More Powerful than Magic: Part Five
As they waited for the others to catch up, Hanso muttered to Jazan, “Congratulations. I think we’ve managed to find someone who’s even more annoying than I am!”
Jazan nodded. “It takes doing, but I think our little Aristotle manages it.”
Nabile shook her head. “You were still a little rough with him, though. He’s an arrogant teenager, not a real threat.”
Jazan sighed – though he’d like nothing better than to tie up the Blumaroo and leave him for Jhudora, he knew Nabile was right. “I’m sorry. But when he insulted you – no one gets to talk to you like that. Not when I’m around to stop them.”
Nabile laid a hand on his shoulder and whispered quietly enough that Hanso couldn’t hear. “You’re sweet, Jazan. I know you do things for the right reasons, but maybe try to keep away from him and let Cyrex and Altador handle him. You aren’t always at your best when you try to work with people who annoy you.”
He knew that – he knew that all too well. And that thrice-blasted Blumaroo was one of those people who couldn’t be quiet. He was wearing at Jazan’s temper like a branch rubbing a rope, and it wouldn’t be much longer before Jazan snapped.
Except then Nabile would be disappointed in him, and he’d be furious with himself, and he’d have proven to the whole world that he was far from the hero they seemed to think he was – as if there wasn’t enough proof to that account already.
As the others climbed up the hill that the three of them had already descended, Jazan heard Aristotle complaining, “This is completely uncalled for – I’ll call the Defenders of Neopia as soon as I get half a chance!”
Hanso sighed. “You know what, Jazan? If you want to blast him, I’ll say I was messing with a Fire Faerie artifact again.”
Jazan shut his eyes. “Oh, don’t tempt me. I’m serious, Hanso, don’t tempt me.” Then he looked at the thief aghast. “You’ve tampered with Fire Faerie artifacts?” Even the mildest of those treacherous things tended to be incredibly dangerous and nigh impossible to control.
Hanso nodded. “My eyebrows grew back eventually, though.”
Jazan thought for a second and decided that he didn’t really want to know the rest of the story. At least they knew the path, so he didn’t have to stay in the back with that wretched Aristotle. He wondered what Sir Cyrex planned to do with him and his sister – maybe it was slightly harsh to lock up children, but no one could know what other trouble they might cause through not knowing better.
It was close to sunset – the sky was cloudy, though, and the resulting light made the surrounding land look very eerie. Jazan was reminded of the borderlands between Qasala and the Haunted Woods – they were like this, too, full of broken rocks and shifting shadows that left a man doubting his eyes. It was all too easy to see Xandra here, lurking behind every stone.
Nabile tapped his shoulder, bringing him back to reality. “Jazan? Do you feel well?”
He nodded. The others were catching up, and he didn’t want to admit how uncertain and fragile everything felt in front of them. He’d tell her later – he’d have to. She had always been able to see through whatever deceptions or masks he tried to use. It was a gift of hers.
She whispered, “I’m scared, Jazan.”
He looked into her eyes, brushing back a wayward strand of her hair. “As am I.”
Then he heard voices calling, “Mama! Father! Mama! Father!”
He reached out with magic – now he could feel the tracking spell in the air, cast by two people whose magic was as familiar to him as his own. He was amazed that he hadn’t noticed sooner. “Caspar, Esmeralda, what in Fyora’s name are you two doing out here?”
As the two Ixi looked over a hill, Nabile cried, “What are we to do with you two? You know full well that this isn’t safe!”
Esmeralda said, “It’s okay – we left Roddy in charge of Neera and Jessamine.”
Hanso winced. “You left a nine-year-old in charge of another nine-year-old and a seven-year old? Even I don’t think that was a good idea.”
Caspar added quickly, “It was important. Fyora had to leave in a hurry – Aldie followed so she could hear what was going on!”
Before Jazan could ask why she’d thought it was a good idea to eavesdrop on the Faerie Queen, Esmeralda continued, “We were afraid that something had happened to you! Can you blame us? But we heard the messenger say that the staff of a small library on the outskirts of Faerieland had been turned to stone. Fyora went to go fix them. Father, isn’t Xandra the one who turns people to stone?”
By that point, the others had joined them – Altador put a hand to his head. “It’s as if she’s trying to make up for lost time.”
Jazan thought about it. “No – she’s not like that. Remember? She was always about fulfilling the mission. Everything was to fulfill the mission. There was something in that library that she needed access to.”
Brynn finished, “Which she almost certainly now has. I’ve had to do library research before – I can go help the people figure out what they’re missing.”
Nabile nodded. “I’ll go with her – Caspar, Aldie, did you hear where the library was?”
Aldie recited, “The end of Rosemary Lane. That’s what the messenger said.”
Brynn said, “I know where that is – It’ll be far faster to go straight there.”
Nabile kissed the foreheads of the twins quickly. “Stay close to your father, you two, or I swear I’ll lock you in the deepest dungeon Fyora has. Be safe.”
They ran off across the rough terrain – Hanso asked, “Are they safe?”
Jazan sighed. “As safe as any of us.” The spells on Nabile’s ring were strong – if anything were to happen to her, he would know instantly, and be able to go to her in seconds.
Aristotle complained, “Wait – so a tattooed vandal is worthy of protection, while I find myself manhandled and dragged into a forced march?”
Jazan turned and said sharply, “You, young man, are very close to a line.”
Altador held up a hand. “Jazan, please. Maybe you should go with Nabile and Brynn – I’m certain you could catch up to them.”
Esmeralda asked, “Can we come? We proved we’re capable – we brought you the warning! And anyway, Mama told us not to leave your side or she’d throw us in the dungeon. Doesn’t that mean you need to keep us with you?”
It would be simpleminded beyond belief for Xandra to return to the scene of her latest crime, where she’d left clear proof that she’d been there. Caspar and Esmeralda would be safer there, and he wouldn’t have to listen to Aristotle’s constant whining – Neera was more stoic than he was.
He had made his decision. He told the children, “Come with me.” He looked back at Altador, the two guards, Hanso, and Cyrex. “Are you certain you don’t need me here?”
Hanso said quickly, “We’re sure. In fact, I don’t think they need me here, either – it’s more important to find out what Xandra’s up to.”
Guildus said, “You know, milord Altador, the two of us and Cyrex are really all we need to take the children back to Faerieland. If you’d like to go as well, it’s probably for the best.”
Altador nodded. “Very well. Sir Cyrex?”
The Mutant Ixi nodded. Aristotle complained, “Treating us like unwanted baggage is hardly called for?”
The sky was getting darker – Jazan knew that he wanted to have the children safe in Faerieland before nightfall. “We need to go. Farewell.”
Hanso called, “Brynn! Wait for us!” Then he muttered to Jazan as they took the lead, “Thanks for the excuse to get away from that poisonous little twerp.”
Caspar asked, “How did you find two children? Did you rescue them from Jhudora?”
Altador shook his head. “Not as such. They’re from Neopia Central – they know nothing about the tenuous treaties with Jhudora. They merely made themselves a hideout.” He looked at Jazan, clearly wondering whether the twins were supposed to know about the bad part. Jazan nodded, and the old king finished, “Unwittingly, they gave Xandra all the information that she needed.”
Esmeralda crossed her arms. “We would have known better. Even Jessa wouldn’t have just told some stranger everything she knew.”
Altador rummaged around in his bag. “Let me see – I think I have another sugar Vaeolus or two left. Aha – two of them! Would either of you like one, for your bravery in bringing us your message?”
Jazan smiled as he watched their faces light up – it was nice to know that they were still children, no matter what happened.
When the group of seven reached the little library on Rosemary Lane, Fyora looked astonished. “King Jazan! King Altador! Are you back from investigating the borderlands already?”
Hanso nodded – he clearly wanted to take his share of the credit, and he explained what they had found and how Caspar and Esmeralda had met them. Jazan was thankful that he left out the part where he’d lost his temper – he didn’t want the Queen to know that. Those piercing eyes saw far too much of his darkest heart as it was.
Nabile asked, “Where are the librarians? We can help them figure out if Xandra took anything.”
An old Faerie Lenny looked out the door. “That help would be much appreciated, Your Majesty. The others are still shaky, but I looked and realized that the lock was broken on the door of our room full of spellbooks. If one of the young ones would get the register off my desk, we can take inventory.”
Caspar and Esmeralda raced off together, and Jazan took Nabile’s hand as they followed Hanso, Brynn, Altador, and the librarian to the scene of the crime.
Cabinets of books had been thrown open – Jazan found himself drawn to the rack of scrolls sitting by a wall. Those would hold desert magic. He wondered if there were any spells here he might not have copies of in his own library.
Then he noticed one little niche that was unoccupied. He asked the librarian, “Is there supposed to be something here?”
The Lenny’s eyes widened. “All the scroll racks are supposed to be full. We have an expert on desert spells here, you see, so we tend to accumulate them. We even sent some that Captain Brynn and Hanso recovered last year to other magical libraries and schools because we had no space to store them.”
He took the register from Caspar – a box with a collection of small books. “We’ve got a diagram in here of where books belong on the shelves. Here, Captain Brynn, milady Nabile, Hanso – can you take these three sections and start looking?”
They took their parts of the register, but Jazan could tell they were waiting to hear about the missing scroll. Jazan could tell that the old librarian was fumbling the pages due to nervousness, so he took the scroll list out of the Lenny’s hands. Fifth row, eighth column...
Oh, sweet Fyora, no! It couldn’t be – oh, no, oh, no... He said in horror, “I ordered all these scrolls destroyed! How did a copy survive?”
Nabile asked, “What is it, Jazan?”
Hanso moaned, “What’s gone wrong now?”
Jazan said, “This library owned a copy of The Scroll of Golem’s Vengeance. Which Xandra now has.”
Altador’s face had gone white. Caspar and Esmeralda were watching wide-eyed. The others merely looked confused. Caspar asked, “What’s that, Father?”
He didn’t want to have to tell everyone about this. But he had no choice. “A golem is an artificial being created from mud and magic, animated with black spells. They have a spirit of revenge, and when given something that belonged to one of their master’s enemies, they will hunt their victim to the depths of the sea or the ends of the earth, and destroy them.”
Nabile said, “Well, she doesn’t have anything that belongs to any of us, does she?”
Jazan remembered their journey with Xandra, fourteen years ago. She’d wanted to make protective spells for all of them, and had requested a token from each of them that she could use as their essence. Everyone had agreed – it was a standard requirement for those sorts of personal protection spells. He’d given her one of his earrings. Xandra would certainly have kept those – they’d probably been turned to stone with her. Which meant that she would have them still.
Altador, Hanso, and Brynn had all remembered as well. Hanso said softly, “So she’s going to send some sort of magical killing beast after us? Oh, sweet Fyora, this just gets better and better, doesn’t it?”
Brynn just buried her face in her hands.
To be continued...