The Thief's Hostage: Part Five
Amelia couldn't believe her father's words. "You mean... the coins were counterfeit?"
"Not counterfeit," the chocolate Skeith said indignantly, ushering her out of the cold and into the bakery. The shop was overly warm, fireplaces in full use, and the smell of powdered sugar and savory soups filled the air. But inside, Amelia felt cold.
"The coins were enchanted," her father continued. "In a few hours they'll turn back into carved wooden pellets. And by the time the thieves realize it, your new security team will be here."
The woodland Ixi's jaw dropped. "Security team?"
"Of course!" her father said. "We can't have this happen again! You need to be protected. So I made a few calls in the past few hours, ran some background checks, and found the best guys in the business to be your bodyguards. Then you won't have to worry about a thing."
It's not me I'm worried about, Amelia thought numbly as her father set in front of her a large bowl of soup, a strawberry crumpet, and a few slices of banango bread. It was a far cry from the food she had been served the past two days, and it tasted wonderful, but she found it hard to eat.
As she walked back to her house, wading through slush and feeling the sting of snowflakes burn her skin, Amelia felt sick. What would happen to the Thieves Guild now? More importantly, what would happen to those she had grown to know? Jakob's mother had looked so fragile, and with all of the magical protections floating around the market, she didn't think Jakob would able to nab any medicine without risking a nasty curse. She had a feeling Tony would survive; she had seen enough of that Bori to know that he was resilient. But was merely surviving enough?
Bori... Amelia thought for a moment, a thought clicking into place. She turned toward her father. "Dad, where did you get those coins from? The ones you gave the thieves?"
"Donny the toy repairman," he said simply. "It took a bit of convincing though. Switch-coins are frowned upon in certain communities, but he knew it was for a good cause." He smiled at his daughter. "I hope you know how much your mother and I were worried about you. I'm glad you're back, sweetie."
"Me too," she said automatically, but her thoughts were elsewhere. "Do you think I could stop by the repair shop? I... I have a doll I need mended. The one I used to carry with me everywhere when I was a kid."
Her father was uncertain. "The security team will be here shortly..."
"I promise I'll be there and back within a half hour!" Amelia said, looking her father directly in his dark eyes. "Please. After being in the guild..." She trailed off, unsure of what to say to convince her father, but he seemed to understand to unspoken words.
"Alright darling. I'll stay home and wait for the team, but you must be back right away! Give him the doll, place your order, and come straight home."
"Thank you!" Amelia said, already working out the kinks in her plan.
* * *
Stepping into Donny's toy repair shop was like stepping back in time. Each time she stood in the doorway, Amelia was reminded of the first time she had stopped by many years ago, in tears, wondering if Donny would be able to fix the broken enchanted jewelry box she had gotten for her birthday.
The shop was warm and smelled like sawdust and cotton. Some wooden shelves were lined with metal tools, spools of thread, small blocks of wood, and bags of stuffing. The others were filled with works in progress: broken dolls, toy boats, even small objects that were laced with fading faerie magic. Some enchanted toys attempted to speak from their spots on the shelves, but only managed quiet stutters.
Amelia could see Donny across the shop seated at his work table, oblivious to the tinkle of the bell that announced her arrival. Usually the woodland Ixi would wait for him to pause from his work and realize she was standing there, but today she was pressed for time. Doll in hand, she made her way straight up to his workbench, her shadow interrupting the stream of light from the work lamp on the table.
He looked up. The red Bori's eyes narrowed in annoyance... and then slowly morphed into confusion. "Amelia?" His voice was gruff, not at all the voice of a toy repairman. But Donny was more than a mere repairman, and Amelia knew that. That was why she needed his help.
"I know you made those coins for my father," she said bluntly.
Donny raised a bushy white eyebrow, his eyes as yellow as honey. "I don't particularly like making switch-coins, but your father said he needed them to save you. And I can't exactly deny Andrew Larkin."
"I'm grateful you did that for my dad," Amelia said, "but I need you to make something else, something for me." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper with a scribble on it, a quick drawing she had made in her room with arrows and abbreviated descriptions. She also put her doll on the table—the ruse she needed for her father—and a heavy bag of neopoints.
Donny pored over her illustration, leaning in to read her sloppy handwriting, the pom-poms on his hat dangling over his face. "This is interesting and a bit difficult, but I can do it. The thing is, why should I?"
"If that's not enough neopoints, I can run back home—"
Donny laughed, his voice deep and gruff and only slightly humorless. "That's not what I mean. What I'm asking is why you want something like this."
"I..." Amelia started, before trailing off. Her mouth felt dry, her hands slightly clammy. She wondered vaguely if she was coming down with a cold, but why did that matter? No matter what sickness she caught, her father would immediately send for a cure. It was rare for her not to be cured by day's end. That wasn't the case for others.
She looked at Donny, at his rough hands and massive beard and intimidating gaze, and said, "I need to help people."
The red Bori grinned, a true smile emerging from the folds of his face. "Thieves, you mean?"
Amelia didn't know what to say. She just felt her cheeks grow hot, waiting for Donny to laugh or tell her that she was an ignorant young woman.
But he didn't. He just nodded his head and asked, "When do you need this by?"
"As soon as possible."
"Tomorrow it is, then." He picked up a small boat toy boat, his latest project, and a carving knife. But before he got back to work, she said, "You've grown, Miss Larkin. And I don't mean in stature."
"I just hope I've grown enough," she said, slipping back out into the snow.
* * *
Things are even worse now than they were before, Jakob thought miserably, stationed under his favorite snow-covered awning in the marketplace. The same one he and Tony had waited under only two days ago, watching the "princess" as she browsed the jewelry stalls across the street. Except the girl they'd nabbed wasn't the princess at all, or even the "Hannah" Kanrik thought her to be. She was just a stupid spoiled girl who had fooled them all.
When the gold had come in, the 200,000 neopoints from the trade, the guild had seemed alive for the first time in months. Shares had been distributed by Kanrik: some for food, some for clothes, and then the rest were doled out per individual. Jakob and Tony were given a large share for their part in the whole hostage situation, and Jakob had looked at the coins with hope.
But before he could go tell his mother the good news, before he could run out to a medical stall and buy his mother some sort of antidote, the neopoints changed. Right before his eyes they turned from sparkling gold into delicately carved wooden disks. Worthless.
They had been tricked. And what was worse, their hope had been shattered.
Jakob was inclined to believe that it had been Amelia's plan from the start, to trick them with fool coins and leave them with nothing while she returned to her large home, laughing at their misfortune. Tony didn't agree. He said Amelia wouldn't do such a thing, and even if that was her intention, how could she have? She had no contact with the outside world. If anything, the coins had been her father's plotting. But Jakob refused to see what was right in front of him. He was too blinded by his mother's diminished form in his room, her fragile coughs, her pale thin skin and watery eyes.
Jakob slipped away from the awning, merging into the crowd, knowing he wouldn't accomplish anything by just sitting on the sidelines and watching. Nearly every vendor had their wares protected now; anything worth more than a few neopoints was locked up, humming behind enchanted glass or spelled cages. It was as if the number had drastically increased in the past few days. What he needed to do was some pick pocketing, his least favorite thieving activity, but he didn't dare complain. He needed the money. As he neared a large pink Elephante with a blonde wig, his eyes locked on the unclasped purse on her waist, he heard someone call out "Jason!"
It was close enough to his name that he turned to see who had called... and that's when he saw Amelia waving at him from across the crowd.
But the Ixi wasn't alone. Flanking her were two burly neopets dressed in identical black jackets: bodyguards.
Jakob knew the smart thing to do would be to flee and as quickly as possible for two reasons. The first reason was purely selfish: he did not want to see her. Not now, not ever again. The second reason was a bit more pressing: her bodyguards could easily drag him off to the authorities, and that would mean no one would be left to support him mother. No one would be able to find a cure.
But the way Amelia had called his name—the wrong name—made him pause. He didn't believe she had forgotten it or mistaken it on accident. There was only one other option.
She needed to talk to him, but she was simultaneously trying to protect him.
It could be a trap, the cynical part of Jakob's brain reminded him, but he pushed it aside. It took Jakob every ounce of strength not to run as Amelia slowly made her way towards him, the bodyguards trailing her every step. His fingers twitched for a moment, and he felt like Tony; all he wanted to do was reach for his dagger, feel the comforting weight in his hand, but that would no doubt give him away. All he could do was wait and see why she wanted to talk to him.
Amelia paused only a few feet in front of him, the pink blossoms in her hair coated in a light dusting of snow and frost. Jakob noticed she was wearing a new jacket, a deep green. Her black one was still wrapped about his mother's fragile body in the underground guild.
Amelia was the one who spoke first. "Hi, Jason!" she said, her voice uncharacteristically chipper.
Jakob didn't know what to do exactly. "Er... hello, Miss Larkin." It came out as a slight question.
"Do you know him?" one of the guards asked.
Amelia nodded her head rapidly. "Of course I do! This is Jason. He goes to school with me, but he's a scholarship student."
Jakob was slightly impressed by her lie. Clever... it explains why I'm dressed like this.
"Anyway, Jason," Amelia said, and Jakob could see the worry hidden in her eyes; she was merely acting bubbly for the sake of the guards. "How are things? How's your mother?"
"Not too well. She's still sick and we're not quite sure with what."
"Take her to a doctor," one of the guards said.
Jakob glared at him. Maybe if I had some money, I would.
"Well," Amelia said, "my mother was thinking about you and wanted to pass this along." She handed him a few vials with swirling green liquids, and a few bunches of herbs. "I'm not sure if you knew that she's an herbalist who specializes in illnesses in cold climates."
I didn't. "Yeah, I know. Thanks."
"I also brought you some food," Amelia continued, passing over a bag with a few loaves of bread and canned items. "Not too much, but you know, when Mom can't cook, it's hard to remember to eat food."
"Thanks," Jakob repeated, looking at her skeptically. What was she up to? Was there some sort of mechanical tracker hidden in the loaf of bread? Poison? He'd have to have someone else in the guild look at everything before they used the medicine or ate.
But what if nothing is wrong with them? he wondered, scanning her face for any kind of deception. Why would she give him something after he had kidnapped her? Why would she even dare when he hadn't said goodbye to her when she left, when the last thing he had done was yell at her for making his mother sick? It didn't add up.
I'll figure this out later. "Thanks again... but I should get going."
"Us too, Miss Larkin," the first bodyguard said, wrapping his coat around him more tightly. "Your father didn't want you back in the marketplace, not so soon after what happened yesterday."
Amelia forced a giggle. "Oh Jason, I haven't told you! I was kidnapped by thieves the other day. Oddest thing."
"And speaking of odd things, I want to give you one last thing." This time she reached into her coat pocket and pulled out something small and wooden. She passed it over to him and the shadow Gelert took it, unsure of what it was.
"It's just a little knickknack. I thought you'd like it. That it'd help out with your situation—emotionally, of course." "Emotionally" seemed to have been said for the benefits of the guard.
"Er, sure. Thanks."
"Good," Amelia said, and for a moment Jakob thought her smile was genuine. "Have to head back now. See you in school! And thanks for everything." And with a little wave, she began to retrace her steps, leading the guards away from Jakob and the marketplace in general.
Jakob stood in silence for a moment, still trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened. "And then she thanked me at the end?" he murmured, shaking his head. Some people were too tough to figure out.
Jakob took a moment to slip the medicine vials into the bag of food. He guessed it was nice of her to think about his mother; he doubted any of her kindness had been directed at him. But this was just another temporary solution. It wasn't going to change much of anything.
But as he slipped the final vial into the bag, he realized he was still holding the little wooden object. He paused, looking at the trinket. It was a very fine carving of a Cobrall, very similar to the pendant he wore around his neck. The marking of a thief. But unlike his, this one was worthless. It was no doubt very well done, but a pretty carving wouldn't fetch much.
Jakob was trying to think of anyone he knew who'd like to buy a carving for a few neopoints when the carved Cobrall's jaw unhinged with a little click. Jakob blinked, surprised by the mechanism... and then noticed a small piece of paper sticking out of the Cobrall's mouth where its forked tongue should have been.
He plucked out the paper and unrolled it. The paper was small, a square no larger than a playing card, and the note on it was even shorter. The handwriting looked slightly frantic, as if it had been scribbled in seconds, but the letters were looped and curving and pretty, unlike his own chaotic scrawl.
This carved Cobrall disrupts magical fields. Don't overuse it and don't give it to anyone else, except maybe for Tony. I thought it'd help.
Jakob blinked. "It can't be." But he had to test it. He had to make sure. He slipped over to the closest stall. It was manned by an old Wocky who was showing a few of his jeweled necklaces to a browsing couple. The rest were protected in a cage made entirely of shining magic bars.
Jakob didn't want to dwell there too long, so he casually leaned against the stall and moved the Cobrall towards the cage, not expecting anything. Almost immediately, and without a sound, the magic bars disappeared as if they had never existed at all. Jakob stared at the exposed necklaces in shock.
He immediately reached for them all, grabbing them in his large paw... and then paused. Carefully, before the old Wocky could see him, he selected just two and slipped them into his pocket. As he withdrew from the stall, the magical cage flickered back to life.
He looked across the crowd and could see Amelia far in the distance, glancing back at him expectantly. Jakob didn't know what to do. So he just inclined his head, and Amelia turned away, disappearing around the curve in the road and out of sight. Her face had been blurry from the distance, but he thought he saw her smiling.
Jakob sighed and shook his head. "Thanks," he murmured, and for once in his life, he really meant it. "Thanks, Hannah."