Authors: Ahmet Zappa
Piper was busily packing for the sleepover. “Let's see,” she said, looking around. She wanted to take her dream diary, her toothlight, a few carefully selected pillows and sleep masksâin case anyone wanted to borrow oneâand a star-shaped stone she'd found by Luminous Lake the first week of her first year at school. The stone was smooth and pleasing to hold. Whenever she slept somewhere new, Piper always took her “serenity stone.” It made her feel better.
After she packed, she changed into her nightgown, because why wait? Then she tossed everything into a star sack, which started about the same size as a lunch bag but kept expanding the more it held. At the last moment, Piper threw in another pillow.
Finally, she took the Cosmic Transporter to Libby and Gemma's room and arrived at the same starmin as a Bot-Bot delivering twelve snuggle sacks. Piper loved the sacks. The heavily quilted tubes immediately adjusted to a Starling's height and body shape, so they were starmendously comfy when you slipped inside. It was like sleeping on a soft field of glowmoss, even if you were on a hard floor.
“Welcome!” Libby said. Piper noted the skylight, letting in beams of starlight, and felt her spirits rise higherâeven when she realized she'd left her toothlight behind.
Meanwhile, the girls rushed to claim their snuggle sacks and a spot on the floor to sleep.
“Wait, everyone,” said Libby. “There's plenty of room!” Then she took out her keytar. “Let's start the sleepover with a sing-along.”
“You mean everyone sings at the same time?” said Leona, horrified. “This isn't some starcamp bonfire, you know.”
Libby played a few chords. “Just give it a chance, Leona.”
The girls sat in a circle and sang old favorites, like “Moonbeams and Rainbows” and “Stars in Your Eyes,” then new hits, like “Lighten Up” and “Lightning Strikes Twice.”
Afterward, they told stories about their first days at the academy. Piper admitted she'd gotten so lost she'd had to call for help on her Star-Zapânot once, not twice, but almost a hydrong times. Sage confided with a giggle that it had taken her starweeks to finally read the Student Manual.
The talk faded to a comfortable silence when Gemma suggested they give each other spa treatments. “It's always fun to do nails, but look.” She held up her hands. “Our old polish has really held up.”
“It's true,” Tessa agreed. “No one needs new manicures.”
“Well, we can still do our hair.” Libby moved aside some sacks to clear space in a corner. “Who wants to be my first customer?”
“Not me,” said Leona, marching over and plopping down on a cushion. She picked up a bottle of glitter spray. “Can you use this to highlight my extra-golden streaks?”
“Let me do it,” said Astra, walking over. She took the spray and spritzed it all over Leona's hair. Immediately, the yellow curls turned bright magenta.
“How do Iâ”
“Look?” Piper interrupted Leona, shaking her head. “Here.” She handed Leona a small hand mirror.
Smiling, Leona angled the mirror for the best view. “What?” she spluttered, angry sparks flying. “Astra, how could you make a mistake like that?”
“Star apologies, Leona!” Astra said. “It's just temporary. It will wash out.”
Leona hurried off, and Astra started fiddling with Piper's hair. But Piper slid out from under her hands. She liked her hair color just fine.
It was a fun evening. After some hairstyle judging, snacking on starmores, a moonfeather pillow fight, and several rounds of starades, Cassie pointed to their hostess, who was already sound asleep.
“Looks like it's time to hit the sack,” she said.
Gemma picked up the starstick that Astra had brought with her, walked over to the snuggle sacks, and smacked one of them.
“Really?” said her sister.
Soon they were all comfortably settled in their sacks, arranged in a star shape, with their heads in the center.
“You know,” said Cassie, sitting up. “Have you noticed that there hasn't been a Wish Mission in a while?” She paused. “No offense, but maybe it's been postponed because mine went so startacularly wellâ¦.”
“Really, Cassie?” said Astra, picking up a stuffed twinkelope and tossing it at her.
As expected, it hit Cassie right in the middle of her forehead. Everyone laughed, Sage the longest and loudest. Cassie scowled (but goodnaturedly) and lay back down.
“So who do you think will go next?” Piper asked dreamily. Of course, Piper was convinced she knew the answer: she would! Hadn't her dream said as much?
“I don't know,” said Vega. “Who here is wishin' to take on the next mission?”
Suddenly, Piper sat up in her sack and grinned. “I know! Maybe we can make a mission happen faster with a visualization. Let's hold hands and visualize our Wish Orbs.”
She thought Leona or Scarlet might snicker. Neither one was particularly into mental imagery. Instead, theyâalong with every other Star Darlingâreached out their hands. Even Libby seemed to sense something in her sleep and stretched out her arms.
“Close your eyes and imagine our special Wish-Cavern,” Piper began in a low voice. “See the remaining Wish Orbs. Smell the aromaâa little Starlandy, a little Wishworldly.”
Sage sniffed the air and giggled.
“Each and every Wish Orb is glowing,” Piper went on. She could sense the girls smiling. “Now look closely at just one. That's your Wish Orb. Watch it glow. Feel the intensity.”
Piper's own Wish Orb glowed so strongly she felt its heat. Suddenly, she saw a rainbow of colors shoot from her orb and flow right into the center of the Star Darlings' circle like a fountain of sparkly hues.
All twelve Star Darlings sat up with a start. Their faces glowed with wonder. Piper gazed at her friends. “Did you see it, too?” she asked.
Tessa nodded. “It was beautiful. Like flareworks at the Festival of Illumination.”
“And it started right in front of you, Piper!” Gemma added.
Piper snuggled deeper into her sack. All that powerful wish energy had come from
Wish Orb had exploded with light and colorâ¦.She was definitely the next Star Darling to go on a mission.
But what else did it mean? If she succeeded in her mission, would she collect more energy than ever before? And if she failed? What then? The stakes were so high Piper's toes tingled. She reached for her stone and rubbed her thumb along its edge.
The visualization over, some girls still whispered about the burst of color and light. Others talked about the boys at the school across the lake. Vega tried to get everyone to play A Moonium Questions.
But Piper's eyes were closing. She took a deep, cleansing breath, enjoying the feeling of warmth and heaviness that was overtaking her. Within starsecs, she was fast asleep.
Piper was dreaming she was moving through a shadowy landscape. A dim shape moved with herâa Starling Piper couldn't make out, but a dark presence nonetheless. Piper could feel in every star inch of her being that this Starling could not be trusted. She tried to pull away from the Starling, but it was difficult. She pushed herself to run faster, to be stronger. But then she stumbled. And suddenly, she was fallingâ¦fallingâ¦.
Piper woke up, gasping. She could still see the Starling's indistinct form, feel the menace. The idea that someone was not the Starling he or she seemed was so powerful, and the dream was so frightening, that Piper was shaking.
And why was she on the floor? Nothing looked familiar. She shook harder.
“It's okay, Piper.” A cool hand brushed her forehead. “You had a bad dream. That's all. You're here with us, safe and sound.”
Piper breathed easier. She was in Libby's room with the other Star Darlings, of course. She turned to Sage, who was crouching beside her, her lavender eyes filled with concern.
“Star apologies for waking you, Sage.”
“You don't have to apologize. My little brothers wake me up all the time,” she said with a laugh. “It's fine, Piper. You had a bad dream.”
“Well, that's just it,” Piper explained quietly. “I don't think it's just a bad dream. I think it meant something. Something important.”
Next to them, Leona muttered in her sleep and smiled like she was modeling for a holo-photo.
“Let's go outside,” Sage whispered, “so we can really talk.” She looked toward the door and it opened without a sound.
Piper nodded, and the two crept quietly around the sleeping girls. They stepped onto the Cosmic Transporter and made their way outside, where the moon shone with a comforting yellow light and starlight illuminated the trees with a lovely brightness. The girls settled in a soft grassy spot and for a moment watched the flareflies buzz in looping circles.
“So can I tell you my dream?” Piper finally asked. “Sometimes it helps to talk.”
“Of course,” said Sage.
“It starts on the Wishworld Surveillance Deck. I'm waiting for a shooting star to take me to Wishworld when a shadow falls over me. It's a Starling, an evil one, but I can't tell who, and this cold, clammy feeling comes over meâ”
Sage stifled a giggle.
Piper stopped talking.
Sage shook her head and said, “Go on, Piper. I'm really listening.”
“Okay. So this Starling reaches out to me, but I run away, and I'm running faster and faster. I can't tell where I am now; all I see is shadows.”
Sage giggled again. She waved at Piper to continue, but with every word Piper said, Sage laughed louder and longer.
Piper stood up to leave, brushing grass from her nightgown.
“Waitâ” Sage choked out between giggles. But Piper had had enough. She turned on her heel. “Come on, Piper,” Sage pleaded.
“Why don't you just laugh at me so hard and long you'll never have the wish energy to move a glimmerfeather, much less anything else?” Piper said. No one had stronger energy manipulation skills than Sage, and Piper knew it was her secret pride.
Sage sucked in her breath, finally silent.
Without another word, Piper strode into the dorm and back to Libby and Gemma's room. But outside their door, she realized she wouldn't be able to get in. The scanner would refuse her entrance. Only Libby and Gemma were allowed automatic entry. Piper groaned. She didn't want to disturb anyone. Just then she heard Sage's giggles floating through the air.
Well, at least Sage would be stuck outside, too.
Piper sighed. She didn't like having those negative thoughts. And she certainly hadn't wanted to lash out the way she had at Sage. But sometimes she couldn't help herself. Maybe that would change after her mission. Right then she felt like she was in limbo, just waiting to be chosen.
Back in her own room, lying on her water bed, Piper felt doubly worse. Of course she had overreacted to Sage's giggle fits. Sage was just trying to help. And she must have been overtired. If Piper had said anything, even good night, she would have collapsed with laughter. Piper understood. She was exhausted, too. She'd sleep late the next day, no matter what.
Sure enough, Piper slept so late the next morning that when she walked into the cafÃ©, the rest of the Star Darlings were finishing their meal. As soon as they saw Piper, they stopped talking.
Quickly, Piper slid into the empty seat between Clover and Astra. “So what did I miss this morning?” She was trying for a cheerful tone, but the corners of her mouth turned down, and suddenly, she was afraid she might cry. Sage must have told all the Star Darlings how sarcastic Piper had been the night before. Clover hugged her, which made Piper feel better for a starsecâuntil Clover stood up and hugged a first year walking by, a girl Piper doubted Clover even knew.
Pointedly, Sage moved a cloth napkin through the air, then onto Piper's lap. “See, Piper?” she said lightly. “I haven't used all my wish energy laughing.” She giggled loudly and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Sorry,” she said.