More Powerful than Magic: Part Six
Late that night, Jazan sat at a borrowed desk, reading. Nabile and the children had all been asleep for hours, but he couldn’t rest – not when a golem could be coming after them any day. He looked at the next passage.
A golem can resemble anything – a Neopian or a petpet or even a petpetpet. The most common forms are that of the Werelupe, the Werhond, and the Drackonack. The items bearing the essence of their quarry are embedded within them – if they were to be removed, the golem would lose its purpose and thus be destroyed. The other ways to destroy a golem are to remove the gemstones within its head that provide an anchor for the spell, or to destroy the sorcerer feeding it power.
Jazan didn’t know any way to break open a beast of solid clay and stone that was trying with all its might to kill its assailant – earlier passages had spoken of how golems were nearly impervious to magical attacks. They were going to have to find Xandra before she completed the golem, or they were all going to die.
If only he had another copy of The Scroll of Golem’s Vengeance – but it seemed that, except for that single scroll, his orders had been obeyed. There were other tomes where one could learn about them, but he had thought that the spells hadn’t needed to survive – there was no good reason for a golem to exist. Even creating one took dark magic, fueled by the life force of the sorcerer’s victim.
Shadow magic – Xandra did seem to be fond of it.
But he didn’t have another copy of the scroll – he didn’t know how long it would take Xandra to create her minion, or exactly what she would need to prepare. Such a complicated spell would need physical ingredients – there had been references to a list in the back of this tome. Maybe he could come back to this page later...
King Jazan, I wish to speak to you. Please come to the doors outside of the Vault of Queens.
Yes, Queen Fyora.
If it had been any other night, Jazan would have been excited. The Vault of Queens contained some of the most powerful artifacts that had ever existed in Neopia, but mere mortals were rarely allowed inside. But dread of Xandra and her golem made it difficult to be enthusiastic about anything.
He drew his cloak closer around himself as he hurried through the Palace – Faeries loved openings and archways that let the air and sky in, but on a chilly night with a storm coming he was uncomfortably cold. Thunder was already rolling in the distance – the rain would be on them soon.
Fyora stood at the entrance to a long hall – she almost seemed to glow faintly in the gloom of night. She said, “It is past the midnight hour. What keeps you up so late?”
Jazan looked out a window at the dimness beyond. “Studying. I can’t claim to be an expert on golems. I avoid learning the paths of dark magic as a rule.”
Fyora whispered, “You are afraid that, if you go too near to those powers, they will consume you as they consumed your father.”
Jazan wanted nothing more to do with this conversation – how had the queen managed to combine all of the things he disliked thinking about into one sentence? Fyora continued, “Not all darkness is evil, King Jazan. Many Dark Faeries are creatures of good. The Champion of Darkness has his place among the elementals. Your own magic has its roots in fire and darkness – it is what gives you your strength.”
He refused to turn around – if he met those violet eyes, what few secrets he had left would be stripped away. “Milady, I fail to see what that has to do with this. The magics I’m speaking of are evil. And I proved twenty years ago in Sakhmet what happens if I use those powers, even intending good. If I am to defeat Xandra, I will not defeat her using her own magics – I will only destroy myself as well.”
She said softly, “So you have felt it as well. Come with me, King Jazan.”
He stayed behind her, so she couldn’t look at him easily, and asked, “Felt what?”
“That this conflict, at its heart, will be between you and Xandra. She has a personal hatred for you, King Jazan. Greater than for any of the others except for Hanso.”
Jazan nodded. “But Hanso doesn’t have the power to fight her face-to-face.” Still, he wondered. What had he done? He’d actually liked her until she turned him to stone. Altador had been the leader of their band, not himself.
Though it was better that she wasn’t after Altador in particular – the good-natured king wasn’t as strong as he had been fourteen years ago, and Jazan shuddered to think of his friend having to face the raging sorceress.
Fyora said as she opened the doors, “King Jazan, you and Xandra come from similar roots. You both have fire in your magic, giving you power, and you both have experience with the dark arts – you, through your father’s example, and her through her study in the Haunted Woods. Yet you chose to be a hero, while she chose to burn and destroy.”
Jazan shook his head. “I am no hero. I am a man who does his duty, nothing more.”
Then the Vault was open, and Jazan had to take a deep breath – the wave of sheer power nearly overwhelmed him. Fyora said, “If a mage with an evil heart were to gain control of this sanctuary, Neopia would be lost.” Then she pointed at a scorch mark on the floor. “Sir Cyrex’s first mission was to defend the Vault of Queens against such a mage. He was young then – barely a man. With the help of one of my artifacts, he destroyed the mage’s weapon, and allowed him to be defeated.”
Finally, Jazan was angry enough to look straight at the Faerie Queen, who stared back at him. “Are you trying to torment me? Do you think I don’t know my weaknesses, my failings? You talk of heroism, you talk of darkness, you talk of my father – enough! If you’ve no more to say to me, I’m going back to study until the storm is past.”
Fyora’s eyes softened slightly. “Jazan, why are you so convinced that you are not a hero?”
Jazan looked around at the artifacts in cases and on shelves surrounding them – gems and metals and wood and feathers and rock and bone and so many other things, fashioned into keepers of vast power. “All heroes are tried – they stand or they fall. Your Sir Cyrex – he stood. He defeated the enemy mage you spoke of. When I was tried, I fell.”
The way she looked at him, as if she didn’t understand what he was talking about, infuriated him again. “You know the story – must I repeat it? I hadn’t realized he’d found a new power source. I didn’t translate his notes quickly enough. I got to the top of the tallest tower in Qasala just in time to watch my father curse our city and turn its people into the undead. If I had been a hero, I would have stopped him. But I failed.”
She turned. “Wait here.” As she disappeared into the dimness, Jazan listened to the sound of the rain and the storm. Why was he even standing here, letting the Queen make him feel like a troublesome child? This was a waste of his time.
It would most likely be more pleasant to listen to that Aristotle boy whine.
Then she returned, holding a blackened and time-cracked leather satchel. “Do you recognize this, King Jazan?”
He looked closer. She opened it, and he could see a black crystal ball, so dark it reflected nothing. Then he took a step backward. “That’s the Orb of Khammar!”
She looked into his eyes again – as much as he would have liked to, he couldn’t turn away. “You were twelve years old, Jazan. You discovered out that your father had found this, and planned to use it to complete his curse. You enlisted the help of a warrior, and when you had stolen it back, at great risk to yourselves, you asked him to bring it to me in order to keep it safe.”
Jazan nodded, remembering. “Alaric.”
Fyora said, “He had a long and happy life here in my employment, and did many services for my kingdom. And do you know what word he used to describe you? Heroic.”
Jazan shook his head, but Fyora held up her hand. “King Jazan, you’ve made mistakes.”
He glared at her. “All of Neopia is aware of my mistakes, Queen Fyora. There is no need for you to point them out to me.”
She said, a hint of steel in her voice, “Please let me finish, King Jazan.” She set the old leather bag with the Orb in it back on the shelf, and continued, “Yet think of the good you have done. Enough good for both the desert and for Neopia to outdo the evil times over. Does that mean nothing to you?”
Jazan looked out the door toward the windows to watch the lighting and the rain. “Most Neopians do more good than bad in their lives. Since I failed Qasala, nearly destroyed Sakhmet, and then loosed Razul, it’s my duty to make up for those crimes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do some more reading.” He wouldn’t be able to sleep through the thunder anyway. He wondered if any of the children had woken up. Nabile normally slept like a stone, and Caspar and Esmeralda would know what was going on, but thunderstorms were so rare in the desert that Neera or Jessamine might be frightened.
Fyora said, “I would like to see this tome about golems that you are reading – I may have a few other resources that could be of use to you.”
Jazan was about to tell her to go mess with someone else’s mind and leave him in peace, but insulting the Faerie Queen more than he already had probably wasn’t the best of ideas. “Very well.”
When they reached the little set of rooms that his family was staying in, Jessamine was sitting in the chair at his desk, cringing from a roll of thunder. “Daddy! The palace is falling apart!”
Jazan picked her up and sat down with her on his lap – she hid her face from the Faerie Queen. “It’s just a rainstorm, Jessamine – like in the monsoon season at home. It’s just lightning and thunder. I know they’re scary, but they can’t hurt you, I promise. You can go back to bed.”
She asked, “Daddy, would you tell me a story first?”
He smoothed back her hair, deciding that ignoring Fyora would be worth it. “Which story would you like me to tell?”
She began, “Once there was a hardy warrior...”
Had it been just last night that he’d told her that story? It seemed an eternity ago. He retold the familiar tale, rocking the little Kacheek back and forth like he had when she was only a baby. Finally, he whispered, “For these are more powerful than magic” in her ear, to no response. She’d fallen back asleep. He picked her up to take her to bed.
Fyora said, “It is interesting, is it not, that a mage-king teaches his children that magic is far from the most powerful thing in our world?”
Jazan replied, “We both know what happens to unrestrained magic – it destroys as much as it can, and ultimately destroys itself. I walked far too close to that path, and I wish to save my children that experience, if I can.” He looked down at the child asleep in his arms. “Queen Fyora, you asked me why I do not consider myself a hero. But you never asked me what I do consider myself.”
She raised an eyebrow. “And what would your answer be to that question?”
He said, “I am a father, a husband, and a king. I consider that I fulfill these roles well. And I do not need to be a hero in order to protect my family and my people from anything and anyone that would hurt them. I do not need to be a hero in order to find a way to defeat Xandra. She wasn’t taken down by a hero before – she was stopped by a thief. If a thief could stop her once, a mortal king could stop her again.”
Fyora nodded once. “I am enlightened, King Jazan. Though not in the matter you may think. We shall have to agree to disagree on the matter of heroism, but let us still part in peace. Good night.”
Jazan opened the door to Jessamine’s bedroom. “Good night.”
To be continued...