The Earth Faerie: Part Two
The memory of the bell-shaped jar and its tiny captive weighed on Briony's thoughts as she walked. The more she tried to shove it away, the more clearly she recalled it. Even now she could visualise the insect's striking green-and-orange colour and hear the thuds it made as it charged the glass. Illusen's preoccupation with the bug really was weird. Admittedly, the faerie had explained her irritability through the excuse that the bug was dangerous. Yet, in spite of that, Briony couldn't shake the idea that there was more to it than simply that. It was a feeling she had.
Briony had been walking for ten minutes when she stilled at the rapid approach of footsteps. The Wocky on the path before her was painted a very familiar Electric blue. "Ethan," she realised, recollecting his visit to Illusen. He was the last Neopet she would have expected to run into on her way home.
He looked at her as he jerked to a halt. "Who're you?" he asked snappishly. While he wrung his paws as he spoke, he was as terse as he had been in Illusen's kitchen.
"I was at Illusen's cottage when you stopped by," she reminded him. The Kacheek felt no surprise that he didn't place her. "My name's Briony."
A light bulb clicked and recognition lit his features. "Yeah, I remember you." He shifted and Briony could see that he held something tightly under his jacket. It was green and orange, like Illusen's hair – and the bug. A Mortog. Briony was seeing those colours everywhere she looked today.
"Your friend?" she wondered. Illusen had said that his mate was poorly. "Is he alright? Are you alright?" His teeth had started to grind audibly.
Ethan made a strangled sound. It was difficult to tell whether the words that followed were laced more with horror or more with outrage. "Knox was turned into a Mortog!"
Briony had to assume that the Wocky was referring to his friend. "He was turned into a Mortog?" she echoed, now somewhat bewildered. Not the reply she'd expected. So he – Knox – wasn't a Mortog originally? "Was that why you went to Illusen?"
"It was her potion that turned him into a Mortog!" The Electric Neopet's accents were shrill and became more fevered with each syllable.
"Her potion?" Unbidden, an image of its distinct wartiness came to the fore of Briony's thoughts. She'd felt nauseated when she'd seen it.
"Yes," Ethan barked. "Illusen's potion!" He held out the half-empty bottle.
Briony found herself at a loss. "Not intentionally?"
"Well, that's what I'm going to find out." Ethan stormed past her, energised. He flung the potion to the grass as he went and its yellow-green contents sparkled in the sunlight as it rolled to a rest next to a large Star of Paradise flower.
Would Illusen do that? Briony was stuck on this notion. Why on Neopia would she? It was true that the earth faerie had behaved unpredictably during Briony's visit but she was supposed to be kind and charitable. Briony circled Ethan's discarded potion, staring pensively into its bubbling depths. A chill seized her as she again recalled the iciness on the faerie's face when she'd lectured her as well as her coldness when she'd bid the Wocky goodbye. By all accounts Briony had heard, it was uncharacteristic. It was like... well, it was like Illusen wasn't the faerie she was reputed to be at all.
The Kacheek picked up Ethan's potion and drew out her own. Both looked sickly against her white paws, especially when lifted to the sunshine. Briony knew very little of potion-making. She understood that it sometimes involved use of strange ingredients yet her past doubts were resurfacing. Were potions really meant to look so horrid? She wasn't sure and the qualms sown in her head were strong. Briony's decision had been made and, spinning, she headed back the way she'd come. Possibly she could talk to Illusen.
Briony slowed when she neared Illusen's cottage. Instinct prompted her to duck behind a pot plant when she heard the faerie's raised voice through the kitchen window. She inched forward, as quietly as she could, to hear what was being said. It was not in her nature to eavesdrop. However, this wasn't an ordinary situation. Something was off with Illusen and Briony was going to find out what that was.
The faerie spoke. "You can't escape." Briony's heart skipped a beat. "Not, at least, in your current form," she continued. Illusen gave a snort, harsh and grating, and Briony's pulse resumed its usual beat. She'd almost thought Illusen had noticed her. The fact that she hadn't, though, gave rise to another question. Who was Illusen talking to? Briony had to see. Grabbing hold of a copper trellis, Briony hoisted herself to the window ledge. There were two Mortogs – Ethan and his friend?? – on the table inside but the faerie addressed not them but the jar from before. More specifically, the insect within the bell-shaped glass. The insect that was, it would seem, not actually an insect.
Sweat beaded on the back of Briony's neck. If she'd needed confirmation that the faerie was up to no good, the sight was certainly sufficient. She hadn't imagined the shriek, the cry of help.
Illusen tapped a hand on the bell jar, chortling. As Briony watched, the faerie's fingers seemed to elongate and their nails turn a lurid green for a brief second. It was odd. Her hair had darkened in much the same way earlier. Then the faerie spoke again, her tones heavy with renewed mirth. "You know, by now that little Kacheek will have found that potion to have had," she paused, "a less than desirable effect." Briony shivered. The faerie's amusement was a terrible thing to hear. "Your reputation will soon be in tatters, dearest Illusen," she went on.
Dearest Illusen? Briony wasn't sure she'd heard correctly. "Erk!" the Kacheek clapped a paw over her mouth to stifle her panic. Her grip had slackened and a flask fell from her purse. Why was she always so clumsy? Unlike the bell jar, the bottle smashed upon contact with the ground. Droplets of onyx liquid splashed in all directions; it was the potion for her farm. The Starflowers that curtained Illusen's porch started to wither and shrivel up to Briony's infinite dismay. What had been a wall of vibrant lavender was now a wall of black. As Briony stared helplessly, the-faerie-that-apparently-wasn't-Illusen's words about magical energy came back to her. It seemed that, as the flowers died, she could almost feel the magic around her weakening. The spell that had existed in the glade had been broken and the place's beauty diminished.
Illusen's door flew open. The faerie's mouth was stretched in a smile as it had been just an hour earlier. But while the first smile had been bright, this smile was darker than any Briony had seen. "Come back, have you?" She glanced around the porch. "Did the potion not work as you hoped it would?" Her smile widened; she didn't care that the plants had died.
"You're not Illusen," Briony accused. "You're probably a dark faerie." She remembered now how unfamiliar the faerie had seemed with the kitchen. It made sense.
The imposter-Illusen's brow knit in consternation before her expression smoothed out. "Is that so?" She threw back her head and snickered. "No, foolish child," she gloated, "no, I am not Illusen."
Briony's shock was soon succeeded by resolve. She needed to do something, that decision was simple enough. The hard part was how. As her gaze fell on the Mortogs behind the sham-Illusen, the Kacheek had a flash of inspiration. A second later, the warty remnants of Ethan's potion were dripping off the faerie's stunned face. Illusen's auburn-and-green hair had been replaced by dark brown ringlets and the faerie's face, while still fair, was without Illusen's many freckles. She wasn't a dark faerie, though. The pale green eyes had changed into a darker green. She was as much an earth faerie as the faerie she'd posed as – at least, until, with a pop, she shrank and transformed.
The new Mortog hopped past Briony, croaking madly, and she let her go. She was confident that the Mortog wouldn't be kissed any time soon. Half-sagging against the door, Briony took a deep breath and willed her thumping heart to calm. She couldn't believe what she'd just done. The two Mortogs inside appraised Briony with huge, orb-like eyes. "Not happening," she told them, as she made her way towards the bell jar. "I'll leave you guys to Illusen." Most definitely.
The faerie in question shot from her cage like a rocket, once released. Briony felt a grin rise to her lips as Illusen appeared to cartwheel mid-air. The earth faerie then flew to Briony's ear. "Follow me," she squeaked. It was no wonder that all Briony had really heard earlier was buzzing; the faerie's voice was as tiny as her form. Illusen led her to a back room and hovered by her shoulder as she pushed the door open. Propped atop the chamber's mantelpiece was a slender wooden staff. It was to this that Illusen flew.
There was a flash of light and Briony blinked away the circles in her vision to see Illusen in all the faerie's true glory. The jade gaze was approving. "Thank you for freeing me."
"Oh." Briony felt embarrassed. "No problem." She'd acted on impulse and done no great thing. Her cheeks warmed with pleasure, nonetheless.
The faerie's face grew slightly sad as she caught sight of something. Briony turned to see Ethan and Knox. She knew, somehow, what Illusen was thinking of.
"Who was that, before?" Briony ventured hesitantly. "The earth faerie?"
Illusen closed her eyes briefly. "A once-friend of mine."
"What happened?" The question slipped out.
Illusen surveyed her pensively. "Jealousy," she at last exhaled, sighing. "A hateful emotion."
Hateful? That's right. "I thought she was a dark faerie," Briony confessed. "She was nice to begin with but she became so cold."
"A dark faerie? No," Illusen looked into the distance. "Not all dark faeries are evil, Briony, just as not all others are good." She shrugged. "That's a problem, I suppose, for another day."
When Briony arrived home, her father awaited her by the front gate. She smiled at the new potion in her purse before tackling him in a hug. "I'm back, Daddy," Briony sang, holding out the bottle. "Look what I've got." She couldn't wait to see his face when she told him the day's events.