...and the blue Acara stopped mid-sentence.
Haven quickly realized that he was exposed and sought refuge deeper in the brush.
Alas, the Acara's keen ears are not just for show.
The blue Acara instinctively turned her head toward where Haven lay. Hesitantly, still shivering, she pointed in his general direction.
The three Acaras slowly walked over toward the bush where Haven was hiding.
Haven decided then that it was time to run.
Getting up, he dashed away from the three apparent kidnappers, but his plump figure -- he wasn't as heavy as Weatherby, but still round enough -- didn't allow him to get far.
Very soon, the three Acaras (shortly joined by a fourth) had him surrounded, encroaching upon him.
"Please don't hurt me, you three!" Weatherby pleaded. "I have... people, that I know!" He was really grasping at loose straws by then.
The recently-arrived yellow Acara spoke first. "Look, sir," she started, "we know who you are."
"You do?" he asked in between his panting. My, was he unfit... it was the accursed Crumpetmonger, supplying him with free food because of the whole statue incident. Not that he didn't like free pastries and the like, but--
"Of course we do," the red Acara said, interrupting his line of thought.
"You're Mr. Haven. We read about you and saw your picture in Local Happenings," the green Acara continued, excitement spreading out about her cute face.
"You see, we want to offer you a... well, a task," concluded the red Acara, whom Haven then took to be the leader.
"What sort of task?" the Bruce inquired.
"Well... are you familiar with Priscilla Ashby?" the red Acara asked.
The Bruce smiled. "Why, I've just--" he then stopped himself from saying, "Why, I've just been hired to locate her," as he came to a realization -- these Neopets here must be her kidnappers! Frankly, he should have seen it earlier, based on their conversations from before.
Haven certainly could not reveal information that would make them suspect he was hunting Priscilla, or they might take him and demand some form of ransom from Ashby, the one who was paying him.
"I've just read about her in... a special edition of Local Happenings," he shakily concluded with a nervous smile. "Apparently... she's missing."
The four Acaras turned and huddled, speaking softly to each other. However, Haven -- whose ability to eavesdrop was another feature of his detective prowess -- picked up most of their conversation.
"Is this guy telling the truth?"
"Yeah, they've never run special editions of Local Happenings before."
"Well, Ashby is a powerful Aisha."
The four turned and faced Haven.
"Alright," the yellow one said. "So, you know about her. That's good -- how would you like to make some money?"
"Well, money's nice," Haven agreed with a slight chuckle.
"You see," the red one started, "we were the ones who attempted to kidnap Priscilla. Of course..." she paused for dramatic emphasis, "it failed miserably. That said, there is, undoubtedly, a reward for her safe return to the Ashby estate. We'll help you find her, and then you can collect the reward money, giving some to us!" She smiled mischievously.
"What if I refuse?"
"Then... I don't know, we'll kidnap you. Apparently, you have people."
A smile slowly came to Haven's face. He went out to shake the girls' hands. "I accept."
He had a feeling that everything would turn out alright in the end, and as a sleuth, sometimes you just have to go on those feelings...
Meanwhile, Priscilla and Weatherby wandered gleefully through the Woods.
Well, Priscilla seemed to take enjoyment in it, though Weatherby just followed alongside her, attempting to stay alive...
"Where did you say he went?" she asked him.
"I haven't the foggiest," Weatherby replied.
Priscilla laughed. "Oh, you are so funny, Usul," she responded. "You said he got lost within the fog earlier."
Priscilla paused. Haven did likewise. "Actually," she said, "around this time of year, the fog tends to drift..." she did some quick mental calculations, "...northeast. Based on the likely paths taken when entering the woods, there's only one place, then, where you could have encountered fog. Follow me," she declared and took off.
Weatherby did his best to keep up. My, he thought to himself, those free desserts Haven gets at the Crumpetmonger certainly do a number on me, as well.
"Where are we going?" Haven asked the four Acaras as they wandered in what seemed like an aimless manner through the dense forest.
"Well," the red one started, "I know quite a bit about the Ashby family, and Priscilla in general."
"If you know so much about her, than why'd she escape?" the green one inquired semi-sarcastically.
The red Acara ignored her. "Anyway, she ran into the woods, which has to mean that she knows where she's going. In no way would she risk getting lost."
"That makes sense," the yellow Acara agreed.
"Thank you," the red one said in response to the yellow Acara's comment. "So, where is she likely to be? Well, she could be anywhere, frankly, but I believe that she would -- just before nightfall, when she thinks it safe -- travel along the path that extends right beside the Ashby mansion. This would allow her to get home easily."
"Oh, I see," Haven responded with a smile, "we're going to go wait by the entrance to the woods most close to her home."
"Precisely," the red one said.
I should have thought of that, Haven pondered as they continued walking.
The pair were soon at the point Weatherby recognized as he and Haven's entry into the woods. Staring off to the side he noted the Ashby mansion, just its very top poking its head out from behind the dense brush. Fog rolled around listlessly.
"How did you know all of this?" Weatherby asked, his voice hardly above a whisper.
"I told you, I love exploring the woods," Priscilla responded. "Especially if father has banned me from doing it," she whispered to him with an affectionate giggle.
"I told you, I love exploring the woods," an unknown voice said from nearby.
"There!" the red Acara whispered to the group. "It's Priscilla! Now, you know what to do, Mr. Detective." She urged him forward.
"Alright," he announced.
"Keep quiet!" the blue one stressed in a low voice.
"Alright," Haven reiterated in a much softer tone.
"Alright," someone said from deeper in the forest.
"That sounded like Haven!" Weatherby said emphatically to Priscilla.
"Did it?" She wasn't quite sure what a Haven should sound like.
A puzzled look spread across the Usul's face. "Yes."
Shortly thereafter, Haven appeared.
"Oh, Haven," Weatherby said, running up to his friend and hugging him. "I was worried about you!"
Priscilla joined in, too. "Yes, Haven. I'm... not entirely sure who you are, but a friend of this Usul here is a friend of mine, I suppose." She smiled.
"Look," Haven whispered. "I met up with your kidnappers."
Priscilla looked shocked. "You did? Did they hurt you?"
"I thought you said they were mostly harmless?" Weatherby inquired.
Priscilla giggled at this rationalization of them. "Well, yes... to me," the Aisha said with a smile. "Regardless, what did they want?"
"They said they wanted a fraction of the reward money in exchange for my release and finding of you, and turning you in."
"Hmm... here," Priscilla said as she reached into her coat pocket and retrieved a single golden coin. "This should get them off your back."
Weatherby and Haven stared at the coin and laughed.
Shortly thereafter Haven returned to the Acaras, telling them that the exchange of Priscilla and the money was quick and effortless.
Content, the four walked away. However, the quartet started arguing over who would get to hold the coin not 20 feet into their journey through the woods.
Haven shook his head and laughed at them before returning to Priscilla and Haven.
"We found her in the woods," Haven announced as Mr. Ashby hugged his daughter vigorously.
"I told you, sweetie, the woods are a dangerous place. This I why I enforced your curfew and told you not to go there." He didn't sound angry... rather, his tone was very matter-of-fact.
"Look," Haven chimed in. He then explained the whole story.
Weatherby finished with, "She's a beautiful, courageous young lady, not a little girl. You can't be so restrictive."
Mr. Ashby thought about it. "I... I suppose you're right," he agreed, defeated. "Fine, Priscilla, I revoke my ban on letting you into the woods alone. I guess I can... also lessen your curfew."
"Thanks, father," she said with a smile, and the pair hugged again.
"As for you two," the Aisha started, turning toward Haven and Weatherby. "You, apparently, realized my daughter was missing before even I had. That takes skill." He smiled before continuing. "I want you two to be my family's private detectives from now on."
Visions flew before Haven's eyes as a bewildered excitement fell upon him.
"You will certainly be famous, here in Neovia and beyond. Plus I'll pay you a fair amount, including--"
"Deal!" Haven interrupted as he went to shake Mr. Ashby's hand.
"Terrific!" Ashby exclaimed. "I've been looking for a great sleuth for a while, now, and... well, for your next assignment, I wish you two to investigate where my Prigpants Summer Collection from Y12 has disappeared to."
Haven and Weatherby exchanged glances. They then smiled at each other.
This was going to be a most excellent life...