The Scarab and the Sea: Part Nine
Kipras never saw them coming – he was intent on polishing a long, slim knife. But the knife did him very little good when Origen knocked it out of his hands, hauled him to his feet, and held his arms firmly behind his back. Lura, Tomos, and Kanrik all had their blades trained on the traitorous Wocky. Kanrik said, "You were his commanding officer – you get to do the honors. And, Wocky, if you try to call for help, you really aren't going to like what happens."
Kipras's eyes were wide as he stared at Tomos. The Lupe said, "You really thought you'd gotten rid of me, didn't you?"
Kipras asked, voice shrill with fear, "How did you find this place? How did you get off the Krawken's Eye?"
Tomos said, "I dunno. Maybe because I'm not a yellow-bellied, back-stabbing Grackle Bug? Kipras, I'm the one who needed the royal pardon, but all my own crimes put together haven't been a tenth as bad as this stunt you've pulled."
Origen nodded – Tomos was surprised, and more than a little pleased, by the big Grarrl's sign of approval. He continued, "So tell us, Kipras. Where's the treaty? Where are the gems? How are they guarded? Tell us, and we might make sure you get out of this alive."
Kanrik said, "I'm not half as nice as the rest of them. I'm Kanrik, if you've heard of me." Kipras's eyes went even wider – he clearly had. "And if you don't help the nice Lupe, we can arrange something between the two of us that most likely will not suit you."
Kipras blurted, "Behind the throne! Door! Caves – they lead to the sea! He's got his treasure down there, and a boat to escape in if everything goes wrong! It'll all be down there – he hasn't had his crown forged yet!"
And that was apparently as much as the Wocky's nerves could take – he fainted.
As Origen let Kipras fall, Tomos started wondering how in Neopia they were going to get behind Scarblade's throne. Then Lura asked, "Did that seem kinda... dull... to you?"
Kanrik raised an eyebrow. "You mean you were expecting more than a little toady who'd never actually looked an enemy in the eye unless he had a clear advantage? Kipras is a minor player in all of this. It's Scarblade and his captains that we're after."
Tomos sized everyone up. "We all look plenty unsavory – should we just try to sneak in, see what's going on?"
Origen said, "Sounds good to me – though I'm getting sick of sneaking."
Tomos snickered. "Sneaking? I haven't seen you do any real sneaking yet. You might as well have 'guard' stamped on your forehead."
Lura sighed. "Boys, play nice. Let's go."
But they'd barely even gotten to the doors of the fortress before they were flung open. Pirates raced out, bearing weapons, and streamed out the front gate. Tomos looked at the sky – the plume of smoke from whatever Garin, Jacques, and Hannah had set on fire was growing ever larger.
One of the pirates looked over at them. "Sentries! Get back to your posts and stop lazing around in the sun unless you want the rebels after you! Inside!"
Tomos didn't need to be told twice – he ducked his head and ran in, hoping that none of this gang would recognize him or Origen. As soon as he was inside, he pressed himself against the wall and drew his cutlass as he blinked to try and adjust to the dimmer light inside.
There was a walkway around the perimeter, and stairs that went up to the next floor, but the most impressive flight of steps swept straight into the earth below them. Most of the fortress was hollow in the middle – from this place, Tomos could see straight into Scarblade's grand hall. Most of the ground was bare, but at the far end of the long room below them, he could see a throne set on a dais, surrounded by chests that Tomos knew contained treasure.
Kanrik commented, "Disgusting. No self-respecting thief flaunts himself like this."
Origen shook his head. "We desert-dwellers have the right of it, I think – no one gets to sit in a throne whose great-grandsires didn't fight to keep it."
Lura offered, "Since he got hurt trying to destroy Maraqua, I'll bet he has to rely on all this to make it look like he still has influence."
Tomos half-listened to all the observations – he was busy, scanning everywhere for any sign of a grey Pirate Neopian who would blend far too well with the stone. Finally, he felt safe enough to say, "I don't see anyone – they must all be going to handle the rebellion. Behind the throne."
Tomos drew his sword, and he led the way down the stairs. They ran across the cool stones of the hall floor and to the dais. Behind the throne, Tomos surveyed the grey stone wall, and noticed a stone that seemed to be recessed, and several lines that seemed too neat. It had been too quickly done – he'd wanted a hidden door, but he hadn't wanted to wait for a good one. Tomos swung it open.
Lura squeaked, and they all looked up quickly – there were pirates, leaning over one of the upper balconies! Kanrik whispered, "You know what you're looking for, Tomos! You go – I can block the door or hold them off!"
Tomos nodded, but he said, "Don't do anything heroic. If they're too much for you, run."
Kanrik raised an eyebrow. "No honor among thieves, remember?"
Tomos gestured. "Not that sort up there – but there are some of us who try to keep to it. Nuria bless."
There was no time for more – the pirates were charging down the stairs. They dashed into the passageway, snatched the torches from behind the door, and continued down as Kanrik stayed behind, doing something to the hinges.
Origen asked, "Now what?"
Lura ran a hand up a wall. "This tunnel – it was natural, but it's been expanded." When Tomos and Origen looked at her in surprise, she shrugged. "My folk are stoneworkers. I'm the black Babaa of the family."
Tomos said, "So you'll be able to tell us which tunnels people actually use, and which are just randomly here."
Lura nodded. Tomos said, "Then you take the lead – Origen and I have your back."
They walked quickly through the dark tunnels – Tomos held his torch high to give Lura the best light possible. He tried to keep oriented in his head – he thought they were headed toward the ocean. Lura said, "I bet it'll be pretty far down. It'll give Scarblade more of a chance to – oh!
Tomos hit the floor – a crossbow bolt had nearly missed the both of them. Then he drew his sword and lunged forward at whoever had attacked them – behind him, his torch fell to the floor and went out.
Origen hissed, his deep voice sinister, "You two guarding something? Run now, and maybe you'll get out of here alive."
The one Tomos held wriggled out of his grip and ran back up the tunnel – the companion that Tomos hadn't seen, a shadow Kougra that blended with the darkness, followed. Tomos said lightly as he picked up his torch to relight it, "Well, that was easy."
Lura said thoughtfully, "Too easy."
Origen shrugged. "Pirates are a bunch of dirty cowards, what did you expect? Present company excepted, of course," he added, as Lura glared at him.
Tomos looked up – there was a door set into the wall above them, with a short slope to reach it. He jumped up, scrabbled briefly for purchase on the slick stone, then got a hold on the handle. It wasn't locked – it swung open, and Tomos had to swing to land on the doorstep.
He turned, and he stared.
He had thought the chests of gold and gems up in the hall were impressive. But Scarblade probably wouldn't even miss it if his minions filched every last Neopoint.
All through the broad cavern, lit by lanterns hung from stone spikes in the ceiling, were chests and sacks, some half-rotten, others almost new. Out of them all spilled gems, gold, and other things that were clearly valuable. In the middle of the cavern, water lapped the stone shores of a sheltered lagoon, and a small sailboat was tethered to a chunk of rock – Scarblade's escape route.
He turned around as Origen pulled himself in, landing heavily. Lura was already up and going through a pile of rubies. Tomos said, "You can loot the place after we find the treaty and the three gemstones."
Lura stepped away from the rubies – anyone but an experienced pickpocket wouldn't have noticed the flash of reflected light as several entered the pouch at her waist. He snickered – he probably would have done the same himself. He looked around.
There! A faint pale glow from across the cavern. He pointed. "I'm headed over there. Will you two watch the door?"
Origen said, "I'm coming with you – I didn't come this far to get stuck on guard duty!"
Tomos looked back at the Grarrl – he looked excited, rather than as if he didn't trust Tomos not to mess this up. Tomos took the lead, threading his way through chests and bags to avoid tripping.
Here was the Sakhmet military-issue pack, with Kipras's name tooled in the leather, sitting on a pedestal, the beribboned treaty sticking out of the neck. And here were the three gems, arranged in front of the mouth of the bag. Origen grinned toothily. "They look kinda little for all this trouble, don't they?"
Tomos scooped the gems up and put them in his pocket, then slung the bag over his shoulder.
"Oh, I wouldn't be in such a hurry to leave if I were you."
Tomos turned slowly. Origen gasped, "Oh, sweet Fyora, save us."
By the door to the treasure cavern, holding the tip of his cutlass only an inch away from Lura's nose as she pressed herself against the wall, was Captain Scarblade himself!
To be continued...