The Thief's Hostage: Part One
Terror Mountain was known for its ungodly weather even in the midst of spring, but the marketplace nestled in the heart of Happy Valley had a strong undercurrent that kept it warm and thriving even on the coldest of days. At least in Amelia’s opinion.
The woodland Ixi adjusted the last button on her coat as she slipped through the thick throng of neopets, her breath coming out in curling white puffs. Her father had given her the jacket for the Day of Giving, and it was thick and expensive, hugging her thin frame and retaining heat.
Little wooden stands lined the maze of streets, dripping with icicles the size of overgrown carrots. Vendors, most of whom Amelia knew by appearance if not by name, were haggling loudly. Their wares, from food to decorative plates, were laid out like the finest of silver.
Speaking of silver, Amelia thought, making a beeline toward the jewelry stalls, a tight cluster of tables and awnings a bit further down the market road. “Margaret’s birthday is fast approaching and I have nothing for her...”
The woodland Ixi approached the stall of a well-known jeweler, a spotted Ogrin with a pair of special glasses that magnified his eyes ten fold. To protect against thieves, his wares were all trapped behind enchanted glass, a device more and more vendors were employing nowadays. Any thief that attempted to pluck a necklace from the glass case would find their hand encased in a thick cast of solid ice.
Amelia eyed the delicately curving necklaces, the jewel encrusted earrings, the carefully linked bracelets. Her jacket pocket was heavy with neopoints, more than enough to buy her cousin something nice. With the shop owner’s permission, she carefully touched cool silver and shiny gold bangles, pendants, and charms, rejecting each politely as she searched for the perfect gift.
She was so engaged in her shopping that she didn’t even notice that she was being watched.
Jakob was trying to get a job done... and an exceedingly difficult one at that. Unfortunately, the silver Bori nervously whispering in his ear wasn’t helping much.
“This is a big deal,” the Bori babbled, wringing his hands. Tony was often fidgety, twitching here and there when things were a bit too hairy for his liking. It wasn’t an ideal trait for a thief, but Jakob had to admit that his friend used his nervous habit to his advantage. Tony weighed the risks against the results; “opportunity cost” he called it. When things weren’t in his favor, his hands would start twitching and he would flee the area, all the while scouting out a new target.
But the problem was that today’s mission wasn’t just any theft. It had been ordered by Kanrik himself. And no one dared to flee a mission ordered by the head of Thieves Guild.
Jakob “shh’d” his friend, jabbing him in the side with his elbow for good measure. He pulled his thin jacket around him more tightly, the navy clashing with his dark fur, and peered out from behind the corner of the stall. The marketplace was busy even on such a blustery day, but no one spared a second glance to the shadow Gelert loitering under an awning. Jakob’s target was only a few stalls away, browsing jewelry laced with gems and cast in gold and silver.
Gold... silver... Jakob’s eyes nearly leapt from his skull, taking in the treasures behind the stand. But that wasn’t part of the mission. And he had to stay on track.
“Is that her?” Tony hissed, obsidian Bori claws still twitching. Unlike Jakob, his color neatly blended into the silver snow and grey slush of the marketplace, making him nearly invisible. “Is that the princess?”
“Looks like it,” Jakob said, matching up the description he had been fed by Kanrik to the girl he saw in the market. Ixi? Check. Female? Check. Brown coloring? Check. Expensive clothes and taste? Check.
The only thing that didn’t add up was a lack of security. Had the princess snuck off on her own? Or were her guards lurking in the shadows, watching her from a distance? Jakob assumed it was the latter. But the fact that she was exposed did make his task a lot easier.
Suddenly the girl drew away from the stall, shaking her head at the vendor.
Jakob felt his body tense. “She’s on the move. Let’s do this now.”
Tony nodded briefly, a slight twitch, and together they began to walk among the people, slipping past freezing Neopians. All the while, their eyes were latched on the girl.
She was walking towards them, no doubt making her way to the next jewelry stall only about fifty feet away. She was oblivious. A doll of a thing, with pink flowers threaded through her chestnut hair and deep brown eyes.
Casually, Tony bumped into her.
“Oh!” she gasped when she noticed the silver Bori in front of her. “I’m so sorry to have bumped into you. My mistake!” Her voice was light, her accent undoubtedly proper.
And that was when Jakob glided up behind her. In a single motion, he withdrew a vial from his pocket, uncorked it, and waved it in front of her nose. The Ixi’s eyes drooped, and she immediately fell asleep, falling into Tony’s waiting arms.
“Smooth,” Tony said as Jakob quickly replaced the vial for a pair of dark sunglasses. The shadow Gelert slipped them over the girl’s closed eyes. Although it was freezing outside, all sorts of folk wore glasses at the market to protect their eyes from the blinding sun reflections bouncing off the snow. No one would suspect a thing.
Jakob moved to the girl’s right, while Tony slid to the left. They shared her weight, making it seem as if she was merely being escorted down the street. All the while Jakob kept his eye open for her security, wondering why they hadn’t beaten down on them yet.
But it was no matter. Soon enough, they had slipped her into the proper alley. It smelled of frozen garbage. The smell of home.
The alley ended in an abrupt stone wall, an odd sight in a town composed almost entirely of log cabins and wooden shops. But Kanrik often pointed out that wood could be burned and kicked in and rotted.
At eye level there was an empty space between two levels of stones, right where the mortar should have been. It was crusted with snow, but Jakob impatiently brushed it away and rapped on the wall four times. Each knock supposedly meant something, but Jakob had long forgotten the odd tale that led to this certain tradition.
A pair of yellow eyes suddenly leered out from the gap. The creature who owned them didn’t say a thing. No rasp of “Password?” Nothing but a few blinks, waiting.
Jakob reached under his jacket, feeling a gold chain. It was the most precious thing he owned, and it was the only thing that would allow him entrance. He pulled it out, showing the yellow eyes the pendant hanging from the chain, a golden Cobrall wrapped around an emerald stone. Toni showed him the same object, though a bit more slowly; he was holding the girl entirely on his own now, and he was breathing heavily from her weight.
The eyes weren’t yet appeased. They flicked over to the girl and then back to Jakob, a clear question: Who is she?
“The princess,” Jakob said.
The eyes blinked, and then vanished. A second later, there was a loud squeak, the sound of rusted hinges being forced into action. And then the stone wall swung inward, revealing only darkness.
Carefully Jakob helped Tony carry the girl inside. After a few steps, the secret door was shut behind them, leaving them in darkness. But Jakob and Tony knew the Thieves Guild headquarters well. After a few more steps, they reached a set of stairs, the bane of many as it was only caution that stopped one from immediately tumbling downwards. They carried the girl down the flight, the darkness dissolving with each step until a series of flickering lanterns lit the way.
And then finally, their boots made contact with a dark wood floor, slightly sticky from spilled grog.
The gathering hall was usually packed, filled to the brim with all fifty thieves that called the guild home plus an assortment of visiting thieves from other realms of Neopia. The center hall was in essence a tavern. There were wooden beams—“Leftovers of Galem’s rule,” Kanrik would mutter darkly whenever it was pointed out—that supported the ceiling, metal chandeliers dripping wax with sputtering flames, thick wooden tables, a hodgepodge of chairs, barrels, stools, and benches to sit upon, lanterns, and a large fireplace with a frayed, but still comfortable, couch set in front of it.
But today it was empty—as it had been recently. Every able thief was out on the street, scouting targets, picking pockets, trying to scrounge up money. Times were tough.
But it won’t be anymore, Jakob thought, glancing at the girl in his arms. All thanks to this one.
The deep voice was immediately recognizable. Jakob turned his head to the right, while Tony straightened up, nearly letting go of the brown-furred Ixi girl.
Kanrik had stood up from his place beside the fire. The blue Gelert was over six feet tall with deep black eyes and a thick scar that ran under his right eye. Despite the warmth of the hall, he was in his customary attire: a burgundy shirt covered with shoulder armor; a thick belt that crossed his chest and waist that was dotted with pockets and compartments, including one that housed his prized dagger; thick fur-lined leather gloves; and his customary hood to easily conceal his face.
Jakob bowed his head in respect, but only for a second. Servitude wasn’t exactly in a thief’s blood. “We found her, near one of the jewelry stands.”
“And you were not followed?”
“Not by a soul,” Tony piped up, trying to reign in his twitch.
“Good,” Kanrik said, relief clear on his face. “Now that we have the princess, our lives will no doubt turn around. You two will be rewarded in due time. But with the princess here, things are looking up. Things are looking up.”
Jakob was surprised to a see a slip of a smile on Kanrik’s lips; the blue Gelert wasn’t known for smiling. But Jakob caved and felt a smile tug at his own lips. He had done it! He had completed his mission! All would be well because of him.
“Pass her to me,” Kanrik said. “I wish to take her into a holding area. A cell perhaps, though I supposed we should try to make it somewhat comfortable.”
“Here you are, sir,” Tony said, shifting the girl into Kanrik’s capable arms. He held her like a child, her head nestled in his chest, her legs dangling.
“You two go get something to eat,” Kanrik said, looking at them only for a moment before glancing back down at the young Ixi in his arms. “And I’ll take the princess to the cell. My, will she be surprised when she wakes up and...” Suddenly he trailed off, his eyes widening.
Jakob didn’t like the look on Kanrik’s face. His stomach rumbled angrily, wanting food, but he didn’t dare move. His hands had gone clammy. “What is it?” he asked slowly.
Kanrik looked into his eyes. All the warmth and happiness had drained away, leaving something terrifying behind. Black anger, cold bitterness, and worse than that... utter disappointment.
“This isn’t her!” he hissed. It came out like a snarl.
“W-What do you mean?” Tony stammered. “It has to be! Brown, female Ixi—”
“She isn’t brown, you idiots!” he said, gesturing to her fur. “She’s woodland! Woodland!”
Jakob wanted to throw up. He should have known. Woodland wasn’t a common color, but he had seen it before in the scattered issues of the Neopian Times. And now that he looked at the girl, he saw what he hadn’t seen before. Her fur wasn’t just a single brown, but striated into different shades. And the delicate pink flowers that he had thought were carefully threaded through her hair were actually a part of her hair.
He had made a mistake.
Kanrik was livid. His face had turned red, and with a sudden push he thrust the sleeping girl into Jakob’s arms. “I entrusted you two with this mission because I thought you two were capable! Obviously I was mistaken. And since you are the ones who did this, you are the ones who’ll have to deal with this now!” he said sharply. And with that said, he turned and stormed up the steps, out of the Thieves Guild.
Silence hung between Jakob and Tony, the slamming of the stone door echoing for what seemed like ages. Then Tony asked quietly, “What do we do with her? Put her back?”
Jakob looked down at the girl, her eyes still hidden behind sunglasses, her dark hair warm on his arm. And then he shook his head. “No. We screwed this up, so we have to make it work. You saw the jewelry she wanted to buy. You see this jacket. And her color. She’s no doubt rich. Not as much as the princess, but still wealthy. Her parents will pay a ransom if we set one, I’m sure of it.”
“Okay.” Tony nodded. The silver Bori gestured for Jakob to follow. “Then let’s stick her in a cell and work out what we’re going to do while she’s still asleep. She’ll wake up in a few hours, and by then we have to be ready.”
Jakob nodded and followed his friend, the dead weight in his arms slowing him down. But more than that was the feeling of failure that filled his lungs like smoke, anchoring his limbs, making each step heavy.
I failed, he thought miserably, each step just another part of his walk of shame. I failed.
To be continued...