Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 131,950,016 Issue: 271 | 22nd day of Celebrating, Y8
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The Hoarders: Part Three

by ruff_zette


The Trial

Kannice was not used to being woken up early. Normally she would sleep until 9:00, at which point she would get up and go about her own business. But now she heard a voice whisper in her ear.

     "Rise and shine, princess..."

     The Kougra gave a yelp of alarm. She was lying on an uncomfortable surface, a thin blanket stretched over her. Where was she?

     "Ah, you're awake." A Hissi loomed over her, a satisfied smile playing across her face.

     "Sh-Shantiya?" Kannice blinked through the darkness. "What are you doing here?" She looked around, and then said, in a rather surprised tone, "What time is it?"

     "Time to get up," the other pet replied, already slithering down off the platform. "If you're going to live with us, you'll have to live like us, too. And Cane sent me to get you. It's time for you to start."

     "Start what? I don't really want to start anything other than breakfast. Or a morning nap." She padded down, running to keep up with Shantiya.

     "Nap?" The Hissi laughed. "We don't have time for naps. And you can't just have breakfast. You have to get it first. You obviously don't know much about our lifestyle, do you?"

     "Hey!" Kannice said indignantly. "I only got here last night. How am I supposed to know about your lifestyle yet?" There was no answer, so she just followed the Hissi out into the rest of the house.

     It wasn't much brighter, but it was a lot louder. The Hoarders were everywhere. Fighting, playing, talking, with no effort to hush their voices. Cane came bounding over to the two newly arrived pets. "Good," he said immediately in short, harsh tones. "Now that you're up, we can go." He turned and started trotting away towards an elevated pile of crumpled wall.

     "Hang on!" The Kougra ran after him. "Where, exactly, are we going?"

     "Exactly? I can't answer that," he replied with a sly smile. He leapt up onto the little podium and turned to the other pets. "Hey! You lot, shut up! We're ready to head off!" He started yelling names, and Kannice watched pets break away from the group, and head out of the house. Finally, after announcing that Nariah, Flarren and Coji were to be working together, the newcomer heard her own name announced. "Kannice! You'll come with me."

     As soon as she stepped outside, Kannice wished she hadn't. Rain was still bucketing down, and the sky was grey and gloomy. She wished she had been one of the pets that had been left behind in the house.

     "Cane?" She followed him out onto the street, but he didn't seem to pay her any attention. "Cane!"

     The Lupe turned and looked at her.

     "I was just curious, who were you working with when you found me? I mean, did you get separated from your group, or did they run when they saw me or something? Was it Coji and Flarren?"

     "No. I work alone."

     Kannice paused and ran this information through her head for a moment. "But... If you work alone, then why are you taking me with you?"

     This time, it was Cane's turn to hesitate. He actually stopped walking and his companion almost ran into him. But then he continued as if nothing had happened, and never seemed to get around to answering the question.

     He actually didn't speak at all as they walked. Kannice could see that he was thinking, but about what, she wasn't sure. She didn't even know where they were going. It felt much as it had the night before. Her silent guardian leading her to an unknown place.

     They reached the main street. The Kougra was surprised to see that the shops were actually open - she'd always imagined that the world slept in the same pattern as she did. They sat on the wide stone steps outside the bank. She heard the Food Shop's bell chiming as someone walked in, and felt a tug at her insides. "Cane..." She considered her words carefully, not wanting to insult him, for fear of being forced back into the streets. "Are we going to rob the shop?"

     Cane laughed. It wasn't bitter, though. It was more a soft laugh, and for a brief second, Kannice saw a handsome, joyful Lupe, spending time with someone special, life dancing in his eyes. It disappeared as quickly as it came, though, and Kannice wondered if it had ever been there at all. "No, shops are large-scale. We always start with something smaller."

     Kannice looked around through the dimly-lit street. There were very few people around, and suspicions began to rise up inside her. "What time is it?"

     Cane shrugged. "We left at about five..."

     "Five?!" The Kougra stared in horror for a minute, then burst into tears. "I'm not supposed to be here! I'm supposed to be at home, in bed! This isn't my life, I don't deserve this!"

     Suddenly something hit her in the back of the head. Hard. She sat stunned, not a bone or muscle in her body moving. Even her tears had stopped falling.

     Cane was scowling at her, his face set hard and angry. "You're here, you're alive, this is your life now! And if you don't stop being such a spoilt brat and start accepting that this is your fate, it won't last much longer."

     Kannice nodded, dumbstruck.

     Cane nodded too, but in an aggressive, forceful way. "Now, you're still clean enough to look trustworthy, so you can definitely do the first step."

     The Kougra frowned slightly, brushing the tears off her cheeks. "The first step? Clean enough? What are you talking about?"

     Her companion smiled his crooked smile. "When the street starts filling up, you're going to run into someone - someone carrying a large number of shopping bags - so they drop them. Apologize, then I come over to help pick them up. I look less trustworthy, so I'll be the focus of their attention. You slide one of the bags over to your feet, and they won't even notice. We help them pick up their bags, then both walk off in different directions, with you carrying a bag, which they'll assume you already had. Job done."

     Kannice could almost feel her jaw brushing on the ground. "I'm going to... rob someone? Oh my gosh! I can't... How do you even know all that? Can you, like, read minds or something?"

     Cane shook his head. "I've been doing this for a long time. I'm a lot more street-smart than you. I understand how a person thinks, and how they see us. You're the clean, preppy-looking one. I'm the rough, feral one."

     They wandered the street, and Cane explained things carefully to Kannice. He showed her the best place to rob someone, the most common meeting places, and pointed out which people and pets were easy targets, and which ones were best avoided. The Kougra had never seen the world like that before.

     Gradually the street began to get busier. What had started as two or three random people was growing into a more normal-looking street. Kannice watched as a very easy target strolled past, and found herself almost anxious to put their plan into action. She tried to distract herself by asking Cane the time.

     "Maybe eight. Give it maybe another hour."

     Kannice was - for not the first time, or the last - shocked. They had been there for hours, but the time had moved so quickly that she had not even noticed. She had been too busy watching the world through new eyes.

     She watched the crowd shuffling past, and suddenly, something caught her attention. Treal was walking amongst the crowd, alongside a pet she recognised, but didn't know the name of. She tapped Cane on the shoulder. "Where are they going? Will they walk near us?"

     "They're going to the Money Tree. They won't come near us, and if they do, they won't acknowledge us." He turned and threw a sharp look at Kannice. "And you won't acknowledge them either. We don't want people to realise that we're in a group, you understand?"

     Kannice nodded once again, feeling it was safest to agree with him. She waited silently, watching the crowd grow steadily larger. Finally she brought herself to look at Cane. He nodded and leapt down the stairs in a single bound. He vanished into the mass of Neopians, and left Kannice feeling lost and alone. She didn't even know who she was supposed to bump into.

     She closed her eyes. If they were too trusting, they wouldn't turn to watch Cane. If they weren't trusting enough, they wouldn't let either pet near them. She opened her eyes, and saw, maybe 20 metres away, a stressed looking girl picking her way through the busy street, a massive pile of bags clutched in her arms. Three young and disobedient pets were running around her, tugging at her clothes, grabbing at her arms.

     Kannice took a deep breath, then ran down the steps and plunged into the crowd.

     * * * * *

     She tried to build up some speed, so her target wouldn't notice that she wasn't already carrying a bag. But it was difficult, due to so many people standing so close behind her. Her paws were trodden on many times, and she was limping within just minutes.

     The girl was closer now, and Kannice began to stress that she wouldn't be able to get to a good speed in time. She didn't even know where Cane was. If only she wasn't so small...

     Small. She wondered why she hadn't thought of it before. She got down to a crouch, and squirmed her way through the crowded street. She was not the fittest of pets, but she had more space to move when she was so low to the crowd. Feet and paws and claws and ankles surrounded her, and she watched them carefully, trying to decide which ones were her target.

     About five metres away, a pair of feet walked slowly in tight, bound steps, with a random collection of other feet bouncing around them. Kannice tensed every muscle in her body. For a split second she longed to be home, just crawling out of bed, but she pushed the thought aside and propelled herself forward.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» The Hoarders: Part One
» The Hoarders: Part Two
» The Hoarders: Part Four

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