Stealing Stones: Part Five
"You are Viridian Funk?" Ambassador Basal asked.
The yellow Lutari put down his tankard and stared the Usul squarely in the eye.
"That's not important," Basal answered. "Tony sent us."
"Crooked Tony?" Viridian asked. "You're the man who wants to find the diamond?"
Basal glanced behind him, to the various inhabitants of the tavern. "Not so loudly, but yes."
"Good," Viridian said. "I've got two rules. Payment in advance. Don't make fun of the name. That's all. Shall we?"
The Ambassador's attendant, the lanky relic Nimmo, interrupted.
"If I may, how exactly are you qualified to find our merchandise? The Ambassador is a busy man, and doesn't have time to waste on reprobates such as yourself, no matter how amusingly named."
The Lutari moved like a shot, the table falling and the contents shattering to the floor. The Nimmo was on the floor, his normally fairly immobile frame buckling under the sudden onslaught of Viridian's attack. One stone arm was forced behind him, pinning him down.
"Rule number two," Viridian snapped. "You don't make fun of the name, clear? You won't get another warning. The reason why I'm qualified is because Crooked Tony says I am. Besides, the way I see it gents like yourselves can't afford to be picky."
Catching sight of Rhyo, he added, "And lady, begging your pardon."
"That's quite enough," Basal replied. "Please release my assistant. Your services will do just fine, Mr. Funk. Please find us our merchandise."
A large bag of Neopoints fell to the ground in front of Viridian, and the pressure on the Nimmo's arm was released.
"Let's get started," Viridian suggested.
The four of them left the tavern soon after. A green Yurble at the bar finished his drink and followed at a distance.
Fredrick had never heard of Viridian Funk, but it was clear from his display in the tavern that he knew his business. In the end, a couple of unlicensed thieves in the Docklands wouldn't be hard to find. The problem would be finding them before the Thieves Guild did.
Fredrick tailed the group through the streets, his eyes so focused on the task at hand that he didn't notice the two strangers creeping up behind him.
In a flash, a large sack was thrown over his head, and a bat came down hard on his head, knocking him out.
Judge Hog gave Jennings the look of someone who thinks they have everything figured out.
"I'm glad you could join us," he said.
"Why thank you, Judge," Jennings replied. "It's nice to see you as well."
Jennings took in the small house behind the Judge. Various Defenders were now milling in and out of the tarpaulin that covered the front of the masonry.
"What exactly am I joining you for?" Jennings asked.
"Well, on a whim, I asked the Museum's Magical Research Department to trace where the mystery teleporter ended up when they attempted to rob the place," the Judge explained. "I didn't think there was much point, as they were likely to have moved on by now. Imagine my surprise when they gave us the coordinates."
"Your surprise?" Jennings asked. "There isn't anything particularly remarkable about Kensington Avenue as far as I know. Well, not remarkable to you at least."
The Judge smiled. "Follow me."
Jennings was led inside the tarpaulin by the Judge. There, a section of the wall had been peeled back, revealing a figure trapped within. The desert Korbat looked petrified.
"He materialised inside the wall," the Judge explained. "Not the most pleasant way to go, but I guess I could think of worse ways if I had to. We did some checking with General Dacon in Sakhmet, apparently he's quite well known. Goes by the name of Horem. Ring any bells?"
"No bells are ringing," Jennings told him. "Should they be?"
"Maybe, maybe not," the Judge considered. "One thing's for sure, as soon as we found the body, Almas, the Lost Desert Ambassador, disappeared from his embassy. Our scouts report he's already half way back to Sakhmet."
"And what does this have to do with me?" Jennings asked.
"What the Lost Desert would want with the Obsidian Heart is beyond me," the Judge explained. "But Ambassador Almas was recently seen giving you a shipment of Lyins silk, exceptionally rare."
"I trust you are not suggesting I am or was in league with the Ambassador?" Jennings asked.
"You tell me," the Judge said. "Just what am I suggesting?"
"If you really want to know, I suspect the Ambassador gave me the silk in an attempt to buy my silence about the crime he was about to try and commit," Jennings answered. "Of course, Almas is a little mistaken as to how things work in Neopia Central. He believes that I have some sort of sway with what you do."
"A little mistaken indeed," the Judge replied. "But what, pray tell, does Almas want with the Obsidian Heart?"
"Nothing," Jennings replied simply. "But then, this poor unfortunate thief wasn't trying to steal it."
"It is a strange thing, Judge," Jennings replied. "But the diamond that was stolen from the Museum was seemingly identical to diamonds from a disputed area between Shenkuu and Sakhmet."
"A fake?" the Judge asked.
"Certainly, I would never make such an accusation," Jennings replied. "But it would make more sense for Almas to have desires on the diamond it was, rather than the diamond it wasn't."
Jennings left the Judge to his investigation. That was one group off the list; the others would surely follow.
The burlap sack was taken off his head and a bucket of water thrown over his face to wake him.
Through blurry eyes, Fredrick could make out he was in a dark room, a thick vent on the floor in front of him putting out a lot of steam. Through the steam, he thought he could glimpse a red glowing figure.
"What is your name?" a harsh feminine voice asked.
"I don't see how that's any of your business, lady," Fredrick answered.
A scolding hot hand slapped Fredrick firmly on the back of his head. He fell forwards, spinning in an effort to lash out at whoever had struck him. Too late, he realised he was still in his morphed Yurble body and not the Ruki form he was expecting. He was caught off balance, and fell to the floor.
Above him, he could see his assailant. It was a magma Techo with a mean look. He and his magma Poogle companion were giving off a dim red glow that gave the back of the dark room an eerie, subterranean feel.
"Careful with him, Skarn," the harsh voice said. "We need answers, not bruises. Get him upright."
The two magma pets leaned down and scooped Fredrick up, propping him upright while at the same time burning his skin.
"I thought magma pets were cold to the touch," Fredrick spat, stumbling forward from their grasp.
"We can be," the voice replied. "But we don't owe you such a kindness. What's your interest in the Obsidian Heart?"
"I want to use it as a coaster," Fredrick lied obviously.
Another slap, another fall forwards. Fredrick struggled to his feet, now perilously close to the steaming vent.
"I'd be careful," the voice taunted him. "The steam comes from the smelting works next door, and flesh Neopets like yourself are so easily damaged by things like this. Now answer my questions."
"Sorry, lady, but my memory gets hazy when I can't see who I'm talking to," Fredrick replied.
The figure beyond the steam came forwards, standing in the middle of the vent and gazing at Fredrick as if the scolding vapour was nothing more than rain. She was a magma Elephante, large even by their standards. The dim glow her two cronies produced was equalled by her belly.
"My name is Madame Marbelle, these are my associates, Skarn and Schist," she explained. "Do you know who we are?"
"I'd guess you're the people who got arrested trying to break into the Museum?" Fredrick replied. "As for who you are, I can't say I know or care."
Of course, he did care. Jennings wanted this information. But these characters were clearly out to provoke a reaction by any means, and Fredrick wasn't about to give them ammunition.
"We're from Moltara, you might have guessed," Marbelle added. "We're what are called separatists, though we like to be called freedom fighters."
"I'm sure others would like to call you terrorists," Fredrick replied.
Marbelle laughed, "So, you have heard of us? It was a mistake for Moltara to ever open itself to Neopia. The sacred grounds of the Lava Pools have been tainted by the impurities of surface dwellers. Moltara must close its doors, isolate itself and dedicate itself to studying the ways of the magma if we are to stand any chance of attaining inner clarity."
"I'm sure Igneot agrees," Fredrick observed bitterly.
"Igneot is a misguided fool," Marbelle sneered. "We alone follow the true path."
"That makes sense, what with there being so many of you," Fredrick mocked.
Another slap, Fredrick used all of his strength to stop himself stumbling into the steam.
"One more remark," Marbelle threatened him. "Now answer my questions. Who are you?"
"Alistair Hitch," Fredrick lied.
He'd spent years inventing false names for himself; the lie was convincing enough. Marbelle certainly seemed to buy it.
"And what interest do you have with the Obsidian Heart?" she asked.
"None," Fredrick told her. "What about you?"
"It is a part of Moltara that has been removed from its home," she answered. "Worse than that, it is being toured around the planet like some sort of circus. We are going to return it to where it should be. If you are not interested in the diamond, why are you following Ambassador Basal?"
"Oh, diamond, I'm interested in that," Fredrick replied calmly. "But you said the Obsidian Heart."
"What's the difference?"
"The diamond I'm looking for didn't come from Moltara," Fredrick replied.
Seeing the look of confusion on Marbelle's face, he added, "It's a fake."
"Impossible!" Marbelle shouted. "I saw it excavated myself!"
"Oh sure, the original was genuine," Fredrick replied. "But someone stole that while it was in Moltara. This fake has been stolen as part of an insurance scam by the Ambassador. Sorry, but it looks like your heritage will have to wait for another day."
"You are quite sure of this?" Marbelle asked.
"I heard him say it myself," Fredrick answered.
Marbelle sighed, turning away from the others.
"That's most unfortunate," she said.
"Why? You don't have to run around the city looking for it now," Fredrick pointed out.
"Oh, not unfortunate for us," Marbelle said, turning back. "But for you. You see, if the diamond isn't here, you don't have any more answers. That makes you expendable."
She gave a small nod, and the two Neopets behind moved closer to push Fredrick into the steam.
At that moment, the doors to the little room burst open, filling the room with light from outside that blinded the occupants. A moment later, a great stream of water sprayed into the room, drenching it slowly from one side to the other. As it hit the three magma Neopets, there was a horrible cracking sound and great plumes of steam were kicked up into the air. Coughing, Fredrick emerged from the small shack into the street beyond.
There, a Meridell herald was stood near a fire hydrant, quietly drenching the contents of the shack from a hosepipe. As Fredrick exited, two more closed the door behind him, locking the soaking figures inside.
Lady Celeriac was stood near the fire hydrant, smiling pleasantly.
"That should help them cool off," she commented.
The three heralds made polite laughter, and Celeriac stared at Fredrick curiously as if he should be doing the same.
"Cool off, do you understand?" she asked. "They are magma, and-"
"I understand," Fredrick cut her off rather more abruptly than he meant to.
Realising just who it was he was talking to, he added, "Thank you."
"They'll recover shortly, I should imagine," Celeriac explained. "Fire like that doesn't take long to reignite. If they can't find a green Yurble soon, I imagine they'll return to Moltara to lick their wounds."
Fredrick took the hint.
"I'll head back home to change."
He left Celeriac to her thoughts, which at that point were mostly concerned with whether Fredrick had meant his form or his sodden clothes.
To be continued...