Another Ill-Fated Faerie Festival
Fyora sighed with a mixture of relief and regret. Today was the annual Faerie Festival, which, given what had happened at last year's Faerie Festival, everyone was rather nervous about attending. Fyora and her head of palace security, none other than Aethia the Battle Faerie, had spent months working out the security measures they hoped would prevent any evil sorceresses from sneaking into the Festival and petrifying all the faeries again.
This year, the Festival was not being held in a garden, where anyone could wander by and cast a spell on the faeries, but in the grand ballroom of the palace. The large windows of the ballroom had been specially enchanted so that the faeries inside could look out and see the beautiful gardens, while those outside the windows looking in would see only their own reflections. Security in and around the palace was on high alert, and the guards in and around the ballroom had been hand-picked by Aethia from the ranks of the Elite Royal Bodyguards; these warriors, a mixture of faeries and Neopets, were highly trained in both magical and physical combat, and were known to be quite intelligent. The door to the ballroom would be guarded by two rather imposing faerie Grarrls, each of whom had an enchanted copy of the guest list which could not be altered, stolen, or destroyed. Aethia had assured the Queen that these two Grarrls were very intelligent, as well as fierce warriors, and could be counted on to verify that each faerie attempting to gain entrance to the Festival was in fact on the guest list.
Fyora surveyed the decorations one last time. She had decided that this year's theme would be "Faeries of Neopia." Each of the tables lining the perimeter of the ballroom held and ice statue, specially enchanted against melting, depicting one of the more well-known faeries or a generic faerie of one of the six elements. Much careful thought had been given to the placement of the ice statues: Jhudora's statue was on the opposite side of the room from Illusen's, the light faerie statue was nowhere near that of the dark faerie, and the statue depicting the Faerie Queen was neither too prominent nor too insignificant.
Fyora watched as the servants finished setting out the trays of food, then turned towards the door at the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching. Aethia, flanked by the two faerie Grarrls and followed by the dozen guards who would be stationed around the room, approached the Queen, bowed, and said, "Your Majesty, it is nearly time to begin."
Fyora nodded at Aethia, then turned and addressed the guards. "My loyal bodyguards, you have been chosen for the special purpose of guarding myself and the other attendants of this year's Faerie Festival. You will work three-hours shifts, and I must ask each of you not to leave for your break until your replacement has arrived. Please stay alert while you are on duty, keep your eyes and ears open, and report any suspicious characters or actions to either myself or the Battle Faerie. Understood?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," the guards responded in unison.
"Good. I would like you all to assume your posts now, with the exception of the two door guards."
The guards, apart from the two Grarrls and the Battle Faerie, bowed respectfully to the Queen and spread out around the room. Aethia handed Fyora two scrolls, which were the enchanted copies of the guest list. Fyora read them over to make sure they were identical and had not been tampered with, then presented them to the two Grarrls, saying, "Remember: do not let anyone in if they are not on the guest list, and check to make sure each faerie's name is on the guest list before letting them in. Understood?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," the Grarrls replied, bowing.
"Very good. If you would please assume your posts now?"
The Grarrls bowed again to the Queen, then positioned themselves on either side of the doors. At a sign from Fyora, they opened the large double doors to the ballroom, and positioned themselves to intercept the few faeries already waiting to be allowed in. Fyora turned to the Battle Faerie and said, "What are we missing, Aethia?"
Aethia pondered this for a moment, then replied, "I don't know, Fyora. Apart from not holding the Festival at all, I can't think of anything else we could do."
Fyora sighed. "You and I both know that we had to hold the Festival again this year, if only to boost the morale of the citizens of Faerieland. Canceling the Festival would just send the message that we are too scared to face evil, and then what would happen to our reputation?"
"I know. It's like I tell all my new recruits: if your enemy knows you are afraid of them, they can use that fear against you. We must show Neopia that we are not afraid to face our fears."
With that, the two faeries parted ways, Fyora to welcome her guests and Aethia to check on the guards.
The Faerie Festival was an all-day event, scheduled to start at ten in the morning and continue on until Fyora decided she'd had enough. At precisely ten o'clock Fyora started off the festivities with a short speech welcoming all the faeries. At her signal a group of talented air faerie musicians struck up a dance tune, and the faeries happily spent the day dancing, standing around gossiping, and sampling the variety of faerie-themed refreshments provided.
It was about the middle of the afternoon when things started to go wrong. Fyora, who was standing by one of the refreshment tables polishing off a light faerie sundae, spied the Happiness Faerie talking to none other than Jhudora. The Queen then scanned the room for the Battle Faerie, finally spotting her approaching from the other side of the room. Fyora set the remains of her sundae on the table, then motioned for Aethia to join her near the windows. The two faeries made their way to the large windows, where they would be relatively undisturbed; apparently the other faeries felt the view of the garden on the other side of the windows was too painful a reminder of last year's Festival, and unanimously avoided it.
"Did you see the Happiness Faerie over in the corner, talking to Jhudora?" Fyora whispered urgently to Aethia as soon as they met.
"I did. I already questioned the guards at the door, and they assure me they didn't let the Happiness Faerie in, though one of the other guards found a green invisihat on the floor a few minutes ago," Aethia replied, also in a whisper.
"Do you know if Mira is here yet? She assured me she was going to attend."
"I just saw her over by the musicians."
"What about Illusen?"
"She's over by the table holding her ice sculpture, talking to Kari and Taelia."
"All right, you go get Mira, I'll go get Illusen, and the four of us will meet in that alcove over there." Fyora nodded towards a rather secluded alcove near the windows, which held a semicircular padded bench. "Try to make it look like we just met there by chance--I don't want to arouse suspicion. Between the four of us we should be able to come up with a plan."
The two faeries parted, each on their separate missions. Aethia made her way over to Mira (better known as the Space Faerie), said something to her, then nonchalantly made her way over to the guard nearest the alcove. Mira picked up a drink from the nearest table, then walked over to the alcove, looking for all the world as if she just wanted to sit down for a bit. Meanwhile Fyora made her way over to Illusen, talked to her for a moment, then slowly led her around the room to the alcove. There they greeted Mira and Aethia, and the four faeries sat down on the bench in the alcove. Fyora muttered a spell under her breathe that would make it impossible for anyone near the alcove to catch the conversation of the four faeries; given the noise level in the room, this was not too hard to believe.
Fyora then turned to the others and said, "Aethia and I just saw the Happiness Faerie talking to Jhudora, and I think they're planning something. What should we do about it?"
Mira said, "Aethia and I were just discussing a few plans, any of which might work."
"Do any of them have a very low probability of resulting in my palace being zapped by a death ray?" Fyora asked skeptically. "I cannot agree to a plan that would endanger my subjects or myself, and they're so close to finishing rebuilding the palace."
Mira thought for a bit, then said, "Yes, I think that can be managed. Would you be willing to allow one Neopian Times reporter in here as a sort of distraction?"
"As long as I don't have to grant them a long interview," Fyora replied hesitantly.
"Where are we going to find a reporter?" Illusen asked.
Aethia chuckled, "If there aren't any camped outside the gates, I'm sure there are some milling around in Faerie City. I'll send one of the guards to find one."
"I'd prefer someone rather naive," Mira continued, "and it's essential that they have a camera with them."
Aethia nodded, and Fyora asked, "Why?"
Mira smiled and said, "Well, here's my plan..."
Fyora was standing next to the windows, watching the guests. She spotted Aethia moving through the room, accompanied by a cloud Cybunny, who was presumably a reporter for the Neopian Times. From the awed expression on the Cybunny's face as she surveyed the room Fyora was confident that this was just the sort of reporter Mira had asked for.
Aethia and the Cybunny approached Fyora, bowed, and Aethia said, "Your Majesty, may I present Merhlana, a reporter for the Neopian Times?"
The Cybunny bowed again, and Fyora said, "Welcome to the Faerie Festival, Merhlana. Did Aethia mention what sort of article I had in mind?"
The Cybunny reporter nodded and replied, "She told me you wanted me to get the opinions of a few of the faeries about this year's Faerie Festival, and combine said opinions with a description of the decorations and food." Encouraged by the smile on the Faerie Queen's face she added hesitantly, "Er, Your Majesty, I, ah, noticed the, um, Happiness Faerie is here, and, ah, I was wondering, that is, are you..."
"I most certainly did not invite the Happiness Faerie, and I am fully aware of who the Happiness Faerie really is," Fyora interrupted mercifully. "I was just trying to figure out how to get said 'faerie' to leave without being too impolite."
"Why don't you go interview some of the faeries standing near the Happiness Faerie, and help us keep an eye on 'her'?" Aethia added helpfully.
"Okay," said the reporter, "thanks, Your Majesty." She bowed to Fyora, then made her way over to where the Happiness Faerie and Jhudora were standing.
Fyora and Aethia watched the Cybunny's progress, and just as she approached Jhudora Fyora nodded to Illusen, who was standing near the Queen. Illusen waved her hands in a complicated gesture and muttered a spell under her breathe. Suddenly, the Jhudora's Cupcake the dark faerie had been just about to bite into turned into a Jhudora's Exploding Muffin, which promptly exploded, covering Jhudora in sticky green glop. At the sound of the explosion everyone in the room turned towards Jhudora. For a split second the only noise in the room was the frantic clicking of the reporter's camera, the everyone started laughing at the sight of the famous dark faerie covered in exploded muffin. Jhudora used her sleeve to wipe some of the glop off her face, then screamed, "Illusen! You'll pay for this!"
Before Jhudora could blast her rival, a high-pitched scream pierced the air, followed by more frantic camera-clicking, and everyone turned towards the corner of the room where the Happiness Faerie had been standing. There stood Dr. Sloth, now clad only in his--
"My Little Uni boxers?! Really?" an air faerie exclaimed incredulously.
Indeed, the evil scientist was wearing a pair of pastel pink boxers printed with happy-looking baby Unis. The faeries stared at Sloth in shock for a few seconds, while the reporter's camera clicked away, taking picture after picture of the embarrassed evil scientist. Then, everyone in the room started laughing.
"Stop laughing at me, you pathetic faeries! AND STOP TAKING PICTURES OF ME!" Sloth screamed.
"But I need these pictures for my article!" Merhlana the Cybunny said. "Just think of the headlines:
"Dr. Sloth: Evil Villain? Or Uni Enthusiast?
"Muffins Make Jhudora Mad!
"and all with full-color photogr--Eep!"
Merhlana dived under the nearest table as Sloth tried to grab her camera and Jhudora shot a spell towards her. The next instant, everything seemed to happen at once.
Jhudora raised her wand to aim another spell at Merhlana--
--Mira, holding Sloth's Happiness Faerie costume, raised her hand and gestured, muttering a spell--
--Merhlana grabbed an empty antique silver platter from the table she was hiding under and held it in front of her like a shield--
--Jhudora sent another spell towards the reporter--
--Sloth disappeared in a cloud of dark blue smoke--
--Jhudora's spell hit the platter Merhlana was holding and ricocheted back towards Jhudora, enveloping the dark faerie in a puff of green and purple smoke.
Illusen ran over to where Jhudora had been standing, and found an angry-looking Mortog in place of the dark faerie. Illusen picked up the Mortog and held it up to her face, saying mischievously, "Hello, sister."
"Illusen," Fyora warned.
"I know, I know," Illusen said. She waved her hand over the Mortog and muttered a spell, and the Mortog disappeared in a puff of green smoke. Turning to Fyora she said, "There. I've sent her back to her bluff, and made sure the Mortog spell won't wear off for a good twelve hours at least, which should give me plenty of time to get home safely."
Merhlana crawled out from under the table, still clutching the platter. She stood up and, looking at the platter incredulously, said to Fyora, "So, is this just a regular antique silver platter, or does it have some special enchantments on it?"
Fyora took the platter from the Cybunny, looked it over, then put it back on the table and said, "No, it's just a plain silver platter. Why do you ask?"
"This is Faerieland, after all, and, well..." She gestured at the spot where Jhudora had been standing moments before.
Fyora nodded, then turned to the Space Faerie, who handed her a scroll and said, "You might want to read this, Your Majesty. I found it in the pocket of Sloth's cloak."
The Queen read through the scroll, grimacing at the contents. She then turned to the assembled faeries and, her voice magically amplified so that everyone present could hear, said, "I would like to thank you all for attending this year's Faerie Festival. Unfortunately, I am afraid I must cut the celebrations short, though I hope you all enjoyed yourselves today. I must ask everyone who ate any of the Poisonous Lollypops to report to the Healing Springs immediately, and if some of you who are skilled at casting healing spells would help out at the Healing Springs this afternoon, that would be wonderful. Again, thank you for coming, and I hope to see all of you at next year's Faerie Festival."
As the faeries filed out of the room, Fyora turned to Merhlana and said, "I don't recall ever seeing your name in the Neopian Times. Have you been with the Times for very long?"
"Er, not exactly," Merhlana replied, "but my owner has written a number of articles for the Neopian Times. You might remember her; she and Alisinara, my older sister, interviewed you for an article called 'Faerie Footwear Findings'."
Fyora smiled and replied, "Ah, yes, I remember them. That was one of the strangest interviews I've ever done."
Merhlana continued, "Her last story was called 'The Altador Cup Letters,' which I want to say was in issue #505, though I could be wrong."
At the mention of "The Altador Cup Letters", Fyora's smile turned to a slight frown, and Illusen, who was standing within earshot, spun around to stare angrily at Merhlana. "Your owner was the one behind 'The Altador Cup Letters'," Fyora said, her voice devoid of emotion.
Merhlana nodded. Thinking quickly, the Space Faerie said, "Why don't you go on home and work on your article for the Neopian Times?"
The Cybunny smiled brightly at her. "I will. Thank you, Your Majesty," she said, turning to Fyora and bowing.
As Merhlana hopped off, Illusen muttered under her breath, "'The Altador Cup Letters'! Is that why you let her in here?"
"No, though I no longer have any qualms about this plan," Fyora murmured. "I should probably write to King Altador, though, and warn him that that Cybunny's owner is about to become the focus of both Jhudora's wrath and Sloth's anger--she lives in Altador, you know."
Fyora glanced around the mostly-empty ballroom and sighed. Illusen grinned at Fyora and said, "Well, at least it ended better than last year's Festival!"