Of Angelpi and Qasalan Coffee: Part One
(The author wishes to make it known that she does not condone mean pranks--but they sure are fun to write about!)
"The queen says she needs to speak with us! Apparently she has another mission for us."
Those words. They were short, simple sentences, but they filled him with both excitement and dread.
It wasn't the travelling that excited him. He'd been all over Neopia during his life, so visiting strange and exotic lands was nothing new to Hanso. True, he now got to see both sides of society; before, he'd been deeply involved with the seedy, not-too-pleasant side. He'd mingled extensively with fellow thieves, ruffians, and other unsavoury folks. Now he still got to mingle to them to an extent, but he also had the privilege of being with the common people, the normal Neopians who lived normal lives. Oh, and he'd now met every royal family that he knew of, and was often surrounded by swarms of adoring fans and crazy fangirls.
He still had enemies, though. Brynn had commented on a number of occasions that she had no idea that one neopet could have so many adoring fans and sworn enemies at the same time.
"A mission, huh?" Hanso had been so bored that he was actually playing a card game with himself—something that he considered to be very, very low. It had been a few weeks since Queen Fyora had sent them anywhere, and it seemed that Brynn was always busy. Being the captain of the Faerieland guards was apparently a very tough job, and he wasn't allowed to help her as much as he wished. "So why don't you go talk to her?"
"Because she said she wanted to talk to both of us!" Brynn said, beginning to sound exasperated. Then again, Hanso thought she sounded exasperated most of the time. She was a bit high-strung. "Come on, would you put those things away and come with me? It's urgent!"
"Okay, okay, it must be really important, huh?"
"Did she just want me there because she's sending us to one of my least favourite places in Neopia?" Hanso grumbled as he and Brynn left Fyora's meeting room.
"No, Hanso, I'm sure she just wanted you there because it sounds like it's something really dangerous."
"How dangerous could a book be?"
Brynn glared at him. "I seem to recall you saying the exact same thing about the Roo Island game room machine and the Clockwork Negg."
"Okay, you got me there. But still. A book--"
"--whatever—could be easily destroyed, or forged, or whatever. Why do we need to check it out? Couldn't they just take care of it themselves? What if it's a fake? We'll have wasted our time!"
"And if it's not a fake or easily destroyed, all of Neopia could be in grave danger again." She reached out and touched his arm, spurring him to stop and look at her. "Hanso, you're just afraid to go to Qasala, aren't you?"
"I already said I don't like the place. So, yeah, I'm not too thrilled. But I'm not afraid!"
Brynn couldn't hide a wry smile. "It's because of King Jazan, isn't it?"
"No!" Hanso immediately protested, much louder than he'd intended. "I mean, no. He has nothing to do with it. I swear."
"Uh-huh. I don't believe you."
"Fine. Then don't believe me."
"Well, I do at least hope you'll be on your best behaviour," Brynn said. "Will you be ready to leave tomorrow morning?"
"Sure, I'll be packed."
"Okay. I'll see you then. I have other things I need to attend to right now."
Brynn waved and then quickly walked off in another direction. Hanso waved back, then shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed deeply. This was going to be a long trip, and he'd definitely have to do something nice for Brynn when it was over, since things rarely went as planned when they were in Qasala. Perhaps he could buy her a lot of fruity taffy, though he'd already done that a time or two and that wouldn't be fresh and exciting. Maybe he could get her a nice new sword. Or maybe he could even stick with his promise of going for a few weeks without "testing" some high-end shop's security system. Yeah, he'd probably go with that last one. It would be quite a sacrifice for him, but if it made Brynn happy, it was worth it.
The city of Qasala wasn't so bad. It was quieter and not as densely populated as Sakhmet. The spicy food and the dry, oppressive heat took some getting used to, but other than that, the city was pretty pleasant.
Brynn had given him a thorough rundown of their mission while en route. However, she didn't really know a lot about this mysterious tome that was apparently a threat to Neopia. The books in Faerieland and Brightvale mentioned it but gave few details, and a letter that Fyora had received from Finneus in Altador stated that he too had failed to find any useful information on it.
"So, basically, we're in the land whose principal export is cursed scrolls and books looking for a cursed scroll or book. You realise that we'll be lucky if we ever find it at all, right?"
Brynn shook her head. "We've got a lead, Hanso, which you'd know if you were actually listening to me!"
"I was listening. But I honestly don't think Jazan's gonna let us just waltz into his library to do research. Didn't you see how many guards he had posted around it last time we were there?"
"I think he was just afraid that a thief, that is, you, would break into it and steal something."
"By that logic, he should keep it locked up all the time, 'cause last time I checked, Nabile used to be a thief, too."
"'Used to be' is the keyword there."
"But I'm not a... fine." Hanso had another snappy comeback, but Brynn's glare was enough to convince him that he was about to push things too far. "Well, why don't you talk to him?"
"Yes, that was our plan all along. Our first stop is the royal palace."
"This is gonna be fun." Hanso threw up his hands in an overly dramatic gesture, and that and the clear sarcasm in his voice almost got a chuckle from Brynn, who could help but give him a quick, reassuring hug.
"Only if you make it difficult for us." She let go of him and looked him square in the eye. "It's your choice, you know."
It was Queen Nabile who insisted that Brynn and Hanso stay as honoured guests at the palace, and who insisted that Brynn be allowed special access into the otherwise forbidden library to do research on the dangerous scroll or book. The fact that they didn't yet even know if the artefact was a scroll or a book was a sign to Hanso that this search might take a long, long time.
To top it off, he wasn't allowed in the library. Being barred from a place had never stopped him from going there before, so he would just have to make sure he acted discreetly. A real master thief would never be seen nor suspected.
The library itself was always kept under high guard, but there was a room in the back of the library that was kept under even heavier guard--in fact, it was locked and sealed with an elaborate security system that involved some hard-to-crack code involving a series of symbols that most people couldn't make heads or tails of. Hanso had always wondered why dangerous items were so often kept locked under such strange security systems. When these puzzles and symbols were released to the public, the public tended to make short work of them, rendering the codes utterly useless. Of course, someone as clever as Hanso could solve such riddles in mere seconds.
Their first day there was uneventful, with Brynn spending most of her time in the library doing research, while Hanso roamed around the palace, taking in the sights and doing... things, things he'd better not tell Brynn about lest she again accuse him of trying to corrupt Neopia's youth. He was just trying to help them with this mission, but she would undoubtedly get the wrong idea, as she so often did.
On the second day, however, something changed.
That morning, there was a delivery to the palace--some exotic animal had been delivered all the way from Neopia Central to be added to the collection of royal petpets. Jazan and Nabile didn't keep many petpets, but they were proud of their collection. It was the species of this particular petpet that immediately struck terror into Hanso's heart.
"Brynn, did you see the petpet that got delivered here a little while ago?" Hanso interrupted Brynn's study session late that morning, having panicked so much that had carelessly almost let himself get caught sneaking into the library. He'd had to wait in hiding until the guards changed, since the new ones wouldn't recognise him so easily. Waiting had been torture, especially when Jazan happened to come by with his brand-new petpet.
"Huh? Oh, I heard something about that. What are you doing here, anyway?" Brynn asked, keeping her voice to a whisper so that they wouldn't be heard.
"I sneaked in, what else? That petpet, it's an angelpuss!"
Brynn's jaw dropped a little. "A... what? Are you sure?"
"I'm certain! I saw it! What's worse is that Jazan has been parading it around in public, like he's really proud of it or something."
Brynn sighed and buried her face in her hands. "Oh no. How do you feel?"
"...Just a little stuffed up."
"Well, try to stay away from it, please."
"Don't you think he's going to try to rub it in my face at every opportunity? How could he have known, anyway?"
"Maybe a little scarabug told him."
"Very funny, Brynn."
"Seriously, Hanso, I think you're being paranoid. Couldn't it just be a coincidence? You haven't told anyone but me about your allergies."
"Well, uh, I'm pretty sure a few other pets know... I mean, some pets were around when I first discovered I was allergic to those stupid angelpi."
Brynn sighed heavily. "So you honestly think that someone who doesn't like you told King Jazan that you're allergic to angelpi, and so the king adopted an angelpuss for the sole purpose of making you miserable."
"No I'm not." He sneezed. "Ugh, it must be nearby again..."
"Why don't you go to Sakhmet and see if the medicine stall has anything that will help you with your allergies?"
"...Why don't we go together?"
Brynn looked puzzled. "Pardon?"
"Let's go together. We've hardly been able to chat lately, and I don't want to go by myself, anyway. I might be crushed by my adoring fans."
"Or your sworn enemies."
"That too. I have a lot of both here."
Brynn sighed as she thought it over. It only took her a few moments, but to Hanso, it seemed like an eternity. His eyes were beginning to water, and his head felt a little... muddled, to say the least. "All right" she finally said. "Let's go. I'll finish this later."
"Have you made much progress?" he asked as she stood up and stretched.
"Not really," she admitted. "This one's really a tricky puzzle. I can't even find out for certain what the scroll is called--I am pretty certain now that it's a scroll, at least. The scroll was written in an ancient language and apparently its title can be translated in multiple ways."
"That sounds like a head-scratcher."
"It is. It really is."
"I'd help you if I could, but..."
"Just stay out of trouble, please. That's all I want from you."
"That's a lot to ask for, don't you think?"
To be continued...