For an easier life Circulation: 91,831,644 Issue: 177 | 11th day of Awakening, Y7
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Stealing Hearts -- a Krawk Island Valentine

by schefflera


In the Month of Awakening, Masila found it necessary to alter her routine slightly and select a different table, in order to get out of the way of the Valentine's Day decorations. The Krawk Island version of Valentine's Day was... interesting, to say the least, and a bit messy. Pirates handled jewelry well enough, but flowers, hearts, and lace.... Let's just say that flowers didn't do too well in salt air, hearts seemed more likely to have belonged to an object of enmity than affection, and you didn't want lacing anywhere near your drink.

     Masila felt right at home, actually.

     She had been lurking in the tavern on Krawk Island on a regular basis for some months. She had her own table in the shadows, which no one else had tried to take after the first three weeks. She had systematically tried each of the dishes and drinks and now had a decent usual, a more expensive favorite which would be conspicuous to order too often, and several alternatives to keep the staff from growing too complacent. She had a handful of customers who were occasionally willing to pay for her expertise at some of her less impressive poisons, and given the tendency of pirates with coin to carry around a great deal more of it than was strictly necessary to buy dinner, she did legitimate work mainly to keep anyone from starting to wonder where she got her Dubloons.

     The green Acara was not entirely pleased about being Known there, but it was a natural consequence of spending too much time in one place. And strictly speaking, she was Recognized, but definitely not Known. No one had the first clue about the real extent of her abilities or her motives. And Masila was definitely pleased on the one or two occasions when that blithely oblivious Usul Hannah lent a hand to the busy tavern-girls and served her drinks.

     She was sipping one and eating a Stuffed Fish Head, which she strongly suspected was the missing part of the more expensive Headless Horsefish at the more exclusive Golden Dubloon up the beach, when a shadow escaped from the alarmingly pink-bedecked wall and approached her from behind. Masila tilted her shiny stein for a better, if distorted, view, then took a long drink, set it down, and waited until the shadow was nearly at her elbow before greeting it.

     "Kanrik," she murmured. "I understand you've been busy since you last saw me." Busy fawning over Hannah, at first, but this was the first time he'd turned up here. Busy after that... well, logically a thief of his ambition and ability, after killing Galem, would have moved into the power vacuum at the top of the Thieves' Guild. His clothing, while worn enough to denote use and avoid excessive attention, was in good enough condition that he must have been making a fair success of it. "Why don't you sit down?"

     She would have been unsurprised if he'd given her a reason, but instead the dark Gelert sat, cloak falling quietly around the other chair. "Masila," he replied. "I do believe you're the only person in the tavern who isn't eating something red or pink."

     That was not at all one of the ways she'd expected him to start the conversation, and after a moment she allowed herself to laugh. "I believe they get most of their food from Mystery Island, so there are plenty of choices for either a sweet tooth or heartburn. And they seem surprisingly enthusiastic about the holiday."

     "I noticed that. Interesting decorations. A bit messy, and more than a bit ostentatious."

     "The pirates seem to like ostentation." They had little patience for anything fancy or fussy, but however rough their decor or behavior, it was certainly showy.

     Kanrik lifted his head to catch the bartender's eye, and the two thieves saved their conversation until after Kanrik had bought himself a drink and a fish. And a second drink for Masila. Hmm. Either he was trying to poison her, which would be more than usually foolish, or he wanted something. "Careless with their gold, aren't they?" he asked softly.

     Masila smiled. "You've noticed? I suppose paying too much attention would imply they couldn't just go out and capture more. Their idea of economy is boasting entertainingly enough that someone else buys their drinks."

     "Hm." Kanrik chuckled and cut into his fish. "Maybe that's why Hannah was prancing about on the tables the night I hired her."

     "I suppose you came here looking for her?" Masila didn't quite snap, but she had, she thought, spoken too quickly. It would be difficult to carry out her planned revenge if she gave the game away. She'd known Kanrik would be suspicious if he found her here, but that was no reason not to act natural.

     "No," Kanrik said, his voice low and unexpectedly warm, "I came here looking for you."

     Masila gave him a more direct look than she had so far, appraising. This was different. Kanrik had found her fascinating before, but confident as he was at his work, he had known his place in the guild (liking it was another matter), had recognized her superior experience, and had never approached her. She'd done any approaching.

     But, of course, if she guessed correctly, he held a rather different place in the guild now.

     The pup might just be growing up at last.

     "And just why would you do that?" she parried. "Your accuracy in finding me is interesting, but I suppose it wasn't too difficult. I was having a pleasant, if raucous, vacation. I believe I like the beaches here better than on Mystery Island." Her eyes narrowed. "Is there Guild business?"

     "You weren't too difficult to find, no. It merely took a bit of interest and a long ear." His own long ears twitched forward, then swiftly back before they could dip themselves in his drink. The left one narrowly missed someone else's. "Perhaps it's Guild business. Perhaps it's personal. They overlap, at times." He raised one eyebrow, the expression pulling at the scar on his muzzle. "Why assume I was looking for Hannah?"

     "Well," Masila said, "you must admit, this is a more natural place to look for her than for me. I understand it's been her haunt for quite some time."

     "You came here to watch her, not for a vacation," Kanrik said softly. "Don't think I don't know."

     It would have been so much more convenient if he had come here looking for Hannah. But had he come to protect the Usul, or were there other reasons? Did he think he could charm Masila? "As you say," she murmured, "Hannah puts on quite a show."

     "So she does."

     "And will you be joining her throng of admirers? I understand she won't be the only one dancing on Valentine's Day."

     "I imagine Hannah has a surfeit of admirers," Kanrik said, sounding amused. "I doubt you lack for them, either, but yours may be more guarded. You tend to be intimidating."

     She knew Kanrik. She somehow doubted he'd say that, with or without this newly enhanced confidence, if she still intimidated him. "Why, thank you. Still, you seemed quite cozy with her last time I saw you -- or at any rate you were fighting on her side."

     Kanrik shrugged. "She and the Bori lad shared their fire -- with some persuasion -- after you poisoned me and left me in the snow."

     "I did not poison you," Masila said, nettled. "I drugged you. If I had poisoned you, you would be dead. If I hadn't drugged you, you would be dead, too."

     "I had a plan."

     She snorted. After letting loose the Bringer of Night and getting caught, he had tried to sneak a dagger close to Galem. With his arms tied, no less. Of course she'd had to intervene, telling Galem that banishment would be worse and making it look likely that Kanrik would die anyway, of cold or wild Snow Beasts. "What were you thinking? Galem wouldn't have let you get away with pulling a dagger during your own execution, even if your guards let you think you had hidden it adequately. One of them had probably already tipped him off. You should leave the plans to me, my dear."

     "Your most recent plan had just backfired rather spectacularly, mostly on me," Kanrik said drily. "Fool that I was to play along."

     So loosing the Bringer had been her idea. Even so, the business with the dagger had been stupid. "I did think it might work."

     "And you set me up to take the fall in case it didn't."

     "I didn't let you die of it."

     "Yes, yes, it all ended well enough." Kanrik drained his mug. "Still, even if I know better than to trust you, I miss your planning. Is there a way I might persuade you to end your little pirate vacation?"

     Masila gave him a long look. "Convince me," she said slowly, "that you don't prefer Hannah." She returned her gaze to her drink. The second one, now, that Kanrik had bought her. It wasn't poisoned. "Then I might consider it."

     Kanrik snorted, choked slightly on his fish, but managed to recover with a minimum of fuss. "Prefer Hannah? Is that what you think?" He shook his head and curled his paws around the empty mug, gaze moving up to where the Usul was laughing her way through some story with a pirate Acara blind in both eyes. "She reminds me of my sister," he said softly and a bit distantly. "Lively, musical... though my sister was, believe it or not, a bit more sheltered."

     "Was?" Masila asked.

     "She's dead." Kanrik looked back at her. "She died, and nearly my entire village died, of a plague. I didn't become a thief until afterward." He lowered his eyes to his plate. "The dancing, the singing, every now and again some other, smaller thing Hannah did would bring the past to mind. I managed well enough to lose her in the tomb, but when I ran into her again and found that some curse or other had struck her...." He sighed. "Watching her collapse and fade was all too familiar. And I did rather like her. I had to do something."

     "An interesting weakness."

     "Hers? Or are you suggesting that vulnerability to musical female Neopets who keel over and pass out could be a general problem for me?" Kanrik smiled wryly at her, the pensiveness gone. "I'll try not to make a habit of it."

      "And you're sure Hannah's no more to you than a sister?"

     "A bit less. I'm certainly not planning to treat her any more like a sister than I have," Kanrik said. "I understand her uncle killed her grandfather and she may have blown up the uncle, and while I wouldn't mind having the gem they were all quarreling over, I'm not interested in family feuds."

     "Would that be the Mermaid's Tear? I think I've heard the story." Masila smiled and added just above a whisper, "If we get it, we should definitely leave Krawk Island."

     "Naturally." Kanrik looked up and around for someone to wait on them. "In the meantime, why don't we order something pink?"

The End

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