Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Two
11 Years Ago...
It was just over six months later that Clayton was called to the Duchess's mansion on the outskirts of Neopia Central's lavish Hills district. That was the way it went in the Sway. Individual agents could face months on end without any activity, but always the organisation as a whole was up to something.
Hopesmeade's own mission on the space station had gone well. Within four days, the children had been freed and Neopet V2 shut down. The resistance had taken all the credit, even though the Wocky had guided them silently from the shadows the entire time.
The Duchess's mansion was a grand affair, but that wasn't out of place in the Hills. It was gated off from the rest of the community, just the way the Duchess liked it. She didn't make a habit of socialising with the other residents nearby, the only signs of life in the property being the visitors and the steady stream of Crokabeks arriving and leaving the upper windows.
Clayton was welcomed frostily by the Duchess's Quiggle butler, just as usual. He guided the Kougra to the study, where the old Lenny was waiting by the fire. The embers danced on her face, making her already harsh features look even worse.
"Mr. Moore," she said, not looking away from the flames. "I have a task for you."
"Something I couldn't be informed of over Crokabek?" Clayton asked.
"It will be a difficult task," was her reply. "I have selected you because I believe you will be singularly capable. The Sway tends to attract people who are more ambitious than most... those who crave power. When properly checked, these people become effective agents. However, this task will see you travel outside of my influence."
"You mean the past," Clayton said. "The Chronomobile is finished?"
"Not finished," the Duchess replied. "A fully working model will take nearly a decade to complete, so Zylphia, my researcher, tells me. But we do have something that will give us enough control for our immediate needs. You recall the story of Meridell?"
"Of course," Clayton replied. "A land south of Kiko Lake, it was destroyed, along with Brightvale, in a war with what was known as the Darigan Citadel, hundreds of years ago."
"We intend to change that fact," the Duchess explained. "We will send you into the past, and you will alter the course of the war. You will broker peace."
She gestured to some scrolls on her desk.
"We have appropriated what records we can from the Seekers in their Museum Headquarters," she said. "They will help you pinpoint the major players, and learn what you must do to save all three kingdoms."
"I am to go by myself?" Clayton asked.
"The device Zylphia has created can only take a small group - you will be travelling with others, but you will be the only Sway agent," the Duchess said. "It is... A one way journey."
"You would maroon me hundreds of years in the past!?" Clayton gasped.
"Only if you fail," the Duchess said, piercing him with her glare for the first time since he entered the room. "I expect you to succeed. In the event of you changing history, Zylphia believes that the paradox created will catapult Meridell, Brightvale, and the Darigan Citadel forwards in time to the present day."
"She 'believes'?" Clayton questioned.
"You know I would not put my faith in someone whom I was not certain was correct, Mr. Moore," she almost snapped at him. "The Sway does not make gambles."
"You mentioned I would not be travelling alone," Clayton said.
"Do you know the legend of Sir Borodere?" she asked.
"A knight from Meridell, as far as I remember," Clayton said.
"One of the strongest," she added. "He helped stem the tide of the Darigan invasion. Would it interest you to learn that, until a few years ago, he did not exist?"
"It interested me greatly when Zylphia first told me," the Duchess said. "She is sensitive to these things, but she claims that a few years ago, the timeline of Neopia altered slightly. Sir Jeran Borodere suddenly appeared in the history books, and the date on which Meridell was destroyed was pushed back by two years, due to his involvement in the first war. In my subsequent research, I have discovered a young boy named Jeran Borodere disappeared from Neopia Central in mysterious circumstances at exactly the same moment that these changes occurred."
"You mean to say he travelled back in time to become a knight?" Clayton asked. "How? Was he an agent of Sloth?"
"No," the Duchess said. "Zylphia believes it was a mere accident. A random time disturbance. But, he left behind a sister, Lisha Borodere. She is still a schoolgirl, but I believe if you were to send her back in time with you, you may create a situation in which the second Darigan war is also averted."
"Children," Clayton said. "My reinforcements are children."
"Not the only reinforcements," the Duchess said with a wry smile. "Whilst no present day agents will be accompanying you, the Sway have existed throughout history. There will be members in Meridell you can contact, though you will have to find them yourself."
She took a small scroll from her mantlepiece and handed it to him.
"This is a mark that only the head of our order can possess," she informed him. "This presented to my counterpart with convince them of the authenticity of your story."
Clayton took the scroll, and gathered it up with the other documents from the desk.
"I would wish you good luck, Mr. Moore, but I have every confidence in your abilities. Luck is not something you will need," she said in parting.
Still would be nice to have it, he thought.
"Our agents have already planted the seed in Lisha's head," the Duchess said. "We believe her and her friends will travel to the site of Jeran's disappearance tomorrow. Zylphia will meet you there and operate the device. Farewell, Mr. Moore."
Clayton let himself out, finding the Quiggle butler waiting in the hallway to guide him to the front door. Alone again, the Duchess turned from the fire towards her chess set. Carefully, she moved one of the pawns forward a single space. It settled with a satisfying click.
"One step closer," she mused to herself.
The ruins of Meridell castle were located at the end of a long archipelago south of Kiko Lake. The road there had long since fallen into disrepair, so it was not a comfortable ride for Clayton in the back of the carriage. In any case, he had no time to sleep. Instead, he had to pour over the documents that the Duchess had obtained from the Seekers.
Meridell had been ruled by the greedy King Skarl, who's land had fallen to famine in the kingdom's dying days. He had dispatched his knights to scour the land for a solution, and some of them had found it - a magical orb belonging to the Darigan lands. They had stolen it, and returned it to Meridell, where the land had once more become fertile.
Darigan, meanwhile, had fallen under a terrible curse without the orb, and vowed to reclaim it, lifting their entire city into the air to become a floating citadel in search of their prize. Lord Darigan himself appeared to have fallen under the influence of spirits known as the Three - and it was these that the Duchess clearly perceived as the real enemy.
They were capable of manipulating the minds of mortal Neopians, taking those with a craving for power and twisting them. Clayton now understood why many of the Sway's members could not be sent on such a mission for fear of them falling under the same spell that had taken Lord Darigan. Clayton only hoped he would be stronger somehow.
The carriage came to a neat stop with a Lupe barring the way. She had a mess of purple hair and wore a suit with a small watch tied around her neck.
"You must be Zylphia," Clayton greeted the yellow Lupe. "I understand we have business."
She gave a playful little smirk, "Business for you, perhaps. But pleasure for me. I get to test out my latest device. One day, I'll have a fully working Chronomobile, but for now this little trip into the past will have to do."
"You are coming along?" Clayton asked.
"Of course!" she laughed. "Though don't expect me to get involved in any of your... business... This is an exploratory trip for me."
"We had best get set up," Clayton suggested. "Our guests will be arriving soon."
"I already am set up," she replied, slightly affronted. "Follow me."
She led him off the track to a small thicket where she had set up a contraption for clocks and metal tubing.
"Not Virtupets technology," Zylphia explained. "That's why it took so long to construct, and why the full thing will take longer. I'm having to work with what I know."
"What you know?" Clayton asked.
"I'm from Moltara originally," she said casually. "Your leader said you'd probably know where that is."
Clayton nodded. The underground world had been mentioned by the Sway's books. The Duchess had plans to open it up to the rest of Neopia as part of her grand plan.
A rustling in the bushes nearby alerted the pair to the fact that they were not alone. Clayton signalled for her to be quiet as he crept forwards.
Through the thicket, he could see the ruins of the castle and the four children playing within. A Zafara dressed as Kauvara and a Blumaroo dressed as Count Von Roo were busy having a mock sword fight whilst a Quiggle ran about laughing. A yellow Aisha was watching them, getting progressively more annoyed with her friends.
"Get ready," Clayton instructed Zylphia.
The Aisha abruptly turned around to shout at her friends.
"Morris, if you don't stop playing around I'll blast you into bits with my..."
Clayton shot his hand out to signal Zylphia to trigger the device just as Lisha raised her wand at her friends. The entire area seemed to glow with magical blue energy, and at once it was as if the world was blurring.
Clayton felt himself falling as a sense of nausea overtook him. They were travelling, and none of them were in control any longer.
To be continued...