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||You are on Week 446
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 Four Hundred Forty Six Ends Friday, January 29th
"So, what do you think of camping so far, Taek?" Dyana asked cheerily as she set up their tent.
Her Eyrie friend frowned, rubbing his feet, his hiking boots tossed carelessly next to the log where he sat. "It's OK, I guess. My feet hurt pretty bad."
Dyana laughed. "That was an easy hike, Taek. Just wait until tomorrow!"
"But... but... that's not fair," Taek spluttered. "You're a Ruki! Your species is known for trekking long distances."
"And you should be glad that I didn't take you on your first camping trip in the Lost Desert!" Dyana said with a firm nod, her antennae bobbing up and down. "Or Terror Mountain, for that matter. Or," she continued, putting a spooky note into her voice, "the Haunted Woods. Meridell is the best place for beginners -- the trails are easy, the scenery is great, and the woods are relatively ghost-free."
Taek shuddered and looked around nervously, clearly missing the playful smirk on his friend's face. "Are we really going to sleep out here? Isn't there a lodge or something where we could stay?"
"What, and miss out on the full camping experience? Don't be silly! We'll be safe as houses, Taek. Don't worry about it."
After what seemed to Taek to be a meagre dinner after a 15-mile hike, the two friends settled down in their tent for the night. Dyana fell asleep right away, and Taek felt like he should have, considering how exhausted he was, but he couldn't keep himself from staring wide-eyed into the dark.
Just as he was about to drift off, he heard rustling sounds coming from outside the tent. He nervously glanced at Dyana, but the Ruki slept on. The rustling soon escalated into noisy snapping of undergrowth and strange crashing noises.
Terrified, Taek very slowly sat up and peeked out of the tent's opening. It was too dark to see much other than a large black shape that seemed to be prowling next to their camping packs.
The Eyrie breathed in sharply, which drew the creature's attention away from its perusal of their backpacks. The thing turned to face the tent, and light from the dying embers of their campfire fell across it, revealing two eyes as brilliant and enormous as full moons, staring directly at Taek...
Author: It's the Royal Neopian for me!|
Date: Jan 25th
Taek couldn't help it. He let loose the terrified yell that had been building inside him and jerked back into the tent.
Dyana came awake with a start. "Taek? What is it?"
"There's -- there's something out there, Dyana!" he gibbered, gesturing frantically at the tent flap. "Some kind of huge monster or something! We have to get out of here!"
Dyana stared back at him, wide-eyed... then burst into laughter. "Come on, Taek, you were afraid for no good reason all day. You obviously had a nightmare or something. Go back to sleep." Suiting her own words, she snuggled back into the depths of her sleeping bag.
"It was not a nightmare!" Taek said, his fear giving his voice an edge. He yanked on the edge of his friend's sleeping bag, trying to rouse her out of it. "I'm telling you, there's something out there!"
Dyana gave a long-suffering sigh, and, with the air of someone soothing a crying baby Neopet, sat up and patted Taek on the shoulder. "Look, Taek, be reasonable. We're in Meridell. What kind of gigantic monster roams the countryside here?"
"The Turmaculus!" he said. "That must be it! It's here, looking through our backpacks, because... because... it's looking for Petpets to eat!"
Dyana rolled her eyes and wriggled out of her sleeping bag. "Taek! There is nothing out there! Look!" She pulled the tent flap open, peered out -- and stared. The enormous dark shadow was still there, pawing through their belongings, occasionally casting its gleaming gaze at their tent.
"I told you!" Taek said, shuffling over to peep at the creature from behind Dyana's shoulder. "It's the Turmaculus!"
The shadow turned toward them, the dark shape blocking out the stars in the night sky beyond it. "How rude," it said, in a distinctly female voice. "I know I'm not exactly myself right now, but you thought I was the Turmaculus, of all things?"
The friends' mouths dropped open in identical startled expressions.
"Who are you?" Dyana finally asked. Before Taek could stop her, she left the dubious shelter of their tent and moved cautiously toward the creature. Taek gave a strangled squawk. After a moment's hesitation, he crept out to join her.
As they approached, a cloud drifted away from the moon, and moonlight spilled over their campsite, illuminating the creature.
"Isn't that...?" Taek gasped.
"Illusen?" Dyana squeaked.
The faerie, transformed to several times her usual size and towering over many of the trees in the vicinity, smiled bitterly. "The one and only."
"But... how?" Dyana said weakly.
Illusen sighed. "Well, it happened like this..."
Date: Jan 25th
"I was enchanted."
Dyana and Taek held their breath as they waited for the towering Illusen to elaborate, but she just looked back at them with an accomplished look.
"Yeah, so what happened?" asked Dyana softly yet pressingly.
"Oh, what, you think that I have some long story about evil and a quest?!" Illusen sneered. "I was enchanted. End of story. Now go back to bed... or bag... or whatever you're sleeping in."
With that she stormed off, creating thunderous stomps with each step.
"Something's not right about this," Dyana muttered.
"Oh, you think?" scoffed her Eyrie friend. "Illusen is ten feet tall because she's 'enchanted' and expects us to accept that as an explanation."
"Not only that," Dyana added thoughtfully, "but what was she doing going through our stuff?"
"Hey, you're right," said Taek, now angrier. "Just because she's a faerie doesn't mean that she has a right to snoop around innocent campers!"
"Let's follow and spy on her," declared Dyana with a devious smile.
Taek's rage disappeared and he face paled as he remembered his previous fear.
"Now, wait a second, Dyana," he stuttered. "I don't think she wanted us to nose around her problem. In fact I'm sure she'll have it all figured out by tomorrow morning, and I'll be able to go home and have a nice warm bath."
Dyana just sighed and said, "But I don't want her prowling around my tent. I deserve an explanation, now let's go."
Taek just nodded as she knew he would. Then the two started after the faerie...
Date: Jan 26th
Illusen's towering figure was easy enough to follow, not only because of her size but also because of the bad-tempered stomping she was doing.
Taek looked doubtfully at Dyana, seriously uncertain about the logic of following a highly ticked off, gigantic earth faerie. But Dyana had a determined look in her eye, one which Taek knew, from long experience, meant that she was going to see this thing through to its end.
They made their way through a grove of tall pines, Illusen's figure weaving through the shadows like some enormous moving sculpture, bending over from time to time as though she was searching for something under toadstools and tree roots.
"What can she be looking for?" spoke Taek at length, after Illusen had brushed aside some innocent gooseberry bushes as though they had personally offended her.
"I have no--" began Dyana, who then stopped moving with an extremely peculiar expression on her face.
"Taek," she said slowly, "do I have something on my head?"
Taek squinted in the shadowy darkness and could make out a small shape wedged between Dyana's elegant antennae. "Yeah, you do -- I see something there -- what is it? A pine cone or something?"
"A pine cone?!" replied an extremely small, though extremely angry, voice. "You fool!"
Dyana and Taek both jumped, Dyana almost dislodging her passenger as she did so.
Taek approached Dyana -- who was quite transfixed in surprise -- carefully. "Dyana -- it's -- it's --"
"It's Jhudora, you stuttering simpleton!" shouted the small thing.
"What happened to you? And what are you doing on my head?" asked Dyana, finally recovering her voice.
At this, the tiny Jhudora on Dyana's head tweaked Dyana's antennae quite fiercely. "Watch your tone, Twiggy, or do I need to remind you of who you're talking to?"
Jhudora inhaled deeply and sighed a sigh that could barely have ruffled a leaf. "I was -- um -- enchanted."
"You were enchanted," repeated Taek in a deadpan voice.
"Right," answered Jhudora, with a black look his way.
"Does this have anything to do with Illusen stomping around like some kind of enormous mutant Grundo?"
Jhudora hesitated for a moment before replying to the query, until Dyana's impatient antennae twitch almost knocked her off of her perch.
"Yes. You are not as stupid as you look; I am pleasantly surprised."
"I assume that Illusen must be looking for you under all of those rocks and mushrooms?"
"Correct again," answered the tiny Jhudora, and she studied both Taek and the top of Dyana's head intently. Finally, she appeared to come to some sort of a decision, and she cracked her minute knuckles, gushing a shower of purple sparks around her hands.
"Hm! Since you both have potential as useful minions -- you are going to help me get back to normal."
"But we --"
"I don't take no for an answer. Start walking."
Just then, the enormous figure of Illusen that had been looming in the distance turned around, and seemed to be peering in the darkness toward the oddly matched trio.
"Uh oh," whispered Taek, "now what...?"
Date: Jan 26th
"Hide the pine cone," was all Dyana could hiss before thundering steps announced that Illusen the Giant had decided to investigate the source of the noises she could have sworn she'd heard.
Luckily, the sheer amount of leaf-rustling Illusen's motion required muffled the lilliputian Jhudora's squawk of indignation beautifully -- both at the "insolent name-calling!" as the dark faerie was now muttering, and the fact that Taek had just plucked her from Dyana's head and shoved her head-first into the dense undergrowth. She had the sense to stay down despite the situation, which she viewed as complete humiliation.
Oblivious to this, Illusen squinted between the branches from her high vantage point. Her gaze very nearly missed the two campers standing uncertainly by a particularly stumpy tree -- but just as she was about to turn elsewhere, she spotted them at last.
Her eyes narrowed in a surprised frown. "You two again?" she queried in the carefully polite tone that often went with the phrase, 'So, where is that nail polish you promised, you twerp?'. "I told you I have no story to tell, so for Fyora's sake, stop following me! Go back and pretend it was a dream, whatever you like -- just leave me alone. And what was that voice I heard just now?"
Apparently Jhudora was not having as pleasant a time as Taek had imagined when he'd put her under a pile of leaves.
At this point, Dyana's features made the smooth shuffle from a 'We are sorry' look to a mask of innocent surprise. "Voice? Wh... What voice!? That was... my friend. Yes. That was Taek here. He's scared of the night, you see, especially out here so far from home... he mumbles gibberish to himself unless he gets proper fresh air. He hasn't fully recovered yet, as you can see. So that's why we're here -- we're not following you, honestly."
"Mumbles gibberish?" the Eyrie mouthed in outrage as he listened to this obvious lie -- but, feeling the earth faerie's attention shift over to him, he had no choice but to go along with his friend. "I mean, ah... yes. Everything's so dark inside the tent, you know; anyone would be scared. We're sorry for getting in your way."
He paused, then added unhelpfully, "There definitely isn't someone else here, by the way. Nope."
For the most part, and in instances such as this, he had long since been used to doing what Dyana said without knowing nor asking why. He saw no sense in concealing Jhudora from the evidently grumpy Illusen. Let mis-sized faeries take care of their own problems, he thought.
Illusen hesitated, then gave a nod. "Very well, then. But if you do see someone, you should bring it to my attention. Otherwise, good night." And with that, she went loudly on her way -- but not before tucking away what was unmistakably some sort of wand or staff.
Taek waited before the faerie was fully out of earshot before demanding, "Dyana, what was that for? Why didn't you just hand the pine cone over and be done with?"
"I resent that!" snapped Jhudora as she hoisted herself with great difficulty from the leaf pile, hurriedly brushing bits off her hair. "For the last time, the name is Jhudora -- additional titles such as 'The Dark One' and 'She Who is to be Feared' can be tacked on at your choosing, but certainly not pine cone. And you, you foolish Eyrie, will regret demeaning me like that, I promise."
Dyana rolled her eyes as she lifted the tiny faerie up and placed her back on her head. "There, happy now? We had to hide her, Taek. Imagine what ruckus the two rivals could cook up if we just let them meet up here. Illusen is angry, and an argument would wake half of Meridell up... and then things would get really messy. Everyone would want to know what had happened, and I'm sure our faerie friends would rather resolve this quietly than having to reveal themselves like this."
"I love how you simpletons talk about me as if I'm not here," Jhudora sneered, holding the Ruki's antennae as they continued to walk. "You don't know half of what's going on."
Taek jumped on that. "Then why don't you tell us?" he suggested.
The dark faerie assumed a sour expression. "I'll do better than that; I'll show you. Here we are..."
Date: Jan 27th
The motley trio entered a small clearing, a sylvan glade that permitted the lamp of Kreludor to illuminate a lone figure who stood in its centre.
"Who...?" Dyana began, but the outrider on her head interrupted with a hiss, "The Aisha Enchantress." She then added, even though it hardly needed to be said, "The one who did this to me." And even though it was very plain by now, Jhudora concluded with, "And Illusen. She's the one who made her big."
"But how...?" Taek asked, and once again the dark faerie broke in: "Enchantment. Duh."
In the brief span of time that it took for these questions to be nearly asked and abruptly answered, the Aisha in the clearing turned and levelled a curious gaze in the direction of the interlopers. Her robes of yellow and orange seemed impossibly fine and iridescent, as though spun from Spyder silk and dyed with the dew of dawn. Her eyes, however, hinted of something more fearsome, glinting like harder stuff, like fine-cut jewels. As she levelled her hard gaze on the three, she asked, "Why do you disturb my solitude? Who gave you permission to enter the grove?"
Just as she felt Jhudora jumping angrily to her feet, Dyana clamped both hands down, hard, upon the top of her head, restraining the peevish and struggling faerie while trying to pretend she had just been hit with a blinding headache, wincing and mouthing "Ow" under her breath.
Taek filled the silence with another question, "Are you the Aisha Enchantress?"
The fire within the Aisha's eyes flashed dangerously and she demanded, "Who told you that?"
Not knowing if the Aisha had seen Jhudora, or indeed how she would feel about the dark faerie's accusation, Dyana deflected the question with yet another question. "Are you not the Aisha Enchantress then?"
The Aisha closed her eyes in thought and with a sigh replied, "That is my title. I am the Aisha Enchantress, the Keeper of the Sacred Grove, the High Lady of the Forest. But none of those is my name."
All of a sudden, Jhudora bit down hard on a soft part of the Ruki's palm, which caused Dyana to remove her hands with a yelp, permitting the faerie to exclaim, "I have a few names I'd like to call you."
The Aisha laughed and said, "Ah, so it becomes plain, how you two... nobodies... would dare to enter the Sacred Grove without my permission."
"I'm sorry," Dyana said, sensing that the situation was becoming even more dangerous. "We can go now."
The Aisha raised her arms, letting the belled sleeves of her robes billow out from her sides like diaphanous curtains of mist, and said, "I'm afraid you can not go now. By ancient rite, no one may enter my Grove without my permission." As the Aisha spoke, she waved her arms slightly through the air, causing the leaves on the trees all around them to rustle like whispering, jealous rivals. "And by ancient rite, those who do dare enter uninvited, will not leave until I say so."
Dyana gasped and, pulling the faerie off of her head and holding her at eye-level, asked in a low voice, "Jhudora, can't you just magic us out of here?"
"Nope," the faerie snapped and using a whiny, mimicking voice and annoyingly hooking her fingers into air quotes, said, "By ancient rite faeries who enter the Sacred Grove without permission will forfeit their powers to the Aisha Enchantress." Barking out a scoffing laugh, she continued, "Don't you think I would just turn myself back into my glorious self if I could?"
"What have you gotten us into?" Taek growled, and when Dyana looked at her friend she was shocked to see that he had directed the question toward her and not the mischievous faerie.
Turning back to the Aisha, Dyana boldly said, "We came by accident. Perhaps Jhudora tricked us, but we mean you no harm. Please let us leave."
The Aisha lowered her arms and took a few steps toward the Ruki, though "steps" might not be quite the word to describe the way that she appeared to float effortlessly along the ground.
"You may leave when you agree to my terms."
"Anything!" Dyana and Taek blurted out together.
"A quest," the Aisha said, lowering her eyes. "There's something I want you to find for me."
Dyana remembered Illusen stomping through the forest, searching under rocks and bushes. "Yes, anything," the Ruki agreed.
"Very well," the Enchantress purred. "I need you to find my name."
"What?" Taek asked, also thinking about Illusen and her apparently fruitless search. "And what if we can't find it?"
The fire returned once more to the Aisha's eyes as she hissed, "If you don't find my name..."
Date: Jan 27th
"...by the first light of dawn, then you must remain in the Sacred Grove forever."
The two aghast friends stared with wide eyes at the mystical Enchantress.
"But... you... you wouldn't want us hanging around here, always, um, disturbing your solitude, would you?" pleaded Dyana, her normally courageous voice reduced to a hoarse whimper.
The Aisha threw her head back to deride the ignorant and, in all probability, doomed pets. Her laughter sent chills through the two.
"You fool!" she scoffed. "You will become naught but a blade of grass within my grove, and you will belong to me for all time!" She laughed, her glowing eyes magnificent and terrifying.
Just then an eerie breeze swept through the grove, shifting the ample grass in it to and fro. As the wind whipped through the tender blades of grass, it made an unnatural noise that almost sounded like thousands of tiny whispers.
The Eyrie and the Ruki remained standing motionless before the Aisha Enchantress, both beyond the point of panic and terror that would have caused them to scream or run away.
"Hey, what about me?" Jhudora interrupted, clearly unconcerned with the fate of the two pets.
"You know very well what will happen to you, should you not complete my quest, Jhudora," the Enchantress stated calmly.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. But come on. Don't I get something for bringing you two more additions to your collection?" the dark faerie snickered.
"Jhudora!" Dyana hissed, simultaneous with Taek's growl directed toward the mini one. The Aisha merely smiled.
"Oh, calm down, you two. I was only half-serious," Jhudora snorted.
"By the first light of dawn," the Enchantress repeated. Then she again lifted her arms upward, tilting her head toward the stars as her whole body became engulfed in a refulgent glow that caused the trio to shield their eyes. By the time the blinking pets and their tiny companion were able to open their eyes again, the Aisha had disappeared.
Silence fell over the three as they attempted to digest what had just happened.
"How..." Taek started. "How could you have gotten us into such a horrible mess, Dyana?!" the Eyrie shrieked when he was finally able to speak again.
"You're blaming all of this on me?" the hurt Ruki gasped, taken aback at her friend's harsh accusation.
"You couldn't just leave it alone, could you? You never can! I've always known that someday your silly adventures would get us into big trouble, and now one finally has!" Taek panted furiously.
"Come on, Taek," Dyana besought weakly, trying to hold back the hot tears that were beginning to well up in her eyes. "We can do this. I know that if we work togeth-"
"How, Dyana? How in Neopia are we ever supposed to find out that crazy Aisha's name, huh? Do you have some kind of brilliant plan? Well, I'm sick of listening to you! I'll do this on my own!" the Eyrie huffed, turning on his heel and storming away from his once best friend and disappearing into the darkness of the woods.
Dyana stood silently. The tears that had been trying to escape finally rolled down her cheeks triumphantly. Was she really to blame for what was likely to be her and Taek's demise? She had always pushed him further and further with trying new and exciting things, and now she had finally pushed both of them to the limit...
"Well that was a bit of an overreaction," Jhudora finally scoffed, causing Dyana to jump a bit. She had nearly forgotten about that annoying pine cone on her head.
"I'll say," she sniffed. She really didn't feel like talking to the betraying dark faerie, but it seemed that Jhudora was all she had left. The Ruki considered following after Taek, and took a small step in that direction.
"Don't do it," Jhudora said flatly. "I know anger, and right now his is indomitable. Besides, you're only going to waste precious time by following after that grumpy lout. I have some ideas about this name thing, and none of them involve going in that direction."
Dyana pondered this for a moment. Taek had been a little unfair to her. After all, how was she supposed to foretell something so bizarre would happen? If Taek wanted to go search for the Aisha's name alone, then fine. Let him!
"You're right," she said defiantly, wiping her tears away.
"I always am," Jhudora smirked. She grabbed on to Dyana's antennae and yanked them in the direction opposite of the way Taek had gone. "That way!"
The Ruki followed Jhudora's lead with a new urgency about her movements, realising that dawn wasn't all that far away.
"Jhudora?" the Ruki questioned. "What is going to happen to you at dawn if you don't find the Aisha's name?"
"Ugh... I'll turn into a ray of sunlight! Of all things!" Jhudora made a gagging noise.
"You know," the dark faerie continued, "none of this would have happened if it weren't for that insufferable earth faerie!"
Taek finally slowed his run to a walk. In his furious mindset, he hadn't really been watching where he was going. Now that his anger was starting to subside, fear and reason were beginning to take its place. How was he ever going to find out the Enchantress's name by himself?
As the woods became less and less familiar, Taek started regretting parting from his friend more and more. Perhaps he had been a bit irrational...
Suddenly he heard a noise. The Eyrie stiffened as he listened to the wheezing sound that seemed to be coming from someplace in front of him. Was it a Whoot calling in the tree? Taek surely hoped so.
Letting his paws touch the ground ever so lightly, Taek precariously walked forward. He didn't know what his plan was, or why he decided to keep going toward the noise, but it seemed that he was rapidly running out of other options. The uncharacteristic bravery of his actions felt rather liberating, and a melancholy feeling pained his heart as he suddenly wished his Ruki friend was with him to witness his boldness.
As the Eyrie got closer to the noise, he began to realise that it was no Whoot. It was something much bigger...
Taek hid behind a tree when he was certain that the noise-maker was very close indeed. He slowly peeked out from behind the tree. There, sitting in the middle of a (very large) clearing, was Illusen. Her head was in her hands, and she was sobbing.
As Taek looked at her, he was overwhelmed with sympathy for the poor creature. Although the normally affable faerie had been terribly out of character tonight, Taek finally understood the weight of the burden she was bearing.
"Um... Illusen?" he asked softly, approaching her cautiously.
The faerie jerked her head up, and for a frightened moment, Taek felt that he should run quickly in the other direction. However, Illusen's eyes softened at the sight of the familiar Eyrie.
"Oh, you again," she said, but there was no real spite in her words. "What am I going to do? She... I am going to be turned into a shadow!" the faerie cried, enormous tears running down her cheeks.
After a silence fell between the two, Taek finally said, "Well, if it's any consolation, I'm going to be turned into a blade of grass."
Illusen looked at him in surprise for a moment, then she let out a booming laugh that filled the forest. Taek even managed to chuckle a bit at the couple's impending doom. What else could he do?
When Illusen finally calmed down, bitterness replaced the amusement on her face.
"You know," she huffed, "none of this would have happened if it weren't for that vile dark faerie..."
Date: Jan 28th
"What do you mean?" asked Taek.
"Well. Have you ever had rainbow dung dropped on your head by a crazy dark faerie floating around on a cloud of noxious fumes?"
Dyana and her stylish hat -- that is to say, Jhudora -- made their way through the forest, several miles from where Taek and Illusen were.
"How exactly did you end up going through the Enchantress's Sacred Grove without permission, anyway?" asked Dyana at length.
Jhudora had the grace to look embarrassed as she fiddled with a microscopic ring on her finger before answering.
"Um. I was chasing Illusen on my cloud and trying to drop things on her head, such as rainbow dung and a couple free weights and a Neohome, and neither of us were watching where we were going, and the next thing I knew we'd gone over the Sacred Line, and my cloud disappeared and my magic was gone and the Enchantress had drawn in both of our powers and basically it sucks to be me right now."
Dyana was silent as Jhudora struggled to recover her breath after her lengthy diatribe.
"The Enchantress transformed us as soon as she had absorbed our magic. Said I had a huge ego and she would shrink my big head, but I didn't think she meant it literally," Jhudora continued, looking downcast and rather pathetic in her reduced state.
"Hah! That imbecile! The Enchantress found her lacking in generosity with those who complete her quests, so she decided to give her a bigger heart. And made her a bigger everything, apparently."
Dyana glanced quizzically upward at the dark faerie.
"The Enchantress doesn't seem to be able to control her magic very well," she remarked. "I mean really. You're a complete shrimp, but your ego is still intact as far as I can tell."
"You don't need to tell me that," answered Jhudora huffily. "We forfeited our magic to her, and apparently she doesn't know what she's doing with all of that power.
"So we have to find her name, because I need to get my power back, pronto. Not to mention my elegant height."
"What kind of thing are we looking for?" asked Dyana as the duo moved through the dark forest, eyes on the alert for anything useful.
"Something that is fairly obviously imbued with powerful magic," answered Jhudora, thoughtful instead of snarky, for a moment. "Something that could speak the Enchantress's name to us. Something..."
Jhudora's voice trailed off as she lapsed into a pensive pause, and Dyana walked on through the dusky woods, the scene oddly surreal under a moonless sky illuminated only by the constellations spilling across the Neopian firmament like strings of pearls.
Jhudora seemed to be listening very hard for something, or sensing for something, that only she was aware of. Occasionally she directed Dyana's steps further in a particular direction, or halted her progress only to turn around and retrace a path that she had already taken.
"Left here," breathed Jhudora at last.
Jhudora held out a tiny hand and it flickered briefly purple, a meagre remnant of the power that was once hers. "There's something here. Get closer to that oak..."
Jhudora and Dyana both jumped as a swarm of Lightmites swirled into existence before their eyes, blinking and glowing whitely, a thousand heartbeats of light.
The Lightmite swarm hovered curiously in front of the two of them, collapsing now and then into itself as though unable to sustain its own iridescent beauty in the dark, moon-forsaken night.
"Speak to me," breathed Jhudora to the dancing lights. "Tell me what I need to know. The Enchantress's name. It is vital."
The swarm froze, as though processing this demand in its collective mind. And then a musical multitude of voices replied, tinkling like a thousand of the sweetest wind chimes:
"You are not a dweller of our forest. You are a cloud-rider, one of the upper elements, one of Faerieland. We only follow one faerie, a true woodlander -- Illusen."
And Illusen's name was sighed by a thousand voices.
Jhudora's groan was loud enough to shake the old oak tree to its very roots.
"Fetch us Illusen, and we will speak the name you wish to hear..."
Date: Jan 28th
"No way," Jhudora said. "There's no way I'm going to go groveling to that overgrown, snooty--"
Dyana clamped her hand on her head, covering up Jhudora's voice. "We'll get her, no problem."
At the acceptance of their request, the Lightmite swarm went back into their oak, letting the forest become dark once more.
Dyana let go, and immediately Jhudora began ranting. "How could you? There's no way I could go groveling to that faerie, not after I put rainbow dung on her head! Illusen's not that forgiving."
"Don't worry," Dyana said. "You don't have to. I'm sure she'd be glad to help a nice Neopet from being turned into a blade of grass. Come on, she's probably near the grove somewhere. She surely won't be too hard to spot."
With that, Dyana began walking toward the place from where they had come, a certain dark faerie grumbling all the way.
"So it wasn't long before you two were stumbling into the Aisha Enchantress's sacred place?" Taek asked.
"That's right," Illusen confirmed. "As a consequence, she told me she'd give me a bigger heart, but that wasn't the only thing she made double the size."
At that moment, several twigs snapped and many leaves were rustled as Dyana came through the bushes, Jhudora coming along.
"There you two are!" Dyana proclaimed. "We've been looking for you."
"Oh, yeah? For what?" Taek questioned bitterly, still a bit angry with his friend.
"We've found a way to get the Enchantress's name, but we need Illusen to get it," Dyana told her friend. She turned to Illusen now. "So will you come with us so we can save ourselves from being turned to blades of grass?"
Illusen crossed her arms. "How do I know you're not lying? After all, you've got Jhudora with you."
"I don't lie. Taek knows that. Right, Taek? I don't lie?" The Ruki stared at her friend with the utmost sincere pleading.
Taek nodded, shoving his anger away. "That's right. She doesn't lie ever." He smiled at Dyana, and she smiled back. He knew that their friendship was good as ever now.
"All right, I suppose I could come with you," Illusen agreed. "But if it's a trick..."
"No, don't worry, it's not. Come with me, Illusen." Dyana began to lead her where they had found the oak of the Lightmites, and Illusen and Taek followed, Illusen's footsteps echoing throughout the forest.
"So where are we going?" Illusen asked.
"There's this oak with a bunch of Lightmites," Dyana explained. "They said that they knew the name, but they'd only tell you."
Illusen nodded. "I know the swarm you speak of."
Soon enough, they were at the oak. As they neared, the Lightmites came out, lighting up the forest. They hovered around Illusen, bathing her in their warm yellow light.
"See? We brought you Illusen," Dyana told them. "Could you please tell us the name now?"
"Of course," the swarm's melodic voices replied. "We shall tell you the name..."
Date: Jan 29th
"...but it is for Illusen alone to hear."
The other three's eyes widened at this unexpected condition. Then--
"What?!" Jhudora screeched, reacting first and most vehemently, as expected. "Look, this... this is crossing the line! You'll tell it to her, but not the rest? I'm the one who's been made bug-sized, I'm the one reduced to using some Ruki as my ferry; I'm the one who's been casually dubbed pine cone three times tonight. I have obviously received the sharp end of the stick. And who's to say Illusen won't just walk off with the key out of here and make a deal with the Enchantress to leave me stranded?"
Incidentally, the above was precisely what the dark faerie herself had been planning to do to her rival, hence the deep mistrust.
"If 'some Ruki' is too lowly to ferry her majesty around, feel free to jump off anytime," Dyana said, though she did so with a good-humoured smile. "We'll meet you outside the Grove in ten weeks' time while you scramble over mushrooms. Whoops, I forgot -- you'll be a ray of sunshine long before that."
Jhudora scowled darkly, hugging Dyana's antenna in a self-protective manner. The Lightmite swarm's collective luminescence glimmered silently as this discussion commenced.
There was a sigh from the earth faerie. "I'll give my word if it reassures you. Besides, leaving you behind is out of question, seeing as you yourself have a part to play in this."
"And what's that?" Jhudora asked, scepticism written all over her tiny features.
"You alone know where in the Sacred Grove the Aisha Enchantress can be found," her adversary answered simply.
There was a pause. "Fine."
Illusen gave a nod, reaching out her gloved hands to the Lightmite swarm as she did so. "Lights of the Grove, tell me your Enchantress's name," she murmured.
At that, the daffodil glow intensified, bordering on silver. The multitude of chiming voices was a sigh that hung in the forest air. They were words, but words foreign to Jhudora, Dyana, and Taek -- the language of the woodlands sung for their beloved Illusen's ears alone to understand. It was beautiful, gentle, the denotation of mystique.
And then the magic was fading as quickly as it had come, and the night was silent once more.
The earth faerie smiled, but there was also surprise mingled in that smile.
"Well?" Jhudora demanded, apparently unwilling (or unable) to appreciate the allure of her rival's element.
"They -- it -- told you the name?" Taek asked, to which Illusen responded with an inclination of her head.
"Lead the way, Jhudora," she said. "Rarely does the swarm leave their oak, but for me, it will light our path to the Enchantress." She revealed no more.
Jhudora did not press the matter, knowing first light could not be too far along the horizon. A few seconds was all it took for the faerie to find whatever she was listening for. "Turn back the way we came," she told Dyana, giving the Ruki's antennae an unnecessary tug.
"Opposing forces have a unique bond," Illusen explained to Taek as she waved the Lightmite swarm around the foursome. "The Enchantress's element is light; Jhudora's familiarity with darkness points her toward the polar aura."
On they trekked through the dense ground cover of stray twigs and fallen leaves, the silence interrupted only by footsteps and Jhudora's occasional directing.
"This is it," she hissed, and the swarm scattered into the darkness with Illusen's thanks.
They had found the clearing, where a familiar silhouette stood waiting. There was a swift motion of summoning, and light surrounded the Aisha Enchantress -- though it was not the comforting kind of light the swarm had displayed, but a cold, almost lonely beacon...
"You have returned," she said, acknowledging the unlikely group at the edge of the glade. "And what of my name? What is your answer?"
Illusen did not answer right away. "The forest has told me, but that is not the only thing it had to reveal. The Lightmite swarm knew your name, and above all, they knew why you needed your name."
The Aisha's eyes narrowed.
"You were charged long ago to protect the Sacred Grove," Illusen continued. "At first, you lamented your fate -- but you grew to love the oaks, the life between the trees. Isolation became an anodyne, and slowly you became one with these woods.
"Your identity is so intermingled with the forest by now that you yourself cannot leave. At the same time, you miss the salt of ocean's spray; you miss the stars from Brightvale's turrets. You miss the feeling of Lost Desert's sand-grains under your feet. By reclaiming your name, you hope to be yourself again. All this time, you've been using travellers to help you recover what was yours. That... is the story the Lightmites relayed to me."
Far from expressing the regret Illusen had described, the Enchantress's features hardened. "Enough. You of all faeries should know it is never wise to let the past resurface. You say you have the name; then let me have it again."
Illusen hesitated -- and at that moment, the others finally saw the truth.
"It is already yours," the earth faerie breathed, "and you already know it. You are the Aisha Enchantress, High Lady of the Forest, Keeper of the Sacred Grove. You are the appointed protector of these woods. The reason you cannot depart lies not in the loss of your name, for you already know it -- but in your love for the forest. This is where you belong. This is who you are."
The Enchantress was silent.
The sky had gradually lightened over the treetops, no longer an impenetrable indigo -- and as Illusen's revelation hung there for them to ponder, the lance of first light skimmed gently over the glade, mingling with the Enchantress's magic.
"I see," she remarked at last. "You, the two, and Jhudora have not been affected by your respective threats; therefore what you tell me must be the truth, though I wish it were not so..."
"Then... then we are free to leave?" Dyana asked, incredulous.
"Hang on!" interrupted the tiny Jhudora. "I'm not leaving until you change me back."
"Illusen is not the only one the swarm has conversed with," the Enchantress said. "I am bound to release her, at least. The Lightmites insist so, and the balance of the forest is vital. But as for the two campers, and you... I am not sure your ego has properly dwindled as I had wanted."
"Enchantress," said Illusen, "the lights of the Grove will be displeased unless these three are freed with me, because I wish it so."
"What?!" Jhudora demanded.
"Balance in the woodland is indeed vital, as it is outside. You and I complete each other. It is equilibrium."
Dyana and Taek were quick to thank the earth faerie, but she only responded, "It is certainly not out of pity in Jhudora's case, but what is necessary."
"Don't think you can use this against me for the rest of our lives, you green blockhead," Jhudora huffed.
"Very well, then," said the Aisha Enchantress. "Know that I, too, act out of what is necessary..."
Then she clasped her paws, and the last they saw of her was an expression of peace, as though a heavy portcullis had finally been lifted free...
Dyana and Taek opened their eyes to the tapered end of their tent, both bundled in their sleeping bags. The canopy above was not of oak.
What a vivid dream, Taek pondered, as Dyana strangely recalled something about a bad-tempered pine cone.
Faerieland was its usual busy torrent of noises, and Jhudora found herself outside her cloud, still pondering which would be better to drop on Illusen: a water balloon or a bowl of soggy spaghetti.
A flash of sunlight caught her eye just then, and she winced at the memory.
Perhaps both, but she would have have to be careful about crossing a certain line this time...
Illusen was welcomed by the fresh Meridellian morning, and already, hopeful questers were already outside her Glade, discussing the elusive Honey Potion.
I may actually give out some of those today, she thought.
An oddly large glove glove lay draped over her bedside table, as if she actually needed to be reminded.
Date: Jan 29th
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