Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 195,074,773 Issue: 819 | 16th day of Running, Y20
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Rehabilitation


by erroro

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     Over the flurry of green and cracked earth, a sliver of the deepest orange crept up over the chasm of Faerieland. It set the sky ablaze with oranges and pinks, and the glimmer of stars fell away. Darkened clouds absorbed the tint, now drifting without purpose. The light enveloped every angle of the stony slopes and enhanced the darkened valleys crevices.

      Xandra watched on from her window. Examining how the shadows were so different higher in the sky than on the ground. How she missed so many hues of the sky from her stony prison below it all.

      A long time ago, she imagined this view, how beautiful it would be. The piece of her perfect world would bring her peace of mind. How the fiery rock would crush the taint of the faeries. But instead of satisfaction, she saw the cracks, small on the surface, but growing deeper. There may have been a dizzying euphoria in the destruction, but the aftermath left her haunted.

      Her door opened with a squeak. "Oh, sorry. I forgot you're here now."

      The speckled Xweetok turned slowly to see a pink Gerlert hobble with her trademarked black and white cap. The tension lingering in her was briefly dispelled. "Miss Celandra," she sighed.

      Celandra tutted, setting aside her duster. "This is not how I taught you to leave your bed, Alexandra."

      The Xweetok grabbed a corner of the sheet and pulled half-heartedly. "Well I wasn't expecting you to just barge in." The Gerlert grabbed the other corner and they tucked it in together. "I could've been naked or something."

      Fyora's oldest maid snorted. "I don't think even you could manage that this early in the morning." Celandra spoke to her with a careless ease, and Xandra couldn't help but match it. It filled her with nostalgia, of days where she had woken herself early for some last-minute studying. But now, the reach of the Gerlert's feather duster was shorter, and her joints seemed to squeak with every long motion.

      "Queen Fyora wants to see you," Celandra told her, while dusting the curtain rail. "Go onto the Hidden Tower, she'll be waiting for you."

      Tension filled her every muscle of Xandra's body once more. "So that's why you're here."

      She received a prod from the wooden end of the duster in the back. "Go before I make you change out of those pyjamas."

      Xandra hurried down the halls, thought it was so early that they were deserted. The winding staircase needed more time, as years of inactivity left her with barely enough stamina to not collapse upon them. She couldn't help but feel the jolt of walking through the invisible door into the Hidden Tower. Its walls comprised of golden shades of cobblestone and purple curtains were so similar, she could pretend nothing ever happened. However, like most things in the castle, the slight differences stuck out like glaring errors. Different tapestries, missing halls, it was all wrong – but they weren't.

      "Xandra! There you are!" Fyora beamed, fluttering down from one of the higher shelves. "Did you sleep?"

      "Not really," she said, knowing denying the dark circles around her eyes was pointless. "Was there something you wanted?"

      Fyora frowned. "Yes, but do we have to talk about that so soon?" She knelt to be on the same level as the Xweetok, giving that patient smile Xandra hated so much. "How are you feeling?"

      "Better," Xandra said, avoiding her violet eyes.

      "Are you sure?" Fyora said, moving her head to meet her student's gaze. "The others told me your new habit is sneaking breakfast foods to your room and staying there all day."

      The speckled Xweetok silently cursed the breakfast faeries. "Isn't that better than before?" she quipped, smiling tightly.

      Fyora's smile widened. "Yes, but not the kind of better I hoped for," she chuckled. A silence hung between them for a moment. Xandra felt the familiarity of the banter, but the tension lingered like heavy fog.

      "What… do you do all day?" the Faerie Queen asked awkwardly, probably attempting to fill the silence.

      Xandra inwardly groaned. She hadn't done much of anything, besides feeling bad about herself, which then became feeling bad about feeling bad because someone so bad deserves to feel bad-

      "I write!" she chirped, too cheerily. "Yep, just like the therapist said!"

      Fyora gave her an increasingly worried look. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"

      Xandra forced herself to meet her eyes, ignoring the lurch in her stomach. "Yes, I'm sure."

      Fyora sighed, slowly nodding. "Okay, one more question. How are you dealing with the necklace I gave you?"

      Xandra untucked and clutched the silver chain hung around her neck. The pendant, a pink gem the size of a Carmariller egg flickered warningly in the light. "It's fine," she said flatly.

      "No side effects? How does it feel?" Fyora looked at her doubtingly.

      It felt heavy, like a noose around her neck, but Xandra couldn't say that. "It's just… fine," she sighed. "Besides, it's necessary. I would think you were a blithering fool if you didn't…"

      The Faerie Queen nodded solemnly. "I'm glad you understand… and that you don't think I'm a blithering fool." She had that patient smile, but Xandra could tell it was strained. She stole another glance at the pendent. Its purpose was to nullify her magical abilities. She wasn't exactly sure how it worked, but she wasn't curious either. It was also enchanted so it couldn't be taken off by anyone but Fyora – not that Xandra had tested this – mostly because she didn't want to experience what would stop her if she tried.

      The faerie clasped her hand together. "Alright, I've come to the conclusion that you need something to do."

      "Do I?" Xandra dead-panned.

      Fyora's face twisted for a moment. "I realize your life has radically changed from before… but I need to know what you want moving forward. You can't- I won't-" She paused, composing herself. "I won't let you hole yourself up in your room forever."

      What Xandra wanted to do was scream. But she didn't say anything for a moment. "I'll think about it," she replied, gaze determinedly placed on the sword of Skardsden over the faerie's shoulder.

      "Why don't you go to the library today? There's plenty to read!" Fyora said sunnily, as if afraid she was losing her pupil. "I'll get Bibliona to stay a little while after closing so you can check some things out!"

      The last thing Xandra wanted to do was to see the Library Faerie in these circumstances. But she wanted to end this interaction as quickly as possible. "Okay."

      The speckled Xweetok hurried down the spiraling staircase with surprising precision. The hesitation she once had was gone – if she fell down these stairs, it would be a small justice in her mind. However, awareness of her surroundings was limited, as she barreled headlong into a light faerie.

      "Oh, I'm so sorry-" she abruptly stopped, staring. Xandra couldn't blame her – she knew she looked less than presentable in her purple and blue striped pyjamas and disheveled mane. She also knew that she was herself, which was usually an unwelcome surprise.

      "I'm sorry," Xandra quickly said, turning away, not daring to look back.

      ***

      The halls of the castle were eerily empty. Xandra supposed whatever royal decreeing Fyora had done was effective – no pet or faerie outside the floor she lived on would see her until her release was made public. Even if she did encounter an outsider and a confrontation occurred, she had no magic or words to defend herself.

      The oaken doors adorned with gold plating were so familiar she startled herself with how naturally she almost pushed them open without a second thought. Nostalgia chilling her to the bone, she knocked.

      Almost instantly, she heard a click. The Library Faerie pulled open the door a sliver. "Come in," she said shortly.

      Xandra, suddenly regretting her decision, almost turned back. But she found herself pushing against those doors, much heavier than she remembered.

      The Faerieland Library was much more spacious than before, the ceiling a dome overhead made of weaving branches, allowing slits of moonlight to illuminate the specks of dust floating lazily about. The bookshelves were in their rows, dwarfing her in the size and knowledge they contained.

      "It's beautiful," Xandra murmured.

      The brown-haired faerie directed a blast of purple magic, locking the door once again. She looked over the Xweetok discerningly. "I suppose you would think that, considering this is your doing."

      The Xweetok briefly glanced at her former teacher. Her lavender eyes were narrowed, distrustful. It half-reminded her of times she had returned books late.

      Bibliona pushed her glasses up her nose indignantly. "Don't let me stop you."

      With the Library Faerie ghosting her every move, she began to walk through the shelves. The 'a' section now started with a book on healing instead of A New Day. Xandra swallowed, a chill running down her spine. Colours would jump out at her in the sea only to be swallowed, leaving Xandra fearing they were a trick of her mind. She walked faster, not bothering with the titles, looking for a pattern.

      "You once knew these shelves better than I did."

      Xandra stopped herself and looked up, past her teacher's shoulder. Most of the time she lived in Fyora's palace was spent in this place, to the point the faerie now glaring at her once suggested that she move in permanently.

      "I got the books that I donated to your library back."

      The Xweetok remembered it with surprising clarity. It was another damp day in the Haunted Woods, the fog clinging to everything including the Library Faerie, who fretted over how such conditions damage pages.

      "However, they couldn't replace the books you burnt in your crash."

      The books, that she monotonously sorted as an intern. The books, that led to more questions, that left her begging for answers she never received. Xandra reached for one off the shelf, turning it over and staring at the back. She was sure any response would be the wrong answer. The Library Faerie cheeks flamed, and she let out a thin breath.

      "I just don't understand. After everything, everything the faeries did for you, why did you decide Neopia would be better off without us at all?"

      The words were blurring together, but Xandra gripped the tome tighter. It was less than a decision, and more of a delusion. Her world, built on crushed stone, perfect. "Miss Libra…" she mumbled. "It wasn't…"

      The Library Faerie let a short, scathing laugh. "I don't understand why Queen Fyora is going to such lengths to protect you." Her glasses glinted threateningly in the light. "She's made us swear secrecy to your existence, blocked the public from entering your floor of the castle, and made us promise not to harm you! You!"

      The last exclamation hung in the air, bouncing off bookshelves. "I'm sorry." There was nothing else Xandra could give her.

      Then, silence hung between them, cold as stone.

      A warm finger tilted her head up. The teacher she once loved had tears in her eyes.

      "Was it… was it me?" she choked out. "Did I..?"

      Xandra watched the splotches grow on the Faerie's glasses. Anger drained to an anguish with every drop. It reminded her of watching the rain fall lazily for hours on end. A different familiarity settled over her, longing and guilty at the same time.

      The Library Faerie stepped back suddenly, covering her eyes. "Leave."

      ***

      When Xandra arrived back her room, she closed the door behind her and collapsed into the bed. The pendant of Fyora's Magic Be Gone© artefact dug painfully into her chest. The pillow was lumpy from the many positions she had twisted trying to sleep.

      She turned over and stared at the ceiling for a while, disjointed memories swirling in her mind. The room itself was structurally similar to her room she lived in as a student. Only now, the birch tables didn't hold piles of library books, and the walls were no longer pink.

      Here, in the seclusion of her room, she could convince herself nothing had changed. As long as she never looked out the window, time could be frozen. And Neopia would move on, and she would watch, removed from the world, away from causing anyone anymore pain.

      Xandra turned over, burying her face in her pillow. She wished she could cry, to relieve the pressure in her skull. But all she felt was numbness.

      Fyora… She thought of her uncertain smiles and light steps. Every movement, every speck of makeup out of place was something her mind clung to, analyzed. It was an old habit, to find more things to hate, more justifications against tyranny that she now knew wasn't as black and white. Fyora's kindness contradicted everything she once believed.

      She tugged at the silver chain of the pendent, frustration washing over her. "Why…" Trembling paws grabbed the sheets to still themselves – and for a split second she saw them grey and lifeless.

      She caught herself quickly, with a sharp intake of breath. Panic flitting away, the ghost of heavy stone took its place. "I was wrong." The admittance hung in the room, sinking into every fibre of her being. "I know that. Then why…"

      "How can I fix this..?" Xandra counted the points of plaster on the ceiling, again and again, until they faded from view.

      To be continued…

 
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