Lani and the Beast: Part Three
For the rest of the week, Lani tried not to think about the disappearing mint. Jean, who was forever fond of being random, had given Lani a “happy today” gift of a new bookshelf and a new set of books on gardening and plants, including a detailed guide to Mystery Island plants, a guide to soil (“You,” Jean had said, “are the first Neopian I have ever seen who was partial about her dirt.” To which Lani replied, “I never use dirt, only topsoil.”), and a book of practical uses for common garden plants. The last book was Lani’s favorite. It had a section on perfumes and aromas, which focused on ginger, roses, and mint.
This gave Lani a wonderful idea. She abandoned the mint patch and relocated all of her mint plants to a small flowerbed by her windowsill. It was a very soothing idea, because the plants perfumed her whole room with their cool smell.
Not all of Lani’s problems could be solved quite as easily. She was still nervous in the garden, especially at night. Jean interpreted this to mean that Lani was just extra fussy with her plants, and was settling in well. It made Lani happy to see her owner overjoyed that they had found the perfect home, so she didn’t say anything when even more strange things started to happen in the garden.
Lani kept the garden in perfect order, and she did the same for her tools. She was a benevolent queen in almost every way, but when evening came and it was time to put away the spade and shovel, she became a warrior queen. At the end of the day, the hose was always coiled neatly by the door, and all of her gardening tools– two shovels, a small spade, a rake, hoe, gloves, watering can, an old, rusty pail, and twelve large ceramic pots were all lined up against the wall, like King Altador’s soldiers waiting for inspection. Jean hadn’t saved up enough to build a shed yet, but the tools hadn’t suffered from this loss at all, and that was thanks to Queen Lani.
King Altador would have felt bad for the poor garden brigade. Queen Lani stared them up and down until if they really were soldiers, they would have shuffled from one foot to the other uncomfortably. If their queen found even the tiniest speck of dirt (after they had been digging in the dirt all day), it was back to the scrubbing bin with them. If they were damp, they would be toweled dry immediately. If they betrayed the slightest sign of rust, Lani would polish them back up. (The exception was the old rusty pail that Lani had found half buried in one of the flower beds. The poor little pail was rusted all over, so Lani spent her energy keeping it from turning into dust.)
When seven of the twelve pots disappeared, Lani noticed immediately. Jean hadn’t touched them, and Lani knew that she couldn’t blame Minnie. It was impossible that the little feepit could have carried off even one of the pots, which were three times her size. Over the next few days, more things started to disappear. The old pail went missing, and though she couldn’t prove it, Lani thought that there seemed to be fewer water lilies in the pond. Though things disappearing unsettled Lani, she would have put up with them vanishing and made up some excuse– a mistake on her part or the strong island winds– to explain the disappearances, but one morning something happened that she couldn’t overlook.
“Jean! Jean!” Lani rushed out to meet her owner, who was bringing in an armful of groceries. “The Primellas are gone! And the Tanizards are gone, too! They just disappeared, like overnight!”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down there.” Jean put down the groceries immediately and picked up the young Xweetok. “What do you mean, ‘they’re gone’?”
“They’re gone!” gasped Lani. “They aren’t in the pond any more! I– I went to feed them this morning, and they weren’t there! They aren’t there!”
“Sweetie, slow down.” Jean rubbed Lani’s head soothingly. “Let’s go have another look, okay? Maybe they’re hiding.”
“They’re not hiding,” Lani pouted. “I checked carefully. They’re gone...” Jean’s thorough investigation proved that Lani was right; the Tanizards and Primellas had vanished. After crossing out the options of migration (how would the petpets migrate over land?) and misplacement (neither of them had ever removed the pond’s inhabitants), Jean decided that it was time to call in a professional. Ten minutes later, an urgent neomail arrived at the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters. Blackwing and Lightning Lenny were sent down to Mystery Island to investigate.
“And they just weren’t there?” Blackwing, the Wocky Defender paced around the pond.
“Yeah,” said Lani, ducking her head to stare at the empty pool of water on the other side. “Just gone.”
“And you didn’t hear anything odd during the night? Did anything out of the ordinary happen last night at all?”
“N-no, but, um...”
“But? Was there anything at all?”
“Well, not last night, but a lot of other stuff went missing before that.”
“Stuff? What exactly went missing?”
“Some big flowerpots and my old rusty pail. And maybe some water lilies, but I’m not sure.”
“You ought to have notified us right away.”
“I’m sorry; I d-didn’t think that it was anything. I just sort of hoped that I had misplaced them somehow.” Blackwing stopped pacing and glanced at Lani across the pond.
“From what I’ve seen of this house, you don’t seem like the kind of young lady who would misplace things.” Lani nodded mutely and tried to swallow her tears of stress and worry. Blackwing, noticing her discomfort, walked over and placed a gentle paw on her shoulder. “Maybe the disappearing things can help us track the thief now. Can you remember exactly what was missing?”
“Seven of a set of twelve ceramic planters that Jean bought from the garden shop, an old pail that I found abandoned in the garden, and I don’t know how many water lilies went missing. Probably about ten.”
Blackwing raised an eyebrow. “You remembered all of that stuff?”
“Yes, sir.” Lani wiped her eyes. “I keep track of my garden.”
“Well, we’ll do our best. Petpet theft is a very serious crime. We can see what was done, and maybe even how, and when is obvious, but there aren’t any clues as to who. Can you think of anyone who would want to steal your petpets?”
“No. We don’t know anyone, though. Lani and I just moved here.”
“Well, Miss, I’m really sorry to say that there isn’t much that we can do right now. We searched the area, but there’s nothing. We’ll ask the Trading Post to keep an eye out for your petpets; I’ll even stop by the Rock Pool right now and ask them to be on the lookout. And if anything else happens, please tell us right away. We’ll be down in a flash.”
“We will. It’s quite spooky losing them all like that. And thank you for coming down here so quickly.”
“Well, I’m Lightning Lenny for a reason.” Lightning Lenny flashed Jean a smile. “And like I said, Miss, we’ll let you two know as soon as we find anything.” Lani sighed and turned away from the cobble path, where Lightning Lenny and Jean were still talking about the petpets in the front yard. Lani hoped that the poor petpets weren’t as scared as she was. Just thinking about the Tanizards and Primellas made her sick to her stomach with worry. She silently wished Lightning Lenny luck as he sped off to the Rock Pool, and hoped that his fastest was fast enough to save her petpets.
“Excuse me, Lani?” Blackwing tapped Lani’s shoulder so suddenly that she squeaked in alarm. “Oh, sorry.” The Defender drew his paw back quickly.
“No, I’m sorry, I’m just sort of... um...” Lani blushed in embarrassment. “Anxious and startled.” She glanced back to where Jean was standing. Her owner was coughing on the dust cloud that Lightning Lenny’s departure had stirred up. “Aren’t you going with Lightning Lenny?”
The Wocky snorted and paced back around the house, back towards the rear garden and pond.
“Lightning’s enthusiastic, but he’s young and rash. He ALWAYS races off without considering everything.” The Defender motioned for Lani to follow him. “I’d like to see the remaining pots. Can you show them to me?”
Minutes later, Blackwing and Lani were both crouching over the rest of the planters. The Defender was rolling one of he planters back and forth, thrashing his tail.
“Is something wrong?” Lani barely whispered her question. The defender was obviously thinking deeply about something.
“No holes,” he muttered after a long period of silence. “The pots don’t have holes in them at the bottom.” He rolled the planter over again. “They can hold water. And a pail to carry the water, too...” Lani stared at him, realizing what he was indicating with a start.
“And water lilies for the water, because Presselias love water lilies,” Blackwing nodded slowly.
“You’re quick, aren’t you? Yes, water lilies for small, pot-sized ponds.”
“We should tell Lightning Lenny! Maybe the thief is going to sell them in the pots.” Lani leapt up, but the Wocky shook his head.
“The planters are big and too heavy to move all the way to the Trading Post of Rock Pool– or anywhere very far from here, especially when they’re full of water.” He glared into the jungle behind the garden. It loomed over them, casting a shadow which darkened and lengthened as the sun set further. It was getting late.
“Then should we search the jungle?” Lani’s eyes widened and she tried her best not to notice how the shadows were creeping through the garden, lapping at the pool with forked tongs. Blackwing shook his head again; no.
“I’ll search the jungle tomorrow. It’s going to be too late to see anything soon. And, I want to make this clear Lani, I’m going to search it alone. The jungle can be dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” The Wocky sighed.
“I don’t want to frighten you, but it can be. Natives. Venomous petpets. More natives. Nothing will come near your house, but the jungle out there is their land; their home.” Before Lani could protest (though part of her would rather stay safe at home, her precious petpets were on the line), he was walking back towards the front yard, doubtlessly headed back to the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters. “Don’t worry,” he called over his shoulder. “You’ll be alright. Those planters are too heavy to move. The petpets aren’t going anywhere, and as long as you don’t go on a midnight safari, you’ll be safe, too.”
To be continued...