A Renewed Hope: Part Five
Janice took flight in the middle of the dash and, due to her huge wings, was the first one in the library. "Gareth? Gareth! Are you in here?" she yelled. Atlanta and Ria came in a few seconds later, panting heavily. "Gareth!" Atlanta shouted. Her glow dimmed as she listened for an answer, an answer which didn't come. This only confirmed their fears: Gareth was captured.
"He's not here," Ria said, sounding frantic. "We must search the palace!"
"That'll take too long," Atlanta protested. "We should split up. It will be quicker."
"Don't you see? We cannot split up!" Ria argued. "If we do, it will just make it all the easier for the Guardians to capture us. Like they did Gareth. He was alone, so he was an easy target."
At this, they both fell silent. Then they started arguing again.
Janice didn't say anything. She was thinking.
"Wait!" she said suddenly, stopping Ria's and Atlanta's argument. "I think I know where he is. But we have to hurry."
They exited the library.
"We've got to quickly check the Training Room," Janice murmured. "The Rod may still be there."
Atlanta snorted. Janice was amazed: even as worried as she was about Gareth, Atlanta could still manage to be snarky. "Yeah, somehow I doubt that."
Ria ducked her head through the open door, did a quick scan of the room, and came out, confirming that the staff was, in fact, not there. Neither was Gareth, unfortunately.
"Janice," she said, still sounding frantic. "Where do you think Gareth is? Where could they have taken him?"
Janice quickly explained how Gareth had been going to see the sunrise every morning as they ran through the Hall. They had no time to get angry; Atlanta and Ria were far too concerned about their friend to be mad. Janice led them to the pathway and took them to the sunrise.
For a moment, the royals of Calladamos were enraptured with the beauty of the golden sun rising over the tree tops. But they quickly remembered why they were here and became serious and anxious once again.
Atlanta glanced around. Other than the sun, she couldn't see much. That was what worried her. "When we see the Guardians," she told Janice and Ria, "They will not look frightening. Just as the Guardian in the Training Room looked like Ria, they will appear to us in familiar forms. They could look like Gareth. They might look like Mistia. Janice, they could even appear as your staff. Do not be taken in."
Ria and Janice nodded mutely, and they continued on, throwing troubled glances over their backs as they walked.
Ria was the first one to see him, far away. "Gareth!" she said, and burst into tears; she was that happy to see him safe. She was about to wave when Janice took her shoulders and shook them. Hard.
She hissed, "Ria, look at his glow. Doesn't it look darker than usual?"
It did actually look darker, almost the color of blood rather than brick. Ria didn't care. It was probably because he was so far away.
"Ria," Atlanta snapped sharply. "That is not Gareth. You've been manipulated already. Harden your heart. It's tricking you." Ria shook her head.
"Don't be silly," she said. "That is Gareth." She waved at the Guardian before Atlanta or Janice could stop her. The Guardian waved, too. But not at them.
"It's spotted us, and now it's summoning reinforcements," Atlanta muttered. "Great job, sis."
Ria flashed her a goofy smile. "Thank you!"
Janice ignored Ria and watched the Guardian nervously. "Why would they need reinforcements? A single one could easily knock all three of us out."
"Because Ria and I are royalty," Atlanta explained, keeping a wary eye on 'Gareth'. "Royals of Calladamos are trained in the magical arts, so we're supposedly very strong. Plus, you're the Protector. You may not have the Rod, but you do have Mysti." She stopped speaking as the Guardian got closer. Ria giggled and waved. Janice asked, "Should we run?"
Atlanta shook her head. "If we run, they will overtake us in seconds. We must fight. Be ready. They'll be here soon." She unsheathed her twin blades. Janice took up a fighting stance. Ria giggled again, and Janice decided to take her staff.
Within a few minutes, they were defeated.
Janice stopped glaring at Ria and switched her attention back to the Guardian. Ria seemed to be coming out of her trance. She blinked. "Where are we?" she asked, confused. She looked out of the bars of their cell and upon seeing the Guardian she froze. "Janice, help us," Ria murmured. Suddenly, Ria seemed to remember that Janice was right there in front of them. "Erm, no offense."
"None taken," Janice sighed.
The Guardian opened the cage and threw Gareth to the ground.
Janice and Ria exclaimed, "Gareth!" and rushed over to help him up. Only Atlanta was wary. "You are Gareth, right? Not some Guardian impersonation?"
Ria glowered at her. "Of course it's him. Do you think that the Guardians would throw one of their own into this cell with us?" It was obvious that the good old, sensible Ria had returned, and Janice said so. Atlanta couldn't help agreeing.
Atlanta, now convinced of Gareth's authenticity, pressed him for the details of how he had been captured.
Gareth explained that he had been going to the Training Room to practice his swordplay when he had seen Ria – or, rather, an impersonation of her – talking to a shadow creature. He had dispatched of the creature and was turning to Ria for an explanation when he had been knocked out, tied up, and thrown here, into this cell.
The Guardian opened the cell again. "Another prisoner?" Atlanta asked. The Guardian shook its head. "No," it whispered.
Two more Guardians appeared and took Ria, who immediately began kicking and screaming and shouting very un-queenly things at them. Then they grabbed Atlanta, who took after her sister. Gareth went next. He fought as hard as he could, but the Guardians were too strong.
Janice watched with wet eyes as they took her friends. She fought the Guardians taking them as much as Ria, Gareth and Atlanta did, but it seemed that the Guardians were protected by something that prevented her punches from landing. She wondered if they were going to erase them from the memories of everyone who knew them. She wondered if she would ever see them or Mistia ever again. She wondered where her staff was, and she wondered what time it was.
One thing that the Protector did not wonder was whether or not they would take her, too. She knew the answer to that one. She knew that she was next.
They dragged her to a large room. She fought, too, even though she knew it was futile; but she felt as though she should go down with dignity. But no amount of kicking or punching affected her captors. The Guardians were simply too physically strong for her.
Physically stronger... Like Gareth, when I kept him from the sun! Janice thought suddenly. And she was no longer in the cell, the cell that was a barrier from magic. Janice concentrated on things that were hot, very hot. The noontime sun in Altador. That carrot soup from when she was volunteering at the Soup Kitchen. The sand of the Lost Desert. She chanted a spell.
Suddenly, Janice caught aflame. The Guardians released her, shocked. Her spirit glow flared up and merged with her flames, making Janice a green and orange Shoyru-shaped bonfire.
Janice smiled down at the Guardians below her. She turned around and raced down the corridor, looking for her friends.
She found all three of them, somehow free of their Guardian captors. There was a hug-ful, tearful reunion (except for on Gareth's part, since he was one who didn't do hug-ful, tearful reunions).
And then her friends fainted.
One minute they were standing up happily greeting her, and the next minute they were collapsed in lifeless heaps upon the floor. Janice gasped, then dropped to her knees and shook them in turn – Ria then Gareth then Atlanta – calling their names desperately.
Atlanta's violet spirit glow died out for a moment – not dimmed down, but died down – it simply disappeared. Then it came out again. And left Atlanta's body.
The purplish mist rose out of the downed Peophin and hovered above her, eventually taking the shape of a ghostly Faerie. Gareth's red glow rose away of him, too, and became a spectral Skeith. Ria's beautiful silver spirit glow simply dissipated and, when it reappeared, took the form of a ghost-like Gelert. The third member of the Three.
Janice stared at them as the awful truth dawned on her: her friends had been possessed by Ambition, Greed, and Revenge.
The Faerie's face was devoid of emotion. But her eyes shone with a strange, slightly hungry glint. A glint of ambition.
She smiled – an empty, soulless smile – and spoke to the other two members of the Three. "Be ready. We have a kingdom to overthrow."
Her voice was familiar; it was one of the three voices in the room Janice had woken up in when she had first come to Calladamos. "Be ready"...that was what Atlanta had said as the Guardians had approached her. Then, "Soon." Like the voices in the room. Had Atlanta been trying to warn her that she was possessed by Ambition?
No, Janice thought, because Ria, Atlanta and Gareth acted normal. They were possessed, but they didn't know it.
Janice glanced at the Peophin on the floor, and then to the Draikess and the Lupe. Her friends. She thought about the citizens of Calladamos, unknown to Neopia and untouched by the sun.
She was the Protector of this defeated kingdom.
Janice stood up. Her spirit glow was faint, as was her courage; but her allegiance to Calladamos was strong. Of course, allegiance didn't save cities. And so she was quite surprised when she started to speak.
"I am The Possessor of Mysti," she whispered, and took to the air so that she was above the Three. Her great wings flapped; they sent a cool wind that smelled of apple blossoms around the room. Her voice grew louder with each sentence. "I am The Enchantress of Florae; The Protector of Calladamos; the Eternal Gardener. I am also Janice. Owner of Mistia the Tanizard. Sister of Chris, Amber and Justin. Friend to Ria, Gareth, Atlanta, and others.
"But most of all, I am your worst nightmare. Be prepared to pay for what you have done to this city.
She unleashed a wave of Mysti onto the Three.
To be continued...