Just a Game
“I’m soooo better than you. You can’t even hit the bull’s eye with eyes open; I can do it with eyes closed.”
Kal didn’t answer. The brown Draik was too busy staring at the arrow that had hit the middle of the bull’s eye. Its tail was still swinging from the impact.
“You cheated.” This was impossible. How had Rosie managed to shoot straight into the middle of the target with her eyes closed?
“No, I didn’t,” the spotted Aisha protested. “I’m just better than you and you know that.”
He did. As much as he hated to admit it, Rosie was better than him. Not that he would ever admit it aloud. No, instead he took the bow from her hand and smirked, an idea of how he could save his honour already coming to his mind.
“So you’ve had a lucky shot. Congrats. But I’m sure that you’re not going to do as well when the target is smaller. Like that apple over there.” He pointed at an apple tree in the distance. From where they were standing, the fruits looked small and impossible to hit. Just the right challenge to prove that Rosie was not as good with bow and arrow as she believed to be.
The Aisha stared at the tree, then at his friend, her eyes wide with disbelief. “You want me to shoot an apple?”
Kal forced himself not to grin. He had gotten her right where he wanted. “If you don’t think you can do it, that’s fine,” he said with a shrug.
“Of course, I can.” Rosie snatched the bow from his hand. “Just wait and see.”
The arrow whizzed through the air. Kal grinned. There was no way that Rosie would be able to hit the apple.
Rosie narrowed her eyes in anger as she looked at the arrow being stuck in a tree.
“Tough luck,” Kal said, doing his best not to burst out laughing at his friend’s expression. “See, I told you that there’s a difference between a large wooden target and an apple.”
The Aisha crossed her arms in front of her chest. “My arrow grazed the apple. That’s better than anything you could do.”
“Oh, come on. I don’t believe you. There were a few inches of air between your arrow and that apple.” Nonetheless, Kal took off towards the apple tree. He needed to see with his own eyes that she had completely missed the fruit and wasn’t better than him.
“Did I get it?” Rosie called out. Unable to fly, she wasn’t as fast as Kal, who had already reached the tree.
“No,” he answered, plucking the apple. His finger brushed over the lesion in the skin where the arrow had grazed the fruit. “Sorry, but you missed it.” He took a bite from the apple. “It tastes good, though.”
“Liar,” Rosie cried, stomping her foot. “You’re eating it to get rid of the evidence that I’m better with bow and arrow than you. You’re such a bad loser.”
“I’m not. I’m just eating it because I’m hungry and it would be a shame to let this apple go to waste.”
“Liar,” Rosie repeated, who had just reached Kal. “You,” she poked him with the end of the bow, “are,” another poke, “such a liar.” She poked him again in the stomach, causing the Draik to nearly drop his apple. “But I’ll give you a chance to show me that you’re just as good as me. You see the large flower over there? All you need to do is hit it.”
Large was an understatement. The flower was immense. But as far away from them as it was, hitting it was still a challenge.
“I will.” Kal took his bow and pulled an arrow out of his quiver. “Believe me, I will.”
Taking a deep breath, he aimed. It was essential that he got this one shot right. He breathed in again, then let go.
The arrow whizzed through the air and...
... missed the flower by a few inches.
Kal did not talk. He did not even turn to look at Rosie, sure that she was sporting a smirk that he would not be able to wipe off her face for the rest of the day.
“See? I told-”
Her sentence was interrupted by a female voice. “Who dares shooting at my glade? Come out and show yourself.”
All teasing and competitions were forgotten as the two kids identified the voice. “Illusen,” they said simultaneously. They looked at each other. Instincts kicked in and then they ran away.
* * *
“I can’t believe I hit Illusen’s glade.” Far away from the faerie, the two friends had collapsed into a heap of leaves at the side of the rode. “The only faerie here in Meridell, and I shot her home.”
Kal looked at Rosie’s face, saw her incredulous expression and burst out laughing. “Can you believe that?” Now that they had left Illusen behind and didn’t hear her angry voice anymore, the situation was funny. Even Rosie, though still shocked by what had happened, joined in Kal’s laughter.
”Let’s just hope that she finds it as funny as you do,” she snorted. “Fyora’s hat, I hadn’t even realised that we were that close to Illusen’s glade. The flower I pointed out probably belonged to her. Just imagine if you had hit and ruined it.”
Kal suddenly stopped laughing. “I nearly did. I’m just as good with bow and arrow as you. If the wind hadn’t blown the flower to the side, I would have pierced it right in the middle.”
“Sure.” Rosie nodded, her eyes sparkling with laughter.
“Excuse me,” someone interrupted their conversation. When the two kids looked up from their pile of leaves, they found themselves staring at a Moehog wearing a strange suit. It only took Kal one second to recognise who was talking to them.
The Moehog smiled. “That’s my name. I work for the Defenders of Neopia and I’m wondering if you two can help me. See, I just received news that someone tried to assassinate Illusen.”
“Illusen.” All colour drained from Kal’s face. He could feel Rosie’s hand beginning to tremble next to him.
“Yes, Illusen. It’s horrible, isn’t it? They tried to shoot her with an arrow. At her glade.” He paused. “Anyway, all I want to know is if you’ve seen anything suspicious today. Someone who doesn’t belong here or who acted strangely these days. Or someone who you know has hated Illusen for a long time already.”
Kal shook his head. His mouth had gone too dry for him to answer.
“No, sorry,” Rosie croaked next to him.
Judge Hog nodded, a smile on his face. “That’s fine. My apologies for having scared you. Well, I have to be on my way to solve the mystery of who did this attempt on Illusen’s life.”
Rosie took Kal’s hand and they nodded goodbye. They remained in this position on their pile of leaves until long after the Defender was gone.
“He thought we were scared,” Kal finally broke the silence.
“I am,” Rosie whispered. “This is... we never wanted to assassinate her. We didn’t even know it was her glade.”
“I was sure that he could read it in my face. But he thought we were scared.”
Kal did not expect a reply and Rosie did not answer. They had gotten away from the Defenders, but how long would the peace last? What if someone found out that he had been the one to shoot the arrow?
The Draik released Rosie’s hand and sat up. He reached behind him and took off the quiver he was wearing. Brushing off a few leaves, he counted the arrows. One was missing. It would only be a matter of time until someone got suspicious and recognised the arrow from Illusen’s Glade as his.
* * *
“My brother told me something interesting this morning,” Rosie said.
“Mmmh.” Crouching over the Symol hole and waiting for his Stego to come back, Kal barely listened to his friend. “Do you think Lolly will bring-”
“He said that he went to do a quest for Illusen.”
The Draik jumped back from the hole, suddenly much more interested in Rosie’s tale. “Illusen?”
“Yes. And you know what he said? That she isn’t giving out quests at the moment. That it’s safer for her not to until they’ve caught the one who tried to assassinate her.”
The Aisha crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked at Kal expectantly. “We need to go and tell her the truth.”
“No,” the Draik exclaimed loudly. “Are you crazy?” In a more quiet voice he added, “We can’t. Illusen’s a faerie. Do you have any idea what she’s going to do to us? She’ll be angry. Furious. My grandma always said that there’s nothing worse than the wrath of a faerie.”
“The Defenders are all over Meridell. They’ll find out one day.”
“No, they won’t. I burrowed my bow and the arrows in the depth of our basement, in one of the boxes that my parents haven’t touched for years. Nobody knows that we’ve been close to her glade that day.”
Rosie shook her head. “We should tell her.”
“No.” The two pets stared at each other, none of them willing to give in. Kal knew that eventually Rosie would win. Once she had a goal, she did not stop pursuing it until she reached it. His only chance was to divert the attention from the subject.
“Oh look what Lolly found,” Kal exclaimed, patting his Stego on his scales.
Rosie looked at him incredulously. “Nothing.”
It was only now that the Draik dared looking down. His friend was right, his petpet had not found anything in the Symol hole. “Oh.”
“Nothing, and it won’t get you out of doing what we need to do. We’re going to Illusen.” She jumped to her feet. “Now.” When Kal hesitated, she added, “Or do you want me to go there on my own and make you look like a scared chicken?”
* * *
Blackmailing him into going to Illusen. Rosie was really mean. If she hadn’t been his best friend, Kal would have never talked to her again. Or maybe he wouldn’t anyway, as he was sure that Illusen would hex them into oblivion once she found out what they had done.
The Aisha raised her hand to knock on the faerie’s door when Kal interrupted her. “Wait. Are you sure we want to do that? I mean... Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
She looked at him briefly, but the one moment was enough for him to see her twitching eyelid. His friend was at least as scared as he was. “Yes, I am.” Despite her fear, her voice was firm and filled with resolution. Before Kal had a chance to say, her knuckles rapped against the wood.
The children heard movement in the house. Footsteps approached the door and a few seconds later, a head poked out.
“I don’t give out quests at the moment,” Illusen said. She was about to close the door again, but Rosie stuck her foot into the opening.
“We did not come for quests.” The Aisha looked at Kal expectantly.
“Err... yeah, she’s right. We’ve come to talk about the... err... attempt on your life.”
“Did you?” Illusen tilted her head curiously. “Come inside.”
Neither of the young pets had ever entered Illusen’s home before. They were too busy shooting with bow and arrow and exploring the forests around Meridell to do faerie quests.
The door closed behind them. “Tell me. What do you know?”
Her voice was much softer than the last time Kal had heard it – when they had been running away from her. He gulped, dreading that the curiosity would be replaced by anger the moment she learned the truth.
“The err... attempt on your life. It was not...” He took a deep breath, then blurted out, “I didn’t want to. Shoot you, I mean. It was an accident. We had a bet going and I accepted it and then the arrow flew too far and it landed here and I didn’t think anything about it until you came out and were shouting.”
“It was my fault as well,” Rosie quickly added. “We were playing together with bow and arrow and I hadn’t seen your glade.”
Kal took her hand while they waited for Illusen to react. Her eyes grew wide, but she did not say a word. The Draik tapped his toes nervously. Was she thinking about the meanest spell she could use on them as a punishment?
“I’m sorry,” he quickly said.
But his words were drowned out by a sound neither of them had been expecting. Illusen threw back her head and burst out laughing. Her body shook and a tear of laughter ran down her face. “You? That was you? I spent a whole week fearing Jhudora had hired an assassin when it was two children?” If possible, her laughter grew even louder. “This is so ridiculous that it’s funny again.”
Encouraged by her reaction, Kal allowed himself to smile. He felt Rosie relax next to him.
Illusen’s laughter slowly died down. “You should have come to me immediately. But even if you waited, I still admire your courage. A game can easily go wrong, but admitting it is much more difficult.” She rummaged in a box and pulled out two cookies. With a smile, she handed them over. “Take them. Two cream cookies for two courageous pets.”
No hexing? Kal and Rosie looked at each other. They had eaten Illusen’s cookies before, but never before had they tasted that good.