Shay Peters and the Clockwork Caper: Part One
Also by chocolateisamust
This series is a sequel to Shay Peters and the Frivolous Fashionista. While we recommend that you read that one first, this one can stand on its own. That said, this series will spoil most of the twists of the last one if you don't read it first!
I. The Swindlers' Society
You can never really get out of the con business. It always seems to come back and haunt you, like a tether ball going around for one last swing. I had made my escape, I had done my part. Get my money, get out, right? I was set for life and could get anything -- everything -- I wanted. All thanks to Julia James.
Julia was a light faerie who I had swindled for millions. My con with her had started simply enough; I'd found her walking on a path one day, decided she was an easy target, and had gone after her with my best material. But things had gotten complicated - especially when it turned out that she worked for the Defenders of Neopia and was currently employed in the Department of General Population Control, which was really just a front for the branch where the Defenders stored rare pets until they were released into Neopia on their pet days. Things had gone wrong quickly after I found out that lovely fact, but in the end, I had gotten out good: fifty million Neopoints and a pardon for all my infractions, past and future, all worked out in a deal with a fidgety green Lutari named Henry, who seemed to be in charge of all financial matters concerning the Defenders. In exchange for the money and pardons, I simply had to keep my mouth shut on the rare pet scheme. And then I was rich and free with an ego bigger than the world itself. But still, something bothered me...
I didn't get the recognition I deserved. I'll admit it: before all of that happened, before I had stumbled onto a conspiracy beyond my wildest dreams, I was known as a clumsy and inexperienced thief... and then I pulled off the ultimate con. Still, I wasn't allowed to tell anyone. While I would keep my mouth shut so no one would take away my hush money, there was still a little rumble inside of me, a little part of my being that wanted some notice. Part of me wanted to be recognised for my greatest scheme ever, even though I knew I never would be.
But, obviously, someone knew. After all, a secret that large could only stay under wraps for so long. That was why I wasn't exactly shocked when I found a crumpled envelope stuffed under my doorway one afternoon in early winter, separate from the rest of the mail that had come that day.
I stared at the envelope curiously and dropped the other mail down onto a sleek black desk next to my door. As I proceeded to open it, I was careful, afraid that I might rip the contents within. But inside, there was only a piece of plain white paper, creased over three times into an oblong shape.
I quickly unfolded it and read the message sketched onto the surface.
We know what you accomplished. Meet us at 1139 Oak Hollow Lane at 9PM this Saturday. The key will get you in.
My eyes wandered back down inside the envelope; tucked away in the corner, I spied a small brass key. I picked it up nimbly and turned it around in my claws. On one side of the key was an engraving of a lock, and on the other were two letters in a wispy typeface: SS.
Otherwise known at the Swindlers' Society. My heart rose in my chest. The Swindlers' Society was a group of robbers and scoundrels who had broken off from the Thieves Guild dozens of years ago. More selective and mysterious than any other outlaw group, they ran in secretive circles and always seemed to slip from the grasp of authorities. The Defenders of Neopia despised them (probably more than they despised me, actually), and any respectable conman revered them. They hardly contacted outsiders and rarely admitted new members. Yet here they'd gone and asked for me.
Recognition? Check. Fame? Check. Glory? Another check.
I couldn't wait for Saturday.
I had tried to get out. After I'd ripped off Julia James, Henry, and the Defenders of Neopia in a whole for fifty million, I'd vowed to myself never to con again. There was no need for it; in every essence, I was set for life. I could go on as many holidays to Mystery Island as I wanted, and I could renovate my Neopia Central flat until it was the epitome of perfection. Even though I'd obtained pardons for all future infractions during my last job -- meaning technically I could steal all I wanted without repercussion -- I saw no need for it. Conning was work, and with my new treasury of Neopoints, I didn't need to work anymore.
Months had passed, and I'd stuck rigidly to my vow. Summer turned into autumn, autumn into winter. Despite the little fire in me that wanted to publicize my crime, and the part of me that was somewhat bored from doing nothing, I was happy. Everything was swell. I'd live out the rest of my days in comfort, never to work another moment again.
And then the key and the note came with the mail, and my plans changed instantly. That was why I was outside on a cold, dark night a few weeks after Christmas, bundled up in a warm thermal jacket, hands tucked into my pockets, shivering profusely. A faerie Krawk's body was not made for this kind of weather. I almost thought of going back home a few times, convinced that my body couldn't stand the cold, but I pressed on with images of trophies and awards in my head.
Oak Hollow Lane turned out to be in the outskirts of Neopia Central. It was an eerie part of town, where gnarled trees hung over the street and lanterns flickered around, casting mysterious shadows on the walls of houses. My heart beating wildly in my chest, I glanced at the crumpled letter in my hand: 1139. The numbers were steadily climbing that way, and I peeled my eyes to each doorway, checking the addresses. Every house I passed felt like a million houses, and time seemed to stop like a broken watch.
Finally, 1139 loomed to my left. It was the biggest house on the street, and I could see the gentle flicker of candlelight coming from behind a curtain on the first floor. I shuffled forward, both apprehensive of the eerie house in front of me and excited at the thought of what could come from this visit. Before I knew it, I reached the dull red front door, and with a knot in my throat, I quietly rapped my claws against the surface.
The door creaked open quietly at the movement, and I stepped inside.
The front hallway was surprisingly bright, and I squinted my eyes. A wobbly staircase stood pressed against the wall in front of me, and to the left lay an airy living room that smelled of mould and dust. No one seemed to be around, and I inhaled a lungful of damp air before softly calling out, "Um... is anyone here?"
Nobody replied, and with the hairs on the back of my neck prickling, I turned to the right and peered down a narrow hallway with a warped wooden floor. Light flickered from underneath a door at the end, and feeling queasy, I started towards it. All my instincts were telling me to get out of this place, but my curiosity got the better of me. This was the Swindlers' Society! I couldn't wuss out and go running back to my flat like a scared Puppyblew. This was all probably just a test. They were testing me, testing my courage.
Finally, after a few minutes of slow, terrified walking, I reached the door at the end of the hallway. It was made of a sturdy maple wood that was scratched beyond repair; an ivory doorknob hung loosely from the centre. Nearly shaking, I reached out and tried to turn it, only to find the door locked tight. Defeated, I was about to turn around and leave the spooky house once and for all when I remembered the key.
I shuffled around in my jacket pocket and pulled out the small key, almost dropping it onto the floor in a bout of clumsiness. The dim light made it hard to see if there was a keyhole as I felt around the chipped ivory surface. Finally, I felt one, right in the center of the knob, and I shoved the key into it, praying it would fit.
It did, and as I slowly turned the key and pushed open the door, I knew there was no going back: it was now or never. I took the key out of the knob and pushed the door open all the way, revealing a small closet with an elegant candelabrum hanging from above, looking awfully out of place for a small, dank space.
The room was big enough for me to squeeze in, and as soon as I got my whole body inside of the cramped quarters, the door slammed shut behind me. I jumped, startled at the loud noise, and started to search blindly around, looking for a ray of light or some direction as to where I should go. There didn't seem to be any; I was trapped.
I felt at the door again, looking for a way to pull it open and escape. There was nothing -- it was just a cool wood surface, no knob, no lock, no anything. I backed up into the corner of the closet. I didn't do well in small spaces, and you couldn't get much smaller than this.
I took a deep breath and continued to feel about, my face hot. Of course I would be the one to get duped into this, I grumbled inwardly, my mind closing off all other trains of thought. I've always been too trusting, too clumsy, too eager. I would never be a real con artist. And I should have known that the Swindlers' Society would never contact me. This was just a stupid prank, some person's idea of a good time.
"Welcome, Shay Peters." All thoughts stopped in my head as a chilling voice filled the small room, seeming to come from nowhere. "We've been waiting a long time for this."
To be continued...