THE GEM OF THE STAR
Part Three: The Quest Begins
Note: Sorry if this is a little awkward. Easing the characters past this "transition period" is very hard. I'll do better with the next part, I promise.
Celestia sat alone in the spacious, comfortable room Seravi and Dorothy had provided her with. Her violet eyes were unseeing as she reflected quietly on the events of the past day. Her heart was as heavy as lead while tears ran down her marble-like cheeks. "Oh, dear, dear child..." she murmured quietly, thinking about Amethyst. Somehow, she felt as if she and the tiny baby were kindred. But why? How?
There was a strange kind of shimmering in the air before her. A sweet, womanly voice spoke. "Your Divine Majesty... Queen Celestia."
"Yes, Lady Joan?" Celestia said quietly, sensing the trouble in the unseen woman's voice.
The shimmering grew and a beautiful golden-haired young woman, down on one knee, appeared in the room -- the former Queen Joan in the mortal world, and now a Goddess and a Lady in the courts of the Immortal world. She was no longer dressed in the armor-like garb she wore when she was a mortal, but instead wore a sleeveless, flowing gown of pristine white. "My Queen," the Lady Joan said, "I was sent to bring you tidings of your world."
"You may rise, Joan. There's no need to be so formal." Celestia went to the Goddess and helped her up.
Joan smiled. "Thank you, your Majesty." She gratefully sat down on one of the chairs in the room. Now that the shimmering glow surrounding her had vanished, Celestia could see that there were lines of worry and exhaustion on Joan's ageless face. "Zadion entered the Immortal world a while ago. We engaged him in combat," Joan reported.
The Queen of the Immortals sighed. "What happened?"
"Zadion broke through the Infinity Barrier. Of course we went there to fight him... and he defeated us. We knew that there was no way we could defeat the Lord of Darkness, but we also knew that we could not let him into the world. He did not seem to be intent on that, however. It was like he was trying to kill one of us... to threaten you, I think."
"I see. Did he succeed?"
Joan bowed her head in mute assent. "Yes, your Majesty."
Tears welled up in the violet eyes of the Immortals' Queen. "Who died?"
"The God of Rain... Elnar."
"Ah..." sighed Celestia. "A God is not easy to kill." There was a faint note of censure in her voice.
"We Immortals are very vulnerable to the attacks of the Lord of Darkness, my Queen," Joan reminded her. "Even with all our eternity and powers he, and he alone, can still kill us... that is why the Daughter of Light, the only one who can stop him, has always been our ruler." Her voice was rebuking.
"Forgive me, Joan."
"Yes, your Majesty." Joan's eyes softened. "How is Cha Cha?"
"Your great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter? Just fine."
"Please, your Majesty... watch over her."
"Of course, Joan."
The Lady Joan thanked her Queen, then vanished. Celestia was silent for a while, then rose, walked quietly to her window, and stood looking out of it and thinking for some time.
Dorothy looked sadly at Amethyst's empty cradle. She touched it gently even as tears fell from her eyes onto the soft pink fabric. "My child... my Amethyst..." she whispered softly, an overwhelming sadness filling her heart. She knelt beside the cradle and started to weep silently.
Seravi passed by and at a glance knew what was going on. "Dorothy," he said, going to his wife and resting his hands on her shoulders, "it will be all right. Everything will be fine in the end."
"You don't really believe that," Dorothy accused.
"I'm not sure." Seravi's green eyes were very grave. "I know how you feel, Dorothy. But we have to keep hoping. We have to be strong. For her... for us... and for all in existence as well."
"Yes," Dorothy murmured, "but sometimes... it's too painful... to go on living..."
"I know..." Seravi replied, taking her into his arms. "I know."
Cha Cha was having a hard time sleeping. Her dreams were filled with strange, evil apparitions. And through it all there was a strange, dark man shrouded in shadows and looking at her with blazing, hate-filled red eyes. Somehow, even though she did not know this man, he filled her with a nameless dread, and every time she looked at him, she felt her sanity and strength weakening.
Suddenly there was a cool hand on her forehead, and someone was shaking her gently awake. "Cha Cha," a gentle voice said softly, "Cha Cha, wake up."
The golden-haired girl opened her eyes and saw a young woman sitting on the edge of her bed and looking at her with concern in her large violet eyes. "Huh?" Cha Cha exclaimed in surprise. "Who - who are you?"
"Oh," the young woman said, relieved, "you're okay. I thought..." She dismissed that and continued. "I'm Celestia, Seravi's teacher... or former teacher."
"Teacher?" Then, "But you look younger than him!"
Celestia sighed. "They always say that," she muttered. "I know, dear," she said to Cha Cha, "I'm older than Seravi is, actually, but I don't look it." She frowned slightly. "You were having a nightmare. I'm glad I woke you up before anything bad happened."
"Miss Celestia -- it's only a dream, isn't it?"
Celestia shook her head. "Probably not. Did you see anybody -- in your dream?"
"Yes. There was a man, but I couldn't really see his body or his face because of the dark shadows around him... the only things I saw were his eyes. They were red, and..." Cha Cha shuddered, "they HATED me... everything... they wanted to kill me." She looked up at Celestia. "Am I being silly?"
"No, dear. You are right... if you had looked at them for a longer time you would not be the same now." She lifted her head and called to an unseen enemy, her voice shatteringly loud. "Zadion, you demon! Would you bend your will to the destruction of an innocent child?" Cha Cha was amazed. Celestia seemed very angry over a mere dream... but as she soon found, it was not just a dream.
A strange, evil voice replied. "I almost had her," it boomed. "Your quest would have failed with her death."
"She will not die, but live to see your destruction -- as will the others," the dark-haired woman replied.
"We shall see, Daughter of Light. We shall see." Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the sense of Zadion's presence was gone.
Cha Cha looked wide-eyed at Celestia. "Who - who was that, Miss Celestia?" she asked, her voice tiny and afraid.
"The Lord of Darkness." Celestia rose and held out her hand to Cha Cha. "Come along now, Cha Cha. Seravi and Dorothy woke up early and prepared breakfast. They can tell you all about it."
"AMETHYST?!" Riiya exclaimed with his mouth full, spraying the rest of the people sitting at the table with hotcakes and syrup. "But she's only a baby!"
"Yuck," Celestia murmured, trying to get the sticky syrup out of her evening dark hair. "Could you explain that, Seravi? I think I want to wash my hair." She glared at the red-faced Riiya. "You're disgusting!"
"Hey, it's not my fault!" he exclaimed, spraying more food particles into the air.
"You know, Riiya, you should just keep your mouth shut. Every time you talk you look like an idiot," Shiine muttered, looking balefully at him.
"Why you..." Riiya sputtered.
"A stupid dog," Shiine added.
The food fight that followed was not really unexpected.
It was a few hours later. Dorothy had just finished packing, and Shiine was sitting by a window, looking out of it and brooding. He was worried. The fate of the cosmos was resting on their hands, and all that the others - Riiya, Cha Cha, and even Seravi, were doing was playing cards.
A peal of laughter rang out from the table where the three were gathered, and as Shiine turned he saw that the sorceress, Miss Celestia, had joined their game. Shiine sighed and turned away. What were they thinking? Cards at a time like this!
"You cheated!" a voice accused. Celestia, violet eyes indignant, was glaring at her former student. Seravi's expression was one of wide-eyed innocence.
"Me?" the green-haired magician asked. "Me, revered teacher?"
"Yes, my dear student," the "revered teacher" answered, "you. SEE? SEE?" Celestia cried. "I have an ace, Cha Cha has another one, Riiya has two, and Seravi has three. Seravi, you cheater!"
"CHEATER?!? Who switched the joker with Riiya when he wasn't looking?" Seravi protested.
"CELESTIA!" Riiya cried.
"Okay, I did it, and I'm sorry... But at least I switch -- Seravi just makes new aces," Celestia replied, laughing in spite of herself.
"You cheated too, Miss Celestia?" Cha Cha asked, her eyes going very wide.
"Seravi started it."
"No... actually, I learned how to play from my teacher," Seravi disagreed. "She's a very good cheater."
"You are too, my student. You know, Cha Cha," Celestia said as she shuffled the cards, "you should never play cards with Seravi until you're a good cheater yourself."
"Miss Celestia!" Cha Cha gasped.
Celestia chuckled. "No, dear, I'm just teasing." She paused. "Well, partly, anyway."
That little episode changed Shiine's perception of the beautiful sorceress. What bothered him was that despite her openness with them, they knew so very little about her past and who she was really. He knew Seravi knew her very well, but the magician would most probably tell them what he knew about her.
"This is great," Cha Cha exclaimed. It was perhaps an hour later, and they were skimming over the clouds on their brooms, with Celestia having flashed on ahead. "I think I've missed it."
"Missed what, Cha Cha?" Shiine asked.
"You know -- the excitement!" Cha Cha giggled. "But, of course," she said, more seriously, "this is like last time, when someone close to us was in danger. Oh, if only it weren't like this."
"But Cha Cha, you just said that you liked it," Riiya said from the back of Cha Cha's broom.
"The fun part only... I guess it's not very nice, when we're in a lot of danger," Cha Cha replied. "Oh, poor Amethyst. She's just a baby."
"And Seravi and Miss Dorothy must be feeling so bad," Shiine added. "And I also have a feeling we're not going to win."
"Do you really have to think about that, Shiine? It's not going to help, you know," came Seravi's voice. Seravi slowed down and joined the children.
"But aren't you upset?" Shiine asked.
"Dorothy and I are very upset, but we're trying not to let that weaken us," Seravi replied. "You see, my teacher taught me early in life that no matter what happens, we have to go on and keep on fighting... keep on hoping."
0There was a long pause while the three children thought about what Seravi had just said. "Okay," Cha Cha finally cried, "we're not going to give up! And we're going to go beat the Lord of Darkness and rescue Amethyst! Yay!"
Seravi shook his head as he flew on ahead to rejoin Dorothy. After a few moments, Shiine also flew towards the couple. "Seravi," Shiine said. "May I ask you a few questions?"
"Why, of course, Shiine. What did you want to know?" Seravi slowed down so that he and the boy could be alone.
"It's about... Miss Celestia. Even though she always acts like she's so happy and light-hearted -- like Cha Cha," Shiine said, looking over his shoulder at a giggling Cha Cha, "she seems to have gone through a lot of pain."
"That's very perceptive of you, Shiine, and to tell you the truth, I'm not surprised you noticed that," Seravi answered. "Celestia said that you would ask me that, and she also allowed me to tell you about her."
"She -- knew?" Shiine gasped.
"Yes," was the answer. "She's a remarkable woman. You see, Shiine, Celestia was born more than two hundred years ago, in another world. When she was just seventeen, the current Daughter of Light died and the Light was passed on to Celestia." Seravi sighed. "She was too young to bear that burden -- and that great power."
"But Cha Cha was the Magical Princess. And she's still young. But she's not having any problems."
"Yes, but being the Daughter of Light entails great sacrifice. It's not like Cha Cha's powers. Celestia had to leave everything behind her to focus on her responsibility, and that caused her a great deal of pain. She encountered many things that she didn't understand or was not prepared to deal with.Yet she had to defend the legacy of the Light, to not let evil reign. But the force of Darkness was strong, even though the Lord of Darkness was still trapped in his prison. All the people Celestia loved soon became part of the Darkness. I think that was what hurt her so much. But over the centuries, she has learned to hide the pain and suffering inside her, because she has to be strong. Everything that exists will fall to the Darkness if she's weak."
"She must have had a very lonely life," Shiine mused.
Cha Cha flew forward to join them and heard the last sentences of their conversation. "Poor her," she murmured, brown eyes filling with tears.
"Yes," Seravi agreed.
"But... how did you become her student?" Cha Cha asked.
A look of pain came into Seravi's eyes. "I thought you would ask that," he said very quietly. "My parents died when I was very young, only about a month old," he explained. "Celestia took me and raised me for several years, and then she brought me to Lord Genus.
"Then, when I was ready, she started teaching me the lore of ancient magic and the power of sorcery... because she knew I would need it and though it was somewhat intuitive, I needed the proper guidance. I did not study sorcery much, though, so Celestia gave up on teaching me that and concentrated on the secrets of ancient magic instead. That is why... now... I am the most powerful among the magicians... for now at least."
Shiine and Cha Cha slowed down a little, finding it somewhat hard to keep up with the speed of Seravi's broom. They were silent as they thought about what Seravi had just said.
"You're giving away secrets again, Seravi," Celestia's voice chided.
"Where have you been? And just where are you?"
"Don't bother looking around for me. You won't see me. We absolutely have to get to the land of dragons before sunset. It is very important."
"The land of... the dragons?" Seravi whispered in spite of himself. "Oh no..."
"Wow, this is creepy," Cha Cha said, her voice hushed and brown eyes filled with mild fear.
"Don't worry Cha Cha, we'll protect you," Riiya said, striking a heroic pose. Shiine rolled his eyes.
They were in the land of the dragons. They had reached it just as the sun was setting, and even then the dark, bleak surroundings were enough to chill the blood. But now, with the dark blanket of night spread over them, the harsh environment littered with bones was terrifying.
Cha Cha shivered and drew closer to her friends. Seravi and Dorothy had been reluctant to let them go off alone, but the three children had begged, wheedled, and cajoled so much that the two magicians finally let them "explore". It had seemed like a good idea a while ago. Now Cha Cha was not so sure.
Shiine frowned as a flicker of white caught his eye. Something was watching them. He turned and saw something glowing white behind them. It loomed threateningly over them. For a while Shiine was unable to speak and instead tapped Riiya on the shoulder. Riiya looked back and saw... a ghost...
The two boys yelled in terror and fled, dragging Cha Cha with them. Cha Cha was about to protest when she saw the white It hovering behind them. She screamed. "Aaaaaahhhh! Helpppp!"
The It stood immobilized by Cha Cha's scream for a while, then began to quiver strangely. However, it did not advance towards the three children.
Meanwhile Riiya had recovered from the initial shock. "Cha Cha! Your bracelet!"
Cha Cha nodded. "Crescent Aurora Bracelet!" she cried, pressing a jewel on her bracelet and taking the crescent of light in her hands. "Magic Boomerang!"
The boomerang did not bring back anything... but the It fell to the ground and started to shake.
"Is it dead?" Riiya asked.
Very suddenly the cool air was filled with the sound of hysterical silvery laughter. "Oh Cha Cha!" a woman's voice came, followed by more laughter.
"...Miss Celestia?" Cha Cha asked, looking at the being in white more closely. It was indeed Celestia, veiled in white and carrying a slender silver sword. Celestia was doubled over in hysterical mirth.
"That wasn't very funny." Riiya scowled.
"It wasn't supposed to be. I was just going to ask you where Dorothy and Seravi were. It's not my fault you thought I was a ghost. If I really wanted to scare you you'd be fainting by now."
It was then that they turned to Shiine, who was lying unconscious on the grass.
The rest of them sweatdropped.
"I don't know," Celestia said in reply to Seravi's question on why they were supposed to be there. "One of the Guardians -- the people who protect the Gem of the Stars -- said we had a quest and that it would begin here." She spread her hands. "Aside from that, I don't know anything." She held out her hands to the warmth of the camp fire.
"Why can't you just take it from them?" Riiya asked irritably. "It would save you a lot of time. I don't like this place. It gives me the creeps."
Shiine, who had been listening to their conversation, rolled his eyes. He was becoming quite adept at that, Dorothy noted. Of course being with Riiya would try the patience of anyone.
"I can't take it from them, you idiot," Celestia snapped. "If I could I'd have done it years ago. This isn't any fun for me, too."
Seravi frowned. "So we are just going to sit here and wait?"
"Wait? For what?" Cha Cha asked, looking up from the game she and Shiine had been playing a few yards away from the camp fire. She turned to the game board again and moved a piece. "Wow, I win!" she cried happily. Riiya went over and joined the game.
"But we can't just wait here," Dorothy protested.
"What?! A 'Go Back to Start' space? This is unfair!" Riiya exclaimed.
"We don't have a choice," Seravi said. "We don't know where to go anyway."
"Look!" Cha Cha cried. "I'm only two steps away from the finish line!"
"But we have to do something," Dorothy objected.
"Hey! Riiya moved my piece!" Shiine shouted.
A gigantic pillar of fire erupted from the forest near them as a blood-curdling roar shook the earth. They stopped what they were doing and fell silent. Cha Cha gasped and Riiya and Shiine moved in front of her. Dorothy clung to Seravi in shock. Celestia stood up with a look of calm determination on her face.
"What was that? It must be huge!" Riiya blurted.
"The Lord of Dragons, most powerful of all the dragons in this world... and we have to fight him." Celestia said quietly.
The company stood tensed, and watched for the first signs of the Dragon Lord's advance.
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