The sky was clear today – a rare occurrence for a place usually lumpy with cloud cover. You’d think after living on this planet for two months that I’d be used to the grumpy climate by now. I wasn’t, and I wasn’t planning to be for probably the next twenty years at least. It would surely be a good day, I thought contently. I closed my eyes and smiled stupidly, wishing the morning silence would last forever. Such peaceful-
‘Tebogo, you’re going to miss the school bus!’
Mom – of course. Rolling my eyes at the unwanted interruption, I snatched up my school bag and hurried down the stairs, thinking unkindly that if a person were to build such a monstrous house, they ought to have the decency to install elevators for the poor souls who would be residing in it. And then I quickly reminded myself that we’d been lucky to inherit such a grand home even if the reason behind it was still a mystery. Maybe there was some unknown family connection – like mom speculated. Or maybe, like my little brother Samuel thought, the mysterious Esteban Carnossa had been a crazy old geezer.
‘I’m beginning to think you like walking to school,’ my mother admonished as she passed me a lunch sack on my way towards the back door. Her face was glowing, and had been since we’d moved here. We had a house we owned – not by the bank or some crabby landlord. More than that, it truly felt like home. Especially since we’d redecorated it from the clinical white of before into warm autumn and rainbow colours. I wouldn’t change anything about it. Except maybe the thousand and one stairs.
‘Is your brother coming down?’ She called after me.
‘Probably not!’ I shouted back as I ran to where the airobus was already lowering. Samuel got occasional “afflictions”. Occasional because they mostly occurred on weekday mornings. The boy had turned avoiding school into an art form.
‘I almost climbed off thinking you weren’t gonna make it,’ my best friend Mona complained as I dropped ungraciously into the seat beside her.
I chuckled at her mutinous expression. ‘I provide the only exercise you get, Mo.’
‘I can do without it.’ Then she smiled slyly, so I knew I was in trouble. ‘But I forgive you. Because you’re coming with me to the city library this afternoon.’
‘You can keep your forgiveness,’ I sighed.
‘You haven’t checked your school email yet, have you?’
I looked at her expectantly.
‘Let me fill you in,’ she volunteered gleefully, clearly enjoying whatever dire news she was about to deliver.
‘We have a history assignment due next week.’
I groaned audibly. The sun was out today. It was supposed to turn into a good day.
‘Don’t look so depressed,’ she scolded, ‘the assignment is carried out in pairs so we can partner up. And even more importantly, the topic is actually interesting.’
‘You don’t say,’ I mumbled apathetically, inwardly relieved I wouldn’t have to tackle the subject of history by myself.
‘It’s a research project on ancient artefacts,’ Mona barrelled on, ‘most of the class is going to the museum today and tomorrow afternoon.’
Which I thought made sense. Even I knew that despite the planet’s relative newness (compared to the others in Zophomore), it hosted some of the best museums in the galaxy.
‘So shouldn’t we join them?’ I reasoned. ’Why do we have to go to the library?’
‘Because the artefact I want us to do research on is not in any museum in the galaxy. Have you heard of the Atrollium’s Sceptre?’ she whispered the last part conspiratorially, as if anyone else occupying this bus would care enough to steal her idea.
‘The name Atrollium sounds familiar,’ I said.
‘Atrollium was the royal name of the second son of planet Septon’s most famous and last king, King Thalo of the Ehlose line.’
‘Planet Septon had a monarch? And how’s a royal name different from a normal name?’ I hated history that much.
Mona shook her head at my ignorance. ‘Yes. There hasn’t been a royal family in Septon for close to three centuries now. An epidemic broke out that nearly wiped out all of Septon’s military power and royal guard. Stripped of its defence, the royal family would’ve been easy targets to overthrow – not that the royal family was in strong conflict with anyone, however their wealth was renowned so enemies could’ve manifested from that? Anyway, the royal family was obviously forced to flee. A lot of historians speculate that the epidemic was a product of biological warfare as it erupted when King Thalo was about to pass on his crown and the epidemic seemed to have targeted the nation’s defence. Others dispute that because no single specific party came to power as a result. Could be that the epidemic was purely accidental, after all the military and royal guard would’ve been exposed to common conditions – you know, something in the combustion powder or that sort of thing. Regardless of the cause, the absence of the royal family and military power resulted in the Septon Mineral Rush, where people from all over wanted in on the natural riches since there was no defined ownership. Subsequently, The Magistrate appointed a government until Septon finally turned into the democracy that it is today. I know a great history book if you want to read more about it,’ she offered, and I nodded because I was surprisingly very interested. ‘A royal name is one given to a member of the royal family by the people after performing an act of bravery or in this case, being involved in a lot of humanitarian work. Atrollium’s birth name was Rapedi,’ she explained.
‘Yes but what about this sceptre?’ I wanted to know.
‘The sceptre was supposed to go on display at the Lokeng planetarial museum in Septon but it disappeared some decades ago. It was the only heirloom left from the last of the Ehlose line.’
‘Only one? What happened to the rest of their treasury?’
‘That’s the other part of the mystery. Some speculate that it is still buried somewhere in septonian desert. Others think the family fled with their riches. Most believe the royal household was also flooded during the Rush and thus a majority of the treasury was stolen that way.’
When the clock struck 3 o’clock that afternoon, Mona and I were making our way towards the entrance of the town library. It was almost deserted inside. Obviously – because everyone else is sensible enough to make use of this awesome, convenient shortcut called the galaxanet. I sighed in resignation and followed behind Mona’s determined stride. We went past the smiling elderly librarian into the geography section. Mona read the guide-boards aloud as we went past them.
‘Planet Anchor…Futah…Lok’Shir…Orabirn…Rotehn–’ a wide smile broadened her lips as we paused at the next section, ‘planet Septon’. We entered the empty aisle and sat our bags down by one of the tables.
‘I’ll check the history section, you try the relics’ one.’
She pointed me towards the end of the aisle – there had to be over a thousand books on one side alone – and moved in the opposite direction. The books didn’t look like they had been touched in a long time. Suddenly curious about the last time a book had been taken out, I picked one out randomly and paged to the back. Clay artefacts of Sekeng, fallen city of Septon – last taken out just over four years ago. I replaced it and looked at the rest, studying the titles intently. I would never admit it to Mona but I was starting to enjoy myself. I had forgotten the sweet musky smell of old ink on even older paper. I was soon absorbed in the subject, but so too did my frustration grow. All the text I’d looked through so far was focused on the origins of the sceptre but nothing about its disappearance. The information was usable, however I expected Mona would probably come up with something more in-depth from looking at the historical section.
I picked up the next book. Royal heirlooms of Septon. Looked promising. The contents were listed alphabetically so the Atrollium’s Sceptre was one of the first items. I scanned the summary minutely. King Thalo Ehlose, the last King of Septon had the sceptre made for his second son, Prince Rapedi Ehlose blah blah blah. Then a brief blah blah blah about the supposed rare metals and precious gemstones from which it was made. I was about to give up when I came to the last paragraph. ‘Mona!’ I hissed excitedly, reading the words before me with rounding eyes. I called out again, much louder this time.
‘Would you stop your screeching? This is a library,’ she hissed back as she made her way towards me. She was smiling, clutching a bunch of papers in her hands. I didn’t miss the glint of excitement in her eyes. I pushed the book before her the moment her rump touched the chair. She read the text with haste, nodding her head as if in agreement with the information. She proceeded to show me the sheets she’d brought with her.
‘That book corroborates what I found in these articles.’ She pushed the first one toward me. ‘I got these from the librarian,’ she informed me eagerly, pointing at the relevant paragraph.
’“The infamous Atrollium’s Sceptre, whose unveiling was to occur last night at the Lokeng planetarial museum in Septon, is believed to have been stolen just hours prior to the historic event. The sceptre is said to be made from thalazium, a metal indigenous only to Septon, and is inlaid with over one hundred precious stones” the booked claimed a thalazium alloy,’ Mona murmured, noting down the different references. ‘Well we do know thalazium is always the main, if not the sole comprising metal,’ she mumbled, obviously thinking aloud.
‘The book has a sketch of the sceptre at the back,’ I remembered, quickly paging there. Mona studied the picture avidly. ‘It’s longer than I expected,’ she finally said.
‘It’s exquisite,’ I sighed. The stem resembled a thick branch with its extending limbs cut off. The silvery-bronze colour of the metal was dotted with gemstones where the limbs would be. The head was shaped like a cup formed by a multitude of vines – probably in keeping with the plant theme – and the inside of the cup was practically pulsing with a multitude of tiny stones, central of which was what looked like a fist-sized onyx pearl – also indigenous to only Septon.
‘That it is,’ Mona agreed. But she was right about the length thing. The sceptre had to be almost one and a half meters long.
‘Maybe Atrollium was a tall guy,’ I mumbled offhandedly.
‘We should scan this image,’ Mona said decidedly, then turned back to the article. ’“Galaxial Intelligence Bureau (or GIB) and Septon’s own law enforcement will be collaborating to bring the culprits to light. In the meantime, we can only hope that the sceptre’s condition won’t bear scars of abuse from these thieves of heritage. The-”’
‘But were there any suspects?’ I wanted to know, not letting her finish. The article would continue for two more pages still. I would read the entire thing myself later but preferred to know the end result now.
‘Well?’ I insisted impatiently, causing the platinum chain around my neck to jingle restlessly beneath my shirt. She must know, I thought. Knowing Mona, she’d probably read the whole thing twice over before showing it to me anyway.
‘Yes and no,’ she said with a grin.
‘Stop being elusive!’
She rolled her eyes but I could tell she was delighted by my curiousity. ’They never actually found the people responsible, so it’s still widely referred to as the perfect theft. No evidence or witnesses ever came to light – that we know of. However, it’s widely believed that the person or one of the people responsible had to be septonian.’
’Because the rest of Zophomore only knew of the sceptre’s existence on the day of the unveiling. Before that, it was only referred to as the ‘Mystery item’, which was not uncommon for the museum. In fact it would’ve been the 28th piece to be unveiled since the museum’s inauguration. But only a select few septonian organisations would’ve known the significance of this one.’
‘But the publicity surrounding the event would’ve clued people in about the importance of the new item,’ I reasoned.
‘Perhaps,’ Mona conceded. ‘But the security too would’ve been much tighter.’
I shrugged at her explanation. ‘In any case, whoever stole it sure made history,’ I mumbled as I continued to page over the various articles.
‘They did. And earned a hefty punishment because of it.’
‘Death?’ I automatically guessed.
‘No. Banishment. If the thief is ever found out, he or she and his entire family will be cast off from Septon. For a minimum of three generations they cannot legally step onto the planet.’
‘That’s rough,’ I murmured, barely paying attention to Mona as she rattled on about the slight variations in the articles, which ones we’d be referencing and for which sections in our paper. More than me, I knew she was musing aloud to herself. I was also wondering, internally but just as curiously frazzled all the same. Three generations was a minimum of a hundred and fifty years. Technically speaking, there was at least one native family in Septon still residing there illegally. Other curiosities started to plague my mind too: did the Atrollium’s Sceptre still exist? If so, where was it now? But most importantly, who and what had become of the septonian castaway?