A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Part Three
The Crokabek squawked loudly on her mailbox, making Sierra jump. She paused from her gardening work and took the letter from the black bird's claws, eyeing the bird suspiciously.
"Thank you, now shoo!" She swished the air with her paws, and the Crokabek flew away with a displeased screech. Her eyes widened when she saw the zagged "S" seal wrapped around the letter. She hastily opened it, and read its contents.
Dear Sierra Rose Hardingson,
This letter has been delivered to inform you that you have been accepted into my clandestine league, the Sway. The new member initiation meeting shall be held tonight at 6 o'clock at the mansion. Attendance is mandatory. Battles will commence in three days' time. You may use this letter to be accepted in the future, and I fully expect that you will choose to stay with us. Congratulations, and on behalf of the Sway, I look forward to your contributions to our society.
Your Ladyship, The Duchess
P.S. Don't be late.
Sierra grinned, and ran back into the house to show her family, and to send Lily a Neomail. Her plan was working.
"Good evening, everyone, and congratulations on your acceptance." Everyone applauded politely at Lord Norheim's, whom Sierra recognized under the alias of Cunning Mastermind, words. "In your work here, you will be paired with an existing member of the Sway to act as your mentor, and to guide and help you with your missions. When you are not battling, you will be either here or conducting your missions throughout Neopia. For those who are attending and will be missing school, I have already informed your respective schools about your excused absence, and you will get an extra window of downtime to take your exams. All of you will get enough time to continue your training at the Krawk Island Academy or the Mystery Island Training School." Several relieved sighs were heard from around the room, including from Sierra. Lord Norheim continued to fill them in on the expectations of the Sway. "Now, remember, if you have any special skills, or intensive knowledge on anything that could be useful to us, you are required to inform us, to ensure the success of the Sway. We do not take defeat lightly, and there was a reason the Sway won the first battle against all of the factions."
Sierra froze, attempting to keep her nonchalant yet attentive façade. She would be in serious trouble if anyone found out her position in the Seekers, and that she knew more than they thought she did about weapons. She glanced around the room, glad to see that she hadn't attracted any unwanted attention.
"We shall now go to the existing members' meeting room, where you will be assigned a mentor." Everyone shuffled out of the room into the hallway, leading to a much larger room with a huge conference table. There was an empty chair next to each person seated. Sierra and the rest of the new recruits lined up against the wall. "Let the initiation begin." The Duchess's words made everyone shiver as they echoed throughout the room, but no one could see her. A red Draik began reading the names off the list, and one by one the new recruits began sitting down next to a member. "Sierra Hardingson, Damien Valius." Sierra sat down next to the Shadow Kyrii, avoiding his infamous icy glare the entire time. They sat in silence as the rest of the newcomers were seated.
The lights snapped off. Lord Norheim handed out plain, black rings to all the new members, one by one. Once Sierra put hers on, it began to glow white in a jagged 'S' insignia inside a triangle. Sierra instinctively pulled her hand back. She watched the symbol glow brighter and brighter with wide eyes.
"Don't worry about, it, you're fine. See?" She turned, to find Damien smiling faintly, something that she thought was impossible for him. She noticed his ring glowing in the same way, and saw that everyone's rings were glowing as well. Damien and the rest of the older members raised their ring hand, paw, hoof or claw up toward the center of the room, and their rings' glow connected to make a spiderweb of white. The new members lifted their rings up after them. The white, glowing spider web was glowing brighter and brighter with each ring raised, lighting up the room eerily. Sierra watched the flickering web in awe. The glow remained for a minute, then slowly died down. Everyone began pulling their rings back, making the glowing subside faster. Sierra stared at her ring, the Sway insignia now engraved into her ring. She moved her paw back and forth slightly and noticed that two triangles lit up and disappeared again repeatedly, like neopoint bills under a blacklight. Her paw hovered over it, and noticed that the top was still hot.
"I wouldn't touch that if I were you," Damien remarked.
"You don't say!" Sierra replied facetiously.
"Congratulations, everyone, you all are now officially members of the Sway. Once again, remember that tomorrow you will begin your training and missions at 11 am. Good evening," Lord Norheim announced. The lights snapped on again. Everyone began shuffling out of the room. Sierra rushed out, hoping to get home as soon as possible. She was going to have long day ahead of her.
Sierra arrived at the mansion headquarters the next day, relieved that she was on time. She walked into the meeting room and sat down with the rest of the members. The white Pteri, Martha, was assigning everyone to separate training areas. After a few minutes, Sierra was the last one in the room. "Now, Sierra. Something happened in your interview that is of particular interest us."
"It's my reaction to the convertible blaster, isn't it?"
"How did you know?"
Sierra shrugged. "It's merely an assumption."
"I see. Anyway, you must come with me. Your knowledge on weaponry will prove to be useful for us. I have something I need to show you. You will not be receiving any training and will be going directly to your job."
"But really, Martha, I don't know as much as you apparently think I do. It's only a hobby. I'm not even close to becoming a professional with merely a generalized high school education."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, of course I am." Sierra tensed at Martha's suspicion.
"Very well, then. Follow me." She walked out of the room, and Sierra nearly had to jog to keep up. They winded through the endless hallways until they reached a door with a large sign reading, 'No Unauthorized Access.' Martha knocked sharply, then unlocked the door. She ushered Sierra inside before closing the door behind them. Desks lined the walls of the dimly lit room, with spotlights on the desks, the grey walls covered with posters in a code Sierra did not recognize, and the the wooden crates stacked high against the back wall. "We are taking a slightly different approach to our weapons arrangement, since we lost the last couple of rounds we participated in."
Sierra inspected the labels on one of the many boxes in the room. "I've noticed that you have a lot of the same weapons in bulk."
"We try to buy the weapons that we are familiar with and that we know are effective. Buying them in bulk is much cheaper than buying them as we need them."
"Right, but wouldn't it be best to explore different options? Not necessarily now, but perhaps when we have not been chosen by the Oracle you could select a team to investigate some alternatives to the weapons that you already use within certain damage and price ranges." She looked at some of the other labels on the boxes. "Also, try to find weapons that deal out a good deal of fire, since they are the hardest to block. I don't see very many of those kinds of weapons." She cocked her head as a few of the labels caught her eye.
Shipment #: 23K90F
Name: Radioactive Muffin
Shipment #: 78W21D
Name: Thick Smoke Bomb
Shipment #: 98O16T
"You have a lot of one-use explosives in stock. You shouldn't store them so close together, especially since they're still in their transport crates and not prepared for short-term or long-term storage. Why do you have so many of them anyway? It's good to have some of them on hand, but your budget should be more focused on the multi-use weapons."
Martha nodded. "Thank you, I will forward your ideas on to the committee."
Sierra gave her a surprised look. "Uh, okay!"
"You wrote an analytical paper on weaponry combinations last year, correct?"
"How do you know this...?"
"Just answer my question."
"Well, yes, I wrote it for the school magazine's Article Series Challenge. I submitted it to the Neopian Times, but it was rejected."
"I would like for you to edit it, add the weapons from this survey-" Martha handed her a manila folder, "-and bring it to me before three pm tomorrow."
They proceeded further into the room, where a giant, black curtain covered most of the wall. Martha sat down at one of the tables close to it. Sierra noticed a flash of red as Martha hurriedly turned over a large sheet of paper on the desk next to a ruler. She was tempted to think nothing of it when a beige spot peeking out from the curtain caught her eye. She walked over to it as nonchalantly as she could, and took a closer look. There were some red and black ink markings just barely visible, and what appeared to be a scale. Silently blowing on the curtain while carefully hiding her lips by scratching her nose confirmed her hypothesis, and also showed more red and black markings. Maps? The paper Martha turned over must have been a map, as well.
"What's that map on the table for?"
Martha shot her a suspicious glare.
"Um... Okay then, I guess I'm not supposed to ask that."
"We use them for helping our members navigate prior to missions. We mark the locations of our various... sources, as well as various items that we must acquire." Sierra tried to hide her cringe.
"Am I allowed to know who the sources are?"
"No, but they reside all over Neopia, watching, ready to report to us even the most seemingly insignificant events. We've helped out with every major event in Neopia, making sure that order and peace is restored. It's the most effective way of doing so."
"So spying on everything and everyone is the most effective way to get the Obelisk?"
"Winning is in the best interest of the Sway, and it is in the best interest of Neopia, believe it or not! Things will be better in the long run if we obtain the obelisk!"
"And what will you do with it if it comes into your power?"
"You have no idea-" Martha attempted to interject, but Sierra felt that she had to continue.
"You have no means to protect it from others, and what will you do with all the power and knowledge that emanates from it? What about the Oracle-"
"That is none of your concern!" Martha yelled, fuming.
"Of course it is my concern, I'd like to know about what cause I am working for! If I am able to have access to a restricted access location, surely I-"
Martha grabbed her shoulders. "You are not going to find out anything from me, or anyone else, until we are sure that you can be trusted with such information! Don't you ever ask me about that again! Do you understand?"
Sierra nodded, and withdrew a few steps from her poisonous glare.
After a few minutes of hostile silence, Sierra spoke. "I have a training session to attend, I must get going. Good afternoon."
Sierra marched out, and ran back all the way back to her hotel room. She sat on a chair and buried her face in her paws. She had to talk to Professor Lambert about their conversation. However, she had a foreboding sense that she was being watched: her Neomails intercepted and read, her every move being carefully observed. She knew where it came from: the morsel of information about the sources didn't surprise her, yet she still felt very unsure. She sighed, stood up, and packed up her training things. She had work to do.
She returned to the mansion after her training session later that evening. She turned into the room that Martha had brought her to earlier that day. She checked to make sure no one was in the room, then walked over to the table Martha was sitting at. She turned over the map, and took out a notepad and a pen from her shoulder bag. The map was of the Neopia Central Plaza, the majority of the marks focussing on the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters and the Welcome Center. They must have a lot of sources around this area. She wrote this thought down. She turned the map over the way she had found it, and walked over to the black curtain. She quietly drew back the curtain part of the way. She could already see at least twenty large maps posted on the wall, with the same red and black markings covering them. She scanned the maps. The Uni rickshaw and steam ferry paths. Downtown Neopia Central, Tyrannia, the University of Brightvale, Neovia's Cemetery, the Altadorian Coliseum, the Red Towers in the Faerie Forest, The Skeith's Tail tavern in Happy Valley. All of the factions' headquarters, as well! She wrote down all of observations. They must have maps of all the worlds, and other places of interest to them. Knowing the movement of the population must be important for some reason. She closed the curtain, and continued writing.
The door creaked open behind her, making her jump. She hurriedly stuffed the notepad and pen in her bag, and whirled around to see Damien closing the door behind him.
"Oh, good evening. You startled me a little there."
An awkward silence fell between them.
"We head off for Tyrannia tomorrow afternoon at four. I was told to inform you that your help with the weaponry is required," Damien announced. "Also, you have been assigned a code name that we will refer to each other with whilst in Tyrannia, and all correspondence and communication outside of the mansion will be to your codename. Yours is Agent Nova, and mine is Agent Night." They're both... quite fitting, actually.
"I'm surprised that I have been given such a job even though I have only been a member for two days."
"I've heard your knowledge is valuable for us." Damien walked further into the room, picked up the wooden ruler and inspected it.
She walked up to him. "How much do you know about me?"
"Enough." He set the ruler back down.
"Enough to know what?"
"What is wrong with you people here about not telling anyone anything?"
"Perhaps it's a matter of trust." Damien's cool demeanor and searching eyes angered Sierra even more. What are you hiding?
"Who are you really, and why don't you trust me enough to tell me what you know about me?"
"Why should I trust you?"
"You don't have a choice. I'm your blasted partner, for Fyora's sake!"
That shut Damien up, leaving Sierra with merely an icy glare as a response.
"Why can't you trust me? What do you have to hide?"
"I'd like to ask you the same question."
She paused. "Well, I can't trust you because you won't trust me."
With that she left the room, leaving Damien alone to stare at the tiny yellow Cybunny face with bright blue eyes in the small locket concealed in his paw. He sighed, then snapped it closed before returning the locket to its home in his inner coat pocket.
To be continued...