The Clouds Never Lie
"It's not looking good today, Maile," Azalea whispered. "Better than usual, but it's not worth getting our hopes up."
Azalea lay comfortably on her back, staring deeply into the sky floating above her small self. The Cybunny's azure eyes twitched as she squinted to make sense of the puzzle above her. With a low sigh, she sat up and turned to Maile, her sister. Azalea smiled apologetically, but her Poogle sister stole eye contact in a rash movement. She couldn't help but shield herself with her fragile arms, in anticipation of her sister roaring in rage. Luckily, Maile just shook her head and stood up to leave.
"I guess... there's always the chance you'll be wrong, Azalea. Th-thanks anyway," Maile muttered, hanging her head in disappointment. She paused to look up into the beautiful blue sky, and scowled before walking back into their home. Anyone else would consider the weather today to be blessed and glorious – but not Azalea and Maile.
Azalea was a small Faerie Cybunny with a big voice. She was the typical timid, quiet little sister you would expect to find in a tiny Faerieland neighbourhood. But over recent months, Azalea had found a love for singing and music, ever since reluctantly singing a solo in her Neoschool's choir. Her shyness remained, but on-stage, she was charismatic and eager. Maile, her similarly Faerie sister, saw this as an opportunity to develop their musical skills and attempt to break into the entertainment business. Having played and perfected the harp from a very young age, Maile suggested forming the musical duo, "Cloud Nine". The name was a perfect combination of references to Maile's very own nine-stringed lyre, and Azalea's unique relationship with the clouds.
"We should get going." Azalea nodded, preparing for flight. "As you said, I could be wrong."
Maile snorted, flapping her wings in unison with her Cybunny sister. "You've been right every time. Why would it change now?"
The two siblings fluttered their delicate wings ferociously, and slowly took off from the soft ground below them. They soared over their home, waving goodbye to their mother in the distance as they began their daily journey to a place they had come to despise: the Tyrannian Concert Hall.
* * *
"You kids sure you wanna go out there? The crowd is... well, the crowd is lacking, to put it nicely," Victor announced as he emerged from behind the stage curtain. A short but stout brown Quiggle stood before the faerie siblings. He gazed worryingly at the crowd behind the thick curtain wall draped around him, but he was already aware of Cloud Nine's persistence.
"It's nothing we haven't grown used to," Maile stated pessimistically, smoothing out her wings, "We're hoping some more will arrive once we start. Right, Azalea?"
Azalea smiled timidly, looking up from staring blankly at her shaking paws. Although her newfound adoration for music boosted her confidence, Azalea still found it severely difficult to get started. Her legs would lock up before she shyly wandered to her microphone, and her voice would shake in her throat before any melody sounded. But apart from her nerves, she couldn't say anything to her devoted sister for one reason.
Azalea already knew there wouldn't be a crowd today. She knew that today would not see Cloud Nine's shining debut, no matter how much she or Maile wished for it. She had already foreseen the empty room, the few uninterested sightseers, and the echoed and ignored harmonies. She couldn't bear to tell her already frustrated sister, however, so she didn't say a word. But she knew that the clouds never lied.
The lights that shone down on the arena soon faded to black, allowing just one single beam of pink and blue to focus on the stage. Azalea's legs locked up, as she expected, but she forced a march towards her lone microphone in the luminous glare. Maile twirled onto the stage from the other side, her glittering lyre seated firmly in her grip. The sisters smiled to each other, curtseyed to the lacking audience, and began.
"Step into the sparkling light,
My darling, can't you see?
We'll all adore you on this night,
So sing a song for me."
Azalea sweetly sang her best melodies, concentrating on her pitch and ignoring the irony of the lyrics. She allowed her eyelids to fall, and let her imagination take over. Her mind filled with images of a roaring crowd, adoring fans and clapping paws, and Azalea began to enjoy herself just that little bit more. She smiled and sang more enthusiastically, taking the microphone and putting her soul into her singing.
"Just take a look around you,
Sweetheart, you're a superstar,
I know you'll shine on through,
Like the sunshine that you are."
However, Azalea's fictional happiness soon faded back to reality. The images of her dreams coming true transformed into the image of the clouds - the cursed clouds that Azalea loathed to see each morning. The image of a few scattered clouds burned into her mind, as did the image of the scattered people in the arena. She hated the clouds' resemblance to their audiences. She couldn't deny her gift any longer, and so she succumbed to waiting until the day she awoke to a sky full of clouds. She couldn't wait to see a room full of mesmerised fans.
Maile harmoniously played her harp, but the music ceased abruptly before Azalea reached the second verse. The Cybunny dared to peek over at her sister on the left side of the stage, where Maile was shaking her head once again.
"Surprise, surprise," Maile sighed, leaning on the stage barrier as the concert hall continued to echo the lonely notes they had just produced. The few Neopets in the audience failed to acknowledge Cloud Nine's presence. "You have a gift, Azalea. Albeit one that won't help us in the slightest... but yep, you have a gift."
Azalea couldn't help but smile at her sister's compliment, even if she could sense her bitterness from across the stage. They headed home empty-handed again that evening, and silently hoped the sky would be full of clouds the next morning – and so that their next concert would be a success.
* * *
Several weeks passed after that forgettable concert, and the crowds didn't appear to improve. Each morning, the two sisters would wake up to a near-empty sky, and each evening, they would arrive back home from another lifeless concert. It soon got to the point where they would awaken, see the magnificent blue sky with no clouds, and go back to bed. They could no longer bear flying all the way to Tyrannia to experience further failure.
One day, however, their luck changed.
Azalea and Maile woke up one morning with low hopes, as they had grown used to the cloudless skies of Faerieland. They settled down for breakfast, and just as they began to chomp their Neocrunch, an unexpected sound rattled the house. Thunder roared and the sky flashed with lightning, and although the citizens of Faerieland ran into their houses in fright, the faerie sisters abandoned their breakfast and scampered outside.
"The sky! Oh my goodness, the sky! Azalea, look!" Maile stuttered, throwing her paws up in joy.
The clouds had made their entrance. Grey, drizzling clouds bunched together to drench the floating city below them, but more importantly, to make the sisters' dreams come true. Azalea laughed and danced in the torrential rain with her joyous sister, before they gathered their waterproofs and swiftly made their way to Tyrannia – and for the first time in months, they were excited about it.
"Azalea, have you seen this? The venue is sold out! Look at all the people here to see us!" Maile whispered sharply, beckoning her sister, "This is our big break!"
The concert hall was filled to the brim with bustling Tyrannians, music fans and security guards alike. A busy hum buzzed across the crowd that boasted excitement and anticipation of the new up-and-coming musical duet, Cloud Nine. The two faerie sisters were not nervous, which was a nice change from their usual anxiety. They hugged each other, eyes filling with tears, before Victor began his mute countdown.
"This is it, Maile!" Azalea squealed, as their Quiggle host mimed the last few numbers. The curtains pulled away in a swift movement, and revealed the two siblings to Neopia.
"Introducing... Cloud Nine!" Victor shouted into his microphone backstage, and a polite yet audible applause erupted from the crowd. Maile stepped forward, smiled cheekily to the crowd and started her harp harmonies. Azalea took centre stage, and began to sing her best once again.
"Step into the sparkling light,
My darling, can't you see?
We'll all adore you on this night,
So sing a song for me."
But as she sang her sweet melodies, something seemed not quite right. The audience, whom she was expecting to be engrossed and intrigued by Cloud Nine's mystical aura and magical presence, were looking blank. The music fans stood still, unfazed and uninterested. Tyrannians yawned at the set, as if they were shunning the musicians. The security guards jeered and joked at the lack of work they had to pursue.
The two sisters' luck didn't last for long.
"I... I don't understand. There were hundreds of clouds this morning! They should love us!" Maile threw her paws into the air in distress, "You were wrong, Azalea! How could you?!"
"I'm sorry!" Azalea apologised, her face flushing in embarrassment, "I don't understand either. Maybe... maybe I've been interpreting the clouds wrong?"
"What do you mean?! There's no explanation! There were so many clouds, and there are so many Neopets here! Why don't they care?" Maile welled up, rushing to look away from the uninterested crowd.
Azalea pondered her previous theory. If there were so many clouds in the sky, why were the crowd ignoring them? Undoubtedly, the number of clouds was correct, due to the sold out concert hall that stood before them. So what had she thought wrong?
"The colour," Azalea said, nodding.
"The colour of the clouds," Azalea closed her eyes to remember, and nodded again in verification. "They were grey. Grey tends to mean bad things, so I guess the grey clouds could mean the crowd wouldn't like us and think we're--"
Maile narrowed her eyes at her naive sister, before turning to the ignorant crowd that filled the room. Scowling again, she threw her harp into the audience and stormed off the stage before her sister could finish her explanation. She had heard enough.
The flight home that evening was a quiet one. All dreams had been shattered by the insignificant factor of the clouds' colour, and the two sisters had nothing left to say to each other. The morning had begun with a new hope - a new keen attitude towards Cloud Nine finally succeeding. The day ended with loss, and now Maile and Azalea were left shattered and distraught, fluttering lifelessly back home with broken dreams and heavy hearts.
* * *
The following morning approached, and the dismay still lingered in the air as Azalea dragged herself out of her pit of depression. With saddened bags under her eyes and floppy, miserable ears, the Cybunny grumpily made her breakfast and settled down silently to eat. Her sister's seat, however, remained strangely empty for the feeding session. Concerned, Azalea began to search the house for her missing sister. Maile wasn't in the music room, where she would frequently be found rehearsing for Cloud Nine's debut - nor was she was in her bedroom, ignoring her disheartened state by sleeping through the day.
After searching their Neohome from top to bottom, Azalea eventually spotted a lilac-coloured blob in her garden from her bedroom window. She fluttered from the window and softly landed on the ground next to Maile, who was calmly laid out with her wings spread.
"What are you doing?" Azalea sceptically approached her sister, who was in a dream-like state. Maile never stepped into the garden, unless Azalea was already there, predicting the audience forecast for the day.
"Do you see what I see, Azalea?"
The Cybunny raised her head and gazed upon the blue sky wavering above the two siblings. A cyan tint blared back at them, which was always a pleasing sight for Faerieland. The one thing that caused a twinkle in their eyes, however, was not the shade of the sky. The sky was shining blue through a facade of white fluff. Clumps of angelic clouds were scattered across the wide area above Neopia – hundreds of individual, bright, plump clouds.
Azalea smiled, and looked back down to her sister serenely wallowing in the soft ground.
"Yes, Maile. Yes, I do."