Fireballs Among Friends: Part Six
If sixteen years as king had taught Jazan absolutely nothing else, he knew how to recognize a power play. And he could tell that Grimjon had one of those up his sleeve. It was obvious in his stance, in his mode of address – he was trying to undermine Rasala's authority with every breath he took.
Heh. Jazan wasn't sure he was all that fond of Rasala after she'd barged in. But she was far better than Grimjon, accusing him of black magic one minute and then staring at the twins greedily the next. Perhaps Jazan had allowed his own irritation with the man to cause him to judge wrongly, but he didn't believe he had. If that Kougra so much as blinked at the children in a way that Jazan didn't like, Jazan would force him to answer for it. Miskal and Yvenya as well. He'd heard of Yvenya – he didn't think a single mage with their head up out of the sand hadn't. But the Qasalan borderlands were his territory. He could find a way to protect Caspar and Esmeralda without abandoning Seradar.
He said, "Seradar knows his spells. He should take charge. The rest of us can provide power and aid as requested. Should we all work together without argument, we should be inside before the sandstorm arrives. Should we fail, we can transport back to Qasala, but as that would likely lead to the destruction of Seradar's tower, that is a last resort – one that will not be used unless our personal safety is at risk."
Miskal twitched a little. He looked like a bit of a twitchy sort. "You will make this judgment for all of us?"
They had no time for this. Jazan snapped, "I have dwelt in this desert for two hundred years and more. I know sandstorms. And my children are here. Do you think so little of me that you suppose I'd risk their safety?"
Esmeralda and Caspar were already passing small sparks back and forth – Jazan had realized that they did that when they were about to work together. He'd need to teach them to do it mentally, and that would be one of the next steps, once they understood their power a little more. Esmeralda said, "If Father let us get anywhere close to being outside in a sandstorm, Mama would be furious."
Seradar stared at the tower. He said, "I've got the wards in hand. Quickly!"
Caspar and Aldie were holding hands – Jazan set his own hands on their shoulders. He would channel the power they had built up to Seradar. His control was better, and he could keep their still-inexperienced strength from fluctuating. That could cause as much damage as the original surge had.
Grimjon frowned. "Rasala, I cannot say that I think it wise for seven mages to channel their power to one who has used black magic."
Jazan's irritation flared again. If Grimjon kept insisting that people who used black magic were under no circumstances to be trusted, the explanation that Caspar and Esmeralda had cooked up for themselves during the trek would cease to suffice, and he would be forced to have a conversation with them that he wasn't ready for. He wasn't ready for them to see him as fallible, as a man who had had the choice between light and darkness and had chosen the latter – as a man who had come within a hair's breadth of the point of no return. They saw him as strong, and wise, and good. And while he didn't believe it himself, he didn't want them to lose that.
Rasala snapped, "Grimjon, you came to the borderlands to help secure the tower. This is how we're securing the tower. Since you're so eager to be a good citizen of Neopia, either be quiet and help or go back to your own dwelling."
Grimjon swallowed and glared, but didn't reply. Good.
Yvenya suggested, "Perhaps we three should channel power to you, Rasala, as the twins are to the king. It may make things simple for Seradar."
And, of course, keep Grimjon, Yvenya, or Miskal from soiling their hands. But it was likely to be true – Seradar had worked on his own for enough time that it would be hard for him to handle so much magic being channeled to him from different directions. Jazan and Rasala were both used to group work, and would be able to keep the power steady for him.
Seradar flung his arms out, holding his staff in one hand and an amulet in the other. Jazan narrowed his eyes – he could feel the pressure of the sheer raw power that the twins had built up between them, and it was all he could do to combine it with his own more experienced strength so that it could be controlled by Seradar – and by himself. He could feel the twins in his magical senses as a great, blinding reservoir of fire and light, and was glad that the Erisim mages weren't experiencing this sheer strength firsthand.
Dimly, he sensed the other echoes, a strong, multi-hued cord of magic formed by very different talents combining and being woven together by Rasala. She moved her hands as she worked, as though she were creating a braid. He tried to send that awareness back through the connection to his children. He didn't care for Grimjon, Yvenya, or Miskal, but they deserved the experience of seeing what four powerful and well-trained mages could do together.
Esmeralda whispered, "It's beautiful."
It was, at that. Jazan could feel the ripples in the lake of power he was helping them to channel – Caspar and Esmeralda, trying to mimic what they were seeing and control the power they were passing to him. He said along their magical link, Don't worry about it. Just concentrate on passing me the magic. I'll control it so Seradar can use it.
He felt the wards dissolve – suddenly Seradar's tower was no longer a steady glow of magic, but a constellation of all the smaller spells and artifacts within. One was especially strong, and had the unpleasant feeling of a spell that had gone awry – that was the automaton.
The sandstorm was already on the horizon – time always slipped away quickly during a spell. They had minutes. He said, "Take the automaton apart – blast it to dust if that's what it takes, but hurry!"
Seradar said, "The fire will help – King Jazan, Rasala, give me some fire! It's baked clay, and I used mostly water magic in my animation spell!"
Jazan didn't have Caspar and Esmeralda change what they were doing – instead, he used their power himself to create a stronger channel of fire for Seradar's use. It was more tiring, but it was also more likely to make the interior of the tower safe before the sandstorm arrived.
Seradar brought his staff down in an unmistakable breaking gesture, and allowed the spell work to fade. Now Jazan's hands were to hold Caspar and Esmeralda up – they both sagged, weary from the mental and physical effort. He said, "Now, inside, and quickly."
Seradar led the way, pulling the key out of one of his pockets. Jazan followed immediately – if anything, Esmeralda had understated Nabile's reaction when she found out about this.
But the twins had never been in serious danger, and wouldn't be, and Jazan hadn't had to break his promise to Seradar. Nabile would understand that.
Seradar whispered a few words in the doorway that Jazan recognized as spell keys, and the lamps inside the tower lit. He let them in – inside was a kitchen, as evidenced by the fireplace, the cupboard, and the large wooden table. Jazan said, "I don't see any damage."
Seradar looked around. "The automaton was meant as a guard. I hope that it didn't wantonly destroy anything once I departed. I have no way to replace many of my scrolls." He looked up. "Fortunately, I used my sandstorm spell to shut all the windows as I departed. No sand should have gotten in."
Outside, Jazan could already hear the wind rising. Seradar said, "Sit down, and I'll make some tea. Since you're stuck here and I can't be rid of you, we might as well be comfortable."
The four Order mages took the four seats at the table. Only Rasala had the decency to shoot a glance at Jazan, but he was hardly going to ask a young woman to give up her seat for him. He sat down on a bench near the door, close to the hooks for sandy cloaks and robes. Caspar sat to his right, and Esmeralda to his left. Esmeralda leaned against his shoulder, and he put his arm around her.
As Seradar stumped around his little kitchen looking for tea and muttering about too many visitors for their own good and not having nearly enough cups, Esmeralda asked, "Father, would you tell us a story?"
He'd never say no to that question. No matter how old they were. "Of course."
Caspar said, "Melchior the Old!"
Jazan didn't even look up to see what the other mages thought, or if they had even heard. He found telling stories to the children to be far more rewarding than quibbling sorcerers could ever be. "Melchior was a general, the greatest general in all the kingdom of Mentu. He was both brave and wise, and earned the honor of his king and the respect of all men under him. He was close in the counsels of the king, beloved by the mighty and the lowly alike.
"But the king died, and his son took the throne. This new king was not brave and wise. This new king was afraid of the shadow of his father, and afraid that Melchior might become a threat to his throne. For he thought only of his own power, and could not see that Melchior only thought of the safety of Mentu, and would no more dream of taking Mentu's throne than the throne of Faerieland. He charged Melchior with treason – a baseless accusation, as all could see – and ordered him to leave Mentu and never return.
"Melchior stood at his trial, then, and challenged all who heard. He said that he would travel north, where the lands were wild and bountiful and free for the taking, for all this desert land was green in those days, and Khamtef and Sakhmet not yet come into being. He said that, if this were to be the honor that a man of war was given in his old age, then he would become a man of peace instead. He would build a city that would shine under the sun, a city that would stand for generations upon generations, long after his battles had been forgotten. And he challenged any who believed as he did to follow.
"And they did follow, a band of old and young alike, looking for a new life in a new place, to build something together, to create a world. They settled on a place between the great River Sakh and the wood of the north, and there Melchior's dream became reality.
"Melchior lived long – long enough to be called the Old in our legends, long enough to be named King of this new realm, and long enough to see that his city was to become a reality as great as he had dreamed. And while we do not know where his tomb lies, we see the city of Qasala, still bright under the sun, and it is a fitting memorial for him."
The wind howled outside, particles of stone scouring the walls of Seradar's tower. But the twins were peaceful, content and sleepy after their work. When Rasala asked for a tour of the tower, and Seradar grudgingly assented, Jazan merely shook his head, and allowed himself to doze as the sandstorm raged on.
To be continued...