Ascension: Part One
Only the gentle breeze disturbed the peaceful chamber, its soothing whistle a playful melody in the distance that eased the ears of the troubled Xweetok, preoccupied as she played with her long green tail. The crisp light of the new morning bathed the lavender draped chamber, stinging her eyes as she sat watching the regal bedstead, unable to tear her eyes from the shape of the Gelert doctor. He was too quiet; doctors were always full of irritating little thoughts they could not contain, and patronising comments that made anybody feel worse than they did from the illness.
When a doctor was quiet, it spelled trouble.
At length he backed away and returned to the black bag resting on the table at the end of the bed, returning his stethoscope to its seemingly endless contents and looking at the speckled Xweetok with a solemn expression, shaking his head slowly.
Silence and the sad shake. The worst things anybody could receive from a doctor.
‘Well?’ the Xweetok asked, fiddling faster with her tail.
‘It is not as bad as you seem to fear,’ the green Gelert answered, casting another look back around to the bed’s peaceful occupant. ‘She sustained a serious magical injury, one that would have almost certainly spelled the end for anybody else. Physically, she is recovering far better than we could ever have imagined. It is beyond anything I have ever seen during my considerable years in this profession.’
‘She’s going to get better?’ the Xweetok exclaimed, an unstoppable grin spreading over her face. She could feel the desire to cheer rise deep in her heart, suppressed only by how inappropriate such an act would be under the circumstances.
‘I am sorry to break up the little party going on in there, but I’m not finished yet,’ the Gelert interrupted testily, snapping his bag shut with a resounding snap that brought her back to her senses. ‘Now, as I was saying, she is recovering magnificently in the physical sense. Mentally, however, I am seeing no improvement. If anything, she is getting worse. She may be up and about before long, but the Fyora we all know and love is now going to be just a memory. I cannot believe she will ever be in a state that is truly fit for rule, and I am sorry to burst your bubble, girl, but to think anything otherwise would be beyond naïveté.’
The Xweetok’s dreams collapsed on themselves, the celebratory images that passed before her eyes flickering out and fading like the stars before dawn. Fyora, no longer fit to rule? She knew the day would eventually come, but had sorely hoped she would have longer to prepare. The successor was still an unknown to her eyes, and much as she adored her queen, the Xweetok was already finding it difficult to remain open-minded about her successor.
‘No chance at all, doctor?’ she asked.
‘Not after what happened,’ the Gelert replied bluntly. ‘I am amazed she lasted as long as she did before this rather unpleasant side effect happened. Now if you will excuse me, I have other patients I must attend to. Good day to you.’
Restoring the brown bowler hat to his head, crushing it down upon his ears, he treated the Xweetok to a curt nod before taking his leave, his blue Elephante assistant obediently opening the door for him to pass. She gave the Xweetok an encouraging smile before following him, but it did little to make her feel better.
The eerie silence drifted back into place around her as she stood dumbstruck in the heart of the royal chamber, straining her overworked mind to find another solution. Yet already she knew it was little more than an exercise in futility; there was only one solution.
Delaying the inevitable moment, the Xweetok returned to her seat beside Fyora’s bed, dropping her head into her paws. It had been months since that day, and the benevolent Faerie Queen had walked away seemingly unfazed. Yet as time passed she had started to deteriorate, sending panic through her close advisors. Now she was but a shadow of her former self, secluded in her room most of the day and allowing Faerieland to rule of its own accord. The cloud-borne city of the skies needed her guiding hand, but it was slipping further from reach.
She still stood as an icon, a figurehead for the pets of Faerieland to rally behind, but her days of ruling were over. The Xweetok sighed at the thought, lamenting her future. With the line of the Faerie Queen, there was only ever one successor. For the speckled Xweetok, the very thought of her was enough to make her despair, and fill her with a bitter distaste.
* * *
Faerieland. First fashioned to hold the daughter of the first Faerie Queen. Ysarie had dreamt of a city floating serene above Neopia, a shining beacon for all Neopets as it gently passed overhead. The only sight more magnificent than the passing of the city on the clouds was the majestic sight of the city itself, the ever-changing islands of clouds joined by magically enchanted bridges of pale marble that shifted at will, ensuring Faerieland forever remained together. The vibrant colours of the smaller homes and shops all glowed with a soft, soothing reflection of the soaring sun or restful moon, always bathing the city in a gentle luminescence that entranced all who gazed upon it. Yet the city itself paled in comparison to the great palace, its high turrets reaching far toward the heavens, the invisible towers shielded by faerie magic the home of many wonderful and dangerous prizes that mesmerised the populace, and crafted fanciful stories to enchant children for generations.
Regarded by many as the shimmering soul of all Neopia, Faerieland stood as Ysarie’s dream made reality. Yet always on its fluid borders waited a blight, the blemish on the beauty of the city. Home to one of the most warped minds in all Neopia, Jhudora’s Cloud was always a prominent presence. The powerful dark faerie toyed with the minds of Neopians as she sent them on fools’ errands, leaving them to wonder on the purpose of the oddities she sought.
Suddenly a wrathful scream resonated from the dark cloud, ringing out over the denizens of Faerieland and sending a shiver rushing across the nearby plaza. A lone shape shot forth from the darkness, a familiar shape dashing across the plaza and into the shadows before Jhudora could catch up. Leaving a steaming trail of black vapour in her wake, the dark faerie stalked into the plaza in pursuit of her elusive prey, purple eyes scanning every market stall and terrified Neopet.
‘Where is she?’ Jhudora snarled, grabbing a petrified market guard and pulling him close. The towering Grarrl just whimpered under her terrible glare. The forceful faerie threw him aside with disdain. ‘Useless, the lot of you,’ she muttered angrily, continuing her hunt.
‘Lose something Jhudora?’ an exasperated voice asked.
The dark faerie did not bother to turn and acknowledge the speaker, a look of disgust spreading over her face at the familiar, bored tone she always used. One day she hoped to give the infuriating pet a taste of her magic, but while she was so close to Fyora it was proving a difficult task.
‘Don’t ask silly questions, Velvet,’ she snapped back, drawing a deep breath of the pungent air. There was a scent of magic all around, stronger than usual. She had found the trail at last.
‘Don’t give me the opportunity then, Jhudora,’ the speckled Xweetok retorted coldly, stepping into her path. ‘Go back home and do... whatever it is you do to waste away your life. I have more important business with her today, so your petty problems will have to wait.’
With surprising strength, the slender faerie pushed the Xweetok aside and marched into the back alley where her prey had fled, following the heady taste of power. To one who sought it so passionately, it was beyond distinction and impossible to ignore.
Eerie was the silence that lay over the alleyway, the crowd in the main street too bewildered to scream and pierce its dusty stillness. All around her the powerful dark faerie could sense the unnatural aura, knowing that no matter what happened in that street, still the musky silence would reign supreme here.
‘I know you are here, girl,’ she hissed viciously, ‘and I assure you that if you don’t show yourself now, I will do... terrible things to you.’
‘Wise move, insulting her like that,’ Velvet whispered, leaning against the entrance to the alley. Unlike Jhudora, the Neopet could not feel the magic that exuded from every particle of existence in the alley, and it left her mind free of distraction to witness the true scene. For all Jhudora’s power, she was a fool who had walked direct into the waiting snare.
Carried on the perfect acoustics of the alley, the resonant cry of hooves wrapped about the stranded faerie. Beat by beat, the steady rhythm hammered against her heart, building momentum with the fall of every step, and the rushing sound that pressed closer about her. The darkness she loved so intently filled her vision, the bored image of the infuriating speckled Xweetok fading from sight until only the alley remained, stretching away toward a pale glow in the distance.
A pale glow that was drawing nearer.
In the dark light that filled her world, Jhudora saw the shining horn upon the head of the spectral Uni, charging ever faster toward her. Malign red eyes were fixated upon her, unblinking, striking fear deeper into her heart with the fall of every galloping hoof.
Suddenly something connected firmly with her cheek, the force sending her into an erratic stagger and bringing the bustle of the Faerieland market back into her world. Before her, Velvet shook her stringing paw, unfazed by the phantom Uni that was still charging behind her. Jhudora just scowled, her rational mind cursing the irrational outbursts that plagued her life, and stepped past her companion to face the beast.
One angry slap shot through the air, passing through the spectral body and dissipating it with ease. In its wake came the sweet melody of mirthful laughter, a sound so pure and innocent it made her ears sting painfully.
‘You are so much fun, Jhudora,’ the owner of the voice declared, stepping into view further down the alley. ‘Why do you continue to wonder why I keep doing this?’
‘Fun?’ Jhudora snarled. ‘I amuse you, do I? I’ll show you just how much fun I can be!’
Velvet cut across quickly, pushing the wrathful faerie back again. ‘Enough of this, both of you!’ she shouted. ‘Jhudora, unless you want to answer to the queen, I suggest you go back to your cloud. It will not bode well if you are found to have intentionally harmed Fyora’s daughter. Go and cool off, and we’ll settle this later.’
Purple orbs glowed in Jhudora’s palms for a fleeting moment, just long enough for Velvet to believe it more than trick of the light. Bitter hatred was carved into the dark faerie’s face as she turned her scowl from the Xweetok to the other faerie and back again.
‘One of these days I’ll give you both what you rightly deserve,’ she hissed, her teeth grinding audibly. ‘There will be justice eventually.’
‘Looking forward to it,’ Velvet replied simply, not taking her eyes from Jhudora until the faerie had stalked back toward the main street and her cloud. At last she turned her attention to the other faerie that had been tormenting her elder.
In almost every respect she was the spitting image of her mother, only younger and more vibrant. Taller than most Neopets she carried herself taller still, proud and fierce when roused, but radiating a gentle aura that drew others toward her. Unlike her mother, however, she enjoyed drawing others in only to play with them, and amused herself by tormenting the other faeries and prominent Neopians of Faerieland; there was little pleasure to be had by infuriating the general public, only those with power.
The faerie calmly flicked aside the rogue strands of her beautiful hair that shimmered with the many hues of the spectrum, and regarded the speckled Xweetok with contempt. Growing impatient, she raised an eyebrow and gave Velvet an expectant look, waiting for her silent prompts to take effect.
‘You really shouldn’t keep doing that to Jhudora, you know,’ Velvet declared at length, finally surrendering to the temptation. ‘One of these days she will snap and you will regret it. You and I are going to go and apologise to her later for all this, and for once in your life, Aria, you had best mean it!’
‘Shouldn’t you be sucking up to me?’ Aria retorted in her deceptively innocent voice. ‘Like you do to my mother? After all, one day I will be the one taking over in Faerieland, and you might just find yourself waiting in line down at the employment agency if you keep annoying me like this. How would you like that, Velvet?’
‘That is actually why I came to find you,’ the Xweetok replied sharply, enjoying the way Aria’s smug smile cracked and faltered. ‘Something has happened, and I think it best we speak at the palace.’
‘Mother?’ Aria breathed.
Velvet nodded slowly. ‘Aria, I think it’s time to come home.’
To be continued...