Shay Peters and the Clockwork Caper: Part Two
Also by chocolateisamust
I looked around frantically, trying to find where the voice was coming from. "Hello!?" I shouted, my words bouncing back at me off of the closet wall.
A small square of light appeared on the other end of the little room, as if it was an answer to my question. I stepped towards it and bent down, looking straight into the little peephole. On the end I could only see a roaring fireplace, for the rest of the room was shielded off by the wall; no matter how much I veered my head, I couldn't see anything else.
"Anyone there?" I repeated, craning my neck upward and giving another look around the closet, which I could see more clearly now. It was as small as I had imagined it, but there were some details I had missed, including a lock -- the same symbol carved into key -- etched into the wall. I stared at it for a moment, a sudden wave of nausea coming over me. What was I getting myself into?
"Mr. Peters, stick your right hand out through the compartment."
I obeyed, shoving my hand through and holding it there for a moment. Someone grabbed my sleeve, and I heard them whisper in a rough voice, "It's him." They released my arm then, and I quickly pulled it back towards me, unsure of what would happen next.
"You can come in now, Mr. Peters."
And, like clockwork, the wall disappeared into, well, another wall, and I stepped inside. I immediately pulled my glance away from the fireplace and towards the area where I couldn't see before. Twelve people sat in a circle in the middle of what seemed to be an old library. Books lined the wall, and a table sat in the center of the circle, a cluster of candles sending light to corners of the room that the fireplace didn't reach. I walked around the outskirts of the group, looking at everyone who was there. There were too many faces to take in right then, but one of them spoke from the opposite end of the room.
"Take a seat," an old Darigan Draik said, lifting a scarred arm to point weakly at a chair in between a desert Kyrii and a brown Mynci.
I walked over slowly, afraid that my nerves would cause me to trip over my own feet. Finally, I took a seat in the circle and gave a look around. "Hey," I said, trying not to crack a smile. I had to look serious in front of these people, but now that the initial fear had worn off, I was feeling absolutely giddy. I was in the Swindlers' Society!
"Welcome, Shay," the twelve of them said in unison, sending a chill down my spine and knocking the giddy right out of me.
What am I getting myself into? I thought again.
Still, I didn't let my nervousness show. Attempting to shield the look of fright in my eyes, I replied, "Thank you for having me." It took all the might that I had inside to keep my voice from breaking.
A purple Acara sitting directly across from me leaned forward. He squinted his cloudy blue eyes and frowned, surveying me like a hawk. As he did, my heart began beating wildly in my chest, and I fidgeted with my claws. I knew that every thief in this room would now pick up on my fear (skilled con artists could read people like a book), but I didn't care. I had the right to be scared, didn't I? If anything, it would be more peculiar if I wasn't frightened.
"It's an honour to have you here," the Acara said eventually. His voice was cool and suave - the voice of a precocious conman.
I smiled timidly and nodded my head. "It's an honour to be here."
The Acara returned the nod. "My name is Raphael Griswold. I'm the reigning leader of the Swindlers' Society." When I didn't immediately reply, he added, "That's what they're still calling us, isn't it?"
"What?" I asked.
"The public. They still call us the Swindlers' Society, yes?" The Acara quickly thought to throw in, "We haven't had any casual contact with outsiders in a while, not beyond our con victims, anyway, nor have we read the news. We're not sure what the public currently thinks of us."
"Oh. Um... yeah. That's... um... that's what they uh - that's what they still call you." I hated myself for sounding so dense. I was normally cunning and quick, but of course my brain had to melt when I was meeting with the group of people I most revered.
As if sensing my thoughts, the desert Kyrii from next to me said, "I know this meeting can be quite taxing on the nerves, but no need to be afraid. We're a rather jovial and understanding folk to our friends."
"Thanks," I said, my cheeks flushed.
"Anyway, we should get down to business, Shay." That was the purple Acara again. "Everyone here is on the High Board of the Society. Through our lower rankings, we heard about your last job, the one with the Defenders of Neopia. We were very impressed. It's difficult to get much pay-off nowadays, what with the population being so careful... so let me be the one to tell you - in any market, fifty million is remarkable. These days, it's unheard of."
My cheeks grew a deeper shade of red. "It wasn't much," I said humbly, even though I was lying and they knew it.
This comment drew a gaggle of chuckles from the rest of the pets in the room, and the Acara said, "No need to be modest, Shay. Anyway, as I said, we were impressed. Very impressed. We think that perhaps... perhaps you might be a useful addition to our Society."
Now, you have to understand something about me: I'm not a bad person. Before I received that note, you must recall, I was even trying to get out of the con business (even if the reasons weren't about morality, reasons don't change results, do they?). But you also have to understand that I adore the Swindlers' Society. Ever since I became a conman, joining their ranks had been my goal, my far-fetched dream. It didn't matter if I had vowed never to work again. The Swindler's Society was suggesting I might be able to become part of their group. Never, not in a million years, would I turn that opportunity down.
So you shouldn't be surprised that, in reply to the Acara's statement, I said, "Whatever I need to do to join, I'll do it. Just tell me."
Griswold gave a short smile. "You're overeager, are you not?"
I wasn't sure whether to take that as a compliment or a criticism, so I simply flashed a grin, still trying to throw the rest of the group off of my fear.
"The task we put forth to an incoming member is difficult," Griswold continued. "Or, at least, everyone seems to say so." He gave his trademark smile and glanced around the room with apprehensive eyes. "It's always a unique challenge, changed whenever we need something specific. In this case, we realize that you have certain -- ahem -- affiliations, and we want to take advantage of that. We're confident that even amongst present company, you're the best for the job."
I smiled at the compliment and wondered if people really thought that about me now. Did one con really change how I was perceived?
Griswold continued his description of what I was required to do. I tried to pay attention to every word, as you should when someone is telling you something that could make or break your career, but I couldn't help but look around the circle of rough-faced thieves who had already paved their way into the con world. I could be one of them someday. I could be the next Griswold. Or whoever.
"--we're assigning you is very basic," I heard Griswold say as I tried to focus on the words. "We need something from one of our old acquaintances, someone who we haven't seen in quite a while. He's conducting a bit of an investigation on us, and he somehow managed to get hold of a key... one nearly identical to the one that let you in here, in fact, so you should know what it looks like. We're fairly sure he's stored it in his home, and we need it back. The theft itself shouldn't be terribly hard. It's simply breaking and entering. However, you'll have to actually search for the key in the home, which could prove difficult. But we're sure you'll be able to do it."
I nodded eagerly. If this was all I had to do, getting into the Society would be easier than taking an ice lolly from a Puppyblew. "Just give me the address."
And, in an almost eerily systematic fashion, a small slip of paper started in the hands of Griswold and made its way over to me, each member of the Society passing it further down the chain. When it finally ended up in my hands, I slowly opened it and stared at the address.
31 Clockwork Court.
I looked up to see that everyone in the circle was smiling devilishly. That was a bit odd, but I tried to ignore it and simply smiled, too. I guess they didn't know what being a good thief was about, after all, if this was all that they needed me to do. I used to hear horror stories about the power of the Swindlers' Society, but now I was beginning to doubt them. They couldn't be all that threatening if this was their entry exam.
"I'll do it," I said, trying to wipe the grin off my face and hoping that they wouldn't catch onto my joy and suddenly change the task. However, the sickly smiles didn't disappear off their faces as I agreed, and an awkward silence filled the room. I wasn't sure what to say next.
Then, Griswold's voice broke the thick air like a firecracker. "Good. We'll see you back here once you've completed your task."
I wasn't sure what I should do. Should I leave? I looked around the room. Honestly, I wasn't sure how to leave. My entrance had been so distressing and mysterious that I knew I couldn't find my way out. I was afraid to ask, however, because everyone in the circle seemed so solemn and secretive. So I got up slowly from the chair, edged past the circle of Swindlers, and went to where I had came into the room.
The fireplace crackled behind me, sending a warm chill up my spine. Before I could say another word, a doorknob appeared on the wall. Without blinking twice, I grabbed onto it and pulled.
No hesitation, right?
To be continued...