A Queen's Ascension - War:Part Eight
The Altadorian Docks were bustling as always, with many ships docked at the harbour and many more arriving or departing with goods from all over Neopia. It was the perfect day for sailing; there were clear blue skies and a light breeze that picked up the sails of the boat Tomos and Vyssa were in well. Even though their boat was only small, it was durable. It had lasted them throughout the tumultuous and sometimes terrifying journey they had taken to get here. Kiko Lake were not master ship makers like Altador – whenever the weather got too rough they had to stop at the nearest land ports. Brief sojourns at Krawk Island and Mystery Island had proved fruitless. Krawk Island had even been rather hostile and surly, finding the struggle they were going through amusing rather than anything worth taking seriously. Meanwhile, hardly anyone in Mystery Island spoke the common Neopian tongue, resulting in some difficult conversations. Vyssa remembered the basics very vaguely from her language lessons as a child, but even this was met with much confusion as she found she had been pronouncing even these simple words wrong.
It had taken weeks, and had gotten to the point where Vyssa and Tomos were certain they had gotten lost and were just going round in circles. But finally, the glorious mountain range of Altador came into view, and eventually they found themselves on the correct trading route, following ships to the Altadorian Docks.
Vyssa and Tomos having had very little to do with water in this vast quantity previously had been seasick most the journey, and were very relieved to have Mika controlling the boat for them. She was quite quiet really, but was grateful to Tomos for cooking the meals on the boat each night. Vyssa found herself the cleaner; this was not a task she was well equipped for either, but it was better than her attempting to cook.
As they docked, Mika addressed them both. “Whilst I am here, I will get some goods for Kiko Lake. I am happy to take you both back there but…how will you get an army across?”
“I guess we were just assuming King Altador would lend us ships,” Tomos admitted. “He owes Fyora, and we have her letter, so we should be fine.”
Mika shrugged. “Well, I’ll be here for a few days anyway to rest, so let me know! I’ll be staying at one of the local establishments along the harbour here.” She pointed behind them. Past the docks was a long path up to the city, which was protected on all sides by a square wall that contained the aqueducts for the whole city. “Show the guards outside your letter from Fyora and they should let you inside. Often it’s only native Altadorians or traders that go up into the city as it’s so cut off from everyone. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Thank you, Mika,” Vyssa said, giving her a hug. She was finding that she was becoming so much more touchy-feely since losing her status as a Royal and having to be among ordinary Neopets. It was refreshing. “We appreciate everything you have done for us. We’ll let you know whether we succeed!”
As they parted ways, Vyssa was thoughtful. “This journey across Neopia has been so eye opening,” she said to Tomos as they made their way up the road. “I always used to be so wrapped up in my life at the palace, and thought that adventure was pretending to be Viola and walking around the streets of Sakhmet. It was my sister’s dream to travel the world and my dream to be the ruler of Sakhmet.” She sighed. “Funny how life turns out.”
Tomos took her hand in his and squeezed it. “She would be so proud of you right now, you know that.”
“We were both selfish in our own ways,” Vyssa mused. “But yes – I think she would be, knowing she couldn’t do it herself. I really hope…” Her voice became quiet. “I really hope she has forgiven me, wherever she is.”
“She has.” Tomos said firmly, squeezing tighter.
The two walked together after that in companionable silence, with Tomos understanding that Vyssa needing this silent time to herself to think.
Fortunately, showing Fyora’s signed letter had enabled them quick and easy access into Altador. Tempting as it was for them to really take in the sights of a place they would likely never see again, their first priority was to get to King Altador. The Council Chamber was the most likely place King Altador would be, the guards at the front walls had told them, so that was where they went. After showing the letter again, they were allowed access into the chamber, but were told to wait until their daily meeting was finished. This took another hour at least, but finally the doors opened and many of the famous twelve figures filtered out. Vyssa and Tomos assumed they would stop and ask them why they were here, but these were experienced figureheads and leaders; they didn’t even give them much more than a nod of acknowledgement as they passed them by, clearly understanding it was their king they were there to see.
Jerdana was the last one out apart from King Altador himself. The Aisha had a mystical presence about her; she radiated power and energy. Some argued she was even a stronger sorceress than Queen Fyora herself. Like Fyora, she kept herself out of Neopian issues unless they directly impacted her.
“King Altador is waiting for you,” she murmured to them in a surprisingly soft and gentle voice that gave no hint to her great strength, “and he is not our king – that is merely a title he keeps from long ago. Altador is a democracy, run by the Five Legends and advised by us.”
Vyssa’s mouth fell open in surprise. “What – what did you say? Did you just…read my thoughts?”
The Aisha’s neutral expression did not change. “I read everything, I do not mean to offend. He is waiting for you. Go in.” She moved away, seemingly gliding with the ease of her footsteps, and did not look back.
“That was…something,” Tomos said, almost admirably. His gaze was following where Jerdana had gone.
Vyssa narrowed her eyes at him. “Impressed by her powers, were you?” She said with a grin. “Come on, let’s go inside.”
“She’s a powerful sorceress!” Tomos spluttered, following after Vyssa hurriedly. “That’s all!”
Vyssa was about to joke back with him, but upon entering the council chamber there was suddenly a hushed silence and the presence of King Altador sat at the table. The grey Lupe was another dominating figure, but his eyes signalled kindness, strength and patience.
“King Altador, I –” Vyssa started.
Tomos was already bringing the letter from Fyora out of his bag. “We’ve got this letter, from Queen Fyora, and –”
King Altador cut across them both, raising his hand to signal for silence. “I’m afraid Queen Fyora has actually already beaten you to it. I received a letter from her weeks ago, explaining your plight and pledging her support for your cause as much as she could. She recommended that I prepare my army and my ships in advance for your arrival, so you could delay no longer. There is no need to explain any further. I will lend you my army and my ships to sail them back to the Lost Desert for you.”
“Thank you, your Grace,” Vyssa murmured, somewhat stunned. “But…why? Why are you helping us?”
“I owe Queen Fyora a favour,” Altador said. He saw their expressions droop ever so slightly. “That’s not all!” He added hastily. “I have a deep friendship with King Jazan and know that Queen Nabile is currently held prisoner. I know that Sakhmet was well controlled and maintained by your sister – and if Jazan and Fyora believe in you, I will support you without question.”
“This means so much to us,” Tomos said. “Thank you.”
“There’s only one small problem,” Altador admitted. “Although the army is ready, we’re still waiting on a few ships to return from a long trading route. It shouldn’t take any longer than a week. You are welcome to stay here, although…”
“Although?” Vyssa echoed.
“I would recommend visiting Shenkuu, which is only a couple of hundred or so miles north of here. The princesses there, I’m sure, would understand your struggle, particularly as they are sisters.”
Vyssa nodded eagerly. There was a flash of pain at the thought of meeting a pair of princess sisters just like her and Amira had been, but she squashed it down. “That sounds brilliant.”
“Excellent,” Altador agreed. “We have a plan then.”
After spending two nights in Altador resting, recovering and explaining to Mika that they had succeeded so she was free to leave when she wanted and thanking her profusely, Tomos and Vyssa set off for Shenkuu. The previous day they had spent exploring Altador, speaking to all sorts of Neopets, including a rather senile Lenny that told them amazing stories of the history of Altador. They visited the observatory and gazed up at the stars and their constellations, they spent the evening in the free houses alongside the docks and they were guests in King Altador’s own quarters, sleeping in luxury. It had been almost like a holiday, taking in the sights, but there was no excuse to recuperate longer. They had a long journey ahead of them.
It took about five days, including stops in a tent Altador had provided for them, but the terrain gave way to a steep path that led up to the mountain ranges of Shenkuu and the mists that surrounded them. A popular merchant town, each shop sat on its own hilltop. There were a number of fast flowing rivers that snaked down the mountains, creating waterfalls that added to the mists. The actual palace itself, where the Emperor and his daughters lived, was shrouded in mystery in terms of its location, and the Emperor himself very rarely made appearances.
The Neopets of Shenkuu were not known to be a particularly friendly bunch, and were rather hostile to visitors who weren’t there to trade.
“Where on Neopia will we find the Emperor?” Tomos asked desperately, after they had spent three days searching all over and were met with nothing but silence (although they were pleased to accept their neopoints in exchange for staying at their inns).
“Maybe we should just give up.” Vyssa said glumly. “I mean, we’ve spent almost a week travelling to get here in the first place, and then three days here have resulted in nothing.”
“And here I was thinking you had even more dedication than me!”
Tomos and Vyssa turned quickly at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. A White Cybunny stood before them, her ears tied with a headscarf that allowed her ebony hair to bunch around them delicately. She had a wide and open smile, and was dressed in a black and red kimono that made her white fur stand out even more. Even though the weather in Shenkuu was relatively cool, she held a fan that she flapped every now and then against her face. Around her neck was some kind of amulet that glowed intensely.
Seeing them looking at her necklace, she grinned even more. “It’s an ancient magical lapis amulet. It allows me to hear conversations from far away. I’ve been listening to yours for days now – I’ve heard everything.”
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but…who are you exactly?” Tomos frowned.
The Cybunny laughed. “Just goes to show you should never assume people know who you are. Here I was, expecting that to be a grand entrance and – well! Never mind.” She reached out a hand for them to shake; both did so. “I’m Princess Lunara.”
Vyssa gasped. “Forgive us, Your Highness!” She said hurriedly. “I’m Vyssa and this is Tomos. It’s been a long journey, and we’ve seen a lot of Neopets, but actually we never thought to ask what you look like, and you were never in any of my history books as a child due to Shenkuu being shrouded in so much mystery and only being available to the public in recent years…”
“Honestly, she burbles more than you do, Lunara,” came another voice. A green Gnorbu suddenly jumped down from one of the cliff edges, tall and graceful, wearing climbing gear and clearly experienced in that area from the lack of a safety harness. She grinned at Vyssa and Tomos just like Lunara had. “And [i]I’ve[/i] been scouting them for days using [i]traditional[/i] methods, not cheating with your stupid amulet. I’m Terrana, the younger and better sister.”
“It’s great to meet you both,” Vyssa said, a little stunned by the sisterly exchange. She tried hard not to think of her own dynamic with Amira, and wondered where their relationship had gone wrong. She shook her head firmly to shake her thoughts away. “Are you able to take us to your father, the Emperor? We need some help.”
“Our father won’t meet with you,” Terrana shrugged. “He hardly ever leaves the palace, and definitely won’t deal with outsider issues.”
Vyssa visibly deflated. “I see.” She said. “Well, I appreciate you both coming and telling us that.” She turned to Tomos. “We had best get going.”
“Fortunately,” Lunara chuckled, “our father entrusts us with certain tasks now that he’s getting older. I am the heir to the Shenkuu Empire; I control a lot of the finances and general running of the town now.”
“And my dear sister put me in charge of establishing an armed force,” Terrana explained to them. “Being hidden for so long we didn’t need one, but now that we’ve opened up to the world, our defence needed work and I was the one to do that. As long as it kept me in Shenkuu and not off exploring, father was happy to agree.”
Exploring the world. Who did that remind Vyssa of? A sad smile crept to her lips.
Lunara folded her arms, closing the fan with a snap. “It’s a small army, but it’s well trained. We can supply them to you, although we don’t have the ships to get them across the sea.”
“Altador does!” Tomos said excitedly. “He’s promised us lots of ships. Thank you so much.”
“I won’t be joining you as my place is here, but Terrana will go with you and head her army. I’ve discussed it with father and he has finally agreed. It is time we started interacting with the rest of Neopia. And besides –” Lunara looked at Vyssa seriously. “If anything happened to me like what happened to your sister, I would want Terrana to do the same to establish order.”
Vyssa nodded at her in acknowledgement. “Thank you, Princess Lunara. I know that you understand what I am going through almost more than anyone.”
Terrana thumped Tomos on the back in jest, causing him to wince in pain. “Right then, it’s settled! I’ll ready my army and we’ll march down to Altador. We’re going to save Sakhmet!” She looked giddy. “I’ve never been outside of Shenkuu before, this is going to be great!”
Altador’s ships were indeed much more capable and faster, and they bounced along the sea waves with ease, taking both Altador and Terrana’s armies across the ocean in only a few short weeks. They docked just at the edge of the desert, some of the soldiers also skilled builders who managed to build a makeshift harbour for all of the ships. There they would wait until it was time for them to go home.
With everyone stood around them, Tomos and Vyssa finally felt ready. They had travelled across the whole of Neopia, and had amassed the best forces they could. All the way, they had been clearing their names and it seemed like this plan might just work. The Lost Desert was on the horizon, and the forces that had waited at Faerieland had finally caught up to them. At the front alongside the two of them was Jeran, Terrana, King Roo and King Altador. All nodded at them, waiting for the order to march.
“We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” Vyssa breathed, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the weight of it all. “I’ve never been in a battle,” she added, almost as an afterthought, accompanied with a nervous burst of laughter.
Jeran patted her on the arm gently. “You won’t be fighting, Princess,” he told her, “you’ll be at the back of the army, safe and away from the chaos.”
Vyssa smiled at him. “I’m not a princess, remember, but thank you. The fact that you’re all willing to risk this for me…I don’t know how to thank you all.”
Princess Terrana shrugged. “You’re still a princess to me, no matter what some law states. If you’re born a princess, you’re a princess. Simple! Just because your right to inherit the throne is in question doesn’t change your birth right. And anyway –” She turned her head to indicate the vast number of soldiers behind them. “– I think we’ll be fine. The Lost Desert Army isn’t going to be a match for this. There won’t be a battle.”
“Do you think?” Vyssa asked, eagerly. “Because I would so hate for any lives to be sacrificed to get rid of Sankara…” [i]Apart from the one already sacrificed[/i], she thought. The thought sprang upon her involuntarily. As quickly as it came, she shook it away. “Are we all ready to march?”
There was a general assent amongst the leaders.
“We weren’t able to get word to Jazan,” Tomos said quietly. “His army must have just left Qasala when our message arrived. I worry that they’ve already begun to engage in war. We must hurry!”
“In that case, there’s no time to lose,” Vyssa said. “Onwards!”
And with that, the armies began their march to Sakhmet.
To be continued…