Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Seven
The next day, Cassius leaned back in his chair in Marzai's office. They'd all been given a nice breakfast and hot coffee that he'd actually been able to enjoy – the Zorthans were second to none when it came to cooking. And due to the fact that they'd brought Marzai back and brought Jormund Steelclaw to aid the defense, the crew of the Aurora was getting the royal treatment for what was the first time in most of their lives.
Trinian sat twitching his tail restlessly – Zaraq and Bea were intent on finishing their meals, Yaxal was reading a manual for Zorthan navigational systems, Kyrival polished his sword, and Marzai flicked through a sheaf of papers. Cassius wondered what had their captain so on edge. They were just waiting for Jory and General Zeptimius to get back from the healers with Jory's new arm and leg, and Suroxano to show up with the idea he'd wanted to give them. Not much use in worrying until they actually knew what it was they were going to be doing, if even anything at all.
Zaraq looked up at Cassius. "Hey, Cassius, when we're done with this I want to show you a couple plans I have to make our preliminary shadow-repellant devices more effective..."
Bea interrupted, "You mean make it so it won't blow up the ship as well?"
Zaraq sighed. "I was using Fuzzle repellent and fungus remover. If I can manage to sneak something out of the space hub – I mean," he said hastily, looking at Marzai, "ask permission for some chemicals and swear to their appropriate use, I can make it far more refined."
Yaxal twitched a little at the idea – he'd never liked sudden loud noises. Even banging on his door made him jump. He asked Marzai, "When can I get behind the dash of one of your Shooting Stars? I'd give a couple ears to try one." The Alien Aisha had shown Cassius a picture of the Shooting Star earlier – a sleek, one-man speed craft meant for stealth attacks.
Marzai said, "I'll arrange a meeting between you and General Jaxon as soon as possible."
Then the door swung open, and Jory strode in.
Cassius had never seen the Wocky like this before – he stood tall and proud, and had taken off his long gloves, so the silvery "skin" of his right arm showed. He was grinning broadly. "Just look at these! Just look! They're as good as my own – I feel fifteen years younger!"
Behind him, General Zeptimius slid in, looking every bit as happy as his friend. "It's great to have you back, Jormund."
Suroxano came in at last. "Well, now that everyone is together, I will propose that we focus our attentions on finding Chief Mage Ulami and Princess Xianna Moonstone."
The general asked, "Pardon me, Lord Firetamer, but what in Lady Mira's name do you think we've been doing all this time?"
Suroxano merely smiled. "Yes. But you didn't have the crew of the Aurora, and you didn't have me. These two things will make all the difference."
Jory flexed his hands. "Will we get to run into some shadows?"
Marzai nodded, looking at him worriedly. "Most likely."
He grinned. "Good. Jormund Steelclaw and Zep Lightstar are back in action!"
Cassius felt a little sorry for the shadow creatures.
Kyrival said, "I'm going with you. I don't care what you say, or who you intended to take, but I'm going with you. I'm not resting until Xianna is safe back home."
Suroxano said, "Of course you'll come. And myself, and General Zeptimius, and Trinian, Bea, Jormund, Yaxal IV, Zaraq, and Cassius."
That was the only thing that could have brought Cassius's mood down right then. Even this strange little magician thought he was the least important man around.
He was being too sensitive. The very nature of lists meant that someone needed to be last. It wasn't as if he had the same skills – the useful skills – that everyone else had, anyway. Unless Jalitha needed some pipes fixed, he was pretty much useless.
No, he was allowing himself to mope again. He needed to get his head together. He could focus on Jory – try and focus on being happy for Jory. The Wocky was practically glowing, and it wasn't just the light shining off his metallic limbs.
But he was still in a fairly dark mood as they all headed to the gates of Eoxan-zortha. Suroxano held up a thin wand in addition to his own staff. "I know Ulami well enough to trace her magic. We'll be able to find her that way."
Kyrival nodded. "And she won't have left Xianna – they'll be together."
The general asked, "How well did you know Ulami?"
Suroxano shrugged. "Who can ever claim to truly know a mage? We prefer to keep our secrets – Jalitha, Ulami, myself, and all the others of our order are alike in that regard. But we studied flame and light together for a year or so – ten years ago now, it was. She is a friend. I can only hope that she is still safe, as she was yesterday."
He then whispered a few words, and the thin rod in his hand glowed. Suroxano said, "I do not believe we have more than two or three hours of journeying before us – follow me!"
Before too long, the general said, "We're headed toward the old iridan mines – what if they're in the mines?"
Yaxal asked, "General Zeptimius, what's iridan?" Cassius was grateful that someone else asked the question – since everyone else already thought he was next to useless, he didn't want to sound more senseless than he had to.
The Lutari replied, "Since we're on a small mission, call me Zep. I always tell people that if they tried to spit out the whole thing in an emergency, we'd all be dead."
Kyrival said, "It's the crowning glory of Eoxan-zortha. Many of the older towers were built with it, and some of our heirlooms. It's a strong, silvery metal that shapes easily and holds light. Trading in it was what built our city. But nothing's come out of those mines in three generations."
Suroxano said, "Ulami has always loved iridan – as a light mage, it loves her in return. The old mines would be an ideal place to hide if you didn't want to be found."
Zep said, "But – the shadows!"
Zaraq said, "If some fireworks and Fuzzle repellent could scare off shadows, then I bet a light mage wouldn't have much trouble with them, would she?"
Jory drew his largest blaster. "I'm hoping she didn't scare all of them off – I could use a couple."
Zep laughed. "You're just spoiling for a fight, aren't you?"
Yaxal said grimly, "Don't worry. Even if it's not today, we've all ensured that we'll have more to fight than we can handle soon enough."
After he'd finished, Bea glared at Trinian, who merely adjusted his visor. At least she was directing some of the blame toward him instead of all at Cassius – he'd rest a little easier knowing the Ixi wasn't coming to kill him.
The moonscape was as dim as ever, but Cassius wasn't quite as frightened this time as he had been on their last trek. They were all armed and outfitted for the journey – he had a blaster and long knife in addition to his wrench, which he'd kept, as silly as it was. It had saved him once, so perhaps it would save him again. And they had Zep and Kyrival and Suroxano and the new and improved Jory, who were certainly more than a match for shadow beasts or pirates.
They hadn't seen any pirates yet – where were they? Where was Jalitha keeping all of her people until she was ready to attack the city?
The road they followed got steadily rougher and steeper until they were surrounded by slag heaps from the mines. Other paths diverged, but Suroxano kept leading them straight onward. Holding the rod high, he said, "I found this in her mage kit – it was hers. It wants to help us to follow her path, and I have the power to enable it to do so."
Bea said, "It doesn't matter how we find her, as long as we do. I'm in no mood to hang around here."
They came to the gaping entrance of a cave – Cassius's stomach sank. Were they actually going to go in there?
Zaraq asked, "Are we actually going in there?"
Kyrival drew his sword. "If Xianna and Lady Ulami did it, we can do it. We'll go bring them back."
Cassius pulled out his wrench – the cool, solid metal felt reassuring in his hand. Then Suroxano turned. "Cassius, could I see that?" His voice was sharper than he'd ever head it, and shocked Cassius into handing it over. Then the Grundo asked, "Where in all the worlds did you get a tool made of iridan?"
Cassius asked, "Iridan? Is that what it's made of? I just found it in the back of a closet my first day on the job."
Zep said in astonishment, "That's worth twice its weight in gold!"
Suroxano held it up in his other hand like a torch. "Arralux!"
Cassius didn't know what the word was supposed to do, but nothing happened. Suroxano looked down at the wrench, perplexed. Cassius was uncomfortably aware that the other members of the group were all staring at him, and Trinian appeared to be adjusting the settings of his visor as if he didn't believe that Cassius could possibly be at the center of this.
Cassius agreed – he certainly wished he wasn't as well.
Then the fire mage handed the wrench back to him. "You try. The word is Arralux."
Cassius looked down at the tool, feeling a complete simpleton. He was as magical as Mallard tape – he certainly couldn't make this thing do something magic if Suroxano couldn't! But still, he whispered, "Arralux."
Immediately, the wrench began shining softly, but the glow became brighter and brighter until it shone like a miniature star, lighting the beginning of the path into the mine with a warm glow like day.
Bea asked wonderingly, "What in Fyora's name..."
Suroxano said, "I'll explain later. Perhaps Ulami will help. She's always been better at explaining things than I am."
Cassius said in horror, "I'm sure, since you don't think that you really need to explain what is going on to me right now!"
Jory shook his head. "He's right. No time. We need to get the princess and the Chief Mage back to the city as soon as possible."
Suroxano gestured. "If you'll lead with me, Cassius?"
And, holding the shining metal aloft, he led the way into the pitch-black tunnel, not sure why he felt like laughing out loud, or singing, or dancing, or jumping for joy. It wasn't the right time for that at all, no matter what he'd just managed to do – whatever it was.
But the light was just so bright and beautiful that he had to be cheerful – no matter what lay ahead.
To be continued...