Ways To Rebuild
The day when the faeries turned to stone, when no one knew what to do as Faerieland shuddered and shook and came crashing from the sky, were the worst of Penny’s life.
Carlita, always the first in line to comfort her siblings, had said that whatever happened next, at least they would never had to live through those days again. She was right, of course. But what could you call living each day of the aftermath if not still living through it in some way?
* * *
When she was younger, Penny’s favourite excuse for getting out of doing her share of household chores was that it was much easier to clean with paws than with hooves. Years later, she found that there was more truth to it than she’d realized. In the clean up after the final battle, she couldn’t help but be frustrated by how all the sweeping and scrubbing took her acara sisters a fraction of the time it took her. Still, she made it work. She wanted to do her part, help with the repairs, make a difference in some way.
Penny and Carlita’s siblings returned to help with the repairs too, but eventually they had to get back to their lives: Queenie back to all that travelling around Neopia and Ceresa to her job studying the skies in Altador. Penny would never have held it against them for going home, but she did miss them.
Before leaving, both of them had brought up the idea of moving. Ceresa had a neohome in Altador with room to spare, always open to them if they ever wanted a change of scenery, temporarily or…
Penny could tell that Carlita wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea. She watched her sister thank them both for the suggestions and offers, assure them all would be well, that she and Penny loved their home and they had plenty to be doing where they were. They had to help the faeries, their neighbours; to help everyone get back on their feet and hopefully, someday, back in the sky again.
Penny could also tell that Carlita knew just how much she would hate leaving. When her family had moved from Neopia Central to live up high among the clouds in the sky, their neohome in Faerieland was the first place Penny found she could truly call home.
Her acara sisters could be as happy underwater as on the ground or in the sky. Queenie travelled the whole of Neopia, exploring just about anywhere any of them could have imagined, always returning with stories of all kinds of adventures.
It must have been nice to feel like you could make a home anywhere you chose to rest your heart.
* * *
Even after the initial clean up, there was no shortage of work to be done. No shortage of work to be done by the faeries, that was. There came a limit to what one small Uni could do to help an entire land crawl its way back to full vitality, back to its rightful place in the sky.
Still, Penny took faerie quests whenever she could and helped out her neighbours almost as often.
A lot of items in their neohome had broken in the fall: pots, vases, sculptures… they replaced the necessities as soon as shops were open again and residents had had time to acquire new, undamaged merchandise, but Penny hadn’t wanted to throw the broken things away. They had only kept items at home that they loved, and throwing them out because they had broken felt like giving up on them. Instead she had put everything in bags and tucked them away in various hiding places.
As the local shops began setting up again, she and Carlita managed to get the small bakery they owned together up and running again too. Soon enough, Penny returned to spending most of her days watching the counter.
Life almost went back to normal. She liked getting up early and baking with her sister and spending the day talking to customers. She always had.
But the view outside was no longer fluffy clouds with bright blue sky peeking through, instead it was tall trees and greenery, just like in Neopia Central. There were long stretches of time where no one wandered in looking for bread or cakes or pastries and Penny had only that new, strange view and her thoughts for company.
Doing a few quests here and there, cleaning up a bit… what was she really doing that would help?
Days passed and the view stayed the same. Faerieland stayed on the ground, Carlita stayed out for longer and longer and Penny stayed sat behind the counter in the bakery, waiting. Waiting for someone to talk to, for something to happen, for something to do.
With a yawn, she slumped against the surface, not caring too much about being professional. It was rare for anyone to come in at this hour. She felt her leg brush against something on the floor next to her, and peering down she caught sight of one of the broken vases that she had saved the cleaning. She eyed the now fractured pink swirls and purple wing design glumly. It had been one of her favourites.
A broken vase wasn’t really much company either.
She nudged it and two broken pieces tumbled out onto the floor from the hole. Only two? She hadn’t noticed before, but it was actually in pretty good shape otherwise. The one chunk of pottery that had fallen out had broken in half once it fell away, but she had all the pieces. With a careful eye, some patience and either some strong glue or a little bit of magic, maybe…
Penny felt a little spark of excitement as, with a few guided movements, the piece of pottery slotted into place and stuck. She gave it a shake. Then another, for good measure, just to make sure that it really would stay in place. It didn’t budge.
Penny almost dropped the vase in surprise.
There was a small Ixi hovering uncertainty in the doorway. Penny recognized her as a regular customer who seemed to especially like the wing shaped cookie sandwiches Carlita always made.
“Yes, how can I help?” Carefully putting the vase back underneath the counter, Penny straightened up, already reaching for the nearest tray of Air Faerie Cookie Sandwiches. “Will it be the same as usual?”
The Ixi nodded, but she seemed distracted. Her eyes kept darting to the counter, where the side of the repaired vase could be seen, tucked safely next to a small crate of supplies.
* * *
Since the fall, Penny had grown accustomed to dreading the days when the bakery was closed, but after her success with the vase all she had been thinking about was spending her next day off trying to fix anything she could. After heading out early to buy the strongest glue she could find, she spent most of the morning in her room, trying out some of the simple spells she knew and gluing whatever she couldn’t stick back together with magic.
None of them looked exactly the same as they had. Some cracks were more noticeable than others, at certain angles, under certain light… but there was a reason she hadn’t wanted to throw them away. They still meant something, even when they weren’t exactly how they used to be.
When she had stuck everything she could, she was left with things she’d need tools to fix: items with parts chipped off that had been lost in the clean up, toys that had fallen on something sharp and torn and the music boxes her and her sisters had used to collect.
Heading downstairs to find a toolbox, instead Penny found Carlita sprawled exhausted, in one of the kitchen chairs. A bandage flopped, partially wound, from her paw resting on the kitchen table to the floor below as Carlita jerked into action and hurriedly pushed a vial of healing potion away from her. The clinking sound of it against the pots on the table broke the silence.
“I thought you were out,” Carlita said quietly.
Both of them looked at the bubbling potion, clumsily half hidden behind the salt and pepper pots.
“I thought… I thought you only went to the battledome once a week.” Penny felt foolish from the first word. Everything else had changed, why was she so surprised to find that her sister had too?
“I want to get stronger,” Carlita didn’t meet her eyes. “To protect our family, to help the faeries… in case we’re attacked again. To take care of our home.”
“How often have you been going?” Penny sat down in the chair next to her.
“Daily. I’ve been training multiple times a day too though, I might have overdone it bit.”
That seemed to be putting it mildly. Carlita looked exhausted.
“I… I get it.” Penny reached over to finish tying the loose bandage. “I don’t think it’s wrong to want to do what you can. Just… take care of yourself first, alright?”
Her sister gave her a tired smile and drained the healing potion in a single gulp.
* * *
Penny found the toolbox, but set it aside for a quiet evening talking together, the first in a long while. Carlita told her about the new training courses she’d been taking part in. Penny told her about staring out at the trees instead of the sky each day, wishing she knew what to do. The vase she had managed to repair. The things she had been fixing today. After some further prompting, she confessed to all the broken things she’d hidden around the house and shop.
“So that’s why I found that chipped Snowager Sculpture behind the bookcase last week…”
Penny looked up, catching a glimpse of the sun filtering in through the windows. It shone through the leaves of the trees outside, falling at a different angle now from when they were up in the sky. But it was still beautiful, in its own, new way, and the two of them were still showered with light as they laughed over a joke one of the customers had told Penny the other day. She felt more at ease than she had in months, more than she thought was possible when her home was still on the ground.
Carlita’s laughter trailed off as she reached behind the sofa for her bag, pulling out some new books she had picked up the other day.
“I meant to show you then, but you were busy and I got a little distracted with all the training I signed up for…”
Penny flopped her head on her sister’s shoulder for a better look as Carlita read out the titles.
She thought about how her sister was there every morning and evening, as warm and supportive as always even though she was struggling too. She thought about how the broken items had been right there, just where she’d left them, tucked in corners of the house and shop.
Perhaps she should have been looking closer to home for someone to help, something to do to make a difference.
* * *
Carlita insisted on keeping up with a somewhat reduced training schedule, but she did take some time off from the battledome.
After watching her sister pace back and forth, dramatically declaring that she had absolutely nothing to do but wear a hole in their carpet for several days, Penny got her to help mind the counter in the bakery while she sat at a table to the side, working on sculpting a new tail for the Snowager. It was fiddly and frustrating at times, but she would get there in time.
Out of habit, Penny kept looking up whenever the bell on the door jingled. It was a relatively quiet morning, but around mid-afternoon the small Ixi who had come to buy sandwich cookies last week came back, hovering nervously by the door. There was something hidden behind her back.
Carlita greeted her warmly, but the Ixi looked straight at Penny.
“I don’t mean to be rude or nosy but… last week I saw you fix a vase, and…” She shuffled forward, holding out the item she had been hiding: a pretty patterned cookie jar and a lid in two pieces. “I was making this for my brother before… before the fall, and I didn’t want to throw it out and not give it to him but the lid cracked…”
She set the jar and the pieces of lid on the table in front of Penny.
“If it’s not too much trouble, would you help me fix it, like you did with the vase?”
“I’m not an expert, but....” Penny chanced a look in her sister’s direction, earning an encouraging smile. With a little more confidence, she tried again: “Yes, I can do that.”