White Weewoos don't exist. *shifty eyes* Circulation: 145,521,815 Issue: 253 | 18th day of Hiding, Y8
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Racing to Glory: Part Two


by ee365

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Esmé Halifax stood in the shadows outside of the Lady Fyora Cloud Racing Arena, watching Lydia, Spark, and Judi polish their racers for the night. The brown powder-sack was clutched between the fingers of her black glove. In five minutes, the three would head to the lockers to change out of their racing dresses, leaving the Golden Beetle, Lydia's vehicle, unattended. The perfect opportunity for Esmé to sprinkle the delayed-reaction powder on the crucial cog her mother had specified.

     But something stayed the dark faerie's hand. Conflicting emotions warred in her twisted soul. And she knew the cause.

     Since early childhood Esmé had adored her mother. Skorda Midnight Halifax had been her hero, a legend incarnate. She had wanted to grow up just like Skorda, to become a legendary Cloud Racer greater even than Fyora. She'd begged her mother to train her in the art of Cloud Racing. She'd been good, but not great - and she continued to train arduously day after day. When Esmé was thirteen, her mother had given her the job of scouting for possible threats by challenging other young faeries at the Lady Fyora Arena. She had been so proud. Here she was, helping uphold her heroine's legacy of fame. So, with bright eyes, she'd done the job, certain she was doing a great and honorable thing for Neopia.

     But now. Learning after all these years that Skorda wasn't that great after all - that she was a cheater. Dark Faerie or not, Esmé knew the rules governing Cloud Racing and followed them to the letter. She'd always assumed the great Skorda Midnight Halifax did as well. Discovering that the long and time-honored tradition of Racing integrity was broken by none other than this great legend made her feel horrible. All these years, she was helping a cheater!

     Now Esmé wasn't sure. Did she want to continue helping her mother to win this race? Lydia was her rival, the source of so much humiliation - but she played by the rules.

     Now Lydia, Spark, and Judi were gone. Esmé crept up to the three racers as soundlessly as she could. She crept between Judi's Blooming Flower and Spark's Fireplace to where the brilliant Golden Beetle was tethered. She slipped a thin piece of metal out of her racing glove and used it to pry open the hatch at the back. There, glimmering like a Glowing Snowflake, was the magic channel cog that caused Lydia's racer to function.

     As the dark faerie held the pouch of powder above the mechanism, her conscience battled within. Should she continue helping Skorda Midnight Halifax, who she now knew to be a dirty cheater but was still her mother nonetheless, or aid Lydia, her longtime rival who was an honorable player?

     While her conscience fought itself, the voices of the three faeries floated to Esmé's ears. "Hurry up, Lydia," Judi was saying. "I told you, don't leave your racer unattended for more than five minutes or so. Knowing Skorda, your vehicle is open to sabotage."

     There was a frown in the light faerie's voice as she replied, "Judi, nobody in the history of Faerie Cloud Racing has ever cheated. Skorda Midnight Halifax is a champion. She would never cheat - she has to set an example for racing-legend-wannabes like ourselves."

     Hearing those words decided it for Esmé. Yanking the hatch shut with as little noise as she could, she slipped away from the Arena, the bag of sabotage powder still in her hand. She then began to run. She ran and ran and ran until she reached the outskirts of Faerie City. When her legs tired, she took to the air, her bat-like wings propelling her to the very edge of the Faerieland Cloud. Looking down onto the blue-and-green blob that was Neopia below, Esmé Halifax lobbed the powder-sack out over that void. She watched it fall until it was but a speck to even her sharp vision, and then returned to the forbidding Halifax Manor with a slight spring in her step.

     There is a feeling many Neopians get when they have done the right thing and they know it. Most of us are familiar with that sensation, but it is alien to a Dark Faerie. Esmé could not understand why she felt so happy - but it was in fact the knowledge that she had stopped a cheater from putting into effect the dirtiest trick in her career.

     ***

     Lydia straightened her flight helmet as she looked at the crowd of faeries filling the stands of the Lady Fyora Cloud Racing Arena. It seemed as though every resident of Faerieland had turned out to see the Dark Faerie Champion challenge the rookie Light Faerie. So many famous Faeries that were but a legends to her - the Battle Faerie, Ember, Siyana, Psellia, Baelia, Jhudora - even Illusen had come up from her Glade to be present. Fyora herself was there, in the Royal Box installed for her use alone. The Darkest Faerie hadn't shown - but rumor had it she was having a spot of trouble down in Altador that required her immediate attention. She had sent Jennumara as her representative, and the short, black-haired faerie could be seen discussing something at length with Skorda Midnight Halifax.

     Skorda - she had never seen the dark faerie face-to-face, and she made an impressive sight. Standing in the seat of her racer, Nightmare Creature, surrounded by Dark Faerie servants, Neopian Times reporters, photographers, and Jennumara, she surveyed the crowds with a cool, calm eye. Her racing dress showed not a wrinkle, her face not a bead of sweat - which made Lydia feel positively drenched. And her eyes - red, cold, and piercing, scanning the crowd but every so often coming to rest on Lydia, boring through the Light Faerie's very skin. Beneath Skorda's gaze, Lydia felt like a Petpet under the eyes of Florg.

     And to add to her nervousness, there was the box reserved for family and close friends of the challengers. Her mother and sister Daphne sat there with Spark and Judi, giving her a thumbs-up every time she looked at them. On Skorda's side, there was a lean faerie she guessed was her secretary, a muscular individual that seemed to be a bodyguard of sorts, and - Esmé.

     This was the greatest shock of all. Esmé was not the lowly Faerie she had claimed throughout their rivalry - but the very daughter of Skorda Midnight Halifax, sent by the champion to scout the Cloud Racing world for threats!

     She knew now how the challenge had come to be issued. Esmé had been reporting back to Skorda all along, telling of each and every match she and her Light Faerie rival had raced. Once the champion had perceived Lydia to be a growing threat - she was challenged.

     Now Fyora herself was standing, and the crowd around Skorda was dispersing. Lydia fastened her helmet straps and entered the Golden Beetle, casting a last look at her family and friends. If I lose this, will they still like me? Of course, Lydia, Skorda is a champion. They won't fault you for losing. At least not if you try your hardest...

     "Faeries of this fair land, I, your queen, come to you on this day to announce a Cloud Racing match of epic proportions." Fyora's voice came over the magic loudspeakers to begin the race. "Skorda Midnight Halifax, Dark Faerie of... some renown among the racing world... will be challenging Lydia Lavender, a Light Faerie who... has shown a natural talent at racing. Ladies, enter your vehicles and warm the engines."

     Skorda lowered herself into the Nightmare Creature with a grace her opponent could not duplicate. Lydia stumbled slightly on the threshold, and it felt to her as though she had fallen into the seat in a most undignified way.

     "On your marks... Get set... Go!!!" Fyora's voice announced the start of the match. Lydia pulled the Beetle's throttle, and the vehicle was airborne. She aimed for high sky, as it was easier for her to maneuver than the lower areas near the ground, where she could easily get hemmed in by solid smoke.

     Skorda chose to stay low. Wait it out, the dark faerie thought, just wait it out. In truth, she possessed little true skill, but she was pretty sure she could last the thirty seconds it would take the powder to activate. Then Lydia would crash, and she would be champion.

     Lydia couldn't understand why the champion wasn't coming after her. She hung low, so low that the Nightmare Creature was just a small black bug to Lydia's view. Is she waiting for me to clog the upper air with my own smoke before she comes after me? Though the light faerie was trying to conserve as much space as possible, her upper reaches were gradually filling with brilliant yellow smog.

     Twenty seconds... Ten seconds... Skorda too was running out of space, but it was almost time. Five seconds... three seconds... one second... now! Chancing a glance above her, the Dark Faerie watched for the telltale sign that her opponent's racer was beginning a quick downward spiral.

     But it never came. Lydia continued to soar on above her. She checked her watch - but the racer should have crashed five seconds ago. She couldn't understand... and then it became perfectly clear to Skorda's calculating mind. Esmé! The little brat didn't put in the powder! Glaring at her daughter in the box, Skorda was rewarded with a smug smile on Esmé's face. Her daughter realized Skorda was aware of her treachery, and she was... proud of it??

     Panic filled the dark faerie. I'm going to lose, and she knows it. I have no skill to fall back on when my cheating fails. Even now, she realized she was careening towards a wall of her own black smoke, with nowhere to turn.

     Lydia looked down... and saw something amazing. Her opponent, supposedly the greatest Champion of all time, was heading toward her smoke wall. She would not pull up in time. It was obvious even to the light faerie's eyes that she had lost control.

     Esmé, you betrayer, you false agent, you traitor, you! Look what you have done to your mother's legacy... The smoke was coming... only a few meters away now...

     Skorda remembered no more until she hit the ground.

     ***

     Still in a state of shock, Lydia brought the Golden Beetle down to a soft landing beside the crashed Nightmare Creature. The beaten Skorda Midnight Halifax had not emerged from her vehicle, and Lydia was not looking forward to when she did.

     As the tall dark faerie finally stood up and surveyed the arena, her eyes were full of hate and anger. But those eyes did not come to settle on Lydia, but on-Esmé?

     The younger faerie was crossing the field, a smug smirk on her purple-skinned face. Skorda pointed a black-gloved finger at her daughter, the word "You!" echoing from her purple lips.

     The crowd could sense a confrontation brewing. Everyone froze, intent on watching the two dark faeries.

     "Now, Mother," Esmé replied in a patronizing tone, "Why don't you tell all these nice faeries how you are not a real champion, but have cheated in every match? And how you would have cheated by sprinkling that brown powder - which I might mention is illegal - on the control cog of Lydia's racer, had I not refused to aid you in your dirty work?"

     Time stood still. Nobody spoke. The same thoughts were running through the head of every faerie present. Skorda Midnight Halifax - a cheater?? How could she?

     Suddenly, a lone voice broke through the stillness. It was Siyana of Talador. "You know, Miss Halifax - I did realize some time after our race that one of my racer's wings had been shortened. I thought it was an accident - but now I'm not so sure."

     Siyana's comment caused a babble of voices to echo through the arena as every faerie Skorda had ever challenged remembered the 'accidents' their racers had suffered around the time of the match.

     "Yeah! How do you explain the rust on my engine after our race that wasn't there the day before?" demanded the Space Faerie.

     "Or how the smoke used during our race seemed thicker and stickier than regulation smoke?" added Illusen.

     "You betrayed us all... we never should have trusted you! Never trust a dark faerie... I learned that the hard way," sobbed Baelia.

     "That's enough of racing, Skorda Midnight!! Wait until I get down there and formally challenge you to the Battledome! Then we'll see who's the champion!" raged the Battle Faerie.

     "We thought you were a hero among our kind. But you went too low, even for a Dark Faerie. My mistress will hear about this, you can count on that - cheater," said Jennumara icily.

     Gradually, hundreds of faeries had risen from their seats and were advancing on Skorda, their battle-rage up. "Cheater! Liar! Betrayer!" they yelled, storming towards the cowering Dark Faerie.

     "I... I..." protested Skorda. As the mob of Faeries surged ever closer, Skorda tried her best to calm them. "Really, guys, it wasn't... I was just playing around! Jenny - Jennumara dear, tell them how I would never cheat seriously..."

     Then Skorda Midnight Halifax's courage failed her. The fake Champion turned from the mob of oncoming faeries and ran from the Arena. The Battle Faerie, Jennumara, and a few of the fastest, angriest of the group chased after her. The rest turned, abandoning the punished cheater, to the champion of the match, still standing stunned beside her golden racer.

     "Three cheers for Lydia, New Cloud Racing Champion!" Psellia yelled. And then Lydia was drowned in a sea of congratulations from faeries who were just names and stories to her up until that day.

     Two small figures thrust through the crowd until they were at her side. Spark and Judi lifted Lydia onto their shoulders, and carried her through the mass to where Fyora waited, holding a golden medal with a picture of a cloud racer on it.

     "Congratulations, Lydia Lavender," the Faerie Queen said, showing a dazzling smile. "You flew well and honorably today. I have a feeling that you shall become a legend among Faeries. Wonderfully done, young Champion."

     ***

Epilogue:

     Lydia had finally managed to extricate herself from the mob of congratulations. She had seen Esmé sitting by herself in the corner, and she felt there were things that needed to be addressed between her and the Dark Faerie.

     Esmé looked up and saw her rival - now the Champion - approaching. "If you've come looking for congratulations, well, good job," she said dryly.

     "I'm not looking for congratulations. There's something I want to talk to you about, Esmé..." Her voice faltered. "You... you were asked by your mother to sabotage my racer?"

     "Yes," Esmé replied bluntly.

     "And you didn't?"

     "No. I just didn't want the old cheater to have another victory."

     "I have never been nice to you. I was cruel, rubbing my victories in. Yet you didn't help your mother - you helped me win instead." She wasn't quite sure of how to phrase her next words.

     "Yes. And your point is?" Esmé replied bluntly.

     "Th... thank you, Esmé," Lydia stammered.

     The dark faerie looked up, and Lydia saw something different in her eyes. They didn't seem as angry, or as... haunted... as they had been before. "You're welcome, Lydia. Er..." She paused a moment, as if gathering up the courage to continue, "Now that Moth - er, Skorda - is gone, there's no need for us to be... enemies."

     Lydia nodded, and then smiled. It was hard to smile at Esmé, but she did, and offered the dark faerie her hand. Esmé hesitated a moment, then took it and allowed herself to be helped to her feet.

     As the pair walked toward where Lydia's family, Spark, and Judi were waiting, Lydia had a thought. I gained more than just victory and title today, she realized. No, I also gained something more important.

     A friend.

The End

 
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