The Scarab and the Sea: Part Eight
Tomos was awoken when it was still dark the next morning by Garin tripping over him. "Sweet Fyora!"
Tomos growled back, "I should be the one saying that – I'm the one who just got stepped on! Watch where you're going!" He sat up, blinking to try and see in the dimness before dawn and the shadows of their hideout. Hannah was silhouetted against the cave entrance. "You two leaving?"
Hannah nodded. "We want to be in place before the workers come out."
Tomos said, "Nuria bless you, then." Then he rolled over, hoping he'd be able to snatch a bit more sleep before sunrise roused the rest of them.
But he wondered what they were doing. Kanrik had lent them a full set of lock picks – Tomos had never had a lock pick that was more than a bent bit of wire, and now that he was in a position to actually afford real ones he had no need for them. He'd tried not to let his curiosity show, but Garin had unabashedly behaved like a child with a new toy. Tomos was fairly certain that by the time the two Usuls returned tonight, the pirates wouldn't be half as secure as they thought they were.
Maybe he ought to invest in a nice set of lock picks himself. They might be useful, as long as he didn't let Raq or Yari near them – the youngest two Scarabs weren't entirely sure that food, beds, and clothes that fit were a good trade for the lawlessness they'd grown up with.
He realized that he was already thinking too clearly – he wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep, so he might as well get up, build up the fire again, and start the tea. Both Lura and Origen were as nasty as Werhonds in the morning until they'd gotten something hot to drink. He got up and folded his blanket over, and then Garin's and Hannah's, as well – it was silly housekeeping work, but the girls had always insisted that even if they were thieves, they ought to keep what they did have as neat as possible.
He missed them. He missed all of them. He'd lost track of exactly what day it was, but he was certain that he should have already gotten to Meridell. The three gems would have allowed King Jazan to anchor a transportation spell, the fancy royal people would be having their discussions, and Tomos would be back in Sakhmet where he belonged. Not in some Fyora-forsaken place where the sand was damp with seawater.
He knew he had a job to do. He knew he had a mission to complete. But he wished he could get started already, rather than sitting here putting tea leaves into a pot and rebuilding the fire. Now, he had time to think. Would Friedrich have gotten word back to Sakhmet and Qasala yet? Tomos hoped that the Scarabs hadn't given him up for dead. He hoped they'd know that he'd keep fighting, just as they would. But he also knew that, even if they weren't grieving, they'd be worrying themselves sick.
Lura asked groggily, "Is that tea?"'
Tomos turned to her – she was crawling out of her blanket, her hair flying in every direction. "It will be in a moment."
No use in brooding. He tried to tell himself that. But he still wished that tomorrow would hurry up and come already. Sneaking into the fortress would be more dangerous than Tomos normally liked, but just sitting here on a pirate island was dangerous as well. And they'd have Kanrik – Tomos was just about certain that the leader of the Thieves Guild would be even better at sneaking than a Sakhmet street thief.
Lura grabbed a clay cup and poured her tea. "We should all spar today – make sure we're in practice. We'll probably need our blades tomorrow."
Tomos nodded. Trying to batter each other to pieces would be a good way to while away the hours. Then Lura said softly, "I hope our crew's okay."
Tomos nodded. At least he knew that the Scarabs were safe at home, and Origen, Jaryth, and Saiban all snored contentedly across the cave. He didn't know what to say – he wasn't good with comforting people. He suggested, "Maybe we should eat fast and go outside – we don't want to wake anyone up who doesn't want to be awoken."
Lura looked over at one of the skinnier lumps in blankets. "I doubt the leader of the Thieves Guild is a morning person, and as far as I'm concerned he doesn't have to be."
Tomos snickered – clearly, she felt the same way he did. He was impressive, and good to have on their side, but in his way he was as scary as King Jazan. Maybe a little scarier – Tomos knew that the Kyrii king wouldn't try to kill him, at the very least because it would make Nabile unhappy.
After they'd fought two rounds against each other – they'd each won one – Origen came out to join them, followed by Jaryth and Saiban, and then Armin. The sun was well into the sky before Kanrik finally emerged. They all practiced together until the sun was high and the air got so hot and humid that Tomos wondered if the water had risen when they weren't looking. Lura moaned, "Oh, that's it. Let's get back in the shade."
Kanrik nodded – the heat had melted even his icy composure. "There's a reason I like to stay in the Terror Mountain headquarters." Armin nodded fervent agreement.
Origen commented, "I don't mind heat. But heat's supposed to be dry, not green and damp and sticky."
Jaryth moaned, "And sand certainly is not supposed to be wet."
Saiban merely watched impassively, but he walked as quickly as they did back to the cool shelter of the cave. When they got there, Saiban said, "We may as well use this time. Kanrik, would you explain the layout of Scarblade's compound to us again?"
Tomos had really intended to listen. But he'd sat down on his blanket, and then lay back, and before he took in anything he was fast asleep.
He was woken up by someone shaking him. "Huh? What?"
He opened his eyes – Jaryth said, "Garin and Hannah are back!"
Tomos pulled himself to his feet – he realized it was much darker now. He said, "We'll have to work fast tomorrow, you know – it's too Fyora-blasted hot out here in the middle of the day."
Hannah said, "But you're from the desert! It's a whole lot hotter there – I've visited."
Jaryth complained, "It's not the heat – it's the fact that you could drink the air!"
Garin announced proudly, "My crew's all safe, sound, and ready to wreak some havoc. Jacques and Jim each have some lock picks – they're going to let everyone out tonight, and by tomorrow there'll be a full-out revolt. And while the pirates are running around like mad, you'll be able to sneak into the fortress. You Sakhmeti can help the rebels make battle plans, right?"
Jaryth and Saiban nodded. Garin continued, "And Liassak said the Maraquans are close – he's no good with communication magic himself, but he can receive messages from others."
Hannah asked, "Armin, would you go where Liassak tells you tomorrow, so you can lead the Maraquans in?"
Armin took a deep breath, but then nodded. "It needs to be done."
They talked again – most of the plans had to do with how Hannah, Garin, Jaryth, and Saiban were going to lead the rebelling workers, but Tomos listened more attentively now, since he'd slept through the earlier discussion. His group merely had to get into the fortress and find where Scarblade was keeping his treasure. Hopefully, when they realized that the Maraquans knew where they were, the pirates would try to scatter and leave the island, and Scarblade would be forced to regroup.
They had the plan, so what was left was to carry it out.
The group of nine left before dawn the next morning to cross the island. Tomos took a deep breath, reminding himself that being nervous or twitchy was a completely useless waste of energy, since what would happen would happen.
But that didn't stop the pit of his stomach from twisting. He'd decided he really hated the anticipation before something crazy happened. Did you ever get used to it?
He remembered watching General Dacon pacing back and forth before he left for an offensive against desert bandits. Maybe you didn't – or maybe it was just best not to. A bit of healthy fear went a long way toward keeping a guy's skin intact. He could also channel that fear into watching the ground – there were strange noises in the undergrowth, and Tomos kept waiting to have his feet bitten by some malicious wild Petpet.
As light began to color the sky, Hannah said, "We're close. Time to split up."
Kanrik gestured for his group to wait as the others disappeared quickly into the jungle. Tomos looked at Lura, who was shaking, and Origen, who was scowling. He couldn't resist commenting, "Looks like I'm the closest thing to a law-abiding man you've got, my friend."
Origen snorted, but the corners of his mouth twitched in what could almost have been a grin. "And don't I know it."
Most people Tomos knew held a finger to their lips when they wanted to silence someone. Kanrik pulled out a knife and looked at it meaningfully. Still, it worked. Tomos kept his mouth shut as they kept walking through the dark tangle of greenery.
And then they reached the top of a rise, and as they crouched behind bushes Tomos could see Scarblade's fortress.
There was a walled compound on the slope of the mountain, close to the sea, with a small dock close by it. A road with a ditch being dug beside it – probably a channel for water – led off into the distance. Over there would be the big docks and the places for the pirates. There were other foundations laid out by Scarblade's fortress – probably for people he wanted close, but not too close. He'd clearly planned this with an eye for paranoia. Tomos looked around – he didn't see any sentries looking this way. Kanrik whispered, "Go! We'll get close, and we'll sneak in once the shouting starts."
They crept up close to the wall of the fortress – while the big trees had been cut down to make the wooden wall, the underbrush had only been halfheartedly attacked, and it was easy enough to make their way unseen by the single sentry at the gate.
Lura whispered, "That type doesn't trust sentries – they didn't get to where they are by hoping someone else would look after them. There won't be too many."
Then there was a horn blast, and the sound of shouting, and Tomos saw a plume of smoke rising farther down the road. Tomos whispered, "We can use this to get in!"
It was Origen who got the plan first – he got up and ran toward the gate, and the others followed. Origen shouted, "Let us in!"
The sentry said, "The lord's holding court – it is important, right, mates?"
Tomos pointed at the smoke. "Does that look important to you?"
The sentry nodded. "Go in, then!" He was eyeing the scrubby grasses and vines as they left, clearly wondering if he could get out of here before this got worse. Tomos hoped he would – there would be no pleasure in taking out the guy who was clearly too dim to do more than whatever got yelled at him.
Inside, the ground was merely packed dirt. Several outlying buildings were in varying stages of construction – most only had roofs made out of straw and leaves. But the central fortress was complete. Scarblade would be there. He would have looked to himself first, and he would hold his court there to remind the greedy idiots who had sworn themselves to a pirate that they ought to look to him first, too.
But then Origen pointed out a shadow in a corner – a shadow with a tail, whose back was turned to them. "Kipras!"
Tomos couldn't repress a grin – he had been prepared to ignore the Wocky for the sake of the larger struggle, but if an opportunity presented itself to scare him, he wasn't going to miss it. He'd started this disaster, and Tomos would be glad to deliver the bill.
Kanrik whispered, "He'll be the perfect one to tell us where the treasure is. Get him!"
To be continued...