The Trial of Her Mind: Part Three
"So," Cora asked, "Did you study through your books?" Cutting my answer off, she waved her hand dismissively and laughed. "Don't answer that. I know you didn't."
I closed my mouth, which was gaping open, to answer with some sort of lie. The dark faerie just giggled, and Terri, knowing this was pretty typical of me, rolled her eyes in amusement.
"Anyway," she continued, "What do you guys want to work on? We haven't done basic battle skills yet. I'm sure I could teach you a little bit, but only the stuff that doesn't involve the specific-element-only spells. Otherwise, there are two types of battle moves - defensive and offensive." She looked at us for our approval of either one.
"I vote defensive," Terri offered. "I never was really the kind for outright attacking, anyway."
"Er, I'm fine with any of them, so count me in on whatever you guys decide," I said, shrugging.
Cora grinned. "Well, defensive it is."
It turns out that it's actually fairly simple. I easily caught on to creating shields, immobilization spells, and deflecting with my wand. For that last part, objects of all kinds were thrown at me, including a very sharp looking axe. With a shrill yelp, I had levitated it the second before it had buried itself into my skin and let it clatter to the floor. Cora burst out in a fit of chuckles, explaining how it was magically enhanced so it would have turned into faerie dust the moment it made contact with me, but praised me on my quick reaction.
For once, I was better than Terri. In fact, I had to jump in to save her more than once during training. The only strength she had was immobilizing, and even that wasn't enough to stop a pair of socks from hitting her in the forehead. Always a bit less temperamental than I was, she didn't start yelling like a madwoman like I had and instead sighed and pushed herself a little bit harder each time. By our break time, which Cora had insisted on having every thirty minutes to give us a chance to regenerate our magic and energy, she had gone way beyond her limit and sweat was pouring down her face like tears. With a humorous shrug and grin when I had honestly pointed out to her that she looked like she'd been in a sauna in Moltara, she politely excused herself while she washed up with a wet towel. She came back to us, refreshed and ready to train some more.
That day, defense skills were all that we focused on. Terri, of course, still couldn't improve, but at every break Cora and I good-naturedly gave her a high five and congratulated her on her efforts. I actually was, I dare say, GREAT at the spells I had learned and quite proud of myself for finally being good at something other than getting in trouble, but I still seemed to have a knack for that no matter what.
At lunch, I volunteered to make some pizza bagels out of what my friend had in her fridge due to the facts that I didn't want a repeat of burnt food again, I was in the mood for pizza, and some of Prism's excellent cooking talent had rubbed off on me. It only took a few minutes to slather sauce on a bagel and sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of that, and about ten minutes for them to cook. As we hungrily devoured our lunch, we had an amiable conversation of what our plans were for the weekend and so on.
"Work," Cora grumbled, "My vacation's over. I only have Saturdays off again. I think I'm pretty close to another promotion, so that's the only upside. Otherwise, it's soooo boring."
"That stinks," agreed Terri sympathetically. "I'm going to go apply for a job at the Faerie City Furniture Shop. I figured that working there could have its perks on lunch break."
"Well, when there are no customers, those beds and couches will serve pretty well for naps."
The dark faerie laughed and took another bite of her bagel. "What are you going to do, Dira?"
"I don't know," I admitted, "Try not to let the Darkest Faerie into my mind anymore?" I sighed. "No, seriously. I don't understand why she's trying to mess me up when I've never done anything to her. Wouldn't you think she'd be after Tor or something?" Seeing the look of 'I don't know' on my friends' faces, I instantly added, "I'm probably going to help Lilac with her garden. She says that there are some new flowers that she wants me to see, and she has to plant them, too." They calmed down a bit, and if they were wondering if I was lying or not to protect their sanity, they didn't say.
We finished our lunch, put the dirty dishes in Cora's dark purple sink, and went back upstairs to practice some more. Even though I was becoming a master at defense, I decided to help Terri a bit and taught her the basic stances, shields, and spells that she somehow couldn't seem to get. It amazed me how mellow and determined she was; whereas I would be flinging stuff across the room in frustration, she just took a deep breath and said, "Let me try again." I realized that if I actually did have to go up against the Darkest Faerie, I would seriously want her by my side at all times.
It was about 3:30 when Cora decided we should call it quits for the day, and she saw us off with a friendly wave, smile, and a reminder to look through our books. Terri and I parted ways to our houses, and I spent the flight home in a deep reverie.
Did Fyora ever get my Neomail? I thought nervously, I never got a response from her when I was at Cora's. Please don't tell me that I have to go back into the castle and call her Queenie for the second time. I didn't need a mirror to know that curiosity and worry were shadowing my face. I bit my lower lip in concern and dropped to the street below me. I was still a few minutes away from my house, and walking there would give me more time to think. Okay, now just try to think. The Darkest Faerie will hold your friends hostage. She will ask you what you'd choose. Choose what? I stopped biting my lip once I wiped away the warm dot of blood that had leaked out of the new cut in my mouth. Consider your options, Dira. She wants something. It is either already in your possession or you will get it soon. What could she possibly want to trade you for your buddies? Maybe Fyora's wand... or Mom's weapons... or your life. I cleared the morbid thought out of my head and sighed. There has to be some sort of connection between us. She wouldn't go through all this trouble to freak me out if she didn't think I was useful to her in some weird way. I just... don't know what the reason is. I should talk to Mom; she'd probably know. And if she does, she'd better tell me.
I arrived at my doorstep and entered the house, disappointed that the scent of triple-chocolate-brownies no longer lingered in the rooms. I heard the muffled sound of snoring coming from my bedroom and let him nap. Grabbing a book from the tall shelf in my living room, I settled myself on the couch to read but just stared at the cover, even though there was nothing special about it. Well, I mean, it was floating on a pinkish cloud, I'll give you that, but I was too deep in thought to turn to the first page. I shook my head nonetheless and flipped past the title page, introductory page, and finally to where the story began.
I don't know when I fell asleep, but I do know that I woke up at around nine. One look at the novel told me why. "Curse you, Dream Clouds," I mumbled. I gingerly tucked it back into the gap in the bookshelf where it belonged and shuffled into my bedroom, where I changed into some pajamas and crawled beneath the warm blankets of my bed, shivering at how cold it was at night. I was still a bit groggy from waking up from my nap and more than willing to drift off to a real sleep. I was just shutting my eyes when I noticed something emitting a blushing pink glow from my nightstand. With a tired groan, I reached out and clumsily snatched it up, taking the time to feel it and determine what it was. When I got a good look, I was slightly surprised to see that it was a Neomail, and the glow made me recognize it as a response from Fyora. Tearing off the seal of the envelope, I let the letter slide into my lap and threw the rest of it back onto the nightstand.
The Neomail was quite lengthy, explaining how sorry she was for such a slow response but she stumbled upon it reading fan mail, and then expressing her worry and graveness for the situation that I had described to her in the mail I had sent her. If you and your mother would please meet me at the Coffee Cave in the Neopia Central Catacombs for lunch at one o'clock tomorrow, I'd be more than happy to help you straighten the situation out, the final line of her statement read. It ended with a pretty magenta signature, which happened to be her full title, Fyora, Queen of the Faeries. I resolved to tell my mother about our lunch in the morning once I was fully awake, and I decided this right before my eyelids grew too heavy for me to be kept awake. I surrendered to the urge to sleep and drifted away happily into Dreamland.
Surprisingly, I woke up before Prism at 7:21, and he looked so cute and serene, all curled up in a little happy snoozing ball at the foot of my mattress, that I carefully crawled out of bed so I wouldn't disturb him. Remembering the task I had set for myself the previous night, I retrieved a piece of paper and a pen with blue ink to write a short notification to Mom, which included a sentence saying that I'd pay for her lunch. That done, I took a very, very, very long shower (sometimes I wonder if I'm actually a water faerie, with all the time I spend in the bathtub) and changed into a periwinkle sundress that fell a few inches above my knee. Painfully combing the tangles out of my wavy hair and slipping some flip flops onto my feet, I figured I was finally ready to go meet Fyora and left a note for Prism before flying out of my house, into the sky, and north into Neopia Central.
After asking for directions from six Neopets and getting lost between the bazaar and marketplace, I finally wound my way through the stone spiral staircase that led to the Catacombs. I half expected it to be similar to Count Von Roo's lair, so you can imagine that I was surprised when I saw a group of Aishas telling stories near the entrance, a colourful sign reading 'ART GALLERY', and a chubby little Chia giving copies of the NT to passersby. Slightly disappointed about my expectations, I found the stone coffee shop nestled cozily in a corner of the area. The smell of espresso and tigersquash cake was enough to lure me through its uninviting exterior and into its very inviting interior. A little counter beside some display cases filled with pastries was at the far end of the room, and behind that were a large oven and more than one coffee machine. An orange Shoyru with a white bonnet and dimpled smile was serving a customer his drink. I looked around the room – which had a nice yellow wall paint and polished wood floors, complete with clean oak tables and chairs – to find Fyora and my mom. They were sitting in the right corner, and I noticed that the queen didn't even bother to go in anything but her usual attire. Mom smiled at me and waved me over.
"Hey, hun," she greeted, pulling up a chair. "How's life?"
"Meh," I answered with a shrug, plopping myself into the seat, "Same old, same old... sort of. Not really. In fact, now that I think about it, not the same at all." I shrugged. "And you?"
She smiled tiredly. "Exhausting." She turned her head to Fyora. "So, what did you bring us here for?"
The Faerie Queen sighed. "Well, your daughter told me about the situation through Neomail, and I thought that maybe we could discuss how to deal with it before... before... uh... "
"Neopia goes kaboom?" I offered.
Before Fyora got a chance to say anything to that, Mom noticed that the line to order coffee had cleared and suggested we go. We walked up to the counter and the Shoyru welcomed us with a bright grin and cheery "Hi, what can I get you ladies?"
I scanned through the menu, waited until the two other faeries ordered, and asked for a Thornberry Java with Cream and a slice of Tigersquash Swirly Cake. As the waitress – or cashier, or whatever – made our requests, I fished out the total of Neopoints from my coin purse and left them on the counter. I inhaled deeply and was bombarded with the surprisingly soothing smells of assorted coffees and teas. I kind of just stood there, waiting, like my mother and the queen, except they were talking and I was sniffing the air like a Spardel.
We received our orders and went back to our table, taking small sips of our drinks; well, except for me, since I almost finished mine within the first five seconds after I sat down.
"So, what were you going to say?" I asked innocently.
"Never mind." Fyora sighed and took a gulp out of her House Blend. "Anyway, Dira, what did you say about going into your mind?"
"WHAT?" said Mom, turning to look at me with humongous, bulging green eyes.
I giggled in that really nervous fashion we've all seen when a character in a book/movie messes up and says 'Oops'. "Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you about that. My bad."
"Oooooohhh, sweet Fyora," she answered, slapping a calloused hand to her forehead. Fyora stared at her oddly, as if thinking it ironic that she just said a phrase including her name.
"ANYWHO," I hastily said, "The Darkest Faerie somehow came into my mind to start threatening me into joining her side or threatening me just to threaten me. I don't know how she did it, she just did. Do you possibly have any idea?"
Fyora tapped her chin. "I don't at the moment, but I'm sure I have a book that does. Unfortunately, I don't know if we will have quite enough time to go searching through a whole library for one simple thing. Next time she does that – assuming she will do that again – you are more than welcome to tell me." The tone of her voice implied that when she said I'm free to tell her, she actually meant YOU'D BETTER TELL ME OR I'LL RIP YOUR WINGS OFF WITH MY LONG, PINK FINGERNAILS.
Okay, maybe that's exaggerating a little bit.
We continued to talk about the situation when a shrill yelp pierced through the previously-tranquil air. Without thinking, I immediately jumped from my chair and looked around to see where the source of the sound was and what was wrong. Almost instantly, I spotted a green Mynci lying on the floor, clutching her shin and gritting her teeth in apparent pain. I bent down and offered her a hand.
"You alright?" I inquired.
She made a choking sound that I realized was her trying not to break out into bawling. "I... I think I twisted my ankle," she gasped. "Can you... can you help me up?"
"Gladly," I said, smiling. I stretched my palm a little farther to her and she wrapped her fingers around my forearm. Suddenly, a malicious grin replaced the look of helplessness she'd had before.
"Dira, no!" Mom cried, leaping from her seat and trying to run to my aid. Fyora was reaching for her wand in that almost invisible pocket in her dress, her gaze fixed aggressively on the Neopet grasping my arm.
The rest of it seemed to happen almost too fast for me to keep up. The Mynci pulled me down, and even though I tried to struggle against her, she was surprisingly stronger than those little stick arms would lead you to believe. That's when I saw it; those menacing scarlet eyes, reflecting my shocked face in their glossy surface.
"Let me go!" I screamed. I tried to kick the disguised faerie in the knee, but I was too slow; she flipped me over onto my back and pressed a hand against my forehead. The entire world went white. I was completely blind, but I could hear the anguished yells and eventually sobs of my mother and the pacifying 'Shh's of Fyora. I could hear the chaos erupting in the coffee shop and the sound of feet running catastrophically against the floor.
Most of all, though, I could hear the panicked thumping of my heart, pounding in my ears like a war drum.
I didn't pass out. But I couldn't feel anything except for the warmth of the Bead below my collarbone, and though I was blind beyond my belief at the moment, I could tell that it was glowing like a flashlight. Suddenly, the worst headache I'd ever had in ten years (the first one was when I was trying to put together a 5000 piece puzzle that had one piece missing) hammered on me. An ear-splitting noise similar to a shriek pierced into my eardrums. My hands flew to protect my ears and block out the sound, but it seemed to be coming from inside my head. Curling into a ball, I tried not to let the screeching cut into my sanity like butter.
Finally, after a few seconds that seemed much more like hours, the blindness vanished and I could see again, and the noise and headache had disappeared. I stood up on jelly legs and peered at my surroundings in confusion. I was in a forest clearing. I brushed the dirt off of my dress and hair, shaking the soil out of my flip flops.
What is this? I wondered, biting my lip again. Where in Neopia am I?
A dark form materialized out of the shade of a large oak tree, her pale violet skin contrasting greatly with the monotony green and brown of the woods. She smirked. "So, Dira's the name, is it?" she said, placing her delicate hands on her hips.
"You'd better tell me what you've done with me," I snapped.
She rolled her eyes. "Why should I listen to you? But I think I shall enlighten you, since you're not going to come out of here anytime soon."
"Come out of what? Where am I?"
The Darkest Faerie half-smiled. "Where the hours turn to minutes... Your own mind, of course."
I wrinkled my nose. "This can't be my mind. Last time, it was all dark and weird."
"Well, this isn't like 'last time'," she barked. "Last time, it was just your brain that went into it. You weren't actually there, you were almost having a vision. Now, it's your soul. It's no longer in your body; it's here."
It took me a few moments in astonishment to process exactly what she was saying. "So," I said slowly, "If my soul is here, not my body, does that mean that I'm... "
"Technically, yes, you're dead." She chuckled at my pale face. "And before you ask, this is only temporary if you get out of here. If not, then you shall remain like the lifeless rag doll you are now."
"H-how do I get out of here?"
The Darkest Faerie stepped back into the shadows, black and navy smoke swirling around her. Her feet began to dissolve, and the smoke worked its way up, teleporting her to some unknown place. Before her head was gone, she smiled. "Survive," she murmured. And then I was alone, in some weird corner of my mind, my body dead, my soul living, and everything just plain confusing.
To be continued...