Shad and Saura: That Other City - Part Six
Art by ssjelitegirl
It turned out that Saura had had a rather clear shot on Scordrax’s balcony so while sitting on the window and listening at the streets, he had overheard Shad’s visit to Scordrax – “and that Xweetok girl was right, by the way, one day you’ll get yourself killed like that” – and was currently listening to Nightsteed’s conversation with Jazan when Shad came in. It had been a long conversation but the main point was clear enough...
“Jazan, the more I look at you, the clearer it becomes to me that you’re not caring about Qasala any more,” Nightsteed had stated. “Not that I can force you to, but it can have consequences more serious than you think. You’re a mage, buddy.” (“He actually said “buddy”?” demanded Shad, and Saura nodded.) “You’re bound to this city, you and I fought long and hard for it, went through a task that shook the whole Neopia, and now you’re simply sliding away from Qasala.”
“It’s doing fine without me,” Jazan had claimed. “The shops are working, people are living their lives... who needs me here any more? More precisely, what would they need me to do?”
Nightsteed snorted. “They need you to care. Cities need that. They’re like wagons; they can move on their own but they need to be lead or they’ll end up off the road. The thing is, Jazan, I’ve been out and looking around for many nights now. There’s a mage somewhere out there; I don’t know who he is and whether he’s local or someone from outside but he’s a good mage and greedy above that, Jazan. He wants this city. There will always be people who are hungry for the throne but most of them are no match for you... and me,” he added rather proudly. “A mage is in a different league. With Qasala drifting away from you, it needs a new soulbound ruler, someone to guide it with his heart, someone the people love and trust. There are spells for achieving that but those cannot be used while you’re still strongly connected to Qasala as you used to be. You’re not anymore, Jazan.”
Jazan had, at least at Saura’s understanding, scowled at that. “Nightsteed, that’s all nice and lovely but there have always been and always will be mages in Qasala. I don’t know what you may have heard but it’d take someone really crazy to try and take a city over that way. Mages have more straightforward ways for that and frankly, even if I believed what you’re saying there, what would you suggest? I can’t start caring about my city just like that, because you told me to. And I do care about Qasala; maybe not as much as before, so what?”
There had been more arguing than that but the point was already clear – Jazan, despite Nightsteed’s continued attempts, had remained as absent and laid-back as before, refusing to listen to his friend. “Frankly, not that I blame him, it’s a pretty strange theory,” stated Saura, “but Nightsteed seems to be serious enough about it. The world of mages is strange to start with, if someone is really able to take a city over just by replacing the mental place of a ruler...”
“Fully possible,” announced Shad. “Think about it. We’ve both read Faerie tales when we were puppies... at least I did.” Saura was adopted and had come to the family only a few years ago, and hadn’t changed much during that time. “Whenever there’s a handsome hero somewhere out there, loved by the people and all, he eventually takes the throne, kills the evil tyrant who has repressed the people, becomes the king, happy end and all. When this mage is from a simple family, and he most likely is, it’s a lot easier to win the people’s support.”
He stood up and started marching around in the room. “Spells can twist people’s minds, you know that. Jazan has apparently been doing a pretty good job at helping that mage. The prince who barely shows up nowadays, is bored and doesn’t seem to care much about Qasala, and note that he’s the son of two former tyrants whom the people still remember. Yus, now all this mage guy needs are a few heroic deeds, or taking credit for someone else’s heroic deeds, and some mind-twisting and poof, we have a revolt and townsfolk with pitchforks at the palace’s doors.”
Saura scowled. “And here we are in the middle of those things again. Perfect. Well, Jazan was right, he can’t really be forced to care about this city. Sure, he could look all excited in front of the people and all that junk but if it’s a battle on a magical level then his true feelings will work against him one way or another.”
“Should we contact Tsuki?” asked Shad. “He’s a mage; he’d be able to understand this better than we do and maybe help us out a little.”
The Zafara scowled. “Normally I’d agree, but note that Nightsteed isn’t trusting Artus, who’s Tsuki’s friend. If he’s Tsuki’s only friend in this region, which he most likely is, then Tsuki might contact him to learn more about the matters or maybe consult with him and then we’re in trouble. Or, if Nightsteed’s curse should decide to work at that, we’ll kick the bucket.”
They were quiet for a while. Finally Shad said: “Okay, this won’t get us anywhere one way or another. Listen, Meira told me about this Night Bazaar that takes place tonight until sunrise. We should go. You’ll have the chance to buy whatever you wanted to buy here when we first set off,” he grimaced, thinking how long ago that time now seemed, “and maybe we’ll learn something additional.”
The sun was setting, painting the light walls of the houses orange. When Qasala had been lively in the daytime, it was completely crowded now. Small linen tents were put up by nearly every street and lanterns and torches were being hung above the streets to make them lighter than they usually were. For a weekly event it looked a lot like something that was awaited eagerly and celebrated with joy.
Saura was slowly walking down the street, completely in his own element, stopping every now and then to examine the goods on the counters, chat with the salespeople and argue about the quality and price. He didn’t move on fast and Shad had already crossed the whole bazaar three times, but the Lupe didn’t mind; the streets had so many people that it was far from getting boring in the near future.
“Hey, Meira!” he greeted, noticing the brown Xweetok. Meira smiled and nodded back. She didn’t look much different in the soft light of the colorful lanterns; her slanted eyes were as calm, yet proud as they had been in the palace. People tend to look different, less reserved, when they’re not working, but apparently Meira was like that twenty four hours a day. Saura stepped closer, greeting the Xweetok as well, and then turned to look at the cloth she was selling. “Wow, that’s really high quality.”
“My mother knits it in her spare time,” said Meira. “She currently went off to chat with her friends, so I’m filling in for her.” She smiled, not really with the manners of a saleswoman but simply as someone who knows the value of her offer. “Would you like to buy some?”
“I’m not exactly a designer, not sure if we need any of that at home,” muttered the Zafara, bowing over the cloth to take a closer look. A loud voice interrupted him, sensitive as his ears were:
“Filling in for Mom for five minutes again, ey Meira?”
Meira laughed, for the first time that the brothers ever heard. “Well, you know her. I don’t mind being here, really; what else would I do during the bazaar? Hang around like you two useless bobbleheads?”
Shad and Saura turned around in surprise, already having recognized the loud voice. It was Harfu, and the other bobblehead was, of course, Deki. The buddies stopped by the booth and Harfu sank a little on his long Ixi legs to be lower than the booth’s linen roof lit by flickering blue light.
“Hanging around is a lot more fun,” he stated. “Listen, I ran into the guys a short while back; they’re planning to meet at the Silver Scamander at midnight, care to come too? It’ll be fun.”
Meira’s eyes narrowed at once. “No, and you’re not going either. I know how this goes. You’ll sit there all night, drinking Tigersquash juice and playing Bilge Dice, and before you know it, the sugar gets to your head and you’ll decide that putting a bunch of Scarabugs in General Naruk’s bed is a wonderful idea. Seriously, I know that you’ll always be my little brother, but you’ll need to grow up one of these days. Besides, you can’t afford to get in trouble with Nightsteed anymore; he’s been on a short fuse these days to start with.”
Harfu scowled. “Why do you always have to be such a spoilsport?”
“Because someone needs to be that,” bit Meira. Shad and Saura exchanged glances. Meira and Harfu indeed had something in common, now that you looked at them side by side. But they still hadn’t expected to find out that the tall friendly white Ixi and the proud-looking firm brown Xweetok could be brother and sister.
“Hey, you two,” Deki the Scorchio suddenly turned to Shad and Saura, “don’t you want to come? The more, the merrier.”
Shad’s yellow eyes lit up at once. Saura seemed hesitant: “When they’re all your friends...”
“Friendship has to start somewhere,” announced Harfu, a wide grin spreading over his face. “Come on, you’ll like them.”
The brothers promised to show up, so Harfu and Deki strolled off, leaving Meira glaring at their backs.
“Hopeless cases,” she said, though with a smile in her voice. “Good guards, yes, but outside their working hours only interested in hanging around and killing time... inseparable friends, and only known each other for a month or so.”
Saura turned to look at her. “Really? I would’ve thought that they’re childhood friends.”
“As good as that,” said the brown Xweetok. “Deki is Sakhmetian, came here with his father, who’s some important figure in the palace; not sure who exactly. I don’t have the habit of eavesdropping... One way or another, shortly after arriving, he saved Harfu from a Cobrall who almost bit him. And so they became friends. The people like them, really; it’s like a symbol of Qasala’s and Sakhmet’s friendship. Nightsteed put them in the same shift, because those shifts are long and it's better to have two good friends there, gives them someone to chat with.”
Shad’s ears moved back and forth. “Nightsteed cares about the general welfare of the Qasalans so much?”
Meira scowled when her voice lowered. “More than anyone else. Even more than the prince, if you ask me... but don’t ever let him know that I said that; he’s pretty sensitive about Jazan stepping back from the city’s life like that.”
The shadow Lupe nodded in agreement and looked around. Saura had already passed to the next booth, so he said goodbye to the Xweetok and pranced on to catch up with his brother. He was about to bump into Saura when he stopped, blinked, then turned his head to sniff the air. “Whoa, strange...”
Saura turned around to glance at him. “What?”
“Someone I know, someone familiar,” muttered the dark Lupe, “but I can’t remember who that smell belongs to. Weird...”
“Something important?” asked his brother, knowing that Shad’s sixth sense was oftentimes reliable enough.
Shad hissed quietly. “I’m not sure. I doubt it. I would’ve chosen to remember it if it was important.” He shook his head, as if trying to shake the unnerving feeling off, then shrugged. “Okay, let’s keep going.”
They crossed the bazaar. Saura bought a few things they had originally come looking for, added some souvenirs to the mix, and then asked the nearest salesman where the Silver Scamander was. The directions took them in front of a small house stuffed between two bigger houses, yet the silver Scamander hanging above the tavern’s door – forged of real silver as it seemed, and three times as big as real Scamanders – seemed to attract more people than the other houses on the street combined. The door was wide open, and so were all the windows, casting soft light on the street outside. Together with that light lively chatting emerged from the door and windows, and the place was obviously crowded. Some of the pets even sat on the windowsill, blabbing with their friends inside. By the time the brothers got to the door, a dozen locals had come out and a dozen had entered.
“Wonder if the locals only use this night to visit a tavern?” asked Shad, pressing himself into the crowd. The Silver Scamander was build of white stone and currently lit by many torches, yet it wasn’t hot in there despite the many visitors and the flaming torches as the back of the tavern had no wall; it opened to another street and had a few pillars supporting the ceiling there. Customers flowed in through that entrance as well and sat by the tables that stood outside on the street.
“Guess it’s because they don’t have to go to work tomorrow,” muttered Saura. His long ears were tightly pressed against the sides of his head. “Can you find Harfu and Deki? This place has so much blabbing that I can’t distinguish anything.”
The Lupe sniffed the air. “Heh, right there.” He plunged into the crowd with newfound energy, dropping occasional “s’cuse me”-s at people whose toes he stepped on. Saura followed him, trying to exercise a bit more courtesy, though it seemed that it was impossible not to step on anyone’s toes in that place.
The company sitting by a small wooden table greeted them loudly. Apparently the two buddies had already told them who to expect, and so the gang arranged a few chairs from somewhere, shouted for the waiter to bring two additional mugs of Tigersquash juice, and plunged into happy chatting at once. From Mystery Island, eh? What’s it like? What’s that Tombola man like, we’ve heard about him? And Jhuidah? Ooh, and the Techo Master, is he really able to defeat twenty enemies within a minute?
Saura sat back, letting his happy-go-lucky brother take over the conversation, though he kept an ear on what the Lupe said, knowing well enough that Shad had the tendency to blurt out things that weren’t for everyone’s ears. The sun had completely set now and the sky was a soft dark blue shade, cloudless as usually, so the thick cover of stars was clearly visible. The street below was lit by a row of yellowish lanterns and figures of Neopets walked past, sometimes shouting greetings to their friends sitting in front of the tavern.
“...and so Dad said that I might as well become a dishwasher in the palace’s kitchen if I cannot behave myself and make him proud as a guard,” Deki’s voice broke into the solitude of the Zafara’s thoughts. The fire Scorchio was a lot more talkative than he had been in the palace. He had struck Saura as a mellow and somewhat modest guy but in the company of his friends he clearly loosened up. Now he continued to describe an event involving Scarabugs and the palace’s baker, accompanied by the roaring laugher of his buddies and Shad.
“Hey, you’re the one from Sakhmet, right?” asked Shad, just remembering about that. Deki nodded. “What was life like there?”
The Scorchio grinned. “Well, when we first came here, I thought it was boring as dirt here compared to Sakhmet. They have all the crazy tourists and funny guards and street urchin gangs... but hey, this place is awesome as well. Different, but really awesome.”
“They say that you’ll leave when your dad’s working time here is up,” remarked an Ogrin.
Deki shrugged. “Well, he considered that but he likes Qasala just as much as I do so-” Before he could finish, he was interrupted by a screech outside, followed by some nervous shouts and then a loud thump. The crowd in the tavern stirred restlessly, then people started moving towards the entrance in the back to get outside. Even though most of the wall was missing, it was still tricky to get outside so it took them a lot of struggling and several minutes to finally get to the street and see why the people were gathering around something on the ground.
The first sight was downright horrific, though they quickly realized that it wasn’t as bad as it looked, seeing who they were dealing with. It was Nightsteed, lying on his side, legs stretched out and scruffy wings pointing towards the starry sky. His mouth and crimson eyes were wide open in shock and he was breathing heavily, the dark skin tensing and loosening into wrinkles again on his chest.
“Fell down from the roof,” hasty whispers explained in the crowd as the gang pressed through. “Why didn’t he fly?” “Strange...” “Someone else would’ve died for sure...!” “Well, he cannot die, can he?” “Guess that’s what saved him...”
The ghastly Uni had had some time to recover in the meantime and kicked around with his legs in attempts to get up. Harfu and Deki hurried over to him. Their friends stood clear – they didn’t know Nightsteed personally and most Qasalans, as much as they respected the Uni, preferred not to get near him, especially after his recent behavior.
“Careful, sir, no need to strain yourself,” warned the Ixi, crouching down. “Are you okay?”
Nightsteed snarled. “I’m fine. Do I look like something can actually get worse with my condition?” It wasn’t a bitter question, just a rhetorical statement. “Slipped on the roof. Quite a fall, yeah, but I’m not that easy to take down.”
Deki crouched down too. “Well, you’ll definitely be fine but no need to risk with anything. We’ll take you to the palace.”
The two buddies lifted him up – a thankless task, as Nightsteed was still overly reluctant and one of his big hooves landed straight in Deki’s ribs but apparently he had still suffered a serious shock and the kick didn’t have much strength. The crowd watched silently and a bit curiously as the Uni was carried away. “We’ll be back in ten!” Harfu shouted to his friends.
The crowd started breaking apart, still chattering. “Slipped? Why would he hang around on rooftops anyway?”
“Eh, you know him, hangs around a lot lately...”
“Why didn’t he fly? He’s a Uni!”
“Did you see those wings? Would you fly with these wings?”
“Saura,” the shadow Lupe poked his brother when they returned to the tavern, “that was the smell.”
The Zafara stared down at him. “What?”
“You know, the smell I sensed earlier. The one I couldn’t remember. It was Nightsteed’s cursed form, I could only smell it for a second when he cursed us,” he winced at the reminder, “so it didn’t come back at once. Apparently he was hanging around above the bazaar from the beginning.”
“No wonder, many people in one place, easy to keep an eye on, whatever he needs to do that for,” said Saura with a thoughtful frown. “But I can’t imagine someone like him falling down from a roof...”
The Lupe shrugged and frowned with concern.
To be continued...