Transmogrification: Part Three
At about eight thousand feet in the air, Joseph looked down for the first time. He regretted it the second he saw the endless expanse of sea below him. He wanted to retch--though the hideous form of Analeigh might have contributed to his sickness.
Within minutes, though, his feet were on semi-solid, slightly damp and very fluffy clouds. Although he felt insecure, as if he was about to plummet ten thousand feet to the deepest depths of Maraqua, he figured enchanted clouds and rock was better than open air.
"Alright," he said, swallowing to clear the shakiness out, "let's get what we came here for, shall we?" Analeigh nodded, looking almost more terrified than Joseph.
Stretching, Joseph scanned the area, wondering where the Fountain Faerie lived. A cloud, judging by the rest of the landscape. But specifically which cloud...
"Haven't you heard the story?" The young Kacheek seemed to be reading his mind again. "She lives in this gorgeous, magical fountain, made of two clouds, right? They're the whitest, purest clouds you'll ever see. And the water that flows between them forms a brilliant, vibrant rainbow, with every colour imaginable-more than normal rainbows!" She sighed, dreaming of how pretty it must be. This surprised Joseph; from what he'd seen she wasn't a girl interested in pretty things.
"Oh, and the rainbow isn't nearly as beautiful as the Fountain Faerie. Her hair is like-" Analeigh slapped her mouth gently with one of her mouth-tentacles.
"That's nice and all, and I'm sure she's beautiful, but where is the Fountain?" Analeigh squinted her one eye open-the radiant light given off by the faeries made her more sensitive-and glared at the serving girl.
"Oh, um..." she stammered, blinking. Caught off guard, he would guess. "To the east of Faerie City, if I remember correctly." She pointed absentmindedly where she thought east was-unfortunately, they quickly learned she had no sense of direction, as she was pointing down. Irving rolled his eyes and snorted, tossing his head to where east really was. Embarrassed, the servant asked Skye to fall behind.
The rich rainbow could be seen from where they were standing, and they made quick time, thinking that maybe they could get home before noon lunch. As they approached--Joseph's heart nearly stopping as they flew across the gap between clouds--they saw the Fountain Faerie waving away a significantly happier Buzz. She flipped her hair-a streamlined gold and aqua colour, almost more dazzling than the fountain-and the rainbow waterfall instantly dissipated.
Frowning, she addressed her newest visitors with the curtest of nods. "My fountain isn't working at the moment. Maybe you could come visit another time?" Her attempted sugarcoating just made the words more bitter to Joseph. About to turn, he was stopped short when the servant girl burst into a fit of rage.
"What do you mean, it isn't working? Not five minutes ago I saw you transform the Buzz into a pirate!" Her eyebrows were raised in an 'I caught you and don't you dare lie to me' glare; her hands flew to her hips, her elbows forming sharp ninety-degree angles. The faerie recoiled a bit at her stare.
"Do you not understand how this fountain works?" she snapped, scooping up a solid ball of water from the pool. "You have to complete a quest for me, and then the fountain will grant you one colour change of your choice, with a few exceptions. And before you ask, I don't need anything right now. You'll have to wait for a quest, like everyone else." Joseph dragged the servant away before she could blurt out something truly offensive to the faerie, Analeigh following behind dejectedly.
Wandering aimlessly for awhile, it Joseph was beginning to wonder if Analeigh would ever speak up when she finally did. "I'm doomed, aren't I?" Blinking, she sat on the sagging cloud and shook her head, repeating the question. Joseph stepped in front the servant, preventing her from bursting out again. Ever since they had taken off, the young girl had grown prickly and aggravated with everything.
"I'm sorry, Analeigh. I don't know what else to do." Although insufficient comfort, he patted her shoulder awkwardly. The servant bristled and turned towards the Healing Springs. Aggravated, Joseph called out to her. "What is your problem? Ever since we got here, you've been disagreeable and a complete nightmare!" He hadn't meant to snap such harsh words, but he couldn't hold it back anymore.
She stopped so abruptly that a passing Floud nearly ran into her head. Steaming, she turned and gave him the iciest glare he'd ever received. (Ironic, he thought, that she could steam and freeze at the same time.) "I'm sick of this girl. I'm tired of being walked on and used and misused, of devoting my life to her and never getting a word of thanks! And now she's crying because she didn't get what you wanted. I'm just done! Do you even," she hissed, advancing on Joseph, "know my name?" He blinked and realized that no, he didn't; didn't know so much as her name after asking so much of her.
Smirking, she shook her head. "I thought so. I'm done. Good riddance." She threw the last two words over her shoulder and mounted Skye, diving far below the clouds until she was just a tiny dot over the endless ocean ten thousand feet below. Joseph's mouth resembled a Goldy, and Analeigh was staring at the Floud, seemingly oblivious to what had happened.
"Where'd she go?" she mumbled, talking to the Floud.
"...Nowhere. We didn't need her anyways." He shook his head, completely bewildered by this sudden and complete change of attitude. "Let's go... That way." Truthfully, though, he had no idea where 'that' way was, or what it would lead them to.
Aruna buried her head in a book at the library, still steaming from her confrontation with Joseph. She knew that honestly, she was at fault and should have attempted to talk to Analeigh or Joseph--someone--about how she felt, but she'd kept it bottled up inside.
Oh well. Guess it doesn't matter anymore. Not like I'll be a maid for her anymore, right? Not after what I said. Sighing, she slammed the book shut and threw it back on the shelf, drawing an angry glare from the librarian and a few patrons. She sheepishly righted the book and exited, trying not to bring any more attention to herself. After all, brown was a rather drab colour compared to the bright pinks and purples or light whites that were the norm.
As she prepared to ride Skye down to start life in the lower towns--her pride was too great to go apologize, and the job had never been great anyways--she saw the fountain from the corner of her eye. As a young Kacheek like herself dived into the pool, Naia poured a rainbow over her, and the Kacheek emerged a dazzling shade of yellow, with matching orange wings. She thanked the faerie and flew away. Aruna, still ashamed of her unnecessary outburst, figured she'd ask Naia one more time.
"Miss Naia?" Turning, Naia's smile instantly melted when she saw who it was.
"Oh, it's you. What do you want? I still don't need anything."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite. Why are you so desperate? I've seen angry people wanting to use the fountain, but never quite like you. It isn't for yourself, is it?"
"No." Aruna shook her head and looked down. "It was for my friend. Well, not really my friend, she's actually a princess and I'm her maid..." And suddenly she couldn't keep the story in any longer. The whole thing came out-everything from how she felt mistreated, to how she still cared about Analeigh, her fit of rage. She finally looked up when she was done and saw that Naia had softened a little.
"I'm sorry," the faerie said, "that is most unfortunate. But see, even if I had sent you on a quest, I wouldn't have been able to help you. Royal isn't a colour the fountain gives."
Aruna smiled a little. "I'm glad we didn't go on a quest, then. She would've been more heartbroken. Thank you." She turned mount Skye when Naia touched her shoulder.
"Wait." Naia scooped another solid ball of water, dumping it into a small glass vial. She swirled the colour to a murky brown and put a drop of that in the bottle, dyeing the whole thing a chocolate brown. She handed her the bottle.
"What does it do?"
"Give it to the princess. It won't make her Royal, but she won't be a mutant anymore." Aruna smiled and packed the vial away.
"Thank you so much! I won't forget this gift. Ever." She mounted Skye and flew down to where she hoped they would be heading-Joseph's room.
When she got there, they hadn't arrived. Instead of waiting, she wrote a quick note and left the vial on the table next to his bed.
"Thanks, Irving. Glad you made it." Irving snorted and headed back to the stables for a meal, where he was comfortable. Meanwhile, Joseph tried pull his window open. He was balanced precariously on the sill, and worried that either Analeigh or himself would fall down any second. "Got it!" He let Analeigh wind her way in, then followed, shutting the window behind him.
"I figured I might as well bring you here. I'm not sure what to do now. But you can tell your father tomorrow. The Wizard told everyone you were sick and not to be disturbed, so you wouldn't be missed today."
"Thanks, Joseph. Means a lot." Analeigh curled up in the corner, dejected. She adjusted her two mouths and tried to sleep. The sight of her made Joseph feel queasy-not her looks, but how sad she was, and the part he had in it.
Joseph sat in the corner next to her, not touching her or speaking, just searching for the right words. "Analeigh? I'm really, truly sorry. If I had known this would happen-I mean, it was just supposed to be a funny joke, and now look."
Analeigh raised her head and opened her one eye. "It's okay, Joseph, really. It's my fault, if you think about it."
Joseph blinked in confusion. "It's... I... What? I've never heard you take blame for anything in your life. Are you sick?"
Laughing, Analeigh shook her head. "No, it's just... I was thinking, and I realized why you did it. You wanted to teach me that It's what's on the inside people should care about-not fancy dresses or colours. I was so selfish. So now I'm trying to reverse that. You've made me a better person, Joseph. Thanks." She put her head down, ending the conversation. Quite honestly, Joseph wasn't sure what to say. That was when he noticed the bottle.
It was sitting on his bedside table, the sun giving light to the murky contents.
He scrambled to get it-as if the bottle would disappear. Picking up the note, he kept his back to Analeigh and read it to himself.
Hey, Joseph. Or Analeigh. Hopefully it's one of you two reading this note. I'm sorry I lost it and yelled at you guys-it wasn't your fault at all. I went to Naia and turns out Royal isn't a colour we could've gotten. But she gave me this bottle and filled it with fountain water-she told me to give it to Analeigh. Sorry, again.
So her name was Aruna, he thought. And what's with everyone being sorry all of a sudden? Poking Analeigh, he uncorked the bottle--it smelled less rancid than the bottle he had given her a few nights ago.
"Analeigh? Aruna left you something."
Analeigh yawned and sniffed the bottle. "Aruna?"
"Your maid. Just drink it."
She blinked twice then sipped the liquid. She shuddered as her skin slowly morphed from blue to brown; as her extra scales retracted. With a pop, her eye split into two normal sized eyes. Her mouths at the end of her ears transformed back into normal ears, and they straightened. Finally, her fangs retracted, and when she spoke, it was her normal, higher tone.
"So you are. At least you aren't mutant." He laughed as she sat in front of a mirror, poking every feature of her face to make sure it was real.
"So... What are you going to do now?" he said, crossing his arms. "You can't return home like this--and you don't seem to want to, if you're changing your life."
"No, I can't. Maybe I'll travel to some land where nobody knows me. The mainland, perhaps?"
Joseph smiled and handed her a bag she could start packing. "And maybe I'll visit one day."
She smiled, trying to hold back some tears. "I would like that very much. Thanks, Joseph. I'll miss you."
"And I'll miss you."
"And so, Analeigh traveled for many days until she finally reached Neopia Central, where nobody knew who she was. She assumed a new identity and raised a wonderful family. And she never forgot Joseph's lesson about selfishness and Aruna's of treating everyone as equals. The end." Zoe's mother pulled a blanket over her as she concluded the story.
Zoe yawned and pulled her plushie closer. "But mama! I'm not tired! One more story, please?"
Her mother smiled and kissed her daughter on the forehead. "Maybe tomorrow. Good night, little one." Zoe sat up and crossed her stubby little arms.
"But I need to know more! Did Analeigh ever see Joseph again? Or Aruna? What about her parents; did they look for her?"
"She saw Joseph once but never saw Aruna again. I'm sure her parents looked for her, but she was very good at hiding, and Neopia Central has lots of places to hide."
Zoe nodded in agreement. "It sure does!" Then her forehead scrunched together as she thought of another question to delay bedtime. "But, what was her life like?"
"She lived a wonderful life with an adorable Baby Aisha named Zoe."
"Just like you."
Zoe frowned as she thought about that. "But I don't want anyone to be like me. Just me!"
"Honey, it's a story. You are the only you. Now good night," she said, firmly tucking her in again and shutting off the lights. She crawled into her own bed, reflecting on the story and its meaning, especially to her.
She missed Joseph. After all these years, when the last time she saw him was his coronation. And Aruna, she never got to apologize for being so mean to her. Hopefully she knew how she felt. Her parents? Sure, she missed them. But she had her own daughter now to love, one she promised to raise better then they had raised her.
"I hope, Zoe, that you don't need to learn about selfishness and equality in such a cruel way as I did."