It was raining hard. The ground beneath Miasa's feet had been turned into a muddy slush, but she kept slogging through. She had to, or else everything she'd been through for the past weeks would be for nothing.
The Brown Usul really wished she'd thought to bring an umbrella. This whole trip, in hindsight, had been rather impulsive and not at all well thought out. Still, she was here, and she didn't intend to go home until she'd done what she'd come here to do-- namely, climb the Forbidden Mountain.
That wasn't its official name. It didn't really have a name, or if it did, the name had been long forgotten. The area around it was deserted. Few Neopets even knew of the mountain's existence, and those who did didn't know much.
"Are you crazy?" an elderly White Bori had asked when Miasa had told him why it was she wanted information on the mountain. "Nobody has ever climbed that mountain and come back alive!"
"Then I'll just be the first!" Miasa had replied. She was confident in her ability to meet any challenge that she would meet on her climb. Hadn't she been raised on the snowy peaks of Terror Mountain? Hadn't she learned to navigate the slippery crags practically before she could walk?
But the Bori had simply shaken his head. "They say there's a monster who lives at the mountain's peak. Please, don't try to climb the Forbidden Mountain. There are many other mountains in Neopia; climb one of them!"
But Miasa was determined. She would be the first to climb the mountain and return. Her name would be written down in history and remembered forever.
Seeing the look on the young Usul's face, the Bori realized that her mind was set. "Very well," the Bori said sadly. "If you're well and determined to do this, I suppose I can't stop you. But heed my words! I do not know exactly what sort of monster it is that lives on the mountain, but I know that it does not like the light. Travel only when it is sunny, and get off the peak as soon as you can!" He paused. "I wish you would reconsider."
"I have to do this," the Usul said, half to herself. "I want to be somebody. I want to be remembered..."
A flash of lightning shook her out of her reverie. That had been a few weeks ago. She had to focus on what was happening now.
The mountain loomed in the distance. It looked more ominous by the minute.
Miasa swallowed. "I have to do this," she whispered. "I will climb this mountain."
She kept on walking, her stride determined.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, she reached the foot of the peak. She found a dry spot under an outcrop of stone, so she sat down to rest. She wrapped her coat more tightly around her and listened to the rain fall.
Perhaps the rain would stop by morning. She'd start the climb then.
She closed her eyes and waited for dawn.
"Well, well, well."
Miasa's eyes snapped open. She looked up at the source of the voice... and gasped.
It was a dark faerie. The faerie was smirking down at the Usul. "What are you doing here, little one?" she asked, her voice disarmingly pleasant.
"I-I'm here to climb the mountain," Miasa stammered.
"The mountain? Why do you want to climb my mountain?"
Her mountain? Miasa had a sudden sinking sensation-- perhaps this faerie was the one responsible for the fact that no one returned from the Forbidden Mountain, and perhaps she was the monster of the peak.
"I... I wanted to be the first. I wanted people to remember me..." she said softly, in a trembling voice. Why, oh why had she ever come here? Surely there was something else she could have done to get her name in the history books!
"Remembrance..." the faerie murmured, her fingers gently touching the ruby-red amulet she wore around her neck. Miasa noticed a large crack running through the center.
"Your lives are so brief compared to ours," the faerie continued. "Faeries live for millennia. I was here before your grandmother's grandmother was born, and I will be here when you are gone. I suppose it is only natural that you should seek to be remembered, so that you might live in memory even after you are gone from Neopia.
"Still," she said, in a harsher tone, "You are trespassing on my property. I rather value my privacy, you see, so I like to make sure that I am not disturbed by overly curious Neopets. And one way to do it," she said with a wicked smile, "is to make sure that everyone knows that those who come here never, ever return."
"Please, no..." Miasa whimpered. "I'll go away and never come back, I promise!"
"But if I let you leave here alive, that would only encourage others who might decide they'd like to try climbing my mountain. No, I'm afraid I'll have to do away with you." The faerie held out her hand, and a ball of violet flame which seemed to suck in the light rather than emit it appeared.
"Any last requests?"
Miasa couldn't run. She couldn't fight. There was no escape...
"Why are you doing this?" Miasa cried, hoping to at least delay the inevitable blast.
"Because I can."
That hadn't bought much time at all...
Maybe if I had more time, I could come up with some sort of plan, or something... Wait! She offered me a last request! If she meant it, then maybe I can buy some time after all...
"Before you kill me, will you at least tell me about yourself?"
The dark fireball vanished. "Why?"
"I, um, you see... I've never really met a dark faerie before, so I'm curious."
"Very well. I suppose it will do no harm to tell you now." The faerie turned and looked into the distance. "I... don't believe I've ever told my story before. I will grant you your request." The faerie took a deep breath and paused a moment as if to compose her thoughts.
"My name is Jennumara," she began. "I was born and raised on this very mountain. You know it as the Forbidden Mountain, but its true name is Kata shi'Kara: Darkness Peak. It has been my home to my family for as long as faeries have existed in Neopia.
"When I was young, I lived here with my mother, Marabae. There were no other faeries around for miles; most of them chose to live in Faerieland. We were happy.
"But, one day, Mother became ill.
"She became weaker and weaker. She knew that she would soon die, but she did not want to leave me.
"So she used a spell which bound her spirit, her lifeforce, into an amulet." Jennumara touched the one she wore. "This amulet. It protects me, and as long as I wear it, I cannot die by wounds or illness.
"For the first time in my life, I was alone.
"I no longer had my mother to teach me, so I was forced to travel to Faerieland and use the books in the Faerie Library to teach myself. One day, I came across a book which spoke of the spell my mother had used... as well as how to reverse it. The reversal spell would restore my mother to her former glory and to full health.
"All that was needed was a pair of faerie wings.
"Obviously, I wasn't going to use my own for the spell, no matter how much I wanted to bring my mother back. So my only other option was to capture another faerie and use hers.
"I had no doubt that I could do it. I am among the most powerful dark faeries in Neopia.
"I flew around the outskirts of Faerieland, watching and waiting for my chance. It did not take long before an air faerie, flying alone, crossed my path.
"I struck quickly. My magic had knocked her unconscious before she knew what had happened. No one had seen me do it, and there was nothing that would connect me to her disappearance, and she herself certainly hadn't seen me. I returned to Kata shi'Kara and cut off her wings.
"As her wings crumbled to dust, I recited the incantation:
"Willingly these wings I give,
"That who lived once might once more live.
"The amulet started to glow, and it began to hum. I thought it was working, that soon I would be reunited with the only person who I had ever loved..." Jennumara cast the Usul a sideways glance, and an odd bitterness crept into her tone. "And yes, dark faeries are, indeed capable of love, whatever you might have been told." She cleared her throat and paused a moment, looking away. When she spoke again, her voice held a note of unmistakable grief.
"But... then the amulet began to crack.
"I panicked. I used all the power I had to try and hold it together, and it was just enough to keep the amulet from shattering entirely. But it was forever scarred.
"Thinking back, I realize what went wrong. It was in the incantation: while I gave the wings willingly, the air faerie certainly had not, and that caused the spell to backfire.
"But as I held the cracked amulet in my hands, my heart filled with grief... and rage. I could not risk the restoration spell again, for fear that it would destroy the amulet. And I blamed the air faerie for causing this spell to fail in the first place.
"So I set a cage out, exposed to the pouring rain and the scorching sun, and I imprisoned the faerie with a spell which used her own name as the key."
"What was her name?" Miasa asked.
"She was called Baelia. But perhaps she has a new name now... The only way for a grey faerie to have her wings restored is if she earns a new name for herself. Baelia escaped several months ago, aided by a Kyrii. You now see why I hate trespassers so much." Jennumara sighed. "In the end... I suppose it matters little. I realize now that what occurred was my fault and mine alone. It is my burden to live with. I will not pursue her. May she find what little joy she can in her miserable, wingless existence.
"And that is my story."
Miasa started to tremble. She hadn't managed to think of any way she could escape. It appeared that she was doomed to be destroyed at the hands of this dark faerie.
But then, Jennumara said, "You know, I don't think I'll kill you after all."
Hope sprang up inside the Usul. Was she really going to be set free?
The dark faerie continued. "You wanted remembrance, didn't you? Well, I will see to it that you are remembered... but perhaps not in the way you would wish."
Before Miasa could react, shadowy tendrils grabbed her. She screamed, but was silenced as she was completely engulfed.
The shadows surrounded her, flowing over and through her, muddling her mind, melding with her fur, becoming a part of her...
When she arose, she was changed. Her fur was a deep black which seemed to suck in light from the surroundings, deep enough to meld with shadows. Indeed, the Usul looked as though she could become a shadow herself, if she wished, with no more effort than a thought.
I... I... who am I? she thought. I think I had a name, once... Mi something...
Her memories were fading, leaving her with nothing but an engulfing emptiness.
She ran, as fast as she could, fleeing the mountain in terror and confusion.
Jennumara watched her as she left. "You will be remembered, Shadow Usul. You will be feared and remembered as a terrible monster, a tale to scare children who misbehave, a story to tell at night around the campfire. You wanted remembrance, and you shall have it."
And with a smirk, Jennumara turned and leaped into the twilight sky to return to her home on the mountain's peak.