Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Four
Over the following days as the Darigan Citadel loomed closer still to the peaceful lands of Meridell, Lady Mayflower spent her time tutoring Clayton in the various key players in the castle's court and securing him access to the more private areas, whilst he briefed her as best he could on the nature of what to expect from the Citadel invaders. She appeared to have been familiar with the inhabitants of the Citadel before the curse, as well as a loose understanding of the orb's theft and the resulting aftermath - but Clayton was able to fill in gaps.
"The Three..." she said during once such session. "I have heard whisperings about them, of course. You are sure they are to blame for all this?"
"My records suggest that Lord Darigan, and Kass who follows him, both succumb to the machinations of the spirits," Clayton said. "We must be vigilant if we are to avoid being snared by them ourselves."
"Ambition, Greed, and Revenge..." she considered. "Qualities a typical Sway agent could possess if pushed too far."
"Exactly why I was sent above others from my time," Clayton said. "Our leader considered that I was the... Least ambitious."
"You did not join the Sway for the power they represent?" she asked. "Then what for?"
"The unknown, originally," Clayton explained. "They knew the true reality of the world where others did not. I didn't want to be in the dark - but then, once I began to see the work we do... We make a real difference to Neopia, a positive difference. I wanted to be part of that. You?"
"I am a Lady in the court of King Skarl..." she considered. "To join them was to extend my influence. It was logical."
"Logical..." he murmured.
There was a certain chilling sense to that word. Clayton suspected that he was in the company of just the sort of Sway agent that the Duchess had sought to avoid.
"What will be our first move then?" she asked.
"The cloud is close enough now that the first wave of Darigan troops should reach Meri Acres tomorrow," Clayton explained, tracing his fingers over a rudimentary map they had drawn up. "Our primary purpose must be making sure that Darigan falls and Kass succeeds him. We must make for the Citadel and infiltrate it however we can."
"Any ideas how we shall get up there?" she asked. "I cannot fly, and I doubt you are able either."
"I have... An idea about that," he said. "I need to see someone in town first, though. I'll meet you tomorrow, and we'll make towards Meri Acres."
Clayton found Zylphia in the tavern room they were renting, busy checking some hastily concocted steam contraption.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
The Lupe started, clearly having been unaware he had arrived.
"Just some calculations," she answered. "All this is fascinating, you know? We are real pioneers! Time is actually changing around us!"
"It's only slight, at the moment, little rumbles that my equipment here is picking up," she explained. "It appears that the presence of Lisha, her friends, and us two has begun to manipulate the time stream in minor ways already. History is diverging - we are forging a new path, Clayton!"
"We've changed history? I understood that when that happened, we would snap back to the present."
"Not yet, it's difficult to explain..." she said. "Time is in flux - too much happening, but once things settle down, the time stream should react to our recalculations and snap us back."
"Settle down..." he echoed. "Looks like a truce it is, then. Which is why I'm here. I need your help."
"I told you I wasn't getting involved," she told him.
"I know, all I need is a little bit of technology," he said. "The time travel technology yours is based on, the prototype ended up being teleportation. Can you recreate that?"
"There are many magicians in Meridell who can teleport you places," Zylphia said.
"I know," he replied. "But I need to get to the Darigan Citadel undetected. It will likely be magically shielded. Your technology is unknown to this time period, they won't be able to detect it. Can you do it?"
She considered it for a moment before agreeing.
"By tomorrow?" he asked.
She gave a little sigh.
"Short range, maybe," she said. "You'll have to get close to the Citadel to get up there."
The Darigan Citadel was no longer a smudge on the horizon. It was close enough now that, at some points in the day, it blotted out the sun. The spires of the fortress were now clearly visible to those on the ground, and the sense of dread in the locals as Clayton and Elizabeth left Meridell town was almost palpable.
Travel by carriage was no longer an option. The roads had been blockaded by Meridell troops, as the front line had already been pushed back to Meri Acres farms. It things kept up, Meridell Castle would be breached within days. The Darigan forces were perhaps not as well outfitted as Meridell's, but they fought with such animal brutality that the Meridell troops had been quickly overwhelmed.
Clayton insisted that they cut across country to avoid checkpoints on the road. Elizabeth had complained at the time, but eventually consented. She had ditched her formal wear of Skarl's court and donned a more practical adventuring tunic, which even as it became plastered with mud from trekking through the Meridell forests, somehow managed to look pristine.
Clayton called them to a stop after a few hours. They were on the outskirts of Meri Acres, where the forest thinned to give way to fields. Smoke was rising from those fields, and the noises of battle reached them even from that distance.
"Is this close enough?" Elizabeth asked.
There was the hint of nerves in her voice, and Clayton noticed her hand wavering near the sword she had brought along. Clearly, she was more of a political agent of the Sway than an assassin. She was not equipped nor trained for war.
The Darigan Citadel was directly above them now, like a horrible skyborne monster bearing down on them. The winged minions of Darigan could be seen swooping down on the battlefield.
"Yes," Clayton considered. "It should be. Be ready to fight as soon as we teleport. We can't be sure where on the Citadel we will arrive."
She nodded, somewhat apprehensively, as he took out Zylphia's device. It appeared to be a modified pocket watch, with some bizarre steam powered contraption coupled to the back.
"You will need to hold on, I believe," he added, holding out his arm.
Elizabeth took it, and Clayton pushed the button on the side of the watch. It was a familiar sensation for Clayton, the world blurring and the feeling of sudden movement. Exactly the same as he had felt the last time he had used one of Zylphia's devices. For Elizabeth, it was an entirely new feeling, which was why when they materialised on the Citadel, she feel to the floor and started retching.
Clayton had his dagger out immediately, spinning in a wide circle to make sure they were alone. Thankfully, they had arrived in a largely deserted alleyway in the main town. If there had been any guards around, Elizabeth's noises would have surely alerted them.
She managed to regain her composure and straightened out her clothing as if nothing had happened.
"I don't favor that method for the return journey, if its all the same," she remarked.
"Come on," Clayton replied. "The longer we stay here, the more chance someone will come along. We need to get access to the fortress proper."
Elizabeth nodded, drawing her sword and testing it experimentally.
"You ever used that?" Clayton asked.
"Of course," she snorted somewhat unconvincingly.
The two of them made their way through the deserted streets of Darigan. What few Neopets had not been enlisted into the army appeared to be staying inside through fear of what may come. They skirted around the outer edge of the town, hiding between the rock outcrops on the barren path that led towards the imposing fortress.
Elizabeth let out a gasp as from one of the Citadel's spires, a great flash came along with a few magical bolts that rained down upon the farmlands of Meridell.
"What was that?" she asked.
"The magic of Morguss, if I'm not mistaken," Clayton answered. "Powerful witch, member of the Order of the Red Erisim, apparently."
He made his way over towards the edge of the Citadel path, taking out a small telescope and peering down towards the farmlands.
"Powerful indeed," he remarked. "She appears to be creating zombies from the fallen Meridell troops."
Elizabeth gasped again.
"With the extra power, Darigan will storm the castle far earlier than we ever thought."
"Then we must move quickly," Clayton said.
The Citadel's gates were guarded by two large creatures that Clayton's notes had identified as Darigan Elementals. They looked like giant purple Kikos with legs, each with a menacing stance and a mace as big as them again.
"How will we get past them?" Elizabeth asked.
"I came... readily equipped," Clayton replied with a smirk.
He took from around his neck a peculiar amulet engraved with ancient symbols. It was an artefact of Bori origin, the creatures that still slept below the ice sheets of Terror Mountain. It had once belonged to his previous master within the Sway, but Clayton had inherited it upon Faversham's demise.
He approached the Elementals boldly, and as they tensed, he flipped the amulet open.
A gentle white light bathed the Elementals, who seemed to adopt a vacant, passive expression.
"We are high ranking members of the army," Clayton stated firmly. "You will let us pass."
The Elementals grunted slightly, moving their maces aside to unbar the path.
Clayton rushed through, Elizabeth close behind.
"That was an amulet of hypnosis," Elizabeth whispered.
"I am aware of that," Clayton replied casually.
"They are very rare," she pointed out. "Only given to the most useful operatives."
"Then I have illustrated just how important this mission is being considered in my time," Clayton said. "This is why we cannot fail."
To be continued...