Agent of the Sway: Rogue - Part Seven
Rasala brought up a magical shield with all her might, barely blocking the onslaught from the green spectre that had swept across the battlefield.
"Foolish little Neopet!" the genie boomed. "You are pathetic. Just think of all the great wizards I have bested, and then I have to deal with someone with as little power as you!"
"I know your tricks!" Rasala screamed. "You are an illusion, nothing more!"
She rallied herself, gathering a great fireball and launching it towards the spirit.
Elsewhere, the other factions were fighting similar battles against the spirits the Oracle had summoned. The Seekers were fighting a battle against a Bruce who seemed to be able to instil sleep. The Brute Squad, facing a cackling beast of fire that goaded them into rash actions. Kanrik stood apposed to a golden Wocky, a manifestation of greed, spilling Neopoints all over the battlefield. The Awakened were facing an embodiment of Death itself, a shrieking baby Ixi.
And there, closest to the obelisk, the Sway faced their greatest fear. Pride, as she called herself, was a large purple Aisha who glowed with unseen power. A mask hid her face, and she held a mirror in one hand, staring at her own reflection.
The remaining Sway agents, a fraction of the original number, had gathered as one to face the spirit.
"Destroy her!" the Duchess shouted with uncharacteristic emotion. "It must be a trick! Do whatever you must!"
Gradually, the gathered factions whittled down each of their spirits until none remained. But in the dying light, the Sway were closer to the obelisk, and they claimed it first.
The yellow light from within the obelisk spilled out, revealing the Oracle at last.
She was a Kiko, of sorts. A spirit, like those she had summoned, full of swirling energy.
"I am an Oracle of the elder days," she declared to the Duchess. "I have foreseen much that will yet come to pass."
The other factions were gradually regrouping. It was clear the battle for the obelisk was over - but the war for it may have only just been beginning. They would fight for the Oracle's favour continuously.
That suited Lady Falmouth just fine. She stood apart from the survivors now, in communication with Fyora through her magic.
"The battles will continue," Falmouth explained. "The Oracle appears to wish to select three of the gathered factions for a temporary gift of her powers. The Sway, along with the others, will remain. As long as they do so, their activities will be focused on Tyrannia, and their numbers will continue to fall as the battles take their toll."
"And in the moments they are not called to battle in Tyrannia?" Fyora asked.
"They will be free to return to their activities," Falmouth conceded. "However, I have contacts on every route out of Tyrannia - when they leave, they will be followed. We know their faces, we know their codenames, and thanks to Clayton, we know how they communicate. I'm already having every Crokabek seen in flight intercepted in case it is carrying a Sway message. The Sway have lost their greatest, and only, weapon - secrecy. We hold all the cards now."
"And Clayton?" Fyora asked.
"He... fell in battle," Falmouth explained. "I saw it myself. Unfortunate, as it appears his offer of help was genuine in the end. Still, we will make use of the gifts he has given us. His dying wish will be carried out. The Sway will be eliminated."
5 Years Ago...
Clayton was not normally called to the Duchess's home. Not anymore, not since Duke Hopesmeade. Just in case it led back to her.
She was waiting by the fireplace when he arrived, the embers painting her face a blood red.
"We must talk about Tura-Kepek," she said.
"I've already said I did all I could," Clayton protested.
"I am aware," the Duchess said. "The problem was not you, it was that you were not able to use your backup effectively. Because of the Faeries being involved. At our every turn, we have to curb our operations in order to avoid detection and a repeat of Lady Falmouth's purge. This situation cannot continue."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Not just you, all of us," the Duchess answered. "I thought that hiding, increasing our secrecy would solve the problem. But it hasn't, if anything it has been made worse. I thought we had become too loud. The truth, it seems, is that we were not loud enough."
"What do you mean?" Clayton asked.
"Imagine a world where everyone knew about the Sway," she considered. "Imagine if our numbers, our faces, even our names were made public. Imagine if we were all gathered in one place so that our enemies could better find us."
"The Sway would be finished," Clayton said.
"Yes, we would," she said with a smile. "Unless, of course, that situation was a lie. And the truth, the real truth, was hidden in plain sight. If everyone knew that the Sway were in, say, Tyrannia, then it would stand to reason that anyone suspected of being an agent in Meridell, for example, could not be one of us. Some agents could have their secrecy sacrificed, and in return all the remaining agents would have their hands free to move."
"A con like that would have to be elaborate," Clayton said.
"Which is why I need you to take care of it," she told him. "You are one of my most trusted agents, Rook. Duke Hopesmeade always spoke highly of you, and you have performed admirably since he departed. I can't trust anyone else with this - I recall that once upon a time you openly questioned our actions. Particularly over the destruction of Maraqua."
"Duke Hopesmeade once told me to hold onto that voice," Clayton explained. "What I've done... It weighs heavily on me, but I know we are working for the greater good. I see that now."
"Duke Hopesmeade was a wise man," the Duchess admitted. "It is doubt in our actions that keeps us from going too far, from becoming too prideful. However, I need you to begin questioning your orders once more. I need you to build this, until we launch an attack on Faerieland, at which point, you will betray the Sway, and offer your services directly to Lady Falmouth."
Clayton was stunned into silence, as the Duchess offered a folder of documents.
"You will find details of an ancient obelisk in Tyrannia inside," she explained. "You are to convince Lady Falmouth that you seek our downfall, and use the obelisk as the vector for luring us out. You will gather other forces to the obelisk to encourage the lie - the Seekers, the Order of the Red Erisim, the Thieves Guild, and anyone else you think may be useful."
Clayton nodded, reading over the file.
"The moment you leave this room, assume you are being watched," the Duchess said. "The lie must be utterly convincing, even to other members of the Sway. We will not speak of this meeting again until it is done. Understood?"
Clayton nodded again.
Some time after the light of the obelisk was claimed by the Sway, the Duchess slipped her minders and made her way downstream to the mouth of the river.
There, a sodden Kougra was waiting for her.
"Lady Falmouth has reported back to Queen Fyora," the Duchess said. "She believes that all members of the Sway are accounted for and watched."
In truth, only a fraction of the Sway's members had been summoned to the battlefields of Tyrannia. The rest were free to move, moreso than they had been in centuries. And the Oracle had granted the Duchess knowledge of what was to come, allowing her to plan even further in advance.
"Lady Falmouth believes Clayton Moore is dead," the Duchess said. "And he is dead. Your name has outlived its usefulness. As has your face."
She produced a morphing potion and handed it over.
"Head back to Neopia Central," she instructed, gesturing to a rowboat moored nearby. "I will contact you when I have a new task for you. Though not through Crokabek, that particular method has become too obvious now. I'll send out the odd meaningless message to agents they already know about, just to keep up the face of things, but I shall have a new method of communication delivered to you soon - I have been speaking to Grimilix aboard the Space Station. There will be work to do, Agent. Such work. The Oracle has shown me visions of such chilling things. But I need time to consider them, and to plan our next move. For now, head to Neopia Central."
Clayton nodded, downing the potion in one gulp and heading for the rowboat.
His figure changed as he moved, his Kougra frame mutating and changing colour. Where once a brown Kougra was, a shadow Lutari now stood. He climbed into the boat, somewhat clumsily as he got used to the new weight of his limbs.
"Clayton Moore is dead," the Duchess reminded him. "Welcome back to the Sway, Agent Rook."