Lady Sandstorm: Part Eight
Late that night, Jazan found himself wandering back down the Hall of Kings, past all of the statues of all of his predecessors, back to the founder of the city, King Melchior. Then his son, and his son...
He knew he’d been coming back to see King Jazan the First. He didn’t know why he’d even bothered to tell himself otherwise.
It’s odd sometimes how accidents come about. His father hadn’t named him in honor of the heroic Draik who’d battled Lady Sandstorm. He had been named for Jazan the Third, a powerful sorcerer who had almost conquered Sakhmet.
Were you this worried? Or did you believe that you would win the day? The Draik’s stone face looked confident and calm, but statues could lie.
Jazan was realistic with himself – he’d never had to face odds this severe, walking in and knowing it. When he’d fought Razul in Sakhmet, he hadn’t had time to fret over which mage had more power. When they fought specters while the faeries were stone, there wasn’t much time to worry or wonder whether it would be possible to keep fighting... At least Xandra didn’t make us suffer waiting for her to get around to wiping us out of existence...
For the first time he wondered if Brynn and Hanso had been worse off during that time. While he’d been stone – which wasn’t great, but at least didn’t allow him to worry – they’d had to listen to Xandra’s ranting and try to defeat her, knowing how unlikely it was to work.
He sat on the pedestal of his predecessor’s statue, looking out at the stars, until a voice called, “King Jazan – are you down there?”
He stood so Altador could see him. The old Lupe said as he approached, “A lot of statues in here.”
Altador hadn’t come to comment on the length of the Hall of Kings... Jazan didn’t bother to reply. He’d get to his point eventually.
Finally, he said, “Jazan, how are we going to defeat your Lady Sandstorm tomorrow?”
Jazan looked down. “I can honestly admit that I’m not sure. We’ll throw all of the magic we have into fighting her, but most of the spells we could find for killing or binding were black magic, quite evil – they even upset some of the researchers.”
King Altador looked up at the stars – Jazan wondered whether he could see the Hunter, the constellation named after him in his home country. It was a king to the desert, too – Melchior preserved in the stars, known as King Steadfast in Qasala and the Old King in Sakhmet. The Lupe said, “That’s how it always is, isn’t it? There’s an easy option to take – if you don’t mind throwing what you believe in by the wayside.” Then he asked, “Do you ever wish that you’d been born a cobbler’s son? Or a merchant’s, or a farmer’s? Do you ever wish that you hadn’t spent your whole life being the heir and then being the king, without anyone asking you if you wanted the responsibility?”
Jazan picked out the constellation the Qasalans called the Rover – the Thief in Altador – and shook his head. “Not really – it’s not as if such wishing ever changed a thing. We’re here, and we’re the kings of our people, so it’s fallen to us to do what must be done.”
“The lot of the king, isn’t it? I’ve had my courtiers tell me how fortunate I am to be in charge... I try not to laugh when they say it.”
Jazan looked back at the statue behind them. “That’s King Jazan the First – he led the city against Lady Sandstorm the first time, all those millennia ago.”
Altador said heartily, “Well, the old man succeeded – we aged kings are good for something, after all!”
Jazan added, knowing that it wrecked the mood, “He died doing so.”
“Ah.” Neither of them could say what Jazan knew they were both thinking. Will you have to sacrifice yourself? Will I? Will that be the price of protecting our people?
Altador stretched. “I had better go to bed... we’ll be up early tomorrow. Jazan, you should sleep, too.”
But Jazan the Fourth sat next to the statue of Jazan the First for a while longer in silence before he finally left.
The next day, the sun rose as Jazan stood with Nabile, Amira, Altador, and Jerdana in front of their army. Facing them stood the enemy, with Heksas and Majah approaching and a standard-bearer waving the white flag of truce.
The lord and the king bowed as they came up to him. Jazan did not. You mean to attack Qasala and its ally, Sakhmet. You don’t deserve that sign of respect from me. He watched his allies out of the corner of his eye... Amira dipped her head slightly, but that was all. Good.
King Heksas was a rather elderly Grarrl – Jazan was certain that Lord Majah, a tall royal Wocky, was the one behind the battle plans. He asked, keeping the bare minimum of civility in his tone, “Why do you march against Qasala and Sakhmet?”
Heksas said in his creaky voice, “We come to claim your cities as our own, under the banner of Mentu and Khamtef, through virtue of superior arms.”
Altador growled, “You have no such thing, King Heksas. Altador is allied with Qasala and Sakhmet, and together we match your forces.”
Nabile said – Jazan was proud of how diplomatic she sounded – “You have the right to finish listing your terms.”
Majah stroked his mustache and said, “If you surrender, you, Amira, and you, Jazan, will be allowed to continue ruling your cities as long as you send tribute to King Heksas in Mentu. You will be required to send King Heksas soldiers and weapons as he has need of them. You will present yourselves to other Neopian lords as loyal supporters of King Heksas.”
Amira asked coldly, “And if we do not?”
Majah’s tone was even colder. “Your cities will be destroyed, your people shall be enslaved, and you yourselves will be slain.”
Heksas said, “We have power, my dear kings. We have a power you cannot even dream of.”
Please tell me that he doesn’t mean they’ve allied themselves with Lady Sandstorm. Jazan just wanted him to know how insane that was, even though he knew neither Heksas or Majah would listen. “If you’re implying what I believe you’re implying, Heksas, you’re mistaken. That power has no desire to share her reign. Once she destroys us, she will turn on you.” He gripped the scepter of Qasala, glad of one thing – faced with his enemies and their smug self-certainty, all of his own fear had been replaced by the desire to fight. Send your soldiers at me, Heksas. Try it. I’ll win.
Majah asked, “So, do you accept our terms?” He handed the sheet of parchment they had been written on to Jazan, who – careful to do it slowly and deliberately – tore it in half, then in half again, and then let it fall to the ground and stepped on it, grinding it under his heel.
Jazan looked his enemies in the eyes and said, “These negotiations are over. We will allow you the time to reach safety behind your own lines. Hope that I do not meet you in battle – I will not be so friendly then.”
As they quickly walked back to the safety of the army, Jazan muttered their last orders. “Amira – get back behind the wall. Nightsteed’s there as well with the other strategists, ready to give the command to evacuate if necessary. Altador, your soldiers will need you. Jerdana – I expect Lady Sandstorm to show up before too long, so keep close to me.”
Nabile asked, “And me?”
He smiled. “I know better than to tell you to leave my side.”
She smiled back, but her eyes were completely serious. “Good.”
When he reached his own people, Hanso, and Brynn were waiting for him. Brynn said, “King Jazan, we all decided that, if you’re wrapped up fighting with magic, you’re going to need someone to watch your back. And that’s going to be us.”
Nabile nodded. “All of us.”
Hanso added, “Tomos had to go join his unit – says that some of them couldn’t find their way down a one-way street without him telling them what to do – but he says if we need help he’ll be here as fast as he can.”
Their words touched Jazan, but before he could find some way to express how grateful he was Jerdana looked up at the sky. “Is that... what I think it might be?”
A trail of smoke was rapidly descending from the clear morning to land on the plain between the two armies, flickering with fire. And then it – she – lighted on the ground, turning the sand around her to glass with the heat, and Jazan saw Lady Sandstorm face-to-face.
She was a Fire Faerie, with wings of fire and long red hair braided back. But her long robe was embroidered with evil sigils, and something about the fire looked dark – tainting fire, rather than the flames that cleansed.
And she wore a mask – a mask of gold-colored metal, covering her face with a permanent scowl. And where the eyes should have been, there was only more fire.
She cried in Old Qasalan, “I am Elzamyr Akhu! Who challenges my right to rule these sands?”
Jazan stepped forward again – even from here, he could feel the heat. He replied in her tongue, “I am King Jazan, ruler of Qasala! These are my sands, Elzamyr Akhu – go back to your dark arts and leave them in peace!”
Her fires spread wider as she hissed, “King Jazan? King Jazan?”
She remembers who defeated her... my name only made her angrier...
And then the trumpets blasted and the enemy army rushed forward – battle was joined!
Jerdana cried, “The faeries, King Jazan! Where are the faeries?”
He looked up at the sky – he hadn’t seen a single one besides Elzamyr Akhu. “Jerdana, I think we shall have to assume that we’re on our own for this one.”
But no one dared to get close to Lady Sandstorm – or could bear the heat that rolled off her in waves. Jazan could see her all to clearly as she hissed, “King Jazan, I killed you once, and you return to taunt me again... I shall kill you for good this time!”
He could feel the magic gathering around the evil Fire Faerie – she was almost ready to strike.
And then the blow hit. Jazan flung out his magic in a shield, protecting himself, protecting Jerdana, but the heat of the flames that surrounded him, blinded him, deafened him, scorched him to the core.
To be continued...