Chapter 1: Eternal Spring
Today was a particularly active day for the inhabitants of Cloudforge. Especially for the members of the ruling family and the nobility. As servants and nobles alike scrambled around the palace grounds in preparation for the coming festival, a lesson had been prepared for the young children of the palace.
In a room near the center of the palace, the children were to be gathered. The tall vaulted ceilings gave the room an open feel, the windows made it even more so. Plants hung from the rafters, their spiraling vines and vibrant blooms bathed the room in a light floral scent.
Catriona sat neatly on a bench seat, her hands folded in her lap. Her dress, heavily decorated with spring flowers and colored a powdery pink, flowed down her slim figure. The light fabric draped like a waterfall from her seat to the floor.
She had enthusiastically volunteered her time for the lesson today as she adored working with the small children of the palace courts. They were always so carefree, full of wonder for everything, and their smiles were all so contagious. She always found these moments a refreshing change of pace from her usual palace duties.
She allowed her wings to relax behind her in a display of ivory white feathers as their nanny and an assistant ushered the last of the children through the door. Their excitement seemed to fill the room as they gathered around, all of them dressed in their bright, colorful festival attire.
"How is everyone today?" She questioned, once the children were settled enough. She received a jumble of answers from the small crowd of ten or so children. Mostly they were polite, just as they had been taught. Replies were short, and positive.
"That's great! Your teacher has told me that you've all reached a very important part of Avian history in your lessons." She continued after a moment, dialing up the enthusiasm. "I'm sure by now we all know what day it is!"
The children all began to speak at once. A small girl and a little boy in near the back of the group especially, competed to be heard. The young girl opened her mouth to speak, but didn't get out a sentence before the boy next to her nearly pushed her over to make himself more noticable.
"Alright, slow down, one at a time please." Catriona said quickly in an attempt to get the room under control.
"It's gonna be warm again!" The little boy blurted, nearly at the same time.
The little girl pushed the boy off, a scowl on her face. The fluffy feathers on her tiny little wings ruffled as she straightened her dress and composed herself. "It's the Eternal Spring Festival." She corrected the boy.
Catriona took the opportunity to further the lesson. "Yes! It is." She said, motioning to a pillar near her, "And this is Eternal Spring."
The column, known as the Eternal Spring, was made of crystal. It seemed to run through the room and into the floors above and below it. Intricate moulding wrapped around the clear pillar from floor to ceiling and depicted the branches of trees. Inside, brightly colored, shimmering dust seemed to flow through the crystals, giving off a warm and inviting glow.
"My mommy says it's magic." One of the children chimed in, earning her a small chuckle from the few adults in the room.
Catriona smiled at her, "She's right. It is ancient magic that flows through the entire island. It keeps our home in the sky and takes us back to spring once winter begins to creep in again."
A hush fell over the room and the children listened intently now. This was perhaps the second time Catriona had taught this lesson, and she was proud of herself to be able to pass it along.
"Thousands of years ago, our island wasn't an island at all, but a city that lay deep in the mountains. Our lands spanned further than the eye could see, and much further than you could fly in a day. We lived in harmony with the surrounding kingdoms and we understood magic far better than anyone else. People came to us from far off lands, especially for our healers, who were known to work miracles.
"The peace and prosperity didn't last. The lands began to change. War came to the continent and eventually it came for us. The kingdoms around us fought and became divided. Humans and Rhauk fought with themselves nearly as much as they battled each other. These were dark times as our own fled to the mountains and grouped together to stay away from the violent conflicts.
"One day the Humans came to us for help, and we agreed. The fighting must stop and the lands must once again be at peace. Things wouldn't go so smoothly, though. The human mages were successful with the magic we gave them, but they became greedy. They wanted more power, and the Rhauk would do anything to stop them from having it. The Humans wanted our wings for themselves, and the Rhauk wanted to destroy them."
Catriona paused. Okay, so perhaps that was a little dark. One of the small children in the front row had gathered her wings around her, clutching one of them. She smiled at the small girl reassuringly. "It's okay, it gets better."
"Our King, King Airell, was a powerful mage himself. He worked tirelessly to save what was left of our kingdom. It took him and our best mages years to complete the Eternal Spring. Some say that the design was given to him in a dream from Avari, the Sky Goddess herself.
"In his last act of bravery, he gave his life to power the Eternal Spring and take us all to the safety of the sky. This is where we have remained ever since. Some say that King Airell is still our king, and that he watches over us from Avari's palace in the heavens. Thanks to him we have been safe, without war for centuries and will be for centuries to come."
Catriona didn't have to look at it to know. The pillar near her began to glow more brightly and a light hum filled the air. The feathers on her own wings bristled in response to the building energy within the pillar.
"Lady Catriona! Look!" one of the children shouted, pointing to the crystal column.
"Oh it's time!" Catriona exclaimed.
This moment was what Catriona had always found to be the highlight of these celebrations. Not the feasting, not the dancing, but the jump itself. While most magic didn't have much of a visual show to it, this was different. The Eternal Spring was the most visually stunning magic she had ever seen.
Under the clear exterior, the dust flowing inside grew, as if to crystalize. They filled the column completely halting their flowing movement. The ground nearly shook with the humming noise, which had grown louder, and the column turned into a solid pillar of light.
The hum suddenly stopped and a visible wave of energy expanded from it, washing over everything on its way out to expand over the entire island. Despite its appearance, the wave of white light and shimmering particles was surprisingly gentle. Catriona couldn't keep herself from laughing, amused at the children and their reactions.
The expressions the children wore ranged everywhere from shocked and confused, to simply awed as the wave rushed past them. It ruffled their hair and their feathers and streamed behind them like sparkling ripples on water.
When the glow finally subsided, the view of the sky outside had changed. Where before it had been midday, now the sky was painted the deep reds and bright yellows of a beautiful sunset. The jump was complete, spring would start again and so would the growing season.
Catriona, In her own awe, had gone silent. In the past she had enjoyed these moments in this room. Back then her mother had given the story and Catriona and her siblings were among the small class of young, fluffy-winged Avians enjoying the comforting glow and warmth of the Spring.
The princess pulled herself back to the present, realizing the whole room had gone quiet and the children were staring at the sunset through the windows. She stood from the bench. "Go ahead, look outside, the balcony is open. Just be careful please! and mind your teacher." she announced.
Most of the children rushed excitedly toward the open balcony doors and the nanny dutifully followed. Even the air felt different now. It had always struck Catriona as somewhat odd that there was a difference between the air, even if the temperatures were nearly the same. The world where they had been before was cooling, but where they were now it was warming up. Perhaps the difference lies in the winds.
The room fell silent as the children gathered through the doors outside now. All except for one. A young boy with golden colored wings. He had been rambunctious earlier, the same boy that had shouted his answers at the beginning of the short lesson.
Catriona approached him, kneeling down beside him. "Why don't you join the others Jac? Is something wrong?"
Jac stared out the window thoughtfully, his tiny brow creased like he had a question he wondered if he should ask. He hesitated a moment and then finally looked to Catriona. "I don't understand."
Catriona was taken a little off guard. "Don't understand?" She echoed.
"Do you think we'll ever go back?"
"You mean to the ground?" Catriona questioned.
"Well, the Conclave hasn't told us that we can, the High Mage is said to get visions from Avari of the sky. Maybe she thinks it's too dangerous yet." Catriona replied after a moment of thought.
Jac seemed to accept this as an answer. "Yeah... maybe we're not strong enough."
Right. A few thousand years was certainly a long time. To this day they knew nothing of the conditions on the ground, only that none of them were to venture there. Any who had, never returned.
"I'll make sure we're strong enough when I get older." Jac said suddenly, "I wanna explore!"
Catriona gave him a light chuckle, he certainly was enthusiastic. "We'll see what the Conclave has to say in a few years. Maybe you're right." she said.
"Jac! Come and join the others, we must be leaving the lady, she has important business to attend to." the nanny called loudly from the doorway.
Jac seemed a little annoyed, letting out a huff. He composed himself, and in that overly exaggerated way that children carried themselves, he bowed to Catriona. "Goodbye My Lady." he said, doing his best to act like an adult.
"I'm sorry My Lady." The nanny apologized after Jac had passed through the door and no one else was left in the room. "A little dramatic and quite the talker that one is."
Catriona gave her a good natured smile. "No need to apologize, he's an adventurous spirit."
"Don't encourage him My Lady, I'm afraid one day he might take the challenge." The nanny replied in a joking tone.
He would grow out of it for sure. No one on record had ever left the city, not that Catriona ever heard of. Why would they? They had everything they needed here and nothing to worry about.