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Agent of the Sway: Betrayal - Part One


by herdygerdy

--------

12 Years Ago...

There's a way people run when they are nervous. Trying to be both quick and stealthy at the same time - and achieving neither. It's an odd fact of the universe that they tend to do it more in corridors that echo.

     And how these ones echoed. Ancient halls carved of marble, burning torches, and of course, the odd cobweb. The red Meerca had glimpsed these halls only a few times - apprentice wizards were not allowed within. Which, of course, was partly why he was running. And why he was nervous.

     At last he reached the great library, pulling the old stone doors open with some difficulty. Shelves upon shelves of ancient magical tomes spread out in front of him - centuries of knowledge and dust that the Order of the Red Erisim had collected. Only the most skilled wizards on the planet were allowed to read them. The power contained within - it could be used to such horrible ends in the wrong hands.

     Quickly the Meerca located the stack he was after, tracing along the faded titles until he found the one he was looking for. He flipped open the cover briefly, to check he was correct, before stowing it away in his robes. He turned to leave, finding his way blocked by one of the senior wizards.

     "Master Alshemar..." the Meerca's voice fell.

     He had been so close.

     "Oldnose? Is that you?" the Ogrin asked, conjuring a magical fireball to light the room. "What are you doing here? Apprentices are forbidden within the library."

     "I... know sir," Oldnose replied. "But Master Thornpipe required a text, and he didn't seem... able enough to come himself."

     Rumours of Thornpipe's insanity had spread wide and fast, even before the Draik had left Neopia Central. Alshemar knew them all too well. He made a face of disapproval which Oldnose leapt upon.

     "If you would prefer, sir, I can instruct Master Thornpipe that he is to come to the library himself in future," he said.

     "No," Alshemar replied quickly. "No, that will not be necessary. I will allow it this once, Oldnose, but in future you must consult a senior member of the Order before coming here - the others may not be as forgiving as me should they find you in here."

     "Thank you, Master!" Oldnose gushed. "I will do that, most certainly!"

     With that, he gave a nervous bow to the old Ogrin, before rushing back out into the corridors. Alshemar gave one last look into the deserted library, before extinguishing the fireball and heading back to his tower.

     Oldnose wasted no time, bursting out of the small castle and back into the night of the Haunted Woods. Most of the more dangerous creatures of the woods knew to stay away from the Order's headquarters, so the Meerca didn't bother to stay to the path. He followed the route back to the clearing, where his master would be waiting.

     And his benefactor.

     He burst through the trees, and was almost immediately ambushed by the camouflage Draik.

     "Thaddeus!" Thornpipe greeted him with a manic air. "I've been wondering where you got to! We have much to discuss - I believe I've just solved the problem. Self-waxing earlobes, you know!?"

     "... perhaps later, master," Oldnose said diplomatically.

     "You have what I requested?" the third Neopet in the clearing asked.

     It was a green Wocky, elegantly dressed, and with a stern face that looked as if it could cause mirrors to shatter just by looking at them.

     "Yes!" Oldnose replied, handing over the book. "Is that the one?"

     The Wocky leafed through a few pages. "Yes, this seems satisfactory."

     "You will keep your end of the bargain?" Oldnose asked. "Safe passage through the Deep Woods?"

     "You doubt my word?" the Wocky asked.

     "You have a... reputation," Oldnose admitted.

     The Wocky failed to smile. "We work very hard to ensure we do not have any kind of reputation. I should very much like to hear who has been speaking about us."

     "No one," Oldnose backtracked quickly. "Some of the older documents the Order possess, they mention your organisation in passing."

     "Then we must have them destroyed," the Wocky replied simply. "But, as for your request, yes. We are not quite ready to proceed, but when we do, you will be contacted."

     "Excellent." Oldnose sighed with relief. "A new start in the desert... where no one knows my Master's reputation. No rumours. I'm sure that will help him recover."

     "No rumours?" the Wocky asked sceptically. "He was talking to his eyebrows while you were gone. You really think people won't notice his... strangeness?"

     "We have to try," Oldnose said, staring at the old Draik, who was now busy inspecting his toenails.

     He returned his gaze to the Wocky, but he had disappeared back into the night.

     "Professor," Oldnose said, catching the Draik by the arm. "I mean... Master, we had best be moving on. It's not good to linger in the Haunted Woods."

     "No, I quite agree." Thornpipe nodded. "Any number of patisseries might attack us."

     ***

     Dr. Sloth had been waiting for almost ten minutes. The two Grundo troopers he had brought along as insurance were beginning to get itchy trigger fingers. If anyone had the misfortune to wander up the old hill on the edge of Neopia Central they called the Helm, why, they might just have been blown apart by blaster fire.

     The thought warmed the cockles of Sloth's heart against the cold night.

     At last, the carriage came into view, stopping neatly in front of the doctor. Two Neopets got out, a striped Kyrii and a brown Kougra. The ones he had been expecting, no less.

     "You are late," was the doctor's less than courteous greeting.

     "Are we?" the Kyrii asked innocently. "We are dreadfully busy, you know."

     "I know how the Sway operates," Sloth stated. "You were late on purpose, to unnerve me."

     "I think foiling your plans on board the Space Station, in Maraqua, and in Tyrannia were meant to unnerve you," the Kougra said with a sarcastic grin. "This is just icing on the cake."

     The Kyrii shot the Kougra a warning look, telling him to be quiet.

     "Regardless, we are here to speak about an alliance," the Kyrii said.

     "Why would I want to ally with you, Lord Faversham?" Sloth asked. "A collection of lesser beings. And more importantly, if she was serious about it, why would she send you two? I have video footage of you two destroying the power coils on my station - of freeing the Space Faerie. Sending you, no... that seems like an insult to me."

     "We have been sent to underline the seriousness of the offer," Faversham assured him. "And we do not come empty handed."

     The Kyrii handed over a scroll, containing a detailed diagram of a charm - a blue orb encircled by gold.

     "This is the Space Faerie's Token," Faversham explained. "A device she has created to call on her power should she ever be captured as you managed previously."

     "I know what it is," Sloth spat.

     "You will note the detailed description of its properties and abilities," Faversham added. "With proper experimentation of its resistances to dissolution, heat, and extreme gravity, our scientists believe it may be possible to find a way of dispelling the strong magic within it, and destroying the artefact and with it the Space Faerie's hold over you. You will also note the information we have intercepted detailing the Token's current location - so that even if you cannot destroy it, you can at least keep it away from others."

     "Kreludor?" Sloth asked, reading the document. "She has hidden it on that pathetic lump of rock?"

     "Someone with your abilities should be able to arrange a disagreement between the factions of Grundos currently inhabiting the moon," Faversham suggested. "Allowing you to move in with stealth and take the Token. The abundance of Kreludite in the mines wouldn't hurt your enterprises, either. We understand you need the mineral for your mutation devices."

     "You understand a lot," Sloth considered. "What do you get out of this alliance?"

     "This is merely a present," Faversham said with a smile. "The Sway requires Neopia Central to be isolated no longer. We intend to help its citizens 'rediscover' previously closed lands. Specifically, we require the Lost Desert to be discovered quickly. You will help us arrange this. You of course will not leave empty handed."

     Faversham clicked his fingers, and the Kougra presented another scroll.

     "This is the location of a hidden vault of treasures in the desert," Faversham explained. "Among them is a staff that once belonged to Razul, a powerful sorcerer from Qasala. The staff, known as the Staff of Alhasutek, at its core, has a crystal of pure magic - powerful enough to turn even the most non-magical creature into a wizard of some calibre. You may have the staff. There is however, a catch."

     "Of course." Sloth nodded.

     "The vault is locked, as one would expect," Faversham explained. "The key, we believe, is currently in the possession of a Bruce who is competing in the city's Cheat championship. If you acquire the key, which he believes is merely a lucky coin, the vault is yours for the taking."

     Sloth gave Faversham a suspicious look. "This seems dreadfully easy. There must be a catch."

     "No catch," Faversham insisted. "Our organisation has wasted far too much time combating you. We would rather have you on side so that we can get on with things. We have even arranged a contact for you."

     "One of your number?" Sloth asked.

     "Of course not," Faversham chuckled. "Merely a fool you may find useful to achieve your goals. Feel free to discard him when you obtain the staff. His name is Spectre, one of the contestants in the Cheat championship. You may contact him under the codename, RS."

     "And if I do not agree?" Sloth asked.

     "Then we return to hostilities, and you had better hope you reach the Space Faerie's Token before we do," Faversham replied bluntly.

     Sloth considered this for a few moments.

     "Very well," he consented. "We will help each other... for now."

     "Excellent," Faversham said with a smile. "Should you need further assistance, we will be watching."

     With that, the pair returned to their carriage and disappeared into the night, leaving Sloth to plan his next move.

     In the carriage, a third figure who had remained hidden finally spoke up.

     "It appears as if he was convinced then," the green Wocky observed.

     Faversham's distinctive smile faltered at the Wocky's words. He did not like Duke Hopesmeade in general, and to have him overseeing this operation was even worse.

     The Wocky didn't appear to notice, continuing to leaf through the ancient tome describing the treasures of the Lost Desert.

     "When do we spring the trap?" the Kougra asked.

     "Spring it, Mr. Moore?" the Duke asked. "We already have. Sloth is already hopelessly ensnared, and will act exactly as we wish. By the time he realises we have betrayed him, it will already be too late - we will have what we want."

     He paused on a page detailing a magical amulet.

     "Soon, we will have it. Soon, we will have the power to control the very elements of Neopia."

To be continued...

 
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