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Another Faerie Festival


by starbiology

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Illusen would admit she was a tad surprised when she saw the letter in her mailbox. Pressed in a clean black envelope and sealed with gaudy purple and green wax stamped into a Bartamus. The little creature could almost be called cute if it was associated with anyone else. The wax seal hides the letter’s contents, forcing her to search her house's junk drawers for an envelope knife.

     When she finally gets the letter open she nearly rolls her eyes. Not that there is anything particularly interesting about the contents of it. Rather, she falls into the annoyed expression because of having to go to such lengths to open something only to find that it is completely within her expectations of the sender.

     “You are mercifully invited” she mumbles to herself as she sits down in her breakfast nook to read the letter “to the faerie festival this year, held at Jhudora’s Cloud. If you are unable to locate the premises do not bother asking for directions, I will not account for such airheaded intruders in my home. The event ends sharply at 10, all dawdlers will be thrown out”

     She sets the envelope on her kitchen counter and tries not to frown. Pushes it to the furthest part of her mind and even buries it under a stack of newspapers. Focuses instead on straightening up her home and gathering together her quest prizes for the day.

     Unfortunately it doesn’t take more than an hour for a reminder to resurface in the form of someone knocking at her door.

     “Did you get one?”

     Danika, one of her fellow earth faerie friends, rushes to ask before even greeting hello. Standing behind her waving a letter in astonishment also stands Iyana, another earth faerie, who looks just as curious.

     Illusen steps aside to let them in and slips into her kitchen to make some tea. And she doesn’t sigh at the intrusion even once, despite so desperately wanting to.

     When they’re sat down she shows them her letter, identical to the ones they received. There is some shock that her letter contains the exact same writing as any others, but she doesn’t voice that surprise. Instead lets it leave behind a sour feeling in her chest like she may as well have just been forgotten by the sender.

     Iyana sighs in the way that one does when playing a part in an act, takes a graceful sip of her tea.

     “What a frightful letter, how could Queen Fyora actually choose her to host? I can’t imagine what the festival will look like this year”

     Danika nods, her ponytail bobbing along somewhat obnoxiously. Her face is pulled in concern but she has that expression like she is excited to see how it will play out. Waiting bored for something to happen so she can laugh at it with her friends.

     “Will you go, Illusen? That’d be so awkward for you, wouldn’t it?”

     There’s always a sort of way these conversations play out, one she’s become practiced in over so many years. Almost a language in its own way.

     “Well, Jhudora did come when the festival was hosted at my glade a few years ago.” she shrugs then continues more spirited “Though I have a sneaking suspicion that she was responsible for the ‘soup incident’. I can't really pass up the opportunity to return the favour, or just harass her by being nice to her, now can I?”

     But also this is the type of conversation she has fallen out of practice of since living in Meridell for so long, lest a mischievous grin break their polite but mocking banter.

     “Now that would be a show” Iyana laughs delicately. Delicate like blades of grass and morning dew on petals, a sort of spitefulness born from being so easy to brush aside. Danika only grins past her cup.

          The weeks move by quickly but that’s normal for Illusen. Maybe it's normal for all faeries. Living with an immortal life span can allow years to pass by in boredom and routine.

     That said, she spends more time getting ready for the festival than she’d be willing to admit. Bought a new dress for it too. Nothing too outrageously formal but nice enough for her to be pleased. A longer style that swoops out like pale lily petals with golden embroidery of curling vines.

     She’s thankful when Danika and Iyana and a large group of other earth faeries she hardly knows stops by to have her join them on their trip up to Faerieland. Having to trek alone up the dark stone path across swirling purple clouds would have been dreadful. Might have left creases of discomfort in her face at too many old memories if she was left in her thoughts.

     The interior of the castle is dressed up surprisingly beautifully. Jhudora has always been one for the dramatics though and this is a great opportunity for her to show off. Dark silks line the ceiling and drape the windows. Tall furniture pulled out from storage to make space for circles of faeries to sit and chat. Every candle she could find has been lit, leaving the entire foyer in an ominous green glow. It feels like being surrounded by dark magic, almost intimidating.

     Above all the variations of pretty, butterfly-like wings stands the bulky clawed wings of Jhudora. Dark faerie wings always struck Illusen as somewhat odd, so different from other faeries that they stand out even when not intending to.

     Jhudora hasn’t noticed her yet and she is glad for that, silently gripping the gift in her hand that’s hidden away in shiny wrapping paper. She’s somewhat regretful of showing up at all when her group of friends move further into the building. An irritation starts building under her skin with every step they inch forward.

     Jhudora is glumly welcoming guests in front of them, passing off the gifts given to her out of politeness. Illusen hadn’t noticed them earlier but high in the ceilings are a line of bartamus that carry away the gifts, tirelessly flittering back and forth through the hallways of her labyrinth of a castle.

     When they’re finally fully inside the castle, Illusen definitely regrets showing up. Jhudora gives her a withering look that may have been a glare if she had the energy to do so. She’s dressed very formally, especially for Jhudora who is normally only comfortable in things neon enough to ward off others like a poisonous mushroom.

     She's in a long black dress that shimmers under the green candlelight, gems gathered at the edges of her draping sleeves. Her hair is even up with her scruffy bangs framed around her face, but the rest is pinned up with decorative clips in the shape of little twinkling Barbats.

     Illusen knows the other faeries expect them to start viciously arguing with each other, but it’s boring to always fall to expectations. And she had made quite a big deal out of her plan to Iyana and Danika.

     She hands the gift to Jhudora and before she can just pass it off to one of her bartamus, Illusen starts talking her ear off.

     “The castle really does look so nice! Without its normal swirling poisonous clouds it almost seems homely. All the black is a nice touch, gothic right?” she sees Jhudora’s eye twitch but just continues right on “You’ve even dressed up for the event, it's a very pretty dress must be commissioned even, it suits you so nicely”

     Jhudora scowls. The kind of scowl that musters every dwindling bit of her energy to give after having to accept others into her home. Her wings even flick, a real show to how furious she must be and the restraint she has, given that the queen stands to her side watching everything unfold. She doesn’t say anything in response, just storms away, likely the only thing she could do to stop herself from blasting a hole clean through someone.

     Illusen cannot hide the mischievous smile that breaks her previous, overly polite charade. It’s only when she looks at her friends' bewildered expressions and sees the way Queen Fyora sighs and greets those behind them, that she realizes something has gone wrong.

     “That… was a little mean Illusen. Even if it is to Jhudora…” Iyana says, playing with the gold bracelets on her wrist.

     “What? No. I was being really nice, to annoy her, she hates that!''

     Danika purses her lips in a frown, nodding her head with Iyana.

     “It just seemed like you were making fun of her, right? Like I’m not the only one that saw that?”

     The rest of the group nods in varying levels of discomfort at hearing the conversation.

     Illusen is startled, then horrified. She looks over her shoulder to where Jhudora stormed off to and finds her standing in a small group of faeries at the buffet. They’re newly Jhudora’s friends, only the past few years or so, but seem to have become close. At least close for a faerie like Jhudora who holds everyone around her at an arm's length away.

     There’s Baelia, Ilere, and Nuria. The only one Illusen actually knows is Nuria, who is very kind and has chatted with her before while out on errands. It is Nuria now who glares at her from where their group stands. The flames of her wings fume into pyres. Jhudora’s back is to her but she can see the way she tensely clenches the neck of her glass.

     “No, I was just- oh no”

     She may argue with Jhudora, fight and swear vengeance, but never mock her. She would never stoop to something so low like bullying, even to her arch-nemesis.

     Her stomach drops sick with guilt. Her own friends pat her shoulder sympathetically but drift off into groups where their spirits are high and happy.

     There’s no way she could approach Jhudora to explain herself when she’s around her friends. Might get roasted to flames before she could even get a word out. So Illusen lingers against the walls, considers just leaving early but that would only bring more attention to her.

     At some point in the evening she tries to eat but as she passes through the buffet she sees shiny gift wrap of an unopened gift poking out from the garbage, squished down by a plate of cake. She quickly loses any sort of appetite after that, wings wilting down.

     The festival is endless and suffocating when she doesn’t feel up to mingling and so she finally leaves the main hall only to become utterly lost.

     Jhudora’s castle has never been easy to maneuver, occupied by endless halls of identical doors. There was a time when she knew these rooms by heart, but that is decades in the past now. She is only trying to find a balcony to get fresh air but instead finds her way to four different narrow hallways, and at least ten storage closets packed with junk. With a sigh she pulls open another door and feels a rush of humid air on her face.

     It takes her a moment to recognize where she is, hasn’t been here in so long. Must have followed the path out of some old lingering habit.

     In this room is the garden Jhudora keeps in her home, almost a greenhouse really with its tall windows shrouded by leafy vines. It's always been a beautiful area but at night it's made even more so. Garden lamps light the path and circles a tall spindly tree, bringing attention to everything surrounding it. There's a section dedicated to the herbs that Jhudora harvests for her potions, another to grow all her poisonous mushrooms, and then the rest of the garden is just made up of strange plants she likes.

     Despite how awful Illusen was feeling a moment ago she does feel some of the wilting in her posture pick up when surrounded by all the greenery. She crosses the pathway to slump against a lilac tree and closes her eyes to sigh to herself, not even caring how badly she’s wrinkling her new dress or that she’s somehow already gotten dirt on it.

     “That was a dumb plan…” and it feels good to say out loud, complaining at the cute collection of black lilies that stand in a line in front of her. “Not really a plan at all I suppose though…”

     The lilies obviously don’t answer back.

     Unfortunately, Jhudora does.

     “You’re not much of an idea woman, never have been…”

     She feels her heart nearly jump out of her chest, shoots up to her feet to look behind her. Jhudora leans against the metal railings of the upper level used to tend to the trees in the garden, has a glass pressed to her lips as she stares down at her with an uncomfortably level expression.

     “Jhudora…”

     She flutters up to join her at the railing. Jhudora doesn’t leave but she folds her arms closer to herself and scowls into her drink. Despite waiting all evening to explain what happened she still has to fight the words out from herself.

     “I wouldn't- the pla- your place really does look nice, and your dress is beautiful. Stunning really. I was trying to annoy you earlier by being nice but I really did mean it”

     Jhudora scoffs at her dismissively, takes another sip from her glass to give herself a chance to break eye contact. There's a genuine anger in the way her body is hunched over the railing, might just shoot her with a blast of magic right off the platform if she were pushed to it.

     “I knew exactly what you were doing, Illusen. Have you ever considered that maybe you finding it so funny to be nice to me is actually just cruel”

     Illusen feels her face burn red at that, a deep guilt overwhelming her immediately. Twice in a single night. She really was reaching for a record here.

          It reminds her of a repeated conversation with her mom. The way her mother clicks her tongue, pushes back her somewhat greyed auburn hair in gentle annoyance. An argument on Illusen's side whenever her mother would ask her how Jhudora is doing and the frustrated noise she’d make in return.

     'Stop asking mum! It's always going to be the same. She stabbed me in the back and now we're enemies'

     'Ah my daughter, my little Illusen, she upset you and you send it back tenfold. You've always been like that you know'

     They don’t often disagree but she had glared at her mother for that. Usually she'd leave without a word. The last time though when she tried to argue against it her mother just continued on without listening.

     ‘She's always been a sensitive girl, that Jhudora, A heart like butter barely hidden under that exterior.’ she’d sigh and pat Illusen’s arm 'she's a good friend for you, and you to her, stop letting your pride take priority'

     While Illusen is swarmed by her thoughts, Jhudora takes the lack of an answer as one.

     She’s only startled out of those thoughts when she hears the heavy 'thunk' of Jhudora’s boots hitting the lower level. She climbed over and jumped down from the railing, her large wings shaking off the stiffness from suddenly being used.

     This is when Jhudora takes off, it's normal in their arguments for her to run when it's no longer just bickering. Turns to something with substance and a forever lingering pain because they refuse to just talk about what happened. But there's a way she takes just a little longer, stretches her tired wings as if giving just an extra moment. Gives that little chance.

     “Jhudora...”

     She doesn’t answer or turn around even but she does become still. Illusen isn’t sure what to say, didn’t actually have anything planned.

     Stay.

     I miss you.

     Can’t you see how much I miss you, do you ever miss me too?

     Of course she doesn’t say any of it. Too embarrassing to have to be the one to say it.

     Instead, Illusen tosses a small pouch from her purse down to her which Jhudora catches with ease. She examines it frowning, then looks back up with furrowed brows.

     “Got some of your mushrooms from a quester. Was going to put it in the food, you know, in return for when the festival was in my glade”

     That makes Jhudora laugh out in surprise then she looks up at her with that competitive edge again, dark purple eyes flaring.

     “I threw sticks and leaves in your tasteless soup when the festival was held in that run down dirt path you call a Glade. My rewards…” she shakes the pouch up at her, “are poisonous”

     Illusen shrugs but can’t help the smile that bleeds through onto her face “I only grabbed the mild ones, some mild poisoning. Likely not much more than those lollipops you give out. It does seem like a bit much though, in hindsight.”

     Jhudora laughs again, skin creasing around her eyes and scrunching her nose like she does when she’s smiling honestly.

     She turns to leave and Illusen wants to follow after her. Grow violets and sweetpeas around her ankles and in her hair. Poke at her strange wings then leap out of reach when an attempt is made to grab at the delicate wings on her own back.

     She doesn’t do any of that of course, but when she goes home her heart feels a little lighter and well if she tucks the invite and envelope into her journal that's for her to know.

     The End.

 
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