Everyone got home that night except for Heilley. At first
I wasn't all that concerned, but when we sat down to the supper table with an
empty chair, I began to be worried.
"Don't tell me the girl wonder is still out
playing Cheat!," MonoKeras remarked.
"Maybe," I replied. "I hope so. I'd hate to
think she had gotten into any sort of trouble."
Blchocobo looked up. "She probably decided to
have supper with Kootmufin."
I nodded at his suggestion. "Yeah, I guess you're
right. Still, she should have called. I'll have to have a little talk with her
Although I felt somewhat better, there was still
a nagging doubt in my mind. After supper, I called Meggiemufin.
"Hi, Meggiemufin. Is Heilley still over there?
I haven't seen her."
"Over here? No, she's not. She never showed
up at all this evening. Koot hasn't either. You mean they weren't staying with
Meg's voice rose with her tension and my own
throat tightened as well..
"No. I haven't heard anything from either of
them since Heilley left this morning."
"Well if we're lucky, they're together. Where
do you think we should start looking?"
"The only place I can think of is Spectre's
casino- that's where they both spend most of the day, it seems like."
"Right. Meet you there!"
"Hey, wait a minute!"
"I, uh... I know this sounds silly, but what
will you be wearing? I've only talked to you over the phone."
"Oh..." I could tell she was almost as embarrassed
as I was. "That's right, isn't it! I'll be wearing a baby-blue belly shirt,
jeans and sneakers. Okay?"
"Okay, see you there."
I hung up to find everyone staring at me.
MonoKeras spoke up first. "She's really gone
"Looks it. I'm heading down to the casino now
to see if anyone knows where she went."
"Okay. I'll come with you."
"Okay... and no, you two can't go!" Kallisari
and blchocobo sighed as I pre-empted their own offers. "I need someone to stay
here and wait for Heilley. If she does show up, tell her to go straight to her
room until I get back. She's going to have some explaining to do."
Kallisari blinked at my harsh tone. "Is she
"Probably. But better in trouble with me than
with someone else out there who doesn't care for her. Now come on, MonoKeras,
let's make tracks."
He had pulled on his trenchcoat. "Right behind
MonoKeras and I stood outside the doors to Spectre's Spectacular and watched
the crowd. I sighed. "I probably should have told Meggiemufin exactly where
we'd meet her."
"Don't worry too much," MonoKeras advised. "I
doubt either of you knew this place well enough to get that exact."
"A point," I conceded. "But how many girls could
there be here in a baby-blue belly shirt?"
"I think you might try that one over there."
MonoKeras pointed with one hoof. "Complete with worried look, I might add."
"I can understand that," I muttered to myself
as I wove through the crowd towards our potential friend.
She looked up. "Hey! Scriptfox, right?"
I grinned and let out a slight breath of relief.
"Right. Sorry we couldn't meet under happier circumstances."
Her pleasant expression was totally wiped out
by her worried frown. "Yeah. I just don't get it. Koot knows better than to
stay out late." She twisted nervous fingers into her hair.
"Uh huh..." I was momentarily distracted by
her hair as I mentally kicked myself for not asking about it. Girls in baby-blue
belly shirts might be relatively common, but adding knee-length pine green hair
to the description cuts down the odds considerably.
"Hey." MonoKeras tapped me on the shoulder.
"Are you going to introduce me, or do we at least get to go inside now?"
"Huh? Oops, sorry. Meggiemufin, this is my pet
She smiled almost shyly. "Hi, MonoKeras. I've
read a lot about you."
He winked. "All of it good, right?"
"Well..." she laughed helplessly.
I rolled my eyes. "Come on, you two, let's get
inside and see if we can find out anything."
Getting in was easy. It was after we got in
and I found myself inside the huge hall filled with a colourful and dazzling
array of games that I found myself at a loss. Meggiemufin held onto my arm with
much the same look in her eyes.
"Do either of you know how a place like this
I looked down at MonoKeras. "Not much," I admitted.
"Outside of giving Heilley her initial stake in here, I've not really messed
"Me either," Meggiemufin added.
MonoKeras shook his head and muttered something
under his breath about owners. "Okay, well come on, then. We want to see if
the girls left here safely."
"Well yeah but..." I shut up and followed MonoKeras
over to a kiosk window.
"Hey there, good looking!" the red Pteri behind
the window chirped to MonoKeras.
"Hey yourself, bright and cheerful," he replied.
"I'm looking for a couple of Kyrii. Names of Heilley and Kootmufin. I'm sure
you've seen them a few times."
The Pteri laughed. "All the time! I don't know
if those two miss a single weekday here! I'm afraid they've both left for the
evening, though, and some time ago, too."
MonoKeras gave her his best stare. "You're sure
"Oh yes. Heilley in particular cleaned up this
evening. She got out of here with over three thousand in winnings."
"And that was when?"
The Pteri frowned at a clock on the wall. "Hmm....
three hours ago? Something like that. Sorry, I can't tell you anything more
MonoKeras shrugged. "Thanks anyway, I appreciate
it. See you later."
"Any time! And next time, cash in and enjoy
a few games!"
MonoKeras laughed. "I'll do that!"
Meg stared at MonoKeras with a respectful look
in her eyes as he finished his questioning. "He really is an investigator, isn't
"Yeah." I was less impressed with Monokeras'
performance than I was with what he'd found out.
He rejoined us. "Come on, we might as well go.
Looks like they got out of here."
"I'm not sure I get it," Meggiemufin said as
we walked back out into the night. "What did that bird have to do with this?"
"She's the one in charge of cashing out the
chips," MonoKeras replied. "Whenever you play in there, you put down special
chips instead of real Neopoints. Then when you want to leave you have to come
to her to get your Neopoints. If she says both of the girls came there, then
we know they finished playing for the night and were leaving."
"Which leaves us the walk from here home to
hunt through," I concluded rather gloomily.
"Right. And with that much money on Heilley
at least, you could make a good case that someone might try to waylay them for
Meg bit her lip to keep it from quivering. "Then...
they could be anywhere!"
MonoKeras nodded. "Just about."
I suddenly stopped as an idea hit me. "Hey,
can't you use magic to find them?"
MonoKeras pulled thoughtfully at his lip. "Maybe.
It would be limited range and I'd need something from each of them... or from
whichever one you wanted me to track."
Meg's face lit up. "I've got a lock of Koot's
hair, how about that!"
She reached up and twiddled with a gold ornament
in her hair. I was puzzled at first until she pulled it off and part of her
hair came with it. Then I realised the slightly lighter green tint to that lock
was because it had come from her green Kyrii. She handed it to MonoKeras and
he looked at me expectantly.
"Well? Come on, out with it, I know it's there."
I gulped. "Okay." Reaching down into my pocket,
I avoided Meggiemufin's eyes as I pulled out the gold heart-shaped locket that
held a lock of Heilley's hair. "Here."
MonoKeras didn't say anything about it, thankfully.
He simply cradled both charms in his hooves and began singing. Or maybe it was
chanting that he did. Whatever it was, it raised the hairs on the back of my
neck and sent goosebumps across my back. A greenish glow surrounded the objects
before stretching out into the distance and fading away. We waited.
After several seconds of silence, nothing had
happened. MonoKeras just shook his head silently and handed us each back our
trinkets. I hadn't realised how much I'd been counting on it to work before
"Well," I sighed. "I guess it's off to the Chia
cops. At least we can file a missing pet report."
MonoKeras coughed slightly. "I wouldn't count
on that, if I were you. They don't let you file a report for at least twenty
"Do you have any other ideas?" I shot back.
He blinked and shook his head. "Okay, then, we try the cops."
It was something to do, but I might as well
have saved my effort. MonoKeras was sadly right. The cops refused to do anything,
and Meggiemufin and I left with nothing more helpful than a rather snide comment
about pets staying out too late all the time. We promised to let each other
know if we found out anything and then headed to our respective homes.
I got home to find out that Heilley hadn't shown
up. Although I didn't think I'd been expecting it, somehow hearing it confirmed
tightened the knot in my stomach just that much more. I lay on my bed that night
with sore eyes and a sorer heart, wishing I could cry and get it out. I had
three pets in the house, but I might as well have been all alone for all the
good that did me. Things were empty without everyone there.
I was up early the next morning, polling my
Neomail. MonoKeras wandered into the computer room to find me staring at the
monitor. He joined me and read over my shoulder what I'd already read five minutes
I am sure you have realised that your pet Heilley is missing. First, let me
assure you that she is alive and unharmed. Second, let me also inform you that
her continued safety rests solely upon your willingness to follow the instructions
you are about to read. Following them to the letter, and without delay, will
result in the return of your precious pet. Neglect or trickery of any kind will
end with your pet's remains turning up in a most unforgettable place.
Lest you think I have any personal grudge or desire for revenge, let me assure
you that my motive here is solely for money- and for lots of it. Your pet has
been of much trouble and cost to me, and I feel that the sum of One Million
Neopoints is not too much to ask to reimburse me. Accordingly, you are to leave
a bag containing One Million Neopoints behind Coltzan's Shrine at sunset today.
There you will find a pottery jug from Osiris' shop which will contain the location
of your pet.
Do not think to deceive me by leaving a fake sum, or by trying to get there
early. The location will not be there until it is time, and I will have time
to verify your honesty and take appropriate measures before you could ever reach
your pet. Remember: your obedience and the sum of One Million Neopoints will
return your Heilley to your household. Anything else will result in destruction."
I looked up to find MonoKeras staring at me
thoughtfully. "Well? What do you think?"
"I was just thinking about the last time I saw
someone reading a kidnap note. You're taking it a lot calmer than she did. Of
course, she was fake, too...."
I slammed my fist down on the computer desk
hard enough to rattle the keyboard. "Forget that!" I yelled in his face. "That's
your sister out there in the hands of some ruthless cut-throat! Now quit goofing
off and get real!"
MonoKeras gulped and backed away in a defensive
posture. And it was no wonder. He could count on the fingers of one hoof the
number of times he'd seen me lose my temper that way. "Okay, okay! First, call
Meg. You promised you'd let her know, and maybe she's gotten one too!"
I grabbed the extension beside the computer
and followed instructions. I found Meg in near hysterics. MonoKeras had been
right about her getting the same note. It took me a bit to get her calmed down,
but before long she'd agreed to come over so that MonoKeras could set us both
down to plan out strategy. Call it a council of war, if you will. I know that
at that moment, I was more than ready for a fight with whoever was out there.
To be continued...