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Can't Trust Thieves


by rhoyne

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Lady Nightsnow did not like to be kept waiting.

      She supposed it was what she got for trusting thieves, though: if they couldn't steal your things, then they would steal away your time. Still, she had hoped that they would at least be a little punctual. They said that they had important things for her, very important things, but would not give her any details beyond that. She smiled slightly, thinking of the old candlesticks or slightly cracked pottery that they could possibly be bringing her. Useless, the lot of them; they all had been since old Drackonack had taken over. Without her, the whole guild would have already fallen apart. She sipped daintily at her mug, dark fur serving to blend her into the shadows that were cast long throughout the room.

      "Sorry that we're late, my lady," said a voice behind her as she set down her mug. She hadn't seen the speaker come into the derelict shack, but by that point she was rather used to it.

      "Tibus," she said, without turning around. "It's been too long. Come, join me for a drink. All of you."

      The shadows on the wall opposite her shifted, and three figures in dark, shabby cloaks shuffled in front of her. Tibus looked much the same as ever—he was a green Bruce, but he was so often covered in dirt and dust that his coat was almost grey. With him was Zip, a slightly dim witted red Wocky who served as his constant companion, and a small yellow Kougra she had never seen before. The latter two looked at her uncomfortably, while Tibus did his best to puff out his chest and look brave, but none of them made any move to sit near her. Good, thought Lady Nightsnow, just the way that they should be.

      "The owner has an excellent pot of coffee tonight, but perhaps you'd like to meet somewhere more—ah—private." She glanced over at the only other occupant of the room, the old proprietor hunched over in a corner. He couldn't hear or see much anymore, which made him invaluable in a place where secrets were always being shared. Still, the mention of moving underground seemed to please the Bruce greatly.

      "If you say so, my lady," Tibus said, the relief in his voice as clear as the night was long.

      She smiled at them without warmth—Lady Nightsnow did very little with warmth—and gave them all a cursory glance over before standing. Nothing visible on them, which she took as a sign that maybe, just maybe, these petty thieves had found something of value for once.

     ***

      The plush chairs in the guild's meeting room were considerably more comfortable than those in the building above them, which Lady Nightsnow despised. There was nothing comfortable about being a thief-- something that thieves should never forget— and the chairs and lush surroundings of the room did little to remind them. Still, thievery did allow the guild to afford certain luxuries, and old Drackonack had seen that those luxuries had not been spared.

      "So," she said, after having seated herself opposite the scruffy bunch, "what do you have for me?"

      Zip and Tibus glanced at one another as if they hadn't expected the question, before Zip shrugged and Tibus tried to make himself look larger than he actually was. "Information," he said, as if he were telling her that he had taken all of King Hagan's jewels.

      Lady Nightsnow scowled at them and pressed her paws together. "Information," she repeated flatly.

      Tibus just stared at her and blinked a few times, before Zip jabbed him sharply in the ribs. "Ow. Yeah, information. Big information. It could lead to lots of riches."

      "Lots," Zip said. Lady Nightsnow had never heard him say anything original, really; everything he ever said was simply a fragment of what Tibus said. Her frown deepened.

      "It could lead to a lot of riches," she said, "and yet you come to me saying that all you have is information?"

      "It's good information—real good," Tibus insisted.

      "And what do you expect us to do with this information? You expect me to go out and find these riches myself? You're the thieves; come back when you've stolen something."

      She was standing up to go back upstairs—her coffee was probably getting quite cold—when a squeaky little voice made her stop. "We found Altador."

      Lady Nightsnow turned back around. It was the little Kougra who had spoken, staring after her with such an expression of fear that, if she had had any pity left in her, she would have felt it for him. He wore the same shabby thief's cloak as the other two, but it looked about three sizes too big for him, and his eyes still held the innocence of youth.

      "You weren't supposed to tell her until she paid, you little—"

      "Enough, Tibus," Lady Nightsnow said. She narrowed her eyes at the Kougra. "What did you say your name was?"

      "J—Jory," the Kougra replied. He tried to sink back further into the plush cushions. Too young, Lady Nightsnow thought, too young, too old, too daft—that's all that this guild is made of these days.

      "Altador's just a legend now—it's been gone for nigh on a thousand years," she said. "Even if it were still around, it'd be impossible to find."

      "Jory saw it, though," Tibus said, any profit that he had hoped to draw for his information apparently forgotten, "he saw it with his own eyes."

      It would have been more impressive if he had seen it with someone else's eyes, Lady Nightsnow thought. "That's not possible."

      "It is—he did. Tell her, Jory."

      "Tell her," Zip added. Little Jory wiggled, sitting on his paws and looking down at the floor, until Tibus clapped a wing across his back.

      "It was in Faerieland," he blurted.

      "Jory here's been working the Faerieland circuit—better stuff there than where he was in Brightvale. Right, Jory?"

      "Quiet, Tibus," Lady Nightsnow snapped, "if I wanted to hear incessant noise, I'd go to the Kadoatery. Go on, Jory."

      "There—I was in queen Fyora's chambers, and there was a weird light and I went over to look and—it was like looking in a mirror, but instead of my reflection, there was Altador."

      "Right," Lady Nightsnow said. "You looked through something in the chambers of the queen of Faerieland, which nobody else had ever seen before, and you saw a city that has been lost for centuries. Is that what you're telling me?"

      "Yes," she thought she heard Jory squeak, but it may have just been the floor above her creaking.

      "Honest, that's what he saw," Tibus said. "The lost city of Altador."

      "Lost cities really don't hold as much weight as they used to—they say Geraptiku is lost, but everyone and their uncle knows it's there. So unless you have more than faerie tales for me, Tibus, then I suggest you leave." She started to walk out again, hoping that the old proprietor hadn't bumped her drink off the table again, but Tibus insisted on making more noise.

      "Wait, that's not the whole story! Jory, tell her about the Techo who came out!"

      "I don't want to hear it, Tibus," Lady Nightsnow said.

      "But there's more! Come here and look! We hadn't even gotten to the best part yet! My lady!"

      She had walked up the first few stairs when there was a whoosh behind her, followed by the unmistakable noise of a knife hitting wood. She was about to turn around to reprimand Tibus for not only trying to assassinate her in her own lair, but failing so miserably to do so, when something golden caught her eye. It wasn't any normal knife that was sticking out of the wall—the hilt was gilded, the blade light and finely polished, and it had inscribed in it a sunburst like the ones that she had seen in history books as a child. She walked slowly back down the stairs and pulled it out of the wall.

      "What is the meaning of this, Tibus? Do you think that this is some sort of joke?"

      "Of course not, my lady," Tibus said, jogging down the corridor.

      "Of course not," Zip repeated, catching up to his partner in crime. Jory slunk out after the two of them, trying his best to conceal himself behind Tibus' cloak.

      "Jory," she said, her voice like the calm before the storm, "where did you get this dagger?"

      "The Techo from Altador dropped it—the one who came through the portal," he said to the inner fringe of Tibus' cloak. "Honest."

      An honest thief, she thought, how refreshing. Still, there was something in his voice that gave her pause. One Techo in all of Neopia would be rather difficult to find, but a portal... "Show me."

      "The dagger? My lady, you're holding it," Tibus said.

      "I'm not blind, Tibus. I meant the portal."

      "But it's in Fyora's castle," Tibus said, "there's no way that we're going to be able to—"

      "No portal," Lady Nightsnow said, "no profit. That's my deal. And besides, I should think that if you're half of the thief you claim to be up in the den on Terror Mountain, then you should have no problem breaking into the queen's chamber." She slipped the dagger into her belt and crossed her arms, watching the three thieves squirm. It was one of her favourite things to watch.

      "Of course—we're able to, my lady..."

      "Jory did it, and he's hardly more than a glorified street urchin."

      "Yes, but, his small size offered certain advantages in gaining access, and we can't—"

      "Jory." Lady Nightsnow did her best to not scare the boy, but her manner just seemed to do that naturally. "Will you show me the portal?"

      "Remember, pipsqueak—"

      "I'll make sure that Drackonack will reward you," Lady Nightsnow said, "if you've really found Altador as they claim, you can have whatever you want."

      Jory hesitated for a moment more, before stepping out from behind Tibus to stand in the dim light of the lantern. "I'll show it to you."

      She smiled coldly at him. "Good."

      "And then we'll get what we came for?" Tibus put in.

      "If you are there to show me the portal, then you'll get your reward." Her eyes were hard and cold. "Good night."

      Lady Nightsnow returned to her drink up above and heard no more from the three thieves that night, sipping and waiting and watching as the shadows grew shorter and the sun stole her safety.

      "An honest thief," she muttered to herself as the light had almost reached her. She shook her head. "No such thing."

     ***

      Fyora's palace wasn't new to her. She knew the drill to get in: a change from her normal black lace dress to a pink one, some makeup applied here and there, a few accessories, and she walked in like she was any other neopet. There wasn't so much of a crowd there that day, Lady Nightsnow remarked. Perhaps her highness had finally acquired enough from all of her faerie quests to finally be satisfied. As she glanced at those waiting in line, though, and saw the heaps of expensive stamps and plushies that they held in their arms, eyes wide and eager in hopes of receiving her blessing, she thought that perhaps that the queen's tastes had simply gotten more expensive. It did afford her the opportunity to cut a few fat purses, though, so she had no complaints.

      Tibus hadn't been clear how he, Zip, and Jory were going to be getting into the queen's chambers, but as she shoved her way through the crowds, Lady Nightsnow suspected she would be there first. There was no sign of them amongst the waiting throngs, and there was no better way to enter the chambers than through the queen's front door. There was no sense in sneaking around and breaking into things when the place was already open to those who dressed the part. They were petty, she knew, and they would always be petty, stealing candlesticks and broken pottery and acting in a part that they didn't know how to play.

      That was the difference between them and her. They acted; she was.

      The queue narrowed out to single file in the chambers, but the queen was too busy observing a Kacheek plushie to take any notice of the shadow in a pink dress slipping beneath the stairs at the far end of the room. Nobody was there yet, as she had assumed so she sighed in annoyance and began her waiting game once more. You couldn't trust thieves.

      It was another half hour before there was a rather large thump, followed by some muffled voices, and Lady Nightsnow knew that the others had arrived.

      "Good to see you again, my lady," Tibus said, emerging from around the corner of the stairs. He was still dressed in his same shabby thief's cloak, and had apparently made some sort of a descent through a high window. Lady Nightsnow glanced behind him just in time to see Zip hit the ground and Jory climb down nimbly behind him. That one at least has some skill, she thought.

      'Where's this portal I've heard so much about, Tibus?"

      "Good question," the Bruce said. "Jory?"

      The little Kougra looked at her nervously as he and Zip joined them behind the stairs. "It's—it's over here... my lady." He signaled with his paw around another corner, to an alcove that had once contained a very fine vase, until Lady Nightsnow had lifted it many years before. To her knowledge, the alcove had been empty ever since.

      "Seems a rather unlikely place for a portal," she pointed out. "Lead the way."

      Jory nodded, looking as determined as he could, and dashed on silent paws towards the alcove. Tibus and Zip followed close behind, looking as out of place as a faerie in Tyrannia, with Lady Nightsnow bringing up the rear more slowly.

      "This is it!" Jory was exclaiming in a whisper when she caught up. "This is the portal! This is where the Techo came out!"

      Lady Nightsnow peeked into the alcove. Sure enough, there was something on the wall that looked an awful lot like the drawings of Altador that she had seen in the libraries of the castles of her youth. And that, she realized, was the problem: it didn't look like a portal. It looked like a painting.

      "You said a Techo came through?" she asked Jory.

      "Yes—my lady. I was hiding in the shadows of the alcove, and he came out and dropped the dagger."

      Lady Nightsnow carefully pulled the dagger out from the folds of her dress. There was something unsettling about the sunburst in the hilt, though she couldn't say exactly what it was.

      "Try and go through, then, if you're so sure it's a portal."

      Jory nodded once and, carefully, stuck out his paw. When it reached the apparent portal, it hit the wall. He paused, drew his paw back, and defiantly tried again. Nothing.

      "He came through here!" he said. "I swear!"

      "Yeah," Tibus said, "else how would he have gotten the dagger?"

      "He's a thief," Lady Nightsnow said, "he probably stole it or something." She tossed the dagger so it whizzed past Jory's ear and stuck next to his 'portal'. "No portal, no profit. I stand by what I said."

      "But Lady Nightsnow, we came all this way—"

      "As did I, and all for nothing. Now stop bothering me, Tibus, before things turn ugly."

      "Hey, we gave you something, and we expect something in return." Lady Nightsnow only gave him a sorry-you-lost smile, before turning around and starting back out of the room. A flipper grabbed her on the shoulder. "Now listen here."

      Lady Nightsnow screamed.

      It seemed like half of Faerieland was running towards them by the time she stopped for air. She turned around and started daintily hitting Tibus over the head.

      "Thief! Filthy thief! Trying to steal my hard earned neopoints!" The look on Tibus' face made her want to laugh. "Somebody, help me stop them!"

      Jory was off like a flash before anybody could even try and catch him, but Zip and Tibus weren't so lucky. The three of them were soon surrounded by people who wanted to be heroes.

      "What's the matter here, ma'am?" a Grarrl asked.

      My lady, she corrected in her head. "These—these thieves were trying to steal my money! After all my hard work!" She started to cry dramatically.

      "Is that right, grubs?" the Grarrl asked. "You trying to steal from this lady?"

      Tibus finally seemed to recover some of his wits. "No... No! She's the one who's the thief, not paying us."

      "Why would some nice lady be paying the likes of you?" a Blumaroo asked.

      "Because she's Lady—"

      "Hey!" a Wocky cried. "My purse is gone!"

      "Mine too!" someone else echoed.

      "Arrest them!" called a third.

      Guards were summoned, and Lady Nightsnow watched as Tibus and Zip were dragged off. They'd be back, she knew; they always were. They might even be angry. But every thief needed pay, and she had the money to pay for what they had. So they'd come back with their mouldering books and half a cutlery set, and she'd buy it, like she always did, and eventually they'd forget. Probably not forgive, as thieves weren't exactly a forgiving lot, but they would definitely forget.

     ***

      It was dark outside when Lady Nightsnow strode back into Fyora's chambers, though the room was bathed in a light that seemed to permeate throughout Faerieland's buildings. She didn't quite know why she returned, but she soon found herself in the shadowy alcove once more, looking at the painting of Altador in front of her.

      "No such thing as an honest thief," she said, putting a paw on it. It didn't feel like a painting, but her paw hit the wall behind, so she told herself it had to be and withdrew quickly, as if perhaps the wall would suddenly devour her.

      "Lovely drawing, eh?"

      Voices behind her may not have surprised Lady Nightsnow any longer, but the unfamiliarity of the voice made the fur on her back stand up. She took the dagger out of the wall and turned around.

      "Easy there; I'm not going to hurt you." It was a Techo dressed in beggar's robes, looking at her with an easy smile and a face that she instantly distrusted.

      "It is," she said, signaling behind her. "Reminds me of things that I used to see in books. Beautiful, really. Rustic."

      "Rustic," he repeated, as if it were some sort of joke. "You slink around the palace at night a lot?"

      "I could ask the same of you."

      "I'm just passing through," he said with a shrug. "Say, could I buy that dagger off you? I've got the money for it right here."

      "Certainly," Lady Nightsnow replied, flustered. She named her price and he matched it, tossing a sack of coins in her direction.

      "Thanks," he said when she gave him the dagger. He slipped past her and into the alcove until the shadows covered him completely. "And Lady Nightsnow?"

      "Yes?"

      "You're right."

      She was about to ask the obvious follow up question of about what, but the Techo had vanished. She was used to being in the company of people who vanished constantly, but his disappearance still sent shivers up her spine. She wondered if there had been some truth to Jory's story in the first place, but she had touched the wall herself. It wasn't a portal in the least. She struggled to shrug the discomfort off as she walked out of the palace, hoping that the old blind proprietor would make her a hot drink when she god back.

      It took her until she was halfway back to realize that she had never given the stranger her name, and it wasn't until she was sitting at her usual table with her drink that she noticed that her purse was gone. To double cross a double crosser would take a master thief; some might even say a legend.

      "Kelland's dead," she told herself. "Altador's gone." But the words sounded hollow in her throat, and every time she closed her eyes, a sun inscribed on a hilt shone back at her.

The End

 
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