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To Fly With Faerie Wings

by laurelinden


"Make a wish, Shruti," said her mother, placing the cake before her.

    The striped Xweetok smiled, leaning toward her birthday candles, and scrunched her eyes shut in earnest concentration. It didn't take her long to think the thought pounding with every beat of her heart, rushing wildly through her mind. She heard the words resounding in her head, and thought them over clearly for good measure, then popped her eyes open and threw her breath all over the handful of candles on her cake. They all burned out -- a good sign, that she got them on the first try. Maybe it would add power to her wish.

    "What'd you wish for?" asked her brother, a yellow Shoyru called Sten. He leaned carelessly on the table, his head propped up on his fist.

    Shruti paused a moment as her mother began to cut the cake. "Isn't it bad luck to tell your wish? Maybe I should keep it quiet, if I want it to come true."

    "Nah, that won't change anything much," Sten assured her. "A birthday wish is a birthday wish. Saying it out loud won't undo the fact you made it."

    "Fine," replied the Xweetok. "I wished..." Why was it so hard to say it aloud? The words still echoed in her head; she just had to put voice to them. "I wished to run the race tomorrow with the speed of a faerie's flight."

    Sten laughed into his paw. "Speed of a faerie's flight? What faerie is that? Haha, even if they did exist, they'd probably flit around in little circles like a bunch of butterflies. Though with the race coming up, I can tell that you'd want something better than a little Xweetok's prance, that's for sure."

    Shruti realized why the wish had been so hard to say aloud -- some part of her knew her brother would only laugh. Even she had to admit was hard to envision a faerie here, in the mundane buzz of Neopian Central, but she'd heard stories from people of far-off lands... Neopets from lands like Meridell, and the Lost Desert, who told tales of beautiful faeries of air and water, fire and earth, light and darkness, living in magnificent castles in the clouds. Sten had laughed at those tales too. "Castles in the clouds?" he'd said. "Clouds are nothing more than water vapor in the sky... I guess those faeries must do a lot of flying!"

    Even so, Shruti couldn't help but look up longingly at the sky sometimes as she went through the streets outside, wondering if they really did exist. One dusty traveler in Kauvara's potion shop had even spoken of a Faerie Queen named Fyora, clad in all shades of purple, who ruled over all of the faeries in the clouds. The thought of the majestic Queen of Faeries sent shivers down Shruti's spine even now.

    But most of Neopia Central's attention was not up in the clouds, but right on the ground before them -- the plaza, where the first annual Central Race was to be held tomorrow. Neopets from all over would come to watch the race, and the winner's name would be famous for miles around. It took Shruti's breath away to think that one Neopet, previously just another face in the crowd, would be known throughout all of Neopia Central as its swiftest runner.

    It would probably be her brother. All of her friends had begun practicing madly for the event as soon as it was announced, of course -- it was no longer an uncommon sight to see Neopets sprinting through the streets as they picked up items from the shops, or taking practice runs through the park. She and her brother often raced the neighbors in their free time. Shruti was fast, as were some of the other Central Neopets, but Sten almost always won. If he did manage to win the Central Race itself, Shruti would be proud of him -- imagine, her brother, the fastest runner in Neopia Central!

    Even so, she didn't want to come in near the end. Lately she'd been practicing even harder, running back and forth in her yard at the end of the day and the first thing in the morning. She loved the way the wind felt as it whipped through her fur, and the way the earth blurred beneath her paws. Sometimes, as she glanced up at the clouds high above her, she thought it might almost be like flying.

    As she dug into her birthday cake, the Xweetok wondered if faeries knew how running felt. This time she kept her thoughts to herself.

    * * * * *

    The morning dawned boldly and beautifully, but it was Shruti's excitement, not the sunlight, that awoke her. She sat up straight in bed, and muttered the first thought to shoot through her mind. "The race is today!"

    Leaping from underneath the covers, the Xweetok pulled on her exercise outfit and her trusty, well-worn running shoes. She was so flooded with anticipation that she was tempted to run right downstairs, but she knew her mother would not like it if she forgot to make her bed -- not even on a day like this.

    The Xweetok pulled the covers smooth, and reached to fluff the pillow, and there her paw paused. She frowned, leaning closer, and pulled at the item that had been lying beneath her pillow, partially exposed by her fluffing. It was a small, beaded circlet, made of tiny beads in all shades of purple. It must be a birthday present someone forgot to give me, she thought to herself, slipping it over her ankle. I guess my mom didn't want to wake me up, so she stuck it there.

    She would have asked her mother about it as she clambered down the stairs, but only her brother Sten was at the table. "Have a Strawberry Nova Waffle," he said, pointing to a chair. "You'll need a burst of energy for the race."

    "I'm barely even hungry," replied Shruti, and it was true -- her stomach already seemed to be full of butterflies, flying in little circles. She made herself eat a few bites regardless, knowing that he was right. Once the waffles were inside her, the butterflies seemed to calm down a bit.

    "Mom's out to pick up a few things before the races," Sten told her. "She said she'd be there to watch, though. Do you want to leave now?"

    Shruti nodded as she brought her dish to the sink. "Sure. I've been practicing a lot, you know. I've been doing extra runs for weeks now."

    "Good, sis. Maybe you won't lose then... by too much," replied her brother, laughing.

    * * * * *

    The butterflies were back as Shruti stood at the starting line. She was vaguely aware of the press of people all around them, and her brother at her side, and some of her friends and neighbors gathered around. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces, too, but the Xweetok barely noticed. Instead she stared at the starting line before her toe, letting the talk and calls of the crowd wash over her in a meaningless buzz of sound.

    She sought a still calmness within her mind. Focus, she told herself. Remember the earth, the water, the fire, the wind, the light, the darkness. They are here now, in the grass, the air, the streams, the sun, the shadows. If the faeries exist, maybe even they are watching now.

    The Xweetok heard a voice call, "Racers ready?" Her muscles tensed, and she leaned out over the starting line, her heartbeat pounding thunder in ear ears. There was a pause, then... "Go!" A sound like the crack of a whip split the air, and she was running.

    Running... or flying.

    The familiar whoosh! of wind hitting her face, rustling her fur, caused her almost to laugh aloud. Her muscles rejoiced at their sudden release as she sprinted. Each paw scarcely seemed to touch the ground as she flew through the crowd of other racers, so lightly that she might have been soundless even on a bed of fallen leaves.

    The turns and twists and curves she took effortlessly, gliding almost as if she rode the wind itself. The racers around her seemed only a blur of movement as she scampered nimbly through; she only had eyes for her path.

    Then there it was. Stretched before her, shining in the bright sunlight, was the finish line -- the race's end. It had come so soon, only in a matter of heartbeats, but each moment was eerily clear.

    She took off with renewed energy, feeling the desperation of the other racers rise with almost a tangible pulse. Leaning forward, she poured even more speed into her already blurred paws, and felt a strange warmth at her ankle as she heard a high, rippling laughter as if from tiny lungs.

    Past the crowd she ran, darting through the bodies seemingly in slow motion, and she saw the bewildered face of her brother flash as she passed him... but then there was only the finish line, standing in front of her, beckoning, as if the end itself called her name.

    As the little Xweetok named Shruti passed it, a smile on her face so bright as to rival the sun itself, the sound of the crowd was a glorious victory in her ears, and the color of the dust was all shades of purple at her feet.

The End

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