Agent of the Sway: Recovery - Part Four
Lady Falmouth rushed along the pink corridors of the Faerieland castle. It was unusual for the white Xweetok to be summoned with such immediacy - the Queen must have had good reason to call on her.
The Faerie Queen was waiting in the throne room when Falmouth arrived. She bowed low, noticing the room's other occupant - a speckled Xweetok.
Falmouth recognised her from her surveilance reports. Xandra - one of the most promising of the young intake at the Faerieland Academy.
"Isobel," Fyora greeted the knight with a nod. "I trust you are already acquainted with Xandra?"
Falmouth nodded, which got a stare of confusion from the younger Xweetok.
"I'm sorry, your majesty," Xandra said. "But I don't think we have been introduced."
"This is Lady Falmouth," Fyora explained. "She deals with my more delicate issues. I've called you both here because I have received a disturbing report from Ilere."
"The renegade Earth Faerie?" Xandra gasped.
"She may have that reputation," Fyora chuckled. "But she just prefers her isolation - Ilere is no rebel Faerie. She tells me that the town of Neovia, long cursed and deserted, has suddenly seen its inhabitants return in mutated, horrible forms. Ilere claims that this is the work of Sophie, a local witch. Isobel, given recent events, I am not inclined to agree. We must be sure there is not a lingering influence from those we so recently rid ourselves of. You will travel to Neovia and investigate."
"Of course, highness," Falmouth said with another bow.
"There may be added difficulties," Fyora added. "Which is why I have called Xandra here - she will assist you. Neovia lies on a confluence of leylines, coupled with the Spirit of Slumber that reportedly banished the town ten years ago, and the overtly magical sounding mutations... It is possible there may be deep, dark magic in the works. Sending a Faerie would draw suspicion - Xandra has gained top marks in every single class she has taken at the academy. She will be able to assist you if things take a peculiar turn."
Both Xweetoks nodded.
The circle of mutated Neovians was rapidly closing on Gilly and Bruno. From a nearby building, Clayton and Krawley watched on.
"Well?" Clayton asked. "The Spirit's curse is lifted. Now its your turn."
"Not quite so simple," Krawley said with an apologetic smile. "My curse will require a potion to lift - I had planned to administer it to the town's well. Sophie, over the last decade, has come close to formulating a cure, but she has always been missing a key ingredient, a flower. I have ensured there is a specimen nearby - the old asylum."
"Then you need to draw them towards it," Clayton instructed.
"They will recognise you, yes?" Clayton said. "Make them chase you."
Krawley nodded, slinking off into the street. There, Bruno quickly saw him through the crowd, a snarl spreading across his face.
"Is that... Him?" Gilly asked.
"Yes," Bruno answered.
Having been seen, Krawley turned to run.
"He's getting away!" Gilly shouted.
"I'll hold them back!" Bruno shouted, running forwards at the mutant Neovians. "Go!"
Gilly nodded, running after Krawley as he left the town boundary.
Clayton stayed behind to help Bruno as best he could, firing off a couple of crossbow bolts at the most dangerous looking townspeople.
With Gilly's escape complete, Bruno seemed to think better than challenging all of them at once. He turned and fled, finding a trap door leading into a cellar in which to hide.
Clayton hung back towards the ruins of the building. The townsfolk, having lost their prey, began roaming the town, roaring at sparring with each other like common animals.
But Clayton soon found that his usual dark corners did not provide quite the safety he was after. Red eyes opened in the dark, shadows springing to life and following Clayton.
Agent of the Sway, the darkness seemed to speak into Clayton's mind. You would stand against us. Neovia is ours!
Clayton gave a grim frown.
"As expected," he sighed.
The shadows were converging, the number of red eyes growing by the second. Clayton had no other option, he turned and left, heading out of town.
There was a Crokabek waiting on a gravestone there, and Clayton hastily wrote off a message to the Duchess.
It is as we feared.
Within moments, there was a reply.
We have no other option than to deal with them head on. For that, we will require the services of the Order of the Red Erisim. Rasala, the Bori we made a bargain with upon the fall of Razul, should be in residency in the Haunted Woods headquarters. It is time to call in our favour - I believe an old acquaintance of yours, Thaddeus Oldnose, will be able to help you gain entry. Our last reports place him in an area of the Deep Woods I have marked on the enclosed map.
Clayton took note of the map and then destroyed both it and the note, before heading off to the location specified.
Clayton's initial briefing documents had included a very alarming possibility, one the Brain Tree had guessed. With Neovia on leylines, and the barriers of the world already weakened by the repeated summoning of the Spirit of Slumber, it was entirely possible that... things could slip through the holes. Clayton was no expert, but he was aware that wizards and witches spent a lot of time combating eldrich abominations, what the Sway called Category D creatures. The Shadows that had entered Neovia were one such group. The Order of the Red Erisim were the only group capable of sealing the hole and banishing the Shadows.
Clayton's destination was a run down old building that looked as if it hadn't been inhabited for the last few years. Thaddeus Oldnose had been apprentice to the wizard Alvare Thornpipe, and had helped Clayton infiltrate the Order once before. When they had last met, he had been in the Lost Desert, but apparently he had returned home.
Clayton knocked once before entering, starling the red Meerca who had been asleep in a chair by the fire.
Oldnose's face fell when he recognised who it was.
"Oh no," he said. "What is it this time?"
"There's no need to be like that, Thaddeus," Clayton said with a smirk. "I would have thought you'd be happy to see an old friend."
"Every time you show up something awful happens," Oldnose said.
"What are you doing back in the Haunted Woods?" Clayton asked. "And where's Thornpipe?"
"Dead," Oldnose replied. "And that would be the reason. Soon after he finished the scarab sorting device for the Qasalans he passed away, making me no longer needed as his apprentice. The Qasalans weren't that happy when they couldn't figure out how to use the thing, and frankly I didn't have a clue either, so I thought it was best to get out of the desert. I'm getting out of the magic business. Considering becoming an artisan."
"Well, before you hang up your cloak for good," Clayton said. "We have need of your services one last time."
"We need to access the Order of the Red Erisim's headquarters," Clayton explained. "You've been there before. You will help. I'm sure you're aware that refusal is not an option."
"Yes," Oldnose said with a sigh. "Quite aware. Come with me."
The Order's Headquarters were an old castle in the Deep Woods that looked like it was abandoned but in reality was anything but. The Order of the Red Erisim was a global organisation, with most members keeping their own towers elsewhere. Few but the most senior members and their apprentices actually lived in the headquarters, though through means of teleportation, there were always visitors to consult the vast magical libraries.
Oldnose led Clayton to the back entrance, the one used by servants and those that wizard's considered less that welcome. Together, they made their way through the kitchens, the way into any fortress. The cooks clearly remembered Oldnose from his errands on behalf of Thornpipe, and averted their gaze. Best not to ask questions about such people.
"We will need to speak with Rasala," Clayton instructed, once they were in the castle proper.
"I don't know her," Oldnose replied.
"A new recruit, since you left for the Lost Desert," Clayton explained. "I believe she is studying under Master Alshemar."
"Alshemar?" Oldnose sighed. "Typical, it would be one of the most powerful wizards in the Order that we have to go snooping about near. He's got a tower this way, if this Rasala is studying under him, she'll be there."
Oldnose led him further into the castle, avoiding the gaze of those few wizards they came across. Most were too old and crusty to see past the ends of their noses, let alone anything else.
They reached an ancient and cobweb covered door, and Oldnose supplied a distinctive knock. Clayton guessed it was the signature of the Order.
The door opened, and there was Rasala the Bright. The pink Bori had changed from the robes she had worn when Clayton had first encountered her on Terror Mountain, now favouring a spellcaster's cloak of red and purple.
"What?" she demanded, staring down at Oldnose.
"Mistress Rasala?" Oldnose asked.
"Yes, what is it?" she demanded. "Who are you?"
"We have come to collect on a favour," Clayton said from behind Oldnose. "Over the matter of Emperor Razul."
The colour seemed to drain from Rasala's face, but then a look of realisation.
"You!" she hissed. "I remember you from Terror Mountain, after the death of the Bringer! I told you..."
"You told me that if you ever caught me in the Bori caves again, you would kill me," Clayton said. "We are in the Haunted Woods, so I think we are still square on that particular front. Aren't you going to invite us in?"
Rasala stood aside, letting the pair in. It turned out she wasn't alone, there was an orange Kougra sitting in the window. Long white hair on her head shone in the moonlight from outside, her cloak was red and black.
"I wasn't aware Master Alshemar had two apprentices," Clayton commented.
"He doesn't," the Kougra said. "I am Quizara, a sorceress in my own right. I remember Oldnose, though I can't say that he is welcome within these walls, but you I do not know. Who are you, and what business do you have with the Order?"
"He is with them," Rasala hissed.
"Ah," Quizara said, a smile forming on her face. "Then I must thank you. It was me that suggested to Rasala that she use Razul's ring to gain enough power to study under Alshemar, and found the Fortune Teller for her. Without your help, all that wouldn't have been possible."
"My pleasure," Clayton replied. "Though it does beg the question... Why are you so interested in her?"
"I see potential in her," she said with a sly smile. "But you have not told me why you are here."
"I have business with Rasala," Clayton said firmly.
Quizara seemed to know more than she was letting on, and that made her dangerous. Best to eliminate that factor.
Quizara took the hint.
She gave a knowing wink to Rasala before leaving.
"Well?" the Bori demanded. "What is it?"
"There are Shadows in Neovia," Clayton said. "Moving Shadows, we believe there may be an incursion in progress and we cannot allow it to continue, Neovia must be preserved."
"So you want me to get rid of them?" Rasala asked.
"You catch on quickly," Clayton said with a smile.
To be continued...