...struggled under her weight but eventually managed to find a gait she was comfortable at. Anita was not sure what chance she stood of challenging Peica the Proud in her current state, but she had to try. For herself, for the Prince, for the people of Altador.
And for Rainstorm.
Filled with new determination, Anita made her way around the castle walls. She wasn't sure where Peica had gone, but Rainstorm must have brought her out here for a reason.
Suddenly, from out of a guard tower, a large paw shot out and grabbed one of her stick-like arms. Anita gasped as she saw the angry visage of King Altador wielding a sword and fixing her with a stare that would freeze most Neopians in their tracks.
Most, but not her.
"Do not touch me, Peica the Proud," she commanded, sounding much braver than she felt.
King Altador recoiled. "Who told you that name?" he snarled.
"It does not matter," Anita replied. "I know you are an imposter, so show yourself!"
And before her eyes, she saw the form of King Altador seem to wobble, before his head swelled while his snout shrunk and ears lengthened. His torso shortened and his legs and arms both became as twig-like as Anita's own. The King's thick fur began to fall out and was replaced with matted grey fur. The end result facing Anita was a malformed grey Aisha.
Peica the Proud hissed at her: "Are you happy now, you snotty little brat? Does it satisfy you to look upon my true form?"
"What happened to you?" Anita asked.
"I was once beautiful and proud of it, just like you. But my subjects were not content to revel in my beauty, so they banded together and cursed me with this form," Peica snarled. She chuckled before continuing, "so I set out to make others like me. For every beautiful Neopian I make like me, I get some of my beauty back, you see. Those insolent peasants learned their tricks from Jerdana, so I thought it fitting to start here in Altador."
"You may have been beautiful on the outside, but you were never beautiful on the inside, or else this would have never happened. And you'll never be beautiful again unless you stop this," Anita pointed out.
"Enough talking!" Peica shouted. She began to walk around Anita, sizing her up and twirling the strange staff from before in her hand. "You may think we are equals in this form girl, but I have years of experience, as well as magic of my own. You stand no chance of defeating me alone."
"She's not alone."
Anita gasped in excited surprise as a wondrous Eventide Uni landed beside them. Thunder roared as his hooves thudded on the ground. As he landed, Anita saw that he was not alone. On his back were King Altador - the real King Altador - and the Crown Prince who was still a little wobbly as his body resisted Peica's magic.
"Enough, Peica," he said. "This ends now."
Peica had raised the staff, but Anita mustered all the power she could into her stick-like legs and lunged forward. Her girth was able to knock the staff from Peica's outstretched hand and she landed on it with a crunch.
"No!" Peica howled as she dropped to her spindly knees.
Anita gasped as she felt her body beginning to change, but it felt better. She had a feeling she was going back to normal. She must have broken the staff when she fell on it, and by doing so broke the curse on herself.
Anita felt a pair of gentle hands help her up and saw the Prince. He flashed her a brief smile which she returned as she saw King Altador and Rainstorm tying up Peica. The Aisha was now sporting a face full of boils she had not had previously.
Just as Peica was sufficiently bound, two guards ran up. King Altador shoved the Aisha toward them. "Lock her in the dungeons and see to it that there are absolutely no magical artifacts in the vicinity. We don't want this happening again."
"Oh, and put a big mirror in there with her, too, would you?" Anita added, unable to help herself.
She, the Prince, King Altador, and Rainstorm all laughed at that as Peica was led away.
"I must thank you, Lady Anita, for helping to break the curse. What you went through could not have been easy, but it needed to be done. Who knows what havoc she would have brought upon the kingdom," King Altador told the Kyrii. "If there is anything at all you want, please let me know."
Anita shook her head. "I don't really need anything," she replied. "I'm just glad everything is back to normal and I'm no longer... whatever I was. I think I'm just ready to go home and see my family."
"I can take you there," Rainstorm said with a nod.
"You must come back and visit us," the Prince implored with a wide smile.
"I think I might," Anita replied shyly with a smile of her own. She glanced between the Prince and King Altador. "What are you going to do now?"
"Well," King Altador replied, rubbing his chin and looking up at the ruined castle exterior where Rainstorm at flown in. He chuckled. "I think my first order of business is probably to repair my ballroom wall."