Ilere of the Woods
"Do you even know where we're going?" a white Acara asks. Mara trudges through the thick forest that is the Haunted Woods, tripping over every root that comes her way.
"No, but that's the fun part," Kell, a speckled Draik, replies as he hovers above the ground.
It was not Mara's decision to come to the Haunted Woods. She prefers her home in Meridell, where nothing terrible has really happened since Lord Kass was removed from power. But Kell is not like her. He strives for adventure, looks for it around every corner, and sadly Meridell was not doing it for him.
"Do you at least know what you're looking for?"
A wide smile appears on Kell's face. "Ilere of the Woods."
Mara stops in her tracks and gazes in disbelief at her friend. "Ilere? You're looking for a legend?"
"She's not a legend! Haven't you heard of—"
"How Sophie came to be? Yeah, I was there when that whole story came about. But no one has ever seen Ilere, at least no one we can trust. She's a myth."
"So was the Krawken until it destroyed Krawk Island."
Mara dismisses his comment with a wave. "Whatever. She's still a legend and we're never going to find her. I mean, come on, a dark earth faerie? There's no such thing."
Kell lowers himself to the ground and turns to face his companion. "Obviously you've never heard of the legend."
Deep within the woods sat two earth faeries. One, a lively brown haired girl with enchanting eyes, was moving her hands in a delicate fashion, causing a flower to sprout from the dirt.
"I figured this out yesterday," Leyta said as the flower grew larger with brilliant pink petals. "Isn't it cool, Ilere?"
The owner of the name did not answer. She was not impressed by such magic, for it was of the weakest kind. Ilere brushed the light green hair out of her matching eyes, and peered down at her own pale hands. As she focused a soft light formed around them and the blades of grass she had been ripping out of the ground began to move, her delicate leaf wings stirring with the wind. The signature magic of a standard earth faerie.
"I suppose," she finally replied. "But it's a little boring, don't you think? You can only grow flowers, but nothing else. You cannot make them wilt or die, or change them into something else entirely." Ilere reached out a pale hand and touched a petal. "If you could make this into a frightening Dragonbud, now that would be something."
Leyta slapped Ilere's hand away. "What are you talking about? You sound like a dark faerie Ilere."
If only. Ilere doesn't wish to be a dark faerie. She only wants their power. Dark faeries were never limited to such mediocre traits. Their magic never revolved around things like flowers and trees. They can do so much more than that. And Ilere only wanted a piece of such magic.
"And what is so bad about that? What if I begin talking like a fire faerie? Or a water faerie? Will you throw me into a river?"
"No, of course not. But those are not the same thing. Dark faeries are—"
"What? Evil? Or simply powerful?"
Leyta shook her head. "I would never want to have that kind of power."
"I would," Ilere whispered, low enough so that the other faerie could not hear.
Several more minutes passed as Leyta played with her flower. While that happened all Ilere could think about was being able to make that flower move on its own. She had seen a dark faerie put a curse on something like that before, where it had walked freely and smiled a fanged grin. An earth faerie could never do that.
Eventually Leyta grew bored with her abilities, or perhaps the company of Ilere, and announced she was heading back. Ilere could come if she wanted to, but the indifferent earth faerie stayed put.
"If only there was a way to get dark power," she muttered to herself. She was not aware someone else was listening.
"But there is, young faerie."
Ilere jumped at the sound and turned to see a shadow Gelert hidden behind a tree. He had a scar that ran down his face, and threatening crimson eyes. He seemed terrifying but Ilere did not run away. The intrigue from his words outweighed the fright inside her.
"What?" was all she managed to say.
He moved away from the tree, coming into the clearing she still sat in. "You seek dark power, do you not? And you believe there is no way of getting it—but there is."
"How?" Ilere could not believe what she was hearing. Neopets have the option of changing the color of their fur, but not faeries. If you were born from the earth, that is what you shall become. There is no changing what you are.
"There are ways, young faerie. There are those with incredible powers that can change the course of time and the element you are bound to."
"Who in Neopia has powers like those?" The ideas he was presenting were too unbelievable for Ilere. The only one she could come up with that could do something like that was Queen Fyora, and she would not allow such a request.
"I can show you," a smile appeared on his lips, "but for a price."
"And what might that be?"
"What I seek cannot be given until after your transformation. Do you still wish to come with me under those terms?"
He extended his paw but Ilere hesitated. There was a price, but he would not tell her what it was. She should have been wary about such a deal, but once again her curiosity won. She grabbed his paw and he reached for a staff hidden behind a tree. He whispered words in a language Ilere did not understand and the world around her began to blur and morph—
Ilere hit the ground hard as soon as the world had stopped spinning. She peered around at the area and noticed the sudden shift in colors. Before she had been in the bright forests of Brightvale, but now she was in the Haunted Woods.
"Come," ordered the Gelert who was still firmly on his feet.
The faerie pulled herself up and followed the strange Neopian in front of her, although it was hard to keep up when her eyes drifted off every few seconds. She had never been to the Haunted Woods before, and only heard about it in stories. It was exactly like the tales she had been told. The Haunted Woods was a dark place, covered in fog and surrounded by darkness. A cold wind hollered as it moved between the trees, and occasionally Ilere noticed a pair of yellow eyes hiding behind bushes and trees.
"Keep up!" the Gelert ordered again when Ilere fell back a couple of paces. "Natra does not stay in one place for too long."
"Natra?" Ilere had not heard of that name before.
"She is a dark faerie that resides within these Woods. Her power is from an ancient source and it is the only one that can change you."
An ancient source? What did that mean? "How did you find her?"
"She is easy to find if you know where to look."
His cryptic message bothered her. "That doesn't answer my question."
He glanced back at the faerie but never explained further. They walked in silence for a while until he stopped suddenly. "Wait here."
Ilere watched as he disappeared into a dark cave, his figure completely swallowed by the shadows within a couple of seconds. This time her fear outweighed her interest. What will await her once the faerie emerges? Ilere looked at the way she came and considered going back. She could find her way to Brightvale, couldn't she? It shouldn't take too long with flying.
But the faerie did not have time to run away. The sound of footsteps filled her ears and when she looked at the mouth of the cave the Gelert had someone with him. She walked out of the darkness and into what little light the Haunted Woods possessed. A faerie that carried an air of someone who had walked this world for a long time stared back at Ilere. Her purple wings were tattered, her grey hair curly and untamed. The gown she wore was black and seemed to be made out of shadows and fog.
That was Natra.
"What have you brought me?" she asked, her voice low with an eerie quality to it.
"Someone in need of your assistance."
Natra walked over to Ilere and placed a hand on her forehead. "You seek great power."
"Power that can only exist in the darkness. I have given many Neopians that type of power, but Neopets are different from us. They can align themselves with the night without going against their original purpose in this world. Faeries are not as fortunate. You are limited to only certain things, being aligned to the earth we stand on. If you truly seek this power it will change you forever, are you certain you wish this fate upon yourself?"
Ilere looked from the Gelert to Natra. Did she? It would be a big decision. Never again would she be like her sisters. She would not be allowed to live in Brightvale anymore. Her life, like Natra stated, would change permanently. But then again, would Ilere be happy if she walked away right now?
"Yes," she stated strongly, prepared for whatever Natra would do to her.
The faerie took back her hand and stared at it intently. Ilere waited patiently for something to happen and jumped when a black flame appeared in Natra's hand. With a simple nod from the faerie the Gelert moved and grabbed hold of Ilere.
"Wha—" she started, but her words were cut short as the flame came into contact with her torso.
A scream escaped Ilere as the transformation took place. Her body twisted in the Gelert's hands, every fiber of her being morphing into something unnatural. An earth faerie was never meant to be something dark, after all.
"Let her go," Natra ordered after a few minutes.
The Gelert did as he was told and Ilere fell to the ground. Her body shook violently which made it harder for her not to collapse. The pain came in waves, and Ilere closed her eyes in a useless attempt to keep them at bay. With each passing second the pain was more intense than the last. When Ilere thought it was finally over, with just a dull throb left in its place, she opened her eyes.
And then she noticed it.
First it was her hands, directly in her line of vision. They were no longer the pale color she was used to. Instead she saw darkened skin, a color mixed with a tinge of green, something found in the swamps of the Haunted Woods. She lifted her arm where every inch of skin had turned that shade. A strand of hair fell off her shoulders and revealed a green too dark to be her own. She turned to look at the rest of it and noticed her wings, a sign of what she was now. The once perfect leaf-like wings were now ripped as if she ran through a thorn bush. Their colors were muted, now a combination of green and brown. They looked horrible.
"I can give you power," Natra stated. Ilere forgot she was there. "But I cannot make you into a dark faerie. What you see now is what happens when darkness takes over. You are tainted earth. You cannot do everything a dark faerie can, but your previous earth aligned powers will reflect the new ones I gave you. Who are you child?"
She hesitated. "I am Ilere of Brightvale." Is that who she still was? Now that she was tainted earth?
Natra shook her head. "You will now be named Ilere of the Woods for your rebirth in this dark place. Keep that name close to you, for I believe many will hear of it."
Ilere looked at her appearance once again. Many questions filled her mind. How would she be able to control her new powers? What can she do? But when she looked up to ask Natra those questions, she was gone. Only Ilere and the Gelert occupied the space.
He clapped his hands together. "I hate to be hasty but I don't want you to forget that there is still a price you owe me. And it is best if I collect it from you now."
A puzzled look appeared on her newly transformed face. "Why is that?"
"Because you cannot yet use your powers."
Ilere watched as he pulled out a bottle. Immediately she recognized it for what it was. It is an enchanted bottle, designed to keep faeries inside. Her eyes grew wide as she realized exactly what fate awaits her.
"Balthazar will pay anything for a faerie unique as you. An earth faerie with powers given to her by a dark faerie."
He pointed his staff at Ilere and a ray of light came from the end of it. She ducked and the ray hit a tree behind her, and caused it to shrink. If he got her with that she would do the same and he would have no problem getting her inside the bottle. But Ilere would not let that happen. She attempted to fly away, but her ripped wings prohibited that action. Ilere would have to learn how to use her magic. As she ran away from the Gelert she thought back to what Natra had said. Her earth powers have changed, but surely that must mean they can be accessed in the same way. Ilere found a group of vines and willed them to stop the Gelert. They bowed to her will and grabbed his arms and legs, however they were too weak and it only restrained him for a few seconds.
Vines are for simple earth faeries, think of something stronger.
The voice came from inside her head but it was not her own. It sounded like Natra. Ilere ran faster as she heard the Gelert near and tripped over a root. She looked below her and saw an intricate system of overgrown roots emerging from the ground. An idea sprung into her mind. Ilere pushed herself off the ground and stood on the other side of the roots, her back to the line of trees they came from. Within seconds the Gelert emerged, a smile on his face at the sight of the waiting faerie. He tightened his grip around the staff, ready to use it.
He lifted his staff and Ilere lifted her hand at the same time. Slowly at first the roots began to move, but as she concentrated harder they moved more quickly, the ground rumbling from the movement. The light forming around his staff stopped as he analyzed what was happening. She raised her hand higher and the roots loosened themselves from the dirt, and wrapped tightly around the Gelert. The roots removed the staff from his grasp. He struggled as they pulled him down to the loose soil, but the roots only went tighter until he was bound to the dirt, unable to make anymore movements. Ilere looked behind her and touched one of the trees. Before she could make this one healthy, with branches filled with green leaves. But now beneath her touch it grew black. Tainted.
"This is much better," Ilere stated as she watched each individual root turn black as well.
"And that's how an earth faerie went dark," Kell concludes as his finishes his story.
"Well, that was a nice tale but I still don't believe you. Not unless you can make her appear right here, right now."
Kell scratches his head. "And how do you do that?"
Mara shrugs. "I don't know." She then lifts herself off the ground and raises her hands to the sky. "Ilere of the Woods! Present yourself here in this very spot in this moment of time!"
A laugh escapes Kell. "I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."
"No, it is not. You will need something stronger than just your voice."
The words startle the two Neopians as they turn around and see an ominous figure in the shadows. Ilere of the Woods.
"You should be careful what you wish for. They can change you forever."