The Gelert thief and several of his cloaked compatriots stood at the entrance to the cavern. "Any minute now," the Gelert said. "The Snowager will freeze that foolish Kougra and her daughter into a block of solid ice. Then once it falls asleep again, we sneak in, melt the ice, take the orb, and leave the bodies. No mess, no witnesses."
Another hooded figure in the crowd chimed in: "And once we have the Bringer's orb that we stole from him all those years ago, we thieves will once again have complete control over Terror Mountain." The figure took off his hood, revealing the head of a orange Kougra. "And with my wife gone, there will be no one to keep us from using it. I tried for years to convince her to bring it back to the guild, but she insisted on keeping it on Mystery Island for safekeeping. I wish I could have persuaded her instead of resorting to this, but..."
The Glert put a paw on the Kougra's shoulder. "It was necessary, Vilko. You know that the guild is more important than any one of its members."
"Yes, I know," said the Kougra. "I only wish my daughter hadn't gotten caught in the crossfire."
The assembled thieves gazed silently at the battle for a few moments. Kara and Kayla were just barely dodging the Snowager's icy blasts, but they were beginning to show signs of fatigue. It wouldn't be much longer.
"You know," the Gelert said suddenly, "your daughter doesn't need to share her mother's fate. There is another way..."
Kara was running as she had never run before, sobbing with exertion, trying desperately to avoid the Snowager's freezing breath. Her mother was clutching her paw tightly, dragging her along with her towards the cave's exit. In her crazed exhaustion, Kara suddenly tripped over a crag in the cave floor and tumbled to the ground. Kayla turned back and pulled her daughter to her feet. But this falter had cost them; the Snowager reared up and shot an icy beam straight at Kayla and Kara. Without thinking twice, Kayla shoved her daughter towards the cavern's entrance, letting the freezing breath hit herself instead.
"No!" Kara shouted, looking back at her mother, completely encased in ice. She scrambled to her feet and began running once more. But she knew it was useless. The Snowager inhaled once more, and began to fire another shot, one which would be unavoidable...
Suddenly, the beast froze in place. Kara looked at it in disbelief. Before she could figure out what had happened, she heard a voice calling from the other side of the cavern: "Kara, hurry! The petrification spell won't last long! There's another exit over here. Come, quickly!"
Kara began running towards the voice, but stopped to glance at her mother. "There's no time!" called the voice. Kara saw the Snowager slowly beginning to move again, and she knew the voice was right. "I'm sorry," she whispered to her mother, and she ran towards the voice and freedom.
When she reached the other side of the cavern, cloaked figures grabbed her paw and pulled her into a crack in the wall just as the Snowager reawakened with a loud roar. Kara looked around at those who had saved her, not recognizing a single face, until— "Father?"
The orange Kougra took his daughter in his arms and hugged her tightly. "Yes, Kara, it's me. You're safe now. Mister Chipper contacted the thieves' guild after you left his stand," Vilko lied, "and we were sent to come rescue you. I'm just sorry we didn't arrive until after your mother had already been frozen."
Kara sniffled and pushed her father away. "You lied to me. You and my mother both, I had no idea that you were thieves until today! How could you do that to me?"
The hooded Kougra shook his head. "I'm sorry, Kara. I'll explain everything later. But what's important now is the orb you're carrying— do you still have it?" His eyes glinted with greed.
Kara nodded and reached her paw into her pocket. She pulled out a dull, metallic sphere. "You mean the good luck charm Mother gave to me as a child? Why do you need that?"
"It's not just a good luck charm," Vilko said. "It's a powerful magical artifact. Your mother and I took it to Mystery Island for safekeeping—" He saw Kara's eyes narrow. "—Yes, another lie we told you, I know. But the point is that now the thieves' guild needs it. So what do you say? Will you join us?" He reached out his paw towards his daughter. "No more lies, Kara. If you join the guild, I'll tell you everything. We saw how brave you and your mother were while dodging the Snowager's breath, how long you two lasted. We could use a pet like you on our side. What do you say?"
Kara began to hand the orb towards her father, but hesitated. "No more lies?" she said.
"No more lies," Vilko confirmed, reaching further towards the orb.
Kara took a step backwards. "You said you watched me and my mother running from the Snowager. But just a minute ago, you said that by the time you arrived at the cavern, she was already frozen. Which is it?"
A look of panic shot across the orange Kougra's face. "Well, what I meant to say was that we arrived... you two were..."
Kara shoved the orb back in her pocket and began to back away from her father. "You let my mother die. You were using me this whole time, and you're still using me!"
The Gelert thief stepped forward and drew a dagger out of his sleeve. "I told you I'd give you a chance to bring her to our side, Vilko. But you failed. Looks like it's back to plan A." He held the dagger high and lunged at Kara.
Kara screamed, closed her eyes, and braced for the impact. But it didn't come. She opened her eyes to see her father scuffling on the ground with the Gelert, trying to wrest the knife away from him. "Run, Kara!" he shouted. "Get out of here!" Kara took one final look at her father, then turned away and ran.
"Mr. Chipper," a chubby Bruce child said, "will you tell me a story?"
The blue Lutari took the child's neopoints, handed him an ice cream cone from his cart, and smiled slightly. "Sure, kid. But a quick one; it's getting dark, and I have to close up soon."
The red Bruce jumped up and down in delight. "Will you tell me the one about the wandering Kougra of Terror Mountain?" He plopped down on a nearby bench and waited for the story.
A shadow fell over Mr. Chipper's face and he scowled. "That's just a legend, kid. Let me tell you another one."
The Bruce shook his head. "Nuh-uh, Mr. Chipper, it's true! My dad told me so! Here, I'll start it for you. 'Once upon a time, a mysterious young Kougra came to Terror Mountain from her home on Mystery Island. She tried to join the thieves' guild, but—'"
Mr. Chipper interrupted. "No, that's not right. The thieves' guild tried to recruit her, but she refused. She ran away and tried to hide from them, but she had something they wanted. So they chased her. She didn't want to go home to Mystery Island, because it was too full of memories of her parents. So she stayed on Terror Mountain, living in caves, moving to a new one every night, trying to stay one step ahead of the thieves. They're still searching for her to this day."
"Do you think they'll ever find her?" the Bruce asked between licks of his ice cream.
The Lutari shrugged and sat on the bench next to the child. "Maybe," he said. "But there's another Kougra. One who was expelled from the guild for aiding her."
"Why don't they team up?" the Bruce said. "They could help each other hide from the thieves!"
Mr. Chipper shook his head. "No, the second Kougra did something the first one could never forgive. She won't let him come near her. So he has to help from afar, knowing that the one he's helping will always hate him."
"That's a pretty sad story," the Bruce said, frowning.
Mr. Chipper sighed. "Yeah, kid. It is. Look, I've gotta close up now. You run on home now; your parents must be worried about you. Parents always worry about their children."
The Bruce nodded and scampered off. "Bye, Mr. Chipper!" he called over his shoulder. "Thanks for the story!"
The Lutari sighed again and turned back to his stand. He was surprised to see a handful of neopoints sitting on the counter. He looked around in confusion. Finally, his eyes fell on a cloaked figure standing in the distance eating one of his ice cream bars. The figure waved at him, then turned around, revealing a Kougra's tail peeking out from under the cloak.
Mr. Chipper shuddered. He hated when she did this. Reminding him that she hadn't forgiven him for his role in that day's events. But if you can say one thing about Kara, Mr. Chipper thought as he picked up the pile of neopoints she had left on his counter, it's that she isn't a thief.