More Powerful than Magic: Part Three
Jazan sat down in a chair next to Nabile in the Grand Council Chamber. Altador sat to his other side, and Hanso and Brynn kept close to each other. Old Master Hatora sat on his own bench, milky eyes staring unseeing into space. Rosen and Guildus, the Skeith and Draik guards who worked for Altador, leaned against a wall. Guildus wore a captain’s badge now, Jazan noted – he assumed that Rosen was slightly too absentminded for anyone to consider giving him a command position.
Queen Fyora stood in front of her high seat – her face was the only one that didn’t show the wrinkles and the wear of the fourteen years that had passed since all of these people had last been gathered together. Her skin was still smooth, and her violet eyes with their odd, mysterious depths were as piercing as ever. She nodded her head. “I trust you all fare well?”
Hanso said, “Sure. Except for the psycho Xweetok who’d probably like nothing better than to kill me, I’m great.”
Brynn muttered something, but Jazan said, “I’ll admit to agreeing with Hanso. We can exchange our pleasantries, news, and everything else after we’ve decided how to deal with Xandra. Every second we wait gives her more time to collect herself and to take the advantage.”
Hanso said with fake cheer, “King Jazan actually agrees with me? I feel so loved!”
Jazan sighed. After dealing with children he was better at taking jokes, but this wasn’t really the time, and the Ixi thief still tended to make Jazan want to turn him into a Scamander. “Don’t tempt me, thief.”
Altador laid his head in his hands. “Hanso, Jazan, would you please be civil?”
Brynn said firmly, “There’s no please about it. Hanso, be quiet.”
Hanso muttered, “Yes, milady.”
Jazan noticed that Brynn had the same nervous habit that Nabile did – when she was anxious, as she clearly was, she twisted her wedding ring. Nabile was doing so now as well, and Jazan took her hand and laid a finger on the thin band that matched his own, feeling the layers of protective spells that he’d put into it.
Altador said, “Queen Fyora, I believe that our objectives our simple. Find Xandra, and recapture her. And, while I understand your love of mercy, may I suggest much stronger enchantments and a more closely guarded prison?”
Queen Fyora bowed her head. “You may be right, Altador. But I have already sent scouts and the Champions out toward the Haunted Woods – that was Xandra’s homeland, and I feel she would go there first.”
Jazan had heard of the Champions before – six mortals associated with the six faerie magics and sworn to the Faerie Queen. He referred to them by the title mages generally used. “Are the Elementals seasoned? I know they are chosen as children.”
Fyora nodded. “These current Champions have held their titles for almost two decades. They will be valuable to our mission.”
That was good. While young Neopians deserved their chance to try and make their mark, Jazan would rather that their test not involve the safety of his family. Even the most well-intentioned, noble-headed of young ones could fail and fall. So many dreams of heroism ended up turning to dust when tested – Jazan knew plenty about that.
Hanso asked, “Will we go out looking? It could help draw Xandra out if she knows we’re out there, too.”
Brynn, Altador, and Guildus started discussing safety with Hanso – Jazan didn’t listen. What would he do if he were Xandra?
Xandra was a plotter. That, they knew. She’d prepared for years to take over Faerieland the way she did. She wouldn’t want to charge into combat – that wasn’t her strong suit. That was why Jazan had let her handle the spells he had thought would save the Faeries while he fought the wraiths. It was probably driving her even more insane that she’d missed fourteen years of life in Neopia. She wouldn’t know what was going on.
She’d need to find out. She’d need to find out where her former allies now lived, whether they had families now, what their weaknesses could be. She couldn’t retreat too far into the depths of the Woods, or she wouldn’t be able to lose her disadvantage. He said, “She won’t have gone too far away. She’ll be somewhere close. She may have found someone oblivious to help her – she will need that help to become reacquainted with Neopia. And for all of that, she can’t go hide in some cave in the Haunted Woods. She’ll have stayed as close to Faerieland as she dares.”
Nabile nodded. “That makes sense.”
Altador said, “We’ll consider this a hunt. Corner her, and then flush her out and straight into our net!” The old Lupe’s eyes gleamed – he wasn’t referred to as the Hunter in his home country for nothing.
Master Hatora smiled slightly. “Well-reasoned, my friends. Just remember that Xandra will not always play the game the same way you will – she always preferred upturning the table to arranging the pieces.”
Hanso sighed heavily. “So we might not expect the way she’s going to come blasting out of the sky and turn us all into lawn gnomes. Wonderful.”
Nabile said, “Well, we all know time is of the essence. Once she’s caught up with Neopia, it’ll be easier for her to retreat somewhere we won’t be able to find her.”
Fyora nodded. “You see things as I do, Queen Nabile. Xandra’s escape puts all Faeries in danger, so all of my brethren are searching. She will be found and captured.” Then the queen sighed. “I don’t wish to risk you as of yet – but it may be easier for mortals to approach Xandra than Faeries. It could become necessary for you to lead the actual attack.”
Jazan felt all eyes turn to him. I’m the mage. When she says that we need to lead the attack, she actually means me. He nodded once. It was his duty – his responsibility to his comrades and his children to do whatever he could. “Very well. Is there anything else that needs to be discussed?”
Nabile rose as he did. “If there’s not, I need to make sure that Aldie and Neera aren’t attempting to kill each other. We should probably all take time to get settled in and rest – I’m certain that some of us didn’t sleep enough last night.” She looked up into his eyes – he knew that the hint of warning in her voice had really just been meant for him.
Brynn asked, “Do Aldie and Neera fight?”
Jazan sighed. “All the time. If they ever see eye-to-eye on anything, that’s when Nabile and I sit up and take notice.”
All the others left, and Jazan stayed leaning against a wall just outside the Council Chamber. He shut his eyes and listened – in the Faerie Palace, even the breeze whipping around the corners carried a hint of music. It’s saturated in magic – this whole land is. It’s as if it just pours out from the faeries and enriches everything around them. Faeries do half their good just by existing – they’re beings of pure magic. How could Xandra get so angry with them?
Jazan wished he could ask someone about how Xandra’s conflict with the Faeries began. Had she just held her resentment in her heart, or had she tried to confront them? If she had confronted them, had she been reasonable and mature, or had she given into that hot temper of hers? Even when he’d thought she was an ally, he’d also noted that her temper was even worse than his – far worse. He ran through what he knew of her life. She’d been no more than twenty when she left Faerieland to work and study – and plot – on her own. Was it any wonder that Faeries, with their immortal days, hadn’t wanted to listen to a mere child’s view of how the world should be?
Whatever her grievance, she had certainly blown it out of proportion. Freezing an entire race into stone, crashing and destroying an entire world – that was as bad as anything Razul had done.
The image of Razul, blazing with fire, standing between him and Nabile, came to mind – Jazan shook his head quickly to clear it. That wouldn’t be any help to him to think about that – it would only upset him when he desperately needed his mind to be clear. Razul is dead – twenty years gone. It’s no use thinking about him.
Jazan didn’t bother opening his eyes. “Hanso, what do you want?”
“Are you okay?”
That wasn’t something that Jazan had been expecting. He opened his eyes – the thief looked genuinely concerned. “I’m fine – well, as fine as I can be. Why do you ask?”
He said, “Because you’re my best hope to keep Xandra from turning me into gravel. I think we all know that she hates me the most. And to be honest, I’m worried for Brynn and Roddy. I’m sure you understand.”
Jazan nodded. But had that many years really passed, that it was easier for him to understand Hanso than it was for him to try and fathom Xandra? Still, someone who looked at the situation in the same way he did was a comfort, even if it was someone as eternally obnoxious as the thief.
Then Jazan noticed the knight in full armor with the crest of the Faerie Queen enameled on his shield, walking quickly down the hall. Someone important, then. The knight removed his helmet, and then Jazan was able to see that he was a tall Mutant Ixi with only one eye. The Ixi bowed, and spoke with a low, gravelly voice. “Sir Cyrex, Champion of Darkness, at your service, Your Majesty.”
Ah – one of the Elementals. That explains the mutant in Faerieland. Hanso evidently knew him – he asked, “Cyrex, how’s the search?”
Sir Cyrex grinned, showing pointed teeth. “And that’s why I’m here looking for Fyora. There’s a spot out close to Jhudora’s Bluff where all the faerie magic-sensors are completely useless – there’re three of ‘em won’t be out of bed for two days, they have headaches so bad.”
Jazan said, “So you’ll need a mortal mage, then. I’m willing.”
Sir Cyrex bowed again. “Thank you kindly, King Jazan. The Champion of Light’s a mage, but she’s working in Brightvale and couldn’t get away. Mortal mages in Faerieland tend to find themselves more useful elsewhere after they’re done studying – honestly, my lord, you’re the most powerful one we’ve got in the city at the moment.”
Jazan felt his stomach sinking. There’s something nasty out there repelling Faeries and I’m the best person around to handle it.
I can’t help but feel that this isn’t going to end well.
To be continued...