Master of Ceremonies: Part Four
If there was anyone in the world who could cheer her up, it was herself. Well, seeing herself, that is, for this vain Acara.
Vira Claymore was storming off in search of her favorite retreat, the Demonica River. It was perhaps the only place in the Haunted Woods where Vira could be left alone to brood over her reflection. But in order to reach the river from where she was, she had to pass through a familiar field of flowers.
This marvelous, spacious field was her personal sanctuary, secretly hidden amongst the haunting forests that dominated this region. The Demonica River, in which she and her sisters used to play in farther downstream, passed through this clearing and was what gave these flowers life. Even though the surrounding Haunted Woods refused to rejoice in beauty and prosperity, the flowers in this field weren’t afraid to let their beauty shine.
"No one is willing to put their confidence in me," she murmured as she brushed her paws through the foliage. "I’m like the only one who sees how important my beauty really is."
Vira plucked one noticeable Star of Paradise Flower and brought it with her to the river’s edge, where she fell to her knees and drooped.
"This is so unfair. I can’t seem to please anyone," she said as she rubbed its petals between her paw’s fingers.
"Dad thinks that I don’t work hard enough, which is totally stupid. I’ve been working for his company for as long as I can remember. And he keeps pressuring me to take care of Lucy and Ylana, too. Aren’t they old enough to take care of themselves? I’m not Mom."
She shook her head wishing that her family situation would simply mend itself to her liking.
"He keeps pushing me to be someone that I’m not. Why can’t he just let me be me?"
Nothing in her life seemed to ever work out the way she wanted. Her trip to the fairground today had initially given her so much hope. She had finally been able to acquaint herself with fellow models instead of being stuck once again with her father and other Neopoint-pinching businesspets at a meeting. She had also met a charming Moehog today and enjoyed wandering the fairgrounds with him.
But the day’s wondrous events had been overshadowed by doubts and fears. Would her lack of fame prevent her beauty from winning first place in the beauty contest? Did Judge find her beauty inferior? What would her father say to her when she returned after running away for so long?
Vira took a deep breath and realized that it was too late to turn back now.
"It all comes down to the beauty contest. If I win this, I’ll be able to make sure that everything else works out, too," she said, resting the Star of Paradise Flower on the grass beside her.
One by one, Vira removed the withering flowers that had long been braided in her hair, thus letting her hair sway freely in the unsettling wind. She tossed each flower into the river in turn. When she was done, she picked up the brilliant-blue Star of Paradise Flower again.
"I’m a flower, and I’m meant to be beautiful. Why can’t everyone just love me for that?"
She tossed the flower into the river and watched it float downstream with the others.
"I wish I were the most beautiful of them all," she sighed longingly, now gazing down at her reflection. "That would solve everything."
She couldn’t help but chuckle, taken in by her own appearance. "Why doesn’t anyone else see it? You are so pretty!"
Vira looked straight into her reflection’s eyes as though she were complimenting someone else.
But for a brief moment, the eyes that she stared into didn’t seem happy to receive that compliment. They seemed… sad? She couldn’t understand why.
"You are pretty," she heard her voice say again.
Vira suddenly tensed up in shock, for she had not said those last words… at all!
But she must have said it. She had just seen her own lips mouth those words, had she not?
She gaped at her reflection.
"Only I can make you beautiful," the reflection said with a smile.
In the blink of an eye, the shimmering image in the water lurched right at Vira’s face!
"Whoa!" Vira screamed as she fell backward, throwing her arms back to grasp the ground behind her and catch her weight. Her heart lurched in a panic. She crawled backward, but nothing came up out of the water to chase her.
"What’s going on? Who did that?" She looked behind her, first to the right and then to the left, but she saw no one on the crests of the hills around her.
Cautiously, she crawled back to look at the water.
As she peeked over the edge, she noticed that her reflection was already there… waiting for her!
What was going on?
Vira dared not speak a word.
"Do you want to be beautiful?" it asked politely.
Vira slowly pushed the words through her mouth without leaning too far out over the water. "Tell me who… you are, first."
"I’m you. Isn’t that obvious?" the reflection said. "I’ve been with you your whole life, and it looks like now’s a good time to help you out."
Vira was stunned; her mouth gaped, and she continually shook her head in disbelief. "What? Are you serious?"
"Yes, I am. Reflections have lives, too, you know. And I can give you some of my beauty if you need it."
After a moment of bewilderment, Vira stammered, "Um… okay. That sounds good. But how are you going to help me? You’re not even real. You’re just a… thing."
"Thanks, Vira. That makes me feel so special." The Vira in the water narrowed its eyes in disappointment. "Look, do you want to win the beauty contest or not?"
"I’m sorry. This is just too much to handle." Vira looked up at the darkening sky, wondering what spell she was under. "My own reflection is talking to me. This is impossible."
She wanted to convince herself that she was under a spell, but she didn’t feel like she was in a trance or under any influence of magic. What she had seen and heard had indeed happened.
The Neopet she had always talked to in the mirror, thinking that it was herself, was possibly a sentient, responsive being!
Vira looked back down. "Wait, but we’re identical! How would you help me win a beauty contest if we’re the same?"
The reflection pursed its lips empathetically. "Here’s the situation. We’re both like a ‘seven’ on the beauty scale, right?"
"Hey. More like a nine and a half," Vira responded defensively.
"If I lend you these beauty points, though, you’ll break the scale at a drop-dead gorgeous ‘twelve.’ I’ll be left a mere ‘two,’ but we can change back to normal later if you need to. Sound good?"
"Yeah, that sounds like… a really good plan," Vira replied nodding. "But how can you just ‘lend’ me your beauty? You’re not even real. You’re a… reflection. Is this going to work? Is it going to hurt?"
The reflection signaled Vira to calm down. "Vira, just grab my paw, and I’ll give you what you need."
Vira leaned backward, still spooked by her animated reflection. "This… is… insane," she said as she pressed her paws to her temples. "What am I going to do?"
She immediately thought about the beauty contest that was still going on in her absence. She didn’t have much more time before it was her turn to go on stage, and the added pressure of a magical reflection made her all the more overwhelmed.
But it was offering her some help, and there would be little chance of her winning the beauty contest without the upper hand.
If she went onstage tonight and didn’t take the gold, her father would find out and never let her hear the end of it. He would tell her that he was right all along—that she was meant to give up on her dreams and become the next CEO instead. On top of that, Vira would never become Neopia’s top model, never win Judge’s heart, and never have confidence in herself ever again!
"Who am I kidding? This being is me I’m talking to—the only one that I can seem to trust in this world! And today’s my only chance," she breathed out confidently. She leaned forward over the water again and met eyes with her reflection. "Okay, I’ll do it."
"I knew you would," it smiled. "Give me your paw."
Vira slowly reached her right paw out toward the water, and the reflection mimicked her... with its own right arm. It appeared as though her reflection was actually someone else reaching up from beneath the surface.
Ignoring her own trembling arms, Vira dipped the tips of her paw into the river. The claws that she pressed into the water suddenly emerged from the water, just to the left of her own. As she pressed her paw in deeper, her reflection’s paw emerged even more.
Her reflection was becoming whatever Vira was putting in!
Suddenly the reflection locked paws with her and tightened up its grip uncomfortably. Even though Vira was biting her lip fearfully, her reflection was smiling.
"This might hurt," it said.
Her paw suddenly warmed up, and she felt a magical energy entering into her blood. The transformation instantly began reshaping her body!
As Vira transformed for the better, she watched the Acara in the river also begin to change. It lost its charming beauty and became an ordinary Acara—but its transformation did not stop there.
The reflection’s arms began shrinking and withering excessively, and so did its core, appearing as though it had been starved for a long time.
"Don’t hurt yourself!" Vira shouted, worrying about her reflection’s deteriorating appearance.
Its face also began melting away, the eyes swelling and becoming red as though heavily smoked by fire. Its horns stiffened up and crusted over as if smitten with disease. Threatening wings emerged. What used to be perhaps the most beautiful Neopet in the world was now an impish cretin.
"Alright, that’s enough!" Vira cried out in fear of the ghastly image in the river.
She tried letting go, but she couldn’t escape its grasp. The menacing imp held her so tightly that Vira lost her ground and fell forward screaming. Headfirst, she slipped into the icy river; water shoved into her mouth and nose. Her dress pressed heavily against her body. Vira was completely disoriented.
The threat of being attacked by the imp scared her immensely, but she couldn’t open her eyes to see if the hideous creature was there in the water with her. She moved her arms around in a blind, slow-motion frenzy.
Vira tried to orient herself and put her head back above the water, but something was holding her down.
She had been pulled in so abruptly that she had hardly enough air in her lungs. Death was imminent. Whatever hideous creature her reflection had become, it was trying to drown her in the depths of the Demonica River where no one would ever find her remains…
To be continued…