Shad and Saura: That Other City - Part Eleven
Art by ssjelitegirl
They caught up with the two mages in front of a staircase where both had stopped to stare at the approaching brothers.
“Yes?” asked Nightsteed.
“We’ll just come and watch, thank you, won’t get in your way or anything,” said Shad, his yellow eyes gleaming happily in the dimness as Saura rolled his eyes.
Nightsteed, just like Saura a few minutes ago, ran out of words. “Watch... it’s not a circus!”
“I hope so,” agreed Shad. “Circuses are lame.”
“Sir... your Highness, if you don’t mind.” Another figure was approaching in the darkness, white fur shimmering. It was Harfu. “I’d be honored to join and protect you.”
Nightsteed moaned. “Why don’t you all go and call the whole of Qasala while we’re at it...?” Jazan just smiled. Or grinned, it was hard to make the difference.
“Come on then,” he said, and started going up the stairs. The Uni huffed, shrugged – meaning that his shoulder bones stretched the skin for a moment – and turned to glare at the three. The fact that his eyes were crimson and also lit by his flaming hooves made his face downright gruesome.
“Listen up, all of you,” he said. “Stay behind and watch, got it? No heroic deeds. Heroic deeds tend to be stupid most of the time and I don’t want anything stupid there, savvy?”
“Yessir,” barked Shad, his tail brushing the carpet. Saura and Harfu nodded. Nightsteed turned around with a scowl, and so they went, Jazan in front of others.
“Sir?” Shad asked after a while. The palace was pitch-black for some reason yet Jazan seemed to know where he was going. True, he had grown up in that palace. “Do you keep your catacombs on the second floor?”
“Good idea, in fact, they’d have a lot less mould and moss that way,” remarked the prince, “but no. If Drefu is anywhere in this palace, which he probably is, then he has to be with the spellbooks, which are most likely,” he stopped in front of a door, “here.”
Shad squinted at the familiar Kougras with scrolls. “Makes sense to me.”
Jazan pushed the library door open. The light was blinding at first, though it only came from half a dozen thick candles that were standing on the tables and various piles of books on the floor. The skinny Wocky was bowing over a book on the table. When the door opened, he startled and looked up. The look on his face switched from surprise to fear, to rage, to cold grimness.
“So Deki betrayed me,” he said.
“Did not,” replied Jazan, his eyes narrowing. His voice had a new tone in it – colder and viler, closer to the cursed prince of the cursed ruins. “I’m not that stupid yet, I can figure out obvious connotations.”
“Good for you.” Drefu straightened his back. “So it looks like you’re not going to give your city away without a fight after all?”
“Did you ever expect for a second that I would do that?” Jazan asked back. Even though the library was quiet and calm, his black robe waved quietly around his legs. Energy was gathering, ready to be released. The others could see that Drefu’s light blue robe was waving as well. Nightsteed pushed the two brothers and Harfu aside, towards a dark aisle between two shelves, and followed them himself as well. “It’s between them,” he hissed. “Stay out of this.”
The two sorcerers eyed each other. The air was sizzling. The flames of the candles tilted away from the two, as if fearing them.
“You don’t deserve that city,” said Drefu. “You don’t care about it. You just think you do.”
“Then I wouldn’t be here right now,” snarled Jazan.
The Wocky sneered. “Oh, that’s just pride. You don’t want to give away what’s yours. That doesn’t mean that you care. You haven’t cared for months.”
“You know nothing about this.” Jazan’s eyes were flashing.
“I know that you’re wasting this city’s potential. Qasala could be big, Jazan. It could be powerful, and well-known, and on the map instead of just being ‘that other place in Lost Desert’. Right now? Two tourists.” Drefu nodded at the dark aisle where Shad’s golden eyes were gleaming near the floor.
“You’re just power-hungry,” bit the Kyrii. “Qasala may be slow and forgotten right now, but at least I’m not draining its life out, driving the people insane with taxes and demands... do you think I don’t know your intentions?”
“People are unimportant,” snorted the Wocky.
“People are everything!” Jazan suddenly boomed and his robe flashed between black and white for a moment as the energy of his rage found a way out. “There is no city without its people, you fool!”
“True that,” muttered Shad in their not-so-safe hideout. It was now lighter there when the energy concentrating around Jazan became visible. Drefu replied with the same.
“Would you look at that,” Saura suddenly mumbled in surprise. In the bright light of the two mages’ energies, someone slid towards the door from the other side of the room. Jazan had noticed him but apparently didn’t want to split his focus – this was a crucial battle, even though it hadn’t even come to a battle yet.
“Artus!” roared Nightsteed, rearing up and almost knocking Saura out with his bony wing. “You stay right where you are, you maggot!”
The island Acara shot a quick frightened glance at him, then slid out of the door and off he went.
“Very convincing,” snorted Shad, earning the Uni’s glare as Harfu pulled his sword out: “I’ll go after him, sir! I can take him.”
“No. Stay there.” Nightsteed nodded at Jazan. “You won’t be able to get past that magical shield around him. You’ll be a petpet when you get out of the door. Most likely a pile of soot. We’ll get him later, he can’t escape far.”
“And he was able to get out because...?” snarled the Ixi.
“He’s a small-scale mage.”
“Can’t you go after him?” asked Shad, earning another glare.
“Sure I could, but I have to babysit you three. Things are about to get ugly and I’m the only one who can shield you.” The Uni squinted at the bright light. “Now be quiet.”
Drefu hadn’t even noticed the scene, or at least ignored it. He had opened another book on the table.
“Are you familiar with the city of Ara, Jazan?” he asked with a grin. “Do you know what happened to it?”
“You tell me,” growled the prince.
“Your mother was from there,” the Wocky patted the book, “one of the very few descendants of the very few survivors. Ara fell because of a failed attempt to take it over. A sorcerer created a spell that would erase the history and memories of the city so that the people would remember him as the leader of the city. The spell went wrong. Ara was destroyed. The Darkest Faerie later used the same spell, after improving it, with the city of Altador; surely you’ve heard at least of that.” Jazan’s eyes narrowed in reply. “Good, you’re not that hopeless.
“And this book,” he patted the other tome on the table, “contains info on the land of Elversti among other things. Never heard of that either, I presume? Pity.”
Shad’s and Saura’s ears perked up. This was interesting.
“Elversti,” said Drefu, “is, or was, the ancient land of Faeries, wrapped in its own endless time for the rest of eternity. That story originates from Brightvale. Smart people, granted, but so very naïve. No serious thoughts about what they’re doing. The very first settlers of Brightvale lived in some old fortress near the forest, and liked to meddle with magic, and as often happens when you meddle with things you don’t know, it blew up in their faces. Time snapped, and split, and rolled up. Part of it rolled back, wrapping their past up together with Elversti, and part of it rolled forward, being partly responsible for the big archives of Brightvale. Old tomes simply aren’t as old. They haven’t had the time to get lost and fall apart, you see?”
“Cute,” said Jazan, his voice still grim and icy. “And how’s that relevant?”
“By using the knowledge from those two books, plus numerous other sources, I could create the spells I’m planning to use,” stated the Wocky, smirking. “Have you any idea how useful it is to know how to mess with people’s minds? Very useful, Jazan. Very, very useful. And splitting time – things that were and things that never were. Do you see the potential in it?”
“I see the potential of tying my city into a knot and turning it inside out,” growled the Kyrii, now literally bubbling with rage. Nightsteed took another few steps back, head lowered, ready to take whatever may come. “You say that I don’t care, but how do you care? You only care about yourself, Drefu.” Bright blue shields of energy were forming around his clenched fists.
“Put those away,” the Wocky said absently as if talking about vases, a lot calmer than Jazan though he seemingly radiated just as much magic as the prince. It just took less effort for him. “I’m stronger than you, Jazan. You’re able to tell that. You’ve been nicely stuck here in your dusty city, while I’ve been training. I’m stronger than you and the undead Whinny there together,” he nodded at Nightsteed.
“Nightsteed?” whispered Shad.
“He’s right,” the Uni replied grimly, his eyes still focused on the scene.
“So what are we doing here?” hissed the Lupe.
“I didn’t ask you to come,” grunted Nightsteed, then added, “The world of magic is unpredictable and has many factors. Strength doesn’t determine everything. And Jazan isn’t a quitter.”
Drefu the Wocky put the book on the table and looked up with a wide vile grin. “So much of that, prince of Qasala. You’re going down one way or another. Why are you still standing there, ready to fight?”
Jazan’s look could’ve melted glass at that point. “Because I am ready to fight. For Qasala. For its people. For my friends. For myself. For this land’s past, present and future, however dusty and dull that future may be,” the energy shields turned into one blinding sphere at that moment, “and that’s a fact.”
Drefu shrugged, the look on his face almost compassionate, then he raised his hand and with a single second formed an identical energy shield of magic. He let it grow for a moment and then, stooping lower to the ground, attacked Jazan with it.
There was no sound, unless you counted quiet sizzling. The two brothers, ducking behind the bookshelf and Nightsteed, could see that Jazan said something quietly right before the whole library went bright white. They couldn’t hear the word, but it was clearly understandable nevertheless.
It seemed to take forever, but eventually the light faded. Shad removed his paws from the eyes and Saura turned to look at the room again. For a moment it looked blurry, but then Nightsteed loosened up, turning remarkably wrinklier at that, and the hazy shield dropped, both in front of them and in front of all the shelves.
“Doofuses,” he muttered. “As if this was a bar fight or something...” The air smelled of gunpowder. Jazan was still standing, an icy look on his face, though the shields around his fists were gone. So was the concentrating magic around his robe.
Drefu blinked in obvious confusion. “But... that should’ve incinerated you!”
“Should,” Jazan agreed as his face developed a dark grin. The magic picked up again all of a sudden. “Now listen to me, usurper. You say that you’re stronger than me.” His black robe started fluttering in unseen wind again. “Stronger than Nightsteed.” New bright blue energy shields formed around his hands, which weren’t clenched any more. “Stronger than any other mage you can think of. But you forgot one main rule of magic.” His eyes narrowed and a mask of rage slid over his face. “You forgot your heart!”
Even Shad, Saura, and Harfu could feel the power behind Jazan’s strike. It came from everywhere, attacked from every corner, emerged from the very heart of the city, drained strength from each and every Neopet on the streets, gave the prince its total support and concentrated into a blow that was more mental than physical. It shook the whole city, though nothing moved seemingly.
That attack didn’t last that long. When the light faded and they opened their eyes again, Nightsteed shook his bony head, muttering, “Ow. My brain.”
The hazy curtains of protective shield fell again, revealing Jazan who stood there in the middle of the floor, fists clenched, breathing heavily because of the overload of energy and emotions. He grunted something, shook himself, and then turned to look at his audience.
“You okay, Nightsteed?” he asked.
The Uni raised his head, grinning. “Never better. I may be old, but I’m not too old for simple protective shields.” He tilted his head, looking at the other side of the room where Drefu had stood. It was empty. No sign of anyone ever having stood or fought there.
“That’s what blind ambition does to you,” he remarked. “Built his whole plan on the fact that the bond between Qasala and its ruler is getting weaker, and then tries to attack that bond when it’s stronger than ever.”
“He relied on his own strength, and he indeed was stronger than the two of us together,” said the Kyrii. “But, well... I had backup. Qasala helped me.” He smiled, suddenly switching back to his normal, white-robed form.
“What happened to him?” asked Shad, curiously sniffing the boards where the Wocky had stood.
Jazan shrugged. “There’s no telling. Maybe he’s stuck in another dimension, maybe stuck in time – same thing, really; maybe he died. I don’t know. One way or another, he’s gone. And he won’t be coming back, even if he finds a way, as now he knows that there’s no way my bond with Qasala ever breaks, no matter how weak it may seem.”
“It didn’t seem, it was weak,” grunted the Uni. Jazan seemed sheepish for a moment, then turned to look at the two brothers and Harfu – to avoid the subject, it seemed.
“I’ll have to thank you three,” he said sincerely. “You may think that you did nothing and were just a pain in Nightsteed’s neck-”
“Which is true,” interjected Nightsteed.
“But your very presence was a huge support,” finished the prince. “And you two,” he looked at Shad and Saura, “aren’t even Qasalans.”
“We wouldn’t have ended up in this in the first place if we had been locals,” guessed Saura as Shad grinned widely, his tail thumping against the floor: “Does this mean that we get that curse off our backs?”
Jazan blinked. “Curse... oh boy, Nightsteed, you put the Curse of Suspicion on them?”
“I’ve been doing that to all tourists for the past two months,” stated the Uni, his eyes narrowing, “and you didn’t even notice until now, oh great prince and ruler of Qasala, thank you very much. Besides, the curse lifted a while ago, back when they volunteered to meet Deki despite the threat. That’s how these things work.”
“Hey,” interrupted Harfu and kneeled hastily as everyone turned to look at him, “Your Highness,” he glanced at Jazan, “sir,” at Nightsteed; Shad and Saura got a look as well before the white Ixi finished: “Artus, that scholar. He was a part of that scheme and got away, but he can’t be far yet.”
Both mages nodded, then their eyes turned blank for a moment.
“Senses blocked,” muttered Nightsteed. “Thought so.”
“Can’t you smell him?” Jazan asked Shad, who scowled.
“I can try. No promises, though. This palace is full of smells, especially the library.”
“Might as well go out then,” said Jazan. Despite just having been through a fierce battle, he seemed as calm as in the morning of the same day.
They stepped into the dark empty hallway, the main source of light being Nightsteed’s hooves, and startled, seeing that it wasn’t so empty after all. The slim figure looming against the blue night sky outside the window stepped closer into the light and bowed. It was Meira.
“Highness,” she said, in a voice that awaited orders.
“Eh,” began Jazan, shooting a sideways glance at Nightsteed. “You’re...”
“Meira,” said the Uni. “A palace maid and a relatively smart girl with a good head on her shoulders as I’ve noticed.” He added a few under-the-breath-comments about attentive rulers in general, then asked: “Got anything to tell us? I see you do.”
“Yes, sir.” The Xweetok gazed at him, brown eyes gleaming in the dim light. “It’s Artus, sir. I saw him in the hallways some ten minutes ago.”
“Where did he go?” asked Jazan. Meira grimaced slightly, looking up at him.
“Well, he, uh... took a sword from a coat-of-arms in the hallway, sir. And he, um, went to Princess Nabile’s rooms.”
The Kyrii’s face turned icy. “Nabile’s rooms.”
“Ooh, hostage drama,” Shad muttered eagerly, then added in a louder voice: “Makes sense. He doesn’t really have any other chance of getting out of here other than taking a hostage.”
“He doesn’t really have any other chance of getting to the local graveyard very fast,” snapped the prince, marching off down the hallway. The others hurried after him.
To be continued...