Shad and Saura: That Other City - Part Three
Art by ssjelitegirl
The door had looked no different from any other doors in the palace, apart from the two carved Kougra figures holding scrolls on it. The library, however, was huge, stretching through three stories. The floors had been broken down to join the three stories into one room but by the walls and the bookshelves bordering them the original floors had remained as balconies on which dozens of scholars and advisors hurried back and forth to find a document, do research, or work with Qasala’s old law system. It was a lively place, and apparently bigger than it seemed at first sight as the ornate roof stretched away over the maze of shelves farther left.
“If you need anything, come on downstairs and find me, the guards’ wing is just by the main entrance, to the right,” stated the Ixi. “Good luck.” He closed the door, leaving the two brothers in the library and, hopefully, to the end of their long journey and weird adventures.
“Excuse me.” Saura stopped a Quiggle rushing by. “We’re looking for an Acara named Artus.”
“Over there, by that shelf,” replied the Quiggle and hurried off. The brothers went to the shelf where an island Acara was putting books back on the shelves.
“Excuse me,” Saura began again, “are you Artus?”
The Acara turned around. He was at the age when you can’t say “young” any more but “grown up” is still a bit farfetched. Despite the ferocious face paintings that come with the Island color, he looked friendly and a bit nervous. “Yes?”
“We’re Tsuki’s brothers,” said the Zafara. “He sent you these books.”
“Really? Oh, yes, yes, I remember.” The Acara nodded hastily, curiously examining them both. “So nice to meet you, such an honor indeed, you went through so much trouble, you must be exhausted...” He took a few steps left and right, obviously not knowing what to do next. Eventually he put the remaining books in his lap on a nearby table, as small and loaded as it already was, and took the leather bag Saura handed him.
As the Acara opened the bag and took the books out, the two brothers observed him. It was hard to imagine this nervous critter being friends with Tsuki, the quiet and calm shadow Shoyru who spoke slowly and seldom. Yet they knew that friendship usually overlooks such things and Artus, despite his nervousness, seemed to be a nice and sincere Acara.
“Well, I must say, I truly am very thankful to both of you,” he stated after quickly flipping through the tomes. “These are exactly what I wanted, yes, absolutely priceless for my work, I can’t possibly thank you enough...” He bowed to the brothers as his eyes darted back and forth on them.
“Our pleasure,” smiled Saura. “Well, we’d best get going then. It was nice meeting you.”
“Pleasure’s all mine, pleasure’s all mine,” assured Artus. “Be sure to pay me a visit again sometime; it’d be lovely.” Suddenly his smile froze in his face and his eyes widened when the cheerfulness in them was replaced with a strange mixture of fear and awe. The library had fallen silent and the two brothers turned around quickly.
A pink Ixi in a long luxurious dress had entered the library. She was rather short and had come alone but her presence seemed to fill the whole room. Shad and Saura recognized her at once - no wonder too, with all the Neopian Times articles dedicated to her after she became the ruler of Qasala.
“Your Highness Nabile,” whispered a nearby Mynci, kneeling down. The others followed his lead.
Nabile looked at all of them a bit impatiently. “Come on, there’s no need for all that bowing and worshipping. I just want to know if Nightsteed came here a short while ago.”
“Indeed, my lady,” said a Tonu. “He left only a few minutes ago, after having spent about half an hour in the section of ancient writings.”
“Which books did he ask for?” demanded the princess.
The librarians shrugged in regression. “We don’t know; he worked alone there.”
“A lovely bunch of scholars you all are,” grunted Nabile, losing her patience for a second, then noticed Shad and Saura and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my.” She stepped closer as dozens of pairs of eyes followed her. “You two are visitors, aren’t you?”
“Yes, m’lady,” said Saura, sinking a little closer to the ground – due to Zafaras’ anatomy, kneeling is a bit tricky for them and he didn’t feel like losing his balance either. Shad, who lacked respect in most aspects of life, just waved his tail a little and bowed his head. “We just arrived,” added the Zafara, “and were actually about to leave. But as short as this visit was, it has been most stunning.”
“And really cool,” stated Shad with a wide grin. The scholars winced. Saura rubbed his forehead with a sigh. Nabile chuckled shortly.
“But you can’t leave just yet,” she said. “We rarely get visitors these days and the palace has plenty of room. I trust all my guards, and once they let you in, you should be reliable enough. Or are you in a hurry?” The brothers shook their heads. “Then you really should stay for a while – you will, won’t you?” The brothers exchanged glances and then nodded. Why not? Once the princess of Qasala herself asked them to stay, it would be rude to decline the invitation, and they indeed weren’t in a hurry.
“Lovely,” decided Nabile. “I’ll show you to the guest rooms in the western wing; just follow me.” She left the library and the brothers followed her, leaving behind a roomful of overly confused librarians.
“You’re being too kind, Your Highness,” said Saura as they went down the hallway.
“Nah,” shrugged Nabile, suddenly losing a lot of her proud and majestic aura. “Well, okay, guess I’m no stingy monster if you put it that way but this army of servants we have here won’t even notice that you’re around.” She glanced back at them over her shoulder. “Guys, no need to be all your-highness with me, okay? I’m not much older than you and I spent most of my life being a street urchin and a petty thief in Sakhmet and all this royal worshipping is burying me alive, really.” Nabile huffed. “In other words, I’m bored to death. As I said, we rarely get visitors these days and I barely know what’s going on in the rest of the world, Dr. Sloth could probably conquer most of Neopia and I’d find out two weeks later. I miss my old friends, who wouldn’t? And I miss the kind of life I used to have – okay, not the life of a thief but, you know,” she waved her hands, “a life that’s actually a life.”
“Got it,” remarked Shad, looking around in the vast, luxurious and above all very quiet hallway they were currently crossing. “And when you go outside to meet the people, they go all Your Royal Highness again?”
“Duh,” stated the Ixi. “Not to mention that gang of bodyguards who follow me around. They make me really paranoid, y’know. Having someone behind your back every single second is downright creepy.”
“So you’re unhappy here?” asked Shad, once again making Saura wince because of his straightforward, slightly disrespectful attitude.
Nabile stared back at him, almost stumbling over another fluffy carpet. “Goodness, no! I love this city and its people, and I’m happy here with my husband, it’s just that... you know, it’s a different kind of life and there’s nothing that can be changed with that.” She gazed at the brothers, who were beginning to wonder if being a royal princess included the requirement of walking backwards most of the time.
“You will tell me about life in the rest of Neopia, won’t you?” she pleaded. “It’d mean a lot to me.”
“Will do,” agreed the brothers.
Nabile smiled, pushing a door open. “You’d better not go back on your word.” It was a light, friendly statement, yet something in her voice predicted that should the two really go back on their word, the results would be rather horrible. “Make yourselves at home, pulling this rope here by the door will call a servant who will be ordered to fulfill your every request.” She nodded at the two and left.
Shad looked around and trotted off as Saura went to the window. It had no glass, just like all the other windows in the palace, and when he leaned on the windowsill, he could clearly hear the noise on the Qasalan streets outside. The window opened to the courtyard but was higher so the Zafara could see half of the palace’s roof, the palm trees’ tops in the courtyard and also behind the thick walls. Even the city walls were clearly looming farther away and the sandy dunes of Lost Desert stretched on behind them.
“Dude!” Saura winced as his brother galloped in again. “Nabile gave us a real suite! We have three bedrooms here, you know, all connected, and a study, and some fancy room that should probably be the bathroom, though I’m telling you, it’s bigger than our kitchen back home. Which bedroom do you want?”
“Whichever you don’t; guess they’re all good,” replied Saura.
Nabile had just got down the stairs when Nightsteed turned around the corner, stopping her. The Ixi was startled, thinking, “I’ll probably never understand how he always manages to find me in this huge palace...”
“There are two strangers in the palace,” said the Uni. “Harfu, that white Ixi guard, said that he took them to the library.”
“A shadow Lupe and a spotted Zafara?” asked the princess. Nightsteed nodded. “I know, I met them there.”
“Where are they now?” he asked. When he heard that Nabile had given them a room on the fourth floor, his eyes widened. “You let them stay here?”
The pink Ixi scowled. “Why not? It’s been a while since I heard any news from outside Qasala and we have enough servants to feed an army; why not let them enjoy some Qasalan hospitality for a while?”
“Because you don’t know who they are and what they want,” hissed Nightsteed. “Stupid girl, you’d probably give Razul himself a room in this palace if he asked you nicely... what are we, some roadside tavern? At times like these we should double the guard, not let tourists walk in and out.” He shook his wild mane. “I knew I should’ve stopped them and sent them back when I saw them in that hallway.”
Nabile’s eyes had narrowed during that speech. “Excuse me!” Her back straightened as a dark shadow of fury spread across her face. “I’m the princess of Qasala, Your Highness Nabile, and you have no right to speak to me like that!”
Nightsteed took a step forth, then another one and Nabile found herself staring into the deep, dark, old eyes of the blue Uni, eyes that had seen a lot more than her, knew a lot more than her and had more power than her.
“Wanna bet?” snarled Nightsteed, then turned away in a slightly derisive manner. “Fourth floor, you said?”
“Nightsteed!” That was all Nabile managed to shout before the Uni dashed out through the nearest window in the hallway. The princess huffed, then stomped off, her eyes flashing. Though Nightsteed had no official rank in the court, he seemed to consider himself equal to Jazan – and higher than Nabile, which had ticked the Ixi off more than once. Besides, he had become even less respectful these days, often snapping back to Jazan and defying his orders... not that the Kyrii prince gave many orders these days, come to think of it.
Nightsteed took a curve in the air at the same time, rising above the courtyard. He didn’t really like flying; his wings were wrinkly and rotten most of the time and even when he had the shape of a normal blue Uni, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was about to fall down. But he still could fly, and he used that ability whenever necessary.
“And they’re supposed to be the rulers and ultimate caretakers of Qasala,” he hissed to himself as his senses picked up the two strangers. The Uni rose higher, spent a short second on aiming and dashed in through the window, flapping his wings and landing on his hind legs to keep the balance.
To be continued...