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Sharon and the Great Dungeon Escape

by baytotheay


Sharon always wanted a simple life, and now she had it. The Coffee Cave on Roo Island was an utter success, packed daily with tourists in the morning rush hour and creatives in the afternoons. She loved having the poets and writers around, eyes gleaming with a chance of winning the next spotlight contest or competition. Sharon even kept the Coffee Cave open late at night for the high rollers who needed a pick-me-up to fuel their nighttime gambling at Tournament Hall. If only her family could see her success now, could see her normal, ordinary life, far away from the mess she left behind in Meridell.

     As the owner and the barista, Sharon loved meeting her customers and learning their tastes. She often played a game with herself to see if she could guess the impending order, if Neopets really could be judged by their paint colours. Her guesses were most often right with Rukis and Meercas but overall she was proud of how well she could read their faces. Sharon knew she owed this leftover skill to her undercover card-playing days, but she’d never admit it to anyone. Not that anyone on Roo Island would even know the right questions to ask.

     One Tuesday morning - in between the morning and lunch rushes - Sharon was making an Electric Coffee for a stressed-out-looking Lenny when the shop bell rang. Another customer! How grand, Sharon thought. Her Shoyru wings stretched as she steamed the milk for the coffee.

     “Ma’am, please do hurry along with that drink please, I am late for my ferry back to the mainland.” The Lenny interjected, fixing his glasses on his beak while doing so.

     “Yes, yes, right away!” The Shoyru replied while finishing the coffee with a dash of cinnamon and fumbling the lid on the to-go cup.

     Sharon handed the hot drink to her customer and gasped. Electric volts shocked her hands as the cup tipped, spilling all its contents down Sharon’s arm and the Lenny’s bedraggled tie.

     “Oh no, oh no! What to do now!” The feathered Neopet was squawking with such distress, but Sharon didn’t pay him any notice. Her eyes were locked with the Coffee Cave’s newest guest.

     A goggled Shoyru stood at the doorway, smiling meekly, but confident all the same.

     Sharon whispered,"Torshac, what on Neopia are you doing here?”

     Torshac approached the counter swiftly, cape billowing and staff thumping on the wooden floor. “It’s important, Sharon. You know I wouldn’t be here otherwise."

     Sharon nodded and wiped off her hands. After grabbing a few Neopoints out of the till, she apologized to the Lenny that she would need to close the shop early, refunded his purchase, and shooed him out the doors. The Coffee Cave’s “Closed” sign had never been turned around so early.

     She turned to face her old friend, bracing for news that was sure to be horrible. That’s the only reason Torshac would be here. “You know I asked you never to come here, so this had better be good.”

     “I’m sorry Sharon, I know.” The winged scout took a seat and opened his backpack to reveal a rolled piece of parchment. “It’s your parents. They’ve been taken and are awaiting trial in Darigan Citadel.”

     “What? My parents … how?” Sharon gasped for air as Torshac handed her the scroll. It was a warrant for her parents’ arrest signed by Master Vex, the warden of the Citadel. “How, Torshac?”

     “I’ve been tracking this new criminal group in Meridell. They are apparently tricking innocent Neopets into bets that they can’t win or pay off - luring them in with the hopes of riches.” He huffed with frustration. “And when they can’t pay their bets, the group hires the minions of Lord Darigan to take them to his dungeons.”

     “But my parents have never been ones for riches? How did they get tangled up in this mess?”

     Torshac shook his head and looked towards the floor.

     “Tell me, Torshac.” Sharon insisted.

     “They wanted to hire a detective to find you. They wanted to know you were safe, and I couldn’t calm them down even with daily reassurance that you were alright. The farm took a hard-hit last year, and their savings were dwindling …” Her dear friend sighed, “They needed some extra cash to pay for the search, Sharon. They placed the bet for you.”

     Sharon crumbled to the ground at the news, and Torshac was by her side quickly. He wrapped her in his arms while she sobbed. It was all her fault.

     “How do we get them out? There has to be a way.”

     “There is, and that’s why I came.” He handed her a napkin to wipe her tear-stained face. “Have you heard of Master Vex?”

     “Only stories, bad ones.” She replied.

     Torshac told her all about Master Vex, the Mynci who ran the dungeons at Darigan Citadel. He liked games - a lot - and that extended to how he oversaw the prisoners and their situations. He had invented a game, Cellblock, a strategy tournament involving lining up identical pieces and a little bit of luck. If any prisoner could beat all seven of his challengers AND him, he would set them free. Sharon would play for her parents’ freedom, and she would win.

     “We can leave tonight if you’re ready.” Torshac said. And so they did.

     - - -

     Sharon and Torshac approached the fearsome-looking tower that housed all of Lord Darigan’s prisoners with their tails tucked in and their wings alert. The tower had a horned turret and was connected to the castle via some gothic, arched bridges. Sharon shivered as a cold wind gusted behind them, pushing them to enter the candlelit hall.

     “Follow my lead,” Torshac whispered as the two Shoyrus knocked on the wide door.

     “Who goes there?” A throaty voice bellowed.

     “Two gamblers looking to play some Cellblock.”

     The door creaked open to reveal a drooling, Purple Skeith. He smirked, “You two are gamblers?”

     Torshac flashed a fifty Dubloon coin at the guard who nodded and let them in. Haskol, as the guard introduced himself, led the pair down a narrow hallway and into a dimly lit room with several tables. Sharon recognized Master Vex almost immediately. He was entranced in a game - of which she could only imagine was Cellblock - with a worried-looking Kacheek. The warden made his final move and two guards swiftly removed the Kacheek from the table. The prisoner went kicking and screaming all the way down the hall.

     “Hey boss, we got two new challengers.” Haskol chuckled.

     “Oh, now do we?” The Mynci stroked his goatee and walked over to look them up and down. “And what do you two have to offer?”

     Torshac offered his fifty Dubloon coin, and said, “Only one challenger though.” He nodded to Sharon.

     Master Vex sneered with interest. “You are the challenger?”

     “Yes, Master Warden.” Sharon stepped forward into the flickering light. “And I am playing for the safe release of two prisoners by the names of Serena and Samuel.”

     The warden’s eyes widened with trickery at the names of Sharon’s parents. He was intrigued, which is what she wanted. Vex’s interest was what they had planned on. “Are you now, sweets?” He stroked his beard again. “And why would that be?”

     “They are my parents.” She said softly.

     “Interesting,” The Mynci mused. “Well, my dear, I’ll let you play for their freedom, but you’ll need to offer more than a fifty Dubloon coin for TWO of my prisoners.”

     Sharon was nervous he might say that so she had brought with her a few other items for trade, most importantly the deed to the Coffee Cave. Master Vex accepted the deed as the collateral and admitted Sharon to the tournament. Now the games would really begin.

     - - -

     Sharon swept through the first 5 opponents with little to no trouble. There was a quick scare during her match with Opponent #3, but Sharon’s long-game strategy won out in the end. It was as Torshac had suspected: the only real challenge would be Haskol and Master Vex. Torshac had prepared her during their flight to Meridell; he had equipped her with all he knew about the warden and his right-hand man. But now, it was up to Sharon and her wits.

     Haskol sat down across from Sharon and gave her a big fat grin. He continued to drool, which was distracting, but she focused up as they placed their first pieces on the board. She stretched her back – her body wasn’t used to sitting for these long stretches anymore, hunched over twiddling with games.

     With Haskol, Sharon could tell that he wasn’t used to losing, but also that he got frustrated easily if the opponent has the upper hand. He would huff often and crack his knuckles when she made a smart move, and when he was excited, his tail would thump on the floor. Everyone has their tell, and that’s why Sharon was winning.

     As her game with Haskol was ending, Sharon spied Master Vex observing her from the corner of the room. Did she glimpse a drop of sweat on his brow? Sharon placed her shield in position to set her up for the win in two directions. The Skeith didn’t notice and attempted to block another one of her set-ups across the board. She had won! Now all that stood in her way was Master Vex.

     His red cape billowed as he strode across to his seat. “Do you need a break, Miss? You’re looking a little worse for wear.” Vex taunted as he reset the game board. “Maybe a little pick-me-up would do you good?”

     “Thanks, but I don’t drink caffeine.” She replied.

     “Ha! A coffee shop owner who doesn’t drink caffeine? Who’s ever heard of something so ludicrous?”

     “Ludicrous as it may be, it’s never failed me.” Sharon smirked at the Mynci who was angry now. No one humiliated the warden in his own dominion. The game had begun.

     For the first few minutes, the game rolled out quickly; both players came out strong on the offensive, hoping to surprise the other with rapidity. It didn’t work though as both were skilled strategists. This game would take time, and Sharon was so grateful to have Torshac behind her, silently supporting during this tortuously long ordeal.

     The time ticked and ticked, and the board filled with pieces. Neither one had many options left to go; would they have to play again? Sharon wondered as her eyes scanned the board. Vex was set up in two places, one with a horizontal win and the other with a diagonal. It also looked like he was working on a third set-up near the right side. He had blocked her most recent attempt to win with a vertical and horizontal play, but did he see her most recent endeavour? It was hidden between his pieces and near a corner he blocked much earlier in the game.

     His brow was definitely sweating at this point and his chin rested on his curled fists. He played near his third set-up, just as she had expected and now all she had left to do was place her shield down to finish her diagonal line.

     “So, you didn’t see it,” she gasped.

     “Didn’t see … didn’t see WHAT?” The Mynci barked.

     Her breathing quickened as she realized now that her parents would be alright, they would be released, and with a click of the final piece she had won. Sharon had won!

     “Ah, you crafty little Shoyru!” Vex smirked. “You beat me didn’t you?”

     Sharon couldn’t believe it and couldn’t hold back the tears. “Well, all’s fair in games and war.” The Mynci remarked. “We’ll let your parents go on one condition.”

     Her breath caught. One condition? This wasn’t part of the plan. “What condition?”

     “You have to come back and play me in Cellblock at least once a month. I haven’t found an opponent like you in years!” Master Vex smiled, and Sharon could tell that behind that fearful Darigan look, Vex was really just someone who liked games as much as she did.

     “Agreed, Master Vex. Agreed.”

     - - -

     “Order up!” Sharon shouted from behind the counter at the Coffee Cave. “Two Banana Cream Coffees for the visitors!” All was well again at the Coffee Cave on Roo Island. The kettle was whistling and the entire room smelled like coffee grounds. Some poets were hosting a workshop at the large table near the window, and a family of Lupes were relaxing before their trip back to Terror Mountain.

     Sharon breathed a sigh of relief as she handed the two Banana Cream Coffees to two smiling Shoyrus in front of her. “Here you go, Mom and Dad.” The three family members held each other’s hands tightly as if they would never let go again.

     The End.

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