A Better Way
Author's Note: This is more or less a sequel to my previous short story, Rebel Among Rebels, Thief Among Thieves. You don't have to read that story to understand this one, but it would probably add a little more to this one if you do :) This story takes place in between the final regular chapter and the epilogue of TFR.
Hanso strode through the streets of Faerieland with a jaunty step and a smirk on his face. He had nearly forgotten what it was like to walk out in the open daylight without fear of being recognized and chased by guards, and it was just a bit strange to think that this was something most people could take for granted.
For that matter, the Ixi had never known what it was like to walk out into the open daylight and find himself swarmed; not by angry guards, but adoring fans and grateful faeries. Brynn was right, it seemed – doing little things like helping people out and saving the world as we know it from certain doom could really boost a reputation.
He could get used to this.
Hanso meandered along, taking in the view and trying to memorize the layout of what was to be his new home. Most of the buildings were dishevelled and broken down after the crash, of course, but everything was actually relatively stable – faerie magic, he supposed. The cityscape was a bit too pink for his taste, but overall, it wasn't really as frilly as he'd expected. Actually, it looked like it would be a rather nice place to live... After the rebuilding was finished, at least.
Suddenly he halted, shaken from his reverie by a motion up ahead. There weren't many people in this part of town, and his old thief's instincts had picked up on something oddly familiar about the movement...
Curious, Hanso went up to the dark alley from which he had seen the... Whatever it was, and peered in. The alleyway appeared to be empty – nothing but blank brick walls and a bit of rubble strewn over the cobblestone street. But humble appearances can mask great secrets, so he took one cautious step down the corridor, then another –
All at once, the wall opened up and a hand reached out to grab Hanso's arm, dragging him inside. The Ixi nearly cried out in shock, but once again there was a sense of familiarity in the event. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he grinned.
"Well, if it isn't my old friends Constance and Hugen," he cried, eyeing the severe green Bruce and the sly orange Moehog standing before him. "What are you guys doing out here?"
The Moehog chuckled dryly. "What do you think? Now that this city's on the ground, it will make a great new base for the Guild. We've just finished setting up our Faerieland headquarters."
Hanso whistled. "Yeah, I can see that now," he commented as he looked around at the carefully rebuilt stone walls, one of which had just recently opened up into the secret doorway that he'd been dragged through. The Thieves' Guild in Faerieland, eh? Brynn's not going to like this...
Hanso shook the thought out of his head for the moment and turned back to face Hugen again. "So, for what honour am I being given a tour of the new place? Last I remembered, I'd been kicked out of the Guild."
The Moehog snorted. "Hanso, you never were one for modesty. It'd be a shame if you started now."
"You know as well as the rest of us that you made quite a stir with the faeries recently," Constance cut in. "Convincing knights and kings to work with you, taking out a powerful sorceress – and all in your own name as a thief. You're still a regular fool, but you've apparently managed to work with that. I have to admit we're impressed."
Hanso grinned broadly. It was difficult to impress Constance, especially for him.
"Aah, of course you meant that," he replied smoothly. His grin turning to a light smirk, the Ixi tugged lightly at the lapel of his jacket to show off the small gold pin now attached to it.
"And actually, that isn't even all of it," he went on. "As you can see here, my friends, I am now Queen Fyora's own Master Thief."
Hugen admired the pin silently (though perhaps he was simply trying to determine rather it was real), but a few moments after hearing the Ixi's boast, Constance began to laugh. Hanso blinked – he didn't think he'd ever heard the Bruce laugh before. It was a harsh, grating sound, but a joyful one nonetheless.
"I can't believe this!" she cried, clapping Hanso on the shoulder. "Our little troublemaker has the faerie queen herself wrapped around his finger!"
Hanso wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Uhh..."
"Fyora's own Master Thief... And just how does this job of yours work, hmm? We need to know how best to use that to our advantage."
Hanso blinked again. "Um, Brynn and I are supposed to work together to hunt down dangerous faerie artefacts and either destroy them or bring them back to the Queen. You know, depending on the... circumstances?"
Constance was pacing now, and nodded as he spoke. "Perfect, we can work with that easily! All you have to do is claim responsibility for destroying the artefacts, then slip them past your guard friend and bring them back to the Guild. Those kinds of things are bound to be worth a fortune, and all that power... We'll never have to worry about hunger again!"
Hanso shook his head and took a step back. "Hang on a second, when did I sign up for this? I can't do that!"
Hugen shrugged. "Why not? It should be easy enough to pull off, and it'll get you back in the Guild like you wanted."
Hanso swallowed. "Well, see, I can't exactly work for a queen if I'm still doing the whole criminal thing, and the whole 'Master Thief' title is... really more a representation of my skills and my, uh... past," he sputtered. "This job is a nice opportunity for me and I'd rather not... risk..."
The Ixi trailed off as Constance's expression fell flat and she turned to glare at him.
"I don't believe this," the Bruce hissed, taking a single step towards him. "It's the queen who has you wrapped around her finger." She shook her head. "No, that's not right... It's not her; it's your Kougra friend. The one for whom you lost your place in the Guild, and now you're going to abandon us for her again. You really are a traitor, after all."
Hanso's eyes narrowed. "Me, a traitor? You all were the ones who kicked me out in the first place! And this is about more than that – this is a new chance for me, a whole new life!"
"And just what sort of a life is that, Hanso?" Constance countered, her tone even. "You are and will always be a thief to them – that pin of yours proves it. These little festivities may have made you forget this, but thieves are outsiders in their world. Your life is here, and what you're turning down right now is a chance to get that life back! Do you really think that you could ever win the affection of... what is she now again?... The captain of the Faerieland Guard?"
Hanso faltered. Briefly, the words you're always going to be a thief in her eyes flashed through his mind. Those words had been deceitful and manipulative, he knew. Yet now, hearing them a second time and from an old friend and mentor... Could it be...?
Hanso suddenly realized that Hugen had slipped away in the midst of the confrontation. Smart move, he thought to himself as the Bruce's eyes bored into him.
"That's quite enough, Constance."
Hanso stiffened. He hadn't heard that voice in well over half a year, but the last time he had had been in... less than ideal circumstances. A long shadow passed over him as the hooded blue Gelert strode into his line of vision, and Constance briefly gave said Gelert a questioning look before replying with a curt nod and retreating into one of the hideout's many winding hallways.
Somehow, Hanso finally managed to find his voice. "H-hey, Kanrik. Long time no see," He muttered weakly. After a pause, he added, "You really want me back in the Guild?"
The leader of the Thieves Guild did not reply at first, merely looking over his ex-member with an unreadable expression. Finally, he said, "I would not deny you re-entry, but I'm not sure I can say that I actually want you back."
Hanso winced. "So you're still mad about those jewels, then? Look, like I said before, I just wanted to –"
Kanrik raised a paw, cutting him off. "I won't deny that I was angry with your attempt to steal from me, but that wasn't my only reason for making you leave the Guild."
The Gelert paused for a moment, glancing around the room. "Follow me. We should continue this conversation in my quarters, where no one will listen in.
* * * * *
"During my time as head of the Guild, I've found that there are four kinds of thief," Kanrik went on once the two had relocated.
"The worst ones are those who steal out of pure greed, with little regard for their true needs and none for the people around them. The second are those who steal for survival, because they quite simply have no other options. The third become thieves because it is all they truly know, and the fourth – perhaps the most unusual – do it for a kind of rebellious thrill.
"Galem Darkhand and his advisers were the first kind of thief, and ever since I defeated him I have done my best to remove such people from the Guild and discourage that dangerous way of thinking in the rest of us. Some members of the Guild are the second kind, but I believe most of us – Constance and I included – are the third. But you, Hanso, are one of the fourth."
Hanso shrugged. "Okay, I guess that makes sense. But why are you telling me all of this?"
Kanrik gave him a long, stern look. "Because the good thing about your kind of thief is that there are more ways to find a thrill than stealing."
Hanso reeled back. I must not have heard that right, he thought.
Kanrik couldn't help but chuckle a little at the Ixi's reaction, but he quickly regained his composure.
"When I first met Hannah, I was a different man," he said, staring into the distance as if searching out a memory. "I was still a thief simply because it was what I knew, but Galem's greed had begun to rub off on me. I left her to die in a cursed desert tomb, and even let myself be persuaded to betray my own leader. But then my actions caught up to me, and I found myself betrayed in turn by those whom I had thought were my friends and seeking the help of the one whose complete trust I had shattered.
"Hannah's actions taught me something that day, during the fight with Galem and his followers. She made me a better thief, but she taught me something more as well. She showed me that there is a better way to live – a better life outside the Thieves Guild – and that it's possible for even the worst of us to be reconciled with that life."
Kanrik turned his gaze back on Hanso. "When I discovered your apparent fondness for Brynn, I thought she might have been teaching you the same thing. I can't leave the Guild myself – Galem died at my hands, so it's my duty now to lead and protect those who cannot or will not leave and to keep the Guild from becoming what it was under his rule. But I wanted to give you a chance to really see that outside world, and perhaps to become a part of it. You don't have my duty, and now you have friends in that world who have seen another side of you, along with a real chance to make something of it."
Hanso was silent. He still couldn't quite believe that he was hearing all of this from the head of the most renowned thieving organization in Neopia, but at the same time, the words gave him a kind of encouragement. Maybe Constance was wrong after all...
Kanrik started to move for the doorway out of his office. "Like I said, I won't make your decision for you, or keep you from rejoining the Guild. Just know that you have an incredible opportunity now, and you shouldn't throw it away just because you think your past binds you here."
Hanso nodded slowly, looking back and forth between the Gelert and the doorway behind him. A thousand memories flooded his thoughts: Running away from home as a child, that first thievery that he'd always thought had forever branded him as a criminal, finding himself in Brightvale, the young guard that he'd failed to pickpocket and had somehow befriended instead, the Guild that had become like a family to him and yet had thrown him out after a single incident. The thrills, the prizes, the temptations, the fear, the familiarity and the ever-constant constant hiding and running and fighting. And at the end of it all, Brynn, Xandra and the artefact that had thrown him into a whole new adventure.
Finally, with a deep breath, he made his decision.
"Tell Constance and the others that I say hi, and that... I'm going to miss them. I need to get back to Faerie City."