The Citadel Quest: Part Two
The Citadel Quest, Part 2 of 5: the Battle for Darigan
The afternoon sun should have been blinding, but not in the Darigan Citadel. Lord Darigan’s castle, rising high on the mount like an iron first preparing to strike, cast a gloomy shadow across the whole of the Darigan Citadel. Only Kreludor’s silvery orb challenged the castle’s dominance in the empty sky, and even it seemed distant and cheerless through the icy cirrocumulus clouds veiling the countryside. Still winded from their flight from the Neopian surface, two Hissis and a Tuskaninny shivered.
“Let’s get started,” said Peican, the Tuskaninny, his Darigan blood-red eyes shining. He folded his batlike wings close to his body for warmth. Darigan-painted wings, like Faerie-painted wings, were more for show than for actual flight. Still, they had some practical uses. “Somewhere on this rock are the reagents that will cure Senhal, and we’ve got to find them before his sickness gets worse.” Or, he thought, before Pystry, that Mutant know-it-all, finds them first.
The two Hissis, Sjörén and Xucrão, looked around. The taxicab from Meridell had dropped them off on the southeastern plains of the Citadel, just within the bounds of the citadel’s outer walls, beyond which lay only open sky and a precipitous drop. Nearby stood a building in the traditional Darigan architectural style: four vaulted entrances, capped by a dome with clawlike spikes protruding. Despite the forbidding, eerie indigo of the outer walls, a warm, welcoming light shone through the front gate. Wordlessly, the travelers approached.
The building was larger than it first appeared, dwarfed as it was by the colossal castle looming in the background. Xucrão flew up a few metres to get a better look at the spikes, which looked so similar to his own Darigan-painted horns. Xucrão had only recently been painted Darigan; before, he had been Camouflage, like Sjörén. He had loved being Camouflage. It was so much better than his original basic Yellow. But when Sjörén was adopted and moved in, Xucrão just had to find a better colour yet, and was thrilled when his friends surprised him with a Darigan Paint Brush for his birthday. He would never have believed that in just a few short months, he would be taking advantage of his new colouring to try to pass for a real Minion of Darigan.
As they entered, their eyes were drawn up to the dome. Its rim was decorated with a series of small niches, with colourful crystals hanging in each niche, making the roof look like a giant split geode. “It’s beautiful, just beautiful,” breathed Sjörén. “I had no idea the Darigans had buildings like this.”
All along the walls were paintings of Darigan pets in fierce, almost feral poses. Whether purple, red, green, or yellow, every one seemed the colour of a bruise. Xucrão found a portrait of a Darigan Hissi. “This looks just like Layton Vickles. What do you think?” he asked, mimicking the pose.
“Honestly, you look like a kid trying on his dad’s Battledome equipment,” said Peican. “What is this place?”
“I think it’s a monument to the ancient Darigan Minions from the past,” whispered Sjörén. “What an incredible honour, to be immortalized like this.”
Peican said nothing, secretly glad that there seemed to be no Darigan Tuskaninnies among the grotesque figures. I don’t look like this to people, do I? he wondered. But Xucrão and Sjörén seemed quite taken with these monsters, so he held his tongue.
“As cool as this is,” said Xucrão, “it’s not getting us where we need to go. Let’s try that other monument to the east. Maybe it’s a tourist welcome centre.”
Sjörén was the last to leave. As he stepped back onto the muddy trail, Xucrão laughed. “Stars above, you really are Camouflaged here.” Sjörén looked down and smiled. It was true; he was almost exactly the same colour as the soil. This could prove useful, he thought.
The other monument was even less helpful than the first. Etched on an uncharacteristically white wall were a series of illustrations, which a plaque identified as artists’ renditions of scenes from the ancient battles with Meridell. Nearby, a Darigan JubJub sat, eyes closed in thought, facing away. Presently she opened her eyes.
“Oh! Hail and well met, milords,” she said softly, her voice betraying her youth. She looked curiously at the Camouflage Hissi. “Forgive me, but are you a visiting dignitary?”
“Who, me? Heavens, no,” sputtered Sjörén, startled by the question. The JubJub blushed a deep periwinkle.
“Please forgive me, milord, I meant no disrespect. We just rarely get visitors, especially here. Most of the tourist attractions are to the west. Usually only visiting statesmen want to see these shameful images.”
“What’s so shameful – “ Xucrão began to say, but Sjörén whipped his flank with a snap of his nearly invisible tail, silencing him.
Peican smiled at the girl, baring his sabretooth tusks to their fullest. “No, young lady, we’re merely travelers on a quest. Could you tell us where we might find native shrooms growing wild?”
The girl smiled. “Oh, that’s easy, milord. You can find shrooms of all kinds growing about, but my sister Sennie says they grow best underground. If you visit Master Vex in the dungeons, he can guide you.”
Peican lowered his voice. “And how about a Draik Egg?”
The girl’s ruby eyes widened. “Oh, milord, I’m sorry, but I come from a humble family. I know little of such things. Perhaps someone in the castle could be of more assistance.”
“Thank you, young lady. You’ve been a tremendous help. Here, let me give you this with our thanks.” Peican withdrew another Negg and offered it to her.
“Oh, no, sir, I couldn’t –“
“I insist.” The small JubJub reached cautiously with her right foot, and ever so gingerly took hold of the Negg. Stepping back, she curtseyed and hurried off.
“Shy, isn’t she?” observed Sjörén. “Come on, the castle is closest. Let’s try there first.”
The three companions trudged uphill through the clay soil, taking the shortest route overland to the main portcullis, but luck was against them. Upon reaching the main gate, they found no sentry on duty and no obvious way to ask for entrance. Reluctantly they turned around, and decided to take the trail downhill. After traveling cross-country, the trail was a welcome change, and they made good time, soon passing the fanglike spikes marking the outer limit of the castle grounds. As night was falling and the air quite chilly, they camped on the edge of a lava-filled crevasse. The next morning, they continued down the trail towards Master Vex’s dungeons.
Before long, they reached a square shop. Aside from its indigo exterior, it seemed more Meridellian than Darigan in design. A path of Moon Paving Stones, still glowing slightly from Kreludor’s moonlight, led inside. A toad-coloured Moehog gave them a tusky grin as they entered.
“Hail and well met, milords! And you, sir, how do you do?” He said turning to Xucrão. “Please enjoy our selection. Only the finest goods. Clockwork wonders, toys that will amaze and delight!”
Xucrão beelined for a deep purple Darigan Kite with spikes on its corners. “Is this razor wire on the kite tail?” he asked eagerly.
“You have a fine eye, m’lord,” rasped the shopkeeper, his eyes narrowing. “But of course! A kite needs a strong tail for balance in our stiff winds, and how else to make a fighting kite?”
Peican glanced with some dismay at the gardening toys. The Gardening Set contained only spiky weeds, and Bouquet-Making Craft Set only two dead grey flowers. Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember seeing any flowers since they arrived. “You wouldn’t happen to stock Draik Eggs, would you?”
The Moehog rumbled with laughter. “No, milord, I run a simple toy shop.”
Sjörén’s tongue darted out, tasting the air. Yes, it was definitely the Tea Set. It just plain smelled funny. Looking at the damaged packaging where acid had leaked from an Acid Attack Block Stack Game, he wondered aloud, “Aren’t these toys... dangerous?”
The shopkeeper smiled. “Ah, sir, we have two kinds of toys here. Fierce toys, like the kite, that make our children brave and tough. But also toys that we trade to our good neighbors below in Meridell and Brightvale. They are not, perhaps, flattering to our people. But you surface-dwellers enjoy our mystique, no? And we enjoy your vegetables very much. So we provide what sells.” The Moehog folded his trotters together, ending the conversation. After briefly haggling with Xucrão, he folded the kite into an intricate geometric shape that kept the kite’s spikes from snagging. “Enjoy your kite in good health, milord,” he added as they left.
Just past the Toy Shop stood a large domed coliseum, crowned with the most vicious spikes they had seen yet. Peican had a bad feeling about this place, and was inclined to move along. Suddenly a shriek like a petpet in an abattoir erupted, followed by cheers. “What in Fyora’s name – “
“This must be the fabled Petpet Battledome,” explained Xucrão. “Pystry told me he’s trained his Alabriss here.” The two Hissis slithered inside, followed by the lumbering Tuskaninny.
Under a vast glass skylight lay an arena the size of a Yooyuball field, surrounded by vast rows of spectator seating. On the mezzanine, a Green Bruce was holding court, pontificating to an eager throng of listeners. His shirt was so garish that at first Sjörén took him for Disco, especially with his bling, a large coin he was wearing as a necklace.
“I’ve told Sjengora time and time again, never fight conservatively when battling Zembao,” he rambled with a self-satisfied air, “but she just won’t listen, the poor dear.” He twiddled his coin nonchalantly. Behind him, a Mallard pecked at him in a vain ploy for attention.
Sjengora? thought Sjörén. Wonder if she’s from my neck of the woods? “Say, isn’t that –”
Zembao? thought Xucrão. Wonder if he’s from my neck of the woods? “Brucey B? Has to be.”
Peican looked down at the arena in horror. In the middle of the arena, cheered on by a Rainbow Kiko, a muscular Cobrall was slamming headfirst into an injured Nuranna, who could barely stand on its fins. The crowd went wild as the Nuranna crumpled to the ground and feebly tried to shield itself from the Cobrall’s next devastating attack. “What is the matter with these people? Battledoming is one thing. There are tactics. You can withdraw. These people are making innocent petpets beat each other up for entertainment. This is... brutal.”
“But a strong petpet can help you in the Battledome,” said Sjörén. “At least, they used to. Actually, now that I think about it, it doesn’t work that way anymore.”
“Then this is all pointless?” said Peican in disbelief. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t care if there’s a Draik Egg in the concession booth. I’m not staying here another minute.” He flung his chest towards the exit and lurched forward, the fastest gait a Tuskaninny could achieve out of the water. “Remind me to have a few words with Pystry when we get back.”
They journeyed on in an uncomfortable silence through a small residential neighborhood. Finally they reached a towering minaret, which marked the entrance to the dungeons of Master Vex. Cautiously they descended the stairs into the depths, passing corridors of empty cells. The walls and ceiling were covered with Spine Vine, whose eerie glow illuminated their path.
“Is it just me,” hissed Sjörén, “or is this too easy?”
“I know what you mean,” whispered Xucrão. “This place seems hardly guarded at all.”
“Practically deserted, in fact,” muttered Peican.
Just then a sound like a bouncing Zurroball broke out from the cell next to them, causing them all to jump. Peican peered through the cell window, winced, and opened the cell door with a clang. Inside was a disheveled Darigan Moehog, shackled, tapping on the floor.
“You poor fellow,” said Peican. “Are you all right?” The Moehog looked up, his eyes adjusting to the light, and clopped the floor once.
“Do you need help?” – Clop, clop.
“I don’t underst... wait a second. Can you speak?” – Clop, clop.
Okay, we’re making progress, thought the Tuskaninny. “We’re looking for a rare shroom to help our sick friend. We think it might be here in the dungeon. Can you show us where to look?” – Clop, clop, clop, clop, clop.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand...” – Clop, clop, clop, clop, clop.
“Maybe he means five floors down?” suggested Sjörén. – Clop, clop.
“I guess we just need to keep moving,” Xucrão interjected. – Clop.
“All right, Mr. Moehog, thank you for your help. Are you sure you don’t need our help?” – Clop. “Very well.” Peican closed the door, leaving it slightly ajar.
“At least we know we’re on the right track. But if five clops didn’t mean five floors, what could it mean?”
“JELLY!” screamed a voice from around the corner. “BLOBS OF DOOM!!!” After taking a moment to recover, the three peered down the next hall, and met the crazed gaze of a wizened Lupe. “WHY WON’T ANYONE BELIEVE –“
The Lupe’s voice froze.
“No... not again...” he croaked, lifting his paws in supplication. “You... are all... in GRAVE DANGER!”
The Lupe collapsed to the ground.
To be continued...