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The Price of Faith: Part One


by mutedsanity

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How does one begin a tale such as this? "Once upon a time"... how many times have we all heard that one? But leaping right in would be unfair and confusing. So perhaps I should start where all things do. At the beginning.

     My name is Pandora Hawthorn. I am a Darkness Faerie. I know what you think when you hear those words: A Darkness faerie-this must be an evil tale. And if that is the case, you would be utterly mistaken. This is a tale about a single Faerie whose life and spirit was changed forever because of a single injustice and then changed yet again because of a single person. This is my story.

     I was born in Faerieland, as most of my kind are. But my childhood was not of the rainbows and butterflies that may come to mind. No, from the beginning I was dealt a terrible hand of cards.

     My family of powerful Darkness Faeries worked for Jhudora herself. But they must have done something wrong or said a little too much to the wrong people-they were all killed by their own leader's hand. Who knows what they did to bring on such a punishment? Whatever it was, what's done is done. And from the very beginning of my life, I was an orphan.

     And a Darkness Faerie from a family with an anything but charming reputation, no less. But luck smiled upon me, for once in my life. I was taken in by a wonderful Light Faerie family. My new adopted mother and her daughter, my adopted sister, Lyth.

     My new mother was very kind to me. She raised me well, and did her best to keep me from straying toward the path many of my kind had taken. She worked in the palace for the queen, who was kind to me as well, and together they kept Jhudora from ever reaching me for one reason or another. Under their protection, I grew marvelously.

     I worked in Fyora's castle, a very low job compared to all the others. I was something like the caretaker, making sure the castle was in tip-top shape and keeping everything in order. Fyora was good to me and let me live there with my adopted family. But many of the other Faeries were not so lenient.

     Because of who and what I was, and especially due to my family line, I was highly frowned upon by many of them. Even though I didn't even remember my real mother, they seemed to think I would end up like her. And I was a Darkness Faerie, and though raised by Light, they seemed to think all of my kind was evil and always would be. It wasn't fair, by any stretch of the imagination, but that's just the way it was. I was lucky enough to be there at all, and to have such a wonderful mother and the queen herself watching over me.

     But my adopted sister, Lyth, was my biggest problem. She was terribly jealous of me. Though I was a lowly orphan compared to her high position, I was given so much attention by her mother, who Lyth seemed to think favored me over her own daughter. And even Fyora was gentle and patient with me, despite my mistakes and mistrust from everyone else. And growing up with no other Darkness Faeries, I had very little grasp over my powers, while Lyth had hers mastered.

     So why should I deserve to be her sister? I couldn't answer that, and apparently neither could she. We didn't get along at all. She was terribly unfair to me, but I never intentionally wronged her in any way. But that was my life, as simple and drab as sometimes it may be, and so I lived it.

     But then things started to change for the worst.

     My adopted mother was killed in a squabble with a Darkness Faerie. It was foolish, really, and it happened so quickly. It left Lyth and me in a daze. I was devastated. I had loved that woman-she was the only mother I had ever known. I couldn't believe it. But Lyth didn't handle her grief in tears and memories, as I did.

     No. Instead, it only managed to rekindle her anger, and was like a fresh breeze fanning embers that had been about to die. That fire inside of her only grew. And she seemed to take this wrong-doing as an offense from all Darkness Faeries-me included. As if I had been the one to steal her mother away from her. As if I was not beside myself as well!

     But little did I know where this would lead.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     It was a chilly, blustery winter day. Fading beams of light filtered in through the high windows of the queen's room. I was tidying up for the day, making sure everything was in order. I was proud to know that after all these years, I had grown up into a fine young Faerie woman, and had earned Fyora's trust. She even let me in her chambers, around her most precious things. She was not like everyone else. She could see me for who I was, not what I appeared to be at first glance.

     I was polishing off some of her magical stones, pausing to rotate one in my hand as the glare danced off it. They were all so beautiful. I had come to know this castle front to back, as it had been my home for as long as I could remember. And every little consistency in it had become a comfort to me. This was my sanctuary.

     I could see my reflection in the polished stone, and smiled faintly at the face I saw in it, matching my expression. She was a lovely faerie, most would admit. Though I didn't think I was pretty. At that time, I had long, straight, silky hair that fell evenly to a little past my shoulders, a deep jet black streaked with purple. My vibrant violet eyes stood out vividly against my grayish skin. I had purple lips and long purple nails, and overall a very feminine appearance. My elegant black and plum robes topped it all off nicely. Two gangly Darkness Faerie wings folded loosely at my back.

     I was quite refined back then, I must admit. But how was I to know how drastically it would all change?

     I set the stone back down, silently scolding myself for being so easily infatuated, and went on with my work in the still and quiet room. As I made my way around the room, working mostly by muscle memory after all those years of doing just that, my thoughts were elsewhere-on what I would cook today for the high Faeries, on what other work I had to do today, whatever it was, I can't be sure anymore.

     I was knocked out of my daydreaming when I bumped into something, jolting at the thud that it made to break the calm silence that had fallen. "Oops," I mumbled, glancing down to see what I had knocked over.

     It was Queen Fyora's staff. I stooped over to pick up the finely crafter scepter, but froze on the spot when I realized that something was missing. The Crystal. The Crystal that sat atop the staff.

     Perhaps I should take a moment to explain. That staff is very important. It's not just there for Fyora to carry around and look imposing, I promise you. The crystal ball that sits atop her staff is not only a symbol of her power, but of Faerie Unity. A long time ago, when she first became queen, her staff was made in part by each faerie group. To show her rule over each one, for correspondence between each group, and for balance between all elements.

     Each group contributed a piece of the crystal. Fire, water, air, light, dark, earth, and even snow fashioned a crystal shard, and they all came together to form the ball. Now this all happened a long time ago, before my time, but Fyora has always had that staff. There would no doubt be chaos without it.

     So you can imagine my panic when I found it missing. My eyes widened in shock, and all I could do was stare for several long seconds. That was bad. That was very bad. The first thing that came to mind was to tell Fyora, so I dropped the rag I had been using to polish and bustled out of the room.

     I couldn't believe it. I had never seen the Crystal away from the staff before. So either this was some terrible mistake or something was dreadfully wrong. But I hadn't gotten very far down the hall, when I started as someone behind me called out, "There she is!"

     I stopped and turned to find myself quite suddenly surrounded by a group of other Faeries that lived in the palace, their faces warped with rage or fear. My heart skipped a beat as they rounded on me, and I couldn't help but take a step back.

     Before I could say a word, a glaring Fire Faerie snarled, "We ought to lock you up right now!"

     "Or kill her," another interjected, casting me a look that alone would be enough to make most anyone drop dead on the spot.

     For a moment I could only stare, too stunned to speak. "I-what-I don't understand---" I managed to stammer, but was promptly drained out as the crowd broke into angry shouts and uncertain murmurs.

     "Playing dumb!"

     "I never trusted her."

     "They're all the same, you know, those Darkness Faeries."

     "And Fyora trusted her!"

     Dazed, I tried to speak up again, the few comments that I managed to catch only adding to my confusion and a dawning fear. "What?!"

     They all flared up again, and I found myself backed against a wall, staring wide-eyed into the furious faces of the other Faeries. I had no idea what was going on, and none of them seemed willing to clarify. But whatever it was, so far things were looking pretty bad for me.

     "Enough!" Everyone fell silent at the shout from behind. Heads turned, and I managed to peek around the nearest people. Fyora glided elegantly toward us, the crowd parting silently on either side as she passed.

     I smiled gratefully at the familiar face, letting out an audible sigh of relief. "Your Highness! Please-I don't understand-what's going on?" I inquired, ignoring the sour looks I was getting, only gazing questioningly at my Queen as she slowed to a gradual stop in front of me. Her usually gentle and sympathetic face was now etched with concern and an odd sternness that I didn't like at all.

     For a moment, I got no answer. She just eyed me quietly at first, her eyebrows furrowing and a faint frown touching her lips. "Pandora," she began slowly, choosing her words carefully. "The Crystal is not in the palace. Someone has stolen it."

     "I know!" I blurted out, nodding quickly. "I was cleaning your room, and I saw that it was gone. I was just coming to tell you--"

     "It's been missing since yesterday!" someone in the crowd interrupted, and someone else added boldly, "Right after you cleaned it!"

     Fyora held up one hand. The simple gesture was enough to hush the crowd once more, and she cast a firm look over them all. "This is not the time or the place to discuss this matter. We will hold a council in one hour. All members are to attend."

     I could only gape at them all, stunned. They thought I had stolen the Crystal? I couldn't believe this! Why would they accuse me of such a thing? It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming at them all, and before I could stop myself I grabbed at Fyora's sleeve as she turned to leave.

     As she cast a questioning glance over her shoulder at me, I bit my bottom lip to keep my emotions at bay. "Your Majesty. I did not do it. I swear to you, it was not me." I had meant for my voice to be much stronger and more certain, but all I could come up with was a shaking whisper.

     "Pandora..." she trailed off, and just as I caught that softness creeping back into her eyes, she shook it away and brushed me off. "You are to stay in your room until further notice."

     And with that, she swept off, slowly followed by the group of Faeries, many of which cast me a few last parting glares or hurt looks. This was all so unreal. What had I ever done to these people? Why would they blame me for such a serious crime? But Fyora would believe me. I just knew she would. And soon this would all just be a crazy misunderstanding.

     Or so I hoped.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     The meeting stretched on for longer than expected. What should have been a few hours dragged on for two days. Two days that I spent anxiously waiting in my little room in the area of the palace for the lower class, such as myself. Each hour seemed like a lifetime, and I found all I did was pace back and forth, sleep when I could, and perhaps eat something when I remembered.

     All the while, my mind wandered toward every possible solution. But I could never come up with a reasonable excuse for something like this to happen to me. It's so strange-you hear of things like this happening to other people all the time, but you never imagine that it could happen to you. And when it does, it's so unreal. Like a bad dream that you wish you would hurry up and wake up from.

     But, to my dismay, this was no dream. And that was confirmed when Fyora finally made an appearance.

     She had insisted on speaking to be personally, and once we were alone in my room she began to explain. "This meeting has been long and difficult for all of us. But none more so than me, Pandora," she said softly, holding me in her steady gaze. "The Crystal was found missing by Lyth shortly after you cleaned my room that day. She claimed to see you stalking around suspiciously beforehand. And she drew attention to the fact that you are the only Faerie with frequent access to that room. She also pointed out your family line and the skeletons in their closets, if you will."

     My heart very well could have stopped then and there. Lyth. She was on the royal council. And she hated me now more than ever. That had to be the most biased meeting imaginable.

     "The council has agreed..." She must have seen the dread on my face, as she hesitated a moment before finishing. "That you are guilty of stealing the Crystal."

     I couldn't speak. And suddenly, I understood it all. With Lyth there to feed everyone false information, there wasn't a doubt that I had been painted in a less than generous light at that meeting. She was in such a high place, and a noble Light Faerie no less-it was no wonder everyone trusted and believed her word. So whatever she claimed, they would support. And the shame of my family had followed me since birth. I had forever been blamed for crimes I did not commit. Because of who they were, these people found little reason to see why I should be any different. And I was a Darkness Faerie. Most of the council, under the strong impressions of my sister, was made to believe that all Darkness Faeries were evil and untrustworthy, while all Light Faeries could do no wrong. With such a bad rumors and fears built up around me already, and with my sister to guide them, and with all evidence pointing toward me... well, I could offer nothing in my defense but my word. But who would trust the word of a Darkness Faerie?

     I realized that I was shaking, but I managed a fading whisper, "Fyora... I... I didn't do it... I swear it!"

     But that was really all I could offer. And she must have known that. Still, the pained look on her face assured me that she had been on my side. "I believe you, Pandora. Really, I do. I trust you. You know that," she replied softly, but to my dismay she turned her head away from me. "But I was the only one there to speak for you. The rest are positive that you are to blame for this. All evidence points to you. And, in all honesty... I could come up with very little in your defense."

     As terrible as it was, I knew this was true. It was my word against Lyth's. And we all know who would win that fight.

     Nobody would believe me. Nobody but Fyora, but although she was the queen, I knew that she still had to respect the rest of the council. They were there for a reason, after all. And it was one against all the rest.

     When I did not reply, she went on, "I did point out, however, that you had nowhere to hide such a thing. In the castle, it would be found in no time. And you have scarcely ever left the castle in your life, so where else could you hide it? And what in the world could you do with such a thing?"

     I nodded quickly in agreement, highly grateful for how she had tried to help me. Honestly, though! What would someone like me need the Crystal for?

     "Once again, your parents were pointed out." I cringed visibly at her words. Once again, crimes I had nothing to do with were dumped onto my back. But what could I say? She went on. "Your kind's nature was reason enough for the council. And as for what you did with it..." She trailed off, finally looking back at me, once again frowning. I could see a deep apprehension in her eyes, and I held my breath as she fished something out of her robes.

     "We have combed Faerieland through. And this is all we have found." Fyora held up a sliver of something shiny. I noticed with a new wave of fear that it was a shard. A Crystal shard. It glowed a shimmering yellow in the light. "Do you know what this is?"

     I forced myself to nod. I found that I was having trouble swallowing and had to hold myself to keep from shaking. A shard of the Crystal. That meant...

     "The Crystal has been broken." Fyora confirmed my fears for me, her voice level and more serious than I had ever heard it. "This is the Light Faerie's shard, and all that has been recovered. That means the rest of the pieces are in Neopia somewhere."

     Another stunned silence. I couldn't believe it. Who in their right mind would steal the very essence of Faerie magic, break it, and toss the pieces randomly across the planet? I didn't even bother asking, because I knew Fyora couldn't answer that either.

     I did, however, come up with something in my defense. "But, your Highness..." My voice was convincing enough. At least it didn't reflect the alarm and fear that was ready to boil over by now. "I'm no good at my magic. Mediocre, at best. I don't possibly have enough power to shatter the Crystal like that."

     Fyora nodded grimly. "I'm aware of that. And I pointed that out, as well." She sighed and shook her head as my face fell once more. "But it was quickly dismissed. Perhaps you had outside help. Perhaps you have more power than you let out. Regardless, this case is too one-sided to be so easily redeemed, my dear."

     What else could I say? She had no doubt heard or said it all. And even if I did come up with some earth-shattering defense, it wouldn't matter. Not with Lyth on the council, anyway. There was no way I could prove myself.

     "Fy-your-your Highness--" I stammered, completely at a loss. "What's to happen to me?" My punishment. I dreaded hearing it. I could think of very few crimes worse than this one, after all, and if Lyth had any say I would be dead by morning.

     "Most of the council wished you dead, or imprisoned for life." She must have seen the terror on my face, as she quickly continued, "But I came to an agreement with them. Pandora... you, of all people, understand how important the Crystal is. Without it, chaos will surely thrive. I don't imagine we have terribly long before things start to go downhill. We must retrieve those shards. So, the council has agreed... that you are to locate them all and bring them back. You are to be sent to Neopia, and if you can retrieve all the pieces and bring them back safely, you may return to the palace and all crimes will be forgiven. But if you fail... well, then the first options may be enforced."

     My strength gave way. I slumped to my knees, my eyes huge and beginning to blur with tears. I couldn't keep the shaking back. I couldn't even breathe.

     Fyora was at my side in a moment, kneeling and holding my hand. "Pandora, listen to me," she said gravely, gently squeezing my hand. "I believe you. And if you can find solid evidence of who committed this crime, I will not hesitate to withdraw your punishment and take action against who is really to blame. But, until then... This is how it must be." Her eyes softened with sadness, and she leaned close to me to whisper, "I'm sorry."

     But it wasn't her fault. She was overridden by the council, and even then had done a lot to lighten my sentence. But still, this was too much to handle all at once. So I was to be thrown out of the only world I had ever known, down into Neopia, which I had never been to before. Sure, I had learned a lot about it and its inhabitants, but I had never set foot there, and the only Neopets I had ever seen were ones in the Faerie city. Not only that, but I was being punished for a crime that I had nothing to do with, all because of some insane sister of mine bent on revenge, and I could do nothing to help myself. And to put the Crystal back together, of all things. Alone, in a strange world. I had no doubt how dangerous it would be. Even the broken shards of the Crystal were incredibly powerful things, and the moment the word got around there would no doubt be all kinds of loonies out to get them as well. I had no idea how I would pull this off. I couldn't. And yet I had to do the impossible, or I would be killed, or at the very least locked up for the rest of my life.

     So this was to be my fate? I doubted that I could even last a week out there. What if I died out there? Someone else would be sent to take my place after that, no doubt. The Council could find the shards much more quickly than I could. And yet they would endanger the Crystal all for some stupid punishment that they unjustly thought I deserved. This was madness. Utter madness.

     I had no idea how I would pull it off. But I had to. I squeezed Fyora's hand with my own thin, shaking one, forcing myself to swallow. I had to be strong, if for no one else, at least for myself. I wiped my tearing eyes with my sleeve and breathed deeply, finally pulling my gaze back to Fyora. "I understand," I whispered, nodding slowly. What could I possibly say?

     Fyora rose back onto her feet, helping me up along with her. "You are to be sent down tomorrow. But get some rest now. Meet me at the front gates first thing tomorrow morning. I will explain this task better then." She was also giving it time to sink in, I was sure. She held me in her steady gaze for a moment longer, flickering with concern, and her hand lingered on mine.

     So soon? I only had one night to ready myself for such a thing? But nothing I could say would change that. So I nodded, and Fyora slowly drew away from me. Casting a final glance my way, clearly worried, she swept out of the room without another word.

     And then I was alone. The silence of my room pressed down on me until it was almost deafening. But what frightened me most was that I know I would have this feeling for a long time to come. This silence. This feeling of being utterly alone. I had been raised in the luxuries of the castle, low-class or not, and I knew fearfully that I would fail miserably out there in the wild with no help and nothing to guide me. How was I expected to do this? I had never even been down there before, so how was I supposed to find the Crystals themselves? They could be anywhere! And I would be in so much danger! And nobody would help a Darkness Faerie!

     Confusing emotions chased one another through my heart. Questions overflowed, many of which I knew would go unanswered. I must have been staring at the wall in shock for quite some time, as I quite suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion and despair race over me. I cast my gaze across my room-my beautiful room, themed purple and black, and though smaller than most rooms in the castle it was still quite elegant. And I knew that I may never see it again. I collapsed in my bed, into the comforting warmth and smoothness of the silk sheets, and I knew that this may be the last time I ever slept in it.

     Everything I had was suddenly gone. Tomorrow morning, I would leave my home and most likely never come back. This was too shocking to bear.

     I don't know how I feel asleep, and could not tell the difference from my dreams or my realities, but before I knew it the sun had come back to greet another day, happily unaware of all around it. If I had slept, I can't remember. I was too anxious to be tired, at any rate.

     It was time to face a new day. And perhaps, I couldn't help but think, my last.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     I made my way down the halls, each step down these corridors which I knew like the back of my hand pulling at my heart. I still couldn't believe I was leaving it all. I didn't know what I was supposed to bring, if anything, or what to wear. I had no idea where I was going. So I had nothing with me but the clothes I was wearing, one of my typical long black and purple gowns with baggy sleeves.

     I didn't meet the gazes of anyone I passed. I kept my head down, but still I could feel their eyes burning into me, hear their mutters or scoffs as we crossed. I wanted to leap up, to shout, to cry, to tell them this was all some big mistake. But it would do me no good. So I bit my tongue and my emotions, walking soundlessly toward the entryway.

     "Why so glum, dear sister?"

     My skin prickled at that all too familiar voice, so cold and mocking. I slowed to a stop, but it took me a few seconds to compose myself before I could look up at the sound of the voice. There stood Lyth, a perfect example that looks can be deceiving. She was a lovely Light Faerie with thick golden curls and light blue eyes, dressed in an elegant yellow and white gown. But that terrible smirk on her face and that darkness behind her eyes shone through to me much more clearly than her beauty.

     She chuckled coldly and strolled closer to me, observing her nails as though without a care in the world. "Going somewhere?" she inquired innocently, lifting her eyes to meet with mine and smirking faintly.

     It took everything in me not to pounce on her then and there. But of all the things she had taken away from me, there were some things that she could never steal. And one of them was my pride. I kept my head up and refused to butt heads with her, instead turning on my heels and starting back down the hallway again.

     "Oh, Pandora!" Her voice trailed after me, a tone of laughter to it. "Have fun in Neopia! I'll want to hear all about your little trip when you get back!"

     I chanced a glance over my shoulder at her, but the bitter smirk that greeted me only gave me more reason to get out that door faster. She found this funny. She was laughing at my pain. The one I had always called sister.

     And then it was so blatant that I was stunned for a moment. Lyth had done this. She had done it all. Bitter at me, though I had never meant to wrong her in any way, the death of our mother made her snap. She came up with a plan to get ride of me while still keeping her hands clean. She had enough power, after all. It would be all too easy for her to steal the Crystal, but she had nothing against Fyora, so she didn't destroy it. Instead she could use her powerful magic to shatter it, and cast the pieces all over Neopia. Perfectly retrievable, but easier said than done. Then she would make up a story about me, and of course everyone would side with her. And so I was punished, and she wasn't even suspected. But it was so incredibly obvious that she was the culprit here. How could I be the only one to see that?

     She was out of her mind! All I could think about as I rounded the corner and lost sight of her was how I could make this all right again. Not only did I have to find the Crystal, but I had to prove to the prejudiced group that their very own Lyth was the one at fault here. How, I had no idea-- but I must.

     I took a deep breath and pushed through the huge double-doors, greeted outside by sunshine and the same Faerieland I had always known and loved. Fyora was already waiting for me, and turned to offer an oddly sad smile as I approached her. "Good morning, Pandora."

     "Good morning, your Majesty," I forced myself to reply, doing well to keep my face and voice steady. I couldn't bring myself to look anywhere but at her. Every corner of this land was my home. My haven. Every street and wall told a story or held a memory, and right now I didn't have the strength to be reminded of them.

     Fyora stepped close to me and kept her voice soft. "Pandora, I know this is a lot to ask of you. And I would take it all back if I could. You know I would. But I'm afraid this is how it must be. So let me caution you." I bit my bottom lip as she cleared her throat, clearly not liking this one bit either. "As you know, the Crystal is made up of all the different elements. One has been retrieved in Faerieland. The Light Crystal. So that means the other six are down on Neopia somewhere. Fire, water, darkness, earth, air, and snow. It will be difficult, I can guarantee it, and dangerous. We're trying to keep a lid on this, but eventually people will find out. People who will want these shards for themselves. So be very careful, and hurry."

     I nodded slowly and ventured, "How will I know where to find the shards?" Neopia was an awfully big place. I couldn't possibly comb though every last inch of it.

     "The shards will return to their elements," she replied simply, drawing the splinter of Crystal from her robes again. It shone a warm yellow against her hand. "That's why the Light shard stayed here. So, likewise, the rest will be in a region that makes sense. Do you understand?"

     "Yes." That made enough sense. So the snow would go somewhere snowy, the water somewhere wet, the air somewhere high or windy and so on. I understood that well enough. But still, that left a lot of options.

     Before I could question further, Fyora added, "The shards were made to go together. Once you find the pieces, they will go back together on their own. And this will also help you find the others." She held the shard out to me, taking my hand in her other and setting the Crystal gently in my palm. "When you are close to another shard, it will begin to glow. The brighter it shines, the closer you are. And once you find it, they will meld together, as they are meant to be."

     She closed my hand over the Crystal, which I slowly drew back toward me. I opened my hand and stared down at the cold shard that lay in my palm. Well, they did help some. But that also meant whatever I found could be stolen. I had to be immensely careful. And seeing as this was supposed to be a more-or-less secret mission, I couldn't go around blabbing the news out to just anyone.

     "And Pandora... trust your instincts. I can not help you. No Faerie is allowed to assist you in any way. And you are not to bring anything with you." Fyora hesitated for a moment, then finished reluctantly, "You are to start at the top of Neopia and work your way down, combing through for shards. So if you have no further questions, your punishment will begin."

     No, I understood perfectly. No help. Just me, all alone, with nothing but a chunk of Crystal to guide me. Dumped off on a strange planet without even knowing up from down, starting now. On the top--- Terror Mountain. Of all the terrible places to start! I tucked the shard safely away in my gown and nodded hesitantly. "I'm ready..." Or as ready as I would ever be, at least.

     "Very well, Pandora... Good luck."

     And with those simple words, my fate was sealed. My journey had begun.

To be continued...

 
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