Strange Strangers: Part One
It was a market day when the two strangers first entered the town. Thinking back, maybe they were trying to blend in with Neopians coming in and out to trade. I didn't really pay much attention to them, since I was keeping my eyes peeled for- well, opportunities. I had spotted a likely one that I could easily take on my own and also bring in a nice haul when out of “nowhere”, two strangers chose to stop very near to where I stationed myself and discuss something.
“Remember what I told you. Until you have got that, we will not leave this town.” This was being said by the smaller of the two, a Moehog.
“As you say, Master. But I really don’t see any point of doing this.”
Master? Well, I could have laughed out loud there and then if I were to judge the whole exchange based on size. The Eyrie didn’t look much older than I and is smaller than an averaged sized Eyrie, but he still towers over the Moehog! What made it even funnier was the calm yet deadly way the Moehog said all these and Eyrie resigning to what he’s ordered to do. But then again, experience has taught me time and again that it isn’t size, but how one handles yourself in situations. Which proved its point almost immediately after that.
I suddenly felt a large hand grab my arm from behind roughly, but years of having this done to me formed and honed my reflexes to break that uncomfortable hold. Quickly I made myself crouch down, push my shoulder hard against the owner of that hand and straightened up. Once he had steadied himself, Phontus glared down so fiercely that it made his face look uglier that it already is. Looks like I’ll be paying for that trick, but it’ll be worth for all the times he did that to me.
I glared back up with equal fury. “What? You’ve made me lose my target.” Which was partially true since I had got myself caught up in the interesting exchange nearby and let my opportunity get away. Phontus growled “You think you’re something just because you're the fastest Picker in town and Chief likes you for that. Well, you’re wrong!”
“Oh, of course I am wrong! You the biggest and strongest Picker, and you follow orders well… Chief definitely prefers you more than me, since that’s all you’re good for!”
“You, is that-“
“What is it?” I repeated again, more to cover up my insult than anything else. “I don’t think you came all the way hereabouts to yell at me for being the fastest Picker.”
“Chief wants to see you now. And you know what that means.”
Oh, I do know. It can only be really good or really bad. More often it is the latter, with him howling the place down over the way we Pickers have been abysmally bringing in the earnings. Bah! He should be asking himself what is making us Pickers not bring in enough, not why. I should be the one asking why, as I haven’t done anything lately that would’ve made Chief yell at me. Which in itself is rare. After all, I am the fastest and one of the more stealthy Pickers. When I had first joined and got assigned to work with the Pickers, the daily earnings picked up almost immediately. From then on, we could be relied on almost all the time to bring in something of enough value that it also contributes a sizable amount to the daily one solid meal funds to feed our Company.
Because of that, I was more curious than nervous when I met Chief. And Chief had no reason to yell at all.
“Ah, there you are Aethos! Come have a seat. You too, boy- Phontus, is it? I want you both here.”---
Two weeks after that found me gathering information for the operation that is planned to be done two weeks’ later on one of the biggest houses located in Titanium territory... Not the safest place if you’re working for the Company, but it is part of the reason why Phontus and I were chosen out of all the Pickers to do this job. We are young enough (at least I am, I can’t say for Phontus) that we’re the least likely to rouse any suspicions and won’t be recognised as Company immediately. We weren't given much details as to what the operation is going to be about, but anyone who works with the Company knows that there is definitely a valuable prize if Chief intends to do an operation. While Phontus was more than eager to be part of this important operation, he had always preferred the roles where he could physically bash his way in and waltz out with the prize. Which left me to do most of the information gathering while he follows the Gatherers and Scrappers around with their preparations. Not that I minded much... I had always preferred doing this sort of thing alone, though it meant that I could hardly do much else.
It was then when I caught sight of the Eyrie stranger. I saw him walking briskly past the same house that I was watching, not once but many times! It didn’t take me long to realise that he is somehow there for the same purpose that I am, leading me to wonder if he was hired by Titanium or does he and his Moehog master work on their own. Eventually, he settled down someplace where I could just see him. As for me, I made sure that I was comfortable and planned where I could grab a quick meal and bring it back to my post. With that Eyrie stranger around, it could cause the operation to fail and won’t be good for all of us if that happens.
So, I had to spend a few hungry hours while watching the surroundings and making myself inconspicuous to the Eyrie. It was only when he got up and left the area did I dash off to find a place within Company territory to grab and eat something. I was so hungry that I impulsively took more than was safe and had to use my speed and skills to get away from an angry baker. After losing the baker, I headed back to the borders of Company territory to save myself time when I bumped into an unwelcome co-worker.
“This doesn’t taste bad! Where did you get it from?”
“You try grabbing from all the bakers in this city yourself… You’ll definitely get the right one sooner or later. And I’ll take it back now!” was my reply as I made a quick grab for the stolen bread. Phontus just grinned lazily at me and downed it all. “You try that yourself… if you can! WAHAHAH!”
When he was done laughing himself silly at his “good” joke, he prodded me with another question.
“Anything of interest?”
“No. Nothing.” I told my barefaced lie in between large mouthfuls of bread and pasty I managed to keep out of Phontus’ reaches. It wasn't the fact he stole my hard earned bread that made me tell him that. It was rather; if he can steal my bread so freely, he can just as easily claim that he saw the strangers and get all the credit for my hours of information gathering for two Neopians. When I tell this piece of information, it'll be in right in front of Chief and nowhere else.
Somehow, that chance never came about. For one thing, Chief himself was so busy making his own preparations that I hardly see him. Another, was a conversation that actually set an ongoing plan of mine into motion just hours after Phontus’ snitched my bread.
I almost jumped a mile into the air while I was back at my post in Titanium Territory when a voice behind me asked “May I sit myself here, boy?” I didn’t even hear the Moehog come up from behind me! My shocked expression must have showed itself all too clearly as he explained “I am just here to catch my breath and to keep an eye on that Eyrie you’ve been watching.” I was still too shocked to do anything, so the Moehog just sat himself down on one the unused jars with a sigh. “You’ve chosen a good spot for watching, boy. If only I can say the same of that Eyrie.”
I made no comment and we both just watched in silence. Eventually, I asked “Why are you watching him?”
“To be sure what he’s doing is right. This time, he is just getting a pass.” Putting their talk I heard two weeks earlier and what I was just told together, I came up with just an idea what they could be: a duo of thieves. But it could be wrong as all that I gathered of them is limited. So I ventured another question. “Who are you to be doing that?”
“Hmm, I am what you could call a wanderer that happened to take on this Eyrie as a pupil. Nothing more. What about you though? I am sure there is more to you than watching one particular house for days. Or picking pockets for that matter.” And I thought I couldn’t be stunned into even more silence, just that I wasn’t sure which stunned me more; that the strangers were just master and pupil or the unexpected statement that I pick pockets. But I tried cover up with “I think you got the wrong Neopian, I don’t pick pockets.”
“Really? I wouldn’t deny it if I were you, boy. But if you insist, can you explain how come something like this,” he drew out a silver ring with an amethyst from his pouch “was in your pocket?” What?? How did- I quickly felt my pockets and realised that I had given myself away when I felt it still there. “Alright, fine,” I grouched. “You’ve caught me. But I don’t see what else is there to me aside from you say what I am.”
“Oh, I’ve seen more of you than you think… I had been watching you the whole time since we came to this place. You actually been keeping insignificant amounts of goods for yourself behind your superiors’ backs, since you’re the one who makes off with them after your group does the pickpocketing. Which tells me; you don’t intend to stay with them long and have other plans. Am I right so far, boy?”
I was more than stunned at that point. The Moehog had seen all that there is to me and I have to admit, I felt fear for the first time in a while. I had thought Chief should be someone to watch for, but I eventually got the measure of him and started to do what I had to do to make my own living. This Moehog… he is another thing altogether!! If anything though, this could mean that I can play out my own plans and ideas much faster… If I choose to ally myself with him.
The Moehog, as though reading my mind followed with “I take that as a yes and that you’ve been considering your options. Well, what is your choice now?”
“My choice is: I make a request of you. That you take me along with your pupil when you leave this city. I want to forge my own path elsewhere.”
“As I thought you would. But you should know that I did not accept that pupil of mine easily and that he had led a hard life ever since. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Sure I do. Just to clear things with you first, I only want to go to a city far from this and make my living there that won’t involve doing what I’ve to do now. I don’t intend to follow you and your pupil around.”
“Fair enough, boy. But just so I clear things with you too, you will address me as Master Choirus or Master from now on. And you’ll have your manners when you speak to both me and my pupil. If not, I can just drop a few words with your leader and I’ll leave you behind to survive the aftermath on your own.”
“Done deal, Master. But if I may confirm something?”
“Do you happen to be that Master Choirus?”
“You’ll find that out on your own at your own time. Now, just focus on what you need to prepare for the following days to come.” Which was just what I did.
The following days leading up to the big operation were filled with gatherings and discussions about what would happen. We had to do all these while continuing on with our own preparations. It didn’t help that Phontus and I had a large role in this operation: we will make our way in, get a certain seal and signet ring, and then find a certain high ranking Titanium member to plant these items on him without his knowing it. Luckily, I spend the short moments where I am not required to do anything just thinking through what I’ll need to do to keep my plan working. There were so many details to think over and work through, that I wasn’t sure if it would work out as so many things working in my favour had to happen first. But I managed to discuss it with the Moehog, who only said “Some things will be handled one way or another. You, just ready yourself to be stealthy and fast as never before. And you should use your wits more.”
While it was encouraging to know that, I was discouraged to hear what he had to say about my capabilities. I had to admit that what the old Moehog said was true though. I needed to be really stealthy for my plan to work and faster than I ever had to make it happen and to make my own exit. But wits? That was one part I felt that the Moehog had wrong there… I use it all the time!---
It was at the time when most Neopians should be asleep. But we weren’t like most. It was finally time to set the operation into motion. I weaved my way through the dark streets with Phontus close behind me. When we arrived at the house of our attentions for the past weeks, we waited for a sign from our insider that it was good to enter and get what we needed. I tried to use that time to go through my plan when Phontus had to be extremely annoying.
“When we get out of there, I think I should be the one holding those first and passing it to you later.”
“Phontus. We went through this already many times with Chief and the rest. And I thought you agreed.”
“Your being speedy doesn’t guarantee that it will be safe! What if someone assaults you?”
“Then you should have brought it up earlier in those meetings. And wasn’t speed the whole point here? We are supposed to get those things there fast so we won’t be the suspected ones.”
“Still! Something may happen!”
“Oh- The signal! Let’s move!” We dropped the argument and made our way to a window. There were a few oil lamps burning but it was very much dimmer inside than outside. It was a good thing the Company had prepared themselves, we already knew the layout of the whole house with help of the insider. I moved swiftly but with caution, it was so dim that I was a little worried that we might knock into something and make it fall over. Eventually we got to the room where the ring and seal was. Phontus headed eagerly for the table, but I knew better and went right over to a chest just beside the table. There they were!
“Let me see it!”
“We need to move now! You can see it once we're far enough from here.”
“Let me hold it then!” I just ignored him by letting myself out the window. From there we made our way to the garden and let ourselves out the house grounds by climbing a tree next to a surrounding wall and dropping ourselves on the other side. It didn't mean we were save yet though. We still had a difficult delivery to do and we need to be fast! By now, I was going to set my plan into motion. The problem was, I still hadn't thought through how I was going to make it happen. Little did I know that the answer would come from my annoying colleague!
He was still sulking about the fact that I get to hold the important objects as we dashed deeper into Titanium territory. We were almost reaching the appointed place to plant our items when he suddenly asked “We arriving at their second-in- command’s now, right?”
I stopped short. “Their second-in-command? What is this?”
“Don't tell me you don't know who their second-in-command is!” he replied scornfully.
“I know full well who he is, genius. What I don’t get is; what he has to do with our delivery.”
“You didn't hear? We are supposed to deliver these to him, they mentioned it in the last meeting!”
I was genuinely surprised to hear of this. “What?? No, I didn't know about this!”
“They were mentioning this while you were on your way to yesterday's meeting.”
“Real genius you are to tell me now! Fool! His place was the house with Kyrii fountain and we had passed it so much earlier!”
“What!!! You've got to be joking!! How would you know that?”
“Because, I had been watching the whole area for the past few weeks! Thanks to you, time has been wasted coming all the way here for nothing! You could have even told me when we we're just outside the house earlier! Ah... but I shouldn't have been surprised. The only good things you have are your muscles and physical strength. With your sift-like brain, you would've forgotten until we reached that place and found that it was the wrong one!!”
“You! Take what you said back now and apologise!!!”
“Wow, I didn't expect you to even know the word “apologise”!” The next thing I knew, I was on the ground and had been beaten thoroughly by Phontus. The beating I had received this time was so bad that I could barely move for a few minutes for the pain of it. During that time, Phontus took those items from me and set off back from where we came from... towards my plan. I smiled to myself though every single movement did hurt but it really was worth it this time. It turned out that the old Moehog had been right... I hadn’t been using my wits as much as I should have! It had been a good thing that Phontus chose that moment to tell me of the new change of plan or I wouldn’t be able to. I got up and trudged back the same way Phontus went, as fast as I could.
To be continued…