Thief and a Hero: Part Two
"…You know who I am?" Kanrik growled.
Hanso nodded. This was ridiculous. He almost wanted to cry. So stupid!
"Look me in the eye, boy. A thief should be able to look another man in the eye and hide his guilt. Otherwise we'd all have been caught a long time ago." Hanso took a steadying breath, and look up.
His blood might have frozen over… those blue eyes against yellow whites… and that nasty scar trailing up his snout. Kanrik looked as cold and biting as those Ice Caves in which he'd made his name.
"Why did you try to steal from me?"
Hanso's mouth went dry. Why did he steal. Well, why did anyone steal? Hunger, need, power. But no… he hadn't tried to steal from Kanrik for any of those reasons. He'd done it because…
"I… thought I could get away with it?" he offered up lamely.
Kanrik didn't blink. He just didn't seem to blink. "You know who I am?"
"Yeees," Hanso hissed out as the pressure on his hand increased. And there was no breaking out of it either! What was the point of all these questions? Why didn't Kanrik just hand him over to the guards. Oh, Brynn would have a good laugh at that. He never got caught. Never. Only by Brynn. And now Kanrik. And why had he slipped up!
"So, why did you risk it?"
Hanso blinked. He needed to keep his eyes from watering at this point. "Pardon?"
"You know who I am. You did not seal for food or wealth. So why would you risk stealing from me?
Perhaps the shot of pain made him dizzy and made him forget himself. Perhaps, as Kanrik had observed, he hadn't quite mastered looking another thief in the eye and being able to regulate lies and truth. Goodness new, he hadn't learned how to regulate it around Brynn.
Brynn… Hanso's eye darted out of the end of the alley, into the still busy market, and rested for a moment on that oh-so obvious mop of orange mane.
"Ah…" Hanso's eyes snapped back onto Kanrik who was himself now looking out of the alleyway before he returned the gaze. "A Brightvale Guard? Well, aren't your tastes… law-abiding."
Hanso felt himself turning scarlet and the back of his neck begin to sweat. Of all of the things he could have hoped, wished or dreamed that he would someday discussed with this legend among thieves, this was not one of them.
"I- I don't know what you mean. I- we're just friends- I mean- She catches me when I- But we're not-"
"Trying to impress a law-enforcer with a theft. Well, I'll say this boy. I don't envy you that pursuit." And Kanrik… almost smiled. It wasn't a disarming smile, as some thieves had. If anything, it contorted the scar on his face so that he looked even more as though he were grimacing. Still… it was a smiling. "What's your name, boy?"
"…Hanso. My name's Hanso." Another moment passed, and the two thieves continued to examine each other. To evaluate. Finally, Kanrik's evaluation was done… and he let go of Hanso's wrist.
"Well, Hanso, I do believe we have a deal."
"A deal?" he recoiled, nursing his arm. "How… how do you mean, sir?"
Kanrik refolded his arms, as if nothing had ever disturbed him. Only now, instead of that momentary smile, he wore a definite smirk, and it unnerved Hanso more than his eyes had.
"I'm gonna let you steal this pendant," Kanrik said, nodding to his sash, "and I'll even let you make a run for it. So you can show off to your lady-friend and everything."
"She's not my-" Hanso was silenced with a glance.
"Of course, you will get caught. And you will bring it back to me," he said now, looking almost distractedly into the distance. "Because if you don't, I'm afraid I'll just have to hunt you down and pluck it from your cold fingers myself."
"My fingers aren't- oh." Kanrik was making eye contact again. Hanso swallowed. "Why would you- I mean, you have no reason to-"
"I'm bored. I've been standing here since sun up, and my contact– well, she isn't too keen on punctuality." Hanso could have sworn that Kanrik's eye twitched with simple annoyance. "I could use some entertainment. That, and perhaps I have a soft spot for doom love." He almost sounded sarcastic. Almost.
Hanso opened his mouth to argue, but decided against it. "Thanks," he mumbled instead hesitantly. And there it was. Kanrik was holding out the two violet gems to him. Hanso reached out a hand. It almost felt like cheating. Ha! Cheating for a thief! What a thought.
"Oh, and one more thing," Kanrik said, pulling his hand back for a moment. "I expect you to be doing all of the triumphant shouting, boating and general attention grabbers. The idea of me bursting out into that market-place with 'Stop Thief! …Well." Hanso met Kanrik's eyes again and this time he saw the slight spark of a smile in them. Roguish. Amused. Encouraging.
Hanso flashed a full grin back. "No problem," and with that he snatched the jewels out of Kanrik's still outstretched hand, and pelted out into the marketplace. Kanrik, Leader of the Thieves' Guild wanted some entertainment. Hanso was going to give him some entertainment!
"Whaaahoooo! HA! Take that!" The violet gems dangling from their leather strap, and clear for everyone in the marketplace to see in the bright Brightvale sunlight, Hanso leapt on top of a stall full of books, and presented himself to his audience. "Take THAT all you naysayers! I, Hanso, the greatest thief in Brightvale, have now bested the Leader of Thieves himself!" And, as if on cue, Kanrik stepped out of the shadows of the alleyway in which the two of them had just been.
The reaction was immediate, as it always was whenever Hanso made his presence known at the Sunday market. Cries of "Guards!" "Stop him!" "He's stolen from a hero from the Ice Caves!" erupted all over the place. Hanso almost smirked bitterly. Hero, eh? As if he himself could ever be so lucky…
But no time for that now. Right on schedule, after the cries, came the guards. …And there she was. Brynn, the smallest of the guards, was leading the charge. Hanso braced himself. He knew he would have to get caught, this time, but he had every intention of giving them all a run for their money.
A large yellow Grarrl ran out in front of Brynn. Hanso had stolen from him once or twice. That's right, he remembered now. Once was another time he'd allowed himself to get caught. When Brynn had run after him. The Grarrl was a good fellow all around. Still, Hanso didn't really want to end up in his of all clutches. The guard made a grab. Child's play. Hanso jumped out of the way, causing a book to slide off the cart and smack into his pursuer's face. Ha!
And here came round two! A large red Skeith and a smaller green Draik, never one without the other, came at him, together. Pish. Predictable. He jumped, landed one foot on the helmet of the Draik, jumped again onto the helmet of the Skeith, and jumped again! Honestly, it was like climbing a ladder. He reached for the tree branch just above him, and latched onto it.
The searing pain from earlier bit into his wrist. "Ah!" His grip broke, he tumbled, and-
"Ugh!" Someone broke his fall, before being knocked to the ground herself. Hanso opened his eyes, and blinked. One thing he had been absolutely right about today. Those violet gems were not quite as staggering as those blue eyes. "Brynn…"
"Hanso," she wheezed, "Can you please get off of me? You're crushing me!"
For the second time that day, Hanso's face turned scarlet. "Oh! Right! Sorry! Are you okay! Here, let me help you up!" Hanso scrambled to his feet and reached out a hand to help Brynn up as well. She took it, the lurched herself onto her own feet, and twisted his arm behind him.
"Hey, hey! Easy with that wrist! It's already twisted!"
"Hanso, by the power of the Brightvale Guard, I place you under arrest. Again." There was a long pause, and Hanso sighed. Well, maybe he didn't always allow himself to get caught exactly.
"Fiiine," he sighed with mock exasperation.
Everything went like clockwork from there. Brynn marched him through the marketplace. He got a lot of dirty looks. As usual. And before Hanso could say "take me to your Leader," they were standing in front of Kanrik.
"I am so sorry, sir. I cannot believe that Hanso pickpocketed you- Not that he got away with that, of course. No. Not what I meant. But still- Please accept my apology on behalf of all Brightvale. I assure you, we're not all like Hanso. And, and- Hanso! What do you have to say for yourself!"
Hanso swallowed. They were back in the alleyway where he'd first tried to sneak up on Kanrik. And Kanrik was standing, army crossed, dark look on his face, as though nothing had happened. So, Hanso did the only thing he really could do. He smiled sheepishly at his idol among thieves and said, " Do this again sometime?"
Brynn's cuff across the back of the head and the waterfall of exasperated reprimands almost drowned out the Leader of the Thieves Guild answer. "Huh," he said, taking back the gems, "we'll see how you do."
Hanso's heart almost stopped in its tracks. …Did that mean he'd impressed him? Did that mean today wasn't a complete failure. "Come on, Hanso," Brynn sighed with resignation. "Let's get you to the dungeons." So, with just barely a last backward look at the Gelert, Hanso was dragged out of the shadows of the alleyway and the light from the marketplace blinded his eyes so Kanrik vanished altogether.
The bickering voices of the Ixi and Kougra soon blurred with the general murmur of the marketplace. They were both hooked, that was for certain. But then, as he knew better than anyone, that sort of thing rarely lasted. For a moment the vision of a green Acara flashed before his eyes, as cruel in the end as she had been beautiful and tantalizing in the beginning. No, love was an emotion for the-
"Hey!" A pair of fingers snapped before his eyes and Kanrik blanched despite himself. "Neopia to Kanrik! You daze off like that and someone could rob you blind, even in this place." Kanrik's eyes slid down to meet those of the young spunky Usul girl before him. Hannah, of both the Pirate and Ice Caves. He was a thief. She was an 'adventurer and treasure hunter.' The distinction, while still rather vague, was one that she insisted existed. "So, what have you been up to while I was gone?"
"Assessing potential recruits."
"Nothing. You're late," he said flatly. "Very late."
Hannah rolled her eyes and pushed back a mop of brown hair. A smirk twitched at the corner of Kanrik's mouth. She was so like the sister he'd lost so many years ago. He often found that he could never really stay cross with her for long. Yes, if Kanrik still had a single soft spot in this world, Hannah was it. Not… not that other woman. Not…
"-and the vender just did not understand that a deal is a deal and if he really wanted to bump the price up I would be all too happy to take the whole thing off his hand, and hang the price all together. Frankly, if the idiot even knew what he was carrying he would probably have tried to double to price altogether. Like I'd let that happen and- Kanrik, are you listening?"
"Does it matter?" he said, pushing himself off the wall. "Anyway, you did get it, didn't you?"
Hannah sighed in that self-satisfied way she was used to. She really needed to get that boasting in check. It would attract someone's attention one day, as it had done his, once so long ago in that Krawk Island pub. "Don't I always?" She said, pulling a seemingly crumbling book out from the leather bag she had hanging by her side. "And you?"
Wordlessly he held up the two violet gems for inspection. Hannah's eyes lit up as they always did at the sight of treasure. "I'll…" Kanrik said, pulling the gems out of her reach, "be holding on to these, thank you very much. The last time I let you hold anything you started biting it for authenticity."
"It's a fair method!" she pouted. "If we have everything we came for, I say we head out. It'll take a half a day's travel to Kiko Lake, and from there we'll catch the ferry."
"The Lost Desert?"
"You think this will be enough?"
"Please," Hannah said cockily. "The Desert Scarab have been trying to track down this set for years. They'll want to move in with you after they see this lot."
"That will hardly be necessary." Kanrik repocketed the jewels and adjusted his hood over his head, not that it really matter now. The events of the Ice Caves and the Bori War were still recent in everyone's memories. He had to admit, he still wasn't entirely comfortable with the stardom. Hannah, on the other hand, reveled in it. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as she skipped along the well paved street next to him, humming one of her favorite pirate tunes.
Again, he smirked. However, this time, rather that thinking back to his sister, her vivacity reminded him of another thief. One he'd just met. The Ixi. Hanso. Kanrik thought back to the display he'd made in the marketplace. Agile. Intelligent. Cocky and insulting beyond belief, but then, Kanrik knew Hannah. And you couldn't really top that. No, that boy could make a great thief indeed. Perhaps they would meet again someday, when the Ixi knew as well as he did that love was a waste of time. Someday he'd be disillusioned, hardened, and ready. And then… then they would meet again.
Hanso adjusted the medal on his jacket. He could hardly believe it. "Master Thief." There it was, etched into the gold, bright as day! As if he was… as if he was some kind of hero! This wasn't happening… The last few weeks hardly seemed real.
And yet they were. The great empty patch in the sky where Faerieland had once hovered on the cloud was proof. The fairies were now acclimating to their new lives on the earth of Neopia. The Shadow Phantoms were quite gone, and he… here he was. And, if nothing else, the final proof of everything that had happened was this medal, awarded him-
"For quick thinking and unparalleled cunning," he boasted smugly to a Bruce and Moehog, neither of whom looked too happy that there was gold to be had and it didn't belong to either of them. They were in the Thieves' Guild hideout. He was in the Thieves' Guild hideout! Hanso didn't think that he had ever seen anything more glorious than the dark and musty stone walls that surrounded him, or the creaking oak beams above their heads. It was everything, everything he'd ever wanted-
Everyone in the room turned to the door. There, his arms crossed as usual, hood tucked over his head as usual, was Kanrik. The room went silent. Suddenly Hanso could hear the drip, drip, drip of a water droplet somewhere. "Leave us," Kanrik growled.
There was much shuffling and mumbling as chairs were scrapped across the floor and glasses were put down. Quickly the room was cleared. Hanso didn't think it was possible for thieves to be so obedient. Now they were alone. Once again, his mouth was very dry. Neither of them moved. They just stood at opposite ends of the room, observing each other.
"You can look a Neopet in the eye now. That's good."
Hanso swallowed. "I've been made a Master Thief."
"I know. I was standing in the doorway for the entire inauguration. That, and I'm the one who appointed you."
Hanso felt a combination of very stupid and very flattered. Of course Kanrik would know! He was the Leader of the Thieves' Guild! And, at the same time, the Leader of the Thieves' Guild had made him a Master Thief? Just like that?
"I'd heard something about you saving the world, and decided to investigate," Kanrik said, and began to walk around the room, and around Hanso, who in turn stood very still. He somehow felt that this, rather than when he was given the medal, was his actual inauguration into the Guild. This was his real examination. "You and that Kougra…"
"Brynn," Hanso nodded. "That um… didn't turn out as doomed as you'd predicted." He half smirked. And then Kanrik was right in front of him, and the smirk stilled on his face.
"No," Kanrik said after a long moment of staring into his eyes. "No, I can see that. You have not become disillusioned or hardened." Hanso's heart dropped. "But," Kanrik continued, "I dare say, you are ready." He turned away, and walked back to the other side of the room. Hanso exhaled. "I hear Queen Fyora herself has charged the two of you with a very important mission," he said, turning back around. "Retrieving dangerous fairy items scattered across Neopia before they fall into the wrong hands. You must be very proud."
Hanso puffed himself up a little. "Yes. I'm actually really-"
"Good. You can do double shifts then."
"I didn't get you into my guild so that you can just run errands for some fairies on a hill! I got you because they say you're the best, and they can pay your travel expenses. Well boy, are you the best?"
"Y- Yes sir!"
"And we are agreed? While doing your duty for the fairies you can also do your duty as a Master Thief! Are you up for it!?" Kanrik barked.
"Yes sir!" Hanso exclaimed with more confidence, the thrill of adventure already pumping through him.
"Good lad! You will go back to Brightvale to reconnect with your partner. I have it on good authority that you'll be getting shipped out to the Lost Desert any day now. I and Hannah set up an alliance with the Desert Scarab there a while back, but with the reappearance of Qasala our contacts want confirmation and reassurance that our agreement still stands."
"Sorry, sir. The Hannah? Hannah the Brave?"
Kanrik's mouth twitched into a smirk. "Yes, that is one of her many self-proclaimed titles. Anyway, you will be met by our contact, a red Lupe named Tomos. He has, though not very inconspicuous or imaginative, a scarab tattoo on his left arm that should make him hard to miss. Here," Kanrik now pulled from the folds of his cloak a scroll that still had the smell of fresh ink upon it, as well as the Thieves' Guild seal, "is what you will give him, as a Master Thief, of course. Beyond that, I trust to your affable nature to convince our fellow thieves in the desert that our loyalty and bond is as strong as it has ever been. Show them some flashy tricks from your part of the world. You're good at that, if I remember correctly."
"S- sorry," Hanso stuttered, his hand around the scroll but not yet holding it. "You're trusting me with this?"
"What would be the point of the last half hour, yes."
"The alliance of the largest northern and southern thieves' factions?"
"And one that took Hannah and me quite a bit of work to establish. Also, I wouldn't let her hear you saying that Krawk Island isn't privy to that group of 'largest thieves' factions,' if you want to keep your tail."
"But, I'm completely untested! This is my first mission. I-"
"Hanso," Kanrik jammed the scroll into his hand. "You're a thief who rose above kings to save Neopia as we know it. I know what that's like. That is all the test that I need." There was silence between them. Finally, Hanso felt the corner of his own mouth twitch.
He nodded, and tucked the scroll into an inside pocket of his jacket, before pulling the jacket straight of any imagined creases, and stranding tall in front of his Leader. "You can count on me, sir!" Trust, respect, the medal of a hero, the complete confidence of a Neopet like Kanrik, a girl like Brynn waiting for him back in Brightvale, and adventure always ahead, with the whole of Neopia at his feet!. This was what he'd always wanted. This was the life of Hanso's dreams, and he was finally living it.