The Thief's Hostage: Part Two
Amelia felt as if she was floating in a sea of clouds, weightless and wispy and absolutely wonderful. The rational part of her brain knew that wasn't possible, but she had been in dreamland for so long that her body felt unattached to her mind. As she began to slowly gain consciousness and her senses started tuning into her surroundings, she guessed that she was in a hospital. That was the only explanation for why she was lying down and why a male voice—most likely a doctor or nurse—was asking her for her father's name.
"Andrew Larkin," she gurgled, wondering how she had ended up like this. All she could remember was walking through the market place looking for a gift for her cousin. And then nothing but the sweet smell of berries wafting into her nostrils...
The woodland Ixi pushed past the fogginess in her mind, forcing her eyes open. Her head swam from the effort, but as soon as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she instantly knew she was not in a hospital.
Instead of a bed or a gurney beneath her, there was only a stone bench with a thin blanket to cover her tiny frame. Instead of a hospital gown, she was in her normal clothes, sans the thick jacket her father had given her. Instead of a food tray filled with blobs of green jelly, there was just a small bowl on the floor beside her filled with what looked like lumpy grey mush. Instead of the room having white walls with ugly framed pictures of trees, there were blank walls made entirely of grey stone.
And instead of there being a door to let her out of the room, there was only a wall entirely made of thick iron bars.
She was in a cell.
"You're awake," said a voice, the same voice that had asked her what her father's name was.
She turned and looked beyond the bars. Sitting on a chair, just feet away, was a shadow Gelert staring at her with dark eyes that were nearly black. Beside him was a silver Bori who twitched nervously. Amelia couldn't understand why he was nervous; if anyone had the right to be nervous, it was her.
Her mouth was dry and sour. "Who are you?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. "Where am I?"
She expected the shadow Gelert to laugh—didn't villains usually laugh in these situations? But instead he just looked weary and just a bit sheepish, as if he didn't like what he was about to say.
"You're in the heart of the Thieves Guild."
Her heart quickened, unsure if she had heard him correctly. Thieves Guild. She stared at her captors, two boys dressed similarly in mismatched clothing of differently dyed fabrics and leather. Strapped to their belts, just visible beyond their thin jackets, were silver daggers, sharp and shiny. They were thieves all right, not two bluffing buffoons.
But to Amelia, things just didn't add up. She knew the Thieves Guild was reportedly stationed somewhere in Terror Mountain, and she had seen her fair share of thieves sneaking throughout the market on several occasions. She'd even been pick-pocketed on more than one occasion. But never had she heard of anyone being dragged into the hall itself.
"Why am I here? If you wanted my money, I see you've already taken it." All of her neopoints had been in her jacket pocket, and she felt uneasy without the heaviness of the gold at her side.
The Bori looked at the Gelert uncertainly, his nose now twitching to match his nervous claws. His look said it all: Should we tell her?
The Gelert touched his dagger lightly, running a dark finger over the blade, refusing to look her in the eye. "I...We... made a mistake."
The Bori nodded and added, "We weren't meant to kidnap you. We were supposed to kidnap the princess."
Amelia's jaw dropped as both the thieves hung their head in shame. A mistake?! She wanted to snap at them, put them in their place for kidnapping Miss Amelia Larkin, but she couldn't entirely blame them for their mistake. For years she had been mistaken for the princess, oftentimes asked for autographs as she strolled through the streets. But it had always been something minor, something she quickly explained and then went on her way. Save for now. Now apparently it had landed her in the heart of the Thieves Guild.
"But I'm not the princess, in case you haven't noticed." Amelia offered them her arm through the bars, showed her captors the streaks of dark brown in her fur, and then pointed to her hair with its blooming pink flowers. "I'm a woodland Ixi, not brown."
"We realized that," the Gelert said shortly, staring at her darkly. "Unfortunately, it was a little too late to try again. So we have to work with what we have. Which is you. Sorry."
Amelia had a feeling he wasn't all that sorry. When she was younger and her father would bring over wealthy clients for dinner, she'd observe them from across the table, try to dissect them. This Gelert was in his late teens, maybe only a year or so older than herself, but he seemed decades older. The way he held himself was a contradiction; he sat hunched in his chair, almost angry, but he had this regal aura around him, the aura of a prince. A prince of thieves. Yet for some unknown reason, she wasn't afraid of him. She knew that she should be—she was defenseless after all. But the Gelert seemed to be lost in his own world. He was silent and still, an obsidian statue set on an old wooden chair.
The silver Bori stood up, a sudden movement that made Amelia flinch. "Jakob! We have that meeting with Kanrik now!"
"Someone has to keep an eye on her." "Her" had an unpleasant intonation.
"I'll do that," the Bori said, sitting back down and attempting to give Amelia a smile. It didn't exactly work—the corners of his mouth kept twitching comically as he strained his muscles—but she appreciated the effort.
"Okay," the Gelert said, standing up. He seemed almost relieved to be on his feet, shifting his weight and making sure his dagger was firmly in its leather sheath. "Be back soon." And without another word, he started down the hall.
Amelia watched his back until he disappeared from sight. It was only once he was gone that she noticed that the Bori was still looking directly at her, strumming his nails on the cell bars, making light pinging sounds whenever he struck the thick metal.
"I'm happy I don't have to deal with Kanrik," the Bori admitted with a genuine smile. "I'd rather sit here any day."
Amelia had meant to stay quiet, but her curiosity got the best of her. "The Gelert—Jakob I think you called him—what's up with him? He seems so..."
The Bori glanced around. Amelia wondered if what he was about to say was confidential, something that she'd be sworn to secrecy. But after making sure the coast was clear, the Bori looked back at her, his light blue eyes as clear as the sky. "Jakob is a bit of royalty here, though not in the normal sense of the word. He's what you call 'guild-born.' Most of us here are recruited young, and not many make it to adulthood. And hardly any of us that do survive decide to marry. And hardly any who marry end up staying the guild. But Jakob's dad did. He was a brilliant thief. Back then were the good old days—or so I heard," he added hastily. "He ended up marrying Jakob's mom, and then Jakob was born right into the guild. 'Cause he was born into the guild, he never had to prove himself to get in here, like I did. I had to do this big heist, guards everywhere..." He trailed off when he realized he had gotten off topic, and laughed. It sounded odd. "Anyway, so because of that, Jakob's always trying to prove himself. Which he doesn't have to do 'cause Jakob's a pretty good thief."
Amelia tried to take everything in. She hadn't expected all that and was surprised the Bori had opened up to her so easily. "But that doesn't explain why he's so quiet," she said. "Or why he's so... I don't know." She couldn't find the right word, and it was bugging her. "It's a bit unsettling."
The Bori frowned, his fingers reaching for the gold chain around his throat, fiddling with it. "Well, when Jakob was seven, his dad got into a bit of tricky business that he couldn't get out of." His eyes, such a pale, silvery blue, had gone dark. "His mom is still alive—you can see her floating around here and there, usually patching up clothing and the like in the sewing room—but she isn't the thieving sort. She would like to get out of the guild entirely, but she relies on Jakob's thieving. So Jakob always feels conflicted. He tries to live up to his father and make life better for his mother, but all she wants is for him to leave the guild." He shrugged. "Life is difficult for a thief."
"I'm sorry," Amelia apologized, blushing a little bit. She suddenly felt bad for asking in the first place. She lived such a wonderful life that it was hard to think that other people scrounged about to get by. That thieves had to resort to thieving to stay alive.
She looked at the Bori who was still playing with his one piece of jewelry, fiddling with it and tugging at it, his fingers running over the gold links and the golden Cobrall pendant. She didn't know how most thieves acted, but this Bori at least was nice. And his friend Jakob, though a little odd, seemed okay as well.
Though something was still bugging her.
"Um... Bori?" She felt odd not knowing his name.
"Tony," he introduced quickly, letting go of the chain. "Though don't go calling me and Jakob by name in front of the others. They already got on our cases for kidnapping the wrong girl, and I don't want them to think we're compromising the guild by giving you our names."
"Of course not," she murmured. She pulled the blanket around her more tightly; the guild was much warmer than the outside, though there still was a bit of a draft. "You guys never exactly told me what you're going to do with me. I'm not the princess so...?"
"Oh." Tony blinked. "Well, times are tough here. People aren't making enough to survive. Our numbers are dropping, people are getting this bad sickness and we don't have the money or resources to help them." He shrugged. "Holding the princess ransom was how we were going to make enough money to survive the winter."
"But I'm not the princess."
"I know that. But you're Miss Larkin."
Amelia blinked. "How do you know my name?"
"You told me... well, you told Jakob," Tony explained. "When you were coming to, he asked for your father's name. Andrew Larkin. The wealthy trader. Everyone's heard of him. He'll definitely pay ransom to get you back. May not be as much as the princess, but still enough to help."
Amelia was suddenly appalled. Neopets getting sick and dying was one thing, but using another person as a hostage to get the money just didn't sit well with her. "What if he doesn't pay?" she said, her tone coming out more harshly than she intended. "What if he refuses?"
"He won't refuse," Tony said, looking her in the eye a bit sadly. But what terrified Amelia was that he was perfectly still now, not a single twitch rippling thorough his body. "Because we'll tell him that if he doesn't pay..." His finger went to his belt... to his knife. And he ran his nail along his blade slowly.
Amelia gasped, shrinking back against the cold stone wall. "B-But you're not going to! Not really, right?"
Tony didn't answer her. He just hid his dagger from view behind his thin jacket and repeated, "He won't refuse."
To be continued...