Fine Line: Part Nine
Alamor ran without looking back.
The tattered old cloak fluttered behind him in the darkness as the camouflage Kougra dashed across the sandy dunes of the Lost Desert, fleeing the officer and guards who undoubtedly planned to throw him in the dank dungeons beneath the Palace of Sakhmet. Alamor had lost the Bust of Nefertissi, he had lost the money that he was supposed to be paid, he had lost any chance of a future in the Lost Desert, but he had not yet lost hope.
Although Alamor felt that if he were to glimpse into Uva’s crystal ball he would see only darkness in his future, it was not only his own future that he worried about. Running as quickly as his legs could carry him, Alamor concentrated on his son Lasa, who was likely asleep in Deftan’s tent, where his father had placed him to spend the night.
Not knowing how far behind him the Palace Guard was, Alamor hurried into Hajiro, the tent city, haven of thieves. The night was quiet, but a few Neopets were out in the sandy streets, and they watched with mild curiosity as the Kougra burst past them. Fleeing criminals were no uncommon sight in the community, and most pets gave Alamor a wide berth as he passed. He did not even notice them.
Keeping his mind focused on one goal in order to block out the other doubts that threatened to invade his mind, Alamor made his way to his friend Deftan’s tent. He stopped outside the canvas flap, catching his breath. He needed to draw upon his thieving skills one last time, to steal away his son without waking up the burly brown Lupe. He did not want to have to explain himself.
Alamor slowed his breathing and gently pulled apart the folds of fabric. He could see Deftan and his little son Zakaro sleeping on mats at one end of the tent, and he was relieved that Lasa was lying closest to the entrance. The tiny white Kougra was fast asleep, and Alamor hesitated for a brief moment, watching his son’s chest rise and fall in the dark.
The camouflage Kougra softly wrapped his arms around Lasa, lifting him off of the ground. He backed out of the tent, and Lasa continued to sleep. It was time to leave.
But where could he go? Alamor had no money left, and the Palace Guard would be able to find him anywhere in Hajiro or Sakhmet. The Lost Desert was no longer safe. Alamor’s thoughts drifted to Uva’s prediction, that as long as Lasa grew up in the desert he would be the same as his father. And as soon as he thought of the pink Kau fortune teller, the dams that he had erected in his mind burst, letting in a flood of emotion that nearly brought the Kougra to his knees.
Uva had turned him in. It was the only explanation, but Alamor simply could not believe it. The fortune teller to whom he had confided his deepest secrets for years, the one who had helped him steal many an artifact, the Neopet who knew all the answers... had sold him out? Alamor had paid Uva fairly every time he visited, and he knew that she was by no means out of income. But she had given him up, likely for a sack of Neopoints. Alamor felt betrayal of a kind he had never experienced before. From someone who could see the future, he had not expected this.
But her predictions had always been true, and Alamor fought away the despair as he concentrated once more on Lasa. Uva had warned him that the Lost Desert would make son like father, and although all of Alamor’s trust in the pink Kau’s character had been shattered, his belief in her prophecies remained strong. She had not yet been wrong. He needed to leave.
Alamor at last began walking away from Deftan’s tent, hoping that an idea would come to him before he left Hajiro. Still cradling the white Kougra in his arms, he tried to imagine the swiftest way out of the desert, and the best destination for him and his son. Altador was just over the mountains; perhaps they could build a new life there. He could always travel north to the Haunted Woods, or maybe to Brightvale.
Imagining the future gave Alamor a glimmer of hope, and he began walking more quickly. He was nearing the edge of the tent city when he looked out across the desert, and his heart stopped even before his legs.
A group was silhouetted against the starlit sky, standing at the crest of a nearby dune in the sandy landscape. The tall Tonu officer of the Palace Guard was foremost, followed by the Desert Ruki and two other guards. They were close enough for Alamor to recognize them instantly, and his heart sank as he saw a pink Kau trailing behind them.
He ducked back into the shelter of the tents, where he could not be seen. Alamor’s heart was pounding so hard that he feared it would awaken Lasa. They were coming for him. Uva knew that he lived in Hajiro. Would she lead them to him? Was there still more to her betrayal?
Alamor wondered if he should hide. He could ask Jufra to let him stay in the Moehog’s tent. Maybe he could just wait things out, wait until the search was over. After all, they had caught Rahad Septerville. Alamor was just a petty thief. Perhaps, maybe, they wouldn’t stay after him for long. There was a chance.
The camouflage Kougra hurried to his friend’s tent, but along the way his heart continued to sink. The officer and his guards were chasing him through the night, and they were hot on his trail. They would stay after him, Alamor knew. They would not rest until he was captured. He had committed crimes against the ancients; he had stolen from the most revered queen in the history of the Lost Desert. They would not allow him to escape.
Still, Alamor could think of no other plan, so he at last arrived at Jufra’s tent and pulled open the flap.
“Jufra?” His whisper was small in the dark. Alamor could hear motion, and the red Moehog struck a match.
“Alamor?” Jufra lit a candle and held it up. He looked tired and confused in the dim light. “What’s going on?”
Alamor stood there, framed in the canvas doorway, and he realized that he could not lie to his friend anymore. Stepping inside and placing Lasa down gently on a floor mat, the Kougra said, “I’m being chased by the Palace Guard.”
Jufra’s face instantly changed, and Alamor could see that the Moehog understood. “Alamor,” he breathed.
Alamor shook his head. “Jufra, I’m sorry,” he said. “I haven’t been looking for a job in Sakhmet. I posed as an art collector to get into the Gebmids, and I was going to steal something for Yasmyn.” He paused, waiting for his friend to interrupt, but the red Moehog said nothing, so Alamor continued in a low voice. “One of the other collectors told me that he would buy the artifact for ten million Neopoints, so I took the deal. I stole it and I brought it to him, but I was followed and caught. I ran away, but they’re after me, Jufra. They are close to Hajiro. They know that I live here.”
Jufra had listened to the story in silence. The Moehog was clearly very upset, but to Alamor’s relief he said nothing about the lies or the theft. Instead, Jufra only said, “They will find you here, Alamor.” His voice was soft; indeed Lasa had still not yet awoken from his slumber, but Jufra’s words seemed to echo in Alamor’s mind.
Jufra shook his head sadly. “You know that when the Palace Guard come to Hajiro, they do not leave empty-handed. They will not stop searching until you are found.” He looked at Alamor, his eyes reflecting the flickering candlelight. “Alamor, you must leave.”
The camouflage Kougra did not know if his heart could sink any lower. “I know,” he whispered, glancing down at Lasa. “But where? How?”
Jufra hesitated for only a moment. “My brother,” he said quietly, and Alamor immediately remembered Jufra telling him that he should take Lasa to visit his brother’s boat, which was docked in the river. Jufra did not get up, but he said, “Alamor, you must go to the river and find my brother Hofra. His boat is scheduled to leave at sunrise tomorrow. He will be preparing for the voyage; the new day is not far off.”
Jufra stood up and walked to the end of the tent, pulling open the flap. The starry sky was still dark, but the night was waning. Alamor turned to look at him; Jufra continued to stare outside. “Tell Hofra that I sent you,” he said slowly. “He will take you away from here, and you will be safe.”
Alamor gently scooped up Lasa in his arms. He stood at Jufra’s shoulder, looking out into the night. “They will be close now,” he said.
Jufra looked at him. “You should leave,” he said. “Go quickly, Alamor. Your time is running out.”
The Kougra faced his friend, and he felt a new wave of emotion rising inside of him. “Jufra,” he said in a soft voice, “I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have lied to you, it was just... This was the last time...”
“I know,” said Jufra, turning away to look out once more at the stars. “I forgive you, Alamor. You know that I am your friend.”
Alamor looked down at the sand. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Jufra touched Alamor’s shoulder. “Goodbye, Alamor,” he said.
Shadows draped the tent city, and the Kougra looked out over the sea of canvas in search of his pursuers. They would be upon him, soon.
Alamor gave his friend a final glance. “Goodbye,” he said softly, and, like a thief in the night, he vanished into the shadows of Hajiro.
To be continued...