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Pet Name: Twighlight_Dancer
Somewhere on Terror Mountain
“Ha! A royal flush.” The Xweetok smirked, her blue eyes flashing as she set down the suit of spades. “That’s another game. Looks like it’s payday, boys.”
A chorus of grumbles resounded around the table as the band of players fished clinking Neopoints from their pockets. ‘Victory,’ the Xweetok thought, as her two companions piled the coins high.
“Not again. You’ve won ten, Twi. This’s all I have left,” Tark said with a groan. The infamous Gelert shook his head. “Y’know, I’d call you a thief, but...” The Xweetok threw him a grin, swishing her tail.
“As Meridell's official scourge — ye Twighlight Dancer — I’ll take that as a compliment, Tarkie. A girl can never have enough practice,” she said. “Who knows when you’ll have to steal Skarl’s socks.”
“Bah. You won’t always be lucky, treerat,” Valin muttered, taking a swig of Krakuberry Grog. Red liquid splashed as he set the tankard down, and the masked blue Mynci scrunched his face, eyeing the pile of coins with something akin to envy. “You mark me. The luckier you get, the more you gotta watch your step. Things can’t be perfect forever, missie. Call it a random event or an act of fate. It’ll happen.”
“Maybe.” Twi shrugged, clearing the pile of chips. “I’m just saying, though, how many times have I outrun Skarl’s men now? Or Hagan’s? And Kelpbeard’s? Or even Fyora’s men that one time. Me and Elsi are okay,” she cooed, tickling a small Dragoyle beneath the chin. The yellow petpet, Elsinore, chirped merrily and swept the winnings into a brown satchel with her tail.
“I’d err on the side of caution, Twi,” a voice boomed. The trio started as the door burst open with a gust of frigid air. A hooded figure strode into the room, his cloak billowing behind him. Long blue ears peeked from beneath his cowl, and a sharp dagger hung at his belt. He narrowed his eyes, taking in the grimy room. Rough wooden beams and flickering candles adorned the walls, complete with nooks and hidden passages. The perfect hiding hole for a thief. The Gelert crossed his arms. “Can’t say this is the welcome party I expected. Is this it?”
“Kanrik!” Tark exclaimed with a grin. “Just the Gelert for the job. Come here. Sit down and show our Twi who the real poker master is. She’s robbed us blind! It’s practically criminal.”
“We were wondering when you’d be back, boss,” Valin drawled. “I’m itching for a job. What’s the news from Neopia?”
Kanrik scowled, pushing off his hood and settling into a chair. He shook his head.
“It’s not good,” he sighed. “Our operations may be in jeopardy. We need to stay vigilant.”
“Boss,” Valin scoffed. “You don’t need to tell me twice! I’m Valin the Quick.”
“Except at poker. Stuff it, Val. What happened, Kanrik?” Twi asked. “We’re always careful.”
“Listen, it’s not enough anymore. We need to tighten our belts. Keep to the shadows. I was in Meridell, gathering intelligence reports from our associates. There are rumors… whispers across the lands of a Thieves Guild takedown,” Kanrik hissed.
“What?” Twi gasped. The trio of poker players’ eyes widened. Kanrik held up a paw.
“It’s true, but there’s more. Officially, the siege is under Skarl’s name,” Kanrik said. “But I have a few sources that say the Sway are the real masterminds. My contact said they plan to take the Factions down, one by one, to finally finish the whole Obelisk fiasco from a few years back. They’re trying to take control of the Oracle for good.”
“Neopia wouldn’t stand for it…right?” Tark asked, glancing between his friends. Kanrik shrugged.
“It’s hard to say. Of course, from the Sway’s perspective, as long as the Thieves Guild exists, we pose the greatest threat. Any prize they take, we’ll take right back.” He chuckled darkly, reaching out for Valin’s grog. He took a quick sip. The blue Mynci glowered at the Guildmaster, but Kanrik met his gaze head on. “Don’t look at me like that, Valin. We’re family now. And you still owe me for the whole Ice Cave Bori ordeal. The least you can do is share a little juice with a weary traveler,” he drawled.
Valin made a face, but couldn’t keep the blush from creeping. Twi knew he hated when Kanrik reminded him of the Ice Cave ordeal.
“Anyways, they had these tacked up all over the Meridell,” Kanrik continued. He pulled a crumpled parchment from the folds of his cloak and carefully spread it over the table. “They’re spreading across Neopia. Brightvale and Roo Island already have them, and envoys have gone to Queen Fyora and King Altador for assistance in the hunt. They say they’re out to clean up Neopia.” The sketch of a snarling Xweetok glared up from the poster, dagger in hand, eyes dark and menacing. Thick, red lettering beneath the image read:
“At the bequest of His Majesty, the Illustrious King Skarl of Meridell,
A reward of 100,000 NP shall be offered
For the living capture of that bilious blue Xweetok brigand:
Ye Twighlight Dancer
Wanted for theft, perjury and the Sock Heist of Y9
Travels with a menacing yellow Dragoyle
LAST SPOTTED: The Ice Caves, Terror Mountain”
Twi’s eyes widened, and Valin whistled low beneath his breath. “Well I’ll be,” the Mynci breathed. “Luck did run out after all. How in twenty lands did they know you’re here, Twi? Your last gig was in Brightvale, wasn’t it?”
“I — ” Twi started.
“It doesn’t matter. She’s not the only one,” Kanrik cut in. “There are posters for us all. They know we’re all here; they’ve connected the dots. What matters is what we do about it. We can’t risk guards combing Terror Mountain and pinning us down here. They know what we look like and what our patterns are. So we need to outthink them. Draw them away. Go underground.”
“W-wait. Underground?” Tark asked, his eyes wide. “I don’t know, Kanrik. I don’t like Moltara much. It gives me the heebie-jeebies and it’s SO hot. I’m more of a cold weather guy — ”
“No, beefbrain. He means we need disguises,” Twi said. “We need to stay hidden.” Kanrik nodded gravely.
“That’s right. A wardrobe change won’t be enough, either. In Meridell, they stopped every blue Xweetok, Mynci and Gelert in sight. Here’s hoping they haven’t caught any of the others. I barely got past the guards myself. No, what we need are paintbrushes, transmogrifiers, morphing potions… anything that will keep us one step ahead.” Tark opened his mouth, but Kanrik held up a hand. “You can always change back later. But we need to scatter the members and keep our ears to the ground to find out what we can. If the Sway really is behind it all, we’ll need a more serious solution than even a change in identity.”
“How much time do we have?” Valin asked, his brows furrowed. Kanrik scowled, one paw toying with the dagger hanging at his belt.
“Not long — “
“Kanrik!” The door burst open again, and a candle extinguised with a puff of cold air. A Usul with chestnut brown hair stood in the doorway, her face framed by a furred hood and a wreath of snowflakes. A ruby flush crept over her cheeks and her eyes were full of warning.
“Hannah?” Kanrik exclaimed, starting to his feet. “It can't be — ” The Usul brushed the snow from her shoulders, hands braced against the doorway.
“They’re here, Kanrik. Guards. At the foot of the mountain. It’s time to move, and quick. I sent them on a bit of a chase to the Snowager’s Lair. But Happy Valley is swarming with Skarl’s guards,” the Usul replied. “You need to go before they find the hideout!”
Kanrik hissed low, one paw at his temples.
“Valin, I need you to find the others,” the Guildmaster said, turning to the trio of thieves. “Let them know what’s happened. I’ll draw them away and send word when I can. Twi and Tark, you two spread out and lie low. Keep your ears to the ground. Learn what you can. We need to know who’s helping the Sway and who we can trust. Keep hidden. I don’t want to lose any more members. We already lost too many to the Obelisk Wars.” The duo nodded as Kanrik swept his cloak over his shoulders, pulling the hood over his face and taking Hannah’s hand. He nodded grimly. “Best of luck to you. Stay in the shadows. I’ll be in touch!” With the swish of cape and tail, the door thudded behind them.
“Always on the run,” Tark sighed.
“What’d’ja expect. We’re thieves!” Valin countered, scrabbling around the room for his belongings. “And we need to scuttle if we wanna stay that way. I’m not looking to book a holiday in Skarl’s ‘Hotel Dungeon.’ Come on, you two.”
Twi nodded grimly, casting a glance at the crumpled poster abandoned by Kanrik. She slipped it into her pocket. ‘Since the Obelisk, things have gotten worse,’ she thought dourly. ‘But so are the posters.’ The blue Xweetok sighed and scooped Elsinore onto her shoulder.
“Ready?” She asked. The Dragoyle stuck out her tongue, and Twi sighed. “Me neither. But we have to move quickly now.” She pulled up her hood and swiped her pack onto her shoulder, throwing a final glance about the hideout. Already, Valin was halfway down a tunnel, and Tark was headed through an escape door.
“Stay safe,” she called to them. Her voice echoed, and she shuddered, forcing back the rising sense of trepidation. “It’ll be alright, Elsi. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” Dagger in hand, the Xweetok raced to an ice tunnel, leaving behind a single flickering candle, a stack of scattered cards, and the gleaming satchel of poker winnings. All but forgotten.
* * * * * *
“You know, the posters don’t even look like me,” Twi grumbled, rubbing her travel-worn paw. Her rune tattoos – mementos from the Obelisk War —glowed in the darkness. She pulled her cloak taut around them. The Xweetok turned to her Dragoyle. “I mean, I’m no snarling villain. Honestly, if they’re gonna go to the trouble of making wanted posters, they should at least get them right!” Elsinore chirped grumpily from her shoulder. “Yeah, yeah. I’m hungry too. It’s not my fault I left all the Neopoints behind. It was a sudden getaway. At least we slipped past the guards, and we’re almost in Neopia Central. Once we get a good disguise, I’m sure the Soup Faerie can help us. Or we can swipe a morsel in the marketplace.” Elsinore snuffled in response.
A copse of trees rose on the horizon, encircling the hub that made up the cosmopolitan Neopia Central. The perpetual beauty of Rainbow Pool arced through the darkness next to the smiling Money Tree, and shops lit up the evening sky. The pair walked on in silence, creeping from shadow to shadow as the city grew closer. Already they could see the figures of Neopians strolling along avenues. Twi tugged her hood down and scowled.
“Fiddlesticks,” she muttered. “The wanted signs have made it here, too.” She pointed to a scrap of parchment tacked to the outside of the Post Office. A sinister sketch of Kanrik glared at passersby. “We’re gonna need to hide as soon as possible with so many Neopians around. And I think I know just the place to filch—erm… borrow disguises.”
They wound through a covering of trees, circling the Neolodge and the Pharmacy with light toes and bated breath. “There,” Twi breathed, pointing to the last shop in the row. The building was ancient, a towering blue structure spangled with stars and oozing with magic. An eerie radiance seemed to emanate from the premises in the evening light. “Only one entrance, I guess,” Twi noted with a grimace. “That’ll make the job more difficult.” The Xweetok squared her shoulders, before pushing open the door. “Phase one, Elsi,” she whispered.
The shop bell chimed cheerily. A starry Kau behind the counter started from a droopy daze. Her eyes were dark with sleeplessness and she forced a drowsy smile.
“W-welcome to my bazaar,” Kauvara yawned widely, waving around the shop with one hoof. “Please take a look around and tell me if there is anything you want.”
“Thanks,” Twi nodded. “I’m just browsing. I heard you sell paintbrushes?”
“Mhm,” Kauvara nodded with another yawn. “The shipment’s not ready though. Still locked up in the back.” She pointed to a door to the left. “Special order for the Sway—erm. For a special client. But if you come by tomorrow, I’m sure a few more shipments will come through.”
Twi threw Elsinore a pointed look. “Ah. Maybe I’ll do that. Oops!” The Xweetok flicked her tail against a shelf of steam jugs. The bottles wobbled before crashing onto the floor, releasing a massive cloud of smoke. “Oops! I should be going. Thanks, though,” she called into the din, as Kauvara squawked indistinctly behind the till. Twi ducked, darting past a shelf and edging the room. With a roguish grin, she silently slipped into the storage room, shutting the door softly behind her.
“Phew. Phase two: find that special order… and let’s find a paintbrush for you, Elsi, “ she whispered, scanning the shelves of untagged merchandise. Starlight potions, magic wands, bottled faeries… “Kauvara keeps a lot out of sight. If it’s for the Sway, we need to tell Kanrik… Aha!” She pointed to a shadowy shelf, marked with the Sway’s symbol. The cargo was unmistakable. “I didn't think it would be so obvious,” Twi scoffed with a frown. “But there are only… petpet paintbrushes?! And books?"A single handle of a brush covered in runes caught Twi’s eye. “Hmm… an Island Paint Brush.”
There was a sudden burst of light and a horrible shriek.
“Stop! Stop, thief!” A bolt of magic whizzed past Twi’s ear, singeing her fur. She sighed, snatching the brush.
“Mystery Island’ll have to do,” she muttered, slipping the paintbrush into her satchel. “After all this, I could use a vacations. Let’s go, Elsi. Did you pick a paintbrush?” The Dragoyle cheeped in response, holding up a shiny yellow paintbrush. A bubble of laughter escaped Twi’s lips.
“Elsinore,” the Xweetok laughed, scooping up the Dragoyle. “You realize you’re already yellow, right?”
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