It Takes a Thief: Part Ten
Nabile tried to blink away the after-images of the lance and the shield – Mirzah was still unconscious, overextended by their fight against Udiza's magic, and if she couldn't even see she would be leaving Jazan completely undefended.
Udiza snarled, "We shall take this desert back from the mortals, King. I only wish you would live to see all the mortal rulers in chains, kneeling at the feet of the Faeries!"
Jazan didn't banter with her – Nabile knew well that he didn't find that sort of thing particularly witty or necessary, and he knew there was no use in actually trying to talk Udiza out of the magical catastrophe or the political havoc that her actions could create. He just aimed a strike of electricity at her, forcing her to bat it away with her own magic. Nabile could see the tension in his shoulders and arms, but even without that she knew there was trouble. Jazan liked to fight with fire himself, but attacking Udiza with fire would be like attacking a Jetsam with seawater.
Mirzah was breathing regularly – Nabile had seen this before, with Jazan. Provided they protected her during the fight while she was vulnerable, she'd be back to normal in a few days. She'd already exerted herself to protect the scepter, which had turned out to be needless, and now she'd tried to do too much again. It was no wonder she and Jazan managed to get along so well. Neither of them had any concern for their own personal safety. She loved them both dearly for it, but it made it a little harder to look after them.
Jazan extended a hand to her, and Nabile took it and allowed him to help her up. He sent her his next words by magic. I can't break her power, as I did Lady Sandstorm. I might have the strength to do it – she's less powerful – but she's too unbalanced. I would merely hasten the unraveling of her power and the blaze that would follow.
She could feel the magic connecting them, a pins-and-needles feeling in her hand, and thought back, That's bad. What else could we do? She looked back toward Maspal's Rock. Is there any way to channel the power from the tomb?
Jazan raised his free hand to deflect another attack. He shaped his shield to send the gathered power into a clump of the Sway's fighters – they all shouted and scattered, and it gave Mortman and Paselle time to catch their breath. He looked at her, his golden eyes reflecting the flames of the torchlight and the Fire Faerie they faced. It's protected from such as that. I tried it already. It would take far more than we could bring to bear to breach those defenses.
Nabile glanced around – the thieves, Sambar, Hanso, and Brynn were all holding their own. It was up to Jazan – and to her – to handle the Faerie so that all this fighting wouldn't be in vain. Can't break her power. Can't fight her with fire.
Jazan's jaw clenched. Those are the main issues, yes.
But she had to be stopped somehow, which with a Faerie meant somehow binding her magic. Could you attack her talismans? Cut her off from them?
He nodded once. Risky. But safer than breaking her power. He deflected another blow from her, also sending it into a group of the Sway, forcing them back from Sambar. It won't take much longer before she decides to do something that I can't throw back at her own side, and neither of us will like it when that happens. His brow furrowed. The coronet and the ring. They're newest to her, least bound up with her power. If I can cut her off from them, it may be enough to bring her back from the brink. May I borrow strength from you, Nabile?
Of course. She might not be able to cast spells alongside him the way Mirzah or Zann could, but she could lend him her own strength – and she would, as much as she could give.
An arrow flew over her head – Nabile wheeled, since Jazan was already deep in his spell. But she saw Kanrik give her a grin and a wave. He'd taken care of the archer, and was already crossing swords with Baron Reskarim. She mouthed, "Keep them away from us! This is going to be big!"
He nodded, and gave the most insubordinate salute she'd ever seen, before whipping out his dagger to block a knife that Reskarim tried to throw. She wondered if disrespect was as reflexive to him as his knifework was.
She could feel the power gathering around Jazan – while she was no mage herself, there was no way to be around a sorcerer such as Jazan for long without developing a sensitivity to it. King Altador and his Council were much the same, after working in close quarters with Jerdana and two Faeries for so long. It felt like standing close to a fire, and soon it seemed to be almost uncomfortably hot – and Nabile was a desert child.
She felt it when he attacked Udiza, the pressure releasing as the power rushed out in a firestorm. She gripped his hand tightly.
And then there was the snap – Jazan nearly lost his footing. Nabile could feel the magic like a fire, wild and about to go out of control, like the fires that had surrounded King Razul. She cried, "What is it? What's wrong?"
Jazan's eyes were shut, his jaw clenched so tightly he could barely respond. "She poured her own power into the artifacts to augment them... foolish... mad... more than I was prepared to handle..."
Nabile could fill in the rest – their risks were as great as they had been before. He said, "She's still fighting me!" His voice was loud – Udiza was shrieking in Old Qasalan, so she likely couldn't hear them anyway. "She keeps pushing harder!"
And if she didn't know when to quit, that meant they were headed for a massive firestorm if this magical duel broke out of control. Nabile looked around. He needed a place to put all the energy – there was a reason why the fireplace in his workroom was always well-stocked with wood, and it wasn't that he was in danger of getting cold.
She looked back at Maspal's rock, and the entrance to the tomb underneath it. If they didn't stop Udiza here, the Sway would get in there, and the desert would be lucky to survive what happened next.
She yanked Jazan's hand and met his eyes – he looked back, met her gaze, then gave her a fierce, proud grin. He whispered, "Caspar and Esmeralda will be furious they missed this."
Then Jazan took hold of the magic, pulling it into himself. There was only so much even a strong mage could bear, and Nabile could feel the way he winced in pain – but then, he didn't intend to bear it for long. He was merely going to be a channel – and he was channeling all that volatile, destructive power straight into Maspal's Rock.
At first, nothing seemed to happen. But then she could feel the rumbling in the soles of her feet, the rock beginning to crack.
Screams. The world was swirling around Nabile's eyes as Jazan drew on her strength to keep some degree of control. Hanso ran up to them, his expression panicked, and she retained the presence of mind to gesture at him to keep away, to mind his distance, to not distract Jazan or they'd all be history – she thought he got the general idea.
Their allies were gathering at the bottom of the ramp to the digging, keeping the fighters from having easy access to Jazan. Nabile was grateful – as grateful as she could be with starbursts in her eyes. She was in no position to help defend Jazan right now, as she'd like – her mind was too full of Udiza's screams and the roaring of magic.
Jazan said over their link – it sounded as though he were shouting through a monsoon in the desert's rainy season – She keeps fighting, but I'm in control. If she tries too much, I could even bind her here...
She replied, If you can do it safely...
Udiza's shrieks grew even louder – as the mother of five-year-olds, Nabile could clearly tell the difference between a scream of rage and one of fear, and knew that Udiza had also realized that Jazan had the upper hand. Behind them, the cracking of rock was almost earsplitting.
And then the loudest crash of all, and Nabile's vision was full of flame as the place where Udiza stood erupted in a pillar of fire in her last defiance. The earth shook beneath them, and then the fire was gone, and only a few bangles, a ring, and a coronet were left on the ground where the mad Faerie had been.
Jazan dropped to his knees, and Nabile fell to all fours beside him, too weary for more. He whispered, "She's bound. Bound beneath the rock, with Vanithad's tomb."
Nabile looked behind them. Maspal's Rock was no longer a proud spire – it was a slag-hill of crumbled and half-melted stone. That had been how much power Jazan had stripped from Udiza.
A horn rang over the dunes. Nabile hard Sambar say, as though from a great distance, "Of course Zann brings the other fighters now, when it's too late for them to help with anything."
Kanrik said, "Not too late. We can strip their camp bare before they try to come back."
Nabile asked, "They ran?"
Paselle said, "Of course the Fyora-forsaken cowards ran! A little earthquake was too much for them!"
Nabile looked up into the moonlight, and realized with a dim shock that she could see the figures of a Techo and a Nimmo at the top of a dune – Norheim and Reskarim, watching from a distance. But her arms felt heavy as lead, and before she could raise one to point them out they disappeared into the desert night.
The leaders had still escaped. But they'd left much behind, and they'd suffered a defeat. Were Jazan awake enough to notice, he'd be furious that Norheim and Reskarim had gotten away clean, but he wasn't. And Nabile couldn't muster any outrage herself – she could only be glad that her city was safe.
To be continued...