On His Majesty's Secret Service: Part Three
“Now pay attention, Agents. This is the key that we’ll hide in the Meepit plushie,” Quentin, the wizard Zafara explained, holding up a twinkling little key. “It’s been magically enchanted to work as a skeleton key. It should open all locks within the dungeons, but outside of that I can’t make any guarantees.”
Fredrick nodded. “Everything outside the dungeons should be unlocked anyway. Once Jasmine has left me with the plushie, she’ll find a nice hiding spot nearby and wait until night fall.”
“From what I’ve been able to find with magical surveillance, Vex normally takes a nap at seven,” Quentin revealed.
“Which leaves us an hour to get Agent Dunlop out of the cells before Lord Von Stratus’s party is due to leave the Citadel,” Fredrick added.
“I still don’t see why we can’t let Von Stratus in on this,” Marcel, the Draik in the corner observed.
“He’s a low level ambassador,” Fredrick replied. “He probably doesn’t even know our department exists. No, the fewer people know about this, the easier it’ll go.”
“Now,” Quentin continued. “While Vex is asleep, the guard named Haskol tends to patrol the cells just to keep everything in check. He’s quite methodical, and his rounds normally last three minutes from one end of the cell corridor to the other.
“So in other words, I have three minutes to get myself and Dunlop out of the cells, and then out of the door,” Fredrick surmised.
The lumbering Skeith took his time passing each individual cell. The Kyrii eyed him carefully, and rushed forward when he was sure he was out of eye line. He took the key from inside the plushie and carefully eased his hands through the bars of the cell. He managed to unlock it with ease, but paused before opening the door. The hinges were notoriously creaky; there were even rumours that Vex kept them that way just to prevent silent escapes.
But Fredrick wasn’t the average escapee. He prized the door open millimetre by millimetre, constantly glancing up to the Skeith further down the corridor. Once the door was open a sliver, Fredrick eased himself through, making good use of the small Kyrii frame he had morphed into. He darted across the doorway to Agent Dunlop’s cell, pressing his finger to his lips to signify that the Darigan Bruce within should remain silent.
Fredrick worked his magic on the door again, taking care to open it further to allow the far podgier Bruce to escape. Once he was out, Fredrick silently instructed the Bruce to crouch, and begin crawling towards the door. Fredrick was careful to close both cell doors again, in order to avoid drawing attention. With one last glance back towards Haskol, Fredrick followed Dunlop.
The two were able to effortlessly crawl past the sleeping Vex, and out the door that led back to the main castle.
Out in the corridor, Dunlop turned to Fredrick.
“I wasn’t sure if Lord Merchant was going to perform an extraction,” he informed him gleefully. “You are from Meridell, right?”
Fredrick began to make his way down the hall, pinned to the wall. “Yes, M sent us. Now, did you compromise the operation?”
“M?” Dunlop chuckled as he followed. “Is that what he’s calling himself now? Times have obviously changed while I’ve been up here. They didn’t get anything out of me in the cells.”
“Good,” Fredrick whispered, peering around a corner.
“How are we going to get out?” Dunlop asked. “The front gate is guarded, and the fortress walls are watched.”
Fredrick paused by an ornamental urn. “We’re going to carry you out.”
“We?” Dunlop questioned.
A polite cough from behind the urn pre-empted the emergence of a pink Cybunny. She wordlessly handed a vial of liquid to Fredrick, and drank one herself.
She made a face before hissing, “That’s horrible! Would flavourings go amiss!?”
Fredrick drank one himself. “They’re not meant to be gastronomic experiences.”
Immediately, the features of the two began to change before Dunlop’s eyes. Both grew taller, with the Cybunny becoming a great deal less plump. New colours spread across their bodies as their frames changed, and before Dunlop could properly express his amazement, two yellow Ogrins stood before him.
“I don’t get one?” Dunlop asked.
“No,” Fredrick answered. “Like I said, we’re going to carry you out.”
“The next port of call will be the aide’s room, which is here,” Fredrick continued, pointing to a room on the blueprint. “We’ll have to move quickly, because we have no way of knowing when Haskol might check the cells. Once he finds prisoners missing, the entire fortress will go into lockdown and we’ll have to rely on Plan B.”
At the back of the room, the Draik, Marcel, smiled whilst polishing an antique crossbow.
“Ambassador Von Stratus should already be at the port by then,” Jasmine added. “All we have to do is get there and collect the stuff.”
Fredrick peered around the corner.
“Now,” he hissed.
Jasmine and Dunlop raced past him and into the nearby room, with him close behind. He shut the door firmly behind him.
“Neat and tidy,” Jasmine remarked, taking in the room. “They needn’t have bothered.”
Together, Fredrick and Jasmine rushed to the single large trunk that contained the aide’s neatly packed possessions and upended it. All manner of documents and clothes spilled out across the floor. Once it was empty, Fredrick signalled Dunlop to get inside.
“You want me to get in there?” Dunlop asked incredulously.
“Do you want off this rock?” Fredrick replied.
Dunlop sighed and climbed in, while Jasmine placed a few items of clothing on top to mask him should any guards open the trunk. She closed it firmly once the Bruce was hidden. All that remained was for Fredrick and Jasmine to select some of the remaining clothes to make themselves look presentable.
Once they were ready, they picked up the trunk, and between them carried it out of the door.
Several guards passed them on their way down to the front gates, but thanks to their Meridell attire they were not given a second glance. Even the Eyrie Guards on the gate merely nodded and let them through when Fredrick gave the excuse, “We’re running late and the Ambassador will be angry.”
From there, it was only a brief journey to the port and the ship that would return them to Meridell. They made their way up the gangplank and past a Quiggle who was busily checking the ship’s inventory.
In the cabin below deck, Marcel and Quentin were waiting, along with the two sleeping aides. It wasn’t long before Hewlett, the Quiggle, joined them.
“I’ve crossed one of the lifeboats off the ship inventory,” he explained. “We’ll steal it mid flight. When they get to the other end, the official documentation will show it was never there in the first place.”
As Jasmine helped Dunlop out of the chest, Fredrick leaned against one of the beds. The rocking sensation of the ship’s lift off began.
They had done it. Everything had gone exactly according to plan.
The embers of a campfire burned as they all watched on; shielded from the cold night air by the hull of the small lifeboat they had stolen. Dunlop seemed overjoyed to be back on Meridell soil, and from the looks on their faces, so were the others.
“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” Hewlett asked.
“Our rendezvous is in Cogham. There’ll be an Agent waiting there to take Dunlop off our hands and debrief us all,” Fredrick explained.
“Cogham...” Jasmine muttered, glancing to the moonlit horizon. “That’s quite a trek.”
“We’re not taking the lifeboat, before you suggest it,” Fredrick added. “It’s too out of place; we’d draw attention to ourselves.”
“It’s only meant for short flights anyway,” Hewlett explained. “It’d probably stop working before we even reached the town.”
Quentin cleared his throat, “Agent Dunlop... can I ask you something?”
“Of course!” the Bruce replied as he warmed his hands.
“What was your mission?” Quentin asked. “Were you there just to observe the Darigan insurgents, or to bring them down from within?”
Marcel, who had been sharpening a knife absent-mindedly, cut in before Dunlop could answer.
“You don’t ask another spy his mission,” he scoffed. “The fewer people that know, the better.”
“But even so...”
“No, Marcel is right,” Fredrick agreed. “Information is on a need to know basis, that’s the orders. Now, we should all get some sleep. We have a long walk ahead of us if we want to make it to Cogham.”
Fredrick turned to lie down, but Dunlop began to speak.
“If I might ask a question...?” he began. “Why are we heading for Cogham? I’m not one to doubt his Lordship’s orders, but that’s about as far away from the castle as you can get!”
“What are you talking about?” Hewlett asked. “Cogham’s on the road to Meridell Castle!”
“Meridell Castle...?” Dunlop asked, his eyes slowly widening. “You... you’re planning on taking me to Meridell Castle?”
“Of course!” Jasmine frowned.
“You... work for the King?”
Dunlop backed away in the dirt.
“You don’t?” Fredrick asked.
“Lord no!” Dunlop gasped. “Well, I’d sooner die than be taken there!”
Dunlop was on his feet, backing away towards the lifeboat. Fredrick followed, along with the others.
“Who do you work for then?” Fredrick demanded. “Is it the Darigan Insurgents? Are you really working for the Clawed Hand?”
A figure darted in front of Fredrick before he could advance any further. Marcel, the shadow Draik, brandished his dagger at his fellow spies.
“Don’t come any closer!” he threatened. “I’d hoped to get Dunlop away from you while you were all sleeping, but it seems like my hand has been forced. I’ll be taking him now.”
“Marcel?” Fredrick questioned. “You’re helping Darigan? You’re switching sides now?”
Marcel smiled. “Switching? I don’t recall ever saying I was on your side.”
The Draik smiled, taking a small package from his pocket and throwing it to the ground before anyone could react. The package exploded in a cloud of smoke that covered the gathered spies. Fredrick immediately felt his throat begin to burn, and fell to the floor as he struggled to breathe. His vision became blurry, and the last thing he saw before passing out was the figure of Marcel disappearing through the mist with the slumped body of Agent Dunlop flung over his shoulder.
To be continued...