Of Wizards and Weewoos
If you want something badly enough, you'll do anything to get it.
That was the motto Sylvia lived by. It had served the shadow Aisha well over the years; first in the academy, and then in becoming a fully-fledged secret agent. Babysitting miscreants and hiding in plain sight were all in a day's work for her, and she had quickly progressed up the ranks. The long hours were starting to take their toll, though, and it didn't take long for Eridor to notice.
"You're working too hard," the red Draik's eyes had filled with concern. "Why don't you take a couple of weeks off? I can book you into a luxury resort on Mystery Island. Stunning views, delicious meals..."
He had proceeded to wax eloquent about the importance of getting adequate rest, leaving Sylvia with little choice but to accept. Now that she was actually on the island, however, a sinking feeling formed in the pit of her stomach. Eridor's speech had led her to believe that the beaches would be sprawling affairs of white sand and gleaming water. In reality, the sand was tawny-brown and the ocean was littered with clumps of tangled kelp.
As a result, she intended to spend most of her vacation in the privacy of her equally-disappointing quarters. The room was austerely furnished with a ratty armchair, a shelf full of books, and a wire-frame bed that creaked every time she turned over. If she had been paying for the holiday herself, she reflected, there was no doubt that she would be taking her business elsewhere.
Tap, tap, tap!
The unexpected noise jolted Sylvia out of her reverie. With vigilance holding such a prominent position in her line of work, she found the momentary lapse in concentration to be a worrying development.
The tapping continued, interspersed with a faint scuffling that seemed to emanate from the bathroom.
I suppose I should investigate that, she bit her lip apprehensively. That's what a good spy would do.
Steeling her nerves, Sylvia tip-toed towards the door and carefully pushed it open. Relief coursed through her when she saw the cause of the disturbance. A dazed Weewoo had squeezed through the open window and was now staggering around on the tiles. The small petpet half-hopped, half-skidded towards her, clutching a small roll of parchment in its beak. Gently, Sylvia pried the missive free.
Hope you are enjoying your vacation. A reputable source tells me Sulker the Great is staying at your resort. Keep tabs on him and report back via Tapioca when possible.
A smile tugged at Sylvia's lips. Eridor had known that she would be bored to tears at the secluded beach, so he had devised a small role to keep her occupied. Not for the first time, Sylvia was grateful for her handler's perceptiveness.
Her smile faded when she reread the note. Sulker was an immensely powerful wizard with ambiguous motives and an abrasive personality. The idea of spying on him was about as appealing as getting a root canal, but a mission was a mission. Sylvia had never shirked her duty as an agent and she wasn't about to start now.
"I guess I should reply to this as soon as p-"
The door to her room swung open with violent force, cutting her off in mid-sentence. A tall, grey Wocky strode towards her and scooped up the Weewoo, who squawked indignantly. Before the intruder could leave, Sylvia leapt in front of him.
"Hand over the Weewoo and no one gets hurt!"
The Wocky's lower lip curled petulantly. "You can't make me."
His outward appearance suggested he was at an advanced age, but his voice betrayed the childish personality within.
"I mean it, Sulker," Sylvia repeated as his identity dawned on her.
She hadn't recognised the wizard at first without his gilded robes and outlandish headwear.
"It's Sulker the Great," he corrected her irritably, placing extra emphasis on the last word.
"You certainly are a great sulker," Sylvia muttered under her breath before continuing aloud. "Very well, Sulker the Great. Stealing is wrong, so I must demand that you release the Weewoo at once!"
"I'd love to, but I'm on an important mission," Sulker replied dispassionately.
"I might have known you would be up to something," Sylvia narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "You've never struck me as a tropical island kind of guy. What are you doing here?"
Before the wizard could answer, a loud rumbling filled the air. Moments later, a heavy layer of smoke descended over the room. The metallic stench triggered a coughing fit that left Sylvia's eyes watering uncontrollably. A low-pitched whine assaulted her ears and then, almost as suddenly as it had arrived, the smoke vanished.
Sylvia's throat felt raw and constricted as she gasped for air. Sulker eyed her warily.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," she answered gingerly. "What on Neopia just happened?"
"Your petpet got stolen," Sulker informed her. "Properly, this time."
"The Pant Devil."
Sylvia's jaw dropped. She had seen and heard a lot of strange things during her time as a spy, but this trumped them all.
"His behaviour for the past few months has been bizarre, to say the least," Sulker went on, taking advantage of her astonished silence. "He used to seize anything and everything that wasn't nailed down, but his attacks have become increasingly focused as of late. His current fixation appears to be on stealing the Weewoos. All of them."
"But what could the Pant Devil possibly want with a giant flock of Weewoos?" Sylvia asked when she found her voice again.
"I haven't worked that out yet," Sulker admitted with a grimace. "I just know that he needs to be stopped."
"Maybe it's something to do with the Neopian Times," Sylvia mused.
When the wizard gave her a blank look, she continued her train of thought. "The Weewoos deliver it, right? Take them out of the equation and circulation would come to a standstill."
Sulker stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Perhaps."
"It doesn't even matter though," Sylvia shook her head glumly. "We'll never be able to find them now."
"Finding them is the easy part," Sulker waved his paw dismissively. "I placed a tracking charm on your Weewoo."
"What are we waiting for then?" Sylvia demanded. "Let's go!"
Sulker hesitated for a moment before closing the distance between them."I'll teleport us as close to our target as possible. There will be no side effects whatsoever... unless you blow up."
Sylvia's protests were cut off in a swirl of confusion as Sulker cast the spell. It felt like she had been pulled into the heart of a raging storm, with only brief flashes of light to punctuate the darkness. An instant later, she landed face-first on a cold, stone floor.
"See, what did I tell you?" Sulker declared triumphantly. "There's nothing to it."
With a groan, Sylvia stood up. "It's awfully dark in here."
"I think we're in the janitor's closet," Sulker peered disdainfully at the rows of buckets and mops. "Come on, it'll be lighter outside."
The door was unlocked, so they cautiously made their way out into the atrium. The floor was completely swamped with random clutter. Formidable weapons, valuable paint brushes, worthless junk – the Pant Devil had taken it all. An abstract statue rested in the middle of the hoard. It was enormous in size and seemingly composed of thin metal bars. Curious, Sylvia picked her way through the room to get a closer look.
"These are Rods of Supernova!" she exclaimed incredulously. "He's been stealing them every Christmas for the sake of... modern art?"
"Now it's really on," Sulker scowled fiercely.
A malicious cackle echoed through the room. Sylvia turned around slowly, just catching a glimpse of the Pant Devil as he darted behind a stack of books. Sulker fired a bolt of golden energy in his direction, grumbling as it dissipated harmlessly against a marble column. The Pant Devil raised his head to taunt the wizard, only to be caught by a second bolt that pinned him in place.
Sylvia desperately wished she could help, but she also knew that she was well out of her depth. Fortunately, Sulker sensed her reluctance. "I'll be fine, go and help the Weewoos!"
She obeyed immediately, wading through the sea of treasure as quickly as she dared. Strains of a haunting melody tickled her ears and she recognised it as a Weewoo chorus. She may not have access to her usual arsenal of gadgets, but her finely-honed observation skills were paying dividends.
Scrambling over a pile of Usuki dolls, Sylvia hurried out of the atrium and into a narrow corridor. The song swelled to a crescendo as she moved, helping her to locate the barred alcove where the Weewoos were being held captive. Their dulcet tones deteriorated into a cacophony when they saw her.
Sylvia paused for a moment to consider her options. Judging by the door, it would take about eight pounds of force to smash it down. A well-placed kick could do the job, but she didn't want to risk hurting the anxious petpets.
Or I could just use the key, Sylvia grinned, noticing that it had been carelessly left on a hook nearby.
The door swung on its hinges as soon as she unlocked it, allowing the Weewoos to spill out into the corridor. Regaining their freedom had a calming effect on the petpets, and they followed her obediently to the outer gates. As she heaved them open, one Weewoo hopped over to her and tilted its head inquiringly. It was Tapioca.
"You're safe now," she told her faithful friend. "Will you take a message to Eridor for me?"
She fished a scrap of parchment from her pocket and penned a brief note before handing it to him. Tapioca gazed at her with intelligent eyes for a few seconds, then dipped his head in agreement. As he took flight, she couldn't help but marvel at the way the sunlight caught on his feathers. The Weewoos were free!
"All taken care of," a familiar voice intoned.
Sylvia started at Sulker's sudden appearance. The wizard looked tired, but his countenance bore a hint of pride.
"You bested him?" she asked in awe.
"No need to sound so surprised," Sulker rolled his eyes. "By the way, you were right about him wanting to influence the Neopian Times. Look what I found."
The wizard was practically smirking as he handed over a crumpled newspaper. Sylvia took it, curious to see what he had uncovered. The headline made her snort with laughter.
"Pant Devil slips on banana peel?"
She wasn't sure how that was even possible for a villain who spent his life in the air, but she guessed from his actions that it must have been true.
"This whole thing was an elaborate scheme to avoid embarrassment," Sulker concluded with a shrug. "But, thanks to us, he failed."
"I guess this just goes to show that the pen is mightier than the Pant Devil!"