Ascension: Part Five
Carefully crafted for its perfect acoustics, the spherical chamber resonated with the heavy sound of forceful footfalls, the feet of the approaching Xweetok carried by the furious passion of sheer will and determination. An insult had been delivered, and it was the fate of the first pet or faerie to cross her path to bear the brunt of it.
The enchanted doorway faded into nothing. The frantic water faerie hovered awkwardly behind Velvet, searching desperately for the words to slow her vengeful charge, but nothing was going to stand in her way now. She marched confidently to the heart of the chamber and the great magical orb that shimmered beautifully in the half-light that shrouded the room, glaring into its almost liquid surface. Only her speckled face was reflected back at her, snarling unpleasantly.
‘Jilleau!’ she bellowed, ripples spreading across the surface of the orb, the water faerie cringing out of sight behind her. ‘Jilleau, where are you?’
A single soft tone resonated from the orb, catching on the intricate architecture of the chamber and magnifying, reflected back from every surface and cocooning them in its endless note. Suddenly a burst of colour flashed across the orb’s surface, a new note rising into the melody, followed promptly by another and another. Together they swirled through the air around the pair, forming a pleasant jingle that served only to harden Jilleau’s already wroth expression.
‘I was wondering how long you would take,’ came a distant response, born from the fading memory of the melody. In its wake the orb fell quiet again, a single image beginning to form on its surface of a bored purple Bori, peacefully sipping on a steaming cup of tea. ‘I had almost given up on you, Velvet.’
‘I am glad to know you find all this amusing,’ Velvet retorted viciously, waiting for the din of her own echoing voice to fade away. ‘I think it’s quite apparent that I feel otherwise.’
Calmly Jilleau sipped her tea again and gaze the Xweetok a thoughtful look before replying, ‘There is an air about you that leaves me wondering, I must confess. I guess there is no point in asking you what you want then?’
‘Where are you?’ Velvet snapped, not bothering to dignify Jilleau’s comment with even so much as acknowledgement, let alone a response.
‘In a rather charming tea house on the outskirts of a pleasant little village,’ Jilleau answered honestly, relishing in Velvet’s frustration. One of the greatest lessons she had learned from her predecessor was the importance of never catering to pets like Velvet; to follow the whims of someone who did not respect you meant you did not respect yourself. Such a thing was too important to throw away.
He had also once said it was fun to take them down a peg, although he had been speaking of someone far worse when he said it.
‘Stop playing games with me, Jilleau!’ Velvet roared, the liquid image trembling under her voice. ‘Where is Aria?’
‘You asked me a question and I gave you an honest answer,’ Jilleau retorted firmly, abandoning her toying with the Xweetok. ‘If you do not like the answer, then don’t ask the question. In answer to your new one, as I told you before I answer only to the queen, not to you. Lady Aria is safe, just as Queen Fyora wants. I am not about to betray the confidence of the future ruler of Faerieland just because you happen to be in a bad mood, Velvet.’
‘A bad mood?’ Velvet fumed incomprehensibly, her piercing stare making even the steadfast Bori feel uncomfortable, despite knowing how far apart the two were. ‘The heir to the throne has vanished right before she was due to take it! I think that constitutes something a bit more than a bad mood, don’t you?’
Growing impatient, Jilleau snapped back, ‘Velvet, I have already told you that Lady Aria is safe. I am doing as the queen wished and keeping an eye on her, so nothing will happen. She is undergoing something that is more important than taking the throne at the moment, and the stupid seat will still be there when she is done. Now unless you have something that is actually important to deal with, kindly leave me to my tea.’
Sitting alone in the charming tea house on the village outskirts, Jilleau felt pity for the poor water faerie she had seen cowering behind Velvet before the orb fell dark, but knew there was no other way out of their situation. Velvet was too hot-headed and stubborn to stand down once she fell into a rhythm, and if she did not end things quick it would only cause more problems.
More importantly still, she thought to herself as she climbed to her feet and slipped the small communication orb back into her pocket, there was a strange sensation to the air that only she seemed able to pick up on. A lifetime spent in Faerieland had given her an innate ability to sense magic, and a concentration like this left her uneasy.
Something was happening in the village, and the Bori could not help but think trouble was looming on the horizon.
* * *
Unaware of the quaint tea house on the outskirts of the village, Aria continued in her unforeseen servitude to Neopia, forever expecting the moment to finally jump out on her when she no longer lived for the euphoric rush of helping those in need.
Her wings fluttered delicately in the cool breeze that swept the rooftops of the old village, the faerie hovering before the face of the Grand Clock Tower, or so the villagers called it. Though only three storeys high, it still towered over the single floor cottages that made up the village, the low walking lives of the villagers making it difficult to scale the clock tower and fix its aging face. The only pet skilled enough was a yellow Krawk with a fear of heights, but thanks to Aria’s support he was now in her surprisingly strong arms, his tools hovering magically around him while he worked.
‘You can do it, Stan!’ someone called from below, much of the village turning out to watch the show and urge on their friend as he conquered his fears. All around the cry was taken up. The Krawk in Aria’s arms was unable to stop himself from grinning as he perfected his task, surveying his masterpiece with the pride of a true craftsman.
Carefully they returned to the ground. Stan fell into the embrace of his friends and well-wishers as they cheered his success. Happy to slip away, Aria left them to it, and drifted out of sight into a small communal allotment. Behind her she could hear their cries of “Rhea?” but she did not answer, needing a respite. Those without wings could not understand how exhausting it was to hover in one place for so long, especially supporting a Krawk who was not exactly a petpet anymore. She just needed a few moments to herself before she returned to them and allowed them to thank her, something she had learned they would do whether she felt she deserved their thanks or not.
‘You don’t look too good,’ a cheerful voice suddenly remarked, Aria straightening up sharply. The unseen speaker giggled as the faerie spun on the spot, searching for the owner of the voice. ‘Catch me if you can,’ it added playfully.
Through the ground Aria could feel the power emanating, her footfalls dogged by the rejuvenation of the allotment. Although care and attention had gone into all grown within, the hard work of the villagers paled into comparison to the magical aid that transformed every fleck of greenery into something lush and vibrant. The trees that surrounded the enclosure burst into full blossom, before suddenly shedding their beautiful visage to display the magnificent foliage of the year.
All the while, the playful giggle continued, luring Aria deeper into the unnatural allotment.
‘What are you doing here?’ Aria whispered aloud, seeing through the splendid show the trickster was putting on all around. ‘You are not one to stray from that little forest of yours, even when the rest of the kingdom was burning around you, so why are you here now? Come out!’
Suddenly she spun and forced out her palms at the nearest tree. Instantly the magic took hold and sent a vicious shudder through the proud oak, a lingering lilac residue circling its trunk for a handful of long moments. With a crack the residue flashed bright and revealed the devious earth faerie sitting nestled among the roots, still giggling to herself.
‘Oh no! You found me!’ she cried, still giggling as she climbed to her feet. ‘You don’t want to play then, Aria?’
‘Unless we are winding up your ever-so-sweet sister, Illusen, not really,’ the faerie princess replied sharply, feeling a rush of dislike for Illusen. For all the time and effort the villagers had spent on the allotment, she had turned up and within a minute declared it futile, laughing all the while. With a stab of guilt she recalled she too had been like Illusen before leaving Faerieland, but it served only to sharpen her distaste for the earth faerie.
‘What are you doing here?’ she repeated coldly.
‘Seeing what all the fuss was about,’ Illusen replied with a nonchalant shrug. ‘Some faerie named Rhea turns up and starts making things wonderful, and I start to thinking. I think to myself, “The description sounds like Princess Aria, but there’s no way she could be so nice. I wonder what’s going on?” So I come to see for myself, and here you are! I can barely believe it.’
‘You are right, I’m not a nice person,’ Aria retorted fiercely, ‘so perhaps you should clear off before I show you just how unpleasant I am.’
Before Illusen could retort a new voice entered into their midst, its cheerful shriek causing both faeries to jump before realising what was happening. At the sound of her pseudonym, Aria broke into a wide grin and opened her arms wide to allow the young Acara to leap into her embrace. The sight of the cold Lady Aria hugging a young cloud Acara made Illusen’s jaw drop, the faerie quickly closing it again before the energetic pet could see.
‘Who are you?’ he asked bluntly, Illusen chuckling at the forthright audacity of youth, only to find Aria’s troubled expression made her laugh all the harder.
‘I am Ellie, a friend of Rhea’s,’ Illusen answered, winking surreptitiously at the other faerie. ‘When I heard of all the wonderful things she was doing out here, I had to come and see it.’
‘She’s great!’ the child beamed, looking back into Aria’s smiling face. ‘She saved Toby from the tree.’
‘Speaking of Toby, where is he?’ Aria suddenly asked, knowing the answer before she spoke.
‘He’s in the tree again,’ the child answered simply, looking around and into the very tree Illusen had hidden at the base. Far above they could make out the inquisitive form of the Kadoatie, gazing down at them with interest. ‘Can you get him down for me?’
‘I’ll do it,’ Illusen replied quickly, gracefully floating up to where the Kadoatie sat and taking it in her arms. Softly she touched down the springy grass again and put the petpet into the child’s hands, Aria putting him back on the ground again to play with his Kadoatie.
‘Ellie and I need to have a word, if you could give us a moment,’ she said firmly. The young Acara took his cue and ran away to play with Toby. Behind him Aria and Illusen exchanged curious glances, each trying to uncover the motives of the other.
‘It’s addicting isn’t it, being the nice girl?’ Illusen remarked at length, sitting back down at the base of the grand oak tree. ‘Feeling the gratitude of those you help, and the satisfaction of knowing you are working to make Neopia a better place. That’s why you are out here, I assume, and why you are being so nice these days. Before I saw it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that Princess Aria was capable of something so alike to her mother. But I would have been wrong.
‘I want to ask you something, though,’ she added before Aria could respond. ‘They will find you eventually, so what do you plan on doing then? You can’t keep up this life, even if you wanted to.’
‘I can keep it up for as long as I can evade Velvet, and I am very adept at that,’ Aria replied haughtily, turning her back on the annoying earth faerie.
‘What if I can offer you the chance to do it forever?’ Illusen called after her, stopping the princess on the spot, almost as if the roots themselves had risen to bind her in place. ‘You wouldn’t be here if you wanted the throne, so what if I can give you a way out?’
Her words circled in Aria’s mind for a long minute, replaying many visions of many futures. For a long time she had thought of one day ascending to the throne, believing it was what she had always wanted. Yet when the chance had come she had found only fear, and fled from her duty. Still in haunted her, and the thought of finally being free from its lingering presence was something she could not turn down.
‘I’m listening,’ she replied, turning to face Illusen with a wry smile.
To be continued...