The Affair of the Faerie Paintbrush
As usual, I was the only one in our shared room. Probably the only one in the house, too, but I was too absorbed in Decorative Towel Folding to see if I was. It was amazing—I was the second oldest of four sisters and I always had the house to myself as if I was an only pet. The oldest, Mei, was probably exploring Maraqua or Lutari Island or somewhere exciting with the second youngest, Athena. The baby of the family, Carol Elizabeth, was probably spending her pocket money in the bazaar. Our owner Lian was off doing the dailies, and after that she would probably go to the boards to badger some fellow avatar seekers about lending her a Meowclops.
I was sitting on the lower bunk, flipping through the book that Lian had bought me yesterday, one eye on my petpet, Io the Hopso, who was playing quietly on the floor with Mei’s snow snowbunny Shellin and Jayni Melissa, Athena’s Christmas arkmite. I was their regular petpet sitter. I didn’t really mind. They were cute, and I wasn’t going out of my way to look after them. I stayed indoors at the best of times.
I often had the whole afternoon to myself, and so was very surprised when one harried yellow Wocky sailed in through the door.
“Carol Elizabeth? What are you—?” The words were scarcely out of my mouth when my sister shouted me down.
“Isla, great news! I’m going to be painted! The wishing well gave Lian a faerie paintbrush!” she shrieked, leaping at me.
The petpets started scurrying around in alarm. I dodged past my excited sister and tossed an opened can of disco petpet food at them to calm them down. Sure enough, they inched towards the tin and started licking its contents daintily.
“Isla! You’re not listening! The wishing well—”
“I heard you! Oh, that’s wonderful! Is Lian going to paint you?” I straightened up and smiled at Carol Elizabeth to hide my real feelings. I’d always had a burning desire to be painted faerie. Faerie Kougras were prettier than faerie Wockies, in my opinion, and I was ashamed of myself for thinking it. Besides, there was no chance of my being painted faerie instead of Carol Elizabeth. I had already been painted biscuit.
Carol Elizabeth faltered. “Yeah,” she said uncertainly. “I guess so. I’m still unpainted. But Mei’s hinting at it, too. It’s not fair, is it, since she was a speckled Lupe before she was zapped green Korbat? Plus, she still can fly as a Korbat! And—and— you think I should be painted, not Mei, right?” Her eyes were wide and beseeching. I couldn’t say no to my favorite sister.
“Yeah,” I told her. “’course you should.”
Carol Elizabeth grinned at me and bounded out again.
I sat down on my bed with a sigh.
I bounded back out of our room in an ecstasy of excitement as Lian, Athena and Mei came trooping through the door, Lian carrying the glittering faerie paintbrush as though it were made of glass.
“It’s beautiful!” I looked it over thoroughly, touching it softly with my paw.
Lian set it down on the table. “Isn’t it?” she said proudly. “Told you the old wishing well wasn’t a waste of time. Where’s your sister? That Kougra won’t come out of the room unless dragged! Isla? Isla!”
Isla came slowly out of the room. I frowned at her. “Look! The paintbrush! Isn’t it beautiful? It’ll look great on me!”
Mei cleared her throat and glanced at Lian. Athena tore her gaze away from the paintbrush for a second to look at our owner.
“We’ll decide who gets painted later,” Lian said, wisely skating over the subject. “This calls for a celebratory dinner! Isla, mind popping out for some Pepperolive pizza from Pizzaroo? Get a Nice Iced Pizza for dessert, too.”
“I’ll get it,” Mei offered. I glowered at her. I could see through her! She was trying to soften Lian up so that she’d decide to paint her.
“I’ll get it!” I piped up, shooting Mei a scorching look.
“She asked me. I’ll get it,” Isla said, surprisingly. I turned to look at her with a hurt look, but she backed up quickly. “Actually I’d rather stay home,” she said quickly.
“Oh, you sillies,” Athena said, rolling her eyes. “For goodness sake, I’ll get it.”
Lian sighed as all eyes turned to her. “I thought this might happen. Forget the pizza; I’ll heat up some leftover Purplum Buns and Wasabi Crackers with... bamboo tea. We’ll have a proper Shenkuu meal.”
There was a huge hustle to heat up the food and to pour out the bamboo tea. I took the cups of bamboo tea to the front, before tripping over a large square object.
“Oof!” I grunted, spilling the tea everywhere.
The large square object was a book that Isla had finished yesterday, Brightvale Guide to Stained Glass Windows. I picked myself up and glared at it. Lian glared at me.
“Clumsy Wocky!” she sighed. Athena darted forward with a hand towel while I stood beside her, abashed.
“Me, clumsy!” I said, outraged. “Athena was the one who left her stupid book lying on the floor. Give me that!” I snatched the rag from her and started mopping at the mess angrily.
“That was uncalled for,” Mei said, who’d come forward to see what all the fuss was about.
“Stay out of this!” I flared up.
“Hey, that’s enough! Go to your room, Carol Elizabeth. Don’t come back till you’ve calmed down.” Lian stood up. I let out a sob and flew to our room, slamming the door behind me.
I lay on the top bunk, fiddling with an old Aisha plushie that no-one wanted to play with anymore. I was desperately sorry for myself. I didn’t even have my old warf to play with—Hennie had been zapped into nothingness by the petpet lab ray a few weeks back. I was tired. I was hungry. And I was very, very angry with Athena and her stupid book.
I passed the next few hours in interminable boredom, until Athena and Mei trooped into the room, laughing and joking as usual. I pursed my lips and ignored them, and they were ignoring me, too. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
When they had both gotten into bed, I saw Isla climb up to my bunk with a Strawberry Faerie Sundae that she must have begged from Lian with one paw.
“Sorry you missed out on dinner, Liz,” she whispered, and offered the Sundae to me.
I turned away with a half-sob half-snort. “You weren’t sorry. You offered to get the pizza when you knew I wanted to.”
I had the distinct impression that Isla was about to say something, but instead she slipped down the ladder. I wanted to see if she ate the Sundae—oh, I did so want that sundae—but I decided against it.
My dreams were full of Strawberry Faerie Sundaes and Faerie Paintbrushes when I finally fell asleep.
As usual, I awoke earlier than everyone else and wandered around the house feeling distinctly cut off from everyone else. That faerie paintbrush was still on my mind. I didn’t think about it with a thrill of excitement anymore. Now I had a vague feeling that it was the catalyst for yesterday’s argument.
Mei obviously wanted to be painted faerie, probably because Carol Elizabeth wanted it—they’d been rivals ever since Carol Elizabeth was created. Carol Elizabeth obviously wanted it because she was a vain little devil, and wanted to go flying around Faerieland with all those posh faerie pets. I don’t think Isla wanted it—she was a queer little thing, always satisfied with everything, never complaining about a thing.
I wanted it too, so badly.
I’d been ecstatic when Lian painted me. We were well-off, but not rich. I thought that a Christmas paintbrush was probably the best I was going to get. A Christmas Koi! But I never even considered faerie.
I wandered into the kitchen, and suddenly I decided to prepare breakfast for everybody. A little guilty squirm told me that I was maybe doing it because I wanted Lian’s attention, but I waved it away. It was a nice thought to make breakfast, I told myself firmly; that was all.
In honour of the faerie paintbrush, I set out Beany Burpers and the Raspberry Faerie Crepe Carol Elizabeth brought in two days ago. I stood back and viewed my work with a satisfied air, and then I settled down with the book Isla was reading.
Lian awakened soon after it was ready. Emerging from her room, she smiled at the nicely arranged breakfast on the table.
“That’s nice,” she told me, and poured herself a glass of orange juice.
Mei, Isla and Carol Elizabeth walked out at that very moment. They all froze when they saw the breakfast I had prepared.
“Isn’t it nice?” Lian said.
“Very nice,” Mei said through gritted teeth as she sat down to a Beany Burper.
“Those are my Crepes!” Carol Elizabeth muttered, but uncharacteristically didn’t make too much of a fuss as she cut herself a large portion of the crepe and started munching with undue force.
Isla just sipped her orange juice, hardly carefree.
I stared at all of them unhappily. This was hardly how you’d expect a family who’d just received a faerie paintbrush free of charge to react.
Shortly after that Lian stood up and told us all to go to the Money Tree and give away a box of toys that we never played with anymore. She gave Mei a small bag of Neopoints to buy us something to eat on our way back, and strode out of the door to visit her guild.
There was a long, awkward silence. We exchanged a few looks. My eye caught Mei’s a few times, but she just looked away.
Finally I stood up. “Okay, I guess we should go now. I’ll clear up.”
No-one tried to stop me as I shifted the dirty plates to the sink and ran them under the tap, but the loud silence continued and I found myself wishing I’d never prepared breakfast in the first place.
I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the road as we walked to the money tree. Usually we’d be discussing which kind of smoothie we’d like to buy with the money Lian gave us, yelling out congratulations to the newly painted pets in the Rainbow Pool, laughing, joking... now silence reined supreme as we marched to the Money Tree.
I put the box of toys under the tree—whereupon six or seven urchins came rushing along to look through their new found treasures—and sighed. They seemed so happy with the few toys we’d donated. We had just been given a faerie paintbrush, and we were all stiff and uncomfortable.
A faerie Korbat drifted past, probably headed for Faerieland. Oh, I wanted it so badly. Ever since I’d been zapped Korbat, I’d flown every day, but I’d felt left out among all the faerie pets. They’d given me strange looks, as though to tell me I wasn’t one of them, and now I had a chance to be. All I knew was that I wanted it, and my sisters did too. I could see through Isla. She wanted it almost as badly as me.
I turned to my sisters, prepared to be met with their dark looks. “Well—” I’d never felt so uncomfortable towards them. “Lian did give us some money to spend.”
“How much?” Carol Elizabeth snapped.
“2,000 NP,” I told her.
“Alright, that’s 500 each. Dish it out and we’ll meet back home when we’re done,” she said.
I looked at each of my sisters. Usually we’d be looking forward to spending it together, laughing together as we sipped smoothies or whatever it was that we were going to buy, jokingly criticizing the other’s choice. The smoothie I’d buy wouldn’t taste half as good without Isla to smile at, Athena to joke with, Carol Elizabeth to tease.
“Alright,” I said quietly, and started to count out the appropriate sum of money.
Just when I thought I’d explode from the tension, Lian came running up the road.
“Something awful’s happened!” she gasped out. “The Pant Devil— the Pant Devil stole the faerie paintbrush!”
Carol Elizabeth let out a little gasp. We all stared at our owner in dismay.
Then I did something very unexpected. I burst out laughing.
Everyone stared at me as though I’d gone insane. Maybe I had. I just kept on laughing, until even Carol Elizabeth had a small reluctant smile on her face.
“Isn’t it ironic!” I spluttered. “After all this twittering and snapping, it gets stolen! We’re a bunch of sillies, everyone! The Pant Devil deserves it more than we do!” Another peal of laughter overwhelmed me.
Soon everyone had collapsed on the ground laughing. “How silly!” gasped Athena. “We’re so silly! Come on, guys, let's spend the money together on some smoothies! We don’t deserve the paintbrush anyhow!”
So it was that the affair of the faerie paintbrush came to a close, and the four sisters and I shared smoothies and then went home, happy and sound.
I think I like them better that way.
If you're reading this, I GOT INTO THE NT! WHOO! Thanks to my four awesome pets for starring in this story!