Agent of the Sway: Discovery - Part Five
It was several days later that Nabile returned to Sakhmet alone. Wessle informed Hopesmeade that she was lodging with Amira, despondent that she was unable to help Jazan and his people, who still seemed to be cursed.
She had returned to the city to consult the texts in the library, but Hopesmeade knew she would find none - Oldnose had scoured them weeks ago when he was searching for Qasala.
Not long after Nabile arrived, the day the Sway had been waiting for had arrived. Hopesmeade had been expecting it, after all, the Kau fortune teller had just directed people to Nuria's temple to locate the magical weapons.
A storm was gathering, and even to the most simple mind it was clear that it was not natural.
Lightning struck the great front gates of Sakhmet, causing them to explode inwards in a shower of embers and splinters. In the space where they had been, there was a new figure.
He was a monster of a Kyrii, all hint of flesh now gone, devoured by the eternal flame that now covered his skeleton. He was tall, draped in a long black cloak - Emperor Razul had returned.
He wasted no time laying waste to the city, evil dark magics burning entire buildings at a time. He cut a path across the city, reaching the palace and casually swatting aside General Dacon and his best soldiers. Inside, he found Nabile and Amira cowering.
"How nice, princess," he boomed, voice burning with the fire in his bones. "I see you have sent me a welcoming party."
He gathered a magical blast to send their way, but Amira's advisor, Enarka, grabbed the pair and led them away as a fresh group of soldiers challenged Razul.
"Out of my way, fools!" Razul boomed, letting out a fresh blast of magic.
He made short work of the soldiers, following the princesses and cornering them in a dead end. Hopesmeade and Clayton were following close behind, keeping to the shadows.
"At last!" Razul cackled. "I can destroy this city and its royalty!"
A few more soldiers arrived, and Clayton noticed they were holding the rusted weapons from Nuria's temple - they bounced off Razul's back, and he swatted the soldiers back.
"They aren't enough!" Clayton hissed to Hopesmeade.
"Perhaps they all have to be used," Hopesmeade replied.
Jazan had arrived at the other end of the corridor, called by some sense that Nabile was in danger.
"You!" was all he could muster at the sight of his long dead father.
"You pathetic love-sick fool!" Razul shouted. "You are an embarrassment to call my son!"
"Father!" Jazan said. "But you are dead!"
"You really think that death could stop me?" Razul cackled. "Now, it is time to finish things here. Then, once I have destroyed Sakhmet, I can move on to the rest of Neopia!"
"I will stop you!" Jazan said, mustering his magic.
Razul rounded on him, draining the younger Kyrii's magic.
"Foolish child!" Razul shouted. "I should have killed you years ago!"
The fiery monster turned his attention on Nabile, who fell to the floor. Clayton took his chance, launching the rusty dagger at Razul's back. The thing bounced off, but the combined magic of the four weapons somehow took effect, causing Razul to stumble, ever so slightly.
Jazan regained himself, enraged by the sight of Nabile being harmed.
"Father!" he screamed. "You will pay for that!"
He launched a fresh assault of magic on Razul, and in his weakened state the fiery Kyrii could not resist. Jazan's magic overwhelmed him, completely obliterating the monster.
"It... It cannot be..." were Razul's final words as he faded away.
Jazan rushed to Nabile's side, carrying her off to the palace physicians with the help of Amira and Enarka. Hopesmeade and Clayton emerged from the shadows.
"Well, I would say, all things considered, that went swimmingly," Hopesmeade said with a deep relieved sigh. "Aha! And to the victor, the spoils."
Razul's magic ring, an amplifier for his power, was resting on the floor. All that remained of the Emperor.
"Not so fast," came a voice from the end of the corridor.
It was the Kau fortune teller, out of her tent at last.
"Give me the ring," she demanded.
"I'm afraid that's quite out of the question," Hopesmeade replied. "Thank you for your help in defeating Razul, by the way. Your ability to show up just as the battle ends has proven quite effective."
"Hand over the ring," she repeated. "You don't want the full might of the Order against you."
"No, I do not," Hopesmeade replied lightly. "But then again, you aren't in a position to call on them, what with you not being a member. We already know all about you, and your scheme to use the ring to help Rasala to gain entry."
She faltered momentarily.
"I have already seen that you will give me the ring," she said. "Besides, I may not be a member of the Order, but I am still a seer. I know about your organisation. The Sway operates in secrecy - I can blow that out of the water. I could provide Fyora with the Duchess's address if I wanted. The ring, Duke Hopesmeade. Now."
The fluttering wings of a Crokabek coming down the corridor interrupted the stalemate. It delivered a note to Hopesmeade, who sighed, and then tossed the ring over to the fortune teller.
"The Duchess sends her regards," he said. "She wishes it to be known that she is personally providing you with this ring, and that Rasala knows that. At any point, we can inform Alshemar that her increased power is the result of trickery - she owes us a favour. The Sway always collects their favours."
She bowed and left them.
"What now?" Clayton asked.
"We return to the Duchess for further instructions," Hopesmeade said, destroying the note. "We are done with the desert, for now."
The white Xweetok swept through the corridors of Fyora's palace, her pink and purple armour marking her as one of the Queen's knights. It was magically enchanted, allowing her to move with speed despite the weight.
Those in the know eyed her suspiciously as she passed. Lady Falmouth was not a knight who you wished to strike up conversation with - she didn't appear on the official roster of Faerieland soldiers for a very good reason. She dealt with the more secret aspects of Fyora's rule. If she was speaking to you, it was likely you were in or were about to be in very big trouble indeed.
The guards on the throne room nodded to her as she approached, opening the doors. Inside, the Queen was waiting.
"Ah, Isobel," Fyora greeted her. "Thank you for coming so quickly."
"What is it you wish of me, my Lady?" she asked.
"To be honest, I am not entirely sure," Fyora confessed.
Lady Falmouth looked up in confusion.
"I had a moment of strangeness, a few days ago," Fyora explained. "It felt like a strong Faerie was trying to communicate something to me telepathically, but the message was cut off abruptly before I could make full sense of it. I believe it came from Nuria."
"Nuria..." Falmouth said. "Then perhaps it was related to the trouble in Sakhmet? The sorcerer known as Razul returned, along with Qasala, as I hear it. Was Nuria attacked?"
"No," Fyora answered. "Razul's return happened a few days after Nuria's distress call. She has shown up today on Mystery Island, with no memory of what happened or how she got there."
"Suspicious," Falmouth agreed. "If not Razul then, who?"
"I fear a darker force," Fyora said. "Nuria's message was garbled, but there was an image. A symbol I recognised. It was associated with a band of Neopets who sought to influence world events almost a thousand years ago. They sided with the Darkest Faerie during her siege on Altador, and disappeared soon after her defeat. I assumed they had been destroyed. I appears that was foolish of me."
"You think they have remained secret all this time?" Falmouth asked. "I have heard of a great many cults, my Lady. I find it hard to believe any would stay secret for a century, let alone a millennium."
"This is not an ordinary cult," Fyora said. "They are not to be underestimated."
"What would you have me do?" Falmouth asked.
"Keep an ear to the ground, Isobel," Fyora instructed. "Report anything odd back to me immediately."
After the harsh desert sands, the warm comfort of the Duchess's mansion was welcome.
The old Lenny was busy studying a chess set when the pair of them arrived.
"I have received a report on the Order's activities," she announced, still studying the chess set. "Rasala has been formally inducted under Master Alshemar. Mr. Moore, you may be interested to know that Hanso's delivery of the stolen furniture has not gone down well with your old friend Kanrik - Hanso has been expelled from the Guild."
"I can only apologise that we were unable to secure Razul's magical ring," Hopesmeade ventured.
"No matter," she said. "There will be other magics we can employ, I am sure of it - and now we have a pawn within the Order of the Red Erisim. That is far more valuable in the long run. Qasala is back on the map, as well, so the operation is not an entire failure. Now, however, we have a more pressing problem - the Faeries."
"It was entirely my fault, ma'am," Clayton said.
"Not at all, Mr. Moore," she replied. "The only way to stop Razul was through Nuria's weapons, and you could not have gained them without alerting her. No, it was the only course available to you. Now, however, we must deal with the consequences. Nuria remembers nothing, but it appears she was able to telepathically communicate something to Fyora before we neutralised her. Fyora is suspicious. Not enough to hunt us down directly, but our Faerieland agents report that Lady Falmouth, Fyora's spymaster, has been set on our trail."
"Falmouth..." Hopesmeade considered. "She is rumoured to be good."
"But we are better," the Duchess said.
At last, she made her move, one of the pawns forward a space. At once, she spun the board and began considering the next move - she was playing against herself.
"I have already set things in motion to give Falmouth a false trail to follow," the Duchess said. "It may seem like a high stakes risk, but I believe the only way to convince Fyora that we no longer exist is to reintroduce the only force she knows us to have been associated with in the past."
"You don't mean...?" Hopesmeade gasped.
"The Darkest Faerie," the Duchess confirmed. "We've long known the location of her petrified form - I have instructed Maraquan agents to remove Jerdana's cursed necklace from around her neck. That should return the Darkest Faerie to normal. With her running wild, Fyora may just be fooled into thinking that the Sway are just her underlings who will disappear again with her defeat."
Hopesmeade clearly had reservations, but he nodded anyway.
"Very well," he said. "What are our orders?"
"None," she replied. "I will make minor alterations to the course of events with agents in Meridell, but we must stay clear of this, Falmouth will be watching for our involvement. Instead, I am sending you to the Haunted Woods. The Wand of Wishing is due to become active again - it must be dealt with."
To be continued...