Irregular Bane: Part Six
Bane pressed himself against the icy wall of The Lair, watching the Gallery Keeper as she watched him.
"What are you waiting for? Come and get the little Plushie."
Bane chuckled. "I plan to."
She smirked, showing long teeth in a ghoulish grin. "What's the matter, Cybunny? Not so brave and daring when I'm awake, eh?"
"Discretion is the better part of valor," the thief/shopkeeper quipped.
Lexy snorted. "That line only works when you're not a coward."
"I'm here, aren't I? I don't think challenging a Ghost Draik is cowardly."
"Physical bravery is very different from moral courage. I mean about your becoming a shopkeeper to run from your thieving past."
The Darigan Neopet froze. "How.... how did you know?"
Lexy shrugged insubstantial Ghost-shoulders. "You have skills. It's not very hard to figure out." Her tone softened, and became more conversational. "It must have been pretty bad, am I right?"
Bane sighed and slumped onto the icy ground. "Yeah. I lost... everything. My friends, the small amount of money I had made... I've got nothing but the clothes on my back. Saosis even took my weapon."
"It must be so hard adjusting," the Draik soothed.
"It is! You know, I've become the very thing I always mocked and stole from! Everything has changed! It's so different! I just wish-"
A sudden blast of icy shards bowled the Cybunny over and sent him flying across the Lair. Lexy was wielding an Ice Scimitar with deadly precision. "Well, boo hoo! Adjust. You can't go back now, and you're wasting time puttering around and whining. Now, get out of my Gallery and stop feeling sorry for yourself!"
The shock of cold and the all-too familiar sting of an Ice Scimitar had Bane frozen in place for a moment, then his Cybunny instincts kicked in and he took out of the Gallery like all the evil creatures of Neopia were after him. In truth, though, there was only one.
At that time the next week, Bane was slipping through the dark jungle around Geraptiku, still hunting for that valuable Mimbi. It can't hide forever.
He sniffed the air warily, catching a faint flicker of the strong scent from the last hunt. That Pteri's back, too. Hmm. I better keep an eye out.
The only evidence of the hot midday sun glaring down on Mystery Island were the shifting shadows in the chilly dark forest. Bane was grateful for the coolness- his dark fur made him get hot very easily, especially his forearms under the metal gloves that gave little muffled clinks as he tripped on a raised root, leaving him vulnerable. And as a sudden wave of rotting feather stench hit him, so did the blunt end of a Bone Scepter.
Pain exploded in the Cybunny's side, and he scrabbled around in the undergrowth for anything to defend himself as the Zombie Pteri swung the Scepter again, this time just grazing Bane's ear.
A native? What in Neopia is going on?
Rolling away from the next blow, Bane's eyes caught the lightning fast grey-green wing of the Zombie Pteri. Quickly, he held a stick in front of him as a makeshift shield, wincing as the wood shattered under the force of the Pteri's blow. The bird-like Neopet's glassy eyes were stone cold and hard, then widened in shock.
"Bane? Is that you?"
The Cybunny recognized Rancru's personal assistant- a cold hearted Pteri with no moral code save for taking care of his own hide. Not even the fearsome Ice Hissi trusted the scabrous undead Neopet. What luck of mine!, he thought bitterly.
Moving quickly, Buteo slammed Bane in the side, and the Cybunny crumpled to the ground, gasping for air. His foe stood over him and gave a little chirping laugh.
"So it is you. Let me tell you, Rancru was furious that Surka put you on that barge. He promised half a million Neopoints to any of us who could find your body and bring it back to him. You've made me a very rich Neopet."
The Pteri chuckled, and spun his Sceptre until the feathers glowed with malice and dark magic.
"Hold still, Bane. I plan to bring him back your body."
Bane leaped to his feet and took off on all fours, running through the undergrowth as he ducked, dodged and weaved his way around piles of moss covered stone, snares of vine, and any other obstacle that might hinder his flight. Behind and above him, he could hear Buteo's furious screech and frantic wing beats.
A fallen tree loomed in front of him, and he leaped over it, powerful hind legs launching him into the air and into Buteo's club range. The Cybunny was knocked out of the air, slamming into the base of a tree and left gasping for air as Buteo prepared the final blow.
Suddenly, there was a blaze of dark fur and pale bone, then a bird-like shriek and an explosion of rotting feathers, and a Halloween Bori was standing over the Pteri, wielding a Thief Dagger. The Bori turned ice-blue eyes on the Cybunny, then smirked. "Hey, Bane."
Bane tried to get up but couldn't on his own, instead simply holding up his paws as his friend pulled him upright.
"You're lucky I found you when I did. You were one blow away from getting knocked out, and that would have been the end of you." He flicked his dyed tail tuft at the fallen Neopet. "Buteo's not one to stay out- or quiet- for long. You've probably got a few hours at least and a day at best to save your little purple hide, so I won't waste time asking you how you could so carelessly throw away the freedom Lyce and I worked so hard to give you."
Danter's typically cavalier attitude was unusually biting and grim. Bane scowled, his own relief dampened by his friend's dark mood. "Danter? Is something wrong?"
"Things have just been bad since you left, Bane. It's like... Rancru's snapped. He's so much harder on everybody, and yesterday Zhar bailed- bested the boss in the Battledome and just walked away. There's a lot of discontent in every rank. If something doesn't change soon, the Irregulars are toast."
The Bori's ears swiveled backwards as they caught the faint sound of the Pteri stirring. "Get out of here, Bane- get as far away from this place as you can. Because if Rancru finds you, you won't escape."
Bane grabbed the tip of Danter's tail before he could leave. "What are you going to do?"
"What needs to be done." With that ominous declaration, Danter slung the limp Neopet over his shoulder and jogged back the way he came and he melted into the surroundings.
All the way back to the shop, Bane's mind buzzed with fear and pain. I can't leave my shop- not until they find a new shop keeper, and that might take weeks! I could be dead by then!
He kicked a trailing vine out of the way, feeling exhausted, frustrated, and very much alone. Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this? I know I've never been a good Neopet, but... why?
Shaking with exhaustion, the Cybunny collapsed onto the forest floor, mind sinking into darkness.
Bane winced as light and sound filled his weak senses.
"Little Darigan? You ok?"
He peered up into the concerned faces of a Brown Uni and an Alien Aisha, and blinked. "...Saosis? Greenwing?"
The former sighed with relief and assumed her typical scowl. "We came looking for you when you didn't show up when you were supposed to. Lexy suggested you were out here."
The Cybunny leapt upright. "The Draik? She's out here?"
Greenwing shook her head as Saosis remarked coldly, "Of course not. Unlike some Neopets, Lexy doesn't abandon her job to go rooting around in the jungle."
The Alien Aisha pinned all six ears against her head. "Oh, quit it. You were worried, too." She knelt down and offered Bane a Healing Potion, and he drank it with obvious relief.
Saosis huffed but stayed silent as Greenwing threw Bane's limp body over her shoulder. "Come on, champ, let's get you back to the Shop."
"Th... thank you," Bane murmured as he bounced out of consciousness to sink back into darkness. "Thank you..."
When he came back to his senses, he was lying on the floor of his Shop. A bottle of Essence of Everlasting Apple lay beside him, along with a Bacon Omelette and an Obsidian Dagger with a note tied to it.
Rancru tells me to tell you to meet him by the Deserted Tomb tomorrow at noon, and come armed. He says he'll be fair this time and duel you for your freedom, but we both know he'll have some plot to ensure his victory. The rest of the Dark Irregulars want you gone, Bane. Danter and I are on your side and we can probably swing over a few of the younger thieves stifled by Rancru's reign, but the most we can do is try to hold off the other thieves.
You have to take down Rancru alone.
Be well, Bane, and may all the Faeries be with us tomorrow.
"Why so grim, Little Darigan?"
Greenwing was standing a few feet away, watching him curiously. "A little Ghost Usul dropped that by earlier- she looked kinda shady to me, but she said she was a friend of yours."
Bane studied the tough Aisha. If you knew the real me, would you be so kind? Would you even look at me?
"Um.... it's nothing. Just a fight challenge."
The Alien cracked her knuckles. "I knew that Usul was shady! I can't stand liars!"
"N-no, no, Lyce was telling the truth. She's a friend of mine, all right. She was just, uh... telling me what weapons would help me defeat him."
"Oh." Greenwing looked slightly disappointed. "Ok. Who's your challenger?"
"Rancru. An Ice Hissi."
The Aisha nodded sagely. "Then you should take my Fire Sword. It's ok, I've always got a good few Ghostkerbombs in my pocket."
Bane smiled. "Thank you, Greenwing."
She shrugged. "You'd do the same for me, right? So don't sweat it. Like I said, you're one of us now."
Bane watched her go to fetch the weapon, still holding the letter in his metal-gloved paw. I know it won't be long before I have to tell them what I really am.
I just hope I figure it out myself before then!
To be continued...