The gentle tinkling of golden bells and the distant echoes of soft laughter drifted through the clouds. Silhouettes of Draiks darted and danced in the winter sky, their wings carrying them high above the Neopian lands.
Jen stayed rooted to the ground, eyes turned mournfully to the skies above, at the sight of the Draiks soaring high. Somewhere amongst them were all her friends, dancing and playing the snowflakes even as they fell. Their intricate formations caught the light of the morning sun, glistening like pearls before vanishing into the snow at her feet. Unable to look on any further, Jen cast her eyes downward, gazing with eyes unseeing at the blanket of white that coated the plains. The land, though beautiful, was her prison — as it had been since she was born. Unlike other Draiks who were born to fly, her wings were far too small and weak for her to do the same. When the terrible diagnosis was delivered those years ago, Jen had adamantly refused to accept her fate. Hours were spent leaping out of trees in a vain attempt to train her wings, and hours more were spent recovering from all the times she fell. All her time and savings were spent trying to find potions and spells that could help her fly, but it was all for naught. Her wings remained ever weak and small, and Jen found herself wondering why she was cursed so to be the only Draik who could not fly.
It was especially bad at this time of year, when miracles were supposed to happen. When dreams were supposed to come true. But a miracle never did, and every Christmas, while all her friends would take to the skies to dance and play, she would be left all alone in the expanse of white.
As Jen continued to brood, she found her feet carrying her little frame down the mountain. She desired to be away from it all — perhaps, if she could not see those other Draiks, she would not feel so miserable. As she trudged down the slope, a piece of paper nailed to a pine tree caught the periphery of her vision. Curiosity getting the better of her, she shuffled over to the tree, and studied the words scrawled on the crisp paper: "To whoever sees this, I'm in need your help. Please bring me some twigs from the peak of the highest tree — I desperately need it for my spells. Many thanks! — Taelia."
"Well then, I'm sure some other Draiks could help," Jen muttered. "After all they are the ones who can fly…"
As if on cue, a shadow Draik and pink Draik circled above Jen, waving to her with a smile on their faces before landing softly beside her. "Hey Jen, what are you…oh, that?" the pink Draik shook her head as she caught sight of Jen staring at the paper. "It's been here for awhile. But really, it isn't worth all that trouble — after all, the highest tree is kind of hard to reach even for us, you know."
"Couldn't you just fly there?" Jen asked.
The shadow Draik shook his head. "Not really. At such a high altitude, it's kind of hard to maintain flight." Patting Jen on her back, the shadow Draik gave a small smile. "In any case, you shouldn't worry so much — it isn't something you would be able to help out with."
"But…" Jen started, just as the pink Draik raised a hand to stop her. "I know you wish to help, Jen. We would if it was an easier task. But really — what Taelia wants, as you know, is quite insurmountable even for us… let alone you."
"I suppose so," Jen sighed.
"Well, don't fret on it! Anyway, we'll be heading to Faerieland for awhile. Do you want anything?" the shadow Draik asked. When Jen shook her head, the shadow Draik gave a wave. "Alright then, see you in a bit!" waving to Jen, both Draiks took off once more into the sky. In a few moments, Jen was alone again.
The tallest tree — that's the one near the lake which was declared the oldest in Neopia just last month, Jen thought to herself. It's somewhere nearby…
After a few minutes of searching, Jen finally found the tree. She involuntarily gasped at the sheer size of it. It was the first time she had studied this tree from such a close distance, and it was massive. The large tree towered high above her, its peak vanishing into the high heavens, barely visible in the thick circle of fog above. Perhaps they're right… it does look really tall. But… what if Taelia really needs her spell? If I don't try to help her… Jen took a deep breath, before grasping at one of the branches. Using it as leverage, she pulled herself up and grasped yet another. This is absolutely crazy. Am I really going to try climbing this thing? … Oh never mind. It isn't like I've never gotten myself into worse scrapes before.
Slowly but surely, Jen began ascending the tree. The ancient tree was gnarled and thick, the branches brushing against her face, leaving tiny red lines where their sharp edges left their mark. Still, the Draik continued, paying no heed to the stinging sensation the marks left on her face.
In what felt like hours, Jen finally reached the top of the tree. Breathing heavily, Jen took a moment to catch her breath. Reaching out with a paw, she snapped off some twigs. There. Taking a moment to explore her surroundings, and was taken aback by the scarlet hue that painted the sky. Is it dusk already? I should get down soon and find Taelia before nightfall. Quickly stuffing the twigs into her coat pocket, Jen began making the slow and painful descent down the tree.
By the time Jen found her way down the tree, the sun was already setting, the final hints of ruby vanishing beyond the horizon. I should hurry, Jen mused, as she scurried down Terror Mountain, heading for the igloo where she knew Taelia resided. As she neared it, Jen could see the warm glow of a fire and smell the fragrance of cocoa emanating from within. Reaching the entrance, she raised a paw and rapped the wooden door three times.
"Come in!" Taelia's cheerful voice answered, throwing open the door. Her eyes widened as she regarded Jen's scruffy appearance. "Moon of Kreludor! What happened to you?"
"I know I look kind of terrible," Jen smiled sheepishly. "I've got the twigs you need, but… the going was kind of tough."
Taelia gazed at her with a bewildered expression. "Couldn't you just fly?"
Jen shook her head. "The wings of Draiks may be a gift to others, but they are a curse to me," Jen replied softly. "My wings are too weak to support my flight, so I had to climb instead."
There was a moment's silence as Taelia took in her words. "Oh my…" she finally spoke. "That must be terrible…" Taking the twigs from Jen's hand, Talie gazed at the Draik. "I can't thank you enough for this, especially since you went through even more trouble than I thought possible to help me. What's your name, by the way?"
The Draik blushed. "My name's Jen. Think nothing of it, really. Well… uh… I should be heading home soon. It's kind of late."
"Wait," Taelia said. "I never let those who help me go away unrewarded. Is there something you truly wish for, little Draik?"
Jen smiled wanly. "My help is free, Taelia. I guess the one thing I truly wish for is to fly, but… it doesn't seem like I ever will."
At those words, a strange smile overcame Taelia's features. "Dreams do come true, dear little Jen." Picking up a single twig from the pile, Taelia crushed it into dust and muttered a string of unintelligible words. Waving a hand above the Draik's head, tendrils of wispy blue drifted all around Jen. As the cuts on her face vanished, an odd sensation overcame her, as did a tingling sensation ripple in her wings. Before Jen could ask what just happened, Taelia spoke once more. "Come," she beckoned. "There is something I wish to show you." She lifted a hand, as sparkling dust shimmered all around them.
"Where are we going?" Jen asked.
"You'll soon see," Taelia smiled mysteriously.
The crystal dust swirled around them both, engulfing them in a light haze. When the smoke cleared, Jen realised they were no longer in the igloo, but standing at the highest peak of Terror Mountain. High above Neopia, the air was frigid with ice.
"Look— isn’t the view beautiful from here?" Taelia spoke at length.
"It is indeed," Jen agreed.
"Then this will make the perfect spot to fly, don't you think?"
Jen regarded Taelia with a bewildered gaze. "I guess, but… I told you. I can't fly."
Taelia placed hand on Jen's shoulders. "Is that so? Things have changed now."
"Changed? I don't feel any different," Jen answered with a confused expression.
Taelia merely laughed. "Look within, little Draik. For what gives you strength is not the wings on your back, but your spirit within." Walking to the edge of the peak, Taelia gestured to the empty space where the cliff broke off, revealing a steep drop below. "Trust me on this. And above all, trust yourself — why don't you leap over that cliff, and see what you can do?"
Jen gulped. "I can't fly! I haven't been able to, so what makes you think I can now?"
Taelia shook her head affectionately. "Have you ever known a faerie to lie? Believe me, little Jen. Tis the season for miracles after all."
The Draik slowly shuffled over to the cliff, her heart racing as she regarded the sheer drop to the grounds below. She didn't want to think what would happen should she fail… but then again, Taelia was right. Faeries didn't lie. And she seemed so confident, as if she knew something Jen did not. Perhaps… was it worth the chance?
Jen took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she tried to calm her terrified heart. Then, she jumped. Time seemed to slow for a moment as she hovered in the air, the wings on her back flapping crazily. It almost seemed to work, when all of a sudden, she dropped like a stone.
She was falling, falling, falling. As she had always been, as it would always be. The wind rushed violently against her face, and she screamed but no voice came out. Then, as clear as the bells in a silent night, the voice of Taelia echoed in her mind once more:
Look within, little Draik. For what gives you strength is not the wings on your back, but your spirit within.
Jen closed her eyes. She felt the ice on her cheek as she surrendered herself to the wind. The air was rushing up against her, the wind whipping across her face. Then…
The impact never came. Somehow, she was no longer falling, but floating. Higher and higher she went, above the growing shrubs and then the tallest tree, until she broke free from the pull of gravity… and began to fly.
She was flying.
She was flying.
As swift as a swallow, as free as a bird. High above the mountains, her dainty form soared proudly in the sky, no longer chained to the prison of gravity. A bubble of laughter escaped her lips, and she laughed — truly laughed — for the first time in a long while.
The land was her home, but no longer her prison. The sky was her friend, and no longer merely a dream.
As she soared high above the clouds, she gazed downward. The land below her was a vast expanse of the purest, whitest snow. Ice formations too perfect and smooth to be moulded by hand rose up from the ground towards the heavens, as snowflakes fell gently from the sky. She twirled and spun in the frosty air, the overtones of zephyrs washing over her entire being.
But that was not what took her breath away— no, what caused her eyes to widen and all words to leave her was the sight of the dancing auroras in the sky. Lights and layers of violet, blue and turquoise laced and streaked across the sky in a perfectly choreographed formation, bright and clear against the black canvas of the darkened night, as if in celebration for the Draik who now could fly. With tears brimming in her eyes, Jen gazed down at the faerie that stood below.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Taelia simply smiled, a twinkling in her eye. Then, with a wave and a laugh, she melted into the night.