Agent of the Sway: Betrayal - Part Five
The celebrations in Sakhmet were short lived - the war with Sloth had been destructive, both the homes in the poorer districts and the citadel walls needed reconstructing. Those who has been made homeless were temporarily being housed in the tents outside the city, or some of the vacant wings of the grand palace.
Hopesmeade had been quick to undo the work of Faversham, using the amulet of hypnosis to remove the suggestions the Kyrii had placed in Clayton's mind. He was free once more, and their work was beginning again.
"I have received a communication from the Duchess," Hopesmeade informed the Kougra as they made their way towards the palace. "In the absence of Faversham, I am now your immediate superior within our organisation. You are to help me with the mission I was assigned."
"The blue staff we recovered from Emperor Razul's vault," Hopesmeade revealed. "That was our goal. It has the power to manipulate the oceans of Neopia - Razul once used it to make the barren lands of Qasala fertile again, draining much of the power held within. There now remains enough for one last great work of water magic. You are aware of the deal with King Kelpbeard?"
"That he will, effectively, serve us in exchange for our protection?" Clayton asked.
"Exactly," Hopesmeade replied. "The pirate lord, Captain Dread, is making that particular arrangement quite difficult. He is raiding their kelp beds, and extracting protection money. This cannot go on, we have decided to eliminate Dread."
"How does the staff help that?" Clayton asked.
"It doesn't," Hopesmeade answered. "But simply removing Dread will not be enough. It will create a power vacuum that will be filled by an identical pirate who will do just the same to Maraqua. The only viable solution the Duchess can think of is to temporarily remove Maraqua from the public stage. That is where the staff comes in."
"We are going to use it to create a vast whirlpool that will swallow Maraqua," Hopesmeade said as if it were a trivial matter.
Clayton stopped dead in their progress.
"We're going to destroy an entire land!?" he gasped.
"Relocate," Hopesmeade corrected him. "King Kelpbeard is aware of the plan and will evacuate as many survivors as he can, taking them to a new location."
"The term survivors implies there will be casualties," Clayton pointed out.
"No doubt there will be," Hopesmeade said simply.
"But that... That's not right!"
Hopesmeade gave a little sigh, "Mr. Moore, your previous experience in the Sway has been slightly.... blessed. Your dealings with Dr. Sloth have allowed you to view the world in terms of black and white - the truth is that Neopia rarely conforms to that standard. The Sway operates for the greater good of Neopia. Sometimes the things we do are unpleasant, but they are always necessary. We destroy Maraqua now, yes. But in the long term, we save it from pirates - and that will save many more lives on both sides."
Clayton did not look convinced.
"Either way, Mr. Moore, standing in the street like this will only draw attention to ourselves," Hopesmeade stressed with a quick glance around.
Clayton nodded, and they both continued.
"I'm not happy about this," the Kougra said eventually. "But what's this got to do with meeting King Coltzan?"
"Nothing," Hopesmeade answered. "We're having an audience with him in order to get our foot in the door, so to speak. This is a new land of opportunity, and it cannot hurt to have its ruler on our side. That is, incidentally, why I have kept hold of the amulet of hypnosis."
The Bori amulet now hung around the Wocky's neck, nestled in his neck fur.
The grand palace was not under a great deal of guard when they arrived. Most of the Sakhmetian army had been drafted in to help with the reconstruction in other areas of the city. Hopesmeade showed some official documentation at the guards at the entrance, and they were let inside.
"How did we get an audience so quickly?" Clayton asked.
"We have a contact within the King's inner council," Hopesmeade answered. "And we know the newest royal sorcerer."
"We do?" Clayton asked.
"Mr. Oldnose appears to work fast," Hopesmeade said.
The throne room was a vast room with an open balcony that viewed over most of the city. King Coltzan was deep in conversation with some assistants on his throne before they hastily scattered at the sound of newcomers.
"Your majesty," Hopesmeade said with a low bow and Clayton mirrored. "I bring greetings from Neopia Central."
"And we are pleased to receive them," the old Lupe replied with a gracious smile. "You find us in a state of some chaos, which we are not used to. I hope you forgive the disarray."
"Understandable, of course," Hopesmeade replied. "I come representing the interests of a group of influential Neopians. We band together to look after mutual interests, and would welcome you into our number."
Coltzan paused, but his pleasant smile did not falter.
"My rule of this Kingdom is absolute, I accept council freely, but never direction," Coltzan stated.
"Of course, Your Majesty, I did not mean to cause offense," Hopesmeade replied with another bow, which he used as cover for reaching to his Bori amulet.
He flicked open the cover and let the white light bathe over Coltzan.
"We require your assistance, King Coltzan," Hopesmeade said calmly.
The Lupe's face contorted into a snarl.
"I warn you I will not be ensnared by such cheap tricks, newcomer," he said.
Hopesmeade immediately closed the amulet. Clayton felt him tense, ready for attack.
"Such magics are common in the desert," Coltzan added. "As a mark of good faith with a new land, I will let you walk away this day. But if you try such a trick again, my dungeons will happily take you."
Hopesmeade nodded, turning to leave.
"That did not go well," Hopesmeade whispered as they left the throne room. "It is rare that a country's leader possesses enough intelligence to resist us."
"So what now?" Clayton asked.
"Coltzan presents a problem... We wait for our contact," Hopesmeade considered.
A low hiss from behind a pillar alerted them to the presence of another, and they both disappeared into the shadows. There, a desert Kyrii was waiting for them.
"Ah, Wessle," Hopesmeade greeted him. "You did not warn me that the King would be immune to hypnosis."
"I could not know," the Kyrii replied with a sniveling voice.
"You are his most trusted advisor," Hopesmeade countered.
"But not a magician," Wessle said.
"Our way is blocked, regardless, unless something is done," Hopesmeade considered. "The line of succession states that Amira, his daughter, will inherit the throne, correct?"
"Normally, yes," Wessle answered. "But Princess Amira is touring Kingdoms in the west of the desert presently. Until she returns, her younger sister Vyssa would take control of the throne."
"She is pliable?" Hopesmeade asked.
"Both the sisters are more so than Coltzan, certainly," Wessle answered.
"Excellent, our course is set," Hopesmeade decided.
"Sorry," Clayton interrupted. "Are we seriously casually discussing murdering a King?"
"Not us, no," Hopesmeade answered without a hint of remorse. "We'll need someone else to perform the deed. What is the state of internal politics?"
"There are two influential Senators at the moment, Barca and Palpus," Wessle explained. "Both could be said to have grudges against the King, but neither is what I would call traitorous. They wouldn't consider regicide."
"Then we need an outsider," Hopesmeade considered.
"Oh!" Wessle said with a gasp. "There is a Princess visiting from a distant land. Sankara, the heiress to the Khonsu Dynasty, fled here after King Heksas attacked and killed her father, King Sobek. She came here seeking military aid for an attempt to retake her land, but given the recent war, Coltzan has denied her request."
"You think she can be convinced to carry out the deed?" Hopesmeade asked.
"If you are creative," Wessle agreed. "Even better, King Coltzan is arranging a dinner party tonight and Sankara has been invited. It will be the perfect opportunity to strike."
"Excellent," Hopesmeade said with a smile. "Return to the King. We will go and see the Princess. Where is she being lodged?"
"The east wing," Wessle answered, disappearing back into the shadows. "Amira's apartments."
Princess Sankara was a desert Aisha who had clearly been crying when the pair arrived. She quickly wiped her tears and adopted a stern face when she realised she had visitors.
Hopesmeade wasted no time with pleasantries. It was only a few hours to the dinner, they didn't have time for gentle persuasion. He took out the amulet of hypnosis and unleashed it upon the Princess.
"Princess Sankara," Hopesmeade instructed. "We have need of your services. You hate King Coltzan."
"I hate King Coltzan," Sankara echoed.
Hopesmeade gave a small smile - things were working better this time around.
"Vyssa will make a much better Queen, one willing to aid your country in its hour of need," Hopesmeade added. "King Coltzan must be eliminated. You will attend the dinner party tonight, and poison the King's food. Coltzan must die."
"Coltzan must die," Sankara repeated.
With that, Hopesmeade closed the amulet. Sankara blinked a few times, as if waking from a dream.
"I'm sorry, but I simply have so much to do before the dinner party tonight," she said. "I can't entertain guests."
"Of course," Hopesmeade said with a curt bow, leaving her alone.
"Yesterday we were a noble organisation," Clayton hissed as they left. "Today we are preparing to destroy Maraqua and kill a King. This isn't what I signed up for!"
"You signed up to help save Neopia," Hopesmeade countered.
"Yes, from Sloth and things like that! But not from innocent people!"
"Innocent people are the most dangerous," Hopesmeade explained. "Neopia often needs saving from itself. We are the shepherds of Neopia, Mr. Moore. We dictate the course of Neopian history. Not for personal gain, but for the mutual benefit of all. I've already explained to you that destroying Maraqua will save lives in the long run."
"And this? Poisoning Coltzan?" Clayton asked.
"The Lost Desert is an emerging country," Hopesmeade replied. "The last thing it needs is a hard-headed King who will not see sense and play the game with other rulers. Vyssa will be..."
"A puppet," Clayton finished.
"And as a result, a good ruler," Hopesmeade stressed. "I understand your feelings, Mr. Moore, when I first joined this organisation, I felt much the same. But over time, my eyes were opened to the truth. Some days we may save a million, some days we may condemn a million. But always, always, we are saving people. Our job is not always a pleasant one, but it must be done. Without the Sway, Neopia would crumble in upon itself. We would be nothing but Neopets with pointy sticks, shouting at the sky because we do not understand it. We are Neopia, Mr. Moore."
He stopped to take a breath, "And if you feel you cannot carry out our orders, you are welcome to leave. But you have already seen what happens to those who leave our number - Faversham will be waiting for you."
Silence greeted him.
"You see?" Hopesmeade said. "You have already accepted the truth. This is just the voice inside your head raging against the facts you know must happen. Cling on to that voice, Mr. Moore, even if you never follow its directions. As long as you can hear it, you are still a Neopet."
Hopesmeade continued on, and after a few moments, Clayton fell into step. It wasn't right, he knew that much. But perhaps not being right didn't mean it shouldn't happen anyway.
To be continued...