Castles in the Sky
The sun was setting, casting a faint pinkish glow over the ground, as Alaina made her way back to Faerie City. Captivated, the air faerie paused mid-flight to watch its descent. Overhead, the sky was a beautiful mixture of yellows, oranges, and pinks, with a band of blue stretching above. She caught sight of the clouds, painted pink and purple, and an abrupt pang of sadness and nostalgia seized at her as she was suddenly reminded of a different, yet infinitely more familiar set of clouds...ones she had not seen in what seemed an eternity.
She closed her eyes, remembering... She could see all of it so vividly, in her mind's eye -- the great sweep of clouds massing together, so close and connected that they seemed as one. Pastel mountain peaks emerging mysteriously through the thick, swirling white puffs. Streams of rainbows cascading from a series of clouds while other streams of clear, sparkling, blue water flowed serenely into springs. Two long cobbled bridges leading into the heart of the city, where cobblestones of magenta and violet opened to a multitude of bright and colorful shops, carpets of cloud hugging their bases like fluffy, snow-covered flowerbeds. And the castle, appearing in the distance like some lovely utopian palace, its pink and purple towers standing tall and dignified.
Faerieland had been a paradise, a place so perfect that it surely could only have existed in the most beautiful of dreams.
...And now it seemed, her dreams were the only place she could hope to see that majestic view. Alaina squeezed her eyes tighter, trying with a futile desperation to hold onto the vision, just a little longer, but the images slipped away, fading to nothing. Everything seemed to go out of her as she breathed out a sigh, letting her shoulders fall and her eyes release their hold.
Slowly, the air faerie let her eyes open. The sky was growing imperceptibly darker, as the sun dipped ever lower, the clouds retaining their purplish hues. Alaina gave a last, long look at them, her periwinkle eyes sad and wistful.
Would Faerieland ever return to the clouds? she wondered.
She turned away, and her gaze swept over the greenery. Where the cloud-supported Faerieland had been bright, lively, and dreamlike, this new grounded version was more subdued, quiet, and shadowed. She could still see the cracks in several buildings, lingering there like old wounds that refused to heal. Fyora's castle had suffered the most damage, its towers bent and collapsed into themselves, seemingly proclaiming their broken, sad state. Gazing at them now, Alaina felt a strange sort of solidarity, as if they too mourned what once was.
She remembered when all the faeries had finally been freed of their stone forms and awakened to the devastation that was their home, the immediate plans were to rebuild Faerieland, with the goal of eventually returning the city to its rightful place up in the sky.
Back then, she had been all optimistic and dutiful determination, believing that with every contribution she made to restore Faerieland, she was bringing her fellow faeries and herself one foot higher to reaching the city's fabled heights. Alaina hadn't let the many rejections of her quests bring her down -- there were plenty of Neopians who had been more than willing to help the faeries rebuild, and she had always managed to find several eager pets with generous, helpful hearts and an appreciation for speed. Alaina had put everything she had into her task and worked tirelessly to pitch in whenever she could.
A faint smile formed on her lips as she recalled how she had approached the Faerie Queen herself, every day, with the same hopeful question:
"Is it enough? Can Faerieland return to the sky?"
In return, Queen Fyora would grace her with a kind smile and gently say, "Not quite yet, I'm afraid, but thank you for all your hard work."
Alaina's eyes would then lower in disappointment, but she'd immediately resolve to work harder still. She had been a young faerie then, full of hope and cheery optimism. Naively believing that all would be normal within a few short months. Weakened or not, faerie magic was, after all, the most powerful kind.
However, months turned into years with no change, and her determined optimism began to fade, as did her dreams of finally seeing Faerieland back in the clouds. The quests, once an opportunity she eagerly embraced to help Faerieland, soon became nothing more than a series of daily rejections. Each refusal felt like one failure after another, and the belief that she was doing nothing to help had taken a toll on her morale. As a result, Alaina had grown to dread the Month of Awakening, when she would be forced to appeal to numerous Neopets each day, plastering a bright smile on her face and waiting, dully, for the inevitable "Sorry, I can't help you" she had come to expect.
As time wore on, returning Faerieland to the sky seemed to become less and less urgent. Alaina had watched, with desperate hopelessness, as the faeries around her gradually adjusted to their new surroundings. More and more of them even seemed to prefer this new grounded Faerieland to the floating one of the past.
Alaina was not one of them. The air faerie had never quite been able to accept the unfamiliar greens and purples, even after all these years. But it wasn't just about the different color scheme.
To her, it was a constant reminder of everything she had lost. She missed the unimaginably soft caress of stepping on cloud. She missed the pinks and purples reflecting off the white, turning the city into a dreamy, rose-colored fantasy. She missed how, anywhere in the city, she could look out into a vast array of sky, stretching endlessly in every direction and beckoning with promises of adventure. She missed racing across the heavens with her sisters or just herself, basking in the freedom and sheer thrill of it, while wind rushed past her wings and whistled through her hair. She missed flying farther and farther -- so far that Faerieland would become a mere speck in the sky -- yet never worrying, never fearing she was lost -- knowing she need only turn her head, and her beloved land would be there, resting on its cushion of cloud. She missed the joy and the excitement, the visiting neopets glancing around in awe, marveling that they were standing on cloud and floating in midair. She missed the friendly whisper and hum of wings fluttering by, as both faerie and neopet alike gracefully flew past. She missed --
A tear trickled out and traced a glistening line down her cheek. Surprised, Alaina slowly raised a hand to wipe it away. She had not realized she had been crying. She took a slow, deep breath, trying to steady her emotions.
She missed...her home.
Down here on the ground, she felt displaced, wrong. She was an air faerie -- she felt most alive in the skies, most comfortable lying on a cloud. Her heart, her home belonged up there.
And so, since the Crash, Alaina had been single-minded in her desire to see Faerieland afloat. Even after Queen Fyora had declared Faerieland's reconstruction complete while the city still remained decidedly grounded, the air faerie had still believed. Her certainty that yes, Faerieland would rise again and once more sit atop the clouds had kept her going through all the long years and disappointments, burning steady and strong as a flame. Though the flame had grown dimmer with each passing year, still, it burned. Every time she started to lose hope, she would remind herself that she just had to be patient. We just need more time, she would tell herself. More spells. More quests. It will happen. It has to.
But still. Sometimes it was hard to keep faith, to remain ever hopeful. Too often, quests and her suffering felt like they were all endured in vain. She had put up with the rejections and groans when she appeared because she knew she was doing it for a greater cause. It would be worth it in the end. But was it? Faerieland was still stuck on the ground, with no indication of ever relocating upwards. All the Faerie spells prepared for Faerieland's restoration seemed to have done little in repairing the damages wrought on the buildings and towers. Not much had really changed in the seven years that had passed since Faerieland had fallen, or so it seemed to Alaina.
Maybe Queen Fyora had simply been deceiving Neopians and heartbroken faeries like herself -- giving them a false hope so they would have something positive to cling to. Maybe it just wasn't possible anymore to raise Faerieland to the skies again. Why else would it have taken so long to see any results? Perhaps Alaina had just been fooling herself all this time, stubbornly believing Faerieland would rise once more, taken in by empty words and promises that would never be fulfilled.
Perhaps it was time for her to finally let go.
The words hung there, echoing unpleasantly in her head. Almost as if to defy the notion, images of beloved sights and memories flashed through her mind: Poofy white landscapes of clouds. Pink structures and towers, proud and sturdy. Playful little Cirruses pretending to be part of the city's cumulus foundations and surprising unsuspecting Neopets. Snuggling with a Faellie in a wispy blanket of cloud. Laughing as a fire faerie's foot slipped through the hole she had accidentally burned through the floor. Lying on her stomach at the edge of the city, dropping stray Pteri feathers and Earth Faerie Leaves over Neopia, enjoying their lazy, twirling descent...
Would she have to say good-bye to these things permanently? Would they be lost to her forever?
No. The air faerie shook her head. She couldn't possibly give up. If she did, then she never would see Faerieland rise again.
She had to keep trying. Had to continue hoping. Even if it took another seven years or more, she would keep that burning hope alive. Faerieland would return to the skies again. She'd see to it.
As if her confident resolve had shaken her out of her thoughts, Alaina suddenly became aware of her surroundings. The sun had long since slipped past the horizon, the pinks and oranges giving way to royal blues and violets. She started. How long had she been standing there, lost in her musings? She needed to get back soon, before it turned completely dark.
The air faerie glanced up once more at the deepening clouds. One day, she hoped, she would see Faerieland there again.