The Dark Faeries' Apprentice: Part Four
The forest was bustling with silent noise. The leaves on the trees and bushes rustled, and a number of different petpet noises could be heard. This made the relative quiet that Neoangel and Denriada walked in more bearable.
“This is one of them, right?” asked Denriada quietly, as she noticed a thorny flower growing out from underneath a protruding tree root and stooped down beside it. It was one of the few phrases that she had said to Neoangel over the past twenty minutes, along with, ‘this might come in handy later,’ and, ‘may I see the list again?’
Neoangel looked over her shoulder at the cherry red flower. “I believe so,” she replied. “Would you mind bringing it over here so I can take a look?” Her arms were tangled in a mass of long, thick brown vines.
Denriada placed the tips of her thumb and index finger gingerly around the flower’s stem. Instantly, it hissed and writhed, its thorns pricking the Draik’s skin. She gasped and let go of it in surprise. Breathing heavily, her eyes flickered from side to side, as if seeking help.
Neoangel was watching Denriada closely, despite the fact that the vines had started twisting themselves around her neck. “I’d like to see the flower, please,” she said firmly.
“O-of course,” stuttered the Draik. She waved her fingers, eyes shut tightly, shoulders tense and her tail stiff. A pale blue piece of string appeared out of nowhere, wrapped around the flower and dragged it out of the dirt. The vicious plant fell limp at once, its red petals darkening, and Denriada carried it to Neoangel.
“Yes, that is the plant I am looking for,” said Neoangel as she examined it. The vines had crawled onto her head, and were twisting around her ears.
“Are you alright?” asked Denriada, staring at her old mentor in fear. A vine reared up, preparing to strike, but was thankfully distracted by Neoangel’s shiny halo.
“Watch,” dismissed Neoangel simply. The vines squeezed Neoangel’s arms and neck, but she seemed hardly bothered. Finally they retreated in a disappointed fashion, revealing their treasure: a pile of tiny, pulsing blue bulbs. The Zafara scooped them into a small drawstring bag and straightened her cloak.
“We are almost finished,” she said, taking the list from Denriada, who passed it over with a start. “Just the Crymium sap- that should be easy to find- and the three Bilguss eggs left. I know which tree to collect Crymium from, but it is rather far away. Will you find the Bilguss eggs and meet me where we entered the forest?”
“Uhm, yes,” stammered Denriada. Neoangel flew off, weaving her way easily through the trees.
After a bit of searching, Denriada finally stumbled upon a nest hiding underneath a bush. She brushed away the leaves with her hand, her head low to the ground and her neck bent so that she could have a clear view of the nest.
A round, moping petpet with small feet and no arms was sitting atop a couple of grey, speckled eggs. It looked up at Denriada with dark, unhappy eyes, and the description of the petpet flowed into the Draik’s mind: Bilguss are always unhappy and they never smile. It fit very well, she thought, as she reached into the nest with a whisper of, “I’m sorry,” and picked up three eggs. The Bilguss merely looked down at its remaining eggs sadly.
They met up at the spot Neoangel had decided on. The Zafara was already there when Denriada arrived.
“I’m very sorry,” apologized Denriada meekly. “Did you wait long?”
“Not at all.” Neoangel had a bundle of roots and grass in her arms, and the strap of a small bulging sack was hung over her shoulder. Denriada handed her the eggs, and they both rose into the air.
“Umm...” Denriada hesitated. They were heading back towards the house. “N-Neoangel? Are you... I noticed that apart from the neutral ingredients such as the roots and grasses, many of the items are rather... well... dismayed...” She gave Neoangel a fleeting look. “The Bilguss eggs, for instance, and those withered grey daisies... Crymium sap, which can only be found in trees that have never seen sunlight, and yet continue to live a half-life...”
“I am indeed making a sadness potion,” said Neoangel, answering the question that Denriada hadn’t really asked. “A potion that, when drunk, will cause the drinker to momentarily forget his happy moments and memories... it causes the drinker to feel a sense of despair, hopelessness, and loneliness.”
“Why would you create a potion like that?” whispered Denriada, thinking of the pain she had been through. Despair, hopelessness, having no one to share it with... it had hurt so much...
Neoangel considered the Draik for a while in silence before she explained solemnly, “Because it is one of the deadliest weapons one can wield.” There was something in her voice... like a sort of cold calmness, but also sympathy... and Denriada thought that the Zafara might be trying to say, ‘I know what you’re going through, and what you’ve been feeling.’
They landed in front of the small neohome. The cozy wooden door flew open at once, but the pair soon found out that they were not being welcomed back.
Black smoke spiraled out of the kitchen window, which Neofaerie had just flung open. At the door, NSQ was leaning against the staircase rail, coughing and rubbing her eyes. “Ugh,” she muttered between coughs, “I hate ovens and they hate me...”
Neofaerie slunk over to the entrance as well. Ignoring Denriada and Neoangel, he proceeded to tell off his owner for wrecking havoc via cooking once again.
“They’re perfect!” came the happy shout from the closest room. Happiness, the only pet who had not fled the kitchen, ran to the door with a silver tray. Savvy, Neofaerie’s pirate Doglefox, followed her, yapping loudly and racing about Neofaerie’s heels when he arrived. Furzy emitted a series of high-pitched squeaks and squished his face against the floor. NSQ and Neofaerie looked at the cookies.
They were completely black.
“Perfect fudge cookies!” exclaimed Happiness cheerfully.
“We were making sugar cookies,” NSQ reminded her feebly.
“Oh. Well, they still look pretty good!” said Happiness brightly. She took a bite, chewed, contemplated, and then giggled. “Silly Nesqu! You burned them again.”
“Yep,” confirmed NSQ, sighing. “We still have some dough left though. Want to try again?”
“Maybe another day,” said Neofaerie. “You know, when that poor oven has had some time to rest.”
Neoangel let her bag slide off of her shoulder and land on the floor with a soft thump. The roots followed. “I have some matters I must attend to,” she informed the others. “Denriada, if I may ask of you to take these up to my room?” And without another word, she took flight again.
“Erm. Well. I’ll... I’ll be reading,” said NSQ bravely. “If anyone needs me, that is. They probably won’t, but y’know. Just in case. Not that anything will happen that would require my help but... yeah.” She grabbed a copy of the new Neopian Times from the floor, hid behind it at once, and walked backwards into the living room.
Denriada hastened to pick up the bag and roots; they were heavier than she had expected. She made her way towards the set of stairs that led to Neoangel’s room, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible as she struggled with the potion ingredients. Neofaerie didn’t bother to help her. He watched her with narrowed eyes until she had disappeared behind the plain wooden door.
’That which rests here shall be protected and untouched by those of black hearts.’ At least, that’s what Denriada had translated the scroll to. In school, Neoangel had always been better at ancient languages than she, Denriada, had. Just like Neoangel had been better at everything else.
The Draik clenched her fists. ’It wasn’t her fault,’ she reminded herself angrily, ’It was mine. I’ve got no right to be jealous of her. I was a weak student, and a weak person. There’s only one person to blame for everything wrong in my life and that person is me.’
She sank into her soft mattress, feeling slightly better, but also slightly worse. The fresh potion ingredients sat beside the top of the stairs leading to the rest of the house. Denriada had tried putting them in three different locations before deciding to leave them there. At least it had given her something to do.
It was stiflingly quiet in the room. Denriada had goose bumps all over her arms, but the bedroom was rather warm and her paws felt clammy. The window was closed; Denriada didn’t want to mess anything up.
If anything was going on in the rest of the house, the noise wasn’t reaching Neoangel’s room. Maybe if the family had gone out, Denriada could go to the kitchen... she was starving... no, it was best just to stay in the room. She was a guest, and certainly not the everyday come-for-dinner type... it was best to stick to what she knew was acceptable.
But the room, the unbearable room... how long had it been? Ten minutes? An hour? The Striped pet had completely lost track of time. She turned onto her side, curling up and clamping her paws around her head. How long had it been? How much longer?
Denriada bolted upright. She needed something to distract her, anything... her eyes fell once again upon the tempting hole in the corner of the bedroom, the one that would free her from the room’s silent grasp. She tore her gaze away and found a bundle of large leaves that she had collected. Suddenly, an idea struck her. It was something that she used to do back when she was still attending the academy. Surely Neoangel would not miss one insignificant leaf...?
Without thinking, the Draik snatched one of the leaves. She twirled a battered claw in the air and a tiny scorch mark appeared in the leaf. Then the letter, ‘d’.
Denriada’s heart was beating quickly. It wasn’t the magic; this was an easy trick. But should she really do this? So much could go wrong. What if it was found?
But she simply couldn’t resist. Another wave of the paw, and the first line had been burned into the leaf.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Funny, NSQ hadn’t noticed before that the clock in the living room made noise. But it was a very quiet sound. And they’d only bought the clock a few weeks ago.
It was awfully quiet.
Neofaerie was curled up behind the couch. NSQ had tried talking to him a few times, but she hadn’t received a single reply, so she’d given up. Happiness was no where to be seen.
NSQ ruffled the pages of the Neopian Times and coughed. She focused her eyes on the article in front of her, and realized that she had read the same line 3 times. As much as she loved reading, she just couldn’t focus at the moment. But what else was there to do?
Neofaerie shifted slightly at his owner’s cough. Well, he had every right to ignore her! That Denriada... he flicked his tail angrily. She was up to something, and everyone else in the family was blind to it. Why was he always the one who had to take care of them?
‘... I just wish that I could turn back the clock and change the past.’ Denriada let out a small sigh of relief. The words burned into her ‘journal page’ were smoking. The striped pet stuffed the leaf under her mattress. She was a bit worried about Neoangel finding it, but writing everything down took so much weight off of her chest. Just like the old days, at the academy.
Denriada gripped her pillow with one paw. Someone was coming up the stairs. But it couldn’t be Neoangel... the guest was loud and clumsy. The owner, perhaps...?
Two rainbow ears poked out of the hole, proving the Draik wrong. A second later, a rainbow Cybunny was in the room, smiling right at Denriada with large blue eyes that showed no sign of disgust or fear.
“Hello,” she said brightly.
Denriada stared back, dumbfounded. Part of her was warning her to look away quickly like she always did when people stared at her, but... this was different... what was it?
The rainbow pet seemed to take Denriada’s silence as a go-ahead to bounce on her mattress, and she did so immediately. Denriada shifted back uncertainly, her eyes following the Cybunny’s movement.
“My name’s-” bounce- “Happiness-” bounce- “if you don’t know.” She tumbled off the mattress and onto the wooden floor.
“Oh... y-yes, I knew,” replied Denriada quickly. She was still trying to figure out how to respond to the small pet. It seemed to hold no grudge at all. Feeling braver than she did around the older members of the family, but still remembering the horrible things that she had put the Cybunny through, Denriada waited for Happiness to continue instead of speaking up.
Happiness didn’t seem to have anything else to say at the moment, though. She pawed at the potion ingredients near the stairs for a bit, but didn’t like one of the smells. She crawled backwards to the window and opened it. A gentle breeze rushed in and the stuffiness evaporated.
Happiness giggled and broke into an instant stream of chatter. “You should always open this window, Denri. It gets super stuffy otherwise. Neoangel always keeps it open, even at nighttime. I wonder, do lots of bugs come in? Nesqu always keeps her window closed when she sleeps, ‘cause she’s scared of bugs coming in. I keep my window open, because the bugs are probably cold outside, right? But I’ve never seen them come in. I think maybe they have lots of warm fur like I do, even if you can’t see it. It’s probably invisible! Like the syrup Neofaerie puts on my waffles!”
Caught off guard, Denriada had only managed to register one word: Denri. A nickname? Never in her life had she been given a nickname. For as long as she could remember, everyone had called her Denriada. Her parents, her teachers, her few friends... and just like that, Happiness had given her a nickname. Denri? It sounded so... childish.
“Hey!” exclaimed Happiness. “I just remembered why I came up here.” She giggled. “I got distracted and forgot. But you’ve been in here for a very long time, haven’t you?”
“I... I’m fine...” muttered Denriada uncertainly.
Happiness leaped up to her at once. “I know! I’ll show you around the house.” Her tiny paw reached out and gently grabbed Denriada’s sticky one.
The Draik gasped.
’So warm... someone’s hand in mine... haven’t held anyone close for... so long... so warm... the warmth of another person...’
“Denriii?” asked Happiness, waving her free paw around. “What is it?”
Snapping out of her thoughts, Denriada tugged her hand away and folded it against her chest. “I...” she stuttered speechlessly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Neofaerie always tells me that I’m too forward. But I can never remember! I have such bad memory.” She beamed. “I’ll introduce myself. My name is Happiness! Or did I already say that? Umm... oh! I like sweets! And rides are fun too. I love riding the Merry Go Round on Roo Island; have you ever been there? Wait, I was telling you about myself! I like to play games. Especially with my family! I’m the best at some games, but at others I’m really bad. Like-”
“Oh!” gasped Denriada. She couldn’t help it. A cross-eyed Magaral with black and fire-coloured fur had just clamped its jaw to Happiness’s ear.
The Cybunny stopped babbling at Denriada’s gasp and looked at her ear curiously. “Oh, that’s my petpet, Furzy,” she explained. “I think he’s trying to say that he’s hungry. Or maybe that we’re being invaded by talking trombones, I can’t really tell!”
“Phawwwww,” jabbered the Magaral, letting go of his owner’s ear and proceeding to run in circles around her. Happiness grabbed him by the leg and dangled him upside-down in front of Denriada’s face.
“Doesn’t that hurt him?” asked Denriada nervously, surprising herself by speaking up, and even more, by asking a question.
“Nope! He likes it,” said Happiness cheerfully. “See?”
“Pbbhhhh!” spat the Magaral. Denriada dodged back quickly, and Happiness giggled. To her own amazement, Denriada smiled. A real smile. She hadn’t smiled in a very long time.
Then the door opened, and NSQ was standing in the doorframe with one hand on the knob and the other clutching a page of the Neopian Times. Her eyes flickered from Denriada to Happiness, and her lips tightened. Worry was apparent in her eyes.
Denriada looked away, her eyes focused on Furzy. Yes, that was the look that she’d become accustomed to. That worried glance. The worried, ‘don’t-look-at-her-too-long’ glance. But who was to blame? She, Denriada, was. Who would forgive her for all the horrible things that she had done? Only someone extremely naïve and gullible would. Just like this Cybunny. Happiness wasn’t friendly, only gullible. She had said so herself. ’I have bad memory.’ The crimes that Denriada had committed could not be truly forgiven; only forgotten.
“Umm, sorry,” apologized NSQ in a low voice. “We have to go. Happiness. We’ve... well, you... there’s someone downstairs who wants to talk to you, Happiness.”
The worst excuse ever. But no matter what she said, Denriada wouldn’t have believed her.
“Oh, okay. Bye Denri!” said Happiness brightly, hopping off the mattress. Naïve as ever.
Avoiding Denriada completely, NSQ shut the door.
To be continued...