Stargazer: Part Five
It took less than a second.
Azurabel blinked and her surroundings disappeared. She blinked again, faster, as new surrounds whirled into focus. Leafy palms were waving at her in the oddly balmy breeze and, looking down, she saw sand scrunch beneath her feet. Azurabel was somewhere not of her own making. "Where-" the faerie Neopet started.
Oxygen tore from her as the world again shifted. "What!" she gasped. "Where are we?" She turned from left to right, seeking the air faerie. "Psellia," she yelled, fighting to make herself heard over shrieking winds, "where are we?!" The Draik swiped rain out of her eyes, shivering, before she ran for the shelter of a nearby tree.
Azurabel tripped mid-step and landed in mud. The sludge splattered over and clung to her already-wet skin, dripping off her while she clambered not to the tall birch she'd spotted but to the Mynci Bars that had taken its place in a third shift. Hefting herself up, she wrung the excess muck from her hair and winced at the slimy feel of the goo. "Ugh." What was going on?
"Overwhelming, isn't it." The faerie waded rather than flew towards Azurabel, paying no heed to her long dress, and leaned against the bars. A smile flickered across Psellia's heart-shaped face.
"Where are we?" Azurabel puffed the words out over the hammering of her heartbeat. She couldn't decide if she was more relieved or annoyed to see the faerie. "What was that? What did you do?" Her thoughts flew from question to question.
Psellia's smile widened. "We're still in your dream," she told her, voice level and even somewhat amused. "You wanted to know about the problems I face. I told you," she said, "that I'd show you." Psellia raised an ice-blonde eyebrow and waited.
Ah. She'd told Azurabel that she could understand where Azurabel was coming from when pressing her about the source of her anxieties. Azurabel had been so sure that the faerie couldn't empathise with her and so shocked when her reply had made it seem like she might actually get it. The Draik scratched her head with her free claw, darting a glance around them. "I don't understand, though?" If they were still in Azurabel's head then how was it that the dream had changed without her changing it?
"I took you through a few," Psellia paused, choosing her words with care, "of the most recent dreams that I've visited; my memories of them." That was right. Azurabel's brain-freeze defrosted into recollection and the pet thought back over how Psellia had earlier forced a stop to the destruction she'd inadvertently brought about. The faerie, too, could impact her dream. "I wanted to show you," Psellia continued, "how very unpredictable, I suppose, my dream-wandering can be."
"Dream-wandering?" Now it was Azurabel's turn to raise an eyebrow and wait.
Psellia flapped a hand. "It's what I call what I do." She searched Azurabel's expression and must've found it blank. "My ability to pass from dream to dream."
"Yeah, alright." Psellia was referring to the ability that allowed her to stand before her right now.
"I wanted to show you how quickly... how unexpectedly... I can be jerked around from one place to another, without warning. It's unnerving as I don't know when it'll happen," Psellia vented, "or where it is that I'll go." The faerie's huge periwinkle eyes grew larger still with frustrated earnestness. "But that's how it is for me or, at least, how it was."
"Oh." Azurabel hadn't at all suspected that it had been that way for Psellia though, to be honest, she hadn't given Psellia's ability much thought that morning. "You said," she remembered, "that you'd managed to make some progress." The conviction in Psellia's words had turned Azurabel's head at the time. Despite everything, Psellia had made her believe that she, just like Azurabel, had a genuine issue and struck a chord in saying that she'd taken a step in the right direction. Some part of her screamed at her to look away, insisting that the faerie was quite different from her, but Azurabel couldn't help locking her glance to Psellia's.
Psellia was a quiet for a beat and her answer, when it came, was as simple as her gaze was sincere. "Yes." She nodded in confirmation and her blonde hair bounced about her to add extra emphasis.
"How do you accept it all?" The question slipped from Azurabel. She bit her lip but she burned with legitimate curiosity. It was an astonishing concept. How could anyone really do that?
A fresh smile tugged at Psellia's lips. "There's something else," she announced, taken with some idea, "that I'd like to show you." The gauzy wings at her back beat and opened to their full, lilac wingspan as, looking to the skies, she lifted away from the Mynci Bars.
Azurabel thought herself more prepared this time. She was wrong. The Draik tumbled to the ground, gasping, as the play equipment vanished and found herself blinking into a hard marble surface. A large sun design stretched out beneath her – the Altador crest? – and she followed one of its orange spikes to realise that she was enclosed within a circle of statues. Staring past the figures, she noted the high, arching ceilings and the marble columns that soared gracefully to support them. "We're in Altador." She shrugged. "Kind of."
"That's right." Psellia hovered at Azurabel's side. "In the Hall of Heroes in Altador, more specifically." Something like nostalgia glimmered in her eyes and she gestured for Azurabel to walk with her as she landed and began to stroll.
Azurabel's attention flicked from statue to statue and she wracked her brain for what she'd been taught about the Altadorian heroes. She remembered, faintly, having learned about them in Neoschool when she was younger but, even then, she'd spent a lot of time doodling away in class. There were twelve of them, she knew at least.
Her feet brought her to the pedestal on which a stone Cybunny was mounted. While prone, the Neopet had been sculpted in a way suggestive of movement. A tambourine was held loosely in the Cybunny's lifted paw and, depicted mid-step, her skirts billowed about her. This must be the 'Dancer'. "Sasha," she read from the brass plaque. Next to the Cybunny grinned a rotund if sharp-eyed Skeith and, beyond him, was the likeness of a tall, slender faerie.
Azurabel's footsteps slowed. There was something about this statue that demanded notice. It wasn't the fact that, after the two to her left, the faerie's stature seemed all the more willowy in proportion. No, there was something familiar about this faerie with her dreaming eyes, heavy, thickly-lashed eyelids and wavy spill of hair. "You're a founder of Altador," Azurabel realised, swallowing. "This is a statue of Psellia," the pet recited, "the Dreamer." The title sure fit the faerie well.
Psellia nodded and her wings swept her before another statue. "King Altador," the air faerie commented. Azurabel flew to join Psellia and, bobbing airborne, she looked up at the towering figure. The Lupe's bearded face was set in something very like a scowl and authority emanated from the fierceness in his frown as much as it did from the bow and sword he gripped in either paw. So this was Altador's legendary king and leader.
"It's due, in part, to him," Psellia said.
"Years ago, the king," Psellia clarified, "helped me to come to terms with my ability and understand its potential." She offered Azurabel one of her slight smiles. "I was given, when the council roles were decided, the responsibility of watching over the dreams of others in Altador and, eventually, all Neopia." Shrugging, she added, "I didn't know what that meant, at first, but he helped me figure it out."
"How?" Azurabel breathed.
"Well," Psellia answered, "it wasn't just him." She paused before the statue of another faerie. "This is Siyana," Psellia told Azurabel, "a close friend of mine and the king's both." Azurabel's gaze travelled over the stone Siyana, noting the bright, compassionate energy in her expression and outstretched arms. "They supported me when I needed friends to talk to and," she chuckled, "scream at."
"You, scream?" For a moment, Azurabel couldn't imagine it though, she guessed with a reluctant flash of humour, Psellia's levels of resolve could be considered kind of scary. For sure.
"Frustration can drive anyone crazy."
"I can agree with that." Azurabel's lips hooked at one corner and dark thoughts again pushed at her. She pushed back, this once.
"I saw," Psellia continued, "many things in the dreams I wandered. It took me awhile, however, to recognise that the... hopes and wishes I was seeing were things that I could respond to and help nurture, even just a little, if I were to reach out." She breathed in and exhaled. "I couldn't control it but, in talking to my two friends, I accepted my ability because I could understand that it could serve an important function and that," Psellia started to whisper, "I could do good through it."
"The tokens, you mean?" Azurabel entertained a vivid mind-picture of Psellia's faerie Harris and the art supplies they'd brought her. The basket had nearly vanished into the snow with the weight it had carried.
"Exactly. Of course," Psellia qualified with affection, "it's a group effort with my Harris in that respect." The air faerie spun back towards Azurabel. "I have to admit that I enjoy my ability now, most of the time. It brings me real enjoyment, even wonder, to see what others dream."
"Sounds amazing." Azurabel didn't intend the bitterness in her voice but it slipped out all the same. It seemed an age since she'd felt any satisfaction, let alone wonder, towards anything she dreamed.
Psellia cut her a glance. "Isn't your gift the same?" she asked smoothly.
"What?" That had been unexpected.
"Can you really say that you don't enjoy your gift at all?" Psellia took a step closer. "If you're an artist," she reasoned, blue eyes alight, "you must enjoy giving your imagination material form on paper or canvas and the like?"
"I... I... I," Azurabel stuttered, reflecting. She had loved – or did love? – sketching and painting, even when she'd tried to avoid it. Her sister, Sepphera, had joked many a time that she'd been born clenching a pencil in one paw and a paintbrush in the other. Psellia laughed and Azurabel realised that she'd spoken the thought aloud. Psellia, actually, was a lot like the Usul in a sense. Both liked to worry and worried more than was good for them. "But..." Azurabel said and stopped, gritting her teeth. She couldn't find the words or thoughts to complete the sentence. "I don't know."
"Just give it a go." Psellia's voice made Azurabel look up. "We're in a dream and not in the real world," she reminded her, features soft. "There's nothing that you can do here," she smiled, "that would bring a Neopocalypse upon Neopia. Your gift is something to be enjoyed," she went on, "and is something that can bring joy to others."
"Joy?" Azurabel hadn't meant the word to be a question yet her doubt rang clear.
"Well, it shouldn't cause heartache," the faerie pointed out gently. "I myself have," she told her, "found much joy in your dreams."
Hesitating, Azurabel mulled over what Psellia had said. She pictured Sepphera's face; the Usul's light yellow fur, purple-green hair and eyes as big and blue – and anxious – as her own. She then pictured Fobhe's and Kayeste's faces and the images of the chocolate Draik and white Kacheek lingered long in her mind.
"You're thinking of your family, aren't you?" Psellia's expression was compassionate. "They must be worried about you. I know that your Usul sister certainly was."
"They are." Azurabel's voice broke and she worried that she might again break down. She stared off into the distance to distract herself and observed that the faerie must have done something because the space was transforming, turning into an Altadorian field. A pillared gazebo stood to their right and a huge night sky stretched out above them, vast and starless. Only a tiny sliver of Kreludor was visible and the faint glow it cast was their sole source of light. "Huh?"
"What do you see?" Azurabel squinted and saw Psellia gesture up at the dark expanse of sky. "Tell me what you see." It was the same question that Psellia had asked Azurabel before, in the snow, when she'd first arrived that night in Azurabel's dream though their surroundings now differed a great deal. Azurabel gawked at her and Psellia raised both eyebrows. "It's not," she promised, "a trick question."
Azurabel looked back at the blackness of the heavens. Others might've said that they saw nothing and left it at that but what she saw was not nothing, not exactly, but a blank canvas, one ready and waiting for her to make her mark. She closed her eyes for a brief instant and pictured something. She was able to see it still when she opened them. The dark velvet curtain above was now pinned by a brilliant array of lights. "I see the stars." Azurabel straightened. "And they are brighter than anything that I've ever seen."
Psellia looked and looked. Stars appeared in the sky in blinding explosions of light as she stared and arranged themselves, winking and blinking, into constellations, including Psellia's own. "Wow."
Azurabel materialised supplies from the air and, taking paintbrush and artist's palette firmly in paw, began to paint in deft, even strokes. The sky, Psellia understood, was truly her canvas and it came alive with light all the more as the black was washed over with sapphire and violet tints. Faeries swirled into existence under Azurabel's careful brush and soared away, silky ballgowns trailing, to skip and dance among the heights. Psellia's own wings began to flutter and, together with the Draik, Psellia rose to follow them. She extended her arms skyward, spinning, and laughed at the warm wind that caressed her cheeks and ripped through her hair. Oh, this was liberating.
Uni-drawn carriages appeared and wound paths through the ascending faeries. Their enamelled gilt surfaces were illuminated by the fireworks that rocketed past, showering the figures with bursts of diamond-like radiance, as well as by the starlight. Furry faces were pressed against their glass windowframes and even these imaginary pets' mouths were open and eyes lost in dreaming. Psellia was reminded of the Merry-Go-Round she'd seen in another recent dream. "What fun."
More than ever, Psellia found herself drawn towards a certain realisation. The gift of imagination was beautiful and, in that sheer beauty, genuinely powerful. And yet, though astounding in itself, what she was seeing was more than that. Psellia was seeing not only the ability to imagine but the ability to transform what one imagined into material being. What she was seeing in Azurabel's every brush stroke was the ability to create.
Azurabel saw it too. The Draik's eyes lit as she stargazed, as she took in what she had created. Psellia actually had the feeling that she, Psellia, was only viewing one small part of what it was that Azurabel was envisioning. Azurabel, Psellia thought, envisioned how the whole fabric of the Neopian universe might stitch further and further apart to open up more and more realms of possibility. It was truly a terrifying gift, as the Neopet had felt, but no less amazing.
The faerie Draik joined in Psellia's laughter. A winged Petpet, a blue Carmariller, was taking shape under Azurabel's nimble paw and, taking it by its own tiny paw, Azurabel soared ever higher. "I've always wanted a Petpet," she tossed over her shoulder and the Carmariller began to trill a happy, tinkling melody.
Psellia didn't know how to reply. There was a tight, throbbing sensation in her chest and the more it increased in strength, the more choked up she felt. Azurabel was having fun. She was playing with what she'd created. "Yes. Imagination... and creation... are to be enjoyed," she whispered to herself. Louder, she called, "Just think about how amazed your sister would be if she saw this."
Immediately, Psellia realised that she'd spoken too soon. The pet stiffened and turned to her, green face paling. "Sepphera?" Azurabel breathed. "Fobhe? Kayeste?" Gaze wide, she shook her head and dropped the Carmariller's paw. "No. I don't want to show them. No, no."
Neopets erupted from several close-by carriages, dark eyes burning. They twitched and started to shudder while their features distorted and, carriages disintegrating, they became swallowed by a strange purple-black energy that oozed from the wreckages. The wraiths launched themselves at the nearest group of faeries, snarling and snapping, and each faerie dissolved into nothingness in puffs of smoke. "Azurabel!" Psellia barked. She could feel a definite sensation of déjà vu overcome her, gripping her. It was confirmed by the cracks scissoring their way through the skies above like thunder.
The Draik couldn't hear her. Swaying, Azurabel had clamped her paws over her ears and, as Psellia watched, she shut her eyes. There was no use in trying to appeal to the pet. Psellia had to take things into her own hands again. She inhaled but the breath was soon knocked from her as something heavy hit her in the back. Turning, she looked up to see shards of blue-purple sky falling as though rain – or hail. "Sweet Altador, Azurabel!"
It had happened too quickly; this time, Psellia couldn't stop the destruction. She took one final breath as she assessed the abrupt whiteness of the dream landscape. She woke by her next.
To be continued...