Tween Dusk and Dawn: Part One
Thirtieth of Celebrating, Y9
“Dad,” Stella said, “Commet’s being a jerk again.”
Mic sighed as he sat up and turned to stare down at the doorway where his Faerie Shoyru stood with her arms crossed and her lips pursed.
“Again?” he asked.
“What do you mean, again? He hasn’t stopped.”
Mic shook his head and ran his hands back through his hair, which he’d refused to cut, even at the insistence of the Skeith at the National Neopian, who’d suggested it after mistaking him for a girl.
“Fine, fine,” he said. “I’ll come talk to him again.”
“Thank you,” Stella said before nodding proudly and walking off.
Mic got up and started for the living room, from his study through the hall to the doorway in which he stood to see Commet sprawled out on the couch, forcing his brother Ash, who’d recently been zapped into a purple Lenny, and his sister Jasmine, a mutant Buzz, onto the floor. Stella stood angrily to the side, arms still crossed, staring down at her older brother.
Mic shook his head, taking a breath, and walked towards the supine Shoyru on the couch. “Commet, what have I told you about monopolizing the couch?”
“Huh, what?” he said and sat up. “I missed your whole ‘Economics of the World’ discussion—Yooyuball was on Neovision, so—”
“Commet,” Stella said, “the Altador Cup ended months ago.”
Commet leaned forward, indignant. “But the off season still includes training and regional matches and try outs.” He crossed his arms and leaned back. “Besides, Fiorina was playing.”
Stella just groaned and shook her head.
“Commet,” Mic said again, moving in a bit closer to his eldest child, “just because you’re Royal now doesn’t mean you can rule the house like you’re king.”
“What? I can’t?” Commet’s mouth fell open and his eyes widened.
“No, you can’t,” Mic said. “You’re still a part of this family, and I expect you to act like it. Got it?”
“I got it,” Commet said and stretched himself across the couch again.
Mic raised his eyebrows. “Commet.”
“Fine, fine, fine,” he grumbled and sat up so the others could take a seat. Ash and Jasmine jumped for the corner seat, but Jasmine pushed the smaller Lenny aside and—
“Hey, my Fiery Marshmallow Hat!” Ash yelled and lunged off the couch after it. Stella seized the moment and jumped into the middle seat. When Ash turned around, he narrowed his eyes and flapped his wings angrily, but he plopped down on the floor when his three siblings glared daggers at him to move out of the way.
Mic just shook his head as he watched it all, then turned around to head back towards his study. Inside, he took a seat at his desk and pushed his latest writing project to the side. He pulled down his calendar and crossed out one of the few remaining boxes.
“Well,” he said, “tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve, so I guess we’ll need to hit the stores in the morning.”
* * *
The Food Shop was actually quite spacious inside, and Ash clung to Mic’s leg to not get lost. “I’m going to stay up all night,” he said.
Commet snorted beside him. “You said that last year, too.”
“But this year I mean it!” Ash said.
Commet opened his mouth to retort, but Mic stared down at him and he said nothing.
“Do we want garlic and herb crackers,” Mic asked, “or cheese, other cheese, and more cheese crackers?”
“Let’s go with the cheese,” Jasmine said, fluttering her glassy wings with boredom. “Then let’s go home. The Young and the Emo comes on soon, and I don’t want to miss it.”
“It’s going to be a repeat anyways,” Commet said. “It’s New Year’s Eve, after all.”
Jasmine glared at him. “So? No one celebrates till tonight. Morning shows shouldn’t be affected.”
“But it’s still a holiday.”
“Whatever.” Jasmine turned away and began amusing herself by reading the ingredients listed on the back of the crackers box.
Mic looked down at Ash and smiled, lifting him up and seating him in the cart. “What do you need?”
Ash looked around a bit. “What happens on New Year’s Eve?”
Mic began wheeling the cart down the aisle. “It’s just a new year, I guess—”
“And Sloth always invades at midnight,” Commet said and rushed in beside the cart, shoving his face close to Ash’s. “Last year, the Space Faerie barely stopped him in time. But this year,” Commet glanced sideways and brought his face even closer to Ash’s, “this year she has the Neoflu and Sloth’s gonna make it.”
Ash gasped and almost jumped out of his seat.
“Commet,” Mic said, “stop scaring your brother.”
“Sister, Dad,” Commet said. “Don’t you remember what the Lab did?”
“I’m not a girl,” Ash said.
“Yeah, you are.”
“Are too,” Commet said. “Isn’t that right, Dad, isn’t it?”
“I AM NOT A GIRL!”
Mic glanced around and smiled weakly at the group of Neopians who’d turned to stare at them.
“That’s right, Commet,” he said. “Ash is not a girl.”
“But it doesn’t matter. Ash is a boy. It doesn’t matter what the Lab Ray does to him, he’s still a boy.”
Commet crossed his arms. “Fine, whatever, but Sloth’s still invading at midnight.”
“It’s true, Dad. Trust me.”
* * *
The year was Y3, back when it was just Dad and me. We didn’t have a Neohome like we have now then, just a few walls of cardboard and a den made of chocolate. No wonder we don’t have that anymore; Mic wasn’t so good at earning Neopoints for food back then, and we got hungry. Yeah, life was hard. Life was real hard.
We had a warm winter that year. The days were hot and rainy; the nights were humid and damp. The refining of Air Faerie magic into electricity was primitive back then, and we had no lights, no fans, no Neovision. That was the worst. Yeah, it wouldn’t be for some years until the Defenders confiscated Sloth’s technology that those things would come around for us.
So it was New Year’s Eve and it was just Dad and me. It was hot and humid, and rain splattered against the house outside. Part of the ceiling had caved in and Dad and I huddled around a candle in the opposite corner with some blankets. Good thing it was raining and everything was damp, or the candle could’ve burned the house down.
Dad and I shared some cheese and crackers and used a couple confetti poppers, but we didn’t have a clock or nothing, so we weren’t sure if it was really New Year’s or not. Then Mic got out some books he’d been able to get and started reading them to me. I was big on stories then and I liked to read a lot.
“Wait, you can actually read?”
“Shut up, Stella. I’m telling the story right now.”
So where was I? Oh, yeah, Dad and I read a few stories with each other and decided it had to be after midnight by now. The rain had stopped, but it only left the air even more humid than before. But it was still late, and the cold weather was moving in, so we lay down next to each other and wrapped the blankets around us.
“No, Commet,” Stella said, “you were just too afraid to sleep alone, weren’t you?”
“I didn’t even have my own bed, Stella. Now shut up already!”
So we had just fallen asleep when this bright green light filled the sky and a thunderous boom split the air. Dad had been the first up, and when I woke up, he was standing by the hole in the roof, staring up into the green pillar of light that fell through it. First I thought the alien Aishas had come to take us, or maybe there were fireworks, but I was wrong. I was dead wrong.
Back then, it wasn’t long after Sloth had been foiled for the second time, but his name was still only whispered in fear he’d slaughter those who spoke it. He wasn’t the laughingstock he is now. Back then, people still feared him. They were terrified of him. We all were. But we didn’t know what was going on. The bright lights deceived us: We walked outside to see what was going on.
I will never forget what I saw that night.
The entire sky was glowing green. Spaceships shaped like saucers floated in the sky, green lasers shooting from their centers and stunning Neopians all around us, especially near the bigger cities. Giant, malformed Grundos marched across the ground, smashing anything in their way and sweeping up the Neopians to take them back as slaves or food or whatever they kept them alive for.
Dad picked me up and started running back into the woods. A laser blasted after us and our house exploded in a cascade of cardboard shrapnel. We lost everything we had that night. Everything. I’ve got a scar to prove it, too. I’d show it to you, but we’re in the store, and—
“Fine, Dad, I’ll go on. Forget I ever said anything.”
“Wait, Commet,” Stella said, “did you say something?”
“Shut up, Stella!”
Dad found a hollowed-out tree where we were able to hide for the night. Neither of us slept, though. The sounds of fighting filled the air. There was screaming and explosions and strange buzzing noises that to this day we still can’t explain. Finally, though, morning came, and it was silent.
Dad told me to stay put and he went out to look around. He finally came back and lifted me up again, but he never told me what he’d seen, and I don’t think I’ll ever know now. He took me to the Soup Kitchen, which had survived the night in a single piece even though a bunch of the surrounding shops had been destroyed and the Shop Wizard’s hat had been burned down. A bunch of other refugees were there, too, so we weren’t alone. Dad asked what had happened, and someone said that the Space Faerie had intervened just in time. No one had been expecting the attack. No one was prepared. Then, he said, before Sloth had left, he promised one thing: That he would return to finish what he’d started.
* * *
Ash was shaking terribly in the cart: Mic stopped unloading it to pick him up. “It’s okay,” he said. “Commet was just telling a story.”
“Was not,” Commet said. “It’s true, Ash—Sloth’s coming back.”
“It’s alright,” Mic said, looking into Ash’s green eyes. “Even if Sloth does come back, we’ll be safe, I promise.”
“Besides,” Stella said and stepped up to them and offered to take Ash, “that’s not how I remember my first New Year’s.”
Ash looked up at Stella as she took him. “It’s not?”
“Nope, it’s not.”
* * *
We celebrated the end of Y5 and the beginning of Y6 in Faerieland. It’s typically colder up there than down here because of their altitude, and it was no different that year. We were all in scarves and coats and even then, we were still cold. There was supposed to be fireworks in Faerie City, though, and we were determined to see them.
We began towards Faerie City from our inn just outside the gates a few hours before sunset. We wandered around a bit and admired the sights; then we found a small diner and enjoyed some of the richest Faerie pancakes I have ever tasted. The chocolate-orange syrup was absolutely delicious!
After dinner, Dad treated us to some Faerie ice cream. You probably wouldn’t imagine ice cream being any good when it was so cold out, but it was. Oh, it really was....
Anyways, after that we went outside and started towards Grand Faerieland Central Park behind the Queen’s castle and the Employment Agency. Oh, it was so beautiful! The flowers were all in bloom, bright yellows and pinks and blues! It smelled wonderful, just like candy.
“Get on with it, Stella.”
“You had your turn, Commet; now it’s mine.”
“Well, get on with it already!”
“It’s my turn—now deal with it!”
We had just arrived at Grand Faerieland Central Park, and there were so many people there that it wasn’t so cold anymore. Dad spread out the blanket we’d brought and we all sat down. A band of Light Faeries was singing up front, and their melodious voices filled the park with haunting harmony. We just relaxed a bit as even more people came and joined us. It became so crowded by sunset that it was hardly cold at all anymore.
After the sun had set—and it was such a beautiful sunset, gold and pink and amber waves across the deep-blue and purple sky; it was gorgeous—we all hushed as the band stopped playing and Fyora stepped out onto her balcony. We all stood up to see her better.
She stepped forward, waved to everyone, and then began to speak. “My people,” she said, “and my cherished guests, I have dreadful news to share with you. The Faerie in charge of heading the fireworks display has fallen ill. At our dire misfortune, we will have to cancel our fireworks tonight. I apologise on behalf of all of us here in Faerieland.”
An uproar of disappointed and pained cries swept through the crowd, but I was resilient and I wouldn’t give up hope. When Dad and Commet weren’t looking, I crawled off the blanket and ran towards the castle.
“You did not, Stella.”
“I did too, Commet—now be quiet and let me tell my story!”
I snuck inside the castle—I won’t tell you how amazing it was; it’d take all day—and quickly began searching for the room where the Faerie was. I must’ve run through a dozen rooms before I pulled open a door and saw a Fire Faerie lying back on a white couch.
I approached her timidly. “Are you in charge of the fireworks display?” I asked.
The Fire Faerie sat up some and smiled weakly at me. “I am,” she said, “but I feel ill. I... I don’t think I’ll be able to do it.”
“But you have to,” I said. “We’re all counting on you. It won’t be New Year’s without you.”
She shook her head. “I’m sure it’ll still be New Year’s without me,” she whispered. “I know everyone wants the fireworks, but my stomach’s fluttering and my hands are all sweaty. You should really leave soon, before you get sick, too.”
I shook my head and laughed at her. “You’re not sick,” I said. “You’re just nervous.”
“I am?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said and walked up beside her, “you’re just nervous. You’re afraid you’re going to fail and make a fool of yourself.”
She looked down and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am,” she said.
“But I know you can do it,” I said. “You’re going to do just fine—I know it! You’re going to be great and we’re all going to love it, I promise!”
The Fire Faerie looked up at me and smiled. “Yeah,” she said, “I can do this—I’m going to do this! Everyone’s counting on me, and I’m not going to let them down.”
She turned towards a clock that stood nearby and her face turned white. “It’s almost midnight,” she said. “We need to hurry.” As we ran into the hall, she said to me, “Hurry back to your family—I’ll see you again soon, out there.” She showed me a smile and I nodded back.
“You can do it,” I said and ran off down the hall back the way I’d come. I got back to Dad and Commet before they ever noticed I was gone. Just then, I saw a line of Faeries far ahead of us, the Fire Faerie at their front. They waved their arms and magic swirled around them. As the Fire Faerie orchestrated them, bursts of magic flew up into the sky and exploded in blasts of color and harmonious discord—the crowd oohed and aahed as Y5 turned into Y6 and everyone was happy.
* * *
“So there,” Stella said as she climbed into the carriage and took her seat to her Ash’s right, “New Year’s isn’t anything to be afraid of. Okay, Ash?”
“Okay, I guess,” Ash said, his wings folded tightly around himself even though he’d stopped shivering some time ago already.
Up in the front, Mic slammed the hood shut over the sacks of groceries and then climbed into the carriage next to Commet. “Everyone ready?” he asked.
“Yup,” they all said in unison.
Mic lifted the reigns and wrapped them around his hands. “Then hold on tight; we’re taking off.” He snapped the reigns and the force of his movement carried to the Air Faerie Token attached to the hood; the feather-shaped talisman began to glow and as the magic flowed throughout the wooden frame of the carriage, it lifted a few feet off the ground and shot forwards towards their home in Meridell.
* * *
They unloaded the carriage and carried in the groceries with little talking. Inside, as they were putting everything away, Commet asked, “When are we going to start celebrating?”
“Not till later,” Mic said. “I rented a movie we can watch on Neovision after dinner, so I figure we can get all our snacks out then.”
“How long’s the movie?” Stella asked.
“Two hours,” Mic said.
“So if we start it at eight,” Jasmine said, “it still leaves two hours till midnight once it’s over. What are we going to do till then?”
Mic turned around from putting the crackers in the pantry and smiled. “There’s a concert broadcasting live from Tyrannia on Neovision until eleven-thirty when it switches to Faerieland’s Grand Celebration. I’ve heard they’ll be performances and everything until the New Year’s fireworks display.”
“It’s a shame we can’t spend New Year’s in Faerieland again,” Stella said. “It was really cool that year when we were able to go.”
“Even though there wasn’t any sick Fire Faerie,” Commet said.
“You’re right,” Stella said. “She wasn’t sick at all, just nervous.”
Commet grumbled something and shook his fists. “Whatever, Stella.” He turned towards Mic. “I’m going to my room until lunch is ready. Okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Mic said. “I’ll be making the sandwiches soon. I figured we could go to the park and have a picnic; it’s not too cold out today, is it?”
“We can wear coats,” Stella said, and Mic smiled.
“Fine, whatever,” Commet said. “Just call me when we’re going to leave.”
* * *
“That was a great movie,” Stella said. Jazzmosis was performing on Neovision, but nobody seemed really interested. “Isn’t it great that Sloth shared his stuff?”
“Sloth didn’t share anything,” Commet said. “Did he, Dad?”
Mic shrugged and everyone turned to look at him. “From my research, it’s more likely that the Defenders of Neopia used reverse engineering to figure it all out than Sloth willingly sharing it, but I’ve contacted them directly and no one’s willing to confirm it.”
“Well,” Jasmine said, “I guess it really doesn’t matter. The point is, we have it, so why bother?”
“Yeah,” Stella said and shrugged, “I guess so.”
“Shall I start making the crackers?” Commet asked.
“Go for it,” Mic said. “I’ll be in to help in a minute.” He turned to his right and looked down at Ash, who had curled into a ball and was struggling to keep his eyes open.
“You okay?” Mic asked.
“Uh-huh,” Ash said and yawned. “I’m just going to take a little nap, okay?” He looked up at Mic and smiled. “Wake me up before midnight, okay?”
“Sure thing, buddy, sure thing.”
* * *
“Hey, Ash, wake up.”
Ash felt a hand shaking him and sat up groggily. “What time is it?”
“Almost midnight,” Mic said to him.
Ash blinked and jumped to his feet. “It’s almost midnight!” He looked around, saw everything was as it’d been before, and then rushed up to the window and pressed his face against it. “Where’s Sloth? Has he attacked yet?”
“I told you,” Commet said, “he won’t attack till midnight.”
Stella walked up to Ash and patted him on the shoulder. “Sloth’s not attacking, Ash. It’s just a story Commet made up to scare you.”
Ash took a breath and sighed. “Good, I almost thought he was attacking before I woke up. I was being abducted. And his middle name was Alfonso.” He shook his head.
“Come on,” Stella said, “let’s go watch the end of Fyora’s New Year’s special.”
“Okay,” Ash said and jumped away from the window and ran back to the Neovision set across the couch. He slid down on his knees and scooted up so close to it that the tip of his beak almost touched the screen.
“Anyone want cheese and crackers?” Mic asked as he carried in the tray of snacks.
“Sure,” Commet said and lunged for them. Stella lunged after him and both crashed into Mic and sent him tumbling backwards. The tray flew into the air, turned over twice, and finally clattered on the floor. Jasmine walked up to the mess and lifted the only unscathed morsel left on the tray and popped it into her mouth.
“Tastes good,” she said. “Thanks.”
“It’s almost midnight,” Ash shouted and jumped up to point at the screen with his wing. “Quick, you’re gonna miss it!”
Mic struggled to his feet and after frowning at the mess they’d all made, he joined his four children at the Neovision set. The countdown had already begun and they were already down to seven.
“Six,” Stella said.
“Five,” Commet said.
“Four,” Jasmine said.
“Three,” Stella said.
“Two,” Mic said.
“One,” Ash said.
To be continued...