Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 191,416,046 Issue: 604 | 19th day of Swimming, Y15
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The Old Switcheroo: Part One


by liouchan

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Night was falling and the archaeologists were packing up. Now that the Obelisk was sitting in its neatly dug crater, all that was left to do was to clean, sort and pack all the ancient findings which would then be sent to various museums. Some of the archaeologists had already left, but a good number of them had stayed behind in the hope that they would be able to examine the Obelisk itself once the nonsensical fighting would be over. They were also very happy to watch the said fighting while they were still in the vicinity.

      In one of the many underground galleries that had been unearthed, a few unsorted items were waiting in one of the first roped-off rooms. As everybody's attention was focused on the battle for the Obelisk, the archaeological site was loosely guarded. Only a couple of sleepy, bored archaeologists and explorers had stayed behind. Who would want to steal trinkets of civilisations even older than Tyrannia, anyway? There had been a few valuables, dropped by smugglers or faeries during more ancient wars, but those had been packed up and sent away much faster. To be studied for their historical value, naturally. So no one paid much attention to the dig site any more.

      Of course, there were rumours, as there always were. The legend of a secret shape-shifting item or of an artefact of great power, spread around by dubious researchers who had run out of funds. However, those rumours only held any meaning for people who had the right contacts and experience to actually confirm them, like Kanrik.

      The Gelert was unrecognisable as he made his way to the dig site in the darkness. His tall, proud stature was gone, replaced by a stoop and a limp. His cloak revealed nothing of his ears or clothing. Even though nobody could actually see him, Kanrik couldn't be too cautious in this time. He was gaining far too much fame as guild leader for his liking. He had to be particularly wary of young females. They were not threatening opponents in normal conditions, but lately, they seemed to be developing extraordinary capacities for detecting Kanrik.

      Now that he had managed to find out the item's whereabouts, infiltrating the dig site was child's play for the Master Thief. He reached the ancient stone gallery in his swift, silent pace. Although there was nothing very exciting for him in the mission itself, Kanrik hoped that the ancient artefact would remind most of the Thieves' Guild that it was possible to steal something else than footwear. It was said to give one the power to be in two places at the same time. Kanrik wasn't really interested in this sort of magic trick, but if it worked, it could always help.

      The Gelert checked the stone walls for traps, remembering tips given to him by a close friend. Even after all the comings and goings of the archaeologists, you never knew what could still be lurking around. This gallery was no cursed Lost Desert tomb, though, and all that was left for Kanrik to inspect was an assortment of ancient pottery. A grimy recipient caught his eye. It was either an enormous oil lamp or a large and oddly shaped teapot. Kanrik walked up to it. "I know what you are," he whispered to it. The teapot shimmered with a light that was too bright to be the reflection of the few flickering torches that lit the chamber. Some of its grime seemed to melt away, revealing a much smoother metallic surface. It was definitely the right one.

      The moment Kanrik reached for the teapot, it disappeared into the shadows. Kanrik wasted no time and leapt towards the exit, landing swiftly in the shadow's path. "I should've known you would show up, Hanso."

      There were few people whose speed could match Kanrik's, and this one turned out to be the charismatic Ixi indeed. "You know me, always in the right place at the right time," he said in his casual manner.

      Before Hanso could finish that sentence, Kanrik's leg had swept his feet. The Ixi fell backwards, losing his grip on the teapot just long enough for Kanrik to catch it in midair.

      Instead of hitting the ground, Hanso rolled over, landed smoothly on his feet and used the acquired momentum to launch himself forward. He grabbed Kanrik's shoulders just as the Gelert was nearing the exit, used them as a launching pad to leap higher above Kanrik's head, then drop kicked Kanrik in the chest and caught the teapot as he landed.

      Hanso jumped to his feet and made a run for the doorway, already looking forward to his bragging rights, but he stopped short when he heard the rush of a cloak inches above his head. Kanrik landed close to the ceiling, slid down the wall next to the exit and would have effectively tackled Hanso if the Ixi hadn't jumped back by reflex.

      The two rivals surveyed each other, breathing fast. Kanrik was beginning to regret having ever contributed to Hanso's training. And yet, they couldn't resist the thrill of an even fight. Neither of them drew his weapon: they may be opponents this time, but they were not enemies. Each of them had such a high profile that it would be unwise to leave lasting injuries. This was a question of pride. The thief who managed to take the teapot and whatever magic it held would earn the right to brag, to call himself the faster and smarter of the two, and to rub it into the other's face.

      Kanrik pounced and they were at it again. Hanso dodged Kanrik's punch and retaliated with a high kick. Kanrik caught him by the ankle, flipped him over and slammed him down. He dived over Hanso to pin him, but the Ixi kicked him in the midsection and he stumbled backwards with a grunt.

      Hanso had recovered quickly. Still holding the teapot in one hand, he dashed to Kanrik's side. He caught the Gelert's shoulder with his free arm, hooked his ankles around Kanrik's other arm and used his weight to bring them both down. Hanso got to his feet again, eager to finish this. Before Kanrik could stand up, he jumped in for an elbow drop.

      Quick as a flash, Kanrik rolled over and caught Hanso in midair with a kick, sending the Ixi to crash into a wall. Hanso had finally let go of the teapot. Kanrik took it away without further ado, but the fight wasn't over.

      Hanso slid between Kanrik's feet and lifted himself on one elbow to kick the Gelert's arm. The teapot was dropped again. Kanrik let out a growl of annoyance. As Hanso reached for the teapot, he was pulled back and blinded by something dark.

      Kanrik had wrapped Hanso in his own cloak to spin him around and throw him at a wall again. A split second before the collision, the Ixi managed to right himself, his blood thumping in his ears. He ran up the wall and used the momentum to leap for another drop kick. Kanrik saw it coming, though, and he caught Hanso by the legs to slam him down on his back.

      As the fight went on, both thieves began to use some of their best moves. An Altador Cup announcer would have been delighted to comment on every time that the teapot changed hands. Neither of them seemed to be able to keep it for more than a few seconds at a time. Suddenly, as the opponents had pinned each other down once again, there lay the teapot, only inches from both of their faces. They reached for it at the same time. Kanrik's hand grabbed the spout, Hanso's hand closed on the handle.

      The world exploded around them. Both Hanso and Kanrik were thrown back by a formidable force into opposite corners of the stone chamber. There was an unbearably bright light, then everything went black.

      ***

      When Kanrik came to, the first thing he saw was himself. He blinked rapidly, but the sight did not change. There was another Kanrik across from him, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head. The other Kanrik stretched and checked that all his joints were in working order. Then he noticed something. He reached out and grabbed the teapot with a gasp of triumph. It had lost all of its grime and was now a polished artefact of a silvery metal with odd purplish reflections. There were runes etched all around it. It was still glowing bright with magic left over from the blast, and its shape changed a few times, in rapid flickers that made it look like a chalice and an orb.

      The other Kanrik stood up and walked out with the teapot. At the stone doorway, he turned to look at Kanrik. He had a roguish grin that looked totally out of place on his face. "I'll take good care of your fans," he told Kanrik with a wink, then he left.

      That had been odd. With a groan, Kanrik finally managed to sit up. His head was spinning and he was probably quite bruised after the fight, despite the light armor he wore. Where was Hanso, in all that?

      Suddenly he recalled the strange expression he had seen on his double's face. He touched the top of his head, felt short ears and horns. He brought his trembling hands back to eye level.

      It was not possible.

      He was Kanrik. He was a Gelert.

      But right now, he was trapped in Hanso's body, and Hanso was most likely wreaking havoc in his body.

      Dawn was rising and Kanrik was making his way out of the dig site. He felt oddly exposed without his cloak. He had stopped in an empty tent to splash some water on his face and confirm that it was indeed Hanso's. He didn't dare imagine what the real Hanso was doing with his appearance.

      He was hesitating to get back to the Guild's camp, because he knew that Hanso had many acquaintances there, and he didn't feel capable of impersonating the Ixi well enough to fool all of his friends. To make things worse, the real Hanso would hear of his presence immediately and be able to reveal the masquerade. It would not be good for Kanrik's authority if the Guild learned that he had lost both his loot and his identity to Hanso.

      He must find a way to fix this while avoiding the thieves and anyone who knew Hanso. As he walked away from the battleground and towards the Tyrannian Plateau, he spotted a gang of determined and excitable looking Kanrik fans, their autograph books at the ready. Some of them were carrying binoculars and even lassos. He looked for a different path to take, but he had noticed them too late, as walking with Hanso's shorter legs was taking up most of his concentration. He was quite sure that the fans had spotted him. He was ready to make a run for it.

      Then he realised that they weren't interested in him. They were probably wondering what Hanso was doing in this area. They wouldn't spend any of their precious Kanrik-tracking time to get an autograph from Hanso. As Kanrik walked past his own fans without getting screamed at, fainted on or tackled, he felt oddly free. No one would come up to him to ask how to join the Thieves' Guild. No one would ask him where they were supposed to go, at what time the next attack would be, how many socks they should carry around or how to tie their shoelaces. He finally had some time for himself, even though he wasn't himself.

      Now he could visit the new Tyrannia. The whole land was undergoing heavy renovations, which had become necessary after all the earthquakes. That and the fighting around the Obelisk had attracted wealthy tourists from all over Neopia. While they were listening to rock concerts or staring at the Wheel of Monotony, Kanrik only needed to help himself. It was much easier to sneak around with Hanso's appearance, as the Ixi was not in the public spotlight at the moment. He could indulge in a day of good old pickpocketing, just like at the beginning of his career. How nostalgic.

To be continued...

 
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