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A Most Vexing Mystery

by pikapi20


Part One: Stop Ignoring My Scrolls!

     Soaring high through the cloudless skies of the Kingdom of Meridell, a one Darigan Uni-drawn open carriage travelled at great speed over the patchwork of farmland and forests below towards the white stone walls of Meridell Castle in the distance. Kept stable in midair by the smallest of enchantments, the violet-painted wooden exterior of the vehicle was topped by a brass banding which - alongside the rivets that held it in place - gleamed in the bright, late morning sunlight. Sat amongst a deep crimson velvety interior, the owner of the carriage wasn't used to this level of light. That, though, was the least of Master Vex's concerns.

     Holding the bridge of his nose with a gloved paw, the Purple Mynci wracked his brains. In the years since the second - and so far last - of the wars between Meridell and the Darigan Citadel, Lord Darigan had made him an Emissary - of sorts - to their neighbours. Whenever tensions flared between the two realms, his master trusted him and his strategic nous to quickly alleviate any potential misunderstandings and minor misdemeanours. It was a role Vex relished now that his dungeons lay half empty in these times of peace. Until a wave of angry scrolls had arrived in his quarters over the past day or so that is. Direct from King Skarl himself.

     Vex sighed heavily before leaning back. It was no good. The Blue Skeith had repeatedly demanded his presence in increasingly angry rhetoric without alluding to exactly why. And no matter how much the Purple Mynci thought about it, he just couldn't come up with an answer. Something had clearly bothered the King. You don't send scrolls in all caps for no reason. Catching sight of his companion in the corner of his right eye, it was at that moment the Emissary remembered that he wasn't travelling alone. Embarrassed at being lost in his own thoughts for so long, he offered apologetically, "I appreciate the company, my Lord, but it was not necessary. I'm sure you have far more pressing matters to attend to on the Citadel."

     "Not at all, Vex," Lord Darigan responded calmly, aware of his associate's propensity to overthink situations. It was another reason why the Korbat had chosen the Jailer to be his Emissary. The Meridellians were... unpredictable. Their King in particular. He needed somepet like Vex to handle their whims otherwise it would be all he ever did. This though seemed serious. Or at least Skarl's reaction had been. Which was all that really mattered. "Skarl has no right to demand anything from my denizens," he spoke softly, reassuring his ally, "and I will not stand idly by while he harasses members of my court. I'm sure Galgarroth will have everything under control until I return."

     The Purple Mynci felt slightly more at ease. As the carriage gradually descended towards the verdant greenery below, he watched as the tops of the rolling hills drifted by like emerald clouds bobbing along the expansive horizon. Thinking this might be his last opportunity to pick his master's brain before they arrived at their upcoming destination, the Emissary couldn't help but query, "What on Neopia do you think this could all pertain to, Sire?"

     "Knowing Skarl," Darigan frowned, "just about anything could elicit such a reaction."

     "Quite true," Vex mumbled to himself.

     Approaching the resplendent Meridell Castle from the air, Vex averted his brown eyes to avoid being dazzled by the sunlight reflecting from the structure's pristine white stonework. Looking instead over the brass banding of his carriage towards the grounds leading up to the Moat, the Purple Mynci was perplexed. Large groups of peasants seemed to be gathered around. He could only frown. Clearly, it wasn't just King Skarl that had been bothered by something. The whole Kingdom was on edge.


     A still silence filled the Great Hall of Meridell Castle, its unwelcome presence permeating the very stonework that lay at the Kingdom's heart. Ordinarily, the grand blue and red tapestries that hung along the two grey stone walls flanking King Skarl's Throne bore witness to the sort of hustle and bustle or political intrigue that was all too familiar for any vibrant royal court. This morning though they looked down upon a far more melancholic sight. Sat alone atop his wooden Throne and its gold leaf detailing, the Blue Skeith was beside himself. And a large pile of food his Cook had just delivered. Grabbing his umpteenth drumstick of the day so far, he heartily tucked in once more.

     Not a moment later, the large wooden doors at the opposite end of the Hall swung open with an almighty creaking sound that reverberated down the chamber and interrupted the King's latest snack. Looking up, Skarl could see one of his golden armour-clad Personal Guards striding towards him with purpose. First saluting his master, the Green Skeith then kneeled before his sovereign and declared so loud even the Crokabeks on the Castle's roof could hear, "As requested my King, Master Vex of the Darigan Citadel is here to see you."

     "Very good," Skarl almost smiled, returning to his drumstick.

     His Green Skeith gulped.

     "He is accompanied... by... uh..."

     The Guardsman had lost his nerve.

     "...Lord Darigan of the Darigan Citadel."

     Skarl's eyes widened. "W-what?!" he blurted out, almost choking on his food. Before he could flash a glare at his cowardly Guardsman, the Green Skeith had already scarpered through a side door. Instead, the King could see both Lord Darigan and Master Vex making their way down the blue and red carpet of the Great Hall towards him. "Darigan!" the Blue Skeith growled, jumping up from his wooden Throne but making a point not to walk down the stone steps that led to it. Such greetings were reserved for invited guests only. His counterpart's behaviour was... unorthodox. As usual.

     "Skarl," the Korbat spoke as he and his ally came to a standstill, "A pleasure as always."

     "Hmph. Likewise," was the muttered response, Skarl more occupied with replacing his drumstick atop his overflowing pile of food and straightening out his white trimmed, red velvet robe than needless pleasantries. Vex too was distracted. In times past when the Purple Mynci had visited, the Great Hall had been full of courtiers. That day there wasn't even a solitary Jester telling terrible jokes. Now he was the one on edge. "Given your presence here," the King addressed his former rival directly, desperate to get to the point and back to his latest meal, "I'm going to assume you know why I summoned your Emissary."

     Darigan narrowed his yellow eyes. "No, I do not." Skarl was taken aback but did his best not to show it. "So please," the Ruler countered, as politely as he could, "enlighten the both of us."

     "By all means," the King grumbled to himself before clearing his throat and bellowing, "Sir Jeran of Borodere, Champion of the Kingdom of Meridell and my most trusted advisor, has been absent without leave from his post at the Castle since the evening before last." It was Darigan's turn to be taken aback. That was quite an accusation to make. Abandoning your position in such a manner was a treasonous offence in both of their realms. Something that could send a pet on a one-way trip to their respective dungeons. The anger he detected in his former rival's words though didn't seem to be aimed at the dark blue Lupe. "He was last spotted on the southern edge of the Lightwater For-"

     "And let me guess," the Korbat interrupted, further incensing the Blue Skeith, "you suspect the responsibility lies with one of my denizens." Skarl scowled, crossing his arms as he refused to deny the accusation. Darigan matched his expression, though tried to remain as composed as he could given the circumstances. Despite the history between the two realms, he had nothing but respect for Jeran. He admired the pup's honour. Not to mention the role he played in bringing down his usurper. Crossing his own arms atop his flowing black gown, he insisted, "I assure you, no-pet on my Citadel would dare threaten our peace treaty with such an act."

     "It wouldn't be the first time a member of your court has gone rogue," the King snapped back.

     His counterpart growled, "Nor yours."

     "Your Majesty!" interjected Vex loudly with a deferential bow, ending the staring contest between the two heads of state before it had truly begun, "I am sure that if you allow me to coordinate a response to this matter with your Royal Wizard then we will have your Champion back by the day's end." In much the same way his master had designated the Purple Mynci as his go-to Emissary for dealing with Meridellian matters, Lisha had made more than one trip to the Citadel under similar circumstances. Indeed, Vex had struck up something of a friendship with the Yellow Aisha. Mainly over Cellblock and NeoQuest I.

     "I'm afraid that won't be possible," Skarl responded, somewhat dejectedly.

     "And why is that?" Darigan pried.

     "Lady Lisha is away on family matters in Central Neopia," the Blue Skeith snorted at his tone, "and my men have yet to get word to her of her brother's disappearance." Mainly because the battalion he had sent on that mission had got lost in the forest whilst attempting to locate the timewarp that would send them to present-day Neopia. But his former rival didn't need to know about that. Nor the second battalion he had sent to try and find them.

     "Convenient," the Korbat muttered under his breath, suspecting an inside job.

     The Emissary persisted. "Your Royal Elixirist, then, Sire?"

     "As soon as I was informed of this matter," Skarl shook his head whilst elaborating, "I sent Lady Kayla to Brightvale to liaise with my brother." His shoulders sank as he sighed and picked up his drumstick from earlier on. "This may shock you, Darigan, but my first thoughts were not that one of your pets was responsible for Sir Jeran's disappearance. There are bandit groups that operate on the borders of Meridell and Brightvale so I reasoned that perhaps they had expanded their area of influence towards the Lightwater Forest. Alas, Hagan's forces have yet to find the merest hint of our Champion on their side nor mine on ours."

     Darigan's expression softened. "I empathise with your situation, Skarl," he spoke warmly, catching his counterpart off guard, "Truly. But I have to insist - no-pet on the Citadel knows what has happened to your Champion."



     A cooling breeze whipped through the wildflower meadows that marked the southern boundary of the Lightwater Forest, their resident daisies and bluebells merrily dancing along to the tune that the wind played for them through the long grass. A well-trodden path towards Illusen's Glade favoured by her most loyal Questers cut across this set aside pasture and it was here that Lord Darigan had chosen to start his search for answers. Having given his most trusted Darigan Uni a break for lunch, the Korbat scoured the walkway alongside the ever-dependable Master Vex for anything that looked out of the ordinary. Well... anything other than two of the Citadel's nobility wandering around a Meridell field.

     Stopping for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, Vex was now regretting coming fully kitted out in his battle-hardened armour. Had it been necessary for his meeting with King Skarl? Absolutely. But not even the Purple Mynci could have foreseen how his day had panned out. Watching his master scan the surroundings, he couldn't shake a sense of foreboding. "Although I am loathed to question your wisdom, Sire," he piped up at last, "do you think it is awfully wise to get involved in such a matter? With the Meridellians already casting aspersions towards the Citadel, if our presence here is noted it could further inflame tensions between the two sides."

     Darigan sighed. "You are, of course, right to be concerned Master Vex." Before closing his eyes as he reasoned, "However, I fear to do nothing would be equally damaging." He had his Emissary's attention. "If somepet has taken Sir Jeran in order to inflame the tensions that you speak of then our intervention may prove crucial to both hastening their decline and rebuilding the damaged goodwill between our lands." The Korbat was adamant about this. He would be willing to wade through countless Petpetpet-infested grasslands if it ensured the continued peace and prosperity of his denizens. They deserved it after all they had been through.

     "Hm," the Purple Mynci nodded, having been won over by his Ruler's sound logic. Looking past Darigan down the path, a small glimmer caught his keen eye. Not entirely sure what he had seen but thinking it was of importance, he pointed it out, "...What is that?"

     Intrigued, the Korbat approached with caution. Embedded in the earth lay a tiny fragment of purple crystal, no larger than a bead of dew. He had been right to be wary. Kneeling down on one knee beside it, Darigan hovered one of his clawed hands over the mystery object. Almost instantly, the crystal shattered - releasing a purple haze that quickly dissipated in the breezy conditions. "Dark magic," he growled, returning to his feet, "I feared as much."

     "Wait..." Vex was appalled. " it was one of our pets behind this outrage?"

     "No," Darigan stated plainly to reassure his ally, "this magic is... different to our own." Spotting that some of the fragments had clung to his palm, the Ruler rubbed his hands together tightly in order to disperse them. He was something of an expert on dark magic, given what was practised in corners of his realm and his own personal history. He hated how even to this day it seemed to be attracted to him. A scowl emerged. "Though had a layout spotted it before us I fear a collection of angry scrolls would have been the least Skarl would have sent to the Citadel."

     His Emissary furrowed his brow as both he and his master looked to where a small scorch mark had replaced the crystal on the ground. "Who could be behind such a hoax?"

     Almost on cue, a large shadow was cast over the burnt earth.

     Master Vex looked up.

     "Lady Illusen?" he remarked, surprised at the Earth Faerie's arrival.

     Having waded her way through the wild shrubbery and decaying bracken that lay interwoven with the haphazard treeline of the Lightwater Forest, the brunette found herself stood atop the earthen path in front of the two nobles in far more familiar territory. Watching her catch her breath from her extended hike, Lord Darigan noted the dull colouring of the Earth Faerie's usually vibrant emerald wings. In the bright midday sunlight that shone down from above, they looked somewhat... faded. He narrowed his yellow eyes. "I take it," he queried, solemnly, "you too sensed the dark magic here, then?"

     "It's," Illusen put a finger to her green lips, "not safe to talk here."

     Gesturing to the treeline, she knew that she would not enjoy the journey home.

To be continued…

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