My Enemy, My King: Part Seven
Jazan hesitated. “I don’t want to leave you alone, Alaric –”
“It doesn’t matter – what matters is getting that Fyora-forsaken Orb out of this palace before your father finds out that it’s gone!”
The ghosts were getting more solid now. Alaric was fairly sure that they’d attack within seconds. “Here’s what I’ll tell you – meet me at the fortune-teller Zorsha’s in the outskirts. If I don’t show up within a few hours, I’m probably dead, so ask her what you should do next. She’s a real Seer, not an actress. She’ll be able to give you sound advice.”
Jazan looked conflicted – Alaric glared at him. The boy swallowed hard and ran for it. He yelled over his shoulder, “The traps don’t work if you’re leaving – if you get in here, Father wants to catch you himself!”
Alaric thanked Fyora for small favors and turned to face the ghosts.
They were obviously Emeth, Sarkish, and Codsworth – and none of them looked very happy to see him. Emeth snarled, “Well, look at this. Mister Goody-Two-Shoes, trying to be the little hero of Neopia?”
Alaric moved to block the door – none of them could be allowed to chase Jazan. Though he didn’t really like the odds of three-against-one. “We messed up. We all messed up. We delivered a powerful artifact into the hands of a maniac. We gave him the tools to destroy his own city. Are you three really heartless enough to let that stand?”
He narrowly missed a blow from Sarkish’s scimitar. He should have known better. Emeth and Sarkish hadn’t cared about the greater good when they were alive – why in Neopia would they care after they were dead?
He looked to the Eyrie. “I heard that conversation with Razul. I know that you were going to save me. I considered you a friend – Codsworth, if you ever thought the same of me, help me now!”
Then he had to dodge away from one of Emeth’s throwing knives. He moved back to the door, taunting, “Being a ghost clearly didn’t improve your aim!”
Sarkish and Emeth were both moving in now, grinning wickedly. Alaric urged, “Codsworth, for all the times we laughed together, for all of the conversations we had, for Fyora’s sake help me!”
And then the Eyrie dove into the fray, knocking one of Emeth’s knives out of his hand with his bow. He explained, “As soon as the Orb leaves the palace, we’ll be put to rest. I hope that prince of yours is a fast runner!”
Alaric knew the game, then – he had to distract Sarkish and Emeth and keep them from spreading the alarm. He drew his sword. “Okay, let’s have this out – come and get me if you think you have a score to settle!”
He found himself back-to-back with Codsworth’s ghostly form – the Eyrie was blocking Emeth’s throwing knives, leaving Alaric to handle Sarkish’s sword. Sadly, being ghosts hadn’t diminished either of their skills, and Alaric was well aware that Sarkish would only have to reach for one of his other weapons to gain an advantage. They were deep in the belly of the palace – it would take Jazan a while to get out, and he wasn’t sure he could last that long!
Codsworth said, “Al, I can buy you time! Get out of here!”
Alaric met Sarkish’s next swing and barely avoided having his own sword knocked from his hands. “We both need to buy Jazan time to get out of here!”
“Get out to the spike room, then, or we’ll end up cornered!”
Alaric knew he’d be at a disadvantage in the spike room, since he had to worry about where he stepped. But if he could see the spike pits – and Jazan had said he would be able to – he’d have more room to maneuver. And maneuvering was buying the prince time to get the Orb out of the palace and put the ghosts to rest.
Alaric ran out and ducked as he went – just in time, as a ghostly Shenkuu throwing star flew over his head, returning to Sarkish in a flawless arc. He really knows how to use those things, doesn’t he? He would have been truly impressed if the Hissi hadn’t been his enemy. I don’t get it – the king’s the reason he’s haunting a mage’s lair rather than resting, and yet he’s still fighting for him?
In the spike room, the illusory stones were gone – Alaric could clearly see the bizarre patchwork of tiles that he could use, with several large holes that he’d never be able to jump across in between the paths. This was going to be tricky – he ran out into the middle of the room, where the safe tiles were clustered the closest.
Codsworth was still using his bow like a staff to fend off Emeth’s barrage of knives. Alaric faced Sarkish again. “Okay, that’s rounds one and two to me?”
“I’ll silence you, Lupe!”
Alaric jumped to another stone tile. “You’ll have to catch me, first!”
Then he had to jump again as one of Emeth’s knives got past Codsworth. He almost overbalanced – for a moment, he felt like he was going to fall into one of the pits.
Regaining his balance cost him precious seconds – when he recovered, Sarkish was there. Alaric met each blow, knowing there was no way he’d be able to keep up this pace for long.
How long had it been? Could Jazan have gotten out by now? Had he still been in earshot when Codsworth had explained how the ghosts were tied to the location of the Orb? He was a smart kid – if he knew, he could jump out a window and get out of the palace as fast as possible.
Could he have run into any trouble? A guard? One of his father’s officials? Even Razul himself? Alaric winced at the very thought of it – being caught by the king in the very act of stealing his new artifact wouldn’t end well for anyone involved.
He jumped back several tiles to put some space between himself and Sarkish – to give himself a second to rest.
But, as Sarkish dived for him again, the ghosts started to swirl back into mist – the sword that attempted to meet his passed through the steel without a sound or mark.
Codsworth called, sounding as if his voice came from a great distance, “It was a pleasure, Al!”
Alaric knelt to try and catch his breath. He whispered back, “Likewise, my friend.”
It took Alaric longer than he would have expected to reach Zorsha’s tent – he narrowly avoided a run-in with guards in the palace, and he had to circumvent a street brawl that he couldn’t afford to get sucked up in. He firmly intended to avoid any and all Qasalan law enforcement for the rest of his life.
When he got to the colorful little structure and pushed aside the beaded curtain, he was met by an exuberant hug from the young prince. “Alaric! You’re safe! I was worried about you – what took you so long? Are you hurt?”
He grinned. “I’m fine – Codsworth came in on my side. Turns out he was a good-hearted Neopian after all.”
The gold Aisha had walked a little slower – she hugged him, too. “And if he’s been worried I’ve been absolutely terrified! Alaric, Jazan told me that you nearly got yourself killed!”
He asked, “Can you interrogate me after I sit down?”
Alaric took one of the chairs at the fortune-telling table. Zorsha took the other, and Jazan pulled up a stool out of the corner. Zorsha said, “Jazan’s told me the whole story. I knew this was going to be a bad business. I did tell you.”
Alaric sighed. “I’m just thankful that I got out alive, and that Faerieland should be a much more pleasant trip.” He looked in the corner – there was the satchel with the Orb inside. “That’s where I’m headed next. Faerieland, to deliver that cursed piece of crystal to Queen Fyora. She should be able to keep it out of unscrupulous hands.”
Jazan said softly, “Like my father’s.”
Alaric didn’t know how to comfort the poor kid – it wasn’t as if he could say that surely Razul wasn’t as evil as he clearly was.
Zorsha asked, “Didn’t you want a reading when you came back to me?”
Alaric was glad for the change of subject. “Okay.” He laid his hand on the crystal ball on the table, and Zorsha stared into it intently.
Finally, she sighed. “Oh, Alaric – you will never again return to the desert.”
He shrugged. “Well, after I’ve made King Razul into my mortal enemy, I figured as much. Don’t worry – you’ve told me a dozen times if you’ve told me once that fate does funny things. We’ll see each other again somehow. And you, too, kiddo.”
Then the Aisha smiled. “I’ll leave a little for you to find out, Alaric, but you’ll be glad you went to Faerieland. Fyora has need of adventurers and explorers – you’ll be able to do all of those exciting, heroic things that you love. You’ll end up happy, even if you do never come back home.”
Jazan asked, shrinking back a little, “Is it okay if I try?”
Zorsha nodded. “Of course. You should look as well – a mage of your power may be able to See what I See. Or perhaps See something entirely different. You never know.”
The Kyrii reached out timidly, and set the tips of his fingers on Zorsha’s crystal ball. As Zorsha’s eyes unfocused, his did as well. Alaric wondered what in Neopia each of them could be Seeing. Whatever it was, he was heartily grateful that he didn’t have to See visions the way they did.
Never coming back to Qasala. Or Sakhmet. Or the southern dunes, either.
Don’t be silly, Alaric. You knew quite well that you’d never be able to.
But what about when Jazan is king? It’ll be safe for me then.
You don’t even like the desert. And you aren’t as young as you used to be – it’s no surprise that you might settle somewhere where the excitement can be had without travelling for weeks on end.
Then Jazan pulled his hand off the ball. Zorsha looked up at him – Alaric moved his chair in order to put an arm around the boy, who had started shaking and was visibly troubled. Zorsha asked, “What did you See?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know – all of the colors seemed to swirl, and it all changed so quickly. I only saw one of the faces clearly – one at the very end.” He blushed slightly.
Alaric grinned at him. “What was it? A pretty girl?”
Jazan’s blush grew deeper. “Beautiful.”
Zorsha’s face was solemn. “Jazan, I’ve never seen much like it, either. Most people have what is basically a straight path before them – detours here and there, but headed in the same general direction. But you – you’ll hit a fork in that road. It’s black and white for you, Jazan. You can be a hero-king like the stories that Alaric loves, or you can be a worse tyrant than your father. And that choice will end up either protecting Neopia or putting our whole world in danger.”
Jazan cried, “I won’t turn out like my father! I won’t!”
Zorsha folded her arms. “So we hope. Beware, Jazan. Decisions are never as easy as they may seem. Even the best of intentions may lead you down the dark way. You’ll need to be careful – because, with the powers that you have, there is no such thing as a small choice. One wrong step could destroy us all.”
Jazan buried his face in his hands, muttering, “I won’t, I won’t,” repeatedly.
Alaric said, keeping his arm around him, “She’s not telling you that she thinks you’ll turn out to be a villain. She’s just telling you to be careful. We all have to be careful. It’s just that, since you’re the heir to the city and a pretty good mage, you’ve got a lot more power to use wrongly. Zorsha will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t see certainties.”
He caught Zorsha’s eye – she still looked worried. But Alaric didn’t ask for more details. Looking at Jazan, the Lupe knew why Zorsha sometimes referred to her gift as being “blessed with a curse.”
Zorsha gave them dinner that night, and Alaric was able to keep both the seeress and the prince entertained with stories from his time in the Haunted Woods. But all too soon, it was time. He wanted to be well away from Qasala before dawn, and that meant he couldn’t stay as long as he would have liked. He took the satchel and the pack that Zorsha had prepared for him, and gave her a hug. “Farewell, my friend. I’ll write as soon as I can find a messenger to bring back word.”
He squeezed Jazan’s shoulder. “You know what, kiddo? I don’t care what Zorsha saw. You’ll be a great king one day.”
Jazan asked, “But how can you know? Alaric, if I hadn’t been with you, I might have given in to the Orb! How can you know I won’t fail next time?”
Alaric realized that he could reassure him completely in truth. “You’ve got more steel in you than you know. You’ll be fine. I know you will.”
Jazan smiled a little. “Thank you, Alaric. Thank you for everything.”
Alaric bowed. “It was a pleasure... my king.”
And then he headed out of the city and along the road up the dunes – the road that would bring him to Faerieland and to whatever else awaited.