Once Upon a Memory
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was eleven years After Neopia, I believe, or was it twelve? I can never remember the way we used to mark time. It all seems like such a long time ago—ironic, really, given that we live hundreds of years in the past now.
We lived with our mother and father outside of Neopia Central. It was a bustling town, although nothing similar to city of Meridell. There were no merchant guilds, no knights in shining armor. Yet I remember loving the place, and loving the festivals all the more. Each year, the 20th day of Gathering, the faeries would host a festival celebrating their peaceful relations with Neopian-kind.
My parents had been working when the festival came to town. They were a trusting sort, allowing a ten-year-old to watch his sister unsupervised. I think they loved me. Based on the stories that Lisha told me, they seemed kind enough.
I remember less of them each day, less of my old life each hour. But the important memories remain.
The parents had asked me to guard Lisha at the festival, to keep her safe no matter what. It was an honor; I took it very much to heart. After all, how often does a pup receive such a responsibility?
Even before the festival started, Lisha had been so excited to see Queen Fyora. Lisha squeezed my hand tightly as we maneuvered through the crowds, poking our heads through the mass of excited spectators. When the Faerie Queen began her address, a soft breeze began blowing. The air was sweet with fragrant perfumes that wafted through the air. Perhaps it was the Queen’s very essence that made the day so perfectly serene.
A minute or so into the speech, I looked down to see my sister’s frowning face; she could not see Fyora. I bent down to offer her a Snorkleback ride. Nearly stumbled over the first time, but it did the trick. Although I never could see the queen, my sister claimed her to be the most graceful faerie that she had ever laid eyes upon. Even now, she speaks of that time. The time when she saw her Majesty the Queen.
“Can you see her?” I said, doing my best to boost her above the crowd. “Can you see the queen?”
Her beaming smile was the only reply that I needed. Few things are more meaningful to a big brother than to see their younger sibling happy! Perhaps the pink Gelert next to us had agreed. I recall her looking down at the two of us with glittering eyes, a gentle smile across her face.
Of course, we aren’t perfect. And if any of you reading this have siblings, you know exactly where this is going.
Our argument was about the Battle Faerie. My favorite part of the festival was always to see Aethia, the noble leader of the Faerieland troops. Lisha had other plans.
“I want to go to the petpetting zoo,” she had said, crossing her arms decisively. “They have Petpets from all around the world! We have to see them.”
The Petpetting Zoo was open all day. Aethia’s demonstration on the other hand… that was only for an hour each year. Needless to say, I told her as such.
“But you do that every year!” she had whined.
It was true. I had been at every one of Aethia’s demonstrations since we moved to Neopia Central from… I honestly don’t remember anymore. In previous years, my mother and I would watch Aethia while my father and Lisha would go elsewhere. This was the first faire where it was just the two of us.
I stood my ground. There would be petpetting zoo time later. Besides, I was the older brother. She had to listen to me.
We stood there, arguing about who would go where for what seemed like an eternity. Tired of waiting, I grabbed her paw, intent on bringing her to the demonstration. She tore away from me and stamped her foot.
“I wish Dad was here,” I recall her saying as she balled her fists. “At least he’s fun to be around!”
I was a level-headed child, but even I had limits. It was then that my temper flared.
“Fine! Go to the petting zoo, I don’t care. I didn’t want to go the faire with you, anyway!”
She never cried, not even then. I could see the hurt in her eyes as she shouted “FINE!” before running into the crowd. At this point, we had caused quite a scene. Had I not been given such looks from the townsfolk, I might have very well continued to Aethia. I had certainly been angry enough to turn away. Instead, I stepped back, feeling sheepish and exposed. My former anger seemed trivial now compared to what would be a broken promise.
I had promised to protect her, to keep her safe, to be a good big brother. All three counts I was failing miserably.
I chased after Lisha, shouting her name with almost every pounding step.
After a minute of running, I stopped to catch my breath. While I stood there, a shadow approached me from behind. Instinctively, I spun around, only to see the pink Gelert from before, worry written on her face. She had been tidying up the grounds, I could guess, given the broom and dustpan in her paws.
“Is everything okay, little Lupe?” When I did not answer, she pressured the point. “Where is that darling little Aisha from before?”
I considered saying nothing. But then again, she was an adult, and it seems only natural that a child might tell them something important.
I had told the Gelert of Lisha’s disappearance, never once alluding to my blame. Looking back, it makes sense that she might ask for my parent’s names and contacts. At that time, however, I could feel the blood rush from my cheeks. She was going to tell my parents!
Instead of waiting for my untimely punishment, I darted away, resolved to make this rescue mission my own. She’s my sister, I recall thinking, and it’s my responsibility to keep her safe. I don’t need an adult’s help.
I was pretty arrogant as a child.
The Petpetting zoo was crowded, filled to the brim with Neopians of all ages. I squeezed through gaps in the groups, once even sliding under a particularly tall Grundo. After a few minutes of searching it was certain: None of them were her.
Panic set in. What if she was hurt? What if she ran away? What if she was kidnapped? All of those thoughts came to me at once. I was failing her. She could be anywhere. Scared, crying, asking for my parents, saying how awful of a big brother I was.
I slapped my cheek, hoping to snap myself out of those defeatist thoughts. They were not going to help me find Lisha.
I searched every square meter of the fairgrounds. Maybe the food stands? I had thought. She did have a sort of natural charisma that would result in free food or goodies. To each of the salesmen I had given the same description: yellow Aisha, red-rimmed glasses; blue, knee-length skirt; pink t-shirt with collar frills; pink bow at the base of her right ear stalk. The bow had been a gift from me. She tied it around her wand of supernova for good luck before the second war.
After talking to every vendor in the area, I was left with no clues, no leads. Nothing.
Lost for words, frustrated beyond reason, I dragged myself to the only place that I had not checked: Aethia’s ending Battledome program. Cold metal connected with my skin as I slumped against the risers. I felt hopeless, like I was dangling from the edge of a citadel high up in the clouds…
At that moment, I silently asked for help. Some kindly faerie would hear my plea, would return my sister to me unharmed. That is what I wished more than anything in the world.
Gobs of Neopians passed me then. Children as young as I jumped off the risers, using the height as a means of showing off their mettle. Others held the paws of their guardians and siblings, blathering happily about the “cool faerie” that they had just witnessed. One of them, an orange Grarrl perhaps no older than Lisha had been, mentioned an Aisha. Jealousy laced her voice as she recounted a Neopian with a pink ribbon on her ear stalk. She had volunteered for an event of some kind.
My heart skipped a beat. Could it be? I scarcely breathed, hoping to every faerie in that faire that this Aisha was my sister, that she was safe. I raced to the stage.
Towering over everyone was Aethia, wearing her famous green tunic and leather breeches. Despite already ending her program, the Battle Faerie stood back, eagerly answering the questions of those around. Next to her stood a far smaller companion. From afar, I could hear her instructing the child to make a neutral stance. Their determination to learn was clear. They obeyed without question and mimicked the stance flawlessly. Aethia also instructed the child on blocks and parries.
Clad in cardboard helm and armor, the figure—I could now tell they were an Aisha—looked almost comical. A homemade shield slung over their left wrist complemented by a foam weapon in their right paw. It resembled the crude mimics that I see the village kids use. The pups always seem so eager to learn the crafts of war, considering it to be some sort of game. This feeling rarely lasts when war is real. Nonetheless, the way Aethia helped this little soldier brings a sort of warmness to my heart. Little wonder that I modeled my training methods after her in the future. Past. Time travel is confusing.
A small crowd applauded and the cardboard-clad knight took a bow; with that, her helm fell to the ground. Underneath the helm had been red-rimmed glasses, which tumbled alongside it.
Emotions hit me all at once: joy for the safe relocation of my sister; anger for her running off, only to turn up at the place I had suggested; relief that she was with the Battle Faerie, my hero, safe and sound.
Upon hearing my voice, she recoiled, picking up her glasses with the timidity of a child who had been caught stealing cookies. Before I could stop myself, I threw my arms around her, holding her tight. I might have shed a tear then, but I hid it well. Few things are more embarrassing to a brother—even a big brother—than telling his sister that he loves her.
Without hesitation, Aethia came between us, asking Lisha if she knew me. My sister turned to me with a sheepish smile before looking to the tall faerie and nodding. I realized now that Aethia’s hand had been resting on the hilt of a weapon. Once she noticed no threat, the faerie relaxed.
Before I could speak my peace, Lisha peeled out of my grasp and apologized. Her head sagged a little as she hunched over. I could have easily given her a lecture, asked her why she had left me and gone to Aethia anyway, but instead I placed my right paw under her chin and lifted her gaze to meet mine.
“You’ve been working hard, haven’t you?” I asked.
Her eyes lit up. “I have! Can we show him, Miss Battle Faerie? Can we?”
Though the faerie appeared perplexed, she allowed the enthusiastic student to show off her hard work… with the proper armor, of course. Parry, thrust, block, she modeled them all to me with amazing form, especially for a kid. Is it any wonder that she is called a genius?
Lisha went on to tell me that Aethia sought a protégé to teach, but first asked each and every interested audience member why they would learn the blade. Many had told her about honor or glory, others to smite the wicked and be a hero.
“I told her that I wanted to protect my big brother.” She said it simply, not a hint of hesitation in her voice. Never had I seen her look so confident, so happy. It made me prouder than I could say.
“Few reasons are purer than a desire to protect someone special.” Aethia placed a hand upon my shoulder.
“Protect each other; be the shield for her sword.”
I bowed as if accepting an oath. From that day forward, I knew I had found a purpose in my life. I wonder if Lisha could say the same?
After we waved our farewells to Aethia, Lisha explained her story to me. She only stayed by the petpeting zoo for a moment before going where I told her I would be. When I was not there, she had remained with the Battle Faerie and figured I would wind up there eventually. As it so happened… her hunch had been right. We were then sitting together on the risers, swapping stories and a hug or two.
… Wouldn’t you think that the story ends there? A faerietale happy ending. Had a certain blue Lupe not blabbed about her sister to Celandra, Fyora’s friend and a well-known gossip, it might have. As it turns out, the Gelert had been on staff, taking a break to see her friend speak. Once she had returned to work, she had a fortuitous encounter with a frantic Lupe. And although I refrained from saying my parents’ names, she tracked them both down in record time.
There are many things that a young Neopian dreads, but nothing comes close to hearing your full names. With emphasis, no less.
“Jeran Sterling Borodere! Lisha Duchess Borodere! You both are in big trouble!”
It was our Mother’s voice. I remember her sternness and the fear that accompanied it. For running off, losing Lisha, and letting her play with a weapons—even a foam one—I was punished from going to the following year’s faire. And no matter how hard Lisha and I pleaded, neither parent would not ease up on their decision.
Not like it mattered. I was in Meridell long before the following year.
Before my disappearance three months later, Lisha and I would spar in the back yard with sticks under the noses of our parents. Those were the good days, before we were separated. Before the Battle for Meridell and our numerous conflicts with the citadel. Now they remain but stories of our past, wisps of memory from three-hundred years in the future.