It was dawn. The day was young, and most Neopians were sitting up in their beds, stretching, eating breakfast, preparing for the day. A few select early birds flitted around the Altador Town Square, looking for things to purchase. Among those - or hiding among those - were two shadow Aishas, wearing golden collars and carrying worn sacks over their backs. Perhaps they were shopping bags, so as to not waste any part of the environment throwing away old plastic bags. No one gave those bags a second look. Just how the Aishas wanted it.
"Where should we hit first, Kysrelda?" murmured a small, timid voice. He was a large figure, tall and with disheveled fur.
The other, more petite and feminine, shook her head angrily. "Shush! Seriously, Inkling, have you no sense whatsoever?"
Inkling shrugged. "Of course I have sense! I just want to get in before the shops are busy. We'll have more chance of being noticed if the shops are busy."
Kysrelda whipped him gently with her bag. "If we went now, the shop owner would notice US, fool! At least when the shops are busy, we can camouflage and remain hidden."
"But I'm claustrophobic!" whined Inkling. "I want my own elbow space!"
"Deal, you fool. Sheesh, if you weren't Gilmore's son, you wouldn't even be part of our guild!" exclaimed Kysrelda. Gilmore had been a proud Aisha thief, painted shadow just like the rest of them. He was known as Stickyhands to the guild for his natural talent at snatching items. Inkling shared no trait of his father's; he was useless at stealing. Kysrelda had been chosen to be a sort of mentor for Inkling; she was one of the more notorious of the gang, and skilled at stealing; however, most of the town knew she was at large.
Inkling sighed and shook his head. The neopets had grown more abundant in Town Square. "Can we go now? I'd really like to get home..."
Kysrelda rolled her eyes and nodded. She stood tall and walked at the same pace as the other Neopians, striving to remain unnoticed. Next to her, Stickyhands' son was shaking and dripping with sweat. "How are you not going to be found if you keep on acting guilty like that?" she asked him. He shrugged, blinked, and they continued.
Finally the shadow Aisha pushed open the door to Magical Marvels. Inkling trembled with uncertainty; he had been along on many raids, but had never stolen anything before. Now he would be forced to.
"Don't dawdle, and make a fast but valuable selection!" Kysrelda hissed, as her eyes scanned over the weapons. Suddenly her paw darted out and wrapped itself around a laced wooden staff. The shopkeeper walked over.
"That will be 60,051 neopoints, unless you're willing to haggle," the shopkeeper demanded. Kysrelda nodded and thrust a fist into her sack, pretending to feel for neopoints. Meanwhile, Inkling meekly took a sun ring.
"Haggle this, fool!" yelled Kysrelda, and she threw the sack over the shopkeeper's head. Then she broke into a run. Panicked, Inkling followed her, clutching his sun ring tightly to his chest. Kysrelda nodded at his selection, although it was a poor little thing, in bad condition. They burst through the doors as the shopkeeper scribbled a quick neomail to the Defenders of Neopia. "Run, Inkling!"
Inkling nodded, feeling downright horrible, and darted to a nearby bush, ducking beneath the foliage. His blue eyes peeked out at his mentor as she darted away from the angry citizens and leapt down a cliff. He blinked sorrowfully, sure that she was injured and would be caught. The citizens stopped following her and muttered amongst themselves angrily.
Inkling put on the sun ring and walked out of the bush, casually, trying to blend in with the crowd while his nerves jumped up and down in his stomach, never giving him a moment's rest. No one gave him a second look, but he felt as though every eye in the Altadorian square was turned on the Aisha thief.
He solemnly deserted the brick pathway and headed into the grass, looking down at the cliff. He saw no one. Kysrelda had gotten away. He smiled to himself and slid down the side of the cliff, his claws unsheathed and slicing the dirt rapidly. His black paws connected with the bottom and he looked around. She was nowhere to be found, and neither were the other members of the Thieves Guild.
Inkling swallowed nervously and lowered to four paws, twisting his head around, trying to find someone. A whispered, "Over here!" made him notice a waving shadow Aisha paw. He scurried over.
Kysrelda sat there. "Good job getting away, but you could've made a better choice," she muttered, looking at the ring with disdain. "I'm sure that won't fetch much at all in the marketplace."
Inkling shrugged. "You started running, and I had to get out of the scene as fast as I could, so I grabbed, um, whatever I could."
Kysrelda nodded. "Fair enough. By the way, we are not meeting the Thieves Guild tonight. We sleep under the harbor, and in the morning we'll raid once again. Then we move to the marketplace, sell, eat fresh soup, and find the Thieves Guild over in Meridell."
"Thanks for tellin' me," Inkling murmured. He cast a long look at the wooden dock nearby. Small ships carrying neopets stopped there, and the neopets jumped off. "Are you sure we shouldn't go somewhere a little less active?"
The Aisha snorted. "Positive." She raced over to the sea, jumped in with a mighty cannonball, and disappeared underwater, bubbles popping up on the surface. Panicked, Inkling followed and leapt in the ocean, following his mentor.
He opened his eyes and resisted slamming them shut again; water was in his eyes, and it made them sting. He looked around for his mentor, and couldn't see her. Kysrelda could not be found. He pulled his head out of the water, red-eyed and panting.
Kysrelda sat calmly on a block of wood underneath the dock. "You're always cowardly," she muttered reproachfully. "That isn't a good trait for a thief."
Under the skin Inkling burned with anger and retorts that were just begging to get out, but he held both back. Instead, he crawled onto another block of wood and fell asleep almost immediately.
In the morning, Inkling woke up to a bright sun and recoiled, his eyes half-shutting. Kysrelda nudged him. "Get up, Weakling," she demanded.
Inkling scrambled to his paws and put on the sun ring. "Um, sure." He groped for a sack and found one. Kysrelda was already prepared, as usual.
They ascended the cliff quite easily; Aishas were skilled climbers. Inkling pulled himself up first, and took a deep breath when he noticed the crowd. "Keep moving, Weakling!" ordered Kysrelda angrily. He hauled himself to the top and looked at the square with anxiety. Surely it was much too soon for another raid? Half the town would be abuzz with the news of a stolen item, and they would have no cover. He breathed not a word to Kysrelda, though, for fear that she would instantly contradict him.
"We hit Exquisite Ambrosia today," Kysrelda hissed in his ear. "I could do with a bite of fresh food."
Something stirred in Inkling, and he squeezed his eyes shut, sweat trickling down his face. "O-okay..." he stuttered, fearful.
Kysrelda narrowed her eyes and slunk through the crowd. Inkling sighed and followed her as she pushed open the doors to the store.
"One... erm... Altador Omelette, please," begged a small voice. A tall omelette was handed to a baby Lupe. "Thank you!"
Kysrelda quickly snatched a Doric Soup. Inkling started to grab a cheesy potato tower, but he stopped, all of a sudden, when he saw the shopkeeper's horrified expression. "No, I won't do it!" he yelled all of a sudden. Kysrelda gasped and broke into a run. Inkling put the tower back and walked calmly outside. His thief days were over, and it felt as though a large load had been lifted off of his chest. He would never see the Thieves Guild again, not Kysrelda, nor Stickyhands, nor any of the others.
Kysrelda was being pursued by angry neopets. Suddenly Judge Hog swooped down and arrested the Aisha, who pleaded for mercy. Coward, thought Inkling, and he managed a smile.
He knew he had made the right choice. He had not gone along with the stealing, even if he had been born purely to steal. A neopet was not a coward for refusing to do what he knew was wrong; he was a coward for not standing up for himself, nor what he believed in. And, after thirteen years, Stickyhands' son had done just that. Inkling had finally received his freedom, and he wasn't planning to waste it.