The Golden Elephante: Part Five
A thousand years ago Qasala was an empire that stretched the entirety of the Lost Desert. After the ruling family was declared mad and they lost their grip on the various cities under their rule, the empire fractured apart, with each city forming a warring state that fought fiercely to gain the upper hand against the others and gain the right to rule.
Oesh was the name of one such city-state. We were a small city, but our worth was in the fact that beneath our sands lay that metal which all pets crave: gold. As soon as the soldiers from Qasala left Oesh to protect the capital, a group of magicians rallied the people to protect our city. They set up magical barriers to protect the city against invasion, and instructed the non-magical pets to form an army in case the rulers in Qasala managed to subdue the other city-states and came back.
The most gifted of the magicians were the twins Ata and Atsu. They were identical shadow Scorchios, and by themselves they were powerful, but together they could accomplish feats that even the other magicians in Oesh combined could only barely match. Other city-states around Oesh tried many times to conquer us for our gold, but with the might of Ata and Atsu at our head they did not stand a chance.
Then the arguments began. Atsu wished to rule the new kingdom, and launch invasions on the others around us to create his own empire. But Ata only wished to protect his home. He had no interest in other kingdoms, but was happy with the wealth in his own. And he was adamant that a non-magician should be the ruler of Oesh, otherwise their power would be too great.
Their arguments raged throughout the city, palpable in every building by the chill that seeped into every pet, even when the sun was at its apex in the sky. Sometimes they would resort to exchanging spells, the sheer power turning parts of the city to rubble. But most of the pets of the kingdom supported Ata: They were happy with what they had, with no wish to lose lives to other pets in needless fighting.
Finally, Atsu declared that his brother was weak, and that anyone who sided with him would be brought down with him. He tried to blast his brother into dust, but the other magicians joined with Ata and together they drove him out of the kingdom, casting a spell to exile him forever. But before the Scorchio disappeared forever into the sands, he used the last of his power to cast a curse.
At his gesture, the winds around the kingdom picked up, creating a roaring sandstorm. The waves of sand hit the kingdom and would have buried us completely if not for Ata. He in turn cast a spell in the palace on a golden statue of an Elephante. It drained him of his power, but the winds stilled once more, and when they cleared Atsu was never to be seen again.
Ata warned that the curse was still lingering in the desert, waiting for a chance to consume the city. By draining all his power Atsu had cast the spell for all eternity, and the only thing holding it at bay was the golden Elephante that sat in a room of the palace. If the statue were ever to be removed from its spot Atsu's curse would return in full force. So the King at that time set guards to watch it at all times, to stop the curse from being released once again.
King Saladin cleared his throat and made a motion with one claw. Instantly a white-robed attendant was at his side with a tray containing a jug of water and glasses. The King helped himself to a drink and then turned solemnly to face his guests.
"A few months ago a pet came out of the desert. A fire Scorchio called Odion who told me he was a magician looking for work. Hardly any magicians ever come our way anymore: The gold we once had has almost been depleted, so we're not as important as we once were. And several centuries is enough to thin the magic of any kingdom. Odion was talented and charming, so I immediately seized the opportunity and invited him to stay as one of my magicians."
Here he shook his head sadly. "And then about a week ago I woke up in the middle of the night to find Odion standing at the foot of my bed. In his arms he held the Golden Elephante, and his smile was triumphant as he told me that he was here to avenge his forefather. He swept out of the room and I found that I couldn't move until he was gone.
"As soon as he left, I hurried to the room in the palace that holds the statue. The guards were unconscious, and the pedestal was empty. So I went to the nearest window. We have very tame weather in Oesh. There is barely any wind and storms only occur a few times a year. But already I could see the wind was picking up again. He had set off the curse."
"That was a week ago," Tazaa said when it was clear that he had finally finished his tale. "But in your story the curse came on very fast."
"My magicians believe that because the curse has been dormant for so long it must still be trying to regain its full power. We are lucky in that regard, otherwise Oesh would have been buried long ago. We have been evacuating the citizens to the Undercity while waiting for your arrival."
"Do you have any idea where this Odion went?" Tazaa asked, looking perplexed. She also looked quite stressed, and Souvier guessed that she had never been on such a tight schedule before. Judging by the raging sandstorm outside there would be a few days, if that, before the Kingdom was completely buried.
"He's in the Undercity," Doshi interrupted before her father could speak.
"Now, sweetie, you can't possibly know that," King Saladin said indulgently.
"It's not just me. Hadya can feel it too. If we both concentrate really hard we can feel the power of the statue beating away," the younger Ruki insisted. At this her twin looked up for the first time, nodding gravely. "I know you can't feel it father, but we're twins like Ata and Atsu, and together we can do things that we wouldn't be able to alone."
Souvier looked at Saladin, who had a sceptical expression on his face. He seemed embarrassed that his children were acting this way, possibly even as a joke. But Tazaa looked entirely convinced, her left ear pricked up slightly as if she was listening to a small sound.
"Doshi, Hadya, please go to your rooms and wait until dinner," Saladin said. "I'm sure our guests don't want to be bothered while they decide what to do."
Doshi, who appeared to have a permanent expression of discontent on her face, scowled even more and held out an arm for her sister. They linked arms and walked out of the room together, but judging by the look she sent back at them, she wasn't finished chatting.
"You'll have to tell me the story of that despairing paint brush later, Professor," she called over her shoulder.
Souvier sighed. What had he gotten himself into going on this crazy adventure? King Saladin watched them slip through a side door and then turned back to Tazaa.
"I had a suite of rooms set aside for you as soon as I sent my messenger, and they're large enough for the Professor as well," he told her. "I know the task we have set you is difficult, but as I stated in my letter, the rewards shall be great if you are successful. My entire kingdom's fate lies in your paws. I shall see you at dinner."
An attendant leapt forward and led them out of the room, through a door opposite the one the princesses had left through. More richly decorated passages passed by until they stopped in front of a pair of handsome wooden doors, decorated with the same gold filigree that seemed to be the trend in the palace. They were left on their own, and Tazaa pushed open the door.
"Gosh, he's such a dramatic type, isn't he?" she said as they stepped inside.
The floor was covered in plush blue rugs, and vases of desert plants decorated the antechamber of the rooms. It was speckled with light, as the windows had been covered by the same canvas as those in the throne room, but gauzy curtains hung open around the window frames, if a little forlornly from lack of use.
"I mean, handing over his entire kingdom's fate to a random stranger? Seems a bit weak to me. He's probably too scared of failing his people to try himself. If I were him I'd listen to his daughters. Doshi was right about one thing; twins are special creatures, and I believe her when she says together they can sense the magical artefact. Ha, look at this!"
She had ventured into the first room, and was now lying sprawled on a low-lying lounge that was overstuffed with cushions. Or it had been. Most of them had been dislodged by Tazaa as she rolled around luxuriously. She finally settled in a position that was apparently comfortable, although Souvier couldn't fathom being comfortable lying on his back with his neck hanging over the edge of the couch and his back legs stuck up in the air.
"Incidentally, did you know that Doshi means 'fury' in the old Desert dialect, and Hadya means 'calm'?" she asked him from her upside-down position.
"You do have the strangest knowledge sometimes," Souvier said, choosing one of the scattered pillows on the floor and sitting on it. "But it certainly would explain their personalities. Perhaps you should be the professor here?"
"Oh, don't take that so hard," she said flippantly. "People respect other people with titles."
"But they don't respect people who lie. And I'm not too comfortable with lying, either," Souvier said sternly.
She directed her sad puppy eyes at him. "I apologise, Souvier," she said, rolling onto her stomach, and reaching out to touch his shoulder. If it was an act, it was very convincing. He shook his head and sighed.
"Well there's nothing we can do about it now, so wha-?"
He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Tazaa was instantly alert, one paw creeping into her robe. Souvier scooped up his spear from where he had dropped it on the ground with the rest of his belongings, and went to open the door. He expected an attendant to be waiting outside, or a guard, but at first he saw no one at all until he looked down.
Princess Doshi scowled up at him with her sister hovering behind her, anxiously looking back and forth across the hallway. Without any sort of greeting the Ruki pushed past him, dragging Hadya behind her. He was left to shut the door behind them, slightly perplexed.
"Who is it?" Tazaa asked, peeping her head around the doorframe of the other room, then grinning as she caught sight of their guests.
"Princesses," she said, executing a curtsy with flawless grace for a pet who normally walked about on four legs. "How did you manage to sneak all the way over here?"
Souvier was taken aback by the greeting. He was an expecting a, 'How is your health?' or an, 'It's a pleasure to have you in my presence.' Neither of the princesses looked too concerned, however, and Doshi stalked past to the lounge, offering for Hadya to sit down first before plonking herself down firmly.
"It wasn't too hard, with most of the staff down in the Undercity," she said. "Anyway, Hadya and I are here to offer you our help. There's no way you can find the Golden Elephante by yourselves, so you'll have to take us with you."
To be continued...