Kings and Curses: Part Seven
Jazan stood at his scrying ball, holding on to the spell that connected them over vast distances as Queen Fyora covered her eyes with one pale hand. "Well-meaning fools often do more harm than all the evil in this world ever could."
Jazan snorted. He had his opinions about "well-meaning." He'd warned that Roxton. He'd told him it was dangerous. And he'd gone and done it anyway, and they were all going to suffer for it. "We've got until sunset until Aurajar comes back. Last night the attacks weren't too bad, but I doubt they're going to get any better."
Fyora shook her head. "I remember Aurajar from of old, when I sent the army to help put his son on the throne. He liked to test his enemy first before revealing his full strength. He will return with the force he judges necessary to subdue Qasala."
Jazan found that his fists were tightly clenched. Why couldn't the evil kings of Qasala stay dead? Why did they always end up leaving themselves a tie to life in order to return and try to extend their cruel reigns? "I wasn't here last night, nor were our finest. He'll find our city won't submit to him a second time. One tyrant in a lifetime was more than enough for any of us who endured that curse."
Fyora nodded. "I wish I could aid you, King Jazan, as I have before. But there has been an attack from the Dark Faeries who practice the shadow arts in the Wood."
Jazan winced. Shadow arts were nasty, and harder to trace to their creators than a Horus on the wing. Queen Fyora had just as big of a headache on her hands as he had on his. "We can handle him."
The queen said, "Qasala has been one of Faerieland's staunchest allies. If your cause becomes desperate, call upon us. We'll find someone who can answer."
Jazan's first instinct was to shake his head. He didn't want to rely upon Faerieland's power whenever he had a problem – if his people couldn't survive without the Faerie Queen, then Qasala was no better than a territory of Faerieland. But he held those thoughts in. Fyora didn't see herself as queen of Neopia, merely a benefactress.
But he still intended to let faerie aid remain the very last resort. He tried to persuade himself that, with shadow-magic arrayed against them, the faeries would need every single hand they had, and that this wasn't a gesture born out of pride.
Queen Fyora said, "The forces of darkness are massing in many places in these troubled times. Remember – while light fears and hates darkness, darkness fears and hates light."
With that, she left the spell. Jazan sighed. Of course two intrinsically opposed forces feared and hated each other – what did she think he was, a five-year-old?
That was the one compensation to being infamous for a short temper. Rarely did people expect wisdom from him – they just expected him to get the job done. And no one ever needed him to dispense pithy sayings as if he were some sort of Fyora-forsaken Shenkuu fortune cookie.
He looked out the window – the air was still hot and golden, a scorching yet beautiful afternoon. He counted off who he'd need – every mage in the city to start out with, and then anyone who could shoot a bow. He wanted to keep Aurajar's mindless minions as far away from the city walls as possible. Anyone who went out beyond those walls needed to be heavily armored – at least that wouldn't be too much of a burden in the chill of the night. He'd want to keep groups throughout the city – in case the zombies got in, the citizens would need to be protected, and Aurajar had to be kept from reaching the palace and the magical relics that Jazan kept at all costs.
Jazan considered those for a minute. Most of the really harmful artifacts and spellbooks were tightly bound – spells and more mundane locks ensured that only he, Caspar, or Mirzah could open them. But there were plenty of lesser power sources that Aurajar could use, and Jazan had to leave them free so he could draw on them himself.
So could Aurajar get through the wall defenses? Jazan didn't think so, but he couldn't leave anything to chance. So there would have to be a layered defense, with as many as could be spared waiting in reserves.
That meant that there was a lot to organize and not a lot of time to do it in, and he hadn't had nearly enough sleep the night before. Jazan opened a drawer and pulled out a restoration potion – he took a long, deep drink and felt much better. He removed that bottle and several others, and was glad that as a rule he kept plenty of this particular draught at hand. All of his mages and commanders would need magical help to be sharp again tonight. They couldn't afford to let themselves become weary.
"Oh! Energy potion!" Nabile took the half-empty bottle from him and drained the rest of it. "I hope you've got plenty."
Jazan looked at the row of bottles he had, and then leaned out the door and shouted, "Someone tell Mirzah we need more energy potion!" He heard running feet – there was always an apprentice or two lingering near his workroom, writing out their homework as they hoped to be on hand to help with something important.
Nabile tucked a few loose dark hairs back behind her ears. "Sambar asked me to come get you, to talk about the plans." Then she looked up at him. "I wish you could take just a little time to rest."
He sighed. "I wish we could all take time to rest, Nabile. But Aurajar won't."
Nabile pointed out, "Aurajar's dead already. He's not trying to win this battle on restoration potions and coffee."
Jazan nodded. "At night we're weakest and his minions are strongest. He's counting on that. There's not a person in this palace who can let themselves sleep tonight." He drew his sword – it was mirror-polished and deadly sharp. "We need to be ready for anything that old maniac can think of to throw at us."
She set her hands on her hips. "You're planning to do something heroic, aren't you?"
Caspar and Esmeralda weren't the only ones in Qasala who had picked up his habit of using "heroic" to mean "stupid." Jazan reassured her, "Only if I have no other choice." Then he looked at her again and realized that she was dressed in the Qasalan military uniform, fully armed. "And it appears that I'm not the only one."
She informed him. "Between you and your insistence on always being the one to take the risks, and the fact that Esmeralda's so excited to be fighting I think she may try to take the whole zombie army single-handed, I'll have my work cut out for me looking after you two."
Jazan covered his eyes with his free hand. "If Esmeralda tries it, she can join Roxton, Clara, and Jordie in the 'try not to mess things up worse' room." Before he'd spoken to Fyora, he'd told Roxton in no uncertain terms that if he attempted to leave the palace tonight he would be taken directly to the dungeons. That Lutari had as many good intentions as Hanso had stupid jokes, and they were worth about as much. Jazan wouldn't allow him to make this mess he'd started even worse through his folly.
There was nothing else to be done here – he loaded the flasks of energy potion into a bag and went to go find Sambar.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, Jazan walked through the city with Sambar, Nightsteed, Mirzah, Caspar, Esmeralda, and Nabile. Hanso and Brynn stayed with the group at the main gate as Jazan oversaw the placement of other soldiers throughout the city. They had to be ready for anything – they had to plan for the worst-case scenario, where Aurajar would manage to breach the city walls. Too many wars in history had been lost because the inner defenses couldn't hold after the outer ones were breached.
He noticed with dismay that many of the soldiers were frightened, on edge. He couldn't have expected otherwise – his own hair was prickling at the thought of facing zombies in the night. But sorcerers like Aurajar could turn fear into fuel for their spells. So he did what he could, trying to convince people that they were strong, they were capable – they were Qasalans, after all. They'd survived one monstrous madman of a king before, and they could survive another.
A horn-call echoed across the desert as the last rays of sun fell. It didn't sound like the bright, rich Qasalan or Sakhmeti horns – it was lower, more eerie. Ghostly. Jazan ascended the steps to the walkway above the city gate. Out in the darkness he saw a zombie with a scrap of white rag tied to a sword. It was a mark of contempt. Zombies couldn't negotiate terms – they couldn't even speak. So Jazan shouted, "Aurajar! If you want to parley, come and face me yourself!"
He heard him before he saw him – the sound of leathery wings echoed in the darkness. And then Aurajar entered into the light of the torches, landing in the sand outside the gates just out of bowshot.
He'd been a big Draik in his day, tall and strong. Underneath the pale zombie skin, the framework of that physique was still evident. He was dressed in the death-ornaments of a king – gold and jewels and silks. He bore a sword, and his eyes, like Roxton had said, were blood-red and alive with both cunning and malice. He asked, his voice rasping from long years of disuse, "What petty little lordling dares to call upon me?"
Jazan drew his own sword. "I am King Jazan the Fourth, the ruler of Qasala!" At least he knew Aurajar was an enemy – there was no need to waste time pretending to be polite. "This is my city, and these are my people – crawl back to your tomb, you old wraith!"
Aurajar's eyes narrowed. "Old wraith, am I, boy? Bow to me now, or bow to me later – it's your choice, you foolish princeling."
Jazan shouted for the benefit of the army in earshot. "We'll never surrender, Aurajar! Never."
Aurajar nodded once. "Very well."
In a rush of flame, he disappeared. Zombies burst out of the sand, and wraiths coalesced in the darkness. As captains shouted orders arrows flew, and winged Neopians shot over the walls to engage their enemy more closely.
The battle had begun.
To be continued...