A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Part Eight
Sierra wove her way through the busy marketplace, hoping to blend in with the crowd. She quickly scribbled a SOS message to the Seekers and sent it off with a nearby weewoo, ensuring to not put a return address. She continued discreetly weaving her way through the crowd to the other side and picked up a snack along the way. It was beginning to get dark and the crowd was dispersing to various cafés and restaurants for dinner or making their way back home. She walked into a café with a large group, headed for the restrooms then swerved for the back door. She tied her damp hair back and put on her hoodie as she walked down the steps to the dusty clearing with a few palm trees dotted around the edge. She trotted into the alleys, the neighborhood just as shady as the alley in the quickly dwindling sunlight. She paused for a moment, and dared to sit against one of the clay and mud walls.
"What if we don't find her-"
"Shut up, she could hear you! She's on the island and she could be anywhere."
"Gee, I'm sorr-"
"I said shut up!"
She slowly stood up as she heard their faint voices. She trotted in the opposite direction, then broke into a run. She could hear their gait slowly speeding up as well behind her, their heavy boots pounding into the dirt louder and louder and-
"Hey, you! Turn around!" She bolted, sharply winding through the narrow streets and alleys. From their heavy boots she could tell they weren't familiar with the island, so she hoped she could lose them somewhere.
The glowing reds, oranges and yellows of the sunset had faded and a dark, not quite navy blue filled the sky above her. She ducked behind a house and ran across the narrow opening between the wooden fence and the house next to it to a different alley. She quickly glanced behind her, they were nowhere to be found. Did I lose them? She could hear their footsteps still, though they were much fainter. She kept running, slowing down only a little. She passed a couple of alleys along the street she turned into when a paw reached out and pulled her to the alleyway. "Let me go!" She struggled to get her arm free.
"Sierra! Sierra, it's me!" His familiar voice rang even though it was merely a whisper.
She looked into his eyes. "Damien! Thank Fyora!" She heaved a sigh of relief and hugged him tightly. "How did you get here?"
He led her further into the alley as the footsteps approached, and they ducked down behind a wooden dumpster as the pursuers passed and the footsteps faded out into the distance. He checked to make sure the coast was clear.
"We've got to get you off the island. The more time they spend looking for you, the more agents they'll send to join the search. If we can make it to a small port town then we might be able to catch a boat there. The main ones are heavily guarded at this point."
"Okay. I sent a distress signal out with no return address, but they know where I am. I don't know if they'll get here in time and I don't want to rely on them." They tiptoed back into the alley, staying in the shadows against the building walls.
"Oh, I have something for you." She pulled a second blaster in its holster out of her bag and handed it to him. "Our daggers won't be enough to protect us this time."
He gingerly took it and clipped it to his belt, then hugged her. "Thank you."
They silently ventured out into the maze of narrow streets once again.
"How'd you get here?" she asked again, being careful to keep her voice down.
"When I heard you disappeared and that you were most likely in Mystery Island, I followed the agents sent there to hunt you down. It was just a matter of time before I found you since I knew you wouldn't stay in your house for long."
"They have my owner and my brothers. They couldn't get out."
Damien's eyes widened. "They've probably got them under house arrest now. How much did they know?"
"Not much. They knew the basics on what I was doing and why. I didn't tell them what I found out or anything like that."
"For their sake I hope the Seekers get here soon."
"Interrogations aren't pretty."
"Oh, Fyora." Her mind swam and began slowing down.
"C'mon, we have to keep going."
They kept walking briskly for what seemed to be several hours, taking a couple of short breaks to rest and eat a snack. They suddenly came across a large sign. Sierra pointed a flashlight at it.
"It says that a harbor is a quarter of a mile away."
"We need to be careful, they're going to be heavily guarded."
She nodded as they kept walking with their eyes peeled. A slight breeze rustled the leaves on the trees, and Sierra's paw moved to her blaster. They slowed down, avoiding the open torches lighting the streets as the marina came into view. She thought she saw a few guards standing near some of the docks. She silently alerted Damien and pointed to them. Damien nodded and kept his paw close to his blaster as well.
"How do we get out of here now? They'll see us if we try to get a boat," she whispered in his ear.
"I don't don't know. We need to find a place to hide, that's for sure."
She nodded, and they cut into a narrow street as the faint voices of the guards rose. They picked up their pace a little as they approached the end of the street. They peeked around the corners before exiting into another road.
"Hey! Hey!" one of the guards called out and pointed at them. Sierra cursed under her breath and they broke into a sprint out into the main road. They dove into a nearby street, their blasters drawn and locked, when they were met by three guards. They fired their blasters and they collapsed unceremoniously to the ground one after another, stunned. They kept their backs against the wall and their blasters aimed as they crept along further into the street. She motioned with her head that she would take the end of the street leading to the main road and for him to take the other end, and he nodded. Guards appeared from both sides of the street and Damien and Sierra fired at them in quick succession, dodging their return fire. Just when they thought that no more guards were coming, suddenly two emerged from Damien's side of the street and attacked them. Sierra fired at them while Damien wrestled one of them, but they seemed to be wearing armor. Sierra shot the one Damien was wrestling in the head, and he collapsed before Damien. He looked at her with fearful eyes and opened his mouth to speak when she whirled around and barely dodged a punch from a guard, knocking the blaster from her paws. She dodged another swing and kicked him, blocking his blows with her arms. Damien rushed forward to help her but another guard appeared and grabbed him. He roughly wrenched Damien's arms behind his back. Sierra glanced worriedly at him.
"Sierra!" She was suddenly knocked down by a blow to the head. She struggled to get up as the guard kicked her and attempted to punch her again, then she drew her dagger and slashed at his legs. She sprang up and the guard grabbed her wrists, trying to knock her down again. She resisted with all her might as her muscles screamed for oxygen and her head felt fuzzy from the punch. The guard twisted her dagger arm, making her shout involuntarily in pain and the dagger clattered to the ground. The guard shoved her against the wall and wrenched her arms behind her back. She turned her head to squint at him.
"It's all over for you, traitor. Fighting's pointless now."
"It's never over!" She struggled to break free, but he had already handcuffed her and had both paws against her back. Two more guards walked into the narrow street to help restrain them.
"It doesn't have to come to this, Victor," Damien desperately announced. She looked at him, and his eyes were filled with fear. He winced as the other guard roughly pulled him back.
"Damien Valius, what on Neopia are you doing helping this traitor? Have you been brought to the dark side, too?" Victor asked coldly. "I used to know this boy a long time ago. We weren't partners, but he was still a big pain in the tail," he told her.
"Sierra, believe or not, is my friend. And you have it all wrong: you are the ones on the dark side, being manipulated, and we are the ones who know the tru- Ow!" Damien stumbled as the guard kicked him in the ankle.
"I'll take that as a yes. Now, I would take both of you out right here and now, but we have orders to bring both of you back alive to be interrogated. The more you resist, the less time you will have to be alive. Understood?"
"Yes," Sierra and Damien replied. They looked at each other, unsure what was going to happen. Her stomach tied itself into knots. They were roughly escorted out of the street and onto the main road towards the marina. They were directed onto a small, covered boat where their handcuffs were clipped to metal rings on the side of the boat. The last thing she saw was a white blindfold being wrapped around Damien's face before being blindfolded herself and blacking out.
Sierra woke to find herself in a dark, dank cell on a cot protruding from the stone wall. She shifted uncomfortably. Dim light streamed through the thick bars in the top half of the door, while the bottom half was sheet metal. She sat up slowly to find that she was alone, save for the sound of footsteps echoing in the halls and a petpet skittering across the floor. She set her paws in her lap, and twisted the Sway insignia ring around her finger so the insignia was showing. Her stomach grumbled, and she slowly stood up to the door, wrapping her fingers around the cold bars.
"Hey! Hey!" Her voice echoed eerily. She heard some of the guards murmuring about her being awake. The barred half of the door swung open and an outstretched arm offered a small tray of food and a cup of water. She gingerly took it and the door half immediately closed and was locked with a loud clang. She sat back down on the cot with her food. She carefully inspected it, searching through the oatmeal with her spoon and breaking the toast into bite-sized bits. She swirled the water in the cup and sniffed it, then carefully took a small sip. Tastes alright. After all, they do want me alive for some reason. She slowly ate the food and washed it down with the water. She waited a couple of minutes before standing. Couldn't have been anything suspicious in it. I don't feel strange. She shrugged and stood up, walking around in her cell. I wonder if Damien is okay. She walked over to the door, examining the hallway as best as she could. A guard stood near her door, and the others were sitting at a long table against the wall eating breakfast.
"Hey!" The guard turned to her.
"What do you want?"
"How long was I knocked out?"
"About eight hours."
Yikes. "When am I being interrogated?"
"Why do you keep asking so many questions?"
"Humor me. I don't want to cause trouble if that's what you're worried about."
He sighed exasperatedly. "In about an hour."
"Where's Damien Valius?"
He hesitated, briefly turned to the other guards, then turned to face her again. "I don't know."
"You're lying, I can tell. Where is he?"
"In a cell, like you."
"I can't tell you."
'I said, I can't tell you." A hint of anger rose in his voice.
"If your partner and friend was locked in a dungeon somewhere, wouldn't you want to know where he or she is?"
"For the last time, I can't tell you!"
"Fine, fine," she grumbled, defeated. She sat back down on the cot. She took the spoon and scratched small doodles into the stone with the handle, hoping to pass the time.
"Come in, Norheim."
The door to the Duchess' private study swung open silently and he walked in. The purple Lenny was seated in a black velvet armchair facing an ornate, wooden coffee table and an identical black chair. To her right sat her brown, wooden chess board, the black and white pieces meticulously arranged and perfectly centered on the squares. The black pawns, many of which were closest to her, seemed to be arranged in a pattern among the slightly more random white pieces around the king, queen and a knight. The single black queen piece stood in the center of the first row, unmoved from its original position. As Norheim took a seat across from her, she opened the small drawer in the board, glanced at the white pawns and rooks inside, and closed the drawer again. "What news do you bring that can't be expressed in mail?"
"I have received word that Agents Nova and Night have been located and are in custody."
"Good." She gently picked up one of her black pawns on the board and placed it one square closer to another pawn. "Have they been separated?"
"Yes, my lady. What do you plan to do with them after the interrogations are over?"
She looked at him coldly. "What we always do with traitors. However, this situation is different so slightly different measures may need to be taken."
"What do you mean?"
"Under normal circumstances, those who betray us are members that we have chosen ourselves and thus have no affiliation with any other faction. However, Miss Hardingson was previously a member of the Seekers as you already know, but she had a higher status than we initially realized. If we dispose of her while she is in our custody, it will certainly cause an uproar among those emotional creatures and will cause problems in future acquisition missions."
"We must make sure she stays quiet in the meantime."
She rose and paced between the chess board and her desk. "Yes. If circumstance requires that we must dispose of her, our agents who keep an eye on her will know, report back, and so arrangements can be made so it will look like an accident."
"What of Valius? If something happens to him, surely she will attempt to take revenge."
"As any overtrusting friend would," The Lenny shook her head in contempt, then took out a piece of paper, dipped the tip of her black quill in a pot of ink and wrote a quick note. She then folded the note up, sealed it with her signature wax stamp, and handed it to Norheim. This has all of the instructions for those down there. Deliver it personally."
"Yes, my lady." He rose and left the room, and the Duchess' gaze fell to the chess game she'd been playing for sixty years and that her predecessors had been playing for over two millennia.
After a while, the guards opened the door and two walked in, handcuffed Sierra and escorted her out of the cell and down a long, dark hallway.
"Where are we going?"
"Don't ask questions," one of them replied. They kept going and turned down another hallway, where she was led into a entirely grey room. The door was exactly the same as the door on her cell. Their shoes clicked on the concrete floor. In the middle of the room, there were two white chairs at a white table. White lanterns on each wall lit the room. She sat down and noticed a dark red stain under the table. What is that? She sprang up and backed away from it until her back was almost against the painted wall.
She heard, hushed, concerned voices outside.
"No, no, it is imperative that I conduct the interrogation."
"But, my lady, we do not know how dangerous she is-"
"I do, and she will not prove to be any difficulty for me. Keep the top section of the open, but make sure no one else can hear our conversation."
"Yes, my lady." The door swung open, and the Duchess walked in regally. Sierra bowed her head slightly.
"Miss Hardingson, Agent Nova." The purple Lenny glared at her contemptuously and walked in front of her to the far side of the table.
"Why do you still want me alive? Why do you want to interrogate me?"
"You are still a valuable source of information, despite your traitorous behavior."
"I have nothing else to offer, so you might have some trouble getting anything out of me."
"I highly doubt that."
"I've contributed to your plans enough. I won't be a pawn in your twisted game anymore."
"How much do you know?"
"Enough to deduce that even though you have carefully crafted the appearance that you are influencing Neopian History and every part of life for good and to maintain peace, you're just another group in the power struggle over Neopia."
"How did you come to this conclusion?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Listen, insolent child. You are going to completely and thoroughly answer all of my questions or you will have severe consequences. Do you understand?"
She sighed. I guess I might as well tell her the truth. My cover is completely blown anyway. "What do you want to know?"
"How did you come to your conclusion?"
"I doubt you will like my answer, but here you are anyway. The high council meeting. You know, your private conference room really needs better soundproofing, and that hole in the wall needs to be fixed, too." She kept her gaze locked on the Duchess'.
"You eavesdropped on the council meeting!" The Duchess squinted at her.
"How long did you listen to it?"
"Half an hour, maybe? I wasn't keeping track of the time."
"I see. Where were you all day on Monday? I know where you went, but I want to hear it from your lips."
"I went home first, then I went to the National Neopian Museum, then I went home again, then I submitted my article to the Neopian Times, then I went to Brightvale University. After that I went home for the last time. Oh yeah, I had a friend analyse the contents of the hot chocolate that was offered to me. Magic-encrypted Sodium Thiopental, really? Did you really think that I would drink enough so that the drug would work on me and get me to talk? Also, since you may be wondering, it was me who was with Katie in the vaults, attacked one of your agents, and sounded the lockdown alarm."
"Traitorous fool!" she spat venomously.
"I have my loyalties, and from the beginning they never lay with you and your malevolent organization." Anger welled up inside her. "You think this all just a game, and it's only a matter of time before you use all of your own pawns to take down the pawns of others, and eventually the knights and bishops before you take the crown yourself. Believe it or not, once everyone finds out what you're really doing, everyone will be jumping to oppose you, even your own pawns whom you have manipulated, brainwashed, and kept in the dark. I won't let that happen. We won't let that happen. My infiltration was only to learn more about you so the Seekers can be rid of their name as cannon fodder, intellectuals who can't swing a sword, much less win the Obelisk. However, as I found out more I knew something was amiss, and boy was I right. I made it my job to not just find out what you were doing, but to stop you." Sierra balled up her paws into fists in her pockets, but shifted her balance to her other leg nonchalantly.
"It is for the benefit of Neopia!"
"World domination is not for the benefit or in the best interest of Neopia!"
She paused, the Duchess fuming yet still standing tall and poised with her head held high. Both of them said nothing, the tension rising between them. Sierra took her paws out of her pockets, pulled the ring off of her finger and tossed it to the Duchess' feet. The tinkling sound broke the silence as it echoed through the room.
To be continued...