Things Best Remembered: Part Two
Janice stared at Atlanta in shock, her jaw practically hitting the cobbled floor of Grand Square. Then she burst into laughter, giggling so hard that she fell to the ground with tears of mirth trailing from her eyes. Gareth and Ria both watched Atlanta warily, switching their gazes between her and Janice as if they were wondering whether Janice's overextended-library-time induced craziness had spread to the Princess of Calladamos.
"Atlanta," she managed to choke out, "You... are... so... funny."
She knew she was laughing for no reason; being told that the protector of one's city was, in reality, a traitor, was not a terribly funny occurrence. But she had hated the silence that came after Atlanta's proclamation, and it had to be broken somehow.
Janice continued giggling for a few seconds, then, suddenly remembering that they had Guardians to defeat, quickly grew serious, with the exception of a few chuckles. "It's been more than ten seconds," she told Ria in a voice hoarse from laughter. "We should pursue the Guardians, before they cause any damage."
Ria ignored her, looked at Atlanta, and said, "Atlanta, the Guardian was tricking you. Remember, manipulation is their specialty. Do not believe what it said. Now," she added, addressing all three of them now, "onwards!"
Janice and Ria took to the air to get a Crokabek's-eye-view of Calladamos. Glancing upwards, Janice saw the sun was nearing its high point. Noon already?
To the north, near the castle, they saw four creatures that looked like crosses between shadow wraiths and the Swamp Ghoul.
The Shoyru and Draikess spiraled back down to earth and told Atlanta and Gareth of their findings. Atlanta still looked horrified, but started in the direction of the palace with Gareth on the ground while Janice and Ria took to the sky once again.
Janice got to the palace first – thanks to her larger-than-average wings – and landed in front of the Guardians with all the scariness she could muster. She brought out her staff, but before she could blast at any of the Guardians with magic, Atlanta, Ria, and Gareth arrived. The battle began.
Glancing at Atlanta as she took on one Guardian, Janice noticed that she seemed to have returned to normal; but as she slashed and dived and otherwise showed why nobody but Gareth could best her in swordplay, her eyes were distracted. Instead of shouting out insults to the Guardians as she usually would have done, she allowed her blade to dispel them without a word. That Guardian had really shaken her.
Janice blasted the one in front of her with a fierce, wild joy. There is nothing so wonderful as disintegrating your enemies in the morning! Or... she glanced once again at the rising sun, Or in the afternoon. Atlanta's plight was temporarily forgotten.
Exactly twenty-four hours later, Ria tugged at the sleeve of her yellow dress. She frowned with distaste; her scarlet gown was far more sufficient for diplomatic meetings. Her mother was more suited to bright yellow articles of clothing. In them, she looked regal, stately, in-control.
But who could take Ria seriously when she bore an appearance similar to a sunflower?
Rising from her seat, she cleared her throat. "Attention!"
Janice, Gareth, and the Council all looked at her expectantly. Gareth gave her an encouraging smile which made her feel slightly better. Thank you, Gareth. I needed that.
She cleared her throat again, at a loss of what to say. Of course, it was not Gareth or Janice that left her so tongue-tied, but the Council.
The Council was composed of ten cynical Calladamiens who didn't like her as a Draikess and disliked her even more for being their ruler, ten cynical Calladamiens who were supposed to help her make decisions on how to govern Calladamos. The Council had been reinstated after the Three were defeated, and Ria wondered who had chosen the members; and, then, if they could be reassigned to another part of the Assembly where she would not have direct contact with them.
A silence hovered in the air for a few seconds.
"Pardon my rudeness, but are you going to begin anytime soon, Empress?" That was Celia, a faerie Kacheek. She sounded mildly amused, as though she knew that Ria would make a fool of herself.
"It would be easier to pardon your rudeness," Ria said with a cold smile, finally finding her voice, "if you hadn't been rude in the first place, Lady Celia." The only way to beat the Council at their own game was to be as annoyingly polite – yet scathing – as they were.
"Now then," Ria announced, warming up, "this meeting has been called because there has been a Guardian sighting recently." This was met by the unsurprised faces of the Council, Gareth, and Janice.
"Was the sighting confirmed, Empress Ria?" asked Malcolm, a fire Pteri. "Or did you call this meeting on a runaway imagination of a child?"
Ria winced inwardly. Each time they said called her 'empress', they said it as though it were more of an insult rather than a term of respect. However, refusing to be fazed, she met Malcolm's contemptuous gaze head on.
"No, Sir Malcolm. As you should know, there is a lengthy process in which rulers of Calladamos debate on whether to bring certain matters to the attention of the Council. Or have you forgotten?"
Ria suddenly wished for Atlanta's presence. Her sharp tongue would have silenced the Council within a minute. But they had sent the Peophin to her room – she still had had that faraway, distracted look in her eyes.
Ria paused before going on. "May I continue, or will you persist in interrupting me?" she asked. "This is a matter of utmost importance and urgency, and every second wasted is a chance that we are too late."
The Council muttered their disgruntled apologies. "Please, go on," Celia said. Her tone was almost sarcastic.
Ria proceeded to tell them, without further interruption, about how Atlanta had seen the four Guardians in Grand Square, about their wish to have a truce, about their defeat in front of the palace. She was careful to refrain from saying anything about what the lone Guardian had told Atlanta.
She did, however, tell them of her plans to rid Calladamos of the Guardians. "There are two simple ways to do this. One: we spread word, all across Neopia, about Calladamos. Remember, the Guardians only occupy kingdoms that have fallen and been forgotten. If we are remembered, they will leave."
"Two," she said, trying hard not to glare at Malcolm, "we can initiate a surprise attack against the Guardians – after finding their camps, of course – and thus begin a lengthy war with them. If we do have this war, there is no doubt in my mind that many innocent Calladamiens will become Forsaken." Meaning that, if someone got a fatal wound from a Guardian's sword, they would literally vanish off of the face of Neopia, leaving behind no memories of themselves to those who had known them, talked to them, even passed them by on the street. Technically, a Forsaken one would have never existed.
Ria took a breath, remembering a time when she herself had nearly become Forsaken and feeling that it was odd that she didn't, even though it was only a slash to the arm. She wondered, suddenly, just how ridiculous she looked in her yellow-sunflower dress. As soon as this meeting was over, she would change back into her regular gown.
"So, we take a vote. Who here desires a war to defeat our foes?" She said the word 'war' with the disgust that she had previously lavished upon members of the Council and Guardians only.
Ten hands, paws, and wings went up in the air. The only exceptions were Ria, Gareth, and Janice, and even though both Janice's and Ria's votes would be counted doubly (due to their being the Protector and the Empress) it wouldn't be enough.
"I believe," Claudia, a pink Poogle, almost sneered, "that the tally is ten-five. War it is, then." Her spirit glow was magenta, the same shade that Atlanta's glow had changed to a day before.
"You are correct, Lady Claudia," Ria snapped, barely controlling her anger. The only reason the Council had voted for war was because they knew it was the choice she was against. Her spirit glow jumped up by nearly two meters. "Yes, war it is. Meeting adjourn--"
"Wait," Gareth interrupted suddenly. Everyone turned to look at him. Janice mouthed, What are you doing? to which Gareth paid no mind.
Ignoring Ria and Janice, he said to the Council in a steady, even voice, "Would you have countless Calladamiens Forsaken because of your petty dislike of the Empress? Would you have that on your consciences, following you all day, poisoning your dreams at night? Have you no guilt, no remorse?"
"Gareth," Ria interjected. She did not want to see him become an enemy of the Council. They could be ruthless.
"Gareth," Claudia mimicked in a bad imitation of Ria's voice. Claudia then continued on in her normal scathing tone, "You do realize, Gareth darling, that we cannot have a revote? If you have paid any attention to Calladamien laws at all, then you would know that having a revote could leave time to change alliances – and, thus, votes – through bribery, which is a form of corruption. But of course you knew that?"
"He did," Ria said quickly, making sure Gareth wouldn't be able to say anything to further turn the Council against him. "Meeting adjourned."
The Council left the room, and Ria breathed a sigh of relief.
"Gareth, that was the bravest – and definitely the most ridiculous – thing you've ever done," Janice said, sounding a trifle annoyed. "Even braver than fighting Guardians, and far more ridiculous than going to see the sun even at the risk of being captured. The Council..." she shook her head. "The Council could send Guardians running with a word."
Ria, as well, had no qualms on criticizing Gareth's behavior, and did so vigorously. Eventually, though, she had no more to say and simply wished that she could reverse time and keep Gareth shielded from the wrath of the Council. "Gareth," she sighed, thinking of all the ways they could get revenge, "why did you have to do that?"
Gareth shrugged. Avoiding her question, he said, "There is nothing to be done about it, Ria."
And there really wasn't. Whether she liked it or not, Ria's kingdom would be going to war, and the only thing she could do about it was to fight.
To be continued...