Things Best Remembered: Part Six
Atlanta had never once seen the famed Calladamien Forests, so she wasn't sure of what to expect. But she was not disappointed.
The trees were of a different variety than she had ever seen, with enormous deep-green leaves gracing the branches. A few incandescent flowers were peppered amongst the foliage, but it was summertime, so it was leaves that dominated the forest. Every time the wind blew, the branches rustled and brushed against each other; the result was a sound like a siren's whisper repeated over and over again. It made Atlanta drowsy.
She whistled, both in appreciation and to keep her awake. "Wow. Impressive."
Janice glanced at her in surprise. "You've never been here?"
"No," Atlanta said. "According to my mother, 'Forests are no place for proper young ladies, Atlanta.' Oh, please!"
"Wait. Your mom was trying to get you to be ladylike? You?"
"Yep." She chuckled. "You see how well that turned out."
Janice started to smile, but obviously she wasn't ready to be cheered up about Gareth yet, because she stopped halfway. "Atlanta?"
"Your mother – she was Forsaken, right?"
Atlanta watched the trees dance in the breeze. This was not a subject she liked to dwell upon. She was happy to have her mother back, and she did not want to question how it had happened. "Yes."
"So, then... how did she come back? She was at the coronation, remembered. I didn't think of it at the time, but I don't think that pets have ever come back from being Forsaken. Right?"
They were treading upon a dangerous topic now.
"What is this, Twenty Questions?" she snapped.
Apparently the Protector saw the expression on Atlanta's face: stormy and closed. She changed the subject and talked about the trees in the forest instead, comparing them to the trees back in Altador.
Eventually, they both fell to silence, leaving Atlanta to think in peace. She wished that Janice would keep talking so she wouldn't have to think, for the topic on her mind was her mother, and Ria, and how one had been Forsaken and the other almost.
She herself didn't really understand how becoming Forsaken worked. Atlanta knew only the barest details: get a fatal wound from a Guardian's sword, and POW!: you're not only dead, but you've never even existed.
But how far did it go, being Forsaken? What if you had written a book beforehand? Did the book get erased? Or what if you'd created a statue? What would happen; would it blow up? The whole concept didn't make any sense.
Atlanta scoffed quietly to herself. That was a ridiculous thought, because since when had her whole life made any sense? She was, after all, a sword-swingin' Peophin princess from a city that nobody had ever heard of. Before Janice had come, she had not seen the sun for nearly ten years, ever since she was eight years old. And now, she couldn't even be called a sword-swingin' Peophin princess. No, now she was a carbon-copy of the Protector. Still a princess, but certainly not a Peophin.
Her life, if observed, would not make any sense. What. So. Ever. And because of that, the mystery of being Forsaken was merely a little nonsensical part of her whole nonsensical life.
She whacked the bush in front of her with her sword, imagining that it was a Guardian.
They walked, it seemed, forever, leaving Atlanta to mull on her thoughts and generally grow more and more irritable. Finally, finally, finally, in front of them came a sound from the nearby clearing. Janice stopped, quietly ordering Atlanta to stay back and be quiet.
Yeah, right. She didn't take orders. One would've thought that the Eternal Gardener should have gotten that by now.
Glad to be pulled out of her thoughts by this distraction, Atlanta stepped forward, ignoring Janice's pointed glares. She listened for the noise. It sounded like a conversation. A few more minutes of listening revealed that it was the team.
Obviously Janice had come to the same conclusion. She stepped back, looking almost terrified.
"What's wrong with you?" Atlanta asked. It came out harsher than she had intended.
"That's Gareth speaking, with Tristan," Janice squeaked, still backing up. Her voice went from mousy to fierce: "I am not talking to Gareth. He doesn't need my help. The Guardians can Forsake that... that... Lupe," she spat out the word, as though it tasted bitter, "--for all I care."
Atlanta stared at her in shock. She hadn't known that Janice was capable of such anger. She wasn't sure if this was any better than Janice in the pity-party stage.
"Well," she snapped, "even if Gareth doesn't need help, what about the rest of the team? What about Tristan?"
Janice took a deep, shaky breath, suddenly looking like she was about to cry. Her spirit glow was trembling. Janice was trembling. "Atlanta, I cannot face Gareth right now," she said, her voice cracking. "I can't."
Atlanta glared at her. "Then ignore him!"
"And besides," Janice continued, dodging Atlanta's last comment, "we shouldn't have two Protectors suddenly coming to assist them. Everyone in Calladamos knows there's just one. So, you can go help if you want. I'm going back to the castle."
Janice turned and flew off, a little haphazardly.
Atlanta considered flying after her and forcing her to get over it. But the problem was that she understood. She got why Janice couldn't stay; it would hurt her too much.
And it was so much harder to stay mad at someone when you understood them. She turned herself back towards the clearing and burst through the foliage.
For a little while, nobody noticed her, which was ridiculous, since the team was supposed to be on the lookout for anything and everything that moved. She had not tiptoed stealthily through the bushes without making a sound. No, she had burst through the undergrowth, and the hem of her dress had been ripped, rather loudly, in the process – Note to self: Do not wear dresses to the forest.
Atlanta looked around and spotted her target: Gareth. She strode over to him, leaned in and hissed, "Listen, Gareth. Janice is miserable because of you. Believe me, if I could, I would have turned you into a Mortog ages ago."
He looked up at her, confused at first. Then, noticing her eyes, he stood up and stared her down. He whispered, "That is none of your concern, Atlanta. What are you doing here? People cannot see you--" he gestured to her obvious Shoyru-ness, "--like this."
Gosh, Atlanta missed being a Peophin. Gareth's annoying tendency to point that out – that she wasn't herself anymore, literally – didn't help how she was feeling towards Gareth at all. Quite on the contrary.
She smiled sweetly up at him, and Gareth tensed. He had known her long enough to know that she only smiled sweetly when she was getting ready to yell at someone.
Of course, the team decided that now was the time to acknowledge her existence. One of them, a maractite Hissi, was the first to spot her.
"Protector!" she called, and curtsied – which was pretty remarkable, considering the fact that she had no legs. Within the next twenty seconds, there was a circle of thirty kneeling and curtsying pets around her. Gareth had no choice but to bow as well, which put her in a slightly better mood.
Then, as the group started standing up, she started to panic. In situations like these, with people bowing to her, Atlanta would have nodded respectfully to each of them in turn, and then issued commands. She was a princess. It was what she did.
But right now, she was not being Atlanta; they all saw her as Janice, and she had no idea how to react.
She took a deep breath. All she had to do was to act like Janice. It couldn't be too hard, right?
Over the next hour, Atlanta managed to cause twenty-nine citizens of Calladamos to believe that the Protector had gone crazy. She made sarcastic remarks, bossed people around, and generally acted like – herself.
Honestly, it was only the panicked whisper of "Guardian!" that allowed her to redeem Janice's reputation somewhat. Here was a situation where she could issue orders without anyone suspecting anything.
"Okay," she said, addressing the group in the loudest whisper that she dared. "We know where they are. We'll go back to report this news to the Empress. And we will be quiet about it! Understood?"
The thirty-one of them began to sneak away as stealthily as possible. They had only been going for a few minutes before someone managed to step on and break a twig. Loudly.
Atlanta rolled her eyes.
Within seconds, they were surrounded, outnumbered greatly. The two groups – Guardians and Calladamiens – stood staring at each other for what seemed to Atlanta an eternity.
And she did not like to wait.
She had already whipped out her sword and mowed down a row of Guardians before anyone had a chance to blink. "Go!" she screamed at the group. She shoved as many of them as possible though the parting where she had dissipated the Guardians, and ordered those who could fly to carry away even more. By the time the Guardians remembered that they were supposed to destroy her, only two members of the group remained: herself and Gareth.
This was, of course, not a problem. She grabbed his arms, grateful for Janice's huge wings for giving her extra lifting power, and shot out of the forest, flying as fast as she could to the palace.
Ria was reading a book in the library when she heard a giant thump coming from the front gates of the palace. She opened them to see her sister and her best friend, both terrified and exhausted.
"Guardians! They spotted us!" Atlanta gasped. "Ria, send out the knights. Now!"
It took her nearly half an hour to get all the details from her little sister – she was grumpy and exhausted, and not terribly willing to talk – and another half hour to both assemble the army and call a town meeting to announce the obvious:
"Calladamiens, we are now at war."
She began outlining the plans: the knights would be fighting; she and Janice (and Atlanta, but nobody knew that) would be fighting, and all those who could hold their own with a Guardian or shadow creature would be fighting. The remainder of the citizens were to keep to the city, in their homes preferably. Ria wanted as little casualties as possible, because, "If we do not win this war, we will go back to being a city of night."
To be continued...