Where the Wind Blows Wild: Part Two
Corbin didn't walk quickly back to Celestina's house, though he would have liked to. If he walked too quickly, Kell would complain constantly about silly tall people and their silly long legs, and they'd draw even more attention than they already had. And they couldn't afford to draw more attention – not with what they were about to do.
Theft. It made him feel a little nauseous, really. Corbin and Kell regularly lied their tails off, but theft was another level entirely.
Yet they didn't really have another choice. Not here. Not so close to the country of the Stone Shepherds, the Mhisghrashk in their own rumbling tongue. With that idiot Arnsian's sculpture right there in the middle of Mayor Marius's front hall, it wouldn't take much to put two and two together, and then Svar, Magjan, little Khijik, and the rest of their kin would all be in terrible danger. The other Arnsian sculpture Marius owned wasn't so bad – no one who lived in Brilforge was likely to take a trip to Mystery Island where they could run across the Eolu. But the Stone Shepherds were within walking distance from Brilforge!
Oh, were Arnsian still alive, Corbin would have a few choice words to give that... that traitor.
Kell murmured, "Don't look behind us. I think we're being followed."
They'd been followed before – town bureaucrats who didn't appreciate them circumventing local governments to do their jobs, folk who wished to exploit the creatures Corbin and Kell helped, nosy academics and story-chasers who meant well but got underfoot at the most inconvenient of times... Corbin and Kell had seen them all. Corbin stopped and admired the wares in a window so that he could take a look behind them in the glass.
He saw them at once – he realized he'd seen them earlier, outside the mayor's house. There was a little brunette Usul and a tall blue Gelert in a cloak – the Gelert was lean, with a hard face, and looked like a fairly nasty character. He muttered to Kell, "Think they're Marius's?"
Kell shook his head slightly. "I'm bigger than that Usul. Marius is a traditionalist – he likes his muscle big and dim. Those two look a little rougher."
They started walking again. Corbin asked, "What do you think the chances are that they're just following us to see if we cause another show?"
He and Kell snorted at the same time and muttered together, "None." For a second, Corbin could hear their dad's voice chorusing along with them as well – he was the one they'd learned that reaction from.
But Dad wasn't around anymore. And, as the oldest, it was Corbin's job to decide what was right – such as whether they ought to try and steal a statue in order to preserve the secrecy of the Stone Shepherds.
Kell muttered, "Do we try to lose them?"
Corbin shook his head. "Remember, I told the mayor that we were at Celestina's house."
Kell grimaced. "Which means they probably heard it." He said, "Still, we needed something to rub in that smug little mayor's face. Can't say I blame you for doing it."
Corbin grinned. "I live for your approval."
Celestina's house was at the edge of Brilforge – the opposite edge from the mayor's house, on the edge of a ravine through which a little river ran. She'd nourished the bushes and trees that grew elsewhere in Brilforge with only limited success, and the result was that her house was isolated from the neighbors, just the way she wanted it. Some of them called her a witch, and even though she had no magic, she went with it – it kept them away from her house and all of her books.
The books were how their father had met Celestina. The cloud Kougra was one of the foremost researchers into the "monsters" that inhabited Neopia – the catch-all term for those creatures that couldn't be classified as Faerie, Neopet, Petpet, or Petpetpet. In her front window, as they stepped up to the door, Corbin could see the piles of texts, tomes, and scrolls that covered every flat surface. He could also see their pursuers hiding behind a bush via the reflection. He knocked. "Celestina! It's us!" Her whole name was a mouthful, but after the way she'd responded when Kell tried to call her "Tina," he'd decided that it would have to do.
Celestina came to the door – an older cloud Kougra, ash-blonde hair shading towards blue at its tips, draped in an eccentric silver dress. She said, "Come in. I've been in desert history."
She described her house in terms of what books were where and, despite the fact that they covered every wall and most of the tables and surrounded every chair in piles, she knew where every last one was.
Kell shut the door quickly. "Bad news, Celestina. First, Mayor Marius is on to us. And second, there's someone else involved in this. Two people followed us back here."
Celestina frowned. "What did they look like?"
Corbin said, "One was a little brunette Usul. Long hair, big blue eyes."
Kell added, "The other was a tall blue Gelert. Nasty-looking fellow – lean like a swordfighter, with a muzzle scar."
Celestina's eyes widened, and without a word she turned and headed toward her little kitchen, where she kept the Neopian Times. Corbin and Kell followed.
Celestina showed them a page as they walked in to the room – she had numerous gauzy curtains on the walls, and Corbin had to wave one away from his face so he could see the picture she was offering of a lean blue Gelert with a muzzle scar. They both nodded, and Corbin said, "That's him."
Celestina moved her hand to show the caption. Kanrik, Master Thief of the Thieves' Guild.
Oh, sweet Fyora.
Kell said, "We're in trouble."
Corbin said, "It's got to be the Arnsians. Those are the only two things in this town valuable enough to get the Master Thief himself all the way out here."
Celestina sniffed. "Some of my books are original manuscripts, you know! Worth every bit as much as one of that Yurble's statues."
Kell commented, "I kinda doubt the Thieves' Guild has a lot of big readers, though."
Corbin said, "This changes things. Before, we were just thinking we had to steal the Arnsian."
Celestina cried, "Steal?!"
Corbin continued quickly, "But now, if we can't get our hands on it quickly, the Thieves' Guild will get it. And then it would probably end up in the hands of a collector who would recognize in it the Stone Shepherd myths, and if you want to explain to Svar why he has to leave his pastures, be my guest."
Celestina repeated, "You're going to steal the statue?"
Kell snapped, "It needs to not be less than a day's hike from Svar's doorstep. The mayor's not likely to give it to us, and we don't have money to buy it – unless you're willing to sell some of those tomes of yours."
The Kougra backed up to shield the nearest stack of books. Corbin shook his head. "We're not going to do that. Don't worry. Do you have any tea so Kell and I can sit down and think up bad ideas?"
Celestina sniffed. "You hardly need my help to do that." But she went to fetch her tea leaves and the kettle as Corbin eased into one of the chairs at the table.
Kell sat down in the other with a thump, running his hands through his short hair. "We'll have to do it tonight. Either break a window or get in through a door."
Corbin sighed. They'd had to break into places before, but they tended to be derelict and abandoned and no one cared how much noise they made or damage they did doing it. They'd never before broken in anywhere without the approval of the building's owner or the local authority. "We'll have to figure out how to do it quietly. I wonder how many people are there at night."
Kell slammed a hand on the table. "If only we had two days to watch the place and plan this!"
Corbin amended, "If only we had enough money that he'd happily sell us the blasted statue. We don't. Wait – Celestina?"
The Kougra was gone – they could hear her rustling about in the upstairs bedrooms. "Aha!"
The kettle was whistling – Corbin rescued it as Celestina rattled down the stairs. She came into the kitchen with an armful of books. Corbin took one off the top of the pile. "Memoirs of an Adventurer?"
Celestina nodded, businesslike. "He's rather full of himself, but I believe he did some sneaking into castles."
Kell took the next – which, to Corbin's satisfaction, was a good deal thicker. "Reclaiming Treasures. Another memoir?"
Celestina said, "Lots of practical advice in that one for those who seek lost artifacts – the writer wanted to inspire other people to follow in his footsteps and return ancient artifacts to where they belong. Different empires have moved things around, you know."
Corbin nodded – he knew how that worked all too well, since too often those artifacts had spirits or monsters attached to them. "Or merchants."
Kell added, in black humor, "Or thieves."
Celestina sat down at the table with them and the remainder of her books. "As you're set on this course, I find I would prefer you succeed rather than be locked in Brilforge's jail." She smiled a little. "And I remember when I met your father and grandfather, with just that sort of light in their eyes, looking for information on the Spirits of the Ten. I believe they'd support this course of action, as wild as it seems."
Corbin said, "Okay, then, start reading. Look for any information on breaking, entering, and robbing. It's past noon already and I want to be heading back to the manor by dusk."
Kell opened his book and started running his finger down chapter titles. "Aye-aye, captain."
"Oh, be quiet, or your job will be decoy."
Kell stuck his tongue out, and Corbin decided there was really no way to retaliate without losing his "big-brother-role-model" façade. So he opened up his own book, and smiled as an idea occurred to him. He said, "Welcome to the first meeting of the Breaking and Entering Book Club."
Celestina said, after taking a drink of her tea, "That would imply this is going to become a habit."
Kell pointed out airily, "Well, if we don't pull this off tonight, there's no danger of that. And weren't you telling us all to read?"
Corbin took the point, and picked up the book to start their crash-course in criminality.
Of course, if this was a crash-course, Kanrik had received highest honors from a Brightvale university.
It would have to be enough, though. They didn't have any other choices.
To be continued...