Friends Forever: Part Two
Part Two: Return to the Citadel
Wings pounded the cold air. “Do you really think we should be doing this?” a yellow Zafara shouted to a Darigan Gelert.
“Do we really have any other choices?” the Gelert yelled back. “I don’t think the knights will disagree. As long as we keep away from Lord Kass and Lady Tia, we should be fine.”
“Yes, but that’s a big if,” the Zafara muttered to herself. “She’s the captain of the guard; he’s the ruler of the entire citadel!”
The Kyrii whose back she was sitting on winced. “Please, Jaen. I’m trying not to think about them.”
Jaen looked down at him, unapologetic. “Tough. If we’re going to help the brave knights of Meridell defend their kingdom against the evil Lord Kass, we need to fight. Probably we’re going to meet Lady Tia. They don’t know she exists; they won’t be ready to deal with her.”
Her brother, who was sitting on the Gelert’s back, looked across at her. “You’re right. I hadn’t even thought of that. They don’t know Lady Tia even exists. We may have to fight her ourselves to get her away from them.”
The Gelert grimaced. “I really don’t like Lady Tia. She was the one who came up with that punishment they had in mind for me.”
The Kyrii blinked. “Are you by any chance referring to the one in which they strapped your wings down, tied you to some scrap metal, and threw you off the citadel, Grace?”
Grace glared at him. “Yes, that’s the one.”
The Zafara on her back stared pensively up at the mass of rock they were flying toward. “She’s inventive, isn’t she?”
Grace sighed. “Yes, she is. She also came up with the idea of magical torture - trap them in their own minds, cuts down on the number of guards required beautifully - and the more painful version of the one they had for me.”
The Kyrii tilted his head, curious. “And what would that be?”
Grace looked across at him, her red eyes flickering in the moonlight. “They soak the ropes in oil and set them on fire,” she said seriously. “For that, some guards follow them down in case the ropes burn through before they hit the ground and they fly away. It hasn’t happened yet; everyone’s been too scared to try it. That’s what they would have done to me if I had taken anything other than food, Temer. Weapons, for example. Or the spell scrolls that they were delivering to the castle.”
Temer stared at her, an amazingly out-of-place look of seriousness on his face. “You’re right, Grace,” he said quietly. “We can’t let her get to the knights.”
The Zafara on Grace’s back looked across at his sister solemnly. “Jaen, if I don’t come back, I just want you to know. You’re the best big sister any Zafara ever had.”
Temer and Grace moved closer together as the Zafaras hugged. “I love you too, Adro,” Jaen murmured into her little brother’s shoulder.
“We’re here,” Temer announced, landing and letting Jaen dismount. Grace did the same. “And it looks like we’re early.”
A voice nearby shouted, “Attack, knights!”
The Kyrii stared at the direction the voice had come from. “Then again, maybe not.” He began running. “Come on!”
“So, what’s the plan?” Grace shouted as they shot through the empty streets of the Darigan Citadel.
“I was figuring we’d just fight our way through until we got to Lady Tia and then keep her away from the knights until they dealt with Lord Kass,” Temer shouted back.
“Nice,” Adro yelled. “But we’re here, so I hope that’s the final version.”
The two Darigan Neopets stared at each other, and then back at the battle. Synodic Way was completely overrun. Knights in Meridellian colors were pouring in from one side of Winter Path; guards in dark purple were joining the battle from Shadow’s Track. A dark blue Lupe appeared to be leading the Meridellians, and Lord Kass himself led the Dariganians.
“Look,” Grace shouted, pointing. “There’s Lady Tia!”
The four stared at each other. “Did anyone think to bring weapons?” Jaen asked. There was a long moment of silence, then everyone shook their heads simultaneously.
“Oh well,” Grace snapped, grabbing a Darigan guard’s sword. Temer, Jaen, and Adro grabbed spears from the wall, where they had been thrown.
And they plunged into battle.
“Try not to hurt them, just disarm them!” Temer shouted. Jaen thought to herself that she would be happy with not being hurt herself, much less hurting her opponent.
Grace smacked enemies to either side with the flat of her blade. Jeran of Meridell had not been expecting a Darigan Acara to slam into his shield, but he couldn’t really say he was annoyed. After all, it was one less enemy he had to fight.
Before long, the quartet caught up with Lady Tia. “Block her,” Grace shouted, lifting into flight. “Drive her into that alley!”
The Darigan Zafara snarled as she realized she was trapped. Grace hovered above her with a sword, blocking her path upwards; Temer blocked the path back down the alley, and the two Zafaras guarded Temer’s back.
Lady Tia ripped a scroll from her jacket and unrolled it. From its seal, the Kyrii recognized it as a Scroll of the Dark Star. Grinning patronizingly, the Darigan Zafara began to chant the words rapidly. “Sone narima, sone covame. Sone chanivre, la cino marakne ykere!”
Temer realized what she intended to do just as she finished chanting. “Dodge, Grace!” he screamed. The dark red Zafara smiled victoriously as she shouted the final few words. “Sone herano, yra ke sone GRACE!” A blast of dark purple light shot up from the scroll, striking Grace full in the chest. A bloodcurdling scream split the night as she fell, dropping the sword she had been holding.
And Grace struck the stone with a resounding crack. Another scream split the night; this one had some recognizable words contained within it. “GRACE! NOOOO!”
“Grace, no . . . ” Temer whispered, staring at his friend’s body. Then, shifting his grip on the spear, he stepped forward.
Lady Tia’s eyes were wide with shock, as if she hadn’t intended this. Temer shoved the spear up against her throat, pinning her against a wall. “Tell me why I shouldn’t push harder,” he whispered. The moonlight flickered on his crimson eyes, making them glint darkly. The Zafara choked, coughing. The Darigan Kyrii lightened the pressure slightly, but put his face in closer. “Why shouldn’t I push harder? Think, Tia.”
“I can help you,” she choked out. “I know magic.”
Behind him, Temer’s ears registered Jaen’s movements as she attempted to fix Grace’s wounds. His brain filtered them out, choosing to concentrate only on the struggling Zafara pinned against the wall by his spear. “Not good enough. Think harder . . . my lady.” The tone turned the honorific into a curse against her and her existence.
“I’ll leave,” she croaked. “I’ll go and never come back, I promise, please, just don’t kill me!”
She really didn’t expect it to work, so it was a surprise when the pressure at her throat dropped away.
“Very well,” the Kyrii hissed. “Go and never come back.” He indicated the alley entrance. Beyond it, a green Shoyru knight stood.
Lady Tia gulped, then nodded regally. She daintily stepped over Grace’s limp body, over Jaen trying to fix Grace’s wounds, and past Adro guarding his sister. As she reached the alley entrance, she paused and looked back at the four Neopets. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
She stepped out into the battle. And so Lady Tia vanished from the face of Neopia.
“Will she be okay?” Temer whispered to Jaen, crouching beside Grace. She looked up at him with tear-bright eyes.
“I’m sorry, Temer, I did everything I could, but I can’t save her.”
“Could Illusen?” Temer asked quietly. Jaen looked up at him, surprised.
“Yes, probably, but we can’t move Grace.”
Temer gave no reply. Dropping his spear, he shot into the sky. Seeing Illusen’s Glade in the distance, he raced away.
Illusen was working on a spell. He waited until she paused, and then interjected. “Miss Illusen!” The faerie jerked her head around, a bolt of magic already in her hand.
“Oh, it’s you. What is it? I’m busy!”
“It’s Grace,” he whispered, tear-choked. “Lady Tia, Kass’s guard captain, hit her with a spell, and she fell. Jaen says we can’t move her, but you’re the only one that can heal her.”
The earth faerie blinked. Lifting off the ground, she looked down at Temer. “Well, are you coming?” she snapped. Temer lifted into flight, leading Illusen to the alley.
The two touched down three minutes later. Illusen stared at Grace’s limp body, at the puddle of blood Jaen was kneeling in, and at Adro, guarding his sister. “Let me,” she whispered to Jaen, kneeling by Grace. The faerie turned to the others. “This will take a lot of energy. I’ll need to draw some from you.”
“Fine,” Temer snapped. “Just fix her already!”
“Same here,” Adro called from his position at the entrance to the alley.
“That’s fine,” Jaen said quietly.
Illusen reached down to touch Grace’s body. A wave of green light flowed from her hands, covering the Gelert. Streams of emerald light flowed from Temer, Adro and Jaen to the faerie, supplying her with more energy. Grace’s neck slid back into position and her body, still blanketed with green light, slid fluidly upright. Finally, she stood on her own. Illusen broke off the streams of light as the glow surrounding Grace vanished.
The Gelert’s eyes slid open. “I’m alive,” she whispered.
“Yes, you’re alive,” Illusen confirmed.
Adro called, “The battle’s over. Looks like Kass knocked Jeran over the edge, and then Darigan broke the pendant controlling Kass. Now he’s a pile of ashes. And - hey, there’s General Galgrarrath!”
“What?” Jaen ran to Adro’s position to see for herself. Illusen shot past her and dived over the edge of the Citadel.
“Yeah, it’s him!” she shouted. “Hey, General Galgrarrath, it’s me, Jaen! Over here!” The Grarrl beckoned, shouting “Come here!”
Grace shrugged. “Well, let’s go.” The five of them approached the Grarrl.
“We need to shut down the engines. It’ll take several of us,” he explained. “They’re this way.”
Lord Darigan led the way to the engine room. “Pull the lever nearest you down when I say to,” he snapped. “Now!”
The citadel dropped several hundred feet suddenly. A blaze of golden light flared all over the citadel, and everyone who had been on it found themselves floating for a few seconds before falling about three feet.
“Thank you,” Galgrarrath whispered. “Now, we need to get around to dealing with that - and we need to get you home.”
“I can do that,” Grace told him. “Adro, hop on.”
Lord Darigan stood behind them. “We need new nobles. Most of the old ones left after the wars. How would you like to become lords and ladies?”
Jaen smiled. “That would be wonderful.”
“I agree,” Adro said.
“That sounds good,” Temer commented.
“Yes, I could do that,” Grace said, smiling.
Epilogue: The Christmas Ball
Grace paused at the top of the stairs to adjust her tiara. Her deep red dress swirled around her ankles as she stepped onto the stairs. Adro, her partner, stood beside her, resplendent in an orange tunic.
“It’ll be fine,” Adro whispered to her.
“Yeah, I know,” Grace whispered back. “But, well, this is big.”
A voice cried from below, “Lord Adroit Shadowe of the Darigan Citadel and Lady Grace Skye of the Darigan Citadel!”
The curtains slid open, revealing them to the nobles who had already been announced. Grace and Adro began moving down the stairs, holding hands. As they stepped onto the dance floor and took up their positions, the curtains slid closed. Behind them, they knew Temer and Jaen were getting ready.
The Wocky from before called out, “Lord Temerity Stormsong of the Darigan Citadel and Lady Jaenera Shadowe of the Darigan Citadel!”
The curtains slid open, and Temer and Jaen stepped down the stairs. Grace remembered how surprised she had been to discover that Adro and Jaen were actually named Adroit and Jaenera; she had known that Temer was a nickname, but not Adro and Jaen.
Temer and Jaen, the final pair, stepped onto the dance floor. “And now,” the Wocky announced, “the finest musicians in all of Meridell will play for you ‘The Caylis and Isca Theme’, a waltz!”
Grace danced, and watched the other pairs waltzing by, and kept dancing. A Shadow Gelert paired with a green Eyrie, a small Lupe and a tall Gelert. The music picked up; she could no longer concentrate on the other dancers, lest she fall.
Finally, it was time for the banquet. Everyone moved into the banquet hall and sat down, and then King Skarl stood and made a speech about the end of the war. “And now,” he said grandly, apparently drawing to the end of the speech, “we can hope that our two nations will remain friends. Friends forever!” he cried, raising his glass.
“Yes,” Grace whispered under her breath. “Friends forever.”