Lady Sandstorm: Part Six
Tomos said from where he had slumped against the wall, “You’re kidding. So he meant that if he didn’t manage to destroy Neopia as we know it, he left provisions so Lady Sandstorm could finish the job?”
Hanso started to joke weakly, “No wonder you...”
Jazan didn’t even look at him. “Thief, if you dare to compare me to Razul, or say that anything I am is due to him, I swear that I will kill you where you stand.”
He could hear that the Ixi had stepped back. “Didn’t the whole threatening thing kind of prove my point?”
“You’re close to a line, thief. You won’t like what I do to you if you cross it.” He gathered up the sheaf of rolled papers and put them into the pouch at his side. “I’m taking this back to the surface... if I can investigate more into how he freed Lady Sandstorm, I can figure out how to put her back where she belongs, and keep her there for good this time.”
Nabile carried a few books back into the room, with Brynn at her side. “These are a few of the ones I was looking at last time... since Lady Sandstorm’s tied to the curse on Qasala, this might help.”
Brynn also balanced a few books and scrolls – she said, “These had all of these phrases about controlling the faeries and putting them in their places... I’d need to do more work to understand the actual runes, but I bet there could be something in here.”
Jazan glared back at Hanso. “See? Those two were doing useful things.”
Brynn sighed. “Hanso, really...”
The Ixi said quickly, “Let’s get back to the surface. I’d like to find out whether Altador’s going to show up and help save our hides.”
Jazan didn’t have any way of telling the time... he didn’t think that they’d been down here for more than a few hours, but there was no way to be sure. And whenever Altador had something important to discuss, his council met at dawn. They’ve certainly come to a decision by now... I hope he brings some of the council. Jerdana may be only half my height, but she’s not a sorceress to be trifled with, and her light magic might be just the thing we need to defeat Lady Sandstorm.
Because Jerdana was good – that was where the source of her power lay. Her magic wasn’t like his, tainted with an aptitude for destruction and his own deep flaws. She might be able to stay strong against dark magic where he would fail.
Nabile said, “They’re probably worried sick about the lot of us. Jazan, do you know about any other entrances and exits?”
He sat down on the floor, put his palms to the ground, and let his magic spread once again. That had been an entrance, close to the old tower where the kings before him had resided – and which he had left destroyed – but it was covered over and buried deep. There was no getting back the way Nabile and Tomos had once entered, either. The water chamber had caved in, and he could sense the building on top of it... he almost laughed when he realized it was the Sakhmet embassy. Only one option was possible – the stairway into the dungeons, which Jazan knew had been unearthed. He didn’t much like the dungeons. They were dark and unpleasant and the shadows always seemed to be a little more than just shadows, and the way Razul had made from them – the oddly straight road into the earth – was even worse.
When he returned to his body, he was fairly sore, and everyone but Nabile looked concerned. He said, “I’ve found a way out. The paths are a few miles long all told, and it brings us into the dungeons, but it looked like the only obstacles were ones I could blast out of the way.” The three locked doors that Razul kept, in order to prevent spies or thieves... and to scare anyone who had to wait, wondering what he wanted, as he slowly opened each door... and the long, long path that he could use to lecture at or terrify whatever hapless person he’d brought with him as an aide or victim...
He shook his head and said, “We need to start.”
Jazan remembered where the door to get into the workroom was, and the long passage that the old king had created. Illusion-magic gave it the appearance of a labyrinth, but the way was actually straight. Turning from the simple course, with only three switchbacks, would lead you into another one of his deathtraps.
After they had passed through yet another imaginary wall, Hanso said, “This is really, really, really creepy.”
Tomos said, “Yeah – if I never have to come down here again, it’ll still be too soon.” Brynn shuddered and murmured something to Hanso under her breath. Nabile hadn’t said a thing since they left the workroom, but he noticed that she was keeping very close to him, and everyone had drawn their weapons.
After what felt like a dark eternity of darker memories, Hanso spoke again. “King Jazan, Tomos is about to collapse.”
Jazan looked back – he was right; Tomos looked pale and sick, and his injured leg was definitely paining him. He decided, “We’ll stop for a little... this is as good of a place as any.”
Nabile looked straight at him – he knew quite well that he couldn’t hide a thing from her. “You don’t look well either, Jazan.”
He would have told Nabile if it had been just the two of them... but he didn’t know Tomos very well, and Brynn still less, and he didn’t trust Hanso to treat the matter with any sort of respect. “Just... bad memories. That’s all.”
Well, it’s better that we’re not here alone. There are more people to help me keep her safe.
Hanso pulled something wrapped in a napkin out of his pocket. “Here, Tomos. Maybe a little food will help you.”
Tomos held it up – it was a slightly squashed Qando Pita. “Thanks, buddy. I owe you one. Well, after you half-carried me through Razul’s little maze of black magic, I owe you several.”
Jazan looked at his knees. Maybe he’s only half a pain in the tail. I know there’s a good-hearted Neopian in there... shame, because it makes it harder to hate him, and after he tried to joke about Razul, I’d really like to hate him.
Nabile would scold if she knew I was thinking like this – I’ll try to give him another chance. The thief tends to show his best colors when things get bad, and even with the information we’re bringing back, things are about to get very bad indeed.
Tomos cleared his throat. “If someone’ll help me up, I think I can keep going. I’d like to get out of here – to sunlight and a trained healer.”
When word got out that they were all safe and unharmed, Jazan found himself swarmed immediately by one crowd of generals trying to show him the battle plans and another crowd of mages trying to show him the spells they found. He held up his hands as he watched Tomos and the others escape to the healer out of the corner of his eye. “Amira. I just want to talk to Amira. Where is she?”
Then Amira elbowed Sambar out of the way – the Aisha had often struck Jazan as rather violent for someone who prided herself on being regal – and said, “Altador’s coming – Jerdana contacted Mirzah, who was waiting in your workroom in case you contacted us through your scrying ball...”
“Is Jerdana coming, too?”
“Altador, Jerdana, and all of the soldiers they could spare – they just didn’t want to send any more of the Council.”
That was a weight off Jazan’s mind – they might be able to almost equal the numbers of Heksas and Majah, and as long as they could do that, the superior skill of the Qasalan and Sakhmet soldiers was sure to win the day.
As long as we can deal with Lady Sandstorm, that is.
He said, “If someone could find Nabile, Nightsteed and Mirzah, I’d like to see them up in my workroom. I’m guessing that Tomos, Brynn, and Hanso are with the healers by now – could someone give them the news? And if someone would also tell Caspar and Esmeralda that I’m home, I would be very grateful.”
Looking at the Qasalan generals, he was slightly uncomfortable, knowing that he carrying the blueprints of the spells that had caused them so much pain. It’s not as if I’m going to try casting them again. I have no reason to feel any sort of guilt.
They ought to be destroyed, so no one can try and hurt us like that again.
We still need this information. I’ll copy over the useful things – remove crucial spells from the diagrams – and destroy the originals.
They spent the rest of the day poring over the books that they had brought back from Razul’s workroom. Hanso and Brynn had joined them as well – he knew that Brynn had done magical research before, but he was pretty sure that Hanso just wanted to be near where he thought the excitement would be.
Once, Brynn looked up with tears in her eyes. Hanso put a comforting arm around her as she said, “King Jazan – some of this... it’s just awful! Who’d even want to do this to another person – ever?”
Jazan had been worried that some of the magic books might have blacker spells in them – he quickly took Brynn’s and replaced it with the fairly innocent theory text that he had been skimming. But his mind was back on another day... looking at the destruction of a city that he had rode out of triumphantly, then seeing who had caused it, standing between him and Nabile...
Nabile said, “Just remember – the king who gathered these books is dead. Really dead. So there actually isn’t anyone around here who would use these spells.”
Nightsteed said grimly, “Except Elzamyr Akhu.”
Lady Sandstorm hadn’t been heard or seen since her announcement the previous night, but that didn’t make Jazan feel any better. If she hadn’t attacked them yet, it was because she was biding her time until she could do something really nasty. Can we be ready? Jerdana and I will be here, but we’re the most powerful by far. Mirzah and several others are fairly capable. Still, Lady Sandstorm has had centuries of experience, and millennia to plot in her prison. She’s powerful, and she’s angry.
I’m not going to gamble. Not with the lives of my people.
He stood up, sure of his course. “We’ll keep working. But first thing in the morning, I will petition the Faerie Council for aid.”
To be continued...