Once a Scarab: Part Two
Bokan snapped, "Tomos, are you paying attention?"
No, Tomos hadn't been paying attention. And he wasn't going to be persuaded to pay any more attention by the hot-tempered blue Techo yelling at him. He asked, "What is it now?"
"Raq and Yari went out together today to pick pockets, so it's you and me for the fruit vendors again."
Tomos sighed. The green Acara and red Cybunny were best together, it was true – they were both still young enough and cute enough that they could beg a little. But Tomos would rather have worked with anyone else than Bokan. He was good at what they did and loyal to the Scarabs, but not all that easy to get along with. And Tomos couldn't make plans with him without even having to talk, like he'd been able to with Nabile. "Let's get going, then. I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry, you big lug."
"That's because I actually have muscle. You're just skin and bones."
"I'm plenty strong, and I'll prove it here and now!"
Tomos rolled his eyes. "Cool it, firework. You were telling me to pay attention to the job, remember? And that job's not knocking my teeth out."
Oh, he missed Nabile! It had been three months since she'd been judged healthy enough to return to Qasala. They'd never in their lives been separated for this long, and it showed no signs of ending.
But there was business to attend to. The Lupe and the Techo walked along the rooftops, not going too quickly. In the poor districts of town, the city guard was far more an enemy than the Scarabs ever would be – they were safe here. Native sons, just doing what it took to survive, like everyone in this place. They were even waved at as they passed.
Then they reached the edge of the market and climbed down to the ground, keeping to the shadows. It was an old routine, as familiar to Tomos as his own fur. Ever since he'd gotten big enough that he wasn't cute anymore, he'd kept his head down, either thieving while Nabile created a distraction or watching her back as she picked pockets.
Bokan sidled up to a Hissi in a silk shirt, and "accidentally" ran into him. "Oh, sorry, sir!"
The Hissi grabbed a fistful of Bokan's vest and hauled him close – it was causing a commotion, which was Tomos's cue to back toward an Ummagine cart and stuff one into each pocket. He and Bokan would eat those, and then go back for more.
And then the rich Hissi said, "How dare you pick my pocket, you little brat! I felt that, you know! Guards! Guards!"
Sweet Fyora! Bokan knew better! Horace had yelled at him fifteen times if it had been once – the distraction wasn't allowed to steal anything! The distraction had to be innocent!
Tomos grabbed the Ummagine cart and shoved it over, shouting, "Watch out!"
That made it worse, in the crowded marketplace, and Bokan was able to squirm away and run for it. Tomos turned to follow – this market was rapidly becoming too hot to hold them, and there'd be no spoils here today.
As soon as they got away from the guards, he was going to punch that skinny little Techo so hard...
He was grabbed roughly. "Got one of 'em!"
Tomos turned to look – Fyora blast it, it was a guard! He kicked back and then threw a punch, pulling himself loose and running for dear life.
But there was another guard coming from the other end of the street! Tomos's stomach sank as he flung himself at the nearest wall, pulling himself up and trying to find hand- and foot-holds. That was the one advantage a thief in a pinch had against guards – most of them couldn't climb worth beans.
But before he could get high enough, he was grabbed again and pulled down. "Got the wretched blighter! Quick, cuff him before he gets away again!"
Oh, sweet Fyora, he was in such a mess. Nabile would have stuck around, throwing fruit and doing everything she could to cause trouble. Bokan tended to see the good of the Scarabs as more important than the good of one Lupe whom he didn't like that much – the scrawny rat was probably halfway to the hideout by now.
If he got out of here alive, he was going to kick Bokan's tail from here to Terror Mountain.
He was marched back to the palace in handcuffs, which were only unlocked after he was unceremoniously thrown into a dark cell in the dungeons of the palace. There was a tiny window across from the bars - that shaft of sun was the only light.
He looked into that light, planning, as one of the guards asked, "So, Scarab – are you going to tell us where your hideout is?"
Tomos knew how this worked – for as long as he could remember, he'd been told what to say if he ever got caught. "I don't have to. And you have to take a message for me, if I ask you to, to tell someone that I'm in here. Could you let Kuraj – the tailor on Coltzan Way – know that I've been arrested, please?"
One of the guards spat – he clearly didn't think fondly of thieves who knew the law. But they left, and Tomos slid to the floor.
It was a hope – just a hope. But Kuraj was fond of the Scarabs, and hopefully he'd get a message to Nabile. She'd be able to save him. The other alternative was that he'd be in here for a very long time.
No need to even think of it, though. Nabile would spring him. Wasn't that what friends were for?
Two days later, Nabile sat on a chair in Jazan's study reading a letter from Amira. She'd sent the official news to Jazan, but she always enclosed a note for Nabile in large, clear handwriting – in this one she was complaining about how Vyssa was handling her ambassadorship in Neopia Central and how General Akhmaris kept trying to overstep his authority. She set it down after she'd finished – she'd write a consoling reply later.
The next one was from Kuraj! She said, "I've got news from the Scarabs!" But when she looked over at Jazan, he was clearly too deep into what he was doing to have listened – he merely replied with a noncommittal grunt. She smiled fondly – her king could have made a perfect absent-minded scholar.
Then she opened the letter and read,
Tomos was arrested.
She gasped. Jazan asked, "What is it?" But she had to keep reading.
He had the word sent to me, but the Scarabs told me as well – he was captured as he made a diversion so Bokan could escape. If you can do anything for him, anything at all, you must do it at all speed.
She looked up at Jazan, who was watching her, golden eyes worried. "Oh, Jazan, Tomos was arrested!" Her voice almost broke at the end – she scolded herself furiously. She was tougher than that! She wasn't some palace-raised pansy who burst into tears at the very idea of a problem!
The Kyrii stood up and crossed the room to sit beside her – Nabile was grateful for a comforting arm around her shoulder. "For what?"
She looked up at him askance. "Do you really not know?"
He shrugged. "I mean, more than the usual petty thievery?"
She shook her head, looking down at the letter. "I doubt it. Kuraj would have said. And it's enough." She took a breath. "I'm going to Sakhmet as soon as I can get some things together, Jazan. I have to do something. They all know I can – they're counting on me. Tomos is counting on me."
He asked, "What are you going to do?" with no small degree of alarm. He added, "I've learned to be worried when you get that look."
She smiled. "I'm just going to go to Amira and politely ask her to let him go. Of course, if she's a little too firm about adherence to the law..."
Jazan winced. "You'd break him out of the dungeons. Nabile, please don't do that."
She met his eyes. "Jazan, he'd do the same for me. Except I actually have a chance of succeeding. If anyone threatens me I'll just pretend that you're right behind me and watch them scamper."
He laughed, but then his smile faded and failed. "I worry about you, Nabile. You don't take enough care for your own safety – I've noticed that already."
She tried to reassure him. "Jazan, I'll be fine."
He asked, "Could you at least wait until the morning? It will give me time to give you a few magical protections – if you have to try something risky, you'll need them."
She smiled up at him again. "Thank you, Jazan."
The next morning, the sky was barely light when Nabile stood with Jazan in the place where the city gates would be one day. She gave herself a moment to picture them as they were in the drawings the architects had made, remembering the words Jazan had used to describe how they would rear up out of the sands, a strong sign of order and peace amid the desert wilds. Then the Kyrii gave her a small round mirror. "Touch this, and say my name, and I'll be able to hear you and see you." Then he lifted her left hand. "I put spells on our wedding rings, as well, linking them. I'll be able to come to you if you need me."
Nabile looked at the matched rings with their interwoven bands of dark metal. "It'll be fine, Jazan."
He reminded her, "You told me it would be fine last time you went to Sakhmet, too."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you have any more undead relatives?" He shuddered, and she continued, "I've got all this magic on my side, and I've got the Scarabs." She put a hand to the tattoo on her arm. "Once a Scarab, always a Scarab. We look after each other. I'll be fine, and Tomos will be fine. Don't worry too much."
He asked, a smile on the edges of his lips, "I get to worry a little?"
She informed him, "I just know that I can't stop you from worrying some. I'll see you soon, Jazan."
"Safe travels, Nabile. Nuria bless you."
She looked back several times as she headed off – she could see him standing at the gate until the dunes blocked her view.
Then she set her face toward Sakhmet and to the rescue of a friend.
To be continued...