Swayed: Part One
The night was silent, dark except for the moonlight filtering through the clouds obscuring most of the sky. The shadows growing from the bases of the trees danced and flickered like the candles that shone in the windows of the stone mansion tucked safely away behind the cast-iron gates. The wind whistled through the branches of the trees, playing spooky yet serene music for the shadows to dance to. Thaddeus wrapped his coat tighter around himself to keep the chilly wind at bay, and once again looked at the letter that was the whole reason he was out here at this forsaken hour.
There is much that you want
We can help you get it
At the next stroke of midnight be at the gate of your father's mansion.
I will meet you there.
He wasn't sure who sent it, it had just flown in through the window a few hours ago carried in the beak of a crokabek with feathers black as ink. The young Lupe glanced at his pocket watch.
He sighed and turned the note over in his hands where the broken wax seal was. A triangle, surrounding some sort of odd-looking letter S. He had only heard rumors of the mysterious organization, but he knew enough to not refuse an invitation like this. He looked at his watch again.
Whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen soon. Hopefully it-
He jolted out of his thoughts as a tall, cloaked figure with the ink-feathered crokabek on its shoulder appeared in a cloud of smoke in front of him. It was a woman's voice that had spoken, and it... no, it couldn't be... her. Thaddeus put a hand to his chest, afraid that his pounding heart would jump out at any moment. "Are you the one that sent the letter?"
The cloaked figure went on, ignoring his question. Thaddeus thought he could detect a hint of irritability in her voice. "Thaddeus McGee, it has come to our attention that you possess talents that could be of a great asset to us. If you accept our offer, you will not regret it."
A chill crept up his spine. "Why would I regret it?"
The cloaked figure paused before going on. Thaddeus guessed she wasn't used to answering this question. "Some people... well, some people have trouble adhering to our standards and... well," She chuckled. "They can't handle what we give them. They can't handle the wealth or the power and they get-"
"Power?" Thaddeus interrupted. "That's what your offering me? Power? Money? Just for being me? I haven't even done anything with my life and you're here offering me things that I can only dream of. It sounds too good to be true."
He crossed his arms over his chest while the figure laughed. "It is too good to be true, that's why we only choose the best of the best to join us. You're loyal, determined, fierce. We make leaders out of someone like you. I can tell you don't like it here, so why would you stay? You're family doesn't want you, and you know it. You're eighteen now, and we'll welcome you, unlike them."
Thaddeus was shocked to the point where he was sure his face betrayed him. How could she possibly know that? He looked from her hood to the crokabek sitting on her shoulder staring at him with eyes as inky as it's feathers. Cold eyes, black and empty like the a deep tunnel. He could only hold its gaze for so long, and eventually his eyes dropped down to his boots.
"You're right. I don't know how you know... but you're right. They don't want anything to do with me, and I... I don't know why. My father says that I'm not worthy of his estate and he wants to give it all to my little brother. I've tried to talk to him but... that... that man won't listen to anything I say! What have I ever done? I don't deserve to be treated like this!"
Thaddeus shook his head and shivered from a sudden cold gust of wind. It cleared his head some, and the rage subsided a little. The Lupe sighed and wondered what he was doing. He hated his family, but he couldn't betray them or abandon them. Yet... that offer...
They don't love you, they would throw you out the first chance they get. They've tried. They will be happy when they find out you're gone. They-
"Well?" The figure's voice pulled Thaddeus from his thoughts. He raised his eyes to where her face was buried in shadow beneath her hood. "Are you with us? If not, walk back through that gate and live the rest of your life in agony."
The gate. The house. His family. Thaddeus took one last look at the place where he had grown up. The home where- no, it wasn't a home. Home was where you were loved, and no one in that building loved him. All they had succeeded in was causing him nothing but pain and sorrow. He turned back to the figure; he had made his decision. "What do you want me to do?"
The figured paused before extending her arm toward Thaddeus. Resting on her open palm was a ring that looked as if it was carved in obsidian, with the curious looking S carved into the top. The figure was close enough now that he could see the smile on her beak. "All you have to do is join us, and you will have whatever your heart desires."
Thaddeus felt his heart pounding in his throat as he took the ring and carefully put it on. There. It's done. He was one of them now. Thaddeus smiled, he could feel the growing power in his heart already. It was like... like he was in the shadows and the ring brought light to him.
"You chose well, Thaddeus McGee." The figure pulled back her hood to reveal an aging purple Lenny with her gray hair styled high on her head. The Duchess smiled, her eyes betraying a twinkle of pleasure.
"Welcome to the Sway."
Thaddeus strode down the long, windowless stone hallway with his chest bursting with excitement. He had only been part of the Sway a few weeks and already the Duchess wanted him to go on a mission, although she didn't tell him what it was. He spent all last night tossing and turning wondering what it could possibly be. Maybe it was spying on some great monarch? Or stealing an important artifact? He still wasn't quite sure what the purpose of the Sway was, as he had spent the last few weeks training basic skills, which, while interesting, didn't reveal much about this organization which he had devoted his life to. His heart beat faster as he approached the heavy oak doors that lead to the Duchess' study, and he started to wonder if he was getting worked up over nothing. For all he knew, she might just be sending him out to deliver a message, it was his first mission after all. Thaddeus paused in front of the doors to straighten his coat, then raised his hand to knock.
Thaddeus' hand froze in the air, he hadn't even knocked. Wondering how she knew he was already there, the Lupe pushed open the heavy door. "You asked to see me, my lady?"
The Duchess was seated at a desk that looked as formidable and heavy as the doors to her study, she had a pen in hand and was impatiently tapping it on the desk. She smiled as he spoke, despite her obvious impatience. "Yes, my boy, I have decided that it is time for you to go on your first mission. Please, sit."
The Duchess gestured to one of the chairs in front of the desk. She then stood and spoke again, but this time it wasn't directed at Thaddeus, but at a figure sitting in the corner that he hadn't noticed until now. "Come over here, dear. Meet your new partner."
The figure rose from the chair she was lounging in and made her way to the chair next to Thaddeus's. As she sat down she turned to Thaddeus and held out her hand. "My name is Masila. I have heard a lot about you, Thaddeus."
Thaddeus shook her hand, slightly distracted by the green Acara's tantalizing beauty. He wondered how old she was. She appeared to be younger than him, but the Duchess had told him that eighteen was the youngest age that new acolytes were accepted. Thaddeus tried to keep his surprise contained, but when he thought about their meeting later, he was pretty sure he had stuttered when he responded. "T-thank you. You've heard about me?"
The Duchess interjected before Masila could respond. "Yes, Masila here is a new recruit like you, and-"
"All of the other girls talk about you, Thaddeus, you're quite popular."
Thaddeus blushed. "I am?"
The Duchess interrupted again, her voice tinged with annoyance at being cut off while she was talking. "Yes, you are quite the talk of the town, Thaddeus. But pleasantries are not why I called you two here." Thaddeus and Masila kept quiet this time, waiting for the Duchess to continue. She paused for a few moments before explaining. "My spies stationed in the Lost Desert have received intelligence that a certain treasure hunter has been scrounging around looking for artifacts, and is starting dig her nose too deep into matters that she shouldn't. I need the two of you to wipe her memory."
The Duchess handed Thaddeus a small picture of a tawny Usul with long, brown hair. He had seen her from somewhere else, but he couldn't quite remember her name...
"Hannah the great?"
That's it! Thaddeus looked over at Masila who was looking over his shoulder at the picture. She snatched it out of his hand. "How are we supposed to do that?"
The Duchess reached into a drawer behind the over-sized desk, pulling out a beautiful gold pocket watch with a porcelain dial and handed it to Thaddeus. He grabbed it by its chain and looked at the clock face. It was beautiful, with ebony hands and curly, delicate numbers. Thadd couldn't take his eyes off of it, it was so-
The Duchess snatched the watch out of his hand. "Don't stare at it too long, you fool; do you want to get hypnotized?"
Thaddeus shook his head and blushed, embarrassed that he could be so stupid. He glanced over at Masila, who looked like she was trying to hold back a laugh. The Duchess rolled her eyes.
"Listen you two, normally I would send more experienced acolytes on a mission like this but unfortunately I need all the ones I could spare for a different expenditure. Now. " She put down the pocket watch and raised her hands, resting them in a pyramid shape and drumming her finger tips together. "If you succeed at this mission, I will know that you will be able to rise to the occasion of any other missions I send you on. However, if you fail... " She chuckled darkly. "If you fail, your punishment will be as great as your reward would have been. Now, do you accept?"
She looked at them both with that smug smile still plastered on her face. Thaddeus looked over at Masila, who was looking back at him. He shrugged. She nodded slightly and turned to the Duchess. "We accept."
"Blasted heat. Whose stupid idea was this?"
"Well, it isn't my fault you're a wimp."
"I am not a wimp; you're just not normal."
Masila chuckled. "Why, because I don't whine about a little bit of heat?"
"You're wearing a full hood and cloak and it doesn't even bother you while I'm sweating like a snorkle!"
This time Masila laughed. "Shave off your fur then, because we aren't leaving until that little brat is taken care of. Here, take the canteen and stop sweating. It is rather gross."
Thaddeus glared at her as he eased himself onto the hot sand and splashed some water on his face. It wasn't like he could help himself, his thick fur was good for long, cold mornings hunting in Meridell, not for melting in the heat and sun of the Lost Desert. As Thaddeus took off his jacket he glanced over at Masila in her heavy purple cloak. The green Acara was looking through a spyglass aimed at the gates of Qasala, where Hannah was supposed to come out soon, according to their source in the Qasalan palace. She had supposedly been presenting an artifact to the King and Queen, and Masila and Thaddeus were hoping to nab her on her way out, as the gates were the main entrance to the city. The plan was to knock her out with a sleeping dart and then bring her back to their hideout, where they would use the pocket watch to hypnotize her and wipe her memories. He sighed and went back to loading the miniature crossbow with the sleeping darts. Masila seemed pretty excited about the plan, but Thaddeus wasn't so sure. The Duchess had never specified about erasing specific memories, and he was worried that wiping all of her memories would be too dangerous, especially if people starting wondering how it happened. Maybe they would just think that she hit her head and got a bad case of amnesia.
"Thaddeus! Look!" Masila shoved the spyglass in his face. "There she is! Make the shot, Thaddeus!"
Thaddeus ignored the spyglass and instead raised his crossbow and looked through the sight. Indeed, there she was, Hannah the great standing outside the gates with a large leather satchel slung over her shoulder. She was talking to... no, it couldn't be... she was talking to the King himself! Jazan was standing there smiling as he spoke to the young adventurer, who looked as if she was laughing. He put his finger on the trigger. His heart beat faster. She looked so happy, so innocent... Thaddeus lined her up in the cross-hairs. He had to be careful, he didn't want to hit Jazan. Just one twitch of his finger... and she was theirs. Just one...
"Thaddeus, do it!" Masila's voice snapped him out of his concentration and in his surprise lost his focus and hastily pulled the trigger, his aim completely off. The dart flew several feet off course, and hit a small, unsuspecting Scamander that was crawling up the sandstone gate. As the critter lost its balance and fell at Hannah's feet, Thaddeus saw the both of them turn toward where he and Masila were. His heart instantly fell to his feet as time moved slower; he saw Jazan raise his hand and-
"Look out, you idiot!" Masila tackled Thaddeus to the ground just as the fireball zoomed over their heads.
"SHOW YOUR FACES BY ORDER OF THE KING OF QASALA!"
Masila kept her head low as she grabbed the cross-bow. "Well, that isn't going to happen, you big oaf."
The darts had all fallen out and were scattered in the sand, so it took Masila a few seconds too long to scramble for a dart and load it. By the time she poked her head over the dune again everyone had retreated back into the city. She sunk back behind the dune and mumbled under her breath. "Cowardly king, not even staying out to fight-"
Her eyes shot up, and he shrank back a bit from the sharp fury that was in her eyes. "You!" Masila took the cross-bow that was still in her hands and, before Thadd could respond, hit him over the head with it. Stars danced in his vision.
"OW! Masila, what-!?"
"This is your fault! Why didn't you take the shot!?"
She hit him with the cross-bow again, this time Thaddeus blacked out for a second.
"We failed the mission and it's all your fault!" She threw the crossbow at him this time, and as Thadd dodged it he felt a sharp prick in his right shoulder. He looked down and had just enough time to pull the sleeping dart from his fur before blacking out.
To be continued...