Eye of the Crokabek: Part Four
"Wait, so you're Cog's cousin,” repeated Phil, disbelieving.
He, Tim, and the White Kacheek were seated at Cog's dining table. At that, however, Tim gave a small 'ahh' of realisation. Now he thought of it, Cog had mentioned something about having a cousin come to visit.
“So you must be Stella?” he asked.
The Kacheek nodded affirmation. “I'm visiting Cog for the month.”
Tim nodded his head deliberately. That matched up with what Cog had told him.
“So... what's happened to Cog?” he asked.
Stella gave him a weary look.
“It's a long story,” she told him, “and... I haven't been sleeping well lately. Mind if I make a cup of Borovan first?”
Tim made a 'go ahead' gesture, and settled down to wait.
“Anyone else?” asked Stella.
Tim shook his head, but Phil's ears pricked up at the offer. “I'll have one,” he told her.
As Stella bustled around in the kitchen, Tim took the opportunity to look around the interior of the small house. Everything was neat and well ordered. Exactly as he would have expected it to be. There was no sign of a struggle.
Eventually Stella sat down at the table again, a cup of Borovan in her hand. She slid one across the table to Phil too. He took it enthusiastically. Stella turned to face Tim. “So what do you want to know?” she asked.
“Uh, everything?” he said. He had a moment's déjà vu as he thought back to the scene in Igneot's cavern not so long ago.
“Alright,” said Stella with a deep breath, “So this whole thing started about three days ago...” And she proceeded to tell them the entire sequence of events.
Just three days ago, Mayor Dilbert had failed to show up for work in the council chambers. No-one had heard anything so a search had ensued. He wasn't found at his house. There was no trace of him anywhere. By that afternoon, the government had pronounced him 'missing'.
To everyone's surprise, a Blue Wocky had been appointed the Interim Mayor. Apparently he had been in a junior position on the town council for the past few months. But he was hardly a likely candidate for next mayor!
In light of this, Cog had decided to organise a rally. To petition the government that Rigdon Beign be appointed Interim Mayor instead. Rigdon was a popular figure in Moltaran politics. Brother to the well-known Yooyuball captain, Aldric Beign. And protégé of Mayor Dilbert. The rally had been planned for lunch hour the next day. Everyone participating was to assemble outside Cog's shop and march across the town square to the Town Hall, bearing placards.
Cog had headed off for work as normal that next morning. But she seemed not to have made it as far as her shop. The shop never opened that day. Those who had ventured close by the shop front said the door had been marked with a wax seal bearing a triangular 'S' emblem. A similar seal had appeared on the door of Rigdon Beign's office. And nothing had been seen of either of them since.
All this, Stella related briskly, in a matter of fact tone. Then, with a sense of helplessness, she added “I just don't know what to do!”
“The only thing I've thought of,” she told them, “was to get myself taken prisoner too, but that didn't seem like the greatest idea.”
“You didn't think of going and confronting them?” asked Phil, “You look like you're pretty capable with that sword!”
Stella looked in the direction of the sword and scoffed. “That's just for show,” she told them, “I can't actually use it very well,”
Phil was going to tell her that it was a pretty impressive show, but Stella wasn't listening.
“Besides,” she was saying, “who am I meant to confront? I mean, it's pretty obvious that the Sway are behind all this, but they're keeping it all very secretive.”
“Well, they are the Sway,” Phil pointed out, “they do tend to do that.”
Stella just glared at him.
Tim seemed to shake himself from a reverie.
“Cool. So we need to go see if we can rescue Cog and Rigdon,” he said, “And presumably Mayor Dilbert will be with them too,” he added.
So saying, he began rumaging through his pack in quest of weapons and withdrew an Elegant Desert Sword.
“Do you even know how to use that?” asked Phil curiously.
“Nope,” Tim told him blithely, “it's more just for show.”
“Ooh, take a look at Tim, The Fierce Warrior,” enthused Phil as Tim held the sword lamely by his side. “Your fan club would love this look, Tim!” he grinned.
“Tim's got a fan club?” Stella asked, confused.
“No, I don't!” Tim told her adamantly, before Phil could respond.
Phil smiled down at him, “So modest!” he said.
Tim glared back. “You watch yourself,” he warned his friend, “or I'll learn how to use this thing specifically so I can come after you.”
Phil just grinned.
Phil, Tim and Stella peered cautiously around the corner of a building. All three were armed with swords. Stella wore a voluminous black cloak. Being white sometimes had it's disadvantages, she told them. It could be rather hard to move about inconspicuously. Well, unless you live on Terror Mountain, she'd joked. Apparently a voluminous black cloak was an indispensable item in the wardrobe of any white neopet. Well... any white neopet who wanted to engage in covert activities from time to time, that is.
The three comrades didn't really have a plan. But they couldn't do anything against an invisible enemy. So they were slowly making their way towards the Town Hall – the only place at which the Sway had really shown their hand.
Tim, Phil and Stella entered the next street and made their way down it towards the Town Hall. They didn't realise it, but they were quite an impressive sight. Tim led the way, with Phil on his right and Stella on his left. All three with sheathed swords, striding purposefully along the darkened lane. Of course, Stella's cape billowing out behind her helped add to the look.
Without any warning, a pair of Brown Skeiths shambled out of a side alleyway just ahead of them. They wore a motley assortment of plate armour and chain mail. Both were wielding massive clubs. One of them caught sight of the trio and grunted to his companion. They slowly advanced. The two groups came to a halt several paces apart.
“Well, have a look at this, Bob” said one Skeith to the other, thickly.
“Looks like something the boss would be interested in, Doug” came the reply.
Doug looked sceptical. “The boss wasn't very interested in the last one,” he said, “Maybe we should just take this lot straight to the dark cave.”
Bob seemed to be deep in thought. “The last one wasn't holding a sword...” he said slowly. “But this lot are... Maybe that makes them more interesting?” Thinking was evidently something Bob didn't do a lot of.
Doug shrugged. He figured they could bash first and decide later. He casually raised his massive club, ready to strike.
Tim eyed the club warily. Phil braced himself, ready to fight. Stella, however, stepped forward fearlessly.
“Wait a minute,” she said in a commanding voice. Doug hesitated.
“You haven't given adequate consideration to the fact that our swords are sheathed and not in our hands,” she told the Skeiths, “You see, that's likely to mean that we're of insufficient interest to your commander so that he wouldn't want to be inconvenienced by our presence, and it also makes us an insufficient threat to yourselves and your operations so that it wouldn't warrant the expense of imprisoning us.”
Stella's tactic might have worked. Doug and Bob were certainly stupid enough to fall for it. But she made one basic mistake. She overestimated their vocabularies. They barely understood a word of what she'd said. And Doug and Bob had only one way of dealing with something they didn't understand: Bash it.
Both Skeiths raised their clubs and advanced on the trio. Phil glanced meaningfully at Stella and gestured towards the ground. A look of understanding passed between them.
“When I say 'Go', you run forwards,” Phil instructed Tim out of the corner of his mouth.
Tim looked at Phil, bewildered. He had no idea what the pair were planning. But his part in it seemed to make no sense. Phil wasn't looking at Tim. He was watching the arcing path of the clubs high above. Tim turned to do the same, his heart beating in his throat. The clubs made their slow process through the air. Just as they'd passed the peak and begun the downwards stroke, Phil yelled “GO!”
He and Stella, acting in unison, threw themselves to the ground. With a sweeping movement, each of them took out a leg of one of the advancing Skeiths. All the power the Skeiths had put into their blow, was now bringing them crashing face-first to the ground. Suddenly Tim remembered Phil's instruction and it all made sense to him. Galvanised into action by the sight of two massive Skeiths about to fall on him, he ran. Phil and Stella both regained their feet hastily and joined him running down the street. Behind them lay a tangled mass of Skeith arms and legs, interspersed with enormous clubs.
Tim veered down a side alleyway, calling out to his friends to follow him. If they split up now, there was very little chance that they'd find each other again. Tim couldn't keep up the breakneck pace for long. But he led them as swiftly as he could through so many twists and turns that Stella and Phil were both thoroughly lost and confused.
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. It had taken Doug and Bob a while to pick themselves up off the road. By the time they had got themselves sorted, the two brutes had no idea where to look. They stood stupidly in the road and looked around, frowning.
“You go that way, I'll go this way,” said Bob at last. And they both shambled off in different directions, peering unintelligently into the shadows for any sign of their quarry.
Tim took a final turn. Without any warning they were standing right outside the door to Cog's house.
“Wow!” puffed Stella, impressed but exhausted.
“Nice,” acknowledged Phil. He didn't even seem to be breathing heavily.
Tim was just about ready to drop. He stepped forward, activated the door mechanism and collapsed onto a chair inside. Stella and Phil followed him in.
Phil was the first to break the silence “Were those Sway?” he asked.
“No. Brute Squad,” Stella told him.
Phil pulled a face, “Wow, how many factions do you guys have in Moltara?” he joked.
“Way more than we need,” Stella told him bitterly.
“But surely the two are related,” Tim chimed.
Phil and Stella both looked over to the kitchen where Tim was getting himself another glass of water. They clearly had no idea what he was on about. Tim felt his cheeks flush underneath his fur. He wasn't always very coherent – especially not when he was tired.
“I mean, the Brute Squad being here has got to be related to the Sway,” he explained.
Stella immediately warmed to the theme and continued the explanation for him. It made sense. The Brute Squad were mercenaries after all. They'd hire out their services to anyone who paid them enough. And the Sway were certainly able to pay.
“That must be who their boss is,” Stella concluded, “It would make good sense of their whole conversation when they were trying to decide what to do with us.”
Tim sculled another glass of water and then placed the jug back on the bench.
“It also means that we now know where the Sway are taking their prisoners,” he told them.
Comprehension dawned on both Stella and Phil's faces.
The Dark Cave.
To be continued…