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We All Had Each Other: Part One


by tiger_kitty7788

--------

"Gotcha!"

      Zephyr found himself tripping flat on his face, his long red snout shaking hands with the hard stone before promptly beginning to bleed.

      Meanwhile, Terr, half again as tall and thick, easily pulled the ball from his friend to nudge it into the makeshift goal, howling with wolfish delight, just as he claimed that any wild Lupe would do after winning a casual, side-street game of the newly discovered 'Yooyuball,' pride of the small Altadorian team.

      Of course, this was nothing like that intriguing novelty. Besides the presence of only two players, their 'goals' were composed of meticulously placed stones, and their 'Yooyu' was a carefully painted rubber ball, with some of that intricate, fiery pattern already scraped off by various skids and thuds.

      Not in Zephyr's mind. In the depths of his flighty imagination, he was a Yooyuball legend, racing down the field with a rolled-up Fire Yooyu balanced carefully on one paw. And then he was leaping to one side, to the other, throwing... scoring! And the crowd goes-

      "Neopia to Zephyr! Come in, Zephyr! You still with me?"

      The nearly-grown Darigan Gelert blinked at Terr's big, fuzzy paw, being waved about two inches above the smaller pet's steadily bleeding nose.

      And, with no idea of what his friend had said, Zephyr asked the first question that came to mind.

      "What?"

      Terr rolled one crimson eye, scuffing at the 'Yooyu' with a massive paw.

      "I was asking you if you wanted a rematch. For the sixth time."

      Huffing and glaring, Zephyr rolled onto his four paws, wiping at the blood which, fortunately, happened to blend in with his fur enough to be hidden. At least he didn't look as ridiculous as almost any other kind of Neopet would have.

      "No. I'm going to go home."

      All of his fantasies had retreated. Perhaps they were laughing at him, too. With that bitter thought, Zephyr trudged off towards home, holding both unusually frail wings to his sides, leaving behind a chuckling friend, a rubber ball, and a weakening part of his dream.

          ***

      There was no one waiting at home for Zephyr. Not that he had expected anyone.

      Just like every one of the young pets in his neighborhood, he was an orphan. Times had been tough on the Citadel, and they had learned to fend for themselves. It really wasn't an unpleasant life, compared to some. They had places to sleep. Those who had been left without simply stayed with another like them who had found a safe home.

      Sometimes they had food. If that was absent, they were there to comfort each other. Yes, that was the most valuable thing that any of them had. Each other.

      Without that bond, surely they would have died long ago.

      And some had died long ago. The two Meridell/Darigan wars had brutally taken over a quarter of their number.

      Sometimes, Zephyr found himself entertaining wild fantasies of going to Lord Darigan, and begging him to help the children who lived so poorly.

      But, why should the mighty ruler of the entire Darigan Citadel care about a ragtag band of scruffy orphans?

      Ed, the worn stuffed bear, was waiting for him beside the familiar straw pallet, right where he had been left that morning. Now, there was a good friend. He was always there to be cuddled, and never said anything unkind or discouraging. Perhaps, by the standards of richer families, he was too old for Ed. But he didn't have anyone else there to talk to.

      "Goodnight, Ed."

      The floppy, ragged bear was picked up tenderly in thin, red paws, cradled close as Zephyr eased onto his bed, curling into a tight ball for extra warmth on such a cool night.

      And, as the stars came into view outside, silver sprinkles against a field of black velvet, the young Gelert drifted into dreams of Yooyuballs and rediscovered cities.

     ***

      Darigan braced his bony hands upon the stone windowsill of his chambers, looking out over the black and silver of the citadel he had so misruled in the past. No more.

      He had lost the trust of his people, his dignity. Some of it was not likely to be regained. Ever.

      His head turned sharply towards the familiar creaking sound as Galgarroth stepped into the room, shutting the door nearly quickly enough to catch his tail in it.

      "My lord, a moment?"

      The Korbat ducked his head once in affirmative, turning fully from his window towards the Grarrl before him.

      Atypically, Darigan found his thoughts wandering as Galgarroth spoke. The report was something about the Citadel... Altador... Citadel... Altador? Oh. The here-today-gone-tomorrow-back-in-a-hundred-years city probably wanted more players for their games.

      And then he was repeatedly glancing through the window, down towards what he had been frequently noticing on the outskirts. Two semicircles of ramshackle dwellings, side by side, facing opposite directions, in a sort of ~ shape. Rather like the sort of symbol written before a signature. Except that this seemed to read 'signed, Hopelessness'.

      In the dim, early-morning light, not a creature stirred in this distant corner. Did any still live there? It bothered Darigan to realize that he had not the slightest clue.

      And so he interrupted Galgarroth, who was still talking about something or other.

      "Come here."

      With a quizzical half-tilt of his head, the Grarrl complied.

      Darigan gestured over the city with a thin hand, towards the sad little structures he had noticed several days before.

      "Who lives there?"

      With a maddeningly blank expression, Galgarroth matched his gaze.

      "No one important, sir. Children."

      He whirled to face the Grarrl. This truly was a surprise.

      "Children? Where are their parents?"

      "To the best of my knowledge? Buried on the outskirts."

     ***

      Morning brought with it the peculiar, familiar mixture of hope and sadness. After all, there would be enough food to take the edge off his hunger. But no one to share it with. Out of all the Darigani orphans, Zephyr was likely the least popular. Gangly, clumsy, forever lost in foolish daydreams.

      Oddly enough, most of the food eaten on this part of the Citadel was bought in Meridell. After all, there was no way to grow produce in the harsh rock of this floating home. Up among the clouds, there was also a devastating lack of rain.

      Having abstained from a meal the previous evening, Zephyr considered this enough of an occasion for the bread and gravy he had been saving so carefully.

      The bread was dry and stuck to his throat, washed down with sparing gulps of gravy that should have been eaten days earlier and had developed a bit of an odd flavor. But hunger truly was the best seasoning, and it felt like the feast of a ruler.

     ***

      Aforementioned ruler had not eaten a bite that morning. He was still trying to fully wrap his mind this new information. Truly, he needed to catch up on the happenings of the Citadel so proudly named after him.

      Children. He had been a child once. He could remember that desperation...

      "Darigan! Come on!"

      The short, lanky little Korbat pumped his thin legs as fast as he could, following behind the Eyrie he called a friend.

      "I am coming, all right, Kass? Slow down!"

      Never had anyone else been told of the wonderful friendship the two youngsters had enjoyed for most of their child-years.

      Kass had never listened to Darigan's pleadings, running faster than ever. But he made up for it on those cold lonely nights, huddling close in any half-warm corner that could be found, wrapping his wings around his smaller, thinner friend to keep them both warm.

      Yes, he knew hunger. He knew desperation. And he knew pain. Not only the physical. The mental and emotional anguish of being so deeply betrayed by the best friend he had ever known.

      Was there something that he could do to keep these young Neopets from the same sort of fate? He would do anything, anything it took.

      First, he would need to see that sorry neighborhood for himself.

     ***

      Breakfast had been good, the weather was better. It was shaping up to be an above-average day, indeed.

      Now he found himself roaming the streets close to his home, padding along on all fours, sniffing for anything that could either be eaten or played with.

      So far, no sign of either. No matter - he was used to spending his days alone. It gave him time for pondering, and for observing.

      There was the sharp roof-edge, black against a crimson sky. So harsh and cold. The deep crack in the cobblestone shaped vaguely like the landscape of Meridell below.

      There had been many days when he had wondered what life was like, thousands of feet below. It all appeared so lush, so green. Full of light and life. A wonderland, impossibly far away.

      A sharp pang of longing shot through his thin side. Not just longing. Hunger. Zephyr had not realized just how much time he had spent, looking down upon the emerald and gold of forest and farmland.

      But there was nothing to be eaten. Foolishly, he had finished the last of his provisions at breakfast, leaving himself with nothing for the rest of that day.

      As he pondered how he might feed himself, his red ears swiveled towards voices. Close. Very close.

      "I'm aware of how unusual this is, Galgarroth. But I have my reasons."

      Zephyr's heart seemed to pause clumsily through the next few beats. Darigan! Lord Darigan, come to their pathetic little neighborhood. The young Gelert could hardly believe what he had heard, yet it could be no one else.

      A plan began to form in his mind, shocking, utterly unlike the contemplative boy.

      But desperate times called for desperate measures.

To be continued...

If you have any compliments, criticism, or questions, I'll always look at a neomail.

 
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