Once a Scarab: Part Nine
Tomos couldn't help but look around in amazement as he jogged down the street toward the Scarab hideout. To an outside eye, the bustle of the street looked normal. But Tomos knew that very few people lived in this particular area, which had never been rebuilt after Razul's fires gutted the houses. The Neopians going about their business here were all preparing to help Princess Amira regain her throne.
And it had only been a week! The plans were coming together with almost alarming speed – the plan was to strike tomorrow, when Akhmaris was having his first public speech. Thankfully, most of the Sakhmeti knew all that they needed to know about him already from the edicts that had flown from the Palace constantly ever since the Eyrie had crowned himself king, and no one was positive. It was all too clear that Akhmaris was preparing to muster a military force to attack something.
Of course, he didn't know that the Qasalans would leave under cover of darkness and shield-spells tonight, and be surrounding the city by morning, waiting for the magical defenses to break down before they revealed themselves and began their attack. Tomos hoped that he would be within eyeshot of Akhmaris when that happened – he'd like to see the look on his face.
Sulein, a big green Moehog who made a living doing fire-protection charms, waved to him. Tomos shouted back, "Hey, skinny! How's it going?"
He didn't know exactly what Sulein was up to, but he did know that he and crabby old Pashki were the two most powerful mages that Nabile and the king had found – they were important, and that whatever he was doing to help had to be interesting. He got to go to a lot of the meetings that Tomos only found out about afterwards, when Horace or Nabile told the rest of the Scarabs about what had been discussed.
It was the same way with a lot of the people around. Tomos knew their names, and a little about them, but he didn't know what their jobs actually were.
He tried not to think about that. She was the Queen of Qasala, and thus she knew all that stuff, but that didn't mean she wasn't still a Scarab! That didn't mean she wasn't still the same person! He shook his head to clear it. There was no time to worry about any of that now. He'd been scouting, gathering news, and Yari had found him and told him that there was a job for him to do.
Sulein replied with a wide grin, "Same as ever – plotting trouble. They're waiting for you upstairs." Upstairs referred to the Scarab hideout, the center of this rapidly growing rebellion. Tomos took the steps two at a time.
Dacon, Enarka, Nabile, Jazan, Horace, Kuraj, and Pashki were waiting for him. He sat down on one of the chairs that had been dragged in. He normally would have bowed in front of people like the general and the king – or Pashki, who scared the daylights out of him – but Nabile would scold. So he merely tried to be as respectful as he could be as he said, "So, you called for me?"
Nabile nodded. "Tomos, we're going to ask you to do something."
Dacon said, "Basically, you're going to be Amira's bodyguard tomorrow. Don't let her out of your sight. From the way she's been talking, I'm afraid she's going to do something senseless – she's angry, and young, and stubborn, and it's a horrible combination."
Tomos asked, "So, is it my job to keep her from doing the stupid stuff, or am I supposed to try and protect her while she's doing the stupid stuff?" He hoped it was the former – the princess was a nice enough person, he guessed, but he'd seen how furious she was about the insult to her family's honor, and he was really better at running away than he was at actually fighting anything.
General Dacon sighed. "The former, by any means necessary. I suggested you because Amira knows quite well she can't threaten to arrest you if she gets in a royal mood."
Nabile crossed her arms. "And I suggested you because you've always done a wonderful job of covering my back." She glared at the general.
Tomos couldn't help but grin at how she'd leapt to his defense, but then he realized what she'd said and frowned. "Wait – where will you be tomorrow?" Watching the princess was all well and good, but not if Nabile was going to be in danger without him to look out for her!
Nabile said, "Tomos, don't turn into a mother Weewoo on me. I'll be with the mages, helping Jazan. I'll be perfectly safe."
Tomos sighed. That was true. If she was with the king, she'd be as safe as anyone in this city. King Jazan wouldn't let anyone within eyeshot of him get hurt if he could do something about it.
But he still wished he could be watching out for her himself, rather than hoping Princess Amira wouldn't drag him into something stupid that would get the both of them killed. Dacon said, "Well, Tomos, if you'll do it, we need to finish up before Princess Amira realizes that we got Zina to lure her away."
Tomos winced. "You mean she doesn't even know that I'm doing this?" He was going to have an angry princess to deal with. Great.
Enarka said, "We all know Amira. As long as she doesn't realize it's happening until the fight's started, she won't have the chance to try and run off."
Tomos wanted to prove to everyone that their trust in the Scarabs was warranted, even though his gut told him that this was unlikely to end well. He nodded. "I'll do it."
Horace clapped him on the back, and Nabile smiled at him. General Dacon said, "Of course, we're hoping this is a formality and that we're going to keep the princess away from danger, but you know how these things go. I doubt this will be an easy duty, Tomos, but it's a necessary one. I'd protect her myself, but we've got too many inexperienced fighters, and I'm needed with them."
So Tomos nodded once more. "I understand, sir. Glad to be of service."
What had he gotten himself into?
He went up to the rooftop that night, unable to sleep. He was certain all the way down to the tip of his tail that tomorrow wasn't going to be as simple as General Dacon had hoped.
Then he looked around, saw the white-clad figure, and almost jumped out of his skin. "Oh – ah – Your Majesty!"
King Jazan sighed. "No need for that, since I know you're up here for the same reason I am."
Tomos couldn't quite believe that. "I just can't sleep, sir, that's it."
The king's unnerving golden eyes caught him as he replied, "And neither can I. The more they say that our plan is good, the more I want to shout at them not to tempt fate. From what you told us of Akhmaris's conversation with Lejka, I'm certain that he'll lash out when he's attacked, and his targets will be Amira and Nabile."
Tomos winced. He reminded himself sternly that Nabile could hold her own in a scramble, and King Jazan was King Jazan. Of course, that didn't leave him and the princess with much. He had a short sword, but he really didn't know how to use it beyond "hold the dull end, point the sharp end." He looked away from the king, toward the palace, so the other man couldn't see how scared he was.
Then the king said softly, "She's worried, you know."
Tomos snorted. "She always worries."
King Jazan laughed shortly. "She does, doesn't she? But she's worried that things are changing – that she doesn't fit in the Scarabs the way she used to."
Tomos said, "Stop. Stop." He didn't even care about the fact that the other man was a king and a sorcerer at the moment. "Nothing's changed! Nothing has changed! She's still Nabile!"
King Jazan sighed. "No wonder she's so upset."
Tomos rounded on him, fists clenched. "Are you accusing me of upsetting Nabile?"
The Kyrii's eyes narrowed. "Actually, I am. She's trying to pretend like nothing's changed for your sake, and the sake of the other Scarabs. But no one could go through what she's been through in these last several months without changing. So if you could bring your head back to something resembling reality..."
Tomos snapped back, "Which reality? The one where I've known her since we were both six?"
King Jazan held up a hand, and a few tongues of flame flickered in his palm. For the first time, Tomos wondered whether he'd just done something really, really dumb. But then the Kyrii closed his hand, and let it drop to his side. "You're her best friend. I'm not saying that she's no longer a friend to you. What is it that she always tells me? Once a Scarab..."
Tomos finished the statement. "Always a Scarab."
He nodded. "She's a queen and a Scarab as well. I don't envy her, playing both roles." He paused a moment before he continued, "Just talk with her a little. I can tell you've been thinking of this as well."
Tomos sighed. "Between that and the fact that I've got to keep myself and the Princess of Sakhmet alive tomorrow..."
"Ah!" The Kyrii reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a small mirror. "I've spelled these so the leaders can talk amongst themselves. Say the name of who you wish to speak to, and they will appear in the mirror. Nabile and I both have them, as does Horace."
He was being trusted with a magical artifact? He took it, stuffed it in his pocket, and then, on an impulse, held his hand out. The king took it, and they shook hands. Tomos commented, "If we don't go back downstairs, Nabile will scold us for not sleeping enough."
King Jazan grinned wryly. "I hear plenty of that."
But after the sorcerer king went back down into the hideout, Tomos stood looking at the stars a little longer, and forced himself to admit that Nabile wasn't the same – he'd seen it plenty of times when she held council with the high-and-mighty as if she belonged there.
That was it. She did belong there, now.
But she was still a Scarab. She would always be a Scarab, and they would always be friends, friends as close as siblings if not closer. Even if she wasn't exactly the same, she was still Nabile – still loyal and clever and brave to the core.
And as Scarabs, they'd face the fight tomorrow as one.
To be continued...