Bazaar of Wonders
The light streamed through the mothy holes in the curtains. The careless chink of neopoints exchanging hands stifled the air. Sakhmet City, founded by King Coltzan the First, was never finer than during Market Day in the Month of Collecting. Leaning against a sandy wall, shielded by the threadbare cloth, was Nabile of the Desert Scarabs. She was fierce, having joined the gang of street urchins at a very early age and knew more about the Lost Desert than any Ixi before her time.
Crouched low at her side was a young Moehog. Clad in patched red and mud-brown garments that were undoubtedly not of his own, he had a glint in his eyes that betrayed his profession. His eyes roved the town square, lingering on the more prosperous gentile neopets that wandered among the dusty stalls. A pickpocket by trade, he nonetheless was a skilled master of the art, and wanted to prove himself to Nabile. He wanted to join the Desert Scarabs. He gently pushed the curtain aside.
"Hmm. I could fancy a bite to eat," he said, licking his lips dryly. It had been a long morning. "But I haven't two coins to rub together, and these merchants are notoriously difficult to barter with. Why, they like to haggle for the pleasure of it."
"Haggling, Bane?" said Nabile with a smile. "If we're lucky, we won't have to haggle."
Bane the Moehog knew exactly what she meant. He rose from his crouching position and indicated a stall nearby in the market. As one of the main food stalls of the market, it was busy. Busy was good, the bigger the crowd, the less people would notice you. You could never be too careful either. Standing not too far away from the stall in question were a couple of the Palace Guard. They were Tonus, and they had a reputation. The Guards of Sakhmet made sure the city was never troubled by unwanted guests, and this included the thieves, vagabonds and pickpockets that made up the Desert Scarabs.
They left the shadow of the building and ventured out into the heat of the Bazaar. Both Bane and Nabile strode with a purpose, to falter would raise suspicion. They headed straight for the stand where a strong smell purveyed the air. Bane approached the Wocky serving food.
"Good afternoon this fine day, sir," said the proprietor earnestly, "Good honest food served here. Crack it open and gulp it down, 'tis my advice, sir. Just 100 neopoints and it's yours. Care to taste the flavour of Sakhmet?"
"Well, how could I argue against the flavour of Sakhmet?" Bane smiled. "Alright, I'll take one."
The Wocky took a wooden plate, and spooned out a generous helping of Gracklebug soup. Placing a sturdy stick alongside to spear the food the Wocky held out his hand expectantly. Bane assented, reaching into his pocket as if to bring out a money bag, when there was a crash behind them. The Wocky glanced over his shoulder, hand still outstretched. When he turned back the Moehog had vanished, along with the soup.
Nabile and Bane ran through the square, he, slurping at the soup as he dashed. A clatter of noise behind them promised the threat of the Guards. But it wasn't the Tonu Palace Guard, much worse, the canny Ruki Patrol, as knowledgeable in the deepest back allies of Sakhmet as the Desert Scarabs themselves. Bane finished his last sip and dropped the wooden plate, carefully storing the stick in one pocket.
As they ran, they scattered trays of fruit, Tchea and Ummagine, and upturned stalls behind them, paying no heed to the angry cry of the owners . Darting through a crowd of people they knocked into a flute-playing JubJub. Unluckily for the bystanders, the Cobrall that had been completely transfixed shook itself and slithered out from the basket. The screams of terror faded fast however as the two thieves continued the escape.
"Stop, Thief!" cried a voice amongst the rabble behind them, they were gaining fast. There was no time to lose. Bane indicated left down a side street and with hot feet they slid into it. They pressed themselves against one wall, Nabile lifted one finger gently to the veil covering her mouth, indicating silence was required. They edged quietly in the darkness of the alley. The Moehog, swift, silent and extremely light-hoofed, led the way towards the dim glow of the back-street beyond. They emerged and glanced around. All was still, save for the rustle of sand sifting gently across the street.
"Looks like we lost them," breathed Nabile, a bead of sweat lining her forehead. "Remind me never to work with you ever again, Bane."
"Granted," replied the Moehog, "They're getting more adept, these guards are. Why, it used to be that any thief could get away with their livelihood; now it seems like you have to be a merchant to rob people."
"Aye," a rough voice from behind them both said menacingly, "Thank you kindly for the compliment; we do try our best."
"Ah." Nabile sighed. "Looks like they've managed to catch up to us finally."
The two thieves turned to face the Patrol behind them, a trio of Rukis, each wielding a staff, tipped with a deceptively sharp curved blade.
"Why, you two rats couldn't be easier to catch. You stink worse than the vile stench of Zal-Bora."
"I guess it's a fair enough arrest," said Nabile, raising her hands above her head. "Put your hands up, Bane, no use resisting. Put them nice and high above your head."
Somewhat baffled, Bane acquiesced raising his hands, and relaxed, loosening from the clenched position they were previously in. The Rukis relaxed.
"Arrest these two buffoons, " snarled the Lead Guard.
As the other two guards unfurled a knot of strong string to tie the two neopets together, a rope fell from the sky and into the awaiting Ixi's hand. Nabile took a firm hold of the rope and held Bane close to her. The strangled cries of disbelief echoed in the corridor as Bane and Nabile rose into the air and were pulled onto a roof. Nabile arose brushing dust from her.
"Thanks, Tomos," she assented to a Lupe in a waistcoat. "I owe you one there."
"Don't worry about it." The Desert Scarab grinned, twirling a grappling hook in his right hand. "We look out for each other here in the city, you know that. Just next time, try not to get caught stealing food."
"Much obliged," said the red Moehog, grasping hold firmly of Tomos proffered free hand, "Nice to meet you at last, Tomos."
"Ah yes, Bane by name, Bane by nature," said Tomos spiritedly. "Always nice to put a face to the name. I've heard a lot about you."
"All nefarious, I hope," said Bane, releasing his grip, "Never would have thought about heading to the roofs to escape that situation."
"Well," said Tomos, glancing at the hook in his right hand, "the modern thief has to think in three dimensions, not just two."
"If you two have quite stopped exchanging pleasantries," entreated Nabile, "perhaps we can get on with the order at hand. I believe, despite the... unfortunate event that has just befallen us, that Bane can be fit to join the Scarabs."
"Seconded," Tomos declared, "I've been watching your progress from the rooftops. Congratulations, Bane, you're a Scarab."
"It's as easy as that?" the Moehog protested. "I thought there would be a little... grandeur."
"Look," snarled Nabile, "we'll give you the mark later. Just remember one thing, now you're a Desert Scarab, you're one for life. Alright? We look out for you, if you look out for us."
"We be but simple folk." Tomos winked. "Welcome to the gang. We'll talk more about this later, but at this moment, what say you to putting a little distance between us and these guards, eh? Aside, looks like there be a sandstorm brewing, and there never seems to be enough warning about those things."
And with abrupt finality he leapt to the next roof. Nabile and Bane closely followed, their shadows fleeting over the city. As the sun dwindled in its path, setting gently on the far desert dunes, the three Desert Scarabs scampered over the hot bricks, heading to their secret den. The wind whistled, the sand rose and blotted the final sprawling tendrils of the sun as Sakhmet City was engulfed by the nature of the desert.
This story was inspired by the Lost Desert edition of the Trading Card Game. There are many references and artistic 'borrowing' from this particular deck.