Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Five
The halls of the Citadel were in complete contrast to the deserted town beyond the fortress walls.
The Citadel was at war.
Everywhere, armoured soldiers, mages, and scholars marched and ran, preparing new trooper deployments or discussing plans for the coming battle of Meridell Castle.
Clayton and Elizabeth stuck to the shadows wherever they could. Here, Elizabeth proved much capable. Clearly, stealth was one of the areas that she had perfected in her time within Meridell Castle.
"We need to find Lord Darigan's chambers," Clayton hissed from across the hall after a group of Darigan Skeith soldiers passed them.
"I believe I can help you there - follow me," Elizabeth replied, taking the lead.
She led them carefully away from the more militarised areas of the Citadel. Clayton couldn't be sure, but it appeared they were heading towards the kitchens.
Abruptly, Elizabeth ushered Clayton into a side room, closing and bolting the door behind him. Inside, a Darigan Meerca was sat at a desk, busy inspecting paperwork. He gave a little start when he saw them, but it was not quite the reaction Clayton expected.
It was not the shock of a Darigan national seeing the enemy walking into his office. It was the shock of meeting someone you weren't expecting to see yet. This Meerca clearly knew who Elizabeth was.
"Marko," the grey Cybunny greeted him.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Our plans did not include you travelling to the Citadel - you could be arrested!"
"Our plans have changed," Elizabeth said pointedly.
She handed over the scroll she had received from their nameless leader in Neopia Central. Clayton noticed the Meercas fingers as he took the scroll - he had the ring, this too was a member of the Sway.
"I... see," Marko said after reading the scroll. "I presume this is a recent development? Otherwise, all of my hard months of work have been for nothing."
"Very recent," she said, with a glance to Clayton. "Clayton Moore, meet Marko Vanderson. He's our man inside the Citadel."
"You have people on both sides, but were doing nothing to stop the brewing war until I showed up?" Clayton questioned.
"Our intelligence has long suggested that Lord Darigan would prove a more malleable leader for the lands of Meridell and Brightvale," Elizabeth answered. "If what you say about the Three is true, then we were entirely right. The original plan was for me to undermine Meridell's defences, allowing for an easy Darigan victory. Then, Marko would ensure that the Sway held Darigan's ear when he took the throne."
"I am something of a councilor," Marko added.
"Low ranking, I assume? Your office is near the kitchens," Clayton said.
Marko gave a little offended snort.
"Ranked highly enough, but not so high as to raise suspicion," he replied. "Those were my orders."
"Well, now you have different ones," Clayton said bluntly. "We need to stop this from going any further. We need to go to Lord Darigan's chambers."
"Very well," he agreed, standing up. "Stay by my side. They are unlikely to challenge you while you are with me. As for getting into the chambers themselves, that you will have to do yourself. Lord Darigan is only seeing soldiers who have news from the front. He has become quite... Obsessed."
Marko led them outside, and back through the Citadel corridors. A few passing soldiers did give them lingering looks, but as Marko had said, they were not challenged. Even a low ranking advisor seemed to have some respect in the military.
Lord Darigan's chambers were guarded by Eyries. Clayton suspected they had been selected for being smarter than the Elementals on the front gate - his amulet would not work on them.
"I will attempt to distract the guards," Marko whispered.
He made his way forwards, Clayton and Elizabeth disappearing into the shadows.
"What is it, Vanderson?" one of the Eyrie guards demanded. "Lord Darigan is only taking council from his generals - you are not welcome."
"It is you I need to speak with," Marko said, deliberately positioning himself to force the Eyries away from the door in order to continue the conversation. "I fear there may be a problem in the guard shift changes that the enemy may be able to exploit."
The two Eyries moved, and Clayton slid forwards in the shadows, opening the door to Darigan's chambers the tiniest of slivers and forcing himself inside.
Quickly, he darted back into the shadows, and saw movement on the opposite side of the room as Elizabeth did the same. Lord Darigan was hunched in the window, staring down at the destruction below. He had not seen them.
...But something else had.
It started with a strange unnatural chill on the air, and then all at once Clayton's sense's were assaulted. Visions of power and wealth flashed before his eyes.
He could do so much more, a voice seemed to suggest somewhere in his head. With a little more power, perhaps he could heal Neopia in ways he hadn't even considered before. Maybe... If he had the Duchess's position, he would be able to do a better job.
Clayton shook his head, letting out a small snarl. The Three, he had been warned about their mind games.
The noise seemed to disturb Darigan, who stirred from his thoughts. He turned from the window, and seemed to stare directly at Clayton. The Kougra was sure he was cloaked in darkness though, the Korbat should not have been able to see him.
Darigan seemed to be listening to something, and the candlelight was casting shadows onto the wall next to him. Three shadows - a Gelert, a Faerie, and a Skeith.
Whatever Darigan was thinking of doing was quickly forgotten. The doors to the chamber burst open, a Darigan Eyrie in armour rushing in. Clayton recognised him - General Kass, the Neopet who would, eventually, take over from Darigan.
"General Kass, what is the meaning of this!?" Darigan shouted. "I have explicit orders!"
"That you were only to be disturbed if it was important, sir, and it is important," Kass replied. "Meridell Castle has been breached, Skarl is still resisting, but the orb chamber has been taken."
Darigan's eyes widened at the mention of the thing. Greedy eyes.
"We rushed it straight here, my Lord," Kass said, taking a package and bowing to present it like a relic.
Darigan snatched it away immediately, tearing away the packaging to reveal the golden orb inside. The Korbat clutched it tightly to his chest, as if a great burden has just been lifted from him. Everyone in the room felt the wave of raw magic that pulsed from the orb as it came into contact with Darigan's flesh.
Clayton's heart sank. Darigan now held the orb, making him far too powerful for Clayton and Elizabeth to challenge alone. And that meant that all hope of stopping Darigan before he was due to die anyway was lost - all hope of stopping the destruction of Meridell now lay with defeating Kass.
A roar from outside gained the attention of Darigan and Kass. Meridell Castle was directly below now, and a massive ghostly figure almost the size of the Citadel itself had risen from the battlements. It was a Kougra, emblem of Meridell burned into it's ethereal armour as it hefted a ghostly sword the size of a tower.
Clayton edged closer to the window, and sensed Elizabeth was doing the same.
"The Castle Defender," Elizabeth gasped. "Skarl must really be in trouble to call on him."
The giant ghost Kougra swung his sword, which impacted on the edge of the Citadel and made the whole structure shake violently.
"Very well," Darigan sneered. "Let's show them what the power of Darigan really is."
He held out the orb, which seemed to glow a vicious red before emitting a blast of energy with connected with the Castle Defender. The energy spread throughout the ghost Kougra's body, until at last it shattered in a hail of magic and smoke.
"Is this the best they can throw at us?" Darigan chuckled.
"Orders, my Lord?" Kass asked. "We have the orb, and Meridell is beaten."
Darigan was silent for a long while, as if listening to unseen voices again.
"Meridell is not yet beaten," he said at last. "Skarl is still free. He must be found. He must be brought to justice for his crimes. Meridell has not yet paid the price for crossing Darigan. Punish any who stand in our way - we must have our revenge."
Kass lingered, as if he didn't think this was wise, but saluted all the same and marched out.
"We know who sent you," Darigan said in the quiet that followed.
"Come now, you cannot hide from us," he added.
Clayton knew that stealth was no longer an option. He stepped out of the shadows. Elizabeth followed suit.
"Who are we addressing?" Clayton asked. "Lord Darigan? Or the Three."
"Both," came Darigan's answer.
It was a lie, that much was plain. The orb appeared to have given the Three enough magical power to completely claim control over Darigan's body, and perhaps his mind.
"We believed you would aid us in taking Meridell," Darigan said.
"You believed wrong," Clayton replied. "You seek ruin. The opposite of our goals. We can never be allies."
"Then you will fall," Darigan said, turning to face them, holding the orb in his hand. "With this, we are untouchable. We will rain down such horrible fire across this planet. All of Neopia shall fall to the might of the Three. You cannot stop us."
"Not alone, but we are not alone," Clayton replied.
A pointless bluff.
"You are alone now," Darigan said, preparing a magical charge from the orb.
"Elizabeth!" Clayton called out, grabbing her hand and holding her close.
With his free hand, he took out the pocket watch they had used to teleport to the Citadel, and pressed the button.
Darigan's blast impacted on the empty chamber floor. The Korbat let out a little growl, before turning back to the window. No matter, the Sway were mere insects. They didn't matter now.
Darigan began to focus his energies on the orb - he would unlock the power held within.
To be continued...