Ascension: Part Two
Like scavengers they gathered around their ailing prey, waiting for the inevitable moment to strike. Yet unlike scavengers they had no decency, determined to wait and watch the unfortunate creature as they struggled on, not daring to walk away should they miss their chance. For a scavenger there was always another source of food out there, waiting for their arrival; for these parasites there was only that could entice them.
Dragging her feet reluctantly, Aria followed Velvet into the waiting maw of the beast, the assembled delegates and ambassadors who had spent months lingering in Faerieland like a vile odour, waiting for this moment to finally come. Only the faeries seemed to truly care about events, gathered around the end of the long table that dominated the meeting chamber, shielding Fyora from the vicious inquisition of the delegates.
One glance at her mother made Aria falter, Velvet pausing beside her. The mighty Faerie Queen sat hunched in her chair, her beautiful face haggard and drained, her crystal eyes dulled. For all the noise and bustle that surrounded her, she seemed oblivious to all, trapped in a devious labyrinth inside of her own mind. It was not the mother Aria remembered from her youth, waiting for the chance she would visit. This was not the mother who had risked everything to come to her rescue when she needed her most.
Looking up, Fyora set eyes upon her daughter and raised a small smile, but Aria could not return it and just looked away. An arm suddenly appeared around her shoulder and led her on, the speckled Xweetok parting the gathered delegates as she approached and carving a path to take the Faerie Princess to the head of the table where her mother waited, descending back into her vacant trance.
Silence gathered over the delegates as they watched on, the faeries gathering at the head of the table around Aria, who stood uncomfortable in their company. The girl had seemingly come from nowhere to sudden prominence, and at last their overlong stays in Faerieland were about to prove useful to them all.
‘How do you feel?’ a serene voice asked behind Aria. The young princess started at the sound. Heavily robed to conceal her true identity, the dark-skinned faerie grimaced under her cowl, not needing an answer to understand Aria’s fears. ‘It will all be fine, Aria, as it has always been before.’
‘With all due respect, Space Faerie, your presence alone makes that hard to believe,’ Aria replied coldly. ‘It is very rare for you to come down to Neopia after all.’
‘But I am always here at times such at these,’ the Space Faerie replied swiftly, her smooth tone concealing any annoyance she held for her companion. ‘Needs must, as they say. Some things are important to us all, and warrant an appearance.’
Aria’s retort was cut short as a pompous fire faerie broke free and cleared her throat loudly, drawing the attention of the gathered delegates to her.
‘It was so nice of you all to assemble like this,’ she declared irritably, ‘unneeded and unwanted, but I guess that is your way. I have no doubt you are all already aware of what I am about to say, but in the light of the Queen’s recent illness, I think it time to officially announce it: Lady Fyora is stepping down from the throne of Faerieland. Although well enough in herself, in the wake of the past few months she no longer feels she is capable of ruling Faerieland, and standing guard over Neopia, as she once was. A successor has already been selected, and will be properly announced to you all in due course. Now if you do not mind, we have faerie-issues to discuss that are none of your concern for the time being. In other words, clear off!’ she concluded in the manner she had started, her professional tone collapsing in an instant.
Clearly unsatisfied with her explanation, the delegates reluctantly departed, not bothering to lower their voices as they complained about events and speculated to the truth, many passing accusing glares at Aria. Against such a foe, she felt all her fears about her mother lift and glared back with relish, laughing at the discomfort caused by such an unnaturally piercing stare. Beside her, Velvet rolled her eyes disapprovingly, but said nothing; she was too occupied by her own disdain for the ill-mannered delegates.
‘So this is why you brought me here?’ Aria asked quietly as the last of the delegates vanished from the chamber, leaving only the faeries and Velvet behind. ‘The succession?’
‘The finest doctors in all of Neopia have been attending to your mother, and they can find no way of curing whatever it is that is doing this to her,’ Velvet answered, not daring to look around at her queen. ‘It is not a case of her deciding to stand down, Aria, it is that she is simply not able to rule anymore. It would be too dangerous to both the queen and Neopia to stay on. You are the next in line, so the responsibility falls on to you. I sincerely wish this was not the case, but there is nothing we can do.’
‘Yes, and I am sure you have spent a lot of time trying to find the loophole that stops me taking over,’ Aria snarled. The Xweetok did not bother to deny it, and merely gave her a look that suggested she was right in her assumption. ‘More for your own benefit too than mine, before you say anything else,’ Aria added nastily, but again Velvet just shrugged.
‘It doesn’t matter now about any of that,’ the pompous fire faerie interrupted. ‘It’s all official now. Lady Fyora is stepping down from the throne with immediate effect, and we need a successor to the throne. Lady Aria, that is you.’
‘What if I don’t want the throne?’ Aria asked.
‘Or isn’t ready for it,’ Velvet muttered under her breath, earning another scathing glare from the princess.
‘Lady Shysaria was younger than you, and was far less acclimatised to the ways of Neopia when she ascended to the throne from Lady Ysarie,’ the fire faerie replied quickly, ignoring Velvet’s claim. ‘Do not worry, Lady Aria, you were born to rule over our kind, and whether you know it or not, you are ready to take over.’
Aria was not willing to give in easily, however, and quickly snapped back once more. Beside her Velvet settled in for a long wait, and tried to shake the uncomfortable feeling in the back of her mind; she could almost swear they were being watched.
* * *
The delicate pool quivered, its serene surface forming an unpleasant maelstrom that revolted the watcher. Forcefully she slapped the side of the silver basin, the eerily melodious note carried by the ripples that branched across the surface serving only to cause greater unrest in her window.
‘Useless piece of junk,’ she snapped, unceremoniously flinging the basin across the room, the water spilling across the floor no more than normal water once again. ‘Never trust a water faerie to make a proper scrying pool,’ she added, snapping her fingers in frustration.
Few ever saw the depths of Jhudora’s ominous storm cloud on the outskirts of the Faerie City, save those who had once worked closely with her. That had been before the betrayal, however, an event which had caused her to close her doors with the utmost abruptness to all callers. She wanted nobody else searching the depths of her arcane workshop, the many purple and green concoctions bubbling in cauldrons and floating in tall, slender tubes of finely blown glass. In the stillness left by the absent clamour from the basin she could hear the susurration of the next room; they were growing restless.
Her fingers drummed a steady rhythm upon her desk as she tried to think, the playful notes each struck rapidly grating on her nerves; it had been an unfortunate side-effect of an old experiment that had given her such a natural melody, more suited to her sister than the dark faerie herself. Unable to break the rhythm, however, she forced her mind to block out the sound, and focus on what she had seen and heard in that room.
‘How can they honestly intend to make that wretch into a Queen?’ she mused aloud, glad of the reassuring sound to overpower the infuriating notes of her fingers. ‘She is a runt, nothing more. The very idea of being ruled by such an ingrate is unfathomable.’
Just imagine what other suppressed nightmares she might find out about, a voice remarked from within, Jhudora unwilling to voice such a vile idea, no matter how true it was. Ever since Aria had learned of the phantom Uni that Illusen had devised to plague the nightmares of the young Jhudora, she had been keen to remind the powerful dark faerie at every opportunity. It was humiliating, but nothing could alleviate the fear Jhudora had never been able to overcome.
‘Who else is there, though?’ she asked to the world, leaning back in her grand winged chair and trying to think. Only the restless call from the next room could be heard now, soothing to her pained ears. ‘Who... else...’
With a start she leapt to her feet, a dark cackle escaping her lips and filling the air with its ominous tone. ‘Who else indeed?’ she roared, her dark eyes full of an excitement she had long forgotten. She rushed to the overturned basin and restored it to the desk, filling it once more with water and mumbling the heathen incantation that foolish water faerie had told her. For a long moment she basked in the reflection of her own wicked smile, before at last the council chamber of the palace drifted back into view, the bickering of lesser faeries filling her ears.
It was perfect. The answer to all her problems had been staring her in the face the entire time, and she had been too blinded by her loathing for Aria to see it. All she needed to do was find the right moment, and then seek a way to take the advantage from the princess.
Suddenly a new figure stepped into the bowl before her, the faerie recoiling slightly at the merest thought. The purple Bori had immediately commanded silence as she walked across the room toward where the speckled Xweetok stood, perhaps the only other pet in all of Faerieland to feel the same way about Aria as Jhudora herself, and whispered something in her ear.
‘You are sure about this?’ Velvet replied hotly, not bothering to return the whisper.
‘Perhaps if you wanted her to stay here, you should have been a bit more careful about what you were doing,’ the Bori replied simply, shrugging her shoulders. ‘My companions did not try to stop her, for we had no reason to do so, before you try and object. We answer to the queen, Velvet, nobody else. And if what I hear is true, then soon enough I will be answering to Lady Aria.’
‘Unless something happens to her out there!’ Velvet snapped, pushing past the Bori and running from the room, leaving an unrest in her wake among the arguing faeries.
Jhudora leaned back with a broad grin. Aria had seen fit to disappear; to run from her duties as ruler of Faerieland. This would serve to make things easier than she had foreseen, although there were still obstacles to deal with first, one more unpleasant than the rest combined. She would need to deal with that one first.
Winking at her reflection in the mirror on the desk, Jhudora leapt to her feet and headed for the next room. It was time to face her oldest and greatest enemy, and finally put an end to their troubles.
To be continued...