The Princess of Flowers: Part Four
PART FOUR: GILDED STEPS
"T he Air Faerie Kingdom?” gasped Mildred. “What’s that?”
“A very long ago,” Rose read aloud, “the Faerie population resided in six distinct kingdoms located all around Neopia: Both the Light and Dark Faeries resided in Altador; the Earth Faeries lived in Brightvale; the Water Faeries lived in the waters of what are now known as Maraqua; the Fire Faeries resided underground in the area now known as Moltara; and the Air Faeries had their own kingdom in the sky, high above the rest.”
Mildred nodded eagerly. “Very interesting! Perhaps the Soup Faeries came from—”
Rose continued reading. “Sometime ago, an Air Faerie decided that, for the benefit of Neopia, all the Faeries shall live together in a kingdom in the clouds. So she poofed up the clouds of what made up a “Faerieland” and encouraged all the other Faeries of Neopia to come inhabit it. Over time, all of the existing Faerie kingdoms were dismantled in favour of the growing kingdom that was formed by that one Air Faerie, who had since become the first Faerie Queen. It was also because of her that the newly established Faerieland—”
“Then what?” asked Mildred.
“Just boring details about festivals and the first ever Faerie Queen coronation ceremony,” Rose grunted, flipping through the book. After skipping fifteen pages of worthless dribble, she stopped and began reading aloud again. “Yet despite the growing prosperity of Faerieland, and the willingness for the various Faerie species to live peacefully together, a group of Air Faeries banded together to refuse their move from the Air Faerie Kingdom. They believed they had every right to remain on their cloud, and their Queen scolded the former Air-Faerie-now-Faerie-Queen for abandoning their kingdom in favour of living with other Faeries. Not liking the ongoing conflict, the Faerie Queen eventually allowed the Air Faerie Kingdom to remain as it was in one condition: they must seal themselves away in a private space to make the Neopians believe the kingdom was discontinued.”
Rose skipped through another three pages before continuing. “And thus, the Air Faerie Kingdom still remains hidden from the rest of Neopia. Only those who can reach the gilded stairs can gain access to the—”
“Gilded stairs?” Mildred gasped.
“Are you done interrupting!?” Rose snapped. She sighed. “Anyways, the book can only lead us to the stairs’ approximate location, so we’ll need to be very observant to find them and gain access to the kingdom.”
“Yes, of course.” Mildred nodded. “And, when shall we be leaving?”
“Soon,” said Rose. “I’ll meet you by the dome in two hours. Don’t be tardy.”
“Yes, Rose,” said Mildred, bowing.
Mildred waited anxiously. She looked down at the path in front of her, her hands tightly clutching her basket. After closing her eyes and taking a few more deep breaths, Mildred blinked and was ecstatic when she saw a familiar Kyrii strolling towards her, her hair billowing in an invisible wind. “Oh my! Rose, you look…different!”
“I suppose,” said Rose. Rather than wearing one of her highly impractical gown, she decided to sport a white blouse with khaki pants and black, knee-high boots. “Do you have everything with you?” she asked, checking out Mildred’s blue dress and the white apron she wore over it.
“Why aren’t you wearing that lovely pink dress?” asked Mildred
“It would have been too impractical for our quest,” Rose explained. “Besides, I hate wearing heeled shoes.”
Mildred watched as Rose pulled out a brass key from her pocket and placed it inside the dome’s keyhole. The keyhole vanished and a clear opening appeared, and Mildred followed Rose as she swiftly walked out of the dome—and outside Floritua. “Outstanding,” Mildred breathed, watching as the opening vanished and the dome was, once again, complete.
Rose led Mildred away from the dome and towards a nearby wooded area. The trees looming above were lush with emerald-green leaves that, much to Rose’s chagrin, sheltered the woods from sunlight. Mildred didn’t seem to mind the trudge through the darkness, and she was perfectly content with picking the wild strawberries and raspberries they passed by. “Would you like a strawberry?” Mildred asked.
“There’s no way I’ll ever consume any of those filthy berries,” Rose hissed. she fumed, stomping through a bush. It seemed like a good hour and thirty three minutes—or more—to her before they finally reached a sunny clearing. The grassy space was surrounded by trees and the occasional wild mushroom, and a few petpetpets were buzzing and hovering in the air. Rose plopped herself on a stump. “At last, we can rest,” she declared.
“This clearing is such a lovely place,” Mildred remarked, sitting on a log near Rose. She smiled at a white Uni wondering around. “Would you like some strawberries?” she asked.
The Uni nodded and devoured the two strawberries Mildred offered. “Gee, thanks lady,” he said happily. “I love eating berries!”
“You’re most welcome,” said Mildred, smiling. She looked around the clearing. “Do you know where we are, Mr. Uni?”
“Please, call me Wesley,” insisted the Uni. “And you’re actually in the Faerieland forest.”
“Ooh, I always wanted to visit Faerieland!” Mildred clapped. “Perhaps I’ll even be lucky enough to meet an Earth Faerie!”
“There are lots of them at the Faerie City,” said Wesley.
“We can’t,” Rose piped up. “We’re actually looking for a top-secret location, so we don’t have time for any idling.”
“Do you know where we can find some gilded stairs?” asked Mildred.
Wesley nodded. “Sure, follow me.” Rose and Mildred followed the Uni as he led them through the forest, humming as he trotted. Rose rolled her eyes and pursed her lips, secretly wishing that their guide would stop his insufferable humming. Mildred joined him, of course, and by the time the duo were done humming whatever-song-they-were-butchering, Wesley had taken them to yet another clearing. “Here we are,” he proclaimed.
“This clearing looks just like the other one,” Mildred remarked.
“ this the same clearing we were in before?” Rose demanded. “Did you get us lost?”
“No, of course not.” Wesley approached the edge of the clearing, facing a tall oak tree. Rose watched sceptically as Wesley poked the tree with his horn and, with a firm nod, turned to look at the middle of the clearing. Rose was surprised, and a little impressed, when a crystal stairway descended from somewhere above the forest and landed in the middle of the clearing. “Here you go,” said Wesley. “Be careful, though. The steps can be pretty slippery.”
Mildred was wide-eyed as she stared at the twinkling stairs. “They’re beautiful!”
“Why are the ‘gilded stairs’ made of crystal?” asked Rose.
“Oh, I can think of one reason,” Wesley said ominously.
“Yeah, those stairs sure look awesome!” remarked a voice from above.
Rose looked up and saw a shadow Zafara perched on a tree branch high above them, a wide grin plastered on his face. His hair was ruffed up and he looked mischievous–in fact, he looked almost exactly like that green Zafara all the girls of Neopia thought was ‘dreamy’. Rose straightened her posture and shouted, “I demand to speak to you in person!”
The Zafara leapt from the tree and landed on the ground with a loud thud. He looked up at Rose, grinned, and twirled a black cane in his hand. “The name’s Zack, milady,” said the Zafara. “And you must be her royal highness, Rose of Floritua, correct?”
“How did you know?” gasped Rose.
Zack bowed with a flourish. “I know everything about you, princess,” he explained. “In fact, I know that you are also in possession of a very rare Neopian artifact.”
”He’s so suave,” Mildred sighed.
“I like his clothes,” remarked Wesley, admiring the black coat, pants and shoes Zack was sporting.
Mildred nodded. “His taste is impeccable,” she agreed.
Rose sniffed. “As if that tacky ensemble he’s wearing is really impressive.” She narrowed her eyes at Zack. “And as for , how in Neopia do you know about the Rose Rod? Unless…” she stole a glare at Mildred, who was busy eyeing her new nemesis.
“Look, I really don’t want to fight you and harm your friends,” Zack insisted, “but if you keep resisting, then I’ll have to do the incredibly rude thing and declare a duel.” He narrowed his sparkling eyes. “And you wouldn’t want that, would you missy?”
“Well…I suppose not…” Rose hesitated. She still had no idea who this crook was, how’d he even heard about the Rose Rod, and why he’d known about her and Floritua. I bet he’s working for Mr. I-hope-I-never-see-him-again, she mused, taking a few steps back. If Zack was an associate of , then she wouldn’t hesitate with her attack. But what if he wasn’t? What if someone else had informed him about the rod?
Zack shrugged. “It’s a real shame you’re so nervous, milady,” he said suavely. “I’d thought you’d be much braver than that.”
Rose stiffened when she heard swooning. Were Wesley and Mildred honestly draft enough to be for her enemy??
Twirling his cane in his hand once more, Zack walked over to the gilded stairs and, after lightly tapping a step with his foot, banged his cane downwards with a brilliant force. Mildred gasped and Wesley covered his eyes as the crystal stairway shattered into a million little, twinkling pieces.
Rose sank to her knees, dumbfounded. WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!?!?!? her inner thoughts screamed.
“Oh dear, did you need those stairs, princess?” asked Zack with fake sympathy. “It’s a shame you were hesitating for too long.” He twirled his cane again. “So what’ll you do, missy? Now there is no way you’ll ever reach the Air Faerie Kingdom!”
To be continued…