The Evil Ring
It had been a long week. Tadri had no idea why, but for some reason she couldn't shake this particular feeling off of herself. It was a feeling of exasperation, one that ebbed at the back of her mind and the sides of her stomach. She had been loving her new life with Blue and the family - but as this feeling continued to grow on her, Tadri had distanced herself from the others.
She sat in her favorite spot - a grey rock that jutted out of the ground at such an angle that was perfect for sitting. Its smooth surface held a slightly chilling coolness today, giving Tadri goose bumps. She looked up at the cloudy sky, its colors clashing vividly against the turning leaves of the woods.
Behind her, Tadri could faintly hear the laugher of Ionist and Dovn as they played in the tree house near their home. Tadri knew she wasn't supposed to go further than the empty field her rock was in. She knew Blue had clear rules about the buddy-system when going into the woods.
But she also knew that whatever was causing this feeling must be solved by her and her alone. So she stood, hopped the small distance from the top of the rock to the ground, and brushed herself off. After tightening her scarf and pulling her knit hat securely down on her head, Tadri headed to the west. After a few steps, though, she stopped and looked back.
"Tally, you coming?" she called to her beloved Faellie.
The little creature yawned, clearly not happy about being aroused from a nap. Reluctantly Tally shook herself awake and caught up with Tadri, using the autumn breeze to fly lightly beside her. When the pair had crossed the field and were on the verge of entering the woods, Tally shot Tadri a warning look.
“Come on, Tally, live a little! It's not like we're going to go far. Besides, if I don't get rid of this... whatever it is that I can't stop thinking about, you and I will be isolated forever as I sit on the rock and wonder," she argued.
Tally, who did indeed miss her other petpet friends, rolled her eyes and silently agreed to go. Satisfied, Tadri pushed through the brown vegetation that had made a small barrier into the woods. Having accomplished this, she took in her surroundings; the forest floor was completely covered in a thin layer of dried leaves, making each of her footsteps crunchy.
Although some leaves still remained on the trees, enough had fallen to where Tadri could see the grey sky through their branches. Tally, who had landed on Tadri's back, shivered.
"Just be grateful we're in Meridell instead of the Haunted Woods," Tadri murmured, heading in the direction she felt would take her where she needed to be.
After an hour or so Tadri noticed a significant change in the air. The small annoyances she'd been feeling escalated into pure apprehension as she traveled closer to... something. As a few more moments passed Tally gently tugged on Tadri's ear. Turning her head to see the Faellie, Tadri watched as Tally brought her small paw to her face in a "Shhh" gesture.
Tadri instantly perked up her own ears, which were quite long, and listened. She could make out voices in the distance - one very lovely, like a song, and the other just as beautiful, but cold and hard enough to chill her blood. The two were still not close enough to actually understand the conversation, so Tadri moved closer as quietly as possible.
When they had come as close as Tadri dared to go towards the voices, she realized they had crossed this part of the woods and were now at the edge again. Peering through more brambles, she gasped as she saw who had been speaking. Tally quickly put her paw around Tadri and against her mouth, but the Dark Faerie had already heard her. Tadri froze.
Why couldn't Blue have painted me Camouflage? she thought in dismay.
The Dark Faerie, who was a fair distance away, yelled, "Come out of there immediately or I'll make you do it myself!"
Tadri looked to Tally with a "What should we do?" face. Tally just shook her head and gave Tadri her "I-told-you-so" look. Tadri figured the consequences would be worse if she ran, so she made her way out of the forest and into the clearing.
This clearing, though, was surrounded by flourishing trees and flowers of all colors and sizes. In the corner stood a quaint cottage that was well-maintained.
"Jhudora, leave the Neopets out of this. You came to talk to me, remember?" said the lovely voice.
Tadri looked around, confused. Then, she spotted Illusen the Earth Faerie high up in one of the trees sitting among its branches. Suddenly she realized she must be in the legendary Illusen's Glade!
"I'll do what I like, Illusen. Now you, Poogle! Go over there with all of Illusen's other little spies like a good pet," Jhudora said coolly.
Tadri knew that denying to the Dark Faerie that she was a spy and had never been here before would be fatal. Instead, she quickly looked to Illusen for help. The Earth Faerie casually stretched in the direction of the cottage and smiled reassuringly. Tadri, toting a hiding Tally upon her back, made her way swiftly towards the small house. Upon reaching it she wondered what to do next. Should she go straight through the front door? Luckily, she didn't have to decide.
"Pssst. Hey, you. Purple Poogle," she heard someone whisper.
The voice had come from around back; Tadri walked alongside the house and then turned left to see who had spoken. A Yellow Acara was poking her head out of the opening to a cellar, propping up one of the wooden doors with her paw.
"Come on, get in here, quick!" she hissed, motioning for Tadri to come over.
Tally urged the Purple Poogle to do as the Acara said with an impatient flick of her tail against her ear. Tadri made her way over to the cellar, its structure set in the center of the backside of the cottage. With help from the Acara, she climbed down into the thick darkness.
“Okay, everyone, quiet down!" said a voice of authority, hushing the murmurs that arose as the new arrivals joined the group.
Once the cellar doors were shut and locked securely, someone lit a candle. Others followed suit; soon the space was filled with patches of light darting to and fro. Tadri thought of how Aricur would love to be here now, much as she adored candles. Somehow Tadri knew that they all intended to stay silent - introductions would have to wait until later.
She sat alongside the others and tried to get comfortable. This place had obviously been used more than once; blankets were strewn here and there, and it looked as if someone had tried to sweep the dirt floor into a more orderly fashion. As she waited, Tadri tried to guess which Neopet had calmed everyone down when she first arrived. She singled out a few but couldn't pinpoint exactly who she thought had spoken.
It seemed like an eternity had passed when both cellar doors opened, letting in a bright flood of morning sunshine. Not knowing what to expect, Tadri was relieved to see the cheerful face of Illusen appear.
“It’s okay, little ones, Jhudora is gone," she said softly, extending her hand to help them clamber up and out of the darkened room.
Candles were blown out and set aside as each Neopet made their way out onto the springy grass of the Glade. When it was Tadri's turn, she looked at Illusen quizzically, about to ask what had happened.
“I'll explain things in just a few minutes," the Earth Faerie promised, patting Tally on the head before setting them both aside and reaching for a Shadow Gnorbu.
Tadri nodded and headed inside the cottage where the other pets had gone. The interior of the cozy house was warm and inviting. Noticing that everyone was gathered in the dining room, Tadri did the same and waited while everyone found a seat.
She then took a spot beside the Acara who had helped her hide earlier. When Illusen arrived moments later, she sat at the head of the table, her normally calm face pinched with worry.
“I’m sure you're all wondering what that was about." She sighed, folding her hands on the polished cherry wood table.
Tadri leaned forward, curious as to what the Earth Faerie would say on the matter.
"Jhudora has accused us of taking something very precious to her, and this is not the first time she has confronted me about it. I have no idea what she is referring to... we've not gone towards her land in months.”
“Did she say what it was?" asked a Blumaroo.
“The only description I could get from her was that it was a piece of jewelry. A ring," said Illusen.
Tadri felt as if her limbs had gone numb. Her mind flashed back to a few months ago, before she had come to live with Blue in Meridell. She had been trying to accomplish her dream of climbing to the top of Terror Mountain. Unexpectedly the Snowager had appeared in the distance, seemingly searching for something.
At that same moment a terrible snowstorm picked up, hiding Tadri from the Snowager but forcing her to take shelter in a cave as well. When the weather cleared up, she had walked over to the area where the Snowager previously dwelled. She remembered the sickly yellow glow the ring gave off as she dug it out of the snow. She remembered the deep throbbing sensation she felt as she started at the ring, cold in her palm.
She also remembered how she stuffed it into her backpack and headed home...
Snapping back to reality, Tadri tuned into the conversation once more only to find that the meeting was over. Should she tell Illusen that she had the ring? What sort of power did a piece of jewelry with such an intense aura possess?
As quietly as she possibly could, Tadri pushed the back door to her house open and stepped inside. Hearing the other petpets squeak with delight upstairs, Tally quickly fluttered in their direction with excitement. Still wary of being caught by Blue after being gone for so long, Tadri tiptoed towards the living room, unwinding her scarf from around her neck as she did so.
She began to sink down into the couch and sigh in relief-
“Tadri! Where on earth have you been?!” asked Blue angrily.
“Blue, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be gone for long at all. I had one of my feelings and I just followed my instincts-”
“Tadri, you know how much I love you. I adopted you because I care about you, and you promised you would follow the rules we have in this house. I’m only looking out for your well-being; I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I completely understand, Blue, and again, I’m very sorry. But I’m in sort of a fix, and I need your advice...”
Tadri began to recount the recent events to Blue, mentioning her trip to Terror Mountain as well as the relationship between the ring she found there and Jhudora’s rage at having something stolen from her. By the time she finished, Blue had sat down in her favorite chair, worry written all over her face.
“And you're sure this ring you found is the one Jhudora seeks?” Blue asked.
“I’m positive, there’s no other explanation.” Tadri sighed, guilty she had burdened Blue with her troubles but also relieved at having someone to contemplate them with.
“Giving the ring to Illusen wouldn’t be an option, because then Jhudora would just believe she had confirmed her suspicions that the spies of Illusen’s Glade had done the deed. You certainly can’t keep the ring, for I’m sure the Dark Faerie has ways of tracking it down. It looks like our only option is to sneak the ring somewhere. Flying to Faerieland or Jhudora’s Cloud is far too risky... I’ve got it. The Haunted Woods. We’ll travel to the Woods and toss the ring so deep within its clutches that Jhudora will never suspect you of taking it, then we’ll flee home.”
“What about Alrida, Venvito, Giubble, Ripht... we can’t all possibly travel together; we’d get caught,” said Tadri.
“I’ll call Janice and ask if she would mind house-sitting for a few days. She’s done it before. I’m sure Duckie will enjoy the company of our large family, as well.” Blue sighed, clearly apprehensive about the task at hand.
“Well, let’s start gathering up what we need...”
A few hours later Blue and Tadri were with a caravan headed for Brightvale, not wanting to travel all the way to the Woods publicly in order to prevent suspicion. When they arrived at the great city, it was late into the night. After walking across the bridge that took them out of Brightvale, they donned black cloaks and quickly ran towards the Haunted Woods, Tadri carrying the throbbing evil ring in her pocket and the ever-present Tally on her back.
It took them another day to cross the stretch between Brightvale and the Haunted Woods, and when they came upon the edge of the forbidding trees, the sun had begun to set.
“Do you think we can do this, Blue?” Tadri asked, losing her nerve.
“I know we can,” she replied, patting the Poogle reassuringly on her head.
Gripping her necklace as she always did when she was nervous, Blue took the lead as the pair entered the forest. A few hours later when they had traveled as deep into the area as they dared go, Tadri pulled the ring out of her pocket and held it once again.
Sighing, for it was against her traveler’s instincts to simply toss away such a great treasure, she clenched her paw tightly around the piece of jewelry, brought her hand high above her and behind her back, and threw. Glowing yellow, it soared further than anything else Tadri had ever thrown.
She could’ve sworn the wind blew harder at that moment as well, carrying the ring over even more distance. As soon as it was out of sight, a strange feeling came over the girl and Poogle. Hastily they turned back the way they came, but the path was no longer there.
They began to hear murmurs seemingly from the trees and whispers from the shadows. The moon rose to its full height at that moment, bathing the scene in an eerie silver light.
“Blue, why did none of this happen until now?” Tadri asked shakily.
“I’m guessing it’s the ring - it was probably so full of evil that even the darkness of the Haunted Woods shied from it. But with it out of our possession, we’re no longer a threat...”
At this point they took off running, not caring how they got out of the forest as long as it was soon. Tadri could feel her heart pounding, hear the sound of her paws thudding against the grey dirt of the Woods, and smell the fear emitting from both her and her companion.
Suddenly Blue abruptly stopped, sending Tadri practically crashing into her. She was about to ask why they were just standing there when she followed Blue’s gaze and gasped. A little way ahead was a silhouette of a creature, its antennae snapping and the one eye upon its face glowing. The figure began to shuffle their way, sending Blue and Tadri into a frenzy of screams.
But their fear was short-lived, however, as the moonlight revealed a Mutant Aisha with a Psimouse perched on her back. As the Mutant Aisha observed them she murmured, “Ah, so this is the family Aricur finally found a home with...”
“How do you know my Aricur?” Blue demanded, alarmed that this stranger knew a member of her family.
“I’m sure she’s told you that she once lived in these parts; we crossed paths a time or two. But the issue at hand remains - I’m assuming you need assistance to escape the Woods,” said the Aisha.
“Please, we would be grateful,” Tadri said, not wanting to lose their only hope of getting home.
“Very well, follow me.” They did as they were told and followed closely behind the Aisha, wary of their surroundings.
Blue and Tadri had lost all sense of time as they realized they were back on the outside of the Haunted Woods, Brightvale on the distant horizon.
“I can’t thank you enough... err, I never caught your name,” Blue said.
“I go by Evoda.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why do you spend your time in a dreadful place such as this one?” asked Tadri.
“I have nowhere else to go, for no sane owner would take a creature hideous as myself into their home.” Evoda sighed, a look of incomprehensible sadness crossing her face.
Blue’s heart went out to the Aisha, and without a second thought she said, “Come live with us. Our family is large, but so is our house. We have plenty of room for you, if you’d like to stay.”
Evoda pondered this for a few moments, unsure if she could ever have a normal life.
“Alright,” she said, “I’d love to.”
The three traveled back to Meridell, getting acquainted with each other along the way. When they finally arrived back home, introductions between Evoda and the rest of the family were made. Amidst all the chaos of getting Evoda settled, Tadri sat down and thought about how fortunate she was.
Blue had risked a lot to help get Tadri out of trouble with the Dark Faerie; that was more than anyone else had ever done for her. As she sat there contemplating this, Evoda approached her.
“There’s something I must tell you, Tadri. I know what you and Blue did in the Haunted Woods, and it was probably the best solution to your situation. But beware - the Evil One will return. What she seeks from you I am unsure, though.”
“How do you know these things?” Tadri asked, astonished.
“I just do. You best watch your back, Purple Poogle...”