Order of Four: Part Eight
"What is the Order of Four?" I said blankly.
"A very ancient organization, dedicated to finding and retrieving the pieces of a certain artifact," Carlisle replied, not very helpfully.
I could see that I was going to have to drag every little bit of information out of him. "What kind of artifact? And why?"
"You might say it is a very large and valuable diamond. I'm sure it once had a name, but if anybody still knows it, I certainly do not. Then again I'm hardly an expert on the subject," he conceded rather dryly. "In any case, I understand that some absurd number of years ago the diamond was split and scattered throughout Neopia, and the Order of Four was created by a dark faerie in order to put it back together again."
"But what does any of this have to do with me?" I asked in bewilderment. I could not imagine my connection with an ancient order of – what? Knights? Thieves? Strangely enough, though, I was less awed by my enemies now, after this revelation, than I had been when they were nothing more than shadowy figures of complete mystery. Now that I could put a name to them, they seemed a good deal less frightening.
"I already told you – because you are a member." This time, even Carlisle couldn't pretend not to see my confusion, and he grudgingly continued, "You have your father to thank for that. He was a member – albeit a voluntary one, unlike yourself. Only he broke with the Order, for whatever reason, around the time that he met your mother; and since his position involved – shall we say, the custodianship of certain abilities – the Order has been after him since."
I was attempting to work all of this out, but it was somewhat slow. "So membership in the Order is hereditary?"
"Oh, not strictly speaking. I believe the usual process is to renounce membership and return one's ability to the Order, but your father always did like to do things his own way." (I refrained, with some difficulty, from responding to his sneering tone.) "So, in the event of his death, he chose to transfer his... powers... to you. I really have no idea how that works, although there is no doubt some kind of ritual. But that is the long and short of it. You see, each member of the Order has a specific role, and they have essentially been missing one fourth of their operation for, oh, more than seventeen years now. They must be absolutely wild."
"But I don't understand," I said, trying to make sense of everything I had heard so far. "Why are they so interested in this diamond? What do they want to do with it?"
He gave a short, derisive laugh. "What do you think? I would suppose, like most people who are looking to acquire a very large valuable diamond, they want to sell it."
This struck me as strangely prosaic, in comparison with the story of the Order; but I had to admit it did sound likely. Anyway, there was something I was much more curious to know. "What is this 'talent' I am supposed to have?"
Carlisle shrugged, a gesture that I was quite certain only he could make elegant. "You'd be better off asking someone else. I know very little about it. As far as I know, it is simply a collection of certain magical abilities, useful for making portals, breaking wards and so forth. I really have never been privy to all the details, but yours is probably the least defined role within the Order."
"And the others?" I prompted. Irrational as it might seem, I was so eager to know this that my annoyance with Carlisle had all but vanished for the moment. I knew that the Order was against me, I knew that they had probably killed my mother, and I was as furious as ever; but the revelation that I had some kind of magical powers was inordinately exciting.
"They all have very archaic names. Let me think," he said, though given how ready he had been with all the rest of the information, I felt that this was no more than an affectation. "Ah yes. Well there is the Seer, who is somehow able to locate all of the diamond's fragments across Neopia, from any distance. Then there is the Sword, more or less exactly what it sounds like; the one that I once encountered was not particularly intelligent, but his reflexes and strength were absolutely supernatural."
Well, that certainly sounded familiar. "Was he a magma Lupe, with a flaming sword?" I could not help asking.
Carlisle looked at me in surprise. (I thought I could still see the cold dislike in his light blue eyes, and I wondered again why he was telling me all this.) "No, he was not. I suppose the Sword has changed during that time. The one I knew was a very large Skeith... Anyway, the one most to be feared in your position is the Leader – who, incidentally, is also the reason you can never let the Order find you."
"And what can the Leader do?" I tried to think of something more formidable than magic or incredible strength and speed, but my imagination failed me.
"Anything the Leader says is an irresistible compulsion to the members of the Order."
This, more than anything I had yet heard, was a blow. I had entertained some wild thoughts of finding and defeating the Order with my own power – but what could I hope to accomplish, if I was unable to resist the Leader's orders?
"So you see," he continued, "it is absolutely vital that you stay away from them at all costs. But they will continue to hunt you. Now, I think the only thing to do –" Suddenly Carlisle froze, gazing in alarm out of his window. I did likewise and saw the dark, flame-encircled shape of the Lupe who had captured me before. "You must have asked too many questions about me in Neovia. They've managed to follow your trail. Quickly, you have to leave – my butler will show you to one of the back entrances. Run as fast as you can for the woods. And you must return when you have the chance; I believe I may have a solution to some of your problems."
It was maddening to have to go now, just when he was about to tell me something so obviously important. But I was not inclined to question his advice. As though by magic, the butler was waiting just outside the study door, and Carlisle gave him hasty instructions as to my exit.
We made it safely to the back entrance; the door closed behind me, and I started at a sprint toward the woods. I wondered how Carlisle intended to delay the Lupe – I wondered, for that matter, how he had learned so much about the Order of Four, and when. Surely he had not met my mother, for I remembered that she had not immediately known who he was two years ago. Evidently, though, he had at one time known my father.
Even as my mind raced, I ran, almost without thinking, as fast as I knew how. I reached the edge of the woods in seconds flat, and there I paused, gasping for breath. Now, if I continued on into the forest, it would be almost impossible for the Lupe – or rather the Sword, as I supposed he was properly called – to catch me.
But was that really what I wanted? Suddenly I was not so sure. I could escape him now, true; perhaps I would manage to elude him for months more or even years. Eventually, however, they were certain to find me. And even if they never did, I would spend my entire life in fear, looking over my shoulder and bolting my door. I would be forced to move from place to place, always concealing my name and my true identity. Even if I could escape the Order of Four, mine would be no life at all.
There was an alternative. I could give myself up, agree to go to them, and find out what they wanted from me; perhaps, as I learned more, I would find some way to extricate myself from it all. I hated the Order, it was true. I could never forgive them for what they had done to me or to my mother, and I had no wish to become one of their thieves. I knew what I risked, too – if Carlisle was right, then I would be an utter slave to anything the Leader commanded. I was terrified at the thought, and I was even more terrified of that silent Lupe and his fiery sword. But what frightened me most of all was the idea of hiding from them, waiting every day for the knock on my door, shadowed by nameless enemies as I had been since as long ago as I could remember.
So I turned around. Already the Lupe was at the back of the house, coming toward me, and – taking a deep, shaky breath – I walked forward deliberately to meet him. When I had drawn close enough for him to hear me, I called out my declaration as strongly as I could. "I am Felix Blakesley, and I will come with you and hear what you have to say."
To be continued...