Stargazer: Part Eight
Psellia searched Azurabel's face.
The faerie Draik's mouth was set in a straight line and her eyes were lit with a similar determination. Psellia's grin widened. The thought blazing in Azurabel's clear blue gaze was powerful, she knew, and more so perhaps than any of them truly recognised for she had not only the will to succeed but the stunning capacity to do so in ways that couldn't quite be anticipated.
Azurabel drew herself to her full height. "What do you think that I should do?"
"I think," the air faerie told her, "that you already realise the answer to that question." She jerked her head in the direction of the Draik's front door and, while shaky, Azurabel returned her grin. "Get moving."
"What's she doing?" Fobhe piped up as the other Draik disappeared inside. Snowball in paw, she stared down the wraiths' unremitting advance with a mix of uncertainty and a determination that rivalled her sister's. "What's Azurabel up to?" the chocolate Neopet repeated.
"You'll see." Psellia flashed back for a couple seconds to the night before, when she'd been introduced to the magical element within Azurabel's abilities herself. The pet had sketched and painted and her creations had peeled themselves off paper and canvas to assume material form. "You'll understand when you see," she continued with a genuine confidence. The warmth that bubbled up from her core took the edge off the cold biting into her. "She can do this," Psellia reassured herself.
Snow went flying as Azurabel's other two sisters sent snowballs spinning. "We'll hold down the fort, then" Sepphera resolved, "until she gets back." The Usuki Usul exchanged a dogged look with Kayeste and the white Kacheek nodded in confirmation. Psellia was gladdened by their obvious affection for one another and their show of unity. She could understand why their sister had wanted to protect these three even as she understood that these Neopets didn't need the kind of shielding that Azurabel had thought they did. Psellia laughed a little as she made a slashing motion with one hand, unleashing a fresh torrent of winds into the sea of purple-black before them.
She glanced back with relief, breath rushing out of her, at the sound of hurried steps and massaged her wrist. She wasn't just getting tired physically; a subsequent glance ahead told her that, from the way the wraiths were barely even sliding at each gust, her winds were less effective than they had been ten or even five minutes ago. The wraiths' approach was as insistent as always, however. "Azurabel, hurry," she greeted the Draik.
Azurabel had returned with an armful of art supplies. Setting a large, square canvas against the doorframe, she rummaged through the basket of paints Psellia had gifted her with a serious air. "Sepphera? Fobhe, Kayeste? I want you guys to watch me... and," she said, swallowing, "to see what I can do." Uncapping a bottle marked 'sapphire', Azurabel began to paint.
Various bright forms came soaring off the canvas, one by one, in a swirl of light and colour. There was an iridescent flash of blue in the pale, wintry sunshine as a cluster of Beekadoodles winged their way towards the wraiths, in V-formation, charging them in a twittering fury with sharp claws and even sharper beaks. The wraiths recoiled and their dark outlines almost seemed to shudder and fold into themselves, shrinking away from the glow emanating from Azurabel's creations. The blue Petpets were joined by Faellies, yellow coats shimmering, and Baby Fireballs exploded through the air like comets – or shooting stars – to lend an extra, vibrant dimension to the Petpet assault.
Light played across the shocked faces of Azurabel's sisters. It wasn't just the radiance emitted by the living paintings that lit their features as amazement dawned, slowly but surely, on each upturned face. "Wow." Sepphera's single, whispered remark sufficed for them all and a smile wreathed her shell-pink lips, spreading from sister to sister.
Silvery, frost-encrusted branches took shape across Azurabel's canvas as the Neopet drew inspiration from their surrounds. A thick trunk exploded into being to defend their huddle while the branches burst from the canvas' surface to extend their icy, unyielding limbs in warning to their aggressors. One wraith dodged a Beekadoodle to take hold of a bough and tried to snap it without success. Solemn, Azurabel held out her paintbrush and, as their targets snarled and screeched, the branches grew and wrapped around the battered wraiths. "Wow." It was Psellia's turn to breathe the word.
The branches pulled tight and Azurabel again put brush to canvas. A sequence of neat strokes fashioned the profile of a Uni and the purple pet peeled themselves off to paw at the snow-covered ground with a strident whinny. The Uni tossed their mane and, golden horn flashing, lowed their head before they galloped straight at Azurabel's captives with the Petpets swarming in support. As light danced and whirled all about them, the mist-creatures disintegrated; exploding into puffs of dust that soon dispersed back into the nothingness from which the wraiths had come. They were gone and numb relief flooded Psellia, making her drop to the snow.
In the awed silence that followed, the Uni looked back at Azurabel and the Draik gave them a nod. Returning her gesture, the purple Neopet spread their wings and took to the skies before the Petpets followed in their wake. A couple of Beekadoodles began to sing a bright, happy tune as the blue Petpets spiralled out of sight. "They've gone," Azurabel stated to no one in particular, "to find the others I know are out there still. They can," she continued, "be trusted not to harm anything or anyone." That meant that Altador would be saved.
It took Psellia several seconds to shake her head and snap out of her reverie. Shifting towards Azurabel, she made to speak but saw that the faerie Neopet had been enveloped by her sisters in a family embrace. Sepphera's arms were flung tight around Azurabel's neck and their two other sisters, Fobhe and Kayeste, enclosed both Neopets in their own outstretched arms. To speak now, Psellia knew, would be to interrupt the beauty of this moment. Azurabel's sisters had seen Azurabel's gifts at work and had accepted them – and Azurabel. Tears shimmered in each Neopet's eyes and Psellia felt moisture prick at the corners of her own. Dusting off her dress, she rose and stood by.
"That was awesome," Kayeste gushed, stepping back to take her youngest sister's face in her paws. "Incredible. I... I... I don't know what to say or what to ask. How...?" Kayeste tailed off, looking around them in wonder. "You've saved us all." Fobhe made a noise of agreement and Sepphera pulled Azurabel closer, burrowing her purple-green head into Azurabel's dark one.
"I'm no hero," Azurabel protested, mouth twisting. She turned to meet Psellia's gaze, guilt clear in her expression. "This whole episode was my fault," the Draik admitted. She shifted back towards her sisters, teeth gnawing her lips, as two more tears slipped down her green cheeks. "It was me who created those creatures," she confessed to the other Neopets. Azurabel held up a paw to forestall any questions. "Before you ask, and," she smiled wetly, "I know you three will, I didn't mean to create them or to send them here."
"It's fine," Fobhe told her, brown eyes compassionate. "We do need to talk about this but we can talk later." Fobhe gave a wobbly smile of her own as she murmured, "I think we're all a little on edge right now."
That was certainly true. Psellia looked down to realise that her hands were shaking at her sides and she looked back up to see Azurabel shudder as she again squinted at her through her tears. There was a question in that glance and she answered it with a lift of her brows. On edge or no, it was definitely time for the sisters to have a talk.
Azurabel's stomach churned and, nerves on fire, she felt like she was going to explode if she didn't relieve herself of the words weighing on her tongue and the remorse on her conscience. "No." She shook her head, choice made, and shifted her concentration from Psellia to her family. She'd put off confiding in them for too long.
Her sisters assessed her in a big-sisterly way. "Okay," Sepphera said and Azurabel felt a flash of teary gratitude towards the Usul. "Go on."
"I was," Azurabel began, "upset, last night, and... before I knew it, things had... gotten out of paw. More than I realised," she went on, focusing on Sepphera, "because I had no clue that they were going to show up on our doorstep, I promise you," Azurabel stressed. "There's so much to explain to you guys and I don't know where to start but I have to tell you that." Sniffling, she swiped at her tears before drawing in a noisy, flustered breath. "I'm sorry. I really am just so, so sorry."
"Sssh." Sepphera tightened her hold on Azurabel and patted her hair. "It's okay, Azzy. You don't have to apologise to us," Sepphera consoled her and she heard the honesty in Sepphera's voice. Azurabel's heart ached at the sound and her paws twitched.
"But I do have to apologise," she half-choked out. Psellia took a step forward and she looked from Sepphera to Psellia and then to Kayeste and Fobhe. Each face was grave and each set of eyes intent. Psellia's periwinkle glance probed her with a particular intensity and the Neopet sensed that, as the air faerie had before, Psellia was willing her to speak. "What happened today was not okay. Not for any of you or," she hesitated, "anyone else caught up in this." And, she knew, there were indeed others who had been affected by what she had caused. Azurabel had known it from the moment she and her sisters had looked out the kitchen window and seen smoke in the distance.
"I have this... ability, you see," Azurabel continued, "and... anything I paint or draw... becomes, well, real." It sounded crazy in her head and even crazier when voiced but both her sisters and Psellia had seen the truth of her words for themselves, the faerie twice now. "It's been really... overwhelming for me and I haven't handled the idea of it as well as I might've." Azurabel stared at the snow and waited, heartbeat pounding in her ears. Now everything was, more or less, out in the open.
Sepphera's arms tightened around her. "If you were this bothered by it," the Usul said, "you should've talked to us about it before. We're your sisters," Sepphera rationalised, "and we'll always support you, you know?" She made it sound so simple and, to her, it was. That was Sepphera's character.
"I do." Azurabel leaned into her sister's shoulder and whispered, "That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you... any of you... to worry." She'd believed that there was nothing they could do to help her and hadn't wanted them to try because of that. She hadn't even wanted them to know about what she could do for that reason and, though the effort had failed quite spectacularly, she'd distanced herself to protect her sisters.
Fobhe and Kayeste came forward to rejoin the hug. "You don't have to protect us, Az," Fobhe reproached her, tucking Azurabel's hair behind her ear. The chocolate pet grinned and, with a return of her typical bubbliness, giggled. "I think we proved to you today, silly dear, that we are at least somewhat capable of protecting ourselves."
"You may be right." It took a great deal to concede that point and Azurabel could tell that the grin she offered in return was watery. "I'll still go out of my way to protect you, though," she admitted, looking each sister in the eye in turn. "I'll open up more and tell you things but I'll still do everything I can to keep you all safe."
"That's all," Sepphera replied, "that we ever wanted." She, Kayeste and Fobhe laughed. "And, like I said, we're be here to look after you too in whatever ways we can."
The soft, rhythmic crunch of feet on snow was mesmerising and Psellia could feel her tired eyelids growing heavy, lulled by the footsteps almost to the point of sleep. It had been more than a day, after all, since she'd last slept and Psellia longed for dreams of her own. Were it not for the hardness of the log she sat on, the air faerie was dryly confident, she would succumb to her exhaustion.
A decisive if restrained peal of laughter made her sit up and assess Azurabel's family. Fobhe's purple-pink head of ringlets was pressed close to Kayeste's blonde one and, as had been the case from when the sisters had finished their talk ten minutes ago, the two pets chortled as they traded whispered jokes. Azurabel herself sat on the log opposite Psellia's, warming her paws by the fire and chatting quietly to the locals that had joined them from the neighbouring property. None had cause to fear these flames and, though the newcomers' faces were sooty and shadowed with fatigue, there was also the look of hope about their expressions. Their eyes glowed as Sepphera arrived and sat by them, offering them the snack platter she'd just fetched from indoors.
The Acaras glanced over to where their children played and the ashen, brown-haired mother clutched her shawl tighter as she gave them an indulgent smile. One baby Acara had a freshly painted Faellie in her lap and was stroking the small, purring Petpet's back with a careful, even reverent paw. Her two brothers hopped and danced a few metres away, chasing an airborne form with ecstatic shouts and whoops. "Pretty!" the elder boy called out as he stomped through the snow, sending the powder flying.
The blue Carmariller trilled a joyous song and swooped, weaving to Azurabel's side and tugging shyly at her clothes. Azurabel laughed at it and took it by its minute sky-coloured paw. Psellia recalled the blue Carmariller from the previous night and how the Draik had said that she'd always wanted a Petpet. "I think that I'm going to keep you," Azurabel smiled. "You can help me with the repairs."
"Oh?" Psellia arched an eyebrow and Azurabel nodded. They'd had a discussion, the faerie and Azurabel, in the minute after the sisters had talked. Pulling the Neopet to the side, Psellia had told her about what had happened in Altador and what she'd seen on her way to the Draik's home in other parts of Terror Mountain. "I knew," Azurabel said, swallowing, "that others were affected." Resolution crept into her tone as she confessed, "I'm responsible for putting things right. I'll send some of my paintings to help but I also want to pitch in myself as best I might."
Psellia felt her chest swell with a mixture of pride and approval. "Good," she told her. The faerie Neopet had understood that what she had done had consequences, even if it had been, of course, unintentional, and had decided to help out the outsiders who had been impacted as a result. "I hope to see you in Altador soon, then."
Her focus shifted from her Harris Mae, who sat beside her, back to Azurabel's most recent painting. The blue Carmariller's gauzy wings fluttered and it twirled mid-air as its warbling swung into a particularly transcendent series of notes. Psellia couldn't help but think, the same warmth from earlier filling her, that the singing Petpet symbolised the brightness of Azurabel's abilities; the power inherent in the pet's capacities to imagine and create beautiful things. She noticed the Acara children giggling, small faces flushing with glee, as they watched the Petpet's antics. Psellia was no longer the only one who took pleasure in seeing what Azurabel imagined and created and, she realised, looking around the fire, that the rest of the group, too, were warmed by more than just the jolly, crackling flames. The sisters, Azurabel included, leaned into each other, lips curved, and the adult Acaras followed suit.
Psellia noted with approval the enjoyment on Azurabel's face. "What are you going to call the Petpet?" she asked the Draik, gesturing to the blue Carmariller. If Azurabel was planning to keep it then she had best give it a name.
Azurabel's eyes reflected light as she gazed skyward, pensive. The vast, fathomless depths of the heavens above were washed with sapphire and violet hues and twinkled with stars of Azurabel's own making. "How about... 'Star'."
Psellia chuckled, amused. "Appropriate." It was, she mused, fitting, given how, like the Petpet, the stars Azurabel so often imagined and brought into being were representative of the potential – the manifold possibilities – of the pet's gifts.
The faerie followed Azurabel's glance at the sound of beating wings. One of Azurabel's earlier painted creations, the Uni, was bearing down on them from the skies, returning. Psellia frowned as she observed something white in the pet's mouth and, with a neigh, the Neopet trotted over to drop a letter at her feet. "Ah." She recognised the writing as Siyana's and opened the paper to see a message from the other councillors, telling her that all was now well in the city she had helped found. Psellia had thought herself past tears but her eyes brimmed over – with happiness. "All is now well."
She turned to Azurabel and her family. "It's time for me to go now," Psellia farewelled them, looking deep into Azurabel's blue eyes. "I have to get back to Altador now that I am," she half-winced, rubbing her stiff neck, "rested and at least mostly recovered. I do hope," the faerie went on, "to see you soon, Azurabel, and I will be holding you to your resolution." She felt a pull towards the Draik and her family, a sadness that she would be leaving, but the pull she felt towards Altador was greater. She was needed there.
Similar reluctance flickered across Azurabel's face. "Okay," she agreed, "I understand, Psellia. Thank you for what you've done for me." The Neopet grinned, linking arms with Sepphera. "And yes, I will be seeing you soon."
Laughing, Psellia grabbed Mae's paw and was, in a blink, airborne. She glanced back as they climbed the heights and the final image of the group the air faerie was impressed with was of smiling lips and bright, dreaming eyes. What she saw there, Psellia reflected, was indicative of a third, related gift of Azurabel's. The faerie Draik had not only the gifts to imagine and create but, from the former two, the power to inspire. It was through the enjoyment derived not only by oneself but by others in imagining and creating that such abilities became especially powerful. Psellia stared off into the starry distance, feeling new energy pulse through her. "Yes," she murmured to her Petpet, "it is, quite possibly, the most powerful gift of all."