It was a cold, wintry night in southwestern Meridell. Rain lightly drizzled, turning to icy sludge on the roads. Only those lacking the ability to reason or with not a thing to lose would be caught out in this weather. At the moment, only a single woman dared to brave the frigid temperatures and slogging mud. She had added a furlined cloak and boots to her normal ensemble, while her pale blue eyes gazed steadily ahead.
Business had been slow for the Zafara Double Agent after the Second War with the Darigan Citadel, to say the least. Practically no one saw fit to steal information from others, and the peacenik fancies had quite frankly exasperated the spy. Anyone who tried to say that they didn't want to gain the most pertinent, up-to-date intel on combat training and supply routes was either lying through their teeth or doing a fantastic job of fooling themselves. Even if no one wanted a war, even if the Darigan Citadel and the country of Meridell were finally at a lasting peace, there would be a war sometime, someday. And if the ambiguously aligned Zafara played her cards right, she could come out of this latest mission smelling like roses and with Meridell's greater strategies still protected.
This was how she found herself traipsing through the mud and rain and now sleet, carefully skirting the border of Brightvale. King Hagan had never quite favored those who used knowledge as a bargaining chip or a weapon of war, and tended to become uncharacteristically wroth if someone placed his brother Skrarrl in danger as the Double Agent could be doing now. Even if the faded blue Zafara intended to not fully betray the country of Meridell, she'd rather not risk the more capable of the brotherly rulers. Besides - Where she was going, once she got close enough to the borderlands, no one would be fool enough to try and chase her in. "The things I do for excellent client service," she said wearily. "Someone needs to look into retirement for spies." That would be nice.
Yes, that would be nice. She could relocate to Mystery Island, and just spend the rest of her days in a bikini and a sarong; sipping delightfully colorful, stupor-inducing beverages for days and weeks and months and years, until maybe the sunshine managed to put some color back into her fur. Maybe with a different diet she'd be able to get back some of that lovely azure hue that had knocked out any man she walked by. The first few years of her current occupation had been so fretful and riddled with anxiety that her fur and hair had become faded and stringy.
Or perhaps she could head to Altador now that it had been rebuilt to an extent - That would be something she'd have to think about. All of the history and the culture, their vast stores of historical knowledge, their schools of social and political philosophy...Right down to their food. Stashed in the Double Agent's little hideaway was an Altadorian cookbook she had rescued from the Rubbish Heap. Whoever would have thrown that kind of treasure away would be hung from the gallows if the Brightvalian Scholars had found out. True, it didn't have a title that would be readable to most in these parts, but books of any kind simply did not belong in the trash. Even though the Double Agent had carefully cleaned it - Finding that by the grace of whatever God might watch over them it wasn't in too bad a shape - She simply couldn't afford to cook a lick of the recipes inside. Maybe someday, she always told herself.
Idly, the Zafara Double Agent realized that all of this pontificating on vacations and their derivative trains of thought had brought her right abreast of the borderlands. Hurriedly, she made her way past the low, overgrown stone walls and into the gray, dusty fields. Gnarled, sickly trees clawed up at the stormy sky, and small creatures of uncanny visage peered at their new visitor from all directions. None of this bothered the Double Agent, though - The havoc she had seen wrought in the Darigan Citadel by the theft of their Orb was starkly similar to this, so she wasn't seeing anything new. It wasn't long before she found herself on the path, lined by little ruts alongside the path for wagons - Not that any traveling wagons had likely been through here in a long time.
At last, the storm had begun to settle - Although now, it seemed that the temperature was rising a bit. A thin mist was rising up from the mud, creeping its tendrils all around to coil around the scraggly roots and the rank sedges, over the stagnant tarns scattered about, around the Double Agent's feet and tail. Eventually, dark towers became faintly visible rising up far ahead. Fighting down the urge to pick up her step, the dull blue Zafara kept a steady, even pace as the path began to fade into the dirt all around. She'd get to the appointed destination when she got there. It wasn't like her present client didn't have orders of magnitudes more time on his hands than her usual fare. Expatriates from the Darigan Citadel tended towards getting cabin fever with their lack of outside visitors.
Not a soul - Well, considering how close she was to the Haunted Woods, that might not be precisely accurate. Not a single Neopet could be seen around the towering mansion. The windows were boarded-up, the paint was chipped and discolored to an ugly gray, the stone steps were crumbling at their edges...Walking up the steps, the Double Agent found herself wondering just what kind of fellow could stand it here. Her unasked question was promptly answered as the door flew open and a Darigan Aisha bounded from the darkness.
He was thin as a rail and appeared to be incredibly old and wizened, yet in a manner that did not suit his origins nor his surroundings, he was overflowing with vivacity that made him seem ageless. Behind his wireframmed spectacles were jovial crimson slits for eyes, while his upper-left ear seemed to have a bite taken out of its end. He wore dusty suspenders and a wrinkled white shirt, but his shoes were flawlessly shined and their buckles lacked any sort of wear and tear. In the next instant, the Double Agent found her hand in a vicelike grip and shook so fiercely that her body rocked with the movement.
"Welcome, welcome!" He tugged the faded blue Zafara clear through the front door and into his parlor. The Double Agent noted that his door closed behind them without a hand laid upon it. "My name is Quincy," he chirped merrily, practically throwing his guest into a heavily-stuffed armchair that had to have lost a quarter of its mass in the dustcloud. "I know, you don't like to share your name, but I can call you Agent, can't I?" 'Agent' nodded, bewildered at this aged Aisha's vitality.
"Ah, splendid, splendid! Here, here, I've made some tea and biscuits for you!" With a surprisingly gentle touch, Quincy placed a teacup in the Zafara's hands and offered her a platter of little black and purple biscuits. Her confusion growing by the moment, Agent nevertheless took one and tried it. It tasted like fruit and dark chocolate, which was something new for her - It was her experience in Meridell and Darigan that only royalty could afford candy, if the time was taken to make it at all.
After taking another biscuit, Agent sipped her tea thoughtfully. This was the exact location that had been described to her, and she knew this had to be the expatriate she had been contacted by via letters, but it still baffled her how any Darigan citizen, current or former, living in these surroundings, could possibly be so chipper. Not to mention such an excellent baker and tea-brewer. Nonetheless, she had to deliver these maps to him.
Luckily, Agent had put them in a place that no honorable man would dare to try and search for. Reaching down the front of her blouse, she produced a single roll containing numerous papers. Removing the twine holding them, the Zafara handed the entire bundle to Quincy and watched his face.
His narrow, clawed hands swiftly unrolled them and shuffled through them. Occasionally, he would run the top of his fingertip down alongside the map lines to inspect them more closely. Widened slightly, his glowing red eyes and their slit black pupils scoured the page for any details. In the meantime, the Double Agent peered around at the room.
On the walls were faded paintings, and atop narrow, wiry metal stands were vases and potted plants. A boarded-up fireplace that had to have been disused for years sat on the far wall, and a couch sat flat on the floor - Its legs sawed off and pierced into the wall to hold up said paintings. This Aisha was not right. He just was not right.
It occurred to Agent that she simply could not decipher Quincy's inner workings. Whether he was genuinely a merry lunatic as he appeared, or whether he was a master of disguising his true emotions, he was like nothing Agent could have prepared herself for. Regardless, before Agent was a Darigan Aisha who positively lit up the dim room with his aura of glee, and wasn't that just the most bizarre thing she'd ever seen in her life?
As Quincy continued to pore over the documents, over and over again, Agent could feel her eyelids growing incredibly heavy. Her aching boned yearned for a bed. Her frigid fur hung close to her body, sopping wet. She deeply yearned for somewhere warm to rest.
Then, she noticed Quincy gazing softly at her. "There's a bathroom at the end of the hall, up the stairs, and an unused bedroom right next to it. Feel free to get a hot bath and rest for the night. The rain will only be getting worse." He went right back to reading.
For a few long moments, Agent stared flatly on him. Upon feeling a particularly painful ache in her feet, she shakily stood up and began walking. Passing by the bronze statue of an odd Petpet, with a curly mane and stinger-tipped tail, Agent felt that she dimly recognized it. However, her need for rest outweighed her curiosity for once.
Upon taking a bath that was almost surreal in its pleasant warmth, Agent put her undermost robes back on and went to sleep.
Somehow, she knew any rest would be greatly needed.