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Intrigue at the Altador Cup: Part One


by herdygerdy

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Thieves have always been a central part of Neopian society, woven into the very fabric of civilisation. As soon as someone declared they owned something, there was immediately someone standing next to them, smiling pleasantly while picking their pockets.

      In Neopia, there are many thieves. Some are good, and some are bad.

      The really bad thieves fail to steal what they set their sights on.

      The bad thieves succeed in the theft but are apprehended.

      And the good thieves make their escape.

      But there are thieves better even than that, who steal things that people never even notice are stolen. Those thieves never meet the Defenders of Neopia, let alone evade them. Among thieves, they are like fairytales, myths to tell pickpocket children before they go to sleep.

      Names like the Fisherman, Ander Bessan, or even the fabled Joseph Shome, the best of the best.

      Tales are told of how he stole Princess Amira’s most valuable jewellery, replacing it with mere glass trinkets. The thieves scoff that the monarch has not realised to this day.

      Few thieves reach the accolades of these great tricksters, but most, if not all, dream...

     ***

      “Dasher” Soley emerged from the Rusty Dubloon and stumbled out into the street.

      The old Krawk hadn’t had a long night on the grog, as he was in training and the stuff tended to pile on the pounds.

      But still, he was a pirate, so the coach could hardly expect him to give up the stuff completely now, could he?

      The veteran Yooyuball Captain carefully made his way back through the town towards his home... the little shack that it was.

      For all his loyal years of service to the Krawk Island Altador Cup team and his Captain’s pay, Soley was not a rich man.

      “Psst!” a shadow whispered from a nearby alley.

      Soley was far too busy fumbling with his keys.

      “Psst!” the shadow tried a little louder.

      Soley located the correct key, but dropped it.

      “Hey you!” the shadow shouted.

      The Krawk looked up.

      “Over here!” the shadow hissed.

      “Who are you? What do you want?” Soley demanded.

      “I am... a friend,” the shadow explained. “I’m here to make you an offer.”

      “What kind of offer?” Soley asked.

      “A very generous one,” the shadow said, backing away slightly as Soley came closer.

      The Krawk saw a chest in the place where the shadow had been. It was overflowing with gold and jewels.

      “All you need to do is throw the first game in the tournament...” the shadow suggested.

      Soley almost dribbled with greed. He was a pirate after all... and there was so much gold.

      He was up for retirement, and Krawk Island never seemed to be on top in any of the Altador Cups...

      It would be so easy... just to take it and run.

      Soley felt his hand twitch in expectation.

      “No,” he said calmly.

      “No?” the shadow hissed.

      “No!” Soley repeated with force.

      He dashed forward, attempting to lash out at the shadow, but it was already gone.

      The chest of gold faded to mist, a mere illusion that had been presented to him.

      Soley was alone again.

     ***

      The red Draik rushed up the stone staircase to the council chamber. The eleven members were all gathered there, an unusual occurrence.

      The Draik bowed low and stroked his thick white beard subconsciously. A Skeith and an Aisha were also stood next to him; they had been waiting for some time.

      “I apologise for my lateness, but I have just received an alarming report from Krawk Island. It seems that Soley has also been approached,” the Draik explained.

      There were gasps from a few of the council members.

      “That makes three in total,” the green Skeith told the room.

      “This is a grave situation,” King Altador muttered.

      The early evening sun was filling the council chamber with glorious golden light, but there wasn’t a trace of happiness in the room.

      “Krawk Island, the Darigan Citadel, and Brightvale,” Jerdana considered. “I understand why this person has tried to bribe the first two teams... but Brightvale? And to approach Tressif, the most upstanding Yooyuball player in the world... surely they would have known he would report this?”

      The three members of the Altador Cup Planning Committee that had gathered before the council nodded in agreement.

      “Who would benefit if these three teams were taken out of the running?” Jerdana asked.

      “Any of the other teams really, my lady,” the blue Aisha replied. “If it were just Darigan and Krawk... I might suggest some of the other high ranking teams such as Roo Island or Shenkuu, but both those teams frankly have nothing to fear from Brightvale.”

      “Action must be taken,” Altador announced.

      “Do you think we should call off the tournament?” Sasha the Dancer asked.

      “No...” Altador replied. “If we cancel the Cup, this person will fade into obscurity. We must strike now, while the iron is hot. The Altador Cup will continue as normal... we will investigate the matter, and police the teams.”

      “Shall I appoint an Inspector?” Torakor asked.

      Altador nodded.

      “Inform no one of the investigation. There is a possibility that one of the players is behind this,” the King commanded.

      “Soley informs us that he was close to apprehending the mysterious figure,” the Draik informed them. “If this is so, he or she will most likely not resurface soon.”

      Altador nodded.

      “Yes, they will leave it until the tournament begins, and influence events then,” the King agreed. “In the confusion generated by the thousands of fans, it will be easy for them to blend in.”

      “My man will find them,” Torakor said confidently. “No one can hide from the law.”

     ***

      Fredrick Boggins was, all things considered, not good at hiding from the law.

      He liked to call himself a master criminal, and if he’d have been stupid enough to print business cards, that would have been his title. It would have been written in gold, and the font would have had more curls and loops in it than letters.

      The shadow Ruki tried his hardest, he really did.

      Once, he’d been good. Once, he’d thought he was the best.

      But that was when he was small time, and when you stop to thing about it... who can’t steal a loaf of bread?

      You hear about children doing it all the time, to feed their starving families. Fredrick got to thinking that it happened so often that perhaps the bakers left the loaves out on purpose, or were just naturally people who were not security conscious.

      So Fredrick had tried his luck with other crimes.

      A bit of petty theft here, the odd card trick there. Conning old grannies into thinking he was their grandson.

      And still he’d gotten away with it.

      So he’d tried something monumental. He’d perfected his own line of morphing potions, and worked his way into the Faerieland Castle. He’d gotten to within inches of stealing the statue of the Darkest Faerie...

      He’d been so close to achieving his dreams, to becoming one of his idols... just like Joseph Shome.

      ...but he had been denied his prize.

      Then the cells of the dungeons had greeted him.

      He’d have rotted there if the Faeries hadn’t started a war between themselves. In the confusion, the dungeons were opened and the occupants freed.

      Fredrick had slipped out and escaped Faerieland. He’d stowed away on one of the flying Shenkuu ships that had been escaping the Faerie city. It had brought him this far...

      ... to Altador.

      The sun beamed down on the walled city of legends. All around him, crowds milled from building to building. It was Altador Cup time again.

      The sixteen teams would gather, and fight it out for a cheap trophy they got to hold for one measly little year.

      And all the while, the fans would attend. They’d buy the best seats in the house, slushies at every break, and then whatever cash they had left would be spent on souvenirs to remember the once in a lifetime occasion that they’d end up experiencing at the same time next year.

      Fredrick was sickened by the entire affair. It was, when you looked at it from a professional viewpoint, an elaborate con.

      The sport was put there to distract the mark, while Altador dipped its hand into unsuspecting pockets. The city was nothing more than a big con artist.

      Still, the Altador Cup attracted crowds. Fredrick couldn’t complain about that. Crowds made it so much easier to be a criminal.

      He stepped off the gangplank of the Shenkuu ship, and melted into a passing throng of tourists. He became just a face in the pack.

      Fredrick let the feet of the crowd draw him closer to the city as he thought to himself.

      He couldn’t stay in Altador... when the tournament ended, the place turned into a ghost town. He needed passage back to Neopia Central. But for that, he needed money.

      He casually glanced around the tourists closest to him.

      Most of them would only have enough money for souvenirs... but they’d still have the return halves of their tickets on them.

      He edged carefully towards a yellow Kacheek as he walked, and when the Neopet stopped to admire the Colosseum, Fredrick dipped into his pockets and was away before the gasp of awe had even escaped his victim’s mouth.

      Once he was sure he was far enough away, Fredrick looked through what he had grabbed.

      A few Neopoints, a ticket to the Cup, a handful of boiled sweets... and a ticket home.

      Fredrick pocketed the rest, and clutched the ticket tightly in his hands.

      It wasn’t valid until the Cup was over, though... he was trapped in Altador for the time being.

      Fredrick turned his attention back to the Colosseum. The crowds were gathering there for the starting ceremony. It would be easy pickings.

      Fredrick set off, a spring in his step.

To be continued...

 
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