Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 197,224,337 Issue: 973 | 2nd day of Celebrating, Y24
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The Royal Thief Unbound


by k3l26

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Home is where the heart is.

     “Next and last stop, Lost Desert port,” came a monotonous voice over the intercom of the passenger ship Veifira was aboard.

     Although Vatalyn had offered to take her back to Lost Desert in his ship, Veifira insisted on taking a public transport ferry. There was just something so alluring about the anonymity of being just another faceless traveller that made her want to be among the masses. She wanted to feel just like everyone else, if only for a few days.

     Because shortly, Veifira would be back to being her birthright: one of the two princesses of the Lost Desert.

     The thought of that made her tighten her cloak’s hood around her face. The ship was arriving shortly, which meant that many passengers around her were Lost Desert natives and would recognize her immediately. They would surely question why she was dressed in dark robes, taking a public transport vessel.

     At last, the ship pulled into the port. Veifira moved aside to allow the other passengers to disembark first, to minimize the risk of anyone getting a good look at her. When the coast was clear, Veifira stepped off the boat.

     Stepping onto the Lost Desert, Veifira felt a sense of belonging. Although her heart ached for adventure, there was a familiar security in returning to her hometown. There was nothing like the warmth of the sand and the intense heat of the sun.

     “Veifira!” came a clear, feminine voice from the docks.

     Veifira turned towards the sound of her name, although she already knew who her addresser was. She had sent a copy of her travel itinerary as a response to her sister’s letter to let her know she was coming home. Moments later, someone collided with Veifira.

     “Hello, Astael,” Veifira said, unable to stop a small smile from forming at her lips as her sister pulled her into a tight embrace.

     “Thank you for coming home, Vei,” Astael said, sighing deeply. She finally let her sister go, stepping back to look at her. “The dark cloak, of course, your signature. But you also look so weary, your eyes are missing sleep.”

     Veifira waved a hand. “I’m alright. I’m better than ever.”

     “I can tell that, as well,” Astael nodded, beaming. “Your eyes, though tired, have a new light in them. I apologize for taking you away from your work.”

     “It’s not a big deal,” Veifira replied. She meant it, too. For everything Astael had done for her, representing the Lost Desert at the Neopian Leaders Summit was the least Veifira could do. “But what about you?” Veifira asked with a small chuckle, gesturing to her sister’s look.

     In place of the usual white attire with gold or turquoise accents she usually wore, Astael was outfitted in a sheer, sweeping black robe over a long black slip dress. Instead of fresh desert cactus flowers in her hair, Astael was wearing a black, oversized floppy hat and had heavy, dark eyeliner around her bright blue eyes. She was even wearing an opaque, dark ruffled glove over her left hand, covering the Ring of the Lost Desert.

     Astael posed gently. “You don’t like it? I figured you wouldn’t want me drawing so much attention here. I asked the staff to stay at the castle, as well.”

     “Well,” Veifira responded, “I’m not sure how much it's working.” Even though Astael was wearing darker colours and trying to hide her features, it was impossible to hide her radiant beauty and effortless grace, and a few bystanders were loitering around to gawk. “But that was actually really considerate of you. Thank you.”

     Astael smiled, taking one of her sister’s hands in hers. “Shall we go?”

     The two walked across the desert in comfortable silence as Veifira slowly readjusted to the arid desert air. The sun was setting, and a slight chill was settling over the land, which helped the two sisters’ dark outfits look less out of place. Still, they took a backroad to avoid being seen by any of their citizens.

     As they neared the palace, Veifira broke the silence. “You never told me what you told the council and staff about my absence.”

     Astael smiled. “I just told them you were temporarily stepping away from your duties and position as a royal family member.”

     “That’s it?” Veifira asked incredulously.

     “That’s it,” Astael replied. “After your talk with Malabaricus, the council loosened their regulations on us, and the castle staff has stayed as loyal and tight-lipped as ever.”

     “What about rumours of the Dark Thief? Disappearing right as I fade from the public eye?” Veifira asked tentatively.

     “No one is the wiser,” Astael assured her. “The people of Sakhmet are feeling safer, they aren’t the type to question a good thing.”

     Veifira nodded. “And what about Qasala?”

     When she was still actively a princess of the Lost Desert, Veifira had dedicated her time to bettering the lives of the citizens in Qasala, the less fortunate of Lost Desert’s two cities. She had always been their voice and advocated for them whenever she attended any governmental board meetings. And, true to her personality, when she operated as the Dark Thief, she would take from the wealthier Sakhmet citizens and redistribute the funds to Qasala. Although she knew that following her wayfaring, thieving heart was the right thing to do, she did feel guilty about not being able to be there for Qasala.

     “Don’t worry about that, Vei,” Astael reassured her. “I’ve been working extra to oversee quality of life and structural improvements there. The council has finally allocated funding to them and I’m making sure it’s being put to good use. Although I’m sure the people of Qasala would be beyond delighted to see you in person.”

     “Of course, I’ll make time to stop by,” Veifira said. “Thank you, Astael.”

     “There’s no need to thank me,” Astael replied. “I’m happy to do it.”

     At the castle gates now, Astael turned to face Veifira, taking both her sister’s worn hands in her delicate ones. “Welcome home, Vei.”

     “It’s good to be home,” Veifira replied. And she meant it.

     A moment after, the large palace doors swung open and a handful of staff rushed out to greet the princesses. Just as Astael had said, they were devoted and unquestioning, even as they took Veifira’s heavy cloak and rucksack. Veifira’s lady-in-waiting even managed not to try and smooth Veifira’s unkempt hair.

     “I’ll let you get settled,” Astael said to her sister. “Let’s reconvene in the main sitting room in an hour to discuss the upcoming conference, have dinner, and afterwards we can stop by Qasala.”

     Veifira nodded before turning to leave. After being away for months, Veifira was comforted when she saw that the halls of her childhood home were unchanged. Although she was surrounded by the same artisan pottery and mounted portraits, time and new experiences had changed her. She felt as if she was looking at them through different eyes now. Pushing open the doors to her chambers, Veifira was finally alone with her thoughts, if only for some time.

     For the past few months, Veifira had been training with Vatalyn, who was, like herself, also both a thief and a member of a distinguished family. After securing a name for himself among thieves, Vatalyn founded a small thieves guild in Neovia, where the Almost Abandoned Attic used to be, recruiting only his most trusted allies he had met along the way. Vatalyn originally hailed from Krawk Island and chose to leave his responsibilities as the governing family’s son to pursue thievery, which was what made Krawk Island famous in the first place. It was just honouring the land’s history, he would say, with a wink. As if there was any honour in thievery.

     At first, Vatalyn would only allow Veifira to accompany him on stakeouts and spectate on break-ins from afar. He was always vague with the details, only really telling her where they were going and sometimes what he intended to steal. He never told her why or who the interested party was. Buyer-seller confidentiality, he’d claim, which made Veifira roll her eyes. Eventually, she just stopped asking. Vatalyn was often after original paintings, valuable Battledome weapons, and limited-release items. The targeted items were often heavily vaulted and required weeks of gathering information for Vatalyn to be ready for a heist. Eventually, he allowed Veifira to cover some visual ground and report back to him.

     “There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more valuable than information,” Vatalyn would say as he spun the dial to one of the most high-profile safety deposit boxes in the National Neopian Bank. It opened with a click and Vatalyn, ignoring all the priceless valuables, simply reached in and retrieved what he was after, a few loose documents. That was the luxury of being a wealthy thief. He was doing this to prove he could, not for the NeoPoints. When he had to enlist help from his guildmates, they sometimes got sidetracked by other rarities and Vatalyn had to chastise them. That was the main reason Vatalyn and Veifira got along so well, they were just here for the challenge, not for the financial gain.

     Unfortunately, Veifira thought, that’s also why Vatalyn was so drawn to Thalse. Thalse was more concerned about the mental game of thievery, of the information-gathering, of the blackmail, of figuring out who knew what. When Vatalyn had introduced the two, Veifira felt a pang of jealousy, even if she knew she was already privileged and lucky to be working so close to Vatalyn already. She had been so used to being Vatalyn’s “favourite” – as Rascan would say bitterly – that seeing Thalse and Vatalyn’s relationship made her upset. Although she tried her best to hide it, of course, Thalse could see right through her.

     “Don’t fret, princess,” Thalse had said after their first meeting, “I have no intention of taking your place next to Vat. Organized crime, well, organized anything really isn’t my forte.”

     Veifira blushed furiously. Although Vatalyn had warned her that her thoughts weren’t safe from Thalse, it was still embarrassing to hear them out loud.

     In the present, Veifira shook her head to clear the memory from her mind. She had other things to focus on anyway, as she glanced at the large clock over her bed. She only had ten minutes to get ready now. As expected, her sister had prepared an outfit for her. Astael had chosen a dune-coloured two-piece set with a cinched top and wide-legged pants. Veifira slipped into it, changing her worn leather boots into a practical pair of lightweight sandals. Apart from the dark circles under her eyes, she almost looked like she hadn’t been away from home. Almost.

     Veifira took a deep breath and headed out to meet her sister.

To be continued…

 
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