Things Best Remembered: Part Ten
Janice's hearing came back first, in little bits. She heard the thumps of feet hitting the floor, the scrape of swords being pulled out of and put into sheathes, the rustling of wings.
These were all background noises. The main sound was the sound of someone sobbing without reservation.
The next sense that arrived was her sight. When she opened her eyes and looked around, she almost wished she hadn't gotten it back.
She was in a bed, in a large circus-sized tent. The bed wasn't lavish, but it wasn't horribly uncomfortable either. But this wasn't the bad part. It was what was at the foot of the bed that shocked her.
There sat Ria and Gareth, each on a stool on opposite sides of the bed. Ria was crying her eyes out, letting her tears splash on her armor. Her spirit glow was a meter or two high, matching her anguish. She gave out a choked sob.
On the other side of the bed was Gareth. In a sharp contrast to Ria, his spirit glow was dim, so much so that Janice had to strain her eyes to see it. His head was in his paws; he was visibly distraught.
Janice opened her mouth to speak and found that she couldn't. She remembered, too late, that she had had a very sore throat when she was Forsaken, and Ariéssa hadn't given her water.
So she coughed. Ria went on crying, but Gareth, wonderful, observant, sharp-eared Gareth, heard her. He looked up, but not at her. He glanced around the tent, looking for the source of the sound.
She coughed again, and his ears perked up. Slowly, he turned around. His eyes widened, and his spirit glow grew.
Janice tried to give him a reassuring smile, but her lips were really very dry and she didn't want to stretch them. But she gestured to Ria, to tell him to tell her that she was alive and certainly not Forsaken.
He shook Ria's shoulder, smiling now, but disbelievingly. He kept glancing over at Janice, as though he thought that if he didn't she would go back to unconsciousness.
Ria's head came up sharply and she actually snarled at Gareth. "Leave me alone--"
Then she caught sight of Janice. Her eyes widened, too. Tears still formed, but she rapidly blinked them back, as though they embarrassed her.
And then, in a flash, the calm, in-control Ria returned. Her spirit glow went back to its regular size, but still occasionally quivered, as though Ria were resisting the urge to burst into tears again. She said, "If you are Janice, remembered, then tell me something that you remember has happened to you since you came to Calladamos."
Janice, of course, couldn't say anything. She coughed and pointed to her throat, mouthing, 'Water'. Then she winced at the movement of her lips.
Ria ordered Gareth to go find some. He frowned, looking like he was about to protest, but glancing at Janice, he hurried off in search of water.
He came back with a cup, which he handed to her. Janice drank it almost as fast as she could fly.
After a few more glasses of water (nothing had ever tasted better to her), Janice felt ready to speak. "So," she began, but Ria interrupted her.
"We thought you were Forsaken!"
"I was. A Guardian gave me a slash with its sword to my side."
Ria closed her eyes and took a deep, deep breath, her spirit glow flickering. Janice realized that she was trying – very hard – not to cry.
Ria opened her eyes and continued, "We found you, unconscious, in the forest after hearing a scream. Then, you were carried here – our temporary hospital – and put in this bed. You didn't wake up for hours, Janice."
Ria sighed. "At one point, we could not remember your name. It was horrible; Gareth and I just stared and stared at you, trying to find the name that we associated with your face. And yet we couldn't find it."
Janice thought that it might have been at the time when she, herself, had forgotten her name. While it had only worried her slightly, Gareth and Ria were going out of their minds trying to figure her name out.
"Sometime later – it could have been hours or seconds, I do not know – your spirit glow disappeared."
Janice gasped, understanding why they had become even more worried. A spirit glow going out was the equivalent of someone's heart stopping.
They were all silent for a moment.
"Well," Janice finally said, "I'm glad to be back."
She tried to sit up – 'tried' being the operative word. She hadn't gone more than a centimeter when the intense pain in her side caused her to sit back down.
Something in both Ria's and Gareth's eyes softened. "Guardian swords can do that to you," Ria said quietly. "How are you feeling?"
Janice shrugged with some difficulty. "It could be worse."
Gareth's eyes softened even more. And then, suddenly, he stood up, leaned over her bed, and gave her a hug.
Janice had thought that there was nothing in Neopia that could shock her after seeing the cool and collected Empress of Calladamos sobbing her eyes out. But she immediately decided that Gareth hugging her – or anyone else, for that matter – was a place ahead on the list of very odd occurrences. It was simply too strange a thing to happen more than once, twice every hundred or so years.
And yet, Janice found herself hugging him back. She heard him whisper, "I'm sorry," and she wondered, hazily, For what?
Then she remembered their argument. It seemed silly now, that she had been Forsaken and had even met a new enemy of Calladamos. She considered saying, 'I forgive you', but by the time she'd recollected her wits, he was gone. Besides, she wasn't really sure if she did forgive him.
Janice blinked. What had they been talking about? Gareth's hug had the same effect as Ariéssa's hot chocolate had had on her: It made her both content and foggy-headed.
A sudden thought flitted through her mind. "Where's Atlanta?"
Ria smiled, sadly and amusedly at the same time. "She's outside," she said gently. "'Avenging you'. It was hard for her to be in here; she's still a shoyru who looks exactly like you. I think that she felt as though everyone was looking to her to become your replacement."
Janice couldn't think of anything to say. "Oh."
From outside the tent came a roar. "Hi-ya!" Janice heard in Atlanta's voice. "You will totally pay for what you guys did! I can't remember exactly what that was... but yeah! Take that!"
There was the sound of several tires letting out air.
"That will teach you not to do... whatever it was that you did!"
Then the Princess of Calladamos burst through the tent.
She froze at the entrance, staring at her. For once, Atlanta was speechless. Then she scowled and strode over to her bed.
"Atlanta," Janice began, but Atlanta cut in.
"You have the right to remain silent," she snarled. "And by that, I mean shut up!"
Atlanta went into very elaborate detail about how out of their minds with worry everyone had been, how she had flown from the palace to assist with the war, and then, when she had come, how everyone had looked at her like they were wishing she was actually Janice.
"Please don't do that again!" Atlanta finished, almost pleadingly. But her "Hmph!" afterwards destroyed the request. Then she left, smiling even as she walked away.
Ria grinned at the retreating profile of her sister, then turned back to Janice. "Do you need anything? More water?"
"Could you help me get up?" Janice asked. "I don't think I can jump right into the fray with my side, but maybe I can help from here."
Surprisingly, Ria made no objections, but instead instructed her to do a log roll over to her side (not the side where the Guardian had struck her), swing her legs off the bed, and push herself up.
It took several tries, but eventually Janice found herself standing up, swaying only a little.
Walking, however, was a whole different matter.
Janice thought she must have fallen at least six times on her way to the tent's entrance, and stumbled another eight. Ria helped a lot, saving her from doing several more face plants. But even with her assistance, it took forever, and with each fall she saw stars and the pain, slightly duller now but still piercing, erupted in her side.
She did manage to get there eventually. Janice saw that the tent was in the forest, but not very deep inside; the battle was a few yards off, but not too close for comfort.
"How are the Guardian's not seeing us?" Janice asked.
"Invisibility spell that only works on Guardians," Ria answered. "You wanted to help from afar, correct?"
Janice pulled out the Rod of Mysti, and she and Ria commenced shooting various enchantments at the Guardians. (Ria had done another reveal spell, and, with the help of other Calladamien spell-weavers, had exposed all the imposters).
It was almost relaxing, in a way, but then they would get more and more tired after each shot, so after the first few, the two of them stopped trying to top the other in magical expertise and did simpler spells. Eventually, they both stopped casting spells entirely and just watched.
For a while, they stood there, side by side, simply witnesses to possibly the greatest war in Calladamien history. A wisp of smoke from some unfortunate Guardian twisted in the winds above the battle, its movements like that of a Cobrall.
"Where are Gareth and Atlanta?" Ria asked suddenly. They had kept in sight of the tent, even as they dispelled Guardians with their swords.
"I don't – there they are!" Janice said, pointing. Sure enough, Gareth and Atlanta were darting around, their swords merely glowing blurs at they swung, jabbed, and slashed at their all-too-slow foes. Janice watched, spellbound. They were almost graceful, in a way.
But somehow, simultaneously, two bad things happened at once.
One, a Guardian managed to disarm Atlanta and was pushing her back with its sword, towards the east. When she resisted, the Guardian used her own sword to injure the membrane of her wing. Reluctantly, Atlanta started moving back.
And two, one had disarmed Gareth and was pushing him to the east.
"They're surrounding them," Janice realized. "Ria, we've got to help them!"
"Gareth and Atlanta can handle themselves," Ria countered, but she still looked extremely worried.
"Not without swords!"
"Well, and you aren't going to be of much help, either, with that injury of yours!"
Apprehensively, they watched the scene unfold until Atlanta and Gareth were back-to-back with a ring of Guardians, eight deep, around them; the smoke was still dancing in the breeze. Their situation was grim; Atlanta couldn't fly them out of there, with her wing hurt, and they were both outnumbered and weaponless.
And so, of course, Janice began to smile.
"Janice!" Ria exclaimed, nonplussed. "There is nothing to smile about!"
"Oh, yes, there is."
"No, there is not! In case you haven't noticed, Protector, Gareth and Atlanta are out there, surrounded, and you can't help them because of your wound, and I can't help them because I need to stay here with you!" Ria's voice had risen in tone, and she sounded almost hysterical towards the end of her sentence.
Janice continued to grin, even though she could see that Ria was about to either strangle her or run off into the battle drained of magic. Yet still she smiled.
"Ria," she said, almost laughing, "don't you get it?"
Ria scowled. "No, I do not! Kindly explain it to me, Protector, and pardon my obvious foolishness!"
Janice sighed, pretending to be exasperated, but really, she was practically bouncing with excitement. Then she said, "The Guardians won't injure them, not with their swords. I think they're under instructions. Don't tell Atlanta, but she's not powerful enough, influential enough, for the Guardians to waste their time Forsaking her.
"Under instructions from whom?"
She decided to change the subject. Besides, it was still answering Ria's first question. She would tell her about Ariéssa later.
"Do you see that wisp of smoke, circling above the group?" Janice asked.
"Yes, yes. What about it? Why is it so important?"
The roar of fire filled her ears, and Janice could say no more, but only close her eyes to block out its light. Even beneath her closed eyelids, there was still a bright shining light. A wave of hot air engulfed her, making breathing difficult.
When it began to fade – the light, not the sound or heat – Janice opened her eyes.
Ria was shocked, having forgotten her past annoyance. "Janice," she murmured, staring at the confused and blackened forms of her sister and best friend on ground. "What in Calladamos just happened?"
Janice groaned a little. "Mistia just happened," she said, giving the wisp-of-smoke-that-was-really-a-Tanizard a reproving look, probably lost on Mistia from their distance. Janice guessed that she and Ria looked like a Shoyru and Draikess, but facial features were blurred and indefinite. After all, Mistia had looked like a wisp of smoke to them.
But Atlanta still looked very much like Janice, and, from Mistia's angle, could be seen pretty well. Janice sighed. Mistia usually did go a little overboard with the flames. But, she reasoned, it was just because Mistia had seen her – or, rather, Atlanta looking like her – in trouble.
"Pardon me?" said Ria, breaking into her thoughts. "Did you say 'Mistia?' As in your petpet? Janice, Tanizards don't breathe fire!"
"Mine does. To counter the Mysti's earthy-ness, I was given a fire-breathing Tanizard. You know, to teach me that fire and earth can depend on each other." She frowned. "Or something life-lesson-y like that."
Another burst of flame erupted, though it was not in the traditionally red, orange, yellow and blue, but in a violet colour. It made no sound and gave off no heat, but was higher than any fire Janice had ever seen, reaching high into the sky.
A few minutes later, a delighted Atlanta went whooping through the battlefield, and, having retrieved her sword, she slashed at every Guardian who dared cross her path, and even went out of her way to get the ones that were wise enough not to.
"Atlanta – is – BACK!" she roared, then she began to giggle, even as she made quick work of a shadow creature.
The Princess of Calladamos arrived at the tent happy, her charred, exhausted, breathless, Peophin face in a triumphant grin.
She winked. "Notice anything different about me, guys?"
Then she spun around, finishing off yet another Guardian.
She turned back at them and smiled. "Oh, it is wonderful to be a Peophin again! Janice, don't tell me that was Mistia. If it was... wow! We've got this war wrapped up!"
"It was Mistia, as a matter of fact!" Janice laughed. Atlanta's jubilance was contagious.
"Congrats on being returned to normal," said Ria, grinning at her suddenly hyperactive younger sister.
"Thank you. You know, I've never noticed how pretty my spirit glow is... until now! I never want to see emerald green – unless it's on you, Janice – as a spirit glow again. Now," she raised her sword, "let's go win us a war!"
She turned and promptly crashed into Gareth. Atlanta gave him a hurried – and delighted – explanation of what had happened (though it was fairly obvious), and rallied the weary but determined Calladamiens in a circle around them, while the Guardians were still disoriented.
"For Calladamos!" Atlanta yelled, and the call resonated throughout the army. No inspiring speech was required, after that; their enthusiasm and their loyalty for their city was all they needed.
With Mistia's help, we manage to both win the war and set half of the Calladamien Forests on fire. It will take a lot of Mysti-fying to fix it up, but that's my Tanizard, and I wouldn't have her any other way.
The moon is just rising, casting it's silver light on the castle, as Atlanta sends the remaining Guardians (there aren't that many) running off... to somewhere. Presumably another forgotten city. There are a lot of those around, according to Ariéssa.
Nobody's celebrating the victory – everyone is too tired. Right now, only Gareth, Atlanta, Ria, Mistia, and I are still in the forest. I'm (trying to) assess the damage Mistia managed to work on the trees; Gareth's watching me, making sure I don't overexert myself; Ria's gazing at the steadily rising moon, frowning slightly; Mistia's coiled herself around my wrist and is purring softly; and, of course, Atlanta is still giggling to herself about being returned to Peophin-ness.
Ria stops looking at the moon and instead turns to frown at me. "What, exactly," she says, narrowing her eyes, "was happening to you while you were Forsaken?"
"That, I would like to know," says Gareth. "I'm fairly tired--" he glances at Atlanta, "--and I think that I am talking for both of us. Besides, you have to rest. So, begin."
"Don't leave out any details," Atlanta adds.
After a pause, I begin with telling them about my reveal spell and work my way through the events that transpired while I was in my 'garden'. Then I go to the part when I woke up.
Then Atlanta says, somewhat skeptically, "You're saying that you met a malevolent light faerie who wants to take over Calladamos and gives you hot cocoa that makes you forget your past?"
It sounds so far-fetched when she says it. "Well, when you put it that way... look, you wanted me to tell it. I told it."
"Quick question," says Atlanta, looking both annoyed and confused at the same time, a difficult look to pull off. "Does this have anything to do with my being turned into you?"
I have to think about this one. Not the answer itself, but whether or not I should answer. Atlanta won't enjoy being told that Ariéssa simply did that to cause her annoyance. Her exact words: 'Pain in any other form is still pain, Janice.'
So I answer, "No, I don't think so."
Suddenly, I realize that I did leave something out, despite Atlanta's admonishments not to: Ariéssa's questions. And worse, my answers.
I remember that day in Grand Square, so long ago, it seems, when the Guardian told Atlanta that I was a traitor. And I remember when Gareth accused me of working with the Guardians.
They were both right.
Feeling slightly sick, I blurt out the removed part of the story. When I finish, I find myself staring at the ground, memorizing its grassy surface, unable to meet my friends' eyes.
But then comes a flash of anger, and I look up again. "You were right, Gareth," I say, perhaps a little too snappishly. "Congratulations."
Gareth says, quietly, "I take no satisfaction from that, and you know it. Besides, you told her against your own will, Janice."
"A traitor is a traitor whether she wants to be one or--"
"Oh, quit sulking," Atlanta interrupts, exasperated. "Look at the advantages: one, it's not your fault. Two, we won the war. And three, we have a new enemy for me to slice into ribbons. Seems like a win-win."
Despite myself, I can't help smiling. Atlanta is actually pretty good at making people feel better, in a roundabout sort of way.
Ria is thinking. She says, "I do not recall any light faerie, or hot chocolate, when I was Forsaken. But it doesn't matter; we must be ready, if Ariéssa is as powerful as you say."
"However," she starts to smile, "the best way to get ready for an enemy is to sleep. And obviously, we can't get any sleep here. To the castle?"
Mistia is keeping Gareth busy; he wants to make sure she doesn't cause any further damage to the forest, and I don't think he heard Ria.
But Atlanta and I glance at the palace. The moon is just above one of the highest towers, as though it's a great sphere just barely balancing on a mountain's peak; the whole silver-coated scene is like a fragment of a dream.
"It's beautiful," I say – the understatement of the day.
Atlanta nods. "They don't call it the City of the Moon for nothing."
With that, Ria, Gareth, and Atlanta start walking back, but I fly into the air, wanting to get a better view. The scene is beyond breathtaking from the sugar-sprinkled skies – the stars seem close enough to reach out and grab one; the moon is colossal and magnificent; the earth is frosted with silver, with shimmers of light sprinkled all over the dreamscape.
No, I think, a smile working its way onto my face, They don't call it the City of the Moon for nothing.