The hazy darkness in the clearing yielded to the emergent figure of a Shoyru. Ricky.
“You really shouldn’t follow people whose names you hardly know into these Woods, my dear,” he said as his hand rose from his side, clutching a wooden staff adorned with sickly vines. “You never know when you might be…” he trailed off as his voiced shifted to a higher, clearer octave. With an assuming swirl of the staff, the outline of the Shoyru transfigured into a hooded shadow. Emerald eyes glared through the veil of darkness, and a pale hand with gnarled fingernails drew back the hood to reveal Ilere, the elusive Faerie of the Haunted Woods.
Ilere seemed to float without breaking into stride. The Faerie approached her, eyeing the Gloomflower in her grasp as she continued, “The Gloomflower is the last ingredient I need for my Elixir of Youth. Though I know these forests like the back of my hand, I’ve searched for months. They say you sometimes need a…” she croaked, a crooked smile growing on her lips, “…fresh perspective to see what is right before you. I’ll be needing that flower now."
She was petrified, unknowingly grasping the Gloomflower so tightly that her paws turned white. Yet, the thought of her friends’ fate stirred in her a sense of confidence that enabled her to respond to the Faerie, “And what about my friends? The Poogle, Kacheek and Xweetok who entered the forest with us? Where are they?"
Ilere cackled, extending out her arm once more to reveal a bracelet of dried swamp grass strung with three green, glowing beads. “I’ve captured them in here. It never hurts to have souls at my disposal. They were useless: they stopped searching for the flower during our little game and no longer served a purpose."
She held the flower away from the Faerie and yelled, “Release them, or I won’t give you the Gloomflower!”
“My dear, you don’t have a say in this,” Ilere hissed back as she floated forward in pursuit of the Neopet who turned to run.
She weaved her way through the dark thickets and labyrinth of vines and gnarled trees, excruciatingly aware of the fact that Ilere pursued right behind her. After what seemed like a half hour of chasing, the whirl of the Faerie stopped, so she paused behind a boulder to collect her thoughts. “If my friends are imprisoned by the Faerie’s magic…” she thought with strained concentration,”... only the magic of a more powerful being could break the spell. But who…” An idea crept on her as Ilere stalked nearby. She jumped out from behind the boulder and hollered toward the Faerie, “If you want this Gloomflower, you better catch me!”
Guided by the moonlight, she ran through the woods in the direction that she originally came while dodging branches and trying to stay several paces in front of the Faerie. The Gloomflower was wilting in her hand, but she simply tightened her grip. She finally caught a glimpse through the innumerable trees of a spectral blue mass she passed by on her way in: the Esophagor.
Ilere was gaining on her as the two came to the clearing of the insatiable beast. She sprinted toward it, shouting “I brought you a snack!” as the Esophagor instinctively opened its hungry mouth.
She flung the Gloomflower toward the Esophagor as Ilere rushed to intercept it. Precious white petals from the flower flew through the air as the flower passed by its teeth. Ilere desperately reached into the Esophagor’s closing mouth to retrieve the flower as its jaw clamped directly on the beaded bracelet. In a blinding white light, the three Neopets were instantly released from their enchanted captivity in the spellbound beads. Everyone besides the Esophagor were buffeted by the breaking of the spell, and as the light faded, they all witnessed Ilere receding into the safety of the forest while nursing her injured hand.
“You saved us!” the Xweetok exclaimed at her. Cries of relief echoed around the Esophagor as the three Neopets hugged and thanked her.
Mere moments ago, she was filled with an anxious panic. Now, the adrenaline of the chase and of her outwitting the trickster Ilere left her feeling invincible. “I’m glad we’re all safe,” she sighed as their embrace tightened. “Now, let’s get us all home."