Chapter 45
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“What happened here?” exclaimed Luna as she ran down the path to Kyle’s ranch with Innogon on her back. Aurin and Kyle had spoken to her on the phone while she was away but had neglected to tell her about the ranch burning down so that she could enjoy the rest of her time out of town.

“It’s a funny story…” began Aurin.

“No, it’s not,” said Kyle incredulously. “It’s not funny at all.”

“I meant figuratively,” Aurin clarified.

“It’s not funny literally or figuratively. We’ve spent weeks putting everything back together as best as we can, and my house is still a wreck.”

“Will you two quick the bickering and explain?” said Luna, already exhausted to be home. “I’m not allowed to be here for very long so stop wasting time.”

Aurin and Kyle told her everything, stopping every now and then to let her rant about keeping this from her for weeks. Shamtile and Innogon sat on the grass, their eyes darting between the three tamers as they all said their piece. They would rather deal with Zodiac by burying them under rocks or blasting them into the sky with a water jet, but sadly it was not so simple.

“If we had told you about it, you would be thinking about it the entire time you were away. Besides, almost all your Minakai were here during it and helped defend this place. You were here in spirit.”

“That’s not the point!” exclaimed Luna. “This is so much more serious than anything that has happened before, even more serious than the two of us being attacked in the tower. They’re getting far bolder in their attempts to get vengeance.”

“She has a point,” said Kyle. “They are indeed getting more brazen, so who’s to say they wouldn’t have tried to track you down while you were away from us and your team.”

“Exactly,” said Luna. “We’re not safe anywhere now, not even in our homes. We need to put a stop to this and quickly. When my parents get wind of this, and they will, there’s no way they’ll ever let me come back here.”

“How?” asked Aurin.

Luna stood there in silence for half a minute, staring at him. “I don’t know.”

“Do you think it’s time we go to Knot about your theory?” Kyle asked Aurin.

“What theory?” asked Luna.

Aurin explained to her about Libra’s burn and Detective Scarlett’s mysterious bandage the next day when she showed up to investigate.

“Isn’t that a bit far-fetched?”

“No,” said Aurin. “I’m telling you that Scarlett is Libra. She’s one of the Zodiac elites. You believe me, right Kyle?”

“I do,” said Kyle. “I also say that we should speak to Knot. He’s been forthright with us about everything and he’s clearly no friend of Zodiac.”

“I can’t stay long, so can we go speak to him about it? It’s a Saturday so he may be at home.”

The three agreed. Kyle was reluctant to leave the ranch for too long, so they hurried along with each of them bringing a Minakai with them. There was never a moment in the last few weeks where Aurin and Kyle had travelled without Shamtile and Wingbloom, respectively. It was particularly awkward for Kyle considering the size of the large bird-like plant but needs must.

When they grew close, Kyle insisted that they leave the Minakai nearby and summon them if needed rather than draw too much attention.

“What are you doing here?” asked Knot. “Hurry up and get inside, you fools.”

“Are you being watched?” asked Aurin.

“I can’t rule that possibility out,” said the detective. “It was a bad idea to come here.”

“With all due respect, detective, we’re probably being watched too,” said Kyle. “I’ll remind you who Zodiac is targeting and who’s ranch got burned down a couple of weeks ago.”

Knot sighed. “Yes, you make a good point, Kyle. What is it that you all want anyway?

“You may want to sit down,” said Luna.

“This is my house, I’ll sit down if I like,” said Knot grumpily. He looked exhausted, as though he hadn’t slept properly in months.

“I’ll cut right to it then,” said Aurin. “Your partner, Scarlett, is Libra. She’s an elite member of the Zodiac Squad.”

Knot sighed and did indeed sit down. He held his face in his hands, looking up after a moment. “What leads you to that conclusion?” he asked.

“Libra was burned during the ranch attack and when Scarlett showed up with you the next day, her arm was bandaged up. After you both left, my Leonite told us that she smelled like smoke. It’s a bit too coincidental for my liking.”

“Yes,” said Knot, avoiding eye contact with everyone. “I’m sorry to say that the evidence is stacked up against her at this point.”

“You knew?” exclaimed Aurin.

Knot shook his head. “It’s only started to become clear to me recently. There were a few odd signs over the last couple of years, where she would disappear for a while. I initially presumed she was at Harmony Tower and out of contact due to its magic, but then I started to notice the timings.

“She would disappear at particularly inconvenient moments, notably around the time of the tournament when Zodiac activity was at its highest. Whenever you infiltrated the warehouse, I couldn’t find her anywhere, but who was there?”

“Libra,” said Luna.

“Yes. There have been a number of other examples too, but I think you’ve heard enough. I’m certain that there are other Zodiac members in the force too so reporting her will only lead to a squashed investigation before it even begins.”

“I have an idea,” said Aurin. “I’ve had plenty of time to think about this.”

“What’s that?” asked Kyle.

“We break into her house and find more evidence. Perhaps she’s been sloppy enough to leave something there? Maybe even her Zodiac jacket or mask.”

Luna’s jaw dropped. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“I like it,” said Kyle. “There’s no way we’ll be able to get into their new headquarters. Security is probably tenfold and they’d likely recognise you coming a mile off. Targeting one of their homes is the best way forward if we want this dealt with quickly.”

“There’s nothing else for it at this point,” said Knot. “We need to be certain to begin with. What’s next for your master plan?”

Aurin smiled, excited to see that the older men were listening to him. “We expose her publicly where it can’t be refused. Unmasked in the centre of town so her reputation is destroyed. I’m still working on how to do that, but I’ll come up with an answer once we know it’s her.”

“Can you distract her, detective?” Luna asked Knot.

“Monday evening, we’ve got a couple of routine calls to make. I’ll give you her address and you can break in. Make sure that it isn’t all of you. In fact, just one of you would be enough.”

“Shamtile and I will do it,” said Aurin confidently. “I know how to get in undetected.”

Aurin explained his plan and although a few unconvinced looks were exchanged, everyone agreed to go along with what he said. The three tamers departed from Knot’s house after checking the coast was clear and headed home.

Shamtile was briefed on his role in the plan as Aurin and Kyle returned to the ranch. The masked lizard was enthusiastic to use his abilities for something other than battle, waving his arms erratically once Aurin had finished explaining what he had to do.

“You’re sure you can manage that?” his tamer asked him.

“Blaaargh!” yelled the Minakai in his warbling voice.

“Kyle,” said Aurin, unsure of whether he should bring up a lingering suspicion that he couldn’t let go of.

“Yes?”

“How can we find Leo?” asked Aurin.

“He’s probably in hiding.”

“His Leo persona, yes, but not Frederick. As Frederick, he’s a competitive battler so isn’t it possible that we can track him down?”

“What for?” asked Kyle, eyeing his friend suspiciously.

“I don’t think he’s involved in any of these attacks. I think he can help us put a stop to them.”

“No good can come from allying ourselves with a Zodiac member. Why would he help us? The second you tell him anything, he would betray us to his group, and we’d be worse off for it.”

“I suspect that he’s a firm believer in Zodiac’s stated mission, to hunt down the cosmic Minakai and claim them for themselves.”

“There’s a big difference between their stated mission and what they actually do.”

“Exactly, and I think Leo is one of the believers in that as opposed to the other opportunists who are looking for quick riches and easy power.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Kyle. “You can’t trust that man for a second. You don’t even know what Zodiac want to use the cosmic Minakai for once they’ve found them.”

“You’re right about that,” said Aurin. “And I don’t trust him, but if my theory is correct, then we can make sure that these rogue members are purged of their usefulness once their identities are exposed to the world. That’s something that would benefit both of us.”

“That’s a leap of faith that I’m not willing to take,” said Kyle, refusing to participate in the discussion any further.

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