King of the Land of the Sun: Part Four
Altador and Jazan walked back to the palace – Kelland had pointed out that they were a little too noticeable for the information-gathering stage of their plots. They'd be called back when it was time for the hunt and the fight – or, in Jazan's case, any magic that needed to be worked.
Jazan muttered, "Masila." He used the name as a curse.
Altador said, "We'll need to warn the rest of the Council. The regular Thieves' Guild is bad enough, but rogue Thieves' Guild members with Masila at the helm could lead to nothing short of disaster." His shoulders felt heavy with the weight upon them. Most people had thought that Masila was out of favor and spending her time avoiding Kanrik, who had more reason than most to dislike her. But if she was here with other rogues behind her, threatening aggressive expansion, she was plotting something – likely something far more complex than Altador knew how to deal with.
Jazan said, "I'll continue to lend my hand. If they get a foothold in Altador, all they have to do is cross the mountains to reach the Lost Desert, and there are far too many warlords and southern kings who would like nothing better than to ally with them against Sakhmet and Qasala. They need rooting out, and Masila needs to see the inside of a dungeon cell."
Altador sighed. "And all of the legal wording for the treaty still needs to be worked out."
Jazan asked, "What do you have clerks for? We agree to give aid in times of war or disaster and trade freely with each other in times of peace. What more is there to say?"
Altador nodded. "True. Bureaucracy makes everything more complicated, it seems." He added, expanding on something he'd been thinking about recently, "Yet the alternative to bureaucracy is tyranny, and that's not a trap that our people can afford for us to fall into."
But Jazan clearly wasn't listening – he was lost in his own thoughts. Altador stopped trying to make conversation and focused on their surroundings instead.
So he saw the shape on the rooftop in front of them raise a crossbow and fire.
Instinct took over, and he threw himself into Jazan, knocking them both to the ground as a crossbow bolt shot over their heads. He could tell that he'd knocked the wind from Jazan, but even as the Kyrii gasped and coughed a shield flickered to life around them, and the next shot shattered against it. Altador said, impressed, "You can make a shield with the breath knocked out of you?" Jerdana was powerful, but he doubted she could have created a shield that quickly, without even being able to breathe.
Jazan said, breathing deeply as he got to his feet and the shield expanded to allow for that, "Combat magic. Shields, force attacks, augmentation of my own fighting ability – it's what I do best. And someone just tried to kill us." They both looked up toward the rooftop, but their attacker was gone.
Altador thought about it. He was the king here, and the leader of the Council. If he was killed or laid at Death's door, the Council would be weaker for it, and the Thieves' Guild would have an opportunity. But Jazan was a strong ally, a skilled fighter, and a battle-mage, and the Thieves' Guild would prefer that he be removed from the investigation. Either of them could have been the target – or both.
He realized in horror, "We don't know how long they were tailing us. They might know that Nymala's helping us. They might also go after Nymala, or any of the young folk." He shouted, "Guards! Guards!"
Two young guards ran down the street – they hadn't been too far away, though far enough to prevent them from realizing their king had been shot at. They were abashed enough by this failure that they promised to do all they could and more to find Nymala, Laila, Constantine, Tristan, Hestra, and Julius immediately and bring them to the Council chambers. Altador thought that they'd be far safer there – they all knew too much, and were working against the Thieves' Guild, and Altador refused to let anything happen to them if he could prevent it.
Jazan frowned as the guards departed. "If they're already trying to kill kings, they've got big plans here. I've never heard tell of any Thieves' Guild – even the nasty ones like you have on your hands here – killing leaders before. They prefer to bribe them."
Altador didn't like trying to think his way through plots that twisted and tangled more than the streams that ran through his city. He said, "We need the Council, and whatever minds you and Amira brought with you. We need to head her off, and to do that we need to find out where she wants to go."
Marak sniffed. The Peophin asked, "Why would I know the mind of a thief?"
Kelland had returned, and while Constantine and Tristan had taken Nymala and Laila for a tour of the Hall of Heroes and the surrounding gardens, Hestra and Julius had remained, sitting at the feet of the Techo thief's chair. All three of them scowled at once.
Jerdana restated, "We need to think of what she might be planning."
Altador looked around – Torakor and Sasha both looked bored. Florin and Fauna were talking to each other rather than listening to Jerdana. Marak was clearly disdainful, and that was just as clearly irritating Kelland. Gordos appeared to be the only other one who was actually putting thought into this. Jazan and Amira were also pondering, seated on benches that had been brought in to hold their guests, but their advisors had no more to offer than Altador's.
But Kelland finally said, "I think it probably has to do with Kanrik."
Gordos said, confused, "But I thought you said she tried to kill Kanrik."
"She did. And we all thought that she was smart enough to lie low and keep out of his way if she intended to continue breathing. But if she intends to become a power player again in the Thieves' Guild and in Neopia, she's going to need a way to protect herself from him."
Jazan said, "A city in chaos. That's why someone tried to kill you, Altador. She wants to either take a throne for herself or become the power behind it. That's the sort of strength she needs to protect herself from Kanrik – or to return herself to power over him."
Jerdana's eyes widened. "Killing Altador alone wouldn't weaken the Council enough. We all must be wary – the assassins may target all of us."
The blue Shoyru who had come with Amira said, "I mean no disrespect, King Altador, but I suggest that the Sakhmeti and Qasalan delegations depart. I'm certain Masila wouldn't mind leaving Sakhmet and Qasala leaderless and vulnerable to her machinations as well."
The Qasalan general and sorceress both looked to Jazan. He said, "I have promised to stay. But perhaps you should return, and make sure that no gang with delusions of grandeur gets no chance to root itself in the desert while I'm not there to stop it."
Amira said, "But the treaty..."
Jazan said, "That's why we used magic. We can complete the treaty later."
The desert delegation's belongings hadn't even been moved from the corners of the room – in a matter of minutes, all of the desert-dwellers but Jazan were standing in the center of the room, and Jazan, his fellow sorceress, and Jerdana sent them back to their homeland.
But after that had been handled, Marak said harshly, "Wonderful. Not only is our city overrun with thieves and murderers, but we aren't going to have the treaty."
Kelland cried, exasperated, "Sweet Fyora! If you don't have anything helpful to say, do us all a favor and stick your head in the fountain so we don't have to listen to you!"
Sasha gasped. "Kelland!"
Altador muttered to Jazan, who was standing by his side, "Is this what it's like having children?"
Jazan shook his head. "Mine are smaller, cuter, and too young yet to fight."
Jerdana sighed. "We wish."
Flora had tried to step in between Kelland and Marak, but the techniques that worked so well on Petpets had little effect on the thief and the warrior. Kelland snapped in response to a comment by Marak that Altador had missed, "At least I'm not a big dumb hunk of muscle with a spear where his brains should be!"
Torakor got to his feet, and rumbled, "Who're you calling dumb muscle?"
Oh, sweet Fyora. Altador stood himself. "Silence! There's no need for this." He gestured at Hestra and Julius. "At the very least, think of the example you're setting for the children."
Most of the Council looked at least slightly abashed, but Marak pointed out, "They're street urchins. I'm certain we can't be worse than what they've already seen."
Altador glared at him – he prided himself on having a much milder temper than Marak or Torakor, but there were limits. "I do not recall leaving an exception for you in that command, Marak."
Marak glared at him.
Hestra raised her hand. "Could I say something?"
Torakor asked, "Why's she get to talk?"
Before Altador could reply, Jazan cut in, "She's cuter, she's quieter, and we like her better." Kelland snickered, and the huge Grarrl raised a fist at the little Techo.
Hestra said quietly, "If you think she's going to attack all of you, is it a good idea to stay here?"
Julius's eyes lit up. "It's like when we run from the guards! If we split up, there aren't as many of them to chase each one of us, and they give up sooner!"
Marak sighed, but one sharp look from Altador kept him from making any comments.
Jerdana said, "But the Council must stand together to defeat Masila. If we depart from here to our homes, how will we do that?"
Fauna asked, "Don't you have communication spells?"
Jerdana replied, "Yes, but to keep so many intact for so long would be a drain – I would be able to do nothing else with my power to aid the Council."
And that was when a small dark object sailed over Sasha's head to land in the center of the room. Altador saw smoke, and sparks...
Jazan shouted, "Down! Down!"
Altador and Kelland both lunged for Hestra and Julius, throwing themselves over the children. At the same time, red and gold magic flashed in the corners of Altador's eyes as Jazan and Jerdana tried to stop whatever the device was from exploding.
But there wasn't enough time – Altador had barely hit the floor before there was an explosion behind him, and the world vanished in light and sound.
To be continued...