Trouble in Paradise
Chapter 5: Betrayal
“What a pleasant surprise, ‘Velm the Victorious.’ ‘Mipsy the Magnificent.’” She said the titles with overt mockery. When she spotted the cleric’s injured arm, she laughed. “I see Drew’s done something right, for once.” She clapped. “Well done, ‘Last Pick Plicity.’”
The fur on Drew’s ruff stood on end as he growled, teeth baring. “Don’t. Call. Me. That.”
“Oh, sorry. Should I call you the ‘Loudmouth Showoff’ instead? Or how about ‘You Drew It.’ All the above would work.”
“Drew.” It was Mipsy. She took hold of his collar, an action which he did not resist. The insides of her ears were bright red with anger. “What in Neopia is going on?”
“Believe it or not, hero, this isn’t his fault,” replied Carissa as Mipsy loosened her grip. “But it does make things easier for me.” She walked down a narrow flight of stairs near the burial chamber, brushing her left claws against a now open treasure chest. In her right paw, she held a narrow tube. “Hand me the talisman, Drew.”
Through this point in time, Velm had been uncharacteristically quiet. He stood frozen like a statue. “She has… She has Lucy.”
Mipsy gasped. “She does?”
“Come now, Drew. Your cleric friend’s prizes possession is on my back. Surely you don’t want anything to happen to her?”
“He’s not my—"
“Please don’t…” said Velm, his normally boisterous voice a whimper. “Please don’t hurt my Lucy.”
The Kougra flashed a roguish grin. “When I tied up that hotel’s staff, I thought I might snag some extra coin, maybe pilfer some dumb tourist’s jewellery, but I never thought I’d run into legendary heroes…” she laughed. “I hit the jackpot—your signature will sell for thousands. But it’s too bad you two didn’t drink my poison. It would have made my job a whole lot easier.”
Mipsy and Velm traded a glance. “Then those drinks were…” started Mipsy.
“Not the coconut water,” she said with a twinge of frustration. “A good thief lulls their suckers in with false security. You two just got lucky.”
Drew gripped the talisman in his hand until the design imprinted on him. “You’re infringing on my deal, Carissa. Back off.”
“Oh?” Her tail swished against Velm’s pack. “Pray tell, what deal?”
“For King Terask’s crown.” He held the talisman up in the air. “I am trading this talisman for the tyrant king’s crown. Give me the crown and it’s yours.”
“Wait.” The Kougra burst out laughing, going so far as to wipe a tear from her eye. She emptied the contents of Velm’s pack on the stairs as trinkets of all kinds scattered in every direction… except for his lute. That she kept slung on her shoulder. “You actually believed that?”
Velm sucked in his breath when the Xweetok gave him a hard glare. “I mean, I didn’t say it was a golden crown…” he finished weakly.
Drew thrust the talisman to the ground and stepped upon its gold surface, on the impassive face of a long-deceased Geraptiku king. “I trusted you, Velm. I trusted both of you.”
“And look where it got you, Plicity.”
“It’s still a crown,” Mipsy said with a twinge of guilt, “but, you know, the tooth kind. It’s framed in gold, if that helps?”
Drew shook his head. “It doesn’t.” His voice wavered as he quickly brushed his orange paw against his face. “I’m ruined.”
Meanwhile, the Kougra held her tube to her mouth. At the tip of it was a pointed dart. “Play time’s over, kids.”
Velm laid his good hand on Mipsy’s shoulder. “Do whatever you need to, I trust you. You’ve got the ‘Protection from Infinity’ on your side.” As he said this, another layer of magic pulsed about her. “Until I’m healed, no hammer time. So… I leave it to you.”
“You got it.” Mipsy took a deep breath before pointing the wand at their feet. “Rapid acceleration!” Within an instant, Mipsy quadrupled her speed as she zipped about the room. The female thief watched carefully, moving herself to meet each shift in Mipsy’s movement. Meanwhile, Drew edged himself towards an unknown temple door.
“Blizzard!” cried Mipsy as a wall of winter white formed in the room. Within an instant, the temperature in the temple plummeted. Ice formed along the walls and floors, making everything slick. Even Carissa seemed surprised. She froze in place as winds whipped and snow pelted her. There was even a single boom of thunder, which caused the temple to shake. Surprisingly, the Temple Guardian did not stir from their slumber.
“She can’t do this alone,” Velm said to Drew, while sliding awkwardly on the glistening floor. Almost falling twice, he gripped the wall with his uninjured side and inched forward. “I can give you all the gold I have if it’ll entice you.”
“Your lies don’t fool me anymore, Velm,” The Xweetok sighed as he made a pained expression. “All I want to do now is to escape with my life intact. My pride as a thief is in tatters.” He balled both paws into fists. “If I go back now, they’ll excommunicate me. I’m finished.”
In response, Velm shuffled his staff to his left arm while he fumbled for his gold pouch. With a solid tug, it detached from his belt. He gave it a good toss through the air and it landed at Drew’s feet. “All yours. Same with Terask’s Tooth when we find it.” He paused, biting his lip as he did. “I’m sorry if we ruined your relationship with the guild…”
“Are you now? That’s just dandy.” Drew bent down to pick up the gold, but eyed Velm suspiciously as he did. “And it’s a tooth now? Not a crown?”
“Not the crown you wanted, no,” admitted Velm with guilt, “but it’ll still fetch a good price when sold. There are collectors for everything, ya know.”
The thief sighed with obvious frustration. “I guess I’d rather be dodging the guild with Neopoints in paw than in squalor. So then, does she”—he jabbed his purple paw towards Mipsy—“have gold, too?”
“Yeah. We’re adventurers, after all.”
The Xweetok pulled his orange paw across his face and groaned. “So, what, you want me to distract Carissa, or something else?”
“Until I can mesmerize her, save Lucy, and have Mipsy blast her point-blank, yeah. A distraction would be perfect.”
There was a moment of silence between the two as Mipsy fired another “Blizzard” spell, belting the Kougra with another wall of snow. In retaliation, Carissa fired a few blow darts, one of which narrowly nicked Mipsy’s robe. A gash was left in its place, eliciting a frustrated shout from the mage. Still, luckily, it did not appear that her darts made contact.
“You’re an idiot to trust me.” Drew flicked three daggers out from his clothes and held them tightly. “You know that, right?’
“But that’s what allies do,” said Velm, as he offered his good hand to shake, “we trust each other.”
The Xweetok gagged. “Nope, nope, still not into that mushy stuff… but I’ll help. For the gold. None of that other junk. And definitely not because I owe you or anything.”
Velm stalked closer to the action as his staff hummed. Drew skated past. Carissa was locked onto Mipsy’s movements and readied herself to strike.
“You’re mine, girly,” the Kougra cackled, before taking a breath in. Before she could exhale, a dagger whizzed within an inch from her face, causing her to jump back. The slick floor sent her stumbling about before she caught herself on a nearby pillar. Meanwhile, the dart zoomed up and above, hitting the ceiling and bouncing harmlessly to the ground. She screamed with rage. “Traitor! The Guild will have your head for turning on me!”
Traitor. It was true. Guild law would certainly make him out to be a villain for attacking another member, especially one so far up the ladder. But what if he returned tricked and empty-handed? Beaten by a thief who held no respect towards him whatsoever? She would surely paint him—“Last Pick Plicity”—in the worst light possible. Kanrik was already cross before this, frustrated by Drew’s “lack of resolve,” his showboating antics. “Even worse than Hanso,” he’s said. And Kanrik deeply disliked the snarky Ixi.
Failure now would almost certainly mean discharge from the guild.
Few discharged members left with their lives intact.
Drew flicked another dagger towards her shoulder. It made contact with the lute’s strap, slicing it through. Lucy, Velm’s lute, bounced from the bag and slid across the slicked stone. Velm put his hand to his mouth as the instrument tumbled. Before Carissa could snatch her away again, Mipsy broke the gap between them.
“Obliterate!” she shouted, as a bolt of red magic cut through the chilly air and collided with the Kougra’s stomach. Taking the brunt of the attack, she stumbled back with a pained wheeze. But as she did, she stuck a dart in the hollow tube and exhaled.
Merely feet away and still landing, Mipsy made for an easy target… or would have, if not for Drew jumping in the way. It all happened in an instant. Drew was struck. Mipsy slid on the ground and yanked Lucy away. Velm waved his hand while reciting his “Mesmerization” spell. Carissa smashed against a pillar. Within a second, she was hit dead-on with Velm’s spell.
In the aftermath, the Kougra stood in a dazed shock, her eyes swimming with cosmic visions and blurry thoughts. Mipsy laid flat on the ground, panting, and clutching Lucy in her grasp… And Drew sat in a crumpled heap on the ground, an empty dart lying beside him. He tried to speak, but all sounds became pained gasps.
Velm’s blood ran cold as he sprinted to the injured thief, trying desperately to keep from slipping on the slick floor. “Oh no no no no, not again…” he whispered. When Drew didn’t respond, he rolled him over, and laid Drew’s head upon his lap. Despite the chill in the air, a trail of sweat trailed down the cleric’s neck. After fumbling through his pack, he placed a healing potion at his side. At this point, Mipsy pried herself from the icy stone and stumbled towards them with Lucy—the strap torn—cradled in paw.
Instead of a snarky retort, the thief merely squeezed his eyes shut; his breath, although slowing, was still ebbing and flowing from his body. Pushing through the pain, the cleric tore off his sling and placed both hands upon Drew’s chest. Drawing the ambient white magic from the air, he took a deep breath.
A blinding light emanated from Velm’s staff as white magic flowed into Drew’s body. Although his breathing relaxed, he still did not open his eyes. Mipsy gathered up Velm’s scattered artefacts and stuffed them haphazardly into the bag. Along the way, she stumbled upon a necklace with a golden chain. At the end of it was a pointed tooth—proof that Terask had met his demise and the “crown” with which they lured Drew. She hastily swung it around her neck.
Before Carissa could come to, she cast a slowing spell upon her and snapped her dart tube. While she was doing that, Velm noticed the shimmering gold talisman still clutched in Drew’s orange paw.
He bent down to pick it up just as his left arm throbbed like liquid fire. He recoiled back in pain, gasping as he did.
“Maybe using both hands… with my strongest spell… was a bad idea. Eeeee… Ow. It took a lot out of me.”
“You’re starting to sound like Rohane.”
He forced a grin. “Thanks.”
“That’s not a compliment. You both worry the Meepits out of me… ” she took a glance back at the slowed Carissa, the thief’s senses slowly returning. “I got some damage potions, if ya want, leftovers from Terask. Gotta save my energy for when I drag you guys out of here.”
“Might as well.”
“The really strong ones.”
“Again.” He winced; his voice strained to project. “Might as well.”
She removed a typhoon potion from her light travel bag and tossed it over Carissa. A torrent of winds sucked her into the air before dropping her down to the ground with a thud.
Carissa extended her sharp claws and scraped the floor. “Why, you little—”
A second potion sent her hurtling into the air even higher. A gust wedged her between the ceiling and the chamber pillar, leaving her angrily cursing from atop the room.
“That’ll do,” said Mipsy as she offered Velm a hand with his bandages, a few of which needed to be changed. Drew still lay unconscious on his lap.
“That’s some poison… I’ve never seen anything like it,” sighed Velm, before turning towards the Temple Guardian. “Looks like they’re both asleep, at least.”
“I’ll go give the Guardian their talisman,” she said as she attempted to unwrap it from Drew’s tight clutches. “Geez. For a sick guy, he sure has a grip of steel.” She continued to tug. “If the guardian’s still asleep, I can leave it with them?”
She planted both feet on the ground and yanked the talisman. Just as she strained to finally pry it from him, he doubled-down his hold.
“Hey.” His eyes were slits and his voice hoarse and crackly.
Velm exhaled with relief.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Drew immediately winced in pain. “…No.”
“Well, then, can you give me the talisman? We’ll get you to a doct—”
Mipsy rolled her eyes. “You’re a stubborn Xweetok, you know that?”
His grip loosened as he lolled his head to the side. The corner of his mouth turned up as he whispered, “yes.”
“We’ll make sure you get your gold, Drew,” said Velm softly. “Sorry you got hurt because of us.”
Drew reached down to his pouch and patted it. “Good.” After that, he let go of the talisman and relaxed back in Velm’s lap.
“I swear…” Mipsy shook her head. In the background, Carissa was continuing to shout all manner of angry things from atop her prison. “I’ll take care of this.”
The Temple Guardian appeared to be peacefully snoozing. Unlike Drew, he looked mostly relaxed.
“Hey!” shouted Mipsy to Carissa. The Kougra hissed in reply. “Did you use a different dart on Drew than you did on the Guardian?”
Instead of replying, the Kougra spat in her direction.
“Cool, cool, very helpful,” she replied sarcastically, before an idea crossed her mind. “I guess there’s only one way to find out. Sorry to wake you like this, Guardian.” Placing her wand within a few inches of the Hissi’s winged hand, she zapped a series of sparks straight at their body.
They swiped back almost immediately, narrowing missing her face. She jumped back and rubbed her nose.
“You dare attack me?” they hissed.
“Oh, she dares,” called Velm from across the room. “She also saved you, if you hadn’t noticed.”
The Hissi blinked a few times, taking note of the shouting thief wedged above, a sheepish Mipsy with talisman in paw, and the injured pair, one of whom was resting. They smoothed down their headdress with a winged hand as their tongue tasted the air.
Mipsy laughed nervously, causing their eyes to flick towards her. “We brought back your talisman?”
“I can see that.” She held it out towards them as they gingerly took it and inspected every surface. Waving their hand over it, they chanted a few words in a foreign language, causing it to glow. “Now my king can find peace again… and the island can as well.”
“Your… king? But didn’t he rule…?”
“Over two hundred years ago? Correct.”
“Then, how are you…?”
She swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“My people saw fit to make me near immortal.” They rubbed the talisman and looked longingly at the face carved within. “All it took was a lifetime spent without the Neopians I once cared about.”
“I’m… I’m sorry.” Velm gazed towards his instrument and sighed. “That sounds miserable.”
“Not if spent defending something you hold dear.” They turned around to face a huge mural with the faded images of the King’s family captured within. Endless riches surrounded him, yet he wore a grim expression. The Guardian gently removed a decorated spear from the King’s mural and held it firmly. “Speaking of.” They paused, and pointed the spear towards Drew. “This one needs to face punishment for what he stole.”
Mipsy jumped in front of the Hissi with her arms outstretched. “I can’t let you do that. He came back here to return the amulet… and he saved my life.”
“No.” Her wand crackled. “I won’t.”
“Then you wish to face me?” they motioned to the injured Velm, who laid Drew on the ground and came to a shaky standing position. Despite his obvious pain, he held a solid stance. “In that state? You’ll perish.”
“Not if I can help it.”
“And me, too,” added Velm. “Because together we’re the Magicannons.”
Meanwhile, the Kougra laughed out loud whilst attempting to wiggle her torso out from the wall. She shouted as loudly as she could. “Magicannons?!
What a ridiculous name.”
“This is so much better than those stupid sock puppet shows,” the female thief said, as both Mipsy and Velm glared at her from afar. “I’ll enjoy watching them tear you to shreds.”
The Hissi thumped their tail against the ground, causing the hollow seeds wrapped around their waist to shudder with a sound like falling rain.
Velm cupped his right hand around his mouth and projected across the room. “She’s the one who knocked you out, you know. And the one who defeated all of your temple guards before we got here.”
“I mean, they were pushovers.” Carissa continued to budge forward and had nearly gotten herself free. “What of it?”
The Guardian craned his neck up and hurtled the spear forward. If not for her unsticking herself in time, it would have made its mark. She let out a yell as she tumbled to the side. Her claws dug into the stone, narrowly saving her from a plummeting doom.
“Her first,” they hissed, catching the spear. “You next.”
Mipsy used the distraction to dash to her friend. She scooped up the thief over her shoulders and grunted. “We have to go—now.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.”
The Hissi roared in anger as they fled the burial chamber, but did not give chase. The two of them thanked their lucky stars that Drew had thought to trip every trap he saw ahead of time. Still, they narrowly dodged a stray weapon or two as they pushed forward. Velm held the torch in his injured hand while he wearily looked ahead for any danger. With luck, they did not enter any trap rooms or dead ends. It wasn’t long until they saw a distant, beckoning twinkle of light, the natural hole from where they entered the tomb.
“There’s no way,” breathed Mipsy. Her shoulder screamed in fatigue as she placed Drew down. He groaned lightly from the cold ground. “I can’t lift him up there.”
“To be honest, I don’t think I can lift myself up there, either.”
“But wasn’t there another entrance, a door that Drew mentioned?”
The Techo spun the torch around, illuminating portions of the room. In a narrow cavern there sat a square slab. Next to it, small columns contained intricate drawings etched on each rotating piece. Some had warriors, others creatures, and yet others had celestial bodies.
“I hope you like puzzles,” said Velm darkly, “because this one is our only way out.”
To be continued…