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Ties That Bind: Part One


by merlynia

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A Krawk sloshed along the muddy path. Rain beat down on his scaled back, seeping straight through his overcoat. With his tail flicking in irritation at the bothersome weather, it vaguely crossed his mind that there was a more comfortable solution to reaching his destination. But that hardly mattered now.

     Peering through the heavy downpour, the Krawk spotted a large manor atop a hill just down the path. Its stained-glass windows spilled a yellow-green light onto the manicured lawn. In the daylight, the building looked quite handsome, but on such a night it looked nothing short of eerie.

     Pulling his coat closer to his soaked body, the traveler sighed, wishing he’d chosen a more convenient way of getting to his goal. It simply hadn’t seemed important at the time, he guessed. Or perhaps it was just his dark determination that fueled the decision. Nonetheless, the journey was giving him a pleasant thrill, he thought, eyes darting upwards as lightning cracked the sky.

     Soon he’d made it to the manor’s doorstep, the small awning keeping him reasonably dry as he raised his enclosed fist. A simple knock was all it took for a petite, attractive young woman to open the door. Judging by the Acara’s work clothes, she was a maid of the manor.

     The woman nearly closed the door when she saw his alarming appearance, but the Krawk merely raised his clawed hand and held it open.

     “I apologize for arriving this late,” he said calmly, “but I have an appointment. It’s very important that I come in.”

     The maid stared at him, suspicion and fear lingering in her eyes. “Why are you here, sir?”

     “I’m afraid that’s strictly between me and the Earl,” the Krawk replied.

     The Acara’s brow rose slightly. “Do come in, then.”

     She allowed him to enter, and the Krawk took a brief moment to admire the rich furnishings of the manor. Though rain tapped away at the windows like claws attempting to peel away the glass, the lobby still managed to keep a warm atmosphere. He inhaled deeply, pleased that the first step in his plan had been relatively painless.

     “The Earl hasn’t yet retired for the evening. Would you like me to show you to his quarters?” the woman inquired.

     “I’m fairly capable, thank you,” the Krawk said with a nod. “Good evening.”

     Silently, briskly, he made his way to the opposite hall, dodging any further questions from the maid. He had to do this quickly and without fault; wasting any more time than necessary would arouse more suspicion. At one point he froze in place, stopping midway as something prevented him from going any further down the hall.

     “A defense spell,” he muttered to himself. “I expected more.”

     Seconds later, the Krawk was free to pass, having unraveled the enchantment without hesitation, making it blind to his presence. He had anticipated stronger security measures, but it was possible that the Earl had grown more confident over the past while. Certainly an interesting decision, he mused.

     After passing through many different halls, his destination was in sight. A single door stood at the end of the hall, practically beckoning any who laid eyes on it. The Krawk kept on his guard. If there was any chance that he had been detected, he had to be prepared to act. Mumbling a spell under his breath, he let an invisible force materialize into his hand. The power seemed to crackle and writhe, as if fighting the very master who contained it.

     Slowly, cautiously, he laid a hand on the doorknob, drawing a calming breath. This was it.

     Whipping the door open, the Krawk set the spell loose on the Neopet he knew was inside. In the blink of an eye, his victim was immobilized, frozen in place with nothing but a wide-eyed expression. A success.

     “Dreadfully sorry to barge in like this,” the Krawk mocked, slamming the door shut, “but I believe I owe you a visit.”

     He could feel the paralyzed pet trying to fight off the spell, but it was a useless attempt. The Krawk had the upper hand and, therefore, a chance for his plan to be completed. He had to act now.

     Muttering yet another spell, he knew that this enchantment was very different from the last. The candlelight in the room guttered, growing dim as the Krawk summoned a disturbing amount of energy. Shadows grew long and twisted, almost seeming to gain wills of their own.

     Once it was prepared, the Krawk cast one of the most sinister spells he knew: a curse among curses, forbidden in every country and nearly forgotten because of this. For being so notorious, it wasn’t a glamorous spell. After a simple, blinding flash of light, the curse had been laid, and room’s lighting reverted to its normal state.

     The Krawk closed his eyes and inhaled, examining what he had discovered. “My, you’ve had quite a life, haven’t you? It’s a pity to end it so soon.”

     A small, red lump of energy appeared and floated above his outstretched palm. It radiated such strength, and yet it was more fragile than a insect waiting to be squashed. Pulsing rapidly, it fluttered to a continuous beat. It was almost a shame to see such an interesting object expire.

     “But it must be done,” the Krawk whispered, taking the chunk of energy in his hand and relentlessly crushing it.

     There was a dull thud as his victim fell to the ground, and it was finished.

     The Krawk heaved a satisfied sigh. The first part of his plan, as well as a rather unfortunate Neopet, had been cleanly executed. The next step was simple.

     Using one last spell, the Krawk let the magic flow over his body, morphing and tweaking his features as it went. When it had run over his entire being, he looked no different from his last prey, down to every single detail. He examined his new form, stretching fresh joints and letting the transformation sink in.

     “So, this was the first step,” he muttered to himself, clenching his hand into a fist. “May the rest go as smoothly...”

     -x-x-x-

     There’s nothing like an idiotic chase to start off your day.

     An Aisha had darted out of Meridell Castle, pockets laced with stolen riches. To some, this might have been a bold move, but to the watchman who was hot on his trail, it was completely pointless.

     The sudden chase had led the two straight into the marketplace, a bustling, rowdy area where it was easy to blend in with the crowd. As predicted, the thief quickly melted in with the masses, shoving his way past stalls and crates. The watchman, though aging, had sharp eyes, and was quick to spot him out. The Aisha flung himself out of the crowd and into an alleyway, nearly undetectable as he scurried from one place to another.

     The Eyrie watchman growled in annoyance. The alleyways of Meridell were twisted and numerous, a makeshift maze that was a prime escape route for common criminals. Luckily, the average Meridellian guard knew this network of passageways just as well. The Aisha had made a grave mistake.

     The watchman quickly kicked off the ground, spreading his ashy wings and taking flight. From this angle, trapping the felon would be easy work. With strong downward strokes, the Eyrie gained altitude, swooping over the clusters of tightly-knit buildings. Not too far below was the Aisha, frantically zipping from one path to another, trying to shake off his pursuer.

     “Pathetic,” the greying Eyrie muttered, lowering closer to the ground. With a quick snap of his wings, a thin shadow was cast over the Aisha, who immediately panicked. Soon the thief was running straight towards a dead end, just as the watchman had planned.

     Wings grazing the sides of the surrounding walls, the Eyrie landed hard on the ground, just a few meters from the now-cornered Aisha. Now came the hard part.

     “Stack back!” the thief cried, withdrawing a rusty dagger from his side. “I’m warning you!”

     The Eyrie would have laughed, were he in a more agreeable mood. From his own side he drew a gleaming longsword, expertly polished and sharpened. On all accounts, the watchman liked his sword more than he liked most people.

     The Aisha swallowed, realizing how outmatched he was. The Eyrie glared at him with piercing maroon eyes. The expression didn’t merely mean he was keeping a close eye on him; he was watching his every move, ready to kill if necessary.

     He didn’t stand a chance. Trembling, the thief dropped his dagger and slowly raised his hands in defeat.

     The watchman grunted. “Smart choice. Now, you’re coming with me.”

     -x-x-x-

     Shackles were soon decorating the thief’s wrists as he was led off to the dungeons, a pair of guards flanking his sides. A word of congratulations was spoken to the watchman responsible for his capturing, and nothing more was said of it. Bringing in criminals had become a near-weekly practice for the past few months.

     “Looks like someone got carried away with Double or Nothing,” a skunk Ixi commented, approaching the Eyrie. The silver buttons on his navy overcoat glinted in the sun, his uniform matching the watchman’s. “Good thing you caught him in time. Nice work, Harwood.”

     The grey Eyrie crossed his arms nonchalantly. His eyes narrowed as he watched the criminal being led off. “Just another ruddy thief, Nathan. Meridell is teeming with them.”

     The Ixi nodded with a grim sigh. “How I wish you were wrong. It looks like every idiot in the country decided to strike during the war. Cleaning up the aftermath is a slow process.”

     Harwood scowled. “This blasted crime wave better die down soon.”

     “It should. The city’s defenses are being heightened in the meantime. Until Meridell can support itself again, we’ll be here. If only that Skarl had paid more attention and called for help.” The Ixi let out a bitter laugh. “But working for even the most distant units of the Defenders of Neopia has its quirks, eh?”

     “Unfortunately,” the Eyrie said.

     “Ah, well. We’ll be back out to sea in no time. Tracking down pirates is at least somewhat more exciting than this shift, though this is a nice rest.”

     “Couldn’t agree more.”

     Harwood leaned against the side of a stone building, eyes distant as he recalled the past events. Not even a year had passed since the war that had brought his unit to Meridell. It had been a brief battle oversea, a fight to keep a cruel squadron from entering the country and doing it harm. The war was short, though many good men were lost to it. Harwood frowned, remembering how the opposing pets had used malicious magic attacks against them, taking out dozens with just one blow. It had been a rough battle, but they’d managed to come out on top.

     Back on the mainland, however, many unlawful citizens took this as a chance to wreak chaos while the king’s back was turned. All of his troops had been sent away to fight, leaving the country defenseless. The few guards who still remained were recovering in the infirmary, and those that well enough were sent to set things straight.

     Being used to larger missions, Harwood found it to be a bland task. He wanted nothing more than to leave this dusty country and get back on the open sea again. But whether the Eyrie wanted to or not, he was forced to follow the oath he had taken when he’d become a Defender of Neopia: to aid the citizens in peril, no matter what the circumstance.

     “Oh, and Harwood—Commander Holt ordered that I give this to you,” Nathan said, taking a cream envelope from his pocket. “I don’t know who it’s from, but it seems important enough.”

     “Hm.” The Eyrie took the letter and broke the wax seal. A note written on quality parchment rested inside. As he scanned over its contents, his brow rose slightly. “I’ve been summoned by the Earl of Brightvale.”

     The Ixi’s eyes widened. “Lord Norbury? Whatever for?”

     “He didn’t say. Just that he wants it done as soon as possible. I’ll be departing this evening.”

     “Odd. Lone troops aren’t often called on for missions.”

     “Unless it’s an assassination,” Harwood mused.

     Nathan chuckled. “Fyora knows you’d be summoned for that. That’s why you’re still alive. You’re good at your job.”

     The Eyrie pocketed the note, wondering what it truly meant. “Let’s hope so.”

To be continued...

 
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