The Golden Elephante: Part Two
Tazaa's home turned out to be one of five rooms in the narrow building. They climbed a flight of chipped steps to a landing that contained a wooden door that looked like it had been forcibly removed from its hinges several times. The Desert Gelert danced ahead on light paws, while Souvier felt quite slow in comparison, his two hind legs no match for all four of hers. She seemed rather surprised when she reached the top and turned around to find him only halfway up the steps.
"You're very slow, you know," she said, having seemingly decided that once he decided to travel with her she could indirectly insult him as much as she wanted.
"Well, you said it yourself that these robes are slowing me down," he said in a mock tired voice, holding his arms out and making his already melancholy face settle into despair.
She gave a delighted giggle and then turned to creak the door open.
"Ta da," she said, waving a lazy paw at the mess beyond.
He felt that the only thing he could do was stare. His own room at home was meticulously clean, with each item carefully delegated its own spot. Tazaa seemed to think that everything's place belonged of top of everything else, with several more items hanging off the sides. She caught his look and chuckled.
"It may look like chaos, but it's organised chaos," she said. "Let me think... where did I put that spare backpack... Aha!" and she strode into the room, reaching into a pile of who-knows-what draped with several items of clothing, and plucked a rather worn-looking brown bag from amidst the pile. "Here it is," she declared as she dusted it off. "I know where everything in this room is, so don't go giving me that horrified look," she chastened, tossing the backpack his way.
He caught it and draped it over his arm. It was more like a sack with straps for his shoulders and several pockets, and simply hung limp, waiting to be filled out with items. "And where is that spare clothing that you were talking about?" he asked, a bit of smug challenge in his voice.
He was disappointed when she skipped over to an area near the pallet on the floor and produced a set of robes that looked more his size. It also didn't look like it needed to be wrapped around his body in a complicated fashion, for which he was glad.
"Here," she said, carefully hanging them over his arm. "I'll get the maps, and the compass, and the medical kit..." As she spoke she pulled a number of items from the chaos and placed them on the only clear spot in the room, her pallet. He had to admit he was slightly impressed, but that was more to do with the fact that despite the growing pile of stuff on the bed, the piles on the floor never seemed to shrink. What did someone need with so much stuff?
"Got any neopoints?" she asked him abruptly, a travelling headscarf in one paw and a waterskin in the other.
"Of course," he said. He reached inside his robes and pulled out the secure bag that held most of his savings. It was still quite fat, and jingled merrily.
"Good," she said. "Hide them again, we may need them. I hope you know how to defend yourself."
Souvier thought back to his sister Kieavin, the battledomer of the family. She had attempted more than once to show him some fighting moves, but she was just too exuberant to spar effectively with. Then he thought of the play fights with his giant Werelupe brother.
"Well, yes, I suppose I do," he said. "You think we might be attacked?"
"Probably not on a main road to Qasala, but the lands further south are bit less tame. Here, this is your pile." She indicated the neat little stack on the bed, and he quickly filled his bag. Then she helped him into his new robes, which took a lot more effort than he would have imagined. "There, don't you just look spiffy," she said with undisguised pride. "Let's go!"
"Now?" Souvier asked, looking at the afternoon sun. "Shouldn't we wait until tomorrow morning?"
"Nah," she said. "The message sounded urgent. And besides, any time is a good time to travel as long as the sun is up."
She led the way back down the stairs and into the street, stopping at a store selling imported wood so they could make a campfire that night. "It gets freezing out on the sands," she told him as they left the grand gates of Sakhmet behind them.
And somehow walking out of the great Desert city made Souvier feel like he was truly beginning an adventure. Even leaving Neopia Central hadn't felt like this, with this feeling of resolve. He had entered Sakhmet without any idea of what he was doing there, but now he walked out with a purpose.
Later that night Tazaa taught him how to make a campfire. The sun was quickly sinking towards the horizon, and with it the last heat of the day was dissipating. Only the sand still retained some heat, warm against his scales when he reached down to touch it.
"You seriously don't know how to make a fire?" Tazaa asked as the sparks danced off her dagger and flint.
"Well, I've always used matches," he mumbled defensively. She sighed and forced him to try it. It took him several attempts just to get a few sparks, and he finally had to relinquish the flint so they wouldn't freeze to death.
"So," she said, warming her hands against the flames as they danced towards the stars. "Tell me more about yourself."
"Well, I'm just a normal pet," Souvier began, then decided that there was no such thing. "I was painted grey several years ago, so long ago I can't really remember. After that I was traded around a lot. People seem to like grey pets, especially a 'rare' one like me."
She eyed him critically. "You look just the same as any other pet, to me. Oh, well excepting species, of course. But humans trading pets?" She shook her head in disgust. "And I thought I was bad back when I was a thief."
"You were a thief?" Souvier asked, finally realising the origins of her accent.
He expected her to look slightly defensive, but she just laughed and nodded. "Six or seven years ago. I was busy running around in the streets of Sakhmet, stealing for my supper." She looked solemn for a moment. "That's why I like helping the urchins out. I never actually give them the money, just leave it lying around where they can see it. Trust me, an urchin can see an unguarded coin a mile away."
"So how did you get where you are?" Souvier questioned, eyeing the enormous ring on her finger.
She caught his glance and lovingly stroked the lapis. "Well, one day someone told me I should do something with my life, so the next time I heard that a family heirloom had been stolen I stole it back. From the thieves guild, of all people. They always think that no one will cross them, and they certainly didn't expect a street urchin to. I still don't think they know who took it back, even to this day.
"But anyway, here I was holding this giant gold necklace, set with these emeralds that would feed me for the rest of my life. And I knew there was no way I could sell the thing without someone asking questions. So I did the only thing I could think of. I gave it back."
Souvier laughed. "I see. And that's why you specialise in fetching back artefacts."
"Exactly. The lady who owned it was so grateful that I returned her great-great-great grandmother's necklace that she gave me several gold coins in reward. I used them to purchase my place, and put the word around that I could help find anything stolen. After all, I knew the city like the back of my paw. And then I got some more interesting offers. I once ventured into some old ruins near one of the pyramids to find some items for research. That was a grand adventure."
"And no one realised you used to be an urchin?" Souvier asked, fascinated by her story.
She shrugged. "Well, I think a few people might remember, but I changed my name. Itja used to be the only name I had, and apparently it means 'little thief', so I changed it, but I didn't have the heart to drop it altogether. So now it's my last name."
"So what does Tazaa mean?"
She grinned at him, happily flicking her tail about. "It means 'fresh start', which is exactly what I needed."
There was silence for a while as the fire slowly crackled away. Souvier could feel a chill creeping into his bones, and huddled closer.
"Anyway." Tazaa's voice made him look up at her face, which was flickering with shadows. "You never finished your story. Did you run away from the humans who were trying to trade you?"
"No. I found one who was happy to keep me forever. She's very sweet, and mostly lets me do want I want. My siblings are a handful, though. One of my brothers is an adventurer, and one of them is a scholar, so I decided I deserved to find something to do with my life."
"Well, now you're both!" Tazaa said happily, putting an arm around him for a moment, then waving both paws in the air in excited gestures. "You're starting an adventure, and you're sort of a scholar."
He grinned at her. "You know, I can't believe you don't know how to read."
"Well, we don't have those Neoschool places down here. If you're lucky your parents will teach you, or if you're rich your parents will hire someone to teach you. But for me to hire someone? That would cost way too much and I don't have the time to linger in one place for months."
Now it was Souvier's turn to put an arm around her. "I'll tell you what. When we get to Qasala I'll buy some scrolls and teach you."
She turned to him with bright eyes. "Would you really?" He nodded fiercely. "Thank you!"
She didn't stop grinning the rest of the night, and he swore that when she fell asleep later, wrapped in her blanket, she was still smiling.
To be continued...