Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 190,991,725 Issue: 592 | 26th day of Eating, Y15
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A Thief


by wishpers

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Inspired by glass teapots by Rika at The Teahouse (/~thelittleteahouse).

"Cate, you've got a package!"

      Cate looked up from her book as Nelly scampered down from her lap. The small baby Xweetok ran into the hallway while Cate carefully bookmarked her place, stood, and stretched. She had spent her last two hours quietly reading by the window and she had to admit that she definitely missed this. She hadn't been able to sit down and just relax in a long time. Times to catch up on your favorite book were not abundant on the road, and now that she was home and settled, she couldn't imagine leaving.

      "Cate, what is it?" Nelly's voice came down the hall.

      "I don't know," Cate called back. She toddled out into the hallway to find Des pushing and pulling a dusty wooden crate with all his might. The baby Lupe's face was twisted in effort.

      Laughing, Cate picked up the box and read the label. There was only her name and address—she had no idea who it was from.

      "Open it! Maybe it's something yummy to eat," Nelly offered hopefully.

      "I doubt it, Nelly." Cate smiled and set to opening up the box. With a hard yank at several of the top wooden boards, Cate managed to extract a large oddly shaped bundle of rags. She undid the tight strings holding the bundle together and gasped. Her friend in Shenkuu had sent her old teapot.

      Cate held up the teapot in the hallway light. It was still perfect, undamaged by the long trip to Neopia Central. The delicate glass handle and spout gleamed golden, and the bright scene shimmered and reflected the late afternoon sunlight. The details were still as intricate as they were she first received it, when Cate had watched the painter draw each tiny and beautiful tree, paint the deep sapphire ribbon of the river, and stencil the glorious and majestic rise of the Lost Desert skyline.

      "Wow!" Des's mouth made a perfect little 'o'. "Who sent you that?"

      "A friend." Cate smiled. "I left it with him because I didn't want it to break on the road. I have several more, with different friends. They should be sending them here soon too."

      "Where'd you get it?" Nelly climbed into Cate's lap to get a closer view.

      "The Lost Desert." Cate lowered the teapot and let Nelly inspect the painting. "I got it the very first time I went there."

      "When was that?" Nelly asked, one paw tracing the curve of the river.

      "A long time ago." Cate laughed. "I can't remember exactly when, but it was one of my first trips. It was close to my first foster home, and I'd always wanted to see the city."

      "Didn't you melt?" Des asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

      "I don't melt, silly." Cate ruffled his fur.

      "Oh." Des grinned. "What did you do there? I never knew you'd seen the Lost Desert."

      Cate leaned back on the wall and smiled. "I've been to most places, Des. If I told you every story I had about every place I visited, you'd be bored."

      "Tell us!" Nelly smiled up at her. "Did anything exciting happen?"

      "No." Cate smiled. "Nothing terribly exciting. But I did meet a good friend there."

      "Which one? Qale?"

      Cate nodded. "Yes, Qale. So I had been in the city for about two weeks..."

      ***

      "I'll take a Pyramibread and a Tchea fruit please."

      The green Lupe in the stall stuck out his paw. "Neopoints first here, chocolate."

      "Oh right, sorry." Cate rummaged in her bag for her neopoints. "I always forget."

      "You're not from here, are you?" he asked, taking her coins.

      Cate shook her head and laughed sheepishly. "Is it obvious?"

      "Thieves are thick here," the Lupe answered, handing her her food. "We vendors are wary. You should be too. Keep your neopoints safe."

      "Will do. Thanks for the tips!" Cate smiled and turned. She bit off the top of her Pyramibread. It was a little dry, but it wasn't much to complain about for the price.

      Cate strolled along down the street. It was one of the main squares in the city, and there were dozens upon dozens of stalls set up here, selling food, clothing, and souvenirs. Both tourists and locals bustled about their business and stall owners chatted and bargained. She loved the atmosphere here, despite the heat. It was an urban atmosphere in a traditional setting, and it was unique and fascinating still, though she'd been here for two weeks.

      Cate had only turned for half a second to admire a particularly detailed fan on display when she felt a slight nudge. She turned and spotted a green Xweetok slipping away. In his hand was her familiar coin purse.

      "Hey!" Cate broke into a run after the thief. She really should have taken the vendor's advice more seriously.

      The Xweetok was no novice. He wove between tourist groups, dodged into alleys, and disappeared behind stalls and buildings, but Cate was determined. That was all she had and she needed that last bit to pay the innkeeper, or she'd be a thief too.

      The thief kept running, but he was slowing, and Cate guessed he wasn't used to being chased for so long. The mark of successful thief, she thought. Well she hadn't been teased as 'slow and steady' for nothing in neoschool. Putting on a final burst of speed, Cate caught up with the thief, clamped onto his arm and skidded to a stop.

      The Xweetok put up a good fight, but Cate refused to let go. This thief was learning that chocolate was much harder to break than he thought.

      Finally the Xweetok tossed her coin purse several feet behind them. Cate scrambled up and grabbed it. The coins were still there, and with a sigh, she tucked it into her bag, deep underneath her things. She wouldn't have to learn this lesson twice.

      "What is with you?"

      Cate turned. The Xweetok had gotten up and was dusting himself off. He looked young, perhaps the same age as her. He was shaking sand out of his fur and adjusting his bandanna. He was glaring at her.

      "What do you mean?" Cate asked, indignant. "You stole my coin purse!"

      "Yeah, but it's not like it had much in there," he retorted.

      "Hey!" Cate felt her cheeks color. "It doesn't matter."

      The Xweetok rolled his eyes. "That's a half hour wasted."

      Cate couldn't believe her ears. "What?" She stepped up the neopet, frowning. "You have nothing else to say to me?"

      "No." He stepped back and turned to walk away.

      "What about an apology?" Cate huffed.

      He turned his head and smirked. "You expect an apology out of a street thief?" He chortled, and seemed genuinely amused.

      Cate frowned. "No. I expect an apology out of a fellow Neopian."

      The Xweetok seemed surprised. He turned and faced her and Cate could see that he didn't look unfriendly when he wasn't fighting to get away. In fact, he looked pleasantly playful and good humored. "Uh..."

      Cate smiled and shrugged. "So?"

      "Look..." The Xweetok looked away sheepishly, then grinned, laughing a little. "I'm sorry. This is ridiculous, but you have a good point. I'm sorry."

      Cate smiled. "Thanks. See? Wasn't so bad."

      The Xweetok laughed again. "Yeah. Well..." He stepped back a little. "Have a good day."

      "You too." Cate watched as he agilely jumped a wall and disappeared from her sight.

      ***

      "That was him?" Nelly asked, incredulous.

      Cate laughed. "Yeah. That was my very first encounter with Qale."

      "Does he still steal?" Des asked, uncharacteristically serious.

      "Of course not." Cate smiled. "He works here and there and gets by with that."

      "Why did he stop? Stealing, I mean."

      "I ended up staying in Lost Desert for four months, and we became friends. And I didn't stop pestering him about it, because it was a terrible profession. When I decided to leave for Altador, he decided he'd rather come with me than stay with his gang, so we started out fresh there. I think his first honest job was working as a hotdog vendor." Cate laughed at the memory of Qale in that mustard costume.

      "Anyway." Cate nudged Nelly off her lap and stood up. "Let's go find a place for this teapot."

The End

 
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