At Your Brilliance
Axanzo, the yellow Lupe, panted heavy breaths as he staggered up the steep hill overlooking Neopia Central. The sound of his breathing hushed the endless chatter of the shopping square crowds behind him. When he reached the top, he hunched forward with his hands on his knees and gasped for air. The series of raspy breaths annoyed a green Peophin lying on his stomach with his chin nestled in the crux of his elbows.
“Out of all the places,” said Axanzo, failing to finish his sentence in favor of taking in long breaths from the refreshing breeze gracing the hilltop.
Dravneel nuzzled his chin deeper into his arms. “You didn’t have to look for me.”
With his lungs cooled down with the crisp air, Axanzo straightened his back with shoulders relaxed. He stepped right in front of Dravneel’s view. Against the sun, all the green Peophin could see was a dark silhouette of tall and sinewy Lupe.
“Our owner said he finished shopping.” Axanzo ducked down to meet the eye level of his moping friend, close enough for Dravneel to feel the yellow Lupe’s warm breath wafting against his forehead. “And we’re not leaving without you.”
Dravneel turned his head to evade his gaze, but Axanzo shuffled along to maintain eye contact.
Axanzo’s eyebrows raised at the sight of his friend’s vacant stare. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m pathetic.” Dravneel extended his arm out with an opened letter in hand. Axanzo took the note, and his eyes ran up and down, left and right, absorbing every detail from the message. “It’s from a friend. Well, not my friend. Just a writing buddy. We exchange what we wrote once in a while. That’s all.”
The yellow Lupe’s eyes never for a second left the parchment. “Your friend is doing well for himself.” A thought just passed into Axanzo’s mind. He broke away from the letter and looked at his friend, still melting on the grass. “Why did you say you were pathetic? The person in the letter spoke nothing but high praise for you. He even said,” Axanzo’s eyes scanned for the specific line he read moments ago and stopped at a cheery sentence that even made himself smile. “And I quote, ‘Your short stories inspired me to become the next biggest Neopian Times journalist!’ Is there anyone in the world who could feel anything but overjoyed after reading that?”
“You don’t understand.”
“Talk to me until I do,” said Axanzo with a curt grin that both dared his friend to speak his mind and reassured him that he has nothing to fear from doing so.
Dravneel grumbled. “He’s out there creating spectacular pieces for all to read, but me, I’m doing nothing of the sort. Sometimes I write stories I can be proud of. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to write at all. But what I’ve been doing isn’t as nearly as ambitious.” The green Peophin got off from his belly and sat with his arms folded. “Nowhere near aiming to be the best journalist in the world. I should be a great novelist at this point in my life, but I’m no better than someone who writes as a passing hobby. Worse, probably.”
“You’re too hard on yourself.” Axanzo tucked the letter back into its envelope.” You’ve already accomplished so much. I think your stories are good.”
“But not good enough.” Dravneel glanced towards the marketplace crowds below them. The streets were teeming of tiny shapes bumping shoulders and speaking louder than the last to be heard by the person beside them. His ears were inundated with incoherent conversations that all melted into waves of uproarious bursts. Occasionally, there were distinctive shouts from one or two shoppers that permeated the sea of sounds, and those drove Dravneel spiraling. “There are countless writers out there, and no matter how hard I work, there will always be talent a cut far above mine. And worst of all, I feel like what I do right now, or what I could do in the future, will end up drowning among forgotten pieces where only true masterpieces can rise and shine.”
Axanzo looked at his friend and then the letter in his hand. “So, you’re feeling down on yourself because of this letter.” Straight-faced and focused, the yellow Lupe grabbed both sides of the envelope and started ripping it down the middle.
Without hesitation, Dravneel dove in and snatched the letter out of his hands. He sloppily whipped it out of its envelope and unfolded it, assessing the depth of its tears. “What were you thinking? Never mind, don’t answer that. Let’s go.” The green Peophin shoved the letter into his pocket and dusted himself off before heading back.
“I think you can make it as a novelist.”
Dravneel stopped in his tracks and turned around. “What?”
“I know you can write a masterpiece. Or multiple masterpieces. Hundreds, thousands, millions even. You can do it.”
Dravneel shook his head. “Thank you for being a good friend. Let’s go before we make our owner worried.”
Axanzo stood in place with the sun beaming on him, casting a warm glow that highlighted his infectious smile and the vibrant gleam in his eyes. “It’s going tough road ahead if you want to become the novelist you wish to be. As with becoming the world’s best journalist for your friend, becoming a writer who creates masterpieces is a difficult goal. But that’s okay. I’ll be there with a quill and sheets of paper whenever you don’t feel like writing.”
“What are you on about?” asked Dravneel with a crooked smile and a raised eyebrow.
The yellow Lupe’s hair swayed elegantly with the gentle breeze. “Because I love the stories you’ve told. You beam every time you stand up, reciting them in front of everyone. Even in the darkest nights, you radiate passion whenever ink touches paper.”
“Oh, come on. That’s enough, Axanzo.”
“And it makes me happy when you’re at your most brilliant.”
Dravneel lowered his head. And for a second, he was shaking his head and letting a chuckle or two escape his breath. When he raised his head, Axanzo saw happy tears and shining cheeks. What captivated him the most was that rare smile. Earnest with a slight quiver yet full of bravery and hope. “I’m scared.”
The yellow Lupe hastened to Dravneel’s side and draped his arm around his shoulders. “What is there to be afraid of? You don’t let the critics get to you. You take feedback really well. You have talent in spades. And most of all, you love what you do.” Axanzo pointed his chin to the sky. “The way I see it, there’s no other way to go but up.”
Midway down the hill, Dravneel lifted Axanzo’s arm off himself. “It’s going to sound stupid.”
“I’m okay with stupid. I did promise to bring you writing materials whenever you’re not already fervently crafting the next great Neopian novel. And hey, we both know that’s like the castle cooks trying to keep King Skarl’s appetite satiated.”
Dravneel giggled, but his face faded back to a somber note. “Everyone has always been supportive of me. No matter what mood I’m in, I’ve always been cheered on and pushed to become my best. Especially you. You’re here with me now, and that speaks volumes to how much faith you place in me.”
“Go on.” Axanzo stood taller with his chest out with a smug grin.
“What if I disappoint you? After all the love, patience, and hope you have for me, there is no way I could pay you back. Not even close.” Dravneel buried his hands in his face. “I can’t live up to your expectations. I can’t even be half the writer you dream me to be. So I think it would be best if you and everyone spend their time and effort.” His voice cracked. “On someone else who is worthy of you.”
It was quiet the rest of the way down. Dravneel held back his tears in the chance of this walk together being their last time. He wouldn’t want his final memory to be of a sobbing mess. Axanzo locked himself in stern thought. His chin perpetually resting on his hand until they reached the base of the hill.
“Well yeah, that would be the most logical way to go about things,” said Axanzo while nodding his head and stroking his chin.
Dravneel’s chest hurt. Those were the words he would never want to hear—being abandoned by his dear friend for someone more talented. He spent the whole day emotionally preparing himself on the hill for this possibility. Still, it didn’t hurt any less in practice. In his mind, the sunny day warped into a blurry, black abyss with the only fragments of light being blank pages of his work-in-progress novel. It felt cold. It felt lonely. And it felt like it would last forever.
“But it’s something I would never do.” Axanzo smiled. “I support you not because of your talent. I stand beside you because you’re my friend.” He elbow jostled Dravneel’s rib and smiled. “We’re friends, right?”
Dravneel wiped tears off his face. “Yeah.” As if it was that simple. And for the most important things we cherish, it really was.
Axanzo spotted their owner up ahead beside the giant cheeseburger and the overturned book. From their location, it looked like their owner was floating atop a collection of shopping bags and boxes. “Looks like I was right to find you. There’s no way only two of us can carry everything.” He squinted and saw a box with a sheet of blank paper slipping through the lid. “Our owner bought a ton of paper for you. Ready to write?”