Agent of the Sway: Isolation - Part Eight
309 Years Ago...
The months passed, and Meridell rebuilt. Gone were the ruined houses, the smouldering castle walls, and the trampled forest dwellings. Normality returned to the farmlands, as much as it could when there was a giant castle floating in the sky.
Elizabeth fulfilled her tasks expertly, working within the Meridell court to make the idea of a truce with the more palatable members of the Citadel higher levels a possibility. Clayton arranged for a steady stream of informants to check on Darigan and Sally at the farm - he was progressing well, growing strong each day, and occasionally managing the odd word here and there as thanks for the scraps of meat his new friend threw him.
The reports from Marko on the Citadel kept coming. They did not make for such optimistic reading.
"Kass has recruited the services of a blue Zafara," Clayton explained to Elizabeth after one such letter. "A spy of some sort."
"The Zafara Double Agent," Elizabeth said. "An agent provocateur. Very skilled, but a flawed recruit."
"She is a mercenary, at the end of the day," Elizabeth stated. "Her loyalties can be purchased, and Kass cannot hope to pay more than the Sway. I'll contact my superiors about payment. What has he been tasking her with?"
"Recruiting, or rather intimidating and bribing the higher ranking members of the Citadel government towards Kass's cause - war," Clayton said. "Marko says that the entire council needs to agree to a declaration of war. He expects that both chairman, the guard captain, the mayor, the constable, and the sheriff will be successfully swayed. Master Vex and General Galgarroth will prove the only real obstacles."
"Political games, Marko's strength," Elizabeth observed.
"Vex proved a worthwhile ally when the Darigan forces turned last time, we would do well to have him remain on the Citadel," Clayton considered.
"Vex will never play along with Kass's game," Elizabeth said.
"Then he must be persuaded to remain under different terms," Clayton said. "Those are to be the Double Agent's new orders once we purchase her services. She is to work to make sure Vex is only imprisoned, not killed."
"And Galgarroth? He is Kass's equal in the military. Kass will never tolerate such a threat, even behind bars," Elizabeth pointed out.
"Then she must work to ensure his survival," Clayton suggested. "Fake his death somehow, and smuggle him to Meridell."
Elizabeth nodded. "Anything else?"
"Marko claims that several of Lord Darigan's previous advisors are now serving Kass," Clayton added. "Hadrak, the old strategist, is back in the fold. Morguss, the witch, is also pledging her loyalty."
"Hardly surprising," Elizabeth replied. "It seems as if things are progressing more quickly then. We should prepare for war."
"I agree," Clayton said. "If you can convince Skarl to send Jeran and a contingent of knights to the Darigan front, that should avoid any repeats of the surprise attack that took so many troops last time."
Elizabeth nodded. "I'll see to it immediately."
For all Kass's failures, the Three certainly had given him conviction, Marko considered.
Once, the Eyrie would have cowered in front of Lord Darigan. Now, he acted as if he owned the place. Sadly, Marko lamented, he did. They were changing the street names as the Meerca made his way to Kass's rally. The name Darigan was being purged from the Citadel.
The crowds didn't appear to notice Kass's grab for power; they cheered him on his podium as if he was their savior. They were fickle, ready to believe that Skarl was their true enemy, the reason that their curse lingered. They were ignorant to the true threat of the Three, and played directly into Kass's hands.
General Galgarroth was dragged out by a pair of Eyrie guards to the jeers of the crowd. A Skarl sympathiser, Kass had claimed. Arrested, and sentenced without trail. The once proud Grarrl was now muzzled and bound, a broken shell of the creature that had fought for his country only a few months earlier.
Marko understood that Master Vex had been imprisoned in his own dungeons earlier that morning. Galgarroth was the final piece - with him out of the picture, Kass held complete control over the Citadel's government. War would follow soon, Marko was sure. Kass would not linger.
Galgarroth was loaded roughly into a catapult aimed over the Citadel's edge. A draconian measure - but then that suited Kass perfectly. No chance of survival. No chance of repercussions. No chance of failure.
Marko caught the eye of the blue Zafara slinking around by the catapult's mechanisms. The Double Agent. They were paying her handsomely to betray Kass, and she seemed to be worth it. Her influence had saved Vex's life. Hopefully, she would also be about to save Galgarroth.
Kass nodded down to the Eyries, who pulled the lever on the catapult. The spring shot up, carrying the Grarrl general over the edge of the Citadel and plummeting down beneath the dark layer of clouds. The crowd cheered, and Kass made a symbolic gesture, forcing his sword into the sky. Marko took one last hopeful glance towards the Double Agent, but she was already gone.
He returned to the castle proper. If he wanted to avoid the same fate as the general, he would need to at least act the part of a loyal diplomat.
A heavy impact halted Galgarroth's fall before it had properly begun. He was still in the dark cloud Morguss had summoned to protect the Citadel, that much he could see. But he was no longer falling - the ground seemed stable, if a little springy.
"We got him, sir!" a voice shouted from below.
"Excellent," another replied. "Bring us out of this cloud, back to Meridell."
Galgarroth found himself slipping, but with bound hands he could do little to stop it. He fell to another level - harder, wood. Slowly, he could tell they were moving, the darkness receding. At last, he could see his savior - one of Meridell's dirigible scouts. A Quiggle was at the helm, while a Kougra was making his way over to help the general.
"General Galgarroth, I'm glad to see you well," the Kougra said as he undid the muzzle and set to work on the chains binding his limbs.
"And who might you be?" Galgarroth demanded.
"An ally in dark times," the Kougra answered.
"Your name would be...?"
"Not important," the Kougra said. "Rest assured though, that not all forces in Meridell are blind to Kass's ambitions. We are working to stop this war."
"But not for Skarl," Galgarroth read between the lines.
"We just saved your life, general - these aren't times to be getting picky about your allies," the Kougra said.
"You have my thanks, of course," Galgarroth said. "But I get the feeling this is coming with a price."
"The only price we ask is your service in liberating the Citadel," the Kougra said.
"I'm of little use there," Galgarroth replied. "In case you haven't noticed, I've just been made persona non grata."
"You have... other uses," the Kougra said, finishing with the Grarrl's bindings. "Your name carries political cache that we do not hold. Your influence could give allies to Meridell in its time of need."
"The feud between King Skarl and King Hagan means that news is slow to travel between the kingdoms," the Kougra explained. "During the last war, it caused Skarl to refuse to ask for his brother's help. You, however, can press for aid personally with Hagan. He is a wise ruler, he will believe the truth in your story - and may pledge help."
"The Brightvale army?" Galgarroth laughed. "That is your grand plan for stopping the Darigan Citadel? You might as well throw a bucket of water into a volcano. If Meridell cannot stop us, then Brightvale holds no chance."
"We are aware of that," the Kougra answered. "They would serve as a distraction, nothing more. But such things are valuable. And, as you well know, allies are in short supply - you should take those that you can get."
Galgarroth considered this.
"Unless, of course, you want us to take you back up there so Kass can finish the job?" the Kougra asked.
Galgarroth snorted. "Very well, I will help you."
Dirigibles, for all their help, did not travel fast. As such, it was the next day before Clayton returned to Meridell Castle, having dropped Galgarroth at the Brightvale border.
He found Elizabeth waiting for him in the courtyard.
"Do you think it will work?" she asked. "Brightvale is not known for giving military aid."
"It will be difficult," Clayton agreed. "It will take time, perhaps, if we are lucky, the war will already be over and Brightvale's help will not be needed. But better to have them there as a safety net than not at all. The Sway always has a plan B."
"...Good..." she said, as if she was distracted by something.
"Oh!" she suddenly added. "A message came while you were away."
She handed over a scroll.
"Marko sends his congratulations on saving Galgarroth," she said. "He also adds that Kass is moving quickly. He is sending Morguss's daughter to Meridell Castle as a 'gift'. She's a famous sorceress in her own right on the Citadel - the plan is to use her magic to mesmerise King Skarl and his court, thereby delaying the deployment of the Meridell army. She should be arriving soon."
"You only thought to give me this message as an afterthought?" Clayton asked, reading the scroll to confirm the details.
"I have been... preoccupied," she said.
"With what?" Clayton asked.
"Nothing, nothing of importance," she added. "A momentary lapse of judgement. I assure you it will not happen again."
"Be sure that it doesn't," Clayton replied.
Something was clearly wrong, and when an agent of the Sway keeps secrets, it is never good. Clayton would need to keep an eye on her. Regardless though, they had more pressing issues.
"Kass must believe that his ploy has worked," Clayton said. "This witch must be allowed into the Castle to behind whatever scheme she has. Then, and only then, will we be able to counter her efforts."
"And if we succumb to her spell?" Elizabeth asked.
"We had best hope that we do not," Clayton replied.
To be continued...