It Takes a Thief: Part Seven
Nabile had seen a rogue Fire Faerie once before, just two years ago. Elzamyr-Akhu, Lady Sandstorm, had caused a volcano, tried to kill her husband, and nearly leveled Qasala. The magnitude of magic that it had taken to defeat her had nearly destroyed Jazan as well. It had taken him weeks to fully recover – it had been worse, even, than when he'd fought Razul. It had looked more like when she had tried to fight Razul. Now, this Faerie was unlikely to be nearly as old or as powerful as Elzamyr-Akhu, who had been old as the desert itself. But with those artifacts...
Thankfully her companions were a thief and a rover so near a thief as to make no difference – neither of them showed any signs of shock either, even though Nabile knew that they were all terrified, since they were all sane.
The Nimmo began, "I am Lord Norheim. The name will mean nothing to you, and that is as it should be."
Oh, it would mean something to Jazan – Jazan would make sure of it. "My companions are Baron Reskarim and the Lady Udiza."
Reskarim. Udiza. Nabile fixed each name in her mind. Perhaps they wouldn't mean anything to the other assorted thieves and ne'er-do-wells in the room... all were ragged, and most were young. Too young for dark deeds like this. She was certain that they didn't feel too young – she knew that she never had. But she was watching herself and the other Scarabs across the years, and she knew just how easily they would have been tempted by the promise of riches and adventure.
Norheim continued, "You have been chosen to help unearth a massive treasure lost to the ages. Any who lack the courage or wit should leave now, for the following secrets will not be allowed to leave this room."
No one moved. Nabile had known they wouldn't. Especially not with their friends present – she could see the clusters of people, the matching bandanas or bracelets that were the signs of a gang, much like the tattoo on her shoulder that was invisible under the glamour. Who would back out of a "massive treasure" and face the scorn?
Norheim nodded once, looking out at the silent assembly. "Very well. Tonight, we shall depart for the tomb of King Vanithad Farseer."
Now there was noise – a startled murmur, rippling through the crowd. A tall, gangly Ogrin near the front shouted, "Are you Meepit-mad? They say old Farseer left a curse in that place that would set the desert aflame!"
It took an instant. Udiza lifted the arm with Vanithad's ring on it and pointed, and the Ogrin became a stone statue of indignation. The hush fell again. Nabile didn't hide her startled reaction – it was only natural. But she did hide the relief that Jazan would do everything he could to heal the poor fellow whose only crime had been possessing common sense, and if he could not, Fyora could.
The Ogrin's friends looked stricken. But it seemed they had a measure of their companion's cleverness – they remained silent and still.
The Fire Faerie looked much like Nuria, with almond eyes and dark skin, her hair covered with a scarf. But there was just something off about her, something unwholesome about the dark fire of her wings, the red sigils embroidered on her golden gown, and the charms hanging off bracelets of many metals that marched up her long arms. Jazan had told Nabile that you had to be careful of how many artifacts you drew on for power, or you risked overwhelming yourself. It was possible – maybe even probable – that Lady Udiza was none too sane.
The Faerie, Udiza, asked softly, "Are there any more complaints?"
Reskarim, the Techo, nodded in a businesslike manner. "Good. Food will be brought shortly. Then you will be led in separate groups out of the city and to the site. You will follow directions instantly and to the letter. If not, your fate will be the same as the loudmouth's."
Norheim added softly, "My mistress is a collector of statuary. She will be pleased at additional... unique... additions to her collection."
Then Udiza's eyes widened. She sniffed. "There is magic in here – it stinks of mortal mages and their charms."
Uh-oh. The rogue Fire Faerie turned to and fro, her arms outstretched and the bangles tinkling. Then she cried, "A glamour! Spies among us!"
On either side of her, Hannah and Hanso tensed. Nabile grabbed her left hand with her right, enveloping her wedding ring, and shouted – too full of adrenaline to keep quiet – "Jazan, Jazan, now, now, NOW!"
Udiza, Reskarim, and Norheim all turned toward them – the other street urchins and riffraff were edging away, unwilling to be caught up in a battle between mages.
Then there was a burst of light and a rush of wind, as a space that had been empty was filled with several heavily armed people.
Jazan was there, sword in one hand and the glowing thread of a spell in another, as were Kanrik and Brynn, both with drawn blades. Mirzah and Zann already had fireballs in hand. General Sambar was in full armor, and the Elephante toted a broadsword that Nabile could barely lift. Rounding out the party were a Cybunny and a Kougra that might as well have had "rogue" tattooed across their foreheads – they were Kanrik's Thieves' Guild reinforcements. All were formidable - Jazan hadn't known how big the meeting venue was going to be, and he'd made every person count.
Nabile had hidden a slender pair of long knives under her clothes – now she drew them. She didn't know who'd fight them and who'd run, and she needed to be able to defend herself. Jazan needed to handle Udiza. Distracting him by allowing herself to be endangered could not only risk his safety, but Qasala's, and in this case even Neopia's.
Thankfully, most of the thieves did what Nabile would have done – they ran like their tails were on fire. But the hired thugs like the ones they'd seen on the roof were the second layer of defense, and they were coming in, as were a few others who looked like real, trained soldiers.
The firefight began almost instantly – Udiza was flinging dark jets of fire at anyone within reach. Mirzah and Zann had created some sort of shield to soak up the attacks while Jazan struck back. Kanrik had charged straight for Reskarim, and the two were fighting, while Norheim fended off Kanrik's backup. Sambar merely struck out at anyone who was foolish enough to come close.
There was a brief fizzle over her skin, and she looked down at her hands and saw they were pink again. Hanso and Hannah had returned to their original colors as well. But there was no more time, because some of the Sway's hired bullies had seen the three of them standing there and decided they looked like easy targets. Nabile parried an attacking sword with one of her long knives and struck with the other, forcing her opponent to jump back. She quickly moved so that she stood with Hanso and Hannah, their backs in a triangle, preventing blind spots from being used against them. She had no lofty ideas of heroism. She just intended to stay alive long enough for the others to clear out the more serious enemies.
And she hoped that Jazan had remembered to put the children to bed – while Neera was little enough to just sleep anyway, the twins would run rampant if they were given the ghost of a chance, and then they'd both be tired and cranky in the morning.
Sambar charged over to join them. "Pick on a fellow your own size, why don't you?"
Hanso muttered, "So what does he think he's doing?"
Hannah chided, "Saving our tails. Be grateful."
Hanso continued, thoughtful, as the thugs decided their easy mark wasn't so easy anymore, "Perhaps since he can't find anyone his own size except Werelupes, he's exempt from the rule."
Most of the Sway's desert fighters, at least, had recognized Jazan, Mirzah, and Sambar, and were starting to wonder if this was worth whatever they were getting paid. Reskarim shouted, "Fight! Fight, you fools!"
Norheim called, "No! Udiza, Udiza, now! The mortal mage is of no concern – the Duchess will deal with him! Udiza, now!"
The whole room went pitch-black. There was a roaring in Nabile's ears like that of a rushing wind, but the air was still.
Then a white flash.
Nabile shut her eyes to prevent any more of the flashes from blinding her. Three more shone red through her eyes, then dark silence. She opened her eyes again.
The lamps in the warehouse were out, but now the moon shone through the high windows, and Zann had thrown a light up above the group to allow them to see. Norheim, Reskarim, Udiza, and all of their henchmen were gone.
Hanso muttered, "Slimy of them."
They walked over to join the rest of the party – no one seemed seriously hurt. Nabile said, "They didn't get away clean, though. We know for sure now that they have both the coronet and the ring, and they're definitely headed for Vanithad's tomb."
The Cybunny who had come with Kanrik said as she cleaned her blades, "And they've lost their stunt Myncies. Bet you anything they wanted to use all the street rats to set off the traps for them."
Mirzah said, "And we all got a good taste of that Faerie's magic. Especially with all those charms, she'll leave a trail."
Brynn asked, "With only two artifacts, is it likely that she's strong enough to find the tomb?"
Jazan said, "A Fire Faerie, with Fire artifacts. I'm almost certain she is equal to the challenge."
Kanrik said, "So they're going to the tomb, and you can follow. Are we going to hunt them?"
Jazan nodded. "Yes, we are. We leave at once. I'll lead."
Nabile moved herself quietly into a place just behind Jazan – standing in his blind spot, to keep anyone else from taking advantage of it, and ready to aid him in a second if necessary. She said, "We'll need to take care of the poor stone fellow."
Jazan nodded. "I will send him to Faerieland with Brynn and Hanso upon their return." He looked around. "Is there any call to tarry here?"
Zann, a Ruki, shook his head. "No, sir."
Sambar said, "Then move out!"
And, moving quickly, Nabile followed Jazan and his trail of magic into the starry desert night. Her nerves were still keyed-up from the fight, and the cool air made her feel awake and alive.
On a night like this, with brave people surrounding her, she couldn't believe that the Sway stood any chance at all.
To be continued...