Fine Line: Part Two
Alamor did not follow the path back to Sakhmet City; instead he took off across the dunes toward a small community that lay outside the walls. The camouflage Kougra took off his royal purple cloak and rolled it up in a ball as he approached Hajiro, the tent city, haven of thieves.
He stopped at a red tent at the edge of the cluster, lifted the flap, and stepped inside. He walked over to a wooden chest in one corner, laying his fancy garment inside and pulling out his own dusty, tattered cloak.
“Hey there.” A white Ixi had appeared from behind a partition. Yasmyn was short and slender, adorned with gold jewelry and fine violet silk. She stepped around the various pieces of pottery that lined the floor of the tent and put her hoof on Alamor’s shoulder. “How did everything go?” Yasmyn asked, looking at the Kougra with wide eyes.
“Fine,” said Alamor, closing the wooden box. “I made it in and out with no problem.”
Yasmyn let her hoof slide down Alamor’s arm as he straightened up. “Nobody suspected you?”
“No,” said Alamor, avoiding Yasmyn’s wide eyes and brushing dust off of his brown cloak.
“So,” said Yasmyn slowly, pursing her lips. “What did you find?”
“Lots of earthenware,” said Alamor. “That should suit you.” Yasmyn was a seller of antique pottery and sculptures, but she had promised the Kougra that she would do her best to sell any stolen artifact he could snatch. “There was one thing that I thought would interest you.”
“What?” asked Yasmyn, grasping Alamor’s hands and leaning close to his face.
“The Bust of Nefertissi,” said Alamor, and Yasmyn took a step back.
The white Ixi covered her mouth with one hoof, taking in a deep breath. Alamor could see that he had aroused the greed and desire that lay hidden beneath the Ixi’s pretty exterior. “They actually let you go in and see that?” asked Yasmyn, shaking her head back and forth very slowly. “I thought it was sealed away.”
“I saw it from the entrance to the queen’s tomb,” said Alamor. “They wouldn’t let us in, but I could sneak inside and get it easily.”
“I have to have it,” said Yasmyn, crossing her arms and leaning her head back. “That thing is worth millions.” The Ixi looked down from the cloth ceiling and stared into Alamor’s eyes. “Steal it for me,” she breathed.
Alamor had worked with Yasmyn many times before, but she never ceased to make him uncomfortable. She was beautiful and clever, but her greed was like a serpent that lay coiled within the Ixi’s white fur, peering out at Alamor through the two wide eyes. He averted his gaze. “All right,” he said, staring at the ground. “I’ll steal it and you give me a share of the profit.”
“Thank you,” said Yasmyn quietly. Her eyes rested on Alamor for a few more seconds before she turned away, making as if to disappear once more behind her partition.
“Wait,” said Alamor, and Yasmyn peered over her shoulder, eyebrows raised. “This is the last time I’m doing business with you,” said Alamor. He had made the decision a while ago, but had been waiting for the right time. “After I get this money, I’m going to get a job doing something else.”
“Sure you will,” said Yasmyn sweetly, giving Alamor a knowing smile. She vanished behind the partition, and her voice floated to Alamor on the air, soft and light. “I’ll see you when you bring me that bust.”
Alamor sighed. He hesitated for a moment, listening to Yasmyn clinking some coins together, and then stepped out of the red tent.
He nearly bumped into a large blue Tuskaninny, who had been leaning against the fabric.
“Oh!” cried the Neopet, adjusting the white cloth that was draped over his head. Alamor recognized him as the same collector that had been with him in the Gebmid. “I’m so sorry,” said the Tuskaninny with a smile. He held out his right hand, which was adorned with several gold rings. “Allow me to introduce myself.”
Alamor had been caught off guard, but he regained his composure quickly. He reached to shake the Neopet’s hand, suddenly realizing that he was no longer wearing the royal cloak. Apparently, the Tuskaninny either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. “I’m Alamor,” he said.
“Rahad Septerville,” announced the Tuskaninny regally. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m sure.”
“We’ve already met, brief as it was,” said Alamor. He gave the Tuskaninny an odd look.
“Ah, yes,” said Rahad Septerville, rubbing his hands together. “But that was when you were in disguise, Mister Alamor.” He gave a sly smile.
“Alamor will do just fine,” said the camouflage Kougra. “Why would you think that I was in disguise, Mister Septerville?”
“Baron Septerville should suffice,” said the Tuskaninny, “although I am not actually a baron. I am a collector.” He winked at Alamor. “I know that you are no such thing.”
“So what if I’m not?” said Alamor, growing wary of Baron Septerville’s strange behavior.
“Look,” said the Tuskaninny, placing his hand on Alamor’s shoulder. “I am no fool.” He grew serious. “I know that you are a thief. I saw you break away from the road to Sakhmet when we left the Gebmid, and I realized that you were heading for Hajiro. I know as well as anyone that this tent city is a den of thieves, but up until then you had fooled me completely. I had taken you for a collector nearly as dedicated as myself.” Baron Septerville paused. “You strike me as a very good thief,” he said in earnest tones.
Alamor felt a strange twinge of regret at this, but he said, “I won’t deny it.”
“I want you to do something for me,” said Rahad Septerville. “I... couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with the lady in the tent.” He raised his eyebrows. “She told you that the Bust of Nefertissi is worth millions.” The Tuskaninny hesitated. “If you were to sell that artifact for a few million Neopoints, you would be giving someone an excellent bargain. I would trade half of my entire collection of antiques—and it is a vast collection—just to have that one sculpture. It is worth fifty millions at least.”
Alamor’s ears perked up immediately, the sound of Neopoints drowning out the faint regret. He had never imagined that one item could be worth so much money. It was no wonder that no one was allowed into the Tomb of Nefertissi, nor that regular visitors were not permitted even to leave the antechamber. Fifty million Neopoints... He would be able to move to Faerieland and live in Fyora’s palace, if he wanted to.
Baron Septerville smiled at Alamor’s expression of surprise. “You see, now, that I am much more knowledgeable than your friend,” he said. The Tuskaninny brushed a bead of sweat off of his forehead and readjusted the white cloth. “If you steal me the Bust of Nefertissi,” he said, lowering his voice, “I will pay you ten million Neopoints. I guarantee that no one else will be able to offer you that sum. Just take the sculpture, bring it safely to me, and you will be paid.”
Alamor hesitated. Something inside made him feel very uneasy, but the prospect of such an enormous payout was enough to make him say, “Where will the exchange take place?”
Rahad Septerville’s lips curled into a smile. “You know of the Scratchcard Kiosk in Sakhmet?” he asked. “Nearby is a building with a painting of the Great Gebmids on one of its walls. Meet me in the alleyway behind that building two nights from tonight. I will have your money.”
Alamor nodded, but said nothing. Baron Septerville paused for a moment, then inclined his head slightly before taking his leave.
When the blue Tuskaninny was gone, Alamor ran his hand over the red fabric of Yasmyn’s tent as he walked away.
Hajiro was a bustling community. The cloth tents rustled in the hot breeze of the Lost Desert, and Neopets scurried through the streets at all hours of the day and night. As Alamor walked down the sandy path, he watched a young Shoyru flutter up to a lanky Techo. The Shoyru made a swift move and bumped into the Techo and then ducked away into the midst of the tents, vanishing without a trace as the skinny Techo patted his belt, only to find that his sack of Neopoints was gone.
Ladies wearing fine silk chatted outside jewelry tents, while at the next booth down Alamor saw two Neopets exchanging bags under a table. A furious Jetsam knocked over a set of scales and began shouting angrily at a nervous Buzz, yelling something about uneven weights. Little children played games with dice as they sat in the warm sand, and Alamor could see several older Neopets playing a similar game in front of one of the tents, except with a large stack of coins in the center of the table.
It was true that Hajiro was indeed a den of thieves, and Alamor kept his wits about him as he continued down the road. After he had been walking for a few minutes, a red Moehog approached the Kougra with a smile. “Alamor!” he said, patting his friend on the back. “Where have you been?”
“On a job,” answered Alamor with a sigh, the tiny seed of regret finding its way into his mind once more.
“Oh, really?” asked the Moehog. “Did you finally find work in Sakhmet?”
Alamor hesitated. He had been friends with Jufra for many years, but he had recently told the Moehog that his visits to the city were spent searching for a job. Jufra had been so pleased that Alamor had given up his thieving ways that the Kougra had not yet had the heart to admit to his friend what was really going on. “I think I might have found a job,” he said, his stomach turning. “Nothing’s for sure yet, though.”
“I’m proud of you,” said Jufra. “You’ve really turned yourself around. Let me know if you need help with anything, all right?”
The red Moehog was one of the only honest Neopets in Hajiro, and it broke Alamor’s heart to lie to him, but the Kougra was a hardened thief and he knew how to act. “Sure,” he said with a smile. “But I think I’ve got it under control.”
“Lasa will be so excited,” said Jufra as the two approached Alamor’s white tent. A young Kougra was sitting on a stool outside, waiting. “Have you told him what you’ll be doing yet?”
“Not yet,” said Alamor, lowering his voice as Lasa looked up and saw them. “I want to get everything... sorted out first.”
“Dad!” cried Lasa. The little white Kougra leapt into his father’s arms. “Where did you go today?”
Alamor felt his gut lurch, but said, “I went to Sakhmet again. You would love it there. There are fruit carts and all sorts of shops and stalls, fun games, and the great big palace.”
“I know,” said Lasa, looking away into the distance where the golden onion dome of the palace rose above the walls of Sakhmet. “When will you take me there, like you promised?”
“When you’re older, and when I can settle down and get work, like I’ve been talking about,” said Alamor, sitting his son on his knee.
“Okay,” said Lasa, nodding solemnly. “I want to go with you when you get your job, but I can wait until then.”
“It won’t be long,” said Alamor with a false smile. “I’ve been talking to some friends. They’re going to help me out.” There was silence for a brief moment. “Pretty soon, you and I will be set for life, little buddy.”
“You know what, Lasa?” said Jufra, leaning down toward the little Kougra. “My brother Hofra just sailed up the river to do some business in Sakhmet. He’s leaving in a couple days, but maybe you and your dad could come with me to visit him. He’s docked just a short walk out of Hajiro. It’s a really cool little ship.”
Lasa nodded and yawned, stretching his little arms. Alamor was grateful to his friend for changing the subject. “Looks like someone’s tired,” he said. “We’ll have to make our plans to visit Hofra’s boat later.”
The red Moehog chuckled. “Good night, Lasa,” he said. “See you later, Alamor.” He waved and walked off into the colorful array of tents.
“Time to get ready for bed,” said Alamor, peering at the setting sun in the distance.
“Aww,” said Lasa, taking his father’s hand as they walked toward the tent flap.
Alamor took one last glance around him before stepping inside. In one direction, the city of Sakhmet gleamed beautifully in the light of the sunset. In the other, long shadows fell across the Great Gebmids, reminding Alamor of what he had committed to, and what was still to be done.
To be continued...