Here’s the thing: I’m terrified of heights.
I know, I know. Stupid, right? I mean, I’m a Shoyru! I’m the Winged Beast, the Fearsome Dragon, the Defender of the Skies. Or, at least, I’m supposed to be. As it stands now, I’m more of an Overgrown, Earthbound Lizard.
All my life, I’ve gotten by just fine without flying. Which is pretty lucky when you think about it, given that when you have wings, you’re sure to get a few Neopets here and there begging for a demonstration. But those are easily handled. Hover a couple of feet off the ground, and most of the onlookers are suitably impressed. Even those that aren’t are usually satisfied by a simple flap of the wings.
But that’s not good enough anymore.
The invitation showed up without warning: Cap’n Threelegs Fun(ctional) Flight School! Guaranteed to transform your winged wonder into the undisputed king (or queen) of the clouds for the low, low price of two codestones. Even I can admit that the brochure looked promising: laminated photos of Eyries and Korbats soaring high above Krawk Island, the Academy a mere pinprick in comparison. A Pteri here, a Buzz there. Even a Moehog, outfitted proudly with artificial wings, coming in for the smoothest landing you ever saw.
True enough, the course was impressive. But that’s not to say that it looked the slightest bit appealing. What little interest I may have had when I first began reading was easily overpowered by waves of nausea that soon struck me. “Altitudes reaching up to 700 feet!” the text proclaimed. Hah! I can’t even climb seven feet without getting dizzy. As for “conquering the strongest of currents and mastering the fine art of airborne acrobatics”? Forget it- that stuff is dangerous enough at ground level. I wasn’t even halfway down the first page of that brochure before I’d made my final decision: I’d go anywhere in Neopia- anywhere in the universe- before I went to a so called “Fun(ctional)” Flight School (I mean, talk about an oxymoron).
Unfortunately for me, my owner had other ideas.
“It’ll be good for you, Svetk!” she insisted. “They wouldn’t be trying to teach this stuff if it wasn’t completely safe. The last thing the training school wants is an angry Lawyerbot on its hands.”
“Yeah, c’mon, sis!” my little sister, Kakouko, chimed in. “It’ll be fun.” Yeah, right. I love her and everything, but just then her face had adopted an evil little grin that wasn’t the slightest bit encouraging.
Right on cue, my brother, Ebeneus, entered the room, and it was three against one. Between his long-winded lecture on facing your fears, my owner’s insistence and my sister’s begging, I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts.
“NO!” I shouted finally, but it was barely audible, lost inside the din. Suddenly my brother stopped short, gesturing for the others to do the same.
“Did you just say you’ll go?” he said, staring at me in disbelief.
“What? No!” I said. “No, no, no, no, no. Absolutely not.” But this they don’t hear- they’re too busy cheering.
“Then it’s settled!” my owner said, grinning from ear to ear. “You’re going to flight school.”
When I think back to the moment now, I realize that I must’ve looked insane; eyes wide open, jaw practically resting on the floor. Part of my brain screamed at me to object, but I think I was too shocked to oblige. Either way, the matter was settled. Like it or not, I was going.
But believe me, I did not like it.
Now, don’t go thinking that my family hates me (although that’s certainly what I thought at the time). They thought they were helping me. I thought they couldn’t have been less helpful if they had sent me to act as a servant to Sloth himself, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway, when I woke up on the morning of flight school, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. In fact, I was downright petrified. To their credit, my family took it easy on me. My sister actually managed to go a whole hour without teasing me or grinning that evil (but, admittedly, slightly endearing) little grin that I’d seen so often in the past few weeks. My brother limited his usual “You’ll Thank us Later” speech to a simple, “have fun”. My owner ran out and bought Chococherry Pancakes for the occasion- my favourite.
“Dig in,” she told me. “Keeps your stamina up.”
As we began the long walk to the Academy, I thought about pointing out the fact that my stamina was the least of my concerns. It was my wings that I was worried about. Having studied them in the mirror that very morning, it had hit me that they seemed disproportionately small in comparison to the rest of my body. That had to be abnormal, right? I knew from past experience that I could get myself airborne, but how long would I be able to hold myself there for? Visions of plummeting from the sky danced through my head, and I did my best to shove them out. Those same thoughts had kept me up all night- but it was only now, as the Academy came into view, that it hit me just how tired I really was.
“Let’s go back,” I wanted to say. But before I could open my mouth, Cap’n Threelegs himself was looming over us, reaching out to shake my paw.
“Scared o’ flyin’, eh?” Cap’n said, once my owner had explained the situation. “Yar, that’s a good one! But she’ll be cured before the day’s out- I make good on me guarantees.”
Cured? Please. I was thinking more along the lines of traumatized.
No onlookers were allowed in the training area, so my owner was forced to head home immediately after offering payment. “I’ll be back here right at the three hour mark, okay?” she said. “Have fun, Svetk! We’re all so proud of you.”
Would they still be proud if they knew how badly I wanted to turn and run?
The class itself was small. Two Lennies, one Skeith, a Faerie JubJub and another Shoyru. We stood on the steps of the Academy in a single file line as Cap’n Threelegs paced before us.
“Ye all flown before?” he asked us, all business. Most of the pets nodded, save for me and one of the Lennies.
“I was just morphed last month,” she explained. “Used to be a baby Xweetok. I wanted to fly, but couldn’t find wings that fit me.”
At least someone was as inexperienced as me. But when Cap’n gave us permission to take to the air, you would’ve guessed that she’d been flying her whole life. She took off easily, flapping hesitantly at first but quickly gaining power. In an instant, the whole class was above me, chattering excitedly amongst themselves.
“First lesson: navigation!” Cap’n said, gaining altitude himself and shouting to be heard above the commotion. Then he looked down, noticing that I was still planted firmly on the ground. “Ya best get up here! Class won’t start ‘till all me sailors are on deck.”
Nervously, I lifted off, letting myself hover when I was barely two feet from where I’d begun. Everyone else still looked to be a mile above me, although the distance between us couldn’t have been more than fifteen feet. Cap’n stared at me pointedly for a minute, then sighed in defeat. He shouted a few orders at the rest of the students, but I couldn’t hear a word of it. The wind had picked up now, strong enough that it took all of my strength to keep from being blown backwards. I settled to the ground again, defeated. In another moment, Cap’n was beside me.
“Flyin’s simpler than it looks to be, miss. Chin up, flap yer wings. Follow them.” He gestured to my classmates, all of whom were gliding effortlessly through the air. They made it look so easy. None of them were afraid. So why was I?
“Wind beneath yer wings- the best feelin’ in all Neopia.” He extended an arm to me, and it shocked me to see the wooden pole where his hand should be.
“Flying accident?” I squeaked, staring at it. He shook his head.
“Nar- Nuranna bite! Ye see? Yer safer up there than y’are down here.”
I took what felt like an eternity of convincing, during which Cap’n periodically paused to rejoin and give new orders to his recruits. But by the end of the first hour, he had me a good ten feet in the air. Unimpressive in comparison to the others, but it was the highest I’ve ever been.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself when the wind blew again and panic settled in. It caught me from below, pushing me upwards until I was ready to collapse from sheer terror. My mind went blank. I looked down at the ground- big mistake. In the next moment, I was falling. Plummeting, just like in my dreams.
“Ye best not fight it!” Cap’n shouted from above me, swooping in to grab me before I crashed. “The wind’s too strong. Let it take ye where it wants. Remember what I told ya- yer tryin’ t’fight it, ye best work at a ninety degree angle. Works in the seven seas, works in the skies. Works every time.”
So when the next gust came, I listened. It’s only flying, I told myself. You’re not the first to try it. The wind carried me up another few feet, and I felt my breath catch in my throat. It’s perfectly safe. They wouldn’t let you try it otherwise. Besides, I thought, smiling a little in spite of myself, you’re a Shoyru. The Winged Beast, the Fearsome Dragon, the Defender of the Skies. The wind blew again, and I braced myself. You’re made for this.
And suddenly I was flying. Nervously at first, just like the Lenny I saw before. But slowly, cautiously, becoming more confident. “Next lesson: diving!” Cap’n shouted. But I pretended not to hear him.
I wasn’t graceful. I wasn’t beautiful. But I was airborne. And then, without warning, there it was- the wind, warm and welcoming, whistling beneath my wings. “The best feelin’ in all Neopia,” I heard Cap’n say. And so I let it carry me, up, up, up, until the Fun(ctional) Academy was nothing more than a pinprick in the quilted landscape.