Kings and Curses: Part Five
Jazan threw his magic out in a brute wave – no finesse, just power – in order to try and keep himself from being swamped and buried in the merciless tide of sand. As he did, he could see even from beneath closed eyelids that there had been a flash of light, but he had no way of telling anything more – his senses and powers were fully occupied. His spell only had a limited effect – he wasn't completely entombed, but he was still covered up to his elbows, and as he dug himself out and blinked sand out of his eyes he shouted, "Sound off! Jazan!"
A pause. A longer pause. Jazan threw the last sand off himself, fumbling his wedding ring off his finger, fear making him clumsy and threatening to capsize his reason more thoroughly than any explosion. "Esmeralda, help me find your mother – Mirzah, get Sir Cyrex! Quickly!"
It was normally quite difficult for a mage to locate a non-mage. But Nabile had meant so much to Jazan for so long that her essence left signs for him as clearly as any magic did, and to help him focus he had his wedding ring, linked to hers by centuries of tradition and all the spells Jazan had layered into each of them to connect them and protect her. She always disputed how much protection she'd actually needed, but Jazan had always thought that it was better to be safe than how sorry he'd been when Razul attacked Sakhmet and he was almost too late to do anything.
The ring tugged in Jazan's hand, leading him at a run to a deep drift, where he started digging in the grit with his hands. Then a small cyclone started scattering sand much faster than he could, and rather than waste his time with physical force Jazan helped Esmeralda with her spell until he could see a pink hand trying to reach into the dusk, at which point he abandoned the spell and pulled Nabile out.
She supported herself on his arms, spitting sand and taking great gasping breaths, and looked up at him. "Is... Aldie... okay?"
Esmeralda cannoned into her mother. "I'm fine – Mama, are you hurt?"
She nodded. "I'll be... fine. Just... a minute." Jazan kept her from falling as she coughed. Brynn called, "We've got Cyrex! Looks like he took a knock to the head, but I think he'll be fine. He's got a skull like oak."
Hanso said, "We need to start digging – our idiot explorers might still be alive down there, and we need them to tell us what happened."
Jazan muttered, "I'm not sure what's worse – the fact that you think you're in a position to call someone else an idiot, or the fact that you're right." He strode over to the crater where the third hill had previously been and started the cyclone spell – Esmeralda and Mirzah lent their power, and soon sand was flying out of the hole.
Cyrex was still unconscious – Brynn tended to him, while Hanso, Nabile, and Sambar waited nervously. Then Esmeralda asked, "Father, do you remember when Caspar and I were little and Lady Sandstorm broke out of her prison and created a volcano in the desert?"
Jazan reached the conclusion and winced. Mirzah said, "Do us a favor, Aldie, and don't think of anything else cheerful."
Nabile asked, "Why did we get stuck with all of the imprisoned horrors from previous millennia? Why couldn't they go somewhere that will welcome them – like the Wood, right to the Fyora-blasted north?"
Sambar asked in horror, "You don't think it's Aurajar himself, do you?"
Hanso said, "But Aurajar's dead!"
Mirzah said grimly, "We were all pretty sure that Razul was dead, too, and you know how well that turned out."
Hanso looked over at Jazan. "So, when you're dead, you may still come back and haunt my descendants?"
Jazan rolled his eyes as he focused the tip of their cyclone – he was starting to get tired, and he could feel through the spell that Mirzah and Esmeralda weren't doing much better. "I'd have to care to want to go to the trouble."
And then he heard the noise – the sound of something crashing underground. He held up a hand for silence, and he heard the faint yells of, "Help! Help! Anyone there?" The shouting ceased, but the pounding continued – it sounded as if the explorers had found a gong, hoping that there was someone else up in the borderlands to hear their racket.
Jazan noticed Esmeralda shiver – as the sun disappeared, the temperature was dropping rapidly. "Let's push and finish this – they must have been sheltered by the remains of the tomb. We'll get them out and then find a sheltered place to camp for the night."
Hanso bent over by Cyrex's prone form and held up a horn. "Would this bring nasties down on us, or should we let them know we're coming?"
Jazan thought for a second – most "nasties" would be scared by the sound of a military horn, rather than drawn. "Do it."
Hanso – rather over-enthusiastically – blew several loud, short blasts. Immediately, the gong below redoubled, and Sambar snatched the horn and blew a distinctive pattern into it. The pattern was repeated below, and Sambar played it once more. The Elephante grinned. "Sounds like they're doing fine below – at least the evening wasn't an entire disaster."
Jazan felt power flickering in their spell – he realized that Esmeralda was on the verge of collapse. He told her, "Esmeralda, you've done enough. Mirzah and I can finish this. We're almost there."
She shook her head. "I can do it. Caspar's been feeding me some power."
"He can't feed you any power if you've torn through all your own – there's only so much your body can do at once."
"You trusted me to come along for this – I can pull my weight!"
"Esmeralda, get out of the spell. You've done plenty."
Nabile warned, "Esmeralda, do what your father tells you."
Jazan didn't want to have to waste his own strength to force her out of the spell, but before he had to make the choice to do so anyway the Desert Ixi swayed and fainted. Mirzah said, "All you lumps, get over here and help me dig! We're almost there! Jazan, Nabile, go take care of her."
Jazan used some power to send a light over the darkening scene – light spells were difficult for him, tainted by dark magic and long years under a curse as he was, but with some effort a globe of light lent a faint golden glow to the remains of the third hill. Nabile was already at their daughter's side. She asked, looking up at him, "Will she be okay?"
Jazan knelt beside them. "Just knocked herself out when she overreached. You know I've done it to myself plenty of times before. All young mages do it. She'll be fine." He shook his head. "Silly girl. Trying to prove herself. I'll need to give her a few safer ways to do that." He sighed. "Since she doesn't have Caspar's aptitude for paperwork, she hasn't gotten as many chances as he has. No wonder she was so excited for this mission."
Nabile laid a hand on his shoulder. "If you start blaming yourself I'll throw my sandals at you. Her 'aptitudes' are for things that tend to be far more dangerous than paperwork, and she knows that as well as we do. And she's been begging to go on missions with you since she was six."
Jazan chuckled. "She tried following us out of the palace – she had to drag the sword she'd taken from the armory because it was too heavy for her to lift."
Nabile laughed as well. "Or the time she fell down the main stairs trying to take that halberd from the suit of armor."
"We've got 'em!"
Jazan left Esmeralda with Nabile and scrambled down into the pit – Sambar and Mirzah were helping the gangly Kougra boy climb out of a chamber that was still mostly buried beneath the sand. As they pulled him clear, Hanso and Brynn extended arms to the blue Wocky woman. Jazan knew his own duty – he helped Roxton out of the buried tomb. He no longer looked smooth – he was dirty and exuded weariness. But he still had that insufferable grin. "Thanks for getting us out of a tight spot there, Jaz."
Jazan couldn't cause the rest of this band any more trouble than it already had out in the desert at night with two people unconscious. So he couldn't turn Roxton into a Scamander. He still informed him, "Call me that again, and you're going right back in there."
Hanso shrugged. "I don't know – I kinda like Jaz. Kind of a nice nickname. Kind of... peppy. Perky. Fits you well!"
Jazan gritted his teeth. "And you'll go in there with him."
Nabile called down, "If you try nicknaming him, I'm not going to stop him when he starts blowing things up."
Mirzah barked, "We've got two people unconscious, and that big lump of Faerie Knight muscle isn't going to move himself! Let's get out of the open before something comes along and eats us!"
Jazan glared back at Roxton. "You call me King Jazan. Or Your Majesty. I reserve the right to use my first name for people I actually like."
Roxton pushed himself to his feet and staggered after them up the hill – Mirzah had to support the Wocky, and Hanso had to support the Kougra. That left himself, Nabile, Brynn, and Sambar – he said, "Sambar and I can carry Cyrex. Nabile, Brynn, will you get Esmeralda?"
Sambar remembered where a cave was where the eleven of them could take shelter, and so he and Jazan led, carrying Cyrex. To take the mind off his weary legs and the pain in his arms from supporting his half of the mutant Ixi, Jazan listened to the conversation behind him. The blue Wocky was Clara, a researcher – the very researcher who'd found that accursed scroll. The blue Kougra's name was Jordie, and he traveled with Roxton as an assistant. Altogether, it was a group of people that Jazan thought had absolutely no business charging through forsaken tombs in one of the most hostile areas in the desert.
They spread cloaks inside a fairly roomy cavern with a narrow mouth in order to make places to sit and recline, and some wood that young Jordie had salvaged from inside the tomb served to make a fire. Jazan used some of the last of his reserves to make it burn slowly and brightly – the light would last until dawn.
He looked around the circle. Esmeralda and Cyrex were still dead to the world, and Jordie had fallen asleep slumped on the cave wall where he sat – he was older than Neera, but not older than the twins. Nabile, Mirzah, Sambar, Hanso, Brynn, Roxton, and Clara all sat silently.
So Jazan decided to put an end to the wait. "What happened in there? That hill dissolved into sand!"
Clara looked up at him – her wide eyes were haunted. "There were traps in the tomb – we managed to get past them. It wasn't too much of a problem. But then, when we got to the final chamber... the moment we were in there, the sarcophagus opened, and we saw him..."
Roxton shuddered a little. "He just climbed right out of there – a Zombie Draik dripping with gems and gold and silks. But I've seen other zombies before, and they all had empty eyes. They aren't supposed to be smart. Dead dudes aren't. But his eyes – they were red as blood, and you could tell that he hadn't lost any intelligence. Maybe some sanity, though – he just looked at us, laughed, and then everything exploded."
Hanso rested his face in his hands. "He escaped."
Brynn sighed. "Just like Aldie thought. Are we going to be able to take a sword to this Aurajar, or is he one of the nasty magical menaces?"
Jazan didn't answer her. Instead, he stared straight at the two explorers. "If that fiend destroys my city, hope that he destroys you as well, or there will be a reckoning for this." There was an undead monstrous sorcerer-king out there, and Aurajar would probably want to reclaim his city and his throne. He could fly – he could reach the city long before dawn. Nabile shot him a warning glance – he didn't care. The folly of these two had created this situation.
Mirzah said, "I'll wake Aldie. She needs to warn Caspar and Nightsteed."
Nabile said, "She exhausted herself!"
Sambar shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Qasala needs all the time it can get – they need to prepare for an attack."
To be continued...