Once a Thief: Part Five
The ironic part of the location of the Defenders of Neopia post in Qasala was that it was a fifteen minute trudge through the desert from Elrique's home. It was just beyond the sand dunes. The Defenders could arrive at the Qasalan post within a moment's notice, but had not a clue that the largest faction of thieves in Neopia was so close to them.
Vaughn raised his shoulder and rammed it into the wooden door twice before it burst from its hinges and collapsed to the ground. A pink Pteri inside wearing glasses and reading a book at her desk looked up in horror. "LEO! LEO, HELP!" she screamed, reaching for the Defenders of Neopia panic button on the wall. But Nabile was there first and grabbed the Pteri's wing before she could reach the button. She twisted it behind her back and yanked her up from the chair.
"What was that crash, Amelia?" A brown Moehog emerged from the only door that led out of the lobby with a sword in hand. Leo gawked at the sight of Amelia being held back by a cloaked figure, and had ample time to react to another one lunging at him with a dagger. Leo sidestepped the figure's attack and tried to retaliate, but Vaughn swiftly drew his dagger up to block the sword that was aimed to strike at his chest. He pushed it away and threw Leo into the decaying wall and created an even bigger hole atop the existing ones. He pinned the Moehog's flailing arms back against the wall, crushing his wrists until the sword was dropped. "Don't try anything," Vaughn hissed.
"Excuse us," Elrique replied gruffly, and with his hands folded behind his back, motioned to Ingilaug to follow him downstairs. Vaughn reached for the ring of keys clipped to Leo's belt loop and tossed them to Elrique as he walked by and snatched them from the air.
There was a winding staircase in the only other room besides the lobby that led to a dark basement. Elrique went first, demonstrating his prevailing dominance as leader, and listened behind him for the slightest misstep that Ingilaug might have taken, signaling that she had something else up her sleeve.
For being situated in the middle of a desert, the hallway was incredibly damp. Mildew caused from the humidity built up and created unbearable breathing conditions. On either side of the aisle were five cells with half of the ten being occupied. The first cell housed a tired blue Ogrin. Upon seeing her, Ingilaug pulled down her face scarf. "Willa!"
"Ingilaug!" Willa cried out in astonishment. "You're back!"
"Say nothing to her," Elrique remarked bitterly.
Ingilaug bit her lip and merely grazed over the blue Ogrin with petty eyes. The cell next to Willa was empty, but Saraoka sat in the third.
"Good to see you," she muttered. Saraoka the red Ogrin did not do well in such conditions. The sight pained Ingilaug greatly.
Across from Saraoka was one of the largest Grarrls that both Elrique and Ingilaug had ever seen. The Darigan's wings took up most of the tiny cell. He said absolutely nothing, but words were not needed to instill fear; a snarl that escaped his throat made Ingilaug recoil. The mutant Grundo in the next cell did not lighten the mood either, as his beaming red eyes challenged the siblings to dare approach him. But the fire Blumaroo that was across from him drastically altered the mood.
"Jesqe!" Elrique took off his face scarf and frantically tried to find the key that unlocked her cell. Jesqe, realizing who the figure was, gasped and grabbed at the cell bars. After a few tries the cell door swung upon, and Jesqe leaped out and into Elrique's arms. He held her tightly to his chest and buried his face in her shoulder.
"My darling..." he whispered. The Krawk had dreamed about this moment for so long. "It's been so long. I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too, Elrique." Jesqe held back tears. "I can't believe it's really you."
"You're weak." He stepped back to examine her frail stature. "We'll take you back to my home. I live in Qasala not far from here. You'll be treated like the princess that you are."
Ingilaug gave a sad smile to her sister as she stayed wrapped in Elrique's arms. It was always evident that Jesqe favored Elrique when she was little, and after the recent events, today was no exception. But Ingilaug did not see the situation as heartfelt with the Grarrl and Grundo creeping closer to their cell bars.
"Come, let's leave this wretched place," Elrique insisted and held Jesqe's paw tightly. She wiped away the tears forming in her eyes and followed him. The Krawk briefly glared back at his eldest sister to make sure that she was close behind him, and Ingilaug was indeed following her siblings. What he failed to see, however, were the keys that one of the Ogrins held.
They reemerged to the sight of the Pteri and Moehog sitting in the middle of the floor, tied back to back with rope found in the supply closet. Nabile and Vaughn hovered around them and Carson stood in the empty doorway.
"You can't do this, you masked hooligans!" Leo protested. "You are violating the code of the Defenders of Neopia! That Blumaroo is a thief!"
"Forgive us." Elrique rolled his eyes. "Hooligans... does he really think that term covers it all? No matter. Let's go. And the rest of you..." He eyed the three staying behind. "Work quickly."
The Nightsteed could not stop the fear that had built up inside him in regards to Jazan. The royal Qasalan disliked being checked on so regularly, but he had not come out of hiding all day.
"Jazan?" The Nightsteed called out from the hallway, standing in front of the doors that led to King Jazan's bedchamber. "Jazan, you have not come out all day. It is late in the evening and you have not even had dinner... is everything all right?"
"Come in," came a muffled reply, and the Nightsteed slowly pushed the door open and poked his head inside. His eyes settled on an unfamiliar sight of the king dressed in his fine robes, sitting on the edge of his bed in a hunched over position with his face buried in his hands. Jazan wearily looked up at his most trusted companion.
"You look quite upset, old friend. What's the matter?" The Nightsteed stepped inside and nudged the door shut behind him.
"It's Nabile," he said with a sigh. "I'm quite worried about her."
"What can you sense?"
"That's the problem... I can't sense her presence anywhere. It feels as if I'm cut off from her."
Jazan was always worried about his wife. Even when she was home he was quite protective of her. The Nightsteed insisted that he give her a little more freedom which is why he approved of her traveling across Neopia on her own. "I'm sure everything will be fine. Was she not on her way to Shenkuu to stay at the palace?" he tried to remind him.
"I recently got in contact with the Emperor. He had no knowledge that Nabile was visiting. She should have arrived by now, but nothing."
The Nightsteed was silent. It was incredibly unlike Nabile to lie about where she was. "Unless something more dire came up, I am sure Nabile is fine. She can put up quite the fight no matter the situation."
"I cannot go on with the day without knowing what Nabile is doing... if she's safe," protested Jazan.
"When did she say that she would return?"
"She was not certain."
The Nightsteed sighed. "Give it time."
A few minutes had passed by that consisted of Carson carefully disarming the Defenders of Neopia button.
"Why don't you speak? Say something explaining your actions!" Leo the Moehog eyed Nabile and Vaughn who stood idly by. They both shrugged, not wanting to say anything that might blow their cover.
"I'm done with this." Carson stepped back and proudly examined his handiwork.
"Excellent. Now let's look for valuables," ordered Vaughn.
Just as he spoke, the sound of clanging rang through the building.
"What was that?" Carson froze.
With a flick of his wrist, the dagger protruded from under Vaughn's sleeve. He gripped it and with incredible stealth snuck towards the sound of the crash, eyeing the button to imply to Carson that it stay guarded.
"That sound came from the cells." Amelia shuddered. "They sounded like they were being opened."
Carson froze. "Opened? Who else is there?"
"Look for yourself!"
The roaring mutant Grundo came barreling into the lobby, missing Vaughn hiding behind the entrance. He headed for the first individual he saw, which happened to be Carson. The Wocky withdrew his dagger and swiped at him, but the Grundo slammed his paw down and struck a devastating blow to the side of his face. Carson stumbled back but quickly straightened up and continued to divert the Grundo's attacks. "Trying to put up a fight against me?" the Grundo growled.
"Carson!" Vaughn called out as he felt a short breath down the back of his neck. He quickly swung around to face what was the Darigan Grarrl and used his arm to block his punch, trying to connect with one of his own but missing as the Grarrl ducked and rammed into him headfirst. Vaughn sidestepped around him and used the momentum so that the Grarrl was knocked headfirst into the secretary desk. As all this happened, two Ogrins entered the lobby and crossed their arms at the sight of a lone, disguised Nabile.
"Look a little nervous, eh?" the red Ogrin yelled out above the chaos as they slowly cornered her.
Nabile saw Vaughn glance at her but shook her head, not yet in need of help.
"Come now, what's your name?" one of them purred. "I'm Saraoka and this is Willa. We're friendly."
Nabile refusing to speak to them made them quite annoyed, and their attitudes turned around instantly.
"That cloak of yours covers quite a lot. Must have some dangerous weapons under there?"
"Are you trying to hide your ugly face with that scarf?"
That did it for Nabile. In one quick motion she pulled the daggers hiding under her cloak and jabbed at the Ogrins. Saraoka dodged the surprise attack but Willa was struck, and she winced at the deep gash on her arm.
"You'll pay for that!" she screeched, and the two took out their weapons in retaliation. Nabile braced herself and watched as Carson and Vaughn continued to be involved in their own battles. Three against four, she thought bitterly. I don't like these odds.
To be continued...