Things Best Remembered: Part One
The sequel to 'A Renewed Hope'. It'd make more sense if you read that first. Comments/constructive criticism are loved!
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 an expression 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 expression 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 point 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."
To be continued...