The Viridian Gloves: Part Four
"Are you sure that there aren't even more interpretations of your code, Harlath? Things are looking pretty quiet here tonight." Shalina swished her tail in boredom, but Harlath kept watching the Tyrannian Concert Hall intently.
"Of course there aren't. This is the place, I just know it!" Harlath said. "But if we assume this is the place, do you agree with me that the Concert Hall is the target?"
Shalina pondered intently. "It depends on what they're looking for, Harlath. But so far they have tended to go after the biggest prize in each land. As long as they're aware of how big a money maker the concert hall is here, they must know that its till is worth as much as most of the shops here combined."
"Exactly! We should keep an eye on the rest just in case, but I think this is the right—"
Suddenly Shalina pressed a paw to Harlath's mouth at the sight of something behind him. "Harlath!" she hissed, volume as low as she could make it while remaining audible. "The fire!"
Harlath turned quickly to see a shop at the far end in the first stages of burning and his eyes went wide. "We were right! They must be –" he cut off with a muffled squeal as he pointed to two shadowy figures entering a window in the concert hall. "They're here!"
"Harlath, we have to help the people in that house!" Shalina protested.
"All the other houses were empty. And the townspeople put out the fire before it could spread. It'll be okay. We have to figure out where these guys take the money."
"I—no! We can't just play detective when the village is in danger, Harlath!"
"Too late to decide now! Here they come!"
The two distinctly Meerca-shaped shadows had bounded out of the window and were hustling away from the village. "Let's go!" Harlath whispered.
Shalina shot him a long, sad look. "You go, Harlath. Hunt your glory. Save the day. I'm going to actually go help people." Before he could protest, she ran towards the village. Harlath, stung, almost lost sight of the shadowy figures. Finally, he sighed. This is too important, I can't let them get away or we're back where we started. The young Krawk began to track the shadow-shrouded thieves north, away from Tyrannia.
Harlath moved very carefully across the frozen tundra of Happy Valley. In the middle of the night with no other souls moving, it would have been easy for the Meerca Brothers to simply turn around and spot him. But the thought of being followed by an observer from the crime scene seemed to be the last thing on the brothers' minds. They seemed completely occupied with getting to their destination; their movements were even slightly edgy, as if they feared who they would meet there.
Finally on the outskirts of Happy Valley, the criminals reached a small covered wagon drawn by an Alabriss. Harlath crept closer to try and get a bead on the occupant, but at first the inside was completely shaded from view. A whispered word of greeting from Meerouladen, however, and a figure emerged from the covered wagon. Harlath immediately knew two things about this newcomer. The first was that this was undeniably the mastermind employer directing the actions of the thieving brothers. The aura of power and control emanating from the shadowed figure made that clear. It was also immediately obvious that this was not Malkus Vile. Certainly, the fact that the Meercas' employer wore a hooded grey cloak and not the dark trenchcoat and fedora regularly seen on the Skeith criminal wasn't proof in itself. But the tall, slim, elegant figure filling the hood couldn't have been the squat, powerful Skeith – not in a million years.
In conducting their previous raids, the Meerca Brothers had been fairly indiscriminate in whether they stole neopoints or items. Whatever portable items were the most valuable had been their target. But by the size and sound of the two bags each had carried over his shoulder from Tyrannia, Harlath had little doubt that pure neopoints from the ticket office was the order of business for today. These four sacks of Neopoints were handed over to the figure cloaked in grey, who hurriedly slid them into the dark recesses of the wagon. Whispering a few inaudible words to the thieves, the figure climbed back into the wagon and began to drive away, while the Meercas slipped stealthily in the other direction.
Harlath was in a dilemma now. Was it time to take the information he had gathered and head home? Should he continue to follow the thieving brothers and find their home base? Or could he discern the identity of the cloaked thief leader with a little more investigation? After a pause long enough that he almost missed his chance to do anything but head home, Harlath finally crept after the wagon. The vehicle could have easily outpaced Harlath, but the owner seemed more interested in stealth than speed, and Harlath only had to walk at a standard clip to keep up. But staying quiet while walking at that pace was still difficult – once he nearly tripped over a branch, and falling into the bush right in front of it would have certainly alerted his quarry. After nearly an hour of careful shadowing of the vehicle, the driver stopped behind an abandoned warehouse in Neopia Central. Harlath waited anxiously for the driver to get out, but several minutes went by without even a tiny bit of movement. Could they have seen me? Are they waiting for me to get curious and show myself? Harlath's mind raced. Calming himself, he determined to wait the thief out.
Ten minutes went by, then twenty. I should just get out of here now. There's no information I could get that's worth this! But despite the warning in Harlath's mind, he had to know what the driver was waiting for. Slipping quietly closer to the wagon, he tensed, ready to run away at breakneck speed if a sound or movement came from the vehicle. But the night remained silent. Finally he stopped behind a bush right next to the wagon, and was able to peer inside. The interior was completely empty. Thief, bags of money, and even the reins of the Alabriss were completely gone. Probably have been for twenty-five minutes, he thought sourly. Searching for a clue as to how such a silent escape could have happened, he found a doorway in an unexpected place on the warehouse wall that the wagon had backed up to. Clever. Back right up to the opening and you can slip right through without anyone seeing even a trace of movement. Even when they have no reason to think they're being watched, this person is a pro.
Harlath estimated the sunrise was still at least an hour away. He could certainly make his way to Defenders headquarters and wait there for Orig or Judge Hog. But it couldn't hurt to get some rest first. Home was just as close. Harlath turned and headed back towards the Neopian Plaza, mind turning furiously over what he had seen that night.
Shalina smiled brightly at another customer. "Thank you very much for shopping with us today! Have a fine afternoon, sir!" The elderly Acara nodded and left with his new shovel; Shalina checked the rest of the customers. None of them looked ready to pay yet, so she quickly walked over to the door of the back office and peeked in.
"Mr. Algenein, where is that letter you wanted me to respond to for you?"
Algenein looked up from a stack of papers. "Oh, there's no rush on that, Shalina. I don't know where it is right now, but it'll be near the top of this stack of my opened mail right here. Come and pick it up any time you're truly free. For now just worry about the customers. Just get it done and mailed out by the end of the week."
Shalina nodded and returned to the counter to find that Harlath had entered the shop, brimming with excitement. "Shalina!" he whispered conspiratorially. "I checked your house and you weren't there! I just came from Defenders headquarters! I saw the Meerca Brothers at the concert hall! I followed them all the way to Terror Mountain, and I saw who they were working for! Tonight we have to stake out Faerieland! I just know that's the next place, it has to be. I guess the Hidden Tower could be in danger... and..."
Shalina waved a hand to stop her friend. "Harlath, I can't do this anymore."
Harlath's eyes widened. "What?"
Shalina couldn't meet his eyes. "I told my mom that I would work here full time now. I can't be a part of this detective stuff. I can't be a part of chasing these guys when it means more people are going to get hurt. Maybe you, if you keep getting so close."
Harlath didn't know what to say. After a long silence he tried, "I'll be in Faerieland tonight if..."
"No, Harlath. I have to show up to work now in the morning. I can't be out all night. Sorry. Please be careful, though."
Harlath clenched his fists helplessly, and Shalina saw hurt in his eyes. He sadly turned to leave. "Shalina, I'm so close. Tonight in Faerieland, I'm going to find out who's behind this."
To be continued...