Ascension: Part Three
Sunlight bathed the rolling hills and lush grasses of the endless plains, the open world that dominated much of Neopia’s free lands from the darkness of the Haunted Woods and baked sands of the Lost Desert, stretching out to the vast ocean. From far above the villages that were scattered across its surface were but tiny specks of insignificance, yet when standing upon the springy turf everything took a new perspective.
For Aria, the world suddenly seemed a much larger place than the one she had left behind.
Relishing the first true freedom she had ever felt, the faerie princess danced across the plains, not caring where her feet took her or the spectacle she made. Faeries were rare at the best of times on the plains, appearing mostly when Faerieland itself soared overhead, but one of such beauty and majesty was already causing a stir in the nearby villages.
Yet Aria found not a care for their fears, and vanished further across the unending hills and plains, leaving only whispers of her presence as a phantom in the night, and a song on the wind.
Throughout her life the faerie had known only two homes: the ancient keep where she had been raised, and the clouds of Faerieland. Such freedom was intoxicating, and she longed for the day to never end when she could do as she pleased on the plains. Yet the inevitable darkness gathered all around as the dusk drew ever nearer, stifling her shining dreams and hopes. Resigned to defeat, she headed for the first town she could find, feeling the spring gone from her step.
She had cast her eyes over the many villages that scattered the plains by daylight, but with the twilight hanging overhead she found them revitalised from their sleepy daydream, and within moments of entering the softly lit village all enthusiasm for her newfound freedom was recovered. Unlike Faerieland, where the nights were illuminated by the arcane glow of magic, the village on the plains was instead aglow with a natural radiance. Hundreds of fiery petpets played in the streets, from the patient Filamens that in shop windows and lit up the world beyond, to the Baby Fireballs and Meltons that bounced overhead, guiding their owners through the darkening streets. For all the magic of Faerieland, the simple enchantment that captivated Aria was more magical than anything she had witnessed before.
Mesmerised, she made her way through the peaceful streets, listening to the sounds of the world around her. A few villagers looked at her twice, unaccustomed to seeing a faerie in their midst, but the initial shock soon wore off and they cared no longer. Back home, she remembered always being the centre of attention when in Faerie City, the daughter of the queen, and had thrived on it. Yet now, the indifference was more exciting still and the change in pace from her old life gave her an incredible feeling she struggled to describe, even to herself. To be just a face in the crowd, without the fame wrought by her lineage, was truly indescribable.
‘Excuse me, my dear,’ someone suddenly said behind her. The faerie started at the sound. With a polite nod, the aged Acara continued on her way, Aria watching her go with interest. The pets of Faerieland had been polite to her too, but it had been of a different type, much closer to reverence than anything else. To be just another face in the crowd, albeit a new face, was a first for the young faerie.
‘Faerie!’ someone suddenly cried. Aria felt a rush of immediate distaste for the ungracious hail. Rising to her full and prominent height, she spun to face the breathless brown Quiggle, who panted and heaved as he skidded to a halt before her. ‘Bless Fyora I saw you! Please, I need your help!’
‘You need my help?’ she retorted, her voice oozing disdain.
Fortunately for the brown Quiggle, he had never been the brightest button in the box and failed to notice the tone of Aria’s voice. ‘That I do, miss,’ he gasped, doubled over to catch his breath so unable to see her disgruntled expression. ‘My wife was taken ill a couple of days ago and the doc has no idea what to do. I couldn’t believe me eyes when I saw a faerie walking through! Please, miss, you’ve got to help her!’
So pathetic was his breathless and haggard form to her eyes that even Aria’s cruel disposition toward the Quiggle was broken, his less than polite cry forgotten promptly. Quickly she ushered him onward, keeping close behind and making their way through the streets and the last stragglers of the day to find the Quiggle’s simple home.
No guards greeted them at the door like the Faerie Palace back home, but rather a worried young Quiggle, his white skin paler than usual at the plight of his family. He whispered something in a hurry to his father as the brown Quiggle crossed the threshold, passing Aria a desperate look, to which the aloof faerie could only look away.
‘This way,’ the father said, falling to a quiet step and leading the way up the uncarpeted steps to the first floor. All was deathly quiet, only the gentle footfalls of Quiggle and faerie enough to break the eerie silence. At the end of the hallway stood a weary checkered Lenny, his head lost in his wings as he tried to think. Sensing the approach, he looked up at the Quiggle and shook his head sadly, Aria recognising the familiar shining disc attached to his head, a single hole in its heart: he was a doctor.
‘I’m sorry, Frank, I can’t think of anything else,’ the Lenny whispered. The Quiggle nodded sadly.
‘I know, Harry, you’ve done the best you can,’ the Quiggle replied, clapping his old friend on the back. ‘Hopefully we’ve still got time, though. She’s in there, miss,’ he added to Aria, unable to bring himself to look into the last room.
Silently Aria entered the small, humble bedroom, startling the blue Quiggle sitting by the bed. Softly the faerie calmed the girl, looking into the bed at the peaceful red Quiggle slumbering quietly, her skin tinged with a faint unnatural glow. The powerful faerie knelt by her side and ran her pale hand over the patient’s forehead, her fingers starting to warm almost instantly. In their wake the glow softened, returning stronger as the comparative chill of Aria’s fingertips departed.
‘I am going to need your help,’ Aria whispered to the blue Quiggle, who stared at her with wide, frightened eyes. ‘Do not worry, it is nothing dangerous,’ she added soothingly, giving her an encouraging smile, ‘but it is important. Right by the path leading into the village from the south, right at the village entrance, there is a plant with lilac leaves and purple petals, which glows in the night. I need you to go and get one for me, so I can help your mother. Can you do that for me?’
The girl nodded slowly and rushed from the room. Aria watched her pass by her father in the hallway. Automatically he looked around, tears in his eyes as he gazed into the bedroom at last. The faerie nodded firmly, and saw the hope rising in his heart.
Long through the night, Aria knelt by the beside of the red Quiggle, the young blue Quiggle following her every request without question, even without a word of her own. Yet the longer she watched, the more the faerie saw the confidence and hope in the girl’s heart, just as she had seen in the father’s, and knew the whole family was behind her now. Occasionally she could hear the distant footsteps of the father and his son downstairs, unable to rest with the unknown faerie working upstairs, waiting for any news.
At length, Aria took pity and sent the girl to see her family under the pretence of sharing their progress, but knew there was not much else she could do to let the girl feel useful. Before her she had assembled every herb she had seen near to the village, using the tools borrowed from the herbalist and doctor to concoct what few potions she knew. None were proving of aid, and yet with each failure Aria felt her resolve strengthen, and with it new ideas came to mind.
The new day dawned crisp and bright, the beautiful sunshine bathing the streets of the village as the citizens awoke and started on the business of the new day. Market stalls were raised and peddlers began to trade, the shopkeepers throwing open their doors to the magnificent day and welcoming it to brighten their shops. It was a day like so many others, and no less special for it.
Suddenly through their midst charged a brown Quiggle, shouting at the top of his voice. Tears filled his eyes, but his words were brimming with joy. Contagious bliss spread the close-knit community of the village, pets leaving their homes and shops to share in the joy of the Quiggle dancing in the marketplace.
‘What’s happened, Frank?’ someone cried over his insatiable jubilation.
‘Tom, the faerie’s done it!’ the Quiggle called back, leaping into the air. ‘Mary, she’s getting better!’
From the sitting room of Frank’s home, the cheer could be heard. His daughter was unable to stop smiling with a mixture of joy and satisfaction as she served the strange faerie a cup of tea. Aria could not help but share in their joy, feeling her own satisfaction rising far higher than the Quiggle’s. She had helped them, not for personal gain, but because it was the right thing to do.
I wonder if this is how Mother always feels? she thought to herself. If so, it is no wonder she is always putting Neopia first. It is... amazing.
‘Excuse me, miss?’ a choked voice asked, pulling Aria back from her thoughts. In the doorway stood the brown Quiggle, fidgeting awkwardly before her. ‘I don’t know what to do to thank you, miss. I... I ain’t got much, but you can have whatever you want.’
‘It is not necessary,’ Aria replied kindly, taking a sip of her tip and feeling her body relax. ‘I only did what any other decent soul would have, if they had the power. To see you so happy is more than thanks enough.’
Hearing the words in the air, she was taken aback, unable to believe they had escaped her own selfish lips. Yet to her surprise she found she meant every word.
‘At least then, miss, can I know your name? I want to shout it from the rooftops so everybody knows what you have done for me.’
‘Of course, my name is Ar...Rhea,’ she corrected quickly. ‘Rhea.’
The Quiggle beamed at her one last time before bounding back into the street, crying the name ‘Rhea’ at the top of his lungs. Behind him, Aria sank deeper into the comfortable chair and drank more of her tea. She knew the extent of the faerie’s search network, and it was no sport to make it too easy for them to find her.
* * *
Throughout the day Aria could feel the freedom of the plains calling out to her, beckoning her back to their lush and vibrant embrace, and yet the faerie could find no reason to go back to the place she had relished so much the day before. Tales of her deed had spread like wildfire before her until every villager knew the name of Rhea. Countless pets came up to her to thank her for what she had done, and once again she found the eyes of everybody following her through the streets. But this was not like the respect she received in Faerieland, born from adoration for her mother, but rather from the virtues of Aria herself.
Other pets asked for her assistance the longer she dawdled in the village, and each time she found it impossible to say no. Even the most trivial of tasks were a joy to undertake just to see the gratitude and love from the pets she helped. Even tormenting Jhudora had never made her so happy.
As the night began to draw in again, one of the greatest days of Aria’s life was rounded off by the appearance of Frank the brown Quiggle again, dragging her into the tavern to share a meal with his family. Gathered around the small wooden table sat the four of them, the mother looking worse for wear but healthier than she had in days. It was the perfect way to round off the day, enjoying the simple meal with the villagers as the rest of the world happened around them.
Celebrations drew on long into the evening, the villagers gathering together to celebrate the miracle recovery of their friend. Once cold to the common folk all around, Aria found herself drawn into the celebrations, singing and dancing with the other pets, caught in the moment.
Suddenly the door creaked open, the ominous sound casting the tavern into silence. In the middle of the floor, Aria froze, dropping her glass in dread. The sound of shattering glass broke the tense silence, the sparkling clear liquid spilling across the wooden boards and seeping through to the cellar below.
In the doorway stood a purple Bori, framed against the night.
To be continued...