Of Potions and Paintbrushes: Part Six
Also by antiaircraft
“Right this way, Miss Frostgleam,” Bernard said cordially, ushering Frostgleam through yet another highly polished set of sliding double doors. “The entrance to the vault is right down this hallway. Your safety deposit box number is triple four eight zero one, although I’ll be taking you right to it, so you probably won’t need to remember that. Still, it can’t hurt to have a little extra information, right?”
“Right,” Frostgleam answered, still slightly flustered. The Poogle had been making cheerful conversation ever since they had left the Personal Accounts Department, and she couldn’t help but get the impression that he was happy to be away from all his files and records, even if only for a few minutes. If he found his job oppressive, however, Bernard never mentioned it, and he was all too pleased to trade opinions on the latest Neopian fashion trends as they approached the heavily guarded vault entrance.
“Identification please,” requested one of the guards as soon as they crossed the yellow safety line marked on the floor. The burly Skeith didn’t seem particularly concerned, however, as he already had one arm resting across the handle on the vault portal, ready to pull it open as soon as the formalities were done with.
“Sure, Marcus, there you go,” Bernard replied, handing the Skeith a few sheets of paper off the stack he was carrying. “We need to access safety deposit box number triple four eight zero one. All the usual authorisation checks have already been completed. Miss Frostgleam is standing just behind me if you need to verify anything else.”
“Ma’am,” acknowledged Marcus politely, tipping his hat in her general direction. Like all the other bank staff, he seemed to have no trouble at all with the task of serving an invisible customer. “Okay, all this checks out. Go right on through.”
The vault door swung open with a tired groan, and soon Bernard was leading Frostgleam through the maze of boxes inside, stacked from floor to ceiling in their imposing armoured steel casings. Bernard seemed to be taking his cues from some sort of complicated filing system marked on the walls. Frostgleam had heard that the National Neopian had somehow designed their safety deposit box arrangement so that it was easy for your box to be merged with adjacent boxes if you needed more storage, but beyond that she had no clue how the vault was laid out, so she was very grateful to see clearly marked and lit exit signs set in the ceiling at regular intervals.
“Riiiight here...” Bernard pronounced cheerfully as the pair rounded yet another corner, “now- Hey!” The Poogle stopped suddenly, dropping his papers in surprise. In the aisle in front of them, also standing with expressions of surprise, was another pair of Neopets. These were no customers, however. The first pet, a Scorchio wearing a mask and a horizontally striped back-and-white shirt, was frozen in the process of pulling a power saw from a large black sling bag. The second, a Techo dressed in a grey sweatshirt, was also frozen, both hands clamped tightly around a crowbar which he had been trying to force past the lid of a safety deposit box. As if that wasn’t conspicuous enough, there was a large, jagged section of concrete missing from the floor behind the two intruders, propped up by some kind of giant mechanical jack.
Before Frostgleam could even figure out what was going on, the Techo abruptly unfroze, charged forward, and whacked Bernard over the head with his crowbar, knocking the Poogle out cold. Stifling a scream, Frostgleam scurried backwards as fast as she could, but strangely enough the Techo didn’t bother chasing her, instead opting to turn to back to his companion with a confident smirk on his face.
“See? I told ya, didn’t I?” said the Techo proudly. “The inside of the vault ain’t guarded in the daytime. All we’ve got to deal with is a coupl’a pen pushers wandering around. Nothing I can’t handle with my skills.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the Scorchio shot back, obviously unimpressed, “run around the whole bank bragging about how you can smash little guys with crowbars, why don’t you? Just help me get this cutter working so we can crack a few boxes and get out of here.”
They’re robbing the deposit boxes, Frostgleam realised, peering cautiously around the corner, and yet they haven’t noticed me... because they can’t see me! I’m invisible! Of course!
Growing bolder, the Aisha ventured gingerly back into the aisle, and sure enough, neither of the thieves paid any attention to her. Right, she thought, well, that means I can go and and tell the guards at the entrance... but wait! Their tunnel’s right over there! If the guards come running they’ll just jump back in and escape. I need to cut them off first.
Vaguely aware that she was taking an insane risk, Frostgleam slowly crept her way around the thieves (who were now engaged in an animated argument over which orientation batteries were meant to be inserted in) and made her way over to their crudely constructed entrance. Peering over the edge, she saw a ladder propped up against one side, descending into the murky darkness of the city’s sewage system. They’d obviously tunnelled into the vault from below, cutting through the concrete floor with saws of some sort (ones with a power cord, judging from the argument that was going on behind her), then used the jack to lift the massive concrete slab out of the way so they could climb into the vault.
The slab that was now hovering over Frostgleam’s head was genuinely enormous, and definitely far too heavy for any Neopet to lift without some sort of machinery. If she could somehow bring the slab back down again, maybe it would prevent the thieves from escaping so she could warn the guards...
Examining the jack more carefully, Frostgleam found herself completely baffled. She’d seen this kind of device before (most gypsies these days kept one or two handy for repairs), but never used one herself. The centre of the jack looked like some sort of giant screw, and there was a large, thick metal ring set around it. A lever and several hand cranks were sticking out of the bottom of the ring, just within reach from where Frostgleam was perched.
Well, I guess you start with the lever, she decided finally, reaching out with more than a little trepidation. She wrapped one paw around the lever and pulled it towards her as hard as she could. Being a typical lever, of course, it refused to budge.
Aargh, Frostgleam growled silently, why are these things always built for Grarrls? The Aisha continued tugging on the lever, straining with all her might, but the lever remained stubbornly stuck in place. After almost a minute of fruitless effort, she finally gave in and shifted her sore arms so she could give them a rest.
Typical as ever, the lever responded perfectly to Frostgleam’s forward motion, sliding easily away from her and settling into a new position with a soft click. Yelping, the Aisha jumped backwards, just in time to avoid being clobbered by the slab of concrete as it crashed back down into place.
“What the-” the Scorchio began, scrambling to his feet. “Oh man, I KNEW we should’ve gotten the heavy duty version.”
“Shut up, you moron,” the Techo hissed, “didn’t you hear that?”
“Shhh! That hole didn’t close itself...”
Hefting his crowbar threateningly, the Techo stood and began to walk slowly towards where the tunnel had been, cooing, “C’mon out now, whoever ya are. I might not be able to see ya, but ya can’t hide from me and my little friend forever.”
Clambering slowly to her feet, Frostgleam began to back away as quietly as she could. She was definitely in a tight spot now. All there was behind her was a dead end, and there was no hope of slipping past the Techo without him noticing her. There was only one thing she could do. Drawing in a deep breath, Frostgleam stepped right in front of the thief, steadied herself, and assumed a fighting stance.
No, I can’t hide from you, she replied silently, but I’m an eleventh Dan graduate of the Mystery Island Training School, and if you think your little crowbar scares me, you’re wrong.
And with that, she leapt upwards, twirled expertly in midair, and delivered a flying roundhouse kick straight to the Techo’s forehead. The thief dropped like a stone.
Seeing his partner go down, the Scorchio rushed forward and grabbed the fallen crowbar, then proceeded to charge wildly back and forth, flailing the weapon around and shouting like a maniac. “Come out and fight, you coward! I’ll sort you out I will! Hah! Take that! And this! And that!”
Before Frostgleam could do much more than hop quickly out of the way, the thief lost his hold on the crowbar during an underarm swing, sending it flying into the air. The crowbar sailed upward, rotated lazily for a fraction of a second, then came right back down and landed squarely on the Scorchio’s head.
“OW! Aaagh! Don’t hit me! I surrender! I surrender!”
To be continued...