One Day in the Glade
Vadellen, the blue Kyrii, struggled to climb the ladder leading up to the treehouse deep within the Meridell forest, burdened as he was with a backpack full of assorted goods. When he reached the landing in front of the wooden hut high in the tree’s upper branches, he set down his bag and paused to catch his breath. Hands on knees and chest heaving from the effort, he was nonetheless struck, as he was every time, by the stunning view this perch provided. The ancient trees, with their leaves rippling in the breeze, provided a cooling canopy over the soft and loamy forest floor. These trees stretched out in every direction, making the treehouse feel like a lone island rising out of a pulsing sea of green, but any loneliness was dispelled by the distant spires; red to the east and green to the west, the imposing castles of Kings Skarl and Hagan with their promise of civilisation. Looking down, he could see the ground, and from this height, the mossy mounds and clumps of flowers appeared like throw rugs placed by a deliberate hand. Feeling more composed, he turned and knocked on the hut’s rough-hewn door, and upon hearing the command to enter, he did so.
The Kyrii entered the hut and placed his bag on the large wooden desk that dominated the room, and although his mistress was sitting with her back to him while gazing out the window, he began to carefully unpack its contents, arranging them for her approval.
“Thank you, Vadellen,” came a bored-sounding voice from the seated figure. “You will find another list of items on the table by the door.”
“Yes, of course,” he replied. “I’ll get right on it.”
“That’s OK, take as long as you want.” The chair spun around, and with a heavy sigh, the Faerie cradled her freckled cheeks in the palms of her hands and leaned forward, thumping her elbows on the desktop. “Tell me, Vadellen,” she continued, absentmindedly twirling a long strand of red and green-streaked hair between her fingers, “are there very many in the Glade today?”
“Yes, Illusen, the line stretches as far as the eye can see into the woods.”
“Of course.” After another dainty sigh, she continued, “Oh, how I wish I wasn’t beholden to others to retrieve these items for me. How I wish I could take a day off and enjoy the sunshine, the lengthening hours as we approach summer.”
“Then why don’t you?” Vadellen asked the question even though he knew the answer.
The Faerie crinkled her nose into a frown, which was very becoming despite her humour, and replied despondently, “You, of all Neopians, know that I must be prepared in case Jhudora returns to Meridell. I just... wish... that for one day, for one day only, I could forget my responsibilities and walk among the common folk, the way I used to when I lived in Faerieland.”
It touched the Kyrii to imagine that a being with Illusen’s powers could be overwhelmed by her responsibilities, as overwhelmed as he, himself, sometimes felt by his duty to her service.
“Then, Illusen, I wish there was some way I could help you have a day like that.”
The Faerie slowly rose from her seat and approached the Kyrii. Narrowing her eyes at him, she carefully said, “You, of all Neopians, should know better than to speak lightly of wishes when talking to a Faerie.”
Vadellen paused slightly before replying, “I am at your service, Illusen, and your wishes are my wishes.”
Illusen placed her hand on Vadellen’s shoulder and said solemnly, “For one day only.” He took a deep breath and nodded in reply. The Faerie removed her charm and placed it around the Kyrii’s neck, saying, “To keep you safe from all harm while I am gone.” Before he could reply, a great gust of wind rushed in the open window, carrying with it an emerald storm of whirling leaves. He found it mesmerizing as he spun in its center, unable to focus on individual leaves, reaching out to touch the cyclone but only grasping empty air. Just as suddenly as it had entered, the wind whooshed back out of the window, carrying the leaves with it, and Vadellen slumped to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been abruptly cut. “Illusen?” he managed to squeak out, but his voice, sounding hollow and foreign to his ears, rang in the empty room.
Vadellen stood up again with some effort and approached the mirror above the hall table by the entrance. Although somewhere in his mind he had expected exactly this, when Illusen’s reflection gaped back at him from the polished glass, he swooned and crumpled.
Illusen found the heavy, muscular Kyrii body cumbersome to manipulate as she climbed down the ladder from her treehouse. When she arrived at the bottom, she unfolded the list of items she had chosen for Vadellen to retrieve for her today. Scanning through the list, she smiled to herself and thought, “This will be a snap to get.” Her lightened mood prompted her to attempt a clumsy jig, and she was still chuckling to herself about her physical awkwardness as she entered the glade.
Immediately, she was surrounded by an impatient and shabby-looking crowd of Neopets of all species and colours who began jostling her roughly with cries of, “Back of the line! No cutting to the front! We’ve been waiting all night!” Still not in complete control of her unfamiliar form, the Faerie was powerless to resist as she was shoved and elbowed back along the queue, each outraged voice informing the one behind, “He tried to cut the line!”, until she finally fell to the ground, coming to rest against a hollow stump with a loud thump.
Anger seethed within the Faerie as she stood up and the leaves in the trees far above the heads of the crowd began to rustle and steam like a boiling pot, although there was no wind. Had anyone been looking at the Kyrii instead of cowering with their gazes upraised, one might have noticed the scorched outline his body left against the stump, or the way the blooms shied and withered under his advancing feet. Instead, all watched in confused horror as the broad leaves in the trees above smoked and shrivelled and hailed down upon their upturned faces.
Illusen approached a green Kau dressed in a patched Potato Sack and, attempting to control the anger in her voice, said, “Why would you treat me so roughly?”
The Kau shyly blinked her long lashes in contemplation and answered, “It is the rules. We must all wait our turn to see the great Faerie, Illusen.”
A spotted Blumaroo interrupted, “Great Faerie? More like evil witch, if youse was to ask me.”
Illusen drew back as though she had been slapped and asked, “Witch? Why... why would you call her that?”
The Blumaroo chuckled and shook his head. “What are ya? A Noob? First time quester?” When Illusen nodded in response, the Blumaroo continued, “Do yerself a favour then, kid, leave before yer in too deep.”
Illusen shook her head in confusion and asked, “If you don’t want to do her quests, then why are you here? No one is forcing you to do them.”
The Kau stepped forward and replied, “It’s the economy. Inflation is out of control, the price of clothing and homes are skyrocketing. It’s becoming difficult to even feed a family anymore.” It was now, for the first time, that Illusen noticed a baby Skeith peeking out from behind the Kau’s legs, looking weak and hungry.
The Blumaroo bounced excitedly on his tail and added, “And don’t ferget the Marrow Tax! The Kings will take yer last few coins if ya ferget to stash ‘em away.”
“Then why a quest? Why not open a shop? Why...”
Again the Blumaroo cut in, “A shop? Har har har. Listen to youse! It takes coin to open a shop. It takes money to make money, and right now, no one has any money. We come here, day after day, bringing that witch everything she asks fer, hoping to please her Nibs enough to earn a decent reward, and what do we get? Cucumber Eye Cream and Rose Shakes!”
“Yes, but I... she works very hard at making those rewards for you. And... and besides, you know what the reward will be beforehand, so how can you be disappointed?”
The Kau shook her head sadly, levelling her large brown eyes at the Faerie and said, “I’m desperate for a Honey Potion. A reward of that value is the only thing that will save our home. I’d imagine everyone here is hoping for one.”
Illusen turned from the Kau and scanned the gathered crowd, roughly estimating their number. “If everyone here were to receive a Honey Potion today, if it were even possible to make that many, they would lose their value. It must remain a special reward for completing the 35th quest.” As she thought about her own words, Illusen nodded to herself and exclaimed, “Yes. The 35th is fair. You wouldn’t believe how many fail, how many refuse to bring that 35th item.”
“Refuse, is it?” the Blumaroo demanded. “I can’t count how many times I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of neopoints to bring that witch her random items, bowing and scraping, accepting her worthless trinkets, only to have her demand something impossible fer the 35th quest. And then she smiles all sweetly at ya, ‘Oh dear, back to the easy quests fer ya’. Bah! Take my advice, kid, run before ya get in so deep ya need to keep coming back again and again to just break even.”
Illusen felt her mind become clouded by the Blumaroo’s words, and as she looked upon the Kau and her hungry child, she could only shake her head sadly and back away into the woods.
Illusen had a long walk ahead of her, and the added exercise involved in controlling the strange Kyrii body helped to pass the time and focus her thoughts. She thought now of Vadellen, her loyal Kyrii assistant, and the gift he had given her of a day to herself. Pondering the unexpected results of that gift so far, Illusen’s thoughts now turned to the Neopians, those hopeful questers, she had met in her Glade earlier.
Could all of Neopia really think as little of me as those who come to the Glade? Illusen thought to herself. I mean, after all, they come to me. They want to do the Quests. I don’t believe I’m as unfair or inflexible as they make me out to be. How many think of me as ‘an old witch’? For what? For enforcing rules?
The longer Illusen stewed on these questions, the more her concern turned to indignation. Unnoticed by the passing Faerie, the weeds and ferns at the sides of the forest path drooped and deflated from the heat of her palpable rage.
Illusen emerged at last from the trees and into the bustle and excitement of Neopia Central. Pulling the shopping list from her backpack, she went from store to store, easily buying the needed items. Noting that the final object, an Orange Gelert Plushie, would be available in the Plushie Shop, she made her way to the Neopian Plaza.
When she entered the store, Illusen was surprised to see how little stock lined the shelves. And yet, the shop itself was crowded with Neopians, jostling and squirming, shoving the Faerie with practised elbows. At last a delivery arrived, but to Illusen’s dismay, the newly arriving plushies flew off the shelves within seconds of restocking. Not quite certain if an Orange Gelert had even been part of the delivery, Illusen turned to a nearby mutant Draik and asked, “Excuse me, but is there anywhere else I could get a plushie, it’s for Illusen’s Quest.”
The Draik wrapped his arms tighter around the Faerie Bruce Plushie he had managed to grab, and in a commiserative tone answered, “You could try the Shop Wizard. He’ll let you know whose shop to look in; it saves a lot of time out there in the Marketplace.”
“Oh, OK. Thank you very much.”
The Draik stopped the Faerie with a gentle hand on her shoulder and asked, “If you don’t mind telling me, what did the old witch ask you for, anyway?”
Illusen took a deep breath to control her desire to strike the impertinence right off the Draik’s smug face, and replied in a voice more calm than she felt, “An Orange Gelert Plushie.”
The Draik whistled and said, “I was afraid of that. You’re not going to find one in a shop—it’s too expensive. You’ll need to go to the Trading Post. And you’d better hurry; if you don’t make the next ferry to Mystery Island, you’ll never catch the last one back to Meridell tonight. And we all know what a stickler Illusen is with her time limits.”
Illusen released her breath, deflating her body along with her spirits. The Trading Post? she thought. But that’s so far away. And what will Jhuidah think? I can’t let her know it’s me.
Illusen thanked the Draik, and hitching her backpack more firmly around her shoulders, she left the shop and headed for the Ferry Launch.
The sinking sun threw long shadows across the forest floor and Illusen quickened her pace to reach the treehouse before its light and warmth were completely extinguished. Arriving at the ladder, she wearily began to pull herself up, thankful for the strong arms and legs of the Kyrii body, but sorely missing her wings. It had been a strange and wonderful, but thoroughly exhausting, day.
She gained the landing and removed her backpack in order to catch her breath, and the sight from this height struck her as though seeing it for the first time. Spreading wide her arms to encompass the treetops, the Faerie closed her eyes and breathed in the dusk, the earth, the musky organic scents of a forest alive. With a perspective she hadn’t enjoyed when she had left in the morning, Illusen finally sensed her place in the world. She turned and entered the hut.
As she approached the desk that dominated the room, a seated figure who sat looking out the large picture window turned, faced her, and with a broad smile said, “Illusen”, before rising to approach. They each paused to wonder at seeing their natural forms inhabited and animated by another before hurrying into a relieved clutch.
The two embraced for several moments, each communicating a newfound appreciation to the other, and as they did so, a warm wind rushed in the open window as it had in the morning, so recent and yet so long ago. Swirling leaves, like verdant ribbons, encircled the pair with a whirlwind of twisting green light and matter that disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. After steadying the Kyrii so that he wouldn’t fall from the shock, Illusen gently broke away and patted down her leafy skirts and straightened the gold buckle on her belt, nodding to Vadellen that the transformation seemed to have been accomplished.
As she approached the desk again, Illusen said, “Thank you for this day. It has opened my eyes to so much I didn’t know.” She began to unpack the items from her backpack, and picking up the Orange Gelert Plushie, she said, “Vadellen, I had no idea these items could be so hard to get. For this plushie here, I went to the Plushie Palace then to the Shop Wizard, just in case he knew of a buyable one, and then to the Trading Post! So, I finally got there, on Mystery Island, and when the only person selling this plushie heard that I needed it in a hurry for your quest, he doubled the price! Can you believe it?”
Vadellen chuckled knowingly and replied, “That happens all the time.”
“Well, I didn’t know that, Vadellen. I didn’t know that at all.”
The Kyrii grew uncomfortable under the Faerie’s compassionate gaze and quickly stated, “I learned a lot about your experience in the glade as well. Everyone bowing and flattering, begging for your favour, so gratefully accepting your rewards.” After pausing for a moment’s contemplation, he added, “But, Illusen, perhaps I should have told you a long time ago how they speak about you when they leave your presence...”
Illusen held up her hand and said, “I’ve heard that, too, Vadellen, and I appreciate you trying to shield me from it. I’ll just say I have a new understanding of that, too.”
The Kyrii raised his hand to his throat, and finding that Illusen’s charm had stayed with him through the transformations, said, “Speaking of shields, I should return this to you.”
Illusen closed her hand over top of the Kyrii’s and said, “No, I think maybe you should keep that for now. It is a lot more dangerous out there than in here, I fear.” The Faerie began to walk around her desk, but before sitting in her chair, she spun and asked, “Tell me, Vadellen. Did a spotted Blumaroo meet with you today?”
The Kyrii smiled and replied, “Yes, Illusen. He was quite a character.”
“And did he succeed?”
“Yes, Illusen. He brought back the item for a 32nd quest, but although he thanked me profusely for the Earth Potion, I’m not certain he was all that pleased with it.”
Illusen smiled as she imagined the scene. “Well, I’ll be watching out for him tomorrow. Maybe we’ll have a little chat about things like duty and gratitude.” Her brows then drew into a frown as she asked, “And a pretty green Kau? With a baby Skeith? Did she succeed as well?”
Vadellen lowered his voice and replied, “She brought the item for a 35th quest, but she got here too late with it. I... I was forced to send her away empty-handed.” The Kyrii felt his cheeks begin to burn with shame, and he turned his head so that the Faerie couldn’t read his disappointment with her rules.
Illusen sat down in her chair and spun to face the open window. The Kyrii knew from practise that this was his mistress’ way of dismissing him for the day and he grabbed his backpack from the desk, surprised at the weight of it.
“Tell me, Vadellen. Would you know where to find the green Kau?”
“Yes, Illusen, she is a labourer at Meri Acres Farm.”
“Then would you do one more thing for me today? Would you please bring her the parcel in your bag?”
“Yes, Illusen. Of course.”
As the Kyrii turned to leave, Illusen’s voice reached him in a tone both weary and contemplative, “And thank you again, Vadellen. Thank you for this day.”
“Of course, Illusen.”
Vadellen exited the hut and paused on the landing to marvel at the golds and corals that hung on the horizon, the sun’s last gasp before retiring for the night. With a glance over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t being watched, the Kyrii pawed around in his backpack until he could see what was in the parcel, and when he saw what it was, he smiled broadly to himself before beginning his nightly descent of the ladder from the treehouse.