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Salem of the Sway


by skittleskit09

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They… want control of the Seekers?” I followed closely behind Bee as she led me through the mansion. Both of our hoods were pulled up to shroud our faces in darkness and mystery. With the presence of an established Sway member making conversation with me, it was far easier for me to blend in and slip by without the misfortune of a prolonged glance giving me away.

     “Mhm. The Duchess wants the Seekers to join the Sway. Professor Lambert and yourself, specifically.” Bee’s tail smiled ravenously at Fae and myself, and I still wasn’t able to figure out if she could control it or if it had a consciousness of its own. “She was going to tell you all of this anyways, so I suppose there’s no harm in telling you now.”

     I pulled my cloak tighter around my body, keeping Fae more comfortable and hidden on the back of my neck. “But why?”

     “I don’t know. The Duchess has her reasons, and that’s all that matters.” Bee paused behind a corner, and after taking a quick peek, put her hand out to stop me from going forward. “Hang on,” she nipped, sounding less agitated with my presence and more serious. “He’s down there.”

     “Who?” I barely poked one eye next to Bee’s around the corner just in time to hear that familiar, guttural roar.

     “YOU!”

     My heart dropped into my stomach as soon as I caught sight of Salem, who had been in the process of interrogating another member of the Sway. He immediately started storming down the hall in our direction when he saw us. He was much slower than before, much more out of breath, but he still made his movements quick.

     It was over. It was the end. He had found me behind my disguise.

     “WHERE’S THE XWEETOK? YOU MUST HAVE SEEN HER!”

     Perhaps not.

     Bee angled herself in front of me in a way that kept me hidden in plain sight as the Krawk rounded the corner, panting the steam of rage and fatigue through his teeth and nostrils. Despite the fact that he towered over both of us, Bee lifted her head and angled her eyes in a way to stare at him under her snout. “Haven’t seen her,” she grunted in a monotone voice.

     Salem’s body fell into a shiver as his eyes darted from the Ogrin to the hint of a hood that he could barely see behind her. At first, I thought his trembling was out of rage, but his face was moulding into pure panic. He looked a lot more pitiful and desperate than before. It seemed so out of character from the fury I was used to. “W-Wait! You must have seen her somewhere! Please! A Cloud Xweetok with glasses; she had a Faellie with her!”

     “There you are, Salem.”

     The Krawk whipped around, feeling his face drain as suddenly as our own. Lord Norheim was gliding towards him, his hands tucked nicely behind his back. “The Duchess is looking for you.”

     Salem almost appeared to shrink where he stood. “I haven’t found her yet! The Duchess will be disappointed if I don’t-”

     “The Duchess is already disappointed. Livid, even. Unless you want to make her even more livid, I suggest that he hurry to her chamber. Now.”

     Salem swallowed his guilt and attempted to negotiate his way out of it, only for the tall shadow to cascade itself over him. Over all of us.

     “You’ve lost her.”

     I tucked myself farther behind Bee upon hearing the Duchess’s voice again. I had never been so close to her, and the genuine amount of anxiety that I felt in her very presence was almost paranormal.

     “I… uh…” Salem trembled even more, seeming like he was begging the ground to swallow him up. Meanwhile, the tall Lenny was glaring at him, like her eyes were made of fire and were bringing a melting point into his wax stature. But, finally, he swung his head down. “Y-Yes, ma’am.” We could see shivers riding up his back. “Sh-She went into the ventways! I wasn’t able to shift in time, and she got ahead of-”

     “You’ve never lost a chase, Salem. I’m almost impressed. The Xweetok is a quick and witty one.” The Duchess tapped a finger to the bottom of her beak, seemingly fascinated by my wit and energy. She didn’t even make eye contact with Salem again. “Dungeon.”

     “W-Wait! Please, Duchess! I’ll find her!” The Krawk threw his hands together in a beg, but it was no use. Six members of the Sway appeared behind her, emerging almost like ghosts from her ethereal form, and latched onto his arms. He was strong enough that two would be easy for him to break away from, but six proved to cause him difficulty. He squirmed in their grasp, not wanting to shift and defy the Duchess’s authority. “Just give me more time!”

     “I have given you all the time you need, and that time is up.” She popped her beak, causing Salem and I to both flinch in unison. I hoped that she didn’t notice. “Dwell on your inadequate performance within the cell that they chose for you. I will fetch you, when I feel that it is time.”

     The Krawk’s eyes glazed over as he submitted to the members pulling him towards the dungeon. “Yes, Duchess,” he whimpered out. “I’m sorry that I have failed you.”

     “Good.” The Duchess craned her long neck. “As you should be. Failure is not an option, my dear Salem. You know this, more than anyone.” With that, she began strutting back down the hallway, barely grazing the corner of her eye over Bee and I. It didn’t make sense to me that she was able to pass without recognizing me. She was the leader, the one that saw and knew everything that went on in Neopia, let alone in her mansion. Her ignorance didn’t feel right.

     Lord Norheim followed behind, turning in a way that allowed the candlelight to hit something on his belt. With quick precision, Bee’s suction cup finger lifted and attached to the keys, plucking them from his person and leaving him none the wiser. Then she turned to me and cocked her head towards the hallway that the members had taken Salem down. “They’re heading for the dungeon. That’s likely where Lambert is,” she whispered when she was positive that the Duchess was out of earshot. She placed the keys in my paw. “They’ll catch us if we just follow behind, but I know a different route we can take.”

     ****

     The dungeons were dark, damp, and dusty enough that almost all of the bedrock flooring was coated in a thick layer of light brown. A colony of Barbats and Batterflies squeaked in a choral number in response to every noise that echoed through the area, while Psimice below were scurrying around on the ground, looking for food and warmth.

     Professor Lambert sat quietly within his own cell, doing what he could to remain in a state of optimism as his fingers tampered with the lock outside the bars. He was not well versed in picking locks, especially considering he had only a small piece of wire to experiment with, but the clicks within told him that he was making the slightest bit of progress. “Come on. Come on,” he sighed to himself as his face scrunched up in concentration.

     Just as a light of hope was starting to bubble up in his chest, the dungeon doors opened, forcing him to abandon his escape mission and scoot to the back of the cell to avoid being caught.

     Roars erupted into echos of chaos. Now being out of the Duchess’s presence, Salem had resorted back to a struggle against the ones that held him captive. He had shifted to a Magma colour in hopes of burning the members, but they seemingly wore protective gloves for such a reason. They were used to this. They were used to moving quickly and tossing him into the first cell they could reach before he turned to a different colour to aid his escape, and that cell happened to hold the professor within.

     “NO! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! GIVE ME MORE TIME!” Salem went into a frenzy at the very instant the cell door shut in on him. Roars erupted from his throat as he pulled hard enough at the bars that he was able to lift his legs off of the ground and push them on as well. His orb flashed through colour after colour, warping him from Darigan to Robot to Wraith to Zombie in an effort to see if any of them would give him the strength to bust free. He wasn’t even able to slip through with Ghost or Water, as the cell was built to contain every variant.

     Lambert watched with surprise and pity in his wide eyes as the Krawk punched and rammed his shoulders into the cell until he couldn’t do it anymore. His claws fell away from the bars they grasped and let him retreat to the back wall, where he fell into a squat in the corner and curled himself into a ball. Even from across the room, the professor could see him shivering and struggling to keep it together. He couldn’t keep silent anymore. He couldn’t sit and watch his son panic, no matter how dangerous he might be. The professor rose to his feet, careful not to let the rubber under his soles make a single noise as he approached from behind.

     “Stay away.”

     The professor paused mid-stride. “What?”

     Salem’s shoulders rose up to the sides of his head as he tucked his claws underneath his armpits. “P-Please stay away..”

     Lambert pursed his lips and placed a hand on the side of the wall. He stayed where he stood, not wanting to make the Krawk more anxious by approaching further or overstepping his boundary, but even staying still was enough to make Salem whip his head around and gnash his teeth. A vile hiss rose from his throat as he did all in his power to intimidate Lambert, only to lock eyes with him and realize that the Gnorbu hadn’t even flinched. He almost seemed to melt a little when his threats had no effect. Steam flowed out of his nose and his eyebrows knit themselves together. “W-What are you doing?”

     The eyes of the Gnorbu blinked with confusion. “I… I don’t believe I’m doing anything.”

     This time Salem lunged his head forward and snapped his teeth, barely missing the hem of the Professor’s coat in his powerful jaws. Still, no sign of fear or even a hint of shock came from Lambert. He just eyed the Krawk with sympathy.

     “Why aren’t you screaming? Or jumping? Or running away from me like everyone else?” He slightly stuck his tongue through his teeth as his voice rose to a slight yell. “Why aren’t you acting afraid?”

     “I’m not afraid of you,” Lambert nearly whispered and tilted his head.

     Salem released a low growl that vibrated the cell around him. “Why not? You should be!” He swayed his tail to wrap nervously around his bare feet. “I-I’m… I’m not some innocent baby Krawk you found in Faerieland! You know what this thing is capable of!” He grasped his orb with one hand. “You know what I’m capable of!”

     Lambert pulled his head back. His ears nearly drooped to the floor like droplets of thick honey. “You… remember who I am?”

     Salem moved his head slightly, allowing him to lock eyes with him again. He remembered every second, and Lambert could see it in the slits of his pupil. He remembered when was found and who he was found by; when the professor was fulfilling a favor for King Hagan and stumbled across the lone baby crying behind a tree. He remembered being picked up and held close as the Gnorbu searched for a possible family that was looking for him. He remembered the comfort and warmth that he felt as Lambert took him to the headquarters and kept him under his wing. He remembered hugging him, calling him Father, and the smile that the professor would produce when he did, even on his most stressful of days. He remembered it all, and even after so many years he could recognize his father like the back of his claw.

     The professor could see tears welling up in the yellow eyes before they were yanked out of his sight in an attempt to hide them. “P-Please, just stay away. I don’t want you to g-get hurt.” His strong, raspy voice came out like a whimper. “I’m a monster, now.”

     “You’re not a monster.”

     The Krawk was taken aback by how sternly and seriously Lambert’s voice came out. The Gnorbu stood up straighter and radiated with sorrow.

     “You’re my son.”

     Salem kept his snout facing the wall and his back to Lambert. He wanted to look at him, but he just couldn’t. It was like an invisible chain shackled his nose in place. He sat in silence, letting Lambert’s words buzz around and further moisten his tear ducts, until he couldn’t hold them back anymore. He broke, and he broke hard; as though he had been holding back those tears for decades. Each salty drop from his eyes ached Lambert’s own heart. Salem choked on his own tears as he wiped them off of his face with his forearm and finally pried his eyes away from the wall to look over his shoulder. “Th-The Duchess… says… y-you’re n-not to be t-t-trusted…”

     “And what do you say?” Lambert’s eyes were soft and kind as he held his arms out, nonverbally begging his son to run into them.

     Salem’s lip quivered. He held his body even tighter between his arms. He was questioning everything behind each teardrop. But, within the blink of an eye, the Krawk stood to his feet, bolted over to Lambert, and threw his arms around him. The Gnorbu almost fell over from the force that Salem collided with him. More tears sprang forth as he buried his face in Lambert’s shoulder, dampening the fabric he wore, but the professor didn’t mind one bit. His own tears moistened his cheeks as he wrapped his own arms around the whimpering Krawk. “Oh, my son,” he whispered with the biggest smile plastered on his lips. “I’ve missed you so much.”

To be continued…

 
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