Isolde and the Faerie Statue:Part Six
The Haunted Woods was never Isolde’s favourite place in the world, either. It was quieter than Neopia Central, sure, but the silence was often broken by shrieks and the land had a foul odor that lingered at all times. It smelled like the world, the very air around her was decomposing. She carried a map with her that led to Claudia’s mansion which was in an obscure and rarely visited part of the land, right on the outskirts of Neopia. The path there was lined with pale teal trees whose branches seemed to twist and contort just like the trees in one of her nightmares. Their branches curled and they looked almost as if they were pointing at her, specifically at her.
When she finally got to the house, Isolde shivered a little. Claudia’s home was enormous and foreboding and the façade of the old mansion frightened her. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought that it bore a certain resemblance to the faerie statue she saw in her dreams so much, at least superficially. The ivy-covered stone walls were showing signs of crumbling, the front door was damaged in places, and many statues surrounding the home were broken in places—but, even from the outside, the residence was still stately and beautiful like most aged, half-abandoned things. She slammed the brass knocker on the heavy wooden door. It made a thud that reverberated throughout the forest.
Then she emerged. Isolde had never seen a Transparent Neopet in the flesh before, so she gave a bit of a start when the door opened and Claudia’s skull materialized from behind the door. She opened the door a little more and Isolde realized she was wearing very elegant clothing; the Blumaroo was wearing a Fancy Blumaroo Dress and had a curly brown wig. “Hello?” she asked. Her voice was lush, low, and—Isolde couldn’t tell which—either a little sad or a little weary, or maybe both.
Either way, the Shadow Aisha gasped a bit and stammered. “Y-yes? Hi, hi… sorry,” she said, looking up and down at Claudia, who sensed her nervousness and chuckled a bit.
“No worries. I’m not offended,” she said. “But you must be Isolde?”
“Well, come on in. How about we go to my study so we can talk a little more about this?” Claudia smiled faintly, but even this gesture scared Isolde a little since she could see Claudia’s teeth through her colourless skin.
The interior of the mansion was much more vibrant than its exterior, though. The first things Isolde noticed about it were that lilac-coloured bricks lined its massive walls and that rare Neopian flora from all over the world rested in glass vases that rested on the many carefully arranged tables in the home. Then the bookshelves! There were two or three in every room and all of them overflowed with books on a variety of subjects from all over Neopia, not unlike her own, though certainly much larger. “Are you surprised?” Claudia asked her with a smile. “I know, it doesn’t look like it from the outside, but I do love to decorate.” She chuckled. “And, of course, being the editor-in-chief for the Neopian Times, you do have to make sure you read a lot, hence all the bookshelves.”
Eventually, they came to the kitchen, which was a little more austere than the rest of the home and was more what one might expect a room in the home would look like from the outside. The brick-covered walls were unpainted and the ceiling was a drab beige. The whole room seemed very ancient, aside from a cute little Blumaroo Oven on the opposite side of the room, which felt a little anachronistic—a modern oven in a room that seemed so old. Isolde was so caught in her looking and contemplation that it took her a while to realize that Claudia was talking to her. “… Actually, you must be tired, no? You traveled all the way from Neopia Central to here, is that right?”
“Mm-hm.” Isolde wasn’t really sure what else to say, and she felt kind of frustrated about not knowing what else to say, so she forced herself to say something else. “It took longer than I expected. My legs are sore and it takes a while to get used to the smell of the Haunted Woods,” she said. “But your home smells much nicer than the Woods do, of course.”
Claudia frowned slightly, though Isolde wasn’t sure if it was out of sympathy or because Claudia hadn’t taken kindly to her complaining. “Well, how about some tea and something to eat?” She got up and quickly began searching through the cabinets. “I have… Honey Toast, Spooky Donuts, and… Almond Pudding. Does anything there strike your fancy?”
“Almond Pudding, please,” Isolde said. Claudia opened the refrigerator and brought over the pudding. Isolde was surprised by the sweetness of the pudding; she smiled and told her, “This is delicious, thank you.” Claudia smiled but didn’t respond. She began to heat up a tea kettle and made some Snowberry Tea for Isolde. Despite living in Terror Mountain for a while, she’d never had Snowberries before. The tea itself was warm and savoury and nicely complemented the cool, sweet Snowberries floating in the drink. Isolde finished it quickly, too.
After putting Isolde’s cup and the tray for the pudding in the sink, Claudia sat down next to Isolde, who stared at the Transparent Blumaroo’s pitch-black eyes and was surprised to note she couldn’t see her reflection in them. “Well, thank you for coming,” Claudia said. “I received your letter, so I know why you’re here. The nightmares, yes?”
“Yes, exactly. They’ve been happening since I moved and I don’t know why.”
“Hmm. Well, naturally, I’ve investigated this a lot and I know more about it than most… unfortunately, the issue of the Dark Faerie statues is a slippery one, but I do think I have a few notes about this in my study. Would you mind joining me in there?”
Isolde nodded. Claudia slowly rose and moved to the locked door. She pulled a key from her dress and twisted it into the lock, and the door opened. It turned out that the room led into a corridor that went two ways: left and right. They went right and continued to move through room after room, all of them very carefully decorated; the walls were painted pastel hues and all sorts of decorations, from garlands to faerie dolls to the rare coins and scarabs fixed to the walls. The mansion seemed almost infinitely large. As she walked through the rooms, she noticed that, scattered across the rooms with an unusual perfunctoriness, were various statues from across Neopia. A statue of a Blumaroo leaned up against a wall in one room, almost as if it were placed there at random. They walked through a room and Isolde found a immaculately polished golden Faerie Statue sitting on top of a box of unpacked things.
After what seemed like an hour, Isolde finally arrived at Claudia’s study. The room had only a small candle for light. It was covered in black wallpaper and had a black felt carpet. Isolde found herself surprised by how dark the room was. She tried to scan it, but found it impossible to see much. Some books, yes, a portfolio of writing, loose notes on a desk, a burnished brass chair, but not much else. Claudia’s face was barely visible, and she was standing right in front of her. “I like to do my work in the dark,” the Transparent Blumaroo said. Though Isolde was sure she was trying to smile, Claudia’s face contorted into what looked like a baleful grimace. “But yes, I suppose it would be nice to have a bit more light, wouldn’t it?”
She disappeared into a faraway corner of the room to turn on a lamp, which brightened the study considerably. Isolde could now see everything, but the relief of being able to see everything faded quickly. There, right next to the lamp, was an exact replica of the Dark Faerie statue near her home in Neopia Central.
“Are you surprised?” Claudia asked.
Isolde’s heart began racing. She couldn’t think of anything to say. “Don’t worry,” Claudia chuckled. “There’s nothing to be afraid of here. This was made by a friend of mine, one of the finest sculptors in all of Maraqua. He has no allegiance to Faerieland or any Dark Faeries, if that’s what you were wondering about; he sculpted this based on reports about the statue.” Once Isolde seemed to be a little more at ease, Claudia motioned to her to sit down on a plush sofa to the right of the door. “So, shall we begin?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Would you mind talking to me a bit about the nightmares and when they began?”
“About a month ago,” Isolde mused. “My parents and I had just moved to Neopia Central. I remember everything about the land being so big and complex. It wasn’t at all like Kreludor, which is where I used to live. I saw the statue while walking back home. Although it was hard to know for sure in the distance, I felt like it was looking at me.
“The nightmares were like the ones you talked about in your article. The same fire, the same sort of destruction of the land that you described. Columns of fire, meteors—I’m sure you know. These dreams, at least as far as I know, are in Faerieland.”
Claudia’s expression changed at this moment. If she had eyebrows, she would have raised them at this point. “Interesting,” she murmured. “No one’s been able to pin down a place for these nightmares before…”
“But there was something else: in the last few dreams I’ve had, they’ve been in Faerieland, but the place has looked so different than what it looks like now. It was a world just entirely in the clouds. Do you know anything about that?”
“Hmm… this might come as a surprise to you, since it happened well before you were born, but did you know that Faerieland wasn’t always on the ground? A very long time ago, it was a city that floated on the clouds just like it was in your dreams.”
“So, if I had to guess,” Claudia said, “that would be what you were seeing in your more recent dreams. Old Faerieland. But yes, yes, this is good, thank you. What else do you see in your nightmares?”
“Well, sometimes I see this dark figure. I can only usually see her silhouette, but she’s in the midst of all the fire and she’s laughing, or screaming, or crying. And sometimes something pulls me over to her, but I’m not really sure what. It’s almost magnetic. I just find myself moved toward her.”
Isolde noticed the same surprised expression from Claudia. “I haven’t had reports of anything like this, either. That must frighten you, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. It does. It really does. I’m not sure if she’s behind the fires or what, but it terrifies me. I can’t even move after I wake up for an hour sometimes because it scares me so much.”
Claudia’s expression sobered. “Well, I have something that, in the meantime, might be useful for you. Come with me.”
Both of them got up and Claudia led her out of the study. They moved across the mansion into lighter rooms. Isolde hadn’t appreciated how beautiful everything was until she’d been the dark for so long; the contrast was as impeccable as it was jarring. How could Claudia move from light to dark, and vice versa, so effortlessly? They returned to the corridor and went the other way this time, which led to another door that was also locked. Claudia pulled out another key, twisted it into the lock with all her strength, and the door opened.
It turned out that here, in the middle of this mansion, was an armoury. Some of the most formidable swords, whips, and cannons in Neopia were kept on racks or scattered throughout the room, and shields and chainmail hung on the walls, presiding over it like quiet sentinels. Claudia walked over to a rack and pulled down a Sword of Reif and presented it to Isolde, who gasped. “Here,” she whispered. “It’s one of my prized weapons. If you sleep with it in your hand, maybe you’ll be able to bring it with you in your nightmares.”
She sighed. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid that I don’t know what’s happening, but I wish you the best of luck with figuring out what’s happening. This is all I think I can offer, but if you find out anything else, please let me know.”
They bade each other farewell and Isolde left the mansion, sword in hand.
A real sword! Almost every Neopet dreamed of owning a sword and being the most fearsome warrior in the land—key word: “almost” every Neopet. However, Isolde wasn’t particularly interested in fighting—she just wanted to learn how to stop these nightmares from happening and also to get to the bottom of whatever was going on with the statue. Whatever forces were behind these bizarre happenings, she didn’t want to confront, and certainly not in combat. But there was something about how the sword felt in her hands—a certain warmth of the hilt—that made her feel safe and at peace. She walked out of the Haunted Woods feeling a little more confident.
When she got home, it was dark. She opened the door to see her mother’s paws over her face. “Oh, no, no, no, this is terrible… Isolde, come here, please.” Gertrude motioned her daughter over to see that morning’s issue of the Neopian Times.
BREAKING NEWS: Two Neopets have been petrified in the middle of Neopia Central. One has been identified as Madame Eloise Norris, a stately old Blue Kougra working as an assistant at the Neopian Fresh Foods store. Madame Norris was found in the plaza near the new plushie factory. The other is an unidentified Chia.
“It just happened so suddenly,” a witness reported. “First Eloise was there, walking right beside me, I turned my head, and she was turned to stone.” Authorities are busy determining how to restore Norris to her previous state. Chiseling has proven ineffective. There does not seem to be evidence of foul play.
“So, what do you think? The faerie statue and this… they have to be connected, don’t you think? What did you find out?”
“Not much, actually. It’s just that this hasn’t happened before, at least. No one who’s had nightmares because of a disappearing Dark Faerie statue has been able to pin down a place where they’ve been happening and no one’s actually ever seen the Dark Faerie, so Claudia doesn’t know much about what’s happening, either. Either way, there’s no doubt that the two are linked somehow.”
Petrification cases were exceedingly rare pretty much anywhere one went now. Neopia hadn’t had a serious conflict in many years, and most petrification cases only happened during huge fights, like when there was disorder in a land or when rulers clashed. It was reserved only for the most momentous conflicts. To have not only one but two Neopets turned to stone, in broad daylight, with no known suspects or motives, was unheard of. Maybe Isolde was right to be concerned, Gertrude thought. Maybe dark times were coming.
“Right in the middle of the deal, too, and with everything you’re going through… this is awful. Did Claudia say anything, at least?” Gertrude nervously ran her paws through her mane.
“She gave me this,” Isolde said, removing the sword from her bag and unsheathing it. “She said that it might help me in case I need something for the Dark Faerie.”
“Oh.” She obviously did not like the thought of her daughter handling such a weapon. “Well, if you need anything from me, you know I’m available any time, right?”
“I know, mom.”
Later that night, Isolde went to bed, sword in hand, and fell asleep. Whatever would happen in her dreams, she’d be ready for. She had to be.
To be continued…