An Unlikely Group of Heroes: Part Two
"This is Jhudora's doing, I just know it!"
"You're just saying that because you think Illusen is, like, some sort of infallible being." Callista was dragging me out of the cottage, the note still clutched in my paws and my back towards our picnicking area.
"We can't just leave! We have to help Illusen!" I was breathless from crying, and my tears were beginning to smudge the note.
"No, we have to go and tell Mr. Norbis that we're fine. We're supposed to check in with him after lunch. Then we can tell him that you're feeling rather woozy from your porridge, which you really should've eaten, or at least given to me to eat. After that we can go solve this Illusen problem."
"We can go to Faerieland! We'll run to Jhudora's Cloud, burst in there like we're the Space Faerie and she's Dr. Sloth, and demand that she set Illusen free!"
"You two are planning to ditch, are you?" a rather amused voice asked from behind us. We both turned around and were surprised to see the scrawny Lupe from this morning. He eyed us both skeptically and burst out laughing. "Ditching to go to Faerieland, and save Illusen? I'd like to see the two of you try. That'll make a nice story. A dainty little Usul and an even daintier-looking Aisha trying to foil the attempts of a dark faerie? As if!"
I was positively indignant. "I'm not as dainty as I look! I can probably outrun you!"
The Lupe took a glance at my dress and scoffed. "Sure you can."
"You know, they say sarcasm is the way lonely people with no friends express themselves," I snapped.
"Then I'm sure you're a master at it." The Lupe grinned and then came over, snatching the note out of my hands. I refused to loosen my grip, however, and the paper tore in half.
"Now look at what you've done!" I sobbed. "You're a monster!"
"Actually, I'm a Jared. Pleased to meet you." He extended his hand towards me, and after I refused to shake it, extended it towards Callista, who gladly shook it.
"I'm Callista, and this is Shirley. She's a bit upset. Illusen's not at home, you see, and Shirley thinks of Illusen as some sort of deity. She reckons Jhudora's part of this." I glowered at Callista, who threw a sympathetic glance my way and continued talking about me as if I were a poor three-year-old toddler who'd fallen and scraped my knee in an attempt to retrieve my Usuki doll from a group of mean bullies. I promptly looked at Jared, imagining him grabbing my Usuki doll and taunting me from across the playground. He seemed the type.
Seizing his half of Illusen's note, I rose and strode back towards Mr. Norbis. If Callista and Jared refused to take Illusen's safety seriously, then I would tackle the task single-handedly. All the more glory for me. I would make headlines, I thought smugly to myself. Then Callista and Jared would regret it, would rue the day they made fun of me and my plan to save Illusen. Yes, they'd sit at home and mope about how they could've been on the front page of the Neopian Times like me, if only they'd listened to me, instead of poking fun at me.
"So, how exactly do you plan on getting around?" Jared had apparently caught up with me. I thought I'd been walking rather quickly, but apparently my choice of clothing hindered me in a way his trousers did not. He continued, "Were you suddenly going to sprout wings and fly into the sky?"
"No, no," Callista insisted with a hint of a smile. "She was going to hop into a really large catapult and let herself be flung to Faerieland!"
"Or maybe," Jared continued, "she'd steal one of Dr. Sloth's battlecruisers!"
"Hmph," I sniffed. "You two can go on and make all the fun of me you want, but when I save Illusen and she rewards me with something really grand and special, you two won't be getting any share of it."
"We're sorry, Shirls, but you have to admit, the idea of a tiny little Neopet fighting evil is a bit preposterous. Why don't you just leave it to the Defenders of Neopia? They can do it much better than you can! And they won't have to steal battlecruisers to do it!" Callista smiled at me, patting me gently on the shoulder.
"I'm not going to steal anything!" I huffed. "I am going to use Rhonda's cloud racers."
"Oooh, I forgot she had those." Callista was practically bouncing with joy. "Do you really think she'd let us use them? What if she says no?"
I grinned mischievously. "Well, she doesn't have to find out, does she? I'll just borrow them and return them before she notices."
"Wait, wait. I'm not going to ride in some sort of faerie racer thing!" Jared protested.
"Well, we never said you had to come." I stormed past him and told Mr. Norbis I was present—it seemed he had grown rather frantic looking for Callista and me. He was afraid he'd have to file a report to the administrators at school, and he was rather afraid of our principal, a rather beefy Blue Skeith named Ms. Muscle.
Callista caught up behind me and explained to Mr. Norbis how we'd decided to eat under some shade, since I was feeling a bit light-headed, and how after lunch I wasn't feeling the slightest bit better. She flashed a charming smile, one of Callista's specialties, and asked if she would be able to take me home presently. Mr. Norbis wasn't one to resist Callista's persuasive ways, and of course he, against his better judgment, agreed. Then Jared insisted that he accompany us—after all, it was hardly fair to expect Callista alone to carry me home, and I was in no condition to walk. After applauding Jared on his laudable show of chivalry, Mr. Norbis dismissed the three of us and we headed off towards Brightvale.
* * * * *
My elder sister, Rhonda, a Faerie Gelert, lived on the border of Meridell and Brightvale. She was rarely ever home, though, except to sleep at night. She worked far away, traveling often from one place to the other. I'd once asked her why she hadn’t simply stayed in Neopia Central, where her office headquarters were located. She'd shrugged, mumbled something about keeping Mom happy, and flitted away to do whatever task she had to do. I barely saw Rhonda anymore, she was so busy, but it was always fun to spend afternoons with her. When I was younger and she wasn't so career-driven, she'd take me to Kiko Lake, where we'd go on Glass Bottom Boat Tours and count the pretty different colored corals and seaweeds.
She had two cloud racers, an indulgence she'd purchased a few years ago, back when she was, as Mom calls it, “going through her reckless phase.” Mom had given her a serious lecture afterwards, to which Rhonda had merely shrugged and promised never to use her cloud racers. Mom had nodded complacently, content at believing Rhonda would be true to her word. Of course, Rhonda still took her racers out every other week or so. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to accompany her, not with Mom's watchful eye on me. I'd only driven them once, before Ma had found out, and I still vaguely remembered how.
I hopped into one modeled after Illusen—it was brown with leafy branches on the sides—and Callista hopped into a fiery orange one.
"Aw, I don't even get to drive?" Jared complained loudly.
"Nope," I replied, turning on the racer. It whirred to life and began to hover a few feet above ground.
"You can sit with Shirley. She's probably a better driver." Callista smirked.
Jared looked at me incredulously, walked over to Callista's cloud racer, and hopped in. "I think I’ll take my chances."
I scowled at him before zooming away into the bright blue sky.
* * * * *
"You have a doll in your backpack?!" I raised an eyebrow at Jared. In one hand I had his grey backpack, and in the other, a Jeran action figure. "Do you usually bring a doll with you to school?"
Jared looked at me, aghast, his eyes as wide as neggs. "Give me that!" he shouted, wresting the toy from my arms. "And it's not a doll. It's an action figure!"
"Yeah, that makes it cool." Callista hopped back to my side with a Faerieland gourmet burger in her hands. "Man, this food sure beats Meridell's. I should've brought more Neopoints with me. You should've seen the chocolate faerie log they had in there! It looked sooo good."
"Come on, Cal, we can talk about food later. We've got to find Illusen!" I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the exit of Faerie City. The doorway was straight ahead, an opening amongst a wall of soft, fluffy cloud.
We reached the exit soon enough. I squinted my eyes and desperately searched for a certain purple cloud. It wasn't hard to find—after all, dark purple clouds with green fumes emanating from them weren't very typical in Faerieland. Most of the clouds were lighter shades: light purple, pale pink, and white. Only Jhudora—I winced at the name—would think to ruin the view with her monstrosity of a cloud.
Jared led the way, taking a running start and safely jumping to the edge of Jhudora's Cloud. I went next, and then Callista, who lamented the loss of what remained of her burger, which fell out of her hands in the process.
Jhudora's Cloud felt cold compared to the rest of Faerieland. The cloud was not soft, like Faerie City, but harder, almost like marble. We walked onward, Jared closely examining the various Dark objects perched on pedestals beneath glass display cases. He stopped to admire the Wand of the Dark Faerie and Jhudora's Potion, his eyes wide with excitement. I grabbed him by the ear and dragged him along with us; he would not insult Illusen like that.
At the end of the walkway, we saw a small lake of purple, the source of the green gas. It bubbled and sputtered a bit, sending small blobs of purple liquid flying onto the cloud. Opposite the lake sat Jhudora's throne: a massive green chair with four clawed, golden legs and two horns protruding from the back. I had expected to see the Dark Faerie sitting atop her throne, cackling and smiling her green-lipped smile, jabbing one long green nail at a poor, hapless little Neopet, ordering him to fetch her some sort of dark object and then “rewarding” him with a poisonous lollypop. The chair was vacant though, and the cloud deserted, much like Illusen's Glade.
"She's not here," I murmured, looking about frantically. "Where could she be?"
"Maybe she's not the bad guy this time." Jared had maneuvered his way around the purple lake and was sitting on Jhudora's chair, playing with a scrap of paper. "You know, I think I'm beginning to like Jhudora. This chair's really nice."
I glared at him. "You'd better hope she doesn't find you sitting on her chair, or she'll use her magic and change you into a Mortog!"
"Psh, Jhudora doesn't do that!" Jared waved one paw at me nonchalantly, dismissing my warning.
"Besides, if she'll kidnap Illusen, who knows what she might do to you!" I retorted.
"No, no, Shirls. I think he's right. I think Jhudora's in trouble, too." Callista waved me over, the note Jared had been playing with clutched firmly in her paws.
I sprinted over, careful not to trip and fall into the lake. I stared at the piece of paper, and then retrieved Illusen's note from my pocket. The resemblance was unmistakable. The second note was written on the same yellowing paper, written with the same cramped handwriting.
"Two down, ten to go."
To be continued...