Chapter 1 - A Mystery Deepens
"Where is your father, young man? I SPECIFICALLY asked for your father's aid in this matter! Are your supervisors deaf as well as incompetent?"
Rovost hurried to keep up with the florid nobleman as he turned his back on the young man and strode down the long passageway. "He's currently away on an expedition to Kawrea Island and is not expected back for at least another three weeks. The deans of the university felt that I was best equipped to handle this situation."
"THREE WEEEKS?! By the shards of the first disc!" Duke Magnus roared, his arms raised imploringly to the heavens above. "Is this where my money goes? To support pleasure trips by academics with little more brains than wit?"
"Actually, your lordship, it was one of your funded expeditions that enabled Prof. Tarico to complete his research on the Phoenix," said Kertram, the Duke's attache, "and that has benefitted trainers throught the known continents. And his son's papers on the fabled beasts called Jills has been no less groundbreaking."
"Are you suggesting," Magnus began menacingly, "that some ridiculous quest to find some big-footed hairy snow-ape equates with the glorious tracts on the noble firebird?!"
"Now wait just one moment your lordship --" Rovost began, only to be waved into silence by Kertram. "If I may be so bold as to suggest to your lordship, the youth's fire and chosen areas of scholarship suggest that he may be more amenable into solving this matter, given its... peculiarities."
The Duke stopped at that, and wheeled around to look at Rovost. Rovost, for his part, felt as if he were being dissected by the Duke's gaze as if he were nothing but a loathsome ringworm that somehow had managed to learn to speak. "Hmmm," he said finally. "You do have *some* of your father's spark in you, boy. Maybe you will be more useful in this matter at that."
Gee, thanks, Rovost thought. What he said, however, was "It is a great honor to be of assistance to one of Torble University's greater patrons. The deans were not as forthcoming, however, when I asked about your difficulty, saying that you would prefer to tell me upon my arrival."
The Duke turned and threw open the doors to his personal antechamber. "Skullduggery, boy. A theft most foul. Midas is gone!"
Rovost started. The Duke's pet rare Gold Suezo -- missing?! How?
"Begging yur lordship's pardon," a dour faced elderly gentleman spoke from a chair by the window, "but we don't know that for certain."
"Perkins, the only thing you're certain of is that you know nothing and your men even less! What good are your precious Tigers if they won't even go near Midas' stable to sniff for clues?"
"Prof. Rovost, may I introduce Chief Constable Perkins of the Torble Port Police, and head assistant wrangler Bent." Kertram motioned towards the men by the window. The men shook hands. Rovost knew the grizzled Chief Constable by reputation only - a reputation that included being among the pioneers in training and using monsters in police work, notably Tigers and Suezos. Shawn Bent the younger, however, was an old friend and greeted him warmly.
"I'm glad they called you in for this, Rovost" the smallish but solid trainer laughed. "I was afraid I'd be the youngest man in the room."
"Still, Shawn, why isn't Master trainer Ian here? I'd have thought if the matter concerned one of the Duke's prize monsters, surely --"
Shawn's face darkened at the mention of his father. From behind him, Rovost could hear the Duke's muttered curses. Kertram, ever the diplomat, stepped in to retrieve the situation. "Perhaps, chief constable, if you were to show the good professor the scene of the crime..."
"Strange business this, strange business" Perkins said as the two walked towards the monster training area. "No ransom demand, no forced entry, nothing else taken from the premises - even the gold bars kept inside Midas' stable were left untouched."
"And it's not as if Midas were a small creature or hard to spot," Rovost continued. "Someone would've - um," he stopped short suddenly, as the sudden quiet enveloped him. "Has the Duke suspended training of his other monsters until Midas is found?"
The pair had made their way to the heart of the Duke's training complex. At any given time, the sounds of one or two monsters swimming in the pool, dragging weights, knocking over heavy weighted stones, or training in other fashions would reverbrate off the walls. Constable Perkins grimaced. "That's the other strange piece in this whole affair. Ever since Midas' disappearance, almost all the monsters refuse to come anywhere near the stable area. Some, such as the Duke's Lilith, had to be taken out on a stretcher. She was still catatonic when they arrived at the hospital."
"Aye - so were the other pixies, nereids, and Durahans. We practically had to drag Blackie to the entrance there, whining all the way, before he broke his leash. His trainer says it may be months before he's ready to go back out in the field."
This is getting more serious by the minute, Rovost thought. "Blackie" was the pride and joy of the constabulary: a trained Terror Dog which had taken down many rogue monsters twice its size and was rumored to have several outstanding contracts on him - all unfulfilled. He was unflappable, unstoppable, and unafraid of anything. "What could be so fearsome as to give Blackie pause?" he said aloud.
"Ask the Hell Heart," Perkins spat as he pointed in the direction of a particular stall. "It's on the way, and Carmine's the only monster who hasn't had to be moved."
"After I see Midas' stable. There must be some kind of clue --"
"Ah yes," the constable intoned. "Couldn't've put it better - 'some kind of clue'."