Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Nine
The Court Dancer, as she introduced herself, arrived at Meridell Castle the following day.
Clayton had to admit that the brown Aisha with long golden hair was not at all what he had been expecting from Morguss's daughter. But then, he supposed he had been a fool to expect Kass to send someone who looked obviously like a Darigan national.
"It's magic," Elizabeth hissed through the crowd at Clayton. "Part of her act. Don't let it fool you - she's Morguss's daughter, alright."
Clayton nodded. Now that he had been told, he could sense it, the faint tingle of magic on the air. But it was subtle, not like any spell he'd ever felt before. If he didn't know, he would have shrugged it off as nothing.
She span and twirled, her tambourine ringing out a somehow playful melody. Clayton found himself nodding along to the music as the Court Dancer approached King Skarl. The monarch was clearly engrossed, grinning with a big dumb smile, barely even blinking.
Then there was the wash of fresh magic, and suddenly everyone in the throne room was bobbing along. The melody was perfect, tempting all who heard it to join in, while the movement of the dancer held their attention. Clayton felt distant, somehow...
He recognised that feeling. He'd felt it several years before, when his traitorous mentor, Lord Faversham, had turned against the Sway. The magic of the Bori amulet of hypnosis that Clayton now held had been turned against him, and he had been powerless to resist.
But after that, Duke Hopesmeade had tutored him in how to resist the magic. Now recognising exactly what was going on, Clayton was able to gradually claw him self back, until at last reality came sharply back into focus. Quickly, he located Elizabeth in the crowd. She was nodding along in rapture just like all the others. Clayton took her hand, dragging her out of the throne room and well away into the depths of the castle.
When at last the noise of the music became distant, Elizabeth seemed to return to her senses.
"That... that was powerful," she said. "And sudden. I wasn't ready for it."
"Neither was I," Clayton said. "I think, for the time being, we should consider the throne room out of bounds."
"What do we do now?" Elizabeth asked. "With the court under her spell, all hope of Meridell's defence is lost."
"If there is a spell, there is a counter spell," Clayton said. "We need a wizard, and fast. Any suggestions?"
"Most of the King's sorcerers will be in the throne room," Elizabeth answered. "Useless to us... There is a witch living in town, she owns a magic shop - Mistress Morag, they call her."
"Then we need to get to her quickly," Clayton said.
Morag's shop was in the main trading concourse of Meridell town. The townsfolk all seemed quite unaware of the quiet invasion taking place at the castle - the sight of Clayton and Elizabeth rushing about caused quite a stir.
"Who enters the realm of the mystical Morag?" the Kau demanded theatrically from behind her counter as they entered.
The shop looked exactly as Clayton had imagined it would - more purple than was acceptable, with candles and herbs burning everywhere, giving the place an unpleasant herbal stench.
"We need you to perform a counter spell for hypnosis," Clayton explained. "The spell is quite powerful, from the Darigan Citadel."
"Oh my!" Morag gasped. "Well, I have several potions that may be of assistance..."
"That won't work in this particular case," Clayton said quickly. "We need an actual spell. We were hoping you could help us directly."
Morag looked a little crestfallen.
"Then I am afraid I cannot help you," she said.
"You don't know a counterspell?" Elizabeth asked.
"Oh, of course!" she said, retreating back to her bookshelf. "I think Imry Infilson's Index of Illusions should have the required counter-charm. Here it is!"
She took a green volume from the shelf, placing it on the counter proudly.
"The only problem is that I cannot cast it for you," she said. "It is... a little shameful for the owner of a magic shop to confess, but I cannot perform real magic. Potions of the like, of course, but not any actual spells. You see, I don't own a wand - I lack one of the key ingredients, you know. The skull of a powerful wizard."
Clayton could see the way the conversation was going, and didn't have time for it. The fate of Meridell was at stake, they couldn't waste time hunting in crypts for dead wizards.
"And perhaps someone will find one for you some day," he cut across her. "In the meantime, the book will do just fine. We'll find someone to cast the spell for us."
Emptying a bag of Neopoints onto the counter, Clayton scooped up the magic book and swept out of the shop, Elizabeth close on his tail.
"Neither of us can do magic either," Elizabeth pointed out. "What's your plan?"
"I don't know, let's just get back to the castle for now," Clayton said.
The courtyard was not empty when they arrived - Jeran's young sister, Lisha had just emerged from the throne room, and was running off into the castle.
"How did she manage to escape?" Elizabeth asked. "She's just a little girl."
"A little girl with glasses," Clayton said with a smirk. "Something no one else in this time period has - they must have protected her from the spell. That's it!"
"Lisha!" Clayton said. "Your reports from the court said she had taken up magic since she arrived in Meridell, yes? Well then, she can cast our spell for us! She'll be heading to the library - all we need do is plant this book for her to find. We'd best get there before her!"
Elizabeth nodded, guiding Clayton through the corridors of the castle using a quicker route than the one Lisha was taking - they arrived before her, and Clayton deposited the book on a shelf where Lisha was sure to look. The two of them retreated to the shadows of the bookstacks as Lisha entered.
Together they waited until at least Lisha came across the planted book. Instantly, Lisha knew she had found the right one. A broad smile spread across her face, and wand in hand, she ran out of the library, back to the throne room.
"Meridell is saved then," Elizabeth said, emerging from the shadows.
"Not yet - Skarl is saved, that much is true," Clayton replied. "It's time to pull our trump card - we have to liberate Lord Darigan and return him to the fight. Faced with Skarl and Darigan, Kass will surely topple. I'll head out to the farm and see if I can help things along. You stay here, make sure Skarl's counterattack happens effectively. Once it begins, find Zylphia in town and ask her to teleport you to the Citadel and make contact with Marko - I'll meet you there. We're so close to being able to finish this, we can't stumble now."
Elizabeth nodded. "Good luck."
"You as well."
The farmlands were burning.
At first, Clayton had just stared as the carriage pressed through the flames and smouldering remains of homesteads. As far as he had been concerned, King Skarl had only been hypnotised for a matter of hours. Kass's forces would have had to move unnaturally fast to cause so much devastation in that time.
Then reality hit him. What felt like mere minutes under the Court Dancer's spell must in fact have been far longer. How long had he stood there before snapping away from the magic? Days? Weeks?
The fightback was happening now, at least. Jeran's soldiers at the front had been bolstered, allowing the knight to fall back to the castle and plan an assault on the Citadel proper.
Now smaller units were fanning out across the farms, putting down the Darigan assault. It was slow progress though, and many farmers were having to fight for themselves.
Sally's family, they were in that boat. The farm was burning as it appeared in the distance - Clayton quickly leaving the carriage to run across the fields on foot.
Too far away, Clayton heard Sally's scream. He emerged into the farmyard to find her hunched over her parents, a pair of Darigan Skeiths jeering at her.
One moved to make short work of Sally herself, but a new figure darted out from the barn, connecting hard with the Skeith's side and sending both to the floor. The creature was a mess of claws and fangs, and the Skeith was quickly overwhelmed. Taking the fallen soldier's pike, the bat-thing forced the remaining Skeith to the ground.
"Darigan!?" he gasped. "But you died!"
"Mr... Scary?" Sally asked.
The bat-thing rounded on Sally, a fierce look in its eyes. For a moment Clayton thought it would make the girl its next target - but then its eyes softened.
"Sally?" Darigan questioned.
Clayton allowed himself a relieved smile as he watched memories and emotions bloom to life in Darigan's face. He was remembering who he was at last.
The Korbat glanced down towards the fallen soldiers, and then up to the Citadel, shrouded in Morguss's magical stormcloud.
"I... have to go," he said, giving one beat of his wings and flying off towards the dark shape in the sky.
"Mr. Scary! Wait!" Sally cried out too late.
Clayton slunk back into the fields. Sally was left alone, crying as the farm burnt around her.
Clayton allowed him a few moments for calculations - Darigan was back in the game, a hidden advantage that put Kass, and the Three, on the backfoot. But he wouldn't be enough to challenge the whole Citadel's might. Jeran would need to assault the Citadel as well.
A Crokabek fluttered down from a nearby scarecrow, depositing a scroll in Clayton's hands. A message from Elizabeth.
'Skarl's plan is in motion - no reinforcements are coming from Brightvale, but Galgarroth has gained some help from Hagan - together they have convinced the Air Faerie, Psellia, to aid in the fight. Given our... Histories between the Sway and the Faeries, I am staying away from her. I gather she plans to clear the cloud surrounding the Citadel, allowing Jeran and his knights to make an aerial assault while mutated Petpets and the remaining bulk of the army lead a ground assault. They will begin soon - I am heading into town to meet Zylphia as arranged. See you on the Citadel.'
Clayton hastily wrote another note on the parchment, giving Marko and the Double Agent instructions on where to direct Kass's troops, before beckoning the Crokabek back and sending it off with the new message.
With Kass's troops committed towards the main bulk of Meridell's army, they would miss Jeran's surprise attack completely - combined with Darigan's return... They might just stand a chance of winning this after all.
To be continued...