An Astronomer Among the Stars
"Mama?ʺ the wispy voice of a timid baby Aisha called out, alone and afraid. The tall shoots of bamboo and mountain bushes swayed way over her tiny frame and blocked all hope of finding her mom in front of her – all she had were the stars above her head.
ʺMama?ʺ She asked them, seeking an answer, peering closely and fiddling with her pacifier collar. Just when it seemed like she was really alone, the white streak of a shooting star fell across the black sky, and she opened her mouth in a squeal delight. Unchecked joyful baby babbling bubbled from her lips as more and more began to fall across the sky, all telling the innocent one to follow them. She ran and ran and ran, eyes glued to the blaze of falling stars, until she found herself in her front yard, not that far away after all. The fiery stars ceased and bid her farewell for the night, but young Shasharah knew she would follow them for the rest of her life.
A few thousand spins of the planet later…
ʺThe Astronomy Club is a place where Neopians can learn all about the cosmos. Stars, planets, comets, asteroids, constellations, nebulae... they're all out there waiting to be discovered.ʺ A now fully-grown shadow Aisha murmured the words, trailing her paw over the flyer she clutched to her chest, though she knew them by memory. She was a bit breathless from climbing what must have been hundreds of stairs over the course of the day: Altador was a bit more than the over-eager Shasharah was prepared for, but her lack of physical strength did nothing to curb the racing of her mind. She had spent years waiting for this moment, and now she couldn't even convince herself to push open the wooden door at the top of the stairs to the room that held the astronomy club. The room already seemed to radiate with excitement for her presence – this was home. She belonged here.
When at long last the call of the stars in her tall ears was too loud to ignore, she prepared to give the door a big push – only to have it flung open in her face. A bespectacled purple Korbat nearly bowled her over, but she quickly righted herself before tumbling down the stairs she would dread climbing again.
ʺOh dear!ʺ The Korbat extends his arm to help her from the floor, fixing his glasses and stepping aside in one fluid swish of his wings. ʺSo sorry!ʺ He peers at her for a moment before breaking out into a beaming smile. ʺOh, I recognize you! You're Shasharah, right? Your mentor wrote us a letter, here, come in – the president is expecting you, though we thought you'd be a few days later… hm. I've got to be going, but I'm sure we'll see enough of one another soon! Just go in and turn that way, okay? Bye-bye for now.ʺ
ʺOh… T-thank you!ʺ Shasharah beamed back brilliantly as the sun, teeth dazzling against her smoky skin, awkwardly bowing to the Korbat before scuttling through the door. Immediately, she was struck by awe and a sense of ease that she hadn't felt since that night the stars helped her home. Telescopes littered the floor by the windows, maps of constellations, stars, satellites plastered the walls, and scholarly texts and papers were scattered all about – it needed a good organizing, but the place was obviously meant for her. She could feel the room breathe a sigh of welcome as the other members turned to greet her presence. "Hello," she called out to them meekly, never very good with strangers.
ʺHello,ʺ a green Blumaroo, seemingly wearing the same glasses as the Korbat had been, as well as every other member in the room, turned away from the massive ornate wooden table to face her, compass and pen still in hand. He studied her for a moment, taking in her messy lilac hair, heavy black dress, and the flyer she clutched to her heart. ʺYou the student of the old Gnorbu from the Lunar Temple?ʺ He said after a few beats, squinting at her, waiting for her nod. "Show us what you've got, then.ʺ
ʺOh, yes! He said I should come here, that you guys had everything I would need,ʺ she stammered uncomfortably, speaking too quickly, and couldn't stop her eyes from hunting out all the precious equipment of the room. ʺI'm Shasharah,ʺ she remembered to call out as she flitted to a telescope and fit her face over the eyepiece. The room watched her curiously as Shasharah fiddled with the height of the impressive telescope and tuned the various knobs to guide to the instrument to the location she desired. "Here," she called at last, gesturing for the Blumaroo to peer through, pulling some papers from her bag and laying them flat on the table.
The papers were covered with dots and sketches, a diagram of the night sky, each carefully partitioned onto sketch paper and laid over one another to create a full view of all the constellations and celestial bodies she had found so far. ʺWoah,ʺ the blue Wocky breathed over her work, echoed by the President himself as he double checked the maps, swinging the telescope around. ʺOh, wow,ʺ he shifted the papers and seemed to be in disbelief at all the work she'd managed to do with just the equipment of the Lunar Temple. ʺOkay, it's obvious – you're in for sure!ʺ He extended his hand which she took gratefully, squealing with excitement.
ʺOh thank you, thank you!ʺ Shasharah leapt forward and swept the Blumaroo into a hug, who stiffened for a moment before laughing and squeezing her back.
ʺI think the excitement is a good sign – come on, I've got to show you around. You'll never believe how great the Observatory is. State-of-the art stuff,ʺ the Blumaroo took her arm and the two spent the rest of the day and night wandering around the Altadorian Archives, surrounded by all the knowledge that Neopia had to offer. Shasharah was teeming with joy, and though she was unable to forget her true home of Shenkuu, she knew Altador was just the place for her.
She stayed with the Astronomy Club for years, proudly wearing her badge about, and always keeping a spyglass and a notebook by her side in case the stars spoke to her. When they did, she would spend hours communing with them in a language no one around her understood – it wasn't a spoken language, but a low hum, unintelligible to others – the thrumming sound of the stars' burning energy. It was music to her, and she and the stars created many songs together. In fact, all of the maps still used by not only the Astronomy Club, but by Astronomers all over Neopia, are the ones drawn by the hand of Shasharah and the stars together. They shared their infinite presence with her while she attempted to scribe it all down, almost always ending up sleeping during the day and awake for the entirety of the night just so she could spend more time with them. Sure, she made friends along the way – there was Xeaux, an Aisha who turned Alien after commandeering her own space ship; Amor, who soaked up all the knowledge she could offer him and frequently helped her pore over books when she needed to do research; and Josevina, a curious princess from Brightvale who literally had her head stuck in the clouds. But none of these friends could hear her innermost thoughts, the very musing of her soul, like the stars could.
On the eve of her birthday, a crisp and windy summer night during the Month of Relaxing, she sat with the stars from the top of a cliff, staring over her beloved Altador with a sigh. "Stars, I love it here. I really do. But no one understands me like you," she began, unsure of how to ask them what she wanted. ʺSure, I could go with Xeaux up to Kreludor, or even Virtupets Station – but it's not enough.ʺ Shasharah fiddled with her hair, peering into the perfectly clear, unobstructed night sky, focusing on the brightest star. "I want to be able to go among you, stars. I need wings that can take me through the sky, and space, and wherever else. Can I wish for that, stars? It's my only wish," The Aisha sighed, the gleam of the stars dancing on her shadowed face. When she got no response, she sighed and curled up, still atop the cliff, comfortable in the grass.
But a sudden brightness glared beyond her closed eyes, forcing her awake. She squinted and rubbed at her lids, amazed and delighted by what she saw. The sky was falling all over again, a cascade of brilliant lights breezing past the planet, striking Shasharah silent. The meteor shower was truly a beautiful sight to behold, a show just for the stars' closest friend - Happy Birthday, she could hear them call out one by one as the slid off deeper into space, trailing light behind them. A weight seemed to settle on her back, and before even turned to look at them, tears welled in her eyes. Lots of things remained unexplained in this magical realm of the stars, and this was one of them – gorgeous black feathered wings now protruded from her back, furling and unfurling at her command. Breathless at their beauty, she couldn't help but reach out and touch them in amazement, just to be sure they were real. ʺThank you, my friends,ʺ she sobbed, smiling through the joyful tears.
And then she ran.
She ran as quickly as she could, reaching the edge of the cliff, and dove – the wings opened and caught the air as if she had had them her entire life, cutting through the sky with ease. She screamed with the thrill of rising higher and higher into the sky. Onlookers saw her shadow cut a glorious figure in the foreground of this never-before-seen downpour of stars, til at last the stars and their favorite companion disappeared.
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|Afternoons at Exquisite Ambrosia|
A few weeks before the Altador Cup, before the mass migration of spectators, the teams themselves quietly slip into the city to gear up for the tournament. They train in the stadium and discuss logistics and regulations with the Altador Cup Committee—and when they need some downtime, they head to Exquisite Ambrosia.
|Old Lupe Balthazar|
How had it come to this? Balthazar thought as he scraped the dried pumpkin off of his fence. A few years ago, he would have chased those pets off of his lawn without a second thought.