Hero of Shenkuu: Part One
Becoming the Empress of Shenkuu was surprisingly—that is, almost disappointingly—easy. The residents needed a ruler, and the choices were few. I had the best interests of the people in mind, and my appearance as a Royalgirl Shoyru fit the role perfectly. An overwhelming majority of the Neopets of Shenkuu chose me as their leader, and awarded me with the highest floor of the Lunar Temple from which to conduct my royal rulings.
At first, it was nice; the servants obeyed my every wish, and the pleasant company and atmosphere were lovely. I had never been so rich in my life, and it was a welcome change. The inhabitants of Shenkuu all loved me for my insightful perspective and my ability to compromise.
Unfortunately, times change. The hassle of ruling over Shenkuu became too much to bear; it was much more than I signed up for. It's not that the people lived in poverty; it was a merchant town after all, and even without a government, most Neopets had fared quite well. The tourism was fantastic, and brought much-needed profits. I just didn't do anything for them to improve their lives, or whatever they expected from me. And I couldn't. The stress was too much. I could barely keep my eyes open during the day, during long meetings with the Kings of Meridell and Brightvale, and Queen Fyora and King Roo. Each had their own "advice" for how to run Shenkuu, but their situations were different, and they were loved by the people of their lands.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where I went downhill, but whenever I left the castle, people began to glare at me. Mothers shooed their children away from the sight of me, and every week I received a new resignation letter from one of my servants or—worse—one of my inner circle of advisers. The replacements were often detached and only there for the pay. In turn, I became frustrated and bitter. I hated it, seeing myself wasting away like that; the one who was once thought to be most suitable to lead Shenkuu, a bitter, stubborn Shoyru who refused to do anything for her land.
I know I can turn this country around, and that's why I don't give up the throne to someone more suitable. Quite frankly, I don't trust anyone else with the power that I have.
The sunset is beautiful, illuminating the sky with ripples of crimson and fiery orange. The scenery is occasionally interrupted by flying ships, whose silhouettes deserve their own admiration. A light breeze rustles my elegant clothes and makes my wings flutter pleasantly.
It is not a moment during which one wishes to be disturbed. A page, appointed approximately two days ago, clears his throat at the door to my custom-made balcony. "Empress Rhi, you have a visitor."
I'm not in the mood for visitors. In fact, I'm about to tell him so when I notice the expression on his face. He looks worried, like he has followed through with a dare to go into the Haunted Woods alone at night. "Who is it?" I ask.
The Red Eyrie doesn't speak, perhaps intimidated by my presence. It doesn't bother me; I'm used to this reaction. Impatiently, I push past him and head to the ground floor. Neopets scatter out of my way as though I show symptoms of NeoMites. Visitors from other parts of Neopia gawk at me, perhaps wondering who I am or wondering if I'm really the tyrant that I have the reputation for.
The adviser who has been with me the longest, a Shadow Grarrl named Theodore, politely exchanges words with a mysterious-looking Orange Lenny. She wears strange garments which suggest alliances with witches and other magic. I approach them cautiously, and the people in close proximity clear an aisle for me to pass through. Theodore of Three Weeks is calm and carries himself well. I can only hope that I will one day be capable of the same mastery of emotions.
Relief overwhelms Theodore's face for only a moment when he sees me. He bows slightly and nods to the Lenny. "This is Jara, an Oracle of Altador," he announces.
What does an oracle want from me? I can't come up with any rational reasons, so I smile politely as she repeats Theodore's slight bow. "It is very nice to meet you, Jara of Altador."
"And you as well, Empress. I have heard many things about you." The glint in the Lenny's eyes proposes that not all of these things are compliments.
I question Theodore with a raised eyebrow, but he ignores eye contact. "I'll leave you to discuss matters," he says, before disappearing into the swarm of tourists.
Jara and I are surrounded by the crowd, yet somehow we are isolated. She places a wing on my shoulder, which sends chills down my spine. The vibes she gives off are extremely abnormal. "I hope it wouldn't be rude to recommend going somewhere private?" she asks. The question itself seems innocent, but I'm wary of being alone with so many enemies.
Carefully, I consider the situation and decide she has no reason to assassinate me. I lead her obediently to a secluded part of the Lunar Temple. She boldly sits in a finely constructed, ancient chair, and rests her feet carelessly on a nearby coffee table. As best as I can, I overlook the gesture. "What matters are we discussing?"
"Why, the future, of course. Your future, in particular." The gleam of her eyes is scary. I decide right away that I dislike her, and I especially hate those eyes. "I've predicted some things I think you should hear about."
"And I suspect that you require payment?" I ask.
"Yes, I expect to be rewarded handsomely for my accurate and helpful predictions." She smiles at me behind thick, coated lashes. I really do hate those eyes. "Whatever you have on you for now will serve as a down payment. After I've told you, I expect another hundred thousand Neopoints."
The price is far too expensive for the information to be insignificant, but she may be bluffing. I can't read her face, can't tell what she's thinking. All I can sense is greed: her desire for more and more, and not just in money. I remember that feeling myself and almost sympathize with her. In one of my pockets, I dig out 20 thousand Neopoints. Without a word, I hand them over. Despite what I'd like to pretend, I'm actually interested in what she has to say.
Jara runs the tips of her wings over the Neopoints with that same glint of greed in her eyes, unwavering. She beckons to a servant I hadn't noticed previously, eavesdropping on us from behind a shelf of books. "Sir, could you get us some tea, please?"
Back home, she must be from a high position in social classes to casually command my servants like that. Maybe she is stuck-up, but for the benefit of the doubt, I pretend she is the former. The servant brings us tea and I sit on the couch across from her chair, uneasy. She sips at her tea calmly, well-aware of my anticipation for her predictions.
"This isn't something to be excited about," she says, as though she can read my mind. This only makes me more uneasy. "A child has been born."
I blink at her, because I'm not sure if I hear her correctly. "A... child?"
"Yes, a child. He has been born to a very capable Green Nimmo, who will train him to fulfill his purpose." She stirs at her tea absently with her beak and then takes another long sip. "You see, there is this old prophecy. Many familiar with the art of fortunetelling have known it for centuries, Empress of Shenkuu. It predicted the rise of the most diabolical figure in charge of any land in Neopia."
"I see that you speak in past tense," I note. "Who is it? Sloth? He's been inactive recently, if I'm not mistaken."
A knowing smile crosses her face, and I almost want to smack it right off. It is a very irritating smile. "Don't be ridiculous. The prophecy predicted this rise, and it also predicted its fall, which has not yet happened. The rise was brought about by, as preordained, a middle-class Neopian of fair heart, who has been corrupted by the realities of leadership."
I swallow. "It's me, isn't it?"
That smile again. "The depiction of the fall involves the birth of a Spotted Zafara. As I have mentioned, he has already been born and is now in the capable hands of that Nimmo. He will become the strongest Neopet in the world, and then he will come to Shenkuu to partake in a fierce battle against the Corrupted Empress."
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, and I am at a loss for words. If the Oracle intends this to be helpful, then she's mistaken.
"In case I haven't made it clear enough, he wins the battle. No matter how much effort you put into it, you lose your position, and possibly your life. Exactly eighteen years from now, The Spotted Zafara wins the throne and replaces you as a competent ruler—not claiming any of the lives of his fellow Neopians as his own, but at their level with their best interests in mind."
To my surprise, my vision begins to blur at the edges. It takes me a moment to realize that the culprit behind this is the tears welling up in my eyes. Hurriedly, I force them back in. It is improper for an Empress to cry before company.
The tears confuse me, until it dawns on me what this means. In all of the stories of brave heroes and their heartless enemies I heard growing up, I always rooted for the hero. The fake prophecy stories always told of a hero who wins against a villain. I have to stop the tears from coming back up again. I am the villain. I'm not just someone who is rumored to be evil; magic is at work against me, to defeat me, because it thinks I am evil. A prophecy gave birth to a Spotted Zafara, who is good, for the purpose of vanquishing evil. I'm the villain, not just an idle ruler. I am the villain.
It sinks in and unsettles my stomach. I became the Empress to help Shenkuu and unite its inhabitants, not be on the losing end of some prophecy created by magic users who wanted to extinguish evil. I'm not the right side, like I'd always hoped; I am a bad negg, gone wrong somewhere along the way, lost in greed or lust for power or something else I'd looked over. They hate me, they all do, and I know it now.
Somehow, I hold in my tears as I return to my balcony. Even in solitude, I refuse to cry. Waves of anguish make me shudder, but I know I cannot let the emotion control me. My grip against the railing of the balcony tightens as I view the precious night sky, made less marvelous by my newest revelation. Silently, I resolve myself to get rid of the Chosen One before he can get rid of me. I know I can bring Shenkuu back to its former glory and regain my reputation. I can't let this Zafara get in the way of my dreams. He'll be the villain, and I'll be the hero.
To be continued...