The Old Switcheroo: Part Four
The afternoon sunlight was giving a warm golden glow to the rocks of Tyrannia as Kanrik, still in Hanso's body, hurried across the Plateau. He had nearly reached the battleground, mostly undetected so far.
It had been incredibly restful to spend a day in someone else's life, relieved of his duties, but he knew that this situation could not persist. There were far too many people who wished to speak to Hanso, and despite all his ingeniosity and talent for evasion, Kanrik couldn't handle them all. He didn't want to handle them all. Especially not Brynn, who deserved a huge, detailed explanation.
Now Kanrik just wanted his own life back and to be rid of Hanso and his problems. He dreaded to think of the state the Guild's camp must be in. He could only hope that the accursed teapot had not switched more people's minds and bodies.
Kanrik began to scout the various entrances of the Guild's well-concealed camp. He observed the sentinels, trying to determine which one was least likely to be a friend of Hanso's.
Before he could approach the cave, however, the atmosphere was shaken by an infernal cacophony and the rumbling of a stampede. Kanrik shivered and felt cold sweat on his back: he had recognised the shrieks of excitable young fangirls. Without stopping to think, he bolted for the nearest shelter, pushing Hanso's legs to their highest speed.
The shelter happened to be a convenient run-down shack, partially hidden behind one of the small rocky hills close to the battleground. Kanrik dived right in and started to search for something to barricade the door. There was only an old wooden table, but it would have to do.
He relaxed slightly when he heard the ruckus die down. He would wait longer before stepping out of his hiding place, as fangirl mobs tend to be unpredictable, but at least the worst part seemed to be over.
Then, out of nowhere, there was a sound of footsteps. They were hurried, furtive and they stopped every now and then, but Kanrik could hear them getting closer. He could hear only one person. Perhaps someone had seen him sneaking around the Guild's camp. Kanrik crouched lower and crept to hide behind the front door. Soon, the footsteps turned into a frantic scramble as the individual rushed towards the shack, much like Kanrik had done a few moments earlier.
The door burst open and in tumbled Hanso, in Kanrik's body. He was in very bad shape. He was missing his coat, parts of his shirt were torn, and all that was left from his cloak was the hood, which we was holding tightly around his head. He was out of breath, covered in dust and glitter, and looked somewhat shell-shocked. Kanrik caught him by the shoulder to help steady him, and Hanso jumped with a squeal of terror. He gawked at Kanrik's face - his face - for a second, then let out a long groan of relief.
"Oh good, it's you, I mean, it's me," said Hanso, still catching his breath.
"I would appreciate it if you didn't scream like a girl while you're in my body."
Hanso covered his ears with his hands. "No, please no screaming girls! Anything but that." He turned abruptly to look out of the shack's grimy window. "Are they gone?" he whispered. "I can still feel their stares on me, it's making my skin crawl!"
Hanso leaned against the wall and slid down until he was curled up on the floor, a strange, shivering version of Kanrik. "It was atrocious. Infernal. Pandemoniac."
With a sigh, Kanrik settled down on the floor next to him. "I thought you of all people would know how to deal with fangirl mobs. Where have you been, and what have you done with my cloak?"
"It was going all right, at first! It was fun," Hanso explained, sounding as though he still couldn't quite believe what had happened. "Until... until I... I took off the hood."
Kanrik smacked his forehead with his palm. "Oh, Hanso." He shook his head. "Why, why on Neopia would you take off the hood?"
"I know, I know," Hanso said desperately, "I regret it enough by now!"
"One does not simply remove one's hood when one is Kanrik. Why do you think I keep my hood on at all times?"
In an exceptional display of sympathy, Kanrik reached out awkwardly with one hand to pat Hanso's shoulder. It was a curious feeling to rub his own shoulder from that angle, so he kept going for a while.
"So, how is the Guild?" he asked tentatively.
"Oh, the Guild is just fine," Hanso replied. "That's a lot of people for you to manage. I'm not saying that I couldn't do it much better than you, but I have to admit that it's impressive."
"Well, thank you for this kind acknowledgment. I take it that you wouldn't like to continue handling my duties?"
"No, not really. My life is more fun than yours," said Hanso.
A few more screams were heard in the distance. Both thieves jumped to glance out of the window, then settled down again after seeing that the fangirls were camping well away from them. As Hanso seemed in better spirits, Kanrik changed the topic smoothly. "Speaking of which, you have a serious conversation with Brynn scheduled for tonight. I'm not going to deal with it, so you'd better show up."
"Oh, you saw Brynn?" Hanso's interest perked up. "What did you do to make a serious conversation necessary?"
"She just happened to catch me with a bit of loot," said Kanrik. "And she tracked me down again after that."
"Oh no," groaned Hanso. "We had an agreement, Kanrik! No pillaging while we're on mission, unless it's required for the artefact itself! A few odds and ends may have jumped into my pockets at some point, but I didn't keep any of it, and especially didn't get caught! It's not easy to earn her trust."
"It's all right," Kanrik said hurriedly, "once we're back to normal you can explain that it was me. Out of curiosity, why don't you help her with your jobs for the queen or whatever it is you do? From what she said, it sounds like you don't do any of the work."
Hanso ran his hand through his hair. "I'm always around if she needs me, I just stay out of the spotlight. It sounds a bit silly, but... she's so honest and decent and reliable. Wherever we go, people like her the moment they meet her. But apart from fans, everyone thinks I'm up to no good. I just don't want to tarnish her reputation." He cleared his throat. "How comes she told you all that, anyway?" he asked with a suspicious frown. "You must have got pretty close to her."
"We had a little disagreement when she caught me," said Kanrik.
"What did you do to her?" Hanso asked sharply.
"Nothing at all, take it easy. I smoothed things over. You owe me one for not getting your lady friend too mad."
"You're the one who got me caught!" moaned Hanso. "Hey, did she try to arrest you? She's so cute when she gets all righteous and heroic."
Kanrik cringed at Hanso's expression. "Wipe that sappy smile off my face right now!"
Hanso huffed. "I will if you stop making my face so grim! I bet there's already a rumor that I've joined the Awakened, thanks to your zombie face."
"That's enough talk about your girl problems. We still have an enormous issue to fix, right under our noses. Please tell me you kept that blasted teapot you wanted so badly."
Hanso's eyes widened. "The teapot? About that... I'm pretty sure I dropped it somewhere while I was being mobbed."
Immediately, Kanrik grabbed him by the collar. "You did what?" he asked in a dangerously calm tone.
"I dropped the teapot," said Hanso with a sheepish grin. Then he added at top speed: "I spoke to Hannah and she recognised me immediately and she said that we should be back to normal soon enough and you wouldn't hit your own face now would you?"
"Was Hannah absolutely certain that we would return to normal?"
"She didn't put it exactly that way, but we trust Hannah, don't we?"
"I suppose we do." Kanrik released him slowly. "You won't mention this incident to anyone else than Brynn, naturally. Embarrassing revelations could hurt both of our reputations."
Hanso had no doubt that a blackmailing war between the two of them would cause a lot of damage to each party, so he nodded. "Just let me stay out of anything Guild-related."
"Then it's settled." Kanrik checked the window again. "They're still camping. We'll have to wait here." He was exhausted, not from physical exertion, but from the simple fact of being around Hanso, so he leaned back against the wall, hoping to get some rest.
After what felt like thirty seconds, Hanso broke the silence. "You know, there's a scar on my back that's not fully healed and it itches sometimes, but as it's right in the middle of my back, I can never quite reach it..."
Kanrik understood what he wanted a second too late. Hanso was already trying to undo his coat. "No! Hanso, get off me!"
Hanso chuckled. "You should be asking yourself to get off me! Hey, is that really what my hair looks like from the back?"
Kanrik sighed. This was going to be a long wait.
"They never clean up after themselves, do they?" An orange Yurble was grumbling as he picked up empty food wrappers and torn magazine pages lying in the wake of a mob of fangirls. The Yurble had joined the Tyrannian Paleontological Association as an assistant for the excavation of the Obelisk, but he had kept his old habits from a previous job. Even while the archaeologists were inspecting ancient items found in the ground, he couldn't refrain from picking up litter and scolding those who dropped it.
That evening, however, he found something of interest. A silvery handle was sticking out of the sand and dust. The Yurble picked it up gingerly, revealing a large tea tray. He shook the dirt off it and saw that it was brand new. "Dropping their rubbish everywhere for the slaves to pick up..." he grumbled. "To the Lost and Found desk you go." He stuffed the tea tray into another rubbish bag and brought it back to the dig site.
At the end of another long day of battling, the six factions were gradually leaving the battleground around the mysterious Obelisk. Some of them had left a few of their number come to fight the night shift, or certain defenses of their making, to guard the ground that they had managed to conquer over the day. Warriors were packing up, patching each other up, trying to undo strange magical mishaps.
"Make sure that all your belongings are accounted for," said Tom Cotterpin, the brave Lutari explorer, as the Seekers were preparing to return to their airship for the night.
As it happened, one young assistant had mislaid a valuable lens. He braced himself for a lecture from Sir Cotterpin, but the Lutari was interrupted by Sandro.
"All is well, for I believe I have spotted your lens. I see that it has already been brought to the Lost and Found." The yellow Gelert would have seemed to be peering at something in the distance if his eyes had not been completely obscured by his unique mop of silver hair. "Allow me to take charge of lost item retrieval for tonight." He nodded at Tom and the others and started to jog towards the Lost and Found, covering the distance rapidly thanks to his long legs.
Meanwhile, the Brute Squad was packing up, too. Another young recruit could not seem to find his shield anywhere, and it took all his self-control to conceal his agitation. Discipline in the Brute Squad was spartan, predictably enough, and no one wanted to receive a scolding from the scarier lieutenants. It was difficult, however, to hide anything from Alhana's alert gaze.
"In battle, your weapons are like an extension of your own body," said the stern Kyrii mercenary. "You will not go far if you treat them so poorly. You will have twice your share of chores tonight. Now off you go, back to camp, no outings." Alhana then made her way to the Lost and Found to search for the shield and the other items that had been dropped that day, accepting the menial task without protest. They didn't call her the Patient for nothing.
Alhana wished that the archaeologists would clear off the battleground. They refused to call it anything else than a dig site, and insisted on inspecting the dirt for potential treasure after every scuffle. They organised the Lost and Found items desk as a pretext to make themselves seem useful. The result was that members of different factions would meet awkwardly every evening, entrusted with the embarrassing task of retrieving personal items that had been dropped by themselves or their team mates and somehow escaped the thieves' notice.
The orange Yurble currently manning the desk was holding up a wide, round, shiny object. It could have looked like a beginner's shield from a distance. A green Zafara archaeologist walked up to him and pointed at the item.
"This is one shiny round thing!" he commented. "Would you mind if I inspected it?" He reached out to touch the item in the Yurble's hands, but the Yurble immediately pulled it out of his reach.
"Yaaarr! Yer'll get grime all over it with yer dirty hands," growled the Yurble. He placed the object neatly on the trestle table in front of him.
Moments later, Alhana reached what had looked like a small shield from a distance. She picked up the misleading item, wondering what it was and whether it could have come from the Brute Squad's camp.
"Oh dear. Just like a Gulper's lure, this object's strange light has brought us to its side." A well-dressed and eccentric-looking Gelert, obviously a Seeker, had joined Alhana in her contemplation of the mysterious thing.
"I'm just trying to figure out exactly what it is," said Alhana, still holding it. "Might be more of the Order's business, but it's hard to tell with that odd shape."
"Would you be so kind as to let me glance at those runes?" said the Gelert, taking one side of the object to tilt it towards him. "I believe I may be able to identify-"
There was a flash, a jolt, then everything went black.
To be continued...