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Trouble in Paradise


by parody_ham

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Chapter 3: Calling Card

     “What in Neopia is that awful sound?” Drew pressed his purple paw over his ear and gritted his teeth. “It’s like someone dragging their nails on a chalkboard—or worse.”

     “That,” said Velm grimly, “is the sound of unintended consequences.”

     “Whose? Yours?”

     Velm gave Drew a tired look before focusing on the enemies in front of them.

     Through the brush they could hear loud creaking sounds, almost like a tree branch about to snap. Mipsy and Velm readied their weapons towards the sound’s source as Drew hovered his free paw over a partially hidden dagger. A few skeletal creatures slashed through the brush, then turned their necks to face them.

     Mipsy felt a shiver down her spine as one of the beast’s hollow eyes turned towards her. She had seen plenty of ghouls, ghosts, mucus monsters, and even a life-force draining sludge Kau, but none of those made her blood run cold. Reanimated skeletons on the other hand? She fought some briefly in Ramtor’s Tower, back in her early days as a mage. It was a harrowing time, one that could have easily ended badly if not for her captain’s quick thinking, a steady supply of healing potions… and his quickness to lug her unconscious body back to a healer. Multiple times.

     “But things are different now,” she said aloud as she stepped forward. From her wand came sparks of brilliant reds and oranges. In response, Velm tilted his head in curiosity before preparing another “Protection of Infinity” spell. “I’m not the beginner I was back then.”

     A skeleton charged forward towards each of the trio, catching Drew by surprise. Before it could slash him, he somersaulted backwards, vaulted off his purple paw, and landed 10 feet back with both feet on the ground.

      Velm whistled at the show, before summoning an opaque hammer twice the size of his body. “Celestial Hammer!” he bellowed. Using momentum from his swing, the hammer smashed into the skeleton’s cranium. Within an instant, the skeleton collapsed under the spell’s weight. Seeing the pile of bones, Velm exhaled in relief. “At least they’re not too strong.”

     Meanwhile, Mipsy had prepared a “Wall of Chaos” that covered the three of them with a blanket of swirling magical energy. When a skeletal beast charged at Mipsy, it hit the wall with a thud. It then let out an ear-piercing screech before clawing at the barrier in apparent anger. Its claws scraped helplessly at the barrier, which squealed and popped with every swipe. Biting her lip, the mage maintained her spell’s focus, pausing only to hit a distant monster with an “Obliterate” spell.

     The monster in front of Drew continued its assault. The Xweetok spun away, deftly removing a dagger from his sleeve cuff. When the monster attempted to swipe his face, he parried its claws, then sent his knee straight into the creature’s pelvis. It reeled back with a hiss before he threw a dagger directly through its spinal cord. It took a few steps back before collapsing to the ground. With a huff, Drew walked up to the beast and removed his weapon.

     “I’ll be taking that back,” he said whilst flicking his well-groomed tail in the opposite direction.

     With an electrified zap of her wand, the weakened skeleton crumbled to dust in front of Mipsy’s damage shield. Before dispelling the shield, she took a quick look around. None of the other monsters were charging towards them… but in the direction of the town.

     She tightened her grip on the wand. “Velm… shouldn’t we go there first?”

     Before he could answer, a dagger soared within inches of Mipsy’s face and tagged a nearby tree. “Not if you want the goods back. That’s the deal.”

     Velm’s mouth hung open as he dug his fingernails into his palm. “Did he just—”

     “He did.” Mipsy could feel her heart pounding against her chest. “He definitely did.”

     Meanwhile, the Xweetok sauntered towards the tree without a care. “Whoops, paw slipped,” he said as he unwedged it from the bark, “I really ought to be more careful with these.”

     “Maybe we should find it on our own.” Velm said it with a face he reserved for only the most loathsome of enemies despite the calmness in his tone.

     Had Rohane and Talinia been there, Drew would already be in a headlock with an arrow pointed at his heart. But with just the two of them—and two magic users at that—they simply did not have the raw power or speed… and Drew knew it all too well. It frustrated him to no end.

     “Maybe you could.” The Xweetok threw his arms behind his head and whistled a quick tune. “But maybe, if you want this to go quickly for all of us… you’ll work with me.”

     The cleric practically shook with anger.

      “I know, Velm,” said Mipsy. Hearing his name, the cleric tensed up. “But this is our best chance to help everyone.”

     “See? This cutie gets—”

     “But if he does that one more time, his clothes won’t be the only thing that catches on fire.”

     The thief stopped in his tracks. He could feel his throat tighten. “Wow. You almost sounded serious there. An A- job, to be su—”

     “Let’s get going.” Mipsy kept her gaze locked on the thief in case he tried any other funny business. “We have a job to do.”

     Velm visibly slumped as he out an audible sigh. “Dear Coltzan, we need a vacation.”

     ~x~

     The three of them travelled in relative silence while they ducked through the thick underbrush. At one point, Mipsy stepped in a leaf-covered lagoon. Her shoe pulled against the muck until it released her foot with a loud slurping sound. She exclaimed in frustration while Velm offered his arm for balance. While she attempted to grab the shoe from the mud, Drew laughed so hard his sides ached. He pointed at her plight and even reenacted it from the side, including the point where she almost landed face first in filth.

     “Not helping,” said Mipsy, as she yanked the shoe upwards and splattered mud all over her face. “Not. Helping.”

     Drew practically wheezed. “I think my creative additions added flair to your struggle.”

     “Flair?” she repeated, “are you serious?”

     “Oh, deadly serious, magey.”

     “You must be really popular at the Thieves’ Guild,” spat Velm as Mipsy pulled up her boot. She nearly gagged from how thickly caked the mud was; it wrapped around her shoe like a blanket.

     “I am, in fact”—he hesitated—“quite popular at the guild. Kanrik adores me.”

     “And by adores,” Velm cracked a sly grin, “you mean he wants you out a-door, never to return?”

     “Ouch, Techo.” Drew placed his paw against his heart and pantomimed a dagger piercing it. “You wound me.”

     “That can be arranged.” Mipsy said it with a smirk while tossing a ball of mud in Drew’s direction. He managed to avoid all but the last splatter on his legs. “And his name is Velm, by the way. And I’m Mipsy. Not magey, and especially not sweet—”

     “I thought it was the ‘heroic duo?’ The ‘Magicannons?’ The schmucks? The—”

     “It’s Velm,” said Velm, pointing to himself, then to his companion, “and she’s Mipsy. It’s not that hard to use our names, Drew Plicity.

     “Drew.” The Xweetok’s brows creased. “Just Drew is fine. You’re not my guildmates, after all.”

     “Well, alright then…” Velm shot a devilish grin, “‘Just Drew.’”

     The thief baulked. He looked, for the first time since they met him, annoyed. “That is not my name.”

     “Oooo,” Mipsy bit back a smile, but her jubilant tone betrayed her thoughts. “I think we struck a chord, Velm.”

     “I earned that name through my thievery. It’s my calling card. it’s—”

     Velm sang his response in a low bass, adding a hop to his step as he did. “Whatever you saaaay, ‘Juuuust Dreeeew.’”

     Instead of replying, Drew slashed his way through the brush a few paces in front of them, and kicked whatever fell in his wake. He used a dagger to cut a particularly large hanging vine clear in half. It slumped to the ground in a pile.

     The two heroes looked at each and shrugged.

     “For such a snarky guy, he’s certainly sensitive to teasing,” whispered Mipsy as she held a vine over her head. Velm slipped in underneath her paw and covertly nodded.

     They approached a small clearing with a single large boulder in the middle. The Xweetok did a quick double-take before he walked up to the large, moss-covered rock.

     “This is the place where I hid the treasure. Count yourself lucky that you’re hearing about a thief’s secret stash location… few get the privilege and live to tell the tale.”

     Ignoring his commentary, Mipsy gave the boulder a few taps. “Uh. Is there supposed to be a secret switch or something?”

     “No switch.”

     “And is this a stash you created before or after you were chased by the ‘Temple Monster?’”

     “I don’t have to answer that, Velm,” Drew spat. Giving a quick glance around, he bent closer towards the rock and unearthed some ferns and moss that had been patted down. Beneath them was a small, natural cavern, perhaps the side of someone’s head, and a perfect place to hide away treasure. Mipsy stood on her tippytoes in an attempt to see the secret hideaway’s contents, but the thief made sure to block her vision until he had covered the spot once more, leaving a thin layer of leaves where he had disturbed the dirt. In his paw he held a gold talisman with intricate patterns interwoven on its surface. In the center was the carving of a stern-faced Acara with a headdress. He swung the golden cord until the talisman was wrapped tightly around his paw.

          “Got it,” said Drew. “This crown had better be worth all of this trouble.”

     The Techo nodded sagely. “Oh, believe me. It’s a prize you could sink your teeth into.”

     “It had better be,” he repeated. With a skip in his step, the Xweetok waved them forward. In front of them was a thick blanket of vegetation. “I know what it looks like, but once we get through this… you’ll be in the right place.”

     “Is it a big temple?” asked Mipsy, nervously fidgeting as her mind travelled back to the rampaging monsters. “Because I’m worried about the townsfolk…”

      The Xweetok responded with an eye roll as he pushed his way past some face-height flora, including one with leaves half his size. He then stopped in place. Mipsy faceplanted into his back.

     “Oof,” she said, rubbing her nose, “why did you stop?”

     “Because, Mipsy,” he said as he sidestepped away and brushed off a thread of her fur from his tattered clothes, “we’re here.”

     She poked her head around him and saw, for the first time, a large clearing. A series of moss-covered stone steps led towards the sky. With the thick vegetation behind and around the abandoned tomb, the area appeared dark and foreboding. The very top of the structure was difficult to make out, but it looked pyramidal. Detailed stonework covered the sides depicting warriors, menacing-looking petpets, and astrological depictions of the moon, sun and stars.

     They continued towards the temple entrance in eerie silence. Mipsy’s ears scrunched against her face as Velm walked stiffly, making note of everything around.

     While scanning around Velm kicked something small. “Sorry about that.” It was automatic, even if the object he kicked did not seem to be either of his travelling companions.

     “What for?” asked Mipsy, who flicked her gaze towards the ground and screamed. “Omigosh, i-it’s a skull!”

     “A skull?!” Velm practically jumped into Mipsy’s arms.

      It was well known that Velm had a low tolerance for scary stories, and would often be the first to let out a scream. Even Mipsy’s jump-scare-filled stories were enough to give the Techo nightmares. Oddly enough though, monsters rarely had that effect. It had to be something that either ceased to be or was fictional for him to be thoroughly unnerved.

     In this case, it was a small skull, perhaps one of a petpet, that sat on the ground. Heavily worn etchings were carved into the bone, symbols that none of them could decipher.

     “Yeah, that sort of thing happens around here.” Drew looked at the skull impassively as he motioned to spikes in the distance. “You get used to it. Come on, entrance is this way.”

     The two heroes looked at each other wearily. Velm wished that he could somehow ease the tension with a song or a joke but all he could think about was making it through the temple alive. For better or worse, Lucy sat safely in his pack next to his untouched, half-shelled coconut filled with sweet fruit juice. He licked his lips in anticipation.

     Mipsy nervously bit at her finger while her gaze darted around for any monsters. It was oddly quiet. Nothing was around, nothing but the skulls of long-forgotten creatures. Her eyes fell on Drew’s paw. On his right index finger was a ring, an object that might prove otherwise uninteresting if not for the fact that it was humming. When they managed to get themselves out of this mess, she would have to ask him, she told herself.

     They climbed up a few stairs that proved impossible to scale without dropping to their hands and knees. Apparently, Drew noted with a yawn, this was to humble Neopians before they entered into the tomb. Mipsy, being the shortest, required some aid being pulled up the last stair. Beyond that, a large, moss-covered door lay before them. Long grooves covered the walls above the wall, triggered by some sort of contraption to pull it up and down.

     “Are we going in there?” Mipsy asked.

     “Nah, afraid we can’t,” said Drew with a shrug. “The mechanism only works once a day. Besides, it has this nasty habit of getting stuck half-way… and randomly shutting.”

     Mipsy’s eyes widened. “Randomly shutting?”

     “Yeah. Again, it happens.”

     “Well,” said Velm as he investigated the door and looked for any hidden switches, “how are we getting in, then?”

     The Xweetok pointed about forty feet above the door from where a natural cave-in occurred. There were no paths, no direct means of making it up there, only steep, heavily worn temple faces. The hole looked large enough to fit maybe one Neopian at a time. He crouched down before leaping into the air. He then grabbed small holes in the stonework and used them as modified foot and handholds. Within seconds, he had scurried up to the cave-in.

     “Coming?” he asked with a snide grin while leaning to the side as if waiting for a carriage. “I don’t have all day.”

     Rolling his eyes, Velm muttered something about missing Talinia’s creative climbing solutions, which usually involved an arrow, some rope, and a hope that the tree she hit could hold Rohane’s weight as he pulled himself across ravines, up cliffsides, or in one instance, across a shoe-stealing bog. Mipsy and Velm, although much lighter equipped, struggled to put themselves across. It was usually Talinia who would end up pulling the two of them up a cliffside, with Rohane’s help.

     With a sigh, the two began climbing. After some struggle, including almost falling down, Velm managed to find a solid path that Mipsy then followed. About halfway up, Mipsy patted the wall as her arms began to quake, looking for a place to find rest. Velm, nearly to the top at that point, looked back. Drew watched on as if viewing a comedy routine, with a big, amused grin.

     Mipsy gritted her teeth. “I got it, I got—Ow. Arm is burning, arm is—eep!” When she tried to pull her bodyweight up, her arm gave out and she began to fall.

     “Mipsy!” Velm shouted, grabbing her paw just in time. She dangled mid-air for a few seconds while Velm strained to pull her up. Huffing and puffing he managed to pull the two of them to the flat stone where Drew was now sitting and eating a large and gooey tropical fruit that he had apparently picked from a nearby tree.

     “A thief’s gotta keep up his roguish figure,” he crooned before smacking his lips against his fruit-juice covered fingers. “Delicious.”

     “And you… couldn’t help us… why?” panted Mipsy as she crawled off of her belly.

     He shook his paws, flinging beads of sticky fruit juice on them. “Busy. Sorry about that.”

     “No, you’re not.”

     “What was that, Velm?”

     “Nothing,” the cleric asserted. “Let’s get down there and return that artefact. No more fruit breaks.”

     Drew guffawed. “You’re not the boss of me. But fine, time is money. You two first.”

     “Not on your life.” As if to strengthen this declaration, Velm pounded his staff against the hard stone.

     A deep crease had formed on Mipsy’s otherwise youthful face. “You’re going down there first. We’ll follow.”

     “And what if I—”

     “Don’t.” Sparks shot from Mipsy’s wand as she gritted her teeth. “Test. Me.”

     “Sheesh. Testy, testy.” After making an exaggerated sigh, he reached into his pack and removed a long rope.

     Velm’s nostrils flared as his eyes widened with anger. “And you didn’t think to share this with us before?”

     “Why would I?” he replied with a casual shrug before tying up the rope and belaying down. It didn’t take long for him to reach the bottom and he gave the rope a little tug. “Any day now!”

     “I hate him,” whispered Mipsy, as she steadied herself down the rope. “I really, really do.”

     Velm took a deep breath and let it out in a light sigh. “No matter how insufferable this guy is, we’re doing the right thing. Rohane and Talinia would be proud of us… and it’s just a little while longer.” He paused. “I hope.”

     “I hope you’re right.”

     “And besides,” he said as he placed his hand on her shoulder, “I’ll protect you, Mipsy.”

     Despite her frustration, she reciprocated the gesture and smiled. “Right back at ya, Velm.”

      To be continued…

 
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