Once a Scarab: Part Ten
Nabile slipped her knife onto her belt – the only thing she had left to do was to cover her face and hair with a wrap like the desert traders used, so that no one would recognize her before the fighting began. Tomos sat down beside her in the corner of the Scarab hideout – he had polished his sword to a mirror sheen, and yet he still rubbed it with the buffing cloth. He asked, "Do they need to do that in here?"
She looked up – the mages were in the center of the room in a circle, with Jazan helping them all to unite their power so they could attack the mage block as one. She'd learned enough about magic to be able to feel it gathering around them, brewing like a thunderstorm. She sighed. "I guess I've gotten used to it."
Tomos said softly, "I guess you would have."
There it was again, the feeling of a barrier between them, the feeling of being an outsider. Then Tomos asked, "Are you okay?"
She had to admit it to him. He was her best friend. "Tomos – things are different, now. I'm not the same as I was."
He nodded. "I know. I was trying not to see it – but I know." He added, tentatively, "But we're still friends, right?"
She smiled at him. "Of course. We'll always be friends. No matter what happens."
He grinned. "That's what I thought, too." He said, "It is cool watching you be all queenly and giving orders, you know. How'd you ever stand it with just us Scarabs to boss around?"
She blushed and hit him in the shoulder. "Oh, stop it. If you really want to see orders given, you should see Amira when she gets in one of her princess moods."
Tomos muttered, "I'll be seeing that sooner rather than later."
Nabile laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You'll be fine. Remember, you're bigger than her. If she tries to do something silly, do what you'd do to Bokan and just sit on her."
The look on Tomos's face almost made her giggle as he said in horror, "She's a princess! I can't sit on a princess!"
Nabile said, "You have my permission – and Dacon's permission – to do whatever you deem necessary. She's not like us Scarabs, or the girls with the Shadowfeet and the Copper Crowns. She talks tough, but she can't hold her own in a fight. I trust you, Tomos." She had to make that clear to him – that she still trusted him every bit as much as she ever had. She patted his arm where the Scarab tattoo was inked, and he did the same to her, and they grinned at each other and got to their feet.
The mages were finished now, and Jazan strode over to the two of them. He and Jazan looked at each other and nodded briefly – was that a bit of a smile playing around the edges of Jazan's lips? Nabile didn't know enough about what was going on, so she asked, "Did it work?"
He nodded. "As well as it could." He leaned against the wall. "I wish I wasn't working out of memory, but none of the others have spells like this in their books. As long as I keep my head about me, I should be able to manage this."
Nabile knew without even needing to be told that that would be her job. She had to defend Jazan, so he didn't have to focus on anything but the magic. She knew that he was both a powerful mage and a very good swordsman, but even he couldn't fight and lead a spell at the same time.
They were getting ready to go – she grinned at Tomos one last time as he moved to take up a discreet place behind Amira, and then she moved close to Jazan. He set a hand on her shoulder – only the slight tightening of his grip betrayed any nervousness or worry. His face was set in stone.
She reached up to set a hand over his – Dacon was talking, but she already knew what he was saying, and this was more important, anyway. "I trust you, Jazan. I trust Tomos to keep Amira safe, and I trust you to keep all of us safe."
He said softly, "I only hope I am worthy of that trust."
She looked up at him – his eyes were ruby-red, as they were whenever he was angry or working magic. She reassured him, "You are."
In the last few seconds, Nabile wound her scarf around her head, and Jazan covered his face as well – all of those that might be recognized by the guards, or worse, Akhmaris, had to try and hide their identities. And then they all slipped into the streets and into their little clusters, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible as they headed toward the great plaza in front of the palace and a battle to regain the throne.
Nabile knew Amira and Tomos had slipped off to a house of a co-conspirator that looked over the plaza – they were as safe as anyone, as long as neither of them did anything foolish. But it was really only Amira she was worried about – she might do something silly for the sake of her family's honor. Tomos shared the healthy self-preservation instinct that all of the Scarabs had, and he would be fine.
They both found their places with the other mages close to a door of a shop that belonged to a friend of Kuraj. They would duck in there, and hopefully it would hide them from the traitorous mages. Nabile and the other Scarabs would guard the door. There was a fruit stand cart nearby – Nabile pointed at it, and Horace nodded. It would make a good barricade, if Jazan could scare the owner into running away.
Then the trumpets blared and the doors opened – Nabile gripped Jazan's hand tightly as the usurper himself came to the top of the steps, golden feathers and golden jewelry blazing bright. Jazan muttered under his breath, "Gaudy. You can tell he's trying to prove himself."
Nabile snickered – Jazan's line extended straight back for thousands of years, long before Sakhmet was even founded. Amira wasn't the only one who occasionally stood on family pride.
Akhmaris said, "I greet you on this fine morning, people of Sakhmet, and I can say that I have never been more proud of my city. We are united, and we are strong!"
He'd clearly been expecting cheers. But the Sakhmeti had been through a little too much in the last several months to be bought so easily. They all knew that this flattery wouldn't lead anywhere they wished to go.
He continued, "Finally, we are strong enough to face the threat that has loomed up across the desert. They claim that they are our long-lost cousins. They claim they belong in the desert as surely as we do. Do we believe that nonsense?
"Demons! Products of some awful curse! You have seen their true forms. You have seen the cruelty of their sorcerer-king. You have seen the fire-monster they unleashed on us after their feint of peace. They will not be allowed to attack us again!"
Nabile looked up at Jazan – his jaw was clenched. She whispered, "Picture his face when he realizes the Qasalan Army is at his gates to fight for the rightful ruler. It'll be funny. He's ridiculous. A clown. Remember that."
Jazan hissed, "I still want to make him pay for each of those slurs. And the things he's said about you!"
Then the Copper Crowns set to work – they must have had someone with them that had a flare for the dramatic, because that was the moment that chose took to set off the fireworks that were the signal. Another merchant friend of Kuraj's had imported them from Shenkuu, and they were spectacular – and, what was better, Akhmaris's slack stare told everyone who could see that this was no doing of his.
And then the chanting started. "Amira! Amira! Amira! Amira!"
Akhmaris shouted, "Guards! Attack! Defend your king!"
There were shouts, and screams, and the bystanders began to flood out of the plaza. In the chaos, the mages slipped into their store and set to work. All the Scarabs worked together to tip the now-abandoned fruit cart, spilling its bounty – Raq and Yari each stuffed several Tchea Fruits in their pockets – and creating a barrier to hide behind. Zina cautioned, "Don't eat too many. We can throw them at the traitors. It'll be a good distraction."
Yari was already chewing. Raq protested, "There're plenty!"
But Nabile was distracted by watching the fighting – she noticed that Akhmaris had disappeared, presumably into the palace. He was a general, and he'd been a warrior once, but she was fairly sure it had been many years since he'd last fought himself.
And then she began to feel the magic building behind her, causing her fur to stand on end and her muscles to tense. Something huge was taking place among Jazan's motley assortment of healers and charm-makers.
"Hey! Scarabs! What are you doing there?"
The guards had hardly turned toward them before Raq and Yari started hurling both fruit and insults their way. Nabile jumped into it as well – they couldn't be allowed to disrupt the working, even for a second. She threw the fruit with the ease of long practice, and was glad to see that it was as easy as ever.
Horace said, "We've got this under control – go inside! Make sure they're okay!"
Nabile did – the mages stood in a silent circle. Some of their eyes had changed color. Others glowed with a faint light, or had their hair and clothes tousled by a wind Nabile couldn't feel. She laid her hands on Jazan's shoulders, and heard his voice in her mind.
Nabile, we don't have quite enough – they're fighting – please, may I use some of your strength?
Take whatever you need, Jazan. The others could throw fruit. If Nabile was needed to help provide the final push to break the barrier, she would.
In here, the spell almost felt like a physical weight, a weight that would crush Nabile like a Grackle Bug. But she bore up under it, giving strength to Jazan. The pressure intensified, the crackling of power stung – she could see lightning behind her eyes, and wondered if that was how Jazan was experiencing this spell. Her stomach twisted – how dangerous was this? How could they possibly channel this much magic? It felt as if it were going to burst out, and if it burst out, instinct told her it would turn on them. She forced herself to concentrate through the fear, to keep her hands steady on his shoulders – if he knew she was scared, it could distract him, and that would be the ruin of them all.
And then, with a flash and a crash, the storm broke. Nabile was thrown to the floor and lay there panting.
The connection to Jazan hadn't been entirely broken – she could feel power like a flowing river, and knew that it had to be the other Qasalan mages, finally able to get through. Jazan's eyes were gold again, and exultant. He got to his knees, and Nabile rolled into as much of a sitting position as she could manage – she felt as if she'd dashed from the walls of the city to the Palace, slamming into street signs along the way. "It worked, Nabile! It worked! The Qasalan army is outside. They're threatening to attack if Akhmaris doesn't surrender the throne to Amira."
He took his communication mirror out of his pocket. Most of the other mages here were still lying where they'd fallen, but Nabile managed to crawl over to him. She asked, "Do you have the power for this?"
He nodded. "Kiyaa's feeding me some. I'm just testing these to see how everyone fares."
He passed his hands over it slowly. At the end, his eyes widened. "Nabile, can you stand?"
She nodded. "I can try, at least." The look on his face let her know nothing good had happened. She glanced around – no one else was in any condition to help. Whatever needed doing, they'd have to do it themselves.
He said, "If you can, I can as well – and we need to. Tomos and Amira are about to get into serious trouble."
To be continued...