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Harker's Story


by tanikagillam

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So. You want to know how this story began. Of course you do. I’d want to know too, if I were sitting on your side of the table. Of course – there aren’t really two sides of the table. We’re on the same side, you and I. The table is just a metaphor for our positions. I mean yes, we are sitting at a literal table. Me on this side, you on the other. In a rather uncomfortable chair, might I add.

     But it’s what that table stands for that matters, wouldn’t you agree?

     Oh, yes, alright. I’ll start at the beginning.

     Although, actually – I might skip forward a little, if that’s okay with you. You see, there are a lot of details involved – and they aren’t all relevant. For example, the true beginning of any story which incurs my involvement would include my birth and the subsequent twenty-something years thereafter. I say twenty-something and not a specific number simply because I’d like to maintain some air of mystery (and perhaps dignity), even as you’re pulling up my file on your database.

     Naturally, my birth itself is irrelevant in relation to tonight’s events on the whole, excluding the events that led up to me being in that alleyway in the first place.

     Perhaps that’s where I ought to start this story – with the alleyway. It’s fitting, because that’s where you come into the story, sir. Do you recall the first time you met me in that alleyway? Of course only the one crime had been committed at that time, and we met purely by accidental chance.

     That was last night. You know most of what happened that night – I assume that’s why you were in that alleyway in the first place. Alright then, Defender, I’ll tell you my story.

     But remember – we’re on the same side here. Can you loosen these handcuffs a little, please? I’m cramping slightly. Thank you.

Twelve Hours Earlier

     It was a rainy night. Not the kind of rainy night that drizzles on and off, just heavy enough to keep one indoors but light enough that a quick dash down the street wouldn’t be too awful. No – this was real rain. The expression “bucketing down” fit entirely too aptly as the water felt like it was being tipped out of gallon-sized buckets up in the skies. Or perhaps, Faerieland was having a pool party and displaying their flagrant disregard for the dryness of the land dwellers below.

     Harker didn’t mind the rain as a general thing. It was good for his garden – pot plants and herbs alike. It was also nice to sit by the fireplace in his lounge room, his pipe in one hand and a thick paperback in the other while it rained outside, spattering against the frosted glass windows.

     But on this particular, rainy night Harker wasn’t lounging comfortably by his fireplace, nor pottering around his garden. He was standing in the middle of an alleyway, a few blocks away from his mansion on Meepit Lane, Neovia.

     He was out of breath, clutching his stomach as he wheezed heavily out of his nose. The rain had soaked him through to the skin, although he wouldn’t feel the cold of it until later, once the adrenaline had worn off.

     It was almost entirely black in the alleyway, save for the small pool of dim yellow light emanating from the street lamp around the corner. It was barely enough to illuminate the rough cobblestone path underneath his unshod feet. Upon closer inspection, Harker saw that he had in fact nicked one of his bare toes on the road during the previous chase, and rubbed at it gingerly with his other foot.

     Harker wasn’t some sort of hooligan that regularly ran around Neovia half-clothed and unshod. At this particular instance however, he was only wearing a thick terry cloth dressing gown and a nightcap (also soaked through).

     He had been in bed at the time of his midnight dash down the street and hadn’t even had time to grab his spectacles, which was quite likely the reason for his stubbed toe.

     “Hullo! Who’s there?”

     Harker squinted his short-sighted eyes into the darkness and frowned reproachfully.

     “Who are you, then? Why should I have to identify first?”

     “Because you’re skulking around an alley in the middle of the night.”

     “So are you.”

     “A good point – if I weren’t one of the Defenders of Neopia.”

     “Oh boy.” Harker sighed to himself as a figure stepped out of the darkness and into the small pool of inadequate light. It was indeed one of the Defenders – a small Wocky with the large emblem pinned obnoxiously across his chest. “Hullo, Blackwing.” The Krawk held up his paws in submission. “My name is Harker. I live around the block, and I was chasing a burglar who broke into my house tonight. I lost them down here, though.”

     “I suppose that explains why you aren’t wearing any shoes,” Blackwing gave a disapproving sniff.

     “Yes. Obviously, I do not wear shoes to bed. Now – did you see someone come down here, or not?”

     “That’s Defenders business.”

     “Actually, it’s my business. They stole something of mine.”

     “Why didn’t you report it to the Defenders, then?”

     Harker suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, even though he doubted the Wocky would have been able to see it in the darkness.

     “This literally just happened. Can you not see me standing here in my dressing gown? I obviously chased after them instead of wasting time calling you lot.”

     “And did you catch them?”

     This time Harker couldn’t resist rolling his eyes. He fought to stop himself from snapping something unsavoury.

     When he didn’t reply, the Defender followed it up with another question.

     “What did they take?”

     “What?”

     “The burglar that broke into your house. What did they steal?”

     “Oh.” Harker shifted uncomfortably on his injured toe. “It’s irrelevant. Just a family heirloom.”

     “Yeah, but what? I’ll need to let the Defenders know, to keep an eye out for black market goods on the Trading Post.”

     “Forget it,” Harker snapped and turned to walk back towards his street. “Just try and be a bit more useful than skulking around alleyways after crimes have been committed, okay?”

     Stomping away into the pounding rain, Harker didn’t hear the Wocky’s reply and he didn’t particularly care to, either.

     The following morning did nothing to brighten Harker’s mood.

     It was still overcast from the storm the previous night, the heavy grey clouds pressing down over the sleepy town of Neovia.

     It was barely five am when the Krawk gave up on the pretence of sleep, and got up to brew himself an industrial-strength coffee.

     He wore his second favourite dressing gown (his preferred robe was in the dryer) and he gingerly wrapped his sore toe in a bandage before stuffing it into his slipper.

     He was munching idly on a toasted crumpet, warming his feet by the fire as he drank his coffee. It was altogether a peaceful moment, despite having slept barely an hour the night before. He was enjoying the calmness of the early morning until he was interrupted by a loud and rather rude banging on his front door.

     At 5 am!

     Harker’s dark eyes narrowed into beady slits as he placed his coffee and crumpet on the table beside his lounge chair and went to answer the door.

     “Oh, it’s you.” Clearly unimpressed by his early morning visitor, Harker folded his arms across his chest and frowned at the Techo on his doorstep. “What do you want, Henry?”

     “You’ve never been the most gracious of hosts, have you Harker?” The Techo replied with a sniff, as the Krawk rolled his eyes.

     “It’s five o’clock in the morning, Henry. My hospitality does not extend past the hour of twelve and before the hour of nine. I repeat – what do you want?”

     Henry was Harker’s neighbour, owner, and occupant of the large mansion across the road. He was – in Harker’s opinion – the single most boring person in all of Neovia.

     He was also an unbearable gossip.

     “I heard you were robbed last night,” Henry said with an air of false concern. Harker’s eyes narrowed further until they were barely visible behind his golden lids.

     “An interesting story, considering the morning paper hasn’t even been delivered yet.”

     “And yet – entirely true, according to my sources. Nothing too valuable was stolen, I hope?” The Techo tried to peer around Harker into the hallway, and the Krawk placed his hand against his nosy neighbour’s chest and gave him an inelegant shove backwards.

     “Stop darkening my porch at this ungodly hour, Henry. You look ridiculous, as usual.” With that, Harker stepped back inside his house and slammed the door shut in the Techo’s face.

     The nerve!

     Harker leant back against the door and exhaled deeply.

     He was well accustomed to Henry and his meddlesome ways. That wasn’t what was bothering him. What did bother him was that this time Henry was correct – and he knew something he had no business (nor earthly way of) knowing. Unless he’d sat up the night at his window, peering out at their street. Harker wouldn’t put it past him.

     Creepy.

     The Krawk felt a sudden chill and tightened his robe more snugly around himself. He flicked the deadbolt on the door and turned to head up the stairs to the third floor.

     The third floor was home to his favourite room in his house – the Library.

     Harker loved books more than anything. He loved the smell of them – the touch, the feel. Books were wonderful. They could take you anywhere – allow you to become anyone.

     The collection of books at Harker’s mansion was vast and extensive, indeed. There were classic Neopian tales such as The Book of Usuki Pumpkin Carving, Brain Trees Brainiac and Kreludan Architecture. Beloved favourites that everyone knew, such as Maraquan Bed Time Stories and The Mystery of the Kougra Paw. Immense historical tomes pertaining to each world and important Neopians. There were cookbooks scoured from every corner of the globe (including Kreludor and the Space Station) and bound copies of every edition of the Neopia Times ever published, to date.

     Harker loved reading.

     The library room itself was one of the grandest in the house – plush, expensive rugs covered the polished wooden floor, paintings and artworks adorned the walls and the entire roof was made of thick, colourful stained glass that caught the sun and lit up every corner with rainbow rays.

     Comfortable leather couches were arranged in the middle of the room for maximum sunlight, and it was here that Harker sat down now, chewing at his bottom lip in agitation.

     He was staring at the spot on one of the bookshelves that he had looked at many times over the years. Only this time – the spot was empty.

     It had been dark in his bedroom when the thief had broken into his house the previous night. He never left lamps or candles burning after he had retired to bed, and it had been a moonless night owing to the heavy cloud cover and rain.

     But as the Krawk had chased the intruder through his house until his hasty escape through the kitchen window he had (somehow silently) broken earlier, and legged it down the street – Harker had seen, with his heart sinking low into the bottom of his stomach, what room the thief had been in at the time of his unforeseen discovery.

     There were plenty of valuable books in Harker’s library. There was a shiny, unopened copy of The Shy Cloud Chomby, worth over a whopping hundred million neopoints. There was The Unofficial Usukicon Y6 Guide Book, and one of Harker’s personal favourites – It Came From Kreludor, which he had paid around seven million neopoints for, over six years ago.

     But the Krawk knew it had been none of those that the thief had taken, nor even glanced at.

     Staring at the small empty spot on the shelf, Harker’s cold bitterness started to rise in his throat like bile. The volume that the thief had taken was the single most valuable – and the single most dangerous – book that existed in all of Neopia and it’s surrounding worlds.

     And Harker had no idea how to get it back.

To be continued…

 
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