It looked to be a stretch of sandstone that made up the city wall of Qalasa. Ali frowned. Had the Hissi gone quite mad?
But as the Hissi played around with the bricks in wall, one of them slotted and an entranceway appeared. Ali gasped. It didn’t lead to the other side of the wall, either, but instead led down.
“Are these a passageways? I thought we needed the passcode to get into the city,” Ali said, peeking cautiously down into the dark hole. He had no real desires to head down there.
“We’ll need a passcode to get out the other side, since this passage leads to palace itself. I’m betting on Thuru having taken your father down here, knowing we would be going to the palace,” Elisa said. She began to slither down the steps into darkness. “Come on, we have no time to lose, for we must get there before Thuru has a chance to call reinforcements.”
Ali gulped. He didn’t much wanted to walk into pitch blackness where a Mutant Lenny might be lurking, but what choice did he have? Once they’d walked to the bottom of the staircase, Elisa stopped, and Ali heard a shuffling. A moment later, a bright light illuminated the tunnel.
“That’s much better,” Elisa said, handing the torch she’d just lit to Ali. “Come now, but be quiet - we don’t want Thuru to hear our approach before we’re even seen.”
Ali nodded, and followed behind her as she snaked her way through the corridor. They walked for quite some time, before Elisa came up short, making Ali almost bump into her.
The Hissi put a finger to her lips, and then pointed towards a corridor leading off from their own. Ali listened closely, and he could hear a faint clicking sound that he presumed came from the Lenny’s claws against the sandstone floor.
Ali nodded, and Elisa took a deep breath before she led them around the corner and down that corridor. Thuru looked up as they approached, and a grin appeared on her misshapen beak. Behind her, Ali could see his father had been tied up with a rag stuffed in his mouth, but he looked like he was awake.
“I knew you would come here. You’re so predictable, Thuru,” Elisa said, and the smile on Thuru’s face began to falter. "You always have been.”
“Oh yeah, you want to see predictable?” And as Thuru said it, she suddenly lunged at Elisa.
But the Hissi was ready, and the two began to fight, exchanged kicks and punches at a speed that made Ali dizzy to watch. Instead, he took that as his cue to race to his father, who was indeed awake. He tore at the bindings with his claws, and pulled the rag out, before he embraced his father.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” Ali said.
“You too, son,” his father replied, before his tone became hardened. “You have the necklace? Good, come on, let’s go while the Lenny is distracted with your friend. I know the way to the palace from here.”
Ali felt bad leaving Elisa behind, but he knew there was nothing he could do for her. Instead, he took off running with his father towards the end of the hall, which seemed to be a dead end. However, after the wall opening outside, he knew this was probably a secret doorway too. And indeed it was.
Ali’s father tapped the wall in a strange pattern with his paw, and with the sound of scraping stone, a doorway appeared.
“No! Stop right there!” the Lenny called, and Ali looked back to see that Elisa had beaten her. The Lenny lay hunched on the floor, and Elisa had slithered up behind them.
“Quickly, before she can recover to follow us!”
The made their way up the narrow staircase on the other side of the door, and heard the door slam shut behind them. Ali would’ve felt claustrophobic if it weren’t for the urgency in which they ran up the steps.
Finally, they came to another door, to which Ali’s father said a word in a language Ali didn’t understand, and that opened too. On the other side, the huge and sprawling palace of Qasala stood. Ali couldn’t help but widen his eyes, his mouth dropping open. He’d never seen such opulence in his life before.
There was a Desert Elephante standing near the door, and Ali’s father walked straight up to him.
“I am Davide of Sakhmet. Tell King Jazan I’m here to see him urgently,” said his father.
“Oh, hello Davide! It’s been a long time,” the guard said, his tone changing rapidly. Ali couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Follow me, I’ll tell his Majesty that you’re here immediately.”
They followed the guard to outside huge double doors, and were told to wait outside while the guard went in. A few minutes later, the door swung open, and the guard announced them to the King.
It was some kind of visiting room, filled with plush armchairs and chaise lounges. On a high-backed velvet chair sat the king himself - Jazan! Ali couldn’t believe it.
“Davide, it’s so good to see you again,” King Jazan said. “What have you come so urgently about?”
“We found the necklace that summons Razul that our enemies had been looking for, and so we have bought it to you for safe keeping,” his father said, bowing to the King. Elisa and Ali followed suit.
His father motioned for Ali to give the necklace over to the King. He did so, trying hard to disguise the shaking in his hands, but failing miserably. The King took it from him, and smiled.
“I thank you,” he said, looking directly at Ali. “We have been looking for a long time for this, and all of the Lost Desert could have been destroyed should my father have been reawakened. I’m indebted to you once again, Davide, and to your friends. Now with this, and with your information, we will be able to stamp out the enemy camp for good.”
“It’s an honour to have protected you and your kingdom once again, Your Majesty,” Ali’s father said.
Ali looked at him, more confused than ever. Again?!, he thought.
After refreshing themselves at the palace, Jazan had ordered some Unis be made up for them to cross back across the desert to Sakhmet. To home, to less hectic times. They were almost half way across before Ali couldn’t resist any longer.
“How do you know King Jazan, father?” Ali said, his words quick as they bubbled to the surface. “And what did you mean by protecting him ‘again’? And - and! More importantly, why do we run a poky souvenir shop when you're well known in the palace and by the king?”
His father chuckled, and grinned at him. Ali saw that Elisa hadn’t been able to resist a smile either, obviously knowing the answer to those questions.
“That’s a very long and strange story, son,” he said. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day."