Lady Sandstorm: Part Two
Jazan blinked a few times, but he didn’t let any other signs of his weariness show. There were quite a lot of Qasalans watching his small group leave the city at dawn – waiting, watching, wanting to know that he was doing something to help them.
General Sambar, a mountain of a royal Elephante, asked, “So what exactly are we looking for?”
Mirzah replied, “Anything that tells us why a Fyora-blast-it volcano sprouted up in the desert! Just use your eyes, you big lug, and I’ll tell you what to think about what you see.”
Jazan turned around as the general looked down at the tiny blue Acara sorceress. Sambar asked, “Why don’t I set you on my shoulders so you can see for yourself?”
She scowled. “Don’t make me turn you into a Geb.”
Nightsteed scolded, “It would have been easier to deal with if we’d brought the prince and princess – at least they’re cute.”
Jazan choked back a laugh as Sambar and Mirzah immediately donned innocent, “who, me?” expressions. It worked a little better for the sorceress than it did for the general.
Nabile took a deep drink from the canteen of Neopia Central coffee that she’d brought with her. “I’m going to issue a royal command. Save your energy for walking!”
Jazan smoothed back a wayward strand of her hair. “Someone just doesn’t like mornings. No one here got enough sleep, you know.”
She muttered, “What’s the point of being the queen of Qasala if I don’t get to inflict mornings on other people?”
The sand was lit pale gold with the sunrise, and the colors of the cloudless sky seamlessly melted into each other, but the beauty of the morning wasn’t able to calm Jazan as it normally did. The mountain of fire in his mind’s eye prevented that.
Then he could see it on the horizon – a black hill, a blot on his rolling desert sands. He realized that his fists were clenched, and tried his best to relax. I need to keep control. I need to think. I need to fix this for my people.
General Sambar commented, “It seems like it’s calmed down – none of the explosions like last night.”
Mirzah snapped, “Don’t even say that, or it’ll be more likely to blow up again with all of us standing on it.”
Jazan tried to reassure them. “I’ll focus my own magic on watching the ground – if anything happens, I’ll give us warning and we can get out of here. But be ready to run.”
Sambar stood at attention. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Nabile picked up a chunk of the cooled black rock out of the sand. “Obsidian! I remember this from the Moltaran ambassador’s visit. Apparently it’s as common down there as sand is up here.”
Mirzah was clearly unimpressed. “Thank you, Queen Nabile, for telling us what the volcano is blasting toward us. Now can anyone else tell us why?”
Jazan sighed. Why did I bring two people who aren’t at their best in the morning? He ignored the bickering and focused on sinking his power into the earth.
The desert recognized him. It didn’t have the time to learn who most of the people were who walked its surface – it was too long-lived for that. A single mortal lifespan wasn’t enough to attract its attention. But Jazan had been here for more than two centuries... it knew who he was by now, and it gladly gave him the information he wanted to know.
The volcano was calm now. Not dead, but calm. The power that...
What was that? The desert seemed to give him the impression of something captured, something breaking free, something following a path left for it, shooting into the night...
“It’s Princess Amira and the Sakhmeti!”
The general’s call brought Jazan out of his trance. He resisted the urge to blast something in frustration – the image was gone now, and he wouldn’t be able to find it again. If he’d had a few more minutes, he might have been able to learn more, but there was no use wishing for what he couldn’t have.
Amira walked up flanked by General Dacon and Captain Tomos. Tomos hugged Nabile, his childhood friend, as the princess picked another piece of obsidian from the sand. General Dacon leaned heavily on his staff – the Tonu was getting on in years, and he sighed as he said, “First Majah, now this. Have you found anything, Your Majesty?”
Jazan looked up at the volcano. “Something... something came out of there. Some sort of power. I wasn’t able to see exactly what.”
Nabile asked, “The sort of power that will live and let live, or the sort of power that will attempt to kill us all?”
No one had to mention the power they were all thinking of. A giant of flame, a wraith kept alive by black magic and sheer force of will...
We’re being foolish. That monster is truly dead this time... I saw to it myself! He can’t hurt us anymore. He is already turning into a bedtime story to scare children with, just like Lady Sandstorm. He has no more power than she does. I am king in Qasala now, and Caspar will be king after me. Razul has no power. Razul has no power!
Tomos said, “We probably need to go up there.” He rubbed the tattoo on his upper arm – the scarab that, like Nabile’s, was a permanent reminder of their lawless childhoods.
Jazan nodded. Dacon said, “The climb’s a bit much for me these days... I’ll stay down here and keep watch.”
Sambar added, “I’ll stay with him.” He muttered so only Jazan and Tomos could hear him, “And it’ll keep me away from that Acara’s poisonous tongue until she’s woken up a little more.”
Some of the rock on the volcano’s sides was still very hot – the area around it was surrounded not just by sand, but by glass made from sheer heat. Amira picked up a piece of it and put it in the pouch at her waist, where she’d stored the obsidian. “You know, it would be really pretty if it didn’t come from a fiery mountain possibly made by an evil power escaping from it.”
And from the top of the volcano, the outlook wasn’t much better. It appeared, as far as Jazan knew, to be a perfectly natural volcano, except for the fact that it came from a place where there had been no volcanoes in millennia. He melded his power with Mirzah’s, trying to pry secrets out of the rock, but the desert had already shown him all it was going to, and the rock here had no magic that they could examine. He sighed, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just obsidian rock and glass.”
Tomos shrugged. “Well, we can look on the bright side – maybe Majah will hear about this and decide that he doesn’t want to take over a city that’s about to have a plague of volcanoes.”
Amira shook her head. “Tomos, don’t even talk like that. I’d rather have Majah to deal with than volcanoes. We know how to deal with him – how on earth can we fight nature?”
Mirzah sat down, and then asked, “Hey – who’s that over there?”
Jazan looked in the indicated direction and squinted. There were actually two figures – dots of blue and orange on the horizon. Could that be who I think it is? I thought they spent most of their time in Faerieland these days.
Tomos pulled a spyglass out of a pocket. “The girl’s an orange Kougra... and that Ixi has to be hot in that coat he’s wearing.”
Jazan was too tired to use magic to sharpen his vision – he took the glass from the Lupe’s hand. Well, look who picked the wrong time to end up in the desert.
Though as annoying as that Ixi gets, I will admit that he may be useful to have around if he’s trying to offer to help. Someone who can be as lucky as he can – multiple times – is someone I’d like to have on my side. And at least he had the sense to bring her with him... we could use one more person with a good head on her shoulders. “It’s Hanso and Brynn. Remember that mess when the faeries turned to stone a few years back?”
Mirzah nodded. “When everything turned all grey and dreary, and those crazy shadow creatures attacked a few caravans in the desert?”
Nabile’s eyes brightened. “Ah – you told me about them! The thief and the Brightvale guard, who stopped the sorceress who’d started the mess?”
Tomos grinned. “See? Turns out we thieves are good for something.”
Jazan protested, “There is a fairly large difference between the Desert Scarabs and Hanso – you only ever stole food or the money to buy it. Hanso makes off with valuables for the sheer thrill.”
Nabile laughed as Tomos said, “Well, I probably would have made off with valuables for the thrill if I’d had the luxury of being thrilled by it – or if anyone would have ever let me within ten feet of their valuables.”
She punched his shoulder as she said, “You were too scruffy.”
“You were just as scruffy as I was!”
Jazan couldn’t help but add fuel to the fire. “No, she wasn’t.”
Tomos protested, “Well, you’re about as biased as they get! Anyone want to take my side?”
Nightsteed snorted. Amira pointed out, “Well, when we met you, neither of you were exactly picture-perfect... unless the picture was for one of those Month of Celebrating charity collections.”
Then they heard Sambar yell, “Halt! Who goes there!”
Nabile asked, “Should we go rescue them?”
Jazan said, “We can take our time... Hanso’s less likely to be so flippant if Sambar and Dacon make him sweat for a while.”
He reached the base of the volcano first, as Hanso was saying, “Listen, I swear, your king knows us and he’ll be happy to see us.”
Sambar crossed his arms. “Let’s face it, buddy, the list of people my king is genuinely happy to see is fairly short. And you and Miss Kougra there are most likely not on it.”
Jazan sighed... he thought Sambar was exaggerating. But he called, “It’s okay, Sambar – I do know them. And what are you two doing in Qasala?”
Brynn bowed quickly. “King Jazan!”
Hanso grinned, as unflappable as ever. Jazan was quickly remembering how irritating the Ixi was, but remembered the problems his kingdom was currently facing and resolved to hold his tongue. “We decided to take a nice desert vacation... get some time away from Fyora running our tails off. There’s still a lot to do in Faerieland – it’ll be another decade before it doesn’t look like it crashed into the ground. Milady has plenty to do for both of us. Thanks for calling off the attack Warfs, by the way.”
Jazan crossed his arms, deciding that any hopes he’d had of Hanso having matured were probably not realistic. “Those ‘attack Warfs’ are General Dacon of Sakhmet and General Sambar of Qasala, and I’ll thank you to remember that.” He looked up at the volcano – everyone else was picking their way down the precarious slope. Trying to be civil, he pointed them out as he said, “Queen Nabile, Princess Amira, Captain Tomos, Nightsteed, Mirzah, and I were trying to determine what made this volcano come out of nowhere.”
Brynn smiled. “We came to offer our help, your majesty.”
Amira had reached them by that point – she nodded. “Fyora only knows that we’re probably going to need it.”
Tomos still had his spyglass – he looked out on the horizon toward Sakhmet. “Someone’s coming – someone’s coming fast!”
It was a messenger – a Kougra riding a Uni running as quickly as she could. The poor thing collapsed to her knees as the Kougra jumped off and said, gasping, “Milady Amira – milord Jazan – disaster!”
Nabile asked, “What’s happened now?”
“Lord Majah has allied himself with King Heksas of Mentu and Khamtef!”
Nabile put her hand to her mouth – Amira gasped. Dacon said, “That blasted southern king – his army’s bigger than Sakhmet’s and Qasala’s put together!”
Tomos moaned, “We’re dead. We’re dead. We’re very, very, very dead.”
Jazan buried his face in his hands. Oh, no.
We’re in serious trouble.
To be continued...