Agent of the Sway: Departure - Part Six
4 Years Ago...
The Duchess was waiting in the ruins of the old castle in the old district of Neopia Central. The hill it was on was known as the Helm, and from it you had a good view of much of the city.
Things were changing in Neopia Central. A man named Mr. Jennings, silently and unknowingly guided by the hand of the Sway, was rooting out all of the old crimelords and consolidating them into one easy to handle package. The city was working in a way it hadn't for years.
The Duchess was frowning, a parasol in one hand to shade her from the sun. Clayton was again not happy to see that Agent Knight had also been called. The Techo, too, did not appear pleased to be working with Clayton again.
"We have located the devices Xandra asked us for," the Duchess announced. "We have altered the plan slightly given her brief on how the artefacts work. Due to the time the magic would take to cast if she used both artefacts at once, we think the Faeries would detect and counter the magic. As a result, Xandra will first use one of the pair to immobilise the Faeries. When this is done, she will use her acting abilities to ingratiate herself with those who come to investigate, and convince them to hunt down the second half and help her use it. To that end, we have stored the second of the pair in a secure facility near the Haunted Woods, guarded by her pet Wraiths."
"However," she added, with a glance to Clayton. "We are having to take extra cautions due to Lady Falmouth's refound interest in the Sway. In order to safely give Xandra an alibi, we have arranged for a thief to steal the artefact from her, and then sell it back while she is in disguise."
"Falmouth knows Xandra," Clayton said. "She may have fooled Quizara in the past, but if Xandra is involved deeply in the attempt to save the Faeries, Falmouth may guess her true nature."
"Lady Falmouth will have larger problems than Xandra," the Duchess said simply. "Given the continued problems with Falmouth and Faeries, we have recalculated our plans."
"To what?" Knight asked.
"We will no longer betray Xandra and restore the Faeries when we have access to the Hidden Tower," the Duchess replied. "You proved this to me with Tura-Kepek, Agent Rook. You were unable to act freely merely because of the presence of two Faeries. At every turn, our activities are limited and stopped by fear of discovery by either Fyora or her minions. I have previously considered that the Faeries were an important part of Neopia, but they are not inexpendable. It is time we rid ourselves of them, and freed our hands to move once more."
"You're... actually considering destroying the Faeries?!" Clayton gasped. "I've been involved with some things in my time... but that..."
"The Faeries will remain as statues," the Duchess said. "Never actually killed. If we need to recalculate our plans again in the future to include the Faeries, then by all accounts we may free them then."
"You didn't explain why Falmouth will be busy," Knight pointed out.
"Xandra believes that, with the Faeries petrified, the natural magical field they collectively emit will fade," the Duchess said. "This field, amongst other things, maintains the link to Faerie Haven, and keeps Faerieland floating in the air. If we help Xandra, Faerieland will fall. Falmouth, as a high ranking soldier, will be forced to help with the evacuation of non-Faeries before it crashes."
Knight and Clayton were both stunned into silence. It was eventually Clayton who broke it.
"What?" the Duchess asked. "As I recall, it was you who was involved in the destruction of the original Maraqua. What is the difference here?"
"I wasn't all that happy about that either," Clayton pointed out.
"Rest assured, if anything, this situation will be better," the Duchess replied. "There were casualties when Maraqua was destroyed. This time, I have been assured by Xandra, there will be no real casualties. The Faerieland guards are efficient, and the fall of Faerieland will be gradual. Everyone will be evacuated, and as statues, the Faeries will survive. Everyone wins out of this, Agent Rook."
"Xandra's word doesn't mean that much," Clayton said. "She happily sold out her former paymaster in Quizara."
"Then you have my personal word on the matter," the Duchess added. "There will be no deaths this time, Rook."
Clayton didn't entirely believe that, but fell silent.
"What are our orders?" Knight asked.
"Xandra will be able to perform the first curse at the Faerie Festival in the next few days," the Duchess said. "After that, we must stay away from Faerieland until the evacuation is complete. When it crashes, you will move in and claim what we need from the Hidden Tower. In the meantime, you will wait in the Haunted Woods and assist Xandra in her scheme as needed."
Both nodded, but Clayton thought that perhaps Knight's heart wasn't in this one.
"You don't agree with this, do you?" he asked as the pair walked away.
"Of course not," he spat. "But I am an agent of the Sway. I have survived this long by following orders, and I'm not about to change now. The Duchess's path is rarely the wrong one. And besides, we wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for you, Rook."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Clayton demanded.
"The Duchess is being forced to take a pre-emptive strike before Falmouth starts another purge," Knight explained. "The last one almost destroyed the Sway. Another would surely succeed. If not for your repeated failures over the years, Faerieland would not be her target. But you seem to be able to swan through your career within the organisation without the slightest care as to the consequences of your actions."
That was the final straw for Clayton.
"I'm well aware of what I have done and what the results have been," Clayton shot back acidly. "The faces of Lord Faversham, Duke Hopesmeade, Elizabeth Mayflower, and dozens of others haunt my sleep every night. But I'm also aware of my successes, Agent Knight. I have been involved in every major event and the smooth running of Sway operations for over ten years now. I was the one who rid this world of Captain Dread and Scarblade, I was the one who ended the Meridell wars, I was the one who saved the Bori and destroyed Razul. I was the one who saved the entire Sway from the brink in Neovia. I think what I have achieved outweighs the sacrifices that have been made, don't you? What have you done in that time, I wonder?"
Knight did not miss a beat with his reply.
"A good Sway agent does not discuss his previous operations," he replied smugly.
Lady Falmouth had spread out the notes across the table in her small office. She was rarely in the place, so it was sparsely decorated - most of her work was spent out in the field.
But now, she needed to cross-reference this information. People spotted in several places, they would be the key. Hopesmeade's agents had moved location regularly. If the organisation had survived, they would still be.
The Kougra, she thought, would be the key. There were mentions of Kougras in various places, but nothing definitive.
She paused as she felt a vague tingling in the air. It faded as soon as it had begun, so she dismissed it, returning to her work.
Then the magic hit her.
A shockwave the like of which she had never felt knocked her clean off her chair, the raw magic washing over her. For a moment, she wasn't sure if she was still in the room.
Eventually, she clawed her way back up to the desk. Something was wrong. There was something missing, something deep inside that was gone.
Faerie Haven, she realised. Her link to the forcefield surrounding it had been severed.
"Quizara!" she gasped.
She ran to the door, flinging it open and darting along the corridor. She stopped dead as she came to the castle gardens. The Earth Faerie who tended them for Fyora was Vyline, and she was stood in the middle of the lawn - but she wasn't merely staring into space. She seemed to have been turned to stone, like the Darkest Faerie's statue which stood behind her.
"Isobel!" a blue Draik in Faerieland armour called as he rushed towards her.
"Captain Smith," she said with a nod.
He was the Captain of the palace guard, one of Fyora's highest ranking soldiers.
"What's going on, Jackson?" she asked. "Faerie Haven, I fear it has been breached... I can't feel it any longer. And now Vyline..."
"It's not just Vyline," Smith said. "It seems to be every Faerie in the palace."
"The Queen!" Falmouth said with a gasp. "She'll be at the Festival gathering in the city!"
With that, she broke into a run, barely pausing at the great doors to the castle as she carried on into the city.
The Faerie Festival was being held in a specially created garden at the heart of Faerie City. Not every Faerie would be there, but a sizable portion of those who lived in Faerieland normally attended.
She reached the garden and skidded to a halt. They were there, all of them frozen in stone in whatever actions they had been doing - some were dancing, others singing, and some were eating.
"Quizara couldn't have done this..." she whispered to herself. "Surely?"
Then she came across the statue she had been dreading.
Fyora, Queen of Faeries, was frozen just the same, a smile of joy eternally etched into her petrified face.
Falmouth fell to her knees in front of the statue and wept.
To be continued...