A Little Help
Two muffled voices battled behind a door, one of them high-pitched and tremulous, the other one deeper and weary.
"No, no, NO! She's evil, she'll hurt her!"
"But everyone does this, Gracie... she can't be all bad, she can make you healthier!"
The shouting eventually died down and the door cracked open. A young owner girl stepped cautiously onto the neat front lawn. The crease of her eyebrows made her freckled face seem sheepish and apologetic. She closed the door behind her.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Miss- Madam. We're having a bit of a delay. Um, how to explain... Gracie has started to really like the toy we bought."
The girl fell silent when she saw her interlocutor's large, leathery wings quiver with something that looked very much like frustration.
"Do you mean to say," crooned a cool, silky voice, "that you refuse to give me the Red Poogle Toy that I requested?"
"No, of course not!" The girl was shifting her weight nervously from side to side. "We need the stats. I mean, I want Gracie to be able to defend herself, so your quest is more than welcome. It's just that, um, Gracie has always been afraid of the dark. So naturally, she's also afraid of darkness faeries like you."
The faerie stood straight, her arms crossed over her chest. She was as motionless as a statue, except for her deep purple eyes, which were sweeping over the girl's every feature as if trying to select the best target for a curse. The girl gulped.
"I just need a bit more time to convince her," she said meekly.
The faerie scowled, then turned away, nearly swatting the girl's face with her wings. "I will return at dusk," she hissed before flying off.
Everine was true to her word. When she landed in the quiet neighborhood several hours later, her shadow seemed long enough to stretch over the entire house. She didn't bother to knock. It would be rude to disturb them, wouldn't it. Instead, she made her way around the house, flowing rapidly from shadow to shadow.
The young Neopet's window was the most brightly lit, predictably enough. Everine's silent wing beats barely blew any air against the glass panes. Inside, a small shape sat on a plump-looking bed, tightly wrapped in a soft powder blue blanket. Only the furry tips of her large ears stuck out. Aside from the main ceiling light, every lamp in the room had been lit, from desk lamps to little bulbs around the mirror and a string of star-shaped lights above the bed.
Without the presence of a light faerie or mage, however, those lights meant nothing to Everine. Almost lazily, she ran a long, pale finger up the side of the window frame, muttering a common spell. The air displaced by her wings became unnaturally chilly.
Inside the bedroom, a little Cybunny head popped out of the blanket, startled by the sound of her wind chimes clinking together. The door and window were both closed.
The first desk lamp went out. She heard no pop or crackle, just the low rush of a wind that could not be there. Little by little, the electric lamps were snuffed out like candles as the chill spread, creeping closer and closer to the trembling bundle of Cybunny. The glowing numbers on her alarm clock faded away.
Then the room was entirely dark, filled with an unnatural blackness that not even the street lamps outside could penetrate. With a whimper, the Cybunny curled up tighter inside her blanket and stared at her window, petrified.
"Good evening, Gracie."
The voice sounded right above her head, making her start. It was followed by an eerie laugh which rang from every corner of the room, multiplying into several voices. Gracie's hand found the switch on her flashlight and quickly flicked it on. A reassuring glow lit the inside of the blanket.
The little Cybunny directed the stream of light at various corners of her bedroom, dreading what she would see, but she detected nothing unusual. With much apprehension, she lowered the light to inspect the floor around her bed.
Another laugh echoed right behind Gracie. She shrieked and flashed the light towards the source of the noise, keeping her own eyes tightly shut; but the voice had already travelled to another spot.
"They always expect us to crawl out from under the bed," the voice drawled. "Why would we hide there? It's so cramped and dirty."
Gracie remained silent, holding her flashlight near the opening of the blanket.
"But what is this I see? You have a little friend in there with you!"
The Cybunny's eyes widened and she immediately squeezed an item tighter against her chest.
"I was promised a Red Poogle Toy, Gracie. I expect to receive it shortly. Now come on out and give me what is mine."
At last, a squeaky little voice filtered through the blanket. "You... you're just going to use dark magic on her!"
"Impressive. However did you come to that conclusion?" Everine's voice sounded bored. The only answer she got was more terrified silence. "Well then. Come to me when you can. I have plenty of playthings to keep me busy here."
As she waited, Everine began to twiddle her thumbs and stretch her hands. With every flick of her fingers, clicking sounds were heard from the various toys spread around the room. They ticked as regularly as steps, coming closer and closer to Gracie's bed. The trembling beam of light danced around them, but could not find anything in the darkness.
"I can do this all night," Everine muttered to herself.
Then a ripple went through the blanket, and it slowly oozed towards the foot of the bed, like a large Blobikins with a flashlight caught in its mass. A furry foot crept out, inch by inch. Everine watched it dangle tentatively over the floor for a few seconds, before abruptly touching down. A heavy silence followed. The clicking of the toys had stopped.
Little by little, an entire bundle of fur rolled out of the blanket, clad in a child size ninja costume and brandishing the flashlight like a sword. The Red Poogle Toy dangled from under the Cybunny's other arm, squeezed so tightly that it seemed to be choking in her grip.
At last, the swaying beam of light found Everine's face, high above Gracie's head. Everine's hands clenched in annoyance; but she kept a straight face despite the glare of the flashlight, choosing instead to bare her pointy teeth in a grin.
"Do you have something to tell me, little Cybunny?"
Gracie opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She had to crane her neck to keep looking at Everine's face. She took another step forward, parting the shadows with her valiant flashlight until it nearly bumped into Everine, who quirked an eyebrow. Gracie stopped with a jolt; she hadn't realised the faerie was so close. The unfathomable dark eyes bore into hers. They didn't seem to reflect any of the lamp's light.
"Are you attempting to test my patience?" Everine's thin lips barely parted as she murmured. "Or do you wish to forfeit your reward?"
The Cybunny was taking deep, shuddering breaths, her lower lip wobbling - Everine hoped that she wouldn't break into tears, Fyora knew that was the last thing she needed.
All of a sudden, one furry arm reached upward, presenting the floppy, much-hugged red plush toy.
"Her name is Angela," the Cybunny said in her meek little voice. "I-I'll let you have her, but... but only if you promise to take good care of her. And leave my owner alone!"
Everine could not contain her laughter anymore. It rang around the room, cold and clear. Gracie's ears snapped flat against the back of her head and she shivered. The dark faerie's pale, thin fingers closed around the plush toy's neck. A dark purple spike of magic sped straight at Gracie's forehead.
The air of Faerieland was sizzling with magic, which seemed to bubble into the faeries' very minds. The wild rustling of myriads of delicate gossamer wings had grown into one giant vibration that drummed on ears and skin alike. They were joined by the rush of sleek water faerie tails leaping from the many streams that crisscrossed over the Festival grounds. It was the end of the Festival, and all activities, feasts and dances had merged into one giant multicolored crowd of celebrating faeries.
They darted through the air at breakneck speed without ever colliding into each other, taking up not only the entire surface of the gathering, but also the space that rose above it, level with the highest rooftops of Faerieland. They enjoyed the rush of magic and flight together, their minds connecting in one giant spiral of joy and excitement, including the dark faeries and even the faeries who were celebrating from other communities in Neopia.
A tired earth faerie made her way to a patch of shade, holding a glass of water. She gave a little smile to the dark faeries who were already seated there. They remained silent, away from the excitement; but their company was welcome for the faeries who needed rest.
As the sky filled with the warm, golden glow of late afternoon, the main event started. The group of dark faeries stirred; even they could not resist the appeal of revelry for long.
The ceremony would begin soon, with incantations sung by every faerie at a different rhythm, yet in harmony. The Queen, positioned somewhere in the crowd like any ordinary faerie, would direct the first strings of a magic that would spread like wildfire. When she spoke, her gentle voice magically carried far enough to reach all of her sisters.
"The time has come to thank all of our helpers and the numerous, kind gestures they perform for us every day. Remember this: even the most simple gesture deserves our gratitude. Although ordinary Neopians may not use magic, they definitely possess it."
An excited murmur flitted between the faeries as they sensed the big moment's approach.
"It is not the mundane items that shine so bright, but the Neopians' intention to help us. They let us tap into the power of Neopia itself, greater than even our own. It is time to renew every protective enchantment we have cast upon this world."
A pile of random items had been deposited on the central plaza and grown into a massive mountain over the day. It was in its direction that Everine flew during Queen Fyora's message, clutching the Red Poogle Toy. Every now and then, a faerie stopped to add yet another object to the jumble. Some of them stayed a little longer, to explain why they had selected that particular item.
"The Usul who got me this scarf insisted on giving me a full makeover," said a fire faerie as she presented an ordinary-looking scarf. "She found me so many nice outfits." A few faeries clapped; she flew away and was quickly replaced by a light faerie.
"When I dropped in to receive this card, my quester invited me to play a card game with all his friends. It was so much fun!" She beamed at the crowd and put her card down.
Everine's turn came and she drifted over the pile of quest items. She had considered casting a spell to bring the Red Poogle Toy to life, then decided to keep it the way Gracie had given it.
"This is Angela," she said. "Angela is very special, because she helped a young Cybunny to overcome her fear of the dark, earning her a blessing."
The introduction had been simple, but Everine got a few cheers, which put a surprisingly warm smile on her face. She felt comfortable even in the light; it was impossible not to feel the happiness of all her sisters. Angela took her seat among the quest items, full of magic.