A Dance With Destiny
It was a pleasant summer morning in Meridell. As the sun rose over the horizon, the servants of Meridell Castle were busy as Springabees; as it was the first anniversary of Meridell’s defeat of Lord Darigan, King Skarl decreed a banquet be held to celebrate. Or rather, a larger-than-usual banquet; King Skarl was prone to declaring spontaneous banquets for a variety of occasions, but this date in particular called for a proper celebration. As the vast halls of the castle bustled with servants cleaning up the castle for the sake of appearances – after all, a banquet like this would be attended by royalty from other lands in Neopia – a middle-aged green Quiggle in a rather posh yet old-fashioned suit hopped down the hall, stopping every now and then to issue orders to the servants. His name was Hopkins, and he was King Skarl’s majordomo. After offering some pointers on dusting to a rather clumsy Elephante, he hopped down a bit further and ended up colliding with a White Lupe, knocking the young knight over.
“My apologies, master…” Hopkins looked for his powdered wig as he got back up, and found the wig being handed back to him by the Lupe. “Ah! Sir Lyall! I was looking for you! Or, well… Any low-ranking knight, really.” He cleared his throat and croaked, his throat pouch inflating slightly as he did so.
“What’s the matter, Hopkins?” Lyall crouched down to look Hopkins in the eye; Lyall was quite a bit taller than the majordomo, after all. “Is there something in the sewers again?” He thought back to one of the earliest tasks he did as a knight and winced; he couldn’t get the smell of sewage out of his fur for a week after unclogging the sewers.
“I am afraid not, Sir Lyall.” Hopkins rummaged through the pocket of his waistcoat with his webbed hand, and eventually pulled out a rather eloquently-written message. “According to this note, a thief has announced their plan to steal from the castle’s treasury.” He pointed down the hall, towards the stairs that lead to the treasury. “Now, we have no idea what this thief looks like, but… From their flowing handwriting, I am forced to assume they usually write in Sakhmetian script.”
“To the lovely royals and dashing knights of Meridell Castle,” Lyall began to read aloud, “I hope you know this banquet is a perfect opportunity for a master thief such as yours truly to sneak into the treasury and commit the biggest heist in Meridell’s history. Or at least the biggest heist committed by an outlaw...’” Lyall was puzzled at this. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Hopkins looked nervous and shrugged, and Lyall raised an eyebrow at Hopkins’ reaction. “I guess you’d rather not answer. Anyway...” Lyall continued reading the message. “I don’t think grumpy old King Skarl will miss a few gemstones. Like, oh, I don’t know, the Ruby of Chen-Ra, the Golden Pearl or the Cyodrake’s Eye! See you tonight at the banquet~♥” After Lyall finished reading the message, he handed it back to Hopkins and pondered for a second. “Did… Did the thief seriously end their message with a drawn heart? That’s rather odd…”
“Indeed it is, Sir Lyall. I do think you should keep the message yourself, though. It might be a valuable clue. There’s a distinct scent to it, and you being a Lupe, well...” Hopkins gestured with his hand, seeking a response from Lyall.
“Well, we Lupes do have a rather good sense of smell. I’ll keep it close.” Lyall took a sniff of the message. “Hm. Smells like Ummagine. A bit of desert jasmine, as well.” He then stored the message in the satchel strapped to his waist. “Apparently they’re going to be a guest at the banquet… So they’ll likely be in disguise. Or at least pretending to be a performer; Skarl hired some entertainment from other lands to perform at the banquet for the guests, after all.”
Hopkins smiled approvingly at the young Lupe. “I’ll leave it up to you, then, Sir Lyall. I’m sure your father would be most proud of you if he was still here, my boy.”
“My father...” Lyall sighed and opened the locket he kept on his neck, looking at a picture of himself as a young child with a proud-looking older White Lupe in brilliant white-and-gold armour behind him. “It would be great if he was still here…” Lyall closed the locket and stood up. “I’ll stay on the lookout. I think you should go back to helping the servants prepare for the banquet, Hopkins.” Hopkins nodded and bounced away. Lyall turned towards the knights’ quarters to clean himself up after a long day of training. “I suppose if I’m attending the banquet, I should look my best. And maybe if I’m not in armour, I can blend in with the crowd better.”
As the sun set on Meridell, the Castle was bustling with activity. Peasants lined up by the drawbridge to watch as nobility and royalty from across Neopia file into the castle; they wanted to see the dazzling outfits sported by foreign nobles. Some castle guards stood by, keeping a watchful eye out for potential assassins among the crowd. A rather dazzling Desert Zafara clad in Sakhmetian dancer’s garb stepped out of an Apis-drawn carriage with some other performers. She brushed her long auburn mane out of her face and stared up at the castle. “Oh wow, it’s even bigger up close! I can’t wait to check it out for myself.” She strode up to the gate and grinned. “If I play my cards right, this’ll be my finest performance yet!”
Inside the castle, Lyall stood in the banquet hall, clad in fancy-looking garb. He blended in well with the nobility and royals in the banquet hall, and he looked around for potential suspects. “I don’t see anyone suspicious yet. But I should keep an eye ou-oof!” He felt someone bump into him, and looked behind him and saw a Striped Xweetok dressed in an ornate kimono, her arms crossed as she looked away with an irritated expression. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been standing in your way.”
She looked at him and sighed. “You don’t have to apologize. I don’t even want to be here, but the emperor didn’t feel like coming to Meridell.” She then bowed and said a greeting in Shenkuuvian. “My name’s Miraja. I’m an ambassador from Shenkuu, in case you wanted to know.”
Lyall looked back at her and grinned sheepishly. “My name’s Lyall. I’m… Well, I’m from Meridell, and I’ve never met someone from Shenkuu before.” As he talked to her, he picked up the scent of cherry blossoms; he realized it was her perfume. More importantly, he realized it didn’t match the scent on the letter.
Miraja rolled her eyes and laughed. “What, are you some sort of country bumpkin who got promoted to a guard?”
Lyall laughed nervously and scratched the back of his head. “Well, erm, something like that. My father was a knight, you see, but before he was a knight, he was a peasant. I was born after he was a knight, however, so… It’s not really like that, I guess.”
Miraja nodded. “Wait… You’re a White Lupe, and you’re the son of a knight… Are you Sir Hunter’s son?! Wow!” Miraja’s blue eyes started sparkling with excitement; Sir Hunter was one of her personal heroes.
“Well, yeah.” Lyall sighed. “But he’s dead now. He was killed in battle during the war with the Citadel.” Lyall took out his locket and looked at it longingly. “I wish he was still around. He was an even greater hero than he was in the tales you’ve heard. He cared about everyone, not just the people of Meridell.”
Miraja looked a bit sad. “I’m sorry I reminded you that he’s, you know… Dead. So, um, I have to go hobnob with some nobleman. Maybe I can score a trade agreement for the Kreludite in Cogham’s mine-oof!” Miraja was knocked over by a Desert Zafara, who looked back with a surprised look on her face as the Xweetok was caught by the Lupe.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry!” The Zafara grinned sheepishly, hiding her hands behind her back. “I didn’t mean to knock you over, ma’am!”
“Don’t call me ma’am. I’m not an old lady!” She stood up and got up in the Zafara’s face. “Sheesh, I’d think that a dancer would be lighter on her feet!”
“Oh really?” The Zafara smirked. “What would you know about being light on your feet?”
Miraja growled and bared her teeth at the Zafara. “I know more about it than you!”
Lyall got in between the two. “Please, don’t fight in here. This isn’t the war room...” He signed resignedly; he was used to breaking up fights between the other knights. As much as the crown didn’t want people to know, most of the current roster of Meridell’s Knights were rowdy young Neopians, prone to scrapping with each other over perceived slights or out of boredom.
The Zafara swooned and landed in Lyall’s arms. “Oh, thank you, brave knight! You saved me from this ruffian!”
“Who are you calling a ruffian?!” Miraja’s tail started flicking in rage. “I’m not gonna take that from a floozy like you!” She glared at the Zafara, who smiled smugly back at her.
Lyall gave the Zafara an unamused look and dropped her on the floor; she crashed down with a yelp, which caused other guests to stare at the trio. “Um… Nothing wrong here, I just broke up a fight between a guest and the entertainment, is all...” He then noticed a faint scent of Ummagine and desert jasmines in the air. He realized the thief had to be nearby. He couldn’t act too overtly, though.
The Zafara picked herself up off the ground and glared at Lyall. “Well, looks like the Knights of Meridell are just as brutish as I’ve been told.” She flipped her brown mane, smacking Lyall in the face in the process, and turned away. As she walked away, Lyall noticed the fans strapped to the sash around her waist as she walked off.
Miraja stood next to Lyall, her fur standing on end from her anger. “Rrrgh, the nerve of some people...” Miraja then stared at Lyall’s chest and gasped. “Um, Lyall… I think you’re missing something...”
“Hm?” Lyall looked down and gasped in disbelief; his locket was missing! “It had to have dropped when she fell on me… Wait...” Lyall narrowed his eyes and scowled. “I’m sorry, I have some official business to attend to.” He walked off towards the knight’s quarters, not realizing Miraja was following him.
“I can’t believe she stole my locket...” Lyall said as he put on his regulation chain mail armour. “At least I know she’s the thief, and given how strong her perfume is, I can easily find he-”
“Mind if I help?” A figure dropped down from the rafters of the knight’s quarters, and Lyall drew his sword and took a fighting stance. “Hey, Lyall! Chill! It’s just me, Miraja!” Miraja waved awkwardly; Lyall noticed she was wearing a sleeveless tunic, an obi sash, tight leggings, and footwraps. He then saw how toned her arms were.
“You’re a ninja?” Lyall asked, a look of disbelief on his face. “I thought you were an ambassador.”
“Well…” Miraja awkwardly teetered back and forth on her toes. “I’m trained to protect the Emperor and any other diplomats he sends. He sent his daughter Lunara here, and I was sent to protect her, you know?” She grinned sheepishly.
Lyall shook his head; he was surprised that the Shenkuuvian ambassador he met at the banquet was a warrior. “Well, that’s actually convenient. I could use some help in case she has any accomplices.”
Miraja grinned and pounded her fists together. “She won’t get away from us!”
Lyall nodded and sheathed his sword. He then sniffed the air. “I smell Ummagine. She’s nearby.” Lyall followed the scent, and Miraja followed him. Miraja leapt up to the rafters and ran along the beams, and the moonlight shone through the windows, shining across her face. She caught a glance of a slender silhouette sneaking along the halls, and gestured to Lyall to follow her. Lyall proceeded to do so on the ground, and they hid around the corner. They followed her to outside the treasury room. From their vantage points, they saw the mysterious Zafara outside the room.
The Zafara was performing a mystical dance using the fans she carried with her. As she danced, the Skeith guards in front of the treasure room stared at her, entranced. After one last graceful step, she struck a pose and the guards opened the doors for her. “Ooh, thank you, boys! You’re so sweet!” She giggled as she started to walk into the treasure room; an incredible amount of treasure from across Neopia stood before her, and she gazed upon it all with a grin on her face. “Oh, wow! There’s more gold in here than in Sutek’s Tomb! If I can charm some more guards, I’ll be able to make out like, well… Like a bandit!”
“Stop right there!” Lyall stood scowling in the doorway, pointing his sheathed sword at the thief. “You’re under arrest, thief!”
Miraja jumped down from the rafters beside him and took a fighting stance, a confident grin on her face. “It’s really rude to take things that don’t belong to you, you know!”
The Zafara giggled. “Oh, why don’t you tell that to your handsome friend here, ma’am? It’s a lesson that the big, strong Meridell knights really ought to learn!”
Miraja stood there puzzled. “What do you mean it’s a lesson the knights ought to le...” Miraja’s facial expression turned blank when she realized what the Zafara had just called her, and her fur stood on end in rage as she glared at the Zafara. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME ‘MA'AM’!” She jumped up in the air to deliver a flying kick to the Zafara, but she effortlessly dodged Miraja’s kick. “You little-EEP!” Miraja ducked down as the metal fan swung right above her head.
“Oh my, a proper lady such as yourself ought to watch her language!” The Zafara nonchalantly caught brandished her fans, striking an elegant pose. “I should really introduce myself. My name is Allorah, and I’m the most famous phantom thief in the Lost Desert! I’m wanted in seven different kingdoms, and by several dozen people!” She winked at Lyall, causing the Lupe to blush. “I’m sure you thought I was just a dancer, and… Well, I actually am a dancer, but a girl has to have a day job, too, y’know.”
“I don’t care what your day job is! Give Lyall back his locket or I’ll rip those fans into shreds!” Miraja ran up to Allorah and tried to punch her in the face, but the Zafara merely dodged by dancing away. “Can’t you just stand still?!”
Lyall ran in and tried to clobber Allorah with his sheathed sword, but she parried with her fans. “I’m not letting you get away with any of this treasure! It’s the property of Meridell!”
“Is it really, though? I suppose they didn’t teach you about how, say, the Orb got in Meridell’s hands, did they? They don’t want to scare off potential recruits, after all.” Allorah backflipped over, kicking Lyall from underneath his chin and knocking him over. “Oh, and two against one? That’s hardly fair! Perhaps I should fix that...” She tapped one of her feet on the stone floor and looked back at the doorway. She whistled to the guards, and they stood at attention. “Oh, boys? Could you give your favourite dancer a hand?” The Skeith guards rushed to her side, their weapons drawn.
“Oh, so three against two is fair?” Miraja growled and punched the ground, sending a shockwave towards Allorah.
Allorah faked a yawn and jumped out of the way, landing with a flourish. “Please. With those moves, you can’t get the drop on me.” She whistled again. “Oh, boys? Take care of them for me while I grab as much of this nice, sparkly treasure as I can, would you?”
The guards charged at Lyall and Miraja, bellowing with rage as they did so. The Green Skeith swung his halberd at Miraja, who dodged nimbly and countered with a swift kick in the gut, knocking the guard back a bit. However, he recovered quickly, and charged at her again!“Sheesh, these guys are tougher than they look!” Miraja continued to dodge the Skeith’s attacks and getting in some precise hits when she could, but the guard fought like a Neopian possessed. “Lyall, a little help here?!”
Lyall was busy parrying blows from the Red Skeith guard’s mace with his sheathed sword. “I’d honestly love to, but I can’t right now!” Lyall then struck the Skeith in the arm, but the blunt impact didn’t even cause the hulking guard to flinch. “I think we’re a little outmatched here...” The Skeith then swung his mace into Lyall with a loud roar, sending the Lupe flying across the treasure room; he landed in a pile of gold, and picked himself up, hurting from the sheer force of the guard’s strike. He looked at Miraja and saw that she had just been clobbered with the shaft of the Green guard’s halberd, who stood over her ready to finish her off.
“Excuse me!” Allorah turned around, pouting at the guards. “I really don’t want either of them dead, boys! Just knock them out if you can.” She scoffed and returned to gathering the treasure in a bag of holding. “What brutes...”
As the green guard looked at Allorah, Miraja spring back up and kicked him in the face, knocking him out cold. “Ha! Nice job there, thief! You’re messing your own plan up!” Miraja heard a loud CLANG, and looked over to see the Red Skeith guard pass out after Lyall smacked his helmet with his sheathed blade. “Now we’ve got you!”
Allorah took out a handkerchief and pretended to cry. “Am I going to jail now? Oh, what’s a poor girl to do? I’m going to lose everything!” She faked sobbing into the handkerchief, and when she pretended to blow her nose, she disappeared in a cloud of smoke! The smoke filled the room, causing Lyall and Miraja to cough and cover their eyes.
Miraja opened her eyes and looked around. “Where in Neopia did she go?” She jumped on top of a golden statue of an ancient Qasalan Emperor. “Sheesh, this guy’s kinda mean-looking...”
Lyall looked on the floor and saw his locket along with a note. “To my knight in shining armour,” he read, and Miraja jumped down to listen. “If you’re reading this, it means I’ve run off with a nice, sparkly treasure. I do wish I could see Skarl’s face when he realized he’s been stolen from. It’s just desserts, after all; like the Code of Chen-Ra says, ‘an eye for an eye, and a fang for a fang,’ y’know? Maybe someday you’ll find someone who’ll tell you all about the Orb’s history… Oh well, toodles for now~♥”
Miraja scratched her head. “Did she seriously end her note with a heart? What a weirdo…” Suddenly, Miraja’s ears twitched as she heard approaching footsteps. She turned around and saw a tall Blue Grarrl wearing dark grey customized armour, a pair of Draik guards standing beside him. “Uh-oh...”
“Stop right there, thi… Lyall? You found the thief already?” Torak then looked at Miraja and did a double-take. “Lady Miraja? You’re the thief?!” He then motioned to the guards. “Arrest her. Even if she is part of the Imperial Guard, she tried to steal from the Royal Vault...” The guards ran up to Miraja and shackled her hands and feet together.
“H-hey! I’m not the thief!” Miraja tried to break the chains, but they were magically reinforced just in case the thief was had supernatural strength. “Let me go! I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Lyall ran over to Torak. “Sir Torak, you’ve got the wrong Neopian. The thief, well… She got away… And she took some treasure with her. I’m not sure which.”
Torak looked at Lyall and thought for a moment before nodding. “I have no reason to doubt what you said. After all, your father always told me about how you’ve always been a bad liar.” He looked towards the guards. “Release the restraints! That’s an order!” The guards looked at each other, a bit confused, and freed Miraja, who proceeded to stick her tongue out and pull down her eyelid at them. Torak looked at the feisty Xweetok and rolled his eyes. “Give me the note, Lyall.” He read through it. “… Whatever you’ve read on that note, you should forget it. It’s just slander against the crown and the knights.” Torak looked a bit guilty, not so much for something he did as it was for hiding something the knights did in the past. “Go back to your quarters. That’s an order, boy.”
Lyall saluted and nodded. “As you wish, Sir Torak. I should probably escort Lady Miraja back to the banquet hall, though...”
Torak shrugged and shook his head. “I suppose that would be alright. I’ll also explain it all to Skarl for you. I don’t want you to be the one to explain that the thief got away. Your father would have beaten me senseless if I let Skarl pin the blame on you...” He then walked off, the Draik guards following him.
“Uh, Lyall?” Miraja tapped Lyall’s shoulder and had a sheepish look on her face. “You mind if I come with you so I can change back into my kimono. I… Kind of need some privacy.”
Lyall looked at Miraja and nodded. “I’ll stand outside the knight’s quarters and make sure no one goes in. You’ll have to come up with an excuse for why you were gone for so long, though...” He laughed awkwardly. “Like Torak said, I’m not a good liar.”
Miraja grinned impishly and gave Lyall a thumbs up. “Don’t worry, I’ll be quicker than a Qilin dashing across the Jade River!”
Later that night, Allorah was dancing on stage at the Cranky Crokabek, a tavern in a rough part of Meridell Castle Town. She was wearing the Ruby of Chen-Ra in a pendant around her neck, and the patrons, most of them members of Meridell’s Thieves’ Guild, were laughing and singing in her honour. “Oh, boys! You’re all too much!” The various scoundrels toasted to her name, and she smiled.
After a few more hours of dancing and singing, the tavern keeper, a Purple Tuskaninny, bellowed that the tavern was closed. Allorah waved goodbye at her fans as they left the establishment. She then walked off the stage and to her room, where she laid down in a cot; she had to prepare for her long trip back to the Lost Desert. “I have to admit… I get the feeling that knight is going to do something great someday. Maybe he’ll even make up for what Sir Claudus did all those years ago…” She closed her eyes and began to fall asleep, tired from a night of dancing and thievery.