Isolde and the Faerie Statue:Part Two
She found herself in a wood dense with trees. Most of their leaves had fallen off. Was it winter? No, it couldn’t be, she thought, because it felt so warm. Their branches stretched every which way and made a lattice under the sky through which you could make out little triangles of a faint purple sky. But, while Isolde was looking around, the sky rapidly began getting darker and transformed from a pale mauve to a deep black, so thick and opaque that she could hardly see the trees anymore. The clouds rolled across the sky rapidly, perhaps a little too rapidly and too close to the ground to be natural. Were those clouds, actually? She smelled the air. There was no doubting it—it was smoke.
Then there was a voice. She could hear it coming from the northern edge of the woods. It was barely audible; it was murmuring or singing something unintelligible to Isolde. Even though she could tell that the smoke was coming from the same part of the forest as the voice, Isolde decided to crawl to it. She had no choice. She had to leave the woods! She crawled across the ground, keeping her body as close as possible to the earth to inhale as little of the smoke as possible. She could tell that the fire was spreading to the trees at this point. The voice grew still more intense. Isolde could hear large tree branches falling behind her and the sounds of the fire burning them, smoldering all around her. She must be close to the edge of the woods, then, right?
She kept crawling until she could no longer hear the sound of the falling branches. The smoke still mostly obscured her vision, but she stopped feeling tree trunks while scrambling on her stomach crawling, so she assumed she had reached a clearing. Then she saw it. A large, bright orange flame, a beacon of light. Near its centre, Isolde could just barely make out a figure. A faerie? At this point the voice was at its most intense. The voice was almost like a scream, something haunting and unintelligible, but it also seemed to slowly lose control of itself as Isolde approached. When she first heard it in the forest, it seemed like a dolorous song, meant only for the singer herself. Here, near the heart of the fire, it sounded, at turns, like an operatic section, a mad cackle, a wail, and a distressed moan. What terrified Isolde was not the sound of the voice, but its amorphousness.
Something curious happened, then. Isolde felt herself being pulled by some preternatural force to the fire. She was pulled almost as if it were by magnetism; she felt powerless to stop it. The movement was slow at first, but quickly sped up. Her vision cleared, though she knew the smoke must still be there. In a brief moment, where the force pulling her to the flame relented for a second, she looked up at the sky and saw that it was full of shining stars. She thought that it was beautiful. She also noted that it was probably inappropriate to think about the sky as she was being pulled toward the massive conflagration in the middle of the clearing. The screeching, the song, whatever it was, nearly shattered her eardrums at this point. The faerie must be right behind her. Her breathing slowed. She slowly turned around to face her. The last thing she saw was the massive wing of a dark faerie and the last thing she heard was a shriek that overwhelmed her senses, a shriek so loud that she felt overcome; in fact, it was only barely a scream. It felt like it was something different, a noise so overbearingly loud that it felt like something other than noise but had to have been some kind of ineffable sonic assault, and she felt herself losing consciousness…
She awoke. Where was she in her dream? And how had she strayed so far away from home? Even in her dreams, she always stayed relatively close to home.
Isolde opened her eyes to her new room. Something familiar, at least, if only barely. The dark green felt carpet, the stone walls, her journal on the wooden table next to her bed, the faint scent of the Twirly Fruit she had eaten earlier that night that still lingered in the room. It was just a dream, then. She tried to smile, but couldn’t. She tried to get up to walk out of the room. But something was wrong. Was her body made of stone? It was almost as if it had forgotten how to move. Simple motions, such as moving a limb or blinking her eyes, became impossible tasks. Her heart began beating frantically and felt her breathing speed up. What was happening to her? First the weird dream, and now this. Why her, of all people?
It was nearly sunrise before her limbs regained feeling. Slowly, her hind paws began to twitch. Then her front paws. She could blink again. After waving her paws around and blinking her eyes a couple times, Isolde yawned, then laughed and cried a little. What had happened? She’d been so scared, both inside and outside of the dream. From the smoke and fire to the Dark Faerie, everything about the dream had seemed so sinister. And that faerie, Isolde thought, she must have pulled her toward her. She’d wanted her, for some reason, though she’d passed out before she’d even gotten to find out what the faerie wanted. Why was she there, in front of the fire right in the middle of the clearing? And what did she want Isolde for?
Either way, she had the suspicion that this wouldn’t be the last time she’d hear that voice again.
The first day at a new school can be scary, especially if you’re halfway through the term. Isolde had already done this before numerous times, so she turned her brain on autopilot for her classes, even though she probably couldn’t afford to: geometry, Neopian history, courses in the Tyrannian language, Battledome courses, all the way through to astronomy. Even though most curricula taught pretty much the same things, so she already knew the constellations, she still loved hearing, every day, about the various stars in the Neopian sky. One of her favourite things as a young Aisha was listening to her father tell her stories about the constellations, especially the Altadorian ones.
“So,” her astronomy teacher mumbled. Mr. Cirrus was his name. He was an old Cloud Lupe who seemed obviously very bright, but also very absent-minded. “Observe the sheet of paper in front of you. Note the constellations. The First to Rise, the Wave, the Gladiator, the Sleeper…” he pretended to glower at a student, a young Gnorbu, who was struggling to keep her eyes open and the whole class began to giggle. He smiled a little at the student, though his attention seemed to be elsewhere. “Anyways, this chart gives you the location of all the major constellations in Neopia. If you study it hard enough, you will always be able to tell where you are at night, even if you don’t have a map. Isn’t that amazing?”
Isolde had an epiphany. Of course, she’d known that you could find out where you were based on how the constellations looked to you from where you were standing. But she’d been haunted by her dream, and disoriented, too; she still didn’t know where she’d been. Maybe if it happens again, she thought, I can look up at the sky, find a constellation, and find out where I am based on where the stars are.
The rest of the course was a bit of a blur. Mr. Cirrus covered the major Altadorian constellations, Kreludor’s orbit around Neopia, and other things Isolde either already knew or didn’t pay attention to, already being so occupied by the dream she’d had earlier.
After the final bell rang, Isolde left to go home. She didn’t make any friends that day, but that wasn’t really surprising to her. She was quiet and shy but also, for the most part, generally uninterested in making friends on the first day. Everything, to her, was about attracting as little attention to herself as possible. She wore a greyscale outfit, didn’t answer any questions in class that she didn’t absolutely have to, and she definitely avoided making eye contact with other Neopets at the school. Everything she did was about preserving a certain harmony, a certain peace. She didn’t want to be bothered, so she made it as clear as possible that she didn’t want attention.
Which is probably why Neopia Central was so jarring to her. Everything about the city, from its architecture to the behaviour of its inhabitants, was centered on drawing attention to itself. Buildings of variegated colours and shapes and sizes seemed to burst out of the ground and they hurtled into Isolde’s field of vision like flowers in a garish bouquet. Not only that, but everyone was always shouting. Street vendors tried to sell their wares on the street corners, crowds clamored for rare items from shopkeepers every time the shops stocked, and Neopets shouted at each other in the street. Reunions, confrontations, negotiations, light banter, and games all happened at the same time. It was so different from living on Kreludor, where there were a few big stores everyone went to. All of them the same silver, so close in colour to the moon’s grey surface. Everything was so quiet there, from the sliding entrance doors in the stores to the soft, mumbled conversations on the roads at night.
Naturally, she still hadn’t gotten used to the pulse of Neopia Central. All around her, Neopets crowded the main roads and streets. She couldn’t stop looking at everything going on in the city. She saw a Chia carrying maybe half a dozen packages in his two stubby arms and thought his strength would fail him at any moment and he’d drop everything he’d bought. From the main part of Neopia Central, she could see a few Scorchio friends painting each other at the Rainbow Pool. In the plaza, eager crowds gathered around the Kadoatery with food to feed the new Kadoaties entering the building. Two or three new stores also went up since the last time she’d been in the plaza, which had only been a couple days ago; businesses seemed to shoot up seemingly overnight, she mused. One was named Comme des Grarrl-Sons, which was a small, family-owned clothing business run by two Grarrl twins; another was a new magic shop, which offered a few unusual potions not available at Kauvara’s; and another had no sign, but was painted in all black and its door was covered in chains and a hefty gold lock. Whatever secrets it might hold, Isolde thought, were not meant for her. Besides, there was so much else, anyways: a Kacheek playing a Faerie Saxophone (poorly) next to the music store, an old Skeith teaching a younger Skeith how to play Double or Nothing, and a small group of Neopets having a picnic. Isolde took a second to observe everything from the centre of the plaza—the games, the stores and attractions, and the characters populating the streets—and thought that, even if it wasn’t what she was used to, maybe it wasn’t so bad.
After about an hour of watching Neopians go by in the plaza, Isolde decided to leave the plaza and return home. She traveled west until she came to the same path she’d walked along several days ago with her parents. She came to the clearing with the statue of the faerie. Since she was alone, she finally had the freedom and the time to inspect the statue more closely. She decided to walk along the little path until she was able to stand face-to-face with it.
The statue was of a Dark Faerie. She was smiling, but it was ambiguous whether she was genuinely happy or if she was simply faking a smile. However, she didn’t seem even remotely angry or upset. She seemed content and serene in a way that didn’t seem sinister or wicked, which was rare in portrayals of Dark Faeries. She stretched out her right arm magisterially, as if inviting the world to look at her in all of her… glory? Isolde wondered. In all of her beauty? In all of her power? One couldn’t be sure, really. Regardless, the statue was made of a very high-quality marble and it was clear that whomever made it had paid acute attention to detail; everything, from the long sweeping gown down to the sharp nails on the faerie’s fingers, was captured with a perfect, almost eerie, realism. The faerie’s grin had the perfect number of teeth, and her face betrayed an expression that was impossible to describe, but easy to understand: she wanted people to look at her.
However, in spite of its beauty and its remarkable verisimilitude, it was evident that no one had taken care of the statue for a very long time, as parts of it were clearly damaged; the wings, though they were still large and confidently outstretched, had partially worn away at the tips. Patches of moss had gathered on parts of the wings and ivy vines wrapped around the faerie’s legs and part of her gown. The left hip and part of the face were cracked, too, but, aside from these signs of neglect, Isolde thought the statue was in near-perfect condition. Also, in spite of—or maybe partially because of—the obvious damage and negligence the statue had endured, she thought the statue was captivating. She sat down in the field and stared at it until the sun went down. She almost got the feeling, sometimes, that it was staring back at her… but that couldn’t be true, could it?
She arrived home shortly after dusk. Her parents were home working on details for their newest project, a series of Halloween plushies that held real Haunted Woods scratchcards and smelled of Festering Coffee or Zomutt. She quickly said hello, which her parents distractedly reciprocated without even making eye contact with her, then she retreated to her room.
Everything gets easier in time, her father used to say, often to comfort her every time they moved. Before going to her room, Isolde noticed that their home was beginning to fill out nicely. They had finally arranged their furniture; the Ornate Shenkuu Tables she liked so much sat in the kitchen and in the parlour next to it. Her father’s concepts for the business—really, just extensive notes—littered the tables and were pinned to the walls. Sketches for the plushies her mother and father designed lay on the tables, too, and her mom’s old plushies were arranged neatly in a box underneath a table in the parlour. The Shell Mirror they’d bought was fixed to the wall closest to Isolde’s room, too. She looked at herself and the room through it. What did she see? She saw a room painted burgundy with a few Floral Aromatic Candles resting on the tables to try to alleviate the vile stench of the Festeric Coffee her parents had brought. And materializing in front of all of this stuff—in this room with its burgundy walls, its candles, its tables, its elaborate plush sofas—was her, a Shadow Aisha with a shock of blond hair, wiry antennae, and a melancholy face. She stared distractedly at the reflection of the candles burning in the mirror before turning away from it.
She sighed and walked into her room and realized most of her decorations were up, actually. She hung a Jazzmosis Poster on the wall beside her bed, her glow-in-the-dark moons and stars lit up her ceiling, her Chokato Bean Bag sat in the top-right corner of her room, right next to the bookshelf. Her bookshelf, as usual, was bursting with her favourite books and scrolls, which ranged from fiction to nonfiction and spanned a number of genres. For instance, right next to each other were copies of The Space Ace, a scroll—Vile Curse of Pestilence—and Biological Encyclopedia of 14 Basic Neopian Algaes Vol. 12. She kept a few maractite coins on top of the shelf, too, just to look at sometimes. They were gifts from her parents, small souvenirs from their frequent trips to Maraqua. She sometimes put on her Anklet of the Deep to wear for special occasions, and she found herself playing with it now, gently running her fingers along the little shells gathered on the anklet. And this place, this new house she now inhabited, began to feel like home pretty quickly in spite of all of its differences from Kreludor.
“So,” she wondered, “why do I still feel sad?”
It began to get darker outside. She picked up a Half-Moon Pop-Up Book, one of her favourite books as a young Aisha, and began to read. The visuals always cheered her up, for some reason; she particularly liked the two pages where a young Orange Grundo sat on the moon and looked down at Neopia. His friend, who was also an Orange Grundo, told him, “We’re at the highest point in the whole world! Doesn’t this feel great?”
In response, he said, “Actually, it feels kind of lonely. But sometimes that’s home.”
She did feel alone. There was no denying that. The move was a big thing, sure; it separated her from her friends back on Kreludor and she didn’t know anyone in Neopia Central, at least not yet. But there was another loneliness, a deeper one: she remembered the dream—or maybe the nightmare—and being alone in the woods, and how strange it was to be witness all of the smoke and fire. To be alone, in the midst of all that burning. But things would get better, even if it did feel lonely now. She closed the book, smiled sadly to herself in the dark, tucked herself in, and fell asleep.
To be continued…