A Stealthy Christmas Operation
The wind sliced through the curtains of the far window facing east, left open from the forced entrance into one of the uppermost apartments of Terror Mountain High Rise No. 14. The cold, frigid air rushed in quick, cruel lashes against the building, rattling the spiderweb of catwalks overlaying one another, connecting adjacent High Rise complexes. A mask of thick fog obscured all movements from prying eyes as two grim figures milled about in the room, an Elderly Ixi bearing the weight of old age, a young Ice Blumaroo's silhouette and another a hunched shadow, quiet and foreboding in the night.
"Do you see the pipes?" the Elderly Ixi, Josef, asked. He pointed to the map on the coffee table. He patted his hoof lightly against the ground. It was a tick he had developed late into life. "Along the ledge, south side of the balcony platform, that is where you will infiltrate the party." A think voice rasped from the far corner of the apartment. It came from the hooded man beside of the ebony armoire.
This specter of a Kyrii bore the look of a Neopet who looked both ancient and wild. His body seemed to pulse with the smooth heartbeat of a prowling beast. Josef ignored him and relayed his instructions to the calm, young Blumaroo. The Kyrii left the room to stand on the hanging balcony outside the apartment. The balcony was steadfast in the raging tempest, so high up over the fog. The Kyrii did not turn to look back the window. He didn't even want to listen to what Josef had to say. Personally, he had doubts about the Blumaroo and his loyalty. This was the way most jobs, or 'marks' as the Stealth Brotherhood had so many times referred to them, had proceeded, and now the thought of taking orders from this broken-down Ixi sickened the Kyrii, tearing at the knot in his stomach.
The Kyrii was known as Odem within the Stealth Brotherhood. Right now, Josef called him Creek.
"Since you won't be telling me your name," Josef had said upon their first meeting, "I guess I'll just call you Creek. That's what you remind me of after all. A creek. With your blue eyes and ability to change everything around you so naturally. It's like you Neopets from the Stealth barely exist at all."
Odem only nodded to the Elderly Ixi, Josef. He had been called plenty worse before. Creek seemed okay in comparison. But Josef bothered Odem. Perhaps, it was because Odem was, for the first time, out of his element. He knew nothing about Terror Mountain and its cold winter winds. He also didn't know why they were infiltrating this Christmas party or what the benefit of doing so was. Odem did not know what item he was to be stealing, only where to find it. He did not know the item's size, value, or purpose.
"I can see the pipes, old man," Odem thought to himself. In fact, Odem could not even see the building they were supposed to enter on the night of the party. The fog was too thick to see. Both a blessing and a curse. "I also spy half the Terror Mountain Royal Guard dispersed among the guests and the rigged security measures. Are you certain those rickety pipes lead to a maintenance hatch? Are you certain about the window on the west side of the building?" Odem did not have time to finish his thought process. Josef opened the door the balcony. Odem felt the warmth wave against his back.
"Come back inside," Josef said. His walking cane clanked against the ground. "I need you to hear this part."
Odem had no reason to hear what was coming, he knew. The Ixi had it figured out. Odem settled by the armoire again much to Josef's annoyance.
"Both of you would do well to police your tone around future employers if you ever wish to repay me for all the time and effort I have wasted with you both," the old Ixi's evil voice barked. Odem knew the Blumaroo had never spoken out to Josef before. That line was meant for his ears and his ears alone. Josef looked down at the map laid out on the table: "The pipes lead to a dirigible entrance which leads directly to the supply entrance of the kitchen."
These last few words were punctuated by a volley of spittle and a loud choking sound as Josef retired into a fit of racking coughs. The Blumaroo wrenched his arm free of his Ixi's hooves as they clenched uncomfortably to his icy arm. As much as Odem longed to strike the Ixi at times, the old traditions of master and student remained, and his fear of the ruined man before him caused Odem to run to Josef's side. He assisted Josef into an armchair in the corner and ordered the Blumaroo to return with water immediately.
"I can't," said the Blumaroo. "The pipes have been frozen for days."
It was not long before Josef had fallen asleep. Odem covered him with a wool blanket. He turned out toward the night, wary of the Ixi's reaction, and gripped the metal railings on the balcony with white knuckles until his rage had subsided.
The Blumaroo joined him soon after. The Blumaroo was painted Ice and the cold of Terror Mountain had no affect on him at all. The wind circled around Odem and beat against his garments. His hood and mask barely protected him face. The Ice Blumaroo seemed content and stared down into the fog.
"Where did you go?" Odem asked.
The Blumaroo had promptly disappeared once the Ixi started to cough.
"I went for a walk," said the Blumaroo.
"I don't like sick people. Or I don't like seeing them rather," he said.
Odem once knew how the Blumaroo felt, but since that time, he had gained a certain level of stoicism that comes with being painted a Stealthy Neopet. Odem's red hair knocked against the back of his ears and hood in the wind.
"Why did you come here?" Odem asked. It was a question that Odem had never asked before, but since the Blumaroo was simply a volunteer and not a true member of the Brotherhood, the question would not convey the weakness it typically did.
"For the neopoints," the Blumaroo shrugged. "I need it for Christmas this year." The Blumaroo began to tell Odem about all the Christmas gifts he hoped to buy for his family. A Usuki Bowling Set for his older sister, a Fire Tonu Plushie for his niece, an Elon Hughlis Action Figure for his nephew, a Grarrl necklace for mother who had an odd fascination with Tyrannia, a Magma Bori Mug for his uncle. The Blumaroo said magma mugs were very popular on Terror Mountain, because they kept your hands warm in the morning. "Some people don't like the magma mugs," said the Blumaroo. "But I think I'd like one for myself one day."
Odem had not bought a Christmas gift for anyone in a very long time. He thought about his family and the few memories he had of them. This was before the Stealth Brotherhood. He thought of the Brotherhood and could not remember any distinct Christmas memories within his training. He only remembered jobs he had taken that had fallen sometime around the Christmas season. Christmas was different to every part of Neopia. His memories of the various Neopian traditions had never seemed real to him until now.
The thieving Kyrii blinked twice, twin pools of sanguine vermilion glinted almost softly in the light rainfall in the corner of his eyes, shimmering from the reflected light of wayward misty moonbeams. It would be many years before he could celebrate Christmas truly. He stared straight down, through the metal grille under his feet, at the faded lights below, he would not see the jade lights of the city for some time after tonight. Even thieves need holidays.