Ter’ae was very tall and very thin, with pale green skin. Slitherers had scales on their chest, shoulders, thighs, and back, though none of them were visible through the clothes Ter’ae was wearing. He moved in a rhythmic way, and it almost seemed as though he didn’t walk in a straight line. His nose was flat, as were his ears, and his head had no hair. Unlike the other species, slitherers were extremely proud of anything that made them different from everyone else, even those of their own species, an attitude that Ter’ae fully embraced in his manner, clothing, looks, and way of speech. Every trait a slitherer had was being recited in Kelin’s head as the grinning boy waltzed up to him.
“Greetings, doublet who is seeking the truth,” Ter’ae said.
“Hi. You are approaching us to start with?” Kelin asked.
“Most certainly, lupine boy. The yellow bird, the small yellow bird, said that you are seeking information, yes you are. I want to help,” Ter’ae said eagerly.
“I’ve gotten quite a bit of information so far, do you have anything, anything at all, that might assist us with identifying or tracking the thief down?” Kelin remained cautious in his manner and words, as he wasn’t quite sure how to handle himself around Ter’ae.
“As most I would like to help, I’m not sure. We didn’t see what happened, we heard not what happened, we slept soundly, and coldly, through each night, and we care little for what was lost. Of course, none of us took it either.” Ter’ae talked slowly and calmly. Pete spoke up before Kelin could.
“You know nothing, but have offered help? And why couldn’t it have been one of your people?” Pete asked quickly.
“We all ate before. Prepared food just isn’t fresh enough. If you would like, I can cough up the bone of a bird I’m still digesting. The same goes for the rest. We don’t eat what you eat. The yellow bird already knew that, and no portions were prepared for us. I still want to help,” Ter’ae said.
“I see. Then how do you think you can help, if you have nothing?” Kelin asked. Ter’ae looked at both boys twice, and then breathed in deeply through his flared nostrils.
“Someone had to do something, yes? Tell me what the others said and I will help paint the picture, so to say,” Ter’ae said.
Kelin discussed it with Pete, and they decided to tell Ter’ae the contents of their conversations with Twill, Rowlf, Nekoto, and Elenor. The evidence so far was a collection of small hints from each group. The avians, represented by Twill, showed that the culprit needed more food than just a single portion, and didn’t have knowledge of the numbering system, therefore excluding any avian from being a suspect. Rowlf of the bearans showed that the culprit probably has nails or claws smaller than that of a bearan, and smaller hands. Rowlf also explained why the scratches were not made by Twill, and said that bearans wouldn’t commit the crime, as their enjoyment of food was good as it was. Nekoto of the felis hinted that Yan might be a witness, and his attitude suggests that no felis was a suspect due to their outright disinterest. Elenor, the majestic female deeri, probably saw the actual culprit, who was in some way white. Kelin finished his explanation, and Ter’ae continued smiling silently for a while before responding. He closed his eyes in thought, and opened one while speaking.
“This is what you have missed, lupine boy. Motive,” Ter’ae said in a deep whisper, “and that is what makes the crime beautiful.” He went silent again, as if to let Kelin and Pete think about what he had said. Kelin simply shrugged.
“Each beast has a motive,” Ter’ae said, “and each beast has a reason why they or their comrade, yes comrade, could not have done it. The yellow bird said the thief knew not of the number system, yet does that not mean that because of that system, the best way for a bird to commit the crime is by thieving in a manner lacking knowledge? Motive though, is less clear, but still there. Not all the avian in the area are as happy with others as Va’il’s strange attachment. Several are teased by even a few that are here. No avian is known for their outright intelligence, so a motive of revenge on everyone for the sins of a few seems apt.”
Pete started to object, but stopped. He had no reply, nor did Kelin. Ter’ae continued once Pete stepped back.
“Lovely bearans, voracious yet claiming to be maligned! Motive is simple: Hunger! The size of the scratches makes no difference, nor the size of their fingers. Using the tip of their claw, they lift the latch, and since it takes several tries, that tiny tip makes several tiny scratches. They did not swipe at it; they tried stealing with what little finesse they could muster, then claim to be discriminated against once the crime is pinned on them! Not only that, but they added credibility by reinforcing the avian’s story. No better way than that to earn some much needed yet undeserved trust.
“The cat, you, lupine boy, should know better than anyone to never trust. He only pinned suspicion close to the only lionel, the one person worthy of trust, of even my trust. Do you think the lion would keep its jaws shut if it knew its prey was near? Why didn’t Yan speak up if he knows who the culprit is? Even the horde would listen to that voice. No, the felis cannot be trusted in word or deed. Lazy indeed, mischievous too. Stealing suits the cat burglar, motive isn’t even necessary.
“The deeri are spineless, but they would do anything for one of their own. If one was just a little hungrier than normal, and happened to lift some provision in the middle of the night, no deeri would accuse them when a lupus comes asking. But assuming that they did see the culprit, what about the clue? White isn’t common. Avian, bearan, felis, human, and sometimes lupus, can all have the rare pure white feather, coat, hair, or skin. But no deeri in our school has a white coat. Nor any avian on this trip. The felis have a black and white haired girl, but she would hardly look all white like Elenor indicated.
“Although there are a couple humans here, they wouldn’t steal, nor would they know anything. They are fearful at night with so many of us non-humans around, and none have dared to leave their tents at night nor would they steal when they consider the hunger of an angry bearan. None are completely white either. Sensei is white skinned, but his hair is still dark, and the rest are inconsequential. That deeri provided you with a very rare hint, that doesn’t lead anywhere but towards them and the rest of us, still,” Ter’ae said, obviously pleased with himself.
Kelin and Pete each had large frowns, which Ter’ae took an obvious delight in.
“You’ve poked holes in each story, and disputed what we took as fact before. Tell me now, are we back at the beginning, or is there something to conclude from all this?” Kelin asked, weary of the answer he may get.
“Just motive, and no one is innocent, are my points. The thief? I don’t know or care. Wild animals, maybe. Or maybe they were all telling the truth, and the culprit is a white haired, clawed, and slightly outcast child. Sound familiar?” Ter’ae asked.
“You’ve made enough points. Is that all?” Pete asked.
“Yes, quite all, I do think.” Ter’ae blinked his eyes one at a time, and then smirked before walking away.
“Let’s find Yan,” Pete said.
“No,” Kelin said.
“What? Why not?” Pete asked.
“Bored, I’m done with this game.” Kelin walked towards the tent that Va’il was with Harnes at, leaving Pete scratching his head in amazement.
Pete regained his composure and followed Kelin into the tent. Kelin began rummaging through his stuff, until he found a couple of books. He opened one to the middle and read a couple lines. He then closed the book and tossed it to the other side of the tent. He opened the other book to the beginning, and read another couple lines. Satisfied with the contents, he walked out of the tent and sat down to read near Va’il and Harnes. Pete looked at the book that Kelin had tossed aside. He picked it up, because it had fallen on its face. “Stoddard Slyly and the Case of the Conniving Canary.” It was a detective novel.