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Illusen’s Holiday Kerfuffle


by cookiez101

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It was the Month of Celebrating in Meridell at last, and the town was abuzz with townsfolk shopping for gifts, carolers singing in the square, beautifully decorated festive sweets at Merifoods, and general merriment.

     Illusen’s glade had been busier than usual, too, with regulars and new questees alike, filled with a holiday vigour to aid their local faerie. Illusen was pleased with this thoughtful attention and had no idea what to do with the excess of quest-given items she received. Though she loved giving quests (it is her main occupation, after all), even quest-giving faeries need breaks. Illusen had felt cracks in her noble, cheery exterior that she put on for the public beginning to form. She knew she needed a vacation of sorts, or else the saccharine exterior might break completely.

     Unfortunately for Illusen, she overestimated her limits.

     It happened on a Thursday.

     “Almost Friday,” Illusen told News Guy, her Buzzer pal; she called him this because he was her main source of town and Neopia-wide updates. He was looking a little droopy in all of this cold weather. He nodded slightly, fluttering spastically at intervals, unable to hover consistently.

     “Ah, I’m sorry dude. I’m a bad friend,” Illusen told him, snapping her fingers. Lime-green sparks flew, spattering onto News Guy. A little sun blinked into life above him, shining its rays onto him and becoming his own personal heating lamp. Immediately, he began to hover and zip about in characteristic Buzzer manner. He landed on her shoulder, buzzing happily to himself.

     “I’m going to take this weekend off,” She informed him, his round red eyes vacant as always.

     “I know, I know,” she continued. “Jhudora will get all of my questees, most likely. Or … do you think I’m just being paranoid?” She cast a narrow-eyed glance at News Guy.

     “Exactly!” She responded to his silence. “I knew I wasn’t being paranoid. Ha, ha … anyway! It’s gonna be a great weekend. We’re gonna go on a trip, somewhere warmer. Mystery Island. Get a little sun and drink some tropical drinks. Play some tombola. Look at some nice plants … that aren’t dormant or dead.” Illusen frowned at the trees above her; all had dropped their leaves for the season already.

     “Welp,” Illusen sighed, swigging the rest of her already cold morning green tea down. “Let’s boogie, yeah?” She stood, walked out of the glade and down the dirt path to a small wooden sign beside the glade’s stand of deciduous trees. On the sign was another mini sign that she could flip over. The sign read:

     Illusen’s Glade

     Item-retrieving Quest-giver

     est. Y1

     

     The mini sign read:

     The Faerie is Away

     Illusen flipped this sign over, so it now read:

     The Faerie is In

     Illusen had put some holly leaves and holly berries around the sign, too, which now looked as if they might fall off. She set about repositioning them, then made her way back to her post in her glade: an assembly of birch tree branches in the shape of a chair with everlasting flowers (she had enchanted them) decorating it. She sat in it heavily, crossing her legs.

     “Hey, Illusen,” Illusen began, chattering to herself and picking at her nailbeds. “If you don’t like winter so much, why don’t you just enchant the trees and grass and flowers to live forever? Because that’s not natural, Carl!” Carl sounded like the name of someone who would say something like this to her.

     The sound of approaching footsteps thudding on the dirt path leading to the glade halted her bored ramblings. After working alone for many, many years, you chatter to yourself, especially when you’re the only faerie in Meridell county.

     The heavy footsteps belonged to an orange Skeith wearing the customary Meridell palace robes: white with gold embroidery on the hems, bearing the red and blue Meridell crest on the chest. This was not unusual; after all, the townsfolk of Meridell were some of her most loyal questees, and many of them worked in the castle or for King Skarl in some way.

     The Skeith stood before her, then kneeled.

     “Greetings, O brave Neopian! Have you come to accept a quest from me?” She said in a stale voice, annunciating harshly each word.

     The Skeith nodded, but before speaking bowed his head sadly. “I have, Great Illusen, but, alas, the last quest I was assigned, I could not complete on time …”

     “Mm … so you say,” Illusen said, turning lazily to her scoreboard, a silvery, shiny board propped up on a stand made of birch branches. She waved her hand towards it, and a single name popped up, with a score of ‘0’ beside it.

     She did not remember to make a note of the name, but continued, “All of your services and efforts are greatly appreciated,” she said flatly. “But, alas, the scoreboard reads true. Now, would you still like to complete a quest for me, brave Neopian?”

     The Skeith looked down at the ground and took a moment to respond. “Please, Illusen, is there any way to retrieve my old score? I’ve worked so hard, and you know how many times I’ve failed before … and it is the holiday season.”

     Actually, Illusen did not remember how many times this Skeith in particular had failed, but she made no note of this. She cleared her throat.

     “You know the rules, brave Neopian. Now, would you like to complete another quest for me?” She did not make exceptions – this itself was a rule. The rules of her quests were outlined on another sign in wood-burned words; this sign was further down the path on the way to her glade.

     The Skeith looked surprised at this, then angry, clambering to a standing position, kicking up a cloud of dust as he did so, his tail whipping about.

     “This is unfair! You are no good faerie! And in the time of giving, too! You’ll pay for this!” He shouted, spinning, and running down the path towards Meridell.

     Illusen was taken aback. She had experienced upset questees: crying, shouting, blubbering even. But not threatening. Never threatening.

     News Guy landed on Illusen’s head, humming quietly. “Thanks, News Guy. That was strange.”

     Illusen shrugged, leaning back in her rickety chair. “Well, whatever. Things happen. Onwards,” she said.

     ---

     The rest of the day passed as usual, and Illusen thought that the strange event from that morning would pass and all would be well. But, there was an odd feeling in her gut that told her it would not be so; this was unique for Illusen, who thought of herself as rather easygoing and worriless, perhaps because of how in-tune she was with all things natural.

     The next morning proved that she had been correct in this uneasy feeling. She awoke startled by a loud racket. A chorus of chanting, yelling, and a few heavy thwacks sounded from below her wooden treehouse.

     Scrambling out of bed, Illusen threw open the door, rushing to peer over the worn wood railing of her wraparound porch, nearly tripping on the masses of ivy growing on the porch.

     Below her, a mass of Meridellians – thirty, perhaps – were chanting, jeering, and yelling. The chorus grew louder and angrier once they saw her emerge from her abode. The thwack-ing, she observed, was the destruction of her welcome and rule-informing signs.

     “HEY!” Illusen yelled, all fire. Any niceties had evaporated once she observed the destruction of her property. “Those signs are older than all of you combined! What are you doing here?”

     A chorus of yelling was the response.

     “I can’t understand you!” Illusen screeched.

     One individual, a determined-looking yellow Zafara with braided blonde hair, wearing emerald robes, stepped forward. “I am the leader of this group,” she said proudly. “I’m sure you already know why we’re here.”

     “No! I don’t! And why are you destroying my signs? Don’t you have any respect for faeries?” Illusen responded.

     “We’ve shown enough respect for you!” The Zafara continued. “And the moment we don’t bring exactly what you need in sixteen minutes, you brush us off! Like we’re nothing! Just like you did to Argon, King Skarl’s nephew! And in the season of giving. You have no heart, Illusen!”

     “Woah, woah!” Illusen said, putting her hands up, palm-out. Glancing at her arms made her realize she was still wearing her baggy tie-dye nightgown.

     Oh well. I suppose all pride and semblance of majesty is out the window, eh? Illusen thought.

     And, she thought, I’m going to need to take note of every questee from now on.

     Illusen paused, as the crowd shouted back at her, all of it indistinguishable in the mass of voices. She sighed, mumbling to herself, “There’s a lot to unpack here.”

     Illusen cleared her throat, straightening. “Alright, alright,” she said loudly. The mass of voices yelling continued. “I said ALRIGHT!” She yelled, clapping her hands together, emitting a mass of bright green sparks that were showered upon the crowd. Now, the crowd could not speak.

     “Sorry, but you guys don’t really leave much room for conversation,” she said. “One of you – your leader, I guess – just tell me what you want. I didn’t know that the Skeith from yesterday was a relative of Skarl. And you should be happy I don’t play favourites, regardless of someone’s heritage or what time of year it is. I’m not going to change my rules – they’ve been the same for years; they’re on a (now destroyed) sign, anyway, so you can turn around before you accept a quest. What do you all want me to do? What’s the point of my quests if they’re not a challenge?”

     When she was finished, Illusen waved her hand, giving the crowd the ability to speak once again. This time, the crowd remained silent, whilst the Zafara spoke. “We don’t want you to change your rules. We want you to actually care about the people of Meridell.”

     With that, the Zafara turned, leading the group out of the glade and back to Meridell.

     “Whew,” Illusen exhaled, her shoulders sagging. She had been hunching them tensely, almost protectively. “That was awkward.”

     Turning towards the forest, she called, “News Guy!”

     A far, distant buzzing became closer and closer. News Guy alighted on Illusen’s shoulder.

     “Did you see all that, dude?”

     “Bzzz-p (yes).”

     “I’m not mean to people, am I?”

     “Bzz-zzzz (sometimes).”

     “When?”

     “Bz bzzzzz (in winter).”

     “How? I’m the same as always. And I love Meridell, how could they say I don’t appreciate them?”

     “Bz bzzzzz bzzzzzz (you always leave).”

     This was true. Illusen hated winter, so always took a few weeks off for The Day of Giving, usually travelling to warmer locations. Plus, now she had plans to leave even before The Day of Giving.

     “But they don’t understand! I know I seem bratty, okay, maybe I am sometimes, but giving out quests night and day is tiring after a while. Sometimes I don’t even want the junk I ask for. I just have to ask for things because … because they want me to!”

     “Bz-bz zzzz bzzzz (maybe tell them)?”

     Illusen sighed. She had messed up. Somewhere, over the years, she had gained a feeling of resentment and bitterness; this had been leaking through the cracks of her façade. She needed to make this right.

     Meridell is my home. It’s my favourite place in Neopia … the best place in Neopia, she thought.

     She couldn’t let this friendship go … she had already experienced a great loss like that before. Never again.

     “Ughhh,” Illusen groaned, flopping her head and arms over the balcony, and dangling them there. “What do I do?”

     “Bzzz, zzz (cheer; sorry).”

     Illusen gasped. “Of course! I ruined the holidays. I’m the villain. But! If I make the holidays amazing, it’ll all be good! And maybe then I won’t hate winter so much.”

     Illusen scurried to her door, then back to the porch, then back again, shuffling in circles. “Ah! So much to do. But first – News Guy? I’m going to need backup.”

     “Bz-zzz-p!” News Guy responded, flying off of Illusen’s shoulder and jettisoning into the forest.

     “Perfect. Now, more reinforcements!” Illusen said, then cupped her hands to her mouth in a false megaphone shape.

     “Yaaaa-hooooooo!” She called in a lilting rhythm, increasing in pitch.

     A mix of petpets emerged from the wilderness. Symols burrowed up from their subterranean tunnels, Mortogs hopped out of their ponds, Ukalis and Gallions flew to the glade and landed on the porch balcony, and Turtums began their slow way there (they’ll make it there … eventually). News Guy had returned with a group of fellow Buzzers, too.

     Once all of the petpets (except the Turtums … they’re on their way) had assembled before Illusen on her porch, she began to assign tasks. This holiday season was going to be one Meridell would never forget.

     ---

     All night, Illusen and her petpet crew worked: gathering banners, ribbons, balloons, biodegradable confetti, and small gifts for each and every Meridellian. Illusen even incorporated her baking skills into the preparations, often underappreciated, as her questees know she tends to award the same baked goods, Flower Cakes and Cream Cookies, for her quests.

     This time, Illusen whipped up a new recipe: iced sugar cookies with little simplified icing Illusen faces, hearts, and the Meridell crest, creating the message “Illusen Loves Meridell” with images. Deciding this itself was not enough, she prepared cinnamon buns and homemade green and white peppermint sticks, too (candy making is much easier when you’re a faerie and can use magic to control the heating of the sugar).

     Once the gifts were wrapped, the banners and decorations perfected, and all baked goods packaged in shiny bags with gold ribbons, Illusen and her petpet crew made their way to Meridell to distribute their gifts and to decorate. Night had fallen amidst their preparations, keeping them secret underneath its cover.

     All flying petpets were assigned to delivering gifts and sweets to doorsteps, whilst Illusen and the remaining petpets tied up balloons, hung streamers and ribbons, and hung a giant banner across the town square.

     When they had finished, it was almost dawn. First light had bled through the thick, moonless darkness, and the sky shifted into tangerine and violet.

     Illusen and the petpets plodded back to the glade heavily, where they all collapsed into Illusen’s bed, and slept.

     Illusen awoke when the sun was high to the loud clacking of a hammer to wood.

     Illusen rubbed her eyes, glancing around and quickly realizing she was trapped in her bed; all of the petpets were cuddled around her like protective pillows. She glanced at one of the windows.

     Noon, probably, she thought.

     Illusen slowly sat up. Not a petpet stirred. Using her large leaf-shaped green wings, she fluttered to the door, opening it, and stretching in the sun on the porch.

     She peered over the railing at the source of the noise. A purple Blumaroo was hammering a new wooden ‘quest rules’ sign into the ground with a rubber mallet. He had already set a new welcome sign into the earth, further away on the path.

     “Hey!” She called to him.

     Startled, he turned around, waved, and bowed a little. “Meridell is sorry for our outburst, and we accept your apology! These signs should be just like the last ones. Please join us in town for a celebration!”

     Illusen wanted to mess with him and say no, but she felt that her cheek had run out. She loved Meridell, and she wanted it to be clear that she needed them as much as they needed her.

     “Alright! I’m bringing my helpers, too, though.”

     The Blumaroo nodded, finished his work, and hopped on his tail down the path to Meridell.

     ---

     Before she went into town, Illusen whipped up a cake, full of raspberries, voidberries, and blueberries, with piped icing. On top, she piped out a red and blue Meridell crest. She then awoke her petpet friends with some leftover blueberries for breakfast, and they began their walk to Meridell. On the way, Illusen encountered two Turtums headed towards the glade.

     “Is this all of you?” Illusen asked.

     The Turtums looked at one another anxiously, then nodded. Illusen handed her cake to two Symols to carry, then stooped and picked both Turtums up.

     “Thank you for coming, little friends. Let’s go to the party!”

     ---

     The makeshift parade that Illusen led found all the town to be empty, except of course the town square.

     Before walking into the town square, Illusen admired the decorations. It looked lovely: red, emerald, and gold streamers and ribbons hung artfully from shop signs, light posts, and were draped about shops and houses. A decorated conifer, blinking with white lights and adorned with gleaming red, blue, and gold ornaments stood in the center of the square; this had been a last-minute idea of the Symols. On top of the tree, instead of a garish star, sat a clay figure of King Skarl, which Illusen had enchanted so that it showed him dancing about, waving a roasted chicken leg all the while. Under the tree were even more gifts for everyone, in addition to those delivered directly to all resident doorsteps.

     A table with a white linen tablecloth held all of the remaining baked goods and sweets that hadn’t been delivered to doorsteps. A line of holiday toy crackers sat next to the sweets, a few of them opened already, their wrappers strewn about. Bunches of red, green, and gold balloons were tied to every light post, and gold biodegradable confetti was scattered everywhere.

     Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves – singing, shouting, and dancing. Above all of the merriment was a huge, canvas banner that had been painted upon, reading:

     I’m sorry, Meridell

     You are my home and my holiday

     Happy Day of Giving!

     -Illusen (and her helper petpets)

 
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