Agent of the Sway: Recovery - Part Three
Clayton didn't follow the trio on their trek to Ilere's lair; he didn't want to run the risk of the Faerie discovering Sway involvement. Instead, he instructed Krawley to follow at a distance. At least, if he was discovered, it wouldn't point back to the organisation.
Clayton instead ventured deeper into the woods, towards a location he had visited years before on a quest that had taken him to the Lost Desert.
The eerie orange mass of the Brain Tree could be seen through the woods from quite a distance. It was bigger than any of the other trees for miles around, both in width and height, the pulsating brain atop the trunk poking out of the tree canopy.
The Brain Tree was normally silent, creaking and swaying in the breeze until approached. Clayton was only a few metres away when the thing sprung to life, red piercing eyes suddenly glaring out towards him as the branches flailed this way and that. The bark seemed to be rearranging itself somehow, forming a horrible jagged mouth.
"I have been... expecting you..." the creaking voice of the Brain Tree came. "Clayton Moore.... Agent of the... Duchess."
"I see you remember me," Clayton commented.
"I remember... everything!" it boomed. "And the trees.... they whisper... such things to me. Of your former... mentor. Of the other... agents. I have heard... of the explosion... in Faerieland. Carried... on the breeze. The Sway... is weakened."
"Then you know exactly why I am here already," Clayton said.
"You desire... Neovia," the Brain Tree said. "Even now... the witch... of the Swamp... and her friends... seek out the outcast... the Faerie. They further... your plans."
"We expect Ilere to refuse to help," Clayton said. "Given her past form and the general edict from Queen Fyora. Do you concur?"
"I... do," the Brain Tree answered.
"Then you know that their next port of call is likely to be yourself," Clayton said. "They will seek answers about the Spirit of Slumber."
"Answers... I can... provide."
"Yes, you can summon him, as well, can't you?" Clayton said. "At least, that's what our files say. We would ask that you are... creative with your help. Send them on a quest to the Esophagor or something. They must summon the Spirit themselves."
The Brain Tree creaked in thought.
"We believe Sophie has a method of summoning the Spirit that differs from the one you would use," Clayton explained. "You would summon the ghost, as the people of Neovia did. Sophie would have it inhabit the body of a living soul. We would prefer the latter option."
"...Why?" the Brain Tree repeated.
"We would keep our reasons to ourselves," Clayton answered.
The Brain Tree creaked in thought for a few minutes.
"You fear... that summoning... the Spirit... many times... may cause... incursions? Shadows? Or... wraiths?" it asked at last. "You fear... the Order!"
"We do not need unnecessary attention to be drawn to the town until it is too late," Clayton said. "This is our request."
"And if... I refuse?" the Brain Tree asked.
"You remember our terms from my last visit here," Clayton said. "I don't believe you've become any less flammable since then. Help us or burn; it is your choice."
"I helped you... once..." the Brain Tree said. "But then... our goals... were... the same."
"And they still are," Clayton said. "Or do you not wish for the return of Neovia?"
The Brain Tree was silent for a few more moments.
"Very well..." it said. "We have... an accord."
Clayton sent off a Crokabek to the Duchess to inform her of the progress and got his next destination in her reply a little while later. She had included the name of the Spirit of Slumber, Jubart Igig, and the location of his body. Sophie, it was thought, would need it for her spell.
The Duchess had also included a map of the large graveyards with the Spirit's grave marked.
A communication from Krawley as Clayton entered the graveyard confirmed their course of action. Ilere had indeed refused to help Sophie, and the group was now on course for the Brain Tree.
Clayton quickly navigated the graveyard, which seemed to stretch on endlessly in some directions, finding the right lot for the Spirit's grave.
And there it was, a gravestone with Jubart Igig carved into it. It looked completely unremarkable, and that, Clayton thought, would make it very difficult to find.
Looking around, Clayton quickly saw what he would have to do to make the gravestone stand out. He took a few steps back and launched into a run, kicking the stone hard.
The ancient masonry crumbled under the effort, buckling clean in two - the only broken gravestone in the area. Sophie was bound to be drawn to it.
With his work done, Clayton left the graveyard and waited in the treeline for Sophie, Bruno, and Gilly.
Once again, Krawley seemed to materialise out of thin air next to Clayton.
"They have given up on the Brain Tree," the Krawk announced. "They are on their way here now; it shouldn't be long."
"I've made preparations in the graveyard," Clayton replied.
Soon enough, the party of three passed by. They were making their way towards the caretaker's house to get his reference books, by the looks of it.
Clayton and Krawley crept out from the shadows and followed at a distance.
With the books and shovels in hand, Bruno began digging in the graveyard, with Sophie and Gilly pouring potions on the recovered bones to test them for the Spirit's magic. Unfortunately, Bruno seemed to be digging at random, rather than heading for the marked grave Clayton had made for them.
Clayton exchanged a withering look with Krawley. This was going to take longer than expected.
A few long, boring hours later, Bruno finally came to the grave with the broken headstone. When Gilly tested the bones, they glowed a spectral white.
"That's it!" Sophie cried.
But when they came to look at the headstone, they found it not only broken, but missing.
"The caretaker," Clayton cursed. "He must have removed the broken headstone while we were waiting."
"So what now?" Krawley asked. "They can't find the name?"
"No," Clayton sighed as he watched Sophie reach for the reference books. "They'll have to cross reference every single grave in here... And find the one that's missing."
"That could take..." Krawley said, turning around to take in the sheer number of graves.
"A long time," Clayton confirmed. "Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Krawley. We're in for the long haul."
It was the early hours of the morning when at last Sophie struck through the name on the final gravestone. It left only one name remaining in all of the books - Jubart Igig.
Clayton had long ago learned how to survive with minimal sleep, and it seemed that Krawley was much the same. They followed the group as they made their way back to Sophie's shack - it was decided between them on the way that Bruno would be the vessel for the summoning.
The three of them disappeared inside the shack to perform the spell, and a few minutes later, they reemerged.
This time, however, Bruno looked different. He held himself tall now, not hunched as he had since he ran from the cave. His eyes now blazed yellow, replacing the normal green. The Spirit of Slumber was now in residence. Sophie, as a resident (albeit former) of Neovia, had asked for the spell to be broken, and the Spirit was going to oblige. He was leading Sophie and Gilly back to Neovia.
"I hope we don't run into any Werewolves," Gilly worried.
"You mean Werelupes," Sophie answered. "Don't worry; it's a common misconception that Werelupes roam this area. They're actually quite rare in the woods around Neovia."
Sophie glanced sadly down at the locket Gilly had found as they travelled.
"It's really pretty," Gilly said.
"My mother gave it to me when I was little," Sophie explained.
"You'll have to introduce me when we cure the town," Gilly said.
"I don't know," Sophie said. "This might not work. What if we don't succeed?"
"I'm sure we will," Gilly said, confident as ever.
The Spirit of Slumber cut across them.
"We have arrived."
They had. The ruins of Neovia stood before them, but they were no longer empty. It was Halloween now, and the effects of the Spirit's spell meant that this was the one day of the year when the ghosts of the townsfolk roamed free. They went about their business, not even noticing the three Neopets in their midst, and the two Sway agents hastily hiding in a nearby building.
The Spirit stood with his hands outstretched and began to unwork his magic. There was a tingle in the air, and when he spoke, it came with a volume far greater than Bruno's normal voice.
"Let the spell be undone!"
And in front of their eyes, the magic began to change. The ghosts roaming the town became solid, transforming back to the people that Sophie and Bruno knew and loved.
"Mum!?" Sophie gasped, seeing her old family reappear in the town square. "Dad? Reggie?"
Behind her, Bruno collapsed, the magic of the Spirit leaving him.
"Bruno!" Sophie gasped again, rushing to his aid.
"Did... Did it work?" Bruno asked.
"Yes, we did it!" Sophie said. "And our family is here!"
Gilly seemed to notice something over Sophie's shoulder.
The townsfolk were pausing in their celebrations, and there was another tingle of fresh magic. Freed from the Spirit's cure, the effects of Krawley's potion were kicking in again. The Neovians began to twist and mutate again, returning to the horrible forms they had held ten years previously.
"The Spirit of Slumber only undid the spell, not the potion!" Gilly shouted.
The mutated Neopets were moving in closer to the group now, and they didn't look friendly. In the ruined building, Clayton readied his crossbow in case he needed to defend them.
Through the crowds, Sophie caught sight of her parents mutating again.
"Oh no..." she whispered.
Faced with the sight of her parents returned to their monstrous forms, Sophie turned tail and fled back into the woods. Gilly and Bruno were left alone as the people of Neovia closed in.
To be continued...