Agent of the Sway: Resistance - Part Six
Clayton found the Duchess by the piers in the Docklands of Neopia Central, looking out to sea and the cargo vessels coming in from Shenkuu.
She had been deep in conversation with a skunk Kyrii when Clayton arrived, but the two quickly broke off their conversation and the Kyrii left.
"Remember the Wand of Wishing?" the Duchess said. "And the Petpet nature reserve it accidentally created outside Neopia Central?"
"I thought the PPL had cordoned it off until they finished their investigation," Clayton said.
"Which they have," she replied. "They will soon open it as a Petpet theme park named Petpet Park - as part of that they are hoping to find some limited edition Petpet species hopping over from Petaria - our associate Yurius will help them locate the portals."
She glanced after the disappearing Kyrii.
"You want me to keep an eye on the situation?" Clayton asked.
"No," she said. "Yurius seems capable enough, he's doing it out of misguided revenge - he's an ex-PPL agent. He'll serve us well as a willing pawn, and I cannot foresee the Park itself requiring more than a little supervision once it is running. No, I have bigger tasks for you. First things first though, my dear. Do you have it?"
Clayton produced the token. The red eyes were still glowing inside.
"Good day, doctor," she said with a cruel smirk.
"You think he is aware of what's happening around him?" Clayton asked as he handed it over.
"Most certainly," the Duchess replied. "It is constructed as a prison for both his body and his mind. Unfortunately the thing has a very strong magical signal, once the Space Faerie is back in the solar system, she will be able to pinpoint its location. We will have to keep it magically shielded at all times to prevent detection."
She pocketed the token.
"Now, to further business," she said. "You recall before this situation with Dr. Sloth escalated, I mentioned an archeological dig in Tyrannia - the one that yielded the means to find the Lost Isle?"
"You said it was something to do with Tura-Kepek?" Clayton said. "The shaman?"
"Yes," the Duchess replied. "He is planning to release Moltenus, the caged beast at the heart of the volcano on Mystery Island. This time, he will require six magical wards. Unfortunately, he has succeeded in gaining four of them while we were... Occupied with Lady Falmouth's great purge. There is a fifth ward under Sakhmet city, and the final one was hidden in Tyrannia - the agent I sent there has recovered it at last."
"Then as long as we hold it, Tura-Kepek's plan will prove fruitless," Clayton said.
"Unfortunately the shaman knows this just as well as you," she told him. "He's mobilised the majority of his minions to Tyrannia in search of my agent, sensing that it has been found. The agent, posing under the assumed name Greyfang, has been forced to flee to Shenkuu - far from our arranged meeting place. No doubt the shaman's forces will pursue him. They cannot be allowed to gain the ward. You must protect Greyfang until he reaches Neopia Central and I can safely dispose of the artefact."
"What about the ward in Sakhmet?" Clayton asked.
"The shaman's Faerie ally, Eithne, has been sent to recover it, along with a powerful rock beast known as Calciferus," the Duchess said. "Eithne is a rebel Faerie so we have little to fear from her, but Nuria is paying close attention to the desert these days, and will no doubt involve herself. Our history with her leads me to suggest that, if possible, we should stay out of this one."
"I'll head to Shenkuu immediately," Clayton agreed.
The overnight carriage to Shenkuu was fast, but not particularly advanced in the way of comfort. Clayton's very bones were rattling by the time he arrived in the Imperial City the following day.
Unfortunately, he was too late.
The carriage ground to a halt at the gates of the Empire as the driver saw the state of the city. It seemed like fire was raining down from the sky, hitting buildings and pathways, and burning both.
But there was more than mere fire. They were meteors, and from the crashed rock, living creatures began to rise - Rock Beasts, like the one that had laid waste to Sakhmet years ago in the fight against Sloth. This was ancient magic, the type favoured by madmen like Razul - Tura-Kepek had to be desperate to send an army to look for an archaeologist.
The Shenkuu locals were fighting the beasts in the streets, a losing battle. Many were falling back as Clayton ran through the mists. Greyfang could be anywhere - the Rock Beasts may already have him.
Clayton heard screams through the smoke. The Emperor had just issued the order to evacuate. Clayton had to get to high ground if he had any hope of finding his contact.
He picked the highest, clearest mount he could see from his level and made for it, coming up on a wide flat topped mountain.
Thankfully, it seemed, Greyfang had the same idea. The purple Lupe was stood with a grim face, surveying the destruction.
"Greyfang?" Clayton questioned. "I am Agent Rook."
"A Crokabek arrived overnight," the Lupe said with a nod. "I just wish you could have gotten here sooner. There's no hope of us getting out through the mountain paths. Tura-Kepek has employed bandits who are blocking them - I've arranged some transport to get us out of here."
From the sky-docks, there was a flying ship approaching. Clayton recognised it as the famous Cyodrake's Gaze, the ship that had allowed Shenkuu to be discovered in the first place. Secretly, of course, the crew had been in the pockets of the Sway at the time. Now, it seemed, they were willing to follow orders once more.
The ship came in low near the mountain, letting the two of them jump aboard as a fearsome roar came from down in the mists. A giant fire Cyodrake was climbing the mountain path.
"Embraxus!" Greyfang gasped. "One of the shaman's minions!"
The crew prepared the ship to leave, but it was clear they wouldn't be out of range in time. Thankfully, the Cyodrake's Gaze had more cargo - adventurers the crew had saved from the city ran forwards, and from a distance Clayton gave aid with his crossbow.
It wasn't long before the giant Petpet fell back, defeated. It bought the crew enough time to get the ship up to speed, and they were off.
The crew were busy congratulating the adventurers, but Captain Tuan caught Clayton's eye and gestured him and Greyfang over.
"We've got some damage, the Rock Beasts gave this thing a pummeling before we left the sky docks," he said. "We're going to have to put down for repairs soon. I'm sorry, but there's no way I can have you in Neopia Central until that's done."
"Where are you landing?" Clayton asked.
"The desert's nearest, and softest landing in an emergency," Tuan told them.
Clayton and Greyfang exchanged a look. A Crokabek was already perched on the railing, waiting for a message.
"I'll send the report," Clayton said.
As the sands of the desert began to shine in front of them, the Crokabek returned, with a message from the Duchess.
"Interesting," Clayton said with a wry look.
"What is it?" Greyfang asked.
"You're clearly a marked man, and I can't move freely in the desert due to my history with Nuria," he said. "But she's come up with another solution. We have anonymous adventurers right here with us. If we give them your ward, it should be safe. I'll pickpocket it back once we have the repairs and are off to Neopia Central. You're to tell them your tale and give them the ward. Then, when we land in the desert, we both stay here until repairs are complete."
Greyfang nodded, heading off to regale the adventurers with his stories.
A few hours later, they crash landed in the desert heat. The adventurers, now with ward in hand, were sent off into the desert to locate supplies. Clayton could do nothing but wait on deck.
Clayton was disturbed in the middle of the night by Greyfang bursting into his cabin.
"We have a problem," he said. "Those stupid adventurers weren't just happy with repairing the ship - they went to Sakhmet, and helped defeat Calciferus."
"That works in our favour," Clayton said.
"That does, yes," Greyfang said. "But after that, they joined up with Eithne - she sold them some sob story about trying to help. The jist of it is, they helped her get access to the catacombs under Sakhmet. They helped her find the fifth ward. And then she stole the one that we gave her."
Clayton sat bolt upright in his bunk.
"Then Tura-Kepek has all six," he said. "He can wake Moltenus whenever he likes."
"Eithne has already fled back to Mystery Island," Greyfang said. "I trust you agree our best course of action is to follow and dispose of the shaman ourselves?"
"I do," Clayton said with a nod.
"Good, I've already instructed Captain Tuan to set sail," the Lupe said. "The adventurers have returned, cap in hand, offering to help... However the real problem is who came with them."
"Eithne breaking into the Catacombs set off some ancient and powerful magic," Greyfang said. "It got the attention of Nuria - she's coming with the adventurers."
"You mean Nuria is onboard!?" Clayton gasped.
A few years earlier, Clayton had been the one to force her out of the desert when Razul returned. She'd been forced to forget her memories of it, but ultimately that had been the spark that had led to Lady Falmouth's purge of Sway agents. It had almost claimed the entire organisation.
"I can't go up on deck," Clayton said. "You will have to send a report. Priority one."
Greyfang nodded, turning to leave.
"I'm sure I don't have to tell you," Clayton added. "Be careful. If Nuria discovers us, the Sway will be finished."
To be continued...