A Renewed Hope: Part Three
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 empresses."
"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, glowed 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 paws 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 paws 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 paw 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-queenly 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.
To be continued...