Shad and Saura: That Other City - Part Nine
Art by ssjelitegirl
The rest of the day passed quietly. The streets were empty, the palace was empty, and the hot sun burned the dusty streets as quietly and impartially as it always did. Shad and Saura lingered in their rooms, half bored, half nervous, and passed the time blabbing about trivial things. They went downstairs twice, for lunch and for dinner, and both meals passed without anything unusual. Nightsteed looked the same as always, and Jazan’s behavior hadn’t changed much compared to the morning – if anything, he was even falling back to the usual lethargy.
When the sky was getting orange and the sound of people chatting was already to be heard on the streets, Saura shoot a glance at the golden clock on a bedside table and said, “It’s time.”
They were both quiet when walking down the streets, looking for the address Deki had given them, passing happy chattering Neopets. Finally Shad broke the silence, stating, “You know, this might easily be nothing.”
“I know,” said Saura.
“This can easily be a prank.”
“Then why do I have such a bad feeling about this?” snarled the Lupe.
“Because Deki’s lie is suspicious, there are a few coincidences in this story, and you’re good at bad feelings,” said his brother levelly.
“You’re not helping,” hissed Shad.
“Wasn’t trying to.”
They went on for another minute, then Shad stopped in the middle of the street.
“No,” he said.
Saura stopped too and glanced at him over the shoulder, “What?”
“I’m not going,” stated Shad, and now his voice wasn’t nervous any more. It was calm, cold and calculative. That didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was easier to make the River of Lost Desert flow backwards than change Shad’s mind. “It’s certain death. Don’t argue with me on this. Deki will have to sit this one out, thank you very much.”
The spotted Zafara stared at him with concern. “But we promised...”
”I don’t care!” barked Shad. Even though the alley they were standing on was empty at the moment, Saura couldn’t help but look around quickly and nervously. “I’m not going. And neither are you, as long as I’m still breathing.”
Saura knew his brother well enough and was fully aware that you could crack rocks on Shad’s stubbornness, but he was still hesitating. It was, after all, a double promise. To Deki and to Nightsteed.
Something was watching them intently. The situation was on the edge. Will they come or go? But even without knowing Shad that well, it was prepared. It concentrated.
Shad blinked. Saura’s long ears twitched. What was that?
”Come here. Come on. You promised.”
It was in their heads, something like a voice, but not exactly, being more like a thought. It called them, and hypnotized them, and Saura’s eyes were getting hazy. He squinted at Shad – only to see that the Lupe had pressed his paws against the dusty ground, all spread out, with white claws scratching the soil. His fangs were bared, and his yellow eyes had narrowed into stripes.
“Fat chance!” he barked out loud, tossing a verbal glove to the universe in general.
”Come here!” The voice, or whatever it was, now sounded confused. Saura could feel his legs tingling. He wanted to go. Only the surprise at Shad’s resistance had distracted him and held him back.
Something landed next to them with a thump. It was Nightsteed, already in his cursed form despite the early hour. They hadn’t seen, heard or smelled him all the way down from the palace, but here he was now, crimson eyes gleaming.
“Just in time,” Shad hissed from between his fangs. “Help us!”
Nightsteed gazed at them both with concern. “Can’t. It’s in your heads. I’m helpless here.” His voice was surprised. He hadn’t expected them to put up any kind of fight.
Shad’s face was now sweating. All his muscles were tensed, but he hadn’t closed his eyes. He was staring at one point, seemingly blankly, but that wasn’t so. When Saura, whose stubbornness had never been comparable to Shad’s, suddenly turned around and started going on, the Lupe sprang forward at once. And grabbed Saura’s leg between his teeth, pulling him face-first into the ground.
The call was gone – had to be, as Saura couldn’t hear anything any more but the ring in his ears. He sat up, spitting dust. Shad’s figure towered in front of him, his eyes a lot more serious than usually.
“Your body and your will belong to you and are only for you to command, little brother,” he said darkly and then added, looking up: “And nobody will ever get in my head, y’hear?”
“Yeah, because they’re afraid of what they might find there,” muttered Saura, getting up. His leg was sore; Shad had strong fangs. Nightsteed was still there, having developed the kind of cold glance people use to hide their surprise.
“Nice,” he said. “But note that you’re not safe here either.”
The voice-thought interrupted again, but this time it wasn’t directed at them. ”Father, I’m too weak!”
Something echoed through their brains, like a non-phonetic equivalent of an impatient sigh, then it smashed into them. They collapsed, all three of them. Darkness fell.
Recovery was a bit like waking from a very long sleep. Shad opened his eyes and tried to stretch himself, only to find that his legs were tied together with a narrow rope. A few feet away Saura found himself in the same situation. Nightsteed was behind Shad, or so his nose told him.
“Mrawhh,” did the Lupe, seeing that his muzzle was tied too.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” said Deki, “but you have sharp fangs and those work wonders on ropes as you surely know.”
He was sitting on a small stool, dressed in his usual palace guard armor. They were apparently in the courtyard of a small house somewhere in the outskirts of the city. The sky was still orange, the sun was still setting and the sounds of the streets were to be heard farther away.
“Nrawghh?” did Shad.
“He asked if you were the one who called us,” said Saura. He glanced at his hands. The rope wasn’t tied, but melted together, fibers had merged to form one endless circle without knots. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Obviously,” agreed the Scorchio. He didn’t sound mean. Victorious, yes, but calm.
“But it was your daddy who knocked us out,” continued the Zafara, supported by Shad’s grumpy mumbling.
“I positively hate it when I have to do everything by myself,” said a voice from a doorway. The brothers had to stretch their necks to see. They hadn’t heard that voice before, but they had seen the face. Numerous times. At the palace’s dining table.
Shad let out another, somewhat surprised “mmrawghh” as the skinny yellow Wocky stepped into the fading sunlight. He was wearing a simple light blue robe and his face looked rather friendly at the moment, but his eyes were very sinister.
“That’s right, young Lupe,” he said, nodding at Shad. “It’s me.”
“Eh,” did Saura, his voice hinting amusement, “I think what he just said there more or less meant ‘hey, you’re the whatsisname’.”
The Wocky’s cold expression cracked. “What?”
“He doesn’t have a head for names,” explained Saura as Shad hummed in agreement.
“Drefu Arafan. Qasalan external affairs. Sakhmetian, like his son.” Nightsteed’s voice was dry. He lay there, now a regular blue Uni again, legs tied together and eyes flaring. “Came here a few months ago and started knitting his webs of conspiracy. Did a pretty good job at developing our diplomatic relations with the Haunted Woods among other things, might I add.”
The Wocky grinned. “I’m thorough. Minor setbacks don’t mean that much in the long run. My current presence is one of those setbacks,” he shot a stern glance at Deki, who looked down in embarrassment, “but it doesn’t really matter. I’m not that important in this phase. Oh, I think it’s starting now.”
The sounds on the streets had changed. They were terrified. Shouts and screeching were to be heard, along with some dull distant roars. Saura hadn’t heard them before, so he was at loss. Nightsteed didn’t seem much smarter, though his face reflected disbelief and concern, hinting some suspicions. Shad, whose nose spoke clearer than words, rolled around and whimpered loudly, unable to talk. Drefu the mage grinned at him.
“Don’t worry, you’ll learn what it’s about soon enough. Deki, your act.”
“I’m on it, Dad.” The Scorchio had stood up and taken a sturdy longsword that had been leaned against the foot of a small table. Now he sheathed it and flew off.
The Wocky squinted at the sky until his son was gone, then looked down. “Well, it’s time for me to go as well. It’ll be somewhat... uncomfortable for you here, but I can assure you that right now it’s safer here than in the inner city.” He smirked and turned around.
”And later?” asked Saura.
“I’m not sure, frankly.” Drefu didn’t even turn around. “I’ll probably give you to the mob after the coup d'état has taken place. They can decide what to do with... traitors.”
He left, and the courtyard fell silent, except for the distant shouts and roars and Shad’s impatient, hopeless whimpering. Finally Saura asked: “Nightsteed, does your magic work on those ropes?”
The Uni shot a glare at him. “Take a wild guess. When the night falls, I gain my cursed form and may be able to struggle out of the ropes, but it wouldn’t help you one way or another. Those are filled with magic and I can’t break the spell.”
Shad whined, struggling around and trying to rip the rope off his face. It was tied as a bridle, going over his muzzle and behind his head, but it would’ve been possible to pull it off – if the Lupe had been flexible enough. He stopped struggling and glared at Saura, yellow eyes full of mute orders as well as quite a few words that were probably better left unsaid.
The Zafara frowned, gazing at him. “But if I manage to get that rope off your face, you might be able to gnaw through all of them and set us free, right?” Shad rolled his eyes.
“You think they can be gnawed through?” asked Nightsteed.
“Otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered tying his muzzle.” Saura shifted over only to discover that he couldn’t move freely. Another rope tied him to the leg of the table.
“They’re not stupid, you know,” remarked Nightsteed, as Shad moaned.
The Zafara snorted. “One of us has to be able to reach his muzzle. This courtyard isn’t even that big. Shad, can you move over here? I think I’ll be able to... let’s see...”
Nightsteed watched with slight amusement as the two brothers rolled around in yellow dust, struggling with the ropes. Saura was right. After some failed attempts, he could get his long tail behind Shad’s bridle and pull it off. The Lupe sneezed loudly, then attacked the ropes.
“Scordrax,” he barked impatiently with his mouth full. “He’s attacking the city. I think the mage sent Deki to fight with him. You know, young guard slays the monster, becomes a hero, the people support him, the owner of the beast gets the blame and poof, we get the whatchamacallit.”
“Coup d'état,” said Nightsteed, struggling to his feet as the ropes were gnawed through. “But... Scordrax only obeys Jazan.”
“The nicer it all will look,” grumbled Shad.
“Artus,” hissed Saura, getting up as well. “He did something. No idea what, and no idea how, but he was there this morning and probably messed around with Scordrax, I can bet my best wooden spoon on that.”
“Sounds attractive,” grinned Shad. “Nightsteed, can you go find Jazan and tell him to get Scordrax under control? The people’s support relies solely on that.”
The Uni nodded grimly and dashed into the air. As he rose above the roof and into the falling darkness of the night, he changed momentarily, yellowish bandages flapped around his body, he stumbled in the air for a moment before getting his balance on the decomposing wings, then he whizzed off, faster than one would expect from a creature like that.
“And what about us?” asked Saura, shaking the last ropes off.
The Lupe’s ears twitched. “Well, wouldn’t wanna miss the show. Let’s go and see if we can get front row seats.”
To be continued...