Hyperion: The Watchers
Sun rode high over Goldrun, cast long shadows past Jezebel where she perched atop the rail outside Betsy’s saloon. Her brown boots were dusty, her tea-colored dress tucked underneath her to keep from touching the splintering wood. She held a wide-brimmed hat in her left hand, fanning herself till the gold waves of her hair bounced up and down like a breeze had blown by. Another bead of sweat dripped past her eye, and the white Aisha pushed her ears back before donning her hat and stepping from her roost.
She stood in the dust a moment longer, waiting, watching, then sighed, shaking her head, and made her way through the swinging doors into Betsy’s saloon.
“Well, hey there,” the purple Wocky called from behind the bar. Her right hand rubbed a rag mercilessly across the counter, and even with her eyes and smile turned elsewhere, she never seemed to miss a spot. “Grab a seat, Jezebel,” she added and motioned to a barstool.
Jezebel obliged, lifting her hat with both hands and dropping it so it hung lightly at her back, the cord round her neck. She took her time sitting, careful to make sure her dress covered her proper before she spun to face Betsy. “Good afternoon,” she said, with perhaps as little conviction as possible.
The doors swung in with a creak, and the Aisha turned just in time to see an orange Kyrii come inside before--“There ya are, Jezebel! I’ve been lookin' all over town for ya.”
Jezebel smiled and spun back toward the counter. It was of little use, though; Leanne grabbed the stool next to her without even pausing a second longer to breathe.
“Hey there, Betsy,” she said. “I just came from Ms. Quinn’s. She says Russ Green’s goin a be jus' fine.”
“Gracious,” Betsy said. “That’s wonderful news. Them kids of his still need a father, that’s what I’ve been sayin'.”
“Of course,” Leanne said and turned back to--“Hey, where’d Jezebel go? I had something to tell her!”
Behind them, the doors opened with another creak and clattered back together again.
* * *
Hyperion eyed the yellow Kyrii to his right, uncertain who he was but hesitant to speak up just yet. He swung his eyes back in front of him, to where Judge Hog still tapped the keys on his Virtupets keyboard. The green Shoyru stifled a chuckle; sometimes it felt like the computer systems that Jackson, their technologist, designed for them were just too complex to be convenient.
At length, Judge Hog pushed the keyboard away with a huff and turned toward the two pets sitting before him. “Hyperion,” he said, addressing the Shoyru first, “I’d like you to meet Quincy, market analyst for the Defenders of Neopia.”
The Kyrii, who he now noticed was slouched forward with tiny spectacles sliding down his face and clutching a thick binder to his chest, raised a paw and waved. “N-nice to meet you, Hyperion. I’ve heard a l-lot about you.”
Hyperion moved to say, “Likewise,” even though it’d be an outright lie, but Judge Hog interrupted him first.
“Quincy works with the Shop Wizard to monitor and keep tabs on the Marketplace, to ensure stolen goods and knock-offs are apprehended before they reach any storefronts or, daresay, the homes of unsuspecting Neopians.” Quincy sniffed loudly, and Judge Hog cleared his throat. “Anyways, Hyperion, I called you in for an unusual case I’d like your assistance with. Quincy, I’m sure you can take it from here?”
“Y-yes, sir,” the Kyrii mustered, and with a terse nod, Judge Hog swiveled his seat around to face the keyboard again and resumed trying to get it to work properly. On the other side of his desk, Quincy looked up and down Hyperion with large, weaselly eyes and then slowly set his binder atop the desk in front of them. Torn pages and newspaper clippings stuck out from all angles. He opened it up practically down the center and, still keeping a hand atop it for safekeeping, motioned for Hyperion to look closer.
The green Shoyru swallowed and slid forward to the edge of his seat, sitting up just enough to peer easily at the clear sleeve in which a torn piece of thick, tan-colored paper had been placed. The handwriting was slender and elegant, but before he could read any of it, the binder was slammed shut before his eyes.
“It’s one of five pieces we’ve found,” Quincy said, his voice nasally when he wasn’t stuttering. “We know for certain there’s at least one more piece to the message, but it’s been--” He sneezed. “M-my apologies, Judge Hog,” he said, “but I n-need to go take my allergy m-medications.”
The Moehog looked all too ready to give up on the computer and spun toward them even before Quincy had finished speaking. “Not a problem, Quincy, take as long as you need. If you’ll just leave the clips here, I’ll take care of the rest of the debriefing.”
The squirrelly Neopet was already standing. “I’d m-much rather n-not, sir.” And with that, he scurried out of the office.
Judge Hog glanced back at the computer terminal and then quickly refocused his attention upon his agent instead. “Well, no matter, Hyperion; they’re not necessary anyways.” He rubbed his temple as if to collect his thoughts a moment. “Have you ever heard of a man named Orlon?”
“Orlon?” Hyperion repeated. “No, sir.”
Judge Hog nodded the kind of nod that someone nods when having just heard the answer they’d been expecting. “Orlon’s a shadow Nimmo who runs ones of the most extensive and prominent black markets in all of Neopia. He works mostly from Faerieland, but for items of immense value, he’s been known to travel elsewhere for days, sometimes even weeks, at a time.”
Hyperion was shaking his head. “But if he works from Faerieland, how come Fyora just doesn’t stop him?”
“No clue,” Judge Hog said and quickly cleared his throat. “There’s a long list of legal lines surrounding the matter. Of all the monarchs in Neopia, Fyora’s the only one not aligned with the Defenders; try as we might, we can’t persuade her to join, and ergo, we can’t pursue criminals in her land without direct request from her Majesty. Besides, it seems like Orlon likes to hide out in a part of Faerieland known as the Underclouds, but since Fyora vehemently claims there’s no such place in her kingdom, our hands are tied.”
Hyperion’s head was shaking side to side even more violently now. “I still don’t understand, sir. What does Orlon have to do with the message Quincy showed me?”
“Ah,” Judge Hog said, raising his hoof. “Yes. Well, it’s come to our attention that someone by the name of Ellie has sent out a distress call, something about a drought east of Altador, in a town called Goldrun.” Here, the retired Defender scratched behind her his ear and angled his eyes sideways. “See, the problem, Hyperion, is that none of us have ever heard of a town called Goldrun anywhere, and somewhere between there and here, the message got torn apart and the pieces were scattered.”
“And the messenger?”
“For all we know, there was none.” He sighed. “Most of the pieces have been apprehended by the Defenders, but at least one of them remains missing.”
“Which one is that?” Hyperion asked, almost already knowing the answer.
“The one that says how to get to Goldrun.”
“We believe he has it and plans to sell it in the Marketplace today.”
Hyperion hid a groan. “Let me guess, you want me to get it back?”
“Well, yes,” Judge Hog said, pulling at his collar, “that’d be the idea.”
* * *
Jezebel didn’t even jump when the whistle blew and shook her from her stupor. In fact, so many times had she heard the train’s warning call a mile off, she’d turned her head even before the sound had split the air. In the distance now, she could see the white plume rising from the engine’s chimney. The black rocks they’d fished from the mines alongside their gold was useful for something, at least.
She’d studied the train’s schematics when her father had been its engineer, and even though the thought of all its pistons and wheels bored her to no end now--much like the town of Goldrun itself did--she couldn’t lie and say she’d never found the transformation of stone into fire into the heat that turned vats of water into steam and powered the train interesting. But when it was the same story day after day after day, the amusement never lasted long.
The whistle blew again and the ground shook as, still less than a blur, the train began grinding to a halt. The whirring continued for what had to have been a good five, ten minutes before the whistle blew one last time with decided finality and, with a large hiss of air, the doors of the cabins swung open. The white Aisha caught sight of a silver Gelert in dirt-encrusted blue coveralls and waved.
She called, “Heya, Silver!”
His face lit up and he came bounding toward her till he skidded to a sudden halt, two feet away. “Afternoon, Jezebel,” he said, his voice soft despite his gruff appearance. He shook the lose dirt and mud from his clothes and took a seat next to her on the railing, just far enough away to keep from dirtying her dress.
The Aisha nodded in unspoken thanks and changed the subject. “Did you hear about Mr. Green? The doctor says he’s getting better.”
The Gelert grinned, teeth bared. “Aw, that’s great news, Jezebel!”
She smiled, part wistful, part wanting to be elsewhere, anywhere else, so long as it wasn’t in Goldrun. “I figured you’d be glad,” Jezebel said quietly, “seein how you’re close with his son and all. Nathan, is it?”
“Yep,” Silver said, nodding boyishly; they were the same age, she knew, but sometimes, it was hard to tell. “He and me be real buds, Jezebel, like Twist and Ennis,” he added, citing local heroes and legends of the west. Silver laughed, swinging a hand to pat her on the back before realizing, with unfortunate timing, that his gloved hands were still covered in unshakable dirt. He frowned, suddenly more childish than he’d been a moment before, and ducked into himself as if to hide from her sight. “Sorry, Jezebel.”
She took a breath and sighed, shaking her head till she could face him with a smile. “No, it’s alright, Silver. I was needing to get going soon anyways.” She smiled to him as sweetly as she could manage, then slipped off the railing and walked away.
* * *
Hyperion entered the boarding level of the Defenders Headquarters, withdrawing his key, and walked to his own flat and let himself inside. Passing the counter where his sister was assembling lunch, he said, “I’ve got to go to the Marketplace for some investigating. Want to stop by Florisshen Blotte on the way?”
The brown Gelert smiled and finished spreading peanut butter across a slice of bread. “Do you even have to ask, Hyperion?”
The green Shoyru grabbed his overcoat from the rack and a red hat that he pulled on over his head. “Guess not, Anthea.” He paused to face her. “It’s kind of urgent, so we need to leave, like, right now.”
The Gelert’s mouth shaped a faint “oh” and she hurriedly stuffed the ingredients into the icebox and slid one of the finished sandwiches toward Hyperion. “Eat,” she said, already out of the kitchen, “while I get dressed.”
She was in and out of her bedroom before he’d taken his last bite, already wrapping around her neck a woolen scarf that matched her hat, both of which he’d gotten for her two Giving Days before. It was only spring outside, but a nip still hung in the air. She grabbed the sandwich left on the counter and took a small bite. When her brother didn’t move, she said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
The walk through Neopia Central was tiring but uneventful. The streets were crowded with Neopians flocking around for lunch, and the entire time, Hyperion imagined he saw Orlon the Nimmo out of the corner of his eyes, passing torn messages to pets in exchange for cash, but every time he glanced to look, the shadow pet was gone.
The Marketplace, thankfully, was far less crowded than the Main Shops and they made it to Gregory’s father’s small shop with little more than a cool wind whipping around them on the way.
Inside, the blue Bori looked up from counting the till and grinned. “Hi, Hyperion, Anthea”--He said her name with a softness absent in his--“Just gimme a sec and I’ll be right there, okay?”
“Of course,” Anthea laughed, walking toward the counter with a touch of lightness in her step.
Hyperion ignored the duo and scanned the shop instead, walking to the place where a red Lupe sat on the floor, shelving stock from boxes scattered around the store. “Hey,” he said.
Devon looked up and smiled. “Hyperion.” He scrambled to his feet and tried to hug the Shoyru, but amid the cluster of boxes at his feet, wasn’t able to manage the motion. He shrugged. “What brings you here?”
Just to say hi, he wanted to say, but he knew his reasoning had changed since meeting with Judge Hog that morning. “Following a case,” he said instead, “thought you might be able to help a bit.”
The Lupe rubbed his paws together excitedly. “Sure! What can I do?”
Hyperion already had the slip of paper out of his pocket and held toward his friend. “We’ve been gathering parts of a message, trying to piece together its meaning, and I thought, well, perhaps you’d know something that might be helpful.”
“I don’t know why I might,” began Devon as he took the paper, but as his eyes scanned the words Judge Hog had transcribed for Hyperion, his expression changed. “Between Altador and the Lost Desert?” he quoted aloud. “West of the mountains?”
“We think some pieces are missing,” the Shoyru said, blushing, “but, yeah, that’s the gist of it.”
Devon passed the note back. “It does sound vaguely familiar, reminds me of a legend I heard in my History and Myth of the Lost Desert class I took last year. They said a group of adventurers left the Lost Desert some fifty, sixty years ago in search of gold. As the story goes, they went into the mountains in search of the western world and never returned.”
Hyperion tried to hide the frown that suddenly crept across his face, but in doing so, only scowled. “That’s all you’ve got?” He sighed. “I was hoping, maybe, you’d help us find this place.”
Devon bit his lip, frowning as well. “There was a lot of talk of high noon and the sort, but it was all just conjecture.” He shrugged. “Where are you headed next, maybe I can tag along and see if anything rings a bell?”
“The Shop Wizard,” he answered.
“Okay,” Devon said, nodding as he turned to look at the counter. Greg was closing the till; he whistled to get the Bori’s attention. “Mind if I go out with Hyperion for a bit?”
The Bori’s eyes fell to the boxes. Everyone knew they would; they were already staring at them themselves.
“I’ll help,” Anthea said happily. “You two go do whatever you’ve gotta do; Gregory and I can finish up here.”
“Thanks, Anthea,” Hyperion said, brimming with smiles. He hugged his sister as Devon grabbed his jacket, then the two set out.
* * *
Jezebel meandered through the aisles of Goldrun’s general store, poking her fingers at packaged nuts and strips of dried meat the locals called jerky, flavored Shenkuu-style or with spices from Mystery Island (though how such was possible, when no one ever seemed to come in or leave the city, she’d since given up trying to figure out) and moved on to a rack of magazines. The issue numbers were marked the same as they always were: when the printers realized no one was reading what they wrote, they gave up writing altogether. At least the dust settled upon them glistened in the light as she spun the wire frame round in circles.
Sighing, the Aisha turned away, eyeing the store clerk as she passed an open aisle revealing his unobstructed view. The orange Yurble’s eyes seemed to follow her wherever she went, yet he didn’t seem to move at all.
Jezebel fixated her eyes upon a rack of assorted candies, wanting to lift up handfuls in her paws and let them fall melancholically through her open fingers as she counted the seconds till they struck whatever surface they would land upon, but knowing better than to waste when she had no money to spend.
She passed a glass-fronted cooler stuffed with ice and water in which floated glass bottles of herbal tonics, sun-brewed teas, and Kau milk brought from Lonlon’s ranch, each bottle wrapped in a ribbon bearing the embroidery “Fresh from the mil tank.” No one seemed to take care that the K was missing from “milk.” She’d found it amusing once, but no longer.
She heard a huff, but by then she knew it was too late.
“Are you going to buy anything,” the clerk roared, “or just gawk? I ain’t running this place for my health, y’know!”
“Fine, fine,” she said, rushing past the counter and out through the door.
“Jezebel!” the orange Kyrii called from across the street, running over to her almost as soon as she’d stepped from the store. “I’ve been lookin' all over for ya!”
“Hi, Leanne,” Jezebel said. “Um. What did you want?”
“Just the greatest news, like, ever,” the Kyrii gushed. “I saw Ellie this morning, and she said she’d sent a message”--and here was where Jezebel stopped listening. Sheriff Ellie was always sending messages, down to the farms to wish them luck with the next harvest when the past dozen had been bad; down to the well workers, encouraging them to keep digging as the waters ran dry; down to the mines, congratulating them upon the train-loads of gold they’d continued pulling up from the bowels of the earth, the only good thing there was in town. What was one more message signed “Sheriff Ellie of Goldrun”?
As Leanne rambled on, Jezebel excused herself and shooed away a cluster of Kadoaties that had gathered around the street. If there was anything in Goldrun they had more of than gold, it was those darned Kadoaties.
* * *
“Defenders of Neopia,” Hyperion said, flashing a badge, and pushed his way into the Shop Wizard’s tent with Devon close behind. Quincy was already there, scouring his open binder with a twitching yellow paw.
The Kyrii snapped the book shut at once. “Oh, Hyperion. Nice of you to finally show up.”
The Shoyru shrugged. “I picked up a consultant along the way. Sorry.”
The Kyrii scowled, but before he could talk, a yellow JubJub in blue robes and a conical hat entered the semi-circular chamber from a flap at the back. “Oh, Quincy, you didn’t say we had visitors.”
“They’re not visitors. They’re other Defenders.”
“All the better,” said the Shop Wizard. “We’ve been cross-referencing the contents of the messages with my, erm, database, but we haven’t found anything conclusive yet.”
Hyperion shrugged. “Just try searching ‘Ellie’ and I’ll take the first lead you get.” Devon snickered, probably finding Hyperion’s impatience amusing.
“Well,” the Wizard huffed, “if you insist.” He jumped onto the table--Quincy pulled his binder away with a sneer--and pressed his face against a crystal ball at its center. His jumbled hair bellowed for a moment, then he said, “Aha! Ellies Secret Message. Just one seller, too.” He looked up and passed the address onto Hyperion: the shop was just around the corner. No sooner, the green Defender and his comrade had darted out of the tent.
The two reached the shop in a sec, but what shop was there was only a shadow Nimmo leaning against a brick wall, bouncing a yo-yo from his hand and flanked by a fire Buzz on his far side.
Hyperion cleared his throat. “You selling Ellie’s Secret Message?”
Orlon looked up, coy, nonchalant. “What’s it to you?”
“Just trying to help out a pet in need,” Hyperion said, his heart pounding. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his red Lupe friend ready to jump in if needed.
“Lovely,” the Nimmo said. By now, the Buzz had come alive and crossed his arms in defiance. “Now tell me,” Orlon added, “what’cha willing to pay for it?”
Hyperion grinned, pushing one foot forward. “I think I’ll just seize it when you’re in custody.”
Orlon took the cue and started running at once.
“Stop,” Hyperion shouted, thrusting his palm forward and summoning a bout of magic; a wall of wind whirled up around all four of them, trapping them inside a tornado of blue light and scraps of dust. “You’re under arrest, Orlon!”
The Nimmo turned around slyly, twisting apart the yo-yo to reveal a torn piece of paper matching those Quincy had shown him inside. “I beg to differ,” Orlon said. “I think I’ve got precisely what’s necessary to negotiate.” He drew out the word as if it were two.
Hyperion swore under his breath, then addressed the Nimmo. “Just give us the message, Orlon.”
“I think not,” he said, tossing it into the air. “Jofre!”
Hyperion leapt forward, screaming, but it was too late--his hand gripped the remains of the Buzz’s work and all that he held were ashes. The Nimmo’s shadow was already shrinking away as his lackey flew them both into air and out of his trap; the tornado wavered and broke as Hyperion sank to the ground.
Devon came up behind him and rested his hand on Hyperion’s shoulder.
“I failed, and now all those people...” He shook his head. “They’ll never get the help they need. All because of me.”
Devon frowned. “Don’t say that,” he said. “Look on the bright side: maybe they made copies. Perhaps someone has already put all the pieces together and found Goldrun. We’ll watch the shops, be on the lookout for Orlon and the message. It’s just a matter of time.”
Hyperion smiled, feeling only fractions better, but better nonetheless. He swallowed. “Thanks, Devon.” After taking another breath, the Shoyru stood up. “You really think they made copies?”
Devon shrugged. “They seemed rather eager to burn the one they had. Just makes sense they’d carry a spare.”
Hyperion smiled. Orlon was a crook, but one thing he wasn’t was stupid. Of course he had copies.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s go find ourselves a Goldrun.”
* * *
Jezebel stood at the edge of town, watching a tumbleweed roll across the flat, empty horizon. Cacti breached the distant dusk--the sun still high overhead--small shadows standing like stone sentinels, strangers that never left but never visited either. The purple mountains capped the ends of the earth on all sides but one, only the southern border open before her.
She wondered, if she kept walking, would the world itself fall from beneath her feet? Would she find lost civilizations, perhaps people lost in time and forgotten about by all? Or would she only find dead flies and wilted clumps of grass, nothing more than what her small world already offered her?
The Aisha turned her head, small tears lining her eyes, and glanced back at the dusty brown dun of Goldrun, the lonesome look unchanged no matter how long she watched it.
She said, “Why can’t I quit you?” and went home.