The Warning of the Thief Lord: Caveat Emptor
"Ashes and dust
Beat of the drum
Raise the alarm—
Our foes have come!"
Draconis stood with his back to his guest, his wings spread out as he looked down at Meridell with disapproval. The land was dark yet uneasy; he could see pinpricks of light that betrayed the movements of patrols of the Knights of Meridell through the countryside.
"...So. The Thieves' Guild has mobilized to take control of the obelisk."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I think you are more than aware why."
The ruler of the Darigan Citadel lashed his tail but did not turn around. "You think the Knights will mobilize."
"It is useless to assume they will not. I am not here for diplomacy, Darigan. And I am more than aware you prefer to get right to the point."
"If you're trying to avoid a war, I must warn you that you will not likely be successful." He turned to face the speaker at last. "We simply cannot afford to let the Knights gain control of an object of power."
Despite the hour of the night, his study was dark. A hooded and cloaked Gelert stood in the darker shadows, almost invisible even to the eyes of a nocturnal Neopet. Moonlight alone traced his outline, his location largely betrayed by the shine of steel.
The Thief Lord looked at his dagger absentmindedly. "I agree. That's why we went there. Pardon my plain speaking, but having lived through three wars that took advantage of ancient artifacts... I will do whatever I must to ensure that there is not yet another one."
The Korbat sighed and went over to his desk. He placed his hands upon it and shook his head. "Including attacking any Guards that get too close."
"Naturally. Forgive me for not trusting the Citadel with an object of power," Kanrik noted dryly. "Didn't work so well the last two times."
Draconis didn't respond to this. Despite the extreme disrespect of the statement, Kanrik did have an unfortunately valid feeling of reservation. Which, of course, only made this meeting all the more suspicious. "Again I ask—why bother telling me?"
The canine snorted and lashed his own tail, which made a muffled thumping noise against the wall he was leaning on. Clearly, he found the question neither necessary nor worthwhile.
"Because I'm not stupid. I know that you must look to the interests of the Citadel. I am well aware of how you would take news of Meridell forces—even if they were not Knights—mobilizing for such a purpose. And I know how you would interpret it if Meridell citizens attacked your soldiers en masse." He gave a toothy grin. "I also know that you are a reasonable man and will listen to advice when offered in good will."
Draconis lowered his eyelids, unimpressed. The Neopet before him looked and acted all too familiar. These words that echoed the lies of treacherous spirits did not move his will in the slightest. "You also know I will still be sending units over there."
"Of course. But unlike certain fat kings, I know that if we have this conversation beforehand, you will be willing to at least entertain the notion that fighting first and asking later isn't the wisest of ideas."
"Have you told anyone else about what is going on?"
"A few old friends." The canine yawned and placed a hand on his muzzle in thought. "Subordinate here, acquaintance there. The entire Guild knows. The Altador affiliate knows, as does their ruling council. A couple of freelancers on Terror Mountain know."
"I was willing to ignore this entirely, but if armies are mobilizing, that is another matter."
The thief spread his arms apart in a shrug. "It would be helpful if you stayed out of it, but I find it unlikely."
"You are a shrewd leader, then. I make no formal alliances or promises to you. I do not ally myself with criminal organizations." He interlocked his bony fingers, narrowing his yellow eyes. "But I will readily profess our commitment to avoid unnecessary conflict. The troop sent over will be warned to observe and not to engage with others unless provoked." He pointed the spade-like end of his tail at his smirking visitor. "I suggest you take that rather large favor in mind and remind your more anti-Citadel members there that it is highly unwise to provoke soldiers."
"Caveat emptor, Draconis Drakon. I do not play nice when there are such high stakes. You send your soldiers over there at your own risk. Anyone who comes too close is subject to being repelled. It's your choice—will you force your way through in a display of aggression, or use some common sense and keep your distance?"
"Threats don't work on me. I'm far too old and war-hardened for that," he snorted, flicking an ear. "I will not tell you anything further. Do not provoke me. And do not be fooled into thinking I bend to your will."
The Gelert gave a bark-like laugh. "You would have made a good subordinate, Draconis. It is a great pity we must be at such odds. Mutual distrust does tend to spoil a good level of mutual understanding. We are proud rulers who must ensure we do not bow to another, but that we maintain our sovereignty and ensure our best interests. Well, it is my best interest that the Citadel does not mobilize for war or be tricked into one."
"Your concern is appreciated, despite your attitude. Tell me. If we have a mutual distrust, why should I accept the unspoken premise that YOU will not use this obelisk for tyranny?"
Kanrik spoke with scorn, his hackles raised. "I lived through your assault on Meridell and through the invasion of Kass. I lived through a very dangerous split of my Guild into two factions and suffered the rule of a tyrant, fighting the Bringer of Night and an unholy army of ice soldiers. I have my hands busy running an international organization that relies on secrecy. What use have I for such a thing?"
"The heart is easily corrupted," Draconis warned. "You rely on crime and lies to get by, and force to ensure your success when you feel you are justified. A man like you would be very dangerous if corrupted even just a little further. Will you in your paranoia wage war against a coalition of nations that come merely to investigate the obelisk?"
Kanrik narrowed his eyes but did not answer.
"...I suspected as much."
The Korbat flicked his wrist, sending a blast of Air magic at the double doors. They unlocked and swung outward with a muted and ominous resonating BOOM.
"We have nothing more to gain from each other at the present." He stood, towering over the unwelcome "guest", his wings flaring in warning. "As long as you maintain your current tack, I can assure you that we will not mobilize to attack you. But as soon as I see the signs of you falling to the whispers of The Three, that assurance of non-aggression is entirely and immediately null and void. Now get out."
The thief didn't need to be told twice. Within moments, he was gone.
Draconis waited until he was sure that Kanrik was gone before he went over and closed the doors shut with a slam. He put his face in his hands, curling his tail tightly. "I'm getting too old for this." With another sigh, he strode back to the window and looked down at the land below. "I have little choice but to cast the die. I can only hope we will all be prepared for the consequences."