Stargazer: Part Seven
She'd really done it this time.
Azurabel awoke with the sense that her body was much too heavy for her. Forcing her eyelids open, the Draik stared at her bedroom ceiling, white and seemingly innocuous, with growing ideas that it was about to come crashing down to bury her where she lay. There was something weighing on her, in any case. Kicking off her covers, the faerie pet groaned and massaged her stiff shoulders before shaking her head to clear her thoughts. One remained. Azurabel wasn't at all looking forward to the day ahead.
She'd let fear get the best of her. What she'd created had become warped, twisted, and from that point everything had imploded. Memories of the previous night surfaced and she groaned anew as she saw the carriages she'd painted again melt, liquefying into a sinister purple-black energy, while the pets that had been inside shrieked and contorted, morphing into phantom-like creatures... wraiths? The cacophony had grown more and more awful as pieces of starry sky had fallen to the earth and the dream was destroyed. Psellia would, Azurabel supposed, visit her again that night – and she wouldn't be happy.
Happy. Azurabel wasn't sure how she felt about that word and mused it over on her way to the kitchen. She paused a couple metres away from the entrance. There was no noise, no sound, coming from inside the room. Her glance flickered over the Techo Clock that rested on the shelf at the end of the hallway. It was past ten o'clock. Much too late to catch anyone at breakfast, she knew. That was fine by her. She could barely bring herself to meet the bright yellow eyes of the plastic Techo and the wag of its tail was as cheerful as she felt prepared to tolerate. If she had to sit at the table and feign good spirits while her sisters chattered, she might just scream.
Azurabel walked into the kitchen and wished she'd stayed in bed. Her three sisters sat around the kitchen table, paws clasped on its hard wooden surface, and traded nervous glances as she entered and grabbed a bowl. Their own bowls had been washed out and put away and, from that, it was obvious that they'd been sitting there and waiting for her for some time.
Sepphera didn't say a word but got up and offered Azurabel some Jelly Cereal with a small, tight smile. The Usul's motivation was as apparent as if she'd shouted it: Sepphera was worried. They all were. Azurabel's mind blanked and, words failing her, she realised that she was speechless herself. Staring at the ground, she accepted the treat silently.
The scraping sound her chair made on the tiled floor was all but drowned out by the rumble of distant thunder. Fobhe frowned while she turned to look out the window and commented on the darkness of the sky outside. "Looks like storm clouds are moving in," the chocolate Draik murmured. "Strange. Wasn't it supposed to be sunny today?"
"Yes," Sepphera chimed in. The Usuki Usul ducked her purple-green head as she said, "I heard that about the forecast too." Azurabel's sisters were just as uncomfortable as she was herself and were resorting to small talk to camouflage their awkwardness.
There was a loud clap and Azurabel almost choked on her breakfast. She really, truly didn't want to think about what had happened the last time she'd heard a sound just like it. It stirred up fresh thoughts of Psellia and she wondered what the air faerie thought about what had happened the night before. She wanted to wince back from the musing but a new, angry voice spoke up in her mind. "Grow up," it said. "Grow up, Azurabel."
So much trouble had sprung from Azurabel's inability to deal with her ability. She'd been having fun the night before; she'd been enjoying herself. And yet, at the mention of her sisters, she'd snapped. She wanted to protect them but, the voice observed, that was the opposite of what she'd achieved. Looking around, the Neopet was reminded of what Psellia had taught her. "Stop withdrawing from your sisters," the new, Psellia-like voice insisted. "Don't complicate your power and make it out into something it shouldn't be, something to hide. Accept it. Enjoy it." Azurabel was reminded then of the hope she'd felt in telling the faerie what she'd seen in the skies and in the joy she'd experienced while painting. It had been the simple joy of creation. She hadn't been afraid as she'd been happy – yes, happy! – to be immersed in it. "Show your sisters what you can do."
"What?" It was Kayeste's turn to speak and the white Kacheek squinted at Azurabel. "Are you talking to yourself, Az, or to us?" Azurabel almost dropped her spoon, realising that she'd spoken aloud. She'd done the very same thing last night, too, and she fidgeted. It was one of a couple horrible if unconscious habits of hers at times.
"So-sorry!" she stammered and crammed the last of her breakfast into her mouth. Her decision had been made but she still didn't know how to broach the subject. She'd kept her ability secret for so long that telling them about it still seemed an unfamiliar concept. Azurabel could just show them, as she had with Psellia, but a big part of her wanted to talk to her sisters about it first, if she could.
"That's fine," Kayeste told Azurabel with a shrug. Standing, Kayeste leaned over and grabbed her breakfast bowl, taking it to the sink to wash it out. It shattered as it dropped to the floor and the blobs of jelly still inside went flying. "What is that?" Kayeste asked, her normally breezy voice hitching. She wasn't referring to the jelly.
All four sisters looked out the kitchen window. Smoke was rising into the sky in the distance, staining it black, and carried with it the sound of shrieking. Azurabel felt horror creep through her and break out in cold sweat at her palms and forehead. Now that was definitely a sound she recognised. "Uh-oh."
Freezing winds lashed Psellia as the air faerie flew over Terror Mountain, fighting to stay on course. Only the frenzied beat of her wings kept them from being covered in the same thin layer of frost that had begun to cling to the rest of her body. She blinked away the snowflake that had dusted itself onto her lashes, scanning ahead, as she reached out to the small form at her left and drew Mae close. The air currents they rode were strong this high up and there was only so much that she could do, as an air faerie, to ease their ferocity.
Most of the sight ahead was familiar, even if the jagged mountain peaks were not. Tall columns of ash were spiralling into the skies, dark in contrast to the gleaming snow, and the typical blue of the heavens was streaked, as Altador's had been, with black. Psellia wanted to look away but found that she couldn't. Shouldn't. Psellia had caused this, in a way, in pushing Azurabel as she had.
Fiery hues of red, yellow and orange leapt into view, magnified fifty times over by the flames' reflection off their pallid surrounds. Had the scene been a painting, Psellia might have found it beautiful. As it was, she found it horrifying and bit her lip as she searched for and found the source of the light. Five pets had formed a line outside their burning cottage. Two shovelled snow into buckets while two others passed other buckets along to be emptied onto the Neohome's smouldering thatched roof. Psellia blew out the fire as she swept past and the Neopets cheered. The damage was, thankfully, minimal here. Though very light, the falling snow had helped them smother the flames.
There were no wraiths to be seen. Psellia wasn't decided as to whether she should be grateful for that or not. On one hand, she was glad that they were removed from where these Neopets were. On the other, she wanted them firmly in her sights so that she could deal with them and keep them from wreaking any more such damage. A pang in Psellia's chest made her clench her fists. She wasn't deserving of cheers – not, at least, until she was able to find and help Azurabel put a stop to all this.
It was true that thoughts were powerful, she reflected with a grimace. This one drove her on, carrying her over cottage after cottage, and the adrenaline that her too-fast heart pumped became as icy as her surrounds. She had to fly faster. Quicker. Psellia had to get to Azurabel soon, she was coldly certain.
She'd seen it only once before but, even from the air, she recognised the Draik's home. Mae made a chittering noise and Psellia realised that there was a band of wraiths flying beneath while others picked their way forward through the snow. Rising higher, Psellia found that other shadowy forms preceded them, moving with a deliberate purpose that was steadier than what they'd shown in Altador. The wraiths were being drawn to their creator.
The Draik stood near the entrance of her snow-covered Neohome, a snowball in paw. Her Usul sister started forward to help her but Azurabel waved Sepphera back with an indistinct yell. She was determined to protect her sisters on her own.
Psellia noticed something as she battled the winds to edge ever closer. It wasn't the faerie Neopet that the wraiths had their eyes on. One extended a shadowy, formless claw towards the Kacheek directly behind Azurabel and snarled. Azurabel sent her snowball flying but, even as another hit the wraith's chest, the wraith continued to advance. No, it wasn't Azurabel that they approached. "It's her sisters," Psellia gasped to Mae.
For the Draik, the wraiths were the incarnations of her worst fears; her fears that her sisters would be hurt by her abilities. It made sense that they had been what Azurabel had twisted her creations into when she'd found herself despairing. "Azurabel!" Psellia screamed and the Neopet looked up as she circled, trying to place where she should land. Wraiths were everywhere and Psellia couldn't spot more than a free inch of white beyond the immediate area around the Draik.
Air whistled in her ears as winds ripped from Psellia like spears and several wraiths staggered backwards. Her feet touched down on cold snow and she ushered her Harris through the open doorway, into the Neohome's relative safety, before Psellia locked her gaze to Azurabel's wide eyes. "Psellia!" the Draik exclaimed, covering her mouth. "Oh, thank Fyora! I didn't know what I was going to do."
A thousand thoughts dashed through Psellia's head in the space of a heartbeat. She'd no real idea what the wraiths wanted with Azurabel's sisters nor what Azurabel should do, specifically. Nonetheless, she said, tone urgent, "It's not me who can drive them off but you. If you try, you may well be able to make them disappear. That's why I've come." It would require Azurabel to face her abilities head-on – to accept them, to use them – but she was capable of it, Psellia believed.
"Huh? What?" Azurabel's eyes went even wider and, behind her, Sepphera jerked.
"What do you mean, 'make them disappear'?" another of the Draik's sisters asked. The chocolate pet looked back and forth between her sister and Psellia with a tight, anxious look. Clearly Azurabel's sisters were still in the dark about her abilities.
"Not the time, Fobhe," Azurabel hissed. Peering past Psellia, she bent down to scoop up another pawful of snow. "They've recovered. Get back." To the faerie she said, "That's impossible." She finished shaping the snowball and flung it, hard, though, unfortunately, her target only faltered for the briefest of moments.
"I don't think so." Pulse accelerating, Psellia assessed the approaching wraiths. Their dark eyes were frightening to look at. There was no anger there, no hatred. Rather, there was something infinitely more dangerous in those murky depths and that was nothing, nothing at all. They felt no remorse for what they'd done either in Terror Mountain or in Altador. Or for what they were about to do here, right now, unless they were stopped. Psellia pursed her lips and again called to the magic that lived within her, sending winds slicing through the space separating them. The faerie experienced a grim satisfaction as the wraiths lurched and lost their footing. "Very little, you'll find," she puffed, "is actually impossible." Psellia wasn't mistaken, she was convinced, in thinking that the Neopet had been on the verge of accepting her abilities the previous night.
Fobhe edged past Azurabel and squatted to shape her own set of snowballs. "I'll help," the chocolate Draik announced, stepping up to take a firm stance between Psellia and Azurabel. "Count me in."
"No!" Azurabel's cry was dismayed, even terrified. "Get back, Fobhe. Get back!" She made to grab the other Draik by the arm but her sister shook her off, a look of resolution on her truffle-brown features. Voicing Psellia's earlier observation, Azurabel cried, "I think they might be after you guys! I have to protect you!"
"Stop it, Az," Fobhe grunted, sidestepping. She beckoned to their other two sisters as she declared, "There's no way that we're just going to hide behind you. What do you take us for?" Sepphera and the Kacheek nodded, the Usul patting Azurabel on the shoulder as they moved.
"She's right," Sepphera murmured and there was a certain rigidity in her soft face that hadn't been there before. "We're here for you, Az. We're all here for each other; we won't let any one of us stand on her own." She bent to help Fobhe craft a giant snowball.
"Well spoken." Psellia smiled, summoning more winds. She half-turned to Azurabel as her magic seethed around them. "Looks like," Psellia observed, "your sisters are going to help with or without your permission. You'd best accept that."
"Accept...?" Azurabel whispered slowly. She snorted with a humour ill-befitting their situation and her snort grew to an outright laugh. "Alright," she said. "Fine, fine. But be careful. Don't let them get too close to you." Azurabel tossed a snowball with a particular vehemence and Psellia had to rip her gaze away from the Neopet with some reluctance to re-focus on the wraiths. More had filtered in, solo and in clusters, and it was becoming difficult to hold them at bay. For every shadowy form that blew to the back of the group, another pressed forth to take their place.
"Uh... excuse me... Psellia? You were, uh, saying," Azurabel's Kacheek sister spoke up, "that Az, our sister, could do... something about this?" The white Neopet's words tailed off into a question as she addressed Psellia. She was referring to what Psellia had told Azurabel when she'd landed.
"Kayeste!" Azurabel huffed. "I said, not now!" The faerie pet reached over and pulled Kayeste back from a snarling wraith that had edged too close, while Fobhe smacked the wraith's shapeless chin with a succession of snowballs. "Pay attention and watch out!"
Psellia looked over from where she'd been directing her magic. Azurabel had a nasty tendency to put off what needed to be taken care of. "Actually," Psellia cut in, "now's the perfect time to discuss it." She took a step back as she returned her attention to a pair of onyx eyes. "We can't hold the wraiths off forever. You're the one who created them," she pointed out deliberately, "and you should be capable of the reverse." Psellia's statement was followed by three immediate yet distinct gasps.
"Is that true?" Psellia didn't need to glance over to know that the soft, hesitant voice belonged to Sepphera. She did glance over to see Azurabel wilt, shoulders rounding and face crumpling. The Draik nodded and Sepphera let out a faint, "Oh, Azurabel." The Usul didn't understand, of course, the finer details of what Psellia was referencing but she understood enough to comprehend that her sister had been working through a lot of inner conflict and was in pain because of it.
Azurabel, Psellia thought, might be able to get away with Psellia fixing her destruction in dreams but that wasn't the case in real life; Azurabel had to fix what she'd started on her own. "This isn't so much a physical fight," Psellia noted, "as it is a mental one and I – and no one other than yourself – can ultimately win it for you, Azurabel. We can stand with you and support you, sure, but you need to work out a solution to this problem that you've caused." She released a new fistful of air currents as she talked and they whistled to emphasise her words.
Azurabel's breathing caught. "You're right." She coughed to clear her throat. "You're right but I honestly don't know what to do – or if there's anything I can do." A hint of a sob entered her voice and her paws began to shake. "I feel so powerless," she admitted, looking from one sister's pale face to the next. "I can't protect my sisters like this."
Powerless? "Do you remember what I said to you about the ability to imagine... and to create?" Psellia asked, a thought taking sudden root in her mind. The faerie Neopet was not without weapons. The cold must've frozen Psellia's thinking processes for her not to have considered this earlier. She'd certainly flown here in the single-minded conviction that Azurabel could fix things without reflecting on how that could be accomplished. She berated herself. Most unlike her.
"You mean," Azurabel wavered, "what you said about them being amazing?" Behind her, her sisters exchanged silent glances.
"Yes. Powerful," Psellia enunciated. Azurabel swallowed and the faerie waited, raising an eyebrow, before she sent more wind-spears into the nearest wraiths and made them double over. "Do you get where I'm going with this?"
Azurabel just blinked at her and then at her sisters. Her jaw opened and closed and, finally, she said, "What I can do is powerful because I can do good through it."
A grin stretched itself across Psellia's lips. "Gold star."
To be continued...