A Reunion in Meridell:Part Three
"Home sweet home!" Illusen laughed as she threw open the door to her treehouse.
Jhudora could hear the strain in Illusen's laugh as she nervously shifted her weight. She was uncomfortable in the dress that the poor seamstress had made for her. Illusen made her nervous enough to make some very amateur and very uncomfortable mistakes. Jhudora could feel a stray pin poking her. However, after the shoe debacle, Jhudora knew she had to make any alterations when Illusen wasn't looking.
Pulling her attention away from the dress, Jhudora looked around the entrance to Illusen's home . . . or more so, she looked around Illusen's home. There were no stairs to a second story. There were no walls separating the kitchen from the bedroom. It was just a room. Despite that, it was clean. While there was dirt and dust sprinkled throughout the room, there were no bins filled to the brim with useless items. There were no surfaces covered in somewhat useful items . . . and the most striking absence to Jhudora was the lack of Petpets.
Before Jhudora could ask a question, there was a knock on the door. Illusen let out a groan before marching to the door, pausing, smiling, and opening it.
"Miss Illusen!" The voice belonged to a small blue Kacheek. Jhudora's heart melted as she looked over Illusen's shoulder. The poor thing was wearing tattered yellow overalls and had pieces of hay stuck in his fur. She stepped back, hoping the cute thing didn't see her and get scared.
"Yes, blue pet," Illusen whined through gritted teeth, "I want shampoo."
"I won't let you down!" The Kacheek smiled brightly before skipping away.
Once Illusen was sure the Kacheek was out of earshot, she slammed the door as roughly as she could. She sat down on the floor and stared at the ceiling.
"Illusen," Jhudora stared blankly at the earth faerie. She looked completely defeated. All she had done was give out a quest, but she was acting as if she had spent a full day doing manual labor for no pay.
They remained in silence for a few minutes. Illusen was too busy staring angrily at the ceiling to acknowledge Jhudora, while Jhudora was too nervous to make a peep. The silence was broken when there was another knock on the door. Illusen took a deep breath before standing up and smiling brightly. She turned to the door and opened it.
"I didn't know what shampoo was," the blue Kacheek was smiling brightly as if it didn't matter that he failed the quest. He held out a large tomato, "So I got you a tomato!"
Illusen let out a fake, strained laugh and took the tomato. "It smells like dung."
"My family buys the best fertilizer!" The Kacheek laughed, his eyes smiling.
She closed the door and waited to hear the skipping footsteps of the Kacheek to fade away. She then frowned and made her way to the one large window along the back wall of her home. She opened it and threw the tomato out of it as viciously as she possibly could. She closed the window and looked back at Jhudora.
"That's why you don't have a cluttered house . . ." Jhudora met Illusen's eyes, "Do they all go like that?"
"Due to cultural preservation laws, pet things from more advanced lands can't come here without a ton of paperwork," Illusen rolled her eyes, "And even then they might get anything actually worthwhile confiscated. So if I want something other than disgusting vegetables, I first have to ensure that it isn't someone from Meridell. Then I have to think of something that won't get confiscated . . . so most of my quests end in, well. . ." She gestured towards the window. Jhudora slowly made her way to the window before looking out and gasping. If Illusen's home weren't in the trees, the pile might have been as tall as the house.
"Why do they come back?" Jhudora glanced back at Illusen, "When Neopians fail my quests, they hide from me until they're ready to try again."
"You're evil and you were banished from Faerieland," Illusen rolled her eyes, "I'm a good little almost martyr who stood in your way and was exiled for my own safety."
Jhudora's muscles tensed as she remembered how closely she and Illusen were linked.
"I cursed your name, Jhudora," Illusen made her way to her couch and sat down, "And I know you cursed mine."
Jhudora turned to look out of the window again. The sun was setting and the sunset was unlike anything she had ever seen. She understood the concepts of refraction and angles, but no scientific knowledge could prepare her for seeing the sunset on the surface of Neopia. She braced herself on the window frame as she tried to think of what to say. She never cursed Illusen's name. She never had a reason to. Illusen was nothing more than a puppet of the Earth Elder. If it wasn't Illusen to corner her, it would have been any other earth faerie. Perhaps, it could have been any of the Elders. Maybe it was just the dumb choice of putting her in green clothes that led to the Earth Elder hating her.
She cursed Fyora's name. She cursed the Earth Elder's name. And perhaps, she placed a curse on the Dark Elder in her infinite anguish. But Illusen never came to mind. What would be the right thing to say to Illusen? Saying that Illusen meant nothing to her felt too harsh, but lying that she cursed Illusen's name would be disingenuous at best. Instead of speaking, she just stared out into the sunset, hoping Illusen would continue talking.
"I've seen your home," Illusen looked up at the ceiling, "I've sent pets to spy on you."
Jhudora turned around, her eyes wide.
"Do you think that it was just coincidence that I found you giving that speech?" Illusen sighed, "I have one connection in Faerieland, and she told me that you were on the schedule to speak to the council. But, I had snuck into your village and I had seen you give quests before. And I knew, I knew that you had to curse my name."
Jhudora paused before turning away. She wanted Illusen to think she was fighting back tears, but instead she was biting down on her knuckle to try and keep from bursting out laughing.
Her life was bad. She wouldn't deny that. But she at the very least made the most of it. She tended to her Bartamuses, she did chores . . . She told herself her life was normal enough, even if her friends couldn't talk to her. However, Illusen took a life that could be perfect and contorted it into a nightmare of her own creation.
If Jhudora was in Illusen's shoes, she would be happy. She would happily take all of the vegetables . . . maybe she'd even cook with them and share it with all of the Neopians who visited her. She would teach the tradesmen everything she could, and she'd pinch the cheeks of all the adorable Neopians she could find. She wouldn't walk around and terrorize the poor shopkeepers. She wouldn't throw perfectly good vegetables into an unused compost pile. She'd do her best to make everyone happy.
Illusen had everything Jhudora could ever wish for - Neopians who wanted to be friends, plants, and respect. However, Illusen's life felt just as miserable as Jhudora's. In some twisted way, that sad fact somehow made Jhudora respect Illusen in a weird way. It took a an extreme lack of self-awareness for Illusen to see herself as a victim . . . yet she did.
"I had a feeling that this time would be special," Illusen stood, "So I arranged a banquet in honor of our new friendship."
Jhudora turned quickly towards Illusen, her eyes wide. Every word felt disingenuous, but Illusen never really knew how to interact with others in a natural way.
"I mean," Jhudora ran one hand through her hair, letting the tangles trap her fingers. She looked up at the ceiling.
"I know you aren't used to the pet things," Illusen sighed, "Especially in large numbers."
"Say," Jhudora cleared her throat, pulling her hand out of her hair. "Why do you call them 'pet things'? They're Neopians."
"They look like Petpets," Illusen laughed, "But they aren't Petpets!"
Jhudora nodded before glancing around the kitchen area. There was no sink. "Say," she cleared her throat before asking, "Where is your washroom? I need to get this mess off of my face."
"It's outside," Illusen sighed, "Plumbing is 'too modern' for Meridell. If you want to wash up, you need to go down to the spring next to my tree."
Jhudora's jaw dropped as she processed wht Illusen was saying. Even with just a cursory glance at the Earth Faerie textbooks, Jhudora knew that one of the most useful tools in the founding of Faerieland was the Earth Faerie's ability to use large vines as a method of irrigation. The vine would use its own structure to absorb water at any source and transport it to wherever it needed to go. With the advent of actual plumbing, the knowledge had fallen to the wayside . . . however, recreating it was within Illusen's grasp. She sighed, "I guess I'm fine."
"Yeah," Illusen shrugged, "I hate being here."
There was a pause as Jhudora looked around Illusen's home. It really was just one room. She nervously shifted her weight before asking, "Where do you sleep?"
"Faeries don't need sleep," Illusen scoffed, "So I don't have a place to sleep."
It suddenly hit Jhudora why Illusen seemed so dim and angry. She never slept! Jhudora sighed, "But sleep feels good!"
"You can lay on my couch and attempt to sleep," Illusen rolled her eyes, "You'll understand why I can't."
All of Jhudora's hopes of being a good and polite guest drained from her as she realized that she really wanted to sleep. She sighed before making her way to the couch and sitting down. She wrapped her wings around herself as a makeshift blanket and called out, "Good night."
** ** **
There was a loud bang. Jhudora woke with a shock, her heart pounding. She rolled onto the floor, hitting her wing in the process. She quickly scurried into a position where she could see what was happening.
The entire home was dark, lit only with a single candle and the starlight filtering through the windows. Despite that, she could see the outline of Illusen throwing another vegetable out of her window. Too tired to get back onto the couch, she simply leaned back against it and closed her eyes again. She knew from the blackness that it was late. Perhaps it was just one pet that had no sense of time. Just as Jhudora had drifted to sleep, there was another bang. She furrowed her brows, her eyes still closed. Of course she understood why Illusen never slept now. Whereas Neopians were too afraid to visit Jhudora's home after the sun left the sky, Neopians believed that there was nowhere in the world safer than Illusen's home.
Of course, Jhudora knew that it would take ancient artifacts for an Earth Faerie to do the same illusion spells she used to avoid giving quests. Considering the fact that Illusen couldn't even get shampoo from a quester, there was no way she could obtain ancient artifacts without help. Maybe if Illusen treated her well, Jhudora would grab them for her on her next visit. Jhudora realized how nice that sounded. She could do something for Illusen to make up for her banishment. Surely, twelve hours of sleep a night could make Illusen smart and nice!
Part of Jhudora wanted to pop up and intercept the Neopians - maybe wear a wig and pretend to be Illusen. While that would surely make Illusen happy, Jhudora felt as if she could barely move. She had woken early and spent hours practicing her speech for the council. She had spent an entire day being dragged around a new land. She was too tired to be a good guest, especially after being pulled out of her slumber. The best she could do at that moment was just not mention how loudly Illusen slammed her door.
She told herself that she could sleep through the next few hours of banging doors. She closed her eyes and tried her hardest to remain asleep.
** ** **
"Dora," Illusen hissed as she shook Jhudora's shoulders, "We need to get ready!"
Jhudora slowly opened her eyes. Of course she had slept horribly. Her wings were cramped from being pressed against the couch and her body ached from being in a strange position all night. Granted, that was all her own fault and she recognized that. At least she had slept, unlike Illusen.
Jhudora slowly rose to her feet. She looked out the window. The sun was just rising. She smiled softly as she took in the beautiful colors mingling in the sky.
"Go wash your face," Illusen sighed, "Go get presentable."
Jhudora nodded. She quickly studied Illusen's own face and hair as she tried to get up the energy to walk out of the home and into the world. Illusen obviously couldn't get her hands on shampoo. Her hair was dirty in a way that spring water alone couldn't fix, yet clean enough that no one in Meridell would ever have a complaint. She barely wore any makeup. Green lips and green powders framing her eyes. Either Illusen would share, or Jhudora would go without makeup. Either way, Jhudora was happy to know that Illusen wouldn't cover her face in even more powder.
Jhudora slowly turned and made her way out of the home and into the sun. She smiled softly as she made her way down the stairs leading from the treehouse to the ground. Once she was at the bottom of the steps, she took a deep breath. There were so many plants around her and so much soil that she was instantly taken back to her childhood. Back then, she would wash her hair and her face in the spring every morning. Her dark faerie sisters would tease her that washing all of the oils off of her face was bad for her. She didn't care - she loved the feeling of the cool water against her skin.
She hummed the Dark Hymn as she made her way to the spring. She fell to her knees and gathered water in her hands to scrub away at the mask Fyora had convinced her to wear. Once her face felt clean, she looked up at Illusen's treehouse. When she was sure Illusen couldn't see her, she pulled the stray pin that had been poking her out of her dress and pinned it to the hem of her dress. She ran her fingers down the seams of the dress to try and even them out. It wasn't her best work, but her quick attempt at least made her more comfortable. She stood and ascended the stairs back to Illusen's door. However, once she arrived there were five Neopians standing in front of her. The three Kacheeks and two Meercas were patiently waiting for Illusen to respond to their knocks on the door. Jhudora knelt to their eye level before asking, "Are you here for a quest?"
A red Meerca wearing blue overalls nodded, his tail wagging.
Jhudora smiled softly. She knew better, but she reached out and patted his head. "Illusen is busy today. But I promise, she'll give you a quest tomorrow."
"But!" One yellow Kacheek whimpered, "We want to do a quest!"
Jhudora laughed softly, "Do you know what shampoo is?"
The Neopians all looked down at the floor. None of them knew what it was, but they knew that Illusen had been asking for it and only it for a few weeks.
"Don't worry," Jhudora smiled as she patted the Kacheek on the head, "You'll have many more chances to do quests for Illusen. Maybe she'll ask for delicious tomatoes tomorrow! Then you will be able to complete it."
The yellow Kacheek grabbed Jhudora's hand and smiled brightly. Jhudora nearly cried as she felt the small, soft paws against her hand. She Kacheek nodded and replied, "Thank you, Miss Draik Faerie. We will come back!"
The Neopians scurried off as Jhudora felt her wings. She understood how young Neopians could confuse the words 'dark' and 'draik', especially with her reptilian wings. She sighed and made her way into Illusen's home.
Illusen looked up at her and sighed. She pointed at a box with her own makeup in it. Jhudora took the hint and pulled out the two items in it: a tube of green lipstick and a palette of green eyeshadow. Jhudora quickly applied the products before looking up at Illusen.
"Let's go," Illusen groaned as she stood, "Let's go to the banquet."
Jhudora stood still in confusion. That was it? A few swipes of cosmetics and they were ready to go? Jhudora stared at Illusen's outfit. It wasn't formal in the least. However, Jhudora thought about how important 'image' was to faeries. Illusen appearing in a beautiful gown would take away from her 'image.' Once Jhudora understood, she waited for Illusen to lead the way to the banquet.
To be continued…