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Walk or Swim


by digital_microwave

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The pale streaks of crimson against the dirty blonde of the water faerie's hair shone a little bit more that day as sunlight streamed down into the aqua mass. The water faerie Sierra herself was almost bouncing with delight too, for today, more water faeries were being born, and she was to supervise the process.

      Faeries, unlike Neopets, do not need to be created; they just appear. Sierra was watching out for the faintest sound or sign and pricked up her pointed ears, waiting expectantly. Finally, she heard something that gave her a prick of joy: a bubble's pop.

      A fairly large bubble had dissipated to reveal the slumbering faerie infant within. Sierra caught the bubbles one by one, laying the babies carefully on the sandy shore of her cave. She was enjoying herself a lot, until she saw something that made her inhale sharply.

      It was almost going to be the last bubble. Sierra observed one that had a certain malevolent green glow about it, and suddenly became unnerved. Picking it up gently as not to hurt herself, she popped the strange bubble with her fingernail and saw…a water faerie baby with legs.

      Surely it must have been some sort of trick? From the dawn of time, all water faeries bore fins instead of legs, clumsy things that they were! She tentatively cast a spell to determine the baby's type, and was greeted by a howl of pain, the small faerie kicking her legs, her arms flailing uncontrollably. Soon, all the other faeries had followed suit, and Sierra's eardrums were pounding, the peace once residing disturbed.

      Hastily, she cast a sleeping spell, and left the other babies in a web of shimmering midnight blue magic as she teleported the one with legs and herself to Faerie City, to the castle where Queen Fyora lived.

      She arrived at the pastel pink construction with its violet rooftops, and was going to enter when two Lupes stopped her.

      "Purpose of visit?" one growled, wearing a stern poker face.

      "Umm…I'm taking this unusual water faerie baby to Queen Fyora for her advice on this matter," Sierra answered.

      "Just to check, let us see this 'unusual' baby," the other Lupe ordered, sounding dubious.

      Sierra let them inspect the small being, and they gasped, their mouths agape. She was sure they were as shocked as she was.

      Once inside, Sierra sailed over to the Faerie Queen, who was looking imposing sitting on her golden throne but also wearing a benign smile on her face. Her advisory council was with her, and clearly she had heard the conversation outside.

      "What seems to be the matter?" Fyora asked.

      Sierra presented the baby. Each faerie gawked, let out cries of surprise or frowned suddenly. A bold air faerie spoke up. "I've never seen a water faerie with legs! She must be from the dark faeries! Destroy her!"

      Fyora quickly stopped her. "Fantasia," she said gently, "we must not be brash about this. I know that it's a water faerie. Can't you see the webbed wings at the back? Furthermore, we have seen Sierra prove it too in the orb." Looking away from the blushing faerie, she stated gravely to her council, "Any ideas? Or do you second the motion that this faerie should stay with Sierra?" A lot of hands went up at the second suggestion, and there was a unanimous murmur. "Very well then," Fyora turned to Sierra, "will you be responsible for the upbringing of this faerie? Make her your apprentice."

      Sierra nodded her head slowly, bowing low. She knew that she could not refuse, because it was an order. She would raise the young faerie well, she knew, and she would train the faerie to be better than the others. And most of all, she would not let her legs become a liability but a useful asset.

      ***

      Nerona threw up her hands in triumph as she surveyed the bright tangerine liquid congealing in her silver cauldron. She had finally concocted a Duplica, a carbon copy of herself. The torso and head were slowly shaping up, the thick orange paste making awful, gross squelching and sucking sounds as flowing locks, two slender hands and legs appeared. Legs, she thought to herself. Why did she have legs but not fins? Why was she different? She turned to the watching Sierra, who was now older and more wrinkled. Sierra spied the expression on her apprentice's face and started to groan. "How many times do I have to tell you I cannot narrate why you have legs?" she admonished firmly, hands on her hips.

      "Please, you told me this since I was a little faerie girl! Until now, when I am older, you always said! I am older now, but you've never even bothered!" Nerona raged. Her Duplica, now complete, was mimicking her gestures and her facial expressions, even the exact words that she said. It would've been comical, if not for the fact that friction existed between the two faeries. Sierra pointed that out, and Nerona quickly bound her Duplica up at once.

      While the young faerie was struggling with tying the writhing Duplica to a rock, Sierra had time to immerse herself in her thoughts, her memories. The truth was, she also didn't know why Nerona was so different. Sure, she was headstrong, and a formidable opponent at debating, but she was blinded by the streams of fury that emitted from her confused mind. If she confessed that even she didn't know, maybe Nerona would loosen up a little.

      Gesturing for the faerie to come, Sierra seated herself on a large, moss-covered rock while preparing her words carefully. As Nerona glided over, she began to explain, "Even I do not know why you are so queer. All I did was to raise you like Queen Fyora ordered me to. But be careful, for you are still a greenhorn. Do not be tempted by anything that you would like, because everything comes at a price. That concludes the lesson for today." And she swam off in search of food, leaving a very befuddled and pondering Nerona.

      Suddenly, a voice rang out through the boundless sea. Nerona rushed out, and was greeted by her friend, Katrina. "Your lessons already over? C'mon, let's go explore and have fun!" Katrina said, her jade eyes sparkling with merriment. Nerona was slightly pacified, given the fact that she was still very tangled up in the perplexing web of her history. Good old Katrina, always making her feel so welcome, showing her wonderful mysteries of what lay beyond the small cave she called home and being so optimistic.

      They went off into the watery depths, Katrina a little faster because of her tail. As Nerona straggled behind, she couldn't help feeling a little envious. But soon, she brightened as Katrina pointed to the most magnificent sight she had ever seen.

      An old, giant clam with a lavender-blue shell was dozing soundly in a corner, above the sandy sea bed. The water around it rippled and bubbles emanated whenever it gave a gentle little snore. Her curiousity piqued, Nerona swam a little nearer and touched the rough, barnacle-strewn shell. The giant clam shook a little, and then opened its mouth, showing off the large, gleaming pearl that nestled within. "It's okay," Katrina laughed, "it's waking up, and I think it likes you."

      The duo swam nearer, and the clam crooned softly. Although it could not talk, Nerona and the giant being seemed to be on the same wavelength, for they could understand one another perfectly. "Wow! I wish I was as good with sea creatures like you are," Katrina mumbled, hovering, her voice filled with longing. Nerona was about to reply, when she heard a distant rumbling. The clam snapped shut, and refused to open. "Hurry, Katrina! Danger is coming!" she warned, swimming away quickly.

      She was right, of course. A gigantic, deep pink form came over - a titanic giant squid! It lashed out its long, supple tentacles, making a grab for its prey. Nerona screeched, and Katrina grabbed her hand and they propelled themselves through the water at top speed.

      Suddenly, Nerona felt a strange tingle. She was sure - could it be? It was! The squid had its cold, heartless beady eyes fixed upon them, its next meal! Katrina seemed to have sensed it too, for she urged Nerona to move faster. However, her friend was quite out of breath, still kicking her legs furiously. Panting a little herself, she shouted words of encouragement to Nerona whilst making a superhuman effort to swim faster.

      The titanic squid was gaining, its grotesque tentacles waving wildly. Fortunately, Lady Luck was smiling upon them as they spied a cave that was small enough for them to go in, but not for the squid. After the ravenous creature had floated away, Katrina turned to heave a sigh of relief. However, Nerona had the opposite reaction. Her face ashen, eyes bulging from fear, she wanted to kick herself. Had she been born with a tail, she would've got away faster, safe and sound.

      Katrina was like a psychic. In an instant, she had placed a hand upon Nerona's shoulder and whispered consolations. Nerona hastily brushed the hand away, her mouth curled into a snarl unlike Jhudora's. "Don't try to comfort me, Katrina. It's my fault, I hate these legs!" She felt like hitting the peach-coloured extensions any moment, if not for stolid Katrina.

      "No, Nerona! You should be proud of your individuality, the fact that you are special." As usual, Nerona calmed down a little bit, but she couldn't help wishing fervently that she had a tail. Little did she know that she would get her wish quite soon.

      ***

      Nerona closed her book, looking up at Sierra contemptuously. The older faerie looked at the grumpy young one for a moment, reading her mind. "What can I do? I am concealing nothing! You cannot demand me to tell because I'm just as flummoxed as you are!" Her voice rose to a crescendo, her temper contrasting with her usually calm nature. Nerona knew it was wrong to hate Sierra, her guardian, but the secrets that lay behind her strange appearance were too tempting to ignore. She felt that Sierra knew something that she didn't, and she wanted to press it out of her. However, Sierra wasn't hiding anything, and was trying her best to confirm the fact. The two faeries stared daggers at each other, the good connection between them threatening to snap. A battle of the mouths began.

      "I just have that feeling that you know something that I don't!" Nerona snarled.

      "No, I don't, how many times do I have to tell you?!" Sierra shouted in response.

      "I want to KNOW!" Nerona was almost going to slap the wise faerie.

      "I don't know, you ignorant student! You think you're so great, but you're foolish as well!" was the snapped answer.

      "Liar!" Nerona sneered, and swam off without a word. Sierra let herself lose her buoyancy, sinking onto the sandy bottom. Why did Queen Fyora give her this headache? Why did Nerona even exist? Why was she the one to answer all those rude questions? Why, why, why! Her musings became fits of anger, and she punched the water.

      Nerona had meanwhile gone off, choosing a direction arbitrarily. She didn't notice the darkening waters, almost black with all the murkiness that hung around it. She didn't notice the water becoming icier every passing second, for she was still angry. Light could never penetrate this darkness, for all hope, happiness and all things beautiful could never thrive. Oblivious to the obvious clues, Nerona still kicked herself forward. It was then; she swam into the trap that changed her perspective forever.

      A commanding cave yawned ahead, bubbles emitting from within, lights blinking and the occasional flare burning. A lavender bubble popped on Nerona's nose, and she felt a sting. She quickly rubbed it forcefully with the sleeve of her robe, and drifted nearer to the large cave. Suddenly, she detected a hint of movement, and ducked behind a large yellow-green patch of kelp. A head poked out, with glinting yellow eyes and a mop of dull blonde hair, almost a muddy brown. Nerona quaked, for this was none other than a member of the Drenched. The water faerie, no-the water witch came out, her thin bony hands with their long fingernails shooting sparks of black magic everywhere. Nerona pressed herself against the cave's wall, and tried to stay quiet. She hoped that the witch hadn't seen her…

      However, she was wrong. A figure reached out from below, another water witch, with spikes running down her back. She grinned maliciously, and dragged Nerona into the cave. The faerie screamed and kicked, but an invisible nexus had covered all traces of sound or light. She even tried magic, but the nexus absorbed that too.

      "Eleanor, what have you brought back?" the oldest of the Drenched asked (at least Nerona thought so, for she looked more matured).

      "Why, a very special water faerie, Elaine," Eleanor answered, dumping the struggling Nerona onto the jagged stone floor.

      The witch that had done the scanning just now floated back in, her face wearing a contented look. "Why, it's Nerona, the one with legs," she taunted, feigning surprise. Nerona only glared back.

      "We know you want fins so much, huh?" Elaine mocked, circling Nerona, who was imprisoned by some cord. Nerona kept quiet, holding her breath. Eleanor raided the coarse makeshift shelves at the back, and threw a potion bottle into the air. "Catch, Elena!" Elena, along with her sisters, surrounded Nerona. "Drink," Elaine ordered. Nerona shook her head defiantly, observing the blood-red liquid, stained with aqua inside the bottle. Suddenly, she felt the cords constricting her, threatening to squash her into pulp. The thick cord cut into her delicate skin, leaving red ridges, but still she closed her mouth. Another snap of the fingers was heard, and she cried out in pain as the cords almost broke her skin. At that moment, when her mouth was open, the contents were dumped into her mouth.

      Surprisingly, it didn't hurt, although she wished it would. It was a little disturbing, but something stirred inside her heart. Was it a pang of guilt? Or sorrow? Nerona couldn't tell. Her jaw dropped as a tickle spread down her legs, for now in place of her legs was a magnificent tail, glimmering silver under the glow of a lamp. "Puny faerie, you now have your tail. Go!" Eleanor commanded.

      Funny, Nerona thought. Why didn't they ask for any payment? The Drenched always are asking for something in return. Maybe, just maybe they are in a good mood. With that imprudent thought in her mind and a mix of emotions in her heart, she went home, her new tail aiding her.

      ***

      "No way!" Katrina exclaimed, her face white with shock. "You cannot possibly have a tail!"

      "Yes, I have," Nerona answered smoothly while searching for a suitable explanation. Katrina would desert her if she knew her tail was well…illegal or something like that. "I found out how to make a tail potion from the library," she lied. But still, she felt uneasy, and plastered her face with a fake smile as she tried to hide the weariness of it all.

      ***

      Nerona rubbed her eyes, the surroundings still blurry. She seemed to be in a void of some sort, sickeningly black, indigo and grey. Out of the distance, she heard a soft weeping. Obeying her instincts, Nerona started off in search of the source, following the current. The void was not only trapping her but following her where she went as well, like a bubble. The incessant weeping was within earshot, louder and more chilling. She traced the sound, and came to a clearing, the void disappearing suddenly. The wailing was at its loudest, and Nerona parted the sea of red kelp.

      A tear-stained face peered out from the insides of the giant clam Katrina had showed her, sullen and depressed, the mouth sunken in but the eyes open with curiousity. Suddenly, it became the embodiment of malice, spite and rage, for the once wide eyes now scrunched up tight, the mouth turned down and teeth clenched. Suddenly, the figure morphed into a terrifying sight, horns protruding from its head and wet rags clinging to its body, huge and lumbering, but effective for squeezing. Nerona tried to swim away, but her silvery tail was no match for its feet, making long, loping strides. Suddenly, a fist punched down, and Nerona was imprisoned in its iron grasp. She cried out for help, mustering all her strength to summon a strong spell, but she was too distracted and too weak. She could feel the burning pain, her bones almost crunching…

      Nerona woke up suddenly, her face glistening from the sweat, her mouth muttering incoherent gibberish. The same nightmare had plagued her again. Sierra was right - everything came at a price and she had fallen into the pit of greed in exchange for her tail. She had been consumed by darkness, the payment for all of this. She raised a hand to her thumping heart, and decided to do the only thing to go back into the sane world - seek Sierra's help.

      ***

      Sierra tossed around uncomfortably as she felt someone shake her. "G'way," she said, her voice slurred. Nerona pinched her cheek lightly, and that woke Sierra up. She blinked, suddenly eyeing Nerona. "What are you here for?" she asked coldly.

      "I'm really, really sorry for the way I acted," Nerona gushed, and proceeded to tell her tale with nary a pause. "Help me, please," she begged, her hands put together as a gesture of sincerity. Sierra noticed the tail for the first time, and agreed readily. Honestly, her apprentice was so idiotic this time. She led Nerona deeper into her cave, where a great many fat spell books sat on her bookshelves. She whisked one down, and commanded Nerona to close her eyes. Next, she asked the young faerie to lead her to the place where she had seen the monster in her nightmare. Temporarily blind, Nerona's sense of direction worked furiously together with her imagination as she shepherded Sierra to the red kelp patch.

      Suddenly, a loud roar replaced the weeping that was supposed to be there. Nerona's eyes shot open, and she saw the monster, only this time it was real. She shook, and quickly darted away. Sierra acted quickly, shooting stunning spells, but the monster seemed immune, for it kept on striding through the kelp. Nerona came to help, shooting binds and doing a little stunning herself. However, it proved unnecessary, as the monster broke through the binds easily. The lessons with her guardian coming back to her suddenly, Nerona made her eyes cloud over as she stared into the monster's own - hypnotism. She had learned that hypnotizing weakens the mind, thus lessening self-control. Sierra grabbed the chance, and covered it in a net of violet threads, shouting, "Show yourself, beast!" The threads contracted until the beast stared to show bulges, its massive weight straining them.

      Nerona gaped, her arms dangling uselessly by her side as the huge monster dwindled in size and became a water faerie, one with legs, her hair limp and her bony hands crossed on her chest. Upon closer inspection, Nerona saw that these legs looked oddly familiar. Then she realized it: those were her legs, and a pearly tear slid down her cheek. She was so stupid to have sacrificed her peace for this-she looked down at her tail-useless thing. Sierra, knowing Nerona inside-out, began to chant the incantations needed to reverse the effects of the potion. Nerona grabbed the unconscious faerie's hand, and joined tail and legs. She felt nothing, but saw that she had reverted back to her old self after a while. She gave a whoop of joy, and hugged Sierra tightly, thanking her all the time.

      After reviving the faerie and swimming away to avoid answering confusing questions, Sierra turned around and said austerely, "I hoped you have learned your lesson, Nerona. Whatever possessed you to do that? Greed, of course. So what if you have legs? Be proud of them. You are special." At that moment, she paused to stare into Nerona's green-blue eyes.

      Nerona nodded solemnly, absorbing all the words her guardian had just uttered. Walk or swim, she would choose to walk, for she had every right to enjoy the beauty of the mystifying sea and to live her life to its fullest.

The End

 
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