The Brown Lupe strode quickly and silently through the shadowy, narrow side streets, still as death at that late hour of the night. The tip of his creamy tail, swishing gently, just showed under the edge of a midnight black cloak. The cloak, which was thrown elegantly over his shoulders and closed with a stylish silver clasp at the base of his neck, was his only piece of clothing. He stopped abruptly at the entrance to an alley, his pale yellow eyes shifting back and forth warily. Seeing that there was no one in sight, he swiftly entered the dark passageway, his cloak swirling behind him. He slowed as he neared the end of the alley, and started to peer closely at the grimy brick wall. He searched intently for many minutes, keeping his eyes narrowed in concentration. At last, he gave a tight smile of satisfaction and, sighing slightly, pushed one of the bricks back an inch and to the left. Then, unfastening his cloak, he gently laid the silver clasp in the recess and closed it again. Bowing his head and drawing the cowl of his cloak over himself, he waited.
Finally, a door hidden artfully as part of the wall silently swung open, and the Lupe smoothly slipped inside. The door slowly closed again, and to the outer world it was as if the entire process of the last few minutes had never happened.
As soon as the Lupe stepped inside, there were two spear points grazing at his throat.
“Name yourself!” the deep voice of a Skeith growled from the Lupe’s left.
“Remove your weapons from my throat at once, or suffer the consequences,” the Lupe said in an icy voice. “Who are you to question me, Horzgarth?”
There was a sharp intake of breath from the Brown Neopet’s other side. “J’mar?” the somewhat hoarse voice of Axle, a Moehog, whispered. “Is it really you?”
“Move your weapons, and I will show you.”
The spear points were moved away from his throat- reluctantly from his left side, and willingly and excitedly from his right. J’mar raised a paw to his eye level, and then quickly snapped his thumb and forefinger together. A small yellow flame appeared and hovered above their heads, allowing the two guards to see his face, and he to see theirs. The insolence and fear that he saw worried him, but he was careful to not let any trace of emotion show in his voice.
“Now you have seen me. But I wonder,” he continued, his voice taking on a sharp tone, “why you did not believe it was I when you saw my mark on the silver clasp.”
“Well, what do you expect, J’mar?” Horzgarth muttered. “We’ve been without your guidance for ten years. We’re not guided by your mark anymore; we’re not going to welcome everybody with your mark, simply because they have it.”
“What did you say?” J’mar asked, voice soft. “You seem to have gained new doubts, Horzgarth, as well as disrespect, since I left that day. Doubtful members cannot be trusted, and disrespectful members cannot be tolerated. If I do not make my meaning clear...”
Axle broke in hurriedly. “He only means that ten years is a very long time. We assumed, understandably, that you were dead. We did search for you, thinking that you may have been imprisoned somewhere, but all traces of you had vanished. When your clasp appeared in the recess, we feared that your killers had come to take the rest of us. That is all that Horzgarth meant.”
J’mar nodded slowly. “Very well. I will accept that excuse this time. But, Horzgarth, you have plainly forgotten how to act when I am near. You would do well to remember your manners in the future.”
J’mar turned to Axle. “What has gone on here since I left this place, so long ago?”
Axle fiddled nervously with his spear. “Much has happened. You may prefer to rest before hearing the news; there is much to tell and the story will take a long time.”
J’mar looked at the diminutive Moehog and nodded slowly. “Very well. I will return to my rooms. But then you will tell me all that has occurred, so that I can take charge once more.”
Axle bowed low. “Very well. Here is your clasp back. And since I know now that you are planning on staying around, I can address you as I should... please come right this way, King of the Thieves of Arcwan.”
* * *
J’mar arrived at his apartment shortly after, and he quickly bade Axle and Horzgarth go, that he might have time to rest before discovering what all had happened in his absence. As soon as they were gone, he sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. When he dropped it, it was as if a mask had been lifted. He suddenly looked worried, exhausted, and above all, in despair. J’mar knew that the news of the last ten years was not good; the halls had been nearly empty as he walked to his rooms, a rarity in his underground kingdom at this time of night. J’mar was also surprised that his second-in-command, Buchar, had not been called for or mentioned at all. The Brown Lupe shook his head and sighed. How things could change so quickly. He had never thought Buchar would betray him, yet judging from what J’mar had seen, apparently he had. Of course, he thought wryly to himself, I never would have dreamed that all of the things that happened these past few years would happen either. I never thought I would leave the thieves and my rule, never thought that... all that happened would happen. I certainly never believed that I would return to this place. Yet here I am.
J’mar shook his head and slowly crossed the living room. He stopped at the open window, brushing aside the torn curtain that shivered in the breeze. He looked down at the street below, wondering what the Neopets around him were thinking and doing at that very moment. They have no idea, he thought bitterly to himself. No idea that my kingdom spreads for miles under and through Neopia Central. No idea that I have returned to rule it. And no idea how precious their lives are, simply because they are free... free to act as they wish, free to show their true emotions, free from responsibility.
“I am king of an empire that is vaster than all others,” he said aloud to himself. “No one has ever heard of Arcwan, yet everyone has felt its effects. I have the most powerful position in Neopia!” Quietly, he continued, “And I’d give anything to be out there, beginning anew, just as I was ten years ago.” The thief king sighed, and looked up at the stars that studded Neopia’s sky. “But I am not free, getting a fresh start out there. I am in here, and this time, there will be no escape. I am doomed to live out the rest of my days as king of a kingdom that will never fall.” J’mar bowed his head and let the torn curtain fall back over the window, shutting the outside world from his sight.
I hope you liked it! Constructive comments are much appreciated.