Weisbauch Reports: An Interview with Ilere
I am deep within the Haunted Woods; Neovia is to the East, and the Deserted Fairground is to the West. Before me, a number of ghostly Meepits dance in a circle, their bodies moving to an invisible rhythm, and I patiently wait. Their ethereal glow illuminates the gnarled trees with their twisting branches, but, still, the night sky is blocked by the thick, dark canopy of rotting leaves.
Suddenly, the Meepits vanish, their dance having ended, and I am left alone; now, it is only my sheen that creates any light. Or so I think. In the distance, faint at first but growing in power as I near it, is the faintest hint of orange, like two weak coals burning through the fog. This is where I want to go – this is where I will find what I am seeking. With some trepidation, I step across the forest floor, through mildewed moss and wilted grass, no sound but the far-off cry of what I can only presume is a pack of feral Werhonds. Despite having been dead for more than a decade, venturing this deep into the shrouded maze that is the Haunted Woods still makes me fearful and fills me with dread.
But it is too late to turn back now; I must ignore any anxieties now, for here is my destination, a hollowed tree looking like some sort of face contorted into a pained grimace, an assortment of limp, green vines dangling over the entrance much like a door. Gingerly, I step forward and brush these vines aside with a hand – I know it is customary to knock, but am I really expected to whack my fist against the side of a tree? – and poke my head through, clearing my throat to catch the attention of the imposing, shadowy figure who stands in front of a weak fire, covered by a great, black cape with a viridian trim. Wings like wilted leaves poke through the folds of the cloth, and, falling ever so slightly out of that hood, I see thick, unwashed curls of green.
“Excuse me?” I decide to call out: this person is clearly far too occupied to note my presence. “Hello? It’s Weisbauch here, reporting for the Neovian Press. I believe we had an interview booked?”
The sound of my voice causes the figure to swing around with a great and unnecessarily dramatic swish of the dragging cloak, and, in the background, the fire suddenly flares with a deep red intensity. I almost expect to hear an imposing, disembodied chorus fill the room. The figure raises a thin hand pulls back the hood to reveal a face – pale brown skin, unnaturally iridescent green eyes and sharp, pointed features – and steps towards me, that unnervingly bright stare drilling into my very soul, a searching expression plastered across that face as she clearly wonders what on Neopia this ghost Kyrii in the buttoned-up waistcoat is doing here.
However, this subsides momentarily and is replaced with one of realisation. I am in the home of Ilere, best known as the beautiful, chilling earth faerie of the Haunted Woods and the mentor of the famed Sophie the Swamp Witch. I appear to have caught her off-guard, but, as she acknowledges coolly and calmly, this was indeed a booked appointment. She directs me towards a seat – or, rather, a low tree stump that appears to serve as a seat – and offers me a glass of vine tea, although her hospitality admittedly has all the warmth of a tired glow worm.
After peering into the bubbling green cauldron that sits atop her log fire, I politely decline, trying to hold back my disgust. I have never had vine tea before, but, if the viscous, Mortog-coloured liquid and the pungent odour are anything to go by, I never will. Ilere peers down her nose at me, almost as if to suggest I have offended her, but she does not dwell upon the matter, instead scooping herself a cup of the foul stuff and sitting down upon half a mossy log that apparently doubles as seating. Now, with my parchment in one hand and my ink pen in the other, I am ready to conduct this interview.
“So tell me, Ilere,” I begin, leaning forward in that faux-journalistic style that only causes her to move another couple of inches away from me, “Tell us about your early life. When did you first come to the Haunted Woods, and what for?”
Ilere cackles and tosses her hair dismissively over one shoulder. “Long before you were born, boy,” she assures me, her tone firm but highly evasive. One has to wonder how old Ilere truly is, but, at the same time, one wonders if they’d be fried by a blast of magic if they even tried asking. “And as far as my reasons go, well... I suppose things weren’t suitable for me back in Faerieland. I was always so different to all the other earth faeries. I can’t quite explain it – Faerieland is simply too fluffy for a woman such as myself. I always craved something darker. Your regular earth faerie girl liked to play among the clouds with Alkenores. Myself, I prefer ghost Meepits.”
“I hear they’re a lot more grounded now,” I quip before I can catch myself, and, if I still had blood cells, I would probably be blushing a brilliant scarlet. Ilere does not laugh, but nor does she seem horrifically offended. I imagine, for a long time resident of the Haunted Woods, her allegiance to Faerieland has since dwindled. Either way, I move on swiftly and try to put this distasteful joke to one side. Since we are on the topic of fellow earth faeries, I take the opportunity to ask Ilere what she thinks of Illusen, perhaps Neopia’s most famous earth faerie.
“Illusen!” Had I known the mere mention of this name would elicit such an angered reaction, I might not have bothered asking. “Bah. What a terrible excuse for an earth faerie. Sixteen minutes to fetch an item? Who does she think she is? And her own personal Neopian celebration in the calendar? Quite frankly, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. If Neopians want to spend a couple of thousand Neopoints just to get a few worthless cookies, they may as well sink their stocks into the bakery.”
I can’t say I particularly agree with Ilere, but I choose not to voice this opinion. Intrigued, I ask her why exactly it is that she feels such animosity towards Illusen, and whether the feeling is reciprocated.
“Oh, I doubt it!” she snorts derisively. “That girl in her Meridellian glade probably doesn’t even know who I am. No, she’s far too occupied oppressing Werelupes and denying them their territory.” Of course, this is the main reason for Ilere’s dislike of Illusen – her battle against the Werelupe King. Werelupes themselves are natives of the Haunted Woods. It makes sense that Ilere would sympathise with their desire to take Illusen’s land. “Besides,” she adds, “Werelupes aren’t bad at all. They’re just rather large, scary, hairy and misunderstood.”
“Like Bruno?” I swoop in quickly with a gotcha-question, and the annoyance plays across Ilere’s features. Here is another name she does not wish to hear. For those who don’t know, Bruno is the mutated brother of Ilere’s protégé, Sophie, who, by anyone’s description, is very large, very scary, very hairy and entirely misunderstood.
“Whilst I have no problem with Werelupes, I do have a few issues with Bruno,” Ilere says flatly. In her green eyes I can see the flashback, her mind travelling back to her first and, presumably, last encounter with the blue giant, which led to a dramatic fight between the two, culminating in a clear advantage for Bruno before Sophie stepped in, using her power to stop the brawl. It is clear from her tone that no self-respecting faerie wishes to be placed at the mercy of a Gelert, even an eight-foot tall one.
It occurs to me that speaking about people Ilere dislikes might result in a very short interview, so, changing my approach, I decide to discuss someone far closer to Ilere’s heart – Sophie the Swamp Witch. Here, her face almost softens – almost – and she leans back slightly, no longer tense with annoyance, as she begins to reminisce about the young Ixi. She speaks with a tone that reminds me ever so slightly of a mother talking of her successful daughter. Despite her cold exterior and her frost demeanour, it is evident that Ilere still cares about her apprentice even to this day.
“Ah, yes, Sophie,” she says wistfully. “I am proud of her. When I first saw her standing there with her brother, alone and scared, I knew taking her under my wing was the right thing to do. I recognised her potential. I do not normally make contact with others, but, on this one occasion, I felt it was my duty to help.”
‘Help’ is an interesting choice of word here. From what we know, Ilere actually led Sophie to her well-known shack and left her with a bunch of essentials for survival and a number of magic books. I point this out to Ilere, who snaps out of her dream-like state and fixes me with that same, hard-edged glare.
“Protection does not have to be physical!” she spits, and I cower slightly beneath her rage. “I helped her. She learned from my books. She survived on my provisions. I made her what she is today. Sophie is a powerful witch. You don’t learn magic like that from your average Conundrum Lenny. I instilled within her that resilience and that knowledge of magic that she so gallantly – and foolishly – used to help her people. Regardless of what you say, Sophie is a product of my help. Think how differently things would have turned out if I’d left her to the mercy of those revolting villagers.”
Does this make Ilere the true saviour of Neovia, then? I begin to pose to her this highly controversial question, asking her if she takes any credit for the restoration of that secluded little village on the edge of the Haunted Woods, but, before I can finish, Ilere holds up her hands and stops me mid-sentence.
“No,” she says firmly. “I did not save Neovia. I only saved Sophie.”
Ilere appears adamant on this fact, and I accept it immediately. Whilst I, personally, would not class Ilere as a villain, given the minimal yet crucial help she offered Sophie in her quest to reverse the curse that befell Neovia, she seems reluctant to be classed as a hero. Perhaps Ilere truly is still the deadly figure of the children’s ghost stories and Haunted Woods legends. Or perhaps she simply has an image to maintain.
At any rate, it is a question that goes unanswered, as the buzzing of my pocket watch indicates that it is time for this interview to end. Standing up, I apologise to Ilere for having to cut things short, explaining that my zombie friend, Ashinea, becomes highly nervous if I don’t make it home in time for dinner, which tends to be some sort of lovingly home-cooked dish that tastes absolutely abhorrent – but then again, if your nose is rotting, you probably can’t tell the difference. This is another joke that is met with a tense silence, and I conclude that Ilere is not one for humour. Thanking her wholeheartedly for her time, I extend my hand, by she chooses not to shake it, instead granting me an aloof, coldly civil nod of the head before seeing me out of the door.
“Goodbye, Weisbauch,” she calls as I begin to walk away. “And tell your fellow reporters not to come looking for me. You’re lucky you caught me at a good moment.”
I chuckle to myself. Perhaps Ilere is not entirely incapable of cracking the occasional morbid joke. I turn my head to see if she’s smiling, just to confirm that she was indeed speaking ironically, but, to my surprise, there is nothing there, only mist and trees and darkness. No more faint orange glow; no more glowing green eyes; no more Ilere. As mysteriously as her home had appeared, it had vanished, and, now, I was left standing in that same clearing, where the Meepits had been dancing mere hours ago. Despite having had the chance to pick her brains, the earth faerie of the Haunted Woods remains as enigmatic as ever.
And remain so she shall. Just in case she wasn’t joking, I shan’t be writing for a second interview. Personally, I don’t fancy spending eternity as a ghost Mortog.
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Sounds of fighting and screams are distant but the incessant knocking on the front entrance is all too clear.