The Ixi Raiders of Cogham Village
Muttering to himself, Azzim paced along the high rocky cliffs looming over Cogham Village. "I have pillaged trading caravans," he muttered for the eighth time. "I have attacked innocent adventurers. Why am I the only Ixi Raider who cannot raid Cogham village?"
Below Azzim, the children of the village were chasing each other around the huts. Tadd, the tiniest villager, scurried around with the other children. Azzim gave a small chuckle as the Techo stumbled, covering his green skin in gritty mud.
Azzim's heart began constraining with sympathy and grief once more as Crokabeks cawed from nearby tree branches, the sharp echoes bouncing from the cliff side. Bringing his hand up to his chest, Azzim clenched some of his brown Ixi fur.
"Why must we destroy their lives today?"
The sun was rising halfway across the sky, beating a record heat upon the dry rocks of Crokabek Ridge. Azzim stood at attention, lining along other Ixis; to his left Naflin, a large black Ixi, his defined muscles shadows even in the rays of the afternoon sun, to Azzim's right, Islai, a gorgeous purple Ixi, her white tattoos encircling her violet eyes, behind him, Oxu, a lanky white Ixi. The crokabeks cawed loudly, drowning out the soft hiss of moisture being sucked into the scorching sky.
"As all of you know..." the Ixi Chieftain began, pacing amongst the ranks of Raiders, his bellowing voice silencing the Crokabeks, his brown fur beginning to glisten from sweat. "I have personally selected each one of you to partake in a raid. While the Darkest Faerie ruled we were prosperous, feared, and respected by those pesky Neopets but now they go about frolicking as if we hardly exist!"
To Azzim's left Naflin's deep voice spoke up. "Chief, how do you plan to raid?" Naflin took a deep breath continuing, "Shall we steal from their store? Chase them from the village? Release a flock of Crokabeks upon them?"
Rubbing his russet goatee, the Chieftain turned to look at the lines of Ixi Raiders once more. "No. We shall kidnap a few of them and send word to King Skarl of a ransom held for each Neopet captured." The Chieftain turned back to face them, his red eyes sparkling with excitement. "I will reward each Ixi who comes back with a hostage."
Azzim, standing on the cliff's ridge, still watching Tadd brush mud off of his trousers and chasing after a red Garral only slightly taller than Tadd himself, sighed. Salty moisture began dripping down Azzim's long neck, catching in his brown fur. He stared down at the village. What was Azzim to do? Other Raiders had been exiled for being to soft on Cogham village. The last raider exiled was during the time of the Darkest Faerie. Azzim thought, what was his name?
"You shouldn't show such a sad expression for the villagers," Islai said to Azzim, trotting up beside him, her white war paint glistening with sweat in the beating sun. "You may be exiled like Ipthl was."
Azzim let out a long sigh. "I don't think I can go through with this, Islai," he said hanging his head low in shame.
Islai placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You can do this, Azzim. I know you can and I will be by your side the entire time."
Azzim could only sigh once more at Islai's soft words. The two Ixis stood overlooking the village for another couple minutes waiting for the signal. Azzim was lost in his own thoughts. If I stumble while I am trying to capture a villager and get injured, he thought, would I still be punished for not bringing back a hostage? Azzim turned his gaze up at the sky, fluffy white clouds floating in a light blue sea; crokabeks flying in flocks, slicing the clouds.
A low-pitched horn began echoing throughout the ridges. The signal. Islai let out a battle cry and began charging down to the village, Naflin following on her heels, neither of them a word to Azzim. He began pacing the ridge momentarily, choking back tears, then began screaming barbarously as he galloped down the cliff side.
Havoc began raining an unpleasant scene upon the village. The raiders were snatching Neopets; some taken away, some struggling, the ones who were unnoticed by the Raiders hiding in the tall fur trees dispersed sporadically through the village. Azzim began looking around him for a victim but billows of dust smoked around the village. Serene, the red Aisha, ran screaming into her shop. He could take her hostage, Azzim thought; the shop will survive. A tiny scream came from behind Azzim as Tadd bashed Azzim's shin with a wooden sword. Azzim began hopping on his other legs from the tinge of pain shooting up his leg.
"Weave my billage awone!" Tadd screamed at Azzim hitting him repeatedly with the sword. Azzim's heart began tearing apart. Galloping away from the child, his heart drowned in a black clouds of sorrow.
Elspeth, a beautiful red Acara with long brown hair ran in front of Azzim towards her shop screaming, "Don't bruise the fruit! I have a shipment to be sent to Meridell! Don't bruise the fruit!"
Azzim chased after her into the thatched hut where she sold her fruit. Grabbing her with a strong arm, Azzim galloped off towards the ridge just as another low-pitch tone echoed from the horn, signaling the Raiders to retreat.
"Let go of me, ya big brute!" Elspeth spat at Azzim, struggling to fight her way out of his grasp.
"Please stop struggling," Azzim pleaded. "I don't wish to hurt you!"
Elspeth stopped struggling and glared at him, "Then why do you always bully us?" Azzim could hear his heart tear in two like a piece of paper.
Azzim lay awake that night. The wailing and the sobs of the three unfortunate Neopets who had been captured reverberated throughout the cliffs. Upon returning with Elspeth as a captive, the Chieftain had patted him, praised him, gave him honors that Azzim did not know existed among the Raiders, then dragged Elspeth and the other two Neopets off to the dark volcanic mines. Azzim had not stayed with the other Raiders to celebrate their victory, instead returning to his tent remaining there all night, without sleep, choking back grief that threatened to pour from his eyes in large droplets of water.
"Why were you not at the festivities?" Islai asked, moving the cloth door away to see Azzim, his eyes red and puffy. Azzim could not reply, turning away, ashamed and embarrassed to let Islai see him in such a condition. She sat down next to him on his bed mat. "Azzim, if this bothers you so much why don't you do something?"
Azzim, his head still turned from her, replied, "I would be a disgrace to the Ixi Raider name."
"Well, what if nobody knew?" Islai said, comforting Azzim with a soft hand on his brown fur.
Azzim pushed her hand away, snapping, "You already seem to know. Just leave me be!"
"I won't leave you to suffer alone and I wouldn't tell the other Raiders about this. It can remain our secret." Islai replaced her hand, stroking his fur now.
"You won't think less of me?"
"I would never think less of you, Azzim."
Azzim looked at Islai whom opened her arms, welcoming him into a warm embrace. Comforted by Islai's embrace, Azzim began to formulate a rescue plan. What if the ransom note never made it to Meridel, Azzim thought, would the Chieftain become bored and release the Neopets? Possibly but what if this angered the Chieftain instead. Azzim pushed himself from Islai's embrace, looking into her violet eyes.
"What am I supposed to do?" he asked. "I cannot think of a plan that wouldn't risk harming the hostages."
Islai smiled at him. "I have a perfect plan that needs only one Ixi."
The time came close to four am NST. Poking his head out of his tent, Azzim surveyed the quiet encampment. His breath was billowing a smoky white from his mouth as he tied a tan hooded cloak around his neck. How it was so cold in the morning after having been so hot the day before, Azzim could not fathom. Small fires that lay scattered throughout the encampment puffed their last bits of warmth and loud snores came from sleeping Ixis, snuggled on their sleeping mats dreaming of riches. As Azzim began slipping past all the slumbering Ixis, he chuckled to himself as he saw Naflin, curled into a ball, sucking on part of his hoof under the fading night stars.
The mine was quiet, the Neopets exhausted from their incessant wailing and sobbing the day before. Azzim, upon entering the cave, enjoyed the drops of dew that fell from the cavern ceiling. Enjoying the solitude of the mines, he snuck down the shadowy passageways. There were no raiders on guard, there were no Crokabeks cawing menacing notes. The twisting pathways turned, leading Azzim into large caverns were mine cart tracks lay on top of footpaths overlooking lava pools and mountain springs.
Veering away from the mine cart tracks, Azzim turned right down a mossy tunnel. Soft whimpers began echoing down the tunnel. The tunnel widened, leading Azzim into a large cavern with a damp, vine covered exit in the back. There in the middle of the room sat three Neopets bounded by rope to each other, crying, whimpering, muttering angrily.
Elspeth looked up at Azzim. "Why you no good..." Azzim did not let her finish her sentence before he was on her, his hand covering his mouth.
"Please, I am actually here to rescue you!" Azzim whispered frantically, checking over his shoulder for torch-light or movement of the Raiders. The mines were empty in the early morning yet Azzim, still fearing that the raiders would start guard duty early, wished the Neopets to be quiet.
A yellow Kacheek began stumbling on words. "Then... wh-why did you ca-capture us?" Not replying, Azzim silently began untying the ropes.
"We will have about half an hour to make it out of the tunnel and return to the village," Azzim murmured.
Elspeth spat in his face. "Do you even know how to get out of here!"
Azzim paused. He could not remember how he came. Was it a left then a right or two rights and a left? Had he ascended into the mine or descended?
"You are a pathetic hero," Elspeth uttered under her breath.
"Leave him alone, Elspeth," a red Scorchio snapped to the Acara. "He is at least freeing us, that is more than the other Raiders would do. I have worked these mines for years; I can lead us out to the tunnel entrance in the village."
The yellow Kacheek piped in once more, "Th-thank you, Otto."
"Absolutely, Mayor Jurgin."
Within a few more seconds, Azzim was tossing the rope into a shadowy corner. Standing as the Neopets rubbed their raw wrists, Azzim took a deep breath. This is going fairly smoothly, he thought to himself.
"Alright," he began putting his hands on his hips in triumph. "Let's get out of here." He looked towards the Otto but the Scorchio stared down the tunnel passage in horror. Torch-light flickered off the cavern walls.
"Oh no," Azzim breathed.
"Wh-what do we do?" Mayor Jurgin panicked looking towards Azzim for guidance.
Azzim could not say anything. Fear held his legs in place, numbed his mind as if the flickering light on the walls hypnotized him into idleness.
Elspeth ran into the corner were the ropes had been tossed. "Ixi, get on the ground."
Azzim looked at her, confused.
"Get on the ground. We will tie you up and look like we ambushed you."
Crouching on the rock, Azzim allowed the Acara to bind him. She began wrapping the rope around his arms and chest with a malicious smile upon her face. Azzim could not blame her for enjoying such sweet vengeance.
Elspeth admired her work on the Ixi. Azzim gave a little fidget in the ropes. "Comfortable, Raider?"
Otto grabbed the Acara by the hand and began pulling her to the other exit. "Leave him alone. He has repented for what he did to us." With that, they disappeared down the tunnel.
The Raiders entered the room, starring at Azzim baffled. Naflin, his black fur camouflaging into the shadows looked Azzim up and down in disbelief. Azzim began struggling weakly in his bonds, pretending to have been captured.
"Where did they go?" Oxu, the lanky white Ixi asked.
"They went down the tunnel you came from about half an hour ago," Azzim lied.
Naflin turned back the way he came and stomped down the tunnel. "I told the Chieftain we should have had guards out all night."
Oxu stood next to Azzim, not yet convinced of his story. "Why are you here?" The Ixi questioned. Azzim began to sweat, panicking. What could he tell them? He had not planned to run into guards.
"I..." he began to stutter, "I heard a lot of noise coming from the tunnels. Yeah, that's it. It sounded like the mine carts were running so I came to investigate."
The white Ixi gave a grunt for a reply, untying Azzim. Together they searched the tunnels and to Azzim's relief, they never saw the villagers.
Two weeks passed since the Neopets had been captured and the raid on Cogham village declared a failure. The chieftain was furious when he found out that the Neopets had escaped, but to Azzim's relief, he took it out on Naflin and the white Ixi. Islai did not speak a word to the other raiders about how the villagers escaped.
Azzim now sitting in his tent, enjoying the smell of a campfire outside, listened to the chirps of little petpetpets in the night. There came a rustle from a bush behind Azzim's tent. Azzim sat up, holding his spear in his hand. Was this an attack? The silhouette of a little kacheek walked along the tent, and sneaked through the cloth door, followed closely by Otto and Elspeth.
"What are you doing here?" Azzim asked. "If the other Raiders see you, we will all be in trouble."
Elspeth, stepping forward, held out a basket full of juppies reluctantly. "A thank you for rescuing us." With that she turned and left the tent instantly. Otto smiled at Azzim then turned and left without a word.
Mayor Jurgin hesitated for a second, "You will always be considered a friend of Cogham village." Azzim, aghast, had not expected the gift.
"Thank you," was all Azzim managed to say. Nodding his head, the mayor retreated from the tent and into the bushes.
Azzim smiled at the basket full of juppies as Islai walked in. She eyed the basket curiously.
"Gifts from some friends." Azzim smiled at her, reaching into the basket and taking a large bite out of a teal juppie.