The Citadel Quest: Part One
The Citadel Quest, Part 1 of 5: the Invasion of Darigan
It started out small at first. Just a tiny tickle in the throat, hardly noticeable. But now, Senhal lay in bed, delirious from fever, fighting for his life.
The sick Kyrii was barely aware that he was surrounded by his nearest and dearest. On one side sat Pystry, a Mutant Hissi, and Pystry’s best friend Bizhiw, a Red Lutari, Senhal’s first family in Neopia. On the other side of the bed, Abharī the Faerie Hissi pressed a cold compress against Senhal’s forehead. In the doorway stood Senhal’s current housemates: Peican the Darigan Tuskaninny, Xucrão the Darigan Hissi, and Sjörén the Camouflage Hissi.
Above Senhal’s bed, the morning Meridell sun beamed through a Destruct-o-Match window, which he had installed expressly to complement his Plushie paint job. He winced fitfully as the sunlight fell on his golden eyes. Seeing his discomfort, his Hissi friends Pystry and Abharī both reached to close the curtains and add some healing shade.
How ironic, thought Pystry: normally, Senhal loved the limelight. Senhal was a performer at heart, always entertaining his friends with his bigger-than-life tales. Because Senhal had such a penchant for melodrama, his friends thought at first that he was playing the hypochondriac, or just exaggerating his illness. His symptoms didn’t seem to suggest anything more than Neo Flu, or Kikoughela at the worst. That was before Senhal lost his voice. The Kyrii loved writing songs and wouldn’t have let a little cold get in the way of singing. Abharī was the first to realize that Senhal’s symptoms were more than mere theatrics, but by then it was too late.
Pystry could see the worry on Abharī’s face, and underneath it, the guilt for not recognizing Senhal’s illness sooner. Fortunately, Abharī had studied the free first aid courses offered by the Neopian Hospital. With so many invasions and wars, not to mention Battledome and Yooyuball injuries and plain old random diseases, the Neopian medical community was frequently overwhelmed and needed all the civilian help they could get. Because Abharī had been such a dedicated student, showing up at all the refresher courses, the chief doctor at the Neopian Hospital had agreed to do him a favor and make a rare house call. Briskly, he checked Senhal’s pulse, then squeezed and released the Kyrii’s fingerpads to see how long it took for his colour to return. After donning a pair of vinyl gloves, he carefully depressed his patient’s tongue, and adjusted the reflective mirror on his headband to shine light into the back of the Kyrii’s throat. After a thorough examination, the Gelert doctor finally spoke.
“You were right to call me here, Abharī. This isn’t a normal illness. Fortunately, it’s passed the infectious stage. Since none of you seem affected, and given the quickness of the onset, I’d say you are all probably safe. Still, if any of you show any symptoms, I want you to Neomail me immediately. Here’s my address. I don’t give this out to just anyone, Abharī, so please keep this confidential.” The doctor passed Abharī his business card, which the Faerie Hissi flipped back and forth between his third and fourth wing fingers before placing it carefully in his first aid kit.
The doctor continued, “This is a malady we haven’t seen in hundreds of years: the Neobonic Ague. It was thought to have been eradicated. The good news is there is a cure, but it won’t be in the Pharmacy. We’ll have to synthesize it from scratch. I have to go notify King Skarl about a possible outbreak, and alert Kayla that we’ll be needing her skills. I’ll be in touch soon about a treatment. For now, Abharī, keep taking care of Senhal. You’re doing a truly exemplary job.” Abharī lifted his head, smiled, and nodded as the doctor left.
“There must be something more we can do,” muttered Xucrão, wanting to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Maybe there is.” Pystry riffled through the old Neopedia he had checked out from the Royal Meridell Library. “Here we are. Let’s see... Neobonic Ague. See Meridell, History of. Cross-reference to Medicine, Darigan...” Suddenly both his faces fell.
“What’s wrong?” bristled Bizhiw.
“There’s a curative elixir, but it requires some exotic ingredients. Some of them are easy enough to get, but two of them are going to be a problem: a Toxic Shroom...”
“What!?” blurted Sjörén. “The only way to get one of those is from one of Jhudora’s quests... a really high-level quest!”
“...and a Darigan Draik Egg,” continued Pystry, with dismay. “Even if we sold everything we own, we couldn’t possibly afford those.”
“So we find another way,” scowled Peican, raising his bushy Darigan eyebrows. “Shrooms and Draik Eggs have to come from somewhere. Where?”
“Not sure,” replied Pystry, flipping through the Neopedia. Each of his two heads skimmed a different page. “Darigan Draik Eggs mostly come from the Darigan Citadel. Toxic Shrooms could grow any place dark and moist, the Fungus Caves, Underwater Fishing, maybe Geraptiku’s Deserted Tomb, pretty much anywhere in the Haunted Woods...”
“...or the Darigan Citadel, right?” Peican cut in.
“Yes, probably,” mused Pystry. “We don’t know too much about Darigan food. They can’t really grow crops or much in the way of vegetation at all up there. No crops means no livestock, either. They import a lot of their food from Meridell now that we’re in a truce with them. But they were eking out some sort of existence after they first lost Darigan’s Orb, so it stands to reason they had edible fungi of some kind. The terrain would certainly support it.”
“Tell you what, Pystry...” Bizhiw smiled, lifting the spirits in the room for the first time all morning. “Why don’t you go to the Meridell Library and see what you can find about Draik Eggs and Toxic Shrooms. If anyone can puzzle out where to find them, it’s you.” It was true; Pystry loved books and had an uncanny knack for finding just the right dusty tome when he needed an answer.
“But what about Senhal?” Pystry asked, absent-mindedly grooming the unconscious Kyrii’s golden plush mane. “He was adopted just so I wouldn’t be alone, before anyone else joined our family. I don’t want to be gone if he needs me.”
“He does need you, Pystry,” said Abharī, adjusting Senhal’s fluffy feather pillow. “He needs you to find those ingredients. Go ahead. I’ll stay here and look after him.”
“And if Abharī or Senhal needs you, I’ll come running to get you straightaway,” Bizhiw reassured his Mutant friend.
“Very well, then,” said Pystry, coiling up and stretching his cramped wings. “I have to admit, it’s good to be taking some action, and feeling useful.”
“What about us?” asked Sjörén, perhaps a bit sharply.
“There’s not much you can do,” said Abharī. “You guys try to relax. We’ll let you know if there’s any change in his condition.” As Pystry took his leave, Abharī and Bizhiw turned back to tend to their sleeping friend. After a moment, the other three left the room.
Once they were a safe distance away, Xucrão snapped, “RRAH! How infuriating! I hate feeling so useless! Just because we’re younger doesn’t mean we can’t help.” He flared his spiky Darigan maw threateningly, as if looking for something to strike.
“You said it,” said Sjörén bitterly. “What was with that crack Pystry made? I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen around here. This may not have been my first home like it is Pystry’s and Senhal’s, but I’m the first pet in the household to be adopted from another owner. That should count for something. How dare they dismiss me like that?”
“So let’s do something about it.” Peican slapped his flippers angrily against the uncarpeted floor. “Let’s show those guys not to dismiss us newbies and youngbloods.”
“What can we do, though?” Xucrão scowled.
“We go to the Darigan Citadel and we find that Draik Egg. We dig up that Toxic Shroom. We save the day.” Peican grinned.
“But we don’t know our way around. The Citadel isn’t exactly closed to us Meridellians, but we’re not exactly welcome there either,” objected Sjörén.
“So? Xucrão and I are painted Darigan. We’ll blend right in.” Peican’s eyes gleamed intently. “You’re painted Camouflage, Sjörén. You’ll blend in in a different way. Unless, of course, you’re not tough enough,” he said, looking pointedly at Xucrão, “or you don’t mind being left behind,” he added, glancing sidelong at Sjörén, his eyes glowing extra blood-red.
“I’m in,” said Xucrão, darting his tongue menacingly.
“Me too,” said Sjörén, rising to the bait.
“Then let’s go.” The three quickly grabbed their hiking gear and slipped out of their house, heading north under Meridell’s sunny midday skies. Soon they reached the shadow of the Citadel, They craned their necks up. They could see the crag hovering ominously above. On the underside of the Citadel, razor-sharp spikes of unyielding granite stalactites jutted down towards them, like serrated knives aimed at Meridell’s heart.
Just then a Green Uni trotted up to them. On his back was a saddle, uncommon garb for a Uni. The saddlecloth was in the Darigan Citadel’s heraldic colours, per pale purpure and sable, with the Meridellian shield embroidered on top. His wings jutted through two carefully fitted slits in the cloth. “Hail and well met, milords,” the Uni greeted them cheerfully with a slight accent. “Will you sirs be needing taxicab service up to the Citadel today?”
“Just one, please,” answered the Tuskaninny, as his two Hissi companions smugly spread their wings. The Uni nodded deferentially and knelt to allow Peican onto his sturdy back, then launched straight up. The flight up took longer than expected; the Citadel seemed closer to the ground when viewed from a distance. Although Peican had no great fear of heights, he gripped the Uni’s saddle tightly. A fall from even halfway up would be extremely dangerous, even for a tough-skinned Darigan pet such as himself. As the Uni alighted on the southeastern plain of the Citadel, Peican couldn’t help smiling at his Hissi companions panting for breath. Clearly, the long flight up was more than they had anticipated, or they might have indulged in a cab ride as well. Peican handed the Uni a fistful of Neopoints for the trip, with a Negg thrown in as a tip.
“Thank you kindly, milord,” whinnied the Uni. “Will you sirs be needing me to wait?”
“I don’t think so,” answered Peican, taking in the forbidding expanse of the Citadel’s plain. The daunting silhouette of the castle tower loomed over them like a nightmarish bird of prey waiting to swoop down on them. “We might be here a while.”
To be continued...