Beauty is a Fickle Thing
It was an uncharacteristically lovely day in the Haunted Woods—as lovely as any day in the Haunted Woods could be, anyway. Eerie fog was haphazardly draped over the foliage rather than blanketing it completely, the batterflies were chirping a relatively benevolent tune, and a sliver of sunlight forced its way through the canopies of the towering, cackling trees.
Expectedly, the residents of the Haunted Woods grew terser as the day grew too pleasant for their liking. The Brain Tree was so cross that it scarcely made a sound. So plagued by his hunger from the lack of quests, the Esophagor swallowed a pack of unwitting petpets! And the shopkeepers gave up on sales and retreated to the confines of their homes. After all, it is nearly impossible to stomach a heaping helping of chilled eyeball custard when you can see the sunlight.
The dreadful attitude was contagious and poor little Ninedinna felt the brunt of the gloom. The zombie Gelert begrudgingly trudged from one corner of the woods to the next, but her search for something to do was fruitless. An eerie gurgling sound made her freeze in her tracks, her heart hammering frantically. Quickly she realized that it was just her stomach growling and let out a bark of nervous laughter.
"I shouldn't be so afraid," Ninedinna scolded herself under her breath, shaking her head vigorously from side to side. She had to constantly remind herself that she was a zombie now, and that other pets bolted in alarm at the sight of her... But she did not take comfort in that thought. In fact, it just made her even more morose.
"Ugh, really?" The Gelert sniffed in dismay when she saw that the Spooky Food cart had been completely boarded up. The lingering aroma of devilish cakes and squishy brain wraps made her stomach growl louder than the Esophagor. Humiliated and petrified, she ducked behind the Bagatelle stand and whipped her head around a few times to assure that the coast was clear. But the moment she poked her head out from behind the stand, her glazed gaze landed right on a clockwork clown Chia!
With a shrill yelp of terror, Ninedinna turned and fled the deserted fairground. Tears stung the corners of her milky eyes as she ran and ran and ran. She was sick of living in the Haunted Woods, sick of her affliction, sick of everything! In that moment she wanted nothing more than escapism. She would give anything to get away from the gloom and doom—if only for a moment.
It did not take long for the Gelert to realize that she (literally) ran into a spot of trouble. A quick scan of her surroundings told her that she was in a completely unfamiliar part of the woods and, as much as it pained her to admit it, she was lost. Defeated, she hung her head and slumped back on her haunches.
Alarmed, Ninedinna leapt to her feet and whirled around to see what she accidentally sat on. To her surprise, she discovered that it was...
Bewildered, the Gelert leaned forward to examine the object closely. It was a black-framed, ovular mirror with a string of daisies etched into the handle. It was quite lovely, even with the giant crack running down the center. Ninedinna flipped the mirror over to check the damage and peered into the looking glass. When she caught a glimpse of her reflection, she inhaled sharply in alarm.
"I... I..." she stammered softly, scarcely breathing in her state of shock. "I look... beautiful..." The Ninedinna that she saw looking back at her was neither weary nor in a state of decay. The Ninedinna in the mirror had a sleek, canary yellow coat and wide doe eyes. And she even blinked when Ninedinna blinked!
Half astonished and half appalled, the Gelert finally tore away from the mirror to regain her composure. Obviously the mirror did not show her actual reflection, but perhaps it showed how she truly looked on the inside. Perhaps the looking glass was enchanted to show the viewer their true self? While she mulled this possibility over, Ninedinna felt the wind pick up around her and she was nearly knocked onto her back by a sharp gust.
"Oh, no," she gasped, cringing as dust and fairground debris swirled around her. "I guess I had better try to find my way back home." She started forward but lingered for a moment in place. A voice in the back of her head urged her to leave the mirror behind, but a much louder voice insisted that she could not leave without it. It was a magical mirror, after all, and what harm could come from looking at one's true beauty?
After a few moments of internal conflict, Ninedinna relented and scooped the mirror up in her mouth before darting out of the clearing. Suddenly struck with a sense of direction, the Gelert had almost no trouble finding her way back home. The magic of the mirror seemed to course through her as she ran, and somehow she felt totally invincible when it was in her grasp. She simply could not wait to share the wonderful magic with the other pets! Surely they would find it just as exciting as she did.
"I'm home," the Gelert called as soon as she bounded through the front door. Having the mirror filled her with renewed vigor and put a little spring in her step, she noticed. She wondered how anyone could leave behind such a valuable treasure. Airekinia and Shen poked their heads out of the drawing room to say hello, and their eyes widened when they caught sight of Ninedinna's little token.
"What is that?" Shen asked, ever curious. The Aisha hopped off of her chair to get a closer look, much to Ninedinna's delight. She leaned forward, peering into the looking glass with an almost cautious air about her. The glazed, milky-white eyes widened in utter disbelief as she whispered, "What is this?"
The Gelert seemed to quiver with excitement as she trilled, "Isn't it great? It's enchanted, Shen. I think it shows your true self. That's why we still look beautiful when we look into it..." She trailed off wistfully, trying not to sound too glum.
"Let me see," Airekinia sounded skeptical. With an incredulous sniff, the white Lupe edged closer to scrutinize the mirror. Ninedinna merely smiled sweetly in response, coaxing the Lupe forward. The other complied, wary. She dipped her head down and peered down at her reflection—and immediately pushed the mirror away with a grunt of distaste.
"What?" Ninedinna demanded brusquely. "What's the matter with you, Aire? This mirror is amazing! It's such a fantastic enchantme—"
"It's not enchanted," the Lupe countered severely. "It's cursed. There is nothing amazing about a mirror that deceives you when you look into it," Disgusted, she shook her head from side to side. "Clearly this is an evil object and you need to get rid of it." Her expression did not falter, not even when the Gelert began to sputter indignantly. "You need to take it back to wherever you found it."
Ninedinna could not believe what she was hearing. "Evil?" she echoed incredulously. "Please, Aire. I think that you're just jealous that you've never discovered such a brilliant object." Immediately she flicked her gaze over to Shen for affirmation, but found that the Aisha would not meet her eyes.
"Maybe she's right." Shen's voice was scarcely above a faint whisper. "I mean, that magic is deceptive. And deception is rarely a good thing, right?" Finally she looked up to meet the other zombie pet's gaze. "I liked what I saw, too, Ninedinna." The Aisha dropped her eyes to the floor once more, her face falling at the confession. "But it isn't real."
As much as she hated to admit it, Ninedinna knew that her sisters made a valid point. Clearly the spell put on the mirror was malevolent in nature, but how could she cast aside an object that made her beautiful again? Her glory days were long behind her, but peering into this enchanted looking glass took her back to a happier time. And she certainly did not want to give that up... not yet.
"Okay," the Gelert finally murmured, feigning defeat with a droopy pout. "You win." Heaving a great sigh, she gathered the mirror and took a quarter turn toward the door. "I'll put the mirror back. It's... it's no good for me." In her mind she knew that that was true, but her heart said otherwise. But to appease the others, Ninedinna would pretend to take the mirror back. That way, everybody got what they wanted... sort of.
Several days had passed since Ninedinna had presented the mirror to her sisters, and they still had no earthly idea that she had smuggled it back into their neohome in the dead of night. Day after day the Gelert would waste hours upon hours fawning over her reflection, so smitten with the beautiful and unattainable version of herself. Even with the crack splitting the image in two, Ninedinna could not deny that she was unspeakably beautiful in the mirror.
But one day it all changed. The Gelert was staring almost amorously at her reflection when she realized that her eyes had faded from a nice, chocolate brown to a glazed, milky white. Appalled, she cast the mirror aside and shook her head furiously from side to side. No, she thought frantically. The magic is wearing off. She refused to believe that the enchantment could fizzle out, but there was no denying that the image was beginning to distort. At last the mirror seemed to show her actual reflection instead of the lovely, idealized image she had of herself. She was disappointed, but found herself drawn to the mirror each day and night regardless.
What's come over me? Ninedinna wondered, trying to shake the possibility that she could very well be bewitched by a malevolent magic mirror. That couldn't possibly happen... could it?
But the horrors did not stop there. One night, when Ninedinna was glumly staring at her real reflection by the light of the full moon, the image began to distort in an entirely new way. She watched in horror as her maw became disfigured, her teeth grew into hideous fangs, and her eyes burned a ghastly shade of red. With a shrill cry of alarm, the Gelert hurled the mirror across the room. To her horror, it did not shatter as it slammed into the wall with a sharp crack.
Airekinia burst into the room a split second later, breathing rapidly and whipping her head around to glance around the entire room. Sensing no danger, she scrambled over to Ninedinna and examined her from ear to paw.
"What happened?" the Lupe asked frantically, her golden eyes wide with alarm. Ninedinna immediately felt a pang of guilt when she saw her concerned her sister was, and knew that she would be furious as soon as she saw the mirror on the other side of the room. Ashamed, the Gelert hung her head and gestured to the virtually unscathed mirror on the floor.
Airekinia followed the gesture with wary eyes and inhaled sharply when her gaze landed on the black, malevolent little mirror. It looked so innocent with the daisies engraved so meticulously on the handle, but she could feel the dark magic radiating off of the mirror in waves. Every muscle in her body went rigid and she could hardly move to throw Ninedinna a look of utter reproach.
"I'm sorry," the Gelert said weakly, frightened and embarrassed by the situation. "I... I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. It was so lovely and so full of promise." Hot tears began to blur her vision, and before she knew it, she was weeping openly. "I looked at myself, and I saw a beautiful me. You couldn't possibly understand..." Frustrated by her display of emotion, she turned away to hide her tears from the Lupe. But that was done in vain, for Airekinia had already sauntered over to her sister's side and placed her paws over Ninedinna's.
"Ninedinna," the Lupe murmured, no longer accusatory or angry. Compassion glowed in her soft, golden eyes and she offered the weeping Gelert a genuine, tender smile. "You don't need a magic mirror to be beautiful. You already are beautiful, on the inside and the out."
Sniffling pitiably, the zombie Gelert averted her gaze without lifting her head and scoffed quietly. "You don't mean that," she mumbled, fidgeting a little under the Lupe's large paws. Any display of friendship or compassion was still foreign to her, and it made her a little uncomfortable. But those kind words seemed to burrow themselves deep into her heart, and a wave of emotion washed over here. Suddenly, the corners of her mouth tugged back and she realized with a jolt that Airekinia was smiling at her and she was smiling right back.
"You know I do," the Lupe assured the Gelert warmly, extending a paw to help her wipe her tears away. "You are lovely, clever, and a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for. Please don't ever forget that." Her positive demeanor immediately fizzled out when she stole another petrified glance at the ominous, ovular mirror humming softly in the corner. "Now, to get rid of this mirr—" A shrill shriek cut her off mid-sentence.
"Shen!" both pets gasped in unison, turning to barrel out of the room together. But when Airekinia rounded the corner, she slammed to a screeching halt in the hallway. With a sharp bark of alarm, Ninedinna slid directly into the Lupe and sent them both sprawling across the floor. Ninedinna scrambled shakily to her feet and turned to look down the hall, her heart lurching with dread.
Shen was glued to the floor directly in front of a full length mirror in the hallway, her milky eyes wide in terror and fixed on a shadowy figure that was floating directly above her head. The phantom appeared to be a lovely, willowy Acara with a pair of leathery wings, a long spiked tail, and gleaming crimson eyes that seemed to glow of their own accord.
"Vira," Airekinia growled between clenched teeth, her upper lip curled in utter distaste. At the sound of her name, the floating beauty swiveled in the air to face the other two neopets. When her gaze fixated on Ninedinna, a devilish smirk graced her terribly lovely face.
"You're the one who took my mirror," Vira said loftily, regarding the Gelert with great interest. She lifted a perfectly-manicured hand to her lips and giggled softly into her palm. "It's brilliant, isn't it? To see the pinnacle of beauty when you gaze at your reflection." She broke off rather wistfully, looking almost downcast for a fraction of a second before snapping back to reality. "But beauty is a fickle thing, isn't it, Ninedinna?"
Petrified, Ninedinna could neither move nor speak. Instead she threw Airekinia a silent plea for help with her widened eyes and utterly stricken expression. The Lupe immediately leapt forward to put herself in between the Acara and the Gelert and glared up at Vira with a look of pure disdain.
"Don't listen to her," she commanded swiftly, her ears flat against her head. "Vira is a vain, cruel Acara that likes to 'accidentally drop' her 'magic mirrors' all over Neopia for poor, unsuspecting pets to stumble upon." Heaving a ragged sigh, she shook her head in dismay.
"I should have known that it was her spell behind all of this."
"I-I'm sorry," Ninedinna lamented, her eyes welling up with tears again. "I didn't mean to summon her." She was incredibly grateful to have her sister as a buffer between her and Vira, as the malicious Acara frightened her out of her wits.
"The spell was not reserved for the mirror," Vira simpered, a malevolent little smile gracing her otherwise beautiful face. "You, too, have been ensnared by the enchantment." Suddenly her eyes gleamed as if in malicious glee, her pupils dilating and her nostrils flaring in her evident excitement. "Now your reality will be forever warped and distorted, as mine is, and you will forever seek true beauty, as I do..." Again she trailed off in a rather morose way, dropping her bright red eyes to the floor.
Shuddering involuntarily, Ninedinna dropped her head and was relieved when Airekinia did the same. She leaned forward to hiss anxiously in the other's ear, "What do I do now?"
The Lupe did not avert her gaze from the cackling Acara, and her lips scarcely moved as she whispered out of the side of her mouth, "We have to break every mirror in the neohome." She straightened back up, jutting her chin up defiantly to meet Vira's baneful gaze. "Now."
Ninedinna did not need to be told twice. With a yell, she hurled herself at Shen to knock her out of the way and threw a leg out to kick the mirror. It shattered at once with an all-too satisfying CRASH. Horrified, Vira pirouetted in the air to gape down at the Gelert in utter shock. But before she could even screech her protest, another CRASH in an adjacent room indicated that Airekinia had smashed another mirror.
"What are you doing!?" Vira shrieked in utter disbelief, her mouth agape and her eyes wide. "St... stop that right now! You stop it!" Furiously she clenched her hands into fists and stomped at the wall with one of her black platform boots.
Although she had no earthly idea what was going on, Shen immediately rushed to the nearest bathroom to follow suit. She grabbed hold of a hairbrush and flung it at the mirror with all of her might, and she doubled over with nervous, bewildered laughter as soon as it shattered. When she ran back into the drawing room, she saw Vira hovering ominously over Ninedinna, who was clutching the small black mirror in her paws.
"Don't," the Acara admonished severely, her red eyes narrowed to slits. "Don't even think about it." She swooped down to snatch it from the Gelert's grasp, but Ninedinna was too quick for her. She ducked out of the way, and whirled around to face the now seething Vira. Fear was no longer present in her cold, calculating gaze. She had no reason to fear the evil, because the evil no longer held any power over her.
"Sorry, Vira," the Gelert quipped sardonically, without a trace of remorse. "I'm finished with your vanity fair." And with that, she smashed the mirror against the wall with all of the strength she could muster. To her relief, it shattered into a thousand different pieces upon impact. With a terrible screech, Vira immaterialized into a puff of black smoke and disappeared into the frame of the now broken mirror. It quivered a bit on the spot before it vanished completely into thin air, scattered shards and all.
Astonished by what they had just accomplished, the three pets stood there and stared blankly at the spot on the floor where the mirror had just been for a solid twenty seconds before Airekinia whooped loudly with joy. Laughing gleefully, the other two followed suit and they all met in the middle for a celebratory hug.
"It's over." Ninedinna sounded immensely relieved to say those two words at long last. Shyly she glanced over at Airekinia through her eyelashes and feebly whispered, "Hey, I'm sorry. You were right and I should have listened to you. None of those would have happened if I had just tossed that ridiculous mirror like you said."
To her surprise, Airekinia just threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, Ninedinna," she crooned with a warm, relieved smile. "You don't have to apologize. After all, beauty is a fickle thing, just like Vira said." Her smile momentarily dissolved into a grimace before a dreadful growling sound caused her to look around in alarm. "What was that?"
Nervously, Ninedinna chuckled softly through her nose and shrugged. "Guess I'm hungry again. You know, I never got that squishy brain wrap. I've been craving one for days..."
"Ooh, that sounds wonderful!" Shen put in, immensely relieved that the unfortunate events had finally passed. Nothing upset her more than watching her sisters squabble... not even watching a notorious villain materialize out of her mirror!
"Spooky Food it is," Airekinia laughed and pulled a face of mingled amusement and disgust. "My treat." And the three of them set off toward the deserted fairground, side by side, confident that an alluring enchantment would never pull them out of reality again.