Scarab Queen: Part Three
Nabile opened the door to the mages' vestibule, and immediately had to throw herself to the ground to escape a glass carafe that came shooting at her head. It crashed against the wall behind her, and she heard a cry of, "Look at what you did, you idiot! You nearly killed the queen!"
"It wouldn't have killed her – I could have changed her back!"
Nabile looked up just in time to see a mage – a Mynci she didn't know by name – hit a Meerca apprentice upside the head with a furled scroll. The Meerca put his tail over his eyes. "Sorry, Your Majesty."
Nabile picked herself up off the floor. "No harm done. I've brought some papers from Jazan for Kiyaa. Do you know where I can find her?" She smiled at the poor apprentice once he looked up again, to let him know that she didn't take it personally. It wasn't as if it had been on purpose.
The Mynci pulled over someone else to ask where Kiyaa was – the mages' vestibule served as a high-ceilinged, bright common room where numerous mages were either working or resting. And it seemed that when mages were concerned, especially apprentice mages, working and resting were rather at cross-purposes.
The Mynci said, "She's up on the second floor in her own workroom." There was a balcony that ran around the vestibule and led to the second floor rooms – Nabile nodded her thanks as he pointed, and took her papers off in the direction he mentioned. She skirted a few tables with fruit and drinks, and dodged a few bigger tables where people had clustered around experiments. Especially since at one of those tables a clay pot shattered just after she'd gone by – she looked around warily for steams and smokes.
She climbed the stairs and looked down at the bustle. This was new. Mages had typically kept to themselves during Razul's day, she'd been told, as he was quick to decide that a group of friendly mages was probably a conspiracy against him, and even quicker to stamp it out once he'd decided that. But the mages – many of whom had served under Razul – had known that it wasn't like that at other places. Maybe that's why the chaos below seemed to have an almost festive air. The mages were still celebrating living in a time and place where the queen would actually believe that a carafe flying at her head had been an accident, where they work together and speak together without being accused of treason.
Nabile was glad she'd had a small part in making that happen – and maybe she could have a bigger part in making sure that it stayed this way.
She knocked at the door to Kiyaa's workroom – it had a plaque on it that said "Chief Mage." The sign had been smudged by something so that it appeared to read "Chief Nag." Nabile snickered – she doubted that that had been accidental. Nabile called, "Message from Jazan!"
The door opened – it was Mirzah, a little blue Acara with long coppery hair. "Nabile! From the king?"
Kiyaa strode up behind Mirzah to take the diagrams that Jazan had drawn, her green robes swirling around her. The tall strawberry Kau frowned. "Do you know what this says?"
Nabile squinted at it. Jazan's bold handwriting was normally quite neat, but sometimes when he was in a hurry the words ended up blotted or squished together. "Uh... is chikat a word?"
Kiyaa nodded. "It's a certain type of spell anchor. That makes sense."
Mirzah asked, "Why didn't you get someone else to run this over here?"
Nabile sighed. "I like walking. And I thought it might be good to learn a little more about what the mages are working on over here. When I looked downstairs it seemed to mostly be making things blow up."
Mirzah ran to the door to look over the balcony at the vestibule below. "Oh, I told Dianto that it wasn't going to work! Dianto, you used too much of the reactant, you blockhead!"
Nabile asked Kiyaa, "He's a young man. Don't they tend to see blowing things up as the point?"
Kiyaa pointed at a silver streak in her black hair wryly. "Most certainly."
Nabile looked sidelong up at the imposing Kau, with her lime green eyes and her voluminous flowing robes and veils. Nabile herself was probably a good deal closer in age to the aforementioned apprentices than she was to the Chief Mage. But Jazan liked and trusted her, and as a mage himself his endorsement had to be a valuable one. Nabile asked, "Are you doing work on the rebuilding?"
Kiyaa sighed. "The rebuilding. And the cataloguing of the archives. And the reassembly of the certification system. And then I go have dinner and work on pedagogy notes while I eat."
Archives? That was interesting. "What sort of archives? Magic texts?"
Kiyaa nodded. "It's a mix of actual scrolls and sheaves of notes. Most of the more recent things were written in code, too, so we need to decode everything before we even know what it's about. It's a nightmare, figuring out what we have, what's in all of it, and trying to decide how best to organize it so we can find it again later."
Nabile asked, "Will that go in the library, then?"
Kiyaa rolled her eyes. "Don't get me started. Alcaras and Jimai nearly came to blows over it. There's a debate over whether mages or librarians are better suited for guarding magical texts. At least the king's provided for a place to lock up dangerous stuff, and he's powering the magical protections himself."
Mirzah walked back in. "I don't get why you aren't destroying the black magic texts. Isn't the whole idea that no one should be reading that nonsense?"
Nabile had actually had the same question, but hadn't wanted to ask it. Kiyaa sighed. "We need to be able to research it if we ever need to fight a sorcerer that has black magic at his disposal. Say Razul had bested the king."
Mirzah said, "The desert would have looked like a giant cinder." Nabile shuddered. Enough of Sakhmet had been ruined by that madman without the hypotheticals. Nabile still had nightmares about it.
Kiyaa rolled her eyes. "If he had bested the king, the mages of Qasala would have tried to make a unified stand. But we would likely have failed, for we wouldn't have known what he might have at his disposal."
Mirzah nodded. "So it's a know-your-enemy thing."
Kiyaa gave an approving smile. "Exactly."
Nabile asked, "How many texts are about dark magic?"
Kiyaa shuddered. "We've had Razul. We've had Jazan the Third. We've had Aurajar the Cruel. And aside from them, we've also had a whole host of other unsavory mage-kings and Chief Mages that just didn't do quite as much obvious damage. And I think some of their notes and sources were destroyed, but we still have quite a lot left to us. And we dare not destroy it, but we also dare not leave it out where just anyone could get to it. I've had to read some of it, and I have to take a tonic if I hope to sleep the night after."
Nabile had noted the mention of Jazan the Third – which meant her own Jazan, Jazan the Fourth, had been named after an evil mage. And with what she knew about Razul, that didn't surprise her even slightly. But he was rising above what his father had tried to make him and what the curse had tried to make him, and Nabile would do all she could to help him. She asked, "Is there anything I need to take back to him?"
Kiyaa shook her head. "Just let him know that I'll look over those plans and edit them for the specific mages attempting the assignments. If I run into any major issues, I'll talk to him, but otherwise I'll probably just approve them and have all those maniacs outside get to work – saves them just sitting here eating us out of house and home. Mirzah!"
Mirzah was holding a Quando Fruit in her hand, with a big bite out of it. Kiyaa scolded, "Mirzah! If you're to be working with those reactants I have laid out for the warding spells, you can't have Quando juice all over your hands! Do you want to blow us all to Kreludor?"
Mirzah said, "And remember that Onas wanted to speak to you. You okay, Nabile?"
Drat it, she must have reacted to hearing Onas's name. And why was he going to speak to Kiyaa? What might he say about Nabile this time? She said, "It's nothing."
And there was Onas – the spotted Yurble stood at the door already. He bowed to Nabile when he saw her, the hypocrite. "Good day, Your Majesty."
It was all she could do to not tell him to speak to her to her face the way he did behind her back if he wasn't too much of a coward for it. Instead, she composed herself. "Good day, Lord Onas. I was just bringing some plans to Kiyaa. What are you working on?" She might as well try the question on him, even though he didn't expect it to work."
He just gave her a little smile. "Nothing you need to worry about, Your Majesty."
Mirzah snapped, "It's about the outcropping between Onas's holdings and Sarikash's lands. There might be silver there, and they're talking to Madame Kiyaa to see if there's a way to find that out by magic. They don't want to send out diggers unless they're sure it will work."
Kiyaa said, warning in her tone, "Mirzah."
Mirzah subsided, glaring at Onas. Nabile could have hugged her. And Kiyaa smiled at her. "I'm glad you're here learning – I know the king wishes he could do more with the College, but he has his own duties. Tell him about the silver, will you? It might give him something interesting to think about during committee meetings."
Nabile was pretty sure that meant that Kiyaa had noticed Onas's petty little slight as well – and she'd taken Nabile's side! The tall mage actually believed that Nabile had a brain in her head, and it heartened her.
Maybe the mission Nightsteed had set her might be possible after all – as she left the chaos of the vestibule behind her, it seemed well within her reach.
To be continued...