Once a Thief: Part One
Clanks of swords, muffled shouts, and stomping feet were no more. The chaos of a raid gone horribly wrong was over. But the repercussions had just begun.
Ingilaug had barely escaped the mess that she finally accepted was her fault. A palace guard had rounded the corner that she thought was clear; she had made her rounds well before the break-in and there was not a soul in sight. But her misfortune proved fatal. A scuffle broke out between her and the Emperor's guard and her face received a devastating cut from a sharp blade. The pain was so great that she collapsed to her knees and cradled her face in her paws when the rule was to always stand your ground. Her accomplices immediately came to her aide, the other members of her faction that she had spent weeks with staking out the Shenkuu Palace, but so did more guards on duty.
As the other members of the raid continued to fight off the guards that seemed to be emerging from every nook and cranny of the palace wing, Ingilaug managed to duck away from the violence and escape. She ran for her life out of the palace and for miles in the dark Shenkuu night, using the stars as her guide back to the camp. Now the Tyrannian Kougra had retreated into the tent and pressed a tattered cloth to her face, reflecting on her errors. She had been unable to dodge a sword, a skill she had practiced so much through her years of training, and a giant gash now extended from the corner of her eye to the middle of her cheek. Her pale yellow fur could not cover the fresh wound that made her wince with the slightest touch.
The sound of heavy footsteps approached the tent. Ingilaug held her breath in hopes that a guard had not followed her, for she was not in the condition to fight. A claw reached in and pulled the tent flap back, a pair of sharp talons piercing into the fabric, and a pirate Krawk bent down and stepped inside. Their eyes met briefly until Ingilaug averted her gaze out of embarrassment. It was one thing to have to deal with someone who worked for her. It was another thing to have to deal with her brother.
"I thought I had cleared the entire east wing, Elrique," Ingilaug said before he could offer his stark criticism. "I swear I did-"
"You couldn't dodge a sword? A SWORD?" Elrique growled. His tolerance for errors during raids, especially of this size, were extremely low. "Your cries drew TEN guards to go up against the five of us!"
"He came out of nowhere!"
"We are all supposed to be prepared for something like that! Especially you! Have years of training not prepared you enough?"
In these situations Ingilaug never became outwardly angry. But this time, some fire ignited deep down in her tired and worn-out soul. She slowly stood up and raised her head so that she was eye-to-eye with her brother.
"I have had it with you!" Ingilaug threw the cloth to the ground, revealing her cut that did not make Elrique flinch. "I have endured your selfish ways for far too long and I'm sick of it!"
"Selfish... is that what I've been, sister?" Elrique chuckled with amusement. "I have looked out for the best interest of our family since day one. I have put you before me numerous times that have gone unappreciated. I never asked anything of you except to stand by my side like the family that we are."
"You surely have a twisted idea about what 'family' is."
"If only our sister was around for you to say that to your face." Elrique mused.
The word still stung. The memories had not faded.
"If I have the pleasure of never gazing upon your face again, I will forever be in Fyora's debt!" she hissed.
He smirked at the comment. "Before you take on Fyora's debt, why not deal with your own first?"
"You are absolutely pathetic!" she snarled and impulsively lunged at him, but Elrique sidestepped her and grabbed the scruff of fur behind her neck, pushing her to the ground. Their bickering stemmed back to their childhood over small amenities like who got to play with what toy and who got the last biscuit. Now the stakes were much larger.
"I believe this is the end of the line for us," Elrique kneeled down and whispered in her ear, looking around the tent to see if shadows of his faction members were approaching. He did not want them to see their two leaders in such a state of turmoil. "Being partners in this industry wasn't the best idea."
"Best decision you've made in a while," Ingilaug laughed, flicking her tail back and forth as it was the only appendage she could move. "And for the record... you have no idea how much stock I kept from you. It adds up to a small fortune. I'll be fine without you, and my debt will be paid in no time."
Elrique recoiled as she pushed away from him, rising from the ground and existing the tent. It was the one rule the siblings established; they would share whatever wealth they acquired. Their personal debts were to be taken care of individually, but part of the idea was that they would use the money to repay their debts together. It was the groundwork that built their operation. But apparently that meant nothing to Ingilaug.
"Good riddance!" the Krawk called out to his sister for what he truly believed would be the last time. But she had already disappeared into the darkness, and his words went unheard.
Elrique could not recall what happened after the outburst. He could only bring himself to remember feeling numb and empty. That, however, was short-lived. While Ingilaug fled to places unknown, Elrique relocated to Qasala while it was still in its states of rebuilding to continue where the pair had originally left off. He worked his way to become the leader of an elite group of thieves that he recruited himself. They traveled all around Neopia, using their cunning talents to steal millions of Neopoints and valuables from the unsuspecting. Though each received a generous share of the prize, more than three quarters of the money filtered back to Elrique, the fearless leader of the faction.
He lived an incredibly elite lifestyle due to his successful faction and eventually bought a mansion that was once King Jazan and Queen Nabile's old "getaway" home. Elrique's mansion was situated on the outskirts of Qasala, far enough from the formally cursed city but just out of the reach of tourists who could not find the energy to trek over just to gawk at the spectacular mansion. Every room was either lined with gold or exotic jewels, and only the finest handcrafted furniture made it into his home. Dozens of servants worked to keep the mansion running. They all knew Elrique's true nature but never dared say a word or even look like they knew more than they should. A wrong look at Elrique or any or his henchmen would result in what the Krawk called "literal termination." And there was no reason to leave when the pay was so good.
According to outsiders, Elrique was heavily invested in stocks and the thieves that went in and out of his mansion were his consultants. Elrique kept his true intentions low-key and was not at all well known outside of Qasala. He preferred it that way.
Most of his days were spent in his office, or as his faction saw it, the entire second floor of the mansion. It spanned the length of a Yooyuball field and was filled with stolen treasures and mystical artefacts, decorated and displayed in rows like a museum. Elrique mostly stayed at his desk and would tend to his paperwork, using his years of expertise and suggestions from his faction of where to raid next. He was ruthless and cunning, and most of all, he loved his job.
Ingilaug was in a quite different situation from her brother.
Her small fortune from her time working with Elrique had been wasted on lavish expenses; useless weaponry, exotic foods, and the finest clothes were purchased at her free will, a sensation she had never been able to experience before. They were items that she yearned for when she worked with her brother, but he being the rational mind of the group insisted that they save for the necessities. Unfortunately Ingilaug could not make up for her newfound freedom and fell into a series of impulsive splurges. It would not be a major problem if recent heists had not come up fruitless. And in an ironic turn of events, some of her henchwomen eventually betrayed her and disappeared with more than half of her life savings.
Because of her misfortune, Ingilaug made the executive decision to take her three most loyal thieves and travel to the Lost Desert to start anew. Their first order of business after setting up in the Desert's tent city, she decided, was to acquire weaponry. One night she planned for the group to rob Desert Arms.
It was just turning dark and the sunset in the Qasala sky was a mix of pink and yellow. Shoppers were long gone and the shopkeeper of the weaponry was closing up for the day. Ingilaug, with the lower half her face concealed by a shimmering blue scarf that matched her Qasalan-style dress, waited in the back of Desert Arms for her member Jesqe to give the signal that everything inside was clear. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jesqe emerge from the back door. "Is everything set?"
"Yes," the fire Blumaroo answered. "Willa and Saraoka have taken out the shopkeeper. We're ready to go inside."
"Excellent. Secure the front of the shop and meet me in there." Ingilaug ordered and slipped inside the tent and noted the inside. The walls were covered with gleaming swords and shields, some common but most rather rare. Ingilaug smirked at the sight of the Qasalan shopkeeper knocked out in the middle of his store with one red and one blue Ogrin surrounding him.
"Stock up, ladies." Ingilaug purred, and the three began to stuff their burlap sacks with weapons and armour. But their raid would soon be short lived.
"What do we have here?" came an unfamiliar voice.
Ingilaug snapped to attention and froze. A figure draped in a black robe with a scarf that covered their nose and mouth stood in the entrance, pressing a dagger to Jesqe's throat. "I was actually just planning on buying some things, but it looks like you've made my job a little easier. Step aside so I can take care of this."
"Let her go," Ingilaug demanded. Jesqe's eyes widened as the intruder's grip on her tightened.
"Drop the weapons or I will hurt her," he repeated.
Ingilaug knew he was not going to relent. Jesqe did not deserve to be harmed in the slightest, which is why Ingilaug threw the burlap sack to the ground first, followed by Saraoka and Willa.
"Clear!" the figure shouted, and five thieves wearing the same robe and face scarf as him emerged from the entrance. Taking the dagger away from Jesqe but still holding her back, he motioned around the shop. "Fill up the bags. Watch the shopkeeper. And reprimand these... intruders."
The cloaked thieves, with daggers protruding from the inside of their sleeves, dashed over to Ingilaug and her crew and pulled out rope from under their robes. Their wrists and ankles were tied with cord and the four were seated next to a still passed out shopkeeper. They watched in defeat as the ban of thieves cleaned house.
As his henchmen continued to wipe the store clean, the main ringleader strolled over to the captured thieves. "We will leave the shopkeeper to deal with you."
"We'll say it was you," Saraoka hissed.
"Whatever makes you happy." He shrugged. His playful attitude, however, was suddenly overcome with disbelief as his gaze fell upon Ingilaug. He bent down next to her and Ingilaug tilted her head away from him. Lifting a talon, he gently pulled down her blue face veil that masked everything except her eyes. She could feel him graze over the scar on the left side of her face. She was prepared for an unruly comment, but what he said was something she never expected to hear.
Every pair of eyes in the weaponry became fixated on the two.
"You know her?" a cloaked figure in the middle of stuffing a battle axe into a sack asked.
"He knows you?" Willa hissed at Ingilaug.
From that moment there was silence as Ingilaug and the leader continued to stare at each other. Finally the Kougra broke the stillness with a simple, "How?"
"We must leave immediately," he ordered with urgency in his voice. He pulled Ingilaug up from the ground, swiftly grabbing a larger dagger from the wall and cutting her bound limbs loose. "And she's coming with us."
"You can't do this!" Ingilaug shouted as she was yanked towards the exit as the other cloaked thieves kept a watchful eye on her. Before she was shoved outside, she frantically looked back at Jesqe, who bowed her head in silence.
To be continued...