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Part 3: Lil Tuff's Analysis
The Forsaken Admiral September 16, 2022 9:21 pm
“And there we are!  That should do it.”
 
Paisley smiled as she shifted the last box of stock into place.  All neat and tidy again.  The few days since she had found the naughty pups in what had used to be the park had been more sweltering heat, but a nasty storm the previous night finally broke the streak.  Of course, with storms always came something to clean up.  Scattered leaves and branches, a few lighter items she hadn’t secured properly, her canopy a little crooked.  Hardly the worst mess she had ever dealt with.  And helped along by the eager paws of two of the same little pups.

“Is it going to be a busy day today, Miss Paisley?” Abacus asked, fluttering his little bud wings happily at a job well done. 
 
“I surely hope so!  Today is a perfectly lovely day to enjoy the park.  The actual park.” She gave the pups a teasing glare.  “Come now.  Helpful pups deserve a little reward for hard work.”
 
Both Abacus and Bowli, who had just returned from tossing aside the last of the fallen branches into the woods, both gathered closer, yipping in excitement.  Bowli’s tail was a blur as he pranced in place.  Paisley started shifting aside some of the stock in the nearest crate, looking.  After a moment she pulled out two bags of tasty pretzels. 
 
“If I constantly gave you cookies, your parents might be cross with me.  But these are quite tasty!”
 
Neither pup were at all disappointed.  They took the offered bags and happily tore into them, munching up the crunchy salty treats. 
 
“Are you planning on finding Lil’ Tuff Pebbles today?” she asked.
 
“Yes, ma’am,” Abacus replied.  Bowli’s mouth was too full to answer.  “We’re just waiting for Taddie and Seafoam.  They should be here soon.”
 
“Well, Pebbles shouldn’t be hard to find.  Just listen for his old wagon.  Ah…speaking of your friends, there they are now.”
 
Both Abacus and Bowli turned to watch as Taddie appeared from around a bend in the road.  Once again, Seafoam had hitched a ride, his paws clutching the larger pup around the neck.  Abacus offered his friends the rest of the pretzels in his bag, but Bowli blushed and hung his head.  In his excitement, he had clearly not thought to save any of his. 
 
“You all run along now,” Paisley encouraged.  “Hopefully Pebbles will be able to tell you more about your little treasure.  Do come back and tell me what you found out.”
 
“Bye, Miss Paisley!” the pups chorused.  They gave back their empty pretzel bags, which Paisley tucked away for proper disposal, then turned and ran off into the park, their voices fading into the pleasant morning air. 
 
For a long moment, Paisley sat and thought while she studied the direction the pups had disappeared.  She had learned a few more things in the last few days about the pups and their treasure, primarily where they must have found it.  Ultimately she had decided not to continue to scold them for venturing into the mining caves.  They hadn’t gotten hurt, after all.  Still, from what she had been hearing…
 
She sighed and turned back to her stand, hearing more footsteps approaching.  Surely her first customers of the day.  She could only hope the pups would not be too disappointed.  Soon enough they would find that their treasure was not quite as unique as they clearly believed. 
 
At least if the rumors coming from the mining caves were true. 
 
******
 
The Wajas Park had always been a fun place to explore and play.  With plentiful trees, streams and lakes, not even the hottest day could entirely spoil the good times to be had.  The day was not so hot as it had been, so Tadavar and his friends were not the only ones enjoying the area.  But their focus could not be swayed.  They kept their ears open for the creak of wagon wheels as they trotted down well-traveled paths, intent on their quest.  They barely even spoke to one another.  Abacus, who had the best hearing, took the lead in their search.  It was he who first heard the tell-tale squeak.
 
“This way!” he said victoriously.
 
They came upon Lil’ Tuff Pebbles doing what he usually did, exchanging small bags of collected rocks to other park explorers.  He bid his current group of customers farewell, then turned as the pups called out to him.
 
“Lil' Tuff Pebbles!”
 
“Well, hello there!” the green-mottled Corsie gave the pups a warm smile as they ran towards him.  “Enjoying the day, my boys?  Or have you come for some of my treasures?”
 
He pulled a small sack from his cart and offered it.  Seafoam, ever curious for things shiny, immediately took the bag and opened it, wide-eyed with wonder.  But Taddie was not so easily distracted.
 
“Lil’ Tuff, we need to show you something,” he declared firmly.  “It’s a priceless treasure!  But we don’t know what it is, we’ve never seen anything like it before.”
 
“It’s a rock, Taddie,” Abacus replied in confusion. 
 
Taddie, Bowli and Seafoam gave exasperated sideways glances to their friend.  Lil’ Tuff laughed. 
 
“Well, by all means!  Show me this priceless rock treasure.”
 
Taddie passed the rock into the Corsie’s paw, practically jittery with excited nerves.  Lil’ Tuff sat down and held the rock in both paws, examining it with clear interest.  The pups could only watch his examination, for he did not comment.  He held it out, judging its weight, then up close to his eye to examine the shimmering surface.  He ran a pawpad over the surface, feeling its texture.  Turned it round and round.  Held it up to the morning sunlight. 
 
“Interesting,” he said thoughtfully.
 
Taddie started to speak, but then all four pups froze.  Lil’ Tuff had brought the rock to his mouth and carefully licked it.


 
“Hmm,” he continued. 
 
“Uh…what?” Taddie asked, exchanging bewildered looks with his friends.  “Um…sir?  What…?”
 
“Well, you pups definitely found something interesting,” Lil’ Tuff concluded.  “I’ve never seen a mineral shimmer quite like this.  It’s too smooth to be quartz or granite…doesn’t taste like limestone…it looks a bit like a tumbled river rock.  But there’s something…”
 
Lil’ Tuff turned, shifting through the sacks on his cart.  After a moment he pulled out a slightly larger plain blue rock.  As the pups stared, he held both rocks to his ear and rapped them together smartly.  Once, twice, three times. 
 
“I see,” he finished, putting the blue rock away. 
 
The pups stared, waiting.  Lil’ Tuff didn’t answer.
 
“…see what?” Seafoam urged.
 
“It’s the same as the others.”
 
Lil’ Tuff pulled another sack from his cart, setting it down in front of the pups.  All four dropped their jaws in shock as he opened it to reveal almost twenty shimmering stones, exactly the same as theirs. 
 
“There’s more?!” Taddie cried in dismay.
 
“Quite a few.  I’ve heard that most miners heading into the caves are starting to find them,” Lil’ Tuff replied.  “I’ve had a fair few approach me asking to identify what these are.  Unfortuantely, I cannot.  I have genuinely never seen anything like them before.  The shimmer is not related to sunlight at all.  In fact, I don’t really have a word for what they do. It’s not really a shimmer at all.  It’s like...like….hm, I’m not sure.  Plus, they’re hollow.”
 
“Hollow?!” the pups chorused.
 
“Just a little.” Lil’ Tuff nodded solemnly.  “Here, why don’t you all take this sack of ‘em.  I’ve had a fair few come to me with these, so I’ve collected a good number.  I’m going to the mining caves soon to investigate for myself, so I’ll get myself more, and you four are far too young to gather any of your own.”  He paused, chuckling with a wink.  “Any more of your own.” 
 
None of the pups spoke as Lil’ Tuff slipped into the harness of his cart and walked away, the wheels squeaking softly as it bumped over the path.  When the sound vanished, leaving only the ambient noise of the trees around them and distant laughter from playing wajas, the pups finally broke their paralysis of shock, and looked down in disappointment at the bag.  Taddie had the original rock in his paw.  After a moment, he dropped it into the bag with the others.
 
“I thought it was special,” he said, his eyes filling with tears.  “I…I’m sorry.”
 
“It’s okay, Taddie.” Bowli and Abacus cuddled up on either side of their friend and nuzzled him.  “It is still special.  They all are.  Lil’ Tuff knows everything about rocks, but he doesn’t know what they are.” 
 
“And they’re still really pretty,” Seafoam added.  He picked out a rock from the bag and held it up to the sun, the same as Lil’ Tuff.
 
Silence fell again.  Taddie only looked slightly comforted.  Bowli suddenly sat up a little straighter, his head tilting to one side.
 
“I have an idea,” he said.
 
His friends looked at him.  Bowli, an idea? 
 
“Abacus is right.  Nobody knows what these rocks are.  It might not be special to find one, but…wouldn’t it be special to find out what they really are?  What makes them look so pretty?”
 
The pups pondered the idea.  Taddie wiped the tears from his eyes, bucking himself up.  He was the oldest, after all.
 
“That’s a good idea, Bowli,” he said bracingly.  “But…how?  We don’t know anything about rocks.”
 
Bowli scratched the ruff of his neck with a hoof. 
 
“My big brother says there’s someone in Lunaria who can find out anything.  We could ask him.”
 
“Who?” Seafoam frowned.  “…Lord Apollo?”
 
Bowli shook his head.
 
“Someone else.”  He stood up.  “Come on.  I think I know where to find him from here.”
 
******
 
The soft rapping against the door was almost inaudible over the noise echoing from the laboratory.  Still, she was close enough to just manage to hear it.  Tucking the notebook she was carrying under her arm, she reached out and opened the heavy door.  All four visitors immediately jumped at the noise bursting out from behind her.
 
“Oh!” Nicola said.  “Good morning, kids.  Uh…sorry about that.  Frederick has been very busy on his project lately.”  She stepped out onto the front step and closed the door, muffling the sound.  “How can I help you?  Did Winnie send you?”
 
The four pups were all different breeds.  A Divine, Earth, Egyptian, and a Water holding a bag in his teeth.  As she watched, the Earth knelt to let the Water slide off his back, and he deposited the bag at her feet.
 
“We want the Mad Scientist to look at these,” the Divine said bravely.  “They’re rocks, but…they’re really strange rocks.  Not even Lil’ Tuff Pebbles knows what they are.”
 
Nicola was immediately curious.  Picking up the bag, she opened it and looked inside.  She had been hearing rumors about something coming out of the mining caves just up the road, but she had been so busy helping Frederick that she had not had the chance to investigate.  Her eyes widened when she pulled out one of the rocks.  It was slightly damp, but that only made its bizarre glimmer all the more vivid.
 
“My goodness,” she gasped. 
 
“Lil’ Tuff says they’re hollow!” the Earth pup said, his tail wagging.  All four pups had visibly perked up under her obvious interest.
 
“Hollow?”  She put the rock back in the bag, then turned to the door.  “Come on in, kids.  Let’s go show these to Frederick.”
 
To be continued…. 
 
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