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Salem of the Sway


by skittleskit09

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Once morning arrived, the journey began. We made sure to pack all of the essentials that we felt we would, as well as dress with full coverage to protect us from Moltara’s heat. Mr. Bite was adamant that he come with us, and was further adamant that Lambert and I take the lead when it came to directions. He seemed to be somewhat entertained as he watched the two of us follow Cloven’s instructions to a tee, and I didn’t understand why he had no intention of helping us figure it out. He just grinned at us from behind, like a parent Neopet watching a baby Neopet figure out something that they already knew.

But, through the whirring of ash and machinery, we arrived before a large jet mansion adorned with volcanic gemstones. I couldn’t believe how shiny and beautiful it was, and though I knew that our intentions were Sway related, I couldn’t help but feel excited to see the interior.

Lambert was first in our lineup as we made our way to the large front door, followed by myself and of course Mr. Bite in the very back. The professor’s ears perked up as his attention fell upon the doorbell that he wasn’t supposed to ring. “Ready?”

I nodded. Mr. Bite didn’t respond.

The professor took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s go.” His hoof gently rapped on the door three times. He could hear the way that the sound echoed through the mansion from behind the door.

“Coming!” a high-pitched voice called from within. Barely a moment passed before the large door was opened and a Silver Uni appeared in the entrance. With the way that her fur reflected the lava and molten rock around her, her coat almost looked Magma-coloured. Her smile was wide and somewhat off-putting as she beamed it at them. “Hello there!” She tapped her hoof on the door and pushed it open wider. “Come inside! Make yourself at home!”

Despite the scepticism that she didn’t even ask who they were or what their business was, Lambert led us within the abode and the Uni took a moment to check outside before closing and locking the door behind us. The inside was just as beautiful as the outside with dark walls and gemstones adorning many surfaces. Said gemstones gave a warm glow around the vicinity, allowing shadows to be cast all around that made the unlit areas appear even darker.

“Welcome to the house of Cloven. May I take your coats?” The Uni somehow smiled even wider, causing Lambert and I to feel even more uneasy.

I cast my eyes to my notepad for a second as Fae hid in the hood of my Brightvale cloak. “N-No thank you. We would like to keep them on.” I spoke up quickly and jumped at the way my voice echoed.

“Very well. May I get you something to eat?” she asked, following her script perfectly.

I ruffled my cloudy fur as I looked back down. “Y-Yes, please. Could we have Spaghetti Soup topped with Wasabi and… uh…” One more glance at my notepad. My throat was tight as I relayed the code. “...Asparagus with a slice of Yeasty Bread?”

“Of course.” The Uni’s half-lidded her eyes. “Follow me.”

She took a moment to shut any nearby blinds before leading them away from the front entrance and to the very back of the mansion, where a large black staircase was located. The side of it was embedded with a massive bookshelf that was almost as big as the ones in the Seekers’ library. The Uni began fiddling with a few of the books, rearranging specific ones into specific empty spots before pushing them fully against the back of the shelf. My large ears twitched as buttons clicked and a conglomerate of gears turned slightly with each book. As the final book was placed in its spot, the staircase itself began to shift and lift from its base, revealing an additional staircase descending into a dimly lit passageway. We were blind to what lay at the end.

“Go forth. Perhaps the Duchess will go easy on your tardiness.” The Uni’s face fell into a sneer.

Lambert and I both froze. “Tardiness?” He choked out.

“All members of the Sway were instructed to be here upon the start of the initiation. It’s almost over, and you lot are not in your places or even in your ceremonial garbs.”

“O-Oh.” Lambert looked to me with a hint of nervousness gleaming in his glasses. “My apologies, we were held up with additional… uh… Sway business.”

“Don’t beg for my mercy. You should be at the Duchess’s feet on your hands and knees. She’ll see to it, I’m sure.” The Uni shook her head with disappointment. “But never you mind. Perhaps she’ll brush it aside if you get there before the ceremony ends. I doubt it, of course. However, the more time you waste, the heavier your punishment shall be.”

The professor swallowed hard. “Y-Yes, our mistake.” With a deep breath, he made his way down the stairs. I stayed as close to his heels as I could, growing even more anxious as the darkness enveloped my mentor with each step down.

Mr. Bite hovered for a moment at the top step, eyeing the Uni in the corner of his vision. He slipped one claw into his pocket and barely lifted his ring out of his pocket for her to see. “You didn’t check if they had rings. You can’t let anyone in without a ring,” he breathed through his teeth.

The Uni pointed a hoof to the ceiling, near which a lone Crokabek was perched on a gemstone statue and watching us descend. “She has her orders, and I follow them without question.” She shifted her wings as she made her way back over to the bookshelf. “Best get a move on. She’s expecting them”

With a smirk, Mr. Bite hurried after us down the stairs as soon as the Uni relocated the books and shut the secret entrance. The long passage got even darker when it shut, but they were lucky to have torches somewhat lighting their way as they slowly and quietly crept along for what felt like hours.

Eventually, after a trip that felt like hours, a light could be seen slipping around all four edges of what looked to be the outline of a door. Voices could just faintly be heard from the other side, so Lambert took a moment to peek through one of the cracks before opting to push it open. It led into another mansion, perhaps even a castle by the looks of the structure. Paintings and candles caked the stone walls in a fiery artistic flair, and a grand fireplace on the opposing wall gave it an even grander feel. Lambert could faintly see another doorway, in which a large collection of cloaked Neopets were congregated and chanting in a language of their own. There would be no way to traverse the headquarters without being spotted by at least a dozen members, but as Lambert cast his eye around the area, it fell upon a few ceremonial cloaks hung on a rack near their hiding place. Perhaps belonging to a few members that were unable to make it, or that were removed from the society, one way or another. Lambert moved at lightning speed as his arm slipped out and grabbed three. “Here, put these on,” he whispered to us. “We’ll do our best to blend in.”

“Professor Lambert,” Mr. Bite chattered as he pulled his own cloak on. “Perhaps you and Chainlitz should slip into the ceremonial hall and scope it out. I will head elsewhere and try to find the crown, while the Sway is preoccupied.” One of his ears flicked as Munkustrap adjusted himself to sit upon the cloak. The movements seemed instinctual to me, but I paid it no mind.

“A-Are you sure?” I whispered as my own Petpet crawled into my hood to sit on the back of my own shoulders. “What if you get caught?”

“Believe me, I won’t.” Mr. Bite stepped in front of Lambert to place his claw on the door. “I can be quiet as a Miamouse, and I’m sure I can find my way around this place, just fine.”

Mr. Bite pushed the door open as Lambert and I finalized our disguises. He took care to make as little noise as possible. We were thankful that the door didn’t make a creak loud enough to give it away, but the Sway was all about remaining behind the scenes. It made sense that it was easy to slip in and out without drawing attention.

“Come, now. Quickly.” The Werebuzz held open the door for Lambert and I to follow, then closed the door as gently as he could and beelined into the other direction without a single look back. He walked with purpose, and every step made me more and more suspicious that he had an alternative goal in mind. But we didn’t have time to dwell on it. The professor and I held our tongues as we tiptoed over to the other cloaked figures and did our best to blend into their circle formation without drawing attention to ourselves. Thankfully, as far as I could tell, every cloaked face seemed so fixated on the ceremony itself and the words that they were chanting that they didn’t even notice us.

A hooded Lupe stood above a ritualistic altar within the swirl of Sway members, clutching a staff in his pat that he held over the head of another cloaked figure knelt before him. A thin, dark blue and pink striped tail swished on the ground behind them, ending in a green flytrap-like appendage with its own set of lips and teeth. It licked over them once in a while, as though hungry for a treat or even a living creature to fill its belly.

The Lupe raised his free paw up, prompting the other to raise their own. “You must take the three vows to join our society and become one of us. Breaking any of these vows will result in suspension and further punishment that the Duchess deems fit. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” The kneeling figure had a very high-pitched voice that was very determined and serious in tone. She delivered her words like she was reciting memorized lines in a play. Oh, how I wanted to document the entire showing. An initiation ceremony produced by the Sway was truly an experience I never expected to have, and it took every amount of self-control I had to not pull out my notebook and write down every detail. It was so fascinating, but I took heed in maintaining my composure and disguise.

“The Vow of Secrecy. You will tell no other Neopet of the Sway’s existence, or your involvement. Not even your family and friends may know. The Sway is now your friends and your family, from this point on. Do you take this vow?”

“Yes,” the initiate said.

“The Vow of Loyalty. You are ever loyal to the Sway and you are ever loyal to the Duchess. Her word is revered and her plans are just. You are her eyes and her eyes only. Do you take this vow?”

“Yes.”

“The Vow of Order. You will bring order to disorder from the veil of the shadows, even at the cost of others. The Sway means peace and The Sway means control. You will uphold these values as a member of our society. Do you take this vow?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.” The Lupe stood up straighter and lifted his staff a bit higher, prompting the initiate to rise to her feet. “Be joyful, all who witness, as the Sway has chosen and welcomed in a new member to our congregation!” he shouted out to the rest. “Now, bring forth the ring.”

Another cloaked figure resembling a Yurble scurried forward to bestow a box holding one of the signature “S” rings to the Lupe before submitting back to their spot. Upon receiving said box, the Lupe opened it and held it out for the initiate to take. She practically snatched it out of the box with excitement, but kept her composure as she slipped the ring over one of her dark pink digits and held it out to further examine it as it shimmered in the candlelight.

“You are now a member of the Sway. Welcome.”

“Welcome, indeed,” cooed a mysterious yet beautiful voice behind the Lupe.

Every cloaked figure turned to the hallway just behind the Lupe, from which a hidden door embedded in the stone wall creaked open for three tall silhouettes to emerge from the darkness. The tallest resided in the middle, craning high enough that she needed to duck her thin neck to fit through the doorway. The other two, while smaller, rose about up to her shoulders, and while one seemed to hold himself in a calm and collected manner, the other growled and shook like a wild Werelupe itching for a bite. They hissed at nearby Sway members and only stopped when the one in front gave them a subtle glare from the corner of her eye.

As they approached, the subtle ringing of chains could be heard chiming in sync with the footsteps of the cloaked figure that growled behind the tallest. It pierced my eardrums, perhaps Lambert’s more than mine. I could feel his muscles tense up in his body without even needing to place a paw on his shoulder. I had never seen such a complex array of emotions on his face before. He was recalling his notes, recalling the chains that were whistled by King Hagan in the night. He knew what it meant, he knew who was enveloped in those chains, and it pained him worse than not knowing.

The middle figure pulled off her hood to reveal the stern-faced leader of the Sway. The Duchess, clad in authority and majesty, stood with her grey hair tied up nicely and her threatening beak lifted high in eternal disapproval. She lightly ruffled her purple feathers as the two behind her also pulled their hoods down. The left was moustached and bearded Nimmo with a rather snooty expression taped to his face, while the other was our suspect with his scales blue and unpainted by magic.

“Salem,” Lambert breathed out inaudibly, unable to fight back a few escaping tears as he watched his son hiss and spit behind the Duchess. The tears darkened the fur under his eyes and swung beneath his glasses like clear marbles of emotion. His heart was shattering into a million pieces where he stood. “It really is you.”

The Duchess lifted her beak even higher and brought her wings up with it. “Welcome all to the ceremony. Welcome our new member, Ms. Bee.” She nodded her head to the initiate as three eyes blinked at her in wonder. “Welcome members, new and old. And most importantly…” She smacked her beak together, creating an echoey pop. “...Welcome Professor Lambert, the leader of the Seekers, and Chainlitz, his dear apprentice.”

Our hearts stopped as hundreds of eyes bore into us like hot irons, the eyes of the Duchess being the hottest of all. All moisture evaporated from our throats to prevent us from even pulling down a nervous swallow. I felt Fae go tense against the back of my neck and joined us in not moving a muscle. The hands of an unseen member pulled back our hoods, allowing our faces to be scanned and recognized by everyone.

Including Salem, whose eyes were locked upon his father.

The sophisticated purple Lenny popped her beak again. “We’ve been expecting you both for quite some a while. It was only a matter of time before Cloven told you the location of one of our secret entrances. As he was instructed to do, of course.” Her tight mouth pulled into a slight smile that seemed abnormal and uncanny upon her face. “Now, come this way. It is time that we take care of business, in our own way.”

Before Lambert and I could even think about running back to the secret entrance, two Sway members were at our sides, holding us tightly by the arms. They led us across the room, practically pushing us almost hard enough that Lambert tripped a little.

“Chainlitz,” he whispered to me.

My ears twitched in his direction. Neither of us made eye contact, hoping that the Duchess or our captors would not notice our secret conversation.

“Walk as slow as you can and distance yourself from me. I will try to create a distraction.” His pear-shaped nostrils flared. “When I do, make a run for it. Don’t take me with you, just slip away.”

My wide eyes widened even wider. “B-But…”

“Slip away and find Mr. Bite if you can, then the both of you get back to Brightvale and back to safety. I don’t know what the Duchess has in mind, but I can guarantee that it isn’t good.”

“W-What? No way! I’m not leaving you here!”

“You are far quicker and lighter on your feet than I am. I’ve seen you climb up the library shelves and slip around with the most silent paws I have ever heard. I am not graced with that level of agility, but as long as you find your way out, I’ll find my own way out.”

“Absolutely not.” Lambert was almost shocked by the sternness in my voice. “I’m not leaving this mansion unless you’re right behind me, sir. End of story. I’ll find some way to get you out. Leave it to me.”

Lambert remained silent for a moment before finally blowing out a sigh. “You’re a wonderful apprentice, dear Chainlitz.”

I hid the corner of my mouth as it pulled into a smirk. “Thank you, sir.”

Though in opposition, I did what I could to walk slower than Lambert and hold my captors back just enough that I was a few feet behind him. Lambert kept the corner of his eye locked on me until we had exited the ceremonial hall and entered another decorated hallway, and when he deemed us far enough from the other members, he made a move and slammed his shoulder against one of the members holding his arms. They instantly tumbled to the floor, drawing the attention of the Duchess and the other members around us. It also shocked the members that held my arms just enough that I could feel their grip loosen, and as soon as it did, I yanked my body back and slipped perfectly out of her grasp.

The Duchess flung her head in my direction and pierced me with her stare as I took off down the hallway at lightning speed. She didn’t seem flabbergasted at all, only angry. “How dare you let her escape!” Her angry breaths came in heavy like an agitated beast, more irritated with the Sway members than anything. But she still held herself like everything was in control, especially as she turned to Salem. “Get her!”

Lambert’s body went cold as the Sway members detained him with even more effort. “No!” he shouted, but it was already too late. Salem’s orb glowed as purple as the Duchess’s feathers and he let out a vile roar as his wings catapulted him in my direction.

To be continued…

 
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