A Renewed Hope
Janice despised being incarcerated.
She wasn't sure exactly why – was it it was the damp floor? The magical rocks? Or was it the intense boredom and anxiety?
Whatever the reason, she hated being stuck in prison. She wished she could work some Mysti on this place – it was dreary and didn't have anything colorful – but the ridiculous magic rocks in the walls prevented her from doing so, as they were a barrier from magic. The walls weren't really made of rocks, per se. They were made of a Calladamian crystal called Emberatia. But since the walls were coated in thousands of years' worth of dust and grime, it made sense for them to look like plain old stone.
Janice glared at the Guardian keeping her captive. Then she glared at her fellow inmates, directing most of her fiery gaze at a ghost Draikess. For a princess of an ancient, powerful kingdom, she certainly knew how to get someone kidnapped and imprisoned.
It had been a mere month ago when her life was totally normal. In the mornings, Janice, an ordinary yellow Shoyru, would practice Mysti, a powerful Earth Magic bestowed upon her by Irele herself. Janice's afternoons were spent reading books or playing with her Tanizard, Mistia. Nighttime was reserved for flying over the wild, beautiful forests of Neopia, looking for exotic new plants to add to her garden.
It was on one of these nightly flights that she happened upon an extremely unusual forest. The trees seemed to glow; they seemed to speak to her, beckoning her to come near and look at their magnificent luminescence. Janice had never seen anything quite like these trees before, and her curiosity got the best of her, so she decided to get a closer look.
The Shoyru began her descent, tucking in her wings and spiraling down towards the forest as fast as she could. If one had been watching her, they would have thought that she was falling, but Janice stopped just before she hit the forest floor, cushioning her fast fall with air pumped from her enormous wings. On two feet once again, Janice began to explore.
The forest was really a wonderful sight. There were the glowing trees that had first caught her attention, with wind whistling through their leaves, creating an ethereal melody; grass swaying in the breeze, their movements fluid, like water; the silver moon and stars above, adding to the radiance. Janice was completely entranced, and she hadn't even found a single plant yet – though she thought it would be nice to add a glowing Moonlace flower to her garden. It would match beautifully with her Sundust bloom, found only in the clouds of Altador.
She was thinking about her flowers when she saw someone in the forest, flying parallel to the ground. Her first thought was to greet them.
And that was also her first mistake.
Her second thought never came, but the next mistake did – and that was not shielding her mind against the mesmerizing powers of the Guardian. She was rendered useless, hypnotized; and that was what made it easy for the Guardian to knock her out and toss her into the hidden city. Or maybe it was the fact that the Shoyru was not very strong; she was no Battledomer, and the only intimidating thing about Janice was her wings. They were quite large compared to the rest of her, and could have been mistaken for a Draik's wings rather than a Shoyru's. But whatever it was, she was easy to apprehend. As Janice was tossed through the air, through the barriers of the city, her body took on an emerald-green glow.
Janice awoke on a soft, warm, queen-sized bed, feeling very disoriented. She shook her head to clear it of some of its fogginess, and looked around the room, taking in her surroundings. The room was huge, at least twice the size of her garden back home, and shared the same eerily beautiful luminescence of the forest. The walls had odd, silvery markings on them, as though someone had been carving upon them with moonlight itself. The ceiling was a wonder to behold; it was as if someone had grabbed the salt-sprinkled night sky and used it as a roof. Janice hopped off of the bed, and cringed as she put weight on her ankle. It seemed to be sprained, maybe broken.
She sat back down to inspect it, and then stood up again abruptly (on one foot, of course) and screamed. "Why on earth am I glowing?!?
It had looked nice on the trees and the room, but a glowing Janice was unnatural...or had she been painted in her sleep?
Janice knew, however, that her new radiance was not from a paint brush. Her skin was still a yellowish-peach colour, and when painted Glowing, her skin should have been neon green. The luminescence that hovered around her was different than a paint brush colour, too – it was more of an emerald-y, jade colour, and seemed almost alive, in the way that a fire was alive – not literally living, but alive.
Janice felt frantic. Beyond frantic. She needed to get home, and back to Mistia, and away from here, and to stop glowing...oh, how she wished she had never come upon that wretched forest.
She stood up and started to leave the room, not noticing how her shadow unattached itself and walked up to a wall. "Be ready," a raspy voice said. The shadow smiled. It flitted away, dark as a starless night, and left the room, heading towards the armory. The great room darkened in its wake, and a laugh rang out from the darkness, a laugh the sucked the warmth out of the air itself. "Soon," the voice whispered, its horrible sound echoing off the walls and tripling itself. "Soon." Then, silence.
Janice, exiting the room, heard these words. But, confused as she was, Janice decided that it was simply an echo of her footsteps.
How wrong she was.
Janice flew haphazardly through a great hall and up several flights of stairs, looking for somebody, anybody, who could get her home. She glanced at her hands again and saw she was still glowing, and her great wings beat the air mercilessly, speeding her up immensely. She crashed through two double oak doors and accidently (and painfully) collided with a ghost Draikess and a red Lupe. Breathless, Janice stood herself up (once again on one foot), dusted off her dress, and panted, "Forest... explore... woke up in a... room... help me get... home to... Altador?" Then the Shoyru collapsed on the floor. The excitement of the night and that long flight up all those stairs had been extremely taxing, and her ankle still ached. The Draikess and the Lupe leaned over her, concerned. As she drifted off to dreamland, Janice heard snippets of conversation:
..."Do you think...?"
..."I doubt it, Ria. Do not be absurd. She looks similar, but..."
..."You forget your place, Gareth."
..."Apologies, milady, but still... "
..."Gareth, I think she is the Protector. Shall we awaken...?"
..."Perhaps we should. It would do no harm to interrogate her."
She felt herself being lifted and placed on something soft. Janice cried out – her ankle had been shifted – and she felt a warm hand on her foot, steadily growing warmer until the pain wore away. "We should wake her now," said the Draikess. With that, Janice was shook gently. She began to stand up, then, remembering her ankle, thought better of it. She wasn't quite sure it was healed, and she didn't want to find out the painful way. She looked up.
..."Who are you?" she asked, not caring about her rudeness.
If the Draikess noticed it, she didn't say anything about it, but instead said, "I'm Princess Ria, and this fellow--" she gestured to the Lupe, "--is Gareth. What is your name, dear?"...
Janice didn't respond, feeling snappish and indignant for a reason that she could not find. She felt oddly insulted – the Draikess, Ria, was barely older than her... younger, even, and she acted like Janice was a small, dull pet – Ria spoke her sentences slowly, as though Janice couldn't understand. She felt the little temper she had in her rise up, but she fought it down.
Ria suddenly gave her an angry look. She raised her staff, and for the first time, Janice realized that Ria was glowing, too. Her glow was a silvery colour. It looked like moonlight would if it was a vapour, and it flared and snapped, like a fire. Her staff was charged with electricity and the light it radiated was blinding. Janice turned away, and noticed something dark and quivery behind her, holding a sword just inches from the back of her head. Ria blasted it, and the shadow creature dissipated into mist. The sword clattered on the floor. The shadow had looked like Janice.
Ria dusted herself off, and glanced at Gareth. He nodded and pulled two daggers out of nowhere, and Ria once again raised her staff, this time pointing it directly at Janice.
..."Listen," Ria said, rage and fear obvious in her voice. "I do not know who you are. But if you summoned that shadow creature, then prepare to be blasted. I will ask you again. What is your name?"...
Janice swallowed, wondering how to get herself out of this mess without being blasted to smithereens. Then, strangely, unexpectedly, and certainly very un-Janice-like, she felt annoyed again. How dare this stupid Draikess accuse her of summoning a 'shadow creature', whatever that was? How dare she? Why, Janice could easily turn her into a dandelion – and with that thought, she pointed her own staff, intertwined with vines, at the Draikess. "My name is Janice. And unless you wish to be blasted and turned into a tree, I would suggest you stop accusing me of summoning anything." She turned to Gareth, who had his two daggers in both his paws, and her voice changed from threatening to pleading. "Please," she said. She lowered her staff a bit. "I honestly just want go home."...
They both stared at her – Ria didn't lower her staff and Gareth didn't sheath his daggers. Then, unexpectedly, they both bowed...well, Ria curtsied. "It is Janice," Ria murmured. "Forgive me, Enchantress."...
..."I... I do not understand."
That was the first thing that the Shoyru said after she was told she was the Enchantress of Florae. Ria raised an eyebrow. She approached the Eternal Gardener, feeling as though she was going to get in trouble for threatening to blast the Protector. "Janice? What do you mean, you do not understand? Is that not the Rod of Mysti that you hold in your palm?"...
Janice looked baffled and glanced down at the staff in her hands. "What?" she said, clearly confused.
Gareth walked up to her, trying to elaborate. He had put away his daggers in order to look less menacing. "Your name is Janice," he began. "You can work Mysti. Your spirit is of an emerald-jade-green glow. You're the Protector of Calladamos. Does...any of that sound familiar?"...
Janice gave him a blank stare. Her spirit glow dimmed. "What do you mean, I'm the Protector? I've never even heard of a silly place called Calladamos."...
Ria tried to be patient with her. After all, she was a princess. She was supposed to be regal and polite. She was regal and polite; it was her nature. But to hear this Shoyru – Protector or not – belittle her city made her spirit glow rise a few feet and snap like a flame on a candle. Ria took a deep breath. "Janice, come with me. Perhaps this will refresh your memory." Before I have to hit you on your head with my staff to do it, she thought.
Ria lead the still dazed Janice down another long hallway, instructing Gareth to keep watch over the library. Dear Gareth. A little blunt at times, he was, but also an excellent warrior and Ria's best friend and advisor. She could only hope that there were no shadow creatures in the library that he couldn't take.
The hall was long – so long that Janice couldn't see the end of it – and wide – or, at least, wide enough for Ria and her to walk a few feet apart from each other. It was very much like a cave, and looked similar to the room Janice had woken up in, with words written in silver and the cosmos themselves as a ceiling. Janice walked up to one of the inscriptions and ran her hand across the wall's rough surface, then recoiled as though the wall had burned her. She turned to Ria. "I know this place."...
Ria nodded. "This is the Hall of Calladamos. It is our history. You should know it; you were a part of it." She gestured to some words and pictures ahead, and walked towards them, placing her staff on the wall. Something like an electrical current coursed through her, her eyes glowed red, and she began to chant what the inscriptions had said.
..."Here lie the forgotten remains of our great city. Once proud, strong, marveled about, envied – now in disremembered ruins, never again seen by the sun. A musty scent hovers near the ground – it is the little-known aroma of defeat. Some know of it. Some do not. Some have smelled it, tasted its bitter tang, like snowflakes on the tongue. None speak of it.
This forsaken city – eternally lost, forever gone, always missing – is ours, Calladamos. It has never been found. Why? Why is it crumbled, hidden, unknown? Whatever happened to its remarkable legacy?
It's nothing out of the ordinary; our city of old fell because of greed, envy. This often happens, or so the Guardians say. They want to believe – they want Neopia to believe – that corruption is what caused the city's downfall to occur. But that is not the entire truth.
The stories have been retold so many times, by so many people – some of them Guardians, trying to keep the secrets hidden, some blissfully ignorant – that it is impossible to remember what really happened to Calladamos, even for us, it's long time citizens.
But it is not impossible to find out.
The Protector is one who will find our city, will uncover our history. She has been called by many names: the Enchantress of Florae; the Protector of Calladamos; the Possessor of the Mysti.
The simplest one is Janice. The Eternal Gardener."...
Ria's eyes went back to normal, and she turned to the Protector. Janice had a hint of wonder and homesickness in her eyes. "You know," she said, "We have something like this in Altador, except for our history is in a book, the Book of Ages. Not to mention that it doesn't shock people or change their eye colour."...
Ria smiled. "That was not an electrical shock, Janice. The history was just going into me; I was absorbing it. All citizens of Calladamos must do this every so often, lest we forget our history. Or our Protector." Janice narrowed her eyes.
..."What do you mean, forget?" she asked.
Ria stopped smiling, and gave a sigh. "After we got defeated – no one remembers how, but we assume it was a war – the Guardians began erasing Calladamos from Neopia. Technically, to the rest of the world, our kingdom doesn't exist. Slowly, as Neopia forgets us, we forget our history, our roots. Our identities." She drew herself up. "It is difficult, being a royal of a fading city. Do you know--" She looked at Janice. The sadness in her eyes was almost tangible. "Do you know that I haven't seen the sunrise since my coronation? Some of the younger Calladamiens do not know what the sun is. We don't even know how this happened, but one minute it was day and the next an eternal night." Her silvery glow trembled. For a moment, Janice thought she was going to cry. But then Ria regained her composure. "And that is why we need your help to defeat the Guardians. It matters not whether or not you can remember. Perhaps the Guardians rid you of your memory. But you will defeat them, as the only Possessor of Mysti." She paused, looking expectant.
Janice took this as an opportunity to protest. ..."But I only know how to grow flowers! What am I supposed to do, make them laurel wreaths to wear on their heads? And besides, that lightning-staff-thing of yours is pretty powerful. Why don't you defeat them?"...
Ria shrugged, and her very shrugs of indifference were elegant. "I cannot. Guardians are impervious to light. I know this from past experience." She showed Janice a huge scar on her forearm. "This is from the last resistance. We've tried without you in the past. Needless to say, it didn't work."...
..."Like I said, all I can do is make flowers grow out of the ground."...
..."Then you will be trained. We have a room to help those with magical abilities hone their skills. I'll help you." Ria felt exasperated, and frankly a little worried. If Janice was not willing to protect their kingdom, who would? There was no other in Neopia with Mysti. She wondered if she would have to blast her with her staff to get her to cooperate.
She was brought out of her troubling thoughts by a sigh from Janice. "I'm going home," she said. "Try to stop me, and turn into a plant. Understood?"...
Ria understood just fine. She flew up in the air and twirled her staff in repeated circles, and beams of light, like a dance ribbon, spiraled downwards, creating a yellowish bubble around Janice and her. Then she flew back down. Through gritted teeth, she said, "I will only allow you to leave if you defeat me in a duel. The force field around us will not break unless one of us loses, so escape is not an option. If I win, you stay. Train. Help us. If you win, we'll send you back."...
Janice's eyes were wide, as though taking in the situation, then she made the first move, one that Ria had not expected – she dropped her staff. Pointing her hand directly at Ria, Janice chanted a spell: "Surai Eniæ!" The ground beneath Ria's feet shifted, and simultaneously, several trees sprouted around her. Janice quickly picked up her staff again and a greenish light burst forth from it towards the little grove of trees she had created. She hoped that that spell had turned Ria into a cherry blossom or something.
The hall was silent. Janice dusted off her hands, knowing she had won. "And that is why you should never mess with Janice," she said, smiling at her quick victory and her soon return home. She did not notice that the force field was still in place.
Ria, who had flown up into the air as soon as the trees began to grow, smiled and blasted Janice with a beam of white light from her lightning staff. Janice looked up at the last second and rolled to the side, thinking that Ria had missed or that somehow she had managed to dodge. Unfortunately, the beam made a mini U-turn and hit her directly in the chest, its force knocking her down. It didn't hurt, strangely. Maybe Ria had used the wrong spell, which she could use to her advantage.
Janice began to mutter another enchantment when she realized that she couldn't talk, couldn't even make a sound. She stood there in shock while Ria landed, a smirk playing her lips. "You haven't practiced much magic lately, have you Janice? The only thing you can do now that you're silenced from spells is to use your staff, and--" she waved a hand and Janice's staff flew towards her, landing in her palm, "--I've got it now. You know, you'd look lovely as a fern, with your emerald green glow. Let's try that out, shall we?" She shot a spell at Janice, enveloping her in vines, getting ready to change the Shoyru into a fern.
Just then, the force field broke.
Ria dropped both staffs and collapsed on the ground. Magic was always taken from your own energy sources, and as an inexperienced user of the Rod of Mysti, Ria was exhausted. Janice lay there, struggling against her bonds. For a rather long time, there were no sounds, except for Ria's heavy breathing and Janice's grunting as she tried to work her way out of the vines. Eventually, Ria got over her tiredness and walked over to where Janice was still fighting her way out of the knots.
..."Janice, stop," she said gently.
..."Mmmphr!" Janice protested.
..."Janice," Ria said, sternly. "The more you struggle, the tighter they become. Only I can free you, and I will only do that if you promise to protect our city and defeat the Guardians.
..."Hmph," said Janice. Ria tapped the vines on her mouth so that Janice would be able to make the promise in real words.
..."I promise," Janice sighed resignedly, "To protect this city of...of...
..."Calladamos," Ria broke in.
."...this city of Calladamos from any enemies it encounters, be it Guardians, shadow beasts, or most deadly of all, annoying princesses.
..."Pardon me?" growled Ria, insulted.
...Janice laughed at her. It seemed as though now that she was sworn to be the Protector, she was determined to make the best of it. "I was joking. Now, would you release me?"...
Ria did. "Your training begins tomorrow, as I beat you easily in that duel. Far too easily. While you're here, you can stay in one of our guest rooms. According to the Hall of Calladamos, the Protector loves to read. That's accurate information, correct? And we have lots of bedrooms near the library."...
Janice nodded. She feigned sleepiness and told Ria that she was tired, and Ria led her to her room, which was, true to her word, right beside the library. "There are many books on Calladamos in the library to refresh your memory," said Ria, "and Gareth will be there to help with your selections. Good night."...
As soon as Ria left, Janice got up and opened the adjoining door that connected to the library. Gareth was there, absorbed in a book entitled The Eternal Gardener. It had a picture of her on the front cover working Mysti.
She walked up to him, and he didn't even look up. Janice couldn't help smiling; she hadn't known that she was such an interesting topic to pore over late at night. She tapped his shoulder, and he had her turned around with her hands behind her back within seconds and a dagger at her throat.
..."Gareth!" Janice whispered loudly, lifting her neck away from the blade's point. "Unhand me! This is Janice!" Gareth let go and gave a somewhat-sheepish apology; but, being Gareth, it was more of a statement than an apology. Janice rubbed her wrists.
..."You've got a really tight grip," she told him.
Gareth was known for getting to the point. He wasn't fond of small talk or idle chit-chat, and besides, he thought it best to distract Janice from the fact that he had just held a dagger to her neck. "What do you need, Enchantress?" he asked.
..."Please just call me Janice," Janice said.
..."What do you need?" he repeated. He glanced down at his book, then up at her again. "I don't suppose you wish to learn about yourself."
Janice shook her head. "I was coming to look for a book about the history of Calladamos," she explained. "But I'd settle for a conversation about it instead." She sat at the table and motioned for him to sit as well. Gareth eased himself into a chair.
..."If you wish to learn about Calladamos, then perhaps you should go to the Hall." Gareth was a little grumpy about being interrupted from his book, and slightly embarrassed to be caught so engrossed in the subject of the Protector, especially as was she who had caught him.
..."Alone?" Janice asked. It had been fine to go there with Ria, even though she hadn't liked her back then when her only thoughts had been on going back home. But to go alone... that would be creepy. Janice paused for a moment before adding, "Will you come with me?"...
Gareth muttered something about how late it was, but he escorted her down to the Hall anyways.
It was, somehow, even more breathtaking then it had been in the day (although, technically, it was nighttime then as well). The writing on the wall seemed to glow more incessantly, drawing Janice near like the forest had. Gareth's spirit glow, a fiery red, shone in the darkness like a torch, accentuating his brick-coloured fur. His movements were quick and lithe; he looked like a tongue of flame, there in the darkness. Janice kept close behind him. Other than the writing on the walls and their spirit glows, there was no other light sources. Apparently, during the day, the moon and stars kept vigil over Calladamos, but at nighttime...the murky blackness was suffocating.
Meanwhile, Gareth kept up a running commentary about his kingdom. That is, he went up to walls, placed his paws on them, and chanted historical happenings of Calladamos. After a while of this – Gareth walking towards walls and Janice at his heels – he turned to her abruptly. Janice nearly bumped into him.
..."What?" she demanded, watching the flickering light cast upon the walls by their spirit glows.
..."Shh!" he whispered, then motioned to a small, almost unnoticeable tunnel that was leading off from the main hall. It hadn't been there before. "Come with me, Protector--"...
..."Janice," she interrupted.
..."--Janice, and watch your step."
An hour later, she was yelling at Gareth angrily. He leaned against a pillar calmly, watching her, which only made her more furious.
..."You mean you've been watching the sunrise for years and you haven't told anyone in Calladamos? Not even Ria?!?" she snarled. Her spirit glow rose twelve feet and practically shot off sparks. Gareth's eyes flicked to the sunrise in front of them then back to Janice's eyes coolly, nonchalantly, as though she were discussing something mundane. She glared up at him and took two angry steps forward as though to slap him. Gareth took a step back.
..."Ria has not seen the sun since her coronation! Some Calladamiens don't even know it exists! Some think it's a myth! How could you keep this from them? You...you selfish little--"...
..."Janice," he said, gently.
..."Be quiet." Janice's voice was dangerously soft. She had never felt this angry at anyone, even at Ria when she refused to send her home. Even at her brother, Chris, when he wrecked almost all the daffodils in her garden. She felt a pang. Janice missed her brother. That was unusual.
."...Couldn't tell anyone. It would put them in danger," Gareth was saying. Liar.
..."Sure it would," she smirked. "In danger of happiness, hope?"...
..."Guardians," Gareth said. That one word stopped her scathing words in their tracks. She blinked under Gareth's serious gaze.
..."What do you mean?" she asked, her voice still soft but her tone slightly less furious.
..."This place is forbidden. Anyone who gets caught here...." He trailed off, leaving Janice to use her imagination.
..."Anyways," he continued, gazing at the brilliant ball of fire now rising higher in the sky. "I couldn't put anyone else through that danger." Janice wondered why Gareth was so willing to take the risk. If he thought that he could handle it, then why not anyone else? "Ria probably showed you her scar from the last resistance," he said. "She barely made it out alive, for being wounded by a Guardian drains your soul, your very existence. Your life. You'll be like Calladamos: disremembered. Nobody will remember you. I couldn't risk that." He paused, then went on. "Ria, the entire royal family– which really only includes Ria and her sister Atlanta, now – are under my protection. But besides that, Ria is also my best friend. You cannot tell her. You cannot tell anyone."...
They walked back into the tunnel, then through the Hall. No words were exchanged. The tenseness in their uncomfortable silence was almost palpable. Janice sighed.
..."I won't tell anyone," she said to him. He let out a breath. "But now I need to get to my training session with Ria." She looked at him. Gareth's glow had dimmed down considerably. It looked like a dying fire. She touched his arm. "Are you all right?"...
He glanced at her. His green eyes were so similar to Ria's blue ones: like they were hiding a great sadness.
..."Maybe you should get some rest," she told him. Janice felt concerned. He looked so defeated; his shoulders were slumped, and his eyes still held that deep sadness. "After all, you were up all night."...
Gareth nodded, and they parted ways.
..."No, Janice! Wave your hands to the left, to the left!...
Ria was having little luck teaching Janice a simple invisibility spell. It only worked for a few minutes, and thus was easy to cast, but Janice had waved her hands to the right, so now she had cast an entirely different spell. An anti-gravity spell, to be specific. Ria caught her staff as it started floating upwards, and with her other hand she held on to her skirt. Janice was doing the same.
..."What do I do to reverse it?" Janice shouted, watching all the magic items in the Training Room float upwards.
..."I am...not entirely sure. Here, I shall try this!" Ria shouted out an enchantment and promptly fell on her behind in a most undignified manner, very unlike her – though it couldn't be helped. "Well, it worked."...
Ria sighed. This was proving harder than she had thought. "Again," she said. "We must implant it in your memory, and we must practice."...
Janice began the spell again, this time waving to the left, and suddenly there was empty space where Janice had been. Her voice rang out, "Did it work?"...
Ria smiled. "Yes, it worked."...
They practiced for the rest of the day, and Janice kept improving, until she could disappear for hours at a time.
..."Excellent!" Ria said, grinning in a very un-princessly way. Her beautiful scarlet dress was scorched from an accidental fire spell, and her hair was haphazard from the anti-gravity enchantment. Over all, she was not the regal Ria she had been this morning, with impeccable outfits and flowery speech, but instead a much freer, happier queen, with a renewed hope to see the sun again.
Janice's daily schedule was rather altered in Calladamos. She would wake up and go to the Hall with Gareth or Ria, and learn all she could about the city she was to protect. She'd then go for training sessions with Ria and Janice would come out tired, more magically skilled, and happy. After that she went to the library to read about Guardians; after all, the best way to defeat your enemy was to know your enemy. Janice would read until bedtime, then she would sleep for a while and wake up to keep Gareth away from the sunrise and, thus, the chance of not being remembered.
Gareth didn't appreciate this. Physically, he was much stronger than her, so when she stopped him in the halls he could have simply brushed Janice aside; but magically, Janice could keep him afloat or unable to move, so it was easy to keep him away from the sun.
One day after her training, Janice found a book entitled AC. She wondered, briefly, if the book were referring to the Altador Cup back home, but then she shook off the ridiculous idea. The library only held books on Calladamos. She picked it off the shelf and began to read. Apparently the book was about the differences and similarities between Altador (A) and Calladamos (C). She read:
The kingdom of Altador and our kingdom of Calladamos are very different. Altador's symbol is of the 'sun', while ours is of the moon. But, the Protector's city and ours have some similarities. Both have forgotten pasts. Both have magical history recorders. Both have Protectors: in Altador, theirs is an Aisha named Jerdana, while ours is the Possessor of Mysti, Janice--
Here, something was missing: a line or a sentence. Janice stood up and went to go find Ria. This book interested her; particularly because there was some connection from her hometown to Calladamos, and the suspense was annoying.
She found Ria in the Training Room, expertly slashing dummies with a sword. "Um...Ria? What are you doing?" Janice asked, surprised. Ria had told her a few days ago that she wasn't fond of swords; her only offenses and defenses were magic, and she liked it that way. But apparently she had changed her mind. Ria suddenly turned on her and held the sword's point to Janice's unarmed chest, then laughed at Janice's shocked face. She went back to slashing the dummies.
..."Ria!" Janice said, more persistently. She had to find out what that sentence had said!
..."Hmm? What is it?" said Ria absently. She concentrated on her sword work. Her spirit glow was so fierce that Janice thought for a moment she was on fire – grey fire, that is.
..."You don't like swords... but never mind. I need to ask you something." Janice walked up to her and showed her the open book. She pointed at the cut off sentence. "See, look here. It just stops. Do you know what it says?"...
..."Oh, that," said Ria. Her pretty greyish eyes flashed like steel. "Let me see... oh, yes, now I remember. After your name, the sentence ends, and a new one begins... 'The city of Altador is a mirror copy of Calladamos; Altador known for its sunshine, Calladamos not known at all.
What most people don't know is that they are really the same city. Calladamos is merely a shadow of Altador. When the Protector brings the city back, Altador will fall; that is, it will cease to exist. Because of that, Calladamos will be brought back into the world.
By this point, Janice had tears in her eyes and a hand over her mouth. Ria's voice was soft when she said, "Janice, I'm so sorry. But in order to bring back Calladamos--"...
..."I'll have to destroy my home," Janice interrupted in a hushed voice heavy with despair. "Altador."...
..."Janice, you must help us. You are the Protector."...
..."Not anymore," Janice told her, tears streaming down her face. She dropped the Rod of Mysti and fled the room.
Janice tore through the palace, not caring who she ran into or where she was going; she had no destination in mind, nor would she have seen or heard anything if she hit it. Her tears blinded her, and the thudding of her heart pounded in her ears. She loved Calladamos already. She loved its starlit skies, its glowing citizens, and its mysterious history. She loved everything about it, and would have done anything to bring it back.
Anything, that is, except for destroy Altador. She loved it, too: its radiant sunrises and sunsets, its twelve heroes, its food, its people – even its Yooyu Ball Team, crummy as it was. She couldn't destroy Altador. It was her home. But so was Calladamos now.
She crashed into a large room, empty but for a beautiful ebony-black grand piano with keys of ivory. A blue Peophin sat there, playing it. The melody she made was so magnificent, so lovely, that it stopped the grief-stricken Janice in her tracks. Tears streamed down her face and fell to the ground like rain. She gave a little sniffle.
The Peophin looked up, annoyed at the intrusion, and then her face took up a concerned if slightly scornful look. She had a face that looked a little bit younger than Ria, and she certainly did not look very princess-like – she wore a T-shirt, a skirt and a beige fashion scarf – and yet, it was unmistakable that she was, in fact, a princess. She had amber colored eyes. Her glow was a deep violet.
She said, "I'm Atlanta. Princess Atlanta to you, whoever you are. Why are you crying?"...
Janice remembered Gareth saying something about Ria's sister named Atlanta. When she finally found her voice, she said, "My name is Janice. Janice the Protector, to you. I'm crying because I just learnt that I have to wreck my home if I want to bring your city back."...
Atlanta raised an eyebrow. "And where in Calladamos did you hear that nonsense?"
..."Your sister, Ria, told me just now," Janice sighed. "So now I'm looking for an exit from this place. If protecting Calladamos means that I have to destroy my home, then I am not your Protector."
Atlanta snickered.I don't need protecting." She displayed two twin sword blades and sliced the air mercilessly and expertly. "But really?" Her voice turned serious. "Why would that happen? Calladamos isn't a shadow of Altador. See?" She pointed to a map of Neopia on the wall. "Altador--" she stabbed her fin at Altador on the map "--is here. Calladamos--" she pointed to an empty island across from Shenkuu "--was here, before. I don't know where Ria got that idea, but returning Calladamos will not affect Altador in any way, at least that I know of." She looked satisfied with herself when she added, "And I know a lot."...
Suddenly, Ria burst through the door. "Janice, where have you been?" she asked breathlessly. "You didn't show up for your training session. I thought you were in the library, but I checked and you were not there." She glanced at Atlanta. "I see that you've met my sister."...
Why did you tell me that lie?" Janice burst out. "I was terrified that I would soon be either abandoning Calladamos or destroying Altador."...
There was a silence. Atlanta watched both of them, unabashedly interested in where this discussion was headed.
."...Whatever do you mean?" Ria asked, confused. "What's this about Calladamos and Altador?"...
Janice told her about it, starting from when she saw Ria in the Training Ria room with the sword. "I didn't even go to the Training Room today until the scheduled time for our training session," Ria interrupted, sounding very puzzled. "And I do not, nor will I ever, use swords. I leave that to Gareth and Atlanta." She paused, clearly thinking deeply. "How did I look? I mean, did I seem different, act different from usual?"...
..."Well," said Janice, "Your spirit glow was really wild, and more greyish than silver. Your eyes were kind of distracted, like you were thinking of something else..." Janice trailed off. Ria's eyes had also been a grey colour, like cold steel, nothing like her blue ones. It all began to come together. Ria's eyes were blue. Not grey. Her spirit glow was silver, not grey. Ria hated using swords. She'd barely glanced at the book before repeating what it supposedly said, or was supposed to say. That Draikess in the Training room had not been Ria. It had been an imposter. Janice swallowed. "That was a Guardian in the Training Room," she said, her voice itself trembling. "That was a Guardian. Oh, no. I left my staff in there. The Rod of Mysti. I left it with the Guardian." She hardly knew what she was saying, she was so frightened. She silently berated herself for not noticing sooner, and for leaving the staff behind.
Atlanta's mouth was wide open with shock. Her violet spirit glow flared up and then died down a bit. Ria took in a sharp intake of breath, like a gasp. She looked absolutely terrified, horrified, and the sadness in her eyes turned to fear. Janice felt exactly how they looked. In that instant, all three of them had the exact same thought.
..."Gareth," Atlanta whispered. Without another word, they turned around and burst through the doors. As though they were one pet instead of three, they began to run.
Janice took flight in the middle of the dash and, due to her huge wings, was the first one in the library. "Gareth? Gareth! Are you in here?" she yelled. Atlanta and Ria came in a few seconds later, panting heavily. "Gareth!" Atlanta shouted. Her glow dimmed as she listened for an answer, an answer which didn't come. This only confirmed their fears: Gareth was captured.
..."He's not here," Ria said, sounding frantic. "We must search the palace!"...
..."That'll take too long," Atlanta protested. "We should split up. It will be quicker."...
..."Don't you see? We cannot split up!" Ria argued. "If we do, it will just make it all the easier for the Guardians to capture us. Like they did Gareth. He was alone, so he was an easy target."...
At this, they both fell silent. Then they started arguing again.
Janice didn't say anything. She was thinking.
..."Wait!" she said suddenly, stopping Ria's and Atlanta's argument. "I think I know where he is. But we have to hurry."...
They exited the library.
..."We've got to quickly check the Training Room," Janice murmured. "The Rod may still be there."...
Atlanta snorted. Janice was amazed: even as worried as she was about Gareth, Atlanta could still manage to be snarky. "Yeah, somehow I doubt that."...
Ria ducked her head through the open door, did a quick scan of the room, and came out, confirming that the staff was, in fact, not there. Neither was Gareth, unfortunately.
..."Janice," she said, still sounding frantic. "Where do you think Gareth is? Where could they have taken him?"...
Janice quickly explained how Gareth had been going to see the sunrise every morning as they ran through the Hall. They had no time to get angry; Atlanta and Ria were far too concerned about their friend to be mad. Janice led them to the pathway and took them to the sunrise.
For a moment, the royals of Calladamos were enraptured with the beauty of the golden sun rising over the tree tops. But they quickly remembered why they were here and became serious and anxious once again.
Atlanta glanced around. Other than the sun, she couldn't see much. That was what worried her. "When we see the Guardians," she told Janice and Ria, "They will not look frightening. Just as the Guardian in the Training Room looked like Ria, they will appear to us in familiar forms. They could look like Gareth. They might look like Mistia. Janice, they could even appear as your staff. Do not be taken in."...
Ria and Janice nodded mutely, and they continued on, throwing troubled glances over their backs as they walked.
Ria was the first one to see him, far away. "Gareth!" she said, and burst into tears; she was that happy to see him safe. She was about to wave when Janice took her shoulders and shook them. Hard.
She hissed, "Ria, look at his glow. Doesn't it look darker than usual?"...
It did actually look darker, almost the color of blood rather than flame. Ria didn't care. It was probably because he was so far away.
..."Ria," Atlanta snapped sharply. "That is not Gareth. You've been manipulated already. Harden your heart. It's tricking you." Ria shook her head.
..."Don't be silly," she said. "That is Gareth." She waved at the Guardian before Atlanta or Janice could stop her. The Guardian waved, too. But not at them.
..."It's spotted us, and now it's summoning reinforcements," Atlanta muttered. "Great job, sis."...
Ria flashed her a goofy smile. "Thank you!"...
Janice ignored Ria and watched the Guardian nervously. "Why would they need reinforcements? A single one could easily knock all three of us out."...
..."Because Ria and I are royalty," Atlanta explained, keeping a wary eye on 'Gareth'. "Royals of Calladamos are trained in the magical arts, so we're supposedly very strong. Plus, you're the Protector. You may not have the Rod, but you do have Mysti." She stopped speaking as the Guardian got closer. Ria giggled and waved. Janice asked, "Should we run?"...
Atlanta shook her head. "If we run, they will overtake us in seconds. We must fight. Be ready. They'll be here soon." She unsheathed her twin blades. Janice took up a fighting stance. Ria giggled again, and Janice decided to take her staff.
Within a few minutes, they were defeated.
Janice stopped glaring at Ria and switched her attention back to the Guardian. Ria seemed to be coming out of her trance. She blinked. "Where are we?" she asked, confused. She looked out of the bars of their cell and upon seeing the Guardian she froze. "Janice, help us," Ria murmured. Suddenly, Ria seemed to remember that Janice was right there in front of them. "Erm, no offense."...
..."None taken," Janice sighed.
The Guardian opened the cage and threw Gareth to the ground.
Janice and Ria exclaimed, "Gareth!" and rushed over to help him up. Only Atlanta was wary. "You are Gareth, right? Not some Guardian impersonation?"...
Ria glowered at her. "Of course it's him. Do you think that the Guardians would throw one of their own into this cell with us?" It was obvious that the good old, sensible Ria had returned, and Janice said so. Atlanta couldn't help agreeing.
Atlanta, now convinced of Gareth's authenticity, pressed him for the details of how he had been captured.
Gareth explained that he had been going to the Training Room to practice his swordplay when he had seen Ria – or, rather, an impersonation of her – talking to a shadow creature. He had dispatched of the creature and was turning to Ria for an explanation when he had been knocked out, tied up, and thrown here, into this cell.
The Guardian opened the cell again. "Another prisoner?" Atlanta asked. The Guardian shook its head. "No," it whispered.
Two more Guardians appeared and took Ria, who immediately began kicking and screaming and shouting very un-princessly things at them. Then they grabbed Atlanta, who took after her sister. Gareth went next. He fought as hard as he could, but the Guardians were too strong.
Janice watched with wet eyes as they took her friends. She fought the Guardians taking them as much as Ria, Gareth and Atlanta did, but it seemed that the Guardians were protected by something that prevented her punches from landing. She wondered if they were going to erase them from the memories of everyone who knew them. She wondered if she would ever see them or Mistia ever again. She wondered where her staff was, and she wondered what time it was.
One thing that the Protector did not wonder was whether or not they would take her, too. She knew the answer to that one. She knew that she was next.
They dragged her to a large room. She fought, too, even though she knew it was futile; but she felt as though she should go down with dignity. But no amount of kicking or punching affected her captors. The Guardians were simply too physically strong for her.
Physically stronger...Like Gareth, when I kept him from the sun! Janice thought suddenly. And she was no longer in the cell, the cell that was a barrier from magic. Janice concentrated on things that were hot, very hot. The noontime sun in Altador. That carrot soup from when she was volunteering at the Soup Kitchen. The sand of the Lost Desert. She chanted a spell.
Suddenly, Janice caught aflame. The Guardians released her, shocked. Her spirit glow flared up and merged with her flames, making Janice a green and orange Shoyru-shaped bonfire.
Janice smiled down at the Guardians below her. She turned around and raced down the corridor, looking for her friends.
She found all three of them, somehow free of their Guardian captors. There was a hug-ful, tearful reunion (except for on Gareth's part, since he was one who didn't do hug-ful, tearful reunions).
And then her friends fainted.
One minute they were standing up happily greeting her, and the next minute they were collapsed in lifeless heaps upon the floor. Janice gasped, then dropped to her knees and shook them in turn – Ria then Gareth then Atlanta – calling their names desperately.
Atlanta's violet spirit glow died out for a moment – not dimmed down, but died down – it simply disappeared. Then it came out again. And left Atlanta's body.
The purplish mist rose out of the downed Peophin and hovered above her, eventually taking the shape of a ghostly Faerie. Gareth's red glow rose away of him, too, and became a spectral Skeith. Ria's beautiful silver spirit glow simply dissipated and, when it reappeared, took the form of a ghost-like Gelert. The third member of the Three.
Janice stared at them as the awful truth dawned on her: her friends had been possessed by Ambition, Greed, and Revenge.
The Faerie's face was devoid of emotion. But her eyes shone with a strange, slightly hungry glint. A glint of ambition.
She smiled – an empty, soulless smile – and spoke to the other two members of the Three. "Be ready. We have a kingdom to overthrow."...
Her voice was familiar; it was one of the three voices in the room Janice had woken up in when she had first come to Calladamos. "Be ready"...that was what Atlanta had said as the Guardians had approached them. Then, "Soon." Like the voices in the room. Had Atlanta been trying to warn her that she was possessed by Ambition?
No, Janice thought, because Ria, Atlanta and Gareth acted normal. They were possessed, but they didn't know it.
Janice glanced at the Peophin on the floor, and then to the Draikess and the Lupe. Her friends. She thought about the citizens of Calladamos, unknown to Neopia and untouched by the sun.
She was the Protector of this defeated kingdom.
Janice stood up. Her spirit glow was faint, as was her courage; but her allegiance to Calladamos was strong. Of course, allegiance didn't save cities. And so she was quite surprised when she started to speak.
..."I am The Possessor of Mysti," she whispered, and took to the air so that she was above the Three. Her great wings flapped; they sent a cool wind that smelled of apple blossoms around the room. Her voice grew louder with each sentence. "I am The Enchantress of Florae; The Protector of Calladamos; the Eternal Gardener. I am also Janice. Owner of Mistia the Tanizard. Sister of Chris, Amber and Justin. Friend to Ria, Gareth, Atlanta, and others.
But most of all, I am your worst nightmare. Be prepared to pay for what you have done to this city.
She unleashed a wave of Mysti onto the Three.
The events that happened afterwards were carved into the walls of the Hall to be remembered forever, like Calladamos.
The beam of Mysti missed the Three. It was an excellent shot, but, being ghosts, they simply evaporated so that the beam didn't touch them. Janice remembered something from all the books of Guardians that wouldn't do her any good – Defend your mind. Guardians could appear as the most wonderful things ever, so if your mind was weak (not unintelligent, but unguarded) they could easily take control.
This was what Janice was thinking of when the Three invaded her mind.
She heard their voices, wispy and cruel and heavy with the weight of a thousand destroyed cities.
For a moment, Janice was taken in by the Three's persuasive reasonings. They appealed to her inner self, to the little bit of evil she had inside. Ambition whispered to her about all the kingdoms she could rule with her power; Revenge urged her to get back at all those who had wronged her; Greed mentioned wands of gold and laurels of emerald.
But Janice heard other voices: war cries, wails of pain, hushed whispers of advisors wondering about the rash and horrible decisions of their corrupted rulers. It was these voices, coupled with her conscience, where what broke her of the spell.
..."Suraie enéa Trila," she whispered. "Kaladamosa tetra. Lunann soli."...
She had never heard that spell in her life. But she knew it.
It was the spell of Calladamos – or, more accurately, its song. Or at least the first few lines. She had spoken it in Calladamien, but now she began again in English:
..."This is the city of glowing hearts,
Hidden from the world for reasons unknown
A city where hope hasn't left its marks
Calladamos, where sun has not shone
Most do not know of the Forbidden City
It is a mystery left forever untold
Disremembered, it's a place not merely pretty
But beautiful, rather; this kingdom of old.
This is the city of glowing souls
Hidden from the world, a story to unfold
Hope lifts the citizens; voices resound
Calladamos, the place that was found."...
The voices in her mind quieted. She wondered once again what time it was. And realized that her mind belonged to her once again.
Where were the Three?
Janice opened her eyes. Upon the stone wall were carvings of an elaborate battle; Ambition, Revenge and Greed were there as well. They looked almost alive.
Suddenly, Janice felt as if a fog had been lifted and she realized that they were alive. The spell of Calladamos had imprisoned them in a stone wall.
The coronation hall is a large place, but it is packed with people. Gareth stands on one side of me; Atlanta on the other. Ria is in front of us, giving a speech that I know even she thinks is boring. The crowd is restless, and Gareth stifles a yawn. Atlanta doesn't have as much luck, and yawns a yawn so huge that it makes me feel drowsy. Ria glares at her then finishes the speech – finally – and waves her hands to the left for an invisibility spell, making the wall behind us disappear. On the other side of the wall is the sun. There is a collective gasp from the crowd, then a great silence. It reminds me of how quiet it was when the Three got trapped in the wall – or, it was quiet, until Gareth burst into cheers. Gareth, the serious one. I suppose it just goes to show that happiness can change people greatly.
I hear a round of applause come from the crowd, and I see them staring at me with mixed emotions on their faces: appreciation, happiness, relief, awe, disbelief. Atlanta and Gareth push me lightly ahead, towards Ria, who receives me in an elegant purple dress and a suppressed scowl that tells me that she's missing her scarlet gown terribly. I can't help grinning at the look on her face, and she smiles, too, after a pause. She turns me to face the crowd, with its many glows. The people look as though they are on multi-colored fire. "I give you Janice," she tells them in a voice that carries through the hall. "Your Protector."
The crowd erupts into cheers and whoops and tears. Ria hands me the Rod of Mysti kind of reverently, then places a laurel made of emeralds (like Greed said!) on my head. It matches my spirit glow and catches the light of the sunrise, making it all the prettier.
A royal Zafara with even more elegance than Ria steps out of the crowd. She wears a lovely yellow dress with goes beautifully with her amber eyes that look similar to Atlanta's eyes. From the way she carries herself, I know that she's Ria and Atlanta's mother, remembered once again. She's holding a crown encrusted with diamonds. It's made of an alloy of gold and silver; Ria told me that it represents the sun and the moon. She places it on Ria's head. This is a double coronation: I'm being sworn in to be the Protector, and Ria is becoming an Empress. Her first coronation was when she became a princess, on the last day that she saw the sun, and now she is becoming an Empress and seeing the sun again in all its glory. It makes me smile at the strange irony of it all.
Atlanta, from behind me, laughs at something Gareth's said. Ria and I turn to look at them, and from the confused frown on Gareth's face, he had not intended his words to be taken as funny. Which, of course, makes the situation all the funnier. Before we know it, Atlanta and I are laughing so hard that I have to lean on my staff to stay upright. Atlanta's already on the floor, giggling as hard as a Peophin can giggle. Ria, being an Empress now, has to be more reserved, but seems to be having a battle with her features to keep a straight face. Gareth looks at the three of us and shakes his head.
The formal celebration ends, but there is still celebrating in the streets, dancing, singing. The four of us head to the palace in a companionable silence, which is a sharp contrast to the clamor around us.
Once inside, we go to the library. Atlanta turns to me. She glances at Gareth and Ria uncertainly, then looks at me, seeming almost... shy? She takes a deep breath, then says something that catches me completely off guard:
..."Are you staying?"...
I look at her. "Of course I'm staying," I say. "We haven't even eaten any cake yet."...
Atlanta seems impatient now, which is closer to her usual self. "I mean," she says, sounding annoyed, "are you staying in Calladamos? You're our protector now, but... well, do you want to go home? We could, um, maybe call you if we need...protecting."...
She pauses, and it suddenly occurs to me that I haven't seen Mistia or Altador in more than a month. I get a sudden and sharp pang of homesickness which causes me to sit in a chair to arrange my thoughts. I take a deep breath to help slow my suddenly fast heartbeat.
My thoughts ignore my attempt at calming myself down and instead go a mile a minute. Out of my jumbled feelings, I can only identify one: I want to stay.
..."I'm staying," I say. Ria, Gareth and Atlanta break into grins. "But I want to go to Altador first; Mistia hasn't seen me in a month, and...oh, gosh! My garden must be dying!"...
I smile at this. It won't take me any time to repair any damage that time has done to my garden.
..."I also want to bring some things with me. Some books on Calladamos would be nice, as well as some of the paintings in the room with the piano in it. Maybe I'll bring the piano."...
My friends roll their eyes, excepting Ria, who merely chuckles. "Anything else, oh great Protector?" Atlanta says teasingly.
..."Yep," I say, smiling. "You three. Pack your bags, because you guys are finally going to see the outside world." I pause. "Will we still have our spirit glows when we leave? It may or may not scare some people to see all of us glowing-but-not-painted-Glowing pets."...
Ria smiles. "I'm sure they'll be fine."...
Gareth and Atlanta nod, and dash to their respective rooms to pack a few things for the trip. "Don't forget sunscreen," I call after them. "Altador will be boiling compared to Calladamos, and you'll want to be prepared!"...
Ria stands gazing at the shelves of the library. Then she laughs, a great laugh that fills the room with happiness.
..."You know, Janice," she says, her eyes fixated on a book in front of us. "All that you've done in Calladamos has been done for one reason and one reason only."...
..."To defeat Guardians? To protect the city? To show Calladamos to the world?" I say, curious.
..."No," she says, smiling. She picks up the book and shows me the title. "'To Renew Hope.'"...
Sunlight shines through the window and fills the room with a warm yellow light. Ria turns and goes to pack, and I sit watching the outside world, alive with wonder and filled with questions.
A flower that grows without sunlight will be small. It will be scrawny, pale, shriveled. And yet, this one flower will be strong, knowing hardship. It will be radiant, knowing darkness.
And it will be memorable, knowing how it feels to be disremembered.
Things Best Remembered
The Protector of Calladamos, otherwise known as Janice, gave a long, exasperated sigh.
The yellow Shoyru had been given the assignment of rearranging the library, and this was the... fourth day? Fifth? Sixth? She was no longer sure how long she had been doing this arduous task. The fact that she hadn't gotten any sleep in between didn't help her guessing.
Of course, Ria, a ghost Draikess, hadn't exactly put it that way – 'rearranging the library'. Becoming an empress had equipped her with a new, impressive, fancy vocabulary that could make any event seem either exciting or relaxing and anything in between. In Ria-speak: "The library, Janice, is a place of great knowledge and antiquity, a place where Calladamiens of varying philosophies and spirit glows have come to seek wisdom. A place where our historic papyri reside; some gathering dust, some thrust into hidden corners. You must retrieve them, for the sake of Calladamien knowledge!"...
The abridged version: "Janice, because I'm an empress, I can use my empress-y lingo to force you to clean the library without you knowing what you're doing until you start. So, go clean."...
Thankfully, she only used her impressive vocabulary when she wanted to get a chore done, or else Ria could have easily gone from the Empress of Calladamos to the Dictator of Calladamos.
Janice glanced helplessly at the book currently in her hands – entitled To Renew Hope – which, despite her slight annoyance towards Ria right now, brought a smile to her face, albeit a weary one. It reminded her of her coronation.
But there was no time to dream of the past right now. The library was huge. Even now, on the fourth-or-fifth-or-sixth day, Janice hadn't even finished a quarter of it. Her spirit glow – an emerald-jade green – flickered as she thought of all the work to yet be done. Janice couldn't even use magic to make the work go faster; the library had ancient barriers that blocked all magical signals except for those coming from Calladamien royalty, which Janice was not, and the earth magic Mysti, which wouldn't help her in the least, not with cleaning.
She heard muffled footsteps behind her, and a red Lupe, Gareth, came into view.
Janice smiled. She hoped Ria had sent him here to help her. "Hi, Gareth," she said.
Gareth always got right to the point. Salutations were wasted on him, and rarely returned to the sender. He said, "Ria told me that you might need help cleaning up." Gareth paused, and realization flitted across his face as he grasped exactly what he had gotten himself into. "Though, perhaps not in those words...".
Janice couldn't help grinning. Ria was getting better at this empress business if she could trick Gareth, whose focus was always – or, almost always – unshakable. "Good," she told him. "I can use all the help I can get."...
No words were exchanged after that, and the duo got to work on tidying up the library. Before long, the methodical sound of books being set down and the scent of dust – not to mention the sleep, or lack thereof, that she had gotten these past few days – lulled Janice into an almost dream-like state. She lifted, arranged, dusted, swept, and otherwise did all the things that a protector of an ancient city should not have to do.
She was near the ceiling, using her wings to keep her aloft as she placed a scroll on a high-up shelf, when she murmured sleepily, "Haven't we got maids to do this for us?" A yawn slipped out of her mouth. She was so, so tired. Why in Calladamos hadn't she slept?
It was a rhetorical question, but Gareth, from below, answered it anyways. "This is an ancient palace, Janice. It is filled with magic – and rules – of olden times. Only the royal family, the knights, and the Protector are allowed here."...
..."So no servants?"...
..."No servants." And then, with a slight smile, "Except for us, perhaps.
Janice heaved another sigh, one that quickly turned into a yawn. She had a sudden thought and said, "Gareth, what day is it?"...
Gareth looked up at her with a look on his face that was shaken, panicked even. Ignoring her question, he called up, "How long have you been here?" Trepidation grew steadily in his voice.
..."Hmm. Four-or-five-or-six days. Give or take. It hasn't really been..." Spots of darkness danced in front of her eyes. "It hasn't really been that long."...
..."Janice, have you slept at all?"...
She looked down at him. He seemed concerned, which was fine. There were two Gareths, though, which wasn't. One of them rapidly darted in and out of sight, and with Gareth's flame-red spirit glow flying around, she grew very dizzy, very fast.
..."Janice?" His voice sounded far, far away. Gareth Number Two waved at her.
..."Sleep? Oh, right. I think--" she smiled dazedly, already swaying. Her wings beat slower. "--I... I must have forgotten to."...
Luckily, Gareth had the sense to step out of the way when Janice fell. He looked down at the lightly snoring heap of Protector at his feet and sighed. "Janice, Janice, Janice," he murmured, shaking his head each time he said her name. "When you haven't slept for a while, it is best to stay out of the air."...
Ria stared at Gareth, willing him to repeat his words so she wouldn't have to let such ridiculous phrases come out of her mouth. Her spirit glow, the colour of moonlight, rose a foot or two to match her agitation. She could hardly believe it.
..."Janice fell asleep," he said curtly. "And I cannot lift her out of the library. Her wings are determined to keep people away."...
Ria was having a hard time keeping her facial features in control. "Oh," she said. Currently, it was the most intelligent thing she could think of saying. "Oh."...
..."I need help. We cannot just let her lay there."...
Ria opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She coughed and tried again. Her voice came out as a tiny whisper, which was a small improvement, but still better than no improvement at all, and much better than bursting into laughter – which was what she was planning to do. The thought of Janice falling asleep in the library was, somehow, amusing to the point of being funny. "Right," Ria said. "Lead me to her."...
They walked to the library, Gareth's face unreadable and Ria still struggling for control. When they arrived at the door, Ria was almost scared to open it, lest she begin giggling and not stop. But she pushed into the library regardless.
Janice laid there, a look of serenity on her face and her wings pumping as though trying to lift her into the air even as she slept.
Garth stood off to the side. Ria gripped her staff, pointed it at the Protector, and let the magical power slowly lift the Shoyru off the ground. Then, she proceeded to shake her. "Janice, awaken!" she ordered, finally regaining back some of her composure.
Janice gave a slight smile, and she emitted a soft sigh. She must have been having a good dream. Too bad. Ria would still have to wake her up.
..."Wake up!" she commanded, and again in Calladamien: ...Alevake!"...
This roused Janice. She shook her head, as though having trouble remembering where she was. Then her gaze focused on Ria. Janice's spirit glow flared up, but her voice was relatively level, if a bit annoyed for having her nap interrupted.
..."What do you need, Ria?" she asked.
..."You fell asleep."...
Just then, Atlanta burst through the door. "Grand Square," she gasped. "Guardians."...
As if sharing thoughts, Janice, Gareth and Ria all exclaimed, "What?"...
Atlanta swished her tail impatiently. The blue Peophin hated it when others reacted slowly. "Come on!" she cried, turning out the door and not looking back behind her to see if they were following. Luckily, they were.
Grand Square was silent and empty, whereas if there were Guardians there, it should have been nothing short of pandemonium. Gareth looked around warily. He pulled out his two daggers, watching for anything that moved.
Janice fingered the Rod of Mysti. She was almost as green as her spirit glow, and not just from lack of sleep. "I thought the Guardians were finished with when I trapped the Three in the wall," she murmured, more to herself than anyone else.
Atlanta turned on her, suddenly, with all the force of a snarky Peophin princess – which was, surprisingly, a lot of force. She snarled, "Of course not. Don't be stupid. If you go bowling, will knocking down one pin knock all of them down? No! The Three were just the... bosses, I guess, of the Guardians and shadow creatures. Their life forces weren't connected."...
At the mention of shadow creatures, all four of them instinctively turned to look at their shadows to make sure they were still attached and not trying hit them on the heads with clubs. When they established that their shadows hadn't become malevolent Shoyru-, Draikess-, Lupe-, and Peophin-shaped creatures of terror, Atlanta went back to berating Janice.
Janice sighed, slightly irritated and still a bit grumpy for getting her nap interrupted. She was the Enchantress of Florae, the Eternal Gardener, and here she was being criticized by a princess while Guardians ran rampant through Grand Square. Protectors protected. And that was what she intended to do.
..."Time is of the essence," she said. "We have to find the Guardians. Revunelled!" She moved her hand in the four cardinal directions, flicking her wrist at each one as if to emphasize her point, and that completed the spell. Her spirit glow flickered, and a slight, almost unnoticeable fatigue encased Janice as she finished the spell for reveal.
Thanks to the spell, four forms that Janice knew were Guardians appeared. They were behind some buildings. But something was wrong.
..."What do they want?" asked Ria. "If they wish us harm, they could easily attack us now." Ria had lost her flowery speech; she utterly despised Guardians, and had a scar to prove it. This was no time for empress sweet-talk.
Janice murmured, "They come under a white flag."...
Gareth looked at her as though the all the time the Protector had done in the library had messed with her mind, which it quite possibly could have.
..."Guardians do not show mercy," he growled. "Janice, they are trying to defeat you, to run Calladamos back into the ground. Why would they come under a white flag?"...
Atlanta nodded. "I say we go and slash 'em to bits right now." She pulled her new sword out of its sheath. It was beautiful, Janice thought, for a sword – made of the finest Emberatia, inlaid with amethysts, with the name Atlanta engraved along the golden hilt.
But Atlanta never got the chance to show her prowess in sword fights, for the Guardians came out first. They held a white banner over their heads.
Janice had to avert her eyes; looking at the Guardians for too long made her furious for what they had done to Calladamos, ready to Mysti them into oblivion. She could not do that under a white flag.
..."We come in peace," the front one rasped.
..."I'm sure you do." Atlanta smirked. "But how about I just slice you to pieces right now?"...
Ria watched them suspiciously. Shushing Atlanta (no easy task), she said, "What do you want?"...
..."A truce." This time one at the back answered.
Gareth laughed humorlessly. "A truce. You enslave Calladamos, you erase our name from Neopia, you keep us from the sun, and you want a truce." Turning to Ria, he said, "I agree with Atlanta."...
..."As do I," Ria told him. Janice nodded.
..."We decline your offer," Ria told them. "You have thirty seconds, as is custom in Calladamos, to leave before we attack you."...
One of the Guardians turned around and fled, leaving three behind. From past experiences, Janice found three to be an unlucky number. Thankfully, two of them suddenly turned and stalked away.
Just one remained.
..."You have exactly ten seconds." Ria's voice was cold.
Before anyone could react, the last Guardian leaned towards Atlanta and whispered something in her ear. Then it swept out of Grand Square.
Ria, Gareth, and Janice looked to Atlanta in askance of what in Calladamos just happened. The ten-second deadline was forgotten. "What did it tell you?" Gareth inquired.
She swallowed. Her spirit glow, a violet purple, changed colour to magenta.
Janice had never seen a spirit glow change colour before.
Atlanta swallowed again, and in a strangled, tortured whisper, she gasped, "It said... it told me that Janice is not who we think she is. That she's... a traitor."...
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.
Ria muttered an enchantment and waved her hands to the right. Janice found herself floating towards the ceiling of the Training Room.
Again. Déjà vu was so annoying.
..."Is this really necessary?" she asked. "I know almost as much about magic as you do!"...
..."The key word in that sentence would be 'almost', Protector. Now, try changing your gravitational pull so that items orbit around you."...
Ria tossed several colourful beads in the air (higher into the air, anyways) and demonstrated, moving her feet about in an elaborate dance and chanting a spell. Sure enough, the beads circled the Draikess like she was the center of a miniature solar system.
..."And when you master this..." Ria muttered out another enchantment, "You will be able to aim and fire the objects as projectiles."...
The beads flew towards Janice in a maelstrom of colour. "Ouch!"...
Ria smiled. "And when you master that, you will be able to deflect items flying towards you. Any questions?"...
Janice thought for a moment. "Do I really have to do that dance to complete the spell? It's rather long, and Guardians could easily hit me if I have to do a three minute dance to change my gravitational field."...
..."Yes, the dance is necessary," said Ria. "By doing it, you can still do the spell without becoming too tired. If you try a shorter variation on it, it will take far more energy. You'll most likely faint – it takes that much out of you.
..."Like when you used the Rod of Mysti during our duel."...
Ria shook her head. "Not really. The Rod uses element magic – in this case, magic of the earth."...
..."You see," she continued, "The elements – earth, air, water, fire, darkness, and light – are forces of nature. This makes controlling them... difficult. Nigh impossible, honestly, unless you've been blessed by a faerie, or something of the like. The magic I use is mostly uncategorized – meaning that it doesn't belong to any of the element groups." She paused. "You understand?"...
..."Good. Now try the gravity spell. We'll just turn the dance into some kind of evasive maneuver.
Gareth, meanwhile, was doing what he had been doing before all the trouble had started: cleaning the library. He had two reasons for doing this. One was that it reminded him of a time when things still retained some semblance of normalcy – before Janice came and turned Calladamos upside down.
The other reason was to find out more about the Eternal Gardener. Gareth had been thinking of what the Guardian had told Atlanta – what if it was right? To his knowledge, Guardians didn't lie. Sure, they took over fallen cities and erased them from Neopian history, but they were truthful.
So, he was no longer sure if he trusted Janice completely anymore. Of course, she did free Calladamos from the Three. But still. Better safe than sorry. He would not let his city be disremembered again.
He sorted through the piles of scrolls and books – he and Janice hadn't quite finished arranging the library yet – and picked up a book – coincidentally, it was the same book he had been reading that night in the library when he had had his first proper conversation with the Protector.
The book bewildered him. It was at least a thousand years old, and in excellent condition; but it wasn't that. The majority of the books in the library were fairly old.
What confused him was how the book was written like an interview. How had the author known so much about Janice? The Shoyru in question would have to be at least a thousand years old as well.
Gareth couldn't help smiling at that idea. Janice, a thousand years old! It was ridiculous. And yet, it only displayed another mystery: how old was Janice? Scribes and philosophers alike had been writing about her for millennia, and not just of her obvious attributes, but about her favourite colours, her least favourite plants, her personality, her history. It was completely improbable.
Gareth shook his head, pondering every possibility from every angle he could think of. He was given to thinking like this; it made sword fighting much easier if you knew your opponent's movements even better than they did.
It also made being suspicious of the Protector seem almost justified.
..."Gareth!" he heard from the hallway. The voice belonged to none other than Janice, and she sounded impatient. Odd.
Gareth kept silent. Good things come to those who wait, he thought. Sure enough, Janice burst through the double doors of the library with an annoyed air. Very un-Janice-like. No longer sure if this could be considered a 'good thing', he tensed, instantly reaching for the scabbard holding his daggers. An un-Janice-like Janice could mean only one thing: a Guardian imposter.
Keeping his voice calm, Gareth said, "Yes?"...
..."Oh, please!" Not-Janice scoffed. "Don't 'yes' me, like you're totally innocent. I can't believe you three! Why didn't you wake me up for the Council meeting?"...
Her speech pattern was vaguely familiar. "But Janice, you were at the meeting."...
Not-Janice stared at him, and Gareth noticed her eyes were amber-coloured instead of brown. She said the one thing he had not expected: "I was not at the meeting, and the name's Atlanta. Be sure to remember that, hmm?"...
That did it. He pulled out his daggers, and, just as fast, Not-Janice pulled out a long sword. It was made of the finest Emberatia, inlaid with amethysts, with the name Atlanta engraved along the golden hilt.
Amber eyes. Sarcastic speech. Atlanta's sword. It hit him like a tidal wave.
Gareth hesitated, then asked, "Princess?"...
Not-Janice – Atlanta – caught sight of her Shoyru hand as she swung up the sword and gave an only slightly suppressed shriek. She looked herself up and down, frantically, and fluttered her new wings. She swallowed.
..."By the Protector's wings! I mean... I mean, by my wings! I have wings! I'm, I'm..."...
..."Janice. You're Janice." There was an obvious incredulity to his words. "No, you're not Janice..." Gareth frowned. "I mean, you're Atlanta. Just in Janice's body."...
Atlanta gave another shriek. "Did we switch bodies? You mean she's traipsing around as me? Oh, no! My reputation!"...
..."I never said that she was... traipsing... around as you, Princess. In truth--" he bit back a smile, "--you are the one traipsing around as her."...
Atlanta glared at him. "You aren't helping. If you haven't noticed, Gareth, I am not just a Shoyru, but I am Janice. No mere morphing potion can do that. This is wrong on oh-so-many levels, and you're telling me about how I'm traipsing!"...
..."My apologies," Gareth said, not feeling in the least apologetic. "Perhaps we should tell Janice."...
..."Oh," Atlanta scoffed, "you think?"...
From the door came a call of, "Gareth!"...
Janice again, only this time, the real one. Before Gareth could answer, she opened the door and strode into the library. "Have you seen Atlanta? She's not in her room...".
Janice caught sight of Atlanta. For the second time that day, Gareth watched a Shoyru shriek. Then Janice composed herself.
..."Gareth," she said, her voice barely controlled. "Please get out of the way." It was not a question, and – almost too late – Gareth realized exactly what Janice was about to do.
He raced into action, grabbing the Rod of Mysti – which she had been pointing towards Atlanta – and pulling it out of her arms. But Janice was quick. She snatched it back and tried again to complete the spell before getting the staff wrested out of her hands by Gareth.
..."Have you gone insane?" she yelled, tugging hard at the staff with one hand and pointing at Atlanta with the other. "That is a Guardian! Let go!"...
..."That," Gareth growled back, "is Atlanta, who you will not be turning into a flower!"...
Blinking in disbelief, Janice let go of the staff. "Sorry about this, Gareth," she said softly.
Quick as a whip – when had Janice gotten so fast? – she reached into Gareth's scabbard, pulled out one of the daggers, and ran towards Atlanta.
Atlanta grinned and pulled out her sword, slowly and deliberately. She held the blade off to her side until the last second, then whacked Janice smartly on the head with the handle. "My name is Atlanta," she said, sighing exaggeratedly. "Why is everyone having such trouble remembering that today?
Dazed, Janice backed off. " Revunelled," she muttered. This time, instead of north, east, south, and west, Janice pointed her hand towards Atlanta and moved it in a circular motion. A wispy image of a blue Peophin rose seemingly out of nowhere, then went to hover above Atlanta's head. It quickly evaporated, sprinkling blue dust onto Atlanta's Shoyru-y head.
Gareth glanced at Janice curiously. "That was new."...
..."A variation on reveal," Janice said absentmindedly. She stared at Atlanta as though willing what her eyes were showing her to be false. It wasn't. She looked into Atlanta's amber eyes, the only physical difference between the two. Even their spirit glows were exactly the same: an emerald-y, jade green.
Then, as if she had come to a decision, the Protector screamed at the top of her lungs, " Ria!!!"...
The next hour was complete chaos. Ria arrived and had to be convinced that the second Shoyru before her was, in fact, not a Guardian and instead her younger sister. This took quite a while; Janice was pretty much still in a state of shock and Atlanta knew nothing of how she'd been turned into a Shoyru. Gareth was stuck doing the explaining, and as he knew little more than Janice or Atlanta, there were many missing pieces. Ria's attempts to blast Atlanta with her staff didn't speed up the process, either.
They found a Peophin morphing potion (though, to Gareth's knowledge, they didn't keep them in the palace) which Atlanta downed in one gulp.
Nothing happened. So now they also had to decide what to do about the situation.
..."The Council cannot know," Ria said. Gareth thought it a rather obvious statement.
As though she had read his mind, Atlanta sneered, "Well, no duh."...
Before Ria could make a retort and continue the argument, Janice said, "So we've established that the Council can't know." Trying to be optimistic, she added, "At least we've got something."...
..."What we really need to know is how to change me back," Atlanta muttered, frowning. "That morphing potion didn't do anything. No offense, Janice, but your wings are ridiculously hard to keep out of the way. How do you do it?"...
..."How did you not notice your – my – wings when you were coming down to yell at Gareth? Or the fact that you were me? Anyways, in regards to your question, practice makes perfect."...
The conversation was going off track. "We must stick to the problem at hand," Gareth said. "We don't know how to change her back; perhaps we can use this to our advantage?"...
All three turned to look at him. Ria and Atlanta seemed interested; Janice looked a little more than annoyed.
..."What do you mean?" she asked apprehensively. "Somehow, I don't think I'll like this idea."...
Gareth shrugged. "You don't have to like it," he said. "Because it might just win us the war."...
The sword was ready in a week. Janice went to pick it up, and she had to admit, she was impressed.
The sword was made of a mixture of Emberatia – "Good for channeling or blocking magic," Tristan told her with a wink – jades, and emeralds. It caught the sunlight beautifully, staining Janice's face and hands with beams of brilliant green, almost rivaling her spirit glow. The sword was long, too, nearly four feet in length from its tip to its hilt, both of which were coated in silver. It practically hummed with deadly beauty.
And, best of all, it was the right weight!
."Wow," Janice whispered. "Amazing." She hoped that she could live up to her sword. It was magnificent. She wondered how in Calladamos Tristan had managed to create it in a week, and how he had managed to get the perfect weight.
."One of my best works," Tristan said proudly, admiring it from beside her. "It has a sort of dignity, don't you think? One could almost name it." He thought for a moment, then said, "Perhaps you should. I mean, the Eternal Gardener wielding a sword. Sure, a scary image. But the Eternal Gardener wielding a named sword? I can already imagine the Guardians quaking in whatever-they-wear-on-their-feet! That is, if they have feet." He was sure to add that the magic-holding properties of Emberatia were, at the moment, blocking all magical signals, including hers. "To allow your magic – or anyone else's within a mile – to work again, just tell it – the sword, I mean – to awaken. In Calladamien, of course.".
Janice nodded absently, still gazing at the sword. "Thanks, Tristan. It's gorgeous.".
Tristan beamed. "No problem. Just tell everyone where you got the sword. Free advertising, you know." Tristan paused, then added, "Well, let's try it out!".
Janice was startled. "Right now? With you? Can you even sword fight?" Somehow the idea of Tristan wielding a sword was strange to her.
."Of course I can," Tristan said, offended. "I'm not as good as Gareth, but I'm pretty sure that I'm more than a match for you.".
."We'll see about that," Janice grinned. "En guarde!" She tried out the disarming technique Gareth had taught her earlier that day.
A few seconds later, Tristan had her pinned against the wall with his sword in one hand and Janice's in the other.
."Told you I'd be able to beat you easily," he said with a smirk, handing her back the sword.
."You got lucky that time. Besides, I'm still getting used to it." She thought back to her swift defeat. "How did you do that? I used a disarming technique before you even struck, and somehow you ended up with my sword.".
."Well, you're learning swordplay from Gareth, right?" Tristan asked. "Janice, you've got to remember that he's a knight. He'll use moves that take more finesse, more experience; in such a style, you're using muscles that you normally never use. Besides," he added thoughtfully, "you're fast, but not exactly renowned for your strength. Knightly sword fighting depends mostly on strategy and power.".
."Strategy, I can do," Janice said, wondering how he knew so much about knighthood. "Speed? Sure. But power? Not so much.".
."That's fine; just use your strengths to your advantage.".
Janice smiled. "Well, two swordplay teachers are better than one. You could help me.".
Tristan looked down suddenly, and his electric blue spirit glow flew around him as though it were blowing in the wind. Of course, that wasn't possible; spirit glows shared many of the behaviors of fire but were impervious to the outside world.
When Tristan finally spoke, his words were subdued and completely off-topic: "The Empress is sending out a team to find the Guardians today.".
Well. She knew that. Ria had told made an announcement earlier in the week. Janice wondered what this had to do with getting more sword-handling help.
As if he had read her mind, Tristan looked up again. "Janice," he said, wearily, "both Gareth and I are on the team.".
It took a few seconds for this to register in Janice's brain, and another few to realize, horribly, that there was a possibility – a huge possibility – that soon, she would not remember Gareth or Tristan or anyone else going on this terrible expedition. There was a very big chance of the whole lot of them being Forsaken.
She took a sharp intake of breath. "Gareth never said anything about it.".
."That doesn't mean it isn't true.".
."Well, yes, but..." Janice couldn't think of anything to say that would dissuade him, so she sighed instead, "Be careful." Wishing him luck would be useless. Luck had nothing to do with fighting Guardians.
Tristan smiled, though the effort was strained. "Me? Careful? No way. Carefulness is for wimps.".
She glared at him. This was no time to joke, and he knew it. "I'm serious, Tristan.".
The smile grew. "You know, you owe me about five million neopoints for the sword.".
."Tristan," she said, her voice going from annoyed to pleading, "please, please be careful. Promise me." She handed him forty-five thousand neopoints so he would shut up about the price of the sword and be serious.
He took the money and held out his hand for shaking. She shook his hand, and as she did, he said, "It was nice doing business with you, Protector." Then he was gone.
As Janice flew back towards the palace to confront Gareth on the matter, she could not help thinking – no matter how hard she tried –that what Tristan really had meant was, 'It was nice knowing you, Protector.'.
."...And then he said that both he and you are on the team. Why didn't you tell me?
Gareth returned Janice's gaze calmly, like always. They were sitting at a table in the library.
."I did not tell you," he said cautiously, "because you did not need to know. It was not any of your business.".
She started to get angry. "Of course I needed to know. I'm not only the Protector, but I am also your friend; I have every right to know. Why didn't you tell me?".
."I have already given you a reason, Janice. You didn't need to know.".
."Fine, then," Janice said, resisting the urge to turn Gareth into a flower. "Why didn't I need to know?".
Gareth shrugged. "No reason in particular.".
."Janice." He sighed out her name, as though just saying it made him tired. "Do you remember what that Guardian told Atlanta that day, when they wanted a truce?".
She thought. "Something about....something about me being a traitor, right?".
His eyes met hers, and suddenly Janice realized what Gareth was saying.
She stood up, furious. "Are you saying that I'm a traitor? That I'm working with the Guardians?" So this was what all those suspicious looks had been about.
Gareth shrugged, annoyingly calm, as if it were a normal thing for friends to accuse each other of trying to destroy their city. He stood up as well, looking down at her.
."I never said that, Protector," he said.
."Then what are you saying, exactly? Tell me!".
He continued to meet Janice's eyes, though he flinched when she shouted the last two words. It was a few minutes before he answered her, and his reply was acidic:
."Do I need to spell it out for you? I no longer trust you, Janice.".
Janice flew into the air so she could look down at him instead of up. She decided that she despised the fact that Gareth was taller than her.
."So, then," she snarled, "you're valuing a Guardian's word over mine?" Her voice dropped. "But...Gareth, friends trust each other.".
She cringed at how corny that sounded. All she needed to do now was to tell him to believe in himself, or some other ridiculous cliché.
Gareth nodded. "I have a solution to that.".
Janice breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps his sense had returned to him and he'd let off of this unreasonable accusation. She smiled and said, "And that is...?".
."Well, if we were not friends, I would be under no obligations to trust you." He walked to the door, and without looking back, he said, "So we cannot be friends any longer.".
When Atlanta went to the library, she was met with a strange sight: Janice, with her head in her hands. Crying.
It reminded Atlanta of how she'd first met the Shoyru: Janice had rudely interrupted her solo on her piano by bursting through the door in tears over something irrelevant. Honestly, the Protector could be such a drama queen at times.
Nonetheless, she flew over to the distraught Janice – one of the oh-so-few perks of being a Shoyru, she had discovered, was being able to fly – and sat down quietly in the seat across from her. Janice either didn't hear her or didn't care, for she didn't acknowledge her approach. Her spirit glow was dim.
."We have got to stop meeting like this," Atlanta said teasingly.
Janice sniffed and didn't raise her head. "Go away.".
."Why would I do that?".
."As the Protector, I can order you to leave. I don't care if you're a princess. Go away.".
Atlanta scoffed. "No, thanks. I'd rather stay here and watch you cry. 'Cause, you know, it's terribly interesting.".
Janice finally raised her head, tear-filled eyes blazing with anger – and sadness. "Shut up," she snarled.
."There," Atlanta said smugly. "Now that you've stopped feeling sorry for yourself, you can tell me what happened.".
Janice glared at the used-to-be-Peophin with her arms crossed and revealed nothing. Atlanta waited impatiently.
Eventually, the Protector sighed – "You are really annoying, you know," – and started from where she got the sword from Tristan. It took her a while to finish, because she started tearing up again at certain parts. But finish she did. Eventually.
."Is that all?" Atlanta asked.
."Yes," said Janice shortly.
."Oh, good," Atlanta said, "because now that you're done your story, we can go intercept the team. Or at least follow them to make sure that they'll be alright.".
Janice stared at her. "What?".
Atlanta rolled her eyes. "Sometimes I wonder why I even try talking to you," she said. "We're going to help out this little expedition. So open those oversized wings of yours and let's get flying!".
Atlanta had never once seen the famed Calladamien Forests, so she wasn't sure of what to expect. But she was not disappointed.
The trees were of a different variety than she had ever seen, with enormous deep-green leaves gracing the branches. A few incandescent flowers were peppered amongst the foliage, but it was summertime, so it was leaves that dominated the forest. Every time the wind blew, the branches rustled and brushed against each other; the result was a sound like a siren's whisper repeated over and over again. It made Atlanta drowsy.
She whistled, both in appreciation and to keep her awake. "Wow. Impressive.".
Janice glanced at her in surprise. "You've never been here?".
."No," Atlanta said. "According to my mother, 'Forests are no place for proper young ladies, Atlanta.' Oh, please!
."Wait. Your mom was trying to get you to be ladylike? You?".
."Yep." She chuckled. "You see how well that turned out.".
Janice started to smile, but obviously she wasn't ready to be cheered up about Gareth yet, because she stopped halfway. "Atlanta?".
."Your mother – she was Forsaken, right?".
Atlanta watched the trees dance in the breeze. This was not a subject she liked to dwell upon. She was happy to have her mother back, and she did not want to question how it had happened. "Yes.".
."So, then... how did she come back? She was at the coronation, remembered. I didn't think of it at the time, but I don't think that pets have ever come back from being Forsaken. Right?".
They were treading upon a dangerous topic now.
."What is this, Twenty Questions?" she snapped.
Apparently the Protector saw the look on Atlanta's face: stormy and closed. She changed the subject and talked about the trees in the forest instead, comparing them to the trees back in Altador.
Eventually, they both fell to silence, leaving Atlanta to think in peace. She wished that Janice would keep talking so she wouldn't have to think, for the topic on her mind was her mother, and Ria, and how one had been Forsaken and the other almost.
She herself didn't really understand how becoming Forsaken worked. Atlanta knew only the barest details: get a fatal wound from a Guardian's sword, and POW!: you're not only dead, but you've never even existed.
But how far did it go, being Forsaken? What if you had written a book beforehand? Did the book get erased? Or what if you'd created a statue? What would happen; would it blow up? The whole concept didn't make any sense.
Atlanta scoffed quietly to herself. That was a ridiculous thought, because since when had her whole life ever made any sense? She was, after all, a sword-swingin' Peophin princess from a city that nobody had ever heard of. Before Janice had come, she had not seen the sun for nearly ten years, ever since she was eight years old. And now, she couldn't even be called a sword-swingin' Peophin princess. No, now she was a carbon-copy of the Protector. Still a princess, but certainly not a Peophin.
Her life, if observed, would not make any sense. What. So. Ever. And because of that, the mystery of being Forsaken was merely a little nonsensical part of her whole nonsensical life.
She whacked the bush in front of her with her sword, imagining that it was a Guardian.
They walked, it seemed, forever, leaving Atlanta to mull on her thoughts and generally grow more and more irritable. Finally, finally, finally, in front of them came a sound from the nearby clearing. Janice stopped, quietly ordering Atlanta to stay back and be quiet.
Yeah, right. She didn't take orders. One would've thought that the Eternal Gardener should have gotten that by now.
Glad to be pulled out of her thoughts by this distraction, Atlanta stepped forward, ignoring Janice's pointed glares. She listened for the noise. It sounded like a conversation. A few more minutes of listening revealed that it was the team.
Obviously Janice had come to the same conclusion. She stepped back, looking almost terrified.
."What's wrong with you?" Atlanta asked. It came out harsher than she had intended.
."That's Gareth speaking, with Tristan," Janice squeaked, still backing up. Her voice went from mousy to fierce: "I am not speaking to Gareth. He doesn't need my help. The Guardians can Forsake that... that... Lupe," she spat out the word, as though it tasted bitter, "--for all I care.".
Atlanta stared at her in shock. She hadn't known that Janice was capable of such anger. She wasn't sure if this was any better than Janice in the pity-party stage.
."Well," she snapped, "even if Gareth doesn't need help, what about the rest of the team? What about Tristan?".
Janice took a deep, shaky breath, suddenly looking like she was about to cry. Her spirit glow was trembling. Janice was trembling. "Atlanta, I cannot face Gareth right now," she said, her voice cracking. "I can't.".
Atlanta glared at her. "Then ignore him!".
."And besides," Janice continued, dodging Atlanta's last comment, "we shouldn't have two Protectors suddenly coming to assist them. Everyone in Calladamos knows there's just one. So, you can go help if you want. I'm going back to the castle.".
Janice turned and flew off, a little haphazardly.
Atlanta considered flying after her and forcing her to get over it. But the problem was that she understood. She got why Janice couldn't stay; it would hurt her too much.
And it was so much harder to stay mad at someone when you understood them. She turned herself back towards the clearing and burst through the foliage.
For a little while, nobody noticed her, which was ridiculous, since the team was supposed to be on the lookout for anything and everything that moved. She had not tiptoed stealthily through the bushes without making a sound. No, she had burst through the undergrowth, and the hem of her dress had been ripped, rather loudly, in the process – Note to self: Do not wear dresses to the forest.
Atlanta looked around and spotted her target: Gareth. She strode over to him, leaned in and hissed, "Listen, Gareth. Janice is miserable because of you. Believe me, if I could, I would have turned you into a Mortog ages ago.".
He looked up at her, confused at first. Then, noticing her eyes, he stood up and stared her down. He whispered, "That is none of your concern, Atlanta. What are you doing here? People cannot see you--" he gestured to her obvious Shoyru-ness, "--like this.".
Gosh, Atlanta missed being a Peophin. Gareth's annoying tendency to point that out – that she wasn't herself anymore, literally – didn't help how she was feeling towards Gareth at all. Quite on the contrary.
She smiled sweetly up at him, and Gareth tensed. He had known her long enough to know that she only smiled sweetly when she was getting ready to yell at someone.
Of course, the team decided that now was the time to acknowledge her existence. One of them, a maractite Hissi, was the first to spot her.
."Protector!" she called, and curtsied – which was pretty remarkable, Atlanta thought, considering the fact that she had no legs. Within the next twenty seconds, there was a circle of thirty kneeling and curtsying pets around her. Gareth had no choice but to bow as well, which put her in a slightly better mood.
Then, as the group started standing up, she started to panic. In situations like these, with people bowing to her, Atlanta would have nodded respectfully to each of them in turn, and then issued commands. She was a princess. It was what she did.
But right now, she was not being Atlanta; they all saw her as Janice, and she had no idea how to react.
She took a deep breath. All she had to do was to act like Janice. It couldn't be too hard, right?
Over the next hour, Atlanta managed to cause twenty-nine citizens of Calladamos to believe that the Protector had gone crazy. She made sarcastic remarks, bossed people around, and generally acted like – herself.
Honestly, it was only the panicked whisper of "Guardian!" that allowed her to redeem Janice's reputation somewhat. Here was a situation where she could issue orders without anyone suspecting anything.
."Okay," she said, addressing the group in the loudest whisper that she dared. "We know where they are. We'll go back to report this news to the Empress. And we will be quiet about it! Understood?".
The thirty-one of them began to sneak away as stealthily as possible. They had only been going for a few minutes before someone managed to step on and break a twig. Loudly.
Atlanta rolled her eyes.
Within seconds, they were surrounded, outnumbered greatly. The two groups – Guardians and Calladamiens – stood staring at each other for what seemed to Atlanta an eternity.
And she did not like to wait.
She had already whipped out her sword and mowed down a row of Guardians before anyone had a chance to blink. "Go!" she screamed at the group. She shoved as many of them as possible though the parting where she had dissipated the Guardians, and ordered those who could fly to carry away even more. By the time the Guardians remembered that they were supposed to destroy her, only two members of the group remained: herself and Gareth.
This was, of course, not a problem. She grabbed his arms, grateful for Janice's huge wings for giving her extra lifting power, and shot out of the forest, flying as fast as she could to the palace.
Ria was reading a book in the library when she heard a giant thump coming from the front gates of the palace. She opened them to see her sister and her best friend, both terrified and exhausted.
."Guardians! They spotted us!" Atlanta gasped. "Ria, send out the knights. Now!".
It took her nearly half an hour to get all the details from her little sister – she was grumpy and exhausted, and not terribly willing to talk – and another half hour to both assemble the army and call a town meeting to announce the obvious:
."Calladamiens, we are now at war.".
She began outlining the plans: the knights would be fighting; she and Janice (and Atlanta, but nobody knew that) would be fighting, and all those who could hold their own with a Guardian or shadow creature would be fighting. The remainder of the citizens were to keep to the city, in their homes preferably. Ria wanted as little casualties as possible, because, "If we do not win this war, we will go back to being a city of night.".
After the town meeting, Ria headed back to the palace to discuss matters with the Council. Only Gareth came with her; Janice was supplying the knights with swords and Atlanta was, of course, not allowed to be seen by the Council.
Celia was the first to arrive. She gave Ria an annoying, self-satisfied smile which Ria tried to ignore and took her seat. It was a while before the other Council members arrived. Not one apologized for being late, but she supposed that that was to be expected.
Malcolm raised his eyebrows in askance. "Empress, what is the purpose of this meeting? Unless you enjoy wasting our valuable time, we needn't be here.".
Ria took a deep breath. She would not be belittled by the Council. She would keep her temper in check, and she would preserve her patience. For the good of Calladamos – and her sanity – she would not let herself be baited into their exchange of insults. Not today.
Her voice, when she spoke, was almost amiable. "Sir Malcolm, we are here to discuss important matters relating to Calladamos and, thus, relating to you. If you do not wish to waste your 'valuable time', you may leave and use it to do something productive. But as long as you are here, you will not complain. Am I clear?".
Ria smiled, savoring the look of shocked annoyance on his face. "Yes," Malcolm said, scowling.
."Good. Anyone else who wishes to leave is free to do so. I will not hold you here.".
No one left; a few shifted in their seats, but nobody stood up.
."Now, the war," Ria said. "We do not want to be on the defense, but the offense. I would prefer keeping the fighting in the forests rather than the city; we will keep the non-fighting citizens out of this as much as possible. All in favor?".
Gareth raised his paw, and Ria raised her hand, and so did eight other members of the Council. They had suggested the war, after all, so they had no choice but to vote so they could win it.
Claudia, one of the only members who hadn't voted for keeping the war to the forests, smirked at her, and Ria tried to ignore the instant desire to wipe that sneer off of her pink smug face. "Ria, darling," she began.
It is Empress Ria, darling, to you," Ria interrupted.
Claudia waved her hand dismissively. "Whatever you say. Now, Empress Ria--".
."Has what you are about to say have anything to do with the well-being of Calladamos during this war?".
Claudia faltered, but quickly regained her composure. "Yes. I must say, Ria, that your strategic skills are simply awful.".
."And that," Ria said, "is why the ten of you – and Gareth – are here to help me. Not to insult me.".
."I am simply saying, darling, that we cannot win this war with you as our head. I am not insulting you, merely stating the truth.".
."And you can do better, Lady Claudia?".
."Without a doubt, Empress. But perhaps I shouldn't call you that?".
Ria stood up and walked over to Claudia, slowly, menacingly. She looked down at her and smiled. Her voice was soft, but her words hit hard: "I do hope that you aren't questioning my authority, Lady Claudia. But if you are, it is not justified. I don't suppose that you could lead well, either, with cynical idiots such as yourself criticizing your every move!".
She straightened and glared at the other members of the Council. Every one of them, excepting Celia, flinched at her gaze. "Meeting adjourned.".
Nobody moved. Ria found her voice increasing in volume. "Meeting adjourned!" she repeated. Still nobody moved from their seats.
She raised her staff. "I will personally blast each of you out of your chairs if you do not get out. Now.".
Reluctantly, they left. Ria sat back down in her seat, realizing, suddenly, that she had just used threat of force to get others to do what she wanted. So much for keeping her temper in check.
Even worse, she wanted to do the same to Gareth, to get him to leave. She felt like being alone.
She looked at the red Lupe beside her, her best friend. She knew him so well, almost better than she did Atlanta. Ria made a silent resolution to spend more time with her if they both got out of this war unscathed.
Gareth hadn't said a word during the meeting, which wasn't unusual, but he seemed quieter than normal. Not just today, but recently. Ria wondered what he was thinking about.
."Gareth?" she said.
."Gareth," she started again, and stopped. She was worried that he would offend her somehow and she'd end up using magic on him. She felt rather jumpy.
."Ria," he mimicked. She smiled, then finally asked, "Gareth, what's wrong?".
He raised an eyebrow. "You're one to talk; you just threatened to use offensive magic on the Council. What's wrong with you?".
."I asked first.".
Gareth sighed and sat down in the chair beside her. He began, "Remember when the Guardians came asking for a truce, a few weeks ago?".
He didn't wait for her to answer, but went on about what had been happening the past few weeks as a result. He suspected – he hated to, but he did – that Janice could have been working with the Guardians. They couldn't lie, after all.
Ria sat in silence. So that was why Janice had been alternating between coldly polite and weepy around everyone, and why Gareth had been so quiet and watchful lately. Ria decided that she had to try to put an end to this argument, before it got out of hand.
She said, "Gareth, you are my best friend, and whatever you do, I'll support you. If 'whatever you do' includes being wary of Janice, then so be it.".
She held up a finger to keep him from talking; he looked as if he were about to say something. "But, as well as being your friend, Gareth, I am also the Empress of Calladamos, and you are a knight under my command. I can order you to trust her.".
."And yet," Ria found herself sighing, "although I can tell you to trust her, I cannot make you trust her. I can, however, give you advice. Or, rather, ask you a question: If you cannot trust Janice, the Protector, then who can you trust?".
She sighed again. "Speaking of knights, you should be preparing with the rest of them," she told him. "We're going to invade the Forests in an hour. Think this through, Gareth. But if you end up apologizing," she added, managing a smile, "don't feel bad if she does not accept your apology. The Protector can hold a grudge rather well.".
Janice stared at the mass of Guardians in front of her and willed herself not to throw up.
It wasn't that they were a terribly stomach-turning sight; on the contrary, the Guardians had made full use of their ability to appear as, well, anything. Janice could see a handful of Ria-impersonations, Malcolm-impersonations, and, of course, she could see herself repeated over and over. She felt now that Gareth's plan for Atlanta moonlighting as the Protector was worse than useless. It would only add to the general confusion of having a whole league of Eternal Gardeners. How foolish they had been for not factoring this in.
Ria, from beside her, made a weak attempt to smile reassuringly. It ended up as a grimace, but she said as encouragingly as she could, "We shall be fine, Janice. This war will be over before we know it, and Calladamos will be back to normal. Or at least as normal as it gets.".
Janice fought back the urge to roll her eyes. She knew Ria was only trying to comfort her. "Yep," she said, pretending to be cheery. "Back to falling asleep in the library." How strange it was that her only problems a month ago were tidying up dusty scrolls. "Ria, I'm not sure if I can do this.".
."Of course you can," Ria soothed. "Just take a deep breath – in, out, in, out.".
With that, Ria turned back to the Guardians and glared at them. Her voice was commandeering and fierce and, strangely, almost confident when she cried, "Calladamiens, to arms!" Then, they charged.
The first thing that Janice did was shoot into the air. Most of the Janice-impersonations, complete with grey, lifeless eyes and dark green faux spirit glows, followed suit.
Janice was not expecting this. She had originally planned to dive-bomb all the other mirror-images of herself, because she knew that she at least was real. From this high up, she couldn't tell the Guardian versions of anyone from the real ones, and she wouldn't risk attacking any of the Calladamiens.
But her plans had been thrown out the -blocked- At least now she had most of the Janice-impersonations in one place. She flew higher, higher; all of them followed, but slowly, as they weren't used to going so high up.
Then, when Janice was high enough for the air to be so thin it made even her feel a little light-headed, she attacked. Once again, she felt the exhilaration that she had experienced when defeating the Guardians in front of the palace.
This time, though, it was different. On the down side, it was around twenty-five to one. On the plus side: most of the twenty-five were dizzy from lack of air, and she had not only the Rod of Mysti, but she also had her sword.
The impersonations didn't stand a chance. Within a few minutes (though it felt like hours) of sword-slashing and magic-flinging, they were reduced to nothing but smoke in the breeze. Janice tucked in her wings and spiraled back down to earth.
Janice stopped several yards above the battle. It was not going as well on solid ground as it had been for Janice in the air.
First of all, the Calladamiens were worried about attacking one of their own. Second of all, the Guardians kept on shape-shifting. It was a disorienting sight, and disoriented the army became. So far, Janice thought that no one had been Forsaken – they weren't confused enough not to know that swords swinging towards their heads were best dodged – but she couldn't be sure. But she did know one thing: she had to do something.
Janice remembered the spell for reveal, and wondered if it would work on such a large scale. Then she shook her head. Such magic would knock her out, and she was no use to anyone unconscious. But... but maybe she could just use it on a quarter of the Guardians?
It was worth a try. She swooped north, south, east, west – after all, this wasn't an individual, or a few beings, this was many Guardians, and a little flick of the wrist was not going to do much – and shouted it out: Revunelled!".
Immediately, she felt as though she had come down from an adrenaline rush; she felt herself falling as her wings lost the energy to work. Janice screamed; she had never once in her life felt so helpless in the air. No! was the only coherent thought that ran through her head, bringing with it a whole herd of frantic, panicky feelings. Wind whistled in her ears as she plummeted towards earth. Her wings, when working, gave her more flying power, but when they weren't – they simply dragged her down quicker.
Irony was certainly cruel, for as the ground grew closer and closer, Janice, she who loved to fly, could do nothing to stop her fall.
Janice twisted herself so that she was facing skywards. There was no reason to watch when she knew that her impact would be inevitable...but no! She was not going to fall, not now, not when the city needed her the most! She was the Protector of Calladamos. The least she could do was go down fighting.
Janice gave an attempt to flap her wings. The best she could manage was getting only one to work, but its size compensated for the loss of one wing, sort of. It slowed her down, if only a bit. But that was all she needed.
She climbed a few centimeters, then plummeted by a few feet; she had to do the dance quickly, because of the method's counter-activity.
Despite her clumsy, horrible, one-winged, barely effective flying routine, she managed to do a less-than-graceful dance to change her gravitational field. She would have preferred to simply cast an anti-gravity spell, but again, she was no use to anyone when unconscious. Instead of causing herself to float, she drew leaves from the approaching forest to create a softer landing.
When Janice stood back up shakily, brushing leaves and twigs off of herself and out of her hair, she could see that the reveal spell that had caused her so much trouble had, miraculously, worked – a section of the impersonations flickered momentarily, then miniature, wispy versions of the Guardians rose above their familiar heads. She started to go to help the Calladamiens – on foot, for her wings were still basically unresponsive – but she found that she could not go a step before collapsing in exhaustion. Apparently the cost of the spell had been more than tiring out her wings; the rest of her was tired, too.
But she could yell, and she yelled her heart out. "Everyone!" she bellowed. "Attack the ones with the wispy figures above their heads!".
Gareth – or another red Lupe; she couldn't distinguish features too well from this distance – perked up his ears. She shouted again, "Attack the ones with the smoky things on their heads!".
He didn't seem to have seen her, unfortunately, but he turned, apparently to relay the message to the rest of the Calladamiens. Within no time, Guardians were being reduced to dust - or, at least, a quarter of them.
She found herself smiling wearily. Good. Now all Janice had to do was find a way to get up. She knew some spells that could give her energy, but that option was ridiculous to consider: she'd gain energy from the spell, but she'd lose it again due to using it. Janice wondered, idly, who had been silly enough to think up such an annoyingly counteractive spell.
She sighed in exasperation. Her limbs and wings were useless, spells would just drain her energy more, and the army was too preoccupied with fighting to rush to her aid.
Or were they? She was the Protector of Calladamos. The citizens always had enough time for her.
But she couldn't distract them; what if someone got hit with a sword as he or she looked for the owner of the shouts? Besides, she could just as easily attract a Guardian as a Calladamien. It wasn't worth the risk.
But she had to get off of the ground somehow. Sure, her yelling could bring a Guardian, but it could also bring help, which she needed badly. And her choices were either risking a Guardian getting to her before a citizen, or risking a Guardian happening upon her as she lay there helplessly. The latter did not sound very good, but the former was far from being a good choice.
Janice wrestled with her decision for a while longer, then decided that her best choice was to yell for help. That, at least, had a chance of rescue. It may not have been a good choice, but it was her best.
Once again, she found that her only option was to shout. Being the screaming damsel in distress did not appeal to her, but Janice ended up swallowing her pride anyways and yelling loudly, "Help!" Then she stopped to watch the crowd to see if anyone was coming closer, or looking around for her voice. No one was. She shouted, "Help! Hello? Over here! Help me!".
Once again, she waited to see if someone had heard her. It appeared that no one had.
Janice continued to scream herself hoarse, but nothing happened for a while. 'Screaming herself hoarse' only took a few minutes, as she was not Neopia's best screamer. It was only when her shouts had turned into croaky whispers that a figure broke out of the crowd and started running towards her. Further inspection revealed that the figure was none other than the Empress of Calladamos.
."Ria!" Janice exclaimed, greatly relieved. She paused to cough. All that screaming had dried out her throat. She sorely needed a cup of water.
When her coughing fit had ended, she continued raspingly, "Thank goodness you're here...".
She faltered as Ria grew nearer, making quick, purposeful steps that looked nothing like Ria's elegant strides. Her eyes were a dark grey; emotionless, devoid of warmth, and worst of all, not Ria-like. Her spirit glow was matched her eyes, flaring up every so often.
It was a Guardian.
If there was anything more nightmarish than this, Janice could not think of it.
She struggled to run, to fight, to utter a spell, to do something, anything, that would delay her fate. But she was speechless with fear; her limbs were as heavy as lead from the reveal spell.
Once again, Janice berated herself for doing magic on such a large scale. She may have helped the army, but at what cost? Even a quarter of the Guardians was too much for her.
The Guardian advanced slowly, knowing that she could do nothing to stop it – how pathetic, it was, that the Protector could not protect herself. With every step it took, Janice grew more and more terrified and less and less hopeful. It was torturing her by doing this. Irony was cruel, but Guardians were much, much crueler. The fact that it was in Ria's form, who had encouraged her before the battle, made it even worse.
She found herself whimpering as 'Ria' approached. She heard the sharp, scraping sound of a sword being pulled out of a leather sheath; she could smell the spicy scent of conifers in the forest; she could see the smirking image of the Guardian standing before her; she could feel the scratchy grass beneath her; she could taste the bitterness of defeat. Her senses – and her dread – were the only things that were working.
Suddenly, the Eternal Gardener felt something pierce her side; in her eyes danced sparks of light and dots of darkness. She heard a scream from the battlefield, a horrible, heart-rending scream filled with pain. It was the very sound of fear.
Her last thought, as she began to lose consciousness, was to realize that the scream had not come from the battleground. It had come from herself.
The Shoyru shivered, and everything faded to black.
Janice was surprised to find herself awakening, and even more surprised that she was lying on a soft bed of moss. Its softness and its scent made her want to go back to sleep, but something was compelling her to get up, something that she could not ignore. So, grudgingly, Janice rose from her bed and took in her surroundings. What she saw shocked her.
She was in her garden.
This doesn't make any sense," she murmured out loud. "My garden is in Altador. Altador," she repeated, emphasizing every syllable. "This...this is Calladamos.".
Nonetheless, Janice wandered, dazed and trippingly, through the place that she knew so well. She didn't have a destination, but the thing that had forced her to get up was pulling her... somewhere.
Janice stumbled around for ages. When she thought about going right, something almost yanked her in the opposite direction. When she turned east, she ended up heading south. Janice thought that her walking patterns were looking quite erratic: When facing the north, she was heading west, when facing left, she ended up going right. It was silly and annoying, and she was getting tired of being pulled around on invisible strings like a puppet. She wanted, at least, to meet the puppeteer.
She didn't reach her destination, wherever that was, for a while, because her garden was really more a wood. A large wood. The Possessor of Mysti would not simply keep a small flowerbed to satisfy her gardening desires. For the first time, Janice regretted the size of her garden. It really did seem huge now, as though she were being pulled through the dense jungles of Mystery Island – or even the Calladamien Forests – rather than a wood hand-and-magic-planted by herself.
Lost in her thoughts, Janice hadn't realized that she was speeding up, but it was noticeable now: she was running – and tripping over roots – at an alarming rate. Apparently her puppeteer hadn't thought of the terrain she was going over.
."Where am I going?" Janice asked the trees. It wasn't like there was anyone else to ask.
Needless to say, they had no answer.
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.".
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 west. 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 from 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.