By the time Illusen and Jhudora were close to The Esophagor's clearing, his tantrum seemed to have subsided. His growls had quieted significantly, but Jhudora still felt it necessary to stop before entering.
"Like with the printing press, I think I have to admonish you again before we proceed," she said, keeping her voice low.
"Is Esophagor the type where you need to especially watch your tongue? I figure that would make sense given what I've already heard of his demeanor today. I also recall that advice being discussed on the days I sat in during some of King Skarl's royal gatherings. The meeting was to prepare their diplomacy scouts before sending them here." Illusen whispered back at Jhudora as the two crouched off to the side.
"If that's what you heard, I can't imagine the scouting went very well. To earn respect from Esophagor, you have to stand your ground. The offering might be critical, but he won't even let you get that far unless you prove you're worth his effort."
"That's...the exact opposite. Who told King Skarl that? Are they an imbecile?" Illusen genuinely sounded a little angry at the carelessness of whoever Skarl's confidant was. Although this was more because of it being a last straw irritation piled on top of how unpredictable The Haunted Woods was revealing itself to be up to this point. Illusen continued her mini rant. "This place is an enigma. Even you, who I can assume did very heavy research on this place, miscalculated who the shopkeep would be aware of. And what's with the fog? This place is in no environment for it. It's like it manifested itself here for the sole purpose of being atmospheric."
"Well the fog is actually-nevermind that's not important right now. Hold that anger. You can use it against Esophagor." Jhudora said, getting up and holding out a hand to Illusen. Illusen took it and dusted herself off upon standing.
"Sorry, I don't mean to complain. I'll try to stop," she said letting out a sigh.
"It's not bothering me. The bit about the fog was actually fairly entertaining," Jhudora said with a chuckle. "But we best go in now. He's probably already sensed us and feels we're dawdling. It won't be good if he starts losing patience."
"I could imagine. Well alright. Let's go. Get ready, Esophagor." Illusen gave herself a last minute pep talk as they turned to the divide in the trees that led to Esophagor's clearing. It was decidedly barren and open. Not even grass was found growing on the ground. Just soft dirt in a large circle with a shallow pit in the center. In that pit lie a slightly compressed Esophagor, who at the moment was snoring loudly.
"Hmm. I definitely misinterpreted that sound for angry grumbling." Illusen said.
"I did...too," responded Jhudora with a tone and look that inferred Okay so now what?
Fortunately for her, she needed not wonder much longer, as Esophagor started to stir. He let out an obnoxious yawn that blew through the faeries' hair, his breath being as pleasing as expected. He started what could be seen as stretching, molding his form to take its control state. Two large hands grew from the ground and rested in front of him. His full size was comparable to that of a posh carriage. Slowly blinking his eyes back into consciousness, he started to speak in his gravelly voice.
"About time. You all were taking so long I-" He stopped his jeering and slowly formed a crooked smile upon looking directly at them. "Oh really? The Dark Faerie Jhudora? How rich! And you've brought Illusen there with you. How'd she convince you to come along, flower? Promises of power? Wealth? Didn't think you the type!" He wildly cackled at his own comments.
Illusen wasn't sure if this was the kind of thing to challenge him on, or if being standoffish came later. She looked to Jhudora for some kind of confirmation. Jhudora was still, keeping her eyes forward and waiting for him to be finished. She took that as a sign that this was probably par for the course. Esophagor's version of an opening formality perhaps. Sure enough, his laughing fit passed and he recomposed himself.
"It's quite the sight to have you here, Dark Faerie. Many a Neopian have come into these woods asking how you died!" He moved in closer and spoke deeper. "Such demented excitement was in their voices. Not very popular were you?" He leaned back again and let out another short cackle. This was already going beyond what Illusen was expecting. She was made to believe Esophagor would be uncouth, not downright...whatever this was. Is he being worse than normal just because it's Jhudora? She thought.
"Yes, well. It's hard to make fans when people's minds are already made up. I'm sure you've had a fair share of folks that don't particularly care for you either." Jhudora said, calmly.
"Well you at least have one fan, eh?" Esophagor retorted, leaning towards Illusen. "If that really is you, Illusen. Not some kind of twisted mirage or puppet right? Ha! Wouldn't put it past this one."
"Yes it's really me," Illusen said with all the confidence she could muster.
"Oh well how fantastic to have that cleared up." Esophagor said, overwhelmingly sarcastically before laughing yet again. Jhudora decided she should attempt to reign in the discussion before it devolved into a roundtable of smart remarks.
"Do you want our offerings or not?" She said coldly. That stopped Esophagor immediately. The only sound heard was the squelching of his body as he retracted from Illusen and went back to facing Jhudora.
"Are you growing eager now, dark one?" His hands pressed on the ground in front of him as if readying to pull himself out of his pit.
"I figure it's best if we simply move things along and don't waste each other's time. Don't you?" Jhudora kept solid eye contact and her voice didn't waver.
"I suppose that would be beneficial." Esophagor clasped his hands together and spoke tiredly. Illusen felt relieved that they were moving forward. She still wasn't sure how she was meant to be handling the situation. Luckily, Jhudora seemed well versed.
"However…" Esophagor started to say. Illusen's relief was gone.
"Why should I, hmm? Why should I aid whatever obviously vile purposes you'll use my answers for?" He instigated.
"Since when are you burdened with a conscience?" Jhudora asked.
"A fair point. But I have a reputation to uphold here. Surely people will stop bringing me offerings if they find out I was in cahoots with the likes of you. After you fail whatever it is you've come out of hiding for, of course. Although…" He took a dramatic pause. "If this 'kills' you again, I could take responsibility. Maybe say I gave you wrong information that led to your demise. That'd surely be good for business!" Jhudora quietly gritted her teeth. It didn't go unnoticed.
"Careful now, faerie. It seems you're losing your temper. Don't want another Altador on our hands do we? Or worse…" He creeped up to Jhudora and spoke with careful consideration. "You don't want to be alone again, do you?" He asked this plainly with a straight face.
"I...I don't know what you're on about." Jhudora mentally cursed herself for letting the stutter slip, as well as giving him an opportunity to continue.
"I may have lied before. Not everyone was asking how you died you know. Some just wanted to know why. Why did Jhudora betray us like that? She was such a great councilwoman, how could she have fallen so far?" It sounded like the actual voices of the townsfolk were asking the question. It was as if an unseen recording was being played. Jhudora was losing things to say, especially faced with this ability that she hadn't known Esophagor to have. It wasn't mentioned in any of the books she read in preparation for this meeting.
"You could have had so much. But your fear overcame you, didn't it? Fear of being forgotten?" Esophagor started slugging around Jhudora in circles, speaking in his normal voice again. "Or may it have been your incessant need to be loved underneath the frigid exterior you play up to avoid being hurt? I'm only speculating of course. But if I'm right...that didn't end terribly well, did it? So many turned on you after your crimes. People went from praising your honor to cursing you with death. How can you ever think you'll find comfort in others again?" Jhudora's arms were limp at her sides now. Her scowl had diluted to a blank face. Esophagor was in front of her again.
"How can anyone...anyone ever-"
Esophagor and Jhudora simultaneously turned to the direction of the exclamation. It was Illusen with two fists clenched at her sides. She stepped closer to them with purpose.
"She's not alone! I'm still here. Or have you forgotten because of this performance you're doing?"
"Hmph." Esophagor scoffed at her. "Listen, Earth Faerie. You-"
"No you listen, you putrid blob of scum!" Illusen yelled back. Esophagor's mouth was agape. Jhudora's eyes grew wide. Illusen continued.
"You may think you're so very all-knowing. Maybe you have a few little facts in that mostly empty head of yours. But you've proven yourself to know nothing about Jhudora! I've known her my entire life and she's none of those things you say!"
"Ha! And what makes you so sure? How do you know she's not just stringing you along in some scheme?" Esophagor finally managed to get a word in. All of his attention was on Illusen now.
"Because. I. Know." She took a step forward with each word. Her eyes were intense, and it almost looked like Esophagor moved back a few centimeters "Jhudora has so much goodness in her." Illusen looked to Jhudora and dropped her voice for a moment. "People just haven't given her a chance." She looked back to Esophagor. "She's made mistakes, but I ask you to tell me of someone who hasn't! Besides, we didn't come here for degradation, we came for you to do your job." She dug in the backpack that Jhudora was still wearing and pulled out the Clawmatoe inside. She threw it down in front of Esophagor.
"There's your offering! Now where is Xandra's statue being held in Fyora's castle?"
As Illusen glared at the blue slime mound before her, everything around them was hushed as if the woods themselves were anticipating how this would resolve. Esophagor's body began to tremble and he attempted to grimace. However, he instead threw his head back in a hearty laugh. Illusen looked to Jhudora who didn't seem to have anything to say. As Esophagor calmed, he began to address Illusen.
"Oh my...I haven't...had someone lay into me like that in quite a while!" He said, catching his breath. "There's fire in you, Illusen. I'll have to make note of that. Yes of course." His mouth opened wide and a pair of voices could be heard conversing. Indistinctly at first, then growing more audible.
"Is she going in your garden too then?"
"No. No, I don't think she should. This feels...different."
"I know that was just Fyora, but who was that first person?" Jhudora walked up next to Illusen to listen along.
"I'm not sure. She sounded somewhat familiar but I can't quite place it." Illusen closed her eyes to focus more intently.
"I suppose I must agree with you there. Xandra's plans were...much more aggressive, you could say, than The Dark Faerie's. Even Jhudora didn't seem to be aiming for a complete overthrow of the entirety of Neopia. Some townsfolk on the other side of the globe might still not even know Altador's history. But this...not a soul is unaware of this."
"That's Captain Brynn!" Illusen half-whispered. "Of Brightvale! She's captain of Faerieland's Guard." Jhudora was perplexed by the name, but she figured Brynn's identity was less important than what she was saying. She would ask any unanswered questions later, so as not to miss anything now. Fyora was "speaking" again.
"I may have to keep her under my own personal watch. Faerieland is so easy to approach now. Some might already be planning to steal her away."
"I can take post here if you deem it necessary."
"I know you gladly would, Brynneth. But you're doing important work elsewhere. It's already so courteous of you to come back to the castle today just to hear me speak of hypotheticals. Hmm... I think I've decided. I'll put her statue in the lower level of the Hidden Tower. No one even knows about it except for me, you, Aethia, and potentially the occasional villain that's been kept there themselves."
"And it's fair to assume that said villains wouldn't exactly be dying to get back in, yes?"
"That's a fair assumption indeed." The two shared a small laugh. Jhudora was bitterly serious, not quite getting what the joke was supposed to be.
"Who knows? Maybe even Xandra could be reformed eventually. I know I've been surprised before at those who have unseen virtue laying dormant within," Brynn considered. There was a pause and someone could be heard sipping tea. A cup was placed back on its stone coaster and Fyora subtly cleared her throat.
"That would be the best case scenario definitely. I'm unsure though. It would be an incredibly risky attempt with such raw power and hatred she's proven to hold. This is truly a burden of a decision to make…"
"Well in any case, you have time. The Hidden Tower for now, and later you can decide whatever you wish."
"Yes. That's true. Hmm"
Esophagor's mouth closed suddenly. "There's your answer, ladies. End of session."
"How are you able to do that? Summon the past through yourself, I mean." Illusen asked.
"You'd have to come back with a pretty hefty offering for me to consider answering that!" Esophagor let out a guffaw. "Although I must admit I hope you do. This has been a welcome deviation from my normal visits."
"How fortunate to know we've given your day purpose." Jhudora snidely remarked. Then, to Illusen. "We acquired what we came for. We can leave post-haste unless you're starting to grow attached to this place."
"Would you believe me if I said I'm not?" Illusen asked rhetorically.
"How heartbreaking. And here I thought we were becoming rather chummy," Esophagor said with an exaggerated insincere sadness. "Best of luck with your misdeeds. Would be rather pitiful if they were to end in miserable failure." He started receding into his pit as he snickered one last time. Then, all was still.
"Well! Mission successful! Let's head back to the train then." Illusen said, clapping her hands together once.
"Sounds good," said Jhudora.
The walk back to the station was quiet. Illusen was tired and Jhudora was concentrating on retracing their steps. At least, that's what she told Illusen. The truth was that Jhudora was fighting Esophagor's words out of her head. He only said them to get a rise out of her, but that didn't take away any of their power.
You could have had so much. But your fear overcame you, didn't it?
People went from praising your honor to cursing you with death.
You don't want to be alone again, do you?
She'd spent plenty of time doubting herself or mulling over her faults, but it was so different to hear them validated by someone else. It brought them into reality in such a crushing way. But then, Jhudora has so much goodness in her. Illusen's assertion broke through the sea of negativity. It brightened things for only a second.
What if you're wrong, Illusen? Jhudora thought. What if I'm not worth it? What if none of this is worth it? Millions of people don't look down upon someone for no reason.
"Hey." Illusen said, tapping Jhudora's shoulder. "We're back at the station."
"Oh, right. We better get on then." Jhudora was snapped out of her head, but not without Illusen sensing something was off. Jhudora was already heading towards their car, so she just followed. They boarded and were once again the only ones riding.
"The train will be in motion shortly. The next stop is the Outer Faerieland Station," an automated voice recited.
"Since this is outbound, there will most likely be people getting on when we're getting off. I'll have to conjure up another temporary cloaking spell before we depart." Jhudora said.
"That's a good idea." Illusen smiled at Jhudora, but she was looking elsewhere, in the other direction at all the empty seats. The two sat in silence for a few minutes as the train started to chug along.
"Sorry about not being talkative. I'm concerned with our next move." Jhudora was first to speak.
"That's not true." Illusen responded.
"What? Of course it is," said Jhudora, casually looking away again.
"It's not, Jhudora. Something has been off with you since we left Esophagor." She hesitated to touch her. Instead, she just continued. "He's wrong you know. About all of those things."
"Hmph. I know he isn't. That's what makes it worse." Her voice was grey as she spoke to the train car's floor. "His intuition was completely on point. People think I'm a monster, Illusen. I've read it all.
And maybe...maybe they have reasons to believe it." Jhudora tilted her head back onto a window and closed her eyes. "I shouldn't have pulled you into this. When we reach the next stop, you have no obligation to stick around."
Jhudora flinched as she felt Illusen's hand slip into her own, their fingers tightly laced together. She looked at Illusen to see her staring ahead. The corners of her mouth were trembling.
"Illusen, what…" She didn't know what exact question she wanted to ask.
"Jhudora...please don't say that." Illusen said. It was now that she looked at her. Her eyes were wet, but not yet crying. "I waited. Hoped that I'd get to see you again one day. No matter what animosity may have come over me during that time, I never stopped wanting to see you. I've heard and read what people have said about you. I knew they were wrong then and I still know they are now. Don't think for an instant that I would ever abandon you after all of that waiting."
"But what if-" Jhudora started.
"I'm not giving up on you." Illusen didn't let her finish and squeezed her hand tighter. "So don't ask me to. Even if you give up on yourself, I won't. I can't. And I still hope you don't give up on you either." A single tear was escaping the corner of Illusen's left eye, which she wiped away quickly. She then released Jhudora's hand, or at least tried to. Jhudora was still holding on.
"We can...still do this," Jhudora said, looking away again. "Thank you. For all of that. It means a lot."
Illusen smiled as she re-clasped her hand. "Of course, Jhudora." She slid closer and rested her head on Jhudora's shoulder. "Is this alright too?" Illusen asked softly.
"Yes it is." Jhudora said, smiling as well. She leaned back in her seat, feeling at ease. And that's how they stayed as the train flew along the tracks. Now Jhudora could only think of what she wanted to say to Illusen when they were in The Haunted Woods. Illusen I...think I…
"And that is why we humbly ask for your presence on this most auspicious of days. His excellency, King Hagan." A Techo squire finished reading a scroll aloud to Queen Fyora, who sat on her throne. He then carefully rolled it up and tucked it away in his knapsack with a bow.
"Thank you, Michel." Fyora said with a smile.
"My Queen." Michel said with another bow, trying to hide his glee. He always enjoyed reciting messages to Fyora the most. She was the only ruler to ever address him by name, in addition to being on the short list of rulers that directly addressed him at all.
"You can tell King Hagan that I'd be more than happy to make an appearance on Brightvale Day. I'll be there first thing for the commencement of the festivities."
"Very good, your lordship." Michel put his hand on his chest and nodded. He then turned to exit the visiting room. Fyora let out a small sigh after the doors shut behind him.
"Should I be concerned with that?" asked Aethia, who was standing to her right.
"Hm? Concerned with what?"
"Your sigh just now."
"Sigh? I didn't sigh. I don't believe I did."
"You certainly did. He left. And then you sighed. You also seemed a tad tense during his dictation, as well during the ones before him. Are you still worried about something?"
"Was I really appearing tense? Oh dear, I hope none of the visitors perceived that. I don't want them thinking it was because of them…" Fyora began to grow worried over the possibility.
"I doubt anyone else noticed. The brightness in Michel's face infers that you did a good job hiding it. In fact, if I was of lesser constitution he'd make me frightfully jealous." Aethia reached out her hand and brushed a few locks of Fyora's hair behind her ear.
"Well that's reassuring," chuckled Fyora. Then her face grew more uneasy. "But yes. I'm still worried."
"Do you think talking about it might help?" Aethia sat down on the arm of the throne and started slowly running her hand through Fyora's hair.
"It's just an extension of my baseless feelings from yesterday. I wouldn't want to waste your time talking about nothing again."
"If it's worrying you, it's not nothing. And even if it was, there's no one I'd rather talk about nothing with." Aethia rested her hand on Fyora's cheek and gave her a peck on the forehead.
"Aethia! Someone could walk in..." Fyora quickly looked over to the front doors, although she didn't remove Aethia's hand.
"You don't have any more scheduled visits for the next few hours," Aethia said with a smirk. "Anyone else would knock." Their faces were still close together and Aethia was closing the gap.
"That's...true," Fyora said, meeting her halfway and closing her eyes. The two shared an affectionate kiss, Aethia holding Fyora by the waist with Fyora's hand resting on her upper arm.
"How scandalous, kissing the Queen in her court." Aethia whispered when they broke apart.
"You're unbelievable," Fyroa said with a titter, playfully pushing Aethia's face away. Aethia laughed as she kneeled next to the throne and placed her elbows on the arm. Her chin was resting in her hands as if she was a child waiting to be told a bedtime story.
"Now then, tell me what's still bothering you from yesterday."
Fyora looked to the front doors again before leaning in and dropping her voice. "Okay. Last night I had a very horrific dream that I fear may be indicative of an impending situation."
"What was the dream?"
"Xandra had escaped from stone somehow. And she was more powerful than before. Much more powerful. She was also some kind of bizarre, morphed version of herself. Her face was...damaged. Burnt beyond repair on one side. She also spoke with this inhuman slew of different voices layered on top of her own. I almost felt like I recognized some of them…" Fyora was considerate for a split second. She then went on. "It ended with my waking up just as Xandra was about to slay me. Now before you say anything, I've had meaningless nightmares before. This had the specific feel of my clairvoyance kicking in. Although I can't completely decode what the exact message was supposed to be. And it's been bothering me all day."
"Hmm. That is rather unsettling. Did you want to check on Xandra's statue?" Aethia asked.
"I was going to do that this afternoon. I would have this morning, but I was booked solid with meetings and visitors."
"Well why don't we go now?" Aethia stood up. "It'll just be a quick look and there's plenty of time."
"I should probably go alone. It might raise concern if people see you accompanying me to the Hidden Tower. If it's only me, everyone will just assume I'm taking stock of inventory. Also, this is most likely nothing anyway, so I don't want to put you out for no reason."
"While I'd have no qualms over taking a nice walk with you in the middle of the day, you might be right about the staff starting to talk. They latch on to any occurrence that seems even the most vaguely curious."
"They do their jobs very well. But my do they enjoy falling victim to conjectures now and then. Remember the sighting of the giant Meowclops last spring?" Fyora recalled with a smile.
"Incredible, really. In the morning I heard it was almost 1 meter tall, but by the evening it had grown to 'nearly 2'." Aethia used air quotes when saying the final measurement. The two shared a laugh.
"But yes. I understand. And if something seems ever so slightly out of the ordinary, don't hesitate to come find me. I'll be waiting by your room just in case."
"Thank you for not thinking I'm going mad." Fyora said, getting up from the throne. She held one of Aethia's hands in both of hers.
"With some of the things that have happened around here, this barely breaks abnormal." Aethia assured her. "Now let's get out of this stuffy place so that you can 'take inventory'." Aethia gave an overexaggerated wink that caused Fyora to chuckle. They exited the room and parted ways at the door. Two Draiks on guard nodded at them as the two faeries walked away. Then, when they were visibly out of earshot...
"They were in there for a while before exiting, don't you think?"
"Well of course. Probably snogging in between meetings."
"What? Fyora and Aethia? No way. Are you daft?"
"It's true! Do you see the way they look at each other? Daphne says that she caught them once! It's essentially an open secret."
"I'm not so sure...Daphne started that lie about the sewer Slorgs. In fact, I think that-"
Fyora approached the lofty tower that was eternally shrouded in mist. The unaware traveler would pass right through it without being any the wiser. It's mere existence stood as an example of one of the most substantial cases of self-sustaining magic in Faerie history. Fyora, being no unaware traveler, stopped right in front of it. A simple conjuration and its door materialized out of thin air. She gave a quick back-and-forth glance before heading inside and hiding the door once again.
"It probably would have been more suspicious if someone saw me looking around like that…You're expected to enter the tower Fyora. You're the queen. Ugh." She muttered to herself as she descended the spiraling staircase. To someone observing, it would appear to be endless; just an eternal string of concrete steps lit by torches on the walls. Yet another trick of the tower, this one being of Fyora's own design. When she reached far enough down, she walked up to a Quiggle statue embedded in the staircase's massive central column. She whispered to it in an ancient faerie dialect. "This is Fyora. The path may reveal itself."
As she said the words, the proceeding stairs began vanishing until they stopped at a solid wall a few steps down. On that wall, a beam of light traced itself into a large rectangle from which a wooden door creakily took form. Fyora took the doorknob in her hand but hesitated to turn it. "You're going to walk in and see nothing out of the ordinary. Then you'll be able to be at ease. Okay." She sighed and quickly turned the knob and swung the door open. What she saw was certainly not ordinary in any sense of the word. Because what she saw in that room was Illusen, the Earth Faerie, holding a shrink ray and a miniaturized version of Xandra's statue in her arms. Both of their jaws dropped in awestruck silence as they made eye contact.
"I...Illusen?" Fyora was almost convinced that she was hallucinating.
"Uhh." Illusen didn't move a centimeter.
There was another brief moment of frozen silence between them. Illusen slowly raised her hand to the transporter helmet she was wearing. "RETURN-TO-BASE!" She shouted the phrase so fast, it sounded like one word. Electricity enveloped her in a bright, crackling cylinder.
"What are you-Illusen!" Fyora jumped forward, throwing her arm out. She was too late, and her hand grasped at the air taking up the space Illusen just occupied. Only a few, fading threads of electric energy remained. Fyora stared at the empty room around her.
"Wha...who...that…" Her breathing grew rapid as she turned in place. "I have to get Aethia...I have to get Aethia!" Finally forming a full thought, she bolted back out to the staircase and nearly tripped running up it. She didn't have an exact plan for what she was going to tell Aethia, but she knew she had to do it fast.
"Transporter Helmet. Shrink Ray. Have you used either since we've last seen each other?" Jhudora gestured to each item as she called out their name.
"I can't say I have. But I would sure like to know how they work."
"Well then I'll give you a quick crash course."
The two faeries had arrived back from The Haunted Woods without issue. The cloaking spell was tiring, but if Jhudora only needed to keep it up for short periods, it was very doable. Everyone around them was in such a rush at the station that no one even stopped to say hi to Illusen. So now they were in Jhudora's home preparing to perform the big heist. Jhudora picked up the helmet.
"So there's a button right here." Jhudora pointed to the side of the helmet and turned it so Illusen could see. "You have to hold this, and concentrate on the thought of where you want to go. Some people have found it helps to say the place out loud. Let's try it out." Before waiting on a confirmation, Jhudora plopped the device on Illusen's head. "Transport to my kitchen. It's right beyond those walls."
"But I haven't been in your kitchen. How can I think of somewhere I've never been?"
"It's more a matter of proximity than anything. Imagining the physical place itself certainly simplifies things, but if you just have the general location, you can get there. It only takes focus and a powerful connection to magic that I know you possess. The helmet fills in the blanks for you. Imagine any standard kitchen and think deeply on the thought of a room behind this wall."
Illusen let out a deep breath. "Okay. There's a room right there." She closed her eyes and reached her hand to the button. As she pressed it, the helmet started whirring. She shot her eyes open and said "Jhudora's kitchen!" There was a flash of light, and she was gone. Jhudora waited. A muffled crackling sound could be heard on the other side of the wall as Illusen took form in the kitchen. Immediately after, this was accompanied by Illusen's own excited voice saying "Whoa! That's awesome!" Jhudora shook her head and laughed upon hearing it. She cupped her hands around her mouth.
"Now transport back here!" she called out.
"Okay!" Illusen responded. Then the quiet of Illusen focusing. And then, "Back to Jhudora!" Finally, Illusen re-materialized in the living room, though this time with her back facing Jhudora.
"That was so-" She turned around upon realizing she was looking at a bookshelf. "Jhudora, that was so cool! Now I want to be the one to do this even more!"
"Are you sure, Illusen? This is something I dragged you into. At the very least, I should be the one to take her statue. What if you're caught?"
"You didn't drag me into this. You gave me the option to participate and I took it. And me being caught would go way better than if you were. If it's me, I might be able to buy some time. If a guard, or worse Fyora, caught you in the Hidden Tower's holding room…"
"They might kill me on sight." Jhudora finished the sentence that Illusen wasn't able to. Illusen stepped closer and held her hand.
"Exactly. Fyora's never killed before...as far as I know...but now I have no idea what she might do under the wrong circumstances. And there's no way that I'd let you put yourself in a situation this dangerous if I can go instead." Illusen's face of determination and care told Jhudora that there was no budging her on the issue. Jhudora smiled.
"So it will be then. The shrink ray is self-explanatory. Just point and shoot. The process takes all of five seconds."
"Got it." Illusen picked up the piece of tech. "And the redundant hidden room in the hidden tower is about 'here' if the tower is 'here'". Illusen represented each "here" with one of her hands.
"Yes, that should be about right." Then Jhudora took a solemn tone. "Illusen...please be careful."
"I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, Jhudora." Illusen smiled and took her hand again. "It seems daunting, but it's just there and back. No one has any reason to be in the holding room on a random afternoon. What could actually go wrong?"