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The Peophin Incident: Part One


by kyrinn

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"All right, Chaelian, you come in with me, and Kaerhas can stand guard by the door." The Peophin kept his voice low as he cautiously looked in through the window.

     Chaelian the green Xweetok grumbled. "Remind me again how we got suckered into this."

     "If I remember correctly, it was something like, 'Don't worry, I'm pretty good at Cheat. This'll only take five minutes...'" Kaerhas answered. The Bori's brown eyes stared accusingly at the Xweetok. Chaelian glared back.

     "No, it was more like, 'Hey, let's go visit the Neopian Bazaar, despite the fact that it's just nearing midnight and there are probably a whole bunch of shady characters that we most definitely don't want to run into hanging around the streets,'" Chaelian returned, mimicking his stepbrother's voice.

     "What? You and your dumb Griefer were the ones who got us into that game in the first place!"

     "Be quiet!" Teirryn's voice broke in on the whispered argument. The Peophin glowered irritably at his two companions. "You'll wake the whole valley. Now come on!"

     Chaelian swallowed the retort that he had been about to throw at Kaerhas and went to where Teirryn beckoned. The back door of the house swung open silently, a tribute to the Peophin's lock picking skills. The Xweetok stared into the dark, quiet house, suddenly nervous.

     "We shouldn't be breaking into someone's house; it's wrong," Chaelian whispered.

     "You don't have much of a choice in the matter anymore," Teirryn retorted. He gave Chaelian a gentle nudge.

     Sighing, Chaelian stepped into the house. What the Peophin said was true: the time when his choice mattered had passed. And to think that it had only been a day ago...

     * * *

     "Hey Chaelian, let's go visit the Neopian Bazaar!" Kaerhas bounced into the room, skidding to a stop two feet in front of his brother. The Xweetok looked at him incredulously.

     "Kaerhas... it's eleven forty-five right now. It's almost midnight. You can't be serious."

     "Why not?" Kaerhas asked cheerfully. "Come on, there are some things that I want to get."

     Despite Kaerhas' carefree and airy demeanor, Chaelian sensed something was wrong. He frowned. "Okay, what did you do this time?"

     The blue Bori's ears drooped slightly. "Um... nothing serious... that is, nothing that I'm sure you couldn't fix..."

     Chaelian's eyes narrowed. "And just what might that not serious thing be?"

     Kaerhas shuffled his claws. The jingly bell tied to his tail jingled. "Um, well, it's like this... I sort of, y'know... I was standing at the top of the stairs with Neji, and then he kinda... uh... ended up at the bottom."

     "You mean you dropped him." Chaelian's voice was cool.

     "Yeah, but he's not completely smashed," Kaerhas offered hopefully. "You can fix him, right?"

     Chaelian had not even stopped to listen to his brother, but headed straight for the stairs, where he found his robot Petpet in three pieces at the bottom. The Xweetok gently picked up the broken Griefer and sat down to examine him. Kaerhas peered in from the living room.

     "So you can fix him?" the Bori asked again. "You're such a good mechanic..."

     Chaelian ground his teeth together. "Yes, I can fix him if I had the necessary parts. Unfortunately, I don't, which is why we're going to have to go to the Neopian Bazaar right now. And before you start looking so happy-" Kaerhas had brightened at the chance to go outside at night. "You're going to be the one paying for my equipment, since this was your fault. And it's not going to be cheap."

     "Couldn't you just take some from the RoboPet Shop?" Kaerhas protested as he followed his brother to the door. Chaelian worked at the RoboPet Shop on the Virtupets Space Station. The Xweetok's job was to repair broken Petpets.

     "I could, but then we'd have to wait until Monday. And besides, this is your punishment." Chaelian carefully put Neji inside of a bag, then slung it over his shoulder. "Come on, let's go."

     Trailing behind his brother dejectedly, Kaerhas thought of the Bori Slingshot that he'd wanted to buy. Now he'd have to wait until next week. And by then, the prices would have probably gone up.

     "Hey, Kaerhas?" Chaelian whispered, bringing the Bori out of his reverie. Kaerhas looked up.

     "What is it?" the Bori whispered back. For some reason, he felt compelled to whisper.

     "This would be a pretty good place for an ambush, wouldn't it?"

     Kaerhas looked around. The two pets were in a dark alleyway. Everything was quiet; it didn't seem as if anyone was near.

     "Don't be ridiculous," Kaerhas answered. "You're just being paranoid."

     "No, seriously," the Xweetok protested, "It feels like someone's watching us-AAAGH!"

     No sooner had the words left his mouth then a dark shape swooped down on Chaelian, knocking him down, snatching his bag and disappearing down the alley.

     "Darn it!" Chaelian leaped to his feet and dashed off after the thief.

     "Hey! Wait!" Kaerhas followed his brother, his paws pounding on the asphalt.

     The pursuit continued on down the road. Buildings and trees whizzed past Kaerhas' eyes as he desperately tried to catch up with the faster Xweetok. The Bori almost thought he'd lost his brother when he saw the Xweetok sitting in front of a plain, unmarked door. Breathing hard, Kaerhas slowed down to a trot, stopping next to Chaelian.

     "He went in there?" Kaerhas asked, gesturing toward the door. Chaelian nodded.

     "I figured I'd wait until you caught up." The Xweetok didn't appear at all winded. "I'm not so dense that I'd walk straight into some unknown room."

     "Let me catch my breath first," Kaerhas replied. His breath came easier, but his heart still felt as though it was going to jump out of his throat. "So who was the thief?"

     Chaelian shrugged. "Either a Scorchio or a Shoyru. I didn't get close enough to see."

     "Okay, let's go." Kaerhas put his paw on the door handle and turned it. The door opened noiselessly.

     Chaelian braced himself for trouble as the door swung outward. However, neither a Shoyru nor a Scorchio came into view. Instead, the Xweetok saw a table, situated in the middle of a dimly lit room. Two figures sat around the edge of the tabletop, which was scattered with playing cards and Neopoints. His eyes adjusting to the light, Chaelian realized the two card players were a Shadow Wocky and a Tyrannian Peophin, both wearing tattered, dark cloaks. And right between them, sitting on the table, was Chaelian's bag.

     Chaelian prodded his brother, who responded with a nod. The Wocky was glaring at them suspiciously, but the Peophin, on the other hand, smiled in a friendly way at the two.

     "You two are welcome to join our game if you like." The Peophin gestured at the table. "We can't play Cheat with just two players."

     "Actually, we just came to get my bag back," Chaelian answered, hoping desperately to get out of this without too much trouble.

     The Shadow Wocky bared his teeth in a grin. "I don't see why I'd give it to you."

     "Oh yeah? I've got a good reason," Kaerhas answered. "How about you give us the bag, and I won't have to maul you with my Immense Rubber Axe of Doom."

     "You're welcome to try," the Wocky hissed.

     Kaerhas pulled out his Immense Rubber Axe of Doom, ready to carry out his threat. Preparing to throw the weapon, he suddenly found that it wasn't in his paw anymore. The Bori looked around wildly for his weapon. "What-"

     "Bad move, my friend," a voice whispered in his ear. Both Kaerhas and Chaelian started violently. The Tyrannian Peophin had somehow snuck up behind them and was now holding the Immense Rubber Axe of Doom.

     "You don't want to get this guy mad. Seriously," the Peophin added, handing Kaerhas back his weapon.

     Chaelian was starting to get seriously annoyed. "I don't care. I want my bag back even if it means getting that guy, and the whole of Neopia, mad at me," the Xweetok snapped.

     "How's this? We'll play a game. If one of you wins, you'll get your bag," the Peophin offered.

     Chaelian weighed the odds. "And what happens if we lose?"

     "We get to keep it." The Peophin looked imploringly at his companion. The Wocky's eyes gleamed in the semi-darkness.

     "Deal," the Wocky replied in his harsh voice.

     "Fine." Chaelian pulled up a chair and sat down in it. Kaerhas followed suit.

     "I suppose you both know how to play Cheat?" the Peophin inquired, dealing the cards. Chaelian and Kaerhas nodded.

     "Good, let's start. Two fives." The Peophin laid down two cards on the table.

     "One six." Kaerhas added his own card to his pile.

     The game continued. When not playing, Chaelian carefully observed his two opponents. The Peophin seemed an average player, perhaps at the same level of Kaerhas. The Wocky was of a different level. He was cunning and shrewd, and Chaelian had a hard time telling whether the Wocky was bluffing or telling the truth. However, slowly but surely, Chaelian gained the upper hand. The Xweetok could tell the Wocky was getting more and more irritated.

     "One ace." The Peophin set another card on the pile.

     Chaelian glanced at his brother. Kaerhas saw the single card in the Xweetok's hand. "Cheat," he called on the Peophin. The Bori flipped over the top card on the pile, revealing the ace of hearts. He picked up the pile.

     The Peophin realized what they were up to and smiled. Unfortunately, so did the Wocky. Chaelian laid down his last card.

     "One jack," the Xweetok said quietly. "I win."

     "Great!" Kaerhas said brightly. He took the bag. "I guess we'll be going now..."

     "Not so fast," the Wocky said coldly. "You helped him."

     "Well, there wasn't anything in the rules that said no helping other players..." Kaerhas and Chaelian slowly began edging towards the door.

     The Wocky suddenly leaped out at the two from behind the table, scattering the cards. Kaerhas yelped and jumped out of the way, just as the Wocky landed heavily right where he'd been standing a moment ago. Not pausing, the Wocky hurtled toward the Bori again, completely bowling over his opponent.

     Snarling, Kaerhas struggled to stand up. Chaelian leaped on top of the two combatants, causing Kaerhas to fall backwards again. Not paying attention to his brother's curse, Chaelian hit the Wocky heavily on the head with his left arm, which was a prosthetic limb and made of metal. The blow stunned the Wocky for a few moments, allowing Kaerhas to push him off. The Bori pulled out his Immense Rubber Axe of Doom again and threw it with all his might.

     Kaerhas hit the Wocky right between the ears. The Shadow Wocky slumped to the ground, unconscious. Kaerhas nodded.

     "That should keep him quiet for a while," the Bori muttered as Chaelian went to retrieve the bag that had gone flying across the room. His brother went over to look. "Is Neji okay?"

     "Can't get much worse, can he?" Chaelian grumbled. He hadn't forgotten that it was Kaerhas who had started all of this. Now all he wanted to do was to go home and go to sleep. Both he and Kaerhas turned to the Peophin, who was still sitting at the table. He had watched the fight admiringly, and was now smiling in a self-satisfied sort of way.

     "Well? Can we go, or do we need to hit you on the head too?" Chaelian asked crossly. The Peophin laughed.

     "Go ahead, I'm not stopping you. However, I wouldn't mind another game." He gave the two a roguish grin.

     Chaelian snorted. "I wouldn't play you for anything less than a Royal Paint Brush," the Xweetok snapped. He started toward the door where his brother was waiting.

     "Oh really?" The Peophin's voice called after them. "What about this?"

     Chaelian turned around, preparing to tell the Peophin that there was no way he'd spend another minute in this place. Instead, what he saw made his breath catch in his throat.

     "Is that a Book of Symbol?" In spite of himself, the Xweetok headed back to the table for a closer look.

     "It is, my friend, and this is what I'll be wagering if you and your brother agree to play me," the Peophin answered smoothly. "What do you say?"

     "Chaelian, come on!" Kaerhas followed his brother back to the table. "I wanna go home!"

     "Wait a minute," Chaelian whispered to the Bori. Kaerhas grumbled but conceded. Chaelian turned back to the Peophin. "And if you win?"

     "Then the two of you can accompany me on a little journey." Seeing Chaelian's frown, the Peophin added, "Nothing major, I assure you. Just a little jaunt to a friend's house. I'd prefer not to go alone, and the two of you seem to be pretty decent fighters."

     Kaerhas pulled Chaelian back a few steps. "Don't do it," the Bori cautioned. "Let's just go home. I don't like the idea of accompanying this guy anywhere."

     Chaelian hesitated. What Kaerhas said was true, but the Xweetok wanted that book. "Yeah, but that book is worth a lot. Don't worry, I'm pretty good at Cheat. This'll only take five minutes."

     Kaerhas sighed. "If you're sure..."

     "Trust me. If I get us all into some big mess, I'll drop the charges on you for breaking my Petpet. And I'll forgive you for setting the oven on fire last week."

     Chaelian returned to his seat. Kaerhas followed, although this game was against his better judgment. The Peophin collected all of the scattered cards. "I don't believe I've introduced myself. My name's Teirryn."

     "Nice to meet you," Chaelian replied. Next to him, Kaerhas muttered the same phrase. Neither of them offered their names.

     The Peophin smiled. "Let's play. And no more stunts like the one you pulled last time," he said to Kaerhas. "That would hardly be fair to me." Kaerhas nodded.

     "Three kings." The Bori played three cards. Chaelian made his own move after his brother, and then the Peophin.

     A few minutes into the game, Chaelian was already winning. He placed a card on top of the growing pile and waited for Teirryn to make his move. The Peophin hesitated ever so slightly, tapping his spiked tail against the floor lightly before laying down a card and saying, "One three."

     "Cheat," Chaelian called. He'd seen Teirryn tap his tail on the floor in the last game, and it was usually followed by the Wocky calling cheat on him. To the Xweetok's surprise, the Peophin smiled and turned over the top card. A three of spades lay face up on the table.

     "Nope." Teirryn pushed the pile over to Chaelian, who took it and added it to his hand. Kaerhas gave Chaelian a look.

     The game went on, and Chaelian's luck grew worse with each round. The Peophin began playing all sorts of mind games on the Xweetok: hesitating when he wasn't cheating, hesitating when he was cheating, calling cheat on Chaelian when the Xweetok was sure he'd given no indication of cheating. As a result, Chaelian became flustered and started making mistakes.

     I misjudged him, Chaelian thought. This guy's good!

     Kaerhas was thinking the same thing. It seemed certain that the Peophin would win.

     Kaerhas' thought proved true: Teirryn laid down his last card a few minutes later and smiled triumphantly at the brothers. Chaelian sighed, standing up.

     "You win."

     "Yes, I suppose I do." The Peophin's voice had taken on a hard edge, and a dangerous light glinted in his eyes. Chaelian shivered and backed away a few steps.

     "I guess we'll have to keep our part of the bargain?" Kaerhas asked meekly. The Bori moved to stand next to Chaelian. Teirryn fixed the two with his eyes, and suddenly, he appeared right behind them. Swiftly hitting the two pets on their heads with his hooves, the Peophin watched as Chaelian and Kaerhas slumped to the ground, unconscious. He smiled.

     "Yes, I suppose you shall."

To be continued...

 
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