Kings and Curses: Part Nine
Neera and Jessamine stayed at the gate – Hanso and Brynn accompanied Jazan, Nabile, Sambar, Caspar, Esmeralda, and all the soldiers who could be spared. Jazan said, "Mirzah's there, right?"
Caspar nodded. "She said she was going to pour all the power she could find into the threshold, so it would keep the undead out of the palace."
Jazan winced. "I wish she hadn't done that. She should have gotten well clear."
Nabile looked up at him. "That means that you think you're the only one who should take stupid risks."
Jazan sighed. He knew that everyone had to take some risks tonight, but he didn't like seeing Mirzah putting her life on the line when he could have done that particular duty. It was his responsibility to take anything upon himself that he could, in order to spare his people.
Then the wraiths leaped down from the rooftops. Jazan shouted, "Above you!" A knife flew through the darkness – Nabile's aim was true, but there were more where her target had come from.
Sambar bellowed, "Press through! They're a distraction! We've got to get to the guards at the palace!"
Jazan battled his way through outstretched claws – Esmeralda and Caspar stayed close to him. They fought well together. That particular bond they had meant that they seemed to know when danger threatened their twin, even without seeing it. Nabile was nearby as well, and Jazan helped cover her whenever a wraith was more than she could take, and she dived in to attack whenever a particularly cunning one slipped in too close for him to attack it with his sword.
They fought their way to the nearest square – with more room to spread out, the wraiths didn't have as great of an advantage, and they dispersed. Keeping his sword in hand, Jazan half-ran up the street at the head of the squads of soldiers. He knew that they didn't have much time – if Aurajar had the resources to spare to harass them, he must be fairly confident of his work at the palace doors.
How could he fight Aurajar? What could he use? Who could aid him?
Then he remembered what Fyora had told him. Remember – while light fears and hates darkness, darkness fears and hates light.
Enough light, and the dark magic that animated the zombies would be eradicated entirely. That was why they fled at sunrise – much more light than that would probably destroy them.
It would be a big spell, taking all the power they had. But with access to all the resources in the palace, it could be done.
The problem was that Jazan couldn't do it.
He stopped. He knew that everyone else was looking at him, waiting to see why he was pausing. But he had to make the choice. He couldn't do a big enough light spell, even with all that power. Light spells didn't come easily to him. His magic had its roots in fire and darkness, and the curse had tainted it further.
But the twins had power made of fire and light. If they worked the spell, it could have the power it needed. If he allowed his children to face this danger, to risk Aurajar's wrath.
There'd need to be a distraction. Someone would need to keep Aurajar from noticing the spell being built up until Caspar and Esmeralda could release it – since they were so young, it would take them several minutes to ready it. Jazan would have to play that part. He'd have to take the secondary role – no less dangerous, but still less critical. A part of him cried out against that, but he silenced it. His children were going to rule Qasala one day. If he tried gripping the throne, gripping his power, that would lead down a road that would lead to him becoming no better than the sorcerer they faced.
He said, "I've thought of something – but Caspar, Esmeralda, we don't have to do it if you're not willing."
Nabile's eyes widened. "Jazan, what are you suggesting?"
He said, "We need a light spell. The biggest, brightest light spell that Caspar and Esmeralda can manage. Draw on all of the power stored in the palace. Link to Mirzah to draw from the other mages. I couldn't do it – you know that my light spells are weak. But you two can."
They didn't even hesitate – they nodded at the same time. Esmeralda said, "You can count on us, Father."
But then Caspar frowned and asked, "What'll you be doing, then?"
Jazan told them, "I'll be keeping Aurajar away from you until you can get the spell put together."
Nabile shut her eyes and nodded once. Jazan knew what that meant. She was afraid for him, and she was afraid for the twins, but she knew as well as they did that this gamble was necessary. It hurt his heart to be causing her that sort of pain, but there was nothing to be done for it. Nothing to be done but to get to the palace as quickly as possible. He looked to the soldiers. "Your job will be to keep the wraiths and zombies away from Caspar and Esmeralda so they can work the spell."
With that settled, they began to run again. Jazan reached for Mirzah in his mind – she was weary, but she was holding on through sheer force of her stubborn will. He explained the plan to her by mind-touch as briefly as possible in order to leave them both with as much strength as he could. She agreed, and accepted her role as a link between the Qasalan mages and the twins.
That was what could be done – now all he had to do was keep himself alive until Caspar and Esmeralda unleashed the spell. He remembered reading now that a similar thing had been done to repel wraiths on Kreludor. Perhaps all of these ties among the Neopian kingdoms weren't so bad after all.
They were almost to the big palace plaza – the others remained in the shadows. Jazan noticed Nabile, Hanso, Brynn, and Sambar muttering to each other, but he didn't pay them any mind. He was preparing magical defenses around himself to keep Aurajar from catching him unawares.
As he did, he watched. Aurajar was hovering over the fountain, watching as the zombies attacked the wood of the palace doors with their axes and spears. Jazan winced – those doors deserved better than that. He'd laid enchantments to resist fire and attack into them with his own hands, which explained how they'd held out so long.
He wanted to be infuriating. He wanted to make Aurajar so angry that he wouldn't even consider checking for major light spells. So he pretended for just a little like he was Hanso, who was rarely without an irritating comment. He stepped out into the torchlight in the square and asked, loudly, "Aurajar, do you attack my doors because you don't dare to face me?"
Aurajar wheeled on him, gems clinking. "There you are, boy!"
Jazan gripped his sword tightly. "I am King Jazan the Fourth. You may call me Your Majesty."
He could feel the power gathering around Aurajar as the old sorcerer rasped, "You? Majesty? Get out of my way, boy, or die!"
Jazan was ready for the blast of magic that followed – he redirected it towards the zombies attacking the door, sending them flying. "It's me and you, Aurajar. Fight me."
And with that, Aurajar dived.
The old Draik was faster than he had any right to be – Jazan soon found out that they were much more closely matched sword-to-sword than he would have thought they would be. And Aurajar had the advantage of being undead – he wasn't surviving the night on an energy potion.
Round and round the fountain, they went – Jazan's breath began to come more raggedly, his heart to beat faster, his muscles to burn with the exertion. Along a dim channel in the back of his mind, he could feel the power gathering to the twins, but he didn't know how much longer it would take. He couldn't spare the project any more attention, for fear that one of the spells that Aurajar was hurling his way would beat his defenses.
He leapt up on the rim of the fountain to get the advantage of height, but Aurajar merely shot up into the sky and then plummeted down at him, sword at the ready. Jazan met the blow, but he was knocked off-balance, and fell to the ground, landing heavily. He tried to scramble to his feet, knowing even as he did that there was no way he'd make it in time.
And then an orange blur slammed into Aurajar. "Get back, you old relic! Pick on someone your own age!"
Jazan stood and lunged in time to stop Aurajar from spearing Roxton. He looked at the Lutari askance. "What are you doing out here?"
Roxton merely grinned as some wraiths dived at him. "Saving your bacon. Those two Ixis and that Kougra gave us directions."
Aurajar howled, "Attack!" As he did, Jazan looked up in time to see Nabile throw a knife out a palace window at a wraith – Hanso was up there as well, dumping old masonry on zombies, while Brynn seemed to be as proficient with a sling as she was with a sword.
Then Aurajar dived at him again as the battle began in earnest.
Jazan wished he had more time to devote to the fighters who'd followed him, but it took all of his concentration to avoid Aurajar's physical and mental attacks and to attempt to return some of his own.
He blocked a thrust and had one of his own blocked in turn, and prepared to try another attack he'd thought of. He no longer hoped to get the former king at his mercy – he would have been satisfied to merely cause him a surprise.
And then there was light!
White light, blinding light, that seemed to explode outward. For a moment, Jazan could feel the power inside it, the power of twin mages expanding and multiplying, giving the spell a source of power that even a Faerie would be hard-pressed to equal. But then he lost that in whiteness that surrounded him, making it almost impossible to feel anything.
Deep within him, there were still the marks that the curse had left on him. Jazan fell to his knees as a part of him cried out at the intrusion of the light, begging to be released back into the darkness. The remnants of the curse and the darkness of his own power couldn't stand this light any more than Aurajar could. Jazan could only kneel, try to cover his eyes, and hope that there was enough of the rest of him to hold together. He could dimly hear someone crying out, but the light deafened as well as blinded. He could see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, taste it – it was everywhere, everything.
But through it all, the only other thing he could recognize was the sound of jubilant laughter – the sound of two young mages allowed to unleash all the power they could handle, and thrilled with the results. He held onto that, hoping that it would be enough to help him remember who he was and keep himself from being swept away on the relentless tide of brightness.
Slowly, so slowly, the darkness returned and the pain ceased – Jazan found himself curled up practically into a ball. Slowly he got to his feet, every muscle protesting. He blinked again and again to try and erase the greenish afterimages from his vision. Nabile asked, "Jazan, are you hurt?" He could feel her hands on his shoulders, supporting him.
He told her, "Just scrapes and bruises – nothing major. How are the twins? And how are the zombies?"
Hanso's voice said, "All the zombies scampered. Why couldn't you have pulled a spell like that when we were getting our tails roasted after the faeries turned to stone?"
Jazan informed him, in no mood for this, "I'm not a twin, and I don't have any affinity for light. Now go make yourself useful."
Mirzah's voice reported, "Caspar and Aldie passed out from channeling that much magic – they used everything the mages had to spare and half of the power crystals you have in the palace as well."
Jazan smiled. "They did well."
He could hear the smile in Nabile's voice as she replied, "We'll have to tell them how proud we are of them."
He sighed. "They aren't little anymore, are they?" They'd saved Qasala. Jazan had helped, but only they could have landed that crucial final blow. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be comfortable relying on other lands for aid. But at the very least he could learn to rely on the skills of his own family – they deserved that from him, and more.
As his vision cleared, he realized Roxton was standing in front of him, his cocky grin plastered back into place. Jazan knew what was due, so he inclined his head slightly. "You saved my life – you have my gratitude."
Roxton gave an exaggerated bow. "My pleasure – provided you don't try having me locked up. Though I guess I could get Hanso to let me out again."
Hanso explained, "The guy's got more dumb luck than even I do, so we thought he'd be useful." Roxton raised an eyebrow at the Ixi, and Jazan briefly entertained the thought of locking them both in a room and seeing which one emerged alive. Then he just nodded. "Refrain from digging up any other tombs that I tell you to leave alone, and that won't have to happen."
Clara had walked up – she shuddered. "Don't worry. We're sticking with cleaning out the Shenkuu archives for the next few months."
The child Jordie whined, "I hate dusting archives!"
The Wocky sighed. "And I hate zombie kings." The three explorers walked back toward the palace together.
Nabile asked, "Should we go get Neera and Jessamine and tell them that their older siblings are heroes?"
Jazan reminded her, "We'll have to make it very clear to Neera that she doesn't have to follow in their footsteps, or she'll panic."
Hanso said, "Speaking of panic, Cyrex is going to throw a fit when he hears about everything he missed." Brynn laughed, and Jazan smiled as well.
Sambar rubbed his eyes. "What I want to do most is sleep."
The effects of the restoration potion were starting to wear off a bit – Jazan controlled a yawn, then said, "Well, it seems that we've work to do before we can sleep."
But at least they'd be able to sleep in peace, knowing that Qasala would be safe at the dawning, and for many dawns to come.