Agent of the Sway: Discovery - Part Seven
Lady Falmouth was forced back, her sword clattering to the floor.
"You fools!" she spat to the two Neopets beside her. "With Fyora's Rod, she is too powerful!"
"We didn't know it was her!" Tormund shouted back, gesturing to the Darkest Faerie, who now floated in front of them. "She looked like Fyora!"
"It's no good, we'll never stop her like this, with the Queen imprisoned," Falmouth said. "We need outside help."
Taking an amulet from around her neck, the Xweetok threw it towards the balcony, where a magical portal opened up.
"Go!" Falmouth ordered. "Find the heroes of Altador and free them - they are our only hope!"
Tor and Roberta nodded, running through the portal while Falmouth reclaimed her sword.
"I see now," she muttered.
"See what, pathetic mortal?" the Darkest Faerie sneered.
"Nuria, she was your first victim," Falmouth said. "Your agents captured her, but her message got through all the same. Well no more will suffer by your hand!"
It was a stupid, pointless move, but Falmouth had sworn to protect Faerieland. She charged the Darkest Faerie, clashing with the ring of metal and the tingle of magic.
The Duchess clicked the next piece down on the chess board. The knight had just taken a pawn. She turned the board, considering the next move she would take against herself.
The fluttering of wings alerted her to a message. A report from her Faerieland agent.
'Tor and Roberta have returned from Altador - the Darkest Faerie has fallen. She is imprisoned in stone once more, now to be stored in Fyora's gardens. Lady Falmouth believes the incident with Nuria was related - Fyora remains unconvinced. Altador appears to have escaped the time bubble it was placed in a thousand years ago.'
The Duchess smiled. Another land restored. Not entirely unexpected.
She glanced over another report - the Wand of Wishing. The magic of it appeared to have had unintended consequences - a Petpet nature preserve had suddenly appeared just outside of Neopia Central as if it had been there all along. The PPL had quickly cordoned it off, naming the place Petpet Park. The situation had to be monitored - a great deal of magic had been discharged into the area to create the place.
She reached instead for a fresh letter.
'Duke Hopesmeade & Mr. Moore,
Our efforts with the Darkest Faerie have been a success. Altador has returned to Neopia, freed from the time bubble it had been imprisoned in. All of our agents were eliminated in Altador a thousand years ago, we must act quickly to install new ones. Seek out malleable candidates. Stealth is of the upmost importance.'
8 Years Ago...
The desert nomads had a regular caravan heading west through the dunes, and Hopesmeade got them passage on the first one they came across. It was slow progress, and no doubt it would have been quicker to approach the city by sea, but this was the more stealthy approach.
The sands eventually gave way to rolling green hills, and it was only a few miles more until Altador itself became visible on the horizon.
It was a city of two halves. Originally, it seemed, the place had been entirely contained within the octagonal walled citadel, but long ago the inhabitants had spilled over and there was now a secondary settlement on the coastline - serving as the city's dock.
The aqueducts running along the city walls also ran through the middle, splitting the old city into four distinct areas. At the heart were the council chambers, where the remaining eleven guardians of Altador kept watch.
The pair of them joined a steady stream of travellers coming in from the docks. A Gnorbu in a fancy waistcoat saw them admiring the spectacle.
"Breathtaking, isn't it?" he said. "The Golden City, they used to call it."
He adjusted his glasses.
"Certainly one of the most stunning examples of ancient Neopian architecture," he added. "Oh! I'm sorry, where are my manners!? I'm Lambert. Professor. I've come here to catalogue this wondrous new land... Or old land, as it were!"
"You're with the Seekers then, I take it?" Hopesmeade asked.
"Ah, you've heard of our esteemed organisation then?" Lambert beamed. "Yes, yes, entirely so. There's a group of us that have been sent here to explore the brave new world, so to speak. I must say, I simply can't wait to see the Archives - it was once the most complete library in the ancient world. Of course, the Brightvale Library is superior nowadays, but I do wonder if there are long forgotten texts here that King Hagan doesn't have. What brings you gents here?"
Clayton gave a little smile. In the Gnorbu's excitement, he'd forgotten to ask their names. That always made things easier for an agent of the Sway.
"We represent a trading consortium," Hopesmeade lied constructively. "We're seeking to make inroads. New lands, new opportunities, and all that."
It was a story Lambert was happy to buy as they passed under the great arches that led into the city.
"This is the park district," Lambert explained of the gardens they had just entered. "Altador is split into four such districts. The park district, the money district, the bazaar district, and the arena district. The Hall of Heroes is reportedly the council chambers, the large building in the center of the city. Anyhow, I'm off to the archives in the money district, I'm sure you'll be heading to the bazaars - good day, pleasure to have met you!"
With that, the Gnorbu wandered off to the south.
"The Seekers never fail to dispense information to perfect strangers," Hopesmeade remarked. "If it weren't for that, many of them could be ideal Sway agents."
"Where to then?" Clayton asked.
"The Hall of Heroes, of course," Hopesmeade replied. "We need people of influence, and they will be found there."
The Hall of Heroes was strangely quiet, hardly the bustling court the pair had been expecting. There was a janitor in the corner that Hopesmeade vaguely recognised from the Lost Desert, but otherwise no one. Just the twelve silent statues of the council members arranged in a circle.
"Aha!" a voice came from behind them.
It was Lambert, stood in the doorway. Hopesmeade was already concocting an excuse for why they were there, but Lambert ploughed on.
"I can see we all had the same idea, eh?" he said. "It's the same all over the city - I went straight to the archives, but the head librarian there, Finneus they call him, can't remember a thing. Everyone I met on the way here is the same."
"...Yes," Hopesmeade said. "The bazaar district is much the same."
"It's as if the very history of Altador has been erased," Lambert continued, unintentionally filling in the blanks. "All the history books are gone, and none of the locals know anything about the city - we are in the curious position of perfect strangers knowing more about a city than those who have lived here their whole lives!"
Hopesmeade and Clayton exchanged a glance.
"Quite bizarre," Hopesmeade agreed. "It seems like it must be a magical curse of some description. Perhaps a parting gift from the Darkest Faerie?"
"Finneus thinks much the same," Lambert agreed. "He seems to think that the spell can be broken, however, by uncovering Altador's history. I am here on just that errand - apparently mapping the constellations in the sky may help. Curious thing, magic."
With that, the Professor disappeared up the chamber's staircase, leading to the building's upper level.
"Well?" Clayton asked.
"I'll remain here," Hopesmeade instructed. "If no one here can remember anything, that makes our job easier - anyone who might have learned of the Sway's association with the Darkest Faerie a thousand years ago will have forgotten it. The council must be here somewhere, I'll see if I can't find them. You head west - the arena district sounds as if it may prove fruitful."
There was a brief flash of Faerie magic, glowing pink and purple. A moment later, the Xweetok was standing in the middle of the park district.
Lady Falmouth crouched briefly, allowing her senses to readjust to being on solid ground. Finally, she stood, taking in the sights and sounds of Altador.
She smiled broadly, but it soon faltered. There was something off, a tingle in the air that seemed to suggest magic was in the works. A subtle magic, Falmouth realised. One designed to slip under the senses of the unsuspecting. But she had been trained in these things.
The Hall of Heroes lay in front of her. Maybe there would be answers waiting for her.
The arena district had at its heart a great coliseum. Clayton heard rumours from some of the other Seekers in the city that it had once been the seat of great battles, and the sport of Yooyuball.
Now, it lay silent. Lambert appeared to be correct, the magic had altered the memories of everyone in Altador. None of the locals could tell Clayton exactly what the coliseum had been used for in the past. They could remember general things, like names and their jobs, but whenever the conversation moved onto anything concrete, their minds were a blank.
It was odder still that this sensation only prompted confusion. There appeared to be a comforting undercurrent to the magic that prevented people from panicking when they learned of their amnesia.
There was an armoured Skeith at the entrance to the coliseum, and he held up a hand to block Clayton's entrance.
"Halt!" he commanded. "Under orders of Master Torakor, the coliseum is off limits until the situation is sorted out."
"Situation?" Clayton asked.
"I'm not entirely sure what..." the Skeith said. "The council are holding an emergency session to decide what to do about everyone's missing memories. Nothing to worry about though."
"And you are?"
"Commander Flint," he said with a salute. "Altadorian First Guard."
"And you're guarding an arena?" Clayton asked. "An empty arena?"
"I am now," Flint replied. "There's nothing much happening in Altador right now. Other than the missing memories. Nothing to worry about, you know? Before though... I was... I..."
Clayton felt a brief tingle of magic, and it seemed as if part of the curse had been lifted - Flint was able to recall more.
"I was fighting the minions of the Darkest Faerie until recently," he said. "Of course, if it had been left up to me, we never would have been in that situation at all. Fyora and the council have known the location of the Darkest Faerie's statue from the moment she was buried under the sea. We should have just broken the statue up and scattered the pieces to the four winds. Would have saved a lot of trouble, if you ask me."
"I don't think Queen Fyora agrees," Clayton said, a sly smile on his face.
Here was a prime candidate for Sway recruitment.
"I wouldn't say a word against the Faerie Queen, of course," Flint clarified. "But sometimes... Sometimes I get to thinking. The strong are meant to protect the weak. But what protection is there if the weak have already been harmed by the time the strong show up to protect them? No, sometimes, those with power must strike first to make sure evil doesn't rise up in the first place."
He got a wistful look in his eyes for a moment, before he came back to reality.
"Sorry, you don't want to listen to my problems. Move along, there's nothing to see here."
Clayton did so, but made a note of the Skeith's name. He could be useful in the future.
To be continued...