"So... You've Dyed Your Hair..."
The dappled light of the spring sunshine filtered through the burgeoning canopy and down onto the warm earth underpaw. Blade tips of new grasses were interspersed by the first blooms of flowers that dared to poke their heads above the figurative parapets. Meridell had endured a long, cold winter but with bird song filling the air it was clear that the new season brought with it better times ahead. Joining the earliest daisy to welcome this new start was a bumper crop of all manner of different types of clover. They had a habit of popping up just in time for Illusen Day.
It was this auspicious occasion that had led a certain dark blue Lupe to wander the well-trodden path through the Lightwater Forest to the Glade home of his old friend. With the sun high in the sky and the whole kingdom gathering at his King's castle for a wondrous celebration, Sir Jeran had decided to forgo the usual ceremony and headed out on paw to collect the guest of honour himself. Naturally, the warrior was wearing his armour and sword just in case any thief dare ambush the Champion of the Kingdom but he felt secure enough in the peace he had helped establish all those years ago to wander the woodland alone.
As the trees began to thin on his journey, Jeran could slowly begin to feel a tranquility descend until finally he reached his intended destination. The village of treehouses that had sprung up around the dwelling of Illusen the Earth Faerie were peacefully quiet, their inhabitants having already headed off to Meridell Castle for the annual festivities. With only the brunette left, the dark blue Lupe felt comfortable to call out to her rather than clamber up the wooden ladder that led to her abode. In a clunky, less than manoeuvrable suit of armour. "My Lady Illusen!" the knight shouted with his usual reverence, "It is I, Sir Jeran. I have come to accompany you to the festival at Meridell Castle!"
At first, there was silence. Which caused the dark blue Lupe's eyes to narrow. His friend wasn't exactly known for being reserved of nature. Then, came a clattering noise from within the wooden structure. Grasping the hilt of his sword, the knight's heart skipped a beat. Jeran needn't have worried. Soon after came a hurried reply, "Sorry about that! I'll be down in a second!" Closing his eyes and sighing deeply, he heard the door of the brunette's treehouse swing open. Opening them once again, he witnessed a figure slide down the ladder with impeccable ease. But it wasn't the figure he was expecting. Not noticing the suppressed look of surprise on her old friend's face, Illusen queried with aplomb, "What do you think?"
Jeran paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
"So," he responded, carefully, "...you've dyed your hair. ... It's... nice."
Her hair wasn't the only thing that Illusen had changed. Stood before the Champion of Meridell was a Faerie he struggled to recognise. The freckled nose that she chose to wrinkle before loosely crossing her arms seemed to be one of the few things that had stayed the same. As hinted by the knight, gone were the green highlights that accompanied her flowing chestnut locks - they had been replaced by golden streaks. Elsewhere too her leafy green dress had been supplanted by a golden gown with a furry white trim. Her ribboned jade shoes had been replaced by sandals more akin to something that came from Altador whilst her wings bore more resemblance to those of that Kingdom's Siyana. At least she still wore her belt. And a frown.
Doing his best not to sound too blunt, Jeran found himself mumbling, "...I did prefer the green..."
In an instant, Illusen narrowed her now-golden hued eyes. Clenching her hands into fists, she flung them down to her side in a fit of pique before declaring, "Well what does it have to do with you anyway!" Before the dark blue Lupe could respond to that admittedly fair-enough retort, he was blindsided. Literally. Flinging her arms downwards caused the Faerie's deep yellow wings to splay outwards. The dappled light that lit where the two stood quickly reflected off their now glistening surface before blinding the knight with a painful case of Lens Flare. Realising what she had done, the brunette gasped and her wings retreated upwards. Her hands now over her mouth, she blurted out, "Jeran! I'm so sorry!"
Rubbing his eyes with his paws, the warrior was magnanimous. "No, my Lady," he winced with a polite smile, "I probably deserved that. How you choose to live your life is, of course, your business." That just made Illusen feel worse. Noticing an old, fallen log not too far away, the Faerie took her still blinded friend by the arm and sat him down for his own safety. After a few moments had passed, Jeran blinked furiously and things were thankfully back to normal. Well, his eyes anyway. Deciding to put the diplomatic skills he had garnered after dealing with Lord Darigan on his King's behalf for all these years to good use, he queried, "Mind I ask, why you have decided on such a changed look for today?"
Illusen's eyes wandered. Looking at her toes which now protruded from her footwear, the Faerie flicked her braid of chestnut hair behind her pointed ear before responding in a hushed tone, "It's not a look." She wrinkled that freckled nose once again. It had seemed like such a good idea a week ago. It had seemed like such a good idea a day ago. But right now, the brunette was realising that she hadn't quite grasped the full ramifications of it all. She was an optimist. It wasn't that she didn't think deeply about negative consequences - she did. Sometimes at great length. It was just that she had a habit of throwing herself fully into her endeavours. Of not letting an opportunity pass. "I've changed. Element, that is.
I'm a Light Faerie now."
Jeran jumped to his paws from his log like a Nimmo, his eyes widened. "Wait... what?" For a split second he had reverted back to his days as a pup growing up in Neopia Central. Shaking his head sharply to snap himself back to the Olde Kingdom of Meridell, the knight expanded, "I mean, my Lady, is that even possible? Well, clearly it is but what I am struggling to grasp is how? You're an Earth Faerie or at least you were but still..." The dark blue Lupe's ramble kept going for a couple more minutes as his brain just about wrapped itself around the enormity of it all. There was a reason why he left the magic to his little sister Lisha and her best friend Kayla. It just wasn't his thing.
Eventually, the Light Faerie put an end to the warrior's escaped internal monologue by kindly interrupting. "I assure you, Sir Jeran, it is quite possible for a Faerie to morph their element." The eyes of the brunette had yet to leave the allure of the forest floor but she continued on, regardless. "It is just not something that is done lightly. Or easily." The knight frowned. "It requires a great deal of magic and just the right magical artifacts in order for it to become a permanent transformation. I recently acquired the correct items through my Quests." She paused. "Admittedly, it is not something that my Queen approves of but needs must..."
Needs must? Jeran adopted a serious expression. He wasn't sure if his old friend was referring to the recent surge in Wraith attacks that had plagued the world of Neopia as a whole or a more direct threat to the Kingdom which he protected that he had not been made aware of. In any case, it must be something. Illusen was not one to risk the ire of Fyora the Faerie Queen. She was skating on figuratively thin ice in Faerieland as it was. Her old enemy of Jhudora loved to sow rumours of how Illusen had manipulated the future of Meridell by her presence in the land - something that Fyora had forbade the formerly Earth Faerie from doing. And yet here they were, talking in a land that was supposed to have fallen by now. "Is there a threat you're not telling me of, my Lady?" he probed.
The Light Faerie looked up all of a sudden, embarrassed that she had misspoke. "No, no!" Illusen reassured him, waving her hands gently in front of her. "I was just speaking... generally..." she trailed off once again before taking a few steps away from the dark blue Lupe and turning her back. "...I love this Kingdom with all of my heart. From when the pets first welcomed me here with open arms to this very day, this "Illusen Day", they had made this place my home. With their warmth. Their kindness. This is the one place in all of Neopia where I truly feel I belong." Jeran smiled to himself. He knew the feeling well. "Which is why it wounds me so that I am so helpless to aid it..."
His smile faded. "That simply is not true," Jeran interrupted softly, "you're mere presence in this place does those same pets the world of good." The armour he wore clanged ever so slightly as he crossed his arms. "With you here they know that there is some pet who cares about them no matter what, who will stand by them in times of peace as well as war." Frowning at his own limitation, he went on, "I refer not only to your kindness my Lady but also you're magic. We both know the impact that that has had." The knight was cautious, incase there were others listening in. It was no coincidence that even when Meridell had lost the magic of that accursed Golden Orb the lands were still far more fertile than in times before the former Earth Faerie's arrival. Not that Fyora needed to know that, of course.
Illusen, though, fell melancholic. "What good is it to feed the poorest of villagers if I can not protect them from the impending clouds of darkness?" She sighed softly to herself before rubbing her hands together for warmth as a small breeze rustled the leaflitter. Light Faeries didn't live under darkened canopies for a reason. They felt the cold easier that their Earth cousins, something the brunette had been learning the hard way since yesterday evening. "Time and again the darkest of magic has scarred this land and I have been powerless to do anything about it..." That wasn't true. Jeran knew that better than most. Bar the ruler of Faerieland, whom he had met on a diplomatic tour, Illusen was the most powerful Faerie he knew personally.
Sighing heavily to himself, the Champion of Meridell had just uncovered what this was really about. And it had nothing to do with the imposing Citadel that floated over his beloved kingdom. In fact, Lord Darigan had come to respect Illusen in much the same way that he had come to respect the dark blue Lupe. He valued intelligent frenemies. No, this was about the brunette's old foe. Jhudora. Clearly the purple-haired Dark Faerie was praying on her mind. And how any potential skirmish between the two may lead to Meridell becoming collateral damage. To say the least. The timewarp the former Earth Faerie had opened to travel to Meridell in the first place stopped Jhudora from entering the land. She hoped. "She wouldn't dare set paw here, my Lady."
The Darkest Faerie had. Why wouldn't Jhudora?
"She would, Sir Jeran." Illusen turned to look at her old friend. "But Light beats Dark."
"And Earth doesn't?" the dark blue Lupe reasoned. She looked away, once again. As he had previously stated, Jeran wasn't in the business of dictating how his friends should live their lives. But at the same time, there was just something that felt wrong here. Illusen had let her fears make this decision for her, which just wasn't in her character. She was braver than that. She was better than that. And he was going to make sure that she knew that. "If you are truly happy in this form, my Lady, then when we leave this forest I will not say a further word against it." The Light Faerie turned his way once more. "However, I don't believe you are happy. Furthermore, I don't believe you should sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of our subjects. You are not a martyr."
Again, she wrinkled that freckled nose of her's. That was a bit rich coming from the dark blue Lupe.
"What good is short-term happiness if it comes at the long-term cost of my dearest friends...?"
Jeran blinked twice. He was usually the morbid one, having developed a somewhat melancholic air after everything he had witnessed in the two great wars with the Citadel. Either turning into a Light Faerie had significantly altered the usually sunny brunette's personality or a Light Faerie's mood suffered considerably under a darkened canopy. Probably the latter. "You're dearest friends would only want your happiness. They wouldn't want you to fundamentally alter yourself purely for their benefit," he replied kindly before continuing on, "I'm sure they would agree with me that you are at any rate doing yourself a great disservice. Illusen the Earth Faerie is capable of just about anything."
The Light Faerie just frowned and shook her head. Pets were smarter in Brightvale, unfortunately.
"But if... you're willing to do just about anything to stop Jhudora, doesn't that mean she wins?"
That struck a nerve. "How dare you accuse me of sinking to her level!" Illusen retorted, aghast.
"You have though, haven't you?" Jeran spoke calmly, standing his ground on the matter, "Is it not true that all she has ever wanted is to rid herself of Illusen the Earth Faerie? That she would be willing to do anything for such a result?" The brunette's expression softened. "Well, as of right now there is no Illusen the Earth Faerie. So she has won in that regard, at the very least." Now she sighed. "And as for sinking to her level... I do not believe in such a thing. When it comes to your situation, I have always believed that you have occupied the moral high ground quite well. However, taking such drastic action, to win at all costs... is not something I would ever advise. I have always considered you to be better than that. It is, though, your choice as to whether you believe in a means to an end - so I would never interfere in that matter. I just wanted to say my piece." ... That's how you stop King Skarl starting wars.
A fragile smile appeared on the Light Faerie's lips. "And what if the end was to save our Meridell?"
It was her turn to strike a nerve. Jeran was willing to do anything to save his Kingdom and its subjects, including being flung off the Darigan Citadel again. But he would never again ask anyone else to do the same. "My Lady..." Certainly not Illusen. "...is it not true that you first came to this place because you longed for the greenery of old? You wanted to be surrounded by wild woods and their equally... unpredictable inhabitants? Something that the rest of Neopia seems to have lost in the modern age..." The brunette sighed once more before slowly sitting down amongst the spring grasses with her legs crossed. "You came here because you're an Earth Faerie. You love this place because you may be a Light Faerie now... but you're still an Earth Faerie in your heart."
Illusen plucked a newly grown daisy from the grass that surrounded her.
"If Meridell were to fall, they would still love you. They would just want you to be happy."
Dappled sunlight from above glistened from the Light Faerie's wings, causing the daisy to wilt.
"I miss... holding flowers..." the brunette whispered, tears welling up in her golden eyes.
Jeran frowned. "Are you able to undo this wretched spell?"
"Yes..." she nodded whilst wiping away the tears, "...but we'll miss most of the festivities..."
He smiled. "Where I hail from, it is always fashionable to be late."