Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 194,201,542 Issue: 746 | 26th day of Hiding, Y18
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The Price of Greatness: Part Two


by xxskyisfallingxx

--------

      Marvin looks appalled when he returns to find you feeding your new Weewoo straight from the olive jar. His persistent yelling scares the bird into hiding under your bed. It takes ten minutes and half of your doughnutfruit sandwich to coax him back into the open. In the end, Marvin volunteers to be the Weewoo's permanent caretaker.

      "You should name him," he prompts, scratching the Weewoo's head affectionately.

      You look up from the remains of your sandwich to observe your new petpet. The Weewoo has settled down into Marvin's lap and is cooing appreciatively.

      "Bob."

      "Bob?" Marvin raises an eyebrow. "Come on, be serious."

      "I am serious," you prepare to take another bite of your sandwich. "What's wrong with Bob?"

      "It just doesn't seem... fitting for a Weewoo," Marvin tries to explain. "What about Snowy? Or Cloud?"

      "Snowy is fine," you relent.

      Truth be told, you're relieved that Marvin has taken over the care of your new petpet. Your brain is already filled with so many mysterious wizardly things that you're not sure if there would be room for Weewoo Care 101.

      "Sir Thanksalot will be joining us soon," you mention nonchalantly.

      Marvin looks up in surprise. "Here? I thought he hated the beach."

      "That's what you thought about me as well," you point out.

      "In that case, I was right," Marvin retorts sharply, dropping his head into his hands. "Why is it that every time I get the chance to have a vacation, it gets ruined by killjoys?"

      "I'm not sure," you reply coolly. "But if I spot any of these killjoys, I'll be sure to ask them."

      Oh boy, you are on fire today. These witticisms and snarky comments are really hitting their mark.

      "Sulker," Marvin's voice strays dangerously close to a whine. "I'm being serious!"

      "So am I," you respond without missing a beat.

      A flash of hurt crosses Marvin's face before he spins on his heel and stomps out.

      The twinge in your gut tells you that you will come to regret this moment. It's not often that you take a joke too far, and apologies have never been your forte. You have been informed by your peers on several occasions that such sentimental nonsense is beneath a wizard of your status. Despite this, you silently promise to make it up to Marvin somehow.

      "What's up with him?"

      Two lightly-armoured 'pets are standing in the doorway, gazing after your acquaintance with concern. The haste of their arrival is unexpected. You recognise the blue Lupe immediately as Sir Thanksalot, but you're having difficulty remembering the name of the red Draik. Eridor? Corridor? Something about doors, anyway.

      "Just let him be," you mumble, not in the mood to discuss your latest social faux pas. "What are you doing here already? I only got your letter a couple of hours ago."

      "A couple of hours?" Thanksalot repeats, surprise colouring his features. "I sent it two weeks ago."

      "That doesn't make any sense," you cross your arms suspiciously. "How could you have known two weeks ago that I was coming here?"

      "Weewoos have mysterious powers," Thanksalot taps the side of his nose knowingly. "But really, Sulker, it was no secret. The idea of you holidaying here was the talk of the town from the moment you agreed to it."

      You're not sure what to make of this, so you just nod. "Don't they have anything better to do than gossip about me?"

      "Evidently not," the Draik pipes up with a short bark of laughter. "Shall I bring our bags inside, sir?"

      "Good idea, Eridor," Thanksalot approves. "Once you've done that, we can get started."

      "Started?" you ask sharply.

      You've come to appreciate the knight's crazy schemes, but you prefer to know what you're getting into before he lands all of you in hot water.

      "I hope you don't mind," Sir Thanksalot smiles apologetically. "There's a rather important assignment of the magical variety that has cropped up, and we're here to deal with it."

      "Well, I do mind," you snap irritably. "At this rate, I'm going to be kicked out of a room that I paid for. Now I have no choice but to get involved in your meddlesome plots. So thanks a lot, Thanksalot!"

      "It won't be that bad," the knight asserts earnestly. "We could really use your expertise, Sulker."

      Eridor barges back in through the front door and deposits their bags in the corner. He grins at you before saluting Sir Thanksalot.

      "Ready when you are, sir!"

      "Let's go then," Sir Thanksalot returns the salute cheerfully. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us, Sulker the Great?"

      You sigh. At 700 years old, you have to consider that you might be getting too old for this. Or was it 750? It's been so long that you can never quite remember, and there's no way in Neopia that you'd bother counting the candles on your last birthday cake. Everything is changing around you and, as distasteful as it may sometimes seem, you’ll need to adapt if you want to keep your place in the world.

      A spark of curiosity awakens within you, steadying your resolve.

      "Sure, why not?"

***

      The irrepressible knight and his laid-back companion take the lead on the lengthy trek across the beach. The monotony of the excursion is broken only by Thanksalot's insistences that you must be getting close now.

      Suddenly, Eridor raises his arm and points across the water. "It's over there somewhere."

      You squint to catch a glimpse of your mysterious quarry but, as far as you can tell, there's nothing to see.

      "Alright," Sir Thanksalot nods with grim determination, as though his worst fears have been confirmed. "We'll take a boat and see how far out it is."

      "A boat?" you spit in disgust.

      "Yes, a boat," Sir Thanksalot rolls his eyes. "We need to scout the area."

      "You are welcome to do as you please," you grind out. "Whereas I will return to the hut."

      Faster than lightning, Sir Thanksalot grabs your arm. His pleading eyes speak volumes about the gravity of the situation.

      "Please come with us, Sulker. It's urgent!"

      You stare him down, gazing into the very depths of his soul for any trace of deception. It comes as a surprise when you find him to be sincere.

      "What could possibly be so urgent that you find it necessary to drag me out there on the most unseaworthy contraption you can find. And," you grumble for emphasis, "crease my best robes in the process?"

      Thanksalot gazes down at the fistful of your robes that he's clutching in one paw. He drops them instantly, then proceeds to awkwardly pat down the wrinkles.

      "Sorry," he winces as he steps back. "It's just..."

      He pauses under the weight of your piercing glare, as if he is uncertain how to proceed. Intimidation is a subtle art and you are relieved that the nuances of its execution have not escaped you yet.

      "You are a great wizard," Thanksalot ventures hesitantly.

      "Clue's in the name," you mutter in reply.

      He nods and swallows hard. "But you haven't used magic at all since we've been here."

      The bold statement makes you cringe inwardly. You aren't as young as you used to be, and it's been getting progressively harder to reach into the flow of magic. Admitting to this seems like a sign of weakness you can't afford to have.

      "I wouldn't want to scare the mortals," you attempt to deflect attention away from yourself. "And besides, I did use magic. There was a guy in the reception office–"

      "Those were party tricks," Thanksalot interrupts. "I'm talking about real magic."

      All the clever words seem to vanish from your mind when you hear this statement.

      "Think about it," Sir Thanksalot urges. "The flow of magic is getting harder to sense, isn't it? Casting spells is starting to take more effort."

      Your mouth feels suddenly dry. With silent dread, you nod. "How did you–"

      "Because I felt the change too," Eridor speaks up reluctantly. "Magic is being drained away by something big. Something powerful."

      "Eridor is a mage," Thanksalot takes up the narrative when he notices your confusion. "Very sensitive to magic's ebb and flow. Based on his observations, we have tracked the source to a location near here. It seems to be at its strongest in the sea."

      You raise an eyebrow dubiously. "So what you're saying is that there's an underwater... thing... stealing everyone's magic?"

      "I know it's hard to believe," Thanksalot acknowledges grimly, "but that's about the size of it. When we find it, the evidence will speak for itself."

      You take a moment to mull over your answer. A small part of you rejoices that you now have a scapegoat for your faltering grip on magic. Anyone tampering with its natural flow deserves to be held accountable, according to your standards, and you're fairly sure that most other Neopians would feel the same way. It wouldn't be wise to let your acquaintances hold all the cards though, so you decide to play this one casually.

      "It is possible," you stroke your beard thoughtfully. "But frankly, the whole idea of investigating is ludicrous. I don't fancy a jaunt in this bathtub."

      You kick the disintegrating boat that Thanksalot has selected for good measure.

      "Like I said," he attempts to placate you. "It's just a scouting trip. We want to find the general location today, and then maybe try diving for it tomorrow."

      "Diving?" you pull a face.

      Being underwater is number two on the list of experiences you never want to repeat, filed right between challenging Dr. Sloth and getting a root canal.

      "Relax," Eridor tries to reassure you. "We'll get a professional to look at it first thing tomorrow morning."

      "Who is it going to be this time?" you groan. "The resort is starting to become far too domestic for my liking."

      Thanksalot and Eridor share an amused glance.

      " Agent 750."

      To be continued…

 
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