Lady Sandstorm: Part Five
Nabile looked down the corridor, eyes gleaming, with her mind clearly back in the past when she’d last walked here. “So that way must be the room that fills with water! It’s down a flight of stairs. Tomos and I fell in there, and then we went that way – so that way must be the library we found!”
Jazan had heard this story before, but he realized something. I’d always assumed that they just found a wing of the regular Qasalan library, and that it was destroyed when the city resurfaced. Fyora only knows that we lost places that way that were intact during the curse. But this...
I think I know what this is!
His father had sealed off a large portion of the armory. He used it as his workroom – he’d made Jazan help him on occasion. He’d gathered scrolls of magic and powerful weapons to use to try and augment his own skill...
He shuddered. Down here, tucked away, probably not too far away from that treacherous prophecy that Nabile had read, would be the diagrams and incantations that Razul had used to doom the Qasalans to two centuries of half-life.
To distract himself, he did a small magic, calling the memories from the stone to come to life. The two young figures walked like ghosts – an Ixi and a Lupe in ragged clothes, panting and afraid, trying to find a way out of this underground labyrinth. They passed into the darkness on his other side – he watched the figure of Nabile and smiled. And just a few hours after she walked this path, I met her for the first time...
Hanso said, “Well, this could be a whole lot worse... since you two have been here before, you’ll be able to lead us out! Right?”
Nabile sighed. “We only got out because Tomos picked up a ring with a curse on it, nearly got us killed, and then tried the Fyora-forsaken thing on, which teleported us back to Sakhmet.”
She looked back the way the memories had come from. “I don’t know if we can get out that way, either – we got in there when the floor collapsed underneath us. That’s the chamber that fills with water.”
Jazan nodded. “It’s meant to be a deathtrap – you figured it out by chance. I think we should go into Razul’s old workroom.”
Brynn said, her eyes lighting up as she helped Tomos over to join them, “Maybe if we look around in there, we’ll find out something about your Lady Sandstorm!”
Jazan looked around at the other four Neopians. “We’re settled, then – we’ll explore the old armory. Don’t touch anything unless I tell you that you can. It’s all certain to be cursed.” He turned and glared at Hanso, who he was pretty sure would lose most of his little common sense at the sight of a shiny object. The Ixi held up his hands, attempting to look innocent.
Tomos nodded. “And watch out for the spike pits. Those aren’t fun.”
Brynn asked, “King Jazan? What else did your father put down here?”
He looked around, suddenly feeling a rush of distrust for the very walls. “I have no idea... some of it he would have hidden from me, so he could use it against me if he wanted to.” He didn’t like that train of thought, and he certainly wasn’t going to have sharing-time about his father right now... some of the things he’d seen down here he wouldn’t even tell Nabile. Better to give orders and get everyone moving. “I’ll lead, with Nabile by me.”
She flipped out the long dagger she kept in a hidden pocket of her dress. “If there’s something that we need to fight, I’m ready.”
“Brynn, I’d like you to bring up the rear – keep that sword unsheathed.” Brynn saluted with her free arm, and he finished by saying, “Hanso, you’re the reason Tomos is hurt, so you need to help him along – you’ll be in the middle.”
However, they didn’t get very far along in the passage before they encountered a problem. Broken stone littered the floor in front of a sheer cliff approximately twenty feet high. It must have been the earthquake – it shifted things down here, but I was able to keep the palace together...
Hanso rubbed his gloved hands together. “Time for me to un-mess up. I can climb it and take a rope up to help the rest of you.”
Tomos pointed at his leg. Hanso only paused for a second. “You can go last – you can tie it around you and we can haul you up. Now, who wants to give me stuff to make a rope with?”
Nabile took off her sash and undid the braid she’d had her hair in to give him the ribbon that had been entwined in it. Hanso started tying the ends to his own belt – everyone had a belt, and with a few strips cut out of clothing they had a rope that looked like it would be long enough.
Tomos picked it up. “Ah... I know Nabile can get up this no problem, and Brynn, you don’t look too heavy either, but I’m worried about this holding myself and King Jazan.”
Jazan looked at it himself. Tomos was right. They were of a height these days, and probably about equal in build – and some of the knots looked too fragile for his liking. Falling from the top would hurt – landing wrong might even be fatal.
He couldn’t make a rope out of thin air, and to transfigure the length of belts and cloth into one single length of regular rope would take far more strength than he could afford to waste – he would be needed to break curses on the other side. But he could reinforce it...
The ends of the bits of cloth wove themselves together, and the leather pressed itself tighter as the knots melded. Jazan was satisfied with his handiwork... while he wouldn’t trust General Sambar’s weight to it, he was certain that it would hold himself and Tomos.
Hanso coiled the rope and put it over a shoulder. Brynn said, “Hanso, if there’s something bad up there, jump. We’ll catch you.”
Jazan realized that he agreed with Brynn... he was actually a little worried about the thief. Sure, Nabile and Tomos had gotten out of here alive, but you could never know what curse triggers they had only missed by chance. And as irritating as Hanso was, he didn’t want him dead. He said, “The rope’s strong enough now – I’ll go up after him and start disabling any traps.”
He watched as the thief climbed up the rock face... whatever his faults, he was as nimble as a Mynci. Tomos commented, “Impressive. Even you would need a few more handholds, Nabile.”
Nabile was proud of her own climbing abilities – she crossed her arms and glared at her friend. Jazan sighed. “Children, can we wait until the current crisis is averted before we start bickering?”
Hanso pulled himself over the edge – and screamed. Jazan unsheathed his sword – Brynn yelled, “Jump!”
Then the blue Ixi looked back down at them. “Just kidding!”
If we come across any chasms, I’m throwing him into one.
He climbed up next... as he stood, he realized that the torches were lighting themselves at their approach. Razul always liked the touches of the grandiose... At least he could let his light go and save the magic for the things that mattered.
He knew the others could handle helping Tomos up... he started to walk ahead, feeling for magic in his surroundings. There was the door to the workroom, standing open...
Then he felt it – the spells Razul had left were awakened by the presence of another magic-user. He realized, He always considered non-mages beneath his notice... that’s how Nabile and Tomos got out of here alive! But now...
And that was when the first mummies started rising out of nothingness.
These weren’t more Qasalan civilians affected by the curse, still retaining their humanity despite their looks. These beasts were nothing more than ferocity, mindlessly obeying the orders that Razul had given them – no more intelligent or individual than the shadow creatures that had arisen when the Faeries were stone.
He took his sword and dived into the fray, stabbing the leading mummy, which then dissolved into dust. Brynn, Nabile, and Hanso were all right behind him – Tomos was probably keeping out of the way.
He couldn’t help that he had a fighter’s nature – in the midst of battle, with foes to defeat, his blood sang. He was well-trained, and good at what he did, and he was aware of it. Or maybe it was that this was the first thing in a while that he knew exactly how to handle. See a mummy, kill it, watch it disappear, go kill another. But fighting in this skirmish, he was actually the most comfortable that he had been in the last few days.
There were a few close calls, but the curse had weakened over time, so the mummies weren’t skilled fighters. When the spell’s power wore down and the creatures stopped appearing, no one had any more serious injuries than scratches or bruises. That’s for the best... I can’t do even the smallest bit of healing magic.
He felt ahead with magic, tentatively. But he was pretty sure that his father hadn’t bothered to put more than one protective spell on the entrances, and that one would have been fairly strong when it was originally applied. “I think the coast is clear as far as walking – still, don’t touch anything. I don’t want to meet any of those guardian spirits that you mentioned, Nabile. They tend to be hard to get rid of.”
Hanso complained, “Like those weren’t?”
Tomos said, “Trust me, that creepy black spirit thing was the size of a house!”
Nabile just laughed. “I think you exaggerate a bit, Tomos...”
Brynn interrupted and said exactly what Jazan was thinking. “Just don’t touch anything, okay? Let’s figure out whatever King Jazan’s father might have hidden down here and then try and get out.”
Don’t refer to him as “my father” out loud – it’s bad enough I know he’s my father without drawing extra attention to it.
Nabile pointed. “That’s the room where I read the prophecy, Jazan.”
He knew that it wasn’t the most helpful to their cause. But he wanted to see the place – that would be where Razul had worked out the complex ritual he’d used to curse Qasala. He checked the room next to it quickly. “No curses – you should be free to start looking in here. Nabile and I will be in the other room.”
He looked in the small chamber – there were the marks on the floor where a girl had knelt to read the tablets against the wall. He didn’t bother to read the old Qasalan runes – he knew what they said. He looked at the walls – books, scrolls...
There. He’d had to copy Razul’s notes many times – he’d recognized that spiky, old-fashioned handwriting anywhere. He pulled the thick roll of papers off the shelves and spread them out over the floor. There were diagrams, crossed out, redrawn, and crossed out again. There were symbols for incantations, ones that Jazan never would have even considered using against other living beings.
He found a page of notes – Razul had written this bit in Old Qasalan. He held it up and read it once, twice, three times to make sure he’d understood just how bad this was. “Nabile... you read Old Qasalan. Look at this.”
She leaned over his shoulder – he knew she read fast, and he didn’t have to wait long before she breathed, “Sweet Fyora.”
His father had reached deep under the desert and found Lady Sandstorm where she was imprisoned. And he’d made a deal with her – that if she would lend him her power for the spell to curse his city, he would leave a pathway for her to free herself from her prison. In other notes, he mentioned that he’d double-crossed her... he keyed the spell so that she would only be freed ten years after he died, which he didn’t intend to ever do.
He made a deal with a demon, and now that demon’s back to demand her due...
To be continued...