lawfully. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to learn it was he who 'found' the Empress's necklace and sold it to your uncle."

     "Maybe so," Mae responded as she crossed her arms. "If that's the case, he would've known about it being in my uncle's possession before the party. That would make it much easier to plan a heist."

     "There is one other thing..." Palomir said slowly. "Something I overheard at the party, in fact. I can't quite remember who was speaking of it, but it was an incident that occurred recently in Qasala. Apparently, the good Lutari was caught selling forged works of art."

     "Forgeries?" Mae said, her eyes widening.

     "Yes, it seems that Khadi-Ra sold a number of pieces that were determined to be fake. His credibility as an art dealer and as a salesman certainly would be bruised after such a thing."

     "Wow..." Mae breathed.

     "Quite." He took another sip. "As for the ladies... I was aware of Casara's place in King Skaarl's court and have seen her around Meridell. We've exchanged words on a few occasions, but nothing more. I know she gives off an air of listlessness, but I believe she's quite intelligent. After all, she works for the king. Psylina I met for the first time the same night as you, although your uncle mentioned to me that he had met her on one of his voyages to the Lost Desert."

     "Did he say anything else about her?"

     Sir Palomir thought for a few seconds before replying. "I don't believe so. If I recall correctly, he relayed to me a story about visiting Sakhmet to see an old friend, and became acquainted with Psylina through that friend."

     "So... why do you think she was invited to the dinner party? It seems like Uncle Jov barely knows her."

     Palomir smiled again. "I believe his hubris might've come into play in his choice to invite Psylina. After all, it's quite a story to be able to say you saw the Empress's necklace in person. And any time you may tell that story, your listener will ask you where you saw it, and the answer is that you saw it because Jovron procured it."

     Mae shook her head. "He invited the people he invited for... bragging rights?"

     Palomir just laughed.

     Mae went on. "And what about Tadriel?"

     "Yes, Tadriel I had met briefly before too. There was a dinner several months back in Meridell honouring various Neopian knights for their service and accomplishments, and Tadriel was the head chef. It was my recommendation to Jovron that brought Tadriel here to Shenkuu for the party. He made some of the most delicious food I've ever had the pleasure of tasting!"

     Mae looked down into her drink. She had hardly taken a sip since sitting down; she was too focused on her questions to even remember she was holding it.

     "It's a shame there's quite a large chance the necklace may never be recovered," Palomir said. "Many priceless items go missing and are never seen again. For a necklace like the Heart of the Sun to be missing for so long, and be recovered after all this time just for it to go missing again... It really is an unfortunate coincidence."

     Mae felt a pang of embarrassment in her heart, but then an image of her uncle's dejected face flashed through her mind. She couldn't let him down, she just couldn't.

     Palomir looked up towards the sky. "It reminds me of an incident from Brightvale a couple years ago. A similar scandal. I was staying at the castle at the time, and though it was kept mostly a secret, I remember hearing some of the king's knights discussing it.

     "I believe it was a stained glass window that went missing. An invaluable piece of work that had been taken out of the window to be cleaned. It disappeared on the way back from the glazier's and was never found again."

     Mae sat back in her chair. "Nobody knows what happened to it?"

     Palomir shook his head. "No. I know the page who was charged with bringing the window to and from the castle was investigated thoroughly, as was the glazier. However, not a single shard of the window was ever recovered."

     It was quiet after Palomir finished talking. Thoughts were racing through Mae's mind, but none seemed to connect to anything. She was more determined than ever to find the Heart of the Sun for her uncle. His name would not go down in Neopian history as the Lenny who lost the Empress's necklace.

     Palomir turned back towards the waterfall and finished the last drop of tea in his cup. "I believe it is time for us to part ways, Miss Mae. Should you need to speak with me again, I'm sure your uncle knows where to find me."

     Mae slurped her tea down in what seemed like a single gulp and stood up from the table. "Thank you for the chat, Sir Palomir. You've been a huge help!"

     He bowed his head in response. "And Mae?" he called as she started off down the path.

     She stopped and looked back. "Yes?"

     Palomir took a moment to study Mae carefully. His lips twitched as if he found something highly amusing. "I hope you find your bracelet."

To be continued…

 
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