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Behind the Mystery of the Kougra's Paw: Part One


by inanti

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Prologue

Fire Paw crouched low, watching as the queen's Elephantes and Rukis searched for him, their armor rattling as they jogged about. The Kougra's tail whipped from side to side agitatedly as he waited for his searchers to move on.

      A glittering ruby swung from a chain he held in his mouth. Waves of heat emanated from it, warming him. To any other neopet, the heat of the Ember would be nearly unbearable, but Fire Paw was… unusual.

      The soldiers passed, and Fire Paw slunk out from under the abandoned market stall he had hidden in. His blazing crimson coat decorated with jagged stripes hardly helped him camouflage; he would have to escape the Sakhmet Palace as quickly as was possible. He had just reached the shelter of three pots lined against a wall when he heard a squad of guards approaching.

      "There!" someone cried, "there's a tail!"

      Fire Paw winced; he hadn't been able to pull his tail from view before they came. If they saw him, they would know him for what he was, and easily track him down. Before the guards were able to reach him, he dodged around a corner and took off, bounding down the alley. He skidded around another corner and nearly slammed into a Ruki.

      Acting quickly, he pounced, landing atop the Ruki heavily. The Ruki collapsed under Fire Paw's weight, striking his head on the cobbled street. Fire Paw barely paused, his thoughts still on his pursuers. He continued his wild flight, nearly dropping the Ember as he scrambled up a wooden ladder and onto the sandstone walls.

     The guards followed, sure that they would corner the thief on the parapets. When they reached the top however, there was no sign of the elusive shadow they had been chasing.

Part I

     "Lady Hali! Oh, Lady Hali, you'll never guess what happened!"

     Hali sat up, rubbing her eyes groggily as a golden Nimmo glided in and lit a few candles.

     "What? What is it?"

     "The Ember has been stolen, Lady Hali! No one knows who did it, the guards couldn't catch him, and only a few glimpsed him."

     The Lost Desert Ixi's ears pricked forward at the mention of a theft. She had always loved reading and puzzling out mysteries.

     The Nimmo, Suta, recognized her mischievous expression and immediately reprimanded her. "I know that look too well, Lady Hali! Leave the investigating to the queen and her men; it would be improper for you to go tracking down a robber."

     "Oh Suta," Hali pleaded. "It wouldn't be improper for me to ask around, would it? This is my chance to solve a real mystery!"

     "Absolutely not! If you get caught up in your investigating, you'll go to the ends of the earth looking for that criminal. It was bad enough the time you just had to find out what had happened to that little Lupe's toy sword. You were investigating the case for days before we found out that the Lupe had simply forgotten that he'd put it in a hollow tree for 'safe keeping'. You fairly scared his parents to death what with all of your interrogating, Lady Hali."

     "You're no fun," Hali complained, down hearted. "At least let me find out what happened, anyone here has at least that much of a right."

     The Nimmo sighed in exasperation. "Alright, you can find out what it is that happened. Mark my words though, Lady Hali; there is to be no investigating."

     The Ixi jumped up animatedly, bursting with curiosity as she set off to find Queen Vyssa. Suta followed her charge closely, hardly letting her wander two feet. The palace was bustling with activity as messengers darted this way and that, spreading word of the robbery. When she finally managed to reach the queen, Hali found her listening gravely to the report of one of her guards.

     "…was found knocked out cold, Your Majesty; we still don't know if he saw the intruder or not. There was one soldier who claimed to have seen a tail."

     "Who saw a tail?" Queen Vyssa asked.

     "Soldier Jarcik, Your Majesty. Would you like for me to bring him in?"

     "Yes, yes, I must know as much as can be found."

     The guard hurried out, brushing past Hali as he exited. The queen smiled kindly when she saw her. "You've heard of the events, I trust?"

     Hali nodded eagerly. "How did the thief break in, Your Majesty? Was anything found?"

     "You can't expect me to know how he got in, Hali, not yet at least. All I know is that the Ember is missing and a curious paw print was found close to the gem's stand."

     "Can I see the print, Your Majesty?" Hali asked innocently.

     Suta elbowed her in the side warningly but remained silent.

     "I don't see why not. It's in the treasury," Queen Vyssa replied, gesturing to the doors.

     Hali skipped into the room merrily, trailed by an irritated Nimmo. She looked around at the glittering piles of treasure briefly before spotting the Ember's stand, empty.

     "I wonder why the thief didn't steal something less obvious," Hali thought aloud. "The gold coins could be traded for neopoints easily, but he can't sell the Ember without being recognized."

     "Criminals are foolish, Lady Hali," Suta said with conviction. "They'll go for what they think is most valuable without once thinking of how they are going to sell it."

     Hali laughed as she located the paw print and crouched down to study it. "Hmm," she said thoughtfully, "it is odd. I wonder what made this."

     "A Lupe?" Suta guessed. "It is rather large."

     "No… The claws aren't visible. It must be a feline, or else it doesn't have claws at all. And look here," the Ixi said, tracing the edges of the print. "It's black."

     "Maybe the thief stepped in ash and tracked it in here, I don't know. In any case, you aren't supposed to be getting into the mystery, Lady Hali."

     "It's probably a Kougra print, but I have no notion as to why it's edged with black, it seems like the whole print would be black if it had really stepped in ash."

     Suta refused to relent. "Come on, Lady Hali," she insisted stubbornly. "You promised me that you wouldn't get caught up in this rubbish. I expect for you to remain true to your word."

     Hali reluctantly left the treasury. She hated it when Suta called upon her promises to keep her from doing something, but the fact was, Hali didn't want to lose the trust placed in her by her nurse. When they entered the Queen's throne room, they found that the soldier, Jarcik had arrived.

     "I don't know what it was, Your Majesty. All I saw was a striped tail, and that only for a second."

     "What color was it?"

     "Red, Your Majesty. But not an average red, it was a fiery crimson."

     Hali stopped to listen, fascination written on her face. Suta hovered about her, anxious to get away. "Come along Lady Hali, you need to get your sleep. We can find out more in the morning. Who knows, they may have even caught the thief by morning."

     "I doubt it," Hali grumbled as she grudgingly followed the Nimmo out of the throne room. She was satisfied enough with what she had already found out to go to sleep. The morning was sure to hold just as much excitement, if not more.

     "I'm sure it's a Kougra that did it," the Ixi confided later in her rooms. "Not only does the paw print confirm it, but the tail does too. If only I could speak with the soldier that was attacked."

     "Don't worry your head over it, young lady. As I have already said, let the queen and her men handle it. They are perfectly capable."

     Hali pouted as she was hurried into bed. She wanted to find out more, even if Suta didn't want her to. Eventually she did fall asleep though. Being up and about at such an odd time had taxed her. Even so, she promised herself that she'd find out more in the morning.

     Hali woke shortly before dawn. Finding her nurse absent, she got up and crept out, intent on finding the Ruki that had been knocked unconscious. She managed to locate him receiving care from a blue Lenny in the hospice. Hali bounced over to his bedside and introduced herself.

     "I'm Lady Hali," she said politely. "Can I ask you a few questions?"

     The soldier stared at her incredulously. "Y-yes milady," he managed after awhile.

     "Can you tell me all you know of your encounter with the thief last night?"

     "Surely I can, but I can only tell ye a few things. I did not see the burglar face to face; he attacked me from behind. From the feel of his attack, I think it was a Kougra."

     Hali tried not to let her disappointment show, having hoped that he might be able to tell her something she hadn't already discovered.

     "I'll tell ye though milady," the soldier continued, unperturbed. "He was hot, I could fairly feel the heat radiating from him. I have burns where his paws touched me."

     This piqued her interest, though it may have been only the Ember giving off the heat. "Thank you sir, I hope you feel better soon," Hali said as she quietly stepped out.

To be continued...

 
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