Fine Line: Part Four
Officer Serenga of the Royal Sakhmetian Palace Guard was the highest ranking official in charge of the apprehension of wanted criminals, and he had a perfect record. He spent most of his time in the palace, taking reports from other officers about troubles in the city, but when he left his office to pursue a fugitive, the grey Tonu was swift and ruthless. He had captured and detained countless tomb raiders, scam artists, and high profile thieves, and he had done it all in strict silence. Most citizens of Sakhmet did not even know that he existed.
Serenga’s chamber was located in a distant corner of the palace, with windows facing in two directions. From this vantage point, the Tonu could view both the bustling marketplace and the sandy dunes of the Lost Desert, with the Great Gebmids looming in the distance. Most of his time was spent poring over criminal records and hearing information from his subordinates, but there was the occasional time when Serenga decided to take a case for himself. In those situations, the offender was usually captured within hours. Officer Serenga did not like to waste time.
It was nearing midday when a Desert Ruki appeared in the doorway of Serenga’s office. Sintah was one of the Tonu’s many field agents, charged with the supervision of one of the Great Gebmids. She was quiet and calculating, clever, and very loyal. “Come in,” said Serenga, looking up from some papers that he had been examining. He beckoned to a seat on the opposite side of his wide desk. “Sit down, Sintah.”
The Ruki obliged. She walked silently across the stone floor and sat down, looking briefly around the room. Officer Serenga kept his living space clean and empty, for the most part; the sand-colored walls were bare and there were just a few filing racks lined up in one corner. The light from outside was darkened by scarlet curtains that Serenga had hung over the windows. He liked to look out, but he did not want anyone looking in.
Officer Serenga waited for his spy to speak. “Is there trouble in the Gebmids?” he asked. Serenga’s tone was cold and formal, as always. He was careful never to betray any thought or emotion. He had learned through many years of experience that the profession of justice required someone unbiased and unaffected.
“I wanted to give you a report,” said Sintah. The Desert Ruki moved her head to the side and inclined it slightly, looking down. “While assisting in a private tour, I saw a Neopet whom I thought I recognized. I have come to you to see if he is on our list.”
Officer Serenga nodded and glanced at the wooden racks, which were filled with stacks of parchment pertaining to all of the criminals known to Sakhmet, both captured and at large. “Do you know his name?” he asked.
Sintah’s head did not move, but she said, “He is the one they call the Baron, a blue Tuskaninny who goes by many names. He introduced himself as Rahad Septerville.”
The grey Tonu raised an eyebrow. “The Baron himself, you say?” he asked. He stood up and walked over to the polished wooden racks, pulling out one file. He brought it back to the desk, where he opened it and examined several sheets of paper. The light from outside was bright enough to shine through the thin red curtains and illuminate the text on the pages. “He has been reported to have stolen from the vaults of Meridell Castle, the Royal Palace of Shenkuu, even the Hidden Tower.” Serenga sifted through the file, stopping at a page which had a crude sketch of the Tuskaninny’s face. “The Baron thinks that he is the master of collectors. No one knows what land he calls home, or where he keeps his treasures. And now, you say that he is here, in the Lost Desert?”
Sintah nodded, but said nothing.
Officer Serenga closed the Baron’s file. “Do you know what he is after?” he asked.
“He was very interested in visiting the Tomb of Queen Nefertissi,” said Sintah. The Ruki kept her eyes averted, her brown skin looking darker in the reddish light that shone through the drapes.
“Of course,” said Serenga, stroking his dark neck fur. The grey Tonu thought silently for a few moments. The Baron was one of the most wanted fugitives in Neopia. Serenga knew that he would not be foolish enough to steal from the tomb himself. He would send someone else, and he himself would lurk in the shadows, hidden and safe.
However, Officer Serenga was not about to let the Tuskaninny slip away. He was a mastermind in his own right, able to think like a thief and predict their actions to a reasonable extent. However, he was no psychic. The Baron would be sneaky, and Serenga needed to find out what he was planning. But how could he? How could he, how could anyone, know what the future held?
As the Tonu’s mind began piecing things together, he spoke to Sintah. “You have done well,” he said. “Stay in the Gebmid at all times, and monitor carefully who enters and leaves. Do not make yourself appear like a guard. We want the Baron, and whoever he is working with, to be emboldened. Keep watch, and stay unnoticed. I will send you information if you need it.”
The Desert Ruki nodded. She stood up from the chair and walked to the doorway that was cut into the stone. Without a backwards glance, she departed.
Serenga was left alone with his thoughts. It was vital that the Baron be found, but the Tonu knew that justice could not be served unless the criminal was caught red handed. Without any proof of wrongdoing, the law would allow the Tuskaninny to roam free. That meant that Officer Serenga needed to be in the right place at the right time. He had to somehow find a way to be at the exact location that the Baron would make his exchange and take whatever he was planning to steal.
Serenga had not earned his perfect record by accident. Even though it was impossible to know everything, Serenga knew how to use whatever information he had. He knew that it was useless to sit back and wait. He would have to go out, speak to those who would tell him the truth.
The Tonu stood up and opened a drawer in his desk. He pulled out a heavy sack of Neopoints and deposited it safely in his pocket. Truth always flowed more freely with the aid of a few gold coins.
Serenga began walking toward the door. He knew exactly where to go. While the future was uncertain, Officer Serenga knew that there were those who would give him enough information to build a case off of. When the Baron made his move, Serenga would be prepared. He would not let this one slip away.
Serenga the grey Tonu walked a fine line, but he was an officer of master skill. He could walk the border between dishonesty and justice as easily as he could bribe a Neopet to give him the tip he needed to catch a thief.
Yes, Serenga could pass a few coins under the table as easily as he could lock the door to a cell in the dungeons. He walked a fine line, but with such perfect balance, Officer Serenga knew that he would never fall.
* * * * *
For Alamor, everything seemed backwards. The day had passed by very quickly, but the night was dragging on indefinitely. As the Kougra stared at the white canvas of the tent above him, he could not get rid of a sinking feeling that had been plaguing him all evening.
Everything was backwards. He was normally confident, prepared, even excited before going out on a job. With the prospect of ten million Neopoints for just one theft, Alamor would have expected himself to be bubbling over with anticipation. But it was not so. As he listened to Lasa’s soft breathing nearby, Alamor felt anything but anticipation. He was filled only with dread, regret, and despair.
Staring up at the white fabric, many images flashed across the Kougra’s vision. He saw the grey sculpture of the ancient Queen Nefertissi, unmoving yet lifelike, her eyes boring deep into his soul. He was going to take her, steal her likeness away from her resting place and sell it.
But, wasn’t it all for the best? After this, he would have enough money to live comfortably, maybe find an honest job in Sakhmet. He could even move out of the Lost Desert with Lasa, pursue his dreams, never having to worry about money. This was his ticket out. He had to do it. Didn’t he?
The eyes of Nefertissi melted away, fading into a new pair that Alamor recognized only too well. A single name rose to the surface of his subconscious like a bubble drifting up from the deep waters of his soul... Iris.
What would she think of him? She had always known that he was a thief. He had done it to keep Lasa fed, done it to stay alive, done it because it was the only thing he knew how to do. But Alamor knew that she would not be proud. He saw in her eyes the same quiet peace that he had glimpsed in the stone gaze of the Bust of Nefertissi, that same silent, wise, understanding quality that seemed to cut him deeper than any knife ever could.
Iris... The epitome of goodness, kindness, love; high above him as he stared unblinking up at the white canvas, wishing for another life but feeling tied to the ground by a single thread that was Lasa. And with that tiny tug, the littlest pull of a heartstring, Alamor felt like he was falling. Falling out of the heavens where the kind eyes of the Queen Nefertissi and his own queen watched him, falling through darkness and uncertainty and doubt, falling, falling with no hope of regaining solid ground, only a lone thread that was held by the smallest of paws.
Alamor was falling, falling, falling, until he landed on the soft sandy ground and found himself staring up at the white fabric of the tent, his eyes glistening like the countless stars that dotted the distant, veiled sky.
To be continued...