Stargazer: Part Three
Azurabel woke with a start.
Breath tore from her lungs as she jerked upright. Panting hard, she shoved away the hair slicked to her temple before her wild glance oriented her. Pink-and-purple striped wallpaper, dark shelves that lined the walls. A large dresser with a larger mirror. And a desk in the corner. She was back in her own, real bedroom. Sagging, the Draik rested a paw against her chest and felt her heartbeat calm. She was no longer dreaming.
There were thuds from just below. Her sister, Sepphera, had woken and was kicking the bottom of her bunk. "Are you okay?" The Usul's pretty voice floated to Azurabel with some concern. "Azurabel, are you alright?" Some small part of the faerie pet urged her to tell Sepphera about her dream but Azurabel pursed her lips. She wasn't about to stress out her sister.
"Everything's fine," Azurabel chewed out, harsher than intended. She clamped a paw over her mouth in the next split-second. "I'm sorry," she apologised, tone softening. "I don't mean to sound snappy. Go back to sleep, Sepph. It's only dawn."
Azurabel herself wouldn't. She stared at the light streaming in through the window as dawn slowly but surely took hold of the sky. The darkness of night was being replaced by the brightness of day. Increasingly, Azurabel had begun to look forward to this hour. It was when she awoke and became liberated from what she suffered during the nights. Azurabel pulled her quilt over her head and turned away, towards the wall. Today? Not so much. The last night had been worse than usual.
Her thoughts churned, spinning out shaken memory after shaken memory. Azurabel had been visited last night by a faerie who had, somehow, been able to access and share her dream. She'd pushed that faerie – Psellia – away when she'd offered her help. Biting her tongue, the Draik fought down the sob that threatened to choke her. Help her? It was impossible. The faerie's offer had only further impressed how hopeless her situation really was and that would remain with her all day.
Sepphera snuck her a sidelong stare at breakfast, blue eyes clouded. Azurabel sighed inwardly, looking down to stir cinnamon into her Apple Oatmeal, but avoided giving any outward sign of notice. Her second-eldest sister fretted much more than she should. It was because of that that the pet wanted to keep her problems to herself. Sepphera could help her no more than the faerie could – or anyone else, for that matter.
"So quiet this morning, guys!" The cheery accents belonged to their sister Fobhe. The chocolate Draik bounded through the kitchen doorway with their eldest sister, Kayeste, a white Kacheek, close in her wake. Fobhe grabbed a couple of bowls and spoons from a cupboard while Kayeste pulled out a box of Enchanting Strawberry Cereal. The gaiety in the other Draik's big brown eyes dimmed as Fobhe took in their silence. "Hey, what's up? Azurabel? Sepphera?"
Azurabel heaved another internal sigh. It seemed that her sisters didn't know when to quit with the questions. "Nothing," she enunciated. Fobhe and Kayeste lifted eyebrows in unison and she sighed aloud. "Bad night's sleep," she told them. It was true enough, in a sense, though it'd be more accurate to say that it had been a bad dream. Not a nightmare, per se, and yet there was no other way to describe it.
Kayeste shrugged as she gulped down her breakfast. "Get some sleep, then, Az." Not likely, Azurabel thought in unvoiced reply. Her Kacheek sister jerked her head towards the general direction of the hallway. "Fobhe and I are going to head out early."
Fobhe's eyes were huge pools of suspicion. "We've agreed to help set up a dance party at Neoschool and won't be back home for awhile." Toying with a ringlet, Fobhe looked between Azurabel and Sepphera. "Neomail if you need us. We can come home early."
Warmth blossomed across Azurabel's cheeks. "No need," she stressed. "Everything's fine." She chewed down on her lip briefly. It had been the same line she'd told Sepphera earlier that morning, the one that the Usul hadn't swallowed. Even so, she found herself repeating it. "Everything's fine."
"Well, okay." Kayeste's tone told Azurabel that even she, the most carefree of the four, was beginning to feel troubled. "We'll see you later, then." Both Kayeste and Fobhe gave her a last, lingering look as they set their bowls in the sink. Ugh.
Sepphera had remained quiet throughout the exchange but the Usuki Neopet made a small noise now. She coughed again, louder, when Azurabel didn't say anything. "I don't think," Sepphera began at length, "that you're telling us the truth here. I haven't said a word... to either of the others but... this morning's not the first time I've heard you wake like you did." She hesitated before soldiering on. "We share a bedroom so it's... not like you can hide it from me. If there's something wrong, Az, you should tell me." There was unease as well as distress threaded sharply through her words and both pricked.
Azurabel looked up, into the other girl's kind, innocent gaze. The concern glimmering there was a reflection of Azurabel's own concern for Sepphera and their sisters. Dashing through the faerie pet's mind were the same thoughts that had echoed in her brain all morning. She clung to them like a motto as she glanced away. She didn't want to make her sister anxious. Telling Sepphera what was wrong would only make the Usul even more disturbed than she was currently. Azurabel didn't know where to start, anyway. She just knew that there was nothing anyone could do – nothing – and that the Neopians she least wanted to try were her sisters.
"Azurabel." Sepphera's pitch was oddly high and she tugged at her long, purple-green hair. "I know that you don't want to hear this, Az, but... you need to face it, whatever's wrong. And, it doesn't have to be me, but I think you do... you do need to let someone in. You need help."
Help. The word resonated in Azurabel's head, echoing over and over. What was it that that faerie had offered? "Let me help you," she'd said. Azurabel pushed her chair back from the kitchen table with a screech.
"Where are you going?" Sepphera blinked at her.
"Outside," Azurabel mumbled in reply. The Usul didn't try to stop her. Sepphera knew that Azurabel always went outdoors to think and, right now, she probably approved. The Draik did need some time to mull things over. She wound on a thick scarf and laced up her boots at the front door before pushing her way into the snow with relief.
Stretching her arms heavenwards, she breathed in the cold, clean air and scanned the pristine white expanse. The nearby trees, though bare of greenery, were beautiful in an icy way. Frost hung off each branch she wandered past, sparkling in the wintry sunshine. Curling into a snowbank, Azurabel shivered. The press of the snow was cool against her cheek. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, feeling her mind empty. Being outdoors was calming and deeply refreshing. As she looked again skyward, she tried to make out some shapes in the clouds.
Azurabel knit her brow, digging her claws into the frozen powder. There was a funny shape bobbing in the distance. It seemed to move closer as she watched. A Beekadoodle, she wondered? Or a trio of Barbats. There were all kinds of explanations one could come up with for what it could be. How about... a Korbat, an escaped Darigan prisoner? Part of the awkward shape could be the outline of a ball-and-chain left dangling behind him... in his haste to quit the Citadel. That what's-his-name, Barallus. It was a novel idea. For a fleeting instant, Azurabel wanted to draw it. She quashed the idea almost immediately. She couldn't. Of course she couldn't.
The reality was different from what she'd imagined. Three faerie Harris dropped to the ground beside her with tired whines and clicks. The straw basket the Petpets had carried sank into the snow and Azurabel reacted quickly to keep it from vanishing from sight. She had a hunch as to who it might be from and it was confirmed when she read through the attached note. It had been sent by the blonde faerie, Psellia. .... I wish to help, it read, in any way that I can. Could we, perhaps, talk?
Azurabel's instinct was to shove the paper away. The faintly reproachful look in one Harris' eyes, however, stopped her. Slowly, very slowly, she pulled the basket close and peered inside. Her jaw fell open. Beneath her probing paws, Azurabel uncovered several tubes of paint and other art supplies. Everything was good, high-quality stuff. Her desire to draw the scene she'd just imagined roared to renewed life and Azurabel started to picture the proportions, the colours she'd use. This time, though, she was less disposed to shake the yearning away. The gift was... dangerous but, at the same time, wonderful.
The faerie – Psellia – didn't understand how Azurabel felt towards her art, towards her dreams. Her gesture though was, at least, an attempt to try to understand. Remorse soured Azurabel's throat as she recalled how violently she had pushed Psellia from her dream the previous night.
Her remorse shifted into contemplation when Azurabel remembered what Sepphera had said to her. "....you do need to let someone in," the pet had insisted. "You need help." It couldn't, Azurabel was determined, come from her sisters. They cared about her more than anyone and would be troubled more than anyone else when they found that she couldn't truly be helped. The Draik pictured her sister's hurt expression from earlier and flinched from the recollection. Sepphera was already troubled. Maybe, maybe, it would help, a little, if there was someone Azurabel could talk to outside of her family. Psellia could be that someone. The faerie had certainly proven herself resilient.
Dear Psellia, Psellia read, Thank you for your note. I am sorry about how I behaved last night and apologise for lashing out. You didn't do anything to deserve it. I don't think that there's anything much that you can do for me but I suppose that I'm ready, and at this Psellia's hand trembled, to see if you'll prove me wrong. Your Harris were able to find me at my Neohome today. Would you be able to meet me here tomorrow morning? Or in my dream tonight? – Azurabel.
The slip of paper fluttered to the ground as Psellia's grip slackened. The faerie's eyes tracked its fall blankly before shifting, stunned, to Siyana. The other faerie clapped her hands with visible glee. "Seems like you got through to this Azurabel," Siyana observed from Psellia's reaction. "Well done, Psellia! She'll come right around."
"Hmm." Psellia bent to collect the message and scanned it once more. After her initial shock faded, she realised that she wasn't so sure that Azurabel would come around. The faerie pet had agreed to talk to Psellia and that was, honestly, more than she'd expected. It was clear that Azurabel didn't believe that she could help her in any significant way. Psellia was, nonetheless, up for the challenge.
Azurabel remained in Psellia's thoughts that evening and, in the lights that glittered below, she was reminded of the faerie Draik. The pet's powers of imagination were, as she'd experienced the previous night, intense and somewhat unnerving in that intensity. A creative gift like hers shouldn't go unappreciated and unused. She reflected on this as her dream-self separated from her physical body. It almost seemed to her that, among the many dreamers, the thoughts, that she could sense, she could feel Azurabel dreaming out there, somewhere.
Snow went flying in all directions when she rocketed to a stop. Picking herself up, she shook her head as she dusted the cold, clammy powder off her dress. Right now was not the time to be thinking about Azurabel. Psellia had another's dream to explore. The first thing that she noticed prompted a chortle to drift from her lips, forming a breath-cloud in the air. Some few metres to her left, there was an an odd-looking creature flapping through the extended, frozen limbs of the nearby trees. The yellow Korbat's progress was hindered by the heavy, rusted ball-and-chain attached to his ankles and he jerked mid-air with every flap of his wings. "Bizarre." The muscles in her neck loosened at her laughter. This was what Psellia loved about others' dreams; their ability to picture what she herself would probably never conceive.
The air faerie paused as, wishing herself a coat, she took a proper inventory of her twilit environs. She was in a snowfield like the one that surrounded Azurabel's Terror Mountain Neohome. Snow-encased hills sprawled out as far as she could see, a winter wonderland punctuated here and there by ice crystal formations in glossy hues of pink, blue, green and purple. "Wait," Psellia blurted aloud. There were differences, naturally, but resemblance was there.
The sneaking idea Psellia had grew to a definite conviction. She had not anticipated that she'd be meeting the Draik tonight. Not once had Psellia ever revisited – or known herself, at least, to have revisited – the head of a dreamer whose sleeping thoughts she had previously navigated. The stretch of starry sky above, clear and blue-violet in colour, however, implied otherwise. It was an element the Neopet returned to time and time again. Sure enough, as Psellia inched through the dream landscape, wincing at the damp evening chill, a familiar voice came to her ears. "No," the voice muttered. "No. No, no, no."
"Azurabel." There she was, lying before Psellia on the snow. Half of the faerie couldn't fully comprehend that Azurabel was there, now, yet the Draik glanced her way. The real shock for her wasn't how sudden the pet's appearance was. How had she, Psellia, arrived here? It was true that she'd been thinking of the Draik, that she'd sensed a connection between them. But never had Psellia been able to dictate where her dream-self went.
"You came." Something stole over the Draik's faerie-green features, apparent even in the shadows, and, slowly sitting up, her lips twisted. It took Psellia a moment to see that the grimace wasn't directed at her but turned, rather, inwards as was much of Psellia's own attention. "I wasn't sure if you would come but you really did."
"Ye-s." Though she had no answer for herself, she could answer the Draik. "I... came." Swallowing, Psellia parted her lips and raised her chin. Regardless of her confusion, she needed to focus on and present a self-assured image to the Neopet. She swallowed again as words failed to rise on her tongue. Now that she was actually before Azurabel, she felt tentative. How should she delve into an issue as sensitive as Azurabel's clearly was? The capacity to translate feeling into words eluded her.
"What is it that you see here?" Her abrupt inspiration surprised Psellia as much as it did the Draik, who jerked. "Tell me," she went on, splaying her fingers wide as she flung out her hand. "What is it that you see?" Coat billowing, the faerie spun in a circle and gestured at the dream landscape; at its smooth white carpet, its frost-locked forest and the constellations overhead.
"What... what do you mean?" Azurabel's claws dug into the snow and her eyes blinked repeatedly, bulging like a Blandfish's. She was the very picture of bewilderment. "I don't understand."
"I could tell you what I see," Psellia returned. "I could tell you that I see fields upon fields of a gleaming winter paradise... a playground... and endless diamond skies that are without limits." She paused, giving Azurabel a hard glance. "But that's not what I want. I want you to tell me what you see. How do you look at what you've imagined here?" If Psellia was right, and Azurabel was afraid of her dreams, this needed to be asked. Just what about them caused her to reject them as she did? What about them, exactly, was so frightening?
Silence. Psellia wasn't sure if the continued bulge of the pet's eyes meant that she was taken with what Psellia had said or if she'd completely missed her meaning. As a minute ticked by, she again made to speak.
But the Draik beat her to it. With a pop, her lips opened.
To be continued...