My Enemy, My King: Part Six
The fur along Alaric’s spine stood on end as he followed Jazan through several dark passageways. To get into the underground chambers that Jazan referred to as his father’s workroom, they had had to come far too close to the king’s personal quarters for his comfort, and the surroundings were too close to the challenges blocking the Orb for him to like it. He asked, feeling the fool but wanting to make absolutely sure, “You’re certain that your father isn’t going to catch us down here and kill us?”
“He’s gone out to the River Sakh. He’ll be gone all night there – conscripting some other fellow into his service like that Eyrie with you.”
Alaric remembered Codsworth talking about a debt. “How on earth does he manage to get people to owe him so deeply that they’d even take lives for him?”
Jazan started fiddling with several locks on a door – Alaric watched the floor warily as the boy said, “He disguises himself – magic – and takes a bag of money to the places where sailors play cards. He’ll pick someone, and he’ll make sure that he wins and they lose, until they owe him a small fortune. And then he can make them do whatever he wants.”
King and con man. What an absolutely charming combination. Alaric didn’t realize that he was trembling slightly until Jazan asked, “Are you okay?”
“It’s – ah – slightly creepy, that’s all.” But then he remembered how honest the kid had been with him. He owed him that much in return. “It’s a lot too much like getting the Orb the first time. I’ve been a lot of places, but that was the worst. I like an enemy in front of me – him with his sword, me with mine, and us seeing who’s the better fighter like gentlemen. Not magic sneaking up on you and making it so you can’t trust the walls or floor.”
Jazan sighed. “So you probably don’t like working with me then.”
Poor kid. He was so used to being thought of as a waste of space that it was hard for him to comprehend that Alaric definitely valued him, and was actually starting to like him! “Nonsense. You saved my life. I don’t forget things like that. And I don’t have anything against magic or magicians in general – just the nasty stuff, which you don’t do.”
After the door, Alaric looked around a wide room – almost big enough to be a ballroom. On the ends were several doors. Jazan said, “A couple of those are storage rooms. A few more are just more traps, and one will bring us into the workroom. The tiles on the floor are traps – there’s one real path to each place, but other than that they open up into spike pits.”
Alaric groaned. “This sounds familiar. Far too familiar.” Five bridges, and only one of them real...
Jazan looked up at him. “Just follow me – I know the way.”
Alaric started to follow – he was mostly able to stride from tile to tile, though on a few he had to jump. Then Jazan paused. Alaric winced at the boy’s white face. “Please don’t tell me that you aren’t sure where to go from here.”
Jazan pointed. “I know it’s either this tile or that tile. I’m sorry – I’m really sorry!” He sounded like he was almost on the verge of tears.
Alaric remembered the cavern again. He was probably strong enough to hold Jazan up, and these tiles were wide – he had room to move. “How deep are the spikes?”
He turned Jazan so he could look straight in his eyes. “Jazan, if you’re willing, we can do what we did in the cavern – I can tie a rope around you so that if it’s the wrong one I can pull you back out. But if you’re not willing, we can think of something else.” Jazan was different from Emeth – Alaric didn’t have any qualms about asking a grown man to pull his own weight, but asking a child to be a stunt Mynci was different.
Jazan nodded. “The other ways in are worse. I’ll do it.”
Alaric checked each knot on the rope twice. He didn’t want to take any chances. “Ready?”
The Kyrii nodded. “Ready.”
He stepped onto one and dropped. Alaric started pulling immediately – he almost lost his own footing, but held on. Then Jazan got his fingers around the stable tile, and Alaric was able to pull him up to the surface. “Well, at least we know it’s the other one now.”
Jazan laughed weakly – he was breathing heavily. Alaric asked, “Need a minute?”
The Kyrii shook his head. “No – I’m fine. I knew you wouldn’t let me fall.”
Alaric grabbed his hand as they stepped onto the real tile. “Thanks for trusting me, Jazan. There hasn’t been enough trust on this trip.”
Jazan nodded. “Thanks for trusting me, too.”
They managed to get to the other door without incident, and Jazan started fiddling with another series of locks. “This one just takes some time – It’s a good thing I disabled the alarm spell, or we’d be trapped here until Father came to investigate.”
He let the lock alone. “It’ll open in a few minutes. Alaric, Father said that you left Qasala when you were fifteen. Why?”
Alaric leaned against the wall. “I was born under the Rover’s stars – I had it in my blood. My parents were perfectly respectable, my siblings were all going to take nice jobs and have nice families, and the thought of settling into a nice, respectable, routine life like that made me feel like a Weewoo in a cage. So I took a bag of supplies and headed north.”
“Where have you been?”
“Ah, all over. I went to Meridell and Brightvale first. Then I spent a spell in the kingdom of Darigan, far to the north. I’ve fought alongside – and against – Tyrannian warlords. I’ve made it past natives to find treasure on the Mystery Island, and stolen it back from pirates on Krawk Island. I’ve swum through the great city of Maraqua. I’ve laid traps for ghosts in the Haunted Woods. I’ve walked through the ruins of Altador. They say its inhabitants will come back someday – did you know that?
“I’ve climbed mountains, scaled caves, sailed ships, raced through a wood with a Uni as my guide and a crowd of bandits behind me. I try to find places where the people need help, and offer my services and my sword.”
Jazan looked a little sad. “I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see places like that. Since I’ll be king, I’ll probably have to stay here, I guess.”
Alaric ruffled the boy’s black hair. “No one ever said that. Haven’t you heard the stories about the old Kings of Altador? King Kern the Hammer of Meridell? Lord Sabari Darigan and the Lighting Sword? All of them were rulers, and they still managed to find the time to save all of Neopia. Practice with your sword as much as with your magic, and you’ll be able to do it, too.”
Jazan looked down. “I’ll have to save Qasala from Father first. If we get rid of the Orb, it’ll set him back a few years – he’ll have to find another artifact to magnify his power. But he’ll keep looking. He’s obsessed with immortality. Completely obsessed.” The Kyrii shuddered. Alaric agreed. Razul certainly wasn’t motivated by wanting to help his people for as long as possible. He wanted to make himself an undying tyrant.
And this skinny twelve-year-old was the main force standing in between him and his goal. The selfish part of Alaric told him he’d better avoid Qasala for the next few decades, in case Razul’s next plan to curse the city succeeded.
No, there were many good reasons to avoid the city – namely, that if Razul found out he hadn’t killed his fourth adventurer he’d take steps to remedy that – but that wasn’t one of them. Jazan had gotten them this far already. They were saving the city from the latest foul plot as they sat here. Qasala would be fine.
Behind Alaric, the lock clicked open. Jazan swung the door open, and they were in!
There didn’t seem to be any traps in this series of rooms they were now in – Jazan led him through several rooms of bookshelves and boxes of artifacts confidently.
Finally, they ended up in a room that was well-lit by lamps, with a large desk strewn with papers. Something in a golden bowl bubbled over a small fire. And on a pedestal next to the desk, the Orb of Khammar sat freed from its linen wrappings.
Alaric had never seen anything like it. He remembered Sarkish’s words – that it was so dark it had no sheen. But he had pictured it as being matte, not like this. It looked like a black hole in the fabric of space – like something he could reach his hand into if he thought there was anything beyond. Jazan stepped forward and set his hands on it.
Immediately, he froze. Alaric asked, “Jazan, are you alright? We need to hurry, here!”
Then he heard the whisper, an echo of something older than Alaric knew how to name. I know you, Prince Jazan the Fourth of Qasala. I know you, and what you can become
Jazan looked at the Orb. “Who? Who are you?”
Lurking in shadows, cringing before the king – never allowed to become as strong as you could be. Do you honestly think you can defeat King Razul?
“I have to – somehow.”
Alone, you have no hope. None at all. But with me by your side – me, greater than any power living – you can be great! You can overthrow him and set yourself as king in your rightful place! Emperor, should you wish it!
Alaric cried, “Put it down, Jazan, it’s trying to mess with your head!”
But Jazan didn’t move – he just kept staring into the depths of the Orb. “Could I? How?”
Tap into my power, Prince Jazan. Use this Orb. You can rule Qasala. You can rule the Lost Desert – this entire continent – all of Neopia! You know that you will make a far better king than your father. Why not protect all of those people in all of those places? You will be the greatest king that Neopia has ever known!
A shape swirled up above the Orb – a beautiful Desert Ixi in a silk dress with long black hair. Jazan whispered, “Mother?”
The voice continued Remember Queen Esmeralda, Prince Jazan. What would she have wanted? Would she have wanted to see you like this, fearing for your life every hour of every day? Wouldn’t she like you to triumph over the dark King Razul?
Alaric shouted again, “It’s a dirty trick, Jazan – that thing’s trying to take you over!” He’d seen artifacts like this before – the sorcerers of the Haunted Woods were fond of them. They took over your mind until you were little more than a shell housing whatever nasty presence was inside of them. He had to break its hold on Jazan somehow! “Remember, Jazan, you don’t want to be the king who rules through magic force – that’s what your father is! This thing doesn’t want to overthrow your father – it wants to turn you into your father! Jazan, listen to me!”
And Jazan ripped the Orb off its pedestal and stuffed it into the satchel at his side.
Immediately, the ghosts swirled out of the stone base. Even before they’d started to take a shape, Alaric had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly who they were.
He grabbed Jazan by the shoulders. “Take the Orb and run!”
To be continued...