Of Sisters and Queens
Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack.
I followed the sound of what seemed to be a great clatter to where mine sister was repeatedly hitting her head against the wall. She did not look pleased.
“Aerlliin, what art thou doing?” I flinched as she continued the action. “Dost that not cause thee Pain?” She was clenching her teeth, which made my very body tense. I do not like when she does this.
“What does it look like, Amulatt? I’m hitting my head against the wall.” I waited for an explanation, but received none. She stopped for a moment, pointing a purple hoof at a concerned-looking Weewoo and a soft, carnation-colored letter.
“Oh. We have received a Mission from… the Faerie Queen?” I could not hide my shock. This was impressive, and seemed to be more promising than the usual ‘my desk is haunted and trying to eat me’ missions we are usually called to. I picked it up from where my sister had thrown it to the ground in frustration.
Dearest Aerlliin of Altador,
I hope this letter finds you well. Your father Oranos, one of my loyal attendants, speaks highly of you and has brought to my attention your unique ability to solve some of the more… shall we say, interesting problems Neopia has to offer?
So I request your help, though it is of a nature I would rather not entrust one tiny bird to carry the depth of.
Queen Fyora of Faerieland
My sister continued hitting her head off of the wall. “Sister mine, please stop. Thou art going to cause thyself an Injury.” I flinched as she hit her head with such force that the marble pillar shook.
“I don’t want to do this.” Her head was still pressed into the pillar, and I worried for a moment that she might have hit it so forcefully her head became embedded in the marble stone. “But Dad said the Queen pays well. Very well. She’s a no-nonsense sort and wouldn’t send us on a mission that would be dangerous. And that’s all fine, but…”
“Thou art hesitant.” I could understand why she might be hesitant- usually, a plea for help such as this came with a little something extra- Liin called them ‘doorknob problems’ as they were not typically brought up until one was at the door and a wing or hoof on the doorknob.
‘Oh, by the way, the leeches down there are venomous.’
‘Oh, by the way, the drainage system is directly linked to Meepit Oaks.’
‘Oh, by the way, the last seven mercenary teams we hired didn’t come back.’
That, my friend, is a doorknob problem. It can be a real problem, particularly when the work being offered seems to be a bit too easy for the amount of money on offer.
“Thy Queen did not give a Payment amount.” I turned the elegant pink paper around a few more times, but all that did was send bits of faerie dust to the ground.
“She wouldn’t. The thing is, the amount she’s paying is going to be nuts and totally confidential. Which means this is going to be dangerous on top of the doorknob problem.” She let out a long sigh. “But she will pay well.”
“Shall I gather more Individuals for this Quest?”
“No, we’ll be enough. It’s only going to be dangerous to a point. And we’ll likely have help from the Faerie Guard.” The way she bit her lip told me we would not, in fact, be getting help from the Faerie Guard.
The trip was easy enough, I should admit. Even though the portal from Altador to Faerieland had stopped functioning, it was easy enough to get to the fallen city now. My sister and I stepped over the broken tower remnants on the edge of the Faerie City.
“When I was little, these paths were lined with the fluffiest clouds,” Liin said wistfully. “You would have loved it. The ground had give, but you could still step as hard as you wanted on it without being hurt. It was useful, when I was just learning how to fly and would miss the cloud I was supposed to land on.” I noticed her face became more relaxed, and knew she was lost in a memory.
“Yes, yes, that is all Well and Good. But sister-mine, we hath a Task ahead of us and a limited Time in which to meet thy Queen.” I don’t like to rush her, but Liin is known for dawdling and dwelling on the past. And since we had a very important appointment to keep (that she didn’t particularly care for) I knew I needed to push her along. She is usually pretty good about getting jobs done- it’s why we, as a family, look to her when we’re getting a mission or job from someone. She’s a lot like a leader, in that respect. Perhaps if, one day, we actually start up a mercenary company as she wants to do so badly, we’ll put her at the forefront as its leader. For now, she seems content to just lead the few of us brave (or stupid) enough to follow her.
“Alright. The Faerie Castle isn’t too far from here.” She led me through the shattered streets, and I noted how the faeries and pets here were still rebuilding. The city itself still seemed to weep and cry out in some spots, where the mortar hadn’t quite cured yet. Perhaps it would be quieted some day soon, but for now it looked like a city weakened from war. I know that’s exactly what happened, but it didn’t make me feel better. A part of me wondered if it would ever recover.
We arrived at the Faerie Castle, still rather regal despite many of the tiles being shattered. All around, pets and Faeries worked tirelessly. Not only were they rebuilding, but the lot of them seemed to be flourishing on the forest floor. We were met by the Queen herself, which impressed me. I guess she took what Xandra had said to heart, because while there was some reverence going on, nobody was bending over backwards to please the Queen. As it should be.
“I’m so pleased you could come on such short notice, Aerlliin. Your father is currently out on an errand, so I’m afraid you can’t speak to him just yet.” Aerlliin smiled at Fyora’s thoughtfulness.
“We keep in touch- while he’ll be upset that he missed me, we’ll probably be in the City for a few days. Now, to be frank- what exactly do you have lined up for us?” She tilted her head out of curiosity. “Must be important, if you weren’t able to outline it for us in a letter.”
“It is.” She motioned for us to follow her to an alcove, and she surrounded us in a wall of magic to keep others from listening. I may or may not have raised an eyebrow at this behavior. “Have the two of you ever heard of the Underclouds?”
“It’s made up of the ancient stoneclouds and was previously home to Cumulonimbus, the second of the two great Faerie Cities,” Liin said, ever the dutiful student. “What became of Cirrus, the smaller of the two cities, after the events of the Fall of Faerieland is unknown.”
Fyora nodded, grinning at my sister like a teacher proud of her star pupil. “We’ve been sending people in via the new Caverns to find out the fate of Cirrus and its residents, but we have not been successful so far. It pains me to think of what you might find down there, but I can think of no one else more suited for this duty.” She handed us each a medium-sized pouch of Neopoints. “You can’t go in without these- it’s not so much for luck as the magic in the area is… difficult to manage.” I lifted one of my eyebrows.
“Thou art saying that Faerieland’s greatest Magicians have solved a Problem by throwing Coin at it?” The Faerie Queen laughed airily, throwing her head back.
“Yes, fair Amulatt, that is precisely what I am saying.” She bent down slightly to meet us both on our level. “I do not mean to rush you, but I must send you off. You will be given supplies at the door, but I am afraid I cannot offer you any further assistance while you are down in the Caverns. Good luck, dear Neopets.”
The caverns smelled exactly like one would expect caverns to smell- like dirt, mold, and algae. Some areas bioluminesced, and we did run into some other explorers on the way. So the trip into the unexplored part of the cavern was not uninteresting , and I was able to see without needing to light any of the torches and Liin didn’t need to use her light magic. We were making good time, I thought, until Liin stopped suddenly.
“We haven’t seen anyone in a while, and haven’t hit any dead ends in a long time.” She nibbled at her lip. “We must be getting close to Cumulonimbus.” She ran a wing over one of the walls, and cast a ball of light that illuminated the tunnel better. The walls here were a dark grey-blue and of a texture I’d never seen before. “Woah.”
“I had heard of these Walls in thine Storybooks. But to see them with mine own Eyes…” Seeing these things was- and you’ll need to take my word for it- one of the single most incredible things I had ever experienced. “Remarkable.” I traced the edge with my hoof, admiring the fact that they had stayed so intact despite an enormous city falling on them from ten thousand feet. Only the edges seemed to crumble. Liin picked up a couple pieces and put them into her pack.
“No way I’m not keeping some souvenirs,” she said with a grin. “If we’re lucky, we’ll get to Cirrus and find a happy, healthy, thriving city of ruffians.”
“Ruffians?” I asked. “Since when dost thou refer to others as Ruffians?”
“Growing up, that’s what we always called them.” She shrugged. “Neopets and Faeries, too ‘unseemly’ to live on the surface.” She grimaced when we stepped over a bit of cloth- neither of us wanted to look under that. “Things have… definitely changed, I think.”
“So dost thee agree with Xandra, then? Thy Queen treated Neopets unfairly and unjustly?” My sister looked around, as though there might be others listening in on our conversation.
“To a point. I mean, there were other ways to go about it and while I thought there was a bit of a power rift, I wouldn’t have brought the whole city down. Neopets ought to have places on all councils, and we didn’t before. At least, not the Faerie Council.” She stopped speaking as soon as she noticed a light coming from the path ahead. I had noticed it at about the same time.
“That must be thine Cumulonimbus City. Why is it lit?”
“We’ll find out, but if I had to guess, it’s still lit from the ancient faerie magic. They lined the very walls with faerie dust, which kept it dimly lit at all times. The light is about the right color.” She was correct, for the most part. A few clean lanterns also lined the streets, which struck me as being incredibly odd. But the streets were, decidedly, very empty and devoid of life.
“I am unsettled by this.” I felt the need to add sound to the silence, and not even an echo returned to me. A chill went down my spine.
“This is Cumulonimbus. We’re going to Cirrus, which is smaller- Cumulonimbus was abandoned a really long time ago, but nobody really knows why. Cirrus is- or was- home to a few dozen faeries and not many others.” She let a wry grin settle on her face. “My mother always told me that they were not the kind of person you’d want to really befriend.”
“Thy mother was rather harsh to Judge, though.” She nodded, knowing that her mother was one of those that didn’t listen to more than one view before forming an opinion.
“She was. We should keep moving, though, rather than bringing up my fillyhood, yes?” She asked light-heartedly. I nodded in agreement, and swore I could hear my heart beating in my chest, echoing off the ever silent city walls as we descended deeper into the Underclouds.
The silence continued to permeate everything, and was almost… maddening. I had never known silence like this before, and felt the need to once again break it (or I surely would have gone mad from it.)
“What do you expect we shall See in the Smaller of the two Cities?” I spoke so suddenly that my sister jumped, sending her own faerie dust about her in her surprise. I’ve only seen her do that once or twice in the time I’ve known her, so I know she must have been very surprised by my question.
“Hopefully, we’ll find a few dozen faeries that are slightly grouchier than usual.” She sighed, slightly more illuminated than usual by her dust. “Realistically… nothing.” I could see her face form a very deep frown. “They’ve been down here for years with no resources.”
“You’re hoping we will find Nothing rather than a lot of bad Somethings, like Remains.” She flinched, and I knew I was right.
“Faeries don’t really leave things like that behind. When they… go, I guess, they leave their things behind. Belongings. But they take everything with them when they return to their Wellspring.” The Wellspring- where faeries cycled through life and what counted as death for them.
“Well, at least we will know what Happened if there are just their Leavings rather than- OW!” My face slammed into something hard. “Or, perhaps not.” I blinked a few times to clear my vision and cast a little more light in front of me to fully grasp what I was looking at. “That is an Arm.”
“Attached to a Light Faerie!” Liin flitted about the statue. “She looks totally intact. Good, good!”
“I fail to see how a Stone Statue can be a good thing,” I said mirthfully.
“Because- when Xandra turned the faeries to stone, Fyora needed to turn them all back. Individually, if I remember correctly. Or even if she didn’t, whatever spell was cast to return them to normal just didn’t reach down here.” I didn’t understand it, but her relief was palpable.
“Can thee Return them to their… ah… Fleshy states?” I frowned when she shook her head.
“But Queen Fyora can- I’m pretty sure all of them are down here.” I watched as she counted each of them, comparing descriptions Fyora had given her to each face. “Yeah, they’re all here. This is wonderful news!” She danced about, still, but I felt a hint of unease. This was not one of the options laid out for us, either thought of by Aerlliin or given to us by the Faerie Queen herself.
“We shall head Back, then, to thy Queen’s Castle.” I mostly wanted to get up, and out of the caverns and out of the stonecloud city that suddenly felt far too small and cramped.
We headed outside, marking our way so we didn’t get lost. It would have been very easy to, as well- the entire caverns seemed so different when I was doing my best to keep a level head and not run out screaming like a terrified filly. It seemed like Liin was doing everything to slow me down, but I knew that was just my own paranoia eating away at me. I felt much, much better when I saw the light of the setting sun as it stretched through the trees that surrounded the copse the caverns emptied out into.
I took several gulps of the fresh, clean air that moved in currents that I didn’t quite appreciate before (which is a silly thing for a Peophin to forget to appreciate.) Perhaps it was simply the stillness of the caverns that made everything seem so much better now that I had exited it.
“A little happy to be out again?” Liin’s smile was wide, and I could tell she was teasing me.
“A Little, yea. The Caverns began feeling as though the Walls were closing in on me!” I exclaimed.
“It’s called claustrophobia. And don’t worry, I won’t make you go down there again. We don’t need to.” She explained that the reason we marked the way to Cirrus was to give Queen Fyora and whomever she brought with her for the expedition ‘directions’ without actually having to give them a map. “We won’t actually be the ones to really get things done on this mission.”
“What was the Point, then? Except that it Needed to be Done?” I squinted, not exactly happy. We were not chased by monsters, nothing terrible happened, the statues did not move on their own, and we didn’t find any skeletons. I felt a little… displeased.
“That’s exactly it. It needed to be done, even if it wasn’t the most exciting thing. Not every adventure needs to be a super grand one- sometimes the safe ones are the best ones. This was more a ‘had the potential to be spooky’ than a ‘my houseplant is eating my Miamouse’ mission, anyhow.” I looked at my sister in a bit of awe. While the Queen might lead Faerieland, I felt my sister was- at least at that moment- the best sort of leader one could ask for.
What becomes of the faeries frozen in time is unknown to me. It’s a story yet untold and unwritten. But this story, what I do know, has been told. It was not exciting. Nothing bad happened and no significant plots or stories were revealed. But we’re one step closer to making Liin into the true leader she wants to be- even though I think she’s already there.