Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 178,575,454 Issue: 435 | 19th day of Running, Y12
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series
 

The Friend


by antiaircraft_3

--------

While the following may appear to be a fictional account, it is actually a prophetic text concerning the apprehension of one of Neopia's least expected criminals. It was penned by the most detailed, unambiguous and above all, accurate of Shenkuu's Great Sages, the Eyrie Four Left Feet, shortly before the Emperor had him imprisoned for foretelling his downfall. This is the only manuscript that the Emperor – whether by mistake or design may never be known – did not torch; in the foreword the Sage himself confesses to his sole vice, that he records all his prophecies in prose form.

     Now read, and read well:

***

     There's only one way to get your beauty back.

     “No,” was all she could say. “No!”

     The vanity mirror – previously so aptly named – now showed the Gelert in all her hideousness. Her stunted ears, once long and flowing, now curved stiffly back towards her head; her bulging, reddened eyes took in her pale green fur, her flattened snout, her yellowed fangs.

     The small, black-framed hand mirror, clutched in a shaggy paw... spoke again.

     There's only one way to get your beauty back. All you have to do is break me.

     And she almost did, again, raising it high above her head, but again, by some trick of the light, some twist of her arm, she glimpsed again her own reflection in it; silver eyed and silky-maned, so beautiful it could break your heart.

     She couldn't. She just couldn't destroy that.

     Heh, heh, heh. The mirror snickered. You really can't, can you? Look at yourself. Mutants have been prettier. And you're still vain, so vain you can't bring yourself to break a mirror. What's seven years' bad luck to you now?

     “No,” she said again, but her voice was choked with sobs.

     Ugly! Ugly! Ugly! it mocked. You didn't deserve your beauty. You can stay like this forever!

     “What? I can't!” she cried, but the mirror had begun to fade into nothingness.

     Let's see how long you last, ugly. Heh, heh, heh...

     As it vanished, there was a loud knocking at the door. “Are you all right, sweetheart?” her father asked from outside.

     “Don't come in!” she shrieked, panicking.

     Spurred on by paternal instinct, her father flung open the door – but there was only the open window, the rain gusting in, and the clumsy footsteps of his child, running away.

***

     The mirror reappeared in the taloned hand of what might once have been an Acara; its surface went black, and then showed the Gelert stumbling through the night.

     The creature, most commonly identified as Vira, hissed in delight. “She snapped already? Excellent. Time to spirit her away.”

     The image on the mirror faded, showing the creature's true reflection to herself. She admired it for a few seconds, then turned the mirror away. There would be trouble if anyone saw that.

     Flapping her leathery, ungainly wings, she set off to intercept her quarry. Soon she would have another soul...

    ***

      She caught up twenty minutes later, landing on the path in front of her target, the image of a night terror. The darkness, the glorious darkness! Here she enjoyed herself the most.

     “You're in such an awful hurry, pretty,” she purred. “Run away already, have you?”

     The Gelert backed away in fright. “You!” Even without considering her appearance, she was in a sorry state. Her fur was matted and muddy, her dress was sodden, and she had bruises and scratches where she had tripped over its length. Her own father, who was currently calling the Defenders of Neopia, certainly wouldn't have recognised her.

     “Don't be afraid, my dear. Didn't you like my gift?” She held up the mirror, silent and sinister. “Now you know. Now you know how I have felt these long years. And now, I'm afraid, you will have to give something back.”

     But before she could even begin the spell, a thin white streak burst out of the misty rain and shattered the glass. The enchantment on the mirror faded; the complicated symbols chalked on the back glowed momentarily, then darkened.

     “Vanity and jealousy together are worse than the sum of their parts,” intoned a female voice. Its owner was a Xweetok with creamy white fur, whose faintly glowing whip receded back into its handle. Normally she might well have been a target, but the mirror was broken. How had she done that? And there was something about the way she smiled...

     “There's only one way to get your beauty back,” mimicked the Xweetok. “Actually, there are two. You can break the mirror yourself, or a skilled enough mage can do it for you.”

     Her seemingly relaxed posture irked her enemy. “I can still fight, you know,” she muttered, placing her clawtips together; they chimed like tiny bells when they met.

     The Xweetok's paw, the one holding the whip handle, curved upwards in a throwing motion. At the same time, she traced a spiral in the air with a claw. The whip lashed out and wrapped, painfully tight, around a scaled wing. “Drain,” commanded the Xweetok, and a terrible lethargy overcame her foe, dragging her to her knees.

     “This can't be,” managed the Mirror-wielder, as the magic drained from her like water from a sieve. "You aren't allowed to use that! There are rules!"

     "You're one to talk," the stranger replied coldly, her smile vanishing like a candle hit by an ocean. "You, a force for good! You broke them. You broke them all. How dare you. How dare you, Vira. Oh, but that's only a name you hide behind. Right, Lost One?"

     The one so addressed realised her illusion had melted like heated wax. It was impossible to mistake the form underneath for anything other than what it was. The wing restrained by the whip was now golden, translucent, like a butterfly's. Its owner now had brilliant blonde hair, and pale unfurred skin. Though her appearance was marred by a face so contorted with hate it was uglier than that of the former Gelert who was watching her in terror, she was indubitably, undeniably, irrevocably, a faerie of the light; even her dress shone like the midday sun, and her light was brighter and more wondrous now than it ever would be in the day – it almost hurt to look.

     "Yes," she snarled. "I am Zerie the Lost, most beautiful among faeries." Her gaze pierced her captor, but found nothing. "You. How did you know?"

     The Xweetok shrugged. "There's only one type of magic which can work through mirrors." She glanced pointedly at the empty frame discarded on the ground; among the swirl of faerie markings, the sun symbol at the centre was clearly visible. "Vira's mysterious transformation occurred so soon after the disappearance of a faerie that they were reported in the same issue of the Hourly Glider. Most reliable sightings of Vira mentioned odd distortions and glows around her, the mark of all but the best of light illusions. Not hard to follow, if you're observant enough, though the very thought of a light faerie turning traitor was preposterous enough for the merely observant to reject without any sort of consideration." She cocked her head. "Enough of that, though. When I turn you in, there will be proof of what you've done. First of all, take me to your soul cavern."

     Zerie didn't move. There was no way she was going to do anything for this smug, repulsive, arrogant little–

     The Xweetok twitched her whip. A flash of light zipped from the handle to the tip. The draining began again, now siphoning away something the faerie hadn't even known she had. Her expression changed to shock as she realised what was happening: her drooping wings, her dimming light. No pain. No tiredness. Just an awareness of the abyss, and how close she was to it, as the whip glowed bright and happy with magic, her magic.

     "Not that!" she gasped. "I can't be grey!"

     Mercifully, the draining stopped.

     "Take me there," the Xweetok repeated.

     "Wait!" the Gelert cried, finally finding the strength to speak. "What's going to happen to me? The mirror's broken, but nothing's changed. The curse is still there!" Her voice rose high and shrill. It was true; she hadn't changed. She still had the same mottled fur and twisted features.

     "The magic upon you is no curse," the Xweetok responded, not turning around. "It will take time to wear off. By the end of the week you should be back to normal, though you'll have to find your own explanation for your absence. Now," she said to the miserable faerie, "continue."

     But something seemed to have snapped for Zerie. "I can't be grey," she said again. "Not grey, not grey, not grey!" Louder and louder, "Not grey, not me! Not grey!" She stabbed a shaky finger at the cowering Gelert. "Make her grey! Then I'll be the beautiful one, the only one, the most beautiful of all!" She stood, slowly, rage coursing through her. "I'll bathe in the life-blood of a thousand! They'll give their beauty and their souls to me!" Her voice by now was a hissing shriek, a monstrous parody of its former melodic self. "A thousand mirrors! A thousand souls! All for me, me, me! There is no other!" Her speech finished in its entirety, she dropped to her knees again. "That's why," she mumbled. "I can't be grey. I gave everything for this. It's all about me."

     "Really," said the Xweetok cheerfully. "Well, frankly, I don't give a Mootix. But once you go back to Faerieland, it is going to be all about you. Queen Fyora will want to hear all about the madness of the traitor."

     "Fyora!" the faerie screeched, as if the name hurt her ears. "I'll show you. I'll be greater than you. No-one will remember you. No-one will care about you. Only me, Queen Zerie!" She laughed then, a laugh that would have put any dark faerie to shame. There wasn't a shred of sanity or reason in it.

     The Xweetok cut that laugh short. Establishing direct eye contact, she intoned, "Take Me To Your Soul Cavern, Zerie the Lost Faerie."

     To the Gelert, her voice sounded firm, commanding. To Zerie, it was much more: sweet and soothing, demanding and terrible, a voice of power and magic and the foundation of all things good and right in this and other worlds. It seemed to her that the Xweetok's shadow-black eyes flashed red, but then, mind-traps were only real in the target's mind. That, however, made them realer to that person than anything on the outside could ever be. Zerie's hands moved almost of their own accord, weaving glowing symbols into a recognisable form.

     The spell took the form of a mirror, a square full-length reflective surface. The faerie stepped through without any visible resistance, but the whip, naturally detrimental to all forms of magic, pushed for a moment against an elastic barrier before the latter gave way. The Xweetok followed, and then the Gelert was left alone in the rain. After a long moment confirming to herself that it hadn't been a dream, she turned and plodded home, where a long explanation – and hopefully a warm bed – awaited.

     ***

     Answering to a mental incantation, the Xweetok's short robes shone white in the smothering gloom. Here was a cave, a pocket dimension, stony, huge and lightless, a testament to Zerie's dream – that she should be the only light, the only beauty, in a world of darkness. Now there were two lights here, one bound by the other, and the hate in Zerie's glare was multiplied a thousandfold. That her hiding place, her haven, should be desecrated so, stirred up within her fires that boiled away everything else. If she were to lose her dream, then let this wretch lose her freedom as well! How dare the little Snorkle think herself as beautiful. Did she not understand what the world would lose when it lost Zerie? She could have been perfect!

     In her silent rant she hardly noticed when the long, winding path ended. Her light clearly illuminated the opposite wall, revealing a long line of chained pets. Some shouted angrily when they saw her, or made snide remarks. Those words cut now, though she had barely heard them before. Others muttered hoarsely, or shifted in uncomfortable slumber, and some – the ones who had been here longest – didn't move at all. They were all a terrible sight to see, not shockingly so, but a far cry from what they used to be. Females weren't the only vain ones; there was an equal number of both genders.

     Now! Now, in the deepest part of her lair, she would bring her revenge upon the interferer. She turned, a vicious sneer already forming on her lips–

     –to see the blur of the Xweetok's accelerating foot, a flash of pain, and then darkness.

    ***

      After conjuring a rope from the ring on her paw and binding the unconscious faerie, the Xweetok approached the trapped pets, whose voices rose in a chorus of hope. Her eyes, however, were focused on one in particular, who was once an Acara. She was unmoving, the only one who hadn't looked up. Like the rest, she was smeared with dirt and suspended in a painful half-standing position by her arms. Her only response to her saviour's approach was a low moan at the light she hadn't seen for so long.

     The Xweetok lifted her head for her; her golden, half-open eyes were red-rimmed, the fur around them matted and crusted from many years' worth of tears. But they looked into a beaming, familiar face.

     "It's me, Vira," the Xweetok said. "I've come to take you home. You remember me, don't you?"

     Vira did. With new tears spilling from eyes long dry, she remembered.

     The young Acara, beautiful as the sunny day itself, laughs and plays in the field, her hair streaming out behind her. Occasionally she picks a flower which catches her eye and adds it to the few she has clutched in her hand; a chain in the making.

     A tall shadow falls over her, and she looks up into the face of a white Xweetok, her best friend after her siblings. The Xweetok looks stern for a moment, but then she grins, her blue eyes twinkling. "And aren't you the most beautiful pet in all of Neopia?"

     And the Acara smiles her sunbeam smile and says, "Yeah, I am!" Then she is distracted and runs off again. The Xweetok thinks of following her, but decides against it. Even this short visit is costing her time, time that only she knows the true value of. She shouldn't have come. There is work to do.

     When the little Acara looks over her shoulder, her friend has vanished. She is more and more busy these days.

     The bubble of memory burst – the whip cut through her manacles as if made of pure Maractite. Her arms dropped to her sides; it had been such a long time since she moved them, even the pain was a relief.

     The whip cracked along the line of pets, freeing them. Those who could walked towards the exit, only to stumble as awkward, unused feet tripped on unseen stones.

     Laying Vira carefully down, the Xweetok conjured a two-way mirror from her ring. Tapping the surface, she uttered a message in fluid faerietongue – something even the faeries only used on serious occasions. Only the highest-ranked faeries ever bothered to learn it. She received an immediate reply from the head of the Queen's Guard herself, and directly after the connection closed three armoured faeries appeared, one securing the unconscious Zerie while another, lighting the cave, led or levitated the rescued pets into a portal. The third, sending out a recalling spell, quickly gathered the mirrors from their positions all over the cave and destroyed them in a blazing white bonfire. There was no smoke.

     There would be questions later, and the press to avoid. People would claim against all the evidence that Zerie was somehow a victim, not the perpetrator. Others would find the broken two-way mirror she had been reaching for, and wonder who it might have contacted. The Healing Springs Faerie would have a fit over the new arrivals – for Faerieland, of course, was where the portal led; opening a portal anywhere else would amount to trespass, or even an act of war – and somehow, somehow, the Xweetok would have to escape Fyora's all-seeing gaze when it was all over. Again. She hadn't even managed to take the magic stored in Zerie's enchanted mirrors...

     But this was the here and now, and it was more wondrous than ever.

    ***

      The young Acara, beautiful as the sunny day itself, laughs and plays in the field, her hair streaming out behind her. Occasionally she picks a flower which catches her eye and adds it to the few she has clutched in her hand; a chain in the making.

     A shadow falls over her, and she looks around into the face of a white Xweetok, her best friend after her wonderful siblings. The Xweetok looks stern for a moment, but then she grins, her dark eyes glittering. "And aren't you the most beautiful pet in all of Neopia?"

     And the Acara smiles her sunbeam smile and says, "No, I'm not." Then she looks up with her golden eyes into the sky above, and adds, "But I'm pretty close, aren't I?"

     The Xweetok laughs then, and her laughter twines with the Acara's, rising into the sky: true laughter, happy laughter, the sound of hope and beauty, a glimpse of perfection.

     Then the Acara is distracted and runs off again. Some things never change. The Xweetok thinks of leaving. Even this short visit is costing her time, time that only she knows the true value of. She shouldn't have come. There is work to do.

     When the Acara looks over her shoulder, there is her best friend, running towards her. The sound of their laughter goes on, long into the night. What better use for time than to be happy in? the Xweetok thinks.

     She should enjoy this lifetime, not waste it like the last one.

The End

Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed it - there's more to come, if it got in...

 
Search the Neopian Times




Great stories!


---------

Potato Quest: Fun Versus Formal
"Hey, you don't have to tell me that twice, dude! One round of fun, coming up!"

by garfield22222

---------

Friends Forever: Part One
The Draik chasing her screamed, "Halt, in the name of Lord Kass of the Kass Citadel!"

by crazymomskid1

---------

Test Subject
The Petpet Lab Ray makes some strange changes...

by suzhuu

---------

Shell Shocked
No Neopets were harmed during the creation of this comic...

by 0turtle



Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.