The Scarab and the Sea: Part Seven
Tomos couldn't believe it when a Grarrl head poked out from behind a bush. "Origen?"
The Grarrl burst out of the undergrowth, with Jaryth and Saiban right behind him. Jaryth said, "Tomos! You're okay! We all thought you were dead!"
The Usul looked at them in astonishment. "Wait – what?"
Jaryth explained, "That's Tomos – the other Sakhmet guard we told you about. Our captain. The fellow the pirates left aboard the Krawken's Eye. How'd you get here?"
Tomos explained, "These were the people who attacked Galliard – they rescued me and we came after you. This is Lura, and this is Captain Garin."
The Usul woman said, "Oh. So you're that one."
Garin bowed mockingly. "I believe you have the advantage on me, miss."
She crossed her arms. "Hannah."
Garin raised an eyebrow. "And you're that one."
Tomos complained, "And I have no idea what all of the significance behind 'that one' is, so can we all just catch each other up so we can figure out something to do besides sit here and wait for wild Petpets to eat us?"
Garin said, "I might as well start. I'm Captain Garin of the Black Pawkeet. Lura's our medic. We've fought Scarblade in thse past, and King Kelpbeard has asked us to find out what the old devil's up to. Except for the fact that the Pawkeet just got taken by Benny the Blade."
Origen said, "You just attract thieves, don't you, Tomos?"
Saiban chided, "Another time would be more appropriate for that particular discussion."
Hannah said, "I'm Hannah, and this is Armin."
The Bori – Armin – smiled. "We look for trouble."
Hannah grinned and continued, "We're here as a favor to Kanrik."
That was one name that Tomos did know already. He looked at Origen in disbelief. "You give me no end of grief for consorting with thieves, and you're here with him?"
Origen asked, "What're you going on about?"
"He's the leader of the Thieves Guild!"
Kanrik let the hood of his cloak fall. "You're Sakhmeti, and from the accent and the look on your face I'd guess Sakhmeti street thief. Am I right?"
Tomos took several steps back – the Scarabs and the other urchin gangs took care to steer well clear of the Thieves Guild and its enforcers. They didn't take kindly to the street rats making the locals wary. When Tomos was seven, some of the nastier examples of the Guild had even run the Scarabs out of their hideout at the time – Tomos had always known to be more scared of them than the guards. "And what of it? I'm law-abiding now. Got a full royal pardon, gold wax seal and all."
Kanrik smiled – a look which made Tomos want to run very far away, very quickly. "I'm not here to address competing small fry. If my people in Sakhmet can't manage to make a profit because of a bunch of skinny street children, that's their problem. I'm here because Scarblade has decided to crown himself King of All Thieves."
Garin, Tomos, and Lura all snorted at the same moment. Tomos couldn't believe it. King of all Thieves? Might as well call himself the Supreme Herder of Maukets – the result would look the same. Kanrik sighed. "Sadly, it's not as funny as that. He's been commandeering ships, stealing their cargoes and imprisoning their crews. He's got enough pirates behind him to become a force to be reckoned with, and he intends to use that muscle to bring everyone from the heads of the Thieves Guild to the scrawniest Sakhmeti fruit-snatcher to their knees. And he hopes that by the time law-abiding folk decide they ought to care what's going on, he'll have enough power to be able to come after them next.
"Recently, the Thieves Guild received an invitation to surrender to Scarblade. Instead, I called upon Hannah and Armin and tracked the messenger back here – we've worked together in the past. We've been planning how to bring Scarblade down ever since."
Garin said, "Well, sounds like we're all on the same side, then."
Tomos numbered off on his fingers. "So we need to rescue the crew of the Pawkeet, bring Scarblade down a few pegs, and get those three jewels and our treaty back so we can take them to Brightvale."
Origen added, "And if we can catch that sneaking scum Kipras and drag him before a judge in Sakhmet, so much the better."
Saiban said, "Be careful not to overemphasize vengeance, Origen, or you may cause the ruin of us all."
Origen complained, "Can't a fellow dream?"
Lura asked, voice slightly small, "Shouldn't we get off this beach before someone comes along and finds us?"
Hannah nodded. "We're hiding out in a cave not too far from here. It'll give us somewhere more private to hammer this mess out."
This mess was certainly an accurate description, Tomos thought. He tried to sort things out as he walked. One thing was clear – nine people weren't going to beat Scarblade by force. They'd either have to use some stealth and trickery, find more people to help them, or both. Preferably both.
He asked, "What's Scarblade doing with all the prisoners he's taken?"
Armin said, "He's put them to work, building him a fortress on the mountain, docks on the far side of the island, and a road between the two."
Origen added, "We were put on road duty – that's how we were able to sneak off."
Tomos grinned. "It seems to me that none of those workers are likely to be any happier, then – if we can just get them to rise up, we could cause some serious trouble."
Kanrik nodded. "I like it. That'll distract the pirates, and we may be able to get into his new fortress. He's keeping his treasuries somewhere inside."
On this side of the island, the ground began to rise quickly. This was probably a shoulder of the mountain, and the crags of stone among the trees were from when it had first burst out of the earth. Tomos shuddered to think of it – stone and fire shouldn't behave like that.
And then they dropped suddenly into a low gulley – Armin and Jaryth had produced torches, and Tomos could see the cavern mouth at its far end, screened by bushes. Hannah said, "Scarblade chose the smoother slopes for his own domain – it's easier to keep track of his underlings there. But he's also made it easier for his enemies to hide."
When the torches were thrown into the fire at its center, Tomos could see that the cavern was fairly roomy. It reminded him of a Scarab hideout – the smell of slightly burnt food, the pieces of tattered sailcloth hung up on the walls to stop drafts, and the pile of blankets to sleep on against one wall all had the same air of the homes he'd grown up in. He sat down by the fire and asked, "Do we get to eat first, or do we need to plot for our food?"
Origen asked, "What – can't you eat and think at the same time?"
Garin held out his pack. "We only brought food for three, but we prepared for a few days – we'll add whatever we have to the pot. I've always thought eating and plotting go wonderfully together."
Tomos helped with the chores, since he knew well how to make a rough den like this one comfortable. Lay out all the bedrolls to give people places to sit. Build up the fire with the driest wood possible to make it burn bright – the dried driftwood that Armin had collected burned well, and Tomos noted that the skinny Bori, while quiet among his companions, was clearly no fool. And then he helped start the food, and – oh, thank Fyora – Kanrik, Hannah, and Armin had proper Sakhmeti tea leaves! Tomos wasn't sure where the pirates got the nonsense that they drank, but it was in no way real tea. He took a deep drink, and tried not to let the feeling of homesickness swamp him. He couldn't afford to be weak now, if he ever wanted to return there again.
As they started to pass fruit around, they all explained how they had come to be here in more detail, and Kanrik described what they'd seen so far of Scarblade's plans. The news was heartening, at least – he was building fortifications and sheltered roads and watchtowers to make his fortress tight, but they were all half-finished. There were still holes left to be used. But finally, Hannah said, "What you're forgetting is that we have nine. We need to work smart, or all the holes in the world won't do us any good."
Garin said, "If we're going to try and start a rebellion among the workers, I ought to do that. I can't go too near Scarblade or his captains, or they'll recognize me."
Tomos said, "I'll go after the gems."
Everyone turned to look at him. He shrugged. "Well, someone's going to need to do the job, aren't they? And since I was the one who was put in charge of them to start out with, it ought to be me." Why did they all look so shocked? The poor of Sakhmet didn't have much, but they did have their word. And when Tomos made a promise – like the one he'd made to Princess Amira, King Jazan, and Nabile to see this through – he kept it.
Origen said, "I'll go, too. There are a lot of Grarrls in the ranks of Scarblade's bullies, and I'll blend."
Jaryth and Saiban both opened their mouths, but Kanrik cut them off. "He's right about blending in, and Tomos knows stealth. But Jaryth, your beak is far too noticeable, and Saiban, your manner is completely wrong for a pirate. You'll stick out. I'll go with them, and we could use another. Lura, perhaps?"
Lura nodded. "I'd like to go."
Garin nodded as well. "You can do it, Lura. So I'll find the Pawkeet's crew – perhaps we find them tomorrow, make preparations tomorrow night, and then stage our attack the day after?"
Hannah nodded, her delicate features fierce. "I'll go with you – I know the land well here by now. And I've sailed enough that I'm certain some of the workers will recognize me as well."
Armin said, "When it comes to the preparations they'll need, Jaryth, Saiban, and myself will all help with that."
When Hannah grinned, showing more teeth than Tomos thought was really necessary. "And we'll make a big, loud diversion that'll scare Scarblade so much he wouldn't notice you stealing the desert treasure back if the treaty was in his pocket and the gems on his head."
Origen sighed. "Why am I getting the horrible feeling that this is going to be one of those plans where we're going to have to improvise a lot?"
Tomos pointed out what he'd been aware of for a while now. "We were errand boys on a mission from Sakhmet to Meridell via the Brightvale port that an idiot wasn't supposed to be able to mess up. Yet here we are, a bunch of outlaws hunkering down in a cave, trying to keep a demon pirate from taking over Neopia. We hit the improvisation point a while back, and I'm only scared that it's kept happening."
Jaryth pointed out, "Look at it this way – how could it get worse?"
Garin, Origen, and Armin all immediately threw fruit at the desert Eyrie. As Jaryth scowled and rubbed his beak, Origen scolded, "Don't talk like that! That's inviting fate to do something nasty!"
Tomos wasn't quite as worried – he knew what it was like to have his back against a wall. He was a Scarab – he'd spent his childhood in that position. At least they all had weapons, and were going into the fight well-fed.
The rest, he figured they could decide as they went along. They had the leader of the Thieves Guild on their side, and while Tomos wasn't sure if he trusted Kanrik, he was pretty sure that the Gelert was closer to their side than he was Scarblade's, and he would probably be a good person to have on their side when things got nasty.
As he unrolled his blanket and lay down, Tomos went over who he did have on his side – three guards, two pirates with senses of honor and perhaps the rest of their crew if they could rescue them, one high-ranking thief, two adventurers, and… whatever Tomos was.
Just as motley a crew as the Scarabs were. Tomos tended to trust motley – he'd been on the wrong side of big, uniformed groups too often.
And as he drank his tea, he hoped that this particular motley assembly would be what was needed to see this through.
To be continued...