Winnow of the Wind
Light faeries gleam, darkness faeries grumble, and water faeries glide through the sea. Or at least, that’s what the stories say. Air faeries are meant to float like whispers in the wind, though I’ve always had trouble with that. Awkward Winnow, gawking Winnow, Winnow with her tangly-tumbly hair. That faerie-girl with the loud voice and the silly smile, far too improper for a lady of Faerieland.
Winnow with no sense.
Winnow with broken wings.
My mother used to warn me: don’t fly too far from home. Home being Faerieland, where all is safe and soft as an embrace. But before I was an oddity, I was a fool.
I wanted to see the world.
I floated down, down, down from the dream-cotton cloud I was beholden to.
You see, faeries are fierce, but we are also quite fragile. We are only as strong as our weakest points. Not bones or skin, but something even more gossamer, always trailing behind or above us.
I flew from Faerieland to the tundra of Terror Mountain. I skimmed the gleaming surface of Maraqua, hovered above the miasma of the Haunted Woods. The bustle of Neopia Central; the green palm of Meridell, beckoning me like summer. I was quite proud of myself. I had done what very few faeries had managed. I had eaten eggy, mysterious omelettes, fruits that stained my fingers red, met children who smiled at me as I went—Aishas and Poogles and Cybunnies, painted in colours I’d never before seen.
At sundown, I made my way up.
Then came the storm.
I don’t remember much, not even the pain. I just remember the struggle, the way I clawed my way through clouds, swam through them like floating water. I remember the wilted way my wings hung over me, like an old gown that no longer fit.
The way my mother stared at me, in horror and sadness and shame.
“Winnow,” she said then, in this miserable voice. “Your wings.”
“Winnow,” she says now, whenever she sees me. “Don’t you miss your wings?”
I got what I dreamed of. I have everything I thought I wanted. And it hurts.
I leave Faerieland as I please, which is most of the time. My friends from up above stopped looking at me the same, when I stopped flying. I was able to mend the physical damage—thanks to several visits to the healing springs, and countless, sweet-tasting potions—but it was like a switch had turned within me. I couldn’t fly. And what was a faerie without her flight?
I became something of a fable in the Faerieland court: that unfortunate Air faerie who lost her touch. Worse off than any faerie of darkness. Weak-willed. Heedless. The girl who had her head in the clouds, only to get led astray.
Yet in the world below, I am still considered something beautiful. So I let myself escape from my problems, my past, by wandering. I meet all sorts of characters, see all kinds of lovely sights. I offer quests like gold throughout Neopia, and get everything I ask for, yet it somehow feels meaningless, because none of it is what I truly need.
I book a last-minute ticket to Faerieland, cancel it, and wind up in Meridell. Going up to Faerieland is always an ordeal, because of my situation. I can’t simply pitter-patter back into the queendom. I need someone to get me—my mother, an old classmate from the castle academy, gorgeous pets with working wings. It always makes me feel strange, like I’m not going home, but visiting a place I no longer belong. And it’s because it’s true. I no longer belong in Faerieland, and it’s my fault.
I wanted to be special, different. I wanted to prove myself. And I only proved everyone right.
I’m fanning myself through the springtime heat, the endless plains spread out before me like a green ocean. I walk and walk, my legs wobbling underneath me. A faerie isn’t built to roam the earth. She is meant to soar.
I close my eyes.
“…erie… Hello?” My inner voice is also clearly exhausted, and several octaves lower than usual. “You alive down there, uh, Miss Faerie?”
“It’s Winnow,” I mumble, before my eyes snap open, and I’m met with the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.
A Faerie Draik. A rarity, even back home. My mouth drops.
“Are you hallucinating?” he asks me, landing on the ground beside me. He hardly makes a sound when he does. “You were talking to yourself just now.”
“I, uh,” I begin, trying to at least emulate my poised, Air Faerie persona. “I am simply enjoying the lovely breeze this evening.”
The Draik raises an elegant brow. “It’s high noon. Also, boiling out.”
I shrug. “To each their own.”
The Draik looks at me for a moment longer, before hedging, “I’ve never seen you around here.”
“I’m visiting,” I say.
“This is the middle of nowhere,” the Draik supplies. “The Castle and central square are miles out.”
“I love nature,” I say. “And giving quests.”
“There’s nobody here but us.”
I am starting to get annoyed. “Would you like a quest, then?”
“Depends,” says the Draik. “What do you want?”
And there it is; the million Neopoint question. What do I want? Years ago, I would have said freedom. After my accident, I might have said magic, or wings. But my wings are fine, or at least, they should be. It’s me that’s messed up. I have everything I ever pined for and can’t seem to do anything with it.
“I don’t know,” I confess, at last.
The Draik suddenly softens. The harshness of his gaze becomes almost kind.
“Do you need help finding the way to the castle? I could show you a clear path to fly.”
“I…” I can’t believe I’m saying this. “I can’t.”
“Can’t … go to the castle?”
“Can’t fly,” I whisper.
I expect him to laugh. To point and jeer, or just stare at me with the fathomless pity everyone else drowns me in.
But the Draik only says, “Winnow.”
I balk. “How—”
“You said that earlier. Is that your name?”
I nod, before looking at him expectantly. Now, it’s his turn to sputter somewhat.
“It’s a nice name.” He pauses. “Winnow. I don’t…”
“I don’t have one,” he eventually says.
I stare. He stares back. The sun is shining and cheerful overhead, like it’s poring over a wonderful, earthen story.
But it’s just us. Me, wingless Winnow, and the nameless Draik.
“Why?” I ask, at length. “You’re…”
The Draik glances away from me. “You’re only surprised because you see me like this. I wasn’t always this way.”
His wings tremble. But I don’t notice, because I’m staring into his eyes.
“Are you from here?” I change the topic. He shakes his head. “From Faerieland?”
“I don’t remember.” He shifts somewhat. “I wasn’t always—a Faerie. Or even a Draik. I’ve been around for a long time. People treat me different, now. They admire me. But whenever I catch my reflection, it’s like I’m expecting something else there. Whenever I soar through the skies, it’s like I’m waiting to fall. Nobody understands, really. So nobody stuck around. I never got a name.”
The nameless Draik, who wasn’t always a Draik, but was always nameless, takes a step away from me. I take one forward. It would be so much easier to fly away, or just feel whole, but I’ve always had trouble with the easiest things. It’s both sad and relieving to meet someone like me.
“I had everything,” I admit. “And I would say I lost it, but I didn’t. I’m just lost.”
“Lost and nameless,” the Draik drawls. “What a weird pair we make.”
Against all odds, I blurt, “I’ll give you a name.”
The Draik’s expression darkens. “You don’t know me. I don’t think you could give me something as special a name. You prize yours, don’t you? Because you got it from someone you love.”
“Then,” I say. “Let me get to know you.”
“Is this a quest?”
“I will award you a name,” I say. “If you…”
“Lend me your wings,” I say.
“Until you can fly again on your own?”
Suddenly, it clicks. The thing I want. What I never could seem to procure. I got my taste of the world. I ruined my wings, and slowly healed them, through aches and ills and pains, and the faeries expected me to sprout up like a flower, to fly my own way, to grow up and be normal and prim and pretty.
But I never wanted that.
I came down here for a reason.
I don’t fly for a reason.
I’ve been searching, combing this endless world for the one thing you cannot find on the other end of a quest, or map.
“I don’t want to fly on my own,” I tell him. “I want to be friends.”
The nameless Draik’s shimmery, oceanic scales catch the sunlight like gold. His wings beat like a heart, though he is not yet floating.
“Wingless Winnow,” he muses. “I accept your quest.”
I break out into a wide smile. My wings feel light as air. They are flightless, ailing and healing, but it doesn’t matter. A true friend wouldn’t care.
The nameless, Faerie Draik reaches out for me, and guides me onto his back for take-off. “Where to first?” he asks.
“Faerieland,” I say, rather than home. My new, nameless friend inches upward, upward, until I’m finally, finally touching the dream-blue skies I thought I’d parted with for good. “Just for a bit. I want them to see us fly.”