Peering through the pouring sheet of water, the Fountain Faerie watched as a tiny, cream-colored Wocky stumbled from cloud to cloud, struggling to clear the long gaps with what were barely legs—they were so small and the Wocky so chubby, she could have confused them for feet.
She shook her head and its gleaming, buttery locks, lowering it to stare at her nails and the reflection of the gleaming sun shining onto them. Every neopet was a glutton for punishment. If not a glutton entirely. What was her owner thinking? It was so clear by her swaying belly, the expensive item clenched in her owner's hand (must have been affordable for her) and her shimmering fur: the Gourmet Club. Yes, exactly, the Fountain Faerie narrowed her eyes and scowled, she's that sort of pet. Her owner held herself with the utmost of confidence, shoulders back and chin high. Even her nose had that telltale upward point, the faerie could have sworn.
It looked forced. It looked very, very forced.
As she ran her fingers through her hair, her gaze traveled around the scape of Faerieland. It casually strolled past the majestic palace where Fyora and the highest-ranking faeries resided, tiptoed past the Hidden Tower out of which her keen eyes could make an outline, edged past the chaos of restocking owners and pets in the marketplace, and snagged on the Healing Springs.
How the water there flowed! How magic pulsed through it at every second, every heartbeat! How its keeper's body shone flawlessly, smoothly, invulnerable to the effects of the drying air as she laughed with pets, handing them vials and elixirs. The Fountain Faerie found herself gripping at her arms, hyperventilating with fury as she ducked her now-scaly body into the pool.
Tendrils of her hair floated in every direction as she shook her head, fighting the pressure of water molecules.
Why did everything have to change?
What ever happened to the better days, when she was not bound to the wretched Fountain? It is for the best, claimed Fyora, her hand on the faerie's wet shoulder as she continued, if Faerieland were to face an attack, who would protect the Fountain if not you? And should you not take pleasure in how pets are delighted by your gift?
Who was she to care about their joy? It meant nothing to her; she loathed the pets and how greedily they painted themselves, and even more how long it took them to complete her quests. The Rainbow Fountain was nothing like the replenishing waters of the Healing Springs, which could eliminate all hunger—she was dependent on pets for food, perhaps a passing faerie. When she thought about it, she was like a beggar. And when the pets took ages, and she was on the brink of tearing out her hair, oh, the pain...
Why did everything have to change? Taking a deep breath and inhaling the cleansing water, the Fountain Faerie burst through the surface and into the icy air. She sighed, gently leaning on the clouds with a look of wistfulness as a wet tress slapped against her cheek.
What ever happened to the Neopia she loved? It ached her to watch as neopets and their owners crowded the globe, overpopulating it to the point that nothing was loving and selfless as it used to be. Everything was once tight-knit, the Fountain Faerie remembered. Trust wasn't to be earned. It wasn't necessary to earn it, even, because no one stole, as she recalled. How had that trust, that warmth, been destroyed? No one cared about anyone, because they were too focused on neopoints, on accomplishments. Everything had spiraled downward into a selfish pit of neopoints. And it was all because of the owners.
“'ey, here's your crepe.” The Fountain Faerie's face contorted into a wince and a scowl as one of those owners—one that had already gotten on her bad side—smiled at her and held out the pastry in her pasty palm. “Charlotte? Y'know what you want, right?”
With the sort of giggle that could make a spine melt, the pudgy Wocky nodded eagerly. “Fae-rie!” Her chocolate eyes were either demanding or longing as they focused on the Fountain Faerie.
The faerie gave a sigh as she flicked her thumbnail against the palm of the opposing hand, a signal that immediately turned the waters of the Fountain into a rushing flow of liquid rainbow. Not bothering to give thanks, the Wocky stomped her paws against the clouds at cybunny speed, took a deep breath, and leaped into the waters, giving birth to a colossal splash.
The usual nostalgic pain swept over the Fountain Faerie as she picked at the crepe now resting in her palm. She never thought about it, but she didn't have a name. How is that fair? she wondered, jabbing a fingernail into the cream in hope that the squishing sound would distract her from the Wocky's high-pitched squeals. I do more than Jhuidah. Surely I'm more deserving of a name? Then again, perhaps Fyora would not approve. Perhaps neopets were not allowed to become too familiar with someone with so much power? But that didn't even add up.
Not in her mind.
She hadn't even noticed that the Wocky and owner had left by the time she blinked out of her reverie. Naturally they'd left without thanks. Her stomach gave a rumble in pleading. Then, having made sure that no neopets were around to watch her commit the act, she stuffed the pastry into her mouth, hastily chewing, swallowing, wiping away the cream that trickled out of her grasp.
The Fountain Faerie screamed and hugged her freezing chest, all of a sudden feeling vulnerable and obvious.
A lithe body lowered itself onto the cloud before her, cradling a spoon in its arms in front of a soup-spattered apron. There stood the Soup Faerie, face glowing with optimism. A smile came. “I am sorry I surprised you.” She sat down on a cloud, throwing her head back so that she looked up at the early morning sky. “How have you been?” she asked casually.
“Hungry,” retorted the Fountain Faerie, still recovering from the shock and shivering and at the same time refraining from wringing the brunette's neck in full-on fury. Jealous? Perhaps she was. How could one not be jealous of a person who was oblivious to the world around them, a person who was immune to the nostalgic pain? And yet, they were friends. Acquaintances, the Fountain Faerie preferred to say; they were far too different to be friends, even with the “opposites attract” philosophy. While she would have looked at her reflection in the shining spoon with self-consciousness, the Soup Faerie ignored her appearance. She didn't look at her face, but the spoon itself. What did she often say? This spoon has fed thousands, and it's precious to me. Something along those lines.
She then continued, “These pets have been taking ages with the quests. Don't think they care much, to be honest.”
“Oh, do not say that!” the Soup Faerie cried, hands shaking with the spoon. “Of course they care. Do you not know how expensive your quests are?”
“How am I to know that?” the blond water faerie sneered. “I am not next door to the Shop Wizard.”
Her friend sighed in exasperation and rubbed her head, as though the insult weren't offensive, but rather annoying. “You are so bitter all of the time. Why not look on the brighter side of things?” she suggested.
“Because there is no bright side to this Neopia, idi—” Her retort was cut off as the Soup Faerie's blue eyes widened in shock, and she hastily edited, not willing to send anyone into a rage. “—there is no bright side to this Neopia. Isn't it obvious, with these... these...” She fumbled around for words and snapped her fingers, pointing her chin at the Marketplace. “...greasy creatures everywhere? Neopets. Owners. They are so... so selfish. It's as though you can't trust anyone, because there are too many pets and not enough—”
“Please stop.” A pink hand was in front of her face. “Please. It hurts me to hear you say this. Can you at least try not to assume? At the times I see you, all you do is rant and rave about the pets and owners. About neopoints. Can you try not to be so cyni—”
The Fountain Faerie cut her off, cyan eyes blazing. “You think I am a cynic?” Cloud dissipated into droplets as the blond faerie slapped her palm through it with ire.
The Soup Faerie's face was warm, fingers still stroking her spoon as she responded, “Yes, my friend, I think you are indeed a cynic.” She sighed, and her gaze turned downward, eying the lands below. “Every time I visit you, I think about this, and I must tell you once and for all. Now... let me explain this to you.” The spoon twirled in her hand like a baton. “Neopia grows. It is not so much there being less trustworthy pets as there being more pets in general. There are no less trustworthy people than there were to begin with; there may be more, in this time of need. One could even say that, in place of everything being more 'tight-knit', as you put it, there are more opportunities to make friends.”
“But it's all about the neopoints now,” the Fountain Faerie snapped, although a part of her mind heard it more as a whine. A complaint. “No one cares about the 'friends' anymore; no one cares! It's all about the neopoints, the accomplishments, the shallow things that have ruined everything!” She immediately paused, hands flying to her mouth and then in front of her, fingers wrapping around each other with self-disgust and guilt. As her teeth gnawed at her lower lip, she wondered how, how could she have let that last word come out as a shriek? How could she have been so angry that she let it show? No longer caring what came out of her mouth, she added, “It was all nicer when Wockies didn't have those absurd eyelashes.”
At this the Soup Faerie nearly burst out laughing, and she held her stomach with eyes closed to keep from doing so. “Really?” She giggled, fluttering her golden wings. “I find them adorable.” Sighing, she closed her eyes. Pinched her forehead. Heaving yet another sigh, she went on. “But—”
“What happened to the Neo economy not being in a slump, hm? Or not even mattering? How about that?”
The normally warm, charitable expression of the chestnut-haired faerie turned cold. It was known that she didn't fancy being interrupted. The very clouds seemed to freeze in midair and curve downward, the familiar waters of the Fountain become harsh and unwelcoming and bringing its keeper to wrap her arms around her body and shiver. What was it about the Soup Faerie that gave the effect of the world caving in? One could have heard a pin drop in the silence, the quietness of all but the hand that now tapped its wooden spoon. Finally, with two quick breaths, she returned to her normal self, if not slightly fuming.
“But it is as I said. The 'slump' is bringing neopets together. People are still charitable, even if you cannot see them. You—” She gestured towards the water faerie and her dull scales, the twitching tail that yearned for water and to leave the conversation, for it was being flooded with guilt, “—you sit in your Fountain, day after day, meeting pets who care only about their new colors and looks. You have seen no one but these pets and a passing faerie. From your perspective, everyone is shallow and selfish. From your perspective, everyone cares about nothing but neopoints, as you say.
“I am not afraid to call you a cynic. That is what you are, and I am not letting you deny it. You have become, I am quoting you, now, 'that kind of faerie'. You are the kind of faerie who assumes that everyone is 'that kind of pet'. I could tell from your disgusted expression, as you watched that Wocky and her owner approach you, that you looked down on them. You thought of them as snobs, did you not?”
Before the Fountain Faerie had the opportunity to protest, to build a wall of lies before her guilt, her friend sliced the air with her spoon. It had only been a rhetorical question. “They are poor.” The word was painful to hear with how fierce the voice was, how unfitting it was to make such a sound. “They are regulars at my kitchen and were lucky to have been given such an inexpensive quest, compared to what you normally ask for. And now their bank account is nearly half-drained, because they truly wanted to have something nice in their life. Now, what do you think?
“While you are trapped here, in your Fountain, I stand by my cauldron and I see pets who worry about their next meal, those who do not know when they will be able to eat something other than omelette and soup. The ones you see do not know true misery. The ones I see do, and when they see one in need, they help them. Pets empty their soup bowls for those in need, or at least donate half of their meal. Perhaps you recall a family of Unis, all but one of which were painted? They have lost everything. Their shop is gone, as are their stocks. They were, as with the Wocky and her owner, lucky to have a cheap quest.”
There was no part of her that was not painfully dry, the Fountain Faerie noticed. Her skin was scaly, leathery and dry like that of a Hissi; if she were to pinch a strand of her cream-colored hair in between her fingers, there would be a crunch. More than anything, her throat was raspy, incapable of eking out a word. She wanted to jump into the water, to hydrate her dying body, to forget the thoughts that were racking her head. And yet she couldn't. Somehow, some way, her body was paralyzed, stuck on the edge of the Fountain and watching helplessly as her previous thoughts were picked apart and destroyed. Criticism, she knew, ate at her from the inside out, and it was a surprise she didn't collapse. Noticing this, her friend shook her head. That knowing head that assumed nothing of no one.
“Not everyone is greedy, friend.” There was a light patting against the water faerie's scaly shoulder. “The true Neopia is made of everyone. That is my perspective.” The Soup Faerie beat her wings and flew away, those last words echoing in her wake.
The Fountain Faerie stared at her body in all of its aridness, unsure what to think; she craned her head to squint at a male red Aisha, one that held a plushie in its teeth, using all of its willpower not to grin and let it fall through the cracks in the clouds, and was dancing over in her direction. Had she given him a quest long ago? She couldn't remember.
What had he and his owner spent those months doing? Deliberating over their choice of color over gourmet food, avatars and ritzy clothing? Or fervently earning neopoints, unwilling to give up, unwilling to miss a single game or restock? A piece of her—but a small, small sliver of what she once was that was fading away—knew, or thought it knew, that they were selfish. Like all pets. Selfish. And then she caught sight of the purple crescents under his eyes and she silently begged him to leave; the knowledge that she was wrong was overwhelming. So overwhelming that it sent her diving back into the waters of the Fountain she was bound to.
The Fountain Faerie shook her head as she had barely an hour ago, fighting not only the pressure of the water but the pressure of her thoughts. And then she opened her eyes.
“'elloooooo? Oi, anyone 'ome?”
With that, the faerie burst through the water, her body glistening with moisture. The Aisha glanced at her, then the ground with awkwardness, finally handing her the plushie and making his way into the Fountain. And so she leaned against the clouds, much as she had earlier, watching as neopets, owners, petpets, and faeries all mingled, traded, laughed. She was no longer quite sure what to think—all she knew for sure was that she was gazing at the true Neopia, a Neopia of colors and neopoints and selfishness and selflessness.
And she, for the first time in ages, loved it.
Heyyyyy. (: Worked pretty hard on this. Neomail is shiny!