Agent of the Sway: Restoration - Part Two
Dawn was just breaking over the mountain edge as Clayton finally located the cave he had been looking for all night. Several times, he'd gotten lost in the storm - but now it had passed, at least for the time being - and he had been able to get back on track.
It was an unassuming little cave, nothing more than a small inlet in the snow - and the insides were hardly more impressive. From the smell, Snowbeasts had been using it as hide recently, though thankfully they were out hunting.
Clayton's prize was hidden in the corner - at first glance it appeared to be an ice sculpture, but as the Kougra approached closer, he realised there was something hidden inside. Taking in the armoured shell, Clayton glanced down at the amulet that hung around his own neck. It was an artefact of Bori origin, with the magical power to hypnotise the more simple minded in Neopia. Engraved on the outside were two simple pictographs of Bori - they looked startlingly similar to the ice's prisoner. He was a Bori, the one Clayton was looking for.
Similar, of course, but for one detail - size. The Bori in front of Clayton was no bigger than a child. He seemed to be hunched up.
"Hiding," Clayton said to himself as he realised.
This Bori child must have been hiding from the battle with the Bringer when the spell was cast five thousand years ago. That's why he was so far away from the spell's epicentre.
A coward. That was what this plan hinged on.
"Better than nothing, I suppose," Clayton said as he set about starting a fire at the base of the Bori's ice formation.
It would take hours to melt the ice enough to free him. A rustling from the cave entrance alerted Clayton to the fact that he wasn't alone. He spun, drawing his crossbow, expecting to find a Snowbeast returning to the lair. Instead, there was only a Crokabek perched on a rock at the cave mouth. It was carrying a letter, which Clayton took. It was a message from the Duchess.
'Agents report that Hannah has left the Lost Desert on the trail of Kanrik. She will arrive at the Happy Valley docks tomorrow morning. Be prepared.'
Clayton put the letter on the fire. Sway agents always destroyed the correspondence. It was how they had stayed so secret for so long.
Looking around, Clayton noticed that the back wall of the cave was covered in a thick layer of ice. He knocked on it - it was hollow. An entrance to the Bori caves, no doubt. That was how the unfortunate Bori in the corner had fled from his people. If Hannah was guided to the cave, it would provide her easy access to the Heart of the Mountain.
Writing down his location on a fresh scrap of paper, he rolled it up and delivered it to the waiting Crokabek.
"Duke Hopesmeade," Clayton instructed.
The Petpet seemed to understand, taking flight and heading south. Clayton retreated to the shadows of the cave where he couldn't be seen. He kept watch on the slowly thawing Bori, while readying his crossbow in case the Snowbeasts returned.
If stealth had once been the calling card of the Thieves Guild, the events of that morning proved to Duke Hopesmeade that Galem was truly desperate.
The Guild left Happy Valley en masse, at least a hundred strong if not more. Mining equipment, ranging from simple pickaxes to complex mechanised drilling platforms, was packed onto carts. It looked like a small army was heading through the tundra.
Hopesmeade followed at a distance. He doubted, given the march forwards, that Galem had ordered his scouts to look behind as well.
Kanrik's group had arrived late the previous night, just before dawn, and Galem had taken delivery of the Bringer's coffin like a greedy child. He had given explicit orders that the thing was not to be opened until they were in the Heart's chamber, in case the beast attempted to betray them.
They made camp in the mid afternoon, just as they reached the foot of the mountain. Galem busied himself making preparations to begin mining with the heavy equipment. Kanrik, on the other hand, appeared to have been given guard duty over the Bringer's coffin.
Hopesmeade watched from a distance as Masila drifted over to him. She appeared to be attempting to convince him to open the coffin, and use the Bringer to eliminate Galem. Kanrik on the surface appeared to refuse, but Hopesmeade could tell that the idea had taken root.
The Thieves Guild set up camp for the night, but there was no such luxury for Hopesmeade. He waited, and sure enough, in the just as the sun was setting, Kanrik left his tent. He looked troubled as he made his way out towards the Bringer's coffin, ordering the guards there to help him get the thing on to its end. With that done, they hooked up ropes to prize the lid away. It was stuck tight, needing all of their efforts, but they managed it. The lid flew away, revealing the beast inside.
As the sun set behind the mountain, the Bringer of Night emerged. It was a Moehog, standing at least two Neopets tall. It was decked out in gold and the trappings of the Lost Desert, with massive tusks that protruded from a fearsome looking mouth.
Kanrik and his thieves took a few steps back in awe of the creature. It stood there for a moment, its eyes gradually turning orange to red. Hopesmeade let out a small gasp - it had detected the magic of the Heart of the Mountain nearby.
With that, the Bringer turned, completely ignoring the thieves and marching off towards the Thieves encampment and the mountain beyond.
"Wait!" Kanrik called after it. "Come back! I command you!"
The beast turned, regarding Kanrik for a moment before letting out a roar. Even a distance away, Hopesmeade felt the wash of magic. Strange creatures, half skeleton, half ice, rose from the snow, outfitted to battle. The Bringer had summoned minions.
From the camp, Galem had noticed the commotion.
"To arms!" he yelled. "Defend the camp!"
The Bori thawed just before dawn that morning. He looked around, clearly confused, and banged on the back wall once. Clearly, he remembered the entrance to the tunnels had once been there. With no other option, he made his way out in the wilds of the mountain. Another storm was picking up, but Clayton had no option but to follow. Hannah was making her way up the mountain, he had to make sure the two of them met somehow.
As the sun began to rise across the mountain, the Bori came across Hannah in the frozen wastes. She appeared to have passed out in the cold, though Clayton suspected from the glow of the amulet she was now wearing that it was something more magical to blame. The Bori scooped the Usul up as best he could, helping her to regain a little consciousness, but they didn't have an opportunity for much rest. A massive roar came out from through the snow - the local Snowbeasts had found them.
There were dozens of the things, of all sizes and colours. Hannah readied her travelling knife, but it was clear that in her current state she wouldn't be good for much battling. For his part, the Bori took out a small catapult, though that was hardly likely to cause much damage to the hulking masses of the Snowbeasts.
Clayton sighed a little, taking out his crossbow. It looked like it was going to be up to him.
He took a shot at the nearest one, which crumpled backwards, but was replaced by another almost instantly. The Bori rattled off a pellet from his slingshot which bounced off the new one pointlessly. Clayton quickly reloaded, firing off a quick bolt that downed the second. As Hannah and the Bori spun around ineffectually, Clayton gradually picked off the Snowbeasts one by one, starting with his crossbow but moving on to direct combat with his dagger when he ran out of bolts.
When at last the final Snowbeast fell, Clayton retreated back into the snowstorm and hoped the pair of Neopets hadn't seen his efforts. Hannah seemed to weaken again, and collapsed back to the floor. The Bori scooped her up, carrying her through the snow back towards the cave. Clayton went ahead, concealing himself in a corner ready for their arrival.
The Bori got Hannah set up around the fire Clayton had set earlier. Warming her seemed to partially strengthen her, at least. The Bori introduced himself as Armin, and began to explain to Hannah exactly who he was - of the ancient Bori war with the Bringer of Night over the Heart of the Mountain, and of the spell that sealed them away for five thousand years.
Clayton watched Hannah's reactions. She seemed interested, but so weak that she couldn't properly follow Armin's words. The keystone, the shard of the Heart that now hung around her neck was glowing bright red - a sign that the Heart was not far away. But that alone should not have been enough to weaken her - the keystone was part of the Heart, it should punish those who sought to unite the two.
The deeper magic was revealed after an hour or so, when Hannah briefly took off her coat to wring it out. Her shirt underneath was torn on her arm, revealing a scar in the shape of an eye - a powerful curse, Clayton realised. She must have received it in the Bringer's tomb. Clayton had little knowledge of such curses and their countermeasures. He could do nothing to help her. He only hoped that Hannah would be strong for long enough to reach the Heart and complete her task.
To be continued...