Trouble in Paradise
Chapter 4: The Perilous Tomb
The cavernous temple stretched on for what seemed like miles. A musty odour permeated the dingy hallways, a wet decay that caused both heroes to gag. Mipsy stuffed a sleeve against her face as her right hand carried a torch made from a dried branch and her “Fireball” spell. A foreboding aura filled the air as the ball of light cast shifting shadows on the walls. Scuttering creatures, those calling the tomb home, hissed angrily at their trespass, slithering into the dark emptiness of the space beyond.
“You’re in luck,” called Drew with a swagger in his step. “The traps here are a breeze. A master thief such as myself can find them with ease.”
To his credit, he had disarmed quite a number of traps, from placing stones on a tile to set off a wall of spears to throwing his dagger at a suspiciously new-looking tripwire. When the wire snapped, the ground gave way to a pit of spikes. Seeing the mistakes of less fortunate adventurers made Mipsy gasp in horror. She clung to Velm as he wrapped his arm around her.
“I’ll protect you,” he repeated, and she relaxed in his grip. He gave her a gentle squeeze.
“I’ll protect you, too.”
Velm chuckled. “Always have to be the winner, eh?”
In response, Drew made a gagging noise, causing both of them to turn in his direction. He had his tongue out. “You two are so saccharinely sweet, it makes me sick.”
“You’re just jealous,” sang Velm, who then also stuck out his tongue.
“It’s a shame,” Mipsy said as she unwound herself from Velm’s arms, “I guess thieves don’t have best friends.”
“Yuck.” He visibly shuttered. “Yeah. We don’t need any of that mushy stuff.”
As he spoke, he scanned about for traps. Within a few seconds, he gathered up a few stones and chucked them all at indents in the wall. Instantly a barrage of small darts and other sharp objects flew across the room and landed noisily on a nearby wall.
“Ta-da!” he finished, bowing at his own handiwork. “Skill is what you need, not friendship. You’re welcome, by the way.”
They grunted in acknowledgement.
“And that,” said Mipsy, “is why you’re going first.”
“Well, of course!” He pranced about with a shimmy in his step. “I’m a master thief after all—perhaps even better than Han—Oh.”
A clicking sound could be heard from beneath his boot. Before he could react, a pair of spears launched from above. Drew’s eyes widened in terror as the spears dropped at breakneck speed, hurtling towards his head.
Velm bounded forward. Before Drew could protest, he swung his arm around the Xweetok’s body and pulled him back.
A loud tearing sound echoed through the cavern as the spear cut through Velm’s cape. “Argh!” he cried, as one of the spears struck his arm. Even in the partial darkness, it was obvious that his robe looked darker where the spear had hit.
“VELM!” Mipsy’s scream was shrill and terrified as she rushed to his side. “W-wall… Wall of Chaos,” she managed, hoping that anything else might deflect away from them.
“P-p-panacea,” Velm gasped, as healing energy flooded the room. After a few seconds, the light from his staff became less shaky as his body relaxed.
Still in Velm’s grip, Drew pushed away, causing the cleric to stumble back. Mipsy caught him and laid his uninjured arm over her shoulder. “I’ll be fine…” he strained, clearly letting his injured arm dangle.
“W-why did you do that?” Drew sputtered, taking another step back from them and glancing at the swirling wall of magic where seconds ago, a pair of spears had been. “Why?”
“Why?” Velm repeated before Mipsy could shout something back, “because I failed to save someone before. Never again.” Hearing this, Mipsy averted her eyes. The torchlight made Velm’s face look sunken and tired. His gaze flicked towards his companion. “I’m gonna try to heal this as best as I can for now. Mipsy, you still have those bandages?”
“Yes.” Her voice grew quiet as she lowered Velm to the ground. She took off her small travel pack and began rummaging through it.
“And healing potions?”
“Heal,” he grunted, placing his good hand upon his injured arm. A white light swirled from his staff and covered the places where he touched. “Drew, did you get hurt at all?”
“Why are you asking me that!?” For a thief who usually sounded cold and callous, he was uncharacteristically hysterical. His paws visibly shook. “You’re the one who got hurt!”
“But you also got hurt.” Despite his obvious pain, Velm was firm. He looked at Drew intensely while the healing magic hummed against his injured arm. “Take a healing potion.”
“But I—” Drew balled his paws into fists let out a shout of frustration. “Why are you being so kind to me?! I made a mistake! You should have let me—”
“No, end of story.” Velm was standing now as Mipsy helped to wrap his left arm against his body. The cape, now split, acted as a sort of make-shift sling. “Come on. We have an artefact to return.”
“And with Velm injured,” tears shimmered in Mipsy’s eyes, “we need you to work with us. That’s twice he’s saved your life.”
Drew’s ears flattened against his head as he wrapped his long, fluffy tail around his arm. He bit at his lip as his breath came out quick and panicked. “Only… Only because I owe him.”
“That you do.” She pointed the torch forward but kept her gaze split between the path ahead and the thief. “Where to next?”
“It’s…” he took a deep breath. “It’s this way.”
No longer was he showboating with every step but carefully inspecting every nook and cranny for something potentially dangerous. He gripped the talisman tightly, pausing every now and then to look up… then look back at the injured cleric. His eyes lingered on the makeshift sling that held Velm’s left arm tightly against his chest. Meanwhile, Velm’s right hand gripped a large, ornate staff so tightly that his knuckles blanched. His brows were knitted in focus as he stepped forward with the confidence only a hardened adventurer could manage. Mipsy tailed closely beside him, her gaze rarely travelling from her companion. She too walked with confidence, despite the chaos before. Unlike them, Drew questioned himself constantly now, double-checking each lock he picked for booby traps, each floor for switches, each ceiling for a chance of danger.
“This is just like the guild…” he muttered aloud.
“Like what now?” Mipsy craned forward, her ears twitching with interest.
“…If you say so.”
But it was something. A nagging feeling that followed him on every mission that Kanrik begrudgingly assigned him. A feeling that no matter how good he did, how much he tried to prove his worth to the boss, that he’d always be the “loudmouth showoff,” the “B-grade actor,” the “last-pick Plicity.” If Kanrik had seen his mistake back there he would have let the spears finish the job, that Drew knew all too well. The Gelert was a hardened thief, one who did not let baggage slow him down. And this—this was one of his last chances to strike down the doubters. To prove that he had more to him than words and swagger. That he was a world-class thief on rank with the famous—or perhaps infamous—Hanso. Well, perhaps not that last one. That was more of a stretch goal.
They walked in stifling silence for some time until Mipsy piped up again.
“So… that ring of yours. What’s it do?”
Drew stiffened like a ramrod. He looked down at the gold ring on his index finger, a ring with intricate ruins carved into its surface. It hummed quietly against his finger. He covered over it with his other paw.
“It doesn’t do anything,” he said, as his tail twitched upwards.
“That’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one. Now you got us curious…” Velm bounced his eyebrows and grinned mischievously. “Nothing stops a curious Velm.” Despite his injury, he seemed in surprisingly good spirits.
The thief bristled. “it’s just the first thing I ever stole. Nothing special.”
While Drew was focused on nearby traps, Velm had shuffled in within a foot of his face. “A magical ring? Interesting. That’s not something you see every day.”
“Eee!” Drew instantly felt a flush of red creep to his face. To be out-stealthed by an injured cleric of all things—it was an affront to the guild itself, or so he told himself. “It cancels sound, that’s all.” He immediately reprimanded himself for telling the two one of his secrets—a sign of weakness per the guild’s law.
“A sound cancellation ring?! Woooow.” Mipsy had zipped within a foot as well and was, to his great surprise, crouched under his arm and examining it like one does a fine steak. Her eyes sparkled with unbridled delight. “Lisha would flip if she saw this.”
He ripped away his hand from their greedy gazes and backed away slowly. “You two are some of the weirdest Neopians I’ve ever met, and I work at a guild where we have sock puppet shows every Tuesday.”
“I’ll take ‘weird’ as a compliment.”
“Guilty as charged,” sang Velm.
“But wait a second…” Mipsy tilted her head, “sock puppet shows?”
Drew dragged his paw down his face. “Something about it ‘boosting morale.’” He paused, biting his lip. “I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this.”
“We have that effect on Neopians. “Must be our magical”—Velm added a wiggle of his hands and immediately winced—“personalities.”
The Xweetok put his arms around his neck. “Yeah, I doubt that.”
“I think I liked him better when he was being nice to us.” She pretended to pout.
“Yeah, Mipsy. That makes two of us.”
Drew glowered. “Don’t think we’re friends or anything like that. We’re just business partners for the duration of this deal, that’s all.”
Despite being a notoriously poor singer, Mipsy decided to “sing” her reply. “Whatever you say… ‘Just Dreeew.’”
Drew slid open a door. Through it was a narrow flight of stairs into the darkness. “If we go this way, we’ll reach the main chamber. Watch out for traps, though. These Geraptiku folks weren’t very keen on Neopians stealing their stuff.”
“Gee,” said Mipsy, as she followed him to the base of the stairwell, “I wonder why?”
“I ask myself the same question. I mean, the Neopians on these artefacts are long dead. It’s not like they’re using th—”
Velm extended his staff in front of them, blocking their path.
“Any reason why you’re making this harder, Velm? I thought you both had a time limit.”
“This is too easy.” The Techo’s eyes scanned the large chamber up ahead. “Why haven’t there been any monsters? Or temple guards?”
The Xweetok rolled his eyes. “’Cause they’re all dead? I told you, nobody’s—”
Drew’s ears shot up in alarm as a whooshing sound raced past them. He pulled himself away just in time as a small dart smashed the wall, breaking into two pieces. A sickly green liquid poured from inside it and coated the ground. It bubbled ominously.
“See? Too easy,” Velm sighed. “Brace yourselves—‘Protection of Infinity!’”
A layer of magic wrapped around them, causing the three adventurers to glow.
From inside the room came a vaguely familiar, soprano voice. “Can’t believe I missed. Figures.”
Drew took a step back, bumping into Mipsy.
“Ow! That’s my foot, Drew!” she hissed.
“This is bad,” he shook his head in disbelief. “I should never have come back here. This is a mistake, this is—”
“Drew? Is that you?”
The Xweetok continued to push back against Mipsy, who shoved him forward when he wouldn’t stop. He stumbled into the large room where he immediately tried and failed to catch himself. He unceremoniously fell to his knees, from where he balled his fists and pounded them against the ground.
“Don’t tell me these hero-types caught you?” she laughed. “And you call yourself a thief?”
He bit his lip and looked up at his associate, an Island Kougra with a pink floral print shirt, grass skirt, and two large travel packs slung across her shoulders. Next to her was the slumped over form of the Temple Guardian. The Hissi’s chest was rising and falling, but they did not move beyond that.
“Poison darts, huh? Great.” The Xweetok clicked his tongue as he narrowed his bi-coloured eyes. “I wasn’t caught, Carissa. I came back by choice.”
Hearing that name, Velm practically stumbled inside the large, ornately decorated room. Tall paintings of well-dressed Neopians, petpets, and an incredible array of food covered the walls. A line of torches dotted the room, the majority of which gave off a strange, purple light.
“Carissa?!” he sputtered, his eyes locking instantly onto his pack where Lucy, his prized possession, sat hostage.
To be continued…