The Making of a Mercenary
"Now, what do you think the poet was trying to express, when he said 'That moonlit pool where water faeries play; through seasons unchangingly stays.'?"
"Hmm," pondered the faerie Acara aloud. "The poet was saying that the pool that he visits on his nightly strolls had always remained the same, even when he went through many events in life. This can be proven when he said 'through seasons unchangingly stays.'"
"Good," remarked her literature tutor with satisfaction. "Your task for the next session will require you to know Sunder's poem 'Musician's Dream'. Please read it before then. Also, read up on Gorlad's short story 'The Neighbours'."
"Yes, Miss Arladane."
At that Arladane left the study and was escorted through many shining hallways and down two flights of one of the side stairs, all the way out to the front doors of the mansion by one of the many poker faced servants. As Arladane was leaving, she passed Mr. Claymore who was just coming in and heading toward the family dining hall for dinner.
"Ah, Ylana's literature tutor; Miss Arladane, I presume?"
"Indeed. Good evening, sir," greeted Arladane politely.
"Good evening. How is Ylana's progress?"
"She's a fine student sir; a great pleasure to teach. I find that Ylana's determined she would go through the literature over and over again if she doesn't understand, until she gets it."
"Ah, that is gladdening to hear. Keep it up, Miss Arladane."
At that, Mr. Claymore continued his way to the hall, where many sumptuous smells enticed him and his family members to come and consume the meal that had been laid out for them. It had been a long day for the whole family, who had this and that to go through, be it countless business meetings for Mr. Claymore, social functions for Mrs. Claymore and tutoring sessions for Ms. Ylana Claymore. And they still need to go through an important clothes fitting session that Mrs. Claymore arranged for earlier. After that, there was no time to sit and relax in one the many lounges of the Claymore seventy five room mansion. It's for that Elderidge's patriarch's eightieth birthday celebration, there's no way they cannot forgo it, and not when it's family as reputable as Elderidge. After all, it will be bad for the family reputation as one of the top socialites in Neopia should they fail to look the part of the esteemed family, deserving of their class.
"Claymore!!! Great to see you here," boomed a voice amidst of the crowd's chatter.
The Claymores, just arrived in their exquisite carriage driven by their smartly dressed white Techo driver and decked in all the finery selected the day before, turned toward the direction of the voice. Makel Elderidge, the first son of the patriarch Elderidge approached one of his many esteemed guests for the evening.
"Ah, evening, Elderidge. Congratulations on your father turning eighty years!"
"Why, thank you! And thank you for coming, you and your lovely wife! Oh, this young lady here is...?"
"Good evening, Mr. Elderidge. I will be one of the performers tonight, Ylana Claymore," greeted Ylana, with a slight bow.
"I see. Thank you too, for coming and performing tonight. You have brought up your daughter well; I am sure she will perform well tonight." This Elderidge directed to her parents.
"Oh, but I don't think she is as great as your children yet, Mr. Elderidge," Mrs. Claymore stated modestly, but with a hint of pride.
Their exchanged was interrupted by the arrival some other guests and Mr. Elderidge was called away to greet them all. At that, Liana Claymore turned to her daughter, asking, "Are you really, really prepared? You do know that this is more than just a simple musical performance."
"Yes, Mother. Don't worry. I practiced and even added a few embellishments of my own to the pieces that I'll be performing tonight."
"Really now... That's a relief. But did you go over the whole thing with Mr. Bartleblow? Did he say it was any good?"
"Just wait and see, Mother. I'll present a performance that will make the Claymore family known for producing musical performers of calibre in the ages to come," was Ylana's calm confident reply. Her mother looked over her daughter, as though to make sure that everything is alright, brushing of imaginary lint from her flowing red dress, adding that she's glad that the beauty mark just below Ylana's left eye makes her face stands out more.
"Come now, it's time to eat. Even our representative must have something to have the strength to outperform the others tonight." Edgil Claymore broke up his wife's and daughter's banter, looking over his child with fierce pride.
After an extravagant dinner, which showcased the abilities of the Elderidge culinary staff, was the highlight of the evening. It was time for the performances of talented guests. One would say that a family's reputation would either shine or tarnish by performing at such events as these. Though the manner of the performances were light-hearted and for entertainment, it was an open secret that an imperfect performance could spell S.H.A.M.E. for the affected family. Indeed, it was great pressure on the many performers, who would be representing their families. Ylana took deep breaths, readying her mind for the task ahead and confident she would outshine the other families. After all, didn't her parents spend a great deal of money in her education and making sure that she'd have all the skills and knowledge that any high-born Neopian would need? That's why they only hired the best tutors for her.
She listened with one ear while going through her own piece; the Elderidge children performed their piece as the party's hosts. She reminded herself where to slow down, to speed up, and to emphasise with emotions. She barely heard the master of ceremonies describe her as the talented thirteen year old Ylana of the Claymore family when she went up the platform, where various musical instruments were arranged, to the grand piano with the graceful gait that she was trained to walk in since she could walk. Seating herself in front of the keyboards, she made sure she had her posture and that the shape and angle of her hands and wrists were down. The audience watched her; perfectly poised and positioned for her performance.
The first notes of her piece caught the audience's breath, making them listen intently and delightfully surprising them all when the faerie Acara smoothly linked each familiar piece to the following piece with clever improvising of melodies. As the last strains of her final piece rang throughout the room, thunderous applause filled the air. Standing and giving her bows, she made her way off the platform and ignoring the grudging claps and cold stares many other families gave her, she went over to where her parents were and sat primly in between them, amidst their pride filled smiles. The fact that they're looking at her in that manner showed that she had successfully given these other families no reason to look down on the Claymore family, also further cementing their reputation as one of the top socialite families in Neopia. And she knew that she; Ylana Claymore, scion and heir to the Claymore shipbuilding company's fortunes will be able to go farther than anyone of these high-born Neopians, for she is and will be among the crème de la crème.
"You should be well aware what it means if you fail to bring back that Cybunny, Ylana. Your pay won't be the only thing affected."
"Tch, you do repeat yourself for someone who doesn't talk much, Gormos!" snapped the blue Acara.
"Don't make me repeat myself then. Go find the spy, or I'll really deduct your pay by more than half the agreed price."
"You can try!" was the retort as Ylana stormed off. But something about the Shadow Kougra's words struck deep in her heart. No, it wasn't the threat of deducted pay. She was confident her skills were more than enough to ensure she got what was agreed on. It had something to do with the words he said before that...
Suddenly, unbidden; the memory of her mother asking her if she was ready for performing at some kind of event, came to her mind's eye. Breathless, she stopped and leaned against the metallic walls of the corridor, trying to counter the moment of weakness before it took her back to times where she was Neopointless and greatly ashamed of existing. "No. You're Ylana Skyfire, top notch mercenary! You earned that name and title without anyone's help! Ylana Claymore vanished the moment she drank that morphing potion." Taking deep breathes, she saw in her mind's eye now; that she successfully caught the spy Cybunny with great ease, stunning all whom she worked with and for into respectful silence. The Doctor would be so pleased, he could very well give her more than what was negotiated in the first place! With that, she got up and continued her way, keeping her ears and eyes open for any sign.
Quietly she walked, taking graceful cautious strides as she tracked her prey, thinking and getting into the spy's train of thought. She had it hard initially, given that she had no other experience in life aside from the useless lifestyle her moronic parents had her live in until the family business was foreclosed by the Neopian National Bank; credits to her useless father's business investments. But it had also been ten years since she'd broken all ties of the disgraced Claymore family, disappeared to the Space Station and taken up the extremely profitable but thankless job of being a mercenary after being trained by one, so she was extremely experienced in tracking and thinking like her targets. It wouldn't be long before she found that Cybunny. And she was right, for a few turnings later she turned the corner and had her blaster perfectly poised and positioned behind her target's head.
"Bingo... I knew you would be here," she proclaimed with triumph in her voice. The Cybunny wasn't frozen for long, though; the spy scarpered and soon, there was a thrilling dash and chase beneath the bowels of the Space Station. There were very near misses but that just excited Ylana each time; sooner or later her target must succumb to her.
All that changed when suddenly, the Cybunny leaped into a nearby vent. The Acara quickly followed suit but she wasn't fast enough this time. The turnings that both pursuer and the pursued took in the maze-like vents opened out to one of the public areas and her target was lost among the crowd. She could do nothing but sigh with frustration. Screaming or doing anything that would attract the public attention was not a good thing for both the Doctor's plans and her own to catch the spy.
With her blaster and foul mood, Ylana took on some more members of the Resistance, all the while cursing the two brats that ruined her plans when she was just inches away from accomplishing her mission. Should she ever get hold of them, she would show them what she, Ylana Skyfire, is capable of doing as a mercenary and make sure they never forget it. What annoyed her most, though, were the abilities of her target; she hated to admit it but she had underestimated both target and the Resistance.
"You and I have some unfinished business, Ylana," said a voice from behind her, as she suddenly felt the muzzle of a blaster poking her in the back.
"I've been waiting for you, Cybunny," she retorted.
"Let's make a deal. Loser cleans up this mess," suggested the Scout.
"I've got a better idea. How about... loser DIES?" She turned and attacked the Scout.
The Scout recovered quickly from the assault and defended herself against Ylana's next attack. Parrying and defending, Cybunny and Acara went into offensive mode and went all out against each other. Ylana grudgingly had to give the Cybunny props for being able to keep up, despite her injured foot. Their skirmish was punctuated by laser beams, vibrations and the clashes that came from members of the Resistance and Dr. Sloth's army. Then in the midst of heated battle, just as both the Scout and Ylana were finding the best moment to attack, there was a sudden bright flash of light and explosion; that could be seen from all of Neopia and its surrounding planets.
"That... was Sloth's ship! It's been destroyed!!!" exclaimed one member of the Resistance.
Cheers and cries of victory resounded throughout the Space Station. Ylana noted that many of Sloth's recruited army were starting to drop their weapons and lifting their arms in surrender, despite Commander Garoo's commands to continue. It was going to be hard to get them to fight again, once the main Boss had gone down and Resistance members were closing in, and the Scout was approaching her. "Tch! Looks like no one's left to pay up for this," muttered Ylana as she tapped a few buttons on her armour. Coordinates keyed and locked in, she gave a cheeky grin and waved. "So long, Cybunny." She disappeared from sight.
Perfectly poised and positioned, the blue Acara played the next piece on the piano. As the final notes of the melody filled the air, one of the patrons headed over to her.
"Missy, play us 'He's a Pirate', will ya?"
"Sure, will do," she replied as she started playing their all time favourite tune. Soon, there would be much dancing and merriment among her "audience" as they tried to sing along. Hopefully that didn't result in "mock fights" as that almost always resulted in full blown fights among them.
Styling herself as Ylana Starfield, she found being a pianist at the taverns wasn't too bad for a side job, though they brought her many nightmares at first. At least, she'd be able to get a steady source income and it was just about enough for her to pay rent at one of the better Krawk Island inns, meals and some decent clothes for her performances. And it was easy money for her, though it's not enough compared to what she used to earn as mercenary. And them pirates, being drunken most of the time; they couldn't care less whether she played beautifully or not as they wouldn't be able to appreciate her playing anyway. Sometimes, though, they recognised a few tunes when she played them and sang along to it, somewhat off key. And she always played perfectly... who knew who could be listening? Maybe, she could advance to being a member of an orchestra and get much higher wages!
She had it all planned when she keyed in those coordinates on her now well concealed armour for Krawk Island. One of the best places for characters like her to hide out in and hear things, she never planned to give up her life of being a mercenary. There was a nice amount of Neopoints involved in that, and she wasn't going to give that up after one failure. And should anyone require the services of a mercenary, she'd be more than ready to take on the job... even if it would never pay as much as what Dr. Sloth had offered her. Anything would be better than going back to the days where she was once Ylana Claymore, a fallen Neopointless Neopian from her heights of glory and splendour. She wasn't going to let the skills that made her a top notch mercenary go to waste. After all, she was Ylana Skyfire; and she would do whatever it took to be at the place she had always belonged to, and it suited her best - the top.