The Golden Elephante: Part Nine
The trip up to Oesh was rather tense, but Souvier and Tazaa took turns scouting ahead while the other carried the statue. This involved swapping the lapis ring around so that Rashidi could accompany whoever was scouting and do the real scouting himself. They emerged into the Undercity without incident and Souvier guessed it was day because there was a lot more movement than there had been before.
"How do we sneak past?" he asked, ducking back into the tunnel.
"We don't," Doshi said, sounding much more cheerful than he had ever expected to hear. She raced off, towards the city, and several minutes later came back with a dozen guards trailing after her.
An impressively built Tonu stepped forward, a scowl on his face.
"You're lucky that the princesses are safe," he growled at Tazaa, towering over her yet failing to make the impression he wanted, as she didn't seem at all fazed.
"You're lucky we found the Golden Elephante," she returned, then in one swift movement dumped it in the Tonu's arms. It was done with such skill that Souvier would have missed it if he had happened to blink. "Here, you help carry this. We need to hurry."
Souvier admired her authoritative tone as the guards obeyed her, another one coming forward to help carry the statue and the others forming a ring around the four pets. Doshi and Hadya led the way, heading towards a larger tunnel that was not the same one they had entered through; the time for sneaking was over.
While they walked Souvier eyed the only guard holding a spear, adjusting his grip on his own to mirror theirs. It felt strange gripping it like this, but it had stopped dragging the butt of the spear along the ground.
The wide tunnel became a number of carved steps in the stone, and these led to a pair of wooden doors. Souvier noticed that as they approached it that he could hear an insistent drone. One guard rapped sharply on the wood, and whoever was on the other side opened the doors to reveal an empty chamber that Souvier guessed was in the palace, judging by the stone and the filigree on the door opposite.
"The Princesses are safe! Thank Ata!" said a voice, and Souvier recognised the Grarrl guardsman who had accompanied them to the palace the day before. Or the day before that, as he wasn't sure how much time had passed. The guard ran forward, then gave the Ruki a low bow. "The king has been so anxious about you, he hasn't slept a wink since you left." Then he spotted the statue. "You've found the Golden Elephante! Well, maybe his Majesty won't throw you two adventurers in the dungeon, after all."
"He'd better not," Tazaa muttered so low that only Souvier could hear. "I nearly got fried for the stupid thing."
The Grarrl opened the door into the rest of the palace, and finally Souvier could see what destruction the curse had wrecked.
The canvas that had been stretched over the windows had now come undone on most of them, flapping wildly as sand poured through the holes. The drone he had heard earlier was much louder now as the wind buffeted the building. Souvier quickly wrapped his headscarf over his face and squinted through a window as they passed. Sand had filled the hallway several centimetres deep and was piled against the left wall. He could see that a number of buildings in the city were now almost buried by sand, and knew that in a few hours they would be completely covered. They had arrived just in time.
The doors to the throne room were open when they arrived, and it was full of sand flying around as it fell through the windows above. There were less than two dozen pets there other than the king, a few guardsmen and some others wearing gold and white robes. Souvier guessed that everyone else had finally withdrawn to the Undercity. But King Saladin stood in the centre of the room, sand gathered up to his ankles as he fretted back and forth, not even noticing the storm around him. He looked up as they entered and his face became joyful as he saw his two daughters. They, in turn, raced towards him and leapt into his outstretched arms, and he held them for a long time, before finally looking up.
Souvier saw a trace of anger in those eyes, but then it disappeared.
"I have been informed by my wilful young daughters that it was entirely their idea to accompany you, which I suppose I already guessed. So I won't be angry at you. Instead, we should celebrate at having our golden protector back in our hands. What of Odion?"
Souvier exchanged a worried look with Tazaa. They had no idea. But they were saved the trouble of answering by the Scorchio himself as he materialised right above the king's head.
"I'm here, Saladin," he said. Then he shot a ball of pure white at the king.
Souvier finally discovered the identities of the white-and-gold robed pets, as they instantly reacted. The ball of light hit an invisible barrier and disintegrated, and other balls of light shot up towards the renegade magician. He laughed and waved them away, then swooped to the ground, landing with a thud that made the entire palace shake.
"He's powerful,' Rashidi said in Souvier's ear, and the Krawk realised he was still wearing the lapis ring. "I don't think the others can take him, because he'll just pick them off one by one."
By now the guardsmen had joined in, several drawing bows and shooting at the Scorchio. The arrows burst into flame a metre from the magician and then fell to the ground in ashes. The guards who tried to attack him directly with their weapons found that they encountered an invisible barrier, and he easily blasted them away as they had no magical protection. Souvier saw a magician fall unconscious to the ground and then a spell shot towards him. He ducked behind the nearest thing – the statue, which had been abandoned on the ground by the guards – and heard a deep ringing sound as the spell hit the metal and then faded away.
Curious, he peeked out from behind it. Rashidi was right; magic seemed to have no effect on the statue. And that gave him an idea.
A dagger shot past him and streaked towards Odion, but it swerved away at the last second and skittered across the floor. He heard Tazaa curse, and she stalked past him, hackles raised and a growl rumbling from her throat. Quickly, before he lost his nerve, he heaved the statue up and headed towards where the fire Scorchio was standing. A spell flew towards him and he lifted the statue across his chest. It hit the gold metal and generated another ringing sound, but surprisingly he didn't feel any impact.
"Even if I can't destroy the statue I can make sure it is lost in the Desert, never to be found again," Odion's voice rang out. He saw Souvier heading towards him and chuckled, shooting another spell. "Why, thank you for bringing it to me, you miserable-looking pet."
The Scorchio turned away again, obviously thinking that his spell had found its mark, but once again it hit the Elephante and disappeared. There were only twenty metres separating Souvier from Odion now, and he broke into a run, muscles aching so much that he feared he would tear them. But he managed to reach the space where Odion's shield-spell was and ran straight through, statue absorbing the magic. Instantly, all the spells that had failed to reach the Scorchio before now hit their target, and he was lifted into the air and flung against the far wall. His eyes were wide with surprise, and then they fluttered closed.
There was a few seconds where everybody in the room stood still, a little stunned by what had happened. Then the magicians still left standing rushed forward and surrounded the unconscious Scorchio. Souvier saw a tangle of magical threads weave into the air around him, and guessed they were sealing his magic somehow. The guards that the magician had attacked were slowly picking themselves up as well and he heard soft footfalls behind him.
"I'll take that," Tazaa said as she hauled the statue out of his arms and deposited it on the floor without ceremony. Then she began to dust him off, a futile exercise in light of the fact that the sandstorm was still raging. "That was one of the craziest things I've ever seen, and I do crazy all the time. But hey, it worked, which is all that matters." She pulled him into a tight hug, and he returned it, feeling relieved.
"Well done," said a voice behind him, and he let go of Tazaa to see King Saladin standing there, nodding. The king then turned to the guardspets. "Come, let us take this statue to its rightful place."
The guards that had managed not to be hit by Odion's spells picked up the statue and followed the King as he strode from the room. Tazaa grabbed Souvier's arm and dragged him along even though all he wanted to do was fall into a heap and perhaps sleep a little. Outside in the hallway Doshi and Hadya were waiting next to the Grarrl, who had been holding Doshi back during the fight. They all joined the little procession as it waded through the sand that filled the hallways.
After about fine minutes and several tiring staircases they reached a door that was covered in so much gold that Souvier couldn't tell if it was wood inlaid with gold or the other way around. The King swung open the doors.
They were perhaps in one of the only rooms in the palace that was free of sand, and this was because the room had no windows. The walls had been set with the same glowing stones that the princesses had taken to the Undercity, and these cast just enough light to see the stone plinth that rose in the centre of the room, hieroglyphs carved on every side. Other than the plinth the room was empty. It was quite small, only about four metres wide and long. The guards carrying the Golden Elephante moved forward.
When they had finally arranged the statue on the plinth, there was silence. The wind outside had simply stopped. Souvier tapped his ears once or twice, the lack of noise sounding strange after the ceaseless roar of moments ago. A few of the other pets in the room did the same, but most of all they all looked relieved. Rashidi had floated over to the pedestal and was examining it. He reappeared at Souvier's shoulder a moment later.
"It's the story of the twin magicians that Saladin told you, if I'm not mistaken," the Hissi said. "Although some of the hieroglyphs are a little different to what I know."
Souvier gave a tiny nod to show that he had heard, wondering how Tazaa had managed not to give the spirit away for so long if he was always chattering like this. King Saladin turned towards where he and Tazaa were standing.
"I think a feast is in order for our brave heroes!" he cried.
As it turned out, the feast had to be postponed for more than a week, as the Kingdom needed time to rebuild. Odion was ensconced in the dungeons of the palace, diligently guarded by the magicians. The sandstorm hadn't done much in the way of damage to the city, but it had left a substantial amount of sand in the streets and buildings. This needed to be manually scooped up and carried out of the city, to be dumped on the dunes outside. After sleeping for half a day Souvier had tried to stretch his sore muscles by helping the citizens, but they had all insisted that he stay in his chambers.
"I feel useless," he said to Tazaa, who was lying on her back on the lounge in their entrance room. He was watching from the window as the pets tried to put their lives back together, and he felt absolutely wretched that he was stuck in the Palace.
"You should get used to it. When you do someone a favour, like save their homeland, they want to show their gratitude," she said. She was holding a book above her head, and it was in danger of falling straight onto her face. He had asked for paper and pens as well as a few books, and the result had been a stack of paper up to his knee, more pens than he could hold in both hands, and a few hundred books dumped into their quarters. He had discreetly asked Doshi for any children's books she could find, and she had brought a few of her old ones. These he was using to teach Tazaa the more simple words to read.
He was sitting at a desk he had dragged in from another of their dozen rooms and was writing out notes in his neat, printed script. Using the books he had been given as well as the vast amount of information in Rashidi's head, he was starting to write a history of the Qasalan Empire a thousand years ago. He had been surprised to find out that the Hissi had been about thirty-five when he had died, and that most Pharaohs reached the throne after that age. But the Hissi's suggestion that he actually try and become a professor had struck a chord.
"Ke-yan-oo sat on the... th-rone?... out-side his – oh, curse this!" Tazaa said, putting the book down carefully and looking agitated. The first time she had gotten fed up she had tossed the book across the room, and Souvier had lectured her for about ten minutes about it. "Goodness, I can't wait for them to finally throw that feast in our honour so we can go back to Sakhmet. I know you like spending your time reading, but all it does is give me a headache. I want to go back and see if anyone has left messages for me.
"I don't get even get why Ata put the counter curse on a stupid statue, anyway. Wouldn't it have made more sense to cast it on the palace, or something?"
"Stop avoiding reading," Souvier said patiently without looking up. "Besides, Odion probably wouldn't have stopped at trying to blast the palace apart."
"Yes, keep reading," Rashidi said. Even though the ghost Hissi couldn't physically write he had endeavoured to learn how to read this unfamiliar writing himself.
Tazaa gave them both evil looks, then picked up the book once more. Souvier smiled to himself, realising that it was almost time for him to go and drill with the guardspets who had offered to train him in the use of his spear. He didn't mind staying here for a while, but when she left he would probably go with her. When he had come to the Lost Desert he hadn't a clue what he wanted to do, but now he knew that he could probably travel with this Gelert and her Hissi friends and never get bored of it. He was now an adventurer and a professor and more. He was her friend.
Author's note: This is not the end for Souvier, Tazaa and Rashidi! I hope you enjoyed reading ^^.