The Tree of Pillar Grove: Part Eight
When the world is in peril, it is not ignorance that saves it. It is knowledge, an understanding of the complex workings of the planet that would bring it back to harmony – every time, without fail. Frazer considered himself a Seeker of that knowledge, so to say.
He wasn't alone. Back on the surface, he was in the company of hundreds of Neopets that shared his ideals. Frazer was not even the one to first bring such gifted minds together; he simply helped preserve the existence of the organization that had been founded centuries ago.
Many years ago, Neopia had was in a crisis. Reports of natural disasters –all originating from frequent plate movement- had sprung up in every known land and had been ravaging the settlements that happened to be in the way. If nothing was done, the best-case scenario was the end of civilization as they knew it.
During their early investigations, the help of any reasonably intelligent Neopet in any sort of study was more than welcome. Dr. Harland Jacenty was one of them. A respected botanist residing in Brightvale, he was keen to notice the effects that the natural disasters had on plants. Many were threatened with extinction because of them, a fate that he could not turn a blind eye to.
Eventually, they realized that staying comfortable in their homes was no longer an option. If the world was to be saved, they needed to travel that world in order to get closer to the solution. An exploration team was established, but joining was voluntary. After all, it would not have been wise to cut all of Neopia's famous intellectuals off from the rest of the world and leave no one behind.
Jacenty was offered the opportunity, but he declined. Nobody was angry with him; it was accepted that the task was simply not for everyone.
But just at the last minute, he had a change of heart. Right when the last of their ship's passengers were boarding, Jacenty stumbled onto the scene, begging the team to reconsider and let him on. Even as flighty as Jacenty was, he was still regarded as a very valuable member, so Frazer granted his request without an argument.
Jacenty was followed by a his assistant, a Christmas Krawk by the name of Mr. Oren. Oddly enough for someone in the field of botany, he hailed from a frigid mountain located right on Neopia's northern pole, although he lacked the traditional red-and-white striped clothes of the area. Oren was a rather serious fellow, not at all enthused by the airy nature of his superior.
Their expedition took them all over Neopia, to lands that none of the populace back in the team's homes were even aware of. Every now and then, they would acquire new members from those civilizations. By the time they had finally reached Moltara, the team's size had doubled and was filled with Neopets from all walks of life.
It was Jacenty that took note of the unusually high population of fire flowers on the surface of Moltara, a kind of plant that only grew in areas that saw a significant amount of volcanic activity. They knew then that their best chance to stabilize Neopia's tectonic movement was to descend into the tunnels on that island. None of them expected that the caves would be already inhabited, but they had no other choice but to make their own settlements so that they could work on fixing them problem.
The team made a promise to the Moltarans: That they would not reveal the existence of their land to the rest of the world. It became a iron law among the surface-dwellers. Even though the chances of any of them returning to their homes was next to nil, all of them swore upon their honor to hold their promise true.
* * *
155 Years B.N.
The process of building the Core Stabilizer had been met with ups and downs - peaks of confidence that were followed by valleys of hopelessness. The team had been working on it for five years by that point and no one knew how much longer it would take. Everybody was on edge, but few to the extent that Frazer was.
He was certainly concerned with the lack of progress that they were making, but that was hardly the only thing on his mind. His student, an intelligent –but troubled- boy had turned up missing a few days prior. Frazer always knew that Wingen found it difficult to get close to other Neopets, but he truly believed that he and a couple other surface-dwellers had formed a tight bond with him. But obviously, that turned out not to be the case. When all it took was a simple question over why Wingen hadn't grown much in the past two years to make the Wocky feel like he needed to run away, Frazer clearly had not forged enough trust between them as he wanted to believe.
Frazer heard a knock on his office door. His heart leapt for a moment, faintly hoping that Wingen had decided to come back, or at the very least, someone had located him. But it was only Oren, causing Frazer to dip back into his sullen mood.
"I need to speak with you," Oren said right away, evidently in a hurry.
"Whatever it is, make it quick. I have very little patience to spare today," Frazer responded bitterly. He knew that Oren had nothing to do with Wingen's disappearance and that it wasn't fair to take his frustration out on him. But the thought of his student being completely alone once again had disabled his ability to show self-restraint.
Oren immediately shut the door behind him. Frazer noticed an odd habit of his: Oren was adept at listening and watching the actions of the Neopets around him, but at the same time he was constantly looking over his shoulder, as if someone was doing the same. When he walked into the office, he seemed even more anxious than he typically was. His voice was just as tense as the rest of his demeanor as he muttered, "It's about Jacenty."
"What about him? Shouldn't you be helping him deliver his crops to the city?" Frazer asked shortly. Unlike the rest of the team, Jacenty and Oren resided on the surface. They both knew that their fields wouldn't help much when it came to building a machine, so they preferred to adopt a more supportive role by growing and gathering plants for food, medicine, and potion-making.
"No! He doesn't know that I'm here right now! And I hope that I never see him again!" Oren hissed.
He had grabbed Frazer's attention.
"You don't know as much about Jacenty as you think you do. You may have been acquainted with him for several years now, but he has kept you all completely in the dark about who he really is! He and I belong to... a league, if you will. I cannot say very much about it, but I will say this: Our league sometimes sets its sights on a Neopet with a considerable amount of power in society that has become too troublesome, too difficult to reason with. If they were allowed to run unchecked, then our objectives would be compromised." Oren fidgeted in place a little. "Jacenty may be a renowned botanist, but it's his side job that you should be concerned with. When our league placed a target on a Neopet, it was his job to silence of them."
Frazer felt a chill run down his spine. He was voiceless at the moment; just as well, because he had the strong urge to erupt at Oren for telling him such a sick joke. But Oren was looking at him with complete seriousness.
"All these years that he's been a part of your organization while living in Brightvale, he's been feeding our league information about any notable discoveries that you and the others had made. While he is genuine about his knowledge of botany and has never lied to you about his expertise, his loyalties do not lie with the team.
"Jacenty is very good at covering his tracks, both in regards to his role in our league and keeping you uninformed. But one day, he made a mistake. A high-ranking noble in Brightvale needed to be removed, but he failed to complete the task. In our league, failure is not tolerated. A Neopet needed to disappear; if not the target, than the one that could not carry out their orders.
"He pleaded with our superiors, begged them to give him another chance. In exchange for sparing him, he offered to continue to spy on your team until the Core Stabilizer was completed, and then he would report on every last thing we discovered, including all the new lands we came across."
Frazer was still speechless. Oren waited for a reply, some sort of reaction, but the Grarrl felt his entire body frozen in horror.
Oren continued, "Jacenty was granted his request, but our superiors still had very little confidence in his ability to follow through on his promise. Since he was such a dangerous person, they felt that sending other members to deal with him would only result in unnecessary losses. So they allowed him on the expedition only because they thought that would be the best way to get rid of him.
"I was assigned to go with him, to keep watch incase he stepped his boundaries too far. Initially, I felt the same way he did; that the league was the only thing worth giving our allegiance to. But Professor..." Oren lowered his head and shut his eyes. "Over the years I began to change my way of thinking. Because of you and the rest of the exploration team, I started to see the concept of knowledge in a different way.
"Jacenty doesn't care about the betterment of the world. He isn't concerned with how new discoveries would affect other Neopets, for better or worse. He only pursues knowledge because he knows that it'll give him power. And if he runs free for much longer, he will use whatever power he obtains to trample over any Neopet in his way! He doesn't have any way of leaving the island and navigating back to Brightvale, but I can assure you that he will eventually bring trouble to the Moltarans. And it will not bother him in the slightest!"
Oren finished with a deep breath. Once again, he was silent to allow Frazer time to give a response. That time, he had finally regained his voice.
"This is preposterous!" he roared, swiftly standing up. "After all Jacenty's done for us, you honestly expect me to believe that he's nothing more than a spy?! That... That all this time..."
Frazer tried to let out his rage, but he found it subside with every word. Not because he dismissed what Oren told him; on the contrary, it was the story sinking in and making sense to him that began to block any emotion other than shock.
"I'm only trying to warn you, Professor. You will regret it if you choose not to believe me," Oren sighed. He then walked up to Frazer's desk and set down two items: A letter and some sort of decoder. "You're a smart Neopet. Decipher it. And you will find that nothing I said was a lie."
Oren let himself out of the office. Frazer fell back into his sent and stared at the objects that the Krawk left for a long time. It wasn't until an hour later that he had the heart to follow Oren's instructions. A few more hours added onto that, and he was left with a translated version of the letter. The original was written in a series of runes previously unknown to Frazer, but still undoubtedly in Jacenty's handwriting.
To my most gracious employer,
By now, you are likely aware of my recent error. I realize that such mishaps are not taken lightly. However, I request that before any disciplinary action is taken, that you consider my various accomplishments over the years. I believe that I have –without a doubt- proved myself to be a most valuable asset and that my early retirement would only serve as a further setback.
The organization which I have been gathering indispensable information on will be setting off on an expedition soon. If I were to go with them, I would almost certainly be witness to discoveries that would prove incredibly useful to you. Therefore, it is of my opinion that it would be best if I remained in our league, since such knowledge may not be relayed otherwise.
Please take the time to consider my proposal.
Your loyal servant,
Dr. Harland Jacenty
Frazer sat back in his seat and stared at the letter. He read it over several more times. Eventually, after dissecting the text, he began to examine the paper itself. If he held it up to the light in just the right way, he could make out a strange symbol: A triangle with what vaguely looked like the letter "S" inside of it.
* * *
Only a few days after Oren stopped by to talk to Professor Frazer, Jacenty himself arrived in Central Cavern. He typically made the trip every month to drop off and showcase his products, an event that Frazer had always looked forward to attending. That time, he made especially sure to show up.
He spotted Jacenty in the center circle of the city, still in the process of setting things up. Every now and then, a Moltaran would stop by to browse the unfamiliar plants, but the usual crowd of buyers had yet to make an appearance. Frazer was the first one to approach the stall, ready to talk to Jacenty in relative solitude.
"Ah, Professor! You're early!" Jacenty exclaimed with his typical cheeriness. "Well, I suppose I can't blame you for being so eager! Like I promised, I have a fresh batch of asparagus for you this month! I also brought plenty of herbs to help treat burns and other injuries. Unfortunately, my tigersquash plants aren't ready yet, so I hope you won't mind waiting a little longer for those-"
He stopped talking. Frazer was quiet for a moment as well. Last second questions were running through his head, forcing him to ask himself what and who he really wanted to believe. But that hesitation was only momentary, as he had put in plenty of thought beforehand. "Jacenty, where exactly do you place your loyalties?"
Jacenty raised an eyebrow and laughed, "With the team, of course. Why would you think otherwise?"
"You are aware of the oath we all agreed to take by making this expedition. We cannot risk innocent lives by exposing their existence to a power-hungry world with a thirst for conquest. But lately, I've begun to question whether or not you truly had the intentions of abiding by that oath," Frazer spoke freely.
"What... What are you insinuating, Professor?" Jacenty asked with a bit of breath taken away from him. He looked Frazer directly in the eyes, appearing to feel a little betrayed. "These are such hurtful accusations you're making! Why would you doubt me like that? I am no shipwright; you know as well as I do that there's no way I could leave the island if I wanted to. And even if I did, why would you suspect me of breaking our promise? What would I have to gain? Who do you think I'd go to with such information?!"
Frazer took out the letter and unfolded it in front of Jacenty. "You tell me."
Jacenty gave a short gasp at the sight of the letter. Frazer saw his pupils shrink once he recognized the runes.
"Stop trying to pretend, Jacenty. I know the truth now, so there's no point in continuing the act," Frazer continued with a hiss.
The Zafara struggled with his words for a moment. "Oh my... That foolish assistant of mine has been playing quite the prank on you, h-hasn't he?"
Frazer was unaffected, while Jacenty continued to twitch in fret.
"Speaking of which, you wouldn't happen to know where dear old Mr. Oren has been these past few days, would you?" Jacenty asked while his hands began to grip the edges of the table. Frazer did not answer. "I-I didn't think so. That is a darn shame..."
Jacenty flipped the table at Frazer and bolted off.
Frazer managed to shield himself just in time, merely sustaining a few scratches from the pottery flying at him. But although he was barely harmed, he was stunned just long enough for Jacenty to dash out of his reach. Frazer –however- was already prepared for that. "Stop him!"
Jacenty began to head for the nearest exit out of the circle and into the much denser streets, but he was suddenly blocked when nearly every surface-dweller he knew of ran out of hiding. They stood in his way, quickly beginning to surround him from every angle.
Cornered, Jacenty lashed out at the ones in his way. He swiped his tail and shoved them aside, giving him just enough of an opening to return to his escape route.
But he had only taken a few steps into the streets before a wall of fire erupted right in front of his eyes. Jacenty recoiled from the heat and stumbled backwards. He spun around to find the source, although Frazer could tell that he already had a good idea as to who it was.
The Lenny outstretched his wing to the wall of fire. A small fireball began to form from his other wing, something that he made certain that Jacenty could see. His stance was rigid and strong. He was in total control of both sets of flames; not a single ember strayed from the wall and not a solitary feather with a royal shade of teal was singed by the fireball.
"It's over, Jacenty," the Lenny said firmly; composed, yet cross.
The other surface-dwellers crowded around Jacenty and restrained him. He growled and struggled, but he was helpless to do anything more. They passed by Frazer as they dragged him along. Jacenty shot a glare at him; it had such a concentration of hatred and fury that it only took that instant to confirm to Frazer that the Zafara's light-hearted, friendly personality that he thought he knew was a complete lie.
The Lenny approached Frazer after Jacenty was taken out of sight. He waited for a bit, as if expecting to hear something from him. But when the Lenny was met with no words, he gave a slight scowl and left the circle with an hastened pace in his step.
Frazer was left alone in the middle of Central Cavern while he still struggled to process everything that had just happened.
* * *
145 Years B.N.
The Marlock carriage rolled along, and for a minute, its feet pounding and the wheels spinning on the road was the only thing Frazer and Dimitri could hear. Frazer was reluctant to continue and Dimitri didn't know how to react.
"We imprisoned Jacenty for a few months, but he eventually managed to slip away. The instant we learned of his escape, we sent several Neopets up to the surface to find and recapture him. But he always evaded us. As the years passed without him turning up, we had to assume that he met his end, so we refocused our efforts to what we came to Moltara to do," Frazer said after a bit of silence.
Dimitri stared at his feet, evidently trying to compare the Jacenty he knew with the Jacenty that Frazer had revealed to him. The Grarrl could clearly see it tear him up, as he clamped his eyes shut and shook his head after he started to accept the reality.
"And Mr. Oren?" Dimitri muttered as he continued to mull the story over.
Frazer flinched. "He stayed in Central Cavern for a while after Jacenty was caught. When he escaped, we tried to warn him, but... Jacenty managed to show up to his house first."
"Dimitri... I'm sorry for not telling you this sooner. I knew how much you liked him, and with him being missing all these years, I didn't think that telling you the truth would accomplish anything but cause you pain," Frazer apologized with a sigh.
Dimitri shook his head again, but this time it had a purpose other than to convey distress. "All I'm worried about now is if anything has happened to the others. What do you think that Jacenty plans to do in Pillar Grove?
"I know as much about the place as you do, Dimitri. That is to say, hardly anything at all. I'm not sure what his objectives are, but there is likely something there that he wants to use to empower himself. We need to get there as fast as possible and warn the others before Jacenty gets the chance to proceed with his plans," Frazer replied.
Dimitri rested his elbow on the edge of the carriage window and rested his hand on it. "Wingen... He seemed to really trust Jacenty. He's not going to take this well at all..."
Frazer agreed with a painful nod. "But we still need to tell him. It would be so much worse if he found out by seeing Jacenty in action for himself."
To be continued...