Shad and Saura: That Other City - Part Twelve
“This’ll be good.” Shad grinned, earning glares from everyone else.
“The life of our princess is at stake here and you find it amusing?” hissed Harfu as they hurried down the corridors. Jazan wasn’t directly running but he was very fast-paced nevertheless.
Nightsteed grumbled to himself. “Dunno, he’s a newcomer. He doesn’t know Nabile. As long as he keeps the sword between them, fine, but the minute he puts in on her throat, I don’t envy him.”
They had come to a big oaken door in the meantime. It was richly carved and had a very impressive portico, apparently the rooms had been reserved for queens long before Nabile’s time. Jazan simply whacked the door open, robes still flapping around his feet.
“...and the minute I get – there you are. Took you long enough,” announced Nabile. “And it’s my door you’re kicking there, thank you very much.”
She was standing in the middle of the thick Sakhmetian carpet, still fully dressed despite the late hour. Artus was facing her, pointing the tip of the old crooked sword at her neck. The room was lit by a few candles but generally looked like Nabile had just been reading a book before bedtime when the unwanted visitor had stormed in.
“Ah, Your Highness,” said Artus, squinting at the troop in the doorway. He was still mainly keeping an eye on Nabile and now sidled towards the door to prevent her from rushing over. “How nice of you to join us.”
“Great, now he’s gonna go all supervillain,” stated Shad. His yellow eyes were gleaming right near the floor, next to Jazan’s white robe which was occasionally flashing black as the prince’s anger was picking up. “They always do. The big boss is taken out and the little sidekick gets his chance to shine.”
“I’m not some sidekick, you stupid brat!” bellowed the Acara. He was nothing like the nervous scholar now. “And you stay back or the princess gets it,” he snapped, as Jazan had taken a step forward.
“Alright, alright,” hissed the prince, who had in fact had no intention of stepping forward. “Stop pushing me, you morons!”
“Sorry,” muttered Saura, backing against the door jamb and stretching himself to see better. Harfu and Meira were stretching their necks behind Jazan’s back. Nightsteed was behind everyone else, shaking his head and moaning to himself.
The look on Artus’s face changed. It was now the look of a cornered beast. The door was blocked and there was a mob outside and he was only a small-scale mage. “I only wish to leave the city, Highness,” he pleaded. “I’ll never show my face here again. I promise.”
“Promise, eh? What did Drefu promise you?” asked the prince, his eyes darting from Artus to Nabile and back again. “Wealth? Knowledge? The spot of an advisor? They never keep their promises, kid, don’t you know? You were just a tool.”
“No!” snapped the island Acara, the sword now slightly trembling in his hand. Nabile, whose throat was very close to the pointy end of the trembling blade, shot a stern glare at Jazan.
“I could take you out where you stand, and you wouldn’t have the time to harm her,” said Jazan, his voice now calmer and the robe back to fully white.
“Then why haven’t you done it yet?” barked the Acara with a lopsided grin, taking a step closer to the princess. The sword was still trembling.
Saura looked back at Nightsteed, who seemed confused. But he did nothing at the moment, waiting to see what Jazan would do.
The prince simply stepped back, causing some nervous stumbling behind him. “You want to leave? Fine. Just don’t harm Nabile.”
Artus grinned with relief, then darted forward and grabbed Nabile, sealing her arms behind her back with one hand and using the other hand to set the sword against her throat. “Oh, don’t worry, Your Highness. I’ll leave her somewhere in the desert when I’m far enough.”
“You little...!” fumed Nabile, bending her head backwards to get as far away from the sword as possible. She struggled for a second, then leaped in the air, using Artus’s grasp as a point of support, and whacked backwards with both feet. It was a blind kick, but the Acara was right behind her anyway.
Artus gave a quiet sound that more or less went ‘ghngh’ and collapsed on the floor. The sword landed with a thump.
“Told you,” stated Nightsteed.
“And told you it’d be fun,” stated Shad, grinning widely. Nabile brushed over the carpet to face her husband.
“He was right,” she stated, eyes narrowing. “And you were right. Why didn’t you take him out while he was still facing me?”
Now Jazan really grinned. “It was more interesting to watch you handle the situation.”
The Ixi stared at him, then huffed and punched him in the arm. Jazan only laughed.
“Highness,” began a hesitant voice and the Kyrii looked back at Harfu’s worried face. “I, uh, would like to apologize. I was of no use today. I came along with the wish to help but I was just a burden.”
“Goodie, one of those sulky-guilty-types again,” grumbled Nightsteed. “You did fine, kid. You came to support, and you supported, didn’t you? Fancy sword tricks would’ve gotten you killed. You saw what we faced today.”
Jazan smiled. “What he said. You did support, Harfu. You came along, to face something more powerful one could ever imagine. That’s more support that sword tricks.”
“Cute,” said Nabile, nudging the cowering figure of Artus on the floor. “I’d actually be very grateful if you were so supportive right now to get rid of him.”
“Yes, Highness,” nodded the white Ixi, hurrying in and picking the Acara up. “Where do I take him?”
Jazan and Nightsteed exchanged glances. “The catacombs wouldn’t hold him,” said the Uni.
“Spells do,” grunted Jazan, raising his arm. Nothing seemed to change, but a shade of hopelessness slid over the Acara’s face as the spell took over. “Now all we have is Deki to take care of.”
“Highness, if you please,” said Harfu as they went back through the dark hallways, Artus still hanging on his hooves, “Deki’s not a bad guy. I know him. He may have fooled us but he’s not bad at heart.”
“Even if so, you realize that he has no place in this city after tonight,” grunted Nightsteed in Jazan’s stead. “The people of Qasala know about the deal. They won’t trust him any more.”
Harfu nodded grimly and fell quiet for the whole way back to the staircase in front of the palace. When they came outside, the square silenced. It hadn’t been loud to start with, but some angry murmuring was unavoidable. Deki was floating in the air, a faint bluish energy sphere surrounding him. He probably would’ve flown off a while ago if many of the Qasalans hadn’t had wings. Now they fluttered all around him, glaring fiercely, unable to break through the sphere but still able to prevent him from escaping.
“Deki,” called Jazan, and the sphere descended, followed by more angry murmuring and Scordrax’s curious sniffing. The gigantic Scorchio was sitting next to the staircase, both heads raised high, and bent his necks down to gaze at the sphere as it came down.
“So it’s over,” said Deki as he landed. He didn’t sound bitter, just somewhat sulky.
“Did you have any plans for what you’d do when everything fails?” asked Jazan.
The Scorchio grinned faintly. “Just counting on your mercy, Your Highness.”
Jazan seemed thoughtful. “Well. Right now the catacombs are the only option.” He flicked his fingers absently and Deki, developing the same hopeless gaze as Artus had, collapsed on the staircase, his body refusing to obey him now. “And, no offence, Harfu, but Nightsteed will be taking him down there. You’re taking care of Artus. Shoo, both of you.”
“You sure you can handle these issues without me backing you up?” Nightsteed joshed, shifting Deki’s limp body on his back. Jazan shot a half-smile, half-glare at him before turning to the mob on the square. They had started murmuring again, but now everyone fell quiet.
“People of Qasala,” Jazan’s deep voice boomed over the square.
“Hoo boy, now he’s going to get all prince-ish,” muttered Shad. “Do we really need to stick around?”
Saura looked around. Harfu and Nightsteed had disappeared into the palace. Meira and Nabile were still there, but near the doorway, in the shadow of the pillars. The two brothers were standing pretty much alone next to the prince.
“Ehh,” he did, sidling towards the palace wall.
“Please stay,” said Jazan, and the two froze where they stood. “And Nabile, and Meira, and everyone on this square. I owe you all,” he spread his arms, “my sincerest apologies. And my deepest gratitude.”
“Mrawgh,” mumbled Shad, scorching in the curious gaze of thousands of citizens and edging closer to the palace wall. Saura did the same.
And Jazan spoke. It was a short, yet moving speech, a speech that thanked everyone in Qasala simply for being Qasalans, for staying true to the city and loyal to its values. He barely explained the showdown with Drefu Arafat but he did mention the name and the reasons, causing a surprised and disbelieving rumble. He thanked everyone for their support, causing sheepish muttering as everyone remembered their recent accusations all too well. And he gave them a sincere, binding promise. A promise to be a good leader who never forgets his duties again.
By the time he finished, Shad and Saura had backed next to the girls in the shade of the pillar, all too aware of the curious masses. Those tourists had seen things. They had been there. They knew first-hand what had happened.
“And let me direct your attention to those two tourists,” began Jazan, turning around.
“I’m already getting more attention than I like, thanks very much,” barked Shad, drooping against the stones. “And I ain’t accepting no awards or something like that. We did nothing remarkable, y’hear?”
“Well, I beg to differ,” Jazan smiled, “but if you want no redundant attention, then I understand. I just want you both to know that I’m very thankful.”
“No problem, Highness, just don’t declare us local heroes or anything or we’ll never be able to come to Qasala as tourists again without being overrun by a mob,” stated the Lupe, his tail waving on the stones.
Jazan burst into laughter. It was a happy, full-hearted, releasing laughter, something the city of Qasala hadn’t heard for a very long time now. A cheer rose from the crowd, rocketed across the square and turned into a roar of joy.
“I feel so happy for them,” said Nabile. The brothers turned to look at her. “They’re the citizens of a forgotten city. The people of ‘that other place in Lost Desert’. And still they’re proud and happy for their city and their ruler.”
“They have all the reason to be.” Meira smiled.
“People!” called Jazan, raising both hands and calming the crowd down a bit. “It’s getting late. You should all go to sleep.”
“Are you kidding?” a voice emerged from the people. “You just whooped some evil mage’s behind. This calls for a celebration!” That statement was greeted with more cheers and some Neopets hurried off to wheel out barrels of Juppie juice and Qandos.
“There goes the sleeping schedule of my people,” said Jazan, coming to the little group by the pillar. “But I guess they have all the reason for it. Shall we go too?”
The others stared at him.
“What, to party with the people?” asked Nabile.
“Why not?” Jazan grinned. “You all said that I’ve been away from the people for too long. And I think we have enough Coffee of the Dead for now.”
When Harfu and Nightsteed came back, the staircase was empty but the whole square was crowded. Fires had been lit here and there to roast huge chunks of meat, music was playing and the people were happily dancing through the night.
“This whole show ended better than I expected,” admitted Nightsteed, coming down to the crowd where Shad and Saura were sitting on the last step, both munching on a pie. “Where’s Jazan?”
“The show’s just beginning.” Shad grinned with his mouth full and pointed at a row of konga where Jazan whirled around in the middle of the row, white robe seeming orange in the blaze of the big fires.
Nightsteed’s eyebrow twitched. “From one extreme to the other. But it’s a good sign, I suppose.”
Shad gulped down the mouthful and looked up at him. “What I don’t get is how this was all so... easy. I mean, here we had Jazan mentally drifting away from Qasala and causing all that trouble, and the minute Scordrax starts wreaking havoc, he’s back in action and better than ever. What did you tell him to achieve that?”
The Uni grinned vaguely and turned his head away. “Not much. He didn’t need much. Until that point he had never believed that there actually was a threat. When your twenty-ton pet starts burning down the city, it doesn’t get much more threatening than that. Drefu underestimated him greatly. Playing with mental levels is always tricky, as there are simply too many levels.”
“What, so Drefu would actually never have been able to break Jazan’s bond with Qasala?” asked Saura, looking up too.
Nightsteed scowled at him. “Do you ever pay attention? Of course he would. If Qasala’s support to Jazan had ceased, he wouldn’t have had any mental power to withstand the attack. Now if you’ll excuse me, I see Tchea fruits over there...”
That night was long, and beat the Night Bazaar by a long run. A lot of food was eaten, a lot of music was played, many dances were danced and nobody cared that there were no wealthy tourists in town. They had two tourists who were as good as locals now, and they had their home.
Not all of them had Coffee of the Dead, though, so the morning of the next day was as quiet as the previous one had been.
“Suits me,” stated Saura, handing the ribcage cup back to Meira. “That way we can leave today without getting run over. I like those Qasalans but I’ve had enough patting on the back for one day.”
They were sitting around the breakfast table, the sun shining in through the high windows as usually. The delegates and advisors were curiously and as politely as possible gazing at the royal end of the table where Meira had brought Jazan, Nabile and the two brothers some Coffee of the Dead. Nightsteed had used his own sources earlier that day.
“Planning to leave so soon?” asked Nabile.
“Well,” said Shad, licking stew off his jaws as he had fallen asleep straight into his plate, “we’ve been here for two days, fulfilled our goal of, erm, bringing the two malicious spellbooks down here, and helped save Qasala or so the prince claims. I think we can maybe do some very quick sightseeing later this morning and then hit the road. It’ll be a long journey.”
“What will happen to Artus and Deki?” asked Saura.
“Already gone,” said Jazan. “Nellera, the Faerie delegate left this morning, and we sent the two along to Faerieland with her. The Faeries know powerful magic; they’re able to keep them under control. They’ll probably work in Fyora’s castle for the rest of their days.”
“Reminded me, Highness,” said Meira, who was still there with the tray. “Harfu requests himself to be transferred to Faerieland. Fyora’s castle can always use good guards and he believes that it’ll be a valuable experience for him.”
“Ah,” said Nightsteed in a friendly voice. “Friendship.”
Meira blushed slightly. “I told him that Deki wasn’t much more than a traitor, but he said that he was. That he was a friend.”
“Well, I see no reason why we should deny the request.” Jazan smiled. “Actually we should arrange an exchange instead of a transfer. Would be nice to see new faces around the city more often. Mmh, I need a new External Affairs... Khnumeran, Marago, do some thinking about it; I’ll have a word with you about that later.” The two advisors nodded. “And I should rearrange my schedule a little. I’d like to make it to this Friday’s Night Bazaar. Meeting people is so... interesting.”
The others, who remembered pretty well how Jazan had gotten sick because of drinking too much sweet Qando juice last night, grinned slightly.
“What about the spellbooks?” asked Saura. “Do you want to keep them? ‘Cause I see no reason for taking them back and they’ll probably be safe in your library.”
Jazan nodded. “Yes, I’d like to keep them. Haven’t really had a chance to read about the place my mother came from. Nightsteed, are we able to arrange some sort of a decent transport for our guests? We sent the two traitors off in a flying carriage but the heroes of Qasala are looking at weeks in a caravan.”
The Uni scowled slightly. “Well, I’m definitely not flying them over myself, I need to stick around and make sure you won’t get yourself in trouble.” A wave of smiles spread over the table-company. “We should have a few carriages, yes. I’ll look around for more or less awake volunteers after breakfast. Mystery Island, right?” The brothers nodded. “Faerieland’s right on the way, might as well send Harfu off with them.”
Jazan seemed thoughtful. “Now that I think about it, Scordrax doesn’t really get all the exercise he needs...”
Nightsteed stared at him. “You’re kidding me.”
“Bye!” yelled Shad, waving frantically. “We’ll definitely come again some day!”
“Shad, one can barely see the city by now.” Saura grinned, sitting back on the red and golden seat. They were alone in the carriage; Harfu was outside by the coachman, a fellow palace guard who was leading Scordrax. The Scorchio was three times as big as the carriage so he had to be lead well in order for the carriage to fly straight. Qasala had indeed become a shiny golden and white spot in the middle of the desert by now, the river of Lost Desert was a glittering blue ribbon and the sea was already to be seen farther ahead.
“This didn’t turn out so bad,” stated the shadow Lupe, pulling his head in. “Shall we go again one day then?”
Saura thought of the two action-packed days, the curse, the threats, the intrigues, the battles, the magic, the suspicions... all eclipsed by the cheery people of Qasala, the royal couple, Nightsteed, Harfu, Meira, the gang in the Silver Scamander, even the stern gaze of queen Ara in the old dusty painting.
“I’d love to.” He grinned.