Long ago, when this planet was young, the sun and the moon shone on a world with little colour. It was like a painting made up mostly of greys, with no vibrant colour to highlight beauty in the world. The only way to see the form of anything was through the shades of grey. The land and the sea would be bright in the day and dark when the sun or moon didn’t shine. The seas rose and fell, continents formed, mountains rose from the land forming lakes and valleys. Rivers searched for the sea and forests formed. Over time these forests grew dense with trees. Light would peek through gaps in the trees but in the thickest of forests, it rarely reached the ground. On even rarer occasions, when the moon was full, a magical light would sometimes reach the forest floor. When such a moonbeam was focused in exactly the right way, it created a magical creature. These creatures were born in the forest so they liked to live there. The magical power they prized the most was that of creating colour. Their main purpose in life was to give colour to the world. They were made from light and for that they came to become known as Fairies.
One clear evening in the forest, a fairy was born from a moonbeam. The moon spoke in its own language and named the fairy Rachel. She joined with all the other fairies of the forest and learnt of the wonderful life that they lived. Other fairies taught her everyday activities such as magically painting vivid colours on plants and animals in a way that created beauty. Rachel learnt how to work other magic also in the process, but more importantly to her, she learned the art of flight. In time Rachel became the most graceful and skilful of all fairies in the forest when it came to flying. With her insect-like wings, she could dart between the tiniest spaces in the trees. She memorised every part of the forest so that she could navigate her way from one side to the other before most fairies could think of where to go.
The world they lived in was still young. They were original forests and the creatures in and around them were still learning their place and purpose. Many things were unknown and a mystery, even to the fairies. Rachel lived like this for many fairy years. After all that time she found flying so easy, she hardly had to think when to twist or turn. Other fairies came to Rachel so that she could teach them her flying skills. Over time, many others became almost as skilled, but none could ever out fly Rachel. Not at that time.
One-day Rachel was leading another fairy around the forest. Now fairies are not perfect and sometimes they make mistakes. Rachel twisted through a narrow gap which she had flown through many times. She looked back to make sure her student followed safely and flew headfirst into a branch that had fallen down the night before. Next she knew, Rachel was lying on the forest floor, unable to move. The other fairies came and carried Rachel to a safe place to give her time to recover.
Rachel took some time, but slowly she got better. With lots of help from fairy magic, she first started to move her head, then her arms and her hands. She prayed every night that she could soon move her legs and most importantly, move her wings. Unfortunately, Rachel's legs just would not move no matter how much magic everyone tried. She was able to stretch her wings out straight but she could not flutter them and therefore, could not fly. Her hands were weak and it was difficult for her to hold a brush for painting the flowers, so Rachel decided to place the brush in her mouth. The other fairies were amazed at how well Rachel was able to paint in that way. Rachel was thrilled to feel useful once again and she even began teaching the new fairies how to paint, which she found most rewarding. Rachel still longed to be able to fly again however. The nearest thing she could find was to be carried by other fairies to the top of the tallest tree in the forest and watch all the others flying beneath her, dreaming that it was herself. Rachel felt old and was beginning to grow weary of having to be looked after by the other fairies whenever she wanted to move somewhere.
One-day, sitting at the top of the tree, Rachel noticed some birds flying by. In the past, she hadn't paid much attention to birds as she thought them to be awkward at flying. Now Rachel would accept being awkward if she were somehow able to fly. She noticed that these birds sometimes stopped flapping their wings, but they kept flying. They were losing height but they were able to glide until they landed. When she had flown, Rachel had always fluttered her wings, she had never thought about gliding like this. Then she had an idea. She would study how birds flew when they didn't flap their wings and then she might be able to copy them and glide down from the tree by herself.
Rachel spent every day after that at the top of the tree watching birds. She was worried about how she might land without the use of her legs. She noticed that when birds landed into wind and flared their wings, they could touch down without a step. Rachel stretched her wings out, and though she still couldn't flap, she could twist her wings to flare them like the birds did. Her wings felt weak so Rachel exercised them as much as she could. She began to stretch them out, twist them back and forth, then fold them back in hundreds of times a day until she was too tired to move them any longer. After lots of exercising, Rachel could do this thousands of times a day and her wings felt much stronger. She knew that in flight she would have to be able to hold her wings out straight at a suitable angle. If she couldn't, she would fall from the height at which her wings failed.
Finally Rachel told the other fairies of her plan to fly again. Though nervous, two fairies carried her up and then released Rachel when she stretched out her wings. The other fairies were ready to catch her if she fell, but Rachel was able to glide away and slowly descended back to the ground. She turned by twisting one wing more than the other and could change speed by twisting both wings. Some long grass had been tied to a tree branch so that Rachel could see which way the breeze was coming from. Rachel turned smoothly into the light wind that was blowing and performed the most graceful of no step landings when she flared her wings up. This was a good thing because her legs crumpled beneath her and Rachel was left sitting on the ground. Next thing, Rachel was crying. The tears were not from sadness though, they were tears of joy. After all those years of being the best at flying of all the fairies, this unusual flight made Rachel happier then she could ever remember.
After that, Rachel went gliding whenever she could. She still sat at the top of her tree and studied how birds flew. When she was finished, Rachel fell off the branch and glided back down into the forest. Other fairies were all too happy to carry Rachel above the forest and then let her go. With lots of practice, Rachel was able to gently land seated with her legs crossed, even in no wind. She discovered that there was an effect, when very close to the ground, that allowed her to skim the surface for a certain distance before flaring her wings to land. This ground effect allowed her to fly further forward without losing height than she was able to do away from the surface. It reminded her of the time her wings could flutter. Rachel became so good at these short flights, she asked other fairies to carry her higher so that she could fly for longer. The other fairies were afraid to fly too high and away from the safety of their forest. They didn't know what dangers might lurk so they preferred to stay close to their home. Rachel begged them to carry her higher and some tried, as high as they dared. After a while, the other fairies didn't like to carry Rachel above the forest and if they had to lift her, they would place her at the top of her tree and no higher. Rachel complained but it was no use, the more she did so the harder it was to find help.
Once again, Rachel spent a lot of time at the top of her tree. If she could find a fairy to carry her there it would be a long time waiting after she flew down until she could find someone to lift her back up the tree. She watched birds flying by and most of the time they flapped their wings so Rachel had little to learn. Then one-day a golden-brown coloured bird came gliding high along the edge of the forest. Rachel watched it tuck its wings in and dive toward the ground at high speed. The bird swooped down to the ground and a mouse scuttled away in fright, safe this time. Rachel had never seen such a large bird before. She thought it looked impressive. Just before it reached the ground the bird had spread its wings and levelled out, trying to catch the mouse. Rachel noticed that with all the speed it had gathered by diving, the bird was able to climb back up very high without flapping its wings.
It seemed like every time her life became difficult, a lesson would come along to teach Rachel how to make things better. Just like the bird she had seen, Rachel tucked her wings in as she was gliding down from the tree. She began to fall faster and faster, and then she slowly spread her wings out straight. This was very difficult when she was falling so fast, Rachel barely had the strength. She was glad she hadn't fallen from higher to go faster or she might have crashed. Instead Rachel was able to round out her dive and climb back up almost as high as when she started to fall. What a wonderful lesson she thought in excitement. With this knowledge, Rachel was able to practice all kinds of new tricks. She would dive to gain speed and then use that speed to perform loops and rolls. Sometimes she would round out her dive so that she was skimming the ground and then, using ground effect, Rachel could dodge between the trees, twisting and turning like she used to do before her accident, before eventually landing. She learnt that by tucking one wing, she would spin instead of dive. After lots of practice, Rachel was able to perform all kinds of aerial acrobatics. She called them aerobatics and even the most skilful of fairies she had taught to fly were impressed with Rachel's new abilities. Once again some fairies were happy to carry Rachel up above the forest. The others were still afraid to go much higher than the tallest tree but they loved to see Rachel gracefully performing her aerobatics and many fairies began learning flying skills from her again.
Without all the difficulties she had faced, Rachel wondered whether she would have ever learned as much as she had since her injury. She decided that she would look at any problems in the future as a sign that she was about to learn something new and valuable. She also decided to try and be more aware of what went on around her. Then she could try to learn things before a problem had to come along and teach her.
Rachel knew that to fly for longer she had to get higher. There must be another way she thought. She had an idea that birds had more to teach her, so she sat at the top of her tree for many days hoping to see something new. Finally she spotted the large bird again in the distance. It was high and gliding toward her. When the bird had almost reached the edge of the forest, it was getting lower. Sometimes it would flap its wings a few beats, but mostly its wings were stretched out straight. When it was quite low over a pile of boulders forming a hill, the bird started circling. It stayed flying in circles over the hill for some time but Rachel was most interested to see that it wasn't losing any height. In fact, the bird began drifting with the wind away from the hill and gaining height as it circled without flapping its wings. The higher it circled, the faster the bird started going up until it was just a dark speck in the sky underneath a fluffy white cloud. Then it began gliding again along the edge of the forest. Rachel kept watching and when the bird started getting low again, it began circling back up underneath another fluffy cloud. It seemed like magic though Rachel was certain that birds could not perform magic.
When Rachel wasn't flying or teaching others, she watched for the large bird. She had been told it was called a hawk and to be careful of it because it might try to catch her. Other fairies had seen it catch a mouse and carry it away. That made them even more afraid to leave their forest. Rachel wasn't worried though. The only thing that frightened her any more was the thought that she couldn't do things on her own, especially flying. She spotted the hawk flying more often when she was especially looking for it. It must have had a nest nearby. Occasionally Rachel would see the hawk flapping by on grey days but it hunted for food mostly on sunny days. Those days, the hawk rarely flapped its wings. Rachel figured that the sun must heat the ground around the forest so that the warm air would rise above the hot spots. It seemed that the warm air went up and formed fluffy clouds. Rachel decided to call these updrafts "thermals". This was all new to Rachel as she was used to the cool forest with little wind inside the trees. Eventually, she came up with a plan.
The next sunny day with no wind and lots of fluffy white clouds, Rachel begged two fairies to lift her as high as they dared by the edge of the forest under a cloud. The fairies carried her a lot higher than the tallest tree and then dived back to the safety of the forest. Rachel flew along the edge of the forest. She was hardly coming down but the further she flew from where she started, the faster she began to lose height. She turned around and flew back to find that in the other direction from her starting point, she was slowly gaining height. She turned away from the forest and started going up faster. Every time the lift got stronger she flew straight and as it weakened, Rachel turned. This helped her to find where the air was going up the fastest. Soon Rachel found herself high above the forest, much higher than where she had started.
Rachel had never been so high. She could see so much more than she ever imagined. Before then, the forest was all she knew but now she could see that there were other forests. There were also what would become known as mountains and in the distance, a large sea of water. The sea seemed to stretch on forever. She had known that water fell as rain and flowed through her forest in streams, but she never had thought of where it might go to. She supposed that must be where the water ended up. Rachel was still getting higher and she noticed that the cloud was getting very close. Next the wisps of cloud were all around her and the ground was becoming hard to see. Rachel felt as though she were being swallowed up. Frightened, she flew straight until she popped out the side of the cloud and started losing height again. She flew along the edge of the forest as fast as she could but at that height, it looked like she was hardly moving. As she got lower, she could see things in more detail and she spotted the hawk circling not far away below her. By the time Rachel was directly above the hawk, it was quite close to her. Though she was a little nervous, Rachel wanted to thank the hawk for helping her to learn how to fly upward. She flew down alongside the hawk but it didn't seem to notice her. Rachel tried speaking to it but the hawk could neither see nor hear her. The large bird was looking around as though it sensed something but it never looked directly where Rachel was flying.
Rachel realised that she had nothing to fear. She decided to fly with the hawk and learn where to find thermals to lift her each time she got low. By the end of the day, Rachel had discovered that lifting air could be found just about anywhere. Mostly though, the air seemed to rise from high points on the land near to something that was heating well in the sun. If strong enough, the air would keep rising until it formed a cloud. Sometimes dust or even leaves could be seen rising in the updraughts. By late afternoon, the thermals were quite weak. Rachel was still flying with the hawk. She had seen it return to its nest several times that day. The nest was quite a distance from her home in the forest and the hawk was flying in that direction again. Rachel decided that she should fly home before sundown in case she ran out of lifting air to keep her up. As a token of thanks, Rachel painted some more vivid golden colour on some of the hawk’s feathers before she glided home in smooth air and circled down into the forest. The other fairies, who were worried where Rachel had been all day, saw her come in and land. They all crowded around her as Rachel told them what she had learnt. Rachel had never been so excited in all her life.
The other fairies listened in wonder as Rachel recounted her adventure. The next day was similar to the last and Rachel encouraged the other fairies to join her exploring the land around their forest. Most of the others were too scared to leave, but two fairies boldly carried Rachel into some lifting air then released her and briefly joined her in circling higher in the thermal current. The higher they climbed, the smaller their forest appeared beneath them and eventually fear took control. Both fairies apologised to Rachel then flew back down to the forest beating their wings as fast as they could. Rachel kept flying by gliding from thermal to thermal. Sometimes she would get low and be forced to glide back to the forest rather than risk landing out where no one could carry her back to safety. Each time the other fairies would carry her back up to catch another thermal. The others watched on with a mixture of amazement and even some disapproval.
"It's just too dangerous", some would exclaim.
"I hope no other fairies try to do what she's doing. How irresponsible that Rachel is." Secretly however, most of the fairies envied Rachel as she was doing something they would love to have the courage to do and seeing things they could only dream of.
The next couple of days remained sunny so Rachel kept practising her new-found skill. In actual fact, she thought it more a new-found knowledge of things that happened around her that previously she had never noticed or even cared about. Rachel already had wonderful flying skills but it was knowledge that helped her to climb out before she was forced to land. She knew how the invisible air currents circulated around her, what caused them to move as they did and what tell-tale signs helped her to know where to glide in order to find them. She flew alongside the hawk often and wondered why it could not see her. In the same way that she had been unaware of things going on around her, Rachel guessed that the hawk could not see her because it was not looking properly and that it did not notice the effect the presence of fairies had on the world around.
Flying about the countryside surrounding her forest by gliding and thermalling became quite easy and Rachel was able to circle back up high in the rising air currents even from very close to the ground. She was very small and light so it did not take much to lift her up. Without the power of her wings beating to propel her however, Rachel was limited in how fast she could fly forwards or downwards. Usually she didn't care about wanting to go downwards because that happened each time she left a thermal. Neither was she in any particular hurry to go forwards. As long as she could keep up with the birds she flew alongside, Rachel was happy. On this day the clouds began to grow larger and darker. Soon they joined into one large dark cloud that shaded much of the forest. Rachel was annoyed that the shade might stop the air from rising but to the contrary, the lift seemed better than ever. Rachel enjoyed the fastest climb she had ever experienced and was very high. The cloud was darker than ever and had spread out so far that all the land around was now shaded. Looking way out to sea there were islands in sunshine now visible on the horizon but Rachel also noticed that she was rapidly approaching the scraggy base of the huge cloud. She tried to fly out of the lifting air but it seemed to be rising everywhere. Rachel tucked her wings in and tried to dive straight down but the air was going up so fast that she was still steadily being drawn up into the cloud without the ability to beat her wings. She flew towards the nearest edge of the cloud but it was still a long way off and eventually she was sucked into the belly of a towering thunder head. Suddenly everything was dark around her. The air was churning in all directions and Rachel was sent hurtling like a leaf throughout the massive cloud.