Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 97,878,627 Issue: 186 | 15th day of Eating, Y7
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Cherry Tree

by illusen346


Sakura sighed happily. The scent of apples filled the air, and Darin was sitting in the apple tree, eating hungrily - as usual. He was so cute when he had apple pulp on his chin......Sakura giggled at the thought. Although deep within her she knew she had feelings for the Kacheek, she would not admit it, not even to herself. She was an Usul of few emotions. Just the main few - happiness, sorrow, anger, fright.

      "Hey Sakura!" Darin called from the branch he was perched on. "You have to try these apples! They taste great." Sakura politely refused.

      "I just had lunch. No thanks. Maybe later. But now, hurry up so we can go to the toy store. I saved up just enough money to buy an Illusen doll." Sakura was nuts for the earth Faerie. She had every poster, toy, and shirt that featured Illusen. Her card and stamp collections were all Illusen themed. She had sampled every Illusen based food in Neopia. The only thing missing from her awesome collection was an Illusen Faerie doll. She simply had to get one, and she had a bag of Neopoints in her paw, ready to buy the first one she saw.

      "All right," Darin called and jumped down from the branch. "But let's come back later for more apples." Sakura rolled her eyes. Could those apples really be that good?

      Sakura looked around her in pure wonder. She had visited Neopia Central hundreds of times, but it never ceased to amaze her. As she and Darin passed the Rainbow Pool, she watched as owners painted their pets. Sakura would never be owned. She felt sorry for the pets who had owners, although they seemed to enjoy having someone controlling them. Darin had once had an owner, but she left him at the pound after he ate her entire jelly collection. She hadn't fed him in weeks, and the jelly was just sitting there. Darin loved eating - he couldn't help himself.

      Darin had escaped from the pound almost as soon as he got there. He wandered into Meridell, where Sakura lived. She found Darin starving by the stream. He told her his story and Sakura left her family to travel with Darin across Neopia. Now she and Darin were best friends.

      Darin was focusing his attention on the Money Tree. Pets and owners of all shapes and sizes, the rich and the poor, scurried to and from the tree, either donating or taking. Sakura finally spotted the toy store and ran inside, with Darin behind her. She ran down the isles, desperately searching for the doll. She finally reached the doll section. Only a few dolls remained. A Tooth Faerie doll, a Snow Faerie doll, and a Hannah doll. Sakura sighed. She clutched her sack of Neopoints tightly. She left the store quietly.

      Darin followed her. "Hey Cherry Tree," he said jokingly. He always called her this when she needed cheering up. But today, it wasn't working. "Lighten up. It's just a dumb doll. They restock in another few minutes. Just wait. Maybe you'll get one anyway."

      Sakura looked at her friend admiringly. She was moping around over a stupid doll. He willingly gave up eating apples to watch her mope. Sakura would fix that.

      "You're right. It's just a dumb doll. What do you say we head over to the Art Centre? We can work on our coin collections, and I have enough money for both of us to get quite a few of them." Sakura said, cheering up almost immediately. But Darin wasn't listening. His eyes were glazed over and he stood there, facing the direction of the apple tree. Sakura noticed that all of the other pets were too - all except her. The owners had disappeared. "Darin? Darin!" Sakura shouted, trying to get her friend's attention. "Darin, answer me!" Suddenly, Darin turned to face her. He grabbed her bag of Neopoints and dumped it onto the ground. Sakura gawked at her friend. She finally came to her senses.

           "What has gotten into you?" she asked incredulously. Darin smiled in a ludicrous way.

           "Apples," he said dumbly. Then his smile faded and he walked in the direction of the apple tree. The other pets did so as well. Sakura watched helplessly as the streets emptied out. Soon, she was the last living, breathing thing in Neopia Central. Everyone else had gone to the apple tree. Sakura looked at her Neopoints scattered across the ground. What had happened to Darin?


      Sakura decided to go to the tree to see what was going on. She pushed her way through the crowd to see what everyone was staring at. She gasped.

      Dr. Frank Sloth was holding an apple in one hand and a Zafara in the other. She tried vainly to break out of his grasp, but couldn't. She looked scared. Sloth stuffed the apple in the Zafara's mouth and forced her to chew by moving her jaws up and down with his now free hand. After a moment, she began chewing on her own. She swallowed the apple and squeaked in surprise. Her eyes glazed over and she turned to face Sloth. Sakura stifled a scream.

           Sloth was trying to take over Neopia - again. Sakura appeared to be the only one for miles who hadn't eaten one of the apples. She worked her way through the crowd, searching for Darin. She finally found him. He was staring blankly at Sloth. She grabbed his arm and began pulling him through the crowd. Darin turned to look at her. Then he opened his mouth and began to scream. Everyone turned to stare at the Usul and Kacheek, including Sloth.

      "So," he said malevolently. "We have a little rebel in our midst. I'll have to fix that. Bring her to me!" All hands were reaching for Sakura. She screamed and tried to escape, but couldn't break through the blockade of pets. Soon, she was in front of the apple tree, awaiting to be force fed an apple. But Sloth did not take an apple off of the tree. He stared at Sakura, as if trying to decide what to do with her. Sakura returned his cold gaze and looked directly into his heartless eyes. For a moment, she thought she saw a flicker of humanity, of hope, of happiness, of love - but it quickly vanished and he glared daggers at the poor Usul. She dropped her gaze to his feet. He grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and pulled her up to his eye level. She gulped.

      "How," he said calmly but in a tone that made Sakura shudder, "How could a skinny, plain Usul like you ever defy a magnificent scientist like me? Everyone else in this whole blasted place was unable to control themselves around them. Every blasted Neopian in Neopia Central was unable to resist the tempting scent of the apples, and every one of them ate one, and every one of them is now under my control - everyone but you, little Usul. Can you explain this to me, perhaps? I must know before I enslave your mind."

      Sakura gulped, but answered readily. "I just wasn't hungry, that's all." Sloth laughed loudly, a deep, bellowing sound that echoed off of the deserted streets. Sakura noticed for the first time that no one was entering Neopia Central. His laugh made her shudder. He had to have something to do with that as well. Why else would no one be entering Neopia Central, one of the busiest places in all of Neopia, all of the sudden?

      Sloth stopped laughing and his malicious grin faded. "It must be more than that. You would not have resisted my apples if you had just not been hungry. You posses some sort of force-field - I can sense it now. But how?" He seemed to be talking to himself now. "I tested it on every species of pet, designed it to resist any barrier, any magical force-field -"

      "Perhaps the problem is not you, Sloth," came a benevolent voice from seemingly out of thin air. "Perhaps, there is no problem." Sloth looked around wildly.

      "You," he gasped suddenly. "I thought I took care of you back at space station!" Sakura looked around for the source of the voice, but found nothing. Sloth looked at her, then grabbed her by the neck with both of his hands and began to throttle her. Sakura gasped for breath. " must die. I cannot risk another set back." Just when Sakura thought she had breathed her last breath, a bright light appeared and blinded Sloth. In his confusion, he dropped Sakura. She stood quickly and ran into the crowd of gawking Neopians to look for Darin. She found him. He stood there, staring off into space, drooling and with a blank expression on his face. Sakura grabbed him and ran, ran until she could run no more. She knew she had been running for at least half of an hour by the time she collapsed. That had to be far away enough - for the time being, at least.


      Sakura awoke in a beautiful glade, with flowers everywhere and a sparkling stream beside her. She looked around for Darin, but couldn't find him anywhere. She tried to stand, but couldn't. Her legs felt like jelly. She looked down at her legs to make sure that they really weren't jelly. They weren't.

      Sakura looked around and saw many fruit trees. Peach, purplum, cherry - "Hey Cherry Tree, lighten up!" The words echoed in her head for what seemed like hours, but really must have been only a few minutes. Sakura wondered if she would ever see her friend again.

      "Oh good, you're awake." Sakura looked around in surprise. Standing before her was her hero, the faerie she had idolized since she was old enough to think and realize what she was thinking. Illusen smiled warmly and helped the Usul to her feet. She was wobbly at first - whether it was from actually meeting Illusen or from the jelly-leg feeling she had experienced earlier, she did not know. "You are really something, Sakura." Illusen said kindly. "Not everyone comes face to face with Dr. Sloth and walks away alive - or at least exactly as you were before. But defied him - something no one without some kind of magic has dared try."

      Sakura stared in amazement at Illusen as she told her what had happened. "You collapsed right here. I found you lying by the stream, and a Kacheek was standing next to you. Was he your friend?"

      Sakura nodded slowly. "Do you know where he is?" Illusen's smile faded immediately and she shook her head sadly.

      "I am sorry, Sakura, but....he belongs to Sloth now, and he always will. Well, in a sense. You won't like what I am about to tell you, but sometimes you have to except your fate and move on with life." Sakura gulped but nodded.

           "The Space Faerie has detained Sloth, so he won't be bothering anyone for a long time. But as for all of the apple victims - the only way to save them, Sakura, is to erase their memories. They will have new lives, new names, new homes, and no one will remember this little episode. You are the only living being in Neopia besides the Faeries that know what happened, but that is about to change. When you wake up, you will no longer be Sakura the Usul. You will not remember anything about your life, and you will not live with your family anymore. But this way, n one is in danger if Sloth does come back, because you will all have new identities and your memories of today will be gone."

      "But....must you really erase our memories? Is it really necessary?" Sakura asked anxiously. Illusen nodded sadly. " did you know my name?"

      "Every Faerie in and outside Neopia has heard your name by now." Illusen smiled sadly. "I'm sure you're wondering where your friend is," she said quietly. Sakura nodded. "They have already changed his identity - Fyora has, that is." Sakura sighed and looked Illusen directly in the eyes.

      "Will I remember him at all?" she asked nervously. Illusen's eyes told her the answer. "Will you tell me exactly how on earth I resisted Sloth's apples? I don't even know."

      "You are gifted, Sakura. It is a shame you will never live up to that potential. But maybe, just maybe, you can in your new life." Illusen said with a frown.

      "What do you mean by that?" Sakura cried. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do, or why. Can't you just tell me?"

      Illusen drew a potion from her pocket, popped off the lid, and stuffed it in Sakura's mouth, forcing her to drink. Just before she slipped into unconsciousness, she heard Illusen say softly, "I'll try to give you some of your memory back. Goodbye, Sakura. It was nice to meet you."

      Sakura reflected upon these words in her dreams. "Goodbye, Sakura. It was nice to meet you." "Hey Cherry Tree, lighten up!" "Every blasted Neopian in Neopia Central was unable to resist the tempting scent of the apples, and every one of them ate one, and every one of them is now under my control - except for you, little Usul. Can you explain this to me?" "You are gifted, Sakura." Sakura......Who was Sakura?


      Marina stood on the beach, trying to remember where she had heard those voices before. She had the dream quiet often, but could never place her finger on it. The Cybunny pondered this while the sunset reflected off of the water, illuminating her face. Anyone watching could have swore that they saw a flicker of an Usul in the Cybunny's face.

      This Sakura....she had to be someone special if she dreamt of her so often. Marina sat down in the warm sand and let the cool ocean spray splash across her face. The waves tickled her feet.

      "Cherry tree, cherry tree, cherry blossoms everywhere....." Marina looked up to find the source of the disturbance. A yellow Shoyru stood on the beach, singing softly and sweetly. Yellow... Marina waited until he finished his song, and then stood and walked over to him.

      "I'm Davin," he said shyly. "What is your name?" Marina stared at the Shoyru for a moment, and then she understood something.

      "Cherry tree, cherry tree, cherry blossoms everywhere...." Marina sang with a grin. Davin grinned as well.

      "If you want, you can call me Darin," he said. "And you are?"

      "Just call me Sakura."

      Darin grabbed the Cybunny's hand. "I believe we've met before."


      In Meridell, Illusen smiled. If the Faerie Council knew what she had done, she would be in deep trouble. But at the time, she didn't care. She put a cloth over her orb and began singing softly, "Cherry tree, cherry tree......."

The End

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