The Price of Beauty: Part One
The cloth has fallen off the mirror again. As I lift it to pin it back up, I catch a glimpse of my image. As usual, it shows the most beautiful Acara ever to grace Neopia. Fur soft and shining, a gorgeous golden hue. Eyes sparkling, emoting a joy and radiance I haven't felt in years. And as usual, I can't tear my eyes away, gobbling up the image as a starving pet shoves warm omelette down their throat.
The image starts to change before I manage to look away. The fur droops and changes to a dull green-ish grey. The luster is gone. My eyes change to a dark, flat color that is almost black. "There's only one way to get your beauty back..." a dark voice whispers. I tack up the cloth again and walk away briskly, locking the away the overwhelming feeling of desperation. I'm just a Weewoo in a cage, but the cage was of my own making.
I sit at the table, trying to still my shaking paws. A vase of flowers sits on the table, and I softly stroke one of the petals. It turns bright green, and glows softly. Poisoned. By me. Because that is what I am. I am poison. I let my mind drift to the past...
"Vira!" Vivi calls. "Vira!!"
I looked up from the daisy I am twisting into my braid. She sounded so excited, I just have to go to her. I hop up and run over to her. The perfume of the crushed flowers meet my nose and the soft sunshine warms my fur. The bright blue sky has soft, puffy clouds in it. I didn't realize I was living in paradise then.
"What is it, sister?" I said, only slightly out of breath.
"I've found a four leaf clover!" she said, giggling delightedly. Her laugh sounded like a bubbling brook, and invited any and all to laugh with her.
"Why, there isn't a clover in sight!" I said, surprised. "How did you find this one?"
"It was just there, green as an emerald. Almost as if Fortune herself were smiling upon me." She smiled. Her smile was lovely, and shone brighter than the sun. Fortune, I thought, has smiled upon you more than most already.
Though I wouldn't name it, the feeling was jealousy. I was known only to Vivi as Vira. To all else, I was simply Vivi's sister. Not only in our small village, but in half the countryside of Meridell. Even in the city I had heard whispers of my Sister's beauty.
I didn't understand it. I would look at her, memorizing every detail. We had the same soft pink fur. The same bright carnation eyes. Even our smiles were the same shape- although even I had to admit hers had a charm mine lacked. And why shouldn't it, when she was so loved and I was not? We were twins, identical twins, and yet she was the beauty. It had always been so, and it would always be so. That's what I thought, anyway.
And yet, as I stood there in the late Summer sunshine, even I loved this sweet Acara who could take enjoyment out of so small a thing as a four leaf clover. But that only served to make me more bitter. My fur stood up a little as I tried to convince myself that I was not jealous, that there was no reason to wish that I was her. I practically was her.
She reached out her paw to me and deposited the clover into it. "You look unhappy, my sister. Will you now tell me what is troubling you?"
I shook my head and smiled at her as convincingly as I could manage. She smiled back, completely fooled. But then, she always refused to see anything but the good in all neopets.
"Vivi!" We both turned out heads at the shout.
"Selia!" Vivi said, a giggle bursting out of her. "I thought you were grounded!"
"I told my mom I was wanted to see you. You know she thinks you're such a good influence. 'Vivi would never fight over whose shirt was whose,'" Selia said, mimicking her mom with her paws on her hips and a loud voice. "'She would GIVE her sister HER shirt!'"
I smoothed down my flower petal shirt that Vivi had insisted on me borrowing. It was her favorite, but I had been so longing to wear it today with the flowers in my pretty Spring wig.
Vivi's eyes flashed towards me so fast that no one but her twin could have noticed. "Oh, I'm not so good as all that!" she said with a soft chuckle. "I just want everyone to be happy."
"That's why we all love you so much," I said softly, clutching the four leaf clover to my heart.
Vivi smiled at me. "And I love you, my sister. My Vira."
"Ok, weird sister moment!" Selia interrupted, her white tail flicking impatiently. "Let's go! I am simply fainting away, you HAVE to see my dress for tonight!"
"Lovely!" Vivi said, jumping up. "Let's go!" She grabbed my paw.
"Oh no," I said, struggling to free my paw, "I wasn't invited. It's you she wants."
"Of course not. The more the merrier. Right, Selia?"
Selia's dark Kougra eyes narrowed slightly, and her smile faltered for a moment. "Of course," she said, her voice just a little tight. "Any sister of Vivi's is like a sister of mine."
"You know," I said softly, squeezing Vivi's paw, "I really wanted to finish braiding daisies into my hair today. That way I'll be ready for the party tonight. You go ahead."
"But Vira," she said uncertainly, still not letting me go, "don't you want to see?"
I do, I thought, but she doesn't want me. Who does when you are so much more beautiful? You, who looks exactly like me.
"No really, I want to be pretty for the party." I smiled and forced a laugh. Selia looked away.
"Ok," Vivi said, giving my paw one more squeeze and reluctantly letting go. "You know where we'll be if you change your mind."
Selia lunged forward and grabbed Vivi's sleeve. "Let's GO, Vivi, I MUST show you this dress!!" She turned and dragged Vivi with her. I stood and watched them go. Selia flung one last look at me over her shoulder. It was a look of relief mingled with pity.
I sat where I was, shoving down the urge to cry. I would NOT cry in the middle of this field. Mechanically, I began to wind the daisies in my hair.
What makes her so much better than me? I thought, shoving the stems in, Why is she so much more beautiful, so much more loved?
"Because she IS more beautiful," a silky voice answered in my head. Oh great. That was back again.
"We are exactly alike," I said out loud. For some reason, I felt the need to answer this voice in my head aloud.
"No..." the voice said. "You are pretty. Only I can make you beautiful." This was how the voice always answered.
"How can-" I started, and stopped. I was about to answer as I always answered. How can a voice in my head make me beautiful? I thought back to Selia's ugly look. Why should my Sister have all the love in the world and I have none? Maybe this voice could help me.
Yes, a voice in my head could make me beautiful. I shook my head lightly. Maybe I really was beginning to go mad from jealousy. It wasn't unheard of.
"Madness could be preferable," the voice answered with a shadowy chuckle. The voice had a point there. At least in madness there would be a reason to be pitied. At least in madness I would not have to keep up a pretense of polite behavior.
"Fine," I said recklessly, "make me beautiful."
"There is one small matter," the voice said softly.
"Of course there is. Why wouldn't the voice in my head wish to make a bargain. Name it."
"The Price will be revealed when the time is right," the voice said with finality.
"I am not going into a bargain without knowing the Price I will be asked to pay," I answered shrewdly. How dare my own mind think me that simple!
"You do not yet understand what I offer..." the voice said, somehow seeming to smile. How a voice could smile, I wasn't sure, but it was. A predator's smile.
"Well, why don't you show me then?" I said loudly, agitated.
The world grew brighter around me, almost painfully so. And it grew somehow more beautiful. The gorgeous blue of the sky become so deep you could almost drink it. I looked down at the daisy in my hand and the white was so soft you could almost fall asleep just looking at. And... and my paw! The fur was so silky, it shone and glittered in the sun like multifaceted diamond. And further up, it turned into a deep gold, richer than even kings could command.
I looked up again and saw my reflection. A gilded mirror, encrusted with precious gems was floating in the middle of the air, with small streaks of purple lighting flashing out of it. The mirror floated slowly towards me, and I stretched my paw out, shivering with the anticipation of seeing all of new self reflected in it.
My face! The soft gold fur, the smooth satin nose... and deep deep deep golden eyes, like pools of late Summer afternoon sunshine gathered in the middle of a buttercup. Sweet as honey. Even my smile, for I was smiling more than I had ever before in my life, was radiating happiness like a glow.
"I... I am beautiful..." I whispered softly.
The mirror tilted a little as if on it's own. I saw... there were the people of the village! There was Selia, smiling and waving, beckoning me to join her. And there was the Sewing Circle, a club so exclusive that even Vivi had a hard time getting in, waving to me with needles and thread, beckoning to a coveted chair. And there was Vivi, softly smiling, standing in the shadows while I had my time in the sun.
Reality snapped back into place. The mirror shone only myself as I was. My pink fur looked matted and dirty in comparison. My mouth had the slightly sour twist it always had- but in place of that shining smile, it looked evil and stupid. Gone were the smiling friends and admirers.
My disappointment was so great, it felt as if I had been stabbed in my heart. "NO!" I screamed, jumping to my feet. I flung the mirror away into the dingy field. "YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!" I cried into the air, words torn from my throat in angry waves. "GIVE IT BACK!!!"
"It is not yet yours," the voice answered
"Tell me how!" I moaned, crumpling to my knees. "Please, please tell me how..." Tears ran down my cheeks despite myself.
"Pay the Price," it said simply.
"Yes, yes, any Price. I will pay any Price," I said through my tears, desperate, "Please!"
"Take the mirror," the voice commanded. The mirror floated from where I had thrown it over in front of me. "This will bind our contract."
I didn't need to be told twice. I reached out blindly and felt a whoosh of relief as I felt the handle in my paw.
"We have a deal!" the voice rang out triumphant.
I looked up into the mirror. There were the golden honey eyes, the shining fur! The smile was not glowing, but even with tears running down my face, I made a beautiful and tragic figure. I smiled, just a little in experimentation, and it lit up my whole face.
I stood and twirled with my reflection in the mirror. I laughed, and even my laugh sounded like faerie bells. Slowly, I put down the mirror and headed for home. But a small voice whispered, "Remember... when the time comes, you must pay the Price."
To be continued...