Agent of the Sway: Discovery - Part Two
The Crokabek flew low over the desert, skimming over the dunes, eyes fixed on a target in the distant sandy haze.
Two Neopets, slowly moving towards a ruin.
It let out a caw as it approached, dropping a scroll from its claws as it passed overhead.
Duke Hopesmeade held out a hand and effortlessly caught the scroll.
"It appears the Duchess's contact within the Thieves Guild has come good," he told Clayton as he read. "Kanrik has indeed sent this Hanso to locate Emperor Razul's treasure."
"Then we will have a problem?"
"She does not believe so," Hopesmeade replied. "In fact, she thinks Hanso may even prove a useful excuse, should we need to act more publicly. Kanrik sent Hanso here as an attempt to get rid of him. The guild master doesn't believe Hanso will be successful. He doesn't even believe Razul's cache exists. He is wrong, of course. But if Kanrik himself believes it to be a fool's errand, so will Hanso. And his commitment to seeking out the ruins is unlikely to be stellar."
"Speaking of which..."
The pair had just crested the next sand dune, and in front of them a ruin was poking up through the sands. Centuries of wear had buried most of the structures, and some of the buildings had even collapsed in on themselves. Everywhere, there was dust and decay, and not a single sign of life.
Clayton ran his hand over some markings on the first building they came to.
"These are Qasalan," he said. "I'm sure of it."
Hopesmeade nodded in agreement.
"We've found it!" he said gladly. "I for one am not keen on trekking through the desert for days on end."
The pair made their way through the ruined city, checking each structure they came across. Common homes, all completely devoid of any contents.
"This place has been deserted for two centuries," Clayton said. "Anything of value will have been looted years ago."
"Anything of value on the surface, Clayton," Hopesmeade said with a smile. "But we are looking for Razul's hidden riches. He would be unlikely to leave them in the middle of the street. Aha! Look here."
He had come across a small lever embedded in the floor of the latest building. An experimental push made a trap door open nearby. A strange wind seemed to fly out from the hole, disappearing off into the street as it gathered up the dust.
"How far down does it go?" Hopesmeade asked as Clayton peered over the edge.
"Not far enough," Clayton answered. "There's something down there. Just as well we brought rope."
The two disappeared down the hole, while outside, the wind began to circle, picking up more dust from the city.
Gradually, the dust took form, until a Kyrii and a Uni were stood in the middle of the ruins.
They stared at each other for a few moments.
"We've been released," the Uni said, more out of shock than anything else.
"Then my father's curse has failed," the Kyrii answered. "We can save Qasala - the prophecy can still save us all. We must make for Sakhmet."
The Kyrii climbed onto the Uni's back, and together they ran across the dunes, travelling faster than any mortal Neopet ever could - they would be in Sakhmet within minutes.
Hanso was busy throwing his dagger into a dartboard when the Bruce arrived.
"Nothing," the Ixi moaned. "We've been here days, and nothing. Even the Desert Scarabs are proving useless - the biggest thing we can find to steal is market fruit."
"Then maybe our luck is changing." The Bruce smirked. "I've managed to buy some information. I've got the location of the last vault of Razul's that was found."
"Doctor Sloth and the Seekers took all of value from that one," Hanso pointed out. "There's nothing left... Unless..."
Hanso reclaimed his dagger with sudden eagerness.
"Unless... There are clues hidden in the vault itself as to Razul's real hidden treasures!"
"Gather the boys," Hanso instructed. "We're going on an expedition."
"Traps," Clayton said, grabbing Hopesmeade's arm. "Be careful."
The two were inching along the small passage at the bottom of the hole with nothing but torchlight to guide them.
"You're sure?" Hopesmeade asked.
"I used to be a thief," Clayton scoffed. "I know traps, trust me. Look here."
He gestured to some holes in the walls of the room they had just entered.
"These are for water - the room is rigged to flood," Clayton explained. "Someone wanted to keep people out of here."
"Good," Hopesmeade said. "That means we are close."
The pair continued, entering more habitable rooms. One, Clayton noted, was filled with weaponry. The other, the one they were heading to, scrolls.
"Their old library, no doubt," Hopesmeade observed.
As the centerpiece of the room, several large tablets filled with Qasalan hieroglyphs stood like silent guards.
"My Qasalan is even rustier than Mr. Oldnose's," Hopesmeade said. "But I shall try and make sense of it. See what you can find in those scrolls."
Clayton did as he was asked, though his knowledge of Qasalan was worse still. The best he could manage was something about magical rings in the armoury.
"Well, I never..." Hopesmeade gasped. "It appears we may have to rethink our strategy."
"These tablets relate the tale of Qasala's downfall," Hopesmeade explained. "How it was cursed by the machinations of Razul, and despite his son, Jazan's, best efforts, fell into ruins. The people became undead monsters, sapped of their true lives to feed Razul's eternal life."
"Razul is still alive?" Clayton asked. "I understood his magic failed."
"It appears we were wrong," Hopesmeade said, growing alarm in his face. "Razul's spell worked, but it is incomplete. There was an element of life that he failed to possess - true love. The final part of his spell is based around draining that aspect from another. There is a prophecy here, that says when the lines of Qasala and Sakhmet unite, the curse will be lifted, and Qasala will live again. But the symbol for Qasala here is corrupted, it may also mean the Seat of Qasala, the Emperor himself. In reality, the prophecy is that when true love unites, Razul will rise from the grave."
"Well, we don't need to worry about that," Clayton said, returning to his scrolls. "Whatever monsters inhabited this place are long gone. Qasala's royal line is dead, the prophecy can never be completed."
"No, I fear that isn't true," Hopesmeade replied, moving on to a different tablet. "There's something else here. It seems like, in a futile effort to save his people, Jazan trapped them in an alternate universe - the door was sealed with magic. Magic tied to the seal on these chambers. A seal we have broken."
"What does that mean?"
"Qasala's royal line is not broken," Hopesmeade replied. "Jazan lives, and his back in this world. He'll be heading to Sakhmet - we have to stop him! The Duchess needs to be informed of this development."
"Then we need to get out of here," Clayton said, fetching the scroll he had been reading. "This says, I think, that there are three powerful sets of rings in Qasala, forged by Razul. One set is a pair of wedding rings, intended to complete his magic spell, obviously. Another pair allow the user to wield great magical powers. And the third are rings of teleportation."
"Exactly what we need," Hopesmeade said with a nod.
They made their way back to the armoury, finding a table covered with magical rings.
"Jazan will likely have the wedding rings with him, and if he has any sense, one of the magical rings as well," Clayton said. "I would guess Razul would have the second. Meaning these must be the rings of teleportation. The scroll calls it the Ring of the Lost."
He picked up the one matching the description of the ring, and placed it on his finger. Magic immediately filled the air, and Clayton felt a now all too familiar feeling of being yanked quite harshly from behind as the world blurred around Hopesmeade and himself. As soon as it began, it ended.
There were back in Sakhmet, in Oldnose's chambers. The Meerca spat out his dinner.
Hopesmeade did not bother with pleasantries, heading straight to the window to send a letter to the Duchess.
"I wondered how long until you two showed up again, but I didn't imagine you'd pop in like this," Oldnose said. "Everyone's saying he's a fake. He's not, is he?"
"Who?" Clayton asked.
"The Prince!" Oldnose said. "Prince Jazan, of Qasala. That's not why you came back?"
"Tell me exactly what has happened," Clayton instructed.
"A few hours ago a Kyrii demanded an audience with Princess Amira," Oldnose explained. "He said he was the Prince of Qasala, and had an agreement between the rulers of the two city-states from centuries ago promising a princess, in this case Amira, as his bride. She laughed him out of the palace, of course. Her scholars have decided he was an imposter, because of Qasala disappearing two hundred years ago."
"He'll be back," Clayton said. "Hopesmeade?"
"I heard," Hopesmeade said, returning from the window. "If Jazan and Amira marry, the entire desert will be in danger."
"I wouldn't worry about that," Oldnose laughed. "Amira's been turning away suitors for months. She's hardly going to fall for an undead prince now, is she?"
"She may not have a choice in the matter," Hopesmeade replied. "Jazan left the city?"
"Back the way he came," Oldnose confirmed.
"What shall we do?" Clayton asked. "Follow him?"
"No, we wait for further instructions," Hopesmeade said. "The Duchess will be in contact before long."
Almost immediately, in fact. It was only a few minutes later that a Crokabek appeared at the window. Hopesmeade took the scroll and it set off on its errands again.
Hopesmeade read the note, making a skeptical face at it.
"This has become a whole lot more serious," Hopesmeade said. "The Duchess still requires Qasala to be returned, and a marriage between Jazan and Amira should break the curse and restore the city. Even at the cost of returning Razul to life. We are to aid the marriage however possible."
"What!?" Clayton gasped. "What about Razul?"
"When he appears, we are to eliminate him," Hopesmeade said. "Any means necessary."
"Well that's reassuring," Clayton said. "I don't know about you, but I couldn't challenge one of the strongest sorcerers ever to live. Oldnose here isn't experienced enough, and as for Thornpipe..."
The Draik was set in the corner clucking to himself.
"She is sending additional agents to the desert," Hopesmeade added.
"Why? Razul will mow them down just as he would us - we need the Order of the Red Erisim!" Clayton said.
"The Duchess suspects there may already be an Order representative in the desert," Hopesmeade said. "If we encourage them here in force, they will no doubt take whatever magical spoils they find after the battle is done. And that is the entire reason we are bringing Qasala back. No, the agents she is sending are not for Razul. They are for... Nuria."
"Nuria? The Faerie?"
"She believes that Nuria will hold magical devices capable of challenging Razul," Hopesmeade said. "We will acquire them. Additionally, any large scale event in the desert will attract her attention. And if she sees Sway involvement here, she will report back to Fyora. We must tread very carefully here, which is why the Duchess is allocating us more resources."
"Nuria!" Thornpipe spoke up from the corner. "The Scarabs!"
"Master?" Oldnose asked.
"The Scarabs, Oldnose!" Thornpipe repeated. "They are heading to Nuria's temple!"
Oldnose frowned at the old Draik, but looking over his shoulder, he let out a small gasp.
"He's right," the Meerca said. "This Temple of One Thousand Tombs he's been researching - it is dedicated to Nuria."
"Then that will be your first port of call," Hopesmeade instructed Clayton. "I, meanwhile, will remain here and try to influence Amira into accepting Jazan's proposal when he returns."
"Colander," Thornpipe supplied helpfully.
To be continued...