Things Best Remembered: Part Nine
Eventually, after hours of running, Janice made her way into a clearing. There sat a light faerie, a table and chair set, and tea for two.
"Oh, you're finally here!" the faerie exclaimed, clearly delighted. "You took forever! But, goodness gracious, I've forgotten my manners. Come, sit!"
She ushered the surprised and exhausted Janice to one of the chairs. "Would you like some tea, or hot chocolate? You must be exhausted from all that running."
Janice ignored her question and took a few minutes to catch her breath. "Who are you?" she asked, when she found her voice.
The faerie shook her head. "There'll be time for talk afterwards. Drink up!"
Janice hesitated, then took a sip from the porcelain mug in her hands. Immediately, she felt warm and contented. It was very good, an array of wonderful flavors: cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and, of course, chocolate. Janice ended up finishing the cup.
"Do you like it?" the faerie asked. Janice nodded.
She set down the mug. "Who are you? Where am I? This can't be Altador."
"No, it isn't Altador," said the faerie cheerily. "I am Ariéssa, faerie of light."
"Where am I, then? This is my garden, but…"
Ariéssa held up a hand to silence her. "I will not answer any more questions unless you answer a few of my own."
Under normal circumstances, Janice would have been suspicious; but the hot chocolate gave her such a sense of security that she couldn't help herself. "Fine, then, what are your questions?"
"You are the Protector of Calladamos, correct?"
"And Calladamos is at war with the Guardians?"
A flash of annoyance crossed the faerie's face, but was as gone as soon as it came, so Janice wondered if she had imagined it.
"I see. What is Ria's greatest fear?"
Janice blinked. "Pardon me?"
"The Empress of Calladamos. Her greatest fear."
The question was decidedly odd. But there was no harm in answering it, was there? Janice felt herself frowning. Was there?
Before she knew it, she was opening her mouth and saying, "Being Forsaken."
Ariéssa smiled. She went on to ask more questions: How good was Atlanta with her sword? Did she know any magic? How quick on his feet was Gareth? What were Janice's weaknesses? Ria's? Gareth's? Atlanta's? Were they impervious to anything? What were their sweetest dreams, their worst nightmares?
Finally, the interrogation was over. Now Janice could ask some questions of her own.
She said, "Where am I?"
Ariéssa's brow furrowed, as if she was trying to think of a way to answer the question in the quickest way possible. Finally, she said, "Where we are is difficult to explain, but I shall try."
She paused – for dramatic effect, it seemed – and then continued, "You are in a place betwixt the past and the present, darting amongst being awake and asleep, hidden behind dreams and nightmares, drifting on the surface of remembrance and kin to both reality and imagination."
"I see," said Janice, feeling oddly detached. "So, in short, I'm Forsaken?"
"Yes," Ariéssa said, seeming sympathetic. "But enough about that! Have some more hot chocolate. I always like to say, 'A good cup of hot cocoa will help you forget all your worries;' it's true."
Ariéssa poured her another cupful. "If I'm Forsaken," Janice said, "then why in the name of Calladamos am I in my garden?"
"Come now, Janice. Drink up and I'll tell you.'"
Janice took a grudging sip, but it was so good. Again, she drained it.
"Now," said Ariéssa, "what was your question, again?"
"Why am I in my…" Janice forgot what she was going to say. "Whose garden is this?"
"Mine," the faerie answered, smiling.
Janice frowned. She could have sworn this was her garden… but wait. She didn't have a garden. Besides, some of the trees looked as though they had been grown by magic. She couldn't do magic.
"More hot chocolate?" Ariéssa broke into her thoughts.
"I suppose so," Janice answered, still feeling confused. She drank the cup that the faerie gave her, but this time in slow sips. Between each swallow, Ariéssa asked her questions that became increasingly hard to answer. After each confused response, Ariéssa merely smiled.
The Shoyru blinked and rubbed her eyes. She must have fallen asleep, for the garden was considerably darker than it had been before. Ariéssa was putting up candles in the trees. They were beautiful, but strange: instead of orange and yellow and red, these candles sported flames that were in a whole variety of colours. The Shoyru saw one the colour of moonlight, one violet, one fiery red (which seemed more normal), one electric blue, and one an emerald-jade-green. She saw many others, but these, for some reason, seemed terribly important.
The emerald-jade-green one in particular had a great impact on the Shoyru. She felt as though she were looking at something that should have triggered in her memory, but her thoughts remained blank. She felt like she had forgotten something important.
Actually, two important things. Try as she might, the Shoyru could not remember her name. The thought filled her with a vague apprehension, but she could not imagine why.
Ariéssa put up the last candle, then came to sit.
"The candles are lovely," the Shoyru said.
"Thank you." Ariéssa smiled. "More hot chocolate?"
The Shoyru's hand hovered over the porcelain cup, but she said, "No, thank you."
"Go ahead," said the faerie, still smiling.
A faint flicker of annoyance registered in her brain. "No, thank you."
Ariéssa started to frown, but her tone was still light and cheery. "Why not?"
She could not think of a reason, but her mind was screaming at her that whatever she did, she must not drink another cup. "I… I don't know. But I just don't want any more. Come to think of it," she added, "I'd love to have some water."
Ariéssa tut-tutted. "No, dear, that's the one thing that you cannot have."
"But I'm thirsty."
"Exactly why you can't have any. Water creates clarity of thought, which is a bad thing."
"A bad thing?" the Shoyru echoed.
"So," said the faerie, "have some more hot cocoa. I insist."
Something in Ariéssa's tone made the flicker of annoyance grow a bit more. "No."
"Go on. You'll forget all your worries."
"Go on," Ariéssa urged. She sounded slightly panicky.
The Shoyru looked at the candles. They were important… the emerald-jade-green one was dimming. Why?
"Janice! I order you to…" Ariéssa stopped, evidently having let something slip that she shouldn't have.
Janice. That was her name, wasn't it? Janice. It sounded right.
The flame flared up slightly.
She was missing something. Often, something else was attached to her name.
"Have. Some. More."
"I will not have any more," Janice said coldly. She could not decide why Ariéssa's voice should rile her so.
"Why not? What's wrong?" Ariéssa asked, seemingly concerned.
"You," Janice said.
"You're being silly."
There was something... she could just barely remember –
"Stop!" There was genuine panic in the light faerie's voice.
For reasons unknown to her, even afterwards, Janice swept the cups and the kettle off the table. They crashed to the ground and broke into hundreds of pieces.
Time seemed to slow down. The sound of the breaking glass reverberated in her ears; and then, suddenly, all was clear. A tidal wave of memories crashed into her mind. The green flame flared up even more.
She looked at Ariéssa and smiled. "Stop what? Thinking? Remembering?"
Ariéssa muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like: "...was so close."
Janice was celebrating her victory when the faerie raised her head. Janice was startled: she was smiling. "So, you remember," Ariéssa said with a shrug. "This is a slight inconvenience to me, Janice, but nothing more. You are still Forsaken, and so you are still stuck here."
Janice's heart sank. She was right. Even as they spoke, Gareth, Ria, Atlanta, and the rest of the city was probably mourning her without knowing why.
She asked, "Who are you, really?"
"Ariéssa, faerie of light. I also happen to be the one who makes sure that forgotten cities never rise again."
"I thought that it was the Three who did that."
Ariéssa scoffed. "Those incompetents? Janice, think. You defeated them simply with a song. They weren't strong enough to do anything of the sort. No, their job is simply to corrupt the rulers. Without good rulers, pets are disorganized and confused. They blame each other for their problems and then a war comes, and then there is no more city."
"Of course," Ariéssa added, "the citizens still remember their civilizations, and often try to bring them back. So I erase them. There is a lot of power to be had from fallen kingdoms. Especially Calladamos."
Despite herself, Janice could not help admiring Ariéssa's strength. It took powerful magic to erase a city from both history books and minds. She wondered if she would ever be strong enough do such a thing. Not that she wanted to, of course, but still.
"Don't you realize how much pain you cause?" she asked, hoping to…what? Rehabilitate this malicious faerie? How stupid could she get?
Ariéssa gave her another sunny smile. This, Janice decided, was what was worst about Ariéssa: even when she was plotting your demise, she still looked you in the eyes. She had no conscious.
"Of course I realize it," she said. "Why do you think I love this job? The Three fed off of weak minds and indecision. But pain… it's so much stronger. For example, think of how Atlanta feels right now. She's not herself – she's you, and everyone is wishing that she really is you."
"You turned her into a Shoyru?"
"Maybe, maybe not. But she's not only annoyed, she's also feeling guilty, and for nothing she's done."
"Annoyance isn't the same as pain," Janice argued.
Ariéssa was picking up the pieces of the tea set. With a wave of her hand, the broken bits of china glued themselves back together. Janice could smell hot chocolate. She had to get out of here, before Ariéssa enticed her to take another cup.
"Pain in any other form is still pain, Janice," she said calmly, and despite Janice's realizations about Ariéssa's character, she still felt herself shivering at the lack of remorse in the faerie's face. She had to do something. Calladamos was, after all, under her protection. She couldn't let it fall to Ariéssa's not-tender-in-the-least mercies.
Again, Janice glanced at the candle, her candle. It seemed to react whenever she remembered something; indeed, it was burning steadily now, with no signs of stopping.
But would her memories react if she caused the flame to get bigger? Would it work in reverse? If she remembered enough, could she un-Forsake herself?
Ariéssa seemed to have read her mind. "It won't work," she said calmly. "Sit. Forget yourself, your past. The Calladamiens are already doing so."
Janice did sit, but rather than forgetting, she remembered.
She was a yellow Shoyru named Janice. She was an Altadorian by birth. She loved gardening. She had had a powerful earth magic called Mysti bestowed upon her by Ilere.
The candle's flame rose by a few centimeters.
She was also the Protector of Calladamos. In this position, she had many titles: Enchantress of Florae, Possessor of Mysti, Eternal Gardener. She had defeated the Three.
The flame grew, and started to crackle like a fire on a hearth. It was amazing how the wicker still held it.
Janice recalled fact upon fact. Birthdays, victories, sorrows, embarrassments, and milestones were remembered; but even little seemingly irrelevant things were, too: what dresses she had worn, her favourite foods, the feel of wind rushing through her hair when she flew…
Ariéssa frowned at the flame, as though discouraging it; then she turned to Janice with a full-out scowl. "This will not work," she warned. "I would stop if I were you."
"Yes," Janice said, smiling, "but you are not me. And if it won't work, why are you so worried?"
The flame had melted the candle and was roaring of its own accord. Green light emanated from it and flickered among the trees.
Janice could not be sure when the flame hit the ground and started to spread, but before long, the trees nearest were being licked by tongues of emerald flames. And still she remembered.
A larger tree – an oak – came in contact with the fire. It burst into flame.
All was silent for a full minute; Ariéssa didn't say a word, and the crackling of the flames even seemed to have stopped.
But then, with an indignant creak, as though the tree was annoyed at its being reduced to firewood, the oak fell. And then, suddenly, the garden was on fire.
The world was darkening and blurring, defined shapes becoming indefinite blobs. It felt like she was being Forsaken again: there was a sharp pain in Janice's side, she heard herself screaming, and it seemed that her defeat was inevitable.
But the difference was, instead of fading to darkness, there was an increase of light, to the point where it became blinding.
Ariéssa's voice was faraway and indistinct, but Janice could hear every word she said: "You will regret this, Shoyru."
"And so will your city."
To be continued...