Once a Thief: Part Three
Don't show fear. Don't show confidence. Don't show anything for the matter. The phrase spoken by Carson's older brother continued to replay in his mind. The shadow Wocky was by his brother's side as the two walked down the final stretch of magnificent hallway that led to Elrique's office. Vaughn, one of Elrique's longest tenured workers that doubled as a skilled con artist and leader, had finally earned the approval of his boss to allow his younger brother Carson into the faction.
Carson must have absentmindedly muttered something to himself because Vaughn raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement to his younger sibling's distress. "Carson, now is not the time to panic." he said in a soothing voice.
"Who is he?" Carson blurted out, to which the fire Eyrie sighed. "Who is Elrique?"
Vaughn continued to face forward. "He will tell you for himself."
"No one in all of Neopia knows who he is. Those that think they do know him as a stockbroker. They see dozens of individuals come in and out of the surely heavily guarded mansion but then they disappear before any questions can be asked."
"What are you trying to say?"
"This guy isn't a stockbroker and you definitely don't advise him on stocks."
Vaughn smirked. "Your intuition is spot on. You're going to fit right in here."
Quincy was standing outside the enormous mahogany door. Upon seeing Vaughn, he nodded in approval and opened the door.
"Good afternoon, Elrique," Vaughn called out across the vast office. His voice reached the golden walls that towered up to a ceiling painted entirely of Krawk Island.
"And a good afternoon to you, Vaughn," Elrique continued to scribble on the parchment. "As always, excellent job in the field yesterday. Worthwhile captures, both animate and inanimate."
"It was hardly the challenge," Vaughn grinned and stepped to the side to draw attention to the timid Wocky. "Elrique, this is Carson."
Elrique stopped writing and looked up at Carson. "He can have a seat. I'll send him on his way after we're done here."
Vaughn nodded. Before he left he eyed his brother curiously, trying to read his thoughts. Vaughn had sacrificed so much to get Carson to this moment.
"Your brother is one of the best in my group. If he has passed on half of his talent to you, then you are truly skilled and will be of great value to this faction." Elrique remarked as Carson sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
"Indeed," Carson paused to make sure his wording was not out of line. "Vaughn has taught me a great deal. I just never knew why he went out of his way to make me learn all these skills. And to be honest, I still don't know why. I don't know what I'll contribute to this... faction that you mention. I don't even know what being part of the faction entails."
"You weren't supposed to know the truth until this moment," Elrique answered. "But now your questions will be answered. So ask away."
Carson tried to suppress the astonished look on his face. "Forgive me, it's just the fact that I can ask you anything... I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain about where to start."
"How about I start it off for you?"
Elrique leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head."Since you were young your brother has trained you in the art of deception. From what I can gather from his reports, you have surpassed all the tests I would have given to newcomers such as yourself. He told me stories of how you scammed millions from shops, how you took artefacts that were being displayed in plain sight with hundreds of eyes on them at all times. I believe you even took out a few opponents using hand-to-hand combat? You may have thought this training was out of the sheer goodness of Vaughn's heart to look out for his brother in trying times, but there was a bigger picture in all of this. Vaughn made you into someone ideal for this faction. He trained you so that when you came of age you could seamlessly join my men without having to undergo any arduous tests to prove your loyalty. What I am trying to say is that you have a guaranteed future of wealth. Carson, you are the newest member of the most successful crime ring in Neopia, and as its leader, I welcome you."
Carson had no idea what just transpired.
"I knew Vaughn was part of something like this," he huffed. "I knew his passion wasn't stocks."
"Who needs stocks with a gig like mine?" Elrique flashed a smile. "But enough of that. Any questions?"
Where to possibly start? "Just how many are working for you?"
"That exact number I keep to myself. But no less than twenty."
"How can you keep track of all of them? How do you know they won't go against you?"
Silence. From the look on Elrique's face, he had never been confronted with the question.
"They have absolutely no reason to betray me."
Carson nodded understandingly. He did not want to come off as nosy, so he ended his question asking. "That's it from me, I guess."
"One more thing," Elrique's voice was hushed. "Should you deceive me in any way, you will never see the light of day again. And neither will your brother."
That must have been how Elrique kept such a tight leash on his faction. The words made Carson feel faint. Despite the madness that Elrique was willing to kill both brothers even if only one betrayed the faction, Carson remained emotionless. Their deadlock gazes broke when the door opened and Quincy the rousing Skeith stepped inside.
"Sir, you have a visitor." he bellowed.
From the tone of Quincy's voice, Elrique knew it was someone of importance. With one last look at Carson, he nodded. "We're done here. Report to Vaughn."
"Of course. Thank you." Carson hastily got up and bowed awkwardly, showing himself out.
He has a lot to learn, but it can be done. Elrique thought to himself. Out of the corner of his eye, Elrique could see Carson's reaction as he saw who was waiting outside the door. He knew it could only be one person.
"Let them in, Quincy." Elrique ordered and flipped through some papers confirming every item taken from Desert Arms. His thoughts were interrupted by the familiar clicking of sandals on the marble floor.
"Hello, Elrique!" a cheerful voice rang throughout the office and Elrique raised his head.
"It's good to see you Nabile," Elrique grinned at the sight of Qasalan royalty. Nabile was draped
in a traditional rose-colored Qasalan robe, her purple hair pulled back into a braid. Her silver ring reflected off light from the skylight, and Elrique winced at the reminder of her ruthless husband.
"Same goes for you," the pink Ixi strolled over to Elrique's desk and sat in one of the velvet chairs. "I just noticed that you put new tile in the parlor."
"I wasn't a fan of the color you had chosen."
"It complimented the drapes!"
Elrique was constantly entertained by the usual bickering the two made about the home. When looking into buying the mansion, Elrique had only dealt with consultants of the Qasalan royalty. He was not expecting that Nabile would show up on the day of the final payment, speaking to him about the lavish household and all that it had to offer. Nabile was certain that she had met Elrique before, but she could not pinpoint exactly where. Elrique knew quite well, however. He had encountered her before when she was still with the Desert Scarabs and he was just starting his career in the Lost Desert. After much persistence, Elrique told Nabile why he looked so familiar, to which the Ixi asked if he was still working as a thief. At first Elrique claimed he was not, for telling the Queen of Qasala that a ban of thieves that rob all of Neopia are right outside your city was not the best idea. But she had chuckled at that statement. "Once a thief, always a thief." She had replied in reference to herself. And then the rest was history.
"I've just returned from Faerieland. Spectacular place in much better condition than last time I was there." she reported.
"Did Jazan go with you?" Elrique mused and folded his arms across his chest.
"Goodness no. I begged him to, but no luck," she shrugged. "I wanted to stop here on the way home, you see. I brought you some gifts." Nabile playfully opened a silk bag that she hid behind her back to reveal six faerie slingshots jumbled up inside.
"Excellent," Elrique remarked as she handed him the bag. "You do manage to get the very best."
"Snatching these from Fyora's secret Hidden Tower vault was no easy task and I loved every second of it. Being a part of this faction is the best decision I've made in a while. It's exhilarating." She sighed dreamily.
"I'm glad you're here, Nabile." the Krawk nodded. He sensed uneasiness on her face, so he waited for her to speak next.
"I've been wanting to ask you... I guess there's no easy way around this so I'll just say it..."
Nabile shifted with anticipation. "I'd like to be assigned to a raid."
He sighed. This day was going to come sooner or later; after all, Nabile had been with the faction for a year. The faction leader ordered Nabile to only retrieve expensive items if she was traveling on her own, visiting parts of Neopia that requested her of her royal duties. Just this past week Nabile went to Faerieland to meet with Fyora. The Ixi thief needed no briefing from Elrique as she knew what items formerly from the Hidden Tower would be considered part of a successful heist.
"Nabile, you and I both know why that isn't possible."
The predicted response. "I'll wear a disguise!" she protested immediately as she already expected his reply. "I'll drink a morphing potion! No one will know that it's me."
"It's not because of your appearance, which can be masked quite easily," Elrique retorted. "If something were to happen to you... your husband would not be merciful on me."
"Jazan hasn't figured out what I've been doing for years, and he won't anytime soon," she folded her arms across her chest. "It's not like I'm new to this. I've been craving a raid for the longest time!"
"Please respect my decision in not allowing you a spot on a raid." Elrique said. He was also praying that the topic would disappear. No such luck.
"I've brought you so much from my travels!" she whined. "I join your faction so I could relive a part of me that has been hidden for so long. I've made you infinitely richer, and the least you could do is allow ME to do more."
"I'm sorry, Nabile, I truly am. It's just that I do not want to deal with repercussions from Jazan if something were to happen to you."
"He's a sweetheart, really." Nabile stuck her nose in the air.
"A sweetheart that can sense when you're in distress."
She sprang up in a huff and slammed both her hands on Elrique's desk. "Start me on a low-tier raid and I'll work my way up, hm?"
"Like what?" Elrique scoffed. "Stealing a petpet? I don't bother with those things."
"I'll do it!" Nabile slammed her fist down in a flash of excitement. "I'll steal a petpet from that stand in Sahkamet!"
Elrique opened his mouth to say something witty but bit back his tongue. There was no turning back now. What was the worst that could possibly happen? It was not like Nabile was new to this. "Bring me a Crystacat and we'll talk business. Go unnoticed, of course."
"Expect one by sunset!" Nabile beamed and rushed out, determined to prove that she would not mess anything up for the faction that graciously accepted her.
To be continued...