Sandstorm follows directly on from my previous tale: Bazaar of Wonders, lovingly inspired by the Lost Desert edition of the Trading Card Game.
"This," declared Tomos proudly, "is what we like to call home sweet home."
Bane looked around the grubby room studiously, ignoring the howling gale of sand above them. The floor was dusty, the chairs and crates that held the Desert Scarab's illicit wares were covered with cobwebs. There was even crusted mud upon the sputtering candle that illuminated the dingy area. Bane marvelled particularly the last, concerned how the Scarab's even managed to get any earth in from outside the desert. A slimy Scamander slithered over the floor and hissed at the pair 1, before darting up a wall and out of sight.
"It looks... cosy," said the Moehog.
"Well, we like to try our best," Tomos said with an air of pride flinging himself into a chair which responded with an echoic groan. "It may not be the prettiest of hideouts, but my word does it do the job."
"Yes." Bane smiled. "I don't think even Princess Amira would think to look in her own Royal Gardens for the Scarab's lair. The Royal Family are rarely troubled by unwanted guests after all 2. How did you find this place?"
"Now that's a story," began Tomos the Lupe, "Our friend Horace 3, known for his uncanny ability to smell an Ummagine from a hundred metres away, was searching the gardens for the biggest Ummagine ever imagined. Now, each gate was guarded by ten soldiers and there were patrols...4"
"That's quite enough, Tomos," said Nabile, entering the room. "We don't want Bane to be getting old before he's even managed to do job for us yet."
The Ixi turned to Bane.
"So, what do you think of our shelter?" she asked smoothly.
"It's nice." The Moehog nodded. "Although I expected something a little less compact and perhaps a little cleaner. It's missing something with, well, something special."
"And glowing and sparkling 5," said Nabile, a flicker of amusement crossing her face. "Well, since you appear so keen to have a nicer hideout, you've just volunteered yourself for a job. Find some useful items to fill this wonderful hideout of ours."
"In this storm?"
As if to emphasise his point, the gale rose in volume, whistling a tune that rattled the crates where they sat. Small specks of dust drifted down from the ceiling room. One speck seemed to detach itself from a column, slowly floating to the far corner, where it landed gently upon an ancient chair. It promptly collapsed. Bane looked at the two Scarab's and raised an eyebrow.
"Yes," coughed Nabile gruffly. "That's beside the point."
"Fine, as soon as this storm is over," she consented, turning to Tomos. "Lock the doors, board up the windows 6."
Tomos rose with a grumble, and shuffled to the door fumbling in his pocket. Reaching the door he stopped, checked his pockets again patting himself all over. He looked at Nabile.
"Did I give the keys to you?" he asked puzzled.
"Don't tell me you've lost them!" signed Nabile with frustration.
"Looking for these?" Bane asked innocently twirling a set of keys in his hands. He felt a blade at his throat; Nabile's face filled his.
"Do you know what I hold in my hands," she threatened quietly.
Bane gulped slowly.
"It feels like a dagger of some sort."
"Not just any dagger," continued the Ixi in the same low voice. "My dagger, and let me tell you, I am as fast as the spit of a Cobrall. And twice as venomous 7. Now I am, very slowly and gently, going to take this key out of your hands. I don't normally like to have to threaten the new recruits, but for this I will make an exception. Some Moehogs like exploring, some like food, I thought that all Moehogs like making friends8, but you are certainly not endearing yourself to me. If Moehogs like living to see the sun rise again, under no circumstances will you ever take this key from either of us two again. "
"Understood," said Bane nervously. This was the first time he had seen a dark shadow pass over Nabile's fair face. It unnerved him. The Ixi took the key from him, removed the dagger and tossed the key to Tomos, who deftly caught it with one hand and locked the door firmly. There was a satisfying click as the tumblers fell into place, securing the three of them in the room. Tomos came back over to the nervous Moehog as the Ixi stalked darkly away, muttering under her breath.
"Don't you worry about her." The Lupe winked. "It looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the hoard 9. She's just envious of you. She's never managed to pickpocket me yet, despite years of knowing me! When did you do it?"
"When we shook at our first meeting." Bane shrugged.
Tomos barked with a sudden laugh.
"Ah yes, that would do it. Now as I said, don't worry too much about that burning ball of anger 10, she won't stay in a mood like that for too long. Feel free to have a look around, if you're still hungry, some of these boxes even contain a bit of food. But I'd suggest steering clear of her for a little bit longer."
Still chuckling clapped his hand on the Moehogs shoulder and returned to his chair. Bane took the opportunity to wander around the room peering at the various barrels and boxes that seemed to line every wall from floor to ceiling in various shades of brown. He stopped next to a promising looking example and creaked open the lid. Inside was a selection of fruit, amidst the Ummagines and decaying Baggusses there was a curious round fruit. He picked it up and inspected it curiously. It was blue, banded with yellow stripes, although it may have been yellow crossed with blue stripes. He threw it to Tomos who caught it with barely a instinctive thought.
"What on Neopia is this?" asked Bane.
"Obvious really," said Tomos, lobbing the fruit back at the pickpocket who ate in in one gulp. "It's a cross between a uh... thing and... something else 11. S'called a Tchea Fruit, I think."
"For Fyora's sake," grumbled Nabile from the corner, although her voice seemed less gruff than before. "It's quite simple, the blue bits taste like blueberry, yellow bits like banana 12. It was made for a prince long since forgotten."
"That just seems silly," complained Tomos from his chair.
"Yes, well, the ancient Neopians had a strange sense of humour13."
Meanwhile Bane was now searching some of the other containers with an avid curiosity. One caught his eye, opening the top silently. A golden gleam shone over his face. He reached in and picked up the most beautiful statuette he had ever seen. A gold Scorchio carrying upon his back, a golden globe. It seemed to radiate warmth into his palms.
"Now that," Tomos said looking at the Moehog with amusement, "is certainly a very special item. The Golden Scorchstone. We found that in Sutek's tomb itself."
"How did you get there?" asked the Moehog in awe of the object, turning it over and over in his hands.
"It's no secret where Sutek's tomb is," said Tomos. "We were just the first to get past the guards. And the traps. And the fearsome Mutant Bearog."
"Oh, I miss Beary," added Nabile, some warmth creeping back into her voice.
"Then to enter the tomb," continued Tomos, "we had to pass the dreaded Unsolvable Riddle15. Do you remember, Nabile?"
"Of course," she said smiling with the memory. "It was said that once you reached the riddle, you couldn't take your eyes off it. There were bones of Neopians who had got there and wasted away in agony."
"So how did you get through to the tomb?" asked Bane with anticipation.
"We solved the riddle, of course," said Tomos plainly.
"You solved the Unsolvable Riddle?"
"Oh yeah," replied the Lupe proudly. "The answer was Teeth."
"The answer's always teeth in poxy old riddles."
Bane and Nabile roared with laughter together.
"Right, you two," said Nabile, dabbing softly at her eyes, "it really should be time we got some sleep for the morrow. Don't you forget, Bane, you still owe us some new furniture."
Bane reluctantly put the Scorchstone back in the box and closed the lid. Pulling a blanket that covered one of the crates he lay down on the floor. He was asleep almost before he had time to close his eyes.
Somewhere in the distance, the sandstorm howled 16.
Inspired by and featuring the following Lost Desert TCG cards:
- Tonu Palace Guard
- Horace the Poor
- Potion of Invisibility
- Fyora Faerie Doll
- Swarm of Scamanders
- Cobrall Dagger
- Yellow Moehog
- The Snowager
- Fire Mote
- Blue Warf
- Tchea Fruit
- Golden Scorchstone
- Unsolvable Riddle
- Dead of Night