Shattered Sunlight: Part Two
“Kiko Lake was destroyed two days ago.” Val’s soft voice was edged with steel as he spoke, pacing around the meeting room. “Faerieland saw the destruction the next day and sent the messages out. Ours arrived this morning.” He stopped, facing Cassie. “They want the war-lords to meet on Faerieland to discuss these battles. To discuss the war.”
“And you’re declaring me the war-lord why?” Cassie tapped her fingers on the table, staring at the Kougra with narrowed eyes. “You’re the one heading all this.”
“I need to stay here.” Val closed the gap between them, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Cassiel, you’re the best person I’ve got. Vesper would refuse the assignment. You know that. Of the other leaders, I either don’t trust their judgment or don’t think they’d go. That leaves you.”
Cassie looked at Val’s face, pure black with deeper stripes marking it, green eyes staring straight into her. “I’ll go,” she said at last. “Tell me what the official opinion is on whatever issues you think will be discussed.”
He shook his head, releasing her shoulders and stepping back. “No time, Cassie. You need to leave as soon as possible.”
“Who’s taking me to Faerieland?” Cassie’s eyes narrowed. “Kazeriu’s Pride?”
Val grinned. “She’s waiting for you. Everything’s packed already.”
Cassie laughed, turning. “Thanks.”
“You deserve it.”
The Kougra’s words chased Cassie out of the room. As soon as she could, Cassie took to the sky, flying to the air-docks. Kazeriu’s Pride was the pride of the military. Their fastest ship, but also the smallest. Cassie loved it. It took her bare minutes to arrive, and it took off almost as soon as she landed.
A day passed as they raced the wind to reach Faerieland. Over the mountains of the Divide, past Neopia Central and the burned remains of Kiko Lake, over the twin kingdoms of Meridell and Brightvale, and to the cloud city of Faerieland, right next to the hovering Darigan Citadel. Even before Kazeriu’s Pride landed, Cassie was flying to the Faerie Palace.
Wings spread wide, she landed right in front of the palace. The Faerie Kougras guarding the entrance let her in as soon as she told them who she was and why she was there. One led her to a conference room, and she entered the room and stepped into an argument.
“I’m telling you, we can’t just stand apart and expect to win.” Jeran glared around the table, hands firmly planted as he leaned forward. “We need to fight as one. Especially if Sloth truly is returning, as these mutants say.”
Across the table, Galgarroth scowled. “You forget yourself.”
“Do I?” The blue Lupe raised a hand, giving a dismissing gesture. “Or do you forget how strong peoples are when joined together?”
“Have you ever stood alone?” Magax crossed his arms. “Or been forced to stand alone, for nobody would help you?” He shook his dead. “I don’t think so.”
Judge Hog hit the table with a fist. “We defend all of Neopia! Will Neopia not realize how strong that makes them? Will you understand?”
Glancing around, Cassie met the calm eyes of the Techo Master. He raised a hand, gesturing her over to where he sat, along with a number of other leaders. Carefully avoiding the arguing group, Cassie joined them.
“They forget,” the Techo Master said softly.
Cassie knelt on the floor, ignoring the chairs. “Forget what?” She glanced at the table the arguers surrounded. “How to disagree without shouting?”
Sighing, Cassie looked around, figuring out who was there. Jeran was standing up, blue fur mussed by endlessly running his hands through hair. Tormund was beside him, the young yellow Lupe standing with his arms crossed and a determined expression on his face. Sabre-X spoke little, but he agreed with his fellow Lupes. On the opposite side, Torakor and Galgarroth were staying firm. The two Grarrl, blue and orange and both dressed in elaborate armour, wanted each land to stand on their own.
Judge Hog was on Jeran’s side too, of course. Cassie shook her head, half-wondering why the Grarrls weren’t just giving up, with two of the most influential leaders arguing against them. Even with Magax and Scarblade adding in their own words about standing alone, it didn’t quite make sense.
Cassie sighed, glancing around at the group scattered around the edges of the room. They weren’t part of the argument, and seeing them was, in a way, more interesting. Talek sat in his chair, looking bored. He blended in with the pastel colors of the Faerie palace, too, all cream and tan and soft purple, with blue-gray maractite armour and blades.
Commander Valka was slouching in his chair, twirling his moustache with one green finger. Beside him, Prince Jazan of Qasala sat, leaning forward over the table. The Kyrii kept looking like he was about to say something, but never quite did. The Techo Master and the Keeper of Time both seemed like they were meditating or asleep.
The argument kept going, each side repeating their opinion over and over again. At last, the Battle Faerie called a break in the meeting. She had to force the arguers to part, each side going in a different direction. She, however, stayed. “You seem to be the sensible ones,” she said softly, taking a seat. “What are your thoughts on this matter?”
“We need to stand united,” Cassie said immediately. “Isn’t Kiko Lake just an example of why? I mean, most of us have enough of a militia to withstand this, but what if it keeps getting worse?” She glanced around the table. “In the end, we’ll live or die as one.”
“Time passes.” The Keeper of Time cut a hand across the table. “We will stand with the rest of Neopia against these robots. They are not of this world; they do not belong.” The blue-gray Bori met each person’s eyes in turn. “What of the rest of you? What do you say?”
“Together we support the tree of peace,” the Techo Master said, opening his eyes. “Let even one waver, and the links break. Then the tree falls, and we may never raise it again.” Green hands folded inside his deep red robes, the Techo blinked slowly. “Unite.”
Valka nodded thoughtfully. “The Space Station is still recovering from our last battle with Sloth.” The Ixi shrugged, raising a hand in apology. “We do not have enough shuttles to move between Neopia and the Station. I truly am sorry, but I must stay out of this discussion. I cannot contribute either way.”
Talek slammed a hand onto the table. “We of Maraqua choose to stand alone. There is little sense in wasting our forces protecting those who should know how to fight on their own.”
Jazan glared at Talek. The red Kyrii’s dark clothes seemed to swirl for a moment before settling down. “Qasala and Sakhmet will fight with the rest of Neopia,” he growled. “Unlike you water-wimps.”
“No fighting,” Aethia said sharply, before Talek could do more than rise from his seat. “Will you accept the decision of the rest of Neopia, Talek?”
The Maraquan Draik didn’t sit. He looked at Aethia, deep purple eyes meeting her bright green ones. “I will tell King Kelpbeard of the decision made. I promise nothing I cannot give, but I at least will stand by the agreement made here.”
Aethia nodded. “I will bring back the others. Choose someone to inform them of your decision.” Without another word, she left.
“Cassiel.” Talek said instantly. “You get to tell them. Anyone disagree?”
Cassie stared at him in shock for a moment before looking around the table. Nobody spoke.
“Why?” she finally asked, breaking the silence.
The swordmaster shrugged. “You’re a Draik. I have some amount of loyalty to my species. You’re also the only one they’ll all listen to, since you’re a girl.” He raised a hand, forestalling the protests. “It shouldn’t matter, but it does. You also haven’t been talking, which helps.”
“Why not the Techo Master?” Cassie looked around. “They’d listen to him.”
The green Techo looked up. “You hold power,” he said simply.
Resigned, Cassie shook her head. “Fine. I’ll tell them.”
Talek smiled. Nobody said anything until Aethia returned, the still arguing leaders trailing her. Cassie waited until they’d all sat down, even Sabre-X, who had been pacing and adding his comments earlier. When they’d all quieted, Cassiel stood.
“We say that Neopia should stand united,” she said softly, the words flowing without pause. “Without unity, we cannot survive a war. We may not know what is to come from this, but we do know that there are kingdoms than cannot stand alone. Kiko Lake was one of those. You all know what happened to it. What would you say if Roo Island took the next blow?”
She paused, letting the thought sink in before continuing. “Or what would you say if Altador was attacked and its walls used against it?” Cassie met Torakor’s eyes. “What would you do if even your city’s sister would not come to help you, simply because your pride built a wall stronger than any stone? Or what if Darigan held on to prejudice?” She changed her gaze from the blue Grarrl to the orange. Galgarroth met her eyes proudly. “Meridell has shown that they will not, yet if you choose to hold on to enemies made in war and let your floating citadel stand alone, what choice will they have but to leave you to your fate?”
Shaking her head, Cassie turned to Magax. The blue Wocky looked back, eyes narrowed. “The Haunted Woods is not a place many enter without need. Yet you need us there. Not all your inhabitants can disappear into the woods, fade away without a trace. And scare tactics? They don’t work on emotionless robots.” She smiled slightly. “And no matter how much power you alone have, is it enough to defend the whole of the woods?”
Looking at Scarblade, Cassie sighed. The Lupe looked back, no expression on his grizzled green face. “Or the pirates, scattered over the sea. You can help all of us by supplying us with reinforcements or armies from other countries, if you choose. What if you don’t? If you don’t, then why would we ever trust the pirates of Krawk Island again?”
Cassiel spread her hands. “It’s your choice, in the end. Realize the consequences of your actions before you say where you stand, however. We cannot be united if even one of us lets pride overwhelm sense, or prejudice overcome love for this world that we all belong to.” Words exhausted, she sat, almost collapsing into her chair.
“Meridell will stand with Neopia,” Jeran said.
“As will Brightvale,” Tormund added quickly.
“The Defenders pledge their strength to this cause.” Judge Hog’s voice boomed out in the contained room, and the blue Moehog smiled, pride obvious on his face.
“We will fight with you,” Sabre-X growled, nodding his head once.
A blue hand hit the table. “Altador will help you,” Torakor said.
“As will the Citadel,” Galgarroth rumbled.
“My crew will fight,” Scarblade said, “and I will speak to the council of pirates. No more can I pledge.”
Magax glanced around. “Very well. I will not let it be said that the Woods refused to unite Neopia. We will fight with you to death and beyond.”
Cassie grinned, looking at Aethia. “We stand united. Tell the Faeries our decision, and keep us in contact as best you can, please. Your magic is key to making this all work.”
The Faerie nodded. “I hope you’re right about all this, Cassiel,” she said softly, turning to leave. “Or else we’ll fall deeper into this hole that we’re all digging.”
Closing her eyes, Cassie sighed. “I hope so too.”
To be continued...