Where there's a Weewoo, there's a way Circulation: 105,637,792 Issue: 210 | 30th day of Gathering, Y7
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Ummagine: Part One


by shadowcristal

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"Stop, thief!" one of the Elephante Guards cried loudly, lunging for a quick, agile shadow that got out of his chubby hands by only a few millimeters. The little thing ducked and rolled across the ground, willing to escape at any price.

     Stan made a few faces as he held the prize, an Ummagine, securely in his grasp. The Guard's face darkened, and he trumpeted something loudly. The Kyrii didn't stay to see what. By the looks of it, it was probably something bad.

     The thief skipped with ease, happily munching on his Ummagine. He choked a bit when he allowed himself to turn around to check the situation. Half-eaten, the purple fruit fell out of his hands as five large, robust Elephante Guards jumped on him. That good old Guard had devised way too many plans for one day...

     "Mggrff..." Stan groaned, as the Guards all grabbed his limbs and sat on him. Code of Thieves, Moral Lesson Number One: Never get caught.

     The humiliation roared in his ears, and in a moment of frenzy, the little Kyrii heaved the heavy Elephantes up to scurry away. He grinned as he heard them fall in a heap, tired and useless. It was a good remedy to his sore pride, though he had been caught way too often.

     "Get that little twerp!" he heard a Guard shrieking angrily.

     As for himself, there was nothing more he could do. Sighing wistfully, Stan stole a last look at the Sakhmet marketplace before he disappeared out of the streets, as fleet as a shadow. Moral Lesson Number Twenty-Seven: Too much commotion causes trouble. Disappear out of the place long enough for it to regain peace before reappearing.

     Wandering across the streets, the Kyrii's mind coldly calculated and analyzed. There was really nothing more he could do today, considering that this was his fifth unsuccessful Ummagine steal. Besides, he had caused enough ruckus for one day, and one more disturbance might land him in the dungeons of the Sakhmet Palace, somewhere he definitely did not want to be.

     With surprising speed for one not that small, Stan got out of the city. As usual, he had to double back a couple of times to avoid some of those pesky guards, but still, it was better than being caught. Once he stopped beside a well and filled his flask with water, in case he would get thirsty. As the wiry Kyrii gracefully exited the city, he heard his stomach grumble softly in protest.

     Where to get food... Stan wandered aimlessly around the few tents that had been set up outside. Some belonged to poorer merchants, not able to afford a housing in the city, lest their budget being broken. It was no challenge to steal from these, the Kyrii scoffed.

     Unlike some of those pesky street thieves, he had earned his keep. Stan loved challenges, especially intricate ones where the solution was something of a multi-dimensional puzzle. For that unhealthy little love of fancy things, he had been caught too often, and therefore rendered famous to the general Neopian public.

     It wasn't that bad, considering that some of those aspiring thieves would stop by and ask for an autograph. Stan scoffed at that thought, not noticing that he had passed further away from the city, or the fact that the sun was sinking, slowly dipping into an unusually beautiful silver-lined horizon. Why fame? Skills were all he needed to survive, and his daily ventures... well, unlike that fat guy Galem or what he was called, Stan held himself in top trim, never letting anything get to him.

     He had lead a rather lonely life, but in a way, it was a blessing. No siblings or other ties that could bind him, no obligations... no emotional weaknesses. To be a thief was to live, he had discovered the day he pocketed his first Ummagine. To live to steal, that was his motto. After all, stealing gave him a never-ending excitement, something to spice up the dull, boring days with, something of a challenge...

     But lately it had grown boring, and he had been neglecting his skills, Stan discovered with a scowl. Why else would he have been caught five times in the same day? Or maybe the Elephante Guards were actually getting smarter, though he wouldn't bet a million Ummagines on that. More like bad luck, the Kyrii decided, as his mind settled down.

     Now that that matter had been taken care of, he had to find a place to sleep... And hopefully some food. A loud rumble told Stan of his needs, and he frantically scanned around for something to eat.

     There was nothing but sand and a few tents... and a house! Houses were rarities in the Lost Desert, since most of the inhabitants were nomads who tended to move after their own whimsical desires. An excited feeling settled over the thief, as he carefully moved to the house with the greatest stealth he could summon.

     By the looks of it, he was rather far from the city. But maybe, if he tried hard, he'd get some food out of that house. Slowly tip-toeing closer, Stan noticed that there was also a yard attached to the house. He stole a peek, and gasped in delight.

     How ironic! To have been chased out of the city for stealing his favorite fruit, and then discovering this... this whole garden of Ummagines! With a quick twist and a jump, the Kyrii landed in the garden, his hunger overwhelming him. There was no time to check for guards, but surely there were none?

     "Please," he heard a small voice in the distance. "My Ummagines..."

     Twitching, Stan mentally reprimanded himself as he turned around to see who had spoken to him. Moral Lesson Number Twelve: Never get careless.

     The small Desert Aisha that stood in the doorway looked rather sad, but the piercing look she sent him was one of sorrow and remorse, not of anger. He could see that she had been beautiful, once upon a time, but she was that no longer. Her golden sun disk hung dully, and the veils were dirtied, probably not cleaned for a long time. The kohl and the paint had worn away with time... But she didn't seem old.

     The Kyrii made a quick decision. It'd be fair hard to get out of this, but if he could beg himself to a meal or something, for despite her solemn eyes and grave demeanor, she appeared to be a kind soul. He quickly pranced forward, gently taking a paw of hers.

     "What does a little jewel like you do around here?" Stan said jokingly, hoping to charm her.

     "I'm not a jewel," the Aisha said, removing her paw from his. "And you're a thief." Her eyes did not look at him accusingly, like so many others had done. They held a dullness that seemed drain everything of its curiosity and life.

     "All right," the Kyrii admitted. "I won't take your Ummagines, then." He suppressed the growl that his stomach was about to give, and awaited the judgment, also known as doom, to fall upon him.

     The Aisha was silent. Her face was like a smooth pond on a windless day, revealing nothing of her feelings. Stan felt her hand tremble, as if she was undergoing some important decision. He realized that despite her young appearance, fate had been no kinder to her than to him.

     Finally she uttered some words, her voice cold and devoid of all emotion. Her face was less blank, for it held a still sadness. "You can have the fully grown ones," the Aisha said quietly, "if you follow me home. All these in the garden are not ripe, and shouldn't be plucked."

     "Thank you, my graceful little lady," Stan said, following her obediently. He decided that it was best to play the charming part now, since she seemed to need some humor. As he entered the house, the Kyrii's mind had already moved onto unraveling the mystery as to why the Aisha looked so sad.

     The interior was quaint, and there really wasn't anything of worth to steal. Stan analyzed the rooms and found that there were as many exits as there usually were in an emergency. Nothing unusual. Only an air of mystery hung in the air, clung to the house with an iron-grip, reluctant to let go.

     The Aisha stopped in the kitchen, where she seemed to summon two Ummagines out of nowhere. A small paw, with delicate, intricate paintings that had faded a long time ago, offered him one of the juicy fruits.

     "I am forever grateful," Stan said, hoping that his overly dramatized act would inspire some laughter, or at least a giggle or two, like it usually did to the crowd he occasionally had when he wasn't busy stealing.

     She didn't laugh, nor did her vacant face expression change. Sadly she stared into the air, nibbling on her Ummagine. Not even a hint of a crinkle of joy showed around her eyes.

     Was he really that bad? The Kyrii didn't want to give up, but burned with fierce determination, as if he had encountered an extra hard puzzle. He was resolved to figure out why she didn't seem normal, and it was almost disturbingly annoying, that little prick in his heart...

     "Thank you," Stan said when he had finished. His stomach was no longer protesting, satisfied with its share of food.

     "You can have another," the Aisha said quietly, pointing to a bowl of Ummagines. Stan decided to enjoy the hospitality. After all, food was food, and he'd like to take all he got.

     "I'd like to know one thing," he said while munching, and saw her involuntarily shudder.

     "What?" she asked, keeping her voice calm.

     "Why... Why do you look..." he stopped, seeing the Aisha raise her paws defensively. Did he really want to push on, to know some terrible secret, if she held one? She had been kind, to invite him inside without any kind of trouble, but still...

     "It's nothing," she said in a strangled voice, throwing a worried glance at the window. The Kyrii took a look at the window too, but saw nothing other than the Ummagine garden his hostess owned.

     "It is something," Stan pressed, deciding that he was a bit bored for the evening. Besides... He saw the Aisha throw a glance at a connecting door, and quickly strode forward.

     "No!" she cried desperately, rushing forward. Years of training took over, and Stan nimbly dodged her attack as he let himself into the room. "It's... You can't!"

To be continued...

 
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