Stargazer: Part Six
One spark was all that was needed.
One tiny ember. Even the most undeveloped of thoughts had potential to catch alight, to grow – and to explode. Psellia had long believed in the power of inspiration. It was why the air faerie had always mused that a half-formed idea, conceived for instance on the brink of sleep, had great promise to evolve. She didn't suppose that Azurabel had consciously wanted to cause the destruction that she had. That hadn't meant, however, that the faerie Draik's underlying fears had been kept from surfacing when her emotions were roiling in her dream. It often didn't take very much for doubt to flash through one's mind and, from there, flare up in unpredictable ways.
Psellia examined her hands and, while familiar, the shaking fingers were also foreign. Her skin was too pale; she had no bruises. Not even a scratch. She felt like she ought to be black and blue all over from the devastation she'd experienced, dream or not. Psellia brought her arms down to her sides with a groan. "I'm so tired," she muttered.
The faerie didn't know how long she lay there, unmoving. Between one blink and the next, it seemed, the sky became dyed with vibrant morning hues. Eyelids twitching, she shaded her vision before rolling over and flinging an arm around her head. Psellia wasn't ready to get up just yet. Thudding noises came to her as if from distance but they were too loud, too sharp, to have travelled up here from Altador. Her pulse, even now, was frenzied and Psellia smashed her fingers against the ear not pressed into the clouds.
A few of her faerie Harris approached and snuggled themselves into her, Mae making a kind of nest out of her blonde hair by her chin. Psellia closed her eyes and relaxed her hand to stroke a finger down Mae's furry back. Her Petpets' warmth felt nice. She'd have to try again with Azurabel that night or find some other means of contacting her. They'd made progress, of that Psellia was convinced.
Her nails nipped into her palms as her free hand fisted. She'd been reckless, far too reckless, in suggesting that Azurabel show off her ability to her sister... Sepphera, was it? She should've known from that first dream she'd visited that Azurabel was protective of the Usuki pet. Of everyone in Neopia, it was probably Sepphera – and their other sisters – that Azurabel most wanted to keep from anything to do with her creative gift.
Psellia frowned as one of her Harris poked her in the ribs. Her eyelids fluttered open, blinking at the intense sunlight, at a second poke. "Ouch! Which one of you did that?" She was far too blinded to immediately locate the culprit. Had it really gotten that bright this quick? Psellia hadn't truly realised how much time had passed.
"Certainly," a voice drawled, "none of these cute critters." Psellia sat up with a jump, dislodging her Harris. It was Siyana. Her head stopped swimming as the light dimmed. "Get up, sleepyhead." The expression on the light faerie's pretty, oval face was tense and her tone, while always at times blunt, matched in its grimness.
"Is something wrong?" Siyana was bouncing on the balls of her feet with an evident restlessness.
Siyana ignored her question. "Oh, Psellia, Psellia," Siyana sighed. "What, in the name of all Altador, have you been doing, lying around?" she asked, arms folding, as the glint in her eyes turned smouldering. The other faerie wasn't angry but she definitely appeared anxious and heat radiated from her skin. She tossed her golden head. "No, never mind. We need to go. Like, right now." There was a frantic edge creeping into her words.
Psellia caught her friend by the forearm. "Wait! What's happening?" she demanded. She didn't understand what was going on.
Siyana whirled. "Haven't you heard?" Psellia hesitated and became aware of the same great pounding that she'd noticed earlier and dismissed. Now that she was thinking with a clear head, she realised that it didn't even sound like a heartbeat. No, it sounded rather like... well, thunder. She winced at a series of claps. The last time she'd heard a noise like that, there had been wraiths and shards of dream sky raining down on her.
An exasperated sigh drew Psellia's notice and reminded her that she hadn't given the light faerie an answer. Siyana pulled at her arm. "Come on, Psellia, let's fly. I'll explain on the way." She spread her golden wings and Psellia stared after her for a moment before following her, Mae in her wake.
Air rippled across Psellia's face as her wings swept her to Siyana's flank. "So?" Psellia prodded, staring into the blue-grey sky. "Tell me what's going on."
"Altador's under attack." Siyana's reply was as terse as her features were vigilant and, though wind roared in Psellia's ears, each word came to her clearly across the space that separated them.
Psellia felt her jaw drop as she gaped at the other faerie. "What?" There was a certain sour taste at the back of her throat and she swallowed with sharp guilt. "I didn't realise."
"You've been with Azurabel, I'll bet," Siyana shot over her shoulder, veering hard left, "and, judging from how out of it you were, things haven't been going as smoothly as you and I would've hoped." She clicked her tongue with some impatience. "But now's not the time for that."
"I know." Psellia pushed thoughts of the Draik from her mind and replaced them with steely resolve. "Fill me in further?"
"There are wraiths converging on the city centre," Siyana said, her manner brisk, "but they're being contained by some of the other councillors. Torakor, the king, Kelland and even Sasha." She counted them off on her fingers. "Volunteer citizens, too."
"Wait a second." Psellia slowed. "Wraiths, you say?" Trepidation bit into the faerie at a sudden suspicion. She pinched herself. It couldn't be.
"Yes. They," Siyana railed, "appeared this morning and started wreaking havoc in the streets. No one has any idea where they've come from and they don't seem to be like any Neopets the council has experience with."
"What do you mean?" Psellia felt cold and even Mae whimpered.
"It's like they're utterly bent on destroying anything they see." Siyana shook her head with incredulity and Psellia could see the horror that her friend had been trying to mask through briskness. "Wagons, stalls, buildings, you name it." She shuddered.
Psellia's mouth went dry. "How did they get through the city walls?" The city that she and Siyana had helped co-found was encircled by high stone fortifications and no army could've breached these in the course of a mere morning. But, if what she was thinking was correct, then the wraiths wouldn't have needed to go through the walls – and they weren't real Neopets at all.
"Not a clue." Siyana squinted while scanning ahead. "As I said, they just appeared. The council will be holding a crisis meeting to discuss it – and the city's defences. Right now, they're being held in check but I'm not sure whether that position can be maintained for much longer."
Psellia could smell smoke on the breeze that whirled around them. "I have a bad, bad feeling about where they might've come from," she told Siyana. The other faerie peered back at her and Psellia said, "Azurabel." It was too much of a coincidence to be an actual coincidence that everything Siyana had described had been elements within the Draik's most recent dream. Wraiths? Smoke? The destruction that sounded like thunder?
"What?" Siyana's pitch was shrill though Psellia barely heard her. She was too lost in the throes of her epiphany. The pet's dream had been, in its later stages, based in dream-Altador and it had been against that backdrop that Azurabel had painted the wraiths – or the Neopets that became the wraiths – into being. They must've been loosed from the dream landscape, when it had cracked, into Altador, incredible as it seemed.
Psellia explained Azurabel's ability in some haste. "She painted the wraiths. Painted," she emphasised, locking her desperate gaze with Siyana's.
"And I'm to understand that anything she paints takes tangible form." Siyana chewed her lip before bursting into an unexpected giggling fit. "This is crazy. Crazier, even, than you sleeping each day when the sun's out." Her wild laughter tapered off as rapidly as it had commenced and was replaced by a stricken expression. "Psellia, what are we to do?"
She was saved from replying as they neared Altador. What Siyana had told Psellia had been an accurate report. The clang of sword against sword sliced into hearing as the city, with its myriad fountains and waterways and its ornate, graceful structures, came into view. Neopians were whirling along the paved streets, blurs of bright colour that wove their way around and under the extended blades of their purple-black opponents. Head and shoulders above everyone else was a white Lupe who carried both sword and bow and wielded them with dexterity. "King Altador's fighting."
"Yes. We need skilled swordsmen and –women," Siyana nodded at where Torakor, the armoured blue Grarrl 'Gladiator', was duelling, heavy shield held aloft and sword at the ready. "The wraiths broke into the Illustrious Armoury," she admitted in a rush. "They're fully equipped."
Psellia could see, too, the reason for the thunder-like clamour. Dozens of street carts and stalls had been overturned and smashed into thousands upon thousands of wooden splinters. A group of wraiths had seized surviving boards in paw and, amidst the fight, wielded them to break stone and marble and to shatter glass in a deafening sea of noise that both pulled the faerie in on its roaring tides and threatened to drown her. Hearing about the attack on the city had been one thing. Seeing it was another entirely.
Air howled in Psellia's ears as she sent gusts whipping towards the streets. She was close enough now to help defend her city. Landing, she blew another wraith away with a blast of her magic and, as Mae clung to her dress, summoned the magical energy needed to stir up a series of wind vortexes. She again took flight, glancing back only fleetingly to note the closest purple-black forms being sucked away from the stores they had been ravaging. "Go!" Psellia shouted, waving, at the young family cowering in one doorway. A team of armoured soldiers trooped into the street and she pulled away towards the next.
Flying low, she snuffed out a couple of fires and manoeuvred her way over the fleeing crowds to lash their pursuers with her strongest winds. She rose and, up high, noticed a steady stream of wraiths slipping away from the central thoroughfares and towards the edges of the walled city. Mae chittered and Psellia asked the Petpet, "What do you think they're up to? Where are they going?" A flash of golden light drew her attention to where Siyana circled, wings beating powerfully. "Hey, Siyana? Where are the wraiths headed?" she called.
The light faerie looked at her, topaz eyes sizzling, as she released another bolt of her magic in the direction of the fighting. Siyana's lips pressed themselves into a tight line before she answered. "I'm not sure." She frowned. "But we should find out."
"Down there." Psellia had spotted Sasha waving her paws at them, blue hair swirling about her worried face in the blustering winds. The striped Cybunny was standing by the fountain outside the Exquisite Ambrosia store. "Looks like Sasha's got something to tell us. Come on."
True to form, the 'Dancer' didn't miss a beat. "The council's received Neomail reports from our contacts in Shenkuu," Sasha gasped out, "that some wraiths have been spilling out of Altador. At least two or three dozen have flown over Shenkuu in the past fifteen minutes; they're moving far north."
"To the north?" Psellia repeated, shocked. She knew what that meant. "They're going to Terror Mountain!" In her mind's eye she could picture the yards upon yards of snow that had carpeted the area outside Azurabel's Neohome. The wraiths, Azurabel's dream-creations, were headed to Azurabel and her family.
"I don't know what's happening." Sasha reached towards the tambourine that always hung on her belt, clenching it tight, and the chime and tinkle of the bells startled Psellia into stiffening. Sasha turned to her at the faerie's movement and asked, "Can't you take a look, Psellia?" The Cybunny wanted her to peek into the future though, as much as there was hope in the Neopet's words, there was just as much dread. She feared what Psellia might vision.
Psellia closed her eyes. If there was any time that she needed to use the second of her magical abilities, it was now. She couldn't look into the city's future, not exactly, but she could look into the prospects of those who might impact it. Azurabel's image appeared in her mind and, just as she had done before, she wove her magic around the thought. She frowned as she found herself failing to slide into a vision. Each time she pushed at the image, it pushed right back and Psellia couldn't connect. "It's no use. I can't see into Azurabel's future."
"What? Who?" Sasha sounded confused but Siyana winced in understanding. Psellia couldn't look into the light faerie's prospects as their threads – their lives – were, to an extent, entwined. It appeared that the same could now be said of Azurabel. In talking to the Draik, and in visiting her dreams, they had forged a bond of sorts.
"The Neopian," Siyana answered, tone heavy, "that caused all this, unfortunately." She turned and fired a blast of her magic at an approaching wraith and the shadowy being retreated with a gurgling kind of growl. "Off with you."
"Did you see what will happen to the city, to Altador?" Sasha still sounded confused.
"It doesn't work like that, Sasha," Psellia murmured. While the other two had talked, Psellia had been thinking and her successful vision of the day before flashed through her head. She couldn't shift her thoughts away from the fear she'd glimpsed on the Neopet's face or shake the conviction that Azurabel was the key to saving the city she, Siyana and Sasha all loved. "I have to go," she realised.
Siyana stared at Psellia just as confusedly as Sasha. "What? Don't tell me that you've actually lost your sanity, my friend."
"The wraiths were brought into existence by Azurabel," Psellia explained. She didn't have much time to lose and the faerie couldn't help the impatience in her voice. "If she was able to bring them into existence," Psellia reasoned, "then it surely stands to reason that she might be able to remove them from being. I'll need to help her."
Her friend nodded at last. "Okay. We'll hold the wraiths here off in the meantime."
"Tell the king what I'm doing," Psellia told the other two and Sasha bobbed her head with Siyana. "I'd have Mae take him a message but I'm going to need my Harris here to show me the way." She'd never physically been to Azurabel's Neohome, after all, and required Mae's magical sense of direction to guide her.
Siyana wished her luck as she took to the air and turned to rejoin the fight with Sasha. Psellia caught a glance of King Altador fending off a trio of wraiths before the figures on the streets turned into indistinguishable specks. The king and the other councillors were doing their part to help protect the city. Now it was time for Psellia to do hers.
"I just hope," she whispered to herself, "that I'm not too late."
To be continued...