A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Part Two
"I... I'm..." Sierra hesitated. "Please don't hate me for this."
"Don't be ridiculous! You know I could never hate you! You're my best friend, for Fyora's sake!" Lily assured her indignantly.
Sierra took a deep breath. "I'm joining... the Sway."
"You're what?" Lily stared at her in shock. "I, I don't understand! You said that you want to stay loyal to the Seekers, and now you're joining a faction that you know nothing about? This is so... unlike you!"
"Whoa, Lily, calm down," Sierra was partially expecting her reaction. She lowered her voice as they entered the main lobby of the university's admissions building. "That's why I'm joining, to find out for myself. As an insider I might have at least some information at my disposal, that I can leak to the Seekers and, with your co-operation, to the Order. Think about it, Lily. I know what I'm doing. Remember the phrase, 'keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?' That's what I'm doing."
Lily sighed nervously. "Alright. I sure hope you do," She hesitated. "Just don't drag me into this too much. Are you going to tell the Professor?"
"Yes, after the tour I'll swing by his office and see if he's there."
A portly blue Bruce walked up to them. "Good day, ladies. Which one of you is Sierra?"
"Good day, sir, I am. My friend here will be accompanying me."
"Right. I'm Arthur, and I will be your tour guide for today. Right this way, please, and we shall begin our tour in the Economics department."
"This is the Main Library. The East Wing library, to your right, and the West Wing library both house the Seekers." They walked in, with Lily marveling at the thousands of books stored on shelves at least two stories high. "All three of the libraries combined form the largest library in all of Neopia, with the Altadorian Library and Archives in second place." A pink Gnorbu in an unmistakable purple suit was walking across the library carrying books.
"Good day, Professor Lambert," the Bruce said.
He turned around, and set his books down on a desk. "Ah, good day, Arthur." He turned to Sierra. "Good day, Sierra, it is good to see you again." He shook her paw. "Will you be visiting the library again at the end of the tour?"
"It's good to see you again, too, Professor. Yes, I will be. May I ask why?"
"The Scholar's Council meeting will be held in the Library by the time you finish your tour so it would otherwise be closed to visitors, but I would like to let you know you are free to visit the library for as long as you like."
Thank you! I may look for some books for my next research paper while I'm there," Sierra smiled. "By the way, this is my good friend Lily, and she is a member of the Order of the Red Erisim. Lily, this is Professor Lambert, who is the leader of the Seekers as you already know."
"How do you do, Lily? It's a pleasure to meet you. I wish you well with your upcoming battles and studies."
"Thank you, Professor, it's a pleasure to meet you as well." They shook paws.
"Well, I believe we need to continue on with the tour, sir, so we must depart now. Have a good day, sir," Arthur interrupted.
"And to you as well. Good day to you all!" The professor cheerily picked up his books and continued to the other side of the library.
"Has he always been that familiar with you?" Lily asked.
"He's like that with almost everyone. He's got quite the memory, being able to remember everyone's names and specialties like he does."
"Which research paper number are you on to now?"
"Number three. The first one took me two years to write, though."
"I remember that."
"Do you want to get some lunch when we're done with the tour? There's a cute little cafe just outside of the University. I can show you around a bit once we're done, if you'd like."
"Sure, that sounds good!"
"Attention, fellow scholars!" Professor Lambert announced. "All of you should know why I convoked you all to this meeting. We have much to discuss regarding our strategy development for the upcoming skirmishes. Since we have not been called on by the Oracle, we once again have time to make further preparations. How shall we go about this, my friends? Before we start, however, I would like to inform you that this is Sierra Hardingson, a fellow member. Even though the library is officially closed, I have made an exception for her and a few other members who shall arrive later for their project research.
"Thank you again, Professor. It's nice to meet you all."
"Now, do we have any contributions?"
An awkward silence filled the room, before the scholars began murmuring among themselves.
One scholar spoke up. "We have been studying the various factions a little, but we need to analyze their tactics more, and continue to take advantage of our vast resources here and from libraries elsewhere. After all, the best way to defeat an enemy is to know their strengths, and attack their weaknesses. If we combine this knowledge with the reports and articles compiled by our members, then we may be able to lose our reputation of being cannon fodder."
"A most excellent idea, Henry. Anyone else?"
"However, there is a slight problem with that," another scholar argued. "You see, there is little information on the Sway in any archive, as to what their intentions are. They claimed the obelisk first, so they are the biggest threat to us in comparison to the other factions, if we do not pay attention to the ratios of members joining each faction that are posted in various public polls or the unpredictability of whom the Oracle chooses. They are able to hide nearly everything about them, with the exception of the mandatory Neopedia article and introduction video. What alternative do you propose, ladies and gentlemen?"
The scholars began to murmur in agreement.
Sierra brushed her fingers along the books, too distracted by the meeting to do any research. Her gaze was pulled to the scholars seated with their cups of tea around several round tables pulled together with Professor Lambert at one end.
"Espionage," Sierra blurted before she could stop herself. The room silenced and was looking at her in surprise. She felt her face turn bright red.
"What was that, Sierra?" Lambert cued her to explain.
"Espionage." She paused. "Um, what I was thinking was that, um, one of us will temporarily join the Sway and-"
"Absolutely not!" one scholar announced. A murmur rose among them.
"Please let me finish! We're not fighting this time, and they are. Isn't this the perfect research opportunity? One of us could join, and as an insider that person could befriend some of the members and learn so much about them and how they operate. Think about it." Sierra moved out of the aisles so all of the members could see her.
"The issue here isn't that we are against joining other factions for research purposes; many of our own have done that in the past. It's just the issue of joining the Sway."
"There are rumors that traitorous members have been disappearing," a scholar on the other side of the table said gravely.
The murmur disappeared completely, creating an eerie, tense silence.
"I beg your pardon?" Even Lambert's voice was on edge.
"One of our own joined the Sway a little while back, following a hunch. After joining the Sway's fighting forces twice and regularly indirectly sending us coded messages on his findings and progress, he sent us a message that his hunch was entirely true and he thought that they were on to him. We never heard from him after that message, and he was officially listed as missing four days later."
Lambert scowled and rose his voice. "How come I was not informed of this, Hawes?"
"Well, he informed us at the time that in order to maintain the operation he swore the four of us that were involved to secrecy. I would have told you if I was allowed. The only reason I'm saying this now is because I don't want the same mistake to be made again."
"What did he find out?" Sierra asked before an argument could proceed.
"He told us that they are lying when they claim that they are working for the greater good of Neopia. There's something else completely. Apart from telling us that the Duchess is, and I quote, 'a control freak' and that when there's an event going on, their agents are always there, he didn't tell us much else, not even what he thought they were up to."
"We need to find out."
"We're not going to send in another agent! The risks are too great," another scholar argued. Lambert shot him a look to be quiet.
"But... Think of what we could learn! If we learn this about them, it will allow us to fully understand them and thus able to defeat them, not only regarding the Obelisk but in whatever they're doing," Sierra exclaimed.
"It's true, the Sway is the faction we should be the most concerned about in our quest to obtain the obelisk, even after all this time," Hawes offered.
"But who will we send?" a scholar asked.
"I'll do it," Sierra spoke up, gaining some gasps and surprised looks.
"But... Why?" one asked.
"We can't afford to lose anyone, much less you, Sierra," Lambert said.
"You won't lose me, I promise. Also, all of us must always remember something we've been saying since before the discovery of the Obelisk: knowledge is power. They know more than we do, are always there right when events start, supposedly manipulating them - how do they know that the events were going to happen or the consequences of their actions in the first place? If we know what they know, we can be just as powerful as they are, if not even more powerful. If I don't do this now, then when will our next chance be? They might do whatever their plan is by the next possible opportunity."
"...Alright, then," Lambert said reluctantly, sipping his tea. "Meeting called to recess. Please return in fifteen minutes."
Sierra turned to leave the library with the scholars when she spotted a small yellow Kacheek walking into the library, tinkering with a miniature version of Tiny, her robot. "Katie!"
Katie looked up and grinned. "Sierra!" She smiled, and ran up to her for a big hug.
"How's my adorable genius?"
"Great! I'm working on a model of Tiny to figure out how to make him more energy efficient, as usual, but I'm also trying to repair his defense system, replacing some parts so he is more aerodynamic, but can better defend himself and me during the upcoming skirmishes. I'm just trying to figure exactly how to do this."
"Wow. Very cool!" Sierra was always amazed by the accomplishments of this little girl. She watched her deeply concentrated face as she took apart the model and put it back together again with ease, replacing and moving various parts, checking their functionality, then replacing more parts, pushing her large round glasses back to the bridge of her nose every so often.
"Did you hear what I was saying over there during the meeting?"
Katie shook her head innocently.
"Well... I'm temporarily joining the Sway for...."
Katie's interested expression morphed into shock and dismay. "...What? ...Why?"
Sierra crouched down and placed a paw on her shoulder. "Katie, Katie, listening to me. This is only temporary, I'm not leaving forever. You know I'd never do that."
Katie nodded, still visibly upset.
"I'm only going there for some research. I'll be back here a lot, and who knows, maybe I'll need your help on some things. Everything's going to be alright."
Katie smiled a little. "Okay." She paused, then looked up at her with big eyes. "Are you scared?"
"Scared of what?"
"Joining the Sway. We don't know how dangerous they are."
"No." I can't let her or them know... No, I'm not scared. I'm not going to be scared. I won't let myself be. "Well, I need to go now, but I'll see you again later this week. Bye!" She gave Katie one last hug.
"Bye, Sierra. Do you want me to neomail you a photo of Tiny when it's finished?"
"Sure!" She smiled as she walked out of the library, and to the tiny artist's cafe where Lily was waiting.
"Hey, how'd it go? You were in there for a while."
"I wasn't able to get much research done, but I told the council, the professor and then Katie about my plan. None of them were happy about it at first, but eventually they agreed to let me go."
"That's good. I got you a sandwich and an iced tea."
Sierra stepped off the rickshaw and paid the Unis on Monday evening at the Neovian station. She carefully brushed the crumbs from her bagel off of her black skirt and her emerald green, long-sleeved blouse as she walked through the poorly light path to Neovia. She looked around the dark, gloomy setting around her, watching dressed-up Neovians walking in the main square, and wondered if she was dressed appropriately. She took out the address out of her jacket pocket, and walked over a seemingly abandoned mansion just outside of the main square. She showed her papers to the silent gatekeeper, who let her through. She knocked on the front door with the huge knocker twice, and a blue Blumaroo's face appeared through a sliding panel.
"Name and business?"
"Sierra Hardingson, Sway member applicant."
The huge door creaked loudly as it swung open. Everyone inside was dressed to the nines, which worried Sierra.
"Good evening, sir. Um... Am I dressed appropriately for this interview?"
"Good evening, miss," The Blumaroo paused. "While you are not dressed in Her Ladyship's preferred Neovian attire, I believe that what you are wearing is adequate."
She winced slightly at the word "adequate." Very well then, thank you. Where exactly do I need to go?"
He motioned to a well-dressed white Pteri walking down the hallway. "Martha, will you show this young lady to the testing lobby?"
Martha eyed Sierra disdainfully. "Of course, sir." She silently led Sierra down a long hallway, and opened a door at the end of it. Testing lobby?
"Thank you." Sierra nodded to her as she walked through, but the Pteri did not respond, closing the door behind Sierra. A quiet, echoing murmur filled the room as she wandered among the various clumped Neopets to reach the sign up counter. The room resembled a ball room with black marble floors and columned arches edged with gold around the many doors.
"Good evening. You must be Sierra Hardingson?" The Lupe kept his eyes glued to his papers before looking up at her blankly.
"Yes, I am. How... did you know?"
"We just know." He pulled out her form and wrote something on it. "You have been associated with the Seekers in the past, correct?"
Sierra tensed, her mind desperately searching for a way out. "Yes, that is correct, but, um, not very actively." She held back a smirk as a thought came to mind. "Some of the battlers here may have seen me quite a lot fighting for them, but I'm not so sure about whether I should stay loyal to the Seekers or not," she lied. "That's why I'm joining the Sway, since I might like this faction better." See? I got this.
"I see." The Lupe wrote down more notes on her form. "The session will begin in ten minutes, where you will go to the third door on your far right," He pointed to show her. "Good evening."
"Good evening," Sierra replied. She walked away from the counter, and looked around to admire the many paintings on the wall, some of them of the Duchess. She saw a flash of black, and did a double take. She found Damien staring straight at her, the shadow Kyrii's icy blue gaze causing her to tense up for a moment. It's you again! I wonder what you're doing here, she wondered silently, breaking the eye contact. She jumped when she found him standing next to her a few seconds later.
"Oh, good evening, you startled me there. So, uh, you're joining the Sway, too?"
"Obviously I am," he replied with that same cold, unwavering tone. "I am already a member, but I have to take one of the tests. People like you usually have to take up to four."
"Okay, then. What do the tests entail?"
"Can't tell you. They can vary."
"Oh." She paused before asking, "So, um, how are you liking school so far? Was your first day of school alright?"
"Yes, it's alright."
Damien nodded a little. He fiddled with his muted red tie, contrasting against his all-black suit.
"So, what did you think of Meridell?"
"Didn't like it very much."
"Really? How come?"
"I prefer Darigan Citadel. We lived very close to it, and I went to school there."
"Oh, so that's why you support Darigan Citadel for the cup. I support Brightvale. Your team did quite well this year compared to mine."
"So... I guess you like it here in Neovia as well?"
A clock bell rang out all of a sudden, and everyone began shuffling towards various doors around the room.
"Well, I guess we have to go now. Good evening, and good luck!" Sierra said.
"If luck exists, then you'll need it." She contemplated his words as she walked over to her allocated door. She stepped through it, and found that a few other pets were there as well.
"Miss Hardingson?" someone asked. She turned to find a yellow Eyrie behind her.
"Yes, that's me," she replied, and followed her into a smaller, completely white room. The Eyrie shut the door, and they both took a seat facing each other.
"So, Sierra," she began. "I understand that you have been associated with the Seekers in the past."
"That is correct, madam."
"And is this switch temporary or permanent?"
"I haven't decided yet," Sierra lied. "I will decide once this skirmish round is over."
"Where do you go to neoschool?"
"I go to Neopia Central High, North."
"Right." The Eyrie paused." What level are you in your training?"
Sierra frowned. "Why is this relevant?"
She thought she saw the Eyrie nodding slightly to her response. "You will learn who to question and who not to. I am the latter."
"Oh, I'm sorry, madam. I'm level 91."
"That's quite alright, but don't expect others here to be as forgiving." She thumbed through her notebook in her lap. "Anyway, what is your goal in life? What are you hoping to achieve?"
"To go to the University of Brightvale, and to get my papers into the Neopian Times. I haven't really thought about anything beyond that."
"Oh really? And what are you planning to study there?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet, but I'm thinking about something related to battle technology or weaponry."
"Very interesting. Any particular reason for this?"
"It's... been a hobby of mine for a while."
"I see. What is the topic of your essay?"
"The first one's a weaponry combination and battle strategy analysis report. The second is a report on the different types of weapons and how they can be used in different battle situations."
"Seems a bit odd considering you are a former Seeker."
"Well, I've never been one to follow the mainstream very closely."
"Alright, then. Who do you trust the most?"
This was a no-brainer for Sierra. "My owner and my best friend."
"Right." The Eyrie took some notes, then pulled out a red, rectangular device. "I just need to place your arm under this scanner and stamper for me, please-"
Sierra suddenly bolted from her seat and dashed over to the white wall closest to her, loudly knocking her chair over. "What, are you crazy? That's a Convertible Virtublaster S-500! You press that yellow button and it converts into a maximum power stunner that could knock me out for 24 hours! You can't fool me with that thing!"
The Eyrie cocked an interested eyebrow. "If I can't, then take it, have a look." She handed Sierra the unconverted blaster. "Tell me, then, what year is it from?"
Sierra carefully inspected the red device, running her paws over its surface. "Mind if I convert it? I promise I won't use it."
"Not at all, the stun feature has been disabled, anyway."
She pressed the button, and the red device turned into a red and yellow blaster. "Year thirteen."
"And why is that?"
"Because the shape reveals this design is one of the older ones, but it has the ability to be disabled if you press the button underneath its core power system. This specific model first became available in Year thirteen."
"Very well done." The Eyrie almost cracked a smile. "How do you know all this?"
"Oh, uh, I've read quite a few books on the subject. Like I said earlier, weaponry and battle strategy are quite interesting to me," Sierra fibbed, knowing full well that she would not tell the Eyrie the truth.
"I see." She looked up at the white wall for a few seconds, then nodded as if she saw a signal through the wall. "Well, that's all for right now, Sierra. Good evening. Please make your way back to the lobby and go to the fourth door to your left to the weapons use testing."
"Thank you, madam, and good evening."
They both walked out of the room, and the Eyrie stopped next to one of her colleagues. "That's her alright. She's good," she whispered, and her colleague nodded.
Sierra smirked triumphantly.
To be continued...