Catching Up: Part One
It was a fine day, crisp and cool as an autumn day should be, when the incoming class of Faerie Academy lined up alongside the practice field to wait for their instructor.
The Fire Faerie gave a wry smile, peering through the small window of the door before her at the girls, and then opened the door to step out. She let her stride adjust to the longer, fuller gait of the Faerie Cloud Racers, forsaking the hurried steps that the other Faerie Academy instructors used, and paced across the quadrangle towards them.
For a few moments none of them noticed her; or perhaps they did, and thought her unimportant. Then a Dark Faerie's face turned towards hers, and the girl shouted something unintelligible at this distance.
One by one, the Faeries' heads turned to their instructor, and Evea smiled.
She didn't look at them until she was standing directly in front of them, five feet in front of them to be exact; she'd done this fifteen times before and so help her she'd do it at least once more.
Her arms were at her sides, her gaze on the purple-painted walls of the Academy behind the girls.
She let her gaze drop slowly to their faces, and gave them a broad smile.
After a moment, when she was certain she had all their attention--none of them whispered to their friends, or giggled--she nodded, just once.
Evea had already impressed them, and she knew it. The Faerie Cloud Racers were an elite group; some disappeared on the field, whisked away by the conflicting magical fields, and others were injured after just a few years.
In a highly competitive field, the Fire Faerie had been a Racer for seven years; when she retired, it was to teach, not to settle down in peace and quiet somewhere in the Neopia that lay below. The senior girls of the Academy were on friendly terms with her after the years of lessons, the younger ones completely in awe of her.
This being this particular group's first class, Evea had prepared accordingly, and had worn her uniform from the Racers. It was not the showy dress that she had for performance Racing; that was more impressive still, red and orange and yellow at once, but annoying when all you wanted was practice.
She had worn instead the sensible purple-and-cream shirt and trousers issued to all Racers for practices, and tucked her hair up into a knot at the back of her head to keep it from falling in her face.
The girls stared at her.
Evea grinned back, and said, "Welcome to your first class on Faerie Cloud Racing.
"These classes," she continued, "are not meant to make you an expert at the sport, but rather to give you an overview of the basics of Racing. Should you wish, you may take additional courses on this ancient art from me, either next year or after school. Most of you, I expect, will find that Faerie Cloud Racing is not your top choice for speciality, and will instead go into Healing, or Quest-Giving, or some such."
She shrugged. The girls waited expectantly for her to say that Faerie Cloud Racing was the best option of all, though they all knew it already, with the fierce decisiveness of youth. Hadn't they heard tales of Evea? And hadn't they looked at all the places available for them to specialize in a sort of magic, and chosen Faerie Academy for the Racing classes?
"And that's fine," she concluded. "All of the choices are good ones; I give no more respect to an experienced Racer than to a Healer of the same experience." The Fire Faerie smiled at the confusion on their faces, and turned to pace up and down the row of students.
She didn't bother counting them. There was always the same number each year, no more, no less: six from each element. It was a nice number, a traditional number...
...There were seven Dark Faeries.
Evea turned away from the students to hide her own bafflement. What were they thinking, sending her seven? There were six from each element each year; everyone knew that.
And anyway, if they had to give her an extra student, why not a Fire Faerie? Or a Light? Those were the best Racers; it was proven.
Evea swung around and shot a look at the Faerie who'd spoken, a petite student whose nervously-fluttering wings identified her element as Light.
"You will address me as Ms. Evea, or Evea," she said brusquely. "Yes?"
"Well, Miss--Ms. Evea," the Light Faerie stammered, "I was just wondering, when are we going to learn how to Race?"
She fell silent, waiting for Evea's reply.
The Fire Faerie frowned and inspected her student. "What's your name?" she asked after a moment.
"Lianar," the Light Faerie said, and closed her mouth around the honorary she'd been about to add.
Evea nodded sharply. "I suppose the rest of you would like the answer to Miss Lianar's question as well?" she said, scanning the rows of students.
They mumbled a sheepish "Yes."
"Very well," she said. "We begin in one week's time, when I have fully covered the rules, official and unofficial, of the game."
They looked at her indignantly, and Lianar's hand shot up again.
"Ms. Evea, how many rules are there to Faerie Cloud Racers?"
The teacher gave her students a wide grin. "Exactly the right amount."
A week passed; September's pleasant weather cooled as the time sped on to true autumn. Evea's students learned the ins and outs of Faerie Cloud Racers; as she had said, there were unofficial rules to the game, as well as the true ones.
Seven days after students and teacher had first met, they gathered again on the back lawn of Faerie Academy, near the practice field Evea had set up when she first came to the school.
A long row of the racers--which Evea had informed them were generally known as carriages by the Racers--was set up next to the Fire Faerie. Those mathematically-minded among the students counted quickly; there were thirty-six of them, each one as purple as the Faerie Queen's wings--a neutral color among the Faeries.
Evea was wearing her purple and cream again, and regarded her students with a half-smile as they stood on tiptoes to see the carriages above the heads of those in front of them.
"Right," she said when they'd finally settled down. "Today we're just learning how to fly these things. Don't try to race each other; anyone who does gets automatic detention and so forth." She flashed them a quick smile.
By now they'd mostly gotten over their awe with her; Evea was witty, with a tendency to grin, and as normal as any Faerie they'd met. Nevertheless, she still had a--a presence that was unlike any of their other instructors. In the past week, they'd met all their teachers, and they were demure or strict, with no middle ground whatsoever.
Except, of course, for Evea.
"We've only got thirty-six of these things, that being the regular number for a class," she continued, "so, let's see... Lianar, why don't you let Patricia have your carriage for now. Halfway through, Patricia, will you come back and let Lianar have a turn?"
With a nod, both students gave their acceptance of this plan; Evea said, "Go, then."
The Faeries surged forward, eager to claim the carriage closest to them so they could get out more quickly; half a dozen racers started up almost at once. Evea didn't bother activating the mechanism that laid down a purple line in the air behind them, knowing that there would be enough collisions as it was without adding that to the mix, too.
Lianar hung back, tugging listlessly on the sleeves of her uniform, watching the other students with narrowed eyes. Evea felt a twinge of sympathy for the girl; in the past week, Lianar had shown herself to be an excellent student, and she didn't truly deserve to be stuck on the lawn with her teacher while the others flew, shrieking with laughter, around the cloudy surface of the Racing field.
The Fire Faerie took a few meandering steps towards Lianar, tucking her hands into the pockets of her trousers and frowning. She began to speak; as she did, two of the carriages crashed into each other, and a pair of Earth Faeries sat, shocked, in their stopped racers. Other students' attention was diverted from their controls by the noise, and soon a plethora of small accidents cropped up all around the field. Evea sighed and launched herself off the ground, skimming across the clouds that formed the ground of the field to the two students that had collided first. After ascertaining that neither was hurt, she glanced back at the figure of Lianar standing on the lawn, alone; the Light Faerie watched the scene with placid interest.
Evea shook her head, told the two Earth Faeries to start their racers again--"just because you crashed doesn't mean you're going to fail the class automatically; everyone crashes"--and flew on, her wings bearing her up and across to the next pair of crash victims.
To be continued...