Ascension: Part Eight
The gentle luminescence of Meridell at twilight pierced the leaves of the forest and shimmered on the immaculate uniforms of the three pets as they marched with a single-minded determination. Mediocrities like nature meant little to the stony Grarrl at their head, the molten rock flowing through his veins giving him a natural glow that illuminated their path more effectively than the fading sunlight could achieve.
The last line of trees that protected the mystical glade of the earth faerie spread automatically before the fiery Grarrl, allowing him free passage into the tranquil land beyond. Behind him the twin red Ixi accompanying him gasped at the splendour and majesty of the enchanted glade, forever resilient against whatever evils plagued Meridell, but the Grarrl alone stood unfazed.
Tyras was there with a mission, and no amount of magical magnificence would sway him from it.
‘Search everywhere,’ he said firmly in his impossibly deep voice, drawn from the bowels of his native Moltara. Every time they heard it the Ixi twins jumped in fright before realising there were words contained in the ominous sound, and hurried to the task.
‘What’s going on?’ a small voice suddenly asked, Tyras turning slowly to face the young Aisha that had appeared in the glade behind him, seeking out Illusen like so many others.
‘Faerie business. Scram.’
Without any resistance the Aisha fled back into the forest, the imposing countenance of the magma Grarrl a terror to plague him for a long time yet to come. Tyras simply pushed the encounter from his mind, not a trace of pity or remorse for his less than pleasant response, and returned to supervising the search.
It was over within just a few short minutes. Illusen’s Glade was known more for its frugality than the excess of Jhudora’s cloud. Both of the red Ixi looked uncomfortable, but Tyras calmly paced across the vibrant grass, leaving smouldering footprints in his wake. He could feel something nearby, the soft sound of screeching on the very cusp of hearing. The Glade held a secret somewhere, and was hiding it more effectively than he would have ever believed Illusen could manage.
Through his feet he could feel the earth tremble. A life spent deep below the surface had left him naturally attuned to the ever-shifting moods of Neopia, even after Jilleau had brought him to Faerieland. Carefully he knelt and ran one clawed hand over the grass, feeling the discomfort of the land beneath him, calling for help.
Sharply he rose back to his feet and pointed to a spot a foot in front of him, no different to any other. ‘Time to dig,’ he toned calmly, brandishing his strong obsidian claws and casting an amused eye over the ill-prepared hooves of the Ixi twins.
Before developing more advanced tools, the Moltarans had mined using only their unbreakable claws, and it was a skill they continued to develop as a fallback long after the first pickaxes entered their halls. Both Ixi were left awestruck by the casual manner with which Tyras dug deep into the firm earth and broke it asunder, the electrifying residue of magic chasing his claws with every move. Again he reached out and heaved the earth aside with ease, unleashing the sound of vicious and bitter screeching from below.
Suddenly a purple hued hand shot from underground and flailed in the freedom. The voice fell silent. Tyras closed his firm grip about the hand and pulled the faerie from her subterranean prison.
Coughing and spluttering, Jhudora sought for breath and dusted herself off one-handed; Tyras refused to let go of her other hand, having snared his prize unexpectedly. Realising he would not release her, Jhudora treated him to a scathing glare, only to find his stony stare coming back at her.
‘Where is that idiot I call a sister?’ Jhudora snarled, trying to break Tyras’ grip.
‘Busy finishing what you started,’ the Grarrl answered. ‘Tell us what she plans to do and we can stop her before it is too late. Otherwise you may have to answer to “Queen Illusen” come morning.’
Jhudora cringed at the mere thought of her sister ascending the throne. She had half a mind to tell Tyras to bury her back in her prison and forget about her; it would be a more pleasurable experience than answering to that foolhardy earth faerie on the throne. But she knew that their connection meant Illusen would find her eventually, just to spend the rest of their days being incessantly cheerful and watching the darkness faerie squirm.
The only way she could turn the tables now would be to stop her sister.
* * *
The air crackled with ancient power, the torches burning blue on the walls as they feasted upon it. Entering the forgotten hall, both faeries breathed deep of the heady smell, which brought with it the memories of days long passed. It was perfect for Illusen’s needs, even if Aria was not yet aware of it.
‘Ah, there it is!’ Aria declared, crossing the room and taking the small bronze pendant from the floor. It had a single cracked ruby set into it. ‘That poor Korbat will be glad to have it back,’ she added, deftly pocketing it with a broad smile. Another job well done.
‘Hold on a moment, Aria,’ Illusen suddenly said, stopping the princess in her tracks as she swept back across the circular chamber. ‘Now we are finally alone again, I was wondering if you have had any more thoughts about what we discussed? About giving you the chance to do this for the rest of your days, rather than being enslaved by the throne?’
Aria stared silently into the flickering torch, a thoughtful expression passing over her face. ‘I... I have thought about it some more,’ she replied, noticing the way Illusen’s eyes widened at her words, ‘and about what you said. I have developed something of a liking for helping the pets in these villages, and even a sort of fondness for each of them. It would be nice to be able to continue my work and help people without the threat of someone coming for me all the time to drag me back home.’
‘You want to do it then?’ Illusen interrupted, struggling to hide her excitement.
‘What about Mother, though?’ Aria asked, sweeping back across the chamber and catching a fleeting glance of Illusen’s trembling expression. ‘I cannot just abandon her like this.’
‘She just wants you to be happy!’ Illusen persisted. ‘She would rather see you travel the plains and be happy than sit on the throne and be miserable!’
The soft footfalls of the earth faerie reached Aria’s ears as she stared once more into the flickering blue torch. It seemed to crackle with the tension hanging between the pair as Illusen’s excitement rose to new crests, radiating forth from the faerie and clashing with Aria’s gathering fear. She could not abandon her mother in such a way, but Illusen was right.
However, Illusen had said something else that rang true in Aria’s heart.
Suddenly Illusen screamed. Aria spun to face her with a triumphant grin across her face. Unable to stop herself, she laughed freely at the earth faerie trapped inside of a translucent sphere. It was suspended inches above the ground in the very centre of the chamber, separating her from any contact with the earth from which she drew her power.
‘Jhudora always said you were thick,’ she jeered, wiping away a tear, ‘but I never believed you were truly this idiotic, Illusen. Do you honestly think I could not see through from the very start? A faerie who hates leaving Meridell comes out to the middle of nowhere on a rumour, and once here dives into a story full of lies? Illusen, I may not know much about the world outside of Faerieland, but I know all I need to know about the history of my people, and of my line! You thought I did not know that Lady Vylare defeated her sister in the Great War and took the throne? The first rule of deception is to know the truth you are corrupting.’
‘Look, it was all Jhudora’s idea!’ Illusen protested.
Aria just descended into laughter again at the feeble retort. ‘Jhudora is smart enough to pay a bit of attention and not get trapped like you!’ she taunted. ‘The roots of this plan have her hallmarks, but if she still had a hand in this, you would not be trapped now. She would have seen through the frankly farcical idea of an old Korbat coming into a magical cave and just happening to lose her family heirloom in it. She saw through you just like I did, and came up with that story to bring you here so I could have my fun!’
‘I’m telling you, I am trying to stop before Jhudora uses her magic to steal the throne from you!’ Illusen cried, trying to inject some conviction into her words, but only find Aria scoffing at her.
‘Keeping saying that, and maybe one day even you will believe it,’ she jeered. ‘But I’m afraid I have other things to do, for you see I have a throne to ascend. You were right, Illusen, when you said that someone needed to take the throne who did not resent it, and who would help Neopia just as I was helping the villagers. Helping out these small villages had shown me why my mother is how she is, but not how she is able to be so great. But as Queen, she has the power and the authority to help out not only small villages but whole kingdoms. If I take the throne, I can help all the world. I can be like my mother, something which being out here has helped me realise was all I ever wanted. Thank you, Illusen.
‘But do not think it means I am going to let you out!’
She chuckled to herself and skipped playfully from the chamber, listening to Illusen’s pleas for help every step of the way. Song rose in her heart and the enchanting melody rang in the air of the cave, sweet nonsense to surround Illusen while she contemplated the idiocy of her actions. It was strange how it could be so pleasant, and yet she felt her spirits lift still further with every note, leading her out into the freedom of the gathering darkness of the night.
Suddenly a new sound broke her song. Someone was clapping.
‘Finally caught up then, you two?’ Aria remarked without turning, giving the air a smug smile.
Behind her, both Velvet and Jilleau laughed, watching her with a newfound respect from the cave entrance. Illusen’s every frustrated scream echoed up to their ears, and neither found any desire to let her out, not after all she had schemed.
‘It seems all of our efforts to find out what she was up to were for nothing,’ Jilleau remarked. ‘You saw through her and stopped her all by yourself. Lady Aria, I will admit to having underestimated you.’
‘I was beginning to think it might have been kinder to let you stop her your way,’ Aria replied, turning to face them both at last. ‘You were following me all over the plains after all, and I was wondering when you would think to intervene. But this way just seemed more fun.’
‘I would have to agree with that,’ the Bori said with a chuckle. ‘You will have to let her out eventually, though, you know?’
Aria just shrugged. ‘I thought I would send Jhudora in to let her out in a couple of days,’ she suggested, causing Velvet to burst into laughter again at the thought. Finally Aria gave her full attention to the Xweetok, barely able to believe it was the same retentive pet who had practically dragged her back to the palace. She could now see why Fyora had kept her around so long.
‘Come to drag me back home?’ she asked.
‘Before hearing what I just did from that cave, I would have said yes,’ Velvet answered openly, ‘but now I’m not so sure I need to. It sounds like you are ready to take the throne yourself now, and you have shown me you are more than capable of doing so. Although it would have been nice to have had the chance to do something after I risked getting eaten by Lyrishoul’s book to get this far!’
‘Is that what she was planning to do then?’ Aria asked the pair. ‘Jhudora had found the tome of Lady Alexia Lyrishoul? Did you know she was Lady Vylare’s sister? The two of them were a bit like Jhudora and Illusen really, but after Alexia lost the war her sister transformed her into a water faerie in the hope of containing her. She became Alexia Lyrishoul and... well, the rest is pretty common knowledge in history. Just not many know her true identity.’
‘With you on the throne, I don’t think we will need to worry about those two causing the same sorts of problems,’ Velvet replied, giving Aria a respectful nod. ‘So, are you ready to come home?’
One last time Aria cast her eyes over the plains to where the nearby village glowed with an almost light. She wanted to return and continue on as she had been, helping one pet at a time, but knew it would never satisfy again in the same way. Not now she had a chance to make a real difference.
Her hand brushed against something in her pocket. It was the pendant, forgotten in her excitement with Illusen, its cracked ruby winking at her.
‘I have something I must do first,’ she answered. ‘Then I will be ready.’
* * *
With the dawn of the new day, the clouds above Neopia were alive with a new dawn of their very own. A new era had begun, as Fyora stepped down from the throne and passed it on at last. Many had been sceptical at first, trusting in Fyora like no other in all of Neopia, but the words of great deeds were already spreading through the populace. Tales of miracle recoveries were rife, but above all else the people spoke of a Kadoatie named Toby, and his saviour from the tree. Saving someone from illness was one thing, but to rescue a petpet from a tree... that was the mark of a true Queen.
Across Neopia they celebrated the new dawn.
They celebrated the ascension of Queen Aria.