The Loveliest Uni
There is a fold in the weaving of Faerieland. The broken city is brimming with lace-winged, dainty-faced neopets. They stream through the earthbound castle's skies and mingle like music with the clouds. They are beautiful. All of them, with their gentle flight and gossamer wings, mix in perfectly with the faeries.
All but one.
There is a Uni who trudges gracelessly through the lush pathways of Faerieland. Her coat is a pallid, lifeless shade of grey, her drooping eyes are clouded with sleepless sorrow. She has legs thin and spindly as a Spyder's, a mane knotted and wispy as a secret.
An ugly duckling without any chance of ever becoming a swan.
Dina, they call her, Dina without hope. Dina, only a slip of a Uni, a string of bones stitched together with tattered wings. Nobody notices her when she crosses through bustling streets, head bowed and gaze lingering on the glossy ground. She is not one of them, not at all a lovely Uni with sparkling hooves and starlit eyes.
No, she decides. She must be the Ugliest Uni to have ever swept this land of faeries.
Dina the ugly, Dina alone, she moves slowly towards a bend of rivers, facing her own reflection.
“Ugly,” she spits at the long, grey face. She tries to sweep away those wide, moon-crystal eyes with the touch of a hoof. Instead, she sets of a string of ripples, only marring her reflection's features for a handful of moments.
Dina is fuming to herself when her ears catch soft chimes of laughter. She bristles at the sound, eyes darting upwards; across from her, on the other side of the sparkling river-bank is a group of Uni-girls, about her age. They are all painted a light, flowery blue, with pastel, pink wings. They chortle haughtily, prattling about the lone Uni who could not stand her own reflection.
Riddled with anger, she storms away, hooves clicking in the grass-beds. With her lips are pulled back in a snarl, nostrils flared, she reckons that she must look absolutely dreadful---
I wish I was beautiful, she murmurs to herself. I wish I was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful---
“Help,” comes a voice, low and choked. She assumes it is one of the Unis, having fallen into the river. “Help m--” The words are lost to the sea.
Dina finds herself rooted in place. It seems like years before she finally turns, and the cluster of faerie Unis are gone.
“They were never there.” You imagined them up, all on your own.
She almost screams, but manages to silence herself in time. Rising from the once calm waters is a faerie with blonde, liquid curls and a bright, turquoise gaze. Beautiful with her shimmering scales, the Water Faerie smiles and it is like smoldering song.
“I am Naya,” she says delicately, tail twirling beneath the river's thin skin. “And I have granted your wish. You are beautiful.”
She swims a few strokes away in demonstration, allowing Dina to peer back into the clear waters.
Dina almost sticks out her tongue in distaste. “I look the same.” she begins, and when she turns back to voice this complaint to the faerie, Naya is gone.
“What a waste of a wish.” Dina groans, gaze lingering on the ground below. “I'm exactly as I was. I am not beautiful at all.”
She continues to grumble to herself, marking the pathways with her distinct steps. “Everybody thinks I'm ugly. The Ugliest Uni---”
A tree-branch puckers from a bed of leaves; Dina half-shrieks as she trips over the offending root, landing in a pile of pale flowers and weeds.
For a while, she remains still, exhausted and unmoving.
And then, “You plan on getting up anytime soon?”
Yet another scream passes from her greying lips. It seems like years before she finally musters enough courage to unscrew one beady eye. Her face is flushed when she finds herself mere inches away from another pair of eyes, only they are the color of streaming sunlight breathtaking and bright. She blinks away the shock, and before her is a Kougra, with trim, moon-white fur and a gentle smile.
He is not a faerie, and yet, he still is far more lovely than she.
She feels utterly horrendous in his presence, and shrinks away self-consciously. “I-I'm sorry.”
He laughs, and it is beautiful. “What're you apologizing for? I was just kidding around...”
It takes a few moments to register that he wants her name. Surprised, she breathes, “Dina...”
“Well, nice to meet you, Dina. I'm Taro.” He beams. “So, what's a pretty Uni like you doing out here all by yourself? It's real dangerous--”
But all she hears is the word 'pretty'. He thinks I'm pretty. She cannot shake it from her mind, and decides he must either be insane or blind. “Uh, just out for a walk...”
“A walk,” he repeats, amused. “Well, you should be more careful. The buildings around here aren't so stable since the whole... falling out of the sky business.”
She smiles at that, and it doesn't go unnoticed by Taro. “Made ya laugh!” he grins.
Dina giggles, and realizes she hasn't done so in a long, long time. “So what brings you to Faerieland, Taro?”
“Ah, you caught me. I'm no native faerie-boy.” She giggles again. “I came up here all the way from Terror Mountain to help rebuild.”
“Terror Mountain...” she murmurs. That explains the white fur, she thinks to herself, before it clicks. “That's so far!”
“Pay's pretty good in your neck of the woods. And plus, I've never seen faeries before in my life. This was really something.”
Her eyes go glossy for a short while, and once they clear, Dina realizes she is walking. No, they are walking, towards the city. Where all the beautiful faeries dapple in sunshine, and she, the ugly Uni, can only watch and wish.
Taro notices the look in her eyes. “Dina?”
She fumbles for the words. “I-I think I'm going to go back into the forest for a while. Those trees can get pretty lonely... aha...”
Dina is ready to bolt but Taro is much quicker; he darts in front of her. “What are you afraid of?” he asks calmly. His golden eyes seem to bore through her, and she feels so, so small.
“I can't go there,” is all she says, before she takes a step.
Taro doesn't budge. “Why not?” he pauses. “Do you not want to help rebuild? S'all good, Dina, it's not your job anyway--”
Taro's face softens, but he remains still. “Dina... what?”
“I'm ugly,” she repeats, more slowly, voice labored. “I don't fit in there. With all those pretty faeries. They're 'something', like you said. I'm... I'm not.”
He gives her a sad, sad look. She wonders if it's pity. “Dina, who in Neopia ever told you that?”
The faerie Unis... in my mind. But she decides that it sounded crazy even to herself, so she settles for a weak, “I just know...”
The pair of neopets come to a halt, right in the center of Faerie City. Pets are scrambling through the streets, faeries are gliding through the air. And for the first time, Dina realizes, nobody is pointing, nobody is staring. A faerie Uni prances by, and gives her a sweet smile.
Taro's voice interrupts her thoughts. “What is it you just said?” He grins, and slowly but surely, a smile spreads onto her features. “You seem to fit in just fine, Dina.”
Beautiful as any pet in Faerieland.
She turns for a moment, taking in her surroundings, before turning back to Taro. “Thank y--”
But he is gone.
Gone like wind, gone like the floating castle in the sky. Whisked away, a tumbling wish--
I have granted your wish, sings the sweet, morning breeze. You are beautiful.
And Dina decides that she might not be so ugly, after all.