Fine Line: Part Eight
Long shadows draped the Scratchcard Kiosk as Alamor slinked past it. The city of Sakhmet was dark and quiet, with only a few Neopets drifting between the buildings like restless souls. The normally bustling streets were empty, and the camouflage Kougra had managed to weave his way through the dense neighborhoods unnoticed. With the Bust of Nefertissi concealed beneath his cloak, he made for the rendezvous with Rahad Septerville.
Remembering the Tuskaninny’s instructions, Alamor spotted a building that had a mural depicting the Great Gebmids on one of its walls. Just behind it was a narrow alley, and Alamor knew that the Baron would be waiting for him somewhere in the shadows. He approached.
His long walk over the sand to reach the city had dulled his initial guilt, and the Kougra was feeling all business. His trained thieving instincts had kicked in, and he was careful to watch for anyone lurking in the gloom ahead of him. Knowing that he was at last nearing the end of his job, Alamor felt the tiniest bit of hope bubbling up inside him as he approached the alley. Soon, he would have enough money to relax and be able to make the best decision for himself and Lasa. He just needed something to hold onto, something solid that would pull him through this period and into the future. That something, he hoped, would be placed in his hands in exchange for the sculpture that was hidden in the folds of his tattered cloak.
Alamor stepped into the alley. A few empty wooden crates were stacked against one wall, and the Kougra could see a few doors that led into the backs of the connected buildings. A lone window with the curtains drawn cast a dim light into the narrow space, but the Kougra could see immediately that no one was standing there waiting for him. The alley was empty.
Alamor raised his guard immediately. Sensing a setup, he turned around to glance behind him. A few Neopets could be seen on the main road a ways off, but no one seemed to be watching him or moving in his direction. Cursing himself for believing Baron Septerville, Alamor wondered if he should leave.
A shadow crossed the nearby window, and the camouflage Kougra turned to see a wooden door open up in the wall. To his relief, the form of the blue Tuskaninny appeared silhouetted in the yellow candlelight. The Neopet stepped out into the dark night, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.
“Alamor,” he said in a regal tone, making his way forward. The Tuskaninny left the door open, so a dim glow radiated into the narrow alley. “I have been waiting for you.”
“I have the bust,” said Alamor. His voice had the faintest echoey quality in the close space, and Rahad Septerville raised an eyebrow.
“You have done well,” said the collector. He hesitated for a moment, standing awkwardly in his white robe. “May,” he began, looking at the lump under Alamor’s cloak with wide eyes, “may I see it?”
Alamor hesitated. A thief was always on guard for trickery, and he peered into the window and doorway, searching for a hidden Neopet who might jump out and wrestle the sculpture from his hands. However, the room seemed to be as empty and silent as the alley. With Rahad Septerville hovering expectantly before him, Alamor withdrew the folds of his tattered cloak, revealing the dull grey stone beneath.
The head of the Hissi appeared, wearing her tall crown and staring accusingly at Alamor as he held her in both hands. He turned her to face the Baron, who looked as if he had just seen a ghost. “The Bust of Nefertissi,” breathed the Tuskaninny, his mouth agape. He seemed drawn to it almost magnetically, leaning forward and reaching out slightly with his hands.
Alamor pulled the object away. “My payment,” he said simply.
The collector nodded. It was clear that he did not want to let the bust out of his sight, but he hurried through the wooden door and into the dim room. He came out after a few moments, carrying a very heavy sack of Neopoints. “It is all here,” he said quietly. “Ten million.”
Alamor nodded, but said nothing. The time had come. At last, he would have the means to end this lifestyle forever, and provide for Lasa what had always been lacking for himself.
“It’s yours,” he said, holding out the Bust of Nefertissi and knowing that his words could not be more untrue.
Rahad Septerville took the Hissi’s likeness in his hands as if he were holding an infant. Alamor took the sack of Neopoints and pulled the drawstring to make sure that they were real.
When he looked up from the bag, satisfied, he saw his own shadow appear, stretching across the stone in front of him.
Both thief and collector turned to see a torch hovering in the darkness at the end of the alley. Carrying the flames aloft in one hand and staring at the two with a gaze of stone, a tall grey Tonu stepped into the narrow passage. He was garbed in the uniform of an officer of the Palace Guard, and Alamor felt like he was losing his balance, teetering on the edge of disbelief and unrelenting fear. He had been caught.
Following the Tonu was a Neopet whom Alamor recognized immediately. Holding a torch that made her brown skin shine dully in the orange glow was a Desert Ruki, the very one whom he had seen sleeping outside the Gebmid not long ago. Her face was still and silent, and Alamor felt like the ground had been pulled out from beneath him, leaving him dazed and flailing for answers to the questions that were firing off in his mind too fast even to register.
She had followed him. The Ruki had never been asleep at all, Alamor realized. He saw her in his mind, leaning limply against the side of the Gebmid. He had been such a fool. She had trailed him all the way across the desert and had brought the Palace Guard upon him. He was finished.
Before either Alamor or the Baron could react, five guards had hurried into the alley and encircled them, bearing weapons and torches that lit a ring around the two. But it was the last Neopet who stepped into the night that made Alamor truly feel like he had tripped head over heels and was falling.
Uva appeared, her pink skin glowing radiantly and her eyes piercing as ever, looking mystical as ever beneath the midnight stars. With her long hair falling about her shoulders and her lacey purple gown trailing at her feet, she walked slowly into sight. Her gaze met Alamor’s and for the only time in the years that they had known each other, she was the first to look away.
The grey Tonu reached out and grabbed Rahad Septerville’s shoulder in a vicelike grasp. “Baron,” he said simply, “you are under arrest for buying illegal merchandise and assisting in theft against the ancients.”
The Tuskaninny looked like he was about to implode, and he turned to Alamor with wide eyes. “Is this because of you?” he cried, still clutching tightly to the Bust of Nefertissi. “You set this up? I had you watched! You never spoke with anyone!”
“Except for her,” said the grey Tonu, motioning to Uva, who was lurking in the shadows outside the ring of torches. The pink Kau did not look up. The Tonu turned to Alamor. “You, though I do not know your name, are placed under arrest for working for this wanted criminal, in addition to theft against the ancients.”
Alamor said nothing. He was spiraling out of control, scrambling for something to hold onto, something which might break the fall. His mind was racing. Thoughts of Uva’s betrayal threatened to overpower him with emotion, but he needed to keep level headed, at least until he was out of this situation. Tears and frustration could come later. Right now, the thief inside of him was working furiously to find an escape route.
“I’ll take that,” said the officer, reaching for the Bust of Nefertissi. The blue Tuskaninny looked unwilling to give it up at first, but he relinquished to the superior power of the Tonu. As the sculpture passed hands, Alamor could see the eyes of the Queen staring. This time, however, they were not boring into his soul, accusing him. This time, they were Iris, looking urgently past the camouflage Kougra and into the darkness of the night.
Alamor followed her gaze, and he could see that there was a gap in between two torch-bearing guards. He knew immediately that there was only one option left to him: run.
With one swift gesture, Alamor threw the heavy bag of Neopoints up into the air. With the drawstring already loose from when he had peered into the sack, the coins burst forth into the dark night, spinning and flying across the sky and mingling with the light of the stars above.
All eyes turned by reflex to watch the gold sparkling in the air. The Tonu, the Ruki, the guards, the Baron, and the fortune teller all watched in a split second of surprise, while one lone pair of stone eyes continued to stare at a gap that was now widened as a few of the guards stepped back as the fortune spilled to the ground, clattering against the stone and bringing up tiny clouds of dust. One by one, the pieces of Alamor’s future dropped, coming to rest without the Kougra who had so longed for their promise of a new life.
By the time the last coin fell, Alamor was gone.
To be continued...