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Trouble in Paradise


by parody_ham

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Chapter 2: Lost and Found

     All around them, skeletal creatures rose from the depths of the sandy forest. Their hollow eyes turned in unison towards their master, the “Temple Monster,” as their slack jaws opened wide. An assortment of hisses and screeches emanated from their mouths, causing Mipsy and Velm to cover their ears in pain.

     “There must be some misunderstanding.” Velm’s eyes grew wide at the sight. It was one thing to be facing a few beasts at a time, but dozens—even hundreds—of them was another story entirely. “We didn’t steal anything!”

     In response, the Hissi cackled, surrounded now by an army of minions. “And yet you defend the thief who stole it? You know not how to craft a story.”

     Velm snorted indignantly. “I’ll have you know that I’m a world-class bard—”

     Mipsy grabbed his arm. “Not the time, Velm.”

     “But they—”

     “Let it go.”

     “Are you done?” They crossed their arms. “Return the artefact or the island will suffer our curse.”

     “For the last time,” Velm made an exasperated huff, “we don’t have your artefact. We’re travelling heroes—you may have heard of us. We journeyed across five lands, saved King Skarl from Ramtor, Queen Fyora from the tyrant king, Terask?”

     The Hissi’s eyes glazed over with disinterest.

     “You’ve probably heard of Sir Rohane, at least?” Mipsy said while she looked around for the disappeared Xweetok. “He was our team’s leader.”

     “Can’t say I have,” they shrugged impassively, “but your story amuses me. If you’re half the heroes you say you are… prove it. Find the artefact and I’ll call off the curse.”

     Velm clicked his tongue. “Sounds easy to—”

     “And to keep you motivated…” they raised their spear into the air, causing legions of skeletal minions to turn around and swipe the air in unison. They moved as if part of a hive mind. “Until you return the treasure to me, I will rampage the town.”

     “Waaaaait just one second,” shot Mipsy, throwing her arms into the air. “What kind of option is that? We could always just defeat you now and stop the curse that way.”

     “You could,” they sneered, “if you enjoy fighting all two hundred of my magical puppets at the same time. But then, surely ‘heroes’ of your calibre could catch one little thief?”

     “We can take—”

     Velm shook his head as he placed his hand on Mipsy’s shoulder to pull her back. “We’re good, but even we would struggle against these numbers. Without Rohane and Talinia, brute force isn’t going to work here.”

     If all four of them were there, they would have surely ploughed through the ranks of the skeletal army. Rohane with his undeniable skill with a blade, his dance-like footwork, and stamina like a well-oiled machine. Talinia excelled at fighting multiple enemies at once and could very easily pick off three or even four enemies with the release of her bowstring. Plus, she had wings and range on her side, making her difficult to retaliate against. Mipsy’s magic was strong, and more than capable of doing large amounts of damage, but her frail constitution left her at risk of being smothered by the enemy. And despite his incredible gift for the healing arts, Velm was not adept at destruction magic—nor did he want to be. It was never a power that he wanted in the palm of his hand.

     “Ugh.” She stomped her foot in frustration. “But you’re right. Let’s catch this lying jerk.”

     “Give us an hour before you start,” said Velm evenly. “We’ll catch him. There is no reason to endanger innocents over this.”

     “Making demands, are we?” The Hissi laughed as their tongue flickered out and hovered in the air. “Fine, ‘heroes.’ One hour it is. If you fail, then you’ll have to find me… in the temple of Geraptiku.”

     “An hour’s all we’ll need.”

     That was what he said, at least, but as soon as he and Mipsy began to scour the thick tropical forest, he immediately regretted the short time limit. “Why couldn’t I have said three hours? Or even a day?”

     “Less talking, more searching!” barked Mipsy, as she searched behind some rocky outcroppings. Seconds after they began their search, Mipsy cast her “Rapid Haste” spell on the two of them to increase their search effort. They examined every nook or cranny they could find to no avail. After what seemed like an eternity passed, the two of them met in a clearing, panting and clearly frustrated.

     “Where… where in Neopia could he have gone?” Mipsy stood to catch her breath after running almost nonstop. She leaned against a tall coconut tree to catch her breath. Unlike the other areas of the forest, which were filled with bird song, only the sound of shaking leaves could be heard. She lifted her gaze and caught the sight of a frantic orange and purple blur. “Velm! I got ‘em!”

     “Butter biscuits!” cried the Xweetook, who jumped nimbly from tree to tree. Before he grabbed another branch, Mipsy discharged a burst of magical energy from her wand. It exploded the tree branch to smithereens, leaving the thief grasping desperately at vines before crashing unceremoniously to the ground with a thud. His long, poofy tail covered over the rest of his body like a blanket. As he lay there, he blew a few pieces of fur out of his eyes. “Real kind of you, sweetheart,” he spat, causing the mage to recoil in disgust.

     “Sweetheart?! I—”

     “Great job, Mipsy!” Velm interjected as he ran between them. He held out a hand in front of the thief. “Okay Drew—assuming that’s actually your name—give back the artefact you stole.”

     “Don’t have it,” stated the Xweetok while flattening down his wind-blown fur. As he came up to kneel, he gave a devious grin. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell schmucks like you.”

     Mipsy tightened her grip around her ornate wand. “Think his clothes are flammable?” she asked drily with what Velm had often called “mage humour.” Even so, Velm responded matter-of-factly.

     “No, I don’t think they are… or that saying that would work on this guy.”

     “You’re correct, Techo. I don’t respond well to idle threats.” The thief’s eyes narrowed. It took this long for Velm to realize that Drew held an assortment of throwing daggers on his person, including one near the boot where his paw rested. “Not that I think goody-goodies like yourselves would have it in you. But even then, your acting skills are a bit, shall we say, sub-par. My acting skills, on the other hand, were good enough to fool you—and that’s what matters.”

     “What is it with antagonists and insulting my bardic abilities today?” muttered Velm to no one in particular. “I just trust Neopians, all right? Is that so wrong?”

     Within their old team, Talinia was by far the most sceptical member. Whenever they met a Neopian who asked for help, she’d silently scan them before replying, deciding in an instant if they meant any harm. Her instincts had saved their crew from running into situations just like these more than a few times. Even Rohane was quick to say that the magic users had a “trusting streak,” even if he too wanted to believe the best in others. Mipsy would sometimes joke that Rohane’s “radar ears” could spot a bad-intentioned Neopian from a mile away. Nevertheless, Rohane would unquestionably side with Talinia’s keen sense of judgement.

      “I still think you’re great, Velm!” called Mipsy, who accompanied her words of encouragement with a thumbs-up. “And you know that Lucy does, too!”

     The Techo smiled weakly, not tearing his eyes away from the thief. “You’re going to help us search for it.” He said it as a statement.

     The thief brushed a tuft of fur from his face, causing it to flutter into the air. “Oh yeah? And just why would I do that?”

     “Because,” Velm looked him dead in the eyes without a trace of hesitation, “we have something worth far more than that artefact. Something that’s practically priceless.”

     Drew scoffed. “You’re bluffing.”

     Mipsy tried to keep her face neutral, but her quirked brow made the thief laugh out loud and exclaim, with certainly, that this was a poorly crafted ruse.

     “I’m not lying,” replied Velm. “The two of us were part of ‘The Heroic Four’ who took down ‘King Terask’ after he overthrew Queen Fyora. We have his crown.” He and Mipsy traded glances. When she read his meaning, a moment of realization hit her. She smiled knowingly. “And we can trade it… for the safe return of the artefact.”

     “Just think about it,” Mipsy walked next to the thief and offered her hand to him. “A one-of-a-kind item obtained from the self-proclaimed King of Faerieland. Surely that would be worth something on the black market?”

     The thief swatted away her hand. Mipsy fought every urge not to zap him in response. “You’re joking. You two? Part of the ‘Heroic Four?’ You must take me for a sap. Why on Neopia would you two legendary heroes be here of all places, in the middle of Nowheresville, Mystery Island?”

     “I mean, we were on vacation before all of this”—Mipsy made a sweeping motion with her hands—“happened.”

     “Still not buying it.”

     Velm signalled to Mipsy, who cracked her knuckles before taking aim at a Neopian-sized rock. Her eyes narrowed on the target.

     “Obliterate.” A blast of deep red burst from her wand. When it hit the rock, it shattered instantly, sending shards shooting in their direction.

     “Protection of Infinity!” Velm sang as Mipsy fired off a “Wall of Chaos.” Chucks of rocks disintegrated instantly as they hit the swirling mass of magical energy above them. Any pebbles that filtered through bounced harmlessly off their shoulders and head.

     “Enough proof for you?” The Techo held a hand at his side and smiled smugly.

     “Eesh.” The thief grimaced. “You two are monsters.”

     The mage crossed her arms and huffed. “I prefer the term ‘Archmage in Training,’ thank you very much.”

     “So,” Velm added a swagger, ignoring the thief's snide comment, “you believe us, then.”

     “Tentatively.”

     “And you’ll work with us, then?”

     A few moments passed. “Tentatively.”

     “We promise we’ll give you the crown when we’re done,” said Mipsy. “And when we promise something…”

     “We mean it,” finished Velm.

     Kneading his forehead with his orange hand, he squeezed his fur in frustration. “You’re insufferable dorks, but I guess I could tolerate your company for a goldmine item… that is, if you have it with you. Gotta have proof and all.”

     “It’s back at the hotel,” the Techo shrugged. “I heard a scream and made a run for it. Valuables aren’t nearly as important to me as helping Neopians. Even my beloved Lucy is back there where it’s safe.” When the thief glowered, he hastily added, “as soon as everyone’s okay, it’s yours—I promise.”

      The thief paced around in the sand and bit his knuckle. Upon stopping, he slipped a dagger from his sleeve and spun it around aimlessly on his finger, muttering something under his breath. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, there was a deafening screech from within the deep forest. The brush rustled like it had been invaded by herds of wild Petpets.

     Velm and Mipsy traded a panicked glance while Drew snapped the dagger into his paw and held it at the ready.

     “Is that…?” started Mipsy.

     Velm’s heart sank. “I think our time is up.”

     To be continued…

 
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