Agent of the Sway: Recovery - Part Two
Clayton read through the documents he had been supplied with as the carriage made its way to the Haunted Woods.
Neovia, it seemed, had once been a relatively peaceful and normal town. Relatively, of course, because it was in the Haunted Woods. The town had been founded by an exiled family of necromancers who had found the place was a confluence of leylines. As far as Clayton understood, that meant it was possible for strong magic to be worked there.
The dark family had died off a long time ago, leaving behind only their curse-filled catacombs - the Sway had moved in. As far as Clayton could see, the Duchess's plan centered around the use of the Spirit of Slumber, an incredibly powerful ghost that inhabited the woods. It had been his power that had rendered the people of Neovia immaterial. The key to the Spirit of Slumber's power was that only he could undo his own magic - and he would only do so if asked to by one of the people who had asked it to be cast in the first place.
Fyora could have thrown the combined armies of Neopia at the place for all it mattered, only a citizen of Neovia would be able to reverse the spell, as they had been the ones to summon him in the first place.
Mr. Krawley had tricked the townsfolk into taking Hissi Oil, his specially formulated potion that claimed to grant their wildest dreams but in fact mutated them into horrible creatures. Desperate for a cure, they had called on the Spirit of Slumber, and sealed their doom.
Krawley had been instructed at the time to ensure that at least one of Neovia's citizens remained free, so that the curse could be removed. Apparently the Krawk was maintaining a cover in the gypsy camp that Clayton had once visited during the incident with the Wand of Wishing. It was there he was heading.
The gypsies were busy singing and dancing around their fires when Clayton arrived. He did a quick scan of the locals. There was the Kau Fortune Teller, and Megan. Both people he had dealings with in the past. Thankfully, neither had noticed him.
There did not, however, appear to be a Krawk.
"Care for a story?"
An Elephante with curiously shimmering orange eyes was sat nearby with a thick tome.
"I am looking for someone," Clayton replied. "A Krawk."
"Really?" the Elephante asked. "And who might you be?"
"Rook," he said. "I believe he will be expecting me."
The Elephante smiled, nodding.
"Follow me," he said.
He led Clayton away from the gypsy camp to a small clearing in the woods. There, the Elephante turned, his form blurring and twisting, the pinks of the Elephante replaced with blues and purples.
A moment later, where the gypsy had stood, there was a blue Krawk in a purple coat and top hat. The strange orange eyes remained, the only hint that the Elephante and Krawk had been the same person.
Now Clayton understood - Category C, the Duchess had said. There were four such categories the Sway used to classify those who used magic. Category A referred to normal Neopets like Clayton. Category B meant those who were formally trained wizards and witches like the Order of the Red Erisim. Category C was for those who were not actual magic users, but seemed to have unnatural abilities, like the Defenders of Neopia. Category D was for those creatures that weren't expressly Neopets at all, like the eldrich Shadows and Wraiths that inhabited the void between dimensions.
This particular Category C seemed to be a shapeshifter.
"Mr. Krawley, I presume?" Clayton asked.
"At your service," Krawley replied with a mock bow.
"You've been briefed on the situation?" Clayton asked.
"I received a message ahead of your arrival," Krawley confirmed. "We are to liberate Neovia - the cure for the mutations I can provide, lifting the Spirit's curse will take another. There were two citizens of Neovia who escaped the town before the Spirit of Slumber was summoned. One is named Bruno, he's been living in a cave ever since. The other was taken to Ilere the Earth Faerie, and has grown up to be a successful witch - I believe the pair happen to be related, though I have worked hard to ensure neither knows the other is still at large."
"Excellent," Clayton replied. "The two can be subtly reintroduced. If one is a witch, she may do the work of lifting the curse for us. We will need a catalyst, are there any members of the Seekers in the immediate area? They normally have a knack of turning up and doing exactly what you want without being asked."
"Not that I know," Krawley replied. "But this close to Halloween, there are many travellers stopping by the gypsy camp looking for a tall tale. I'm sure I could direct one or two towards the ruins of Neovia."
"Do exactly that," Clayton instructed. "I will work on clearing a suitable path through the woods."
Neovia was a crumbling ruin. Ten years of being abandoned had not been kind to the town. One house in particular had been burnt to the ground. Clayton poked around the in the ashes for a bit, unearthing a locket. Inside, there was a picture of a young Ixi.
Clayton recognised the image from the Sway files on the area - it was a young version of Sophie, a local witch in the swamp. That must have been one of the survivors Krawley mentioned.
Clayton left the locket in the building, easily visible. The visitors would need a trail of clues to follow, after all.
Beyond that, the town was deserted, just as the reports said. Clayton set up camp in one of the more solid looking buildings for the night. In the morning, sure enough, Krawley's victim arrived on cue.
She was a little girl in a red travelling cloak. Hardly the brave adventurer Clayton was expecting. She made her way towards the burnt down house, and found the planted locket.
Off she skipped towards the deserted fairground, in the hopes the locals would be able to provide answers. Clayton followed at a distance, sure to keep out of sight.
It was clear that the carnival folk wouldn't have the required answers, so while the girl was busy Clayton made short work forming a path at the edge of the fairground that roughly pointed in the direction of Sophie's shack on the maps Clayton had seen.
It wasn't long before the girl became annoyed with the lack of answers from the carnival folk, and happened upon the makeshift path Clayton had created.
She followed it, and before long Sophie's shack came into view. It was a run down old place, much like Neovia itself - it had obviously been in use for more than ten years. Ilere must have given it to Sophie when the previous witch of the area died.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" the girl called out, knocking on the door but opening it at the same time. "Umm... Hello? I... I'm Gilly..."
The door closed behind her. Outside, Clayton forced himself back against a tree as it began to rain. He didn't have to wait long. A few minutes later, Gilly, as she was called, ran out of the shack at speed, Sophie slamming the door behind her.
The introduction clearly hadn't gone well. Clayton watched as she trudged off in the rain.
"Greetings," a voice came out of the rain.
Suddenly, as if he'd been standing there the whole time, Krawley was next to him. Clayton hadn't heard any movement, and he'd been in this business long enough to be an expert at hearing people approach.
"She's heading towards the cave currently occupied by our other escapee," Krawley added. "I took the liberty of outfitting the cave entrance with some... Supplies she may need to fend him off."
"Fend him off?" Clayton asked. "Exactly what is he?"
"Sophie was fortunate," Krawley said. "Her brother, Bruno, less so. He was the first to ingest my potion. He's horribly mutated, and as the last act before they summoned the Spirit of Slumber, they chased him out of the town. He's been living in the cave ever since, and has become a little... Rabid."
"Will she be alright?" Clayton asked.
"If she uses my supplies correctly," Krawley said.
There was a glint of malice in his eyes, and at once Clayton understood why Krawley had remained an 'associate' rather than becoming a formal agent of the Sway. He was a loose cannon, playing games because he found them fun, not because they served a grand plan.
"And if she doesn't?" Clayton asked.
"We'll find another adventurer," Krawley replied simply.
Thankfully, that wasn't needed. There was a roar from the direction Gilly had disappeared and a few minutes later Gilly came running back. She reached Sophie's shack and began banging madly on the door.
"Let me in!" she shouted. "Please, let me in!"
Behind her, a beast emerged into the clearing. It was a Gelert, that much was clear, but horribly mutated into a hulking mass - Bruno.
Sophie's door opened suddenly, the Ixi stood in the doorway with a look of rage on her face.
"I thought I told you never to come back he-"
Her voice faltered as she saw the figure behind the young girl. Her jaw fell open.
"Brother?" she gasped. "You're alive!?"
"Sophie?" Bruno gasped, his voice hoarse through lack of use.
"Brother... How did you... What happened to you that night?"
Bruno related his tale, as did Sophie.
"I've spent all my time unsuccessfully working on a cure," Sophie said after she finished her tale. "I go back every Halloween, which is when the townsfolk reappear, but it always fails. Had I known you had escaped, Bruno, I would've looked for you as well."
"That must be what the Spirit of Slumber did!" Gilly said.
"The Spirit of Slumber?" Sophie questioned.
"Yes, he cast a spell on the town," Gilly replied. "There must be a way to reverse it!"
"I've been working on this for ten years, kid," Sophie said skeptically. "There's not much I haven't tried."
"But you didn't know about the Spirit of Slumber," Gilly pointed out. "I think we can still figure this out and save the town - and your family, Sophie!"
"Well..." Sophie considered. "There is Ilere. She might know more about this guy."
Together, the three of them left the shack to travel further into the Deep Woods and Ilere's lair. Clayton and Krawley watched them go from the shadows.
To be continued...