Fine Line: Part Seven
When Alamor finally found himself drawing near to the entrance of the Gebmid, the Lost Desert was draped in darkness. The sun had just set, leaving a pink glow on the horizon, but Alamor walked in shadow as he approached the towering structure. His tattered cloak flapped about his feet as he slinked along the sloped stone wall, keeping out of sight. He had come around to the entrance from the back, knowing that it was likely to be guarded against tomb raiders. His precaution turned out to be unnecessary.
The tour guide from before, as well as his assistant, were slumped against either side of the dark doorway that led into the depths of the Gebmid. The shadow Elephante was nearly invisible in the gloom, and the Desert Ruki sat opposite, her brown skin looking dark in the dim light. Their torches had burned out beside them, but the ones that lit the corridor beyond were still flaming.
Alamor made his way forward quietly. He felt fortunate that the two guards—if they could even be called such—were asleep. Uva’s prediction had been correct; Alamor felt that his mission would be successful.
Tiptoeing up to the entrance with the ease of experience, the camouflage Kougra swiftly picked up the blackened torch that lay next to the Elephante in the sand. Going inside, he lit it in one of those that were mounted on the wall before vanishing into the Gebmid.
With the only danger behind him, Alamor felt much more comfortable as he entered the antechamber. He did not cast a second glance at the objects on display there; he knew that their worth was limited. The place had likely been bustling with tourism earlier in the day, but now it was empty and silent. Alamor moved on.
He passed through the dark doorway at the end and padded through the narrow hall. However, when he emerged in the next room, and the orange glow of his torch fell in a ring on the floor around him, he stopped.
Two eyes stared up at him from the floor, just beyond a rope that was stretched around the perimeter of the chamber. He stepped closer, holding out the flames to bring the image into clearer focus. The eyes belonged to a masked Lupe, standing at a sideways angle and holding a strange staff. The ring of light expanded further over the stone, and Alamor could see a curving blue line that receded into the distance, lined with strange markings and more pictures.
Alamor suddenly remembered where he was. Holding his torch up higher, he could see the vast floor mural spread out below him, covering more than half of the entire room and reaching all the way to two walls. Where those met, in the corner, Alamor glimpsed a huddled form of dimly-lit bones, and he felt something strange rise up in him.
The skeleton of the painter sat huddled in the corner, its legs pulled up to its chest in a tight hug. Its skull leaned back against the wall, and the eyes stared out blankly, betraying no emotion, but seeming at a sad, reserved peace. Alamor had forgotten about it until now, but standing there, looking at the diminished figure, he felt an odd connection with it.
Just as he had forgotten about the painter, Alamor imagined that the painter had forgotten about his work, just staring at the ground in front of him and painting away, until he found himself trapped in the corner. Alamor had been so busy making plans, providing for his son, desperately seeking the contents of the future, and while all of this had been happening he feared that he had been painting himself into a corner. Here he was, about to steal one of the most valuable artifacts in Neopia, from one of the greatest queens ever to rule the Lost Desert. Here he was, on the edge of a cliff, wondering whether or not to take the leap or to run away.
And when that thought crossed his mind, he thought of Uva. The pink Kau fortune teller had warned him. As long as you remain in Hajiro, she had said, as long as you continue with this lifestyle... Should he run away? Should he leave it all behind, take Lasa and flee for fear of his son becoming everything that he hated about himself?
Like a tap on the shoulder, pulling him back to reality, Alamor realized that he could not. No matter how uncertain he was, no matter how different this time seemed to be, Alamor knew that the deed would be done. Here he was, on the brink of it all, and he was hesitating. He was balancing on the line, and in that moment of indecision he felt himself swaying. He needed to get moving again. He needed to regain his footing. He needed to complete what he had started.
Alamor let his arm down, and the skeleton moved back into the shadows. The Kougra glanced at the two doors on the other side of the room. One led to the ancient scroll room, and the other to the Tomb of Nefertissi. Holding the torch out in front of him, he passed through the latter.
It was not a long walk to the tomb, and Alamor remembered the way. He soon arrived at the stone doorway that marked the entrance of the burial place. Before, Alamor had only been able to peer through this space, but now he walked freely past it without a second thought.
There, on the stone table in the center of the room, was his prize. The Bust of Nefertissi sat alone on the surface. The Hissi queen stared out ahead of her, looking royal yet kind, sophisticated but understanding. He did not meet her eyes. Instead, the Kougra reached forward to grab the sculpture.
Before his fingers brushed against the stone, however, Alamor noticed for the first time that the bust was not the only artifact in the room. With his torch burning in one hand, the camouflage Kougra could see that tapestries hung on every wall, fine plates and vases were stacked neatly in the corners, furniture lined the edges of the room, and jewelry sparkled from every direction.
Alamor could not help but notice, however, that not a single object in the room bore the Hissi’s likeness. Her only representation was the bust, and as the Kougra turned his gaze back to the statue, he could not restrain himself from looking into its eyes.
They seemed to see right through him, not because of their carefully carved edges, or because they were life size and stunningly real, but because of another resemblance.
Iris... They were her eyes, and Alamor knew it. No difference of age, species, or location could mask the striking similarity of those two windows that saw into Alamor’s soul, filling him with such a burning that he wondered if his fur had caught fire from the torch.
He did not want to steal the Bust of Nefertissi. Every instinct in Alamor told him to turn away and walk out of the tomb, but he could not. He felt like he had been painted into a corner, and if he took even a step out of place, everything would be ruined. Rahad Septerville would be waiting for him in Sakhmet with millions of Neopoints ready for trade. Lasa would be waiting for him to arrive in the morning and perhaps take him on a trip to see Jufra’s brother with his ship docked in the river. Uva would be waiting for him, even though he had told her that his recent visit may have been his last. Alamor was trapped, and he knew that there was no other way but to follow the path that he had laid before his own feet, and take the bust.
He looked at the two eyes once more, and he felt as if there were two voices in his mind, both beautiful and kind, both speaking the exact same words... Leave me at peace...
But he could not. One love told him to run away, but love for Lasa and hope that maybe, somehow, things would turn out all right, told him to keep his balance and finish what he had come to do.
Feeling that he was breaking not one, but two hearts, and maybe even his own, Alamor reached out and grabbed the Bust of Nefertissi around the neck, concealing it beneath his cloak where the eyes could not pierce the depths of his soul. He turned away from the now-bare stone table and hurried out of the tomb.
As Alamor made his way out of the Gebmid, past the two sleeping Neopets, he felt as if he was losing his balance. Even though the bust was safely under one arm, and he had left no evidence behind, and a greedy collector with a sack of Neopoints was waiting for him not far away, Alamor felt like he was swaying. He needed something to hold onto, something solid. Alamor hoped that his payment would be enough to provide that something. For without something to hold onto, Alamor feared that he would fall.
To be continued...