Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part Five
Art by ssjelitegirl
Shad’s ears moved back and forth in confusion as he shot a glance at Saura. “He stole a sword? I mean, you think he stole a sword? Unless it was a really small one, it would’ve been particularly hard to smuggle out. Don’t you have plenty of other, smaller valuables to get nicked?”
“I’ll have to agree with him on that,” said the Zafara. “Besides, swords usually aren’t valuable enough to warrant such a risk. Maybe you just misplaced it during spring cleaning?”
Shad stared at his brother with his mouth open, unable to believe that the spotted Zafara had just said something that was usually Shad’s verbal expertise, as the Gnorbu princess scowled. “All swords are valuable, some more than others. A lot depends on the skill of the fighter. But the Night Katana is a special item, passed in the royal family through generations, and we will not take its disappearance lightly.”
“The Night Katana?” a voice asked from the opened balcony. “I wouldn’t pay zilch for it. Overpriced and way too unwieldy.”
The two guards blinked and then poised their weapons – steel pudaos, as the brothers now noticed, not the usual bamboo rods – as the princess turned around, her eyes widening.
“And I wouldn't bother with those,” Kanrik added, stepping inside and nodding at the pudaos the guards were holding. “If I wanted to stab your princess, I'd have done it already, and you wouldn't even have the time to figure out which end is which."
“Hope you don't plan to do that 'cause we’d like to get out of here alive, thank you,” Shad said dryly.
“No,” agreed Kanrik, having crossed the room in the meantime and stopping in front of the princess, who was staring up at him in a kind of intimidated surprise, “but a good guard charges before asking questions, or better yet, doesn’t ask questions at all. Instead of gaping like a Spardel.” The two Skeith guards were indeed staring blankly at him, the pudaos still raised, taken aback by his semi-sneering speech.
“Anyway, I digress,” said the Gelert, lifting back his hood and, for everyone’s surprise, bowing in front of the princess. “Kanrik, leader of the Thieves’ Guild, at your service.”
“Ehm,” said the princess, her face turning brownish. The two brothers stared at her in confusion before it dawned on them that she was blushing.
“I take it that you’re interested in the story of the royal Night Katana?” Kanrik asked, straightening his back again.
“You know about it?” the Gnorbu princess asked back, pulling herself together, though her eyes were still wide.
Kanrik grinned rather proudly. “Do I ever. The Thieves’ Guild has a legend about the theft of the Night Katana, passed on as compulsory read among rookies, regarded the epitome of a thief’s patience.”
“What legend?” the princess asked. Shad’s ears perked and Saura squatted down on the floor.
Kanrik’s yellow eyes lit up. “Well. To make it short, a few decades ago a thief infiltrated the palace in order to steal the katana. It was well guarded, of course, as is the whole treasury,” his voice had a hint of respect there. “In order to get near it, he got a job at the palace, as an apprentice guard, worked his way up through the ranks and finally reached the highest rank of them all, the treasury guard. It took him fifteen years, and he earned a lot of trust and respect, and one day, after having worked as the guard for some three months, he went in and walked out with the katana, hid it in the catacombs under the palace, retired about a month later, was sent off with honor and good wishes, and left Shenkuu after having picked up the katana.”
Shad grinned. “And a few pocketfuls of coins for good measure, I assume?”
Kanrik blinked, then grinned back. “You’d make a good thief, kid. You got the right mentality. That story’s always used to illustrate the importance of patience and good acting skills. And a good amount of honesty.” He nodded solemnly. “That’s one essential part of this trade. Knowing how to play the game.”
“What happened to the katana?” The princess seemed hesitant and curious at the same time.
Kanrik shrugged. “Circulates Neopia somewhere out there. Battledomers buy and sell as they upgrade their weaponry.”
“And... who was the thief who stole it?” asked the Gnorbu.
The Gelert grimaced. “I keep forgetting the name. And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t tell you. Either way, the story is almost thirty years old. The way I see it, your guards only decided to check the treasury yesterday, after spotting me near the palace.” He shot a grin at the two guards who were now completely flabbergasted and unsure how all this would affect their careers. “Good thinking, I’d say. And I’m honored.”
“Still haven’t figured out how exactly the two of us fit in the picture,” Shad grumbled. “You might as well have sent for Incendia.”
The looks on the two guards’ and the princess’ faces suggested that they’d much rather interrogate Fyora herself than the small Fire Faerie.
“My apologies,” the Gnorbu princess said sincerely. “As I understood, the chief guard sent for Kanrik first, but he wasn’t to be found at the Faerie’s place. You were taken here because of the possibility that you might know something.”
“If the Katana means so much to your family,” he said, “then I can... obtain one for you. Probably not the same sword; tracking it down would be impossible, unless it had special markings...”
The princess quickly shook her head as her blush severed. “No- no, that won’t be necessary. It’s better to let bygones be bygones.”
All the guards stared at the trio as they left the palace, sent off by the princess herself. Kanrik earned quite a few glares, but in the presence of the green Gnorbu nobody dared say a word.
“Sorry again, and may the moon watch over you,” said the princess as she stopped on the grand staircase that led down to the path. The two brothers smiled widely in reply. Kanrik nodded as well, and suddenly keeled over in a fierce coughing fit.
“That’s a nasty cough,” Saura said, blinking, as the fit passed.
Kanrik shrugged absently as if driving a fly off and got upright again. “The life of a thief means quite a lot of sleeping on cold ground and the like. It’s no big deal.”
“It’s been getting worse, though,” remarked the Zafara as they went down the wide path. “I mean, you’ve been coughing pretty much all the time you were here, doesn’t look like something that’s about to pass.”
“Ehh,” said the thief, in the voice of someone who has a lot more important things in mind than some little cough. “I’ll probably hop into Faerieland on my way back and have a word with that Healing Springs keeper. Not like I’m in a hurry here.”
Suddenly Shad looked up. “Say... what were you doing near the palace?”
Kanrik gave him a sharp glance. “Sightseeing. Is everything I do a crime?”
“You don’t really act like someone who came to Shenkuu to sightsee and relax,” the Lupe advanced mercilessly. “What with all the sneaking around and-“
“Saving our butts, among other things,” Saura interjected quickly. “We owe you one, Kanrik.”
The Gelert shrugged, though his eyes reflected a vague smile. “Like I said: you live your lives, I live mine, and we’ll get along like a charm. But thieves have a strict code of honor. Can’t have others suffering just because I happen to be present around them.”
Shad’s tail twitched. “Code of honor? Then what was all that deal with betraying Galem and releasing the Bringer on his camp?”
Kanrik glared at him, possibly making a mental note to take a few overly nosy Neopian Times reporters in his immediate looting-list.
“You know,” Saura said, his eyes narrowing, “I recall hearing that they restock pickled cucumbers at the food shop today and that doesn’t happen often. I think we should go and have a look. Shad, I’ll need you to come along, lest I get complaints about the wrong kind of cucumbers again. Kanrik, meet you at Incendia’s?”
Was it just him or did a faint wave of relief flash across the thief’s face? “Yeah. Take care, you two. I’ll go catch up on lost sleep.”
As soon as they were out of hearing range – which took a while, as Saura had no illusions about Kanrik’s hearing – he hissed, “Shad, what’s wrong with you? Why do you have to antagonize that guy, just after he practically saved us from the dungeons? You two got along just fine until now.”
Shad looked back at him, his yellow eyes gleaming. “He got us out of that mess because he’d gotten us in it. He is up to something, Saura, you can’t deny it; he’s not lurking about here for no reason. And because of his meddling, we’re taking the brunt of the locals’ disapproval. He’s a nice guy, thief or not, I’m willing to admit it, but if his actions keep getting us into trouble, with us having no way of protecting ourselves because we don’t know enough, then I claim the right to learn more about the matter. I’m not going to depend on Kanrik in this.”
Saura knew that tone. Shad used it very rarely, only when he needed a cold, determined, straightforward attitude that drilled straight to the center of the issue, disregarding everything around it.
“You know, he’s probably not telling us much only to protect us,” he nevertheless said. “Doubt this whole thieving-business is good to know.”
Shad tilted his head. “Yep, but I doubt he likes having to keep an eye on us while he runs those shady errands of his. It’d be a lot easier to let us in on the matter. Not like we could betray him, I know I wouldn’t want to backstab someone who can walk into the royal palace of Shenkuu without as much as a blink.”
The Zafara grunted and fell quiet, as usually when he got into an argument with Shad. Arguing with Shad was difficult, not to mention intimidating – due to his usual cheery behavior, confronting his fierce side was like getting attacked by a Snowbunny.
The sun was already sliding towards the horizon when they got back to Incendia’s house. The door wasn’t locked – few people locked their doors in Shenkuu, those few mainly being the foreigners who owned houses there, and no sane Neopet would ever have entered Incendia’s house without her permission. The two stepped in and froze in confusion. Something was wrong, they could feel it at once.
“Er,” said Shad, looking around as his ears moved quickly. “Why’s it suddenly so strange here?”
Saura looked around too, and then blinked. “Well, see for yourself. Incendia’s gone.”
Indeed, the Fire Faerie’s presence, so prominent throughout the last few weeks, had disappeared. Sure, sometimes she’d go to the small kitchen or fly out to run a few quick errands, but this time it was different. The lamps were out, something that’d never happened before during the Faerie’s short errands, and the house felt deserted.
The Lupe snorted quietly and circled the room, his sensitive nose pressed against the floorboards. “Let’s see now. She left some ten, fifteen minutes ago. And Kanrik... Kanrik hasn’t come back since he left for the palace. His smell is about an hour old.”
“Weird,” muttered Saura. “I mean, Kanrik can do whatever he wants, but with him not returning to the house and Incendia leaving? Hey, where’re you going?”
Shad had already sniffed his way out of the door. “After them.” He sneezed, going over a patch of dusty ground. “Or after Kanrik, at least. I’ve had enough of this, and I ain’t planning to sit around twiddling my paws and waiting for another guard or a mob to show up and come down on us because of another happy little sightseeing-trip Kanrik had around the local bank or whatever they have here.” His voice, usually so cheery and leeway, had changed. Each word came like a whiplash.
The spotted Zafara sighed, hurrying after him. Shad was right, of course, but what exactly were they getting themselves into?
To be continued...