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||You are on Week 375
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Three Hundred Seventy Five Ends Friday, July 11
Byram whistled as he stepped out of his house, the basket of fruit for the market secured tightly to his back. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the crops were waving in the breeze.
All in all, he'd say it was a pretty ordinary day.
Not a single rock on the well-worn dirt path to the market was out of place. The same three Crokabeks sat placidly on the scarecrokabek. The rusty old wind vane creaked wearily like it always had. Yup, all in all, it was a pretty ordinary day.
All except for that giant Scorchio sitting out in the field.
Byram did a double take and stopped, his whistled tune cut off in mid-chorus. During his ten years of treading this path, he had never seen anything so out of place, so strange, so… out of the ordinary.
This was a situation that had to be rectified immediately.
"Um," Byram said. The Lupe was unsure of how to begin. "Um, excuse me? Sir? It says here on the fence that there are no trespassers allowed."
The giant Scorchio sat still, not saying a word.
"Look," the young farmer said, "if you're lost, I can show you the way to town, but you're not doing a whole world of good for my crops." Again, there was no response. By now, Byram had inched a little nearer, close enough to see that the Scorchio's foot was about the same height as he was. And it sure was strange-looking, humungous size aside. Having never ventured outside his tiny town in his life, the Lupe knew that there were plenty of Neopet colours that he had never seen, but he had never heard of a Neopet looking like it was completely made of straw.
Gathering up his courage (after all, he had never dealt with anything so out of the ordinary), Byram gulped and stepped forward...
Author: The Wicker Scorchio?|
Date: Jun 30th
...and then he screamed.
The Scorchio, the weird straw Scorchio, the weird straw Scorchio sitting on top of his crops -- it had moved.
Byram blinked and rubbed at his eyes, now completely freaked out. Maybe it was just his eyes playing tricks on him in the early morning light. He hoped so, at any rate.
Heart pounding furiously, he opened his eyes looked again.
There. Nothing. His eyes were just on the blink again. The straw Scorchio was just a Scorchio-shaped pile of straw, nothing more... er...
Byram stared with wide eyes as the tail moved. He was sure it had moved, this time. He was deadly positive. And it wasn't just the wind, either -- it was blowing in the opposite direction, at the moment.
The tail twitched again, scoring a long line into his field.
"Hey!" the Lupe blustered. "None of that now! You're ruining the cabbages!"
If the Scorchio could hear him, then it wasn't listening. The tail kept right on going, plowing line after line into the dirt, scarring the neat furrows.
"Stop it! Stop it! I'm calling the Defenders of Neopia!" Byram yelled, waving his arms hysterically. The tail was being utterly reckless, ruining his crops. "No, no, no, no! Stop! Please! I'm begging you, stop -- no, not my prized cabbage, no, I'll give you anything, anything, just STOP!"
The tail of the straw Scorchio stopped. It was still moving, yes, but at least it wasn't uprooting the field anymore -- the Symols already took care of that, thank you very much.
"Oomph," Byram grunted, as the long straw appendage slammed into him with some serious weight behind it. He toppled over, onto the tail, as it rose through the air.
Higher, higher, higher...
The Lupe went pale, his stomach somewhere around his toes. He hated heights.
And yet, entirely against his will, Byram looked down. Maybe it was just sheer curiosity, to see Meridell from a Pteri's eye view. Maybe he just wanted to check the extent of damage. Or maybe it was because he got the feeling that a tiny voice in his ear had told him so.
Well, whatever. The point was, Byram looked down.
And he gasped.
The long, messy lines the straw Scorchio had drawn into his field contrasted terribly with the lush, orderly fields, deep brown against green. From up here, the strokes came together, not seeming quite so random anymore, but forming letters.
Date: Jun 30th
For one crystal-clear second, everything seemed to make perfect sense. Yes, he was flying through the air, caught on a giant straw Neopet's tail, and this year's prize harvest was largely ruined.
But there was no way this was a coincidence.
Somebody -- or something -- needed his help.
And then the moment was over. A scream tore from the Lupe's mouth as he fell, tumbling down as the Scorchio abruptly went smashing down to the upturned earth.
His landing was cushioned by the Scorchio, although the coarse, itchy strands still knocked the breath out of him, and it still did hurt.
Before he had time to regroup his wildly whirling thoughts, something strange happened.
There was a strange fizzling sound, and for one brief second, the Scorchio flashed with a purple sheen.
And then it promptly fell apart.
Straw crashed to the ground, enough to make several bales. Strands went flying in all directions, and the Lupe found himself spitting out straw. Byram was left sitting awkwardly in a heap of dry yellowness, his mind whirling with unanswered questions.
A Neopet made of straw needed help... and then just collapsed?
Was that what it had needed help with?
How had it expected him to help stop that from happening?
The Lupe's eyebrows furrowed. It had all happened so quickly and so strangely, he wasn't even sure he'd really witnessed anything. Perhaps it had all been a dream, brought on by the unrelenting Meridell heat.
Think, he told himself.
But there was something. The violet flash, only lasting an infinitesimal second, but still very much there?
He hadn't wandered far beyond the reaches of his tiny town in his lifetime, his miniature little world, but he very much knew what faeries were, and their magic.
Could this have been magic? Could the Scorchio have been enchanted, a tool of something that needed his help?
He looked back up and saw with shock that the straw was forming itself into letters...
Date: Jun 30th
The Lupe blinked slowly. It wasn't that his eyes weren't as good as they once had been, it was merely that today was his first time dealing with enchanted straw and he wasn't really sure that he hadn't tripped on his way to the market, hit his head, and was dreaming this strange situation up.
The beating rays of the sun, aloft in the sapphire sky, begged to differ, however. This was real.
The yellow-tinged strands almost seemed to be serpentlike as they moved, writhing and slithering over the once luscious field as if guided by some invisible hand.
Whose hand? What kind of magic did this?
The sun-dried straw strands were forming words at a rapid rate, the Lupe having to stand on his tiptoes in order to gain a fair view of the message. (He almost longed for the elevation the giant Scorchio had provided. Almost... but not enough to be back flying through the air.)
Get help. Jhudora. Trapped.
The Lupe drew back in horror. Of course, he should have known! The faint indigo that had seemed to shimmer and entangle the straw strands of the strange Scorchio only moments before... it must be a message from Fyora! Had the fiendish dark faerie finally taken over Faerieland and trapped the fair queen within her tower, leaving her to rely on...
...a giant straw Scorchio?
The Lupe shook his head slowly, gazing at the strange message before him. Feeling rather absurd, he spoke out loud.
"I don't understand. Who are you?"
The straw again began to move, slithering over the ground in a sinister fashion. Sinister? Nothing about Fyora was sinister or eerie. The Faerie Queen had all kinds of mystical powers, why would she create a giant Scorchio in a field?
It was about then that the realisation hit him harder than the giant tail of a few moments ago ever could have. Jhudora hadn't trapped someone. She WAS trapped.
Byram felt sick to his stomach. Of all the creatures in Neopia who could ask for help... of all the Lupes to be wandering by at this very moment... Why him? The straw however, answered that question.
"Make haste. They're watching..."
Date: Jul 1st
The instant he read those words, the hair on the back of his neck began to prickle. He shot a quick look over his shoulder.
Nothing. No one was near.
No one that he could see, anyway.
Still, the straw message urged haste, so it was probably best to get moving.
After a moment's thought, he grabbed a handful of straw and stuffed it in his pocket. Perhaps Jhudora could use it to communicate with him further, and Byram had no doubt that he was going to need further instruction.
For starters, he had no idea where to go or what to do when he got there. He was just an ordinary farmer, with little training in the art of fighting and none at all in magic.
Whoever had trapped Jhudora, who was among Neopia's most powerful dark faeries, had to be quite powerful themselves. How could Byram hope to combat them?
And should he really try at all? Jhudora was a feared villain -- wouldn't it make sense for a hero to trap her to ensure that she could do no harm?
It was all so confusing. And he simply didn't have time to stand around thinking for too long...
The Lupe jumped as an arrow struck the ground a bare few inches from his paw. He looked toward the direction from where the arrow had come and saw a green-cloaked figure who was already nocking another arrow.
Byram didn't wait for the figure to fire again. He started running in the other direction as fast as his paws could take him.
I have to get away, have to find shelter... where?
Illusen. Her glade is only a few minutes away.
Illusen, the faerie known and loved by all of Meridell. Surely she would protect him from the mysterious archer, and she would almost certainly know more than he about what to do about Jhudora.
All he had to do was evade the arrows long enough to get into the cover of the trees....
Another arrow struck the ground nearby. Close, so close! All it took was for one arrow to hit its mark, and he would be done for.
The forest is just a few paces farther!
His heart was racing, both from fear and exertion. He had to make it into the trees. If he could, he knew he'd be at least safer, if not entirely safe.
There! He was in the woods now, and he would soon reach Illusen's Glade, and everything would be all right.
He burst into the beautiful clearing, panting hard. An earth faerie was sitting on a stump in front of Illusen's small cottage.
"Illusen! Illusen, you have to help--"
The earth faerie turned to face Byram, and the Lupe stopped in his tracks. This wasn't Illusen.
"It's all right," said the faerie. "You are quite safe."
The straw in his pocket was wriggling nervously, poking him through his clothing. He put his hand over it and tried to hold it still.
"There's an archer chasing me! They tried to shoot me!"
"You needn't fear her," the faerie replied. "She was instructed not to harm you."
The straw was thrashing even harder, and the Lupe felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Where's Illusen?" he asked, his feeling of uneasiness growing by the second.
"Oh, have no fear," said the faerie. Her mouth was curved into a smile, but there was something vicious in the eyes. "No harm has come to Illusen. She is one of us, after all, if a bit misguided."
Misguided? There was something very, very wrong here.
A movement caught his eye. At the base of the tree stump were two glass bottles.
Each of them held a faerie, struggling to escape...
Date: Jul 1st
Jhudora and Illusen...
Those two names were the first that came to Byram's mind, but he was mistaken. The twin bottles didn't glow with dark amethyst and soft jade, but rather emerald and diamond. One of the bottles held an earth faerie, oh yes, and it unmistakably had to be Illusen. But the other bottle... well, there was no way the pale light seeping from the glass could be that of Jhudora...
Byram stared at it, frowning. He had never seen a faerie colour like that before. So faint, it seemed almost white, but there was some sort of blue tinge to it. Both water and air faeries claimed the colour of blue, but this was unlike any air and water faeries he had seen. It was too pale... too... white.
Byram blinked. He had never heard of a white faerie before. Having never left his village before, he had hardly even encountered a faerie until this moment. But he had heard stories, tales told by firelight long, long ago....
A mountain. Icy peaks that rose above a churning black sea. A name like horror... Fear summit? Scary peaks? Sinister pinnacle? No. Terror Mountain. Yes, that was it.
And atop the bone-chilling (literally) mountain there was said to be a kind, compassionate being who led lost travellers through snowstorms to the safety and warmth of home.
A name reached Byram's lips. "Taelia..." The Snow Faerie.
Beside him, the earth faerie snorted. She appeared to be examining her nails. "Took you long enough..." She stopped, blinked, swirled around to see what Byram was looking at and groaned. "Oh shoot, you weren't supposed to see that..."
But then she paused and slowly turned her head back to him. Her eyes were dark. "Then again... maybe this will make things easier..."
Byram gulped. He didn't like that look. It was bloodthirsty, malicious. "Uh, ah, I really should be going now. Cabbages need to be watered and--"
She held up a hand and he stopped talking immediately, as if by magic, which was probably what it was. "I'm afraid I require your assistance, young Lupe." Her lip curled into a vicious snarl. "You have a new quest!"
Byram felt butterflies scratch his stomach, or maybe it was the straw.
"You see," the earth faerie continued. "I had another faerie under control, just one other. And she... escaped."
"You mean Jhudora--OUCH!"
Foolishly speaking before thinking, Byram was awarded with a sharp poke by the straw.
The earth faerie smirked. "Yes, good boy," she said, as if speaking to a Puppyblew. "Jhudorouch is the one." She batted her eyelashes sarcastically. "Would you be a dear and bring her back to me?"
Byram was trembling, it was a surprise he gathered up enough courage to speak the next few words. "And what if I don't want to do this quest?"
Then you won't have another one for another 599 seconds? Idiot. What had he been thinking? Of course there was only one answer.
"I'm afraid you don't have a choice..."
Date: Jul 2nd
Byram gulped. Judging by the vicious gleam in the earth faerie's eyes, he could only guess all too well what she meant. There was no way he could refuse.
What did I ever do to deserve this? the nagging voice in the back of his head lamented. First my cabbages are ruined, and now I have to chase down a dark faerie? Hoo boy. This is going to be fun. Why can't Fyora just conveniently flutter down from the sky and fix everything?
It was a shame that he couldn't possibly be dreaming, because he wasn't sure he could ever desire anything more than he wanted an easy way out of this.
The words fell dully from Byram's lips, as bleak as his eyes. "I'll do it."
In his pocket, the writhing strands froze, falling limp.
A venomous smile like a tainted rose twisted the faerie's lips. "Wonderful," she said, in a voice that was sickly sweet. "I knew I could count on you to do this."
"Do I have sixteen minutes and forty seconds to do this, or am I not allowed to use the Shop Wizard?" Byram asked sarcastically.
The straw in his pocket came back to life and jabbed at him sharply.
The faerie rolled her eyes. "Enough of this chitchat. 'Jhudorouch' is somewhere in Meridell. She definitely hasn't left, because one of her wings is damaged. She can't harm you without her sceptre, which she currently lacks." The earth faerie handed him a bottle. "This is enchanted. You might not think you could fit Jhudora in here, but you easily can, and there's no way she's getting out of here."
He nodded. "One more thing." Byram's instincts were screaming at him to stop talking, so he could just get out of there and decide what to do. "Why do you want to capture these faeries, anyway?"
The earth faerie's fake smile froze in place, slipping. Her tone was filled with an unveiled threat.
"That," she stated, in a terse, staccato tone, "is classified information, Lupe. Or would you rather pick your second option, the one that I used the particular euphemism 'you don't have a choice' for?"
Her hands glowed a threatening green.
With a yelp, the Lupe turned tail and dashed out of Illusen's Glade, leaving the two bottled faeries struggling helplessly in mirrored planes of glass.
He must have run for at least five minutes before it occurred to him that he was out of breath.
Panting, the Lupe sat down next to an array of thick, coarse-leafed bushes, unusual for the flat Meridellian landscape. Warily, he looked back. The faerie hadn't chased after him, at least.
Slowly, now that the immediate danger and magic and chaos was gone, the day's events began to unfold in his mind.
He moaned. Oh, what was he to do?
The earth faerie had to be evil. He couldn't help her achieve whatever evil faeries liked trying to achieve. But Jhudora was a dark faerie, and also quite malicious. How could he help one of Neopia's most feared villains?
But if he just ran away and tried to find his way home... then what would happen?
Before he could ponder his dilemma any further, a pale, clawed hand shot out and pulled him aside...
Date: Jul 2nd
Byram should have screamed. To be sure, he would have liked to, had the irritating straw that he very much regretted placing in his pocket not dug into his side with such ferocious force that he was very nearly winded, leaving no time to cry out in fright as the clawed hand dragged into into the luscious green foliage that covered Meridell's emerald fields.
The figure that now clutched his shirt in such a way that he feared he would spend hours repairing it if he ever escaped this nightmare was hooded, a jade cloak obscuring features and form from the Lupe's curious gaze. There was no mistaking those hands, though. Almost emaciated, the nails long and sharpened to a definite point, each painted an acidic, sinister shade of green.
As the faerie slipped the hood from her form, Byram saw a face he had only heard described in stories told during his youth. More often than not those tales were designed to frighten young Lupes into behaving and observing an early bedtime.... The storytellers had not done Jhudora justice. The features had been accurately described: full, sneering lips; skin toned a strange violet; indigo gaze; and cascades of thick, purple hair. But there was something missing. The malicious, horrifying gleam that supposedly should have lingered in Jhudora's gaze was missing. Byram saw only fear reflected there. The straw in his pocket seemed to shiver and tremble as the dark faerie glanced around suspiciously.
"Were you followed?"
Jhudora's voice was as Byram had always imagined it to be. Curt and lowered to a strange hiss, though it lacked the rage and vile hate that he would have thought he would hear.
"N... no" The words were stuttered, though the Lupe was smart enough to know his fear was based on the faerie's reputation, not genuine terror. Jhudora was nothing compared to that horrible creature back in the glade.
Jhudora released him from her vice-like grip and shrunk back into herself, shoulders sagging with weary helplessness. This gave Byram a moment to observe her wings. As the earth faerie in the glade had said, one seemed twisted at a slightly odd angle, a bit battered and torn. Nothing a few days' rest wouldn't fix, he was sure, but she certainly wouldn't be flying out of Meridell in a hurry. Pity swept through him, and he began to babble anxiously, a nervous habit that had plagued him since he was a mere pup.
"I saw the straw Scorchio... I knew it had to be a sign from you. She sent me with a bottle, I'm supposed to capture..." His voice trailed off. Was it really wise to tell a notorious villain that you intended to suck her into a glass prison not even a tenth her size?
Jhudora seemed oblivious, glancing down slowly at the bottle clutched within the Lupe's hand, a wry smile upon her face.
"An enchanted vessel. I only just escaped it and she sends you to shove me right back in."
The Lupe felt guilty, instinct forcing him to slip the bottle into his pocket; the straw encased within there seemed to shudder.
"We could go to Fyora. She could help."
Jhudora listened to the Lupe's suggestion, cutting him off from further exploration of the idea with a derisive snort.
"Fyora? The precious Faerie Queen won't be helping us, simple farmer."
The Lupe blinked slowly. Fyora was the epitome of good, prepared to aide Neopians in distress at a moment's notice. Surely she would rush to rescue her own kind just as quickly.
"Of course she'll help!" The Lupe's reply was heated. Jhudora wasn't going to turn him into a pessimist.
The dark faerie smiled faintly, though there was no malice, no amusement within the curve of her lips.
"Fyora is the reason we're standing here..."
Date: Jul 3rd
Byram continued to stare incredulously at her. He opened his mouth once or twice, and finally said, "I don't believe you."
"Well, of course you don't," Jhudora sighed haughtily. "How much could a farmer know about faeries? I'll bet you know at least a hundred evil rumours about me, but I'm sure you couldn't utter a single fact about faerie history."
"Look, I have a right to be suspicious," said Byram, frowning. "You came and ruined my prize crops, you got me into this situation, and now you expect me to trust you more than the Faerie Queen?"
"I got you into this situation?" Jhudora laughed shrilly. "Oh, such ignorance! If I had not warned you that they were watching, if I had not drawn you out of your field..."
Byram, deeply annoyed, started to open the bottle.
Jhudora's voice instantly became sickly sweet, cooing. "But don't you see, little Neopet, if you go over to their side, there will be nothing in it for you? That earth faerie threatened you, didn't she? Whereas I, I could offer you such things as you could never have dreamt of..."
"Don't try that on me," snapped Byram, still holding fast to the bottle. "I am a farmer. I don't care for riches. What I want to know is, what's happening to the faeries, why they are fighting each other, why they are dragging Neopets into their fight?"
The dark faerie looked quite pale, torn. Byram felt a flicker of pity arise within him. But he clung to the bottle, knowing that it could be his only defence against this magical creature.
"If you must know," Jhudora began in a low voice, "Queen Fyora has not been herself lately. Some faeries say that she has gone mad. Some faeries say that a greater, unfathomable power is working upon her. In any case, all faeries throughout Neopia are either being kidnapped or pulling cruel pranks on Neopets such as you. I am one of the rebels."
"We must help Queen Fyora!" cried Byram. "I'll -- I'll put that earth faerie in this bottle, and I'll go with you to Faerieland, and..."
"Fool," snarled Jhudora. "Fyora is irrelevant now, no better than an ordinary faerie. Larger forces are at work here, my poor, ignorant Neopet. If you capture any faeries with that bottle, you will be contributing to the doom of Neopia. You must shatter it immediately and come with me. For when my wing heals, I plan to overthrow these evil forces..."
Date: Jul 7th
Byram looked at the bottle in his hand. Shatter it? Perhaps that was best. It was certainly a cruel thing to trap a faerie in a bottle, and Jhudora had said that it would only bring Neopia closer to doom.
But then again, it was Jhudora who was saying this. As soon as he got rid of the bottle, he had no defence against her or any other faerie who wished to do him harm.
Suddenly, Jhudora's words echoed in his mind:
"If you capture any faeries with that bottle, you will be contributing to the doom of Neopia."
Any faeries? Wouldn't the bottle be a useful weapon against the faeries turned evil? Why would Jhudora want him to get rid of it?
I can't trust her, but I'll go along with her for now, because she just might be telling the truth.
"No," he said aloud, with a surprising firmness in his voice. "I'm not going to destroy the bottle."
"You don't understand!" Jhudora hissed. "You have no idea what's really happening!"
"Maybe not. Maybe I am just an ordinary, uneducated farmer who doesn't have a clue. But I'm not going to lose the only defence I have against magical creatures like yourself. If you're telling the truth, maybe I can use it to stop one of the more powerful faeries from causing any more trouble. But if you're lying..." he trailed off threateningly.
The expression on Jhudora's face went from enraged to frustrated to resigned. "Fine," she growled. "Keep that abomination, but you'll regret it."
Byram couldn't keep the ghost of a smirk off his face. Now he was the one with all the power. She was an incredibly powerful dark faerie, but all he had to do was use the bottle and she wouldn't be able to do him any harm.
Wait a minute! What am I thinking? I'm a farmer. I don't care about power.
Is whatever caused the faeries to change starting to effect me too?
It was a troubling thought, and for a moment he reconsidered his decision to keep the bottle.
But only for a moment. He tightened his grip upon the glass vessel. His earlier reasoning still seemed perfectly sound, and he intended to stick by it.
"So," he said after a long pause, "what did you have in mind? How do you intend to fight the other faeries?"
"The rebels are trying to gather up an army of Neopets," Jhudora explained. "We also plan to rescue those faeries who have been captured, and thus add to our forces until we have power enough to strike."
Byram nodded. "So, uh, how many faeries are in this group of rebels right now?"
"A few hundred, perhaps. Mostly dark faeries." Jhudora chuckled softly. "We've never been the sort to follow faerie society... whichever way it goes."
How many faeries were there in Neopia, anyway? Byram wasn't sure, but he knew that the number had to be in at least the thousands. The odds didn't look good.
If the majority of the faeries had gone bad, what hope was there? Even if the rebels did gather up an army of Neopets, what good was that? Wouldn't the other faeries just do the same thing?
This problem was a frustrating one, like a nasty weed in the vegetable patch.
And there was only one way to deal with weeds...
"No," Byram said. "That's not going to fix anything. We've got to find the source of the problem. We have to pull it out by the roots..."
Date: Jul 7th
Jhudora blinked, the expression on her face rather similar to what it might have been had Byram just suggested the two of them dress in Sloth costumes and dance the hula in Neopia Central.
"The roots? This isn't your run-of-the-mill issue in the crops! It's not some worm that is chomping at your cabbages! Faeries run Neopia! Do you know what we're dealing with?"
The dark faerie spat these words, accompanying them with wild, dramatic gestures from talon-like hands. Had the situation been anything but what it was, Byram would have been petrified.
If I didn't have this bottle...
The thought made him uncomfortable. His mind shouldn't have kept returning to the shimmering glass prison that he had slipped into his pocket, yet it did. Was this what having a little power did to one? If so, he wasn't sure he liked the sensation and yet... he wasn't willing to smash the vessel and be done with it. Inhaling slowly, the Lupe turned his gaze to the still rambling dark faerie.
"The source of the issue. You can pick off faeries left, right, and centre. It's not going to stop whatever this is from spreading. If you want to fix something, you go right to the heart of the problem."
Jhudora fell silent, studying the Lupe with an expression that was almost unreadable. It was as if it had never occurred to her that a simple farmer could produce such logic.
"The source of the problem?"
Byram nodded slowly.
"Fyora might be reduced to a mere regular faerie at this point, but whatever this wickedness is that has spread through Neopia, it had to have started with her and it's going to have to end there too."
Jhudora opened her mouth to snap something at him, no doubt her idea of a clever retort, but the chance never came, Byram had made up his mind.
"If Fyora hadn't been where this all started, she would have stopped it. What would be the alternative, Jhudora? All out war between the faeries? Your people hold the most powerful magic this world will ever see -- you need to understand that such battles wouldn't just mean a victory, they would mean devastation for the rest of us..."
The faerie fell silent. This Lupe may have been some simple Meridellian peasant, but his words held the uncomfortable sting of truth.
"I didn't think of that..."
The Lupe smiled wryly.
"I wouldn't have expected you t..." The phrase was broken off, cut short before it ended by the pressure of something rather pointy pressing between his shoulder-blades. The Lupe didn't need to turn around; there was no doubt in his mind that the emerald hooded archer who had chased him toward Illusen's Glade earlier was standing behind him.
And from the expression on Jhudora's face, this wasn't a good thing at all...
Date: Jul 8th
Byram gulped. "Um, hello?"
He heard a cold, cruel snort of laughter. "Hello," a voice hissed in his ear, sending shivers down his spine. "I must thank you for finding Jhudora, she's a slippery fish."
If the circumstances had been different, Byram would've thought the look of outrage on Jhudora's face after being called a fish hilarious. But the dark faerie's rage was washed away by fear, and the Lupe knew he was in grave danger.
"You know what to do," the slimy voice continued. "I wonder why you haven't done it yet? The mistress will be very... displeased that you haven't been following her commands. It would be very unwise to anger her, don't you think?"
Byram found himself nodding. Mistress... the archer had called the earth faerie "mistress." Did that mean she was the mastermind behind this sinister plan?
Before he had the chance to pursue this theory any further, he felt cold fingers curl around the neck of the bottle.
"Give the bottle to me. I can finish your task for you..."
Jhudora's eyes widened; she shook her head. "Don't do it."
Behind him, the archer laughed again. "I believe you are hardly in the position to give orders, Jhudora dear." Her attention returned to Byram. "Now give me the bottle, little Lupe, and you won't get hurt..." Her voice trailed off maliciously. "Much."
For a split second, Byram considered listening to her, handing over the bottle. But that would mean giving in to the evil. And that was the last thing he wanted to do.
So, with much more courage than he anticipated he had, he cried, "No!"
And before the archer could react, Byram broke free of her hold, ripped the bottle from her fingers, uncorked the bottle and aimed for the archer's head.
The plan would've worked perfectly except for one little thing... the archer was not a faerie. Byram watched as the bottle bonked the green hooded figure on the head and then fell to the ground, smashing into glittering pieces.
He stared blankly at the broken glass and barely had time to mutter, "Oh," before Jhudora grabbed his arm and was sprinting away. "Run!" she shouted as she pushed Byram forward. The Lupe broke into a sprint, the fields a blur of emerald as the wind caused his eyes to flood with tears.
Byram would've kept running, if he had not tripped on a rock and face-planted into a patch of dirt. Byram sat up, sputtering. He looked up to see Jhudora crouching beside him; she appeared to be laughing.
"Graceful," the dark faerie muttered.
Byram opened his mouth to say something, but his words were silenced by the look she gave him.
"Stay down, keep quiet," Jhudora whispered. "The tall grass will hide us before the archer realises what happened." She smirked. "You hit her pretty hard with that bottle..."
Byram's heart sunk. The bottle... he had lost it. He no longer had any control over Jhudora, nothing to reassure him that she wouldn't try anything sneaky. And the loss of the bottle meant another thing -- he had no choice now, he had to help Jhudora.
"I've been thinking," Jhudora was speaking again. "About what you said. You're right. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Byram nodded. At least she hadn't turned on him, abandoned him... yet. "Right. So... how will we get to Faerieland? With your wings and all..."
Jhudora stared at him. "Faerieland? What are you talking about? Well, of course you know nothing. None of this started in Faerieland. Oh no. It started much closer than that..."
"Where?" Byram had a sinking feeling, and despite his words, he had a feeling he already knew the answer.
"Here. In Meridell..."
Date: Jul 8th
Byram felt a wave of sorrow wash through him, terrified for his beloved Meridell. As much as he longed for the simplicity his life had held a few short hours ago, it struck him for the first time that his home, his friends, his lifestyle -- everything he held dear -- now hung in the balance of this struggle between the faeries. He would do everything in his power to prevent Meridell from becoming the first battlefield in this mysterious war.
"How... what happened?" Byram asked weakly.
Jhudora shook her head. "I'm not certain, myself. No one is. Illusen flew to Faerieland, babbling about some sort of danger -- " Jhudora tried, unsuccessfully, to repress a sneer, "-- and for some reason, the Faerie Queen took her seriously and brought her into the tower. I suppose whatever corruption Illusen felt had travelled as quickly as she did, because soon after her arrival..." Jhudora trailed off, looking for the right words.
"After her arrival?" Byram prompted.
Jhudora shrugged. "Everything fell into chaos. Those faeries afflicted by this disease and the Neopets still loyal to the Faerie Queen drove the rest of us out. Illusen fled back to Meridell --" once again, Jhudora could not resist rolling her eyes, "-- no doubt, to save the poor, ignorant peasants -- "
Byram sent her a pointed look. She coughed delicately. "That is to say," she continued, "Taelia and I followed, sensing the direness of this threat. When we arrived, Illusen had already been imprisoned, and I only narrowly escaped."
Byram thought this new information over carefully. It seemed to him strangely suspicious that Illusen's arrival coincided with the spread of madness in Faerieland -- especially if the source of that madness lay somewhere in Meridell. Showing the same penchant for simple logic as he had earlier that day, he said, "I suppose the best thing we can do is free Illusen and ask her ourselves."
As she opened her mouth to protest, Byram interrupted her. "Do you have a better plan?"
A pause. "No." Jhudora nodded her grudging consent. "Let's try it, then."
Byram smiled. "This way," he called, wading easily through the tall grass. "A friend of mine owns the fields not far from here -- we can follow the corn stalks until we reach Illusen's Glade. That'll give us enough cover to stay hidden, and we'll also skirt around that archer."
Jhudora followed behind him with intrinsic grace. As they reached the furrows of corn, Byram said, "Try not to break any of the stalks." He wondered what Jurkins, the old Eyrie who owned the field, would say if he knew what use his produce was being put to.
"If we don't hurry," Jhudora reminded him, "there won't be anything here to protect."
The Lupe felt a nervous twinge at these words and quickened his pace. They continued in silence for some time, with nothing for company but the endless rows of corn and the bleached sky overhead.
Then, abruptly, the corn fields ended; Byram and Jhudora slipped into the natural vegetation, trekking the short distance between the fields and Illusen's Glade.
As Byram peered through the leaves of a bush to get a closer look, he immediately sensed something sinister. Illusen's home sat innocently in the little hollow, and the stump near the door remained as stubbornly anchored as always. At its base, two bottles glittered with the light of the faeries they held.
But something seemed ominously wrong to Byram. He tried to place the feeling; despite the warm sunlight and the gentle breeze, something about the glade struck him as downright spooky.
Then he realised what was missing: the earth faerie was nowhere to be seen...
Date: Jul 9th
So where was she? Just to make sure they weren't being sneaked up on -- he'd had way too much of that happening today to be comfortable -- but not even a leaf that was out of place came to his sight.
Byram turned around and looked back at the glade, and then got up. If he couldn't see the faerie, then it was very likely that she couldn't see him.
"No, you fool!" hissed Jhudora, grabbing his shoulder and sinking her long painted fingernails into his flesh. "They're probably watching, waiting. Most likely they've realised that their archer hasn't come back yet!"
"But..." he began to say, but a sharp look from the dark faerie silenced him. TheLupe decided on a different path of words. "How are we going to get Illusen and Taelia back?"
Jhudora sat still for a moment, her eyebrows wrinkling slightly as she clearly concentrated. The sunlight pouring through the canopy of trees created a pattern on their skin, and Byram was struck by the thought that his companion didn't look at all evil for the moment, if you forgot about the tales that were spun by the fire at bedtime.
"I'll create a distraction on the other side of the glade," she announced quietly, her voice scathing even when she wasn't focusing on making it that way. "I still have a slight amount of magic, despite what they've probably told you, and I can at the least make some shadow. They'll think it's me and run after it, and then you and I will go and grab my... 'sisters'."
He nodded, and Jhudora lifted up her hands, a very subtle hint of purple shining at the tips of her fingers. Immediately their plan took effect. The earth faerie they were hiding from came out of Illusen's home and dashed toward where the illusion shadow must be, and then he felt the dark faerie pushing him forward, out from behind their bush.
He darted over to where the stump sat, every hair on his body standing up and every nerve on edge. His paw reached around the neck of the glass bottle that held Illusen, but as soon as he lifted it up, a bright flash surrounded him, and he fell into darkness...
Date: Jul 9th
The all-consuming, inky darkness seemed to engulf the Lupe from all angles. Eternities could have passed; decades could have fallen out of the memories of all.
And something was jabbing into his stomach. For a moment the unconscious Lupe assumed, almost in a dreamlike state, that it was a Faerie weapon. It took some time for him to understand he was lying atop the straw from earlier.
"Find that wretched Lupe!" The voice seemed to be echoing from far away, taunting the Lupe's ears. He would have opened his eyes and located its source but the sheer struggle to regain consciousness was incredibly challenging; he was overpowered by the helpless desire to let the shadows engulf him, leave the responsibility of this situation and all it entailed to someone else. There were further, distant screeches from what he could only assume was the wicked earth faerie.
There is no one else.
Slowly Byram forced his eyes open. The first thing he saw was the miserable vision of two bottles. The first held Taelia, but encased within the second was the pale violet sheen of Jhudora.
The sight roused pity and despair in Byram. Had he ever before thought the sight of the notorious dark faerie trapped would cause him sorrow? Yet as he observed the pale, shimmering indigo gleam and the defeated bow of Jhudora's head, he was forced to fight back tears.
But where was Illusen?
The Lupe tried to cough and found something blocking his way. With a start he realised a slender hand was covering his mouth, gagging him from crying out or protesting. The grip was soft, yet firm, the hand silky soft. The alarm that this realisation caused brought consciousness crashing back over Byram like an angry sea. There in the bushes, he began to struggle, even as a whisper lingered in his ear.
"Stay still! If she notices we're here, we're done for."
The Lupe's eyes widened in alarm and he turned his head, stunned to realise his companion was none other than the Glade's mistress. Illusen looked pale and tired, but very much alive and magical. The shimmer of jade that ran along her folded wings still gleamed brightly.
Bringing a finger to her own lips, the earth faerie pointed toward the other side of the bushes, indicating Byram should follow her. Despite the roaring ache in his head as he slowly crawled forward, he did his best to remain silent. Now wasn't the time to give the game away.
Yet again, that jabbing in his stomach. He should have thrown the straw out earlier. The two made their way through the bushes and long grasses that swayed merrily around the glade, careful not to create enough noise to draw the attention of those behind them. Within moments they came to a small clearing, silent and well-insulated by a wall of willows.
"I owe you thanks for freeing me, kind farmer." Illusen's voice was soft and serene as she stood, brushing herself off.
Had he freed her? All he could remember was touching the bottle. Perhaps that had been enough.
"We'll need to head straight to Faerieland, of course." Already Illusen was spreading her wings, glancing to Byram as if it struck her that flying might not be an option for him, she puzzling over the fastest way to travel.
The Lupe felt something was amiss. The straw within his pocket was insistently jabbing against his ribs, even as Illusen spanned her wings, the glittering sheaths casting faint shadows of jade across the grass.
"We thank you for your assistance, but you'll, of course, need to stay here. You cannot fly."
The Lupe smiled faintly, prepared to thank her, when her words struck him.
Date: Jul 10th
For a second, the faerie's smooth, calm, trustworthy face faltered, and a peculiar note of discord entered it that Byram couldn't quite fathom.
And then it was static again, melting back into that perfect epitome-of-goodness smile. Soft as velvet and gentle as a baby Doglefox. "Yes, we. Remember my sister, Jhudora? I never really trusted her, until now. She helped bring you here, so we could be freed. We're going to Fyora."
Dread lanced through the Lupe like a deadweight. His subconscious had figured out what had happened, even if his mind hadn't.
"No," Byram said slowly, his heart sinking. "Jhudora's in a bottle, isn't she?
The look was back now, a touch of fear and frustration joining the menagerie, and this time, the Lupe knew he'd seen it.
"What are you talking about, young farmer?" she asked softly, her face so flawlessly innocent and concerned that Byram nearly believed her himself. "Jhudora is free, like me now."
The straw poked him, the motion almost coming off as annoyed.
"No." Byram shook his head. "I saw her. She was in that bottle. Trapped."
Illusen forced a smile. "No, she wasn't."
"I know what I saw," Byram insisted stubbornly.
"What did you see?" Her voice was gentle, slow, as if talking to a very small child.
"Jhudora, in a bottle. So was Taelia. Unless you want to tell me that wasn't her, and you captured some other random dark faerie?"
Illusen looked at him meaningfully.
He stared back curiously for a second, and then a sensation akin to a heavy blanket shrouded him, bringing back memories of simpler times by a cheerfully crackling fire, without wayward spells and traitorous faeries...
Why was he questioning Illusen? She was a good faerie. She had to be right.
His eyelids began to flutter, drowsiness seizing him like a vice...
The straw jabbed at him sharply, critically, jolting him back into crystal awareness for one fleeting second.
I'm under a spell. Quick, quick, how to break it?
His mind whirled. Illusen was lying. Faeries were falling; she must have fallen too. Jhudora was trapped; he could visualise it perfectly, that frantically shining violet flask...
He used that knowledge to buoy him, to keep him afloat above the warm, enchanted sleep, at last forcing his eyes open.
"No," he seethed, glaring at Illusen. "Jhudora is in a bottle. Your bottle. I saw it with my very eyes. She's not with you. How could she fly anyway, with a broken wing? You're lying. You've fallen to this curse, and you're not going to help your sister."
Oh, dear. Bad move.
Illusen's face went from curious to terrifyingly expressionless in a minute.
"All right, then," she said slowly, in a voice that did not belong to Meridell's gentle resident earth faerie. "I was going to let you live."
The Lupe froze, then whirled around. Instinct leapt into action like fireworks exploding in his brain. He could run, run and revert to his most basic defence. Escape. His only chance now.
Yes, he could have run for it, if not for the approaching second earth faerie from behind.
"Glad to see you've joined us, Illusen," she smirked. "Are you going to get rid of the pup now? He's not useful any longer."
Taelia and Jhudora -- if they were still free of the curse, that was -- were far away now, too far to help a lone Lupe out of his predicament. Neopia's heroes were all fallen to dark magic, or knew nothing of this dire plot. There was nobody to save him now from the two fallen faeries.
It was then that he saw Jhudora's sceptre...
Date: Jul 10th
Jhudora's sceptre, the artifact that she used to direct her dark magic. Surely it had enough power still in it to knock out the corrupted faeries for long enough for him to get back to the Glade and free Jhudora and Taelia.
If only it wasn't in the hands of the earth faerie.
"Yes," said Illusen. "It is truly a pity. I would rather let him live, but he seems determined to stand in our way."
"Pity?" said the other earth faerie scornfully, tapping the sceptre idly on her left palm. "Is that regret I hear in your voice? Perhaps the transformation is not yet complete..."
The two faeries were focused on each other, paying no attention to Byram. Perhaps... perhaps he could use that to his advantage.
"I know that you doubt my loyalty and with reason," replied Illusen, "but I assure you that I have come to my senses."
Byram would get one shot to grab the sceptre. He had to make it count.
"We can't afford any indecision," said the other earth faerie. "Not if we are to be successful--"
The Lupe lunged, tackling the earth faerie while she was speaking. The sceptre flew out of her hands, and both Byram and the faerie grabbed for it at the same time.
Byram could have cried in his relief and exhilaration as his paw closed around the wand. He got to his feet and pointed it at the faeries.
As the earth faerie got to her feet and brushed herself off, she looked at Byram with contempt in her eyes.
"Stay back!" the Lupe cried. "Don't make me hurt you!"
"You?" Illusen asked, scorn in her voice. "You're a farmer. You couldn't possibly know how to use such an object of power."
Byram paused, his eyes widening. He hadn't thought of that. He'd just assumed that it would shoot out magic at whatever he pointed at.
He pointed it at Illusen experimentally. "Um... abracadabra!"
"Give it here, little Lupe," said the other earth faerie, her tone suddenly gone soft. "Give it back, and perhaps we will let you live..."
Byram realised that, in their tussle, he and the earth faerie had switched positions. Now the path back to the Glade was clear.
He took to his heels and darted into the trees.
Have to get to the Glade. Have to give the sceptre back to Jhudora. Have to not die on the way... A sizzling bolt of emerald light grazed his ankle, and he yelped in pain but did not falter. He could not afford to give in to weakness.
He was nothing more than a simple farmer. But the fate of all Neopia rested upon his shoulders, and he was going to make sure that everything turned out all right.
He was close, so close! Just a bit more...
He burst into the Glade for the third time that day and halted in his tracks. For there, beside the tree stump where the bottles were kept, stood a tall, spectral figure.
Byram did not know her name, but he instantly recognised her face, for it was one that all Neopia knew and feared.
"You..." he whispered. "The Darkest Faerie... you were behind this..."
The dark faerie smiled faintly. "Yes. I was. But I am not the Darkest Faerie."
"Then who are you?" Byram asked.
"I am her shadow -- the essence of her hatred, her pride, and her ambition. The Darkest Faerie remains a prisoner, but some things cannot be kept captive. I will discover the way to reverse the spell, and then..." A wistful look shone on the spectre's face. "I will be whole once more, to rule over both Faerieland and all Neopia."
"You'll never get away with this!" Byram snarled.
"Don't you see? I already have. The majority of the faeries are under my control, and given enough time, they all will be. It's only a matter of time.
"And now... I don't think I'll have you killed after all. That's far too kind a fate for you. You have made yourself a thorn in my side, and now I think I will take control of you, just as I took control over the others."
Her eyes began to glow a deep amethyst, and Byram realised that he simply could not look away.
There was a promise in those eyes: power. Power to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Power to create and to destroy. Power to make anything happen...
There was only one way to obtain such power, the eyes said. He had to join with her. Together, they could become something great, something unstoppable.
The eyes promised him luxury beyond imagination. No more waking up before dawn to tend to his fields and going to bed exhausted after a long day's labour. He would live in a palace, sleep in a bed with silken sheets, dress in outfits tailor-made from expensive materials, and eat only the rarest delicacies.
He would be no longer a peasant, but a king.
All he had to do was let her in, and she would do all the work for him. He just had to let her in...
And then he smiled and broke his gaze.
"What!?" the shadow sputtered. "You shouldn't be able to do that! The spell is irresistible!"
"To you, maybe," the Lupe said with a shrug. "But me...
"I like things just the way they are. I like waking up in the morning and watching the sun rise. I like planting seeds and watching them grow. I like protecting the sprouts and making sure no weeds grow among them. I like going to bed, knowing that I've done honest work that day.
"I don't need fancy clothes or fancy food. I like my homespun shirt and potato stew just fine. I don't need riches. I don't need power."
He looked back into her eyes.
"I'm just a simple farmer. And you know what? I've just realised something.
"You're not real. Like you said, you're just a shadow. So if you don't mind, I have some faeries to free."
He stepped forward, walking through the spectre, and picked up Jhudora's bottle.
"No," whispered the Darkest Faerie's shadow, but her voice was dull, defeated. As Byram looked at her, he realised that he felt sorry for her.
"Power's not everything," he said gently. "Maybe you'll learn that someday."
She said nothing, but unless Byram was imagining things, the shadow was beginning to fade. Already her features were less distinct, and he could see right through her body.
"I..." she whispered as she disappeared. "I don't understand..." And then she was gone.
Byram could feel it as the dark presence disappeared. It was like he'd been relieved of a burden he hadn't even known he was carrying.
He opened the bottles holding Jhudora and Taelia. "Here's your sceptre back," he told Jhudora.
"A bit belated, but thank you anyways," the dark faerie replied with uncharacteristic graciousness.
"And thank you for freeing us," said Taelia, her icy blue eyes filled with warmth.
"And thank you," said Illusen, striding into her Glade with the other earth faerie following close behind, "for saving us all. Thanks to you, all of the faeries have been restored, and Neopia has been saved."
Byram could feel himself starting to blush. "Aw, it was nothing. I'm not a big hero or anything...
"...I'm just a simple farmer."
Date: Jul 11th
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