More Powerful than Magic: Part Eight
Abigail asked, “Why would he do such a thing? I don’t understand!”
Sir Cyrex had found enough signs to prove what they’d already thought – Caspar and Aristotle had left the city together and headed west. Jazan thought in admiration that the Mutant Ixi could probably track a Meepit through the Haunted Woods on a moonless night – he was that adept.
They all sat together in the study, getting ready to move. Master Hatora was staying here – Rosen and Guildus were guarding him and the children. Jazan, Nabile, Altador, Hanso, Brynn and Cyrex would be the ones hunting Xandra. Hanso buried his face in his hands. “She’s going after the kids. We all knew she was psycho, but she’s going after the kids. Maybe I ought to just go serve myself up on a silver platter – it might keep her away from the rest of you.”
Brynn cried, “Hanso, no!”
Fyora shook her head. “That would not appease her, Hanso. You are of much more service to your comrades alive and helping to defeat her.”
Nabile explained to Abigail, “Abby, your brother and Aldie fought. She called his games worthless, and he said he’d fought more enemies than she ever would. He told her that he’d prove he was a better fighter.”
Abigail buried her face in her hands. “His pride again – it’s always his pride. I always have to follow him and try to keep him from doing something stupid, but I was playing Usukis with Neera and didn’t realize anything was wrong! It’s all my fault!”
Altador handed a small sugar Vaeolus to her. “Here. Eat this. It’s not your fault, child. You’re eleven. It’s not your job to baby your older brother.”
She sniffed. “But it is, though!”
He patted her blonde head and soothed, “No, no, it’s not. Neera, Jessa, and Aldie are all awake – you should go join them. It’ll help you keep your mind off things.” Abigail sniffed a few more times, and then departed.
Brynn asked, “Are you sure you can lead us to Xandra, King Jazan?”
He nodded – he hadn’t gotten to explain yet. He pulled the stone out of his pocket and said, “This has Caspar’s power in it – he and Esmeralda gave it to me in case I needed it. It’s linked to him by magic. Between this and my own power, I’ll be able to take us straight to her.”
Cyrex said, “We need to leave quickly. I had an awful thought.”
Nabile looked at him, eyes narrowed. “Share the awful thought.”
The knight continued, “She needs life force for that golem of hers, doesn’t she? And now she’s got those two...”
Jazan’s stomach sank. Nabile whispered in horror, “Sweet Fyora. Oh – saving your presence, milady.”
Fyora didn’t seem offended. “No matter, Nabile. Go. Save the children. Capture Xandra – but please, do not kill her. She was good once.”
Jazan thought grimly that even Razul had probably been good once. Until he could talk, that is. He wasn’t going to make any promises – as far as he was concerned, when Xandra had kidnapped Caspar, she had crossed the final line. If she wanted a fight, he would bring it to her.
But then the Queen looked him straight in the eyes. “King Jazan, I know you think me naïve. I know you have walked this world for two centuries, but I have walked it for millennia. Please respect my judgment.”
Nabile crossed her arms. “Queen Fyora, I don’t mean to be disrespectful either, but talking to him like that really isn’t the way to convince him. And he hates it when you tell him about what he’s thinking.”
Hanso snorted, obviously trying to hold back laughter. Queen Fyora raised her eyebrows. “Very well. To all of you, may fair winds go with you.”
Altador barked in military-leader fashion, “Troops, move out!”
They set a quick pace back out through the borderlands, as Jazan led with Altador by his side. He held the lapis stone in his hand, feeling it drawn to its maker, and tried to send reassurances down the magic link if it were possible at all. I’m coming, Caspar. We’re coming. Everything will be okay.
Xandra couldn’t take the life force from him as long as he was stone – as long as he was still stone, he was safe. Stone was good – or, at least better than the alternative. He had to remind himself of that.
He looked at Nabile – she was wearing her Qasalan military uniform again, her hair pulled back tightly, and the sheaths of her knives close at hand. Her eyes were steely – Jazan knew that she had to be afraid, but she was hiding it. She was letting her fury at having her family attacked fill any place where fear might dwell, and it was working. Jazan wouldn’t want to be Xandra facing her.
He wondered how Brynn and Hanso were dealing with this. Xandra would happily kill them if she was given half the chance – Jazan had to make sure she was never allowed that half-chance. Xandra had already had her time, fourteen years ago. She’d caused battles, crashed Faerieland. But in the end, she’d failed.
Jazan intended to make sure that she failed again.
He looked at the others. “We’re getting closer. Not more than five or ten minutes, I should think.”
But that was when the patches of deeper darkness rose up against the night. Altador cried, “It’s her shadow minions – she found some somehow! We need to fight!”
Jazan’s sword was already in his hand – if Xandra wanted to make him cut through some of her wraiths, he would be happy to oblige her.
Brynn shouted as he cut down the first one, “King Jazan! Keep going! We’ve got your back! You’re the only one who can fight her!”
Nabile added, “Go, Jazan! I’ll follow!”
Keeping his sword drawn, Jazan ran forward into the night, following the call of his magic.
He found himself at the entrance to a cave which had probably existed in the old Faerieland – the mountaintop had been tossed here like it was no more than rubbish. The magic was clear. Caspar was inside, and Jazan knew that Xandra wouldn’t be far away.
He had no idea whether Fyora was right – whether this confrontation was really meant to be between him and Xandra or not. But Xandra had made it personal, and Xandra was going to pay.
But when he made himself a light to guide his path, he remembered Caspar’s pride at mastering that spell – creating light was so easy for him, with his bright, young spirit that had never known true darkness or defeat. Jazan had been that good at creating light once – before the curse. Now it was harder.
He couldn’t allow himself to become weak – his son was depending on him. He had to keep going forward.
He could tell that the pathway widened out ahead of him, and from the echoes of his feet he realized that it opened up into a cavern. But as he tried to widen his light – to see more – he was enveloped in a net of magic. He was flung across the room, and hit a stone wall hard, unable to keep himself from a grunt of pain. He turned himself to slump against it, and found that that was the most he could do – he was trapped fast. But lanterns flared into life, and he saw Xandra standing in front of him. “Why hello, Jazan. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
He was facing the cavern’s entrance now – off to one side, he could see a construction made of earth. He couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be, but it sported claws, fangs, and spikes. The golem!
And in the middle of the cavern were two statues. One was Aristotle – he looked as if he’d been startled, and was turning his head to see what was going on. And the other was Caspar, his sword half-drawn, his mouth open to say something or to shout for help. And Xandra was between him and them, but he couldn’t do anything. If he could distract her – keep her talking – he could perhaps muster the strength to free himself...
She sniffed. “When we traveled together, you wouldn’t have let me catch you off guard like that. You’ve let yourself get soft. I couldn’t believe it when that stupid Blumaroo let me look you up on his computer – you’re a paper-shuffler, Jazan! Attending to bureaucracy and chasing after your crop of snot-nosed brats. You’ve fallen far.”
Jazan was irritated, but he had to let her keep talking. She said, “I’ve got a deal to make with you. Here – stand up.” Momentarily, the bonds of her spell loosened, and Jazan got to his feet slowly, feeling old and sore. Xandra snickered.
He snapped, “Well, everyone else is a decade and a half older – you’re the exception, Xandra.”
She commented, “I’ve realized what my mistake was the first time, Jazan.”
Jazan could think of half a dozen replies to that, but most of them would be more fitting coming from Hanso. He let her continue, “I picked the wrong tools. I should have known that Hanso and Brynn would end up failing me. I should have asked you instead.
“You’re no more one of those namby-pamby heroes than that Ixi trash is a law-abiding citizen. You know power. You know command. With you as my general, I really could be the master of all Neopia this time.”
Jazan couldn’t believe it – it was as if fourteen years as a statue had made her even more delusional. Didn’t she remember that asking people to be her allies hadn’t worked last time? She continued, “Oh, trust me, you’d benefit from this. You could have control over whatever lands you liked. You could have the whole desert as your domain – wouldn’t you like to show that stuck-up cousin-in-law of yours in Sakhmet who the real ruler is? You came so close to being a conqueror in your own right, Jazan. Don’t give up that opportunity twice. Imagine what you could do with the power that you could have. Imagine what we could do together! It’s a shame Hanso destroyed my artifact, but there are others.”
She walked over and laid a hand on Caspar. “Don’t worry – I’ll let your brat go. I haven’t put your token in the golem yet. It’s easy enough to leave it out. I can use the other boy for the life force I need. I don’t intend to double-cross you, Jazan – without the artifact, I need a strong mage like you backing me up in order to return me to my rightful place.
“Or, of course, you can say no, I can continue with my previous plans, and I can let the golem make short work of you.
“So, what will it be, Jazan?”
To be continued...