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Desert Requiem: Part Eleven


by kalnya

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      Once upon a time, he thought that there could be no greater tragedy than that of a city whose entire inhabitants had been transformed into freaks overnight.

      That was before he discovered the solitude of being the only one in the city who was a freak.

     

*

      The citizens of Tuzra were used to visitors, but even their notice was attracted by the arrival of this particular stranger.. He was strange as well as a stranger, a striking Blue Uni who displayed neither the vanity nor gregariousness commonly associated with his species. Instead, he was grave and reticent, and instead of vanity, exuded pride. He was a living paradox: he looked younger than twenty yet was more world-weary than one who was eighty; he knew the streets just as well as a local yet seemed more lost than a newborn babe. The few words he exchanged with the townspeople involved inquiries after sightings of a young female Desert Cybunny who "conducted herself uncommonly well". A few townspeople countered by demanding to know what his business with said female Cybunny was, to which he responded by gazing at them steadily until the brazen inquisitors stammered out their apologies and subsided.

      The stranger left before dusk, despite the fact that there were good inns in the town and wicked beings lurking in the wilderness surrounding. Even more curious was the fact that he bore absolutely no provisions, and none of the merchants could recall ever receiving his patronage. They all saw the diamond-encrusted gold bracers around his forelegs, however, and muttered darkly about how it was a miracle that bandits had not yet made an attempt on him, wihout realizing just how many had foolishly done so.

      However, the last individual to desire his bracers had not been bandits, but a sorceror. Their paths had crossed when Khalid was travelling along a stretch beside the Klanan river. He came upon a Blue Krawk who was lazing upon a flat-topped rock. The Krawk observed him for a moment, and then slipped off his rock.

      "Greetings, friend," the stranger called. "Devices of Communion such as yours are hard to come by. I have been seeking a pair for my collection."

      Khalid walked past him without acknowledgement. The Krawk fell into step beside him. "Name your price," he persisted. "I'll have you know that I am quite wealthy."

      He met with further silence.

      Finally, the sorceror said, "I see that you are firm in your refusal. Very well." He made as if to leave, but suddenly twisted about and threw a vial of liquid at the bracers.

      Khalid neighed and reared, gathering fire to his hooves. But the Krawk dove into the Klanan and was lost to its blue depths.

     

*

      When evening came, Sayidah took the path out of the city and lounged beneath a grove of palm trees just outside the city perimeter. If anyone asked, she was merely enjoying the scenery, but in reality, she was waiting. Half an hour later, a giant, two-headed Scorchio alighted a few metres away from her. There was a harness strapped to the Scorchio's back, as if for a rider.

      The Scorchio's left head queried, "You Lady Sayidah?"

      Sayidah said, "Yes. You must be the help Lady Nuria promised. I am pleased to meet you, Scordrax."

      The figure of Scordrax was well-known to her by reputation. Her cousin Ashari had described how Sakhmet had been terrorized by a fire-breathing, two-headed monster, whose identity and history Khalid later explained. Scordrax was not a native of the desert — she hailed from a now extinct race of giant (and mostly one-headed) Scorchios who once ruled the skies over the Tyrannian mountains. She was only a young cub and alone when Jazan and Khalid stumbled across her half-starved form in the Plateau. They nursed her back to health and, unable to locate her people, brought her along with them in their travels. When she grew to the full size of adulthood, Jazan transported her to Tsenda, where she remained until Jazan's wedding. Khalid mentioned that she now resided in a lush valley somewhere to the south of Qasala.

      The Scorchio rumbled pleasantly in acknowledgement. "Scordrax bring you back to Qasala."

      Sayidah could hear shouts coming from behind her. She clambered into the harness without delay. As they took to the air, Scordrax's right head briefly turned back to blow a raspberry at the city watch.

     

*

      "Good evening to you, Master Khalid."

      The Nightsteed's body did not start, but his crimson eyes shot up towards the direction of the speaker.

      Shasef had landed on a boulder not far from him. He folded his wings and sat down. "I bring joyous tidings," the Draik grinned.

      Khalid asked, "Where is she?"

      "Safe in Tuzra. We arrived shortly after you left. When she found out from the townspeople that you had been there, she bade me follow you."

      "Do you know that the Scarab Amulet has gone missing a second time?"

      "That's exactly why she sent me after you." Shasef reached into his cloak and drew out the much contended object. "She wants me to tell you that it has been found again. And she wants us to unlock Ramseth's Vault and remove the Book of Thoki. She reasons that it is the only way to discourage future attempts on the Scarab Amulet."

      "Jazan has already tried to unlock the Vault once and failed."

      "That's because there were actually two keys that were needed to unlock the Vault. Sayidah found that out the other key was actually a key chant. She's an extraordinarily clever girl in that way. You may think that I'm the one who's the protector in this little adventure, but she has saved my hide more than a few times, I'm not ashamed to say. Anyway, she imparted the key chant to me, which I'm willing to disclose to you, so we should not encounter any death spells this time around."

      "...You have bonded over the course of your self-imposed exile."

      "I wouldn't call it exile; it was always her intention to come back."

      "Why did she leave in the first place?"

      "Probably for the same reason why, instead of coming to you herself, she dispatches me as her messenger-boy." Shasef heaved a melodramatic sigh. "Well, here's the last message: she thinks that it is best that the two of you never see each other again. She is grateful for the friendship you have shown her but laments that it must come to an end. After our mission is accomplished, she will head to Qasala to reunite with her father, and afterwards return home to Sakhmet. She asks that you do her the favour of not making an appearance in Qasala until she has left. That is all."

      Khalid rose abruptly to his feet. "We make for Ramseth's Vault now," he said lowly.

     

*

      The rim of the sun was barely over the horizon when the city of Qasala materialized in the distance. Scordrax flew along at a swift pace, causing the scenery to flow past in a blur. Sayidah had slept but little during the non-stop flight of the night, yet she did not feel the least bit drowsy. Part of it was the exhilaration of flight; another part was anxiety to reach her destination in time to put everything to rights. Scordrax did not seem tired either, despite having done most of the wingwork; the two heads could take turns sleeping, with one brain controlling their shared body while the other shut down to rejuvenate itself. It was a fascinating adaptation.

      They were now close enough to Qasala to discern the outline of every building and structure — its walls were no more than metres away — they had crossed the perimeter and were now flying over the city proper. The citizens who were out and about looked up in surprise as Scordrax's form overshadowed their path, with several waving in greeting. Scordrax made directly for the palace, stopping in the air above the inner courtyard and hovering low enough for Sayidah to hop down. The Cybunny smiled at the astonished sentries and politely asked for her arrival to be reported to the king and queen.

      Nabile was the first to appear. She took two steps out of the archway before freezing in her tracks.

      Beside her, Sayidah heard a deep growl reverberating in both of Scordrax's throats.

      Nabile squared her shoulders and glared back at the gigantic Scorchio. "Don't think I'm afraid of you, you overgrown Ettaphant with Queela Dip breath! I'm the Queen of Qasala, like it or not!"

      Sayidah felt a curious sensation akin to being plunged into a conversation of which beginning she had missed. The guards, however, appeared to be more enlightened than her; their expressions ranged from resigned to concerned to highly entertained.

      Jazan caught up with his fleeter-footed wife at last. The moment he saw the scene unfolding in the courtyard, he immediately turned about and made as if to head back indoors.

      Nabile arrested him by the back of his robes. "Oh no, you don't!" she hissed. "She's your responsibility! You talk to her!" The Queen shoved him forward and marched to a safe distance away, where she motioned for Sayidah to come to her.

      Jazan slowly rubbed his temple like one anticipating the onset of a migraine. Scordrax's manner underwent a 180-degree turnabout. She bellowed joyfully and flew up to Jazan, both pairs of eyes shining like the reflection of starlight off the mirrored surface of lakewater.

      Jazan briefly shut his eyes, as if he found even the reflection of starlight blinding. "Scordrax," he began sternly, "I told you in explicit terms that you were not to set foot in Qasala without my express permission. Well, what have you to say for yourself?"

      Scordrax indicated her airborne state and said, "Scordrax foot not touch ground."

      "Scordrax!"

      Both heads emitted a penitent whine. Scordrax's left head murmurred, "Scordrax help Master Jazan. Scordrax return Master Jazan's friend." while pointing piteously in Sayidah's direction. The right head assumed an injured expression and tragically placed a hand over her — their? — heart.

      Jazan's asperity softened a notch. "That was what you should have said in the first instance, instead of trying to be contrary."

      On the other side, Nabile was busy telling Sayidah about the "ridiculous" conspiracy theories people were cooking up surrounding her disappearance. Halfway through the alarming recount, Sayidah felt a presence come to stand beside her. She looked up to see her father.

      The ambassador looked as if he hadn't slept or eaten well for days. A sudden stab of guilt forced Sayidah's gaze downward. "Father, I..."

      Farisem enveloped her in a fierce hug. "Oh, Sayidah, thank Coltzan you're back!"

      The dagger of guilt buried itself more deeply into her. "I... I'm so ashamed, Father. I don't have the right to call myself your daughter."

      A loud bellow reminded them of Scordrax's presence. They turned to hear Jazan say, "...and you must promise never to harass Nabile again, if you want me to continue to look favourably upon you." The right head nodded in furious agreement even as the left darted disdainful glances at the queen.

      They all watched as Scordrax's green bulk flew away into the distance.

      Jazan strode towards Sayidah and said, "I was going to tell you off soundly when I saw you again, but dealing with Scordrax has expended the last of my righteous indignation. So, instead: What have you to say for yourself?"

      Sayidah's expression was solemn. "Plenty, Your Majesty. May we move to more private quarters for discussion?"

      To Be Continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Desert Requiem: Part One
» Desert Requiem: Part Two
» Desert Requiem: Part Three
» Desert Requiem: Part Four
» Desert Requiem: Part Five
» Desert Requiem: Part Six
» Desert Requiem: Part Seven
» Desert Requiem: Part Eight
» Desert Requiem: Part Nine
» Desert Requiem: Part Ten
» Desert Requiem



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