Lady Sandstorm: Part Nine
Jazan regained consciousness flat on his back in the sand... he looked up and saw Jerdana and Nabile leaning over him. All of the fighters he could see were Qasalan and Sakhmeti – they must have gathered to protect him, and he was grateful for that. He asked, “How long?”
Jerdana said, “A half hour. Lady Sandstorm nearly broke you, King Jazan.”
He pushed himself up – he felt faintly as if he were still being burned, and his head ached ferociously. “Where is she now?”
Nabile gripped his hand tightly. “She’s off causing havoc on the rest of the battlefield – she must have thought that she killed you.” Her voice was slightly shaky. “I thought so, too, for a minute.”
Jerdana laid a hand on his head, and the ache lessened. Healing magic – I should have known Jerdana had healing magic. He was slightly jealous. He always had been envious of people who had healing magic – of people who could restore rather than destroy.
Leaning on Nabile, he stood up, testing himself. He was strong... he could fight. But he couldn’t try taking on Lady Sandstorm again unless something changed. Then he remembered – he asked, “Have the faeries arrived yet?”
Nabile shook her head. “Not a sign of them.”
Figures. Go to all of that trouble to save the faeries from a crazed sorceress, and they’re nowhere to be seen when you are the one that needs help.
He drew his sword. “Well, let’s take this fight back to them – let me through! Qasalans, ATTACK!”
And he plunged into the fray.
Nabile was beside him with her long knife – Jerdana stayed close, but kept to protecting and helping the injured. He made sure to keep a careful eye on the little Aisha, because while her magic was quite powerful, one decent swordsman taking her off guard would be a serious problem.
The armies would have been equal – and Jazan knew his own probably would have been better – if it weren’t for Lady Sandstorm. She was definitely fighting on the side of Heksas, and she was causing chaos among the ranks of the Qasalans, Sakhmeti, and Altadorians. Part of him felt slightly sick as he fought his way back to Jerdana again. I have to face her. I have to go back and face her again, whether I’m ready or not, or we’re going to lose.
He told Jerdana, “I’m going to need to share strength with you.”
She nodded once. “Of course, King Jazan.”
Nabile extended her hand – he took it. “Jazan, take strength from me, too. I may not be a mage, but I’ll still help.”
He found Mirzah and the other mages with his mind. Are you all with me?
In his mind, he heard the echoes of all their voices – men, women, even the half-childish voices of the older apprentices, whom he was certain he had ordered not to fight.Of course, my king. We’re with you until the end.
And Jazan cried, “Lady Sandstorm, come and face me if you have a single brave bone in your body! Are you a coward, Lady Sandstorm?”
And, across the battlefield, the giant shape of the Fire Faerie turned.
Soldiers scurried out of the way, pushing both friend and enemy aside to leave a clear place between Jazan and his enemy. He could feel his magical connection to the other sorcerers and his hand clutching Nabile’s... all of whom were willing to aid him as much as was necessary to win this battle. You’re alone, Lady Sandstorm, and I’m not. And that’s what makes me different from you, and from the monster that let you out of your cage. I’m not alone. I have help. And that’s why I can beat you.
She hissed, with the crackle of fire behind her words, “How are you still alive, King Jazan?”
He took the scepter of Qasala from his belt and held it up in his free hand. “I am king of my people, Lady Sandstorm. You’d never understand. Which is why I refuse to let you have these lands as long as I have breath to defend them.”
She raised her hands and the staff she held – Jazan braced himself. This will probably be painful... The magic washed out of her as raging fire as Jazan reached out with his own powers, supported by the power of dozens of others, in a burst of magic full of blue lightning...
And it held. The two magical forces caught each other in midair, both stopping the other. But Lady Sandstorm wasn’t content with a standstill – she kept pressing and pushing energy into her own attack. With all of this... it’s too much! If she overwhelms us, we’re all dead! He shouted down his mental link, I’m going to need a lot of power for this – be ready!
Around him, he could hear the sounds of the battle raging – he couldn’t let himself look. He had to focus, or Lady Sandstorm would overcome him...
And then the link to the other mages surged with power that tasted of sunlight and green leaves as two Faerie voices said, We are here.
The Faeries are here... one... last... push...
But while the magic was gradually overcoming Lady Sandstorm, it wasn’t enough... still, it wasn’t enough. There had to be more.
And then Jazan looked at the flames and understood what had to be done. He would have to go inside of her magic, as he had been before. His rational side shied back, reminding him of the pain of it, but he knew that she couldn’t be destroyed from the outside – she would have to be defeated from within.
And he let Lady Sandstorm’s power roll over him. The flame blinded and deafened, but now he could sense the sunlight beyond it – see the way out.
And he let the strength of many flow through him and out, blowing apart the spell that Lady Sandstorm had tied her strength to.
He caught a brief impression of the smoke clearing, of a shadow falling to its knees, folding in on itself into nothingness, Nabile saying something as if from a great distance, and then everything went black.
Various mages informed Jazan later that he was lucky to be alive... he had made himself a conduit for all of their power rather than just drawing on it to wield it himself, and he’d let far more magic flow through him than a mortal body was meant to bear. He listened to those lectures as he was confined to bed in the palace’s hospital, so weak he could barely even sit up.
Thankfully, the day after the battle the rather tyrannical nurse allowed Nabile in – after a shouting match outside his door that Jazan could hear perfectly well, in which Nabile said that she was Queen of Qasala, thank you very much, and that she would do what she pleased, and currently that was to go in and speak to her husband and tell him how everyone had fared.
He had to smile... even after all these years, Nabile wasn’t quite comfortable throwing around her title, and when she used it to get her way she was generally very angry.
He allowed the pink Ixi to tuck an extra pillow behind him and fuss over him, then asked, “So how did everything end? I assume from the fact that I’m here and not dead that we won.”
Nabile nodded. “After they lost Lady Sandstorm, Heksas and Majah got cold feet. They knew they couldn’t beat us and Altador. They ran back to Mentu as fast as their legs could carry them.”
Tomos leaned in the door. “Bunch of cowards, if you ask me. They see an enemy their own size and they’re out of there. And Nabile, you should come and listen to Hanso telling the kids about how he saved Neopia. A couple parts of the story might even be true.”
Jazan shook his head, then stopped – it hurt. “I’ll take it he’s fine, then.”
Nabile smiled. “Quite a lot of people are fine... Heksas and Majah retreating so soon meant that there were far fewer casualties than we could have hoped for.”
He leaned back and shut his eyes... he was still weary to the bones. “And thank Fyora I wasn’t one of them.”
She laid a hand on his forehead. “Yes... thank Fyora.”
A week later, Jazan sat in the library with a blanket around his shoulders. The nurse said that he was still slightly feverish, but the king knew that it was because after the heat of Lady Sandstorm’s fire, even the desert at midday chilled him. Only time could cure that.
The Sakhmeti had gone back to their city, Altador had returned home with his people, and the two Faeries who had arrived just in time were gone when Jazan awoke, but Brynn and Hanso had stayed, intending to continue with the Lost Desert vacation they’d been taking before Lady Sandstorm escaped and King Heksas attacked. Brynn sat reading a book as Esmeralda pulled Hanso down to the floor to help her set up some involved scenario with her Usukis and plushies. He’d noticed that the faerie dolls seemed to be the villains in her games lately, and that a couple of them now wore masks crudely made out of paper and clay. Caspar sat swinging his legs as he played with his puzzle box, oblivious to all else.
Nabile sat at Jazan’s side, and whispered, “Listen.”
Aldie was giving Hanso instructions, saying “The bad faerie is the one with the gold mask... she’s attacking with him, him, and him” as she put plushies into his arms. “Here’s the queen. She leads all the armies – these people over here – while the king fights the bad faerie.”
He whispered back, “It sounds slightly familiar.”
Nabile sighed. “I don’t want her to grow up and find out that the queen doesn’t get to do anything of the sort.”
Hanso held up the faerie doll and made it say, “I’m going to defeat you!”
“No!” Aldie took her king Usuki and tackled Hanso, catching him unawares and knocking him to the floor.
Nabile stood and said, “Esmeralda, if you don’t behave – Hanso, are you okay?”
The thief – as incorrigible as ever – grinned. “Takes a lot more than a three-year-old to hurt me, don’t worry.”
Brynn laughed, and Jazan did as well. What wasn’t there to laugh about? I am still king in Qasala, and Caspar will be king after me.
And Lady Sandstorm is back to being a bedtime story – a children’s tale – just as she ought to be.