Cold grey sunlight filtered through the window and fell upon the sleeping visage of the Dark Faerie. It was in its frosty light that Jhudora slowly awakened. She lazily blinked her eyes, once, then twice, before casting her blanket aside and pulling herself to a sitting position. The air was very cold - freezing, in fact. Jhudora shivered with a smile; her eyes glittered like emeralds. Finally, she placed her feet upon the cold stone floor and stood up straight before her bed. Now she was able to view her reflection in the full-length mirror at the opposite end of the room.
She looked refreshed from sleep – she never was groggy, at least not in these past few months, when so much with her spells had been accomplished. She distracted herself with the memory of realizing that she had gathered nearly one fourth of the ingredients for the master spell. Those 2619 pages had been a doozy, but she had completed them, perfectly in fact. Those witless Neopians were all too willing to help her with her plans, for reasons she never quite could fathom. They certainly would not benefit from the outcome of her spell.
She did look quite vulnerable, and in truth, this was one of the few moments she actually was. Her face was devoid of makeup, a rarity for her, which revealed all of her natural wrinkles and blemishes. She was not an ugly faerie by any means; being without makeup, however, gave her a rather tired appearance, as if she were much older than she actually was. She was not tired, however, and she certainly was not old.
She wore a sea-foam nightgown that was fairly plain in appearance. Her two wings lay folded behind her; between them, her neatly brushed hair cascaded gently past her neck. She wore absolutely no jewelry, save a gold and purple ring on her right ring finger; she never removed that ring. She quickly slipped her unclothed feet into slippers, threw on a bulkier robe, and entered the hallway.
She could already hear the grumblings and the flapping of wings before she entered the kitchen, and the sight that greeted her eyes was a customary one. Barty was flitting around busily throughout the kitchen, setting the coffee to brew, making toast, and cooking several eggs. The eggs, of course, were acid green in color, and the bread in the toaster was marbled with both green and purple swirls. The coffee was a deep green color and periodically released clouds of green fumes, which Jhudora calmly inhaled.
“Good morning, Barty,” Jhudora murmured, sitting down at the glass-paned table. Barty let out a soft grunt in response, not ceasing for a moment from his task. Jhudora clicked her nails on the surface of the table for several moments, waiting for Barty to finish; upon realizing his mistress’s need to wait, Barty began working at a frenzied pace, as he had no intention of evoking her wrath.
Within the span of five minutes Barty was done with the coffee, eggs, and toast. With one talon, he clutched a mug of steaming coffee; with the other, he loosely held a plate of green eggs and freshly buttered toast. He completed the nearly impossible task of delivering these items to Jhudora without spilling a single drop of coffee, or even tilting the plate – he had for quite some time known the repercussions of doing so, and had perfected the art of being Jhudora’s servant.
“Thank you, Barty,” Jhudora said quietly. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Barty did not speak, but merely pondered for a moment before realizing that he had missed something – Mistress was always right. He flitted to the door and returned to Jhudora in a whirlwind, clutching the daily issue of the Faerieland Times with a talon. He set the issue down on the table, and then perched himself on the back of a nearby dining chair to recuperate.
Jhudora first took a sip of her coffee, then unfolded the newspaper and began to read. Her eyes scanned the major headline, and her heart skipped a beat. Her eyes widened, her hands fell limp to the tabletop below; utterly startled, she gulped down her coffee and coughed. She blinked, stunned.
She had realized the date.
It was Illusen Day.
The first thing she did was mentally berate herself for forgetting such an important date. This, save her own special holiday, was perhaps the most notable day of the entire year. This was the day that she to be the most prepared, the most on her guard. There was no telling what Illusen might do. Nightmarish visions flashed within her mind of previous years’ Illusen Day mishaps.
Two years ago she had been bombarded by a singing fleet of Beakadoodles of every shape and size. They were as practiced and harmonious as Faerieland’s finest choir, and they would not cease in their music-making, no matter how hard Jhudora pleaded. They first settled on the rooftop, belting their little hearts out; Jhudora eventually had to go out on the roof and shoo them away with her staff. After that they covered all of the windowsills; that was even worse, as the singing came from all directions, and it was even harder to get them to leave her alone. In fact, Jhudora had never succeeded in driving them all away; they finally stopped at exactly midnight of that day, and then disembarked. Jhudora did not need to see what direction they flew to on the horizon to know who had sent them. It was well-known to pretty much everyone that Illusen and Jhudora were not on the best of terms.
She did not know what tomfoolery her dratted archrival would pull upon her this time. Memories of Illusen Days past flitted through her mind. She shuddered upon remembering the time when Illusen turned everything in her house (including her and Barty) her shades of auburn and light green. Another year, Illusen bewitched the water; upon drinking it, Jhudora spoke with an outrageous Meridellian accent for the remainder of the day. By noon she had said “Thank yer so much for yern helpin’ with mah quests, yon’ travelers!” so many times, and had subsequently so humiliated herself that she decided to stop giving out quests for the rest of the day.
Her skin crawled when she recollected last year’s Illusen Day; the prank Illusen pulled on her was so indelible because it affected her even after the day was done. By some means Jhudora to this day did not understand, Illusen had slipped into her food stores and replaced all of her customary purple-and-green foods, several months’ worth, with brightly colored boxes of health food. To her great displeasure, she found that all of her normal food suppliers were completely out of stock, and would be for several months. Realizing the perfect orchestration of the prank, Jhudora found herself forced to dine on granola, vegetables, and dried fruit for longer than she ever cared for. Even now, she found it revolting to even think of whole grains.
Jhudora was so preoccupied with thinking of what might happen that she did not notice the mail slip in through the slot on the door. Barty, ever-perceptive, picked up on it, and dutifully delivered the letters to his mistress. When her faithful Bartamus did so, Jhudora was knocked out of her reverie, and began sifting through the mail. There were the usual letters – the bills, scathing letters from her fellow faeries, the occasional letter from a supporter or friend. One letter, however, was not one of these; for one, it was light green, and two, it was sealed with a blob of dark green wax that was pressed with a seal in the shape of three leaves.
That is, it was unmistakably a letter from Illusen herself.
Jhudora bitterly snatched this letter from the table and stared at the address and stamp for a moment. Finally, against her better judgment, she tore open the seal and withdrew the letter inside.
The paper was a pale yellow, like sunflowers. Jhudora noted this with disgust as she unfolded it, and her eyes fell upon the opening words of the letter. It read as follows:
Yes, it is me, Illusen. I know you probably are going against your better judgment by reading this letter, but please, hear me out. I know you are probably on edge from the moment you recognized it was my festival day, because you expect me to pull some sort of trick on you. Truth to told, Jhudora, there are no tricks this year. I am keeping it clean. Really, I’m tired of the enmity between us. This is what I propose, Jhudora: why don’t we just forget our feud?
You are probably laughing at me--
“Right you are, Illusen,” Jhudora said aloud, cackling, greatly amused by the feeble peace offering the letter had thus far introduced.
You are probably laughing at me, but my words are truthful. I just wish we could stop fighting and return to the way we used to be, when we were friends. I know that you saw me that day when you were casting that spell, that forbidden spell – but Jhudora, I never intended to do anything with that knowledge! I never have, have I? I just want us to be friends again! That probably sounds naïve and foolish and a thousand other things besides, but Jhudora, honestly, I’m sick of having to fight with you day in and day out. I’m taking the initiative and offering you peace, if you would grant me peace. Even if we don’t become friends again, or even speak again – I just want us to be on peaceful terms.
Is that agreeable with you? I will pull no pranks, if you will pull no more on me. I will not boast if you do not boast; I will not argue with you, if you would not argue with me. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Anyways, I hope you may consider this. Please send me a reply promptly. I really hope we can be friends again, Jhuds!
P.S. I guess you could say I’ve turned over a new leaf. Haha!
Jhudora set down the letter, and laughed. She laughed harder and longer than she had a long, long time; she laughed until her sides ached, until her eyes watered, until her cheeks were sore. By the time she was done, tiny rivulets were sliding down her cheeks; she wiped them away with the baggy sleeve of her robe, and, still grinning, glanced at the letter. She giggled softly; the giggles soon grew to all-out laughter as yet again she fell victim to Illusen’s unintended humor.
Truly, Illusen was more of a childish idealist than she ever could have thought. Jhudora sighed, and began eating her breakfast, as Barty watched on intently, completely taken aback by his mistress’s odd and uncharacteristic behavior. He then remembered his duties, and snatched up the letters he recognized as hate mail and disposed of them. Jhudora had stopped reading those letters long ago.
~ * ~
By noon, Jhudora had already showered, dressed, and applied her makeup. She was now restored to the look by which Neopia knew her; that classy, villainous, powerful look that so very many associated her with, the look she had strived for so long to achieve. On this day, she wore an elegant jade and violet robe, with Krawk-skin boots. One hand idly clutched at her staff, that tool from which she derived so much of her strength. It was the instrument through which she performed her deeds and cast her spells, and it was the instrument that no other hand, save hers, had ever touched.
It was also the one thing that she had closest in common with Illusen, save the tatters of their friendship and the fact that they were both faeries. Long ago, many centuries into the past, Jhudora and Illusen had received both their staves from the same maker; their staves had been his last and greatest achievements. Illusen had accepted hers with humility and gratitude; Jhudora accepted hers with glee and awe. That, however, had been before the collapse of their camaraderie, before Illusen had witnessed her in that fateful act...
“Barty! Nothing has happened?”
The Bartamus nodded. Indeed, Illusen had played no prank as of yet. What if she would not? That seemed highly unlikely. Illusen would play a prank. It was her nature. That letter wasn’t – no, it couldn’t – be the truth. It was probably just some ploy to try and trick her. Yet, the same voice told her that Illusen was truthful, that she just did want to be friends again. In fact, that belief made Jhudora feel more assured. Surely she would not accept Illusen’s proposal, but at least it put Illusen in at a disadvantage. Any situation that put Illusen on her knees, begging, was a good one, for Jhudora anyways.
Besides, if she did indeed take Illusen at her word, it proved the Earth Faerie to be the idealistic, naïve, ignorant child Jhudora had always, always envisioned her to be.
“Barty! Take care of the house while I’m gone. I’m off to work. Make sure Illusen plays no pranks – she probably won’t, but there is no reason to act as if she won’t.”
Barty nodded again, and flitted off, grumbling softly. Jhudora strode past the kitchen table, and her eyes fell upon the letter. It was exactly where she had last left it. Eyes narrowing, Jhudora snatched it from its resting place and crumpled it up in her fist.
“Such a fool she is!” Jhudora said, but the tone of her voice was not one of laughter; it was one of rage. “Does she honestly think she can undo years upon years of bitterness with just one letter, and a poorly written one at that? No, Illusen, I will not become friends with you again.”
She unfolded the crushed wad of paper in her hand, and her eyes fell upon the last few lines of the letter.
Anyways, I hope you may consider this. Please send me a reply promptly. I really hope we can be friends again, Jhuds!
Jhuds. Oh, how she hated that nickname! She could still remember the very moment Illusen had uttered it, and immediately adopted it. Even in their friendship, Jhudora convinced herself she hated the name. For Jhudora was a name that commanded respect, and Jhuds was a name that commanded quite the opposite.
Her anger flared. Without a second thought, Jhudora crumpled the paper yet again into a ball in her fist. Unsatisfied, she then opened her palm skywards. There was a whoosh of green flame, and the letter was reduced to a pile of ash, which Jhudora brushed from her palm to the ground below. Not caring to look, she then departed from her home towards her cloud to begin the day’s work.
She did not know the terror into which she had just unknowingly entered herself.
For the second the ash touched the ground, it began to do exactly what it had intended to do. The small pile began emitting rich green sparkles, which glittered and faded in the empty air. Barty, who was in another wing of the house, was oblivious. The pile then began to quiver and shake; suddenly, without warning, small sprouts began to poke through the black powder, as bright and green as Illusen herself. Rapidly, they snaked upwards, outwards, away from the origin point, into the air and across the floor.
The pace with which they moved reflected their heightened growth. Within moments, the small green shoots had become the beginnings of ivy; leaves began to appear. The tendrils moved in a most serpentine fashion, slithering silently across the floor, occasionally rising to move over an obstacle or slide up a wall. Others managed to sustain themselves in midair, without any support at all. Green life had exploded from the lifeless pile of ashes.
The ivy was thicker now; the vines were several inches in diameter, and the leaves were becoming larger with each passing moment. The ashes themselves were entirely covered by the life which now burst from them, crawling across the walls. One tendril of ivy found the leg of a nearby coffee table; around it, it eagerly wound itself, moving upwards, across the wooden surfaces, until the table was entirely enwrapped in ivy. A portrait of some ancestor of Jhudora was quickly immersed in the river of green which spread across the walls. It was not long before it reached the edges of the ceiling, and began sliding across it, consuming the lights and a single dangling chandelier.
The ivy overtook the tapestries, consumed the sofas, overturned several lamps, and buried several end tables. Anything it touched became entombed in a rush of living green. A bookshelf in the opposite corner of the room soon fell victim; the books were thrown hastily off the shelves to sink in the rushing tendrils of green below. The shelves themselves were then occupied by not books, but the vines, which coated all of its sides.
The greenery was not contained to this one room, however. It had now found its way to the kitchen and the foyer, and was devouring them with the same velocity it had consumed the living room. One vine felt a leg of a dining chair; in moments, the chair was completely commandeered by the rush. The table fell soon afterwards, as three of its legs were discovered by the surge of green.
As time passed, the vines became progressively quicker and quicker. The walls of the kitchen were consumed in nearly half the time of the living room, to say nothing of the walls of the foyer. The foyer, however, was open to the second story of the home; the second floor, now, was quite open to attack. The shoots of ivy now clambered through the holes in the banister, across the carpet upstairs, overtaking everything it touched.
By now, Barty was aware of what was going on. The poor Bartamus had been doing Jhudora’s laundry with particular meticulousness; there was no telling how Jhudora might punish him if he accidentally bleached a gown or shrunk one of her skirts. He was in the process of wringing out several of her socks when something began pressing against the door. Not expecting visitors, Barty was seized with fear; it was not like Jhudora to push against a door and not open it, and most of all it was not like her to not even address him, her servant.
The laundry room had only one door, and it was this door which was now visibly moving, shoved by some unknown entity. Barty dropped the socks and watched as the doorknob began to shake. There was a loud creak, the hinges snapped, and suddenly the door was open, and ivy was spreading everywhere. The vines snaked across the wall with speed that Barty was certainly not accustomed to. With a helpless yelp the Bartamus dropped Jhudora’s socks and swooped into the air; a vine lashed out at his leg, but he shook it away. He managed to make it to the opened door before several more vines, insulted by his insolence, wrapped around his wings. He was thrown into the river of living tendrils, which he soon learned was spreading throughout the whole house with abandon.
Barty struggled to free himself from the vines, but to very little avail. He barely managed to pull his eyes from out of the surge and into the air, where he could only watch as the vines slowly overtook the house. Mistress’s prized chandelier, which hung from the ceiling of the foyer, swung precariously as the vines snaked around it; to his utter horror, one vine pressed with too much fervor, and the chain suspending it snapped. The chandelier tinkled softly as it plummeted through the air, to be swallowed in the river of life below.
Mistress would not be pleased.
~ * ~
“Thank you for returning to me my Magical Starry Techo Plushie!” Jhudora announced to a grinning yellow Poogle. “Please come back tomorrow for another quest!”
“What? I don’t get a reward! That thing cost me a fortune!” The Poogle was clearly shocked.
“A reward?!” Jhudora snarled. “You have the reward of knowing that you have helped me with my spell! Now, be gone! Before I decide to never reward you ever again!”
The Poogle glared, but its expression suddenly softened to one of sheer confusion.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” the Dark Faerie snarled.
“What the heck is going on with that house?!” the Poogle replied, pointing behind Jhudora – the direction of her house. Jhudora, seized with horror, wheeled around, and her jaw fell agape.
To say Jhudora was horrified to watch as her house was overtaken with ivy would be an understatement. The Dark Faerie was seized by a myriad of emotions – horror, sorrow, wrath, shock, annoyance, anxiety, regret, confusion. What in the blazes was going on?! Without paying the Poogle a second thought, Jhudora sped off in the direction of her home, leaping from her cloud. Normally she hated flying, but it was much faster than walking, and this was an emergency of the utmost degree.
While flying, she could only watch as the vines punched through her windows and slid seamlessly down the walls of the house. They overtook the roof and strangled the chimney, before curiously thrusting themselves into it. They snaked their way hungrily through the garden, enveloping all other greenery they happened to encounter. The beautiful statue a doting fan had donated to her was consumed in mere seconds; her stony likeness vanished, buried beneath the surging tide of living green.
By the time Jhudora landed down on the cloud whereupon her house was built, she was much too late. Her house was completely overrun with ivy. Once the vines had swallowed the house from the outside in, and completely smothered it, they suddenly stopped. There was not a single inch of her house that was not overtaken by the thick green tendrils. The walls, the roof, the garden, the doors – everything, everything was taken.
Jhudora let loose a piercing shriek that carried through the air like the loudest and shrillest of bells. It shattered the silence that enshrouded idyllic Faerie City for most of the day; it made faeries throughout Faerieland prick their ears in the direction of her ruined home. It rung throughout the sky, throughout all of Neopia, for several seconds, before fading into silence.
In Meridell, a particular Earth Faerie heard the scream, and burst into a fit of laughter. She laughed until her sides ached, until her eyes watered, until her cheeks were sore. By the time Illusen was through, streams of tears had run down her freckled cheeks, which she wiped away with a green sleeve.
It was her day, indeed.
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"Maddie," Sophie said gently, trying to get her sister to understand, "it's my duty to go back and save those faeries..."