More Powerful than Magic: Part Nine
Jazan wasn’t swayed for a second by Xandra’s talk of power and conquest. He’d heard words like that before – that was the way Razul had talked. That was the way the curse had whispered in his mind over two hundred years, wearing away his resistance and turning him into a monster, before Nabile had cut straight through all the layers of darkness and reminded him of what he had wanted to be.
Xandra had had no one to do that for her. Even Aristotle, as insufferable as he was, had a little sister who loved him and missed him and wanted to see him returned safe to her. Who had mourned Xandra when she fell into darkness? Who had missed her while she was stone?
She viewed him as weak for devoting himself to his city and his family – being a king first and a mage second. But the people of Qasala, Nabile, Caspar, Esmeralda, Neera, and Jessamine had made his life so much better, so much richer, than he’d ever imagined it could be. There’d been a time, once, when her talk of power might have tempted him, but that was long gone. All these years she had been stone, frozen in time, stewing in her rage. He’d grown older, but he’d grown wiser – he’d laughed and cried and fought for what he believed in.
And these things are more powerful than magic.
He understood what Fyora had meant, then, after she’d overheard him tell Jessamine that story. She’d realized that he would understand, in time, exactly what it was that made him so different than Xandra – his experience, his family, and the people who cared about him. And that that would be exactly what allowed him to defeat her.
Fyora. The one person that had felt sorrow for Xandra. The one person who held out hope for her. And the one person that Xandra hated most. She’d turned her back on the one person who might be able to save her.
Jazan informed her, “Fyora ordered us all not to kill you.”
Xandra asked, eyes narrowing, “What do you mean by that?”
Jazan said, “I mean that, even after you’ve betrayed her twice, she still believes in you. She still wants to be reconciled with you. Neopia and its faeries are different now. What if you went back to Fyora and listened to her for a minute? An hour? You’d perhaps find things more to your liking. You could find yourself a place in this world, rather than trying to crush it and start over.”
Xandra asked, clearly furious, “Is that what you think? She’s gotten to you, hasn’t she? You’re even worse than I thought! You’ve pretended so long that you’re a hero that you’ve actually convinced yourself! Look at you! You’re the child of a king who could have been Emperor of Neopia – and you were strong enough to defeat him! And what did you do? You went home! You’re a waste, Jazan, a colossal waste, and I’m not going to let that happen to me!”
As she shouted, Jazan flexed his magic, working at his bonds, gripping the lapis stone tightly in his hand. He’d only need seconds once he was free. When she was finished, he said softly, “I learned some things while you were sitting in Fyora’s garden. One of them... was that there are things that are more powerful than magic.”
She opened her mouth to scoff, but she didn’t have the time before Jazan, using both his own might and the magic in the twins’ stone, threw off his bonds in a blaze of power, and then reached out with the stone, feeding Caspar’s own magic to him. Stone cracked, and Caspar stepped free, sword at the ready. “I’ve got you, Father!”
Xandra had fallen back – as Caspar ran to his father’s side, she stared at them with murder in her eyes. And as she focused on them, gathering magic to her, Jazan saw two sets of Ixi ears in the passage to the cavern. He touched Caspar’s mind, speaking to him silently. It’s Nabile and Hanso – they avoided the wraiths and came to help! Caspar, I’ll take Xandra. Tell them to destroy the golem!
Yes, sir! He felt Caspar’s power magnify, intensify twofold and more – from the Faerie Castle, Esmeralda had mingled her magic with his. The twins acted as one.
Xandra’s eyes widened. “Twin mages?” Jazan could see Hanso and Nabile running to the golem – Nabile picked up a pickaxe that Xandra had probably used to free the obsidian from the earth around her hiding place as Hanso took some gems from a table and pocketed them.
And then Xandra turned and aimed her fire at frozen Aristotle, creating a blow that could turn him to gravel. Jazan threw out his own magic in a shield, protecting the boy. “No! He’s an insufferable brat, but he’s someone’s older brother, and he’ll be going back to her safely!”
But the Xweetok had noticed Hanso and Brynn attempting to dislodge chunks of the golem – they weren’t having much success. It appeared as if it were almost as hard as rock. She laughed. “Without the essences and the life force, it won’t have the strength of a golem, but I’ve given it its power-stones already, which are enough to bring it to life!”
Jazan shouted, “Nabile! Get back!” as the clawed, fanged, spiked thing got to its feet. It was about the size of a large Werelupe, but was far more reptilian – Xandra had been creative, it seemed. Nabile threw the pickaxe to Hanso, who started hacking at the creature.
Jazan had to make a decision quickly, and he did. He said, “Caspar, you and Esmeralda try to subdue the beast – it may be more vulnerable to magic than a true golem!”
His son asked, “Then what?”
“Then we hope Altador, Cyrex, and Brynn get past those shadows, because we may need reinforcements!”
Xandra was already preparing for her next blow – Jazan held his sword in one hand and created another shield with the other, blocking it just in time. And that was when he noticed a strip of cloth fall from her ragged dress and fall to the floor.
It was in his hand in an instant. Jazan asked Xandra, “Would this work as a focus for the golem, do you think?”
Across the room, Caspar was blasting it with fire, which seemed to be upsetting it but not doing it a lot of harm. Nabile had picked up a shovel, and she and Hanso were starting to knock the tips off its spikes. But Xandra’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t.”
“Wasn’t the whole point of your offer to me the fact that you think I would?”
It would be so easy. The thing was already activated – it wouldn’t need any more power. All he’d have to do was give the piece of trim to it, and it would hunt Xandra alone.
But then Nabile and Caspar would both have seen him resorting to dark magic in order to win a battle. If he did it once, it would be so much easier next time – there was a slippery slope there, and he’d been far too close to falling from it before.
And Fyora would be saddened – heartbroken even. She loved Xandra like a daughter – that was the only way she could possibly still care for her. Jazan could lie, say it was an accident, but the Faerie Queen would know the truth.
As he looked at Xandra, her dark eyes desperate, he didn’t see a looming villainess anymore. He saw a young woman who’d followed this path so long that she now saw no other way she could turn from it, even as her plans once again fell to dust under her fingertips. She was gripping the edge of a cliff, unable to help herself, unwilling to let anyone else help her.
He said in his head, Caspar, Esmeralda, I need a lot of power for this...
We’ll help, Father.
And, before Xandra could react, he fashioned a net similar to the one she’d used on him, but stronger, binding her magic as well as her limbs. She fought back like a wild thing – if Jazan had been alone, she would have managed to break free. But Caspar and Esmeralda were everywhere that he couldn’t be, weaving the power of twin mages into her bonds. And, as the net tightened close, Jazan tied it into the lapis stone, giving it a more solid anchor than a mortal sorcerer.
He finished the spell – the colors were swirling in front of his eyes, and for a few seconds he felt as if he were going to faint. But then the feeling passed, and he looked around.
Xandra crouched bound on the floor, glaring at him. The almost-golem had fallen into useless lumps of clay and dust – Hanso and Nabile were covered with the dirt. Xandra spat, “Take me back to Fyora, then. Let her lock me in a cell. I’ll get out again one day, you know. And you’ll be the first to know, because I’ll show up at your door!”
Hanso sighed. “Jazan, can you turn her back to stone? I like her better that way.”
Xandra snarled, “Oh, you think you’re so impressive, don’t you?”
Hanso shrugged. “Well, I am older than you now, little Xandra.”
The Xweetok snapped, “If only I had ten seconds to wipe that grin off your face – you’re going to pay for this! You’re all going to pay!”
Caspar folded his arms. “No, you’re going to pay. You’re going to be locked up in Faerieland’s dungeon, and if you ever get out, I’ll be waiting for you. Aldie and I are only getting stronger.”
Jazan patted his shoulder. “That’s right, Caspar. Now, we need to call the Faerie Queen in order to restore Aristotle – I was able to use your power to help you, but neither of us has enough left to change him back.”
Then Brynn ran into the cavern. “You’ve got her! Hanso, are you hurt?”
Hanso said, “No, I’m fine.”
Xandra was about to say something else venomous, but Brynn cut her off without even looking at her. “Altador’s wounded – it’s not too serious, but he’s going to need help making it back to the castle.”
Jazan said, “Caspar and I will stay here until the faeries arrive, then.”
Nabile hugged the skinny desert Ixi tightly. “I’ll stay here as well – Caspar, we’ve been scared out of our wits! What possessed you to go off on your own?”
Caspar looked down. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry, Father. I knew that Ari was going to do it whether I went or not, and I knew that if he tried to fight Xandra alone, he’d never win. I thought if I went with him I could talk him out of it, or keep us safe.”
Jazan sighed. “A stupid idea, but your heart was in the right place. There are far worse mistakes to make.”
Xandra cried, “Will you stop with the family soppy business! Sweet Fyora, Jazan, you’ve turned into an Ona.”
Jazan paid her no mind – she was just trying to get some sort of victory out of the situation that had become such a disaster for her. Caspar asked, “So what’s going to happen next?”
Jazan smiled at his son. “We’re going to go home.”
Four days later, Jazan looked out from his palace steps across the plaza – it was decorated with banners, streamers, and palms, and packed full of revelers celebrating the twenty years since their curse had been broken. He could see his family, Nightsteed, and his friends among the nobles in the front – there were delegations from Sakhmet and Altador as well, though the old king was still recovering and hadn’t been able to make it in person. Even the Avinroo siblings were there – Abigail had wanted to visit Neera and join in the festivities, and apparently her brother was shaken enough after his encounter with Xandra that he hadn’t offered any resistance to the plan.
Jazan had feared this speech before – but he understood it a little better now, just as he understood Xandra better. He’d learned a little these last few days. And so he began, “I don’t intend to make this a long speech – feasts and dancing and games await, and I believe that those are far more fitting to this occasion than listening to one man speak.
“It has been twenty years now since the darkness was lifted and the curse broken. We came out into Neopia blinking at the sunlight, surrounded by the ruins of what had once been our home. But we were free – and with that freedom, we didn’t shy from the challenge, but instead turned our wills toward making our city greater than it had even been before – and I firmly believe that we have succeeded.
“Which is why I wish to thank all of you. All of you who were here before our city was cursed, and who endured two centuries of night without despairing, had the strength to begin anew and not let our realm fade. And all of you who did not arrive here until after we had returned, but who gave your strength to continue the restoration and shared in the dreams we had of making Qasala glorious again, are part of the reason we are stronger than we had been before.
“We have worked together all these years – let us celebrate now, because we have proven ourselves. We have proven that when we work together, rather than standing alone, we are stronger than any curse, and more powerful than any magic.”