Stargazer: Part One
A thought could be a powerful thing.
Psellia knew that only too well. Leaning forward, the air faerie looked down at Neopia from her vantage point among the clouds. A breath whispered from her lips, as quiet as the wind that played with her blonde hair. It was almost time. Cloaking the lands below was a shining mantle of white-yellow light. The view was all the more incandescent when contrasted with the darkness surrounding her perch. For every shaft that winked at her, Psellia realised, there was at least one individual who'd turned it on and who, inevitably, would turn it off. What the faerie saw now would be nothing compared to the brightness that was to follow.
As the seconds slid by, shadowy patches appeared. Neopians were going to bed and slipping into the realm of sleep. It wasn't the coolness of the night that made her shiver. This was what she'd been waiting for. Closing her eyes, Psellia felt her mouth quirk at the potent thoughts she sensed spiralling upwards. They brushed along her uncovered arms as they sank into her flesh. As if borne aloft by the breeze, the connection she felt with each was a tangible sensation. Neopia dreamed. It was on this notion that she fixed – and then that her mind began to fly.
Psellia hurtled. Through the clouds she plunged, through the trees and through the streets. Green. Navy. Brown? Black? A chuckle, a yell. Something that might've been a screech. Sights and sounds blurred together and she became as unsure of her location as she was of where she was being drawn. All Psellia could think for certain was that, no longer contained within her body, she was one with the air and moving faster than her wings could ever carry her. Yippee.
When she stopped, it was with a jolt. Psellia's dream-self massaged her neck as she straightened, gasping for breath, and winced at the hot spark of pain. "Ouch." While her nerves thrilled during the drop itself, the whiplash was, decidedly, always far from fun. Nonetheless, Psellia had to take the bad with the good. She was pulled into others' heads nightly by the intensity of their dreams.
Psellia was identified by many in Neopia as 'the Dreamer'. It was her title in Altador, as these Neopians knew. What most didn't know, however, was the reason behind her epithet. Being 'the Dreamer' was her role, given her, like the eleven other founders' titles, because of her particular talents: her capacity to enter sleeping minds. An image of King Altador flickered through Psellia's head. Entrusted to her by the king was the task of watching over Altadorians' – or, as it became, Neopians' – dreams. Her ability wasn't as enviable as it sounded. Psellia had no control over where she went or when. The curve of her lips became rueful. She rather envied those faeries who were in perfect command of their own complex magical gifts.
The faerie moved in a slow circle, inspecting her surrounds. Every dream world had elements in common with others but was as different, as varied and individual, as the mind that had spun it into being. That didn't mean that Psellia couldn't make guesses as to their ownership. Where Psellia walked now likely belonged to a child. Mud squelched between the toes of her bare feet as she padded forward, head craned. Soaring above her was a series of enormous rods she recognised as part of a giant-sized Mynci Bars set. Beyond it was a trampoline just as massive but ruby while the other piece of equipment had been ocean-blue. Children often adored vivid colours. This particular dreamer's love of colour was manifest in the vibrant palette with which their dream landscape had been painted.
Further along, Psellia paused. The circular structure her glance took in had a curved, purple roof and was adorned with cherry-coloured flags. These snapped along to the music playing and, chuckling slightly, Psellia nodded in sync with the cheerful tune. It was the Merry-Go-Round from Roo Island. She was now fairly positive the dreamer was a child. A plastic Uni broke off from its position aboard the ride at Psellia's approach and flew to her, whinnying. She ran a hand along its hard length and pressed her cheek to its mane. "Hello there," she told it, marvelling. It never ceased to amaze the faerie how real everything felt. Although her physical body remained behind, her dream-form was able to experience everything as though she were actually present. Testimony, she supposed, to the power of the dreamers' imaginations. And, to some lesser degree, her own.
The plastic figure sank to its knees with a creak, begging to be ridden. "Ha." Psellia had noticed that dreams were, as frequently as not, reflections of what their dreamers craved in real life. This wasn't unexpected. The last thoughts at the edge of someone's mind before they fell asleep could linger and transform in dreaming. A ride was such an innocent thing to want and something she herself would hardly turn down. Wrapping a hand around its saddle, she climbed aboard. As the carousel Uni flew over a large toy train track, Psellia briefly closed her eyes. The awareness of air caressing her upturned face was something she enjoyed. Mentally, she noted that, if she could find them, she ought to send the kid a Merry-Go-Round ticket.
Her eyelids snapped back open as the Uni dropped and she tightened her grip around its neck. Its plastic wings had begun to falter. There was a hazy quality about the space in front of them. It was without colour or plaything and, riddled with dark blotches, it was difficult for Psellia to look at. They had just reached the more incomplete aspects of the dream and the plastic Neopet couldn't stray into territory beyond the boundaries of that in which it had been conceived. As it wheeled Psellia stiffened, feeling her skin tingle. She was about to connect to another dream. There was no point in resistance; trying never worked. Giving herself over, it took her in its thrall.
Landing, her breath was knocked clear from her lungs as her face met the ground. She inhaled reflexively and half-gagged at the pungent, earthy smell that filled her nostrils. "Gah." Blinking dirt from her vision, Psellia stilled. Wait. Smell? That was something encountered only in more fully realised dreams. The warmth on her back also made her start. Soft grass tickled Psellia's chin as she dared to glance up and her jaw fell. The sight she drank in was astounding. Dotting the sprawling gardens before her was a range of fiery blooms. Their ornate blue-and-orange petals waved lazily, as if in greeting, and Psellia breathed in their sweet, floral perfume with some greed. The scent was dizzying in its headiness. This was, probably, no small child's dream.
To her right soared a cluster of Autumn Birch Trees, their pale branches heavy with brilliant orange-gold foliage. Glints of dappled sunshine were reflected in the leaves as they swayed in the breeze. Psellia felt inclined to join their dance as she followed the pebble path that wound beneath, admiring the play of light. The air faerie ducked as two Beekadoodles swept by overhead, weaving their way through the trees with a practiced fluidity. Chirping at her, they swooped and she laughed. She understood the joy of flight. "What playful creatures." The pebbles led towards a small knoll, into which was set a fountain covered with creeper. Each silver, sapphire-inlaid tier was broad-brimmed and curved in the shape of the Star of Paradise Flowers growing in profusion around it.
Trailing a hand across the water's surface, Psellia looked up as she noticed a chill take hold of the air. The cerulean of the sky deepened as she watched and stars appeared. The dream landscape was changing. Fireworks exploded against the velvety, blue-violet backdrop of what was now late evening, skyrocketing ever upwards without hesitation. The air faerie halted, her mouth dropping once more, at the multi-coloured flashes and spirals of light. It was as though glittering whorls of faerie dust patterned the sky. If she'd thought the previous dream colourful, she was stunned at this immense expanse of bright colour; at the sheer level of detail. Her shock deepened as she scanned the dream environment. There was little, if any, haziness to be seen even in the distance. This dream really was more complete than most. It was incredible.
"This dreamer," Psellia murmured, shaking her head. More so than before, the faerie was reminded that to dream was to imagine and that imagination was potent. When given free rein, such as in sleeping, a thought – the seeds of a dream – could only become more powerful still. There was fascinating capacity for it to transform, to develop, and reach outcomes or understandings beyond what one might consciously have supposed.
It was then that she saw something that brought her true pause. There was a Neopet in the dream landscape. A living, breathing Neopet – a faerie Draik. Her long hair was as dark as the night sky but not dull as black hair sometimes was. Instead its length seemed to shimmer as Psellia stared, as if touched by the radiance of the stars ahead. The Draik's presence was nothing unusual in itself. Neopets were often present in some way in their dreams. What was curious was the way this pet held her body. Half-hidden by a lush copse of bush, the Draik was hunched in on herself as she lay on her side.
Psellia's feet moved of their own volition. Drawing closer, she saw that the Draik was rocking herself slowly. Back and forth, back and forth. The pet seemed to be murmuring something. Was she talking to herself? Psellia drew still closer. It was one word that the Draik spoke, repeated several times over. "No," the Neopet breathed. "No. No. No."
A frown furrowed Psellia's brow. The faerie had no idea what was wrong or what she was going to do but some obscure instinct propelled her forward. Should she speak to her? Psellia's policy was to avoid the dream-selves of the dreamers she came across and excuse her own presence away, if forced. They weren't present enough themselves, in any case, though, for them to realise that she was real. Choice was ripped from her as the scenery began to alter. Her dream-self extended an arm to a nearby tree trunk though she knew it'd be of little use. The dream was again shifting and with it shifted the dream landscape.
Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds passed. Each impressed that the quick, seamless shift she'd expected wasn't forthcoming. Crashing down from the heights was a sequence of large, heavy rocks. The meteorites shattered upon impact, tearing apart not only their own matter but the fabric of the dream in a resonant flurry of thuds. BOOM. BOOM. The clank of other rocks falling joined in the clamour as distant segments of cliff disappeared into the ocean beneath. Black cloud billowed and dispersed from the flames that raced from the sites of impact, smoke and ash coiling on the air currents that now whipped the fire into an inferno. Carried also was the strong smell of burning and, with it, heat just as smouldering.
Lifting her free arm, Psellia shielded herself as she flinched from the Neopocalyptic scene. Where holes gaped in the air she glimpsed white. White, like a blank canvas, then a snatch of pink. All the while the Draik remained in the same hunched position, still as anything save for the movement of her lips. "No. No. No."
A thought budded at the back of Psellia's mind. It germinated as time continued to tick by. The violence of the dream change was such that it didn't seem natural. "Could it be?" she wondered. The more she considered the idea, the likelier it sounded. If it wasn't natural... it could only mean that the shift wasn't unconscious. The dreamer was forcing the dream to change. Mind whirling, she focused on the faerie Neopet. That could, in turn, only mean that the Draik was conscious – and that wasn't possible. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears as clearly as the meteorites had done.
Psellia's tree didn't keep her from falling as the morph ceased, vanishing as did all else. She'd seen snatches of the new landscape before, when the dream was cracking, but assessed it in its entirety now. She was on her knees in a room. A bedroom. The walls were papered in a pink-purple stripe pattern and there was an antique bunkbed in the corner. On the lower bunk a Usul slept, eyes closed and purple-green hair tousled. The higher bunk was empty. Placed on the adjacent dresser was a framed photograph. In the image the Usuki pet's arms were flung about the dreamer as both grinned crazily into the camera. This room was, Psellia realised belatedly, the Draik's bedroom. A dream-version, at least.
The dreamer herself was at the window, elbows crossed atop the open sill. Beyond the frame were yards upon yards of white. The space outside her bedroom was carpeted in snow. The Draik – and the Usul – must live in Terror Mountain, which was locked in winter all year round. It wasn't the snow outside that had the pet's attention, however. The faerie Neopet looked not at the powder on the ground but at the stars overhead. Psellia blinked as she took a hesitant step. The blue-violet tint of the sky was distinctly familiar. It alone had remained while the other features of the previous landscape had changed.
Returning her attention to the Draik, she noted that the Neopet's gaze was abstracted, lost in visions that only she could see. Even within her dream, she was dreaming. A tear formed at the corner of one azure eye and the Draik shook her head as she shut the window with a snap. What she'd seen in the stars Psellia didn't know.
Turning, the pet gasped. Psellia felt similar shock jolt through her, as electric as any she'd felt in the Draik's sleeping mind. Though she'd suspected that the faerie Neopet was conscious of what she dreamed, Psellia hadn't been able to dismiss the doubts she'd had. She had none now. The blue stare that fixed on her was too clear, too lucid. Psellia's conclusion was confirmed when the Draik spoke. "Who are you?" she asked.
The Draik's stillness was as unsettling as the question itself. There was no uncertainty in her tone. No hesitation. Several heartbeats had pounded by before Psellia opened her lips in answer. "My name... is... Psellia," she said, with some difficulty, and swallowed to moisten her too-dry throat. There was nothing to be achieved in avoiding the question yet, all the same, the words felt heavy on her tongue.
"I don't remember dreaming you," the Draik murmured and creases appeared at last on her forehead. She flicked a look at the bunkbed. In its lower bunk the Usul slept on, enfolded within an embroidered quilt. The Draik's next look was at the large desk in the opposite corner. Its wooden surface was covered in a thick drawing pad and dozens of coloured pencils. Countless sheets had been ripped out and tossed, scrunched up, into the trash can underneath. What was strange was that many appeared to be completely blank.
Shifting her focus back to Psellia, her eyebrows pulled taut. "How did you get here? You're real, aren't you." The second sentence was less a query than a statement.
Psellia took a moment to gather her thoughts. She really had been correct; the Draik was conscious of what she dreamed. The air faerie fidgeted, feeling uncharacteristically grave, as the weight of that sunk in. Surveying the Draik's steadiness now, it came to Psellia that the Draik believed in what she dreamed. It was because of that conviction that she was able to believe that she, Psellia, was truly present and converse with her. "I'm real, yes," Psellia told her and left it at that. She wasn't inclined to address the other issue raised.
"I'm not sure if I should believe you." The reply came too quick to be entirely honest. Looking again at the bunkbed and its sleeping occupant, the Draik chewed her lip. "I think you should go. You'll wake my sister."
As she said the words, the Usuki pet stirred and rolled over. "Azurabel...?" the Usul exhaled. Psellia had to assume that the name belonged to the Draik. Azurabel. It was a pretty if unusual name. Fitting, somehow. The pet walked over to her sister, tutting, and smoothed a claw across the Usul's fringe before sinking onto the bed.
"Your sister isn't really here. You're dreaming," Psellia reminded the Draik. Azurabel did nothing but watch her, breathing hard and fast. Even when her earlier tears returned Azurabel made no effort to brush them away and they streaked glistening tracks down her cheeks.
"Let me help you," Psellia was compelled to say. She had the sense that there was something wrong, something very wrong indeed. It wasn't just the tears, it was the balled-up, blank pieces of paper in the bin. It was the way that Azurabel had hunched her shoulders so tightly and rocked herself while chanting the word 'no'. It was the way that she now accomplished in her immobility what others might convey in screaming till their throats became raw... and their voices as unable to cry out as their owners were to express what they felt in words. Yes, something was very obviously not okay and that became clearer still with each moment that went by.
The Draik's stare began to burn in its intensity. As Psellia's clarity had strengthened, so too had the Draik's tension and stress rolled off her in almost tangible waves. "You can't help me." Azurabel squeezed shut her eyes, lids twitching, and Psellia felt herself slipping away. The Neopet was forcing her from the dream. "You can't!"
To be continued...