When I was little, I looked out my window, staring at the stars. I dreamed I was a princess, and I lived in comfort and luxury. My father was a gentle king, my mother a graceful queen. I would dance with five fairies at midnight, and have tea with ten Feepits at noon. I had a sweet little Faerie Spardel for a petpet, and my brother the Prince was always home to play.
But when I got older, I didn't dream that anymore.
When I was older, I didn't dream as much anymore. I remembered, and I cried. I remembered fantastic stories, stories that could take weeks to finish. Stories that had wonderful characters, and brave heroes. Stories that always started "Once upon a time..." and always ended "and they all lived happily ever after."
But more often, I remembered playing hide-and-seek, and I cried till my parents woke up and yelled at me, and then I buried my face in my pillow until there were no more tears.
But time passed, and my pain lessened.
When I went to school, I found friends. We escaped our painful realities for fantasy worlds, in which we were knights and wizards. We played games and stuck with each other to the bitter end.
Kayla always looked up to Kauvera. She was determined to become a great wizard and make potions that would outmatch anything else and change Neopia, or
Morris always wanted to be a knight , the knight that always saves the day and the princess, the one who could never be defeated or even hurt, the one who solves every puzzle and defeats every enemy, and scales the tower and kills the dragon with his shining steel sword.
Boris wanted to be a vampire, wanted to be the villain in every story, the one who is terrifying and horrible and evil and cunning, who traps the hero and won't let him go without a fight, who steals the princess and shuts her at the top of the high, high, tower, or locks her in a dark, deep, dungeon, or a crypt full of cobwebs, or tries to kill her but is always stopped just in time.
And me, little Lisha? I played their games, and I was a powerful sorceress. With a battered cardboard chestplate, bearing the Aisha "A", I wielded my wand of Ultranova and cast powerful enchantments. But I never told them the story, about how Jeran cut out the cardboard, tied it together, guided my tiny hand on the straight lines, or how he gave me the wand for my birthday, or even just how he fixed my glasses when they broke. Morris wanted to be my knight in shining armor, but long before I ever met him Jeran had taken that place.
But then we fell through time, and the games were over.
We had to become the people we had always dreamed of being, the knights and wizards who could save the day.
Kayla grew more and more tired. Her tall blue hat got blackened with soot from failed potions, and it seemed everything she tried served only to make things worse. The more she tried, the more she despaired. I visited her one day to find her sobbing on her workbench.
"Lisha, I can't do this. Nothing I do works. I've tried every combination I could think up, and this was the only thing that didn't blow up in my face."
As she spoke, she gestured hopelessly towards a single bottle.
"It's useless. I tried it myself, I gave it to anyone brave enough, and not only does it not do anything but it tastes like cough syrup!"
She sobbed hopelessly. I felt so helpless. One of my best friends was falling into despair, and I could do nothing.
"You know, why not volunteer in the infirmary? You might be able to help there..."
"I don't know, Lisha. It seems like everything I do makes it worse. At least you can help someone..."
I left. How could I tell her that I felt just as bad as she did? That my spells were getting weaker? That whatever I did do seemed to hurt more than help?
Morris and Boris were getting worse too. The stress of battle was pressing down on them. Their heroic fantasies had never included so much blood.
They all seemed to think that I was somehow stronger, somehow the leader. They didn't seem to get that I felt just as bad as they did, that their hopes only pressed me down, and being with Jeran only made it worse. I kept trying to find my brother in this noble, weary, Lupe, and failing. He was a commander, the King's Champion, and he didn't seem like my brother anymore.
The battle just kept getting worse. I was put out on the field. My spells didn't do much, though.
Then an arrow go past Jeran's armor.
It was poisoned. It must have been. He fell like a stone.
All around me, the battle raged. The soldiers in the front line were brave but tired. The archers were running out of arrows.
I couldn't care. Because I was looking at Jeran.
Don't die. Not here. Not today.
And then I saw him in a new way. I had been trying to find in him the boy I knew. But now I saw him as his soldiers did. They didn't just obey him. They loved him. Skarl they obeyed as duty, but Jeran they would follow to Kreludor without a suit if he asked. They needed him. He watched over them, took care of them, knew them. He was big brother for them all.
The soldiers around me were silent. They had their helmets off, pressed to their hearts. They were mourning him.
Jeran, they need you. Skarl is king, but you are the heart of Meridell. Illusen in her glade nurtures the forest, but you nurture the people. Under you, our land can thrive. Meridell needs you.
And so do I.
The wand I had forgotten I was holding glowed with light, just the way it had when it took us to the past. The battle felt miles away. I was surrounded in a corona of light.
And Jeran stood up.
The soldiers picked up their weapons. The archers nocked their bows. Peasants of every description loaded slings from sacks of potatoes.
And in the middle of it all, a blue Lupe and a yellow Aisha stood side-by-side.
We were ready. We would die together rather than lose the world we made for ourselves.
And then the ground started to shake.
Everyone turned as an army lumbered over the horizon. Turmacs! The Meridell army, the castle guards, even King Skarl himself, were mounted atop the shells of simply enormous Turmacs.
And leading the way, seated on the biggest Turmac of them all, flanked by a blue Quiggle who was bravely brandishing a wooden sword and an orange Blumaroo who grinned at me with plastic vampire fangs, was Kayla. Her blue hat was good as new and shone like the day.
Petpet growth syrup, she mouthed by way of explanation.
What she yelled, easily audible over the silent battlefield, was one word.
We won that day. Kayla later told me that a spy had taken the orb to the citadel and got put in chains for his troubles. She had been so mad, she smashed her one and only concoction on the floor. The Turmacs found it, and the rest needs no explanation.
Jeran was not present at the historic raid that resulted in the destruction of the orb. Neither were any Meridellians but King Skarl, his guard, and the Citadel prisoners.
Everyone else was helping Commander Jeran, King's Champion, turn the old treasure room for the Orb into Kayla's new workshop. The old one had been utterly obliterated. The Turmacs had their stable built on that site, and they seem to like it. A certain yellow Aisha helped lift all the rubble.
When King Skarl came home with the news that the Orb had been destroyed, no one was really surprised. Instead of mourning its destruction, we had a grand old party that lasted all night to celebrate the end of such a troublesome artifact. The Darigans joined in, and lit up the bottom of the Citadel like a giant disco ball. Illusen catered, so there was no end of cream cookies, and the Turmacs stamped the ground flat into a giant dance floor. Everyone turned up except a grumpy old Kau and some fussy old general.
I remember that night well. Writing this after the second Darigan-Meridell war, I can also recall the party we had after that. Lord Darigan was invited, and uprooted the whole tree during a game of Kass Basher. The Court Dancer was also invited. She turned out to be Lord Darigan's niece, and he invited her to do a reel. She was a pretty good dancer, even when she wasn't enchanting anyone, and quite stunning in a dress made of purple silk.
Last night, Jeran came into my room. He sat on my bed awhile, staring out the window at the stars. There are hurts deep inside him that the healers can't reach, deeper than blood and bone. I wish I could help him, but I don't know how.
He turned and saw my eyes. I sat up in bed, and he began.
"Once upon a time..."