More Powerful than Magic: Part Four
It wasn’t long before Jazan, Nabile, Altador, Rosen, Guildus, Hanso, and Brynn were following Sir Cyrex out to Jhudora’s Bluff. Jazan held onto a smooth piece of lapis lazuli in his pocket – the twins had given it to him before he left, filled with as much of their shared power as they could afford to lend.
“Here, Father,” Caspar had said. “We know you won’t let us come with you, but we want to make sure you’ve got some extra power if you need it.”
Aldie had stood by her brother, nodding – she clearly still wanted to ask if she could come, but one look from Caspar had silenced her.
So the stone was precious to him, in more ways than one. He’d use it if he needed to, but he had a feeling that he needed to save it – that it would be worth far more to him later.
The terrain was rough and rocky here near the edges of Faerieland – where the edge of the mass of rock had collided with the surface of Neopia, shattering the planet where it hit. Nabile – dressed in a plain Qasalan army tunic and trousers to allow herself a free range of movement – led the way with Hanso, since they were the two nimblest members of the group. As they scaled a particularly nasty slope, he called up, “Nabile, be careful!”
Brynn added, “Hanso, this isn’t a competition!” The Kougra muttered to Jazan, “Is it just me, or is there a little ‘who’s the best thief’ contest going on here?”
Jazan nodded – there most certainly was. Nabile was proud of her abilities and would prove it – fiercely – to anyone who suggested that the Queen of Qasala might have forgotten her rough upbringing on the streets of Sakhmet.
Altador, standing on Jazan’s other side, chuckled, but then Hanso threw down the rope to aid the old king, and he had to climb before he could say any more. Jazan was last – he could use magic to help the others, if necessary.
Soon, they had reached more steady ground. Sir Cyrex said, “We’re close. King Jazan, if you’d lead with me I’d be grateful.”
Jazan saw the sense in the suggestion and complied, though he knew that Nabile stayed close behind him. She was a comfort – even if he had to lose himself in tangles of magic, he knew that she would keep him safe.
The ominous shape of Jhudora’s bluff loomed north of them and slightly closer to the Faerie City. Guildus commented, “You know, it’s a clever place for someone to hide out – Faeries don’t come out here much, do they, Sir Cyrex?”
Sir Cyrex shook his head. “No. Jhudora insists – vehemently – on her privacy.”
They went around a hill, and then Jazan noticed it – the door leading into the earth. There was a small glass panel in the middle of it, and he could see multicolored lights flashing and flickering inside. There was a feeling in his head like the beginnings of a headache – he had only felt it once or twice before. He told them, “Whatever’s in there isn’t magic. It’s that technology like they have in Neopia Central, or the Space Station, or Kreludor. Anything more advanced than the gearwork in Moltara doesn’t react well with magic, which is why the Faeries got so sick.”
Hanso frowned. “Who on earth would need that sort of fancy technology near Faerieland?”
Rosen offered, “Sloth? Seems it’s always Sloth.”
Jazan winced at the Skeith’s remark. Nabile said with a groan, “Oh, I really wish you hadn’t thought of that.”
But Jazan knew they had to take care of whatever this was. He drew his sword. “Are we ready?”
Everyone else drew their weapons as well. He nodded. “Well, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be, so Rosen, Guildus, guard the door, and the rest of us need to go!”
He blasted the door with magic, and it crumbled into dust. Sir Cyrex called, “Whoever’s in there, drop your weapons! You’re under arrest in the name of the Faerie Queen!”
Altador and Jazan led together into the tunnel at a run – Jazan knew Altador’s battle routine well, and they’d be able to keep things clear so the others could get in.
But the sight at the bottom of the tunnel made him stop in his tracks.
The underground room was decorated like a family’s living space – a rug on the floor and comfortable chairs. On the back wall were flickering screens with strange images – the cause of Jazan’s rapidly increasing headache. A door to one side led to who knew where, and the only soul in the room was a Blumaroo fixed on the screens.
Then the boy wheeled around in his chair, looking irritated. “Who dares to disturb me?” He didn’t look as if he were much older than the twins, and he wore possibly the most idiotic glasses that Jazan had ever seen – one lens was red and the other was blue. “I am the Games Master! Please leave, unless you wish me to utterly defeat you.” He turned himself around again.
All of the flashing lights and the power that made them work were making the pain in Jazan’s head so bad he was starting to see dark spots in his vision – he spread his power out and, in a burst of magic, attacked the wires that made this Central technology work. All the screens flared blue and then died to black, and the pressure behind his eyes was released.
The Blumaroo jumped out of his chair. “What have you done? A bunch of armed thugs breaks into my sanctuary and destroys my hard-won equipment! I’m going to call the Defenders of Neopia! I’m going to – hey, get that crazy tattooed Ixi chick away from that before she breaks it!”
Nabile had been investigating one of the screens. At the insult to her, Jazan grabbed the Blumaroo’s collar and hauled him forward, making him stand on the tips of his toes. “If you talk to Queen Nabile of Qasala like that again, you won’t make it to whatever cell in the Faerieland dungeons is waiting for you.”
The Blumaroo squeaked, “Get off me, you big hulking brute!”
King Altador asked, “Do we actually have grounds to imprison this... character?” Jazan kept holding onto the Blumaroo – the obnoxious blowhard couldn’t do him any damage, but it was better to keep him under control.
Sir Cyrex nodded. “Not supposed to be here. By treaty with Jhudora, she leaves the farmers on the outskirts alone as long as no one settles in her territory. If she found out he’d brought all this nonsense here, she’d have grounds to blight this year’s crop.”
The Blumaroo cried, “This isn’t nonsense – I am the Games Master of Neopia!”
Jazan looked him in the eyes. “And I am King Jazan of Qasala, who is very rapidly losing patience with you. Now, the first thing I’d like to know is your name, and none of this ‘Games Master’ tripe.”
The Blumaroo muttered, “Aristotle Absalom Avinroo.”
Then the door to the side opened. A small blue Aisha with blonde hair peeked out. “Ari, I’m working on my painting and oh sweet Fyora, Ari, what have you done?”
Sir Cyrex informed her, “You’re not supposed to be here, by Faerieland law. Jhudora could turn you into whatever she liked if she found you here, and by treaty she’d be free to go curse the farmers.”
The Aisha looked at her feet. “Sorry – we didn’t know. We’ll get out of here as soon as that man lets go of my brother and we pack up our stuff. It’s just the two of us here.”
Jazan let go of Aristotle – what an unfortunate name – and crouched on the floor. He remembered the feel of Xandra’s magic, earth and fire elements mingling, giving her both the power of flame and the support of stone. These two oblivious children with their technology would be the perfect people for Xandra to use to orient herself, and if she’d been here, he would feel it.
There it was – traces of power. A protective spell – Xandra had probably needed to shield herself from the headache brought on by the Blumaroo’s games. It was unmistakable. “Xandra was here.”
Immediately, everyone turned to look at the Aisha and the Blumaroo. The Aisha asked, “The Speckled Xweetok? Was that her name? Xandra?”
Brynn and Hanso were standing very close to each other, eyes wide – he was certain they were following this trail of thought to the same conclusion Jazan had reached. Nabile was standing with her arms crossed, frowning a little. Sir Cyrex was rubbing his head – he was probably thinking about the diplomatic issues that Aristotle and his sister had caused.
Altador went down on one knee in front of the Aisha, taking the same tone of voice that he did with Neera, Roderick, or Jessamine. “What did she do here? Did she ask you about anything – and what’s your name, by the way? I can’t call you ‘girl’.”
The Aisha nodded. “I’m Abigail Avinroo. She was nice – she looked as if she’d traveled a lot. Her dress was pretty, but it was all ragged and covered in dirt and smoke, and her hair was a mess. She said she’d been in the Haunted Woods and needed to find out what the rest of the world had been doing, so I helped her use the Neopedia online. She only stayed an hour or so, right around dawn.”
Altador asked gently, “What did she look up?” If his stomach was dropping as quickly as Jazan’s was, he didn’t show it.
Abigail replied, “She looked up a lot about the restoration of Faerieland. Tourist maps and stuff like that for the city. And an article about some thief that Fyora promoted, and a captain of the Faerie Guard – I think they did some sort of work together. Lessee, there was something about some old teacher in Shenkuu, I remember that. And there was a whole lot of government stuff – she looked up the governments of Faerieland, Altador, and Qasala. She seemed really interested in the Qasalan royal family – what’s wrong?”
Jazan had gripped Nabile’s hand tightly – he looked into her violet eyes, hoping desperately that she didn’t feel the fear that was threatening to overwhelm him, but knowing that she did. He said, “You’ve told an evil sorceress who’s been a statue in Fyora’s garden the last fourteen years exactly how to find the people she wants revenge on.” She knows about the children. I had to have known that she’d find out, but I’d held out a little bit of hope that she wouldn’t find out about the children...
Abigail gasped. “Sweet Fyora, I’m sorry! I promise, if I’d had known I wouldn’t have helped! I –”
Altador had to lean on Sir Cyrex’s shoulder to get up – Jazan’s fellow king looked as if he’d aged twenty years in the last few minutes. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Xandra’s all caught up and ready to go.”
Hanso sighed heavily. “We weren’t quick enough. And now she doesn’t have to stay close to Faerieland.”
Brynn set a hand on Hanso’s shoulder. “We’ll get her. We got her once, and we’ll get her again. We can do it.”
Nabile said softly, voice slightly choked, “But she won this round. She’s ready to come after us.”
Jazan felt as if he were frozen – to move anywhere else would be to continue this downward slide of events. But Sir Cyrex said, “Best thing to do will be to go back to Faerieland and tell Queen Fyora. Let’s get moving, everybody – and, kids, you two are coming with us.”
To be continued...