I Will Stand Alone: Part Three
Jazan walked anxiously up to his room, trying to put everything he could together in his head. He wished he could try and write a list of what he knew and what he needed to know – writing always helped him sort out his thoughts – but he didn't dare put any of this to paper.
He knew that there had to be some sort of larger-scale conspiracy going on. Asyir had been arrested for something suspicious, and Masazi had practically given herself up – though the fact that it had taken Razul three attacks to subdue her would cause him to fume for the rest of the day.
That was it! Masazi had to have been a diversion! Perhaps other conspirators were hiding sensitive evidence, or packing their bags, covering their faces, and joining the first caravan out of town.
He hoped Nightsteed had managed to find Seji. The dungeons were full of listening spells – and Jazan didn't like his chances of managing to foil all of them for the time that it would take to find Masazi and Asyir and piece this together. Seji was the only possible key to unraveling this mystery.
Jazan didn't want to think about the consequences of failure. If he didn't find these people and either help them or convince them to desist, Razul would discover them. And for every real conspiracy Razul discovered, the fertile fields of his paranoia grew ten more. It hadn't happened in years, and Jazan had been too little to be even a slightly realistic threat the last time a brutal crackdown had occurred. But he didn't give much for his chances should it happen again.
He thought fondly of the book he was reading. In that, the king was a wise and benevolent figure – good to the people in his realm and invaluable to the heroes. The only people who had to fear his wrath were those who tried to hurt the kingdom.
He'd read books and scrolls with kings like Razul as well. And at least in stories, Razul could be called what he was. Evil. A villain. A monster. All those words ran through Jazan's head when he saw his father's strange pale grey eyes, though he knew he would never be able to say them out loud – not until that final day when it would come to a head between them.
He paused outside his door and did his normal check. And that was when he realized that there was a cloak over the listening spells in the hallway. It was a well-made one, too – as Jazan studied it carefully, he realized that it would allow the sound of footsteps or doors opening and shutting to pass through, but block dialogue. He didn't yet have the delicate skill to work something like that.
Then a voice said softly, "I paid a small fortune for this thing – I'm glad you seem so impressed."
Before Jazan even turned to look, the slight sibilance on the "s" sounds let him know that he was talking to Lord Seji. He didn't take any time for pleasantries. "What are you doing?"
Seji had been holding out an elaborate amulet. He slipped it into the pouch at his waist and folded his arms. "Waiting for you to let me into your room so we can talk somewhere private. You're a mage, Prince Jazan – I'm certain you've got the place sealed tight."
Jazan asked, "How do you know I'm not going to just tell everything to my father?"
Seji shrugged. "Call it intuition. Asyir and Masazi have said that we can't trust you, but I don't think you're loyal to that rat."
Jazan winced. "We probably should go inside my rooms, then, before anyone hears you saying those sorts of things."
Seji added cheerfully, "Anyway, someone's had Nightsteed running all over Qasala trying to hunt me down, and the only ones who could make him do that are you or the old man. I decided to be optimistic and hope that it was you."
Jazan finished his magical sweep and unlocked his door, then shut it securely behind them. "It was me. It's safe for us to talk in here – my own spells protect us, and I can't find any others."
Seji pulled out his amulet again and whispered a few words – now Jazan recognized it as charm magic. That sort of spell could be bought and activated by even a non-mage by tying it to passwords and a physical object. He'd never tried it himself – he preferred to be able to get rid of all evidence of any of his spells. He didn't want anything getting back to Razul that might displease him. Trying to be polite, he offered, "You can sit down."
The Hissi immediately sprawled across the comfortable chair – Jazan had to take the desk chair. He acted casual, but that was when Jazan noticed how wearily the Hissi held his tail, and the shadows under his eyes.
Seji shook his head. "I know I look like ten miles of bad trail, Prince Jazan, but I haven't slept. I've been on the move since the guards came for Lord Asyir last night. Somehow they got wind of the fact that we'd been talking, and you know the king – that's enough."
Jazan said, "I saw you talking with him yesterday. That spell of yours couldn't keep someone from seeing you, and you looked plenty suspicious."
Seji winced. "You did? We've been meeting in that hall for weeks – it's easier to try and work right under Razul's nose. He doesn't have as much cause to think you're hiding something if you're here every day."
Jazan asked grimly, "When has he ever needed cause?"
Seji laughed bitterly – variations on that joke were common among those unlucky enough to live or work at the palace. But then he said, "I need your help, Prince Jazan."
Jazan said quietly, trying to resist the urge to shake the tired Hissi and ask for what, "Please, call me Jazan."
Seji nodded. "Jazan, then. I need your help. It's not just myself, Asyir, and Masazi – there are a handful of others involved as well, and all besides me have families. If I can't cover our tracks get and those two out of here, we're all doomed."
That was when it hit Jazan. "Masazi – just now – she was a distraction so you could get up here to talk to me!"
Seji nodded. "Even though she doesn't trust you, she had to admit that you were our best chance. And since she didn't know anything that Asyir didn't, she couldn't cause us any extra harm if she told Razul what she knew.
"She knew we need you, Jazan. If there's any hope of getting them out of Qasala alive, it's going to be if you help us. We all know that you spend more time with the king than anyone else, and that you've got some magical talent."
Jazan paused. He knew what the right thing to do was. He knew how he was going to answer Seji's plea.
But that didn't mean that the idea didn't scare him half-witless. This was going to be extraordinarily dangerous. Jazan had smuggled things out from under his father's nose before – artifacts, documents – but never people. And not only would he have to overcome the risks, but he'd have to do so in such a way that not a thing could be traced back to him. He'd do Qasala no good if he had to flee for his life to another city.
Seji misinterpreted Jazan's silence. "Please, Jazan. You know that Asyir and Masazi have two daughters – Kirielle and Pashki, neither even as old as you. You know the king would like nothing better than two little hostages to ensure their parents' good behavior."
Jazan sighed. "Of course I'll do it, Seji. But you'll need to give me some time – if at all possible, I'd like Razul to keep thinking that I'm his loyal little halfwit."
Seji said grimly, "You know we don't have all the time in Neopia, Jazan."
Jazan said, reminding himself to be patient, "I know that. But rushing into this will land us in irons right next to Asyir and Masazi."
Seji let his head rest against the back of the armchair. "Sorry, kiddo. I'm on edge."
Jazan opened his desk – he had a restoration potion in there for when he either didn't want to or couldn't afford to go to bed at a decent hour. He tossed it to Seji, who drank it in a gulp. "Ah. That hit the spot. Where'd you get it?"
"Made it myself." Jazan was already trying to figure out how he could find where Asyir and Masazi were being imprisoned without arousing suspicion. But when he turned around, he noticed the Hissi looking at him with a pensive expression. Finally, he said, "You aren't the two-bit mage everyone thinks you are, are you?"
Jazan couldn't help but smile as he realized that, since he was already defying the king, he had no need to keep his talents secret from this ally. He could use every bit of strength, intellect, swordsmanship, and magic that he possessed, instead of always holding back. "Not in the slightest."
The Hissi smiled in return. "And thank Fyora, that's the best news I've had all day. Let's see if you can top it. Kiri and Pashki are at my house right now, hiding – do you know anyplace more secure we can take them? Someplace where they can be safe until it's time to leave the city with their parents?"
And Jazan stood. "It's your lucky day, Lord Seji – I do."
To be continued...