Reviewing the Situation
Neopia Central was a strange sort of place.
Not through any inherent strangeness in location, but rather because it wasn’t really a place – it was a collection of places, a city so big that the districts in the sprawling urban mass had evolved their own identities.
You could instantly tell a gentleman from the Hills, the rolling high class mansions that littered the outskirts to the west of the city. There were the obvious parts, the fine clothing and the almost unavoidable presence of a servant. But there were deeper pointers, ones not confined to appearance. There was the slightly smarmy air they walked around with, as if they owned the place – or, even if they didn’t own the place, they could easily purchase it on a whim. There was the way they looked down at people with a lesser standing than they held, an almost psychic skill the youths of the Hills seemed to learn at birth. There was the laugh.
Oh, how there was the laugh.
And a world away from the Hills, but only a few miles geographically, there were the Docklands. The people there were not like the people from the Hills, but there were equally identifiable traits about them. There were the obvious parts, the old and dirty clothing they wore. There was the slightly aggressive air they walked around with, as if they could fight anyone in the place and win – or, even if they couldn’t win, they could easily force a draw. There was the way they resented those with a higher standing than they held, an almost psychic skill the youths of the Docklands seemed to learn at birth. There was the laugh.
Oh, how there was the laugh.
The two classes rarely mixed, after all – why would they want to? But there were certain situations where the two mingled. One, of course, was the universal transaction known as crime.
Take Mr. Worthington-Smythe-Foxley, for example. A well-to-do Nimmo by all accounts. Houses in the Hills, Brightvale, Meridell, Terror Mountain, and even Mystery Island. He’s on his way to the Art Gallery in the Catacombs, crossing through the Bazaar as he goes.
Then, a figure moves through the crowd at speed. A child, a Gnorbu of no more than ten years. He weaves and dodges between the tourists and the shoppers. His target is in his sights. A moment away, he picks up speed, crashing into the Nimmo and causing him to stumble. The impact takes the Nimmo’s attention as he watches the Gnorbu disappear into the crowd, making him completely miss the hand that reaches out from behind him. The young red Blumaroo silently snatches the money purse from the Nimmo’s waist and veers off before anyone even notices he is there.
The grey Lenny stared bleakly out of the window, his long green jacket covering much of his old and thin frame. Here, in a run down attic in the Docklands, he could see much of the industrial landscape that made up that area of the city.
He was a part of this city. A man who had grown up there, lived the streets, lived the life. He’d been around there so long that he was part of the furniture, albeit a piece of furniture that worked very hard to make sure no one noticed it.
Once he had loved this city – no, loved was the wrong word – once he had understood this city. He knew how it worked, how the people within it moved and operated. He knew who to trust, who not to trust, and who to act like you trust. Unlike some, he’d never used this knowledge to its full potential. He was happy, for a certain value of happiness, in the Docklands. He didn’t desire to be in control, for he had observed that those with power rarely lasted long. He had just survived, and helped others in the same position as he to survive.
But things weren’t the same as they always had been. Now, as he gazed down his crooked beak at the polluted and stinking city, he felt that perhaps there was something different. Things were changing, he was certain, but he wasn’t certain why or how.
A noise from below brought the Lenny out of his thoughts and back to reality. He turned to see a rabble of children climbing the rickety old staircase that led to the dingy attic they collectively called home.
The Lenny’s face had brightened in his turn, a waxy smile spreading across it that somehow successfully fooled almost all the grubby children in front of him.
“Welcome back, my dears,” he croaked. “Got anything interesting to show old Moody?”
It was a red Blumaroo who stepped forwards first, the eldest of the boys. Like the others, he had attempted to dress himself in some measure of finery, but the crumpled top hat was somehow lessened by the grubbiness of his face. He presented the old Lenny with a stolen money purse.
Moody greedily turned to a nearby table and upended the purse, the contents spilling out across the wood. With his free hand, he took a small and battered little book from a hidden drawer in the table, and opened it to a fresh page.
Quietly, he began to count out the Neopoints to himself. Once he was finished, he wrote a figure down in the little book and scooped all of the Neopoints back into the purse.
“Not bad, not bad at all,” he said, moving to the window as dislodging one of the bricks to reveal a biscuit tin hidden below. “Five thousand Neopoints, all told, and the purse is of good quality. Solid gold frame if I’m not mistaken, Crooked Tony should be very interested.”
The purse disappeared inside the biscuit tin and the Lenny stared towards the Blumaroo who seemed to be expecting some sort of congratulations.
“You can do better, Jack,” was the statement that came instead.
It seemed to be enough for the young Blumaroo, who shot the Lenny an offhand smirk and returned to the group of boys.
“Now my dears, who’s next?”
One by one, the children came forwards to present their spoils. Moody seemed quite impressed by the quality of the day’s hoard, indicating that perhaps most days were a bit leaner. Each theft was noted in the little book, and carefully stored away in the little biscuit tin which itself was stored back in the window’s secret compartment when they had finished.
“Well, Crooked Tony will think all his birthdays have come at once when I deliver this little lot to him,” Moody announced as the brick was placed back. “Good work, my dears, good work.”
With some hesitation, one of the troop stepped forwards. A small yellow Aisha, a relative newcomer to Moody’s little family of crime.
“There’s something else,” the Aisha announced.
“Yes?” Moody asked, already dreading the answer.
“I met someone on the Longshanks; he clipped me by the ear and dragged me off while I was trying to nick a pocket watch off a gent.”
“Defender?” Moody asked suspiciously.
“No, that’s the thing,” the Aisha explained. “I asked him and he just laughed. Said he worked for someone different, someone better. Seemed real interested about what we was doing thieving on the Longshanks.”
The old Lenny’s eyes were suddenly paying a lot more attention to the little Aisha.
“What did he look like? Details, details!”
“Well, he looked sort of shifty like – a Techo, had his hood up so I couldn’t see his face, but he had this weird pendant thing on. It was like a Cobrall, all gold and eating an emer-”
“And you told him where we were!?” Moody exploded. “I always say, it’s the first thing I teach you boys when I take you in off the street, never say where you’re from or you you’re working with! How many times!?”
“Relax!” the Aisha snapped. “I didn’t tell him where we live. That’s something, ain’t it?”
Moody had turned back to the window, massaging his forehead with a hand.
“Yes,” he said, somewhat more calmly. “That’s certainly something.”
His gaze drifted back out of the window.
“What’s the matter, Moody?” Jack piped up. “We’re not in danger, are we?”
“No,” Moody replied. “No, I shouldn’t think so... we’ll be fine. But just as a precaution, we’ll need to find somewhere new. And that sort of thing, well, it costs money.”
“We don’t pay for this place,” one of the boys pointed out.
“And how do you think I found it?” Moody snapped. “Think I just stumbled on it while I was out walking? Places, especially places in the Docklands, they need information. And information don’t come for free, my dears. I need you boys to head out again.”
There were groans from the thieves.
“Don’t start with that,” Moody said, shaking a finger at them. “We wouldn’t be in this situation if you did like I told you.”
Gradually, the boys began to file out of the little attic they called home, returning back down the rickety ladder. Jack lingered behind, the Blumaroo eying Moody suspiciously.
“What’s going on?” he asked eventually.
Moody tried to avoid the gaze of the Blumaroo. Jack had always been the best, and Moody had never been able to fool him for long. He knew something was wrong.
“Remember those people I pointed out to you once, a couple of years back? The ones I said never to talk to, on any account?” Moody asked.
“Our competitors, you said,” Jack replied.
“Well, they operate a system,” Moody explained. “If you’re not with them, you’re against them. And they don’t take kindly to people who are against them.”
“You think we’ll be alright?” Jack asked.
“If we can find somewhere new.”
There was a hollow sound to his words, and Jack made it plain he didn’t believe them for a second. But regardless he tipped his hat to the old Lenny and disappeared down the ladder.
Moody was alone. He gazed out of the window for a few more moments, giving the children time to get a distance away. Once he was confident they weren’t going to suddenly rush back in, he darted with sudden speed to the table to scoop up the little notebook, and then dislodged the brick from the window to claim the little biscuit tin.
He didn’t want to do this, but when the Guild was after you, it was every man for himself. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know where you lived. They’d find out, and they’d find out fast. Moody would need to be quick if he was to escape.
There was a low cough from the corner of the attic.
Not quick enough.
Moody turned to see the hooded blue Gelert emerging from the shadows. The thin scar that ran down his right cheek left no room for doubt as to his identity.
“Kanrik,” Moody stated. “I get a personal visit, eh? I thought it would just be a dagger in the back.”
“Solomon Moody,” Kanrik greeted him. “We’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”
Moody was a little taken aback. He’d tried very hard to not be noticed for most of his life.
“Of course,” Kanrik smiled a sinister little smile. “You’ve been operating in this city since before Galem’s time - you honestly thought we wouldn’t know about a man who takes in orphans and turns them into thieves? Why, half of the Neopia Central chapter of the Thieves Guild is made up of your former students. Only reason we haven’t found you sooner is because they are so loyal. Fiercely tight lipped, despite my best efforts. We’ve always been one step behind your safe house.”
“And now you’ve found me.”
Kanrik nodded. “And now we’ve found you.”
Moody straightened himself up and placed the book and tin on the table behind him.
“Do what you came here to do then,” he instructed. “I welcome it. Something is coming, Kanrik, something big – and it’s going to shake this city to its core. I can feel it in my bones, and if I don’t have to I have no desire to stay around and witness it.”
“I’ve lived my life and I’m happy with it – go on, do it!”
“No, I mean, what are you talking about?” Kanrik questioned. “You know the rules.”
“Yes,” Moody answered. “Unregistered thieves aren’t welcome in Neopia Central. That’s why you’re here.”
“Yes,” Kanrik agreed. “To give you this.”
Kanrik tossed an object towards Moody. The Lenny caught it, and examined the shining gift. It was an amulet, golden in colour. It depicted a Cobrall with crimson red eyes encircling an emerald. Moody’s eyes became lost in the enticing glint of the gemstone. It was a sign, a sign that the holder was a member of the Guild.
“You’re giving me this?”
“Yes,” Kanrik replied. “An establishment like this, that can churn out so many successful young thieves. Better to have you on the inside than dead. Unregistered thieves aren’t welcome in Neopia Central. So welcome to the Guild.”
“Thank you,” Moody whispered, glancing back towards Kanrik.
The Gelert was gone, Moody was alone once more. He ran his fingers over the amulet as he stared out of the window at the city. With Guild protection, all Moody’s problems would be over... but he couldn’t shake what he had said to Kanrik. He could feel it, an almost palpable sensation hanging in the air. Most would miss it, only those of his experience and age would notice. Something was coming, something big, and it was ready to cut down anything in its path. This wasn’t a time to be in the Thieves Guild, it wasn’t a time to be in anything. It wasn’t even a time to be in the city.
Moody turned back to his little biscuit tin full of riches. He knew what he had to do.
Jack was the first back – he often was, even though he hardly rushed about his business, he was just somehow better at it than the others. In one of his brief periods of generous comments, Moody had said the boy had a natural talent. A gift, if you could call it such, for thievery.
It was with some surprise that he found the attic to be empty. Moody was nowhere to be found.
The little biscuit tin sat alone on the table, and Jack approached it cautiously. Moody normally guarded it with his life, and it rarely left the secret compartment in the window, and certainly never left Moody’s eye line.
Jack prized open the lid. The contents inside had been halved, replaced instead by the little notebook. A page had been torn out of the back and placed on the cover, and there was a hastily written note on it.
I’ve reviewed our situation, and I’m getting out of Neopia Central. Don’t try and find me; I guarantee you won’t succeed. The boys are yours now. Look after them well and remember everything that I taught you. I took half of the money to get myself set up wherever I land, the other half is yours now. I took care of our little problem; you should find something in the box that means the Thieves Guild won’t be able to bother us – they ain’t our competition no more. If you need them, Kanrik shouldn’t be far away.
Be good, if you know what I mean,
Jack moved the book to reveal a golden amulet – a Cobrall encircling an emerald. He carefully eased it out of the biscuit tin and hung it round his neck. Somehow, it was comforting, as if it was meant to be there – as if he’d been waiting for it all along.
Below, he heard the first of the boys returning. He hastily closed the biscuit tin and stowed it in the secret compartment. He gazed out of the window at the city.
In time, he’d come to know it very well. He’d be a part of it, and so would everyone else.