...leapt forward and harshly pushed Vanity to the ground. She saw surprise reflected in the eyes that had once belonged to her sister and felt a surge of rage. Allwen didn't deserve this. She had to free her sister.
Vanity's power shattered for the moment and the twisting, silver ropes that encircled Vira's body melted away. The Acara slumped to the ground, unable to stand.
Vanity snarled and struggled beneath Tati's body, but the Uni refused to even think about loosening her grip. Even though Vanity was powerful, she was still unused to Allwen's body. Her hands were pinned beneath her, so she couldn't resort to magic without injuring herself. All she could do was thrash and attempt to escape.
Tati gazed wildly around until her eyes met Vira's. "Please," her voice was a hiss. "You know her better than anyone, how do I defeat her?"
Vira looked at her for a moment but then shook her head. "I'm sorry... but I don't know." She looked exhausted, crestfallen. For years, she had dreamed of the day she would be freed. She never imagined it would be like this. She suspected she should've been relieved from being released from Vanity's grip at last, but all she felt was guilt and sorrow. Her crimson eyes gazed at Allwen sadly. It was her fault the Krawk was like this... all her fault. The Acara's eyes were closing; she couldn't hold on any longer. Vira slumped to the floor, unconscious. And Tati was all alone...
Vanity was laughing wildly, her eyes flashing. "You see? There's no hope for you. You are as powerful as you are pretty." She cackled. "You're useless. Ugly. Weak... you are nothing!" Her eyes gleamed with the dark promise of the future. "And soon all of Neopia will be just like you! And I will be the fairest of them all!" Her laughter was like daggers, cutting at Tati violently.
Tati shook her head. "No! Never!" She glared at Vanity. "You are the one who's weak, making others do your work for you. I swear, I will free my sister if it's the last thing I do! And you will be the the useless one."
This only made her laugh harder. It hurt Tati, hearing this insane, malicious laughter coming from her sister's mouth. She had to remind herself over and over again. This was not Allwen... this was not Allwen... it was Vanity.
The dark faerie was speaking again, leering at Tati with oh-so-familiar eyes. "You're so foolish, Tati, trying to save your sister, even though she's the reason you're like this."
Tati blinked back tears. "No. Y-you're wrong. It wasn't A-Allwen who did this to me. I-It was y-you." As much as she tried to believe those words, she couldn't help stammering.
Vanity smirked. "Ah, it may have been my power, but it was Allwen's will that finished the spell. She was the one who wanted you to be ugly, just like her. She was the one who made you this way."
Tati shook her head. "No, no, no..." She repeated those words over and over again. But they didn't seem to make a difference.
Her grip on Vanity was weakening. Soon she would break free and escape into the mirror. And there was nothing Tati could do to stop her.
The Uni looked around blindly, searching for something -- anything -- that could help her. She was slowly losing hope. There had to be something that could help her. Her eyes passed over Vira, sprawled out on the floor like a rag doll, over the shattered pieces of a mirror, to the window, where rain was pelting against the glass in big, ugly droplets. But she found nothing that could help her. Nothing.
And then she looked out the doorway of her sister's room into the hallway. She saw she had left the door of her own room ajar, and through it she could see a shelf where numerous Beauty Contest trophies shone proudly, their surfaces polished and pristine.
Her eyes clouded with recollection.
"Someday, I wish I could be as pretty as you," a younger Allwen was saying, gazing longingly at her sister, who was brushing her hair in front of an elaborate mirror.
Tati stared at her former self, urging her to say the right thing.
The past Tati snorted and ran a comb through her silky locks. "Who knows? Maybe you can." Although the Uni simply stared at her reflection, Tati noticed the disappointed look in her sister's eyes and felt terrible.
A tear slid down her cheek and she mumbled, "How could I have been so cold? She just wanted to be like me..."
Vanity, sensing weakness, threw her off easily. Tati rolled to the floor. She was in an almost trance-like state, only staring blankly at the Krawk combination of her sister and the dark faerie, not even bothering to stop her as she stood up.
Her mind was reeling as she recalled her first Beauty Contest. She had been so amazed by the perfection, so transfixed by all the pretty faces. Back then, she had been so foolish, so naive... but now she knew.
"That wasn't beauty," Tati mumbled. She finally knew what she had to do.
Vanity was walking toward the mirror, her hand outstretched, her fingers inches from the glass...
Tati stared, and then she did the only thing she could do. She leapt forward again, tackling Vanity. Things didn't work out as smoothly as they had the first time -- the faerie had already entered the mirror world. But this time, she had taken Tati with her.
She couldn't see anything. Shapes and sounds whizzed by her, moving too quickly for Tati to register what they were. Vanity struggled beneath her grip, fighting for her freedom. "Let me go!" she screeched. Her voice echoed through Tati's mind and screamed in her ears. It was everywhere, fighting against her with its dark sound. But Tati refused to let go. A little voice was telling her not to.
Tati closed her eyes and ignored Vanity's screeches. She had to concentrate. It her last hope. Allwen's last hope. And Vira's as well...
How ironic that beauty, the one thing Vanity fought so hard to destroy, would be the thing that would defeat her.
Just not in the way she expected.
Before, when Tati heard the word "beautiful," she thought of silky hair, stylish clothes, and a face with flawless makeup. But that wasn't beauty.
Beauty was a sunset, melting into the ocean as stars slowly appeared above.
Beauty was ice cream on a hot summer day.
Beauty was seeing the miracle of snow falling for the first time.
Beauty was a mother and her child, holding hands and searching for shapes in the clouds.
Beauty was the way the world seemed brighter after a long rainfall.
Beauty was stars and sunlight and friends and family. Beauty was things that seemed like nothing, but were in fact so precious.
Beauty was Allwen...
A tear tumbled from Tati's tightly closed eyes. The droplet trickled down her cheek and fell onto Vanity. The Krawk screamed and screamed, as if the tear were acid.
Beauty was Vira...
Another tear fell from Tati's eye. Vanity's eyes snapped shut as it touched her.
Beauty was life...
More tears spilled from Tati's eyes as she cried. For everything. For Allwen and Vira. For herself and all things beautiful. She also cried for Vanity, knowing that the faerie would never be able to understand what true beauty was.
With each teardrop that found its way to Vanity, the faerie screamed louder. Every drop made her weaker. With every tear, the faerie slipped further and further away.
Finally, Tati found she could cry no more. The Krawk's body had grown limp under her grip, but it was stirring now...
Allwen let out a small gasp as the darkness left her and she opened her eyes. "Tati?"
Instantly, the connection seemed to be broken. The strange world of mirrors that Vanity had entered melted away. They were falling... falling... They hit the ground and slumped to the floor, back in Allwen's room. Home once more.
Tati opened one eye. "Welcome back."
They stared at each other for a while, small smiles creeping uncertainly onto their faces. And then their exhaustion caught up with them and they fell to the floor.
Rain pounded against the window and lightning streaked across the sky as a storm raged outside.
* * * * *
When Allwen awoke, she was almost afraid to open her eyes. Her mind was spinning with all that happened. Had it just been a dream? It had seemed so real...
Slowly, she cracked an eye open. No, it was real. She saw pieces of glass littered across the floor; the mirror had shattered. In front of her lay Tati. The Uni's chest was slowly heaving up and down with the deep breathing of sleep. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark shape that could be no one but Vira.
Slowly, she stood up. Relief flooded through her. They were back! They truly were back! She no longer felt cold... Vanity had left her. She was free. Free!
There was a groan, and Allwen looked down to see her sister slowly waking up. Her grin faltered a bit as she remembered. How could she have thought such cruel things about Tati? Her sister had always been there for her... if it weren't for Tati, she would've still been Vanity's puppet. And it was her fault her sister was like this too.
She sunk to the floor and stared at Tati sadly. Her sister's eyes were closed, but she must have felt Allwen's gaze for she opened them quickly.
"Tati..." Allwen began, but her sister interrupted her.
"Don't. It's all right. I... haven't been the ideal sister myself." She forced a smile and Allwen couldn't help but smile back. Her sister's grin had a way of doing that. It was so pretty it made you want to...
Allwen stared. Her sister... her sister was back. Allwen's eyes sparkled like sunlight on water. Her blue coat had a healthy shimmer to it as she moved to brush away a strand of her hair, silky once more. She was back to the way she was and perhaps even more beautiful than she had been before.
Eagerly, Allwen glanced around for a mirror to see if she too had changed. But all the mirrors had mysteriously broken. She felt disappointed, but relieved somewhat... she wasn't all that eager to see herself. What if she hadn't changed back?
Allwen gazed at the floor. Her reflection caught her eye, dancing on the shattered pieces of glass like a ghost. Her skin had returned to its usual shade of blue and gold; her eyes had reverted back to the honey brown colour. Her hair was still a mess, but she didn't care. In her eyes, at that moment, she had never seen herself look prettier.
Allwen grinned. She now knew that beauty wasn't everything, something she should've realised a long time ago. But still... it was nice to be back.
She felt as if she would burst with glee. Vanity's curse was truly gone! They were normal again. She wasn't beautiful, but she was herself. Tati had regained her usual gorgeous appearance. And Vira...
Allwen turned her head to look at the Acara, and she felt as if someone had snatched a handful of her happiness away.
Vira was still the same. Her fur was still knotted and tangled; her hair retained its muddy shade. Her shredded clothes hung limply around her body. She looked small and weak, with her head hanging down and her eyes staring at the ground.
"Vira..." Allwen felt terrible. Out of everyone, Vira was the one who had suffered most. She, out of anyone in the world, should deserve to be pretty again.
But... she wasn't.
"It's okay..." Vira whispered. She was staring at her hands, avoiding eye contact. "I've been suffering under Vanity's curse for too long. I don't think it'll go away. I'll be fine, though," she added, as if sensing Allwen's concerned look. She forced a weak smile and looked into Allwen's eyes. "I'm used to being ugly."
Allwen could hardly hear the Acara's last words, though. She was staring, transfixed. "But Vira, you're beautiful."
True, the Acara still had her frightening appearance, but one thing had changed. Her eyes -- the blood red was long gone. It was as if it had melted away and been replaced by something much better.
Vira's eyes were green. Greener than anything Allwen had ever seen in her life. They were the colour of leaves and grass and flower stems and so much more... and they were sparkling, shining more brightly than even Tati's eyes. And they were lovely... oh, so lovely...
She saw the Acara's eyes widen, and Vira snatched a jagged piece of glass from the ground. She stared at her reflection for a while, eyes disbelieving, and then she broke into a smile, her first real one for who knew how long. Her eyes... they reminded her of a time when things were different, when she hadn't been victim to this horrid curse. She knew she would never be as pretty as she had been back then, but she was fine with that. For her, this was enough.
Tati smiled, observing Allwen and Vira with mild interest. They must have been through so much, both of them being manipulated by Vanity like that. She sighed happily and leaned back. The faerie was gone now. She wouldn't bother them again. Everything was normal. They were free.
At that moment, she was strangely reminded of the morphing potion she had planned to get Allwen as a birthday gift. But she knew know she didn't need it.
She sighed again. Everything was going to be okay.
She gazed around sleepily until her eyes caught something. "Allwen, look."
Both Allwen and Vira turned and followed her gaze, looking out the window.
The grey clouds and rain had disappeared. The world seemed much brighter. The grass and leaves were a vibrant green, as bright as Vira's eyes. The sky was cloudless, painted a deep blue. Raindrops clung to the glass, sparkling as the sun shown upon them. In the distance, a majestic rainbow was spiralling into the horizon.
Allwen looked at Tati and Vira. She smiled. The world had never seemed more beautiful.