“Your Highness,” squeaked the minute Faerie Kacheek. His too-big helmet slid down over his eyes and he hurriedly pushed it back, not wanting to look disheveled in front of the Faerie Queen, even though he had run all the way from the front gate to the armory.
Fortunately for him, Fyora was too preoccupied to notice how hard her Royal Guard was panting. She looked up distractedly from the map she and the Battle Faerie had been poring over and answered with a vague “Yes?”
“You have visitors – they’re waiting at the front gate for you, Milady.” The Neopet bowed somewhat awkwardly, as his shield and spear kept getting in the way, and his helmet threatened to fall off if he wasn’t careful.
Fyora sighed and glanced apologetically at Aethia, who nodded in understanding. The queen then rose and strode past the Kacheek; with a swish of her purple robe she was gone. It took a moment for the guard to realize it was his duty to escort her, but then, after quickly adjusting his armor, he scrambled after her.
“I don’t need an escort through my own palace, thank you,” said Fyora dismissively, but not unkindly, once the Kacheek caught up with her. “How about you go and switch places with the guard manning the Hidden Tower? I’m sure he needs a break.”
As she walked away, she didn’t notice the Kacheek’s confused expression, nor did she remember that he was new here. There’s a Hidden Tower? he mused. No, Lady Fyora must just have her mind somewhere else. Why would we have a Hidden Tower?
Without incident, which was a miracle of its own considering she was inattentive and walking fast at the same time, the Faerie Queen made it to the front gates, where a Faerie Buzz and Yurble stood at strict attention. They had, in fact, been slouching and half asleep a moment before, but they thanked all that was good in Neopia that Fyora seemed out of it and didn’t comment.
“There’s someone at the door?” she asked mildly, gradually bringing herself back down to reality. She started to wonder who would call on her. Other Faeries generally let themselves in, and there weren’t many Neopets at all on Faerieland that weren’t employed by herself or other Faeries.
“Actually, two,” amended the Buzz. “It’s... interesting.” He and the Yurble exchanged a glance that could have meant anything, and the Yurble opened one of the large double doors soundlessly. Fyora stepped outside and raised an eyebrow at the scene in front of her, a marvelous emotional display on her part.
At first glance, it seemed as if there was only one visitor – a small Earth Faerie girl of perhaps twelve or thirteen, eyes wide with fear or something related. She was a very pretty young one, with the potential of becoming quite beautiful. Her thick hair was tied back in a messy plait, mostly a nice, copper color but with some green strands here and there. When Fyora’s gaze drifted to the object the Earth Faerie girl held in her hands ever so carefully, however, she realized who the second visitor was. In a loosely wrapped blanket was a second child, no more than a month or two old. Miniature, gossamer green wings sprouted from the baby’s petit shoulder blades, and a fuzz of dark hair sprouted on its head.
One of the head palace guards, a Faerie Grarrl by the name of Harrison, seemed to be trying to calm the girl down. Fyora could see she was shaking with fear. Both the girl and Harrison looked up at Fyora as she descended the stone steps to her palace onto the cloud below.
“Milady!” gasped Harrison, fumbling with his armor, a little more efficiently than the Kacheek had, and trying to snap to attention. “I do not know what brings these two Earth Faeries here, but as the elder one seems to be too frightened to talk...”
“...it must have been something awful,” finished Fyora. She knelt down so that she was level with the wide-eyed girl. The baby started to fidget in its blanket. A small blue plushie in the likeness of a Grundo that Fyora hadn’t noticed before fell to the cloud by her feet. She picked it up and fondled its soft arm for a moment before placing it back in the sleeping baby’s arms. All Fyora’s movements were deliberate and slow, so as not to alarm the obviously terrified girl.
“Hello, little Earth Faerie,” she said gently. “What brings you here?”
The girl shook her head violently, her plait whipping side to side. Her wings beat frantically, and she rose a couple of inches off the ground.
“There now, don’t be scared, little one,” soothed the Faerie Queen, placing a hand tenderly on the young Faerie’s shoulder to bring her back down. “Alright, then, you don’t have to tell us.” Fyora thought for a moment. “What is your name?”
“Illusen,” admitted the Earth Faerie reluctantly after a moment’s hesitation. “Illusen the Earth Faerie. And this is my sister, Jhudora.” Illusen gazed worriedly down at her baby sister, but the infant was still sound asleep, clutching the blue Grundo plushie.
“What’s the Grundo’s name?” asked Fyora.
Illusen looked taken aback; she probably hadn’t expected the Faerie Queen to care. “Judy calls him ‘Bo-bo,’ but she can’t talk yet.”
“Bobo...” repeated Fyora, lost in thought. It was silent for a few moments. Harrison leaned in anxiously to see if his employer was okay.
Snapping out of her reverie, Fyora looked up at Harrison, who hastily took a few steps back and bowed. “Harrison – dispatch somebody to the Faerie Employment Agency immediately. Tell them to post flyers for a stay-at-castle nurse; I want somebody to watch over these two when I can’t.”
“Yes, Your Highness!” exclaimed Harrison. He turned around and hurried through the still-open door. The Faerie Queen stood up and held out her hand to Illusen. Without a single word shared between them, the two Faeries walked inside the castle, and Fyora escorted Illusen and Jhudora to their chambers; their new home.
“Milady, Sarah wishes to speak with you.”
“Hmm? Ah, yes, I did ask her to come...” Fyora rolled up the scroll she had been examining and placed it gingerly inside an empty desk drawer. She closed it slowly, listening for the click that would tell her it was locked. Once she heard it, she slid her chair back from her winged purple-and-blue bedroom desk and stood up. “Send her in,” she called to the Kacheek guard waiting at the door to her chambers, as she arranged two bean bags – one Battle Faerie, one Fyora Print – to her liking.
A matronly blue Cybunny, clothed in a floral pink dress and a relatively clean white apron, entered the room, wringing her paws. “Milady,” she acknowledged, inclining her head. She half-collapsed onto the Battle Faerie bean bag, nervous as she was.
“Hello, Sarah,” greeted Fyora pleasantly, sinking down into the folds of her bean bag. “How are you today?”
“Oh, same old, same old,” said Sarah quickly, the words tumbling out of her mouth as if she couldn’t say them fast enough.
Fyora laughed. “Sarah, dear, you know you’re not in any sort of trouble, right?” she inquired.
The release of tension in the atmosphere was almost tangible. The Faerie Queen could see that the Cybunny was sighing with relief on the inside. The corners of her mouth twitched into a half-smile.
“Of course I knew that...” said Sarah a bit too airily to be entirely plausible. “But – er – what did you want me for?”
“Just to check up on Illusen and Jhudora. It has been a month or so, correct?”
“Yes,” replied the Cybunny, much more at ease now that they were talking about her two charges. “Illusen talks now, you know. She’s very bright. Her head is filled with all sorts of ideas, about magic mostly; she writes them down on diagrams, you see. Even though she’s started to talk, she’s still rather shy.”
A wide smile passed over Sarah’s face at the mention of the baby Earth Faerie. “She’s such a joy, My Queen, really she is. She rarely ever cries, always such a bundle of giggles...”
“The sisters get on well, I assume?”
Sara frowned slightly. “Well, they don’t play much together, actually – Illusen’s always off doing something or other, leaving Jhudora to play with that ragged little plushie of hers... but you can see in the way that Illusen looks at her sister that she loves her.”
Fyora cocked her head to the side slightly, curious. “And how does Illusen look at little Judy?”
Sarah thought for a moment, trying to figure out how she could put her thoughts into words. “Well... she looks at her as if... as if... as if she’s worried about her. As if she couldn’t stand it if Jhudora was anything but perfectly fine and happy. But she has nothing to worry about, now that they’re here.”
Fyora nodded. That reminded her of something. “Sarah – so I assume Illusen still will not say where they came from? What happened to them?”
Sarah shook her head sadly. “I’m afraid not. Illusen goes all stony-faced and wide-eyed whenever I mention it. I gather something truly terrible happened to their mother, though; a tear or two escaped her when I brought it up on accident.”
The Faerie Queen nodded sadly. The discussion continued for a few more minutes – she inquired about increasingly less important things. How was Jhudora’s wing growth coming along? Which Faerie Academy should Illusen be sent to? Did they eat as well as they should?
Finding all the answers satisfactory, Fyora gave the Cybunny permission to return to the two young Faeries. The Kacheek guard closed the door after Sarah left.
Fyora sighed and walked back to her desk. She magicked the locked drawer open and pulled out the scroll. She let it sit on her desk, still tightly furled, while she thought over all Sarah had told her. If only Illusen could tell them what had happened – then Fyora wouldn’t feel so helpless. Then she would know what to do to help.
Sighing, the Faerie Queen unrolled the tome and began to study it intently once again.
Jhudora pulled gently on Bobo’s soft arm, absentminded. She sat cross-legged on the floor of the playroom, even though, at thirteen, the wonderful toys that lined the walls and spilled out of toy boxes held no interest for her. Except for her beloved Bobo, of course.
Jhudora gazed down at him. She had been told many a time how she was too old for such things as plushies. At her age, she should be thinking about schoolwork and the Faerie Academy. But the Earth Faerie just couldn’t bring herself to let go; Bobo was the only link to the past she had, aside from Illusen. And her sister didn’t really count, as Jhudora hardly even saw her these days. Even though the magically adept protégée had graduated from the Academy already, she was always off doing something more important than spending time with her baby sister. And whenever she was at the castle, such as today, it was always so she could talk with Fyora about her latest magical innovation or idea. So Bobo was the only link to her mother that she had, as well – because she still did not know what had happened all those years ago; her sister remained tight-lipped.
Truth be told, Bobo’s was the only company she desired nowadays. Sarah, although still wonderfully nice, was now Fyora’s assistant, as Jhudora was hardly young enough for a nurse anymore, and the Cybunny was always distracted and fidgety whenever she visited, as if she thought there was something more she should be doing. And Fyora – well, Jhudora didn’t really want to think about Fyora.
Illusen certainly got enough of the Faerie Queen. The monarch was practically wrapped around her sister’s finger. Illusen had become a trusted advisor to Fyora, and Jhudora suspected that Illusen bewitched the Faerie as well. Fyora always thought Illusen’s ideas were simply wonderful. To that little angel of an Earth Faerie, she could never say no.
“Sister.” The greeting bordered on cold, but sounded carefully airy and pleasant. Jhudora wondered why Illusen even bothered anymore. She knew, and Fyora and Sarah were too busy to notice, that Illusen didn’t love her, not really. Jhudora was just another person to manipulate, to her sister.
“It’s wonderful to see you,” continued Illusen from the doorway as Jhudora stood up. Jhudora thought about leaving Bobo on the floor, but then decided against it. She clutched the toy to her chest as if it would protect her from all the evils in Neopia.
Jhudora shook out her dark hair, as thick and unmanageable as her sister’s was fair and silky. “Illusen, you acknowledge I am your sister.”
Illusen leaned casually against the doorframe. She raised one eyebrow nonchalantly, a habit she had picked up from Fyora unconsciously. “Yes, sister.”
Jhudora took a deep breath. “Then you should answer my questions honestly today, for once in your life. You maintain that you love me. Listen and answer like you love me.”
Illusen laughed her pretty, tinkling laugh. “I have always answered you honestly, sister whom I love. But interrogate me if you must; if you think your answers will be any different than they have been.”
Jhudora looked up at her sister defiantly. “What do you talk about with Fyora?”
Illusen’s response came as easily as if it had been rehearsed beforehand. “All sorts of things, sister. Things about magic, things about Faerieland, things about palace protection... Political things, boring philosophies. You wouldn’t understand, or care, probably.”
Jhudora hadn’t really expected a good answer, so she wasn’t disappointed. She just continued with her questioning. “Illusen... What do you do, or work on, when you’re away?”
Illusen mirrored her sister’s stare, her face completely unreadable. The lie that Jhudora knew would escape the picturesque lips before her did not show on the older Earth Faerie’s face.
“Much of the same,” replied Illusen with total apathy.
Jhudora closed her eyes, steeling herself for the last question she would ask. She felt Bobo against the bare skin of her arm, and that helped. After a moment or so, she opened her eyes, trying to hold back the tears that she felt were coming. “Illusen,” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper, “Sister... do you... do you love me?”
There was a pause as Illusen seemed to think about her answer. “Judy,” she said eventually, “I think we both know the answer to that one. Now, are you done?”
Jhudora nodded as she sank back down to the floor. She waited until Illusen left, her gossamer wings fluttering idly, before she cried into the loving arms of her plushie.
“You know, this is really despicable, Illusen,” protested Jhudora angrily. She stared pointedly at her reflection in the floor-length mirror, so as to stop herself from bursting into tears. She was completely transformed; garbed in a gown of deepest purple and green with long, violet hair streaming out behind her, and pale purple face powder covering every inch of exposed skin, she looked no longer like an Earth Faerie.
She was a Dark Faerie.
“No, it isn’t,” retorted Illusen haughtily from behind her little sister. “It will help Fyora, remember? We set up two quests – one Earth, one Dark – in Meridell and Faerieland, and Neopians from all over give us items for magical ones. We can sell them and help Fyora with her financing – and, of course, we get some of the profits ourselves.”
Jhudora was not fooled. “You mean, you get the profits, and pretend that the stuff you do with it benefits the both of us. And that’s dishonest, ripping Neopets off like that – the stuff you’ve given me to give as prizes is cheap, magical junk!”
A dark expression flitted across the beautiful Earth Faerie’s face. “You will do as I say, Judy. I am your older sister, and Fyora has commanded that you go through with this. You do not dare defy her.” You do not dare defy me, Jhudora translated inside her head. No, she did not dare to defy her sister. But she longed to be able to with every fiber of her being.
Illusen passed her hands over her little sister’s face, and a cold feeling seeped through Jhudora. The Earth-Faerie-turned-Dark shuddered.
“It is permanent,” announced Illusen coldly. “I will fly you to your new abode, now, sister. And please, remember, it will help the illusion if you never leave – that way it’d be impossible for anyone to catch you out of character.” From another person, it might’ve sounded like a friendly reminder. But Jhudora knew better. It was an order, an order she would have to follow for, quite conceivably, the rest of her life.
Jhudora turned to stalk out of the room, but Illusen stopped her. She plucked the blue Grundo plushie from her sister’s hands. “You are a seventeen-year-old Dark Faerie now, sister. This is unnecessary.”
Jhudora savagely snatched back Bobo – she let loose a feral snarl when she heard a ripping noise and a bit of white stuffing poked out from his side. “Don’t touch him,” she growled at her amused sister. She hiked up the long skirt of her new gown and stalked out of the room. Once outside in the more spacious hallway, she unfurled her now purple and leathery wings and took to the air, sailing down the corridors and finally through the main palace entrance.
She could see the cloud Illusen had prepared for her from here. A small, purple puff emitting a cloud of green smoke, behind which she could just discern the dark silhouette of a building.
Holding back tears once more, Jhudora silently cursed her sister in every way she knew. It was one thing for Illusen to be horrible to her, but to do such a thing to the rest of Neopia... The newly created Dark Faerie glanced down at Bobo, whom she still held in her hand. Bobo, who had always listened to her, always kept the darkness of the palace at bay. Bobo, the only thing that had ever truly paid any attention to her. Bobo, the only thing at the palace to ever love her.
Angrily, tears now burning on her cheeks, Jhudora cast the plushie aside, to fall down to the cloud below her. Bobo, the only tie that she had to her past life. Bobo, one more thing that tied her to her sister; the only thing that she could get rid of.
Jhudora made herself at home as much as she could once she reached her cloud. She went through the actions numbly, her emotions reaching far beyond the tears that fell steadily from her face to the floor. She was trapped here, trapped doing her sister’s bidding, conning millions of innocent Neopians out of their wares so that Illusen could have a steady source of income for her nefarious plans. And she had nobody to vent to, nobody to help ease the pain.
And so Jhudora cried for Bobo, as the sun set and she was left alone on her cloud, help completely and utterly out of her grasp.