Freak. Midget. Weakling. Traitor. Monster. Fool.
I've been called a lot of things in my life. Unfortunately, to some degree or other, they're all true.
Many of them weren't my fault. I couldn't help being a freak. I was born an Alien Aisha with only two earstalks instead of the usual four. And it certainly wasn't my fault I was a midget. I simply never grew beyond the height most of my peers reached by nine solar years. As for weakling – well, I'm just not a fighter. No interest, even less ability.
But the rest of my titles were my doing. Betraying my people to side with Neopians. Creating a potion meant to give superpowers, but that ended up mutating Neopets into terribly warped forms and destroying their minds. Thinking I had full control of a situation when I didn't even understand a fraction of the what and who behind it…
I carry a burden of my own making. Spun of my own foolish, juvenile pride and ignorance. One I'll never be freed of.
I'll never live it down. I don't have the right.
The door to my Fix-It shop swung open and a pretty Usuki Usul skipped in. She smiled happily at me and checked a piece of paper in her paw.
"Mr. DeSoni? My friends told me all about you! Said you can fix anything?"
"Pretty much, miss," I responded, smiling easily. It was always nice to meet normal customers like this, especially referrals. For one, they weren't surprised at the owner being a tiny yellow Aisha the size of an elementary neoschooler.
She fished around in her fuzzy purple and green purse before pulling out a bizarre looking ring with a huge purple stone. "Setting's coming loose. My petpet won't leave it alone."
She handed it to me and I weighed it in my palm before examining it closer to my eyes. "Seems fine to…"
It suddenly seemed to melt and equip itself to my right paw.
"WHAT?" I exclaimed, yanking on it. It wouldn't come off. It wouldn't come off!
The Usuki Usul laughed and suddenly a sickly green and purple smoke swirled around her. It dispersed as quickly as it had appeared, revealing Jhudora herself standing before me.
Wonderful. A dark faerie. It just had to be a dark faerie.
"Consider yourself lucky, Derek Sonix. I'm very selective who I hand out my personal rings to."
I ignored her, or rather pretended to, while I continued yanking desperately at the ring.
"It affixes itself to you through your own dark thoughts and emotions. My rings are especially fond of those who have committed unspeakable and unforgivable crimes.
I froze in mid-yank.
"I know all about XG12C. After all, Dr. Sloth and I are on fairly good terms."
She bent over and lifted my head up to meet her eyes. Hers had a weird purplish glow to them that was completely hypnotic. I actually felt my mind glazing over as her eyes locked with mine and held.
"No matter what those other goody-two-shoe faeries have told you, you know the truth as well as I. You're an enemy of all Neopians. You're directly responsible for one of the most tragic events in Neopian history."
I couldn't look away. I couldn't. Her words rang over and over in my mind, each time crushing my heart just a little bit more.
My fault. All my fault.
She leaned closer, her eyes glowing even brighter. "Don't worry. Soon it won't bother you. You'll never have nightmares again. Derek Sonix will finally move forward…"
I felt dizzy. Surely that couldn't be true… It sounded far too good to be true… But something wouldn't let me not believe her every word. Forget hypnotic, the faerie was positively mesmerizing. I don't know if it was the ring, her eyes, or those incredible words dripping from her lips in that amazing voice… but… wow…
Every warning I'd ever heard about the dangers of dark faeries' manipulation powers, every bad experience I'd ever had at the hands of a dark faerie, every story I'd ever read of a dark faerie's rampage… they all completely flew out of my mind as if they had never existed there in the first place.
"Never again…" she whispered silkily in that entrancing voice, leaning forward until all my eyes could see were her own. "Complete and absolute freedom…"
Maybe? Just maybe?
She set a graceful hand on my head, smiling.
"Twenty-four hours," she whispered in delight. "And you'll be all mine…"
And suddenly she was gone.
But the ring remained on my right paw.
I slumped to the floor, suddenly weak and trembling. Bad. Very bad. As in, not good at all. I didn't want to be a dark faerie's servant. Certainly not… not if becoming so meant I was… was evil.
"It's not true…" I mumbled aloud to myself.
You know it is, part of my mind argued.
"Fyora absolved me of all blame…"
That doesn't mean you never were to blame.
"I was barely more than a kitten! I didn't know what was going on!"
Excuses, excuses. How pathetic.
"I'm not evil," I whispered desperately. "I don't want this… this whatever it means!"
You want to forget. To forget all those victims. Your victims. Isn't that wish itself evil?
That's why the ring won't come off. Because you'll never forget, no matter how much you want to.
So why not accept it? Face reality. Stop hiding behind Fyora and stand up for yourself for once in your pathetic life.
I rubbed my eyes with my paws. My head ached. I felt like I was being brainwashed by myself. Like my own mind was against me.
"It affixes itself to you through your own dark thoughts and emotions…" Jhudora had said.
I began shivering. Maybe some part of me really was trying to take over…
How do you fight yourself? Should I even try?
Accept the truth. It's not a bad deal…
Only half aware of what I was doing, I fumbled to my rear paws and over to the front of my store. I flipped the sign to closed, locked the door, and shut the blinds. Then I stumbled to my tiny back room and collapsed onto a sofa I'd just finished reupholstering.
How do you fight yourself?
Do I even want to?
Accept the truth.
This is all my fault.
Is that really a bad thing?
"Where is everyone?" I asked one of my co-researchers as I entered our lab.
The white Alien Aisha ignored me. Of course he did. That wasn't anything new.
"EXCUSE ME?" I demanded loudly.
He rolled his eyes. "Morning, pipsqueak."
I gestured around the pretty much empty lab. "Where is everyone else? All the Grundos? Marco, Celine, Trish, Davey? I wanted to ask them…"
The Alien Aisha smirked, his eyes cold and mocking. "They're gone."
"They've been reassigned?" I asked innocently.
He laughed. Something about it forbade me from joining in. In fact, it kind of made me want to turn tail and run back to my room to hide under the cot…
"Where are they?" I asked fearfully, suddenly trembling.
"It was time to test that precious XG12C of yours. Dr. Sloth is an impatient person."
"N-no. I told him. I told you. It's not ready. I'm still working on balancing the…"
He glanced over at me out of the side of his eyes and smirked before returning to his research. Or rather, pretending to. We both knew I was the only one that did any actual work around here.
It couldn't be true. If it was…
"It's not ready!" I repeated desperately.
"Too late," he chuckled. "Besides, it worked like a charm. Quite the formidable army now. Too bad about all the negative mental backlash."
It couldn't be true. He had to be lying… another one of those 'mess with the freak' games. Frank wouldn't do that to me. He wouldn't jump the gun before I gave the go ahead. Right?
Please let me be right… because otherwise I'll never be able to live with myself.
It couldn't be true. Marco. Celine. Trish. Davey. They'd treated me just like any other researcher. They actually talked to me. I'd never felt like a freak in their company. They'd never once commented on my missing earstalks or lack of height or the difference in age between everyone else and me…
I dashed over to my station and quickly hacked into the Space Station's security mainframe. It couldn't be true. I'd prove it wasn't true.
My friends. They snuck me out to play Gormball. They'd treated me to the very finest at Grundo's Café. We'd laughed and played and talked and… and…
I pulled up every camera view on my three large screens. All the halls and corridors were completely empty. All of the main rooms too. I'd never seen the likes of such emptiness on the Virtupets Space Station.
There was only one view that showed anyone. Central. Central showed Dr. Sloth, backed by an unrecognizable mutant army, facing off the Space Faerie. She stood all alone. As I watched, she held up her arms in surrender.
"No," I mumbled, my hopes crumbling. "He promised me he wouldn't. That those rumors were lies. I thought…"
My co-researcher glanced at me and chuckled again. "Congratulations, by the way. You really are a genius, freak. Never could have done it without you."
I numbly began collecting all my notes, then gave up with the sheer enormity of facing all my work. I couldn't possibly carry it all. What I was even trying to do, I didn't know. My arms dropped to my sides, letting my armload of files and schematics and notebooks drop to the ground carelessly.
I felt sick. This couldn't actually be real.
I couldn't have actually done something so horrible. Surely my Neopian friends weren't in that mob of freakish mutants…
Who was I trying to kid?
This was all my fault. My fault, for being too curious about what should never be tampered with. For making friends with people who should never be trusted. For trying so stupidly hard to gain the acceptance of those around me.
"Negative mental backlash."
I knew what he meant. After all, I knew exactly which part of my formula was incomplete. If I hadn't known, the mindless and warped expressions staring back at me from the computer screen would've been enough of an answer.
My formula had destroyed their minds.
I'd killed them.
I fled the lab to the sound of my co-researcher's cruel laughter and returned to my assigned quarters, right next door. I collapsed on my cot.
I was 14 solar years old. I was a genius recognized by the Madam Commander herself and recruited into the Alien Aisha Military two years ago at an incredible and record-setting 12 solar years. I had been on active duty as a researcher and espionage agent for about a year now. I had immediately been set to work dealing with the Neopian criminal underworld as well as given free rein to pursue my scientific interests…
I was a complete and total idiot.
I started crying.