The Orbs of Power: Part Eight
I lay perfectly still, my eyes closed, drawing slow, deep breaths. The surface I was lying on was soft and comfortable, perfectly warm, and I heard my owner's voice from somewhere in the distance.
I was back home in Altador.
But then I heard the song of the bird I had seen on Mystery Island... the voice of Chenn, the elderly Eyrie... the sound of shrieking in the Haunted Woods... the rushing of a whirlpool, the roar of the Tyrannian Beast, and doubts and fears screaming in my head -
My eyes snapped open. I was not in Altador; I was in an unknown room made of white marble, its ceiling held up by four arches, each of them painted purple; sunlight was streaming in through the windows. Then a voice spoke near me. A real voice.
"You are very lucky to be alive."
I turned my head. Queen Fyora was standing there, her face full of relief.
Breathing heavily, I sat up. The Faerie Queen must have rescued me when the central stone in the Holder exploded. I had been placed in the Faerie Castle until I recovered.
"Mira only just got to you in time," said Fyora. My assumption had been wrong; it had been the Space Faerie who saved me. "I contacted her as soon as you found the first Orb," the Queen continued. "When you retrieved two more, I called together the rulers of Neopia for a meeting, to discuss what would happen if you successfully mastered all six. The guardians of the palace, Arista and Elline, informed me that you had come to see me about the Orbs of Power when you had attained five of them; Sofi recounted her conversation with you, and I contacted Mira again, telling her to wait by the Fortress of the Void until you arrived. By the time she reached it, you were already there, and the Orbs' magic was out of control."
So Queen Fyora had been carefully monitoring the situation, right from the beginning. She knew immediately when I began the journey, and kept watch as I continued; she even sent Mira to make sure that if I failed, disaster would be averted. I bowed my head, filled with gratitude.
"Thank you, your Majesty."
The Queen also bowed her head in respect. I felt faint, overwhelmed. Forestalling my words, Fyora said, "You have come further than anybody could have expected; and in doing so, you have earned my respect. You did not know that the journey you have undertaken was never meant for a Neopet."
"Then will you explain, please?" I asked.
Fyora took a deep breath...
The Faerie Queen took a seat in a soft armchair near my bed, and began to tell the story. "The Orbs of Power are among the most ancient objects in all of Neopia, barely younger than Neopia itself. They were created by the very first faeries, before I became Queen."
"Before you became Queen?" It was a shock, somehow, to learn that Fyora hadn't always been the ruler of the faeries.
"Indeed," Fyora went on. "The first faeries had a very divided society; they communed only with their own kind, their own element: Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Light or Darkness. These six tribes were constantly fighting each other, and any faeries who didn't belong to one of the tribes were outcasts. Soon after the first Neopets appeared in Neopia, Faerieland was in the grip of civil war."
Queen Fyora paused, then snapped her fingers; mugs of hot chocolate appeared on the table beside my bed and beside her armchair. After a brief pause to take a sip of her hot chocolate, she continued, "The tribes were fighting within themselves, too. After a great deal of warring, each faerie group had its own queen, and the infighting stopped. The tribes were still enemies, though, and the battles between them continued; something had to be done."
"So..." I thought I could feel the explanation beginning to take shape. "The Orbs were a test, to find a Queen who could rule all the faeries?"
"It started after one of the worst battles that had been seen so far; the Queen of Light sent a message to each of her counterparts, telling them to meet her on a distant cloud. She told them that the war had gone on long enough, that the faeries should not fight each other, and proposed a way to unite them under just one Queen. Normally, this suggestion would have got nowhere, but the battles were so bad that the other faerie queens agreed to meet in order to discuss the idea. After several weeks of talks, it was decided that the true ruler of the faeries had to be one who could show herself worthy of ruling all six tribes: she had to be able to master the power and qualities of all the elements. This would be enough to earn the respect of every faerie, giving them cause to give up their loyalty to the tribes and live together in peace. She who could unite the Orbs could unite the faeries."
Fyora took another sip from her mug of hot chocolate, and I tasted mine; it was creamy and delicious, and its warmth seemed to spread through my whole body. "The negotiations were long and difficult; eventually it was agreed that each of the six faerie queens could set their own challenge. Five of the faerie queens decided to test the defining characteristics of their tribe, but the Queen of Darkness was different. She was not like any other dark faerie: she had fought her way to the top not by overpowering her subjects, but by breaking up the battles between them; by showing true leadership. Her decision was the wisest of all: to ensure that if evil was present, it could be overcome.
"When the news was announced by each of the faerie queens, it was greeted with horror by every tribe, but none were as shocked as the dark faeries. They felt betrayed by their queen, whose chosen challenge had flown in the face of their identity, and she was overthrown. The new Queen of Darkness did her best to tear down the work of her predecessor, but her efforts were fruitless; the other queens agreed that she had no right to object to the final quest unless she had passed the first five. However, she failed on the very first mission."
Fyora let out a sad sigh. "There was outrage among the dark faeries that their queen had fallen at the first hurdle, and they began to lash out against the other tribes. As the other faeries struggled to hold them at bay, one faerie after another took the quest and failed. All five faerie queens took the quest in turn, and none of them was successful. Eventually, after years of war, one faerie finally succeeded in attaining all of the Orbs of Power, uniting them in the Brace of Peace, and safely wielding the magic they contained."
"You?" I asked, my eyes wide.
"Indeed, it was me. The central piece in the Brace is made of the same magical stone as this." She gestured to the orb on the end of her staff. "It can harness all types of magic." She smiled kindly and continued, "The faerie queens decided that after my success, I would take their place. Each of them explained to her subjects that I had proven myself worthy of ruling them. The dark faeries also agreed, because since the disappearance of their own queen, they had had no ruler at all and their tribe had descended into chaos. My first order was to build a capital city for all the faeries, in the centre of Faerieland, which had borders with all six tribes; this would encourage them to come together and get to know one another. Eventually, the friendship spread, and the animosity between the faeries was forgotten. But I was well aware that my reign may not last forever, so I placed the Orbs back into their chambers and re-established the protection around them, then left a sealed order, to be opened only if something happens to me and I can no longer govern Faerieland, to set the challenge again. The idea was that, when it became necessary, the same test that I had to pass in order to become Queen would then decide who should take my place."
My jaw fell open, and my heart lurched with shock. At the very moment Fyora had spoken that last sentence, everything seemed to have been turned on its head.
"You mean, if I had succeeded, I would have been - " I stammered, barely able to take it in, "I would have been – ruler of the Faeries?"
Fyora's expression was serious. "I called the Rulers' Council to meet in order to discuss the possibility of somebody taking over my reign, but I'm sorry to say that I was sure it would not be you. The fact that you got as far as you did - proving yourself determined, patient, brave, and of noble purpose - means you certainly have the character to be a ruler... but the final test, mastering the united Orbs, is the one you were doomed to fail. You are simply not a strong enough sorcerer to handle that much power. It was bound to go out of control." Her beautiful face was filled with sympathy. "I'm very glad you recovered. The Orbs, however..."
She held up the Brace of Peace, the Holder, which now had its central stone settled back into place - but the brackets for the Orbs had been shattered. All the blood seemed to drain from my face as I realised what I had done. The Orbs themselves must have been reduced to shards, by that horrific explosion that had knocked me out...
"As soon as you touched the central stone, all six Orbs were destroyed by the strength of their own magic," said Queen Fyora gently. "But don't worry; I will be able to create new Orbs, and a new map, to prepare for the time when my reign ends. Even faeries don't live forever; I want my successor to be certain that she has what it takes to rule Faerieland."
There was one final question nagging at the back of my mind, so I voiced it. "Your Highness," I asked, "why are you telling me all of this? If this information may only be revealed when a new Queen has to be found, why are you telling me now?"
"Because you were the one who showed me the mistake I had made in my planning," replied Fyora with a sigh. "You are a Neopet, and yet you not only found the map, you followed it and retrieved all six Orbs before the right time had come. The very first thing I will do, when I piece the challenge back together, will be to relocate the map, to keep it safe from Neopets or other faeries who are greedy, or overly curious... or clumsy," she added with a friendly laugh. I laughed too; I had to admit that I'd broken a number of things on my journey. I was immensely relieved to know that despite my failure at the last moment, there had been no lasting damage done, and everything would be set right. "I may relocate the hiding places of the Orbs as well," said Fyora thoughtfully. "Starting from scratch would probably be the best course of action. It would be the safest way to ensure that this doesn't happen again."
"Thank you, your Majesty," I said again. I stood up; as I felt my muscles and bones working, I realised that I had completely recovered from the outburst of power from the Orbs. Queen Fyora bade me farewell. "Work on the new Orbs must begin at once. It is time for both of us to leave; I know you have a home to return to." She shook my hand. "I may consider finding you a job in the Faerieland Guards, though. You can certainly be counted on to persevere when faced with a tough challenge."
As I left the Faerie Castle, I considered this offer; but I really only wanted to be an explorer, travelling through the wilderness of Neopia, as I had intended when I first set off on this marathon journey. Even if I was worthy of achieving great things, I wanted a more relaxed, peaceful life.
Finally, after a long flight, I arrived home in Altador. My owner and the rest of the family greeted me eagerly, wanting to know all about my holiday, and my favourite meal was cooking in the kitchen. Yes, I thought. This is where I truly belong.
My holiday had been far more than I bargained for. One final thought occurred to me as I fell gratefully into my own comfortable bed...
I am never going to follow a treasure map again.