The Case of the Captured Caches

The Neen are an underwater people created as part of an ongoing, collaborative worldbuilding project.  Their stories pepper the blog and until I organize them properly, you can use the Neen tag to find more.  The following introduces a mystery surrounding some lost treasure!

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Chieftain Läupa was the last to arrive, and she took a seat quietly near the end of the broad meeting table.  It was rare that the Neen met in the aerated hall behind closed doors – so rare in fact that she’d visited the room only once before, and had barely remembered the way.  Her hair was still wet from the shift between water and air, and she tried to ignore the fact that it was soaking her hastily-borrowed dress.

::–in the night, and raiding popular caches along the coast,:: Chieftain Jütä was saying from the other side of the table.  He briefly wrapped his arms around his body, then caught Läupa’s eye, bowed and touched his hair.  ::Läupa – sorry for the long trip – I heard the same has been happening in Paämu?::

Nearly thirty Neen turned their attention towards her – more chieftains than she’d ever seen together at once.  Of course, when treasure started to go missing, that was a matter of national importance.  Läupa nodded.

::The Paämu police have investigated eight reports over the past two neaps, and probably more have gone unreported.  In all cases, the caches were gutted entirely.  The culprit–::

::Culprits, I think,:: interrupted a chieftain whose name she didn’t even know.  ::If this is happening across Lit Lake and in The Toes, it can’t be one person?::

::Culprits,:: Läupa conceded, trying to stay on track, ::Left text-like carvings at four of Paämu’s scenes.  I brought copies with me; I was hoping the specialist here – Titoë, is it? – might have a look.  No one in Paämu has been able to identify the symbols.::

::We’ll talk after the meeting,:: said Löolë – who had many names, but in Paämu they called him the Clawed Chieftain.  As usual, he seemed disinterested in the proceedings, but Läupa had learned that his apparent distance hid a keen mind and careful attention.

::Eight cases and no one’s been seen?:: said a Neen from the other end of the table.  ::Are the police doing anything to improve security?::

::Of course,:: Läupa said, insulted.  ::Many officers have taken on extra shifts, and there are additional patrols; however, I’m sure everyone around this table knows how difficult it is to guard something whose whereabouts are unknown.  Caches aren’t exactly public knowledge, so no number of officers is likely to make a difference.::

::Then–::

::Furthermore,:: Läupa forced, ::I should make it clear that these raids seem to be planned, organized events, carried out against the wealthiest of Paämu.  Of eight cases, five victims were successful traders with Acke, Nautica and Ajon; two held multiple inheritances spanning generations, and the most recent was Ubin, who holds countless patents across Baädaka.  These are not petty crimes; the payloads are immense, and the victims are not chosen at random or by convenience.::

Perhaps she was imagining it, but Löolë started to look a bit more interested.

::Is it the same in The Toes?:: someone said, and Jütä nodded.

::Six cases reported, all wealthy Neen – factory owners and specialty craftspeople.::

::It stands to reason that our enemies are known to us,:: said a reedy voice from the end of the table – its source was Chieftain Ebede, who rarely spoke at the meetings, but who had attended more than most chieftains combined.  He leaned forward on the table, his wrinkles far more obvious out of the water.  ::Though none of us may like to hear it, these thieves must be Neen.::

An uncomfortable silence settled on the table.  Läupa nodded.

::I have been thinking the same,:: she said.  ::At first I was sure, given the crimes, that no Neen would dare, but other aquatics – even land-walkers with breathing apparatus – wouldn’t know what to look for, where, or how to find the caches of specific people.::

The discomfort grew until it was tangible, and every chieftain in the room could feel the very small but very real electric current of concern emitted by the others.  Ebede spoke again.

::The victims, Läupa, and yours, Jütä, can they recover?:: he said, and both chieftains nodded.

::Of course,:: Läupa said.

::Keep a cache; but more is better,:: Jütä said, repeating the familiar adage.

::Good,:: Ebede said.  ::Then we have some time to consider how to proceed.  With Tidëa on a mission in Tsiltung, that responsibility falls to us.  Are there any propositions?::

::We’re laying a trap in Nidanidi,:: Jütä said.  ::With the cooperation of a jeweler there.  Given the thieves’ previous targets, we expect the jeweler will be targeted eventually, and she’s agreed to work with us.  That said, depending on the network of these individuals… they may be more than aware of any surprises we plan.::

::And in the meantime they can target others,:: Läupa pointed out.

::It’s not a perfect plan.::

::We could put out a bulletin asking for more reports?:: suggested Kolu’s chieftain.  ::Perhaps it would help to have more information, and if everyone is aware that their caches may be targeted–::

::We’ll have mass panic,:: Läupa interjected.  ::Madness.  I can’t imagine the hysteria if every Neen in Paämu suddenly feared for their caches – never mind somewhere with a population such as that of Niïlna.  Not only that, but for all we know these thieves might be following people to their caches, and checking up on one’s own would only give them an opportunity to do so.  No – we don’t need information that badly.::

There was a pause.

::What are they doing with it?:: Löolë said in the silence, glancing over at Läupa.  ::We’d have heard if they were spending it – traders like Unäna would have heard about any huge imports or expenditures – which means they’re either storing it somewhere, or..?::

::You think they’re saving for something?:: Jütä said, and Löolë shrugged.

::I don’t know.  But if they were..?::

::It would have to be somewhere they could be sure no one would find it,:: Ebede said.  ::Somewhere no one would look.::

::Land?:: Läupa said, and a number of Neen around the table drew back.  Löolë spoke again, calmly into the pause.

::There’s a stretch of land south of Lit Lake – a forest – that borders our river as well as Myrmidonia.  I’d been wondering for a while why they hadn’t ventured there; if they were after resources, it only seemed sensible that they would move that way… …unless the woods were already inhabited.::

::We’re talking about Neen choosing – willingly – to inhabit the land?:: someone sneered.

::It’s not entirely unheard of,:: Löolë muttered, and the table was quiet again, for it was well known that he frequented land to avoid the stares he drew underwater.  Ebede, who had favoured Löolë since his inception as a chieftain, broke the silence.

::A land-based operation would explain why no one has seen anything; it’s the perfect place to hide a large amount of treasure, for the Neen to hide themselves, and to meet with land-walking allies, if any.::

::So what should we do?  Send a task force aimlessly into the forest?:: Jütä said.  Ebede considered.

::It is best to wait for Tidëa before we mount any offensive operations; however, we can see what Karero can do in his absence, especially as far as reconnaissance.  Sending some soldiers in disguised as surveyors or pickers should be good enough for now.  When Tidëa returns from Tsiltung, he can advise,:: he said.  ::Otherwise, we must wait, and warn only those whose caches are at highest risk.  Jütä and Läupa, I don’t think setting a few traps is a bad idea.  Is anyone opposed?::

No one spoke.  Ebede nodded.

::In that case, perhaps we can return to the usual proceedings?  This room makes me feel like an old man.::

A rumble of laughter crossed the table, but Läupa interrupted.

::Just one last thing,:: she said.  ::In warning our wealthiest, we should also take care of ourselves.  Keep in mind that some of the people in this room might be considered targets in our respective cities.::

At that, many eyes darted towards Löolë, whose normally cool expression changed to one of mild surprise.  He donned what was – in Läupa’s estimation – an entirely-fabricated disbelieving smile, and shook his head.

::Don’t tell me you believe that rumour, too?:: he said, but his smile faltered when Kolu’s chieftain spoke up again.

::I heard you’re the one who emptied the whole of the Windwing Wreck.::

::Well, that’s not–::

::I heard you have over a dozen caches as far as Motë,:: Jütä said, and Löolë shook his head.

::That’s…::

::I heard you’ve been subsidizing the whole of the Tentacanal yourself,:: said another chieftain, and at that, Löolë actually laughed.

::Well.  Let’s hope the thieves aren’t as credulous as the rest of you, or they’ll be sorely disappointed.::

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Read the next part here, on March 27th!

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