Chapter: Who Did It?
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Previously: In the Wonderland realm, Madnes and his group have split up in their search for the 7 crystals of the Terraforming Spell (a dangerous spell currently threatening to destroy their home on Earth, Okinala Island). Cheshire is with Cosmic, Harrey is with the orphans, and Madnes with Alice. They now journey through their individual missions, but the Red King has his own plan to put a stop to them, sending out his knights and Wanted posters. Meanwhile, the story follows Harrey, Ash and Drisel up in the Floating Isles of the Baa people as they hunt for one of the crystals. Thimble became their new Baa friend, and is the only Baa who cares about the strange introvert Wolf—who people have been blaming for the disappearances of several Baa. Now Thimble has gone missing too, and it’s up to them to save her and find out who the real culprit is. Ash went looking for Man in Moon’s airship, and crept aboard to investigate when he got caught…
Man in Moon stood tall before him, the silver moons and stars woven in his long robe glittering from the faint window light. His old, yet not old, face angled down at Ash.
Ash’s toes curled inside their shoes. Though the robot frog in his hands was working, it’s locater beacon had been switched off—that’s why they’d lost track of it, and didn’t receive its search results. With his thumb Ash switched the beacon back on, keeping his eyes up to the man.
“Is that contraption yours?” Man glided forward like a ghost, white, neat beard trailing across the floorboards after him. “It was being quite nosy, hopping about the place.”
Ash stuffed Frobbit into the widest pocket of his cargos. How should he answer? His mind whirred. What would Madnes do if he were here?
‘I came to find Thimble—to find who’s been kidnapping Baa.’ He gathered resolve into a bundle within himself, drawing strength from it. He wasn’t a hero, but he had to do the best he could for Thimble. He had to find out if Man in Moon knew where she was—and if he was the culprit.
“Harrey dropped this, thought he’d lost it,” Ash managed to say. “W-we’ve been looking for your ship. Everybody in town’s been wondering where you’ve gone. I thought you said you’d stay at the docks, for at least a week.”
Man in Moon folded his bony hands into wide, blue sleeves, staring down at Ash. “There were unforeseen circumstances,” he said. “Too much commotion going on in town. Not good for business when folks are riled up.”
“Riled up?” Ash kept close to the stairs behind him. “Why are they riled up?”
Man jerked his head to the side, long beard curling at his slippered feet. “Something about more Baa disappearances. I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“Oh, those.” Ash feigned surprise. “I was meaning to ask if you knew anything about that.”
Man’s gaze twisted back to him, piercing as a vulture.
Ash swallowed, “My friend Thimble has gone missing. And I was hoping, since you’re a trader and travel the sky, you might have seen or heard something last night?”
Ash analyzed Man in Moon’s expression, searching for any telltale signs that would indicate he knew something, but Man was blank as stone to read. No wrinkles hinting of lies, guilt, or satisfaction.
“It was quiet up here, so I cannot say that I have,” Man answered. “However…” Fingers began combing down the length of beard, “There are a few suspicious persons that could be of interest.”
“One of them being that Wolf.” Anger flickered behind Man’s pupils. “His race are a cunning, trickstery lot; wolves are not to be trusted. But besides that valid point,” Man said, “Wolf has more motive than anyone else on the Floating Isles to kidnap and murder the Baa who, all his life, have abused him. Yes…” Man folded his hands and leaned forward, his shadow falling over Ash, “I can think of no better culprit than Wolf.”
Ash backed away from Man’s overbearing shadow, his tall hat tipped with a crescent moon looking like a claw stretching across the floor. What Man said did make sense; that was why Ash had been reluctant to trust Wolf from the beginning. But could Wolf really hurt the only Baa girl in the isles who cared about him? Could he hurt Thimble, who clearly had feelings for him? Ash couldn’t picture Wolf doing that, not after seeing how Wolf had hugged the Baa girl close, so tenderly.
This case was proving too tough to deterge. He needed Madnes and his mystery-solving power…though he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Madnes had entrusted this job to his group. They had to find the Terraforming spell’s crystal—their main task—and save Thimble without his help.
‘The crystal! I’d almost forgotten…’
“Is that all the questions you have, boy?” Man straightened, silver moons and stars swishing with the blue robe’s movement.
Ash leaned to peer around the man, though nothing but cluttered merchandise lay about the hull room beyond. “I suppose,” he mumbled uncertainly.
“Good. Then I shall see you another time, perhaps. If you plan to prolong your visit in the isles.” Man moved forward, and Ash was forced to back up into the stairs. A bony hand reached and pulled down on a hanging cord. With a loud creak a doorway opened to the left into daylight. Was it an illusion, or did Man’s shadow darken, its crescent-claw reaching for his throat?
Ash turned, exiting the airship with haste, not realizing how afraid he’d been of Man until now. He rushed into the fresh air, and stopped, looking back over a shoulder as the doorway to the airship closed.
‘I should have looked around, checked the side rooms. Why didn’t I?’ Goosebumps raked his arms, and he rubbed at them. He was afraid. He was really afraid.
Moving toward the tall, fang-like rocks surrounding the meadow, Ash took out Frobbit and analyzed the robot some more. Man must have been the one to switch the locater beacon off; but why? There were speakers on Frobbit’s underside, which allowed it to talk. He tapped his finger on a cog that jutted curiously beside it.
“Help! Someone, please!”
Ash jumped, and flung the robot up in the air as a pleading voice cried out, spiking his heart rate. Frobbit tumbled down, and he had to dive to catch it before hitting the ground.
Ash stared at the robot frog, at the audio recording now playing from it’s stomach.
“Shut your mouth, Baa.”
“Why are you doing this? Why?! What do you want with me?”
It was a girl’s voice. Could it be…Thimble?
“You’ll find out soon enough. Once we leave the Floating Isles.”
There was something like a laugh. A man’s low voice.
The robot accidentally slipped through his fingers to bounce on the ground, where it fell silent.
That voice, he recognized it. It was Man in Moon. He had Thimble.
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