Agent of the Sway: Betrayal - Part Six
The news of King Coltzan's death spread the next morning. Clayton and Hopesmeade had made sure to be on the other side of the city with alibis, but in the end it didn't matter. Sankara was arrested within days, and locked up in the palace dungeons.
Princess Vyssa was said to be inconsolable, and Hopesmeade advised against gaining inroads until she had been given time to adjust to her loss. The Princess arranged for a grand shrine to be constructed outside the city, at the top of which would be placed King Coltzan's crown - out of respect, she felt she could never wear it, nor take the title of Queen.
Clayton and Hopesmeade watched from a distance at the unveiling of the shrine, and saw the look of horror spread across the Princess's face as the curtain fell, revealing the crown missing.
Ripples of conversation and whispers quickly spread through the crowd. Stolen.
"An unexpected problem," Hopesmeade said with a sigh. "We must correct this. Vyssa needs the crown to be an effective ruler. Come with me."
"Where are we going?" Clayton asked.
"To consult the palace's newest wizard," Hopesmeade answered.
They made their way back to the palace, where Hopesmeade led him to a small side chamber. There, the familiar camouflage Draik that was Alvare Thornpipe was busy cooking up some awful potion with a mixture of desert ingredients. Oldnose was looking on with a mixture of awe and horror, clearly unsure what his master was creating.
"You call this finding a quiet place in the middle of the desert?" Clayton asked.
"Don't start," Oldnose remarked. "We started on asking for a camp out in the desert, and then the Prof— I mean, master, offered to get rid of some mummies in the catacombs under the palace. He did it, even if he turned them into talking shrubberies, and accepted the position before I could object. Still, seems like people round here are more welcoming to mad wizards than usual. I hope they don't turn when he does something really crazy."
"Almost there, Thaddeus!" Thornpipe said excitedly. "A cure for only having two eyes!"
"Wonderful, master," Oldnose answered weakly, the Meerca turning away. "At least he's happy, I suppose. How can we help you?"
"Someone has stolen King Coltzan's crown," Hopesmeade told him. "We need to find out who, and where they are."
"Ah!" Thornpipe shouted. "Divination! I can do that! Just let me finish this potion!"
"Master, I can do it!" Oldnose said quickly. "It would be good practice!"
"Very well," Thornpipe agreed.
"You'll also be more likely to keep all your limbs," Oldnose added in a whisper to Clayton.
He took them to a small side table, and set up some herbs and a few runic stones. He began to chant under his breath, before throwing the stones down on the table and carefully reading the outcome.
"Hmm..." Oldnose said. "According to this, it was arranged by... A Princess? San... something..."
"Sankara," Hopesmeade said with a small sigh. "It appears our hypnosis was a little too good, still seeking revenge against Coltzan even from prison. She must have had help from outside though."
"Let's see..." Oldnose said, leaning in closer. "Meercas? No, that might just be my aura interfering. Malkus something, I think."
"Malkus Vile," Clayton said. "I remember him from my time in the Guild. If he's involved, the Meercas will be the Meerca Brothers, Heermedjet and Meerouladen. They always seem to work together."
"A location," Hopesmeade prodded Oldnose.
"It seems to have crossed water...." Oldnose said. "To the east... Mystery Island! I'm sure of it!"
"Excellent, Mr. Oldnose," Hopesmeade said. "You have our thanks."
The two of them left the wizards to their work, leaving the palace.
"It seems our courses must now diverge, Mr. Moore," Hopesmeade announced. "We will charter a boat at the harbor, which I will take to Mystery Island, but you must leave it at Krawk Island."
"Why?" Clayton asked.
"This business in the desert has taken decidedly too long, we are behind schedule," Hopesmeade said. "The Duchess will use Razul's staff to destroy Maraqua soon. Captain Dread must be removed soon after. You will take care of this matter while I help locate the crown on Mystery Island. Normally you wouldn't be trusted with a solo mission this early in your career, but needs must. Take this as an opportunity to prove your worth to us, and you may be rewarded."
Captain Dread's curious ship was anchored in Krawk Island's port. Soon, with the destruction of Maraqua, refugees would find their way to this rotten old port.
Dread could not be allowed to greet them. He would need to fall in line, or be eliminated.
The ship was a curious one, not a pirate galleon at all. Dread had specially constructed the fearsome looking submarine to terrorise Maraqua. Even anchored in the harbor, most of the vessel's bulk lay lurking below the ocean's surface.
A decorative fin stuck up through the water, making it look like a prowling Jetsam. As Clayton rowed his small rowboat out towards it, he caught sight of the lights below him. Search lights that Dread used to find prey attempting to flee in the blackness of the ocean depths.
Clayton climbed aboard what little of the ship was above water, locating a hatch and banging once.
A few minutes later, the hatch was opened from within. A pirate Mynci grunted at him unintelligibly.
"I am here to see the Captain," Clayton instructed.
The Mynci grunted again.
"He is expecting me," Clayton added.
Clayton reached for the amulet of hypnosis that Hopesmeade had given him before leaving the desert. A brief flash was all it took to persuade the Mynci to let him pass into the bowels of the ship.
It was smaller than the average pirate ship, certainly smaller than the ship Clayton has been aboard on his journey to the island. But perhaps that was what had made Dread so effective - giving him the ability to pick which fights he wanted and running from the rest.
Clayton located the captain's cabin near the rear of the vessel and let himself in. Dread was there, the skeletal Kiko examining some charts on his desk.
"Captain Dread," Clayton announced himself.
Dread looked up. His skeletal features didn't change, but somehow Clayton got the impression he was now scowling.
"So the Duchess sends her minions at last," he sneered. "Got your attention at last, it seems."
"You are aware of our demands that your raids on Maraqua stop," Clayton stated.
"Oh yes, I got a lot of messages by Crokabek," Dread cackled. "Made for good burning, they did."
"We had a deal with you, Captain Dread," Clayton stated. "You stay away from Maraqua, and we help fortify your position as the dominant pirate on these shores. We held up our end of the bargain."
"What can I say?" Dread replied. "Pirate, through and through."
"We can make your life very difficult, Captain Dread," Clayton explained. "It would not be wise to go against us."
"Seems to me, I'm in the position to be making threats," Dread sneered. "You're the one sitting plumb in the middle of the most fearsome pirate's ship. What can you threaten me with? I'm a skeleton, you fool! I'm already dead! And don't even think about trying that stupid amulet on me."
Clayton's hand moved away from the Bori amulet.
"Very well," Clayton said. "You were warned."
With that, he left the cabin, closing it forcefully behind him. Outside, a green Lupe was waiting.
"I'm Dread's first mate," the Lupe announced. "Name's Scarblade."
Clayton observed the scar down one cheek, "Apt."
"I heard you talking - Dread talks, too," Scarblade said. "I know who you represent. Just so you know, if Dread's going down, I'm not going with him. I'll help your leader if she helps me."
Clayton gave a little smile, "Very good. But, if you plan on being useful, I would suggest leaving this ship in the next few minutes."
With that, Clayton turned and left, making his way back to the hatch and rowing away at speed. A few minutes later, another rowboat left the ship - Scarblade fleeing. Clayton made a note to mention him in the report - he could prove useful.
But first, more immediate matters. He searched around in the boat for his package and unwrapped it carefully. There was a familiar object inside, one he had once seen Faversham use to save Maraqua from Dr. Sloth. It was a necklace holding a cool blue gem that seemed to radiate unseen magical power.
Clayton took it in his hands and began to mutter then incantation he had been taught. The water around Dread's ship began to bubble, and at once there was a dreadful monstrous roar. The ship was pulled downwards, sinking without a trace. Chiazilla had been summoned to take down a fresh enemy. He would take Dread to the ocean depths. The skeleton Kiko could not be killed, but he could be kept there for an eternity, out of the way of their plans.
The bubbling stopped, and the harbor was still once more. Clayton pocketed the necklace and made his way back to shore. There was a figure waiting there, intently staring at him. An elderly Lenny with a stern look.
"Clayton Moore, you have impressed me," she said.
Clayton noticed the familiar ring of the Sway on her finger.
"You... are the Duchess?" he asked.
She smiled, but did not provide him with an answer.
"Maraqua has been consumed," she explained. "King Kelpbeard has begun gathering what survivors he can. News will soon reach the shores of Krawk and Mystery Islands. Duke Hopesmeade informs me he has located King Coltzan's crown. Princess Vyssa is now set to rule with our guidance. Most importantly, Dr. Sloth has been reduced to a mere shadow of his former self. We can at last concentrate on other projects."
"Such as?" Clayton asked.
"Come with me, Mr. Moore," she said with a smile. "Our work is only just beginning."