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Nuria and the Sands of Time


by neoghia

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“Tranquility,

      Baby, that’s not me.

      But if you weather the

      storm

      I swear I will keep you

      warm.”

      - “Tranquility”

      Lyrics and Vocals by Ashley Quick

      Product of Kiko Lake Music Group

     “And we all get what we seek

      in one way or another.

      And I’ll see you in my dreams

      where we still know

      each other.”

      - “Gone, Gone, Gone”

      Lyrics and Vocals by Ashley Quick

      Product of Kiko Lake Music Group

      Year Four

      A thick wall of grey clouds was smeared across the sky and the temperature had dropped ever so slightly. The wind had picked up and sand was whipping the sides of the temple. Deep inside a hidden chamber, the faeries were hard at work with a myriad of artefacts. Xoe was copying any new symbols she found into the alphabet they were building for the temple markings and Nuria was deep in meditation trying to attune herself to the large red ruby situated in the wall around head height.

      Nuria kept her breathing slow and deep while she poked at prodded at the gem with her magic. She could feel something in there but it was well-guarded and shy. Xoe’s papers rustled as she wrote. Nuria could see the ruby in her mind’s eye and could see a shadow lurking inside. She tried to push closer, harder. Something flashed through the ruby, bright and terrible. Nuria trembled but flared her magic all around the gem. She almost had it. Xoe’s papers rustled again, again, again. Nuria began to lose the connection, she couldn’t see the gem or its aura as clearly in her mind. Nuria sighed and opened her eyes. The papers rustled. She looked over at Xoe, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and smiled.

      “You could bang on the pot too if you really wanted to get my attention.” Nuria said.

      “I’m just working.” Xoe said lightly and shook her head.

      “Working on my nerves with all that noise.” Nuria said with a smile.

     “Next time you’ll remember to buy the extra quiet paper.”

      “Oh, you’re funny now? First, you’re the big research faerie and now you’re funny?”

      “Someone around here should be.” Xoe grinned up at Nuria from her papers.

      The two giggled and then fell into a comfortable silence again. Nuria tried for a moment to resume her meditation but her focus had been broken and the exhaustion of the day had found her. While she was sitting comfortably watching Xoe work she began to notice a small rhythmic noise. A pitter-patter against the stone of the temple.

      “I think it’s raining!” Nuria said and stood up excitedly. Xoe looked at her quizzically.

      “And, you’re going out there?”

      “We are going out there.” Nuria said and offered her hand. “It’s time to take a break.”

      “What are we going to do out in the rain in the middle of the desert?” Xoe took her hand and stood, dusting off her clothes.

     “Dance.” Nuria said with a shrug and began walking toward the exit. Xoe followed close behind.

      And so they danced. At first, they danced alone in slow uncertain movements as the rain soaked into their hair and clothes. Then, Nuria turned her head to the sky and closed her eyes. The rain refreshed her body and soul, something inside broke loose and she gave a great shout of excitement. Xoe jumped but Nuria didn’t see. Then, she yelled too and they began to dance in quick, messy, jerky motions. They looked like children playing in the rain.

     

     - - -

      The three faeries soared upward through the atmosphere and tiny raindrops met their faces as they flew. They burst through a thick dark cloud and a flock of White Weewoos scattered around them, chittering and cawing at their sudden appearance. Other clouds turned to mere whisps in the wake of their fast flight. Nuria glanced over her shoulder at the faeries trailing her and wished she had found time to explain herself better. It seemed there was never a chance to say everything the right way, the way you want, she just wished she’d said it at all. But, maybe, her past self would do better about that. Maybe she will have learned how brief time can be and that there’s never room to mince words or hesitate.

      They flew over Neopia Central where one of Sloth’s ships lay in pieces outside the city proper. A Neopian flag flew high from every rooftop. The Defenders of Neopia Headquarters was in ruins but Nuria could see a couple dozen Neopets toiling around the building as they began the clean-up and repairs.

      Next, the Haunted Woods, which showed no signs of invasion at all. The dark woods were quiet and the fairgrounds were deserted. Nuria noticed an enormous castle looming over the woods that she hadn’t remembered reading about but it had been years since her studies. She wondered why Sloth would skip a place so densely populated and filled with dark magic. Maybe his magical incompetency had turned into a fear of some sort.

      Kiko Lake had obviously been a warzone. The defenses provided by their lucrative Altador Cup Team had done their best but it appeared that both Sloth’s forces and the resistance had been completely wiped out. The lake was black with oil and the buildings and homes were rubble and ash. Nuria’s stomach churned at the sight of one of Neopia’s wonders brought to ruin.

      It appeared Altador, like Neopia Central, had bonded together to repel the invaders and had succeeded. The seaside capital was alight with music and celebration. A quarter of Sloth’s ship was protruding from the sea and appeared to be completely inactive. Nuria was glad to see the happy Neopets below, the people of Altador had suffered enough for many lifetimes.

      Neopia had struggled with Sloth’s invasion but Nuria had seen them bond together as she knew they had through many other dark times. Through her grief she found the Neopets and their love and resilience to be inspiring. She hoped that she could mitigate some of the damage she had done to their world. She hoped she could give some of that love back.

      Finally, as they crossed the open sea, Faerieland came into view. It floated above Lutari Island and its endless storm. The faeries flew upward through the atmosphere until they broke through the cloud barrier and regarded the shining city in its full glory. Nuria had grown up in old Faerieland and seeing it stirred her heart more than she thought it would. They took but a moment before flying quickly toward the city proper where Nuria had explained the secret vault would be.

      - - -

      The vault wasn’t in the same place but it didn’t matter because the magic that cloaked it was broken. The three faeries hung in the air regarding the flickering structure as it cloaked and uncloaked itself sporadically. They all knew this meant that some other threat had been displaced in time and was after one of Fyora’s powerful artefacts. That and the gaping hole in the side of the tower. Nuria drew in a deep breath and she felt the heat of her wings lightly burning her back. She exhaled as the three faeries moved into formation and approached the makeshift entrance on the north side of the tower. The room inside appeared empty and the faeries entered but remained hovering above the stone floor.

      “Carefully.” Both Nuria’s whispered in unison. Their eyes locked and then both flashed to Xoe’s face who did her very best not to smile in respect of the danger of the situation. They moved in a calculated dance into the hall and toward the hourglass chamber.

      “Where are the guards?” Xoe whispered.

      “Fighting, or hurt, I guess.” Nuria’s younger counterpart replied in a hushed tone.

      They hovered down the hall silently without fluttering their wings. Nuria could feel powerful magic coming from the chamber ahead and hoped to find Roberta safe and sound. They came around the corner and found a small Neopet in magician’s robes. She had her back to them but Nuria felt something was wrong.

      “Look up,” Xoe whispered. All three faeries looked toward the ceiling where Fyora was bound by glowing magical bonds. Her eyes pleaded with theirs frantically.

     Nuria stepped forward into the chamber and filled her hands with scorching, shimmering fire. She waited, taking deep, patient breaths, for the figure to turn and reveal themselves. Xandra, the Speckled Xweetok, turned furiously to face Nuria. Her flowing hair flew out behind her as she spun. The young witch’s eyes burned with hatred as she regarded the three newcomers.

      “Come to witness the wrath and ruin?” Xandra asked through gritted teeth. Her paws sparked with purple magic.

      “No, I’ve come to make amends.” Nuria said honestly. “To set things right.”

      Xandra smiled at that.

      “So have I.” She raised both paws and released a vicious stream of magic at Nuria who quickly spun out of the way. Her past self, who was in the doorway behind her, couldn’t react in time and took the brunt of the magical assault. Nuria let loose a steady stream of fire at Xandra who quickly tossed a pouch to the ground and vanished in a cloud of purple smoke. Nuria’s fire scorched the stone wall and she readied more in her hands. Xandra cackled and appeared to the left, losing a stream of magic missiles. Nuria raised her chin and a thin wall of fire materialized before her, blocking the missiles. Then, she flew up above and let loose a flurry of fireballs in Xandra’s direction. The Xweetok witch spun, danced, and blocked, coming out unscathed but winded. The two combatants regarded each other as they readied another magical onslaught.

     Between them, in a shimmer of light appeared Xoe who promptly picked up the hourglass from its pedestal before becoming invisible again. Xandra and Nuria stood stunned for a moment. Then, Xandra began to mutter wicked words to work a spell.

     “No, you don’t,” Nuria said and sent more fireballs toward the Neopet witch but Xandra danced and dodged as she worked her spell. Then her eyes flashed purple and a wave of energy radiated from her body. It looked like a thick purple cloud quickly expanding through the room. Then, it seemed to stop and hover in one particular area. The cloud began to turn a stone grey and condense in one area. In just a few moments, Xoe’s invisible body was completely encased in stone with the hourglass still firmly in her grasp. Nuria watched in horror as her very best friend was taken from this world in front of her for the second time. Oh no, she thought and turned to see her past self where she sat crumpled on the floor from the spell. Her face was contorted with pain. Nuria knew it was a grief and a fury unparalleled through time. Xandra strode across the stone floor toward her latest victim. Nuria watched her past self begin to weep and knew what would happen next. She flew up to the ceiling where Fyora was still bound and began crafting a shield around them. As Xandra reached for the hourglass she hesitated and looked up at the faeries on the ceiling. Nuria knew she could feel the heat too.

     With a horrific, grief-filled scream the entire room was engulfed in flame. All around the bubble of Nuria and Fyora’s shield was white, hot fire and smoke. In a few moments it cleared, and the only flame left was the four sets of burning wings. Nuria and herself were nearly identical now.

     Xoe’s statue was black with ash but otherwise unharmed and the hourglass showed no trace of damage. Nuria lowered her shield and helped Fyora to the ground. The young fire faerie crossed the room to the petrified light faerie. She reached out and plucked the hourglass from the small stone hand and turned to regard her future self. Nuria knew that she too now felt the heat of shame, grief and rage on her back and felt sorry for her. All she’d wanted was to prevent this. Past Nuria seemed to realize what her future self was thinking and she looked down at the golden hourglass. She tossed the hourglass through the air and Nuria caught it deftly in one hand. Without a word, her past self reached out to the statue and both abruptly vanished in a flash of fire and smoke.

     - - -

     The magic was beautiful. Red, orange, and yellow from Nuria’s own magic. Pink, blue, and purple from Fyora’s royal magic. And, a hint of shining gold from the Sands of Time itself. Then, the familiar feeling of flying except Nuria saw flashes of Neopia and distant unknown lands. She closed her eyes and hoped with all hope to be back in her own time.

     The sensation stopped and Nuria opened her eyes. A heaviness settled into her gut but she didn’t find herself surprised by the outcome. I suppose I should have known, she thought.

     She wasn’t back in Faerieland in her time, instead, Nuria found herself on the peak of a great sand dune overlooking the Sands of Time. In the desert, great storms of wind and lightning were raging. The sands were being scooped up, rearranged and eroded into new pieces.

     She sensed Ahternity’s presence but didn't turn to greet the great faerie.

     “You failed.” Ahternity’s adult voice sounded. “You tried hard, very hard, but you failed to get what you wanted for yourself.”

     Nuria didn’t respond. She knew these storms were her fault. Who knew how many countless lives she had upended in her crusade? She was a disgrace. She’d be doomed to remain here with Ahternity and suffer these terrible storms for all time. She’d-

     “Of course,” Ahternity began again. “I’m certain they’re very grateful for what you did.”

     Nuria whirled around to face the faerie and found her just as grim as she’d remembered. Ahternity’s face was rapidly ageing from mature adult to elder and deep lines were being drawn all across her face.

     “What do you mean? They?”

     “Those sweet little things you met in the other world. I see how you had a friend like her back before all the lying and wild magic.”

     “They’re going to be okay? But Xoe…”

     “She’ll find a way. Xandra’s spells aren’t as powerful as love and friendship.” Ahternity said and Nuria could see her past self clearly in her mind. “You found a way with much less hope than you’ve given her.”

     Nuria smiled at that.

     “Unfortunately,” Ahternity gestured to the sandstorms and lightning all around them. “Your path had significantly more consequences.”

     “Time is out of sequence? Or out of…”

     “Events have been combined or disconnected. Many things about the world are not as you will remember them. Many Neopets have been hurt due to your rash actions.” Ahternity waved a hand and flashes of Neopia passed through Nuria’s mind. A colourful but deserted palace, an enormous spacecraft crashed in Tyrannia, an island engulfed in flame, and that great gothic castle looming over the Haunted Woods. Nuria shook the visions from her head and regarded Ahternity.

     “So, I ruined the world?”

     “Not ruined. Many things will work themselves out and have nearly the same results as the timeline you once lived in but other things will need careful intervention in order to subvert disaster.”

     “You’re going to intervene in events in Neopian history?”

     “I did not make this mess, Nuria. I will instruct you on how to approach situations and you will do the best of your ability to solve them.”

     “This is my punishment?”

     “This is the consequence. You have saved your friend which created a new history for yourself and that in turn created a new future for you.”

     “But, it’s not me, it’s her. She’s Nuria now. I shouldn’t even exist now except that you need someone to help clean up the messes that I made.”

     “Consequence.” Ahternity repeated.

     “I’m not me anymore. I’m…” She’d need a new name but couldn’t think of what she would be. “Where do I go first?”

     Ahternity didn’t answer, she simply turned and began walking across the hot sands. The fire faerie followed in her footsteps and felt herself releasing some of the guilt she held as she walked. Not all of it, of course, but it honestly felt good to know that she would be able to help undo some of the damage she had done. And, already, time had begun to leave the faerie behind. Moving ever faster, faster, faster…

     

The End

      Year 25

      The yule log has been burning all day and the cottage is just the right temperature for the heavy snowfall outside. The smell of baked gingerbread fills every room. Ashley Quick’s holiday CD is playing softly on the stereo system in the den. On a large plush bed, a Snow Kadoatie is curled around a Christmas Rock and sleeping peacefully. At the kitchen table, sit two faeries with steaming cups of peppermint tea.

      The light faerie, Xoe, pretends to be reading the new novel in her hands but she is actually watching the fire faerie. Nuria is making a list of all the Neopets in their small Happy Valley neighbourhood so that they can brainstorm gift ideas together. The two faeries are the very best of friends and have been for the last twenty years or so. Though they only moved to Happy Valley a few months ago they have found themselves very happy here. Xoe hopes they will be happy here for a very long time to come.

      In the den, the Snow Kadoatie turns on its back and the Christmas Rock subsequently falls over. Xoe smiles to herself and takes a drink of tea. She looks at the fire, at the tree, the decorations, and finally, out the window. Where the heavy snowfall seemed to be letting up and the snowflakes are falling slower, slower, slower…

 
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