The Earth Faerie: Recollections
Written as a companion story to the 2-part series 'The Earth Faerie'.
The earth faerie lifted the mirror to the light.
Though roughly made, the wooden handle fit as snugly in her hand as it had always done. The worn feel and appearance of it was almost nostalgic in its familiarity. Her gaze settled on the tiny flowers that twirled up the wood to encircle the glass. They had been carved – and painted – clumsily, with a child's hand. Looking at the mirror now, it was hard to believe there'd been a time when she'd thought it more valuable than anything. She snorted. Spelled out on the larger petals were the letters M-E-L-L-I-E. Lips pursing, she moved a finger over each scratch. She'd been the one to etch the nickname into the wood, years before. It had been hers, once, that name. What a cute... joke.
Angling the glass, the faerie shifted her glance to the reflection it offered. The image that stared back couldn't be described as being pleasant. There were bruise-like bags under her green eyes and her brown curls straggled lankly down about her otherwise pale face. She looked as terrible as was to be expected.
She squinted. Was that a... wart? Poking at her forehead, she moved the mirror close. The bump was small, like a zit, but the faint white-yellowish tinge of the raised skin was unmistakeable. Anger surged as newer memories resurfaced. These were less nostalgic. "Argh," the faerie grunted. "That irksome potion!" She'd spent the last week in the form of a Mortog. Seven days where she'd had no place to sleep and only scraps to eat. Every time she'd tried to say something the sound that came out was a garbled croak. It had been humiliating. Maddening, in fact.
She shut her eyes, seeking to close out the recollections. Almost in the same instant they blinked back open. She'd never admit it but she needed reassurance that, awful as she looked, her skin wasn't Mortog-green or, worse, scaly. It wasn't her own likeness that she glimpsed in the glass, however. Illusen's pale jade eyes greeted hers, face soft and lips smiling. There was peace in those features. The faerie couldn't say that that was something they shared. And that was all because of her. Illusen. Between one blink and the next Illusen's image disappeared. What she saw now was red.
She reached out blindly. Her searching hand found what it sought with a speed she barely registered. Bringing the chest to her hip, a musty smell spiralled towards her as she popped open the lid for the second time that day. As with the mirror, all items within had been gifts from her childhood friend. The leaf-bound journal she lifted out contained pages as yellow as their odour suggested. Amusement, sudden and dark, caused the faerie to giggle as she turned to the first page. Scrolling out in big, loopy cursive was the message: 'To Mellie, happy fourteenth birthday! Love, Illusen'. Tempted as the faerie was to rip the book in half, she fell onto her bed as her giggle became more pronounced. She put her free hand on her abdomen as her mirth died out, as fast as it had begun. That was right. They'd been friends, once.
Mellie grinned at the pale light streaming through her dormitory window. For the first time in a long time, she'd woken at sunrise though it'd, probably, be truer to say she'd never actually slept. Today was the 26th day of Eating, Y4. A day she'd been looking forward to for weeks. It wasn't just Mellie's birthday. It was the day of the field trip, too. She wiggled upright, flinging her quilt aside. There was a parcel sitting at the end of her bed. Small and neatly wrapped, it was rectangular in shape. Mellie shook her head fondly at the attached card. Where the present itself was all smart, sharp corners, the card was covered in splotches of green ink and a hasty scribble. Messy as the handwriting was, it was instantly recognisable. This was from Lulu.
The faerie's hands moved of their own accord, flicking to the next page of the journal. The thought her mind was even now forming was one that made her want to laugh anew. She'd known that, if she wanted to bring down Illusen, she'd need a trick up her sleeve. She'd thought that impersonating the other faerie would be the way to go. Take her place and destroy her goody-goody reputation from within. It had seemed logical but it hadn't been what she had needed. Somehow the faerie had the feeling that what she really needed to do was to think. To think and to remember her time with Illusen as Mellie.
Mellie had an extra spring in her step as her class filed, one by one, into the Meri Acres Farm. The space before them was carpeted in grass so green it stole her breath. She sent a grin in Illusen's direction, fingering the new journal in her pocket, as Lorel told them to hurry. "Come, come, girls," their teacher chided, waving them through the gate. "We've lots of spellwork to get through." It seemed that Lorel's olive eyes focused on her in particular. Due to her love of sleeping in, she did, she supposed, have a habit of being tardy. Her walk quickened. Today was different.
With each stride Mellie took her excitement multiplied. It wasn't all that often that they got to go out anywhere other than to the woodland near their Neoschool. The forest, really, might as well be part of their Neoschool for all the time the faeries spent out and about its trees. Mellie was looking forward to working with a new landscape in a different part of Meridell. What an awesome birthday present.
Bouncing on the balls of her feet, Mellie shared another grin with Illusen as Lorel went back over the instructions she'd given before they'd left. The sparkle in Illusen's eyes told her the other novice was as keyed up – and impatient – as she was. Raising an eyebrow at Mellie, Lulu tapped a foot and Mellie giggled. Their elderly instructor did have a habit of going on and on to the point that, eventually, everyone stopped listening. It didn't help that she'd slept so little the night before.
"Melanie! Illusen!" The older earth faerie's voice broke through Mellie's thoughts. She jumped at the use of her full name as much as at the scolding tone. It was the other girls' turn to giggle as they were marched to the front of the group. "Since you so obviously know all there is to know about flower-growing, why don't you give the class a demonstration?" Lorel's wrinkled features were creased with new lines, set with stern disapproval. "Grow some Autumn Sunset Daisies." The censure in the look she turned on Mellie was imperious, softening only slightly as Illusen hung her head.
Mellie winced internally. Lorel might be old but the faerie had a temper as fiery as her mostly-red hair. "Yes, Lorel." She kept her voice meek, though her nerves thrilled, as her gaze fixed on the cluster of gold-and-orange blooms to their left. Holding the sight in mind, she reached within as she'd been taught and channelled her energy into the ground. She couldn't wait to show Lorel – and the other novices – what she could do. Mellie's breath rushed from her in a loud gasp. Rising from the damp earth were three green leaves and from their stalk sprang a bright, golden head of petals. She'd done it. "Yippee!"
She wasn't the only one. Mellie glanced over to check Illusen's progress. No fewer than five Autumn Sunset Daisies had erupted from the soil, stems long and petals proud. "Show-off," she whispered, smiling, though she was only half-teasing. Her friend, she knew, was a natural and excelled at spellwork. Illusen gave her a playful nudge and Melanie looked at her own plant, forcing down the brief pang of envy.
"Hmm," was all Lorel said but Mellie took the word as a compliment. The earth faerie gestured and the other girls straightened, following their lead. Mellie snuck a few looks round. Her flowers were bigger than anyone else's, Illusen's included, though her friend's were definitely more numerous. Danika had only managed one, skimpy sprout and Jasmine and Iyana fared scarcely better. Bonny hadn't been able to produce anything at all. Her grin returned. They called themselves earth faeries?
Glee made Mellie re-focus on her projects with renewed spirit. Things were going great. The bloom she concentrated on now was big. Really big. She paused, frowning. Wait. It was... too big. Her mouth dropped open just as the daisy exploded. KA-BOOM. Dirt flew in all directions. Falling to her knees, she gagged and spat out the mouthful she'd received. What had just happened?
Her ears were too stunned to hear at first. The sound of laughter forced her head back up at length, however. Iyana was leaning against Danika for support, face as ruby as her green skin would allow. Next to them was Illusen. The auburn-haired faerie bit her lip as she turned away, guiltily, but it was too late. Mellie had seen the snort she'd smothered. Vacantly, her chest tightening, she looked to her right. Lorel stood over her, hands on her hips. "Melanie," the teacher bit out slowly, expression as critical as ever, "bigger isn't necessarily better." She paused, throwing up a hand. "See? Look at Illusen's."
The faerie felt her lips twist but her fingers leafed to the next page, as if drawn by some magnetic force. It was funny, in a way, how... well, volcanic the flower had turned. Though she no longer went by 'Mellie' or 'Melanie', she cringed as well as chuckled as Lorel's voice rang in her head. "Melanie," her ex-teacher had cried. "Look at Illusen's." The faerie realised belatedly that her long nails were cutting into the book's thin cover. Yes. The favouritism there had been hilarious.
A week had passed since their farm visit and they'd started growing Snapdraiks, in the forest by their Neoschool. Mellie had thought these larger flowers would suit her but she was struggling. The image she formed mentally just wasn't quite right and it showed. In front of her the Draik-headed blooms she'd grown were barely visible between a mass of green spikes. While far from being as small as Danika's, the Snapdraiks she'd created were less petals and more large, thorny leaves that grew thornier with each adjustment Mellie attempted.
Illusen's, on the other hand, were perfect and more so than usual. She mashed her teeth together. It was infuriating. Illusen really was doing well. Mellie bristled as Illusen looked her way. This was the third time she'd glanced at her and each glance seemed more and more furtive. "What?" she finally burst out, as the other girl sent her yet another searching look. "What do you want?"
"Oh!" Illusen quipped, pressing a hand to her mouth. "Could you be talking to me?" she asked. Mellie sighed. She'd been giving her friend the silent treatment for a solid seven or so days. Not a word had she spoken to Illusen since the day of her birthday.
"What is it that you want, Illusen?" Mellie repeated. Her voice came out sharper than she'd intended but she didn't let herself flinch back. She'd genuinely felt hurt and it hadn't helped that Illusen hadn't apologised for laughing at her. Her friend knew exactly how much Mellie hated being laughed at.
"Stop sulking, Mellie!" Illusen's voice was tinged with annoyance despite the smile on her lips. "I have news I want to share! If you don't get over yourself, I won't tell you." Lorel approached and the quirk of Illusen's lips became sincere. "Lorel!" she gushed and their teacher beamed.
Dragging a hand through her curls, Mellie looked away. She couldn't just 'stop sulking'. It wasn't as easy as it sounded. Being laughed at was a real issue for her. Couldn't Illusen see that? It made her feel like she was being looked down upon... like she was, somehow, inferior. Her fists clenched. It was because Illusen didn't realise this that she didn't feel like she could talk to her. There was also another reason, a tiny part of Mellie knew. She needed time to work on her spells without being reminded how everything came all too easily to her friend. Several seconds had ticked by before she realised Iyana was standing next to her. "Psst!" the other earth faerie hissed.
"What is it, Iyana?" Mellie had no more patience for this classmate than she'd had for Illusen. Returning her scrutiny to her Snapdraiks, she prepared to ignore her.
"She's the new teacher's pet, isn't she?" Iyana breathed. "Illusen, I mean." Behind them their teacher's usually-strict features were aglow and, head bent towards Illusen's, she was talking as animatedly as Mellie had ever seen her. "Lorel's been giving Illusen private lessons for a couple days now, you know." The sparkle in Iyana's gaze was part-outraged, part-mischievous.
"What?!?" Mellie whipped around. "Private lessons? How? Why?" That was unheard of. No earth faerie got extra lessons from Lorel or any of the other teachers, as far as she knew. She felt her eyes narrow as she watched Lorel applaud Illusen's work. It was true that Lorel seemed to be treating Illusen more favourably than she had the week before. It was also true that Illusen had struck her, somehow, as having improved on her already-brilliant spellwork. Mellie locked glances with Iyana, staring into depths as emerald as her own. "Iyana?"
"Yup, private lessons," Iyana confirmed, with a toss of her hair. "Since two days ago." Her eyebrows lifted knowingly. "She hasn't told you? What a laugh!"
"Oh, shut up." Mellie turned away from Iyana a second time. Her mind was spinning, tossing out scrambled thought after scrambled thought. This was probably what Illusen wanted to tell her. Illusen's name died on Mellie's lips. Her friend's head was still huddled close to Lorel's.
The next few days blurred together, serving only to affirm to Mellie what Iyana had told her. Two weeks after her birthday Lorel had announced they'd be moving on to more complex spellwork. Their focus now was on growing larger plants. Kneeling on the forest floor, Mellie sent her thoughts spiralling into the earth. Her concentration snapped at the sound of Illusen's voice chiming out, high and bright, over the general chatter and birdsong that dominated the clearing. She was talking to their teacher, as she had done almost every time Mellie had seen her of late. It seemed Iyana was right. Illusen was officially their teacher's favourite pupil.
Mellie wouldn't have been as bothered by this if it hadn't happened so quickly – if she didn't feel so out of the loop. Problem was, she didn't know what was going on. She hadn't asked and Illusen hadn't tried to talk to her, either. The faerie jolted. The Blackberry Bush she'd been growing had come out strangely malformed. Its berries weren't so much round as they were crumpled. Iyana and Danika laughed as they walked by. Her cheeks burned, despite herself, but she gave no other sign she'd heard. Their amusement was something she found herself becoming used to, even if it wasn't something she'd ever accept.
The earth faerie's eye twitched. Illusen had been brilliant. Good at growing flowers, good at growing bushes. The more praise she'd gotten, the more Illusen had appeared to bask in the attention. Yes, the faerie was bitter. There was definite bitterness in her journal that she hadn't been entirely conscious of at the time. She was resentful, then, and she remained so now. As she thought, she tapped a finger on her desk. It wasn't an unjustified bitterness.
Unable to sleep, Mellie had gone for a walk that night. Her throat was dry and scratchy, the result, probably, of eating two of the berries she'd grown. Wrinkled as they had looked, she hadn't been able to help herself. Even worse than the rawness that scissored through her throat was the thought of Iyana and Danika laughing. Worse still was the thought of Illusen or Lorel thinking her berries inedible. They weren't. They weren't perfect but, while they weren't the right flavour – more a salty tang than fruity – they weren't poisonous, either.
Slipping into the forest had been easy as it directly bordered her Neoschool dormitory. Mellie usually found the scenery here beautiful, especially in the moonlight. Countless trees swayed gracefully in the cool breeze and the view couldn't be said to be anything other than impressive. The trees' leafy sighs, however, did little to calm her pounding footsteps. It was another sound that brought Mellie to a stop.
"She's improving so quickly!" The voice was Lorel's. "I knew she would."
"You say she was able to grow a grove of Chestnut Trees?" a second voice mused lightly. "By herself at age fourteen?" Mellie had heard it before although it took her some time to place it. Lorel was talking to a faerie who taught some of the older novices.
Lorel's tone grew louder and her enthusiasm more transparent. "I knew she would," the teacher said again. "With the right attention, I knew she would." The older faerie sniffed. "Such talent cannot be wasted. Dearest Illusen is ready for your class now." Mellie's heart gave a decisive thump. Although she'd known who they were talking about the moment she'd first heard Lorel, she felt taken aback by the affection in the faerie's tone. Dearest Illusen? Lorel would never call Mellie 'dear', let alone 'dearest'.
She'd heard enough. Spinning on her heel, Mellie carved a path through the trees. Tears smudged her vision and her surroundings blurred. She could hardly see where she was going. Swiping the back of her hand across her eyes, Mellie brushed a branch aside with a burst of feeling. Whether it was anger, or jealousy or sadness, she couldn't say. All she knew was that she had to get back home.
"Mellie?" Illusen's voice called. Mellie jolted to a halt as abrupt as her first. Illusen was sitting, cross-legged, on the bench outside the dormitory. Fantastic. "I... I went to your dorm room," the other faerie began hesitantly. "I wanted to talk." Her green eyes were unsure if piercing all the same as they met Mellie's. They widened as she stopped. "Have you been crying? What's wrong?"
"Like you don't know." The words Mellie chewed out were riddled with the same tangle of emotions that had propelled her flight through the forest. Again, she wasn't sure if she felt more furious, more resentful or more miserable and confused. The seconds stretched out as she stood there, hands clenched into fists, staring at the friend she hadn't talked to in weeks. She was still waiting for an apology.
Illusen's expression tightened and she fluttered to her feet. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded. "I've come to talk things out and you're not willing to at all."
"Well, there's no point if you're not here to apologise," Mellie exploded. "I know you're getting extra lessons from Lorel. You're her favourite now, aren't you?" Running through her mind were notions of her own uselessness, tied with notions of Illusen being too caught up in herself, too caught up in her thing with Lorel, to be there for her. The unfairness of it all sharpened her tone. It was resentment she felt most strongly now.
"Wha-?" Illusen spluttered, jade eyes flashing. "Forget it," she yelled, then. "If you're so... jealous of me, then yeah, we can just forget it. Forget we were friends, even." She made to storm off but seemed to think better of it. "One last thing. I'm switching classes. Lorel had a chat with me the day of the field trip. She thought I'd be better suited," Illusen flared, "to a more advanced class and wanted to catch me up to speed with what they'd covered." She paused, taking in a breath, before exhaling. "Lorel would've done the same if she'd thought you were ready." Illusen left before Mellie could seethe that she already knew she was changing classes.
Mellie looked down, at her still-fisted hands. Rage spasmed through her and, without thinking, she released it. A small, fist-sized patch of grass by her feet sizzled. The blades had turned black. While once she might have reacted with nausea, right now she didn't care. She didn't care that the grass was black. She didn't care that she'd been the one to turn it black. If anything, it seemed fitting – appropriate to her dark mood.
She woke the next day with the same darkness pressing in on her. She propped herself up with a groan, massaging her head. What a headache. When she pushed open the door to Lorel's classroom, she winced as the ache intensified. Standing with the teacher at the front of the room was Illusen. She didn't even look at Mellie as Mellie slumped in. Lorel, however, glared. "Melanie. You're late!" she snapped.
"Sorry, Lorel," Mellie muttered. She dropped into an empty seat. It was, Mellie realised, the only empty seat. There should've been two. She looked up.
The teacher cleared her throat. "As I was saying," she enunciated cuttingly, "dear Illusen will be leaving us for another class today." The rest of Lorel's speech was lost on Mellie. Her focus was on Illusen. Mellie's former friend held herself proudly, shoulders straight and chin high. There was a glow in her expression, a glitter in her eyes, that made Mellie want to retch. Illusen was loving this.
When she saw Illusen in the hallway later, the other faerie turned her head. She was with two older earth faeries, about fifteen, who were showering her with chatter. "Your Autumn Birch Tree was amazing," Mellie heard one of the other girls say as Illusen flushed with happiness. "You'll have to show me how you managed that gorgeous orange." It seemed that Illusen had found where she belonged.
Setting down the journal, the earth faerie turned at the sound of someone coming up the stairs. The figure that appeared in her doorframe had a pale, pointed face and an even more pointed light in her magenta gaze. "Belladonna," she greeted the dark faerie.
"Did you work out what you needed?" Belladonna arched a thin, purple eyebrow and the earth faerie twiddled her thumbs. The journal reminded her how disloyal a friend she'd thought Illusen, as Mellie. Instead of apologising for her laughter after her flowers exploded, Illusen hadn't ever acknowledged that she'd hurt Mellie that day. And, when they did talk, she'd thought herself, self-righteously, better than Mellie – something their teacher had done her best to encourage.
The faerie's mistake in the past had been trying to impersonate Illusen to destroy her sugar-sweet reputation. But what if there was a way to have Illusen discredit herself? A way to have Illusen show Neopians her less-sweet traits? It was a delicious idea. As she glanced at her friend, the faerie caught a glimpse of her widening smile in the mirror still in her lap. "Yes, I have."
Her next recollection was happier. She too, had found someplace she belonged.
"What's your name?" The expression on the other faerie's face was impish although not unkind. "I'm Belladonna, as you know."
The earth faerie swallowed. "Mel-" she began. "Melan-" she tried again.
Belladonna ran a hand through her violet hair. "What do you want to be called?"
"Melan-" she started, a third time. What the faerie wanted wasn't a drastic change. "How about... Melantha." While slight it made all the difference.
Belladonna's mouth curved and the dark faerie looked every inch the troublemaker she was supposed to be. "Well, Melantha," she said, "you've come to the right faerie. Let's stir up some mischief."
Melantha grinned back. "Let's."