Messenger: The Trouble With Selkets - Part Eight
I could feel the blood rushing to my head as I hung upside down in the net. Pecan’s sharp claws dug into my back as he hopped all over the place, trying to break free from the net. I kicked at the net, causing it to swing dangerously.
“No,” a voice said softly. I recognized it as Princess Amira, the voice I had heard earlier as I walked down the hall. The princess was in a net similar to mine, hanging from the ceiling.
The instant the Aisha spoke, fifty or so heads whipped around to stare straight at me. I fluttered my wings feebly and dragged myself into a relatively upright position. The thieves glared at me, and some of them even laughed a bit. A small Korbat with a squeaky voice ran off, yelling “I’ll fetch the boss!” Who was the boss? If my instincts were right, it was the one behind all this: the person who had poisoned me and kidnapped Amira.
“Not so confident now, are we?” I craned my neck to see a smug-looking red Hissi with a blue headdress peering up at me. I recognized him as the thief of the necklace.
“You don’t even have the necklace,” I shot back. Several of the pets in the room turned to look at the Hissi angrily.
“I heard you let them get the necklace and signed a paper to free the Acara,” a burly-looking Scorchio snarled, nudging the Hissi. “What did you do that for? You should have just taken the necklace and came back here.”
“The boss told me to capture the Wocky,” the Hissi explained, “and ye would be foolish to disobey the boss. An’ anyhow, I got away without the guards getting me, and I got Bluecloud cleared as well.”
“You know Bluecloud?” I asked incredulously.
“She came ‘ere to Thieves’ City once or twice,” the Hissi told me, “but she didn’t come ‘ere much. I know ‘er, an’ she’s saved me from the guards in a thieving job a couple o’ times. I owed it to ‘er to save ‘er from the dungeon.”
“And you tricked the guards as well,” one of the thieves called. “Now that they have the necklace, they won’t care about us.”
“Well, Hotep, you got through this time, but be careful,” the Scorchio warned, turning to the Hissi. The Hissi, Hotep, nodded impatiently.
“The Boss is coming!” The squeaky-voiced Shoyru dashed into the room again. “The boss wants the prisoners cut loose from their nets and tied up.” Hotep nodded and cut mine and Amira’s nets down and tied us together with strong ropes. He grabbed Pecan by the tail and flung him into a small cage in the corner of the room.
“Welcome to Thieves’ City,” Hotep crowed. “Alley of thieves, refuge fer stolen property.” I glared at him and struggled against the rope, but Hotep’s knots were too tight. The princess sighed and clenched her fists, her eyes flashing at the thieves surrounding us.
“Can they walk?” an unseen voice called out from somewhere in front of me, the speaker hidden in the endless crowd. “Bring them toward me. I want to speak to them. Alone.” A few of the thieves nodded and unceremoniously pushed us forward. I stumbled, unaccustomed to walking sideways and bound to someone. We were led into a small hallway that twisted and turned, going deeper and deeper underground. The sand turned to dirt, the dirt to clay, and the clay to rock. Finally we reached a door, made of rotting wood and falling on its hinges. The thieves punched the door open, threw Amira and me inside so that we felt to the floor, and slammed the door shut, leaving us alone.
Or so I thought.
“Why, hello.” A voice floated out of the darkness and drifted toward my ears. My face was pressed into the ground, and my wings were flattened and crumpled in the ropes’ tight bonds. Amira struggled to get up, and out of the darkness a hand appeared, lined and tanned. In its fingers was a dagger, the blade long and smooth and the handle carved from black wood. The blade flashed down toward us, and I flinched, but the dagger cut our ropes, freeing us. I stood up quickly, rubbing my sore wrists.
“Ah, so you survived both the Selkets and Hotep’s attack. How impressive.” The voice drifted nearer. I edged toward the door, my chafed wrists smarting.
“Come now, I have guards at the door. Surely you have guessed that by now?” And, out of the darkness, the Aisha stepped forward. The very same pet who had set the Selkets loose in my house and the one who had presumably captured the princess. I stood there, dumbstruck, watching as she stepped forward, holding the dagger. She wore a long, billowing black cape, a set of expensive-looking silver robes, and several bracelets lining her arms.
“Ah, Princess Amira. And Emma. How good of you to come!” I glared at the Aisha and finally found my voice.
“You’re too late!” I growled. “The necklace is at the palace.”
“My dear girl,” the Aisha replied calmly, “you don’t expect it to STAY at the palace, do you?”
“I know her!” Amira exclaimed, glaring at the Aisha fiercely. “You kidnapped me and stole my necklace!”
“Oh?” The Aisha laughed. “I didn't steal the necklace, but in a way I'm responsible for it. Hotep would never have stolen it if I hadn't dared him to--me, his leader. And if he hadn't stolen it, the guards wouldn't have been distracted enough looking for Hotep for me to kidnap you. And there's a reason I needed the necklace particularly.”
Amira’s brow furrowed as she contemplated this. “Thieves’ City!” she finally said. “Ah! So here it is at last. We have been searching for you and your little thief friends for years, and at last we have found them.”
The Aisha smiled. “Yes. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Hatshepsut. You are the Princess, and you, Wocky, are Emma, hero of Maraqua. Very impressive, I must say. I couldn’t have pulled it off myself, but you did an excellent job of defeating Dole. It’s common knowledge now, I read all about it in the Neopian Times. Very impressive.”
“Enough small talk,” I snapped. “Get to the point, what do you want US for?”
“You will help me get the necklace,” said Hatshepsut, nodding to Amira. “I heard about Hotep’s little scrape with the guards. No doubt he planned to flee the desert and sell the necklaces for his own purposes. He was quite lucky that the guard happened to be away and that his lock pick worked. I understand that the lock is especially hard to break.”
“Which is what you plan to do,” I snapped at the Aisha. She laughed quietly, a pretty, bell-like laugh.
“Friend, I don’t plan to sell it. No, it has greater value here, in Thieves’ City.” She turned her back to us and dropped the dagger on a small stool near the door. She lit a small match and set three torches on fire, setting them in brackets in regular intervals along the wall. At the other end of the room, lit by the quiet glow of the three torches, was a square stone panel set into the wall. Hatshepsut looked wistfully at it, tracing her finger over the ornate carvings in the stone.
“What are you going to do with it, then?” I asked. I was trying to buy us some time, of course, but I was also a little curious. I had always loved this part in books: the villain captures the hero and tells them their plan, and then the hero uses that knowledge to defeat them.
“You are familiar with the whole fiasco involving Jazan and Razul?" Hatshepsut asked Amira.
"Obviously!" the princess spat.
“They don’t talk about Razul much anymore,” Hatshepsut continued. “They don't know where he got his powers, because they don't have the courage or initiative to find out. People don’t take enough time to learn the villain’s story, when often it is the most important of all.”
“So?” I snapped. “Razul’s gone. Finished. What do you care? And why do you need the necklace, if not to sell it?”
“Where did Razul get his power? I knew that there must be some spell, some teacher he had learned it from. So I read. Hours and hours of reading, and I have only one lead. Who do you think created this tunnel? I did. I worked for days, weeks, months, and finally I found the fruits of my labor, the lead that I had gleaned from a cast-off sentence in a history book. This safe is solid stone, and coated with webs and shields of the strongest magic in Neopia. This is not a Faerie’s magic, and it doesn’t belong to a witch or a wizard. This is the magic of a sorcerer.”
“Big deal. A locked stone box,” said Amira, but she looked a little interested.
“So I read some more, and studied the box. Finally, I found the key. The necklace,” Hatshepsut continued.
“Nonsense,” said Amira promptly. “Absolute nonsense. The necklace has nothing to do with this. . . safe.”
“Not the necklace itself, but rather the jewel in it. Tata-Sun-Al-Sakhmet, or, translated from the language of the ancients, The Many Faces of Sakhmet.”
“The Sakhmet Diamond, you mean?” Amira questioned earnestly, forgetting to be hostile. Hatshepsut nodded.
“The Sakhmet Diamond, as you call it. The hardest diamond in Neopia, and the most valuable. It is an excellent key in the fact that it is in no way reproducible. There are so many facets and faces on the diamond, so many curves and angles, facets so small that you can’t even see them, and the lock is designed in such a way that if even one facet of the diamond is faulty, the whole key becomes useless.”
“Well, you’re not getting my necklace,” said the princess defiantly. “It’s in the palace, being watched by dozens of armed guards.”
“Princess, surely you know better than to think that all of your palace staff are completely loyal to you and to you alone? Why, that small Shoyru that just fetched me is none other than your favorite cook. And that Scorchio arguing with Hotep right now is a guard.”
“Still,” argued Amira, “they don’t have a key. I understand that Hotep was able to steal it last time by picking the lock, but now that the whole place is swarming with guards, they’ll be thrown in the dungeon for even carrying a lock pick.”
“Ah, and there you are wrong, Princess,” said Hatshepsut, smiling. Her hand flitted to her pocket and she withdrew something shiny and three-pronged. It was my missing Trident of Peace. “I have the key,” she said.
To be continued...