(Author's Note: Zak's story gets pretty dark, pretty fast, read at your own risk! It will never go beyond a PG-13 rating, however.)
EDIT AND UPDATE: This story is no longer considered canon. This storyline is suspended until further notice until I can either remedy it or scrap and start over.
Natasa squealed in glee as she was handed the finely crafted object. Raising it to a golden eye, she examined the sidewalk much more closely than normal thanks to its magnification.
"You take good care of it, Natasa. I believe in you. There are many cases both in and out of Eyre that need attention, need solving, need exposing. I know you can do it but take your time. You have much to learn, little pebble, but I can see your good heart in doing the right thing and letting justice be served."
Natasa beamed up at the older aluri, his kind gaze meeting hers. He gently took her tiny shoulder into his much larger hand.
"And yet... be careful, little one. Cases will always be dangerous as there will always be someone who doesn't want the truth to come out. I'm sure you've already learned that lesson, even despite this failure. Learn to fight as necessary, but only as necessary."
"I will, sir! I promise! You can count on me!"
The investigator sighed softly as she stared at the glassy tool in her palm, eyes warm with the memories of her first case. She had finally grown enough so the magnifying glass didn't feel so massive in the palm of her hand. So early in her life, she had found her path and grown so quickly from a mere pebble to a strong adult. Gaining the trust of others for their mysterious cases, however, was going to be a much greater task. At least she had this judge's trust even despite her first case's failure. Still, he trusted her with this, no less to a case that sounded very dire and time sensitive.
"I suppose the first thing to do is question the suspect," she murmured to herself. Natasa guessed he would undoubtedly be being held in the prison. Taking a moment to remember where it was and casting a quick glance at the map she had of Eyre, she strode off in a trot, her thick, stiff braid patting the side of her neck rhythmically. On her side, she carried a rather large, finely crafted leather bag with just about everything she could possibly need for an investigation. Magnifying glass, tweezers, a mirror, a fine powder with a fine dusting brush and tape for any fingerprints, a stiff brush, cloth bags for holding evidence, long cloth gloves should she need to handle evidence without getting her fur into it, several notebooks and sharpened pencils for notetaking, a few books to pass the time should she have to wait a while, a sharp dagger should she need it, Wake forbid...
As she made her way down the street, she nodded curtly in greeting to several aluri that she knew off-hand. Her thoughts wandered to the case on hand and she furrowed her brow, theories floating about her mind, coming to and fro as she dismissed some and considered others. As her mind was distracted, she failed to see a chiefly purple aluri in her path and promptly ran straight into her.
"Oh my Wake, I'm so sorry!" she gasped in surprise and embarrassment, offering the poor soul a hand in getting up.
"Oh, I'm fine, I get distracted and run into things all the time," the purple aluri was quite gracious with her chuckle, accepting her help in getting to her feet again.
"Yeah, I guess I'm just a little distracted I suppose," Natasa forced a smile despite her apprehension with her task. "Just a lot going on lately, especially that incident from some days ago. I can't imagine you haven't heard of what happened? It's all the buzz right now."
The aluri's smile faded. "Yeah, it was horrible. I couldn't imagine ever wanting to hurt another aluri and threatening to kill the Queen of all things!" the stranger broke her gaze, looking off before shaking her fur as if to expel the uncomfortable feeling. "It's such an awful thing to think about."
"I know! He was so ambitious, wanting to go after the Queen herself... I was told he got as far as the castle," Natasa hushed her voice a little with the details. "Well, I'm Natasa, investigator," she held out a hand in greeting. "I'm actually looking into the case, I don't have much to go off of unfortunately, I was just on my way to the prison to go question him."
"Whoa, I'm Kita," the purple aluri marveled for a moment, lowering her voice as well. "I'm self-employed. You're going to the prison? That's crazy!"
"Crazy, sure, but I gotta figure out what's going on, an aluri doesn't just lose their mind in a matter of days, there's gotta be a cause, a reason. It's just a matter of what... or who," Natasa let her voice trail off as her mind returned to her theories. "I just hope I can get any information out of him if he's as crazy as the judge says he is. Then I might need to question some guards, maybe see if I can track down anyone who's seen him in the past days... have you?"
The purple aluri gestured to another familiar building in the distance. "I didn't really frequent his shop; I prefer the cafe down the street, but I have seen him around some. Never much for friendly hellos, but he didn't seem insane either. I heard of a little pebble that saw him the day leading up to when he snapped, though."
Natasa frowned a little at the cafe. That place would haunt her for a long time. "A pebble?" her interest and heartbeat quickened. "Do you know what the pebble looked like? Have you met it?" If that little one met him before or during the rampage, it may have some key answers.
"I know the pebble from passing, not sure of her name but she's without a home. Poor thing, still young enough to need food, but doesn't have a place to get any," Kita shook her head sadly. "Last place I saw her, she was sitting against a wall down that way," she lifted a hand to point down the road.
It was all Natasa could do not to squeal with glee. "This is perfect, thanks so much for the tip! You can come with if you want but I must warn you, this could get hairy if this goes in a weird direction," Natasa offered. She wouldn't mind a little help and company, assuming her new acquaintance had the same sense of adventure she did. Her first lead into the case! It looks like the prison questioning would have to wait!
The purple aluri smiled but politely declined. "Oh, I'm okay. This stuff isn't for me, it's exciting, don't get me wrong! But I don't deal well with aluri who want to hurt me. I'm glad I could help though!"
Natasa's face fell a little. "Alright then, thanks again for the tip!" Offering a smile of her own and a slight nod, the blue aluri took off in the direction gestured to towards her first witness.
"Best of luck!" Kita offered a wave, watching as the investigator tore away at high speed.
"Excuse me little one," Natasa called to the small aluri who appeared to be sorting through a small assortment of items within a worn cloth bag.
"Oh, hi!" she waved cheerfully before going back to what she was doing.
"Excuse me, did you meet Zakarias recently? Before the incident the other day?"
"Zakarias?" the pebble looked thoughtful. "Oh... the baker, right?"
"Yes, that's him, did you meet him?"
She nodded a little, suddenly looking a little fearful.
"What's wrong? You can tell me, it's alright," Natasa gently pressed, offering a hand of comfort.
"What if he comes back?" the little aluri stepped in close, barely speaking above a whisper, her little eyes were wide with worry.
"He won't, don't worry. He's being held in a cell right now until we can figure out what's happened to him," the investigator reassured her but couldn't help but fear that he might find some way to escape.
"Are you sure? He really scared me, I-I thought I was going to die that day..."
"He attacked you?" Natasa's stomach turned in her belly at the mere suggestion.
"W-well, no," the pebble looked down at the ground beneath her. "He was going to but he just... stopped. I don't know why..."
Natasa nodded a little, her ears tilted back as she processed this. He was willing to attack other aluri easily but not willing to harm a pebble... was it possible he still had a sense of right and wrong? Whipping a notebook out of her bag and carefully gripping the wooden pencil in a hand, she started scribbling down information.
"I saw something else too, do you want to know?" The pebble interrupted her writing.
Natasa nodded, not looking up from her work. "Sure, what else do you know about him?"
"So... I was really hungry; it's been so hard since the portals have been down. I was looking around behind his bakery, that was when he was normal, I guess. He made me leave but later, he found me again and took me back and let me eat. He was really nice, it's true!" she explained, nodding as she finished.
"Really... hm," Natasa felt a small rush of relief at the oddly kind gesture. She had always been told he was more calloused, but it seems he had a soft spot for pebbles at this point.
"That's not all," she continued, "I saw something really weird after that."
"What? What'd you see?"
"I'm not sure... I was just leaving, and I heard something happen. I think he saw someone hiding in the dark, the sun had set a while before, so it was really dark. He had called out to them, that's when I turned around. Then he just... fell over like he couldn't move. Whoever it was, they were covered in a cloak or something so I couldn't see who they were, and they did something to him."
"Did you see what they did!?" Natasa's heart jumped into her throat.
The pebble shook her head. "I got scared, I ran away. But someone did something to him. Do you think that's why he started attacking everyone?"
"It might be... thank you so much, you've been a huge help! Now, don't go back to the bakery for the time being, stay away from there until we get this all figured out." Natasa took the adolescent's smaller hand into her own and shook gently.
The pebble beamed and nodded in agreement. "I'll be careful, I'm glad I could help! What are you going to do now? What are you doing?"
"I'm an investigator, the judge for Zak's case asked me to look into this. You just gave me a bunch of really important information; it could blow this case wide open."
"Wow... that sounds so important! And dangerous... you'll be careful, right?" the pebble's eyes were wide as saucers.
"Always, I can handle this. Next step... question the suspect." Natasa breathed as she turned, apprehension squeezing her chest with an iron grip.
"You're going to talk to him? That sounds scary."
"Yeah... I'm sure it will be..."
At last arriving at the prison, well after she had planned on being there, Natasa's mineral-infused heart was pounding steadily with excitement, fear and worry. If he had a good look at the face of his attacker, maybe she could start a city-wide search. Still, getting any information out of him could be difficult. Taking a deep breath in an attempt to settle herself down, she was accompanied by a guard as she strode towards his cell, halting just outside of it. She could hear him muttering inside, the sound of metal shifting on stone echoing from inside.
"Excuse me? Hello?"
His sharp snarl made her flinch back slightly. Swallowing hard, she spoke up again.
"Zakarias, right? I'm Natasa, I'm an investigator, I'm trying to figure out what happened to you-"
"What HAPPENED is you all are trying to KILL me!"
"That's not true," Natasa protested, "I'm trying to help you, I can only help you if you tell me what you know, what happened that night! When did this all start? These voices?"
For several seconds, he was largely quiet save for the smallest of whispers she couldn't quite make out. Natasa dared to peek through the small barred window. She could see him heavily restrained at the back of the cell, his narrowed, yellow eyes burning with fear and rage but also contemplation. He didn't meet her gaze.
"Careful miss, he's very dangerous," the guard gently pulled her back with a heavily armored glove. She couldn't quite see how she could be in any danger with how heavy the metal shackles looked, not to mention how many there were on him, but she decided to take his word for it.
"Who told you it was night? WHO!?" he demanded in a low hiss.
"A little pebble, you gave her food that day, even spared her life. I talked to her."
He was silent once more. For a little while, she wasn't sure he was going to keep responding. This could be a huge waste of her time.
"I'll tell you what I know if he leaves."
Natasa glanced at the guard, who frowned disapprovingly. "Miss, I don't recommend that you be here alone. He's dangerous, he almost killed-"
She carefully cut him off. "I know what happened, I'm aware of what I'm doing. Please go and wait outside the door, I'll let you know if I need help."
"Miss, you don't understand, he had the power of five aluri, I was there-"
Natasa silenced him with a glare. Exasperated, the guard sighed and walked away as requested.
"Now then... what happened that night, the night after you fed that pebble?"
"That's what I did with the pebble?"
Natasa blinked as she paused from pulling her notebook out again. He didn't remember? "What do you remember?"
"So little... it's all a blur and- no, no, if the pebble trusted her, I can trust her, right? The pebble isn't corrupted, not warped, not yet..."
Natasa listened to him ramble to no one at all for several moments. Shaking her head in disbelief, she started writing down what she was hearing him go on about. Something about the pebble not being warped against him. Who was telling him this?
"Excuse me?" she tentatively tried to interrupt his seemingly one-sided conversation. He fell quiet. "Just who are you talking to?"
"My friends... my allies... the only ones I can trust," he growled.
"Where are they?"
"I don't know... they whisper to me as though they are right next to me."
Forced to take his word for it, she continued. "What have they been telling you?"
"The Queen, it's her fault! She's turned them all against me, they all hate me because of her lies. She wants me dead, they want me dead! D-do you!?"
Natasa gaped for a moment before finding her voice. "No, no, by Wake no-"
"DON'T SAY THAT NAME!!" Zak suddenly bellowed, the sound of metal clanging loudly caused her to jump back as he pulled on his restraints.
"Wh-why? What do you have against Wake?"
"I-I don't know..."
The investigator laid down her pencil and placed two fingers on her forehead. He grew very angry at hearing Wake's name... he believes the Queen is trying to kill him, along with others supposedly 'corrupted' by her when it was clearly paranoia... these supposed voices were his friends and convincing him of this? For what purpose? Who were they and where were they? How were they doing this? Nothing was making sense, she had to keep asking and hope the right question came out. "Do you remember anything at all from that night? Any faces?"
"Eyes... big eyes... big purple eyes..." he hissed.
"Anything else?" Natasa dared to peek through the window again. To her utter shock, his smoking, wide, yellow eye with a sideways pupil, was mere inches from hers, staring right back. She gasped and jumped back. He was loose!? It must have happened when he got angry! His quiet snicker came from behind the door, clearly amused that he startled her. He then responded.
"Nothing else... just what are you going to do?"
The blue aluri gulped, her heart beating faster than she thought possible. If he could get that door open, she might be as good as dead. Her response could dictate what happens.
"I'm going to figure this out... I'm going to find out who did this to you, who those voices are and how to shut them up - for good. They have to be coming from somewhere."
"Why quiet them? They've told me the truth."
She could only just make out what he was saying from his quiet tone. "They're not telling the truth, they aren't, don't you want to know who they are? None of us are trying to hurt you, I swear. If you can trust the pebble, you can trust me, right? Like you said? I can help you, please let me!" It pained her heart to play his delusional game, but she felt she had no choice. The eerie quiet made her more and more tense to the point of feeling nauseated. Finally, he responded, his tone sounding much less menacing and more worried, even fearful.
"Y-yes... I-I want to know who they are... find them and tell me. You'll see the truth... maybe that wretch of a Queen is trying to kill you too."
Natasa had to choke back a response regarding his reference to Queen Oracle. "I will, promise. I have to go now, stay in there and you'll be fine, okay?"
When he didn't respond, she took that as an answer and forced herself to walk away from the cell. Every muscle screamed at her to run but her mind said otherwise. Closing the door behind her, she let out the breath she was holding.
"Er... you might want to restrain him again... I think he's out of his bonds," Natasa pointed out quietly as her mind reeled at the unusual encounter. The guard nearly panicked for a moment before calling for backup and several of them poured into the hallway as they prepared to enter his cell and repair what he had done. They ushered her away and she could hear his furious bellow as she went. Her heart skipped a beat from both fear and pity, unable to meet anyone's gaze as she steadily left the prison.
She had to help him. She couldn't bear to see him suffering like this. What was it like hearing voices telling you lies? After all, if one is told a lie long enough, they'll start believing it...
Natasa's fear melted into anger towards the ones who would do this. She'd get to the bottom of this, even if it cost her everything.
It was the pebble. Evidently, she was waiting for her outside of the prison. Natasa forced a smile despite her heavy burden.
"What'd you find out?" she questioned.
"Not much about the case itself but a lot about him... I feel terrible for him. He's hearing voices that aren't there, they're telling him awful things, so many lies, and I don't know why or who they are or how. I have to help him," Natasa felt it best to keep the details to herself.
"Really? Why is he hearing stuff that isn't there?"
"I don't know but I'm going to find out. I'm going to the bakery and see if I can find anything there," the investigator started away once more.
"Good luck! Loke be with you!"
The darkening streets felt eerily quiet. The recent rampage had scared most folks into staying indoors after dark until the case was solved and the memories became more distant. Wishing she had a lantern on hand, Natasa didn't meet a soul on the way to the bakery. Seeing the door was still unlocked, she slowly walked inside but the strong scent of rotting fruit made her gag. The entire place looked ransacked. Were looters here or was all this destruction caused by him in his madness? Finding a lantern, she helped herself to using it and she closely searched the entire bakery from the attic to the shop floor. Despite her best efforts, she found no telling evidence of what might have happened. Not even a journal. Shaking her head from her fruitless search, she went out the back door. It was here that she examined what she presumed to be the place he had been attacked. Once again, she found nothing useful except some colorless residue on the ground not far from the back door. It appeared to be in some kind of shape she couldn't make out. She took as much of a sample as she could into one of her evidence bags. There was so little to work with and it was contaminated with dirt too, but it was the only thing she had.
Feeling as though she was being watched, Natasa looked up and her blood ran cold. She could see someone watching her from the shadows, their figure hidden by a cloak. This felt eerily similar to what she had been told.
"Who are you? Show yourself!" she called out, recoiling back slightly as she realized she was staring into dark purple eyes. Realizing what she was seeing and how it fit the description, Natasa turned tail and fled, feeling a resounding weakness rising in her muscles that nearly caused her to stumble around the corner of the building. Flailing around similar to that of an aluri with too much to drink, she struggled to keep moving away for several moments before her muscles began to respond properly once more. Tearing away at top speed, she glanced over her shoulder to see she wasn't being pursued but she wasn't about to slow down, rushing to put more distance between her and that bakery.
It had to be them! She had nearly suffered the same fate Zak had! That had to have been some sort of magic to immobilize her at least. But what kind? And how? She was far from a magic expert, most aluri weren't. At last slowed to a walk and panting heavily, she shook her head, fretting for several moments.
She'd just have to track down an expert, wouldn't she? Maybe they'd be able to explain this residue too.