Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Seven
10 Years Ago...
Duke Hopesmeade stared down the fearsome witch doctor.
"Tura-Kepek, your activities on the island have not gone unnoticed," he told the Kyrii calmly. "They are now at an end. Walk away now, or face the consequences."
"You cannot defeat me! Not now! Not here!" the Kyrii rasped in response.
'Here' happened to be the depths of the volcano on Mystery Island. Tura-Kepek had been working to kidnap the local elders and unleash terrible monsters to burn the island to the ground.
"If you are referring to Eithne, your fire faerie friend," Hopesmeade replied. "She had already been dealt with. Swallowed by Moltenus himself - I know, I was there to witness it. Moltenus himself has been defeated."
"For now," Tura-Kepek insisted. "The magma inside the volcano will heal him - and then he will stride out again to cause ruin! He is immortal!"
"But his master is not," Hopesmeade replied. "Consider this a warning shot. If we come after you again, we will devise something more permanent."
The Wocky shifted slightly, producing an ancient tome.
"A gift from the Order of the Red Erisim," Hopesmeade explained. "I say gift, they don't know I have it. In any case..."
He leafed through pages until he found the correct one. He looked at it skeptically.
"Well... That seems a little simple..." he muttered. "But who am I to question ancient magics?"
He fixed Tura-Kepek with a steely gaze.
"Begone, evil shaman of darkness!"
The command seemed to pierce Tura-Kepek's heart. The Kyrii stumbled slightly, veering away from the nearby pool of lava, before grasping at his staff.
"I will... return..."
With that, he dramatically disappeared in a flash of smoke, leaving Duke Hopesmeade alone.
"I don't doubt it," Hopesmeade answered to the air. "People like you always do."
He pocketed the magic book, taking out a pocketwatch and checking it. Abruptly, he let out a deep sigh.
"Ah, Clayton... I hope you are doing well..."
310 Years Ago...
It was as though the skies above Meridell had been saving the rain during the war. Now the hostilities had been called off, the rain had returned in force. It was a deluge, flooding much of the farmland around Meri Acres. Weather like this made people stay indoors, which was just what Clayton needed.
"Remind me again why I am here, despite me telling you repeatedly that I am not getting involved?" Zylphia asked.
The yellow Lupe was sodden, her purple hair plastered to her scalp and her outlandish clothes so drenched that the water was now bouncing off them instead of being absorbed.
Clayton turned, taking care to keep his oil lantern sheltered from the rain. Flaming torches were not an option in rain like this, so they had been forced to use something not native to Meridell.
"Because you are a scientist, Zylphia," he answered with a smug grin from beneath his hood. "And this is science!"
"Which way now?" Elizabeth asked testily, herself drenched in her elegant travelling gear that was now hopelessly ruined.
Zylphia took the hint and consulted her strange whirring device again.
"North, I'd say, though the signal is getting weaker," she decided. "The magic is fading."
"Then we have to be quick," Clayton said. "This rain won't last forever, and as soon as it stops, there'll be farmers out here."
The three of them made their way through the corn fields with difficulty, sinking into the mud and stopping every few minutes to get new directions from Zylphia.
Eventually, they came to a clearing, and stopped dead. It was artificially made, the edges of the corn having been burnt by some kind of magic. In the centre, in a rapidly deepening puddle, was a sorry grey figure.
It was Lord Darigan. Somehow, it still looked like him, but he had changed so much. Gone was the fiery demon of the Spectre. But gone too was the scheming lord that had come before. This was something new.
He looked frail, thin to the point of malnutrition. His long gowns had been burnt to a crisp by his time as the Spectre. All that remained was a torn tunic. His wings were tattered, the magical flames having taken their toll there as well. He looked on the verge of death.
"What have they done to him?" Elizabeth gasped.
"They couldn't kill him, but the Three did their best job," Clayton said. "They have taken his body to the very brink. I don't want to think what they have done to his mind."
"Will he be any use to us like this?" Elizabeth asked.
"Only time will tell," Clayton said. "But as long as he's alive, we have a chance."
At last, the rain seemed to be easing.
"About time!" Zylphia said, shaking herself off.
"Come on, we have to get out of here," Clayton said. "They'll kill him if they find him here."
Clayton and Elizabeth stepped forwards, picking up the unconscious form of Darigan between them, resting him between their shoulders. Zylphia took Elizabeth's lantern, heading in front of them to light the way. Their carriage was not far across the fields.
Voices came from the direction of the farmhouses. Their trails through the cornfield had been noticed.
"Quickly!" Clayton hissed, picking up the pace.
Elizabeth's hand slipped, still wet from the rain, and Darigan fell face forward into the mud. The sudden impact seemed to be enough to wake the creature from its slumber, and two yellow eyes pierced the darkness as he sprawled around, trying to get his balance. He madly darted his eyes between his three would-be saviours, before letting out a primal hiss and rushing off on all fours into the cornfield.
"After him!" Clayton shouted.
"I hear voices!" one of the farmers shouted not far off. "There's someone in here, boys!"
Clayton glanced back, he could see flaming torches coming through the corn. He cursed the rain, it had turned the mud hopelessly boggy. He was being slowed down, and the squelching of his boots was alerting his pursuers to his location.
Darigan's method of moving seemed better, all four of his limbs working against the mud to let him scrabble away faster, but not fast enough. They were still keeping sight of him as he left the cornfields and emerged into a farmyard. The bat thing rushed into the shadows of a nearby barn, hiding in the darkness and hissing at his pursuers.
There were lights on in the farmhouse, the local farmer alerted by the noise of the farmers still in the cornfields. They were surrounded - there would be no chance of them extracting Darigan without being seen. Quickly, Clayton calculated what he had to do.
"You two, get over to that other barn, stay out of sight," he instructed them. "Elizabeth, cover your tracks."
She nodded, instantly understanding his plan. Clayton meanwhile got down onto all fours, attempting to imitate Darigan's pose. He set off running, leaving a fresh set of tracks that led back into the cornfields a short distance away. There, he let the trail go dead and stood upright, covering his tracks as he came up behind the farmers as they emerged into the yard.
"What's all this commotion?" the Usul farmer from the farmhouse was calling.
"We've found the beast that's been stealing our corn!" a Gelert called back. "He came this way!"
"Look!" a Mynci shouted. "Tracks! He's heading back into the fields!"
"I'll come with you!" the Usul said.
Together, the gathered farmers reentered the fields as Clayton carefully stalked over to the shadows where Zylphia and Elizabeth were hidden.
"The coast is clear then," Zylphia said.
"Not quite," Elizabeth replied with a nod towards the farmhouse.
A younger Usul had emerged, and was heading towards the barn.
"Is there someone there?" she called as she moved her lantern closer towards Darigan.
As the light touched him, the creature recoiled back into the dark and let out a long hiss.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" the Usul apologised. "Are you hungry?"
She reached into her pocket for a biscuit and placed it on the floor near to Darigan. The bat thing reached out with one bony hand and swiped away the biscuit, gobbling it up within a few seconds.
"Don't worry, I'll look after you," the Usul said with a grin. "I'm Sally, by the way. Nice to meet you, Mr..."
She floundered for a name.
"Mr. Scary," she settled on. "Don't you worry about a thing."
With that, she skipped off back to her house. A few minutes later, her father returned, his search in the fields with the other farmers proving fruitless.
"What now?" Elizabeth asked.
"That little girl has made contact," Clayton considered. "It would raise suspicion to remove him now - and he seems settled."
"You are willing to leave Lord Darigan, the key to stopping Kass and, by extension, the only hope of saving all our souls, in the care of a farm girl?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes," Clayton replied. "He'll be safe. We'll arrange for checkups. She'll feed him, make his body strong. When he is ready, we can begin the work of making his mind whole again."
"Then what next?" Elizabeth asked.
"If we are done here, then a change of clothes," Zylphia said, marching off back to their carriage across the fields.
"For now, we observe the situation in Meridell - we stay in contact with Marko on the Citadel, of course," Clayton told Elizabeth as they walked back. "He should be able to keep us informed on Kass's movements. We'll know when we will be able to make our next move."
To be continued...