Idea by Panguinous. Dedicated to a very special Darigan Zafara.
Visiting Meridell during their Darigan War memorial is a surprisingly busy ordeal. The streets fills with crowds and crowds of tourists and locals alike. Street vendors camp out the night before to get the best spots—around the parade route. Delicious smells waft through the entire area. There is something for everyone. Their parade is grand, beautiful, and elaborate and includes talented musicians, dancers, and acrobats. Each one reenacts a small part of the war, or celebrates the peace. Theaters open their doors to the best free performances you are likely to see in your life, each actor spending months and months honing their skills. All of the excitement leads up to their grand firework show; a show that ignites the skies and causes all of Meridell to stare in awe.
The crowd, however, becomes stifling and overwhelming after a while, and you push your way out of the seemingly endless waves of people to find yourself in a surprisingly vacant market district. The shops are traditional cottages, with white washed walls and brightly painted signs to welcome you in. Most of these are closed for the festivities, the owners either setting up shop by the parade grounds—where the overwhelming amount of people promised them endless customers—or chose simply to enjoy the holiday. However, one shop is still open, and a small family walks out, waving a cheerful goodbye. The sign simply read "Pastry Parlor" in elegant red letters.
Curiously (and eager for some peace and quiet) you enter the shop, a bell ringing cheerily to announce your entrance. The smell is enough to draw you in. Fresh fudge and baked goods advertise themselves through their delicious scents. The shop is welcoming, shelves lined with jars of candies, plushies, and various baked sweets greet your view. In the middle of the floor, is a round tour of plushies, all unique, beautiful, and well arranged, almost like a bouquet! You approach the front counter, peering through the glass to look at the beautiful assortment of cupcakes that are so perfectly decorated, you can't fully be sure that they are real.
"Welcome," a calm, but still cheerful voice greets you. You look up and to a corner of the room you practically missed while gawking at all of the sweets. Seated in the chair is a Darigan Zafara with asymmetrical dark hair and ears to match. His hands sewing a small Lupe plushie, almost as if they have a life of their own. He's dressed in a simple outfit, worn and comfortable. A Drackonack sleeps loyally at his feet.
"Oh hello," you answer him, walking over to the small table.
"Are you here for a Valor cake?" he asks pleasantly, setting down his half-finished plushie.
"What is a Valor cake?" you ask, tilting your head at the question.
"It's a cake I only make for this day," he says with a smile. "It gets rather popular. Would you like to try one anyways? They're free."
"Sure," you answer, the smells from the shop getting to you.
He walks behind the counter washing his hands carefully before putting on clean gloves and scooping a small yellow tart-looking cake onto a piece of wax paper and handing it to you.
You look at the small yellow cake, wondering why something so simple in a shop of elaborate treats would be so popular, but you decide to take a bite. It was a delightful lemon-flavored cake, probably one of the best cakes you have had in a long time.
"This is amazing!" you tell him and he smiles cheerfully and nods.
"Many thanks. You can have a seat if you like. You look tired."
You take a seat enjoying another bite, watching as the Darigan Zafara settles back down and starts working on his plushie again.
"So," you say, trying to start a conversation, "why is it called a Valor cake?"
"Do you have time for a story?" he asks setting down his plush again.
You look outside, the sun still burning brightly. "We have a few minutes before nightfall, I think I could spare a couple for a story."
He smiles and stands. "Good, I think you might like this one." From the shelf behind him, he grabs a Darigan Kougra plushie and a Darigan Zafara plushie. "Not many Neopians remember the Meridell War as it happened," he begins setting up the plushies. "Many are too young, and the memories of those who were there have been warped over time..."
The Yong household was a house of Darigan Kougra nobility that was known by almost all Darigan citizens, but not by the rest of Neopia. It consisted of the Duke, Alexander Yong, the Duchess Alesea Yong, the Earl Victor Alabastor, and the young heir to the noble name, Alesea Valor Yong. It was perhaps, a bad example of parenting, but from a young age, no one had dared say no to Alesea Valor's requests. If she wanted her own personal poet, the Yongs would be sure that she had one. If she wanted her portrait painted, it would be done. As she grew older, her requests began to grow more elaborate. She didn't want just any poet, she wanted the poet who had wrote her favorite poem on butterflies.
The war had begun so abruptly, propaganda taking over the whole of Darigan Citadel. Amid the chaos, it became easier and easier to fulfill the young Kougra's requests. Instead of paying for the poet she wanted, they simply had to claim that he was conspiring against Kass and detain him.
It was one fateful day that a struggling young Zafara had brought his wares—delicate hand-made plushies—to the Yong's manor. The war had dried up the little business he had, and the only Darigans willing to spend their hard-earned Neopoints so frivolously were the nobles, and the Yongs were one of the few with a child amongst them.
When the highly detailed plushies had been presented to Alesea Valor, she instantly fell in love with them.
"Will you buy them?" he asked, looking up at her with hopeful red eyes.
But Alesea Valor had other plans. Instead of buying the plushies, she had the plushie maker arrested by her guards and detained. The Darigan Zafara quietly accepted his fate and set to work on making Alesea Valor the plushies she requested.
At first, his plushies were beautiful works of art, carefully crafted fabric sculptures, but after time passed, and he saw how rough Alesea was with his work, his plushies became simpler and almost lifeless.
"WHAT IS THIS?!" Came the most impossibly high pitch shriek in all of Darigan Citadel once Alesea had been presented with yet another sloppily sewn blue lupe plushie.
"It's... it's a blue lupe plushie..." the Darigan Zafara answered her, his voice dying in his throat as her Krawk guard—a vicious mass of teeth and claws—shot him a glare.
"It's HORRIBLE!" she snarled, ripping the plush into two.
The Zafara winced, but otherwise didn't speak. Even if he didn't put much effort into it, the plushie was one of his precious creations.
And so the plusie maker was sent back to his room to make yet another Blue Lupe plushie, one that was to Alesea Valor's liking. Although he was a talented plushie maker, his heart was elsewhere. The Yongs refused to recognize the amazing potential this plushie maker held to bake. So, on the back of his plushie patterns he began to scribble numerous recipes and ideas. He had been scolded on numerous occasions about them, but nothing the Yongs or guards did could get him to stop. When they burned them, he only made more.
He had once attempted to create a pastry from his rations, which not only received strong disapproval, but he had to watch as his lemon-gram tart was crushed on the floor by Alesea Valor's guard.
However, as all wars do, the great Meridell war came to an end, and the Yong's abuse of power was exposed. Darigan guards ransacked the house, arresting the nobles and their guards. A Darigan guard broke open the door to the plushie maker's room and announced that the war was over and he was free to go.
Surprised, but grateful, the Darigan Zafara stumbled out of the room. As he was leaving, however, he heard a soft sobbing from across the room. He followed the sound until he saw the curled-up, helpless form of Alesea Valor. Without thinking, he turned to the kitchens, taking what ingredients hadn't been spoiled during the raid, and set to work on making a small flat cake. The work was sloppy and a bit rushed, but finally, he emerged with a small yellow cake. Alesea Valor hadn't moved.
"Hey," he said, kneeling to the Darigan Kougra's height, "it'll be okay."
She scrubbed the tears from her eyes with her hands and looked up at him. "What about my parents and Lord Alabaster?"
"They'll be okay, after a few weeks of Cellblock the guards will let them go," he told her, handing her the cake.
She stared down at the cake in her hands, the smell calming.
"What's this?" she asked, her Kougra ears perking up slightly.
"It's a Valor cake," he said.
The young Kougra hugged him close, still sniffling softly. For the next few weeks, while Alesea Valor's parents played their sentence of Cellblock, the plushie maker took care of the young Kougra, teaching her something that she had lacked her entire life: responsibility.
After her parents had returned, the plushie maker set off to Meridell, where he could open up a pastry shop of his own, where every year during the festivities of the Darigan War, he would mix up a batch of Valor cakes. In celebration of the day that had changed the lives of many. Some would say for the better. And every year, during the memorial, a grateful Alesea Valor would travel all the way to Meridell for one of the small lemon cakes.
The Darigan Zafara finishes his story, setting the small Darigan Kougra in the middle of the table and smiling at it.
You think the story over, pausing for a few seconds before looking thoughtfully at the kind Zafara. He looks much too young to have been around for the Darigan war, but then you look into his eyes, and the wisdom behind them makes you question just how old he really was.
Before you could comment on his story, the bell to the shop rings cheerfully announcing another visitor. A regal looking Darigan Kougra walks in, smiling happily.
The Darigan Zafara stands, his smile growing as Darigan Kougra runs over and hugs him, as if she were a child. After embracing for a few seconds she takes a step back.
"Am I too late for a Valor cake?" she asks.
"Never," is his reply.
As he goes behind the counter to fetch a cake, you sneak outside to let them enjoy their reunion. The sky is growing dark. It is almost time for the firework celebration to begin...