Diamigo's Noble Steed: Part One
Living right on the edge of the Lost Desert—well, you might as well be walking that fine line between life and death. Bandits raid the small villages, thieves ransack them at night, and criminals stop running long enough for a meal and a cot. So many criminals lurk there that even the Defenders of Neopia target the place. Honest townsfolk trying to make an honest living, lumped together with the outlaws. These lost and forgotten places... is it any wonder it's said they have no friends in all of Neopia?
Or... maybe they do have one friend.
Perhaps he's more a folk hero than an actual person, but you know legends... it doesn't really matter if they're real or not. Something to look up to? Something to hope for? That's the most valuable thing most people have these days. Me? I don't hope. I don't look up to anyone. I patrol the edge. I see things for what they are. I see they have no friends.
I'd been patrolling this place for so long, it became my name. Patrol. Only ever patrol, only ever watch. I heard the townspeople crying, saw them running in fear. How long did I stand there doing nothing? Bandits hold them up like they have something of worth; the Defenders cart them off to their dungeons like they're evil villains like Hubrid Nox.
I know a Chia they can look for.
They call him Diamigo, but I doubted that was his real name. All right. So I doubted he even existed. They said he heard them crying and saw them run, and he did something about it. Who does that? You know the stories bored workers can come up with after a long day of work and a short night of imported grog from Krawk Island. But there I was, patrolling the edge of the desert.
It's a Faerie-forsaken place. You'll never find anything of value there, I can promise you that. The houses and stores are ramshackle pieces of junk that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Going outside without a hat is practically asking for a sun burn and turning your eyes on the wrong person will either get you mugged by a robber or thrown in prison for looking funny.
It's an unspoken rule here: keep to yourself. Don't hurt anyone. And sure as Kass's castle don't try to help anyone. It's a good way to get yourself in way more trouble than you know what to do with.
I was a simple Peophin in those days. If you think a Peophin stands out in the desert, well, you'd be right, unless you're Peopatra. I'm obviously not. I plodded along, my tail drifting along behind me like it had never left the seas of my hatching-place, head down but eyes alert for anything worth seeing, worth reporting to the Defenders. Usually there was nothing worth seeing and too many things worth reporting to actually do it.
I snapped my head up at the scream, let loose by a little round Meerca woman who had been standing just outside the branch of the Neopian National Bank. It was the only one for miles and miles, sometimes the only link these people had with the real world. But sometimes it was just asking for trouble.
"Shaddup, lady!" a shifty-looking Buzz hissed at her. I might not have been able to hear, except that my ears were turned forward and I'd trained myself to hear and see things from considered-incredible distances. "Don't make another sound or we'll lock you in the vault and leave you for ghosts."
The Meerca lady whimpered and I was about to turn tail and gallop for the nearest division of the Defenders... but that was at least a few blocks away. I was a fast runner, but these robbers would be long-gone before anyone with any guts could show up and stop them.
The Buzz, after nodding to his Techo and Usul friends, had pushed his way into the bank, carrying the Meerca with him by the tail like a kicking and screaming bag of loot. This wasn't so bad, I told myself. They'd just get the Neopoints they wanted, maybe trash the place with wanted posters bearing their pretty faces, and leave the place none the worse for wear. In the meantime, I needed to do my job. I bolted down the road toward the Defenders Division and burst in the door as soon as I arrived.
"Robbers!" I shouted at the deputy sitting at the desk. He was a laid-back red Nimmo with never a smile or a frown. I guess some Nimmos are that way, but this guy was no Mystery Island training-master, let me tell you. "Robbers at the bank! They've got a citizen in there!"
The Nimmo slid up from his chair, slapping his flat feet on the floor. "Well!" he shouted. "Ain't that exciting!" He checked his belt for his asparagus-revolvers and then his head for his hat. When he checked his spotted-Kau print vest for his Deputy Defender badge, I could tell he hadn't done this often. "I'm ready!" he announced. "Let's go catch us some robbers, Patrol!"
"Wait a second," I snapped. "You're going to go in there yourself?"
The Nimmo self-importantly put his hands on his belt and said, "Well, ain't I?"
"By yourself," I repeated.
He nodded. "Yep. Yessir, I am. The citizens call! It's the deputy's duty!" He hopped out the swinging doors out to the street and sauntered down the wood walkway that went all the way through town except where it crossed dirt streets. The overhangs also lined every building, keeping pedestrians out of the unforgiving sun. I poked my head out of the door to watch this disaster unfold—and there was nothing I could do about it. If I ever needed a posse of Kauboys, it was now.
We ran down the street together, I keeping my distance in case the deputy decided it was his duty to snap off a few asparagus-shots before running inside after the robbers... I didn't much trust his aim. Or anything else about him, for that matter. I watched from the wood sidewalk a good distance away while the Nimmo strode to the middle of the street right in front of the bank's doors.
He adjusted his shirt, hat, and belt before announcing, "Hear this, ya' criminals! There's a new Deputy Defender in town—me!—and he ain't gonna stand for this nonsense!" If I could have whacked my head hard enough on the wall next to me to lose consciousness, I would have. "Now come on out before I come in and make you regret it."
It was so silent in the place, you could have heard a Faellie's wing-flap. The Deputy Defender Nimmo tapped his foot on the ground, apparently actually expecting the robbers to just leave their loot and turn themselves in. "Well, then," the Nimmo muttered, drawing his twin asparagus-shooters and making to go in after them.
"Hold your Unis!" I shouted. "What do you think you're doing?"
The Nimmo looked at me with a crooked eyebrow. "Someone's gotta stop these varmints, and I don't see you doing it." Without another word he stomped inside. I heard a few shots of asparagus-shooter go off, followed by the terrified wail of the lady Meerca. I was afraid about what had gone on in there until I heard the Deputy Nimmo shout again. "Um. Help? You'll be sorry about this, robber. You'll see."
I turned and pounded my face into the wall. Perfect. This was just perfect.
"What are we gonna do now?" a little voice behind me asked. I turned to see a little Aisha standing there. Another few pets joined her. "Yeah, what are we gonna do? The Sheriff Defender is gone chasing other bandits—what are we gonna do?" All of the voices spoke at once, echoing my own thoughts. What were we going to do?
We were all quiet for a long time, it seemed like a couple of years went by. I had no ideas. I was no one special. I just patrolled. I never saved anyone. I only ever watched. Where was that posse of Kauboys that I needed earlier?
As we stood there in silent indecision, listening to the Nimmo hurl incoherent insults at the robbers that had taken him hostage, I thought I heard something. Clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop. The kids got it before I did.
"Diamigo," the little Aisha whispered.
Her friends joined in, jumping about and shouting as the sound got closer. "Diamigo! Diamigo!"
I turned to look down the road and saw a lone figure riding closer. Let me tell you... I couldn't believe it. I'd heard stories of the famed Diamigo. But never seen him. Never thought he existed. The Bika he rode—granted with fur a little thick for living in the desert—had a wild look in his eye and seemed to grip the sandy road in his toes for the express purpose of kicking up a cloud of dust behind him as he ran.
"Whoa, Pablo," Diamigo said to his noble steed as he came up to the bank. The Bika obediently slowed, then stopped, and shook his head, his bridle jingling. Diamigo cast a glance over his shoulder at the kids gathered there, winked through his mask and tipped his black hat, before sliding off the Bika and drawing his sword.
The robbers saw him coming from a mile away. Maybe that was the way Diamigo wanted it.
The Techo robber bolted out the door, laughing like the maniac he was as he swung the poor Meerca around by her tail like a flail. "Drop the Meerca," Diamigo ordered, pointing at the Techo with his sword. The Meerca called out sickly, "whoa, whoa, whoa" as she went around and around. "Your fun here is over, Techo!" Diamigo shouted.
"Not by a long shot, my little friend," the Techo snickered, and leaped forward, drawing his own dirk.
I had never seen a skilled swordsman fight before, but I imagined it looked a lot better than this since not only did the Techo have no idea what he was doing, but he was also being constantly thrown off-balance by the flailing Meerca. Diamigo practically danced around the poor Techo, never once touching the bandit with his sword, but doing a pretty good job of ripping up his striped red-and-white shirt with it.
With a flourish, Diamigo jumped back and held up his epee. "This is your last chance," he said. The Techo snarled and lunged forward again.
Diamigo grinned and looked up at the Techo beyond the brim of his hat and surged forward to meet him, whirling his sword. I didn't see what happened, but the Techo dropped the Meerca like she was Magma and staggered back holding his arm with his other hand. "You're crazy, Chia," the Techo spat. The Meerca scurried away whimpering to the nearest building and ducked inside.
That probably wasn't a bad idea, I thought. But, like the children around me, I couldn't move. It wasn't every day you saw a hero in action.
"Diamigo," the Chia corrected with a wink. "My name is Diamigo."
When the Buzz saw what a mockery Diamigo was making of his friend, he flew straight out the window and swung his grappling hook around casually. "This is your last ride, Diamigo." He twisted his head on his long neck and shouted, "Come on, brother!" The Usul followed through the window, staggering under the weight of the bag of Neopoints on his back. "We'll be taking your pretty hat, too," the Buzz said, and then nodded at Pablo, Diamigo's Bika. "And your Bika."
Pablo somehow seemed to know that he was the topic of conversation and turned one of his eyes on the Buzz, flicking one of his ears. Diamigo went to Pablo's side and patted his neck, retrieving a length of rope that had been coiled over the saddlehorn. "I'm afraid you won't be leaving this place for a long time," Diamigo said apologetically, and rushed the Buzz.
The Buzz flew up, but apparently forgot he was still under the overhang of the bank and hit his head very hard. He yelped and his grappling hook went flying out into the street, putting both hands to his head. With a jump, Diamigo seized the Buzz's tail and pulled him down to the ground, while spinning and putting a tear in the Usul's bag of Neopoints.
The gold coins spilled all over the wooden sidewalk, drawing a cry of horror from the Usul and an elated cheer from the kids surrounding me.
All right. I admit it. I cheered, too.
The Usul immediately dropped his now almost-empty bag and rushed at Diamigo, easily deflected with his sword. The Buzz fluttered his wings and tried to get up, but he was held down fast by Diamigo's strong grip. "Now you just sit there nicely while I tie you up," Diamigo said to the Buzz, showing him his rope.
The Usul recovered and turned on Diamigo, whose back was turned, and drew his sword.
"Diamigo! Look out!" all the children screamed. I wanted to close my eyes but, at the same time, I had to watch.
Pablo had been paying attention the whole time. With a whinny of fury, Pablo galloped forward, ran into the Usul, and slammed him into the wall of the bank. For being a short little thing, he sure was strong. The building and the wooden awning and the deck above shook. Diamigo turned to Pablo and tipped his hat. "Gracias, mi amigo."
Diamigo quickly bound the Buzz and tossed him out in the street and turned to take care of the Usul when the Techo in the street called to him. "Hey, Diamigo! Say adios!" He tossed the grappling hook up to the railing of the deck above and pulled.
Remember what I said about all the building in the towns on the edge falling over if you looked at them the wrong way? Well. I think I looked at the bank the wrong way just then. With a mighty tug from the Techo, the deck started to fall off. Then the entire face of the bank came loose.
Diamigo looked up to see what was happening and, by then, it was too late to do anything. Except Pablo didn't think so. He turned and rammed Diamigo in the back, sending him flying out into the street and straight into the Techo. Of course, that only made the building fall faster. Before the Usul could even shout, "Hey! What about me?" Pablo and the Usul together were buried in a pile of wood and rubble.
Everyone was quiet for a long time. Nothing moved. Not Diamigo. Not the bandits. Not any of the children clustered around me. And especially not the rubble. The rubble didn't move either. The inside of the bank was now visible, since much of the front was off. The Deputy Defender Nimmo looked like a scared Nuk trying to cross main street of Neopia Central, tied up and gagged in the corner. He didn't say anything, either, for once.
Diamigo turned and grabbed the Techo by his shredded shirt collars. "I'm gonna string you up by your feet and then I'm gonna—!"
He didn't finish. He looked up at us, first at me, and then at the cluster of little Neopets at my hooves, and dropped the Techo. Silently, he bound his hands and feet and the propped him up next to the Buzz he had tied up earlier. He looked into the bank and then at the rubble. He took a step toward it, but I think we all knew how pointless that was. He stopped, tipped the brim of his hat, and said, "Adiós." He turned, his cape furling behind him, and stomped off down the road.
"Hey, kid," I said to the Aisha next to me. "Why don't you go untie the Deputy Defender?"
The Aisha nodded and ran around to one of the windows and crawled through. I didn't wait to see if she was successful or not, and trotted after Diamigo. "Diamigo!" I shouted. "Wait for me." He didn't, but, as you might guess, Chias on foot aren't exactly fast except in short bursts.
When I caught up to him, he didn't look up at me. "Thanks for all your help back there. Nice to have someone watching over the children."
I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not, but I knew I felt guilty already. Maybe if I had lent a hoof, Pablo wouldn't be under a pile of rubble right now? I didn't know. And I had never before admitted to myself or anyone else that the reason I never helped anyone was because I was scared. Scared of being hurt... buried under a pile of rubble... you know, the usual.
"What's your name, brave soul?" Now I knew he was being sarcastic.
"Patrol," I snapped.
He snickered. "Right. And my name's Diamigo," he added, sweeping his hat off his head with a mock bow in my direction. He replaced it and ran his hand across the rim, pondering, "Unless I'm not. What is Diamigo without his Pablo?"
I frowned, thinking he couldn't really have meant that. "Still Diamigo, I guess. You can just..." I fortunately stopped myself before I got too far, but Diamigo knew what I was going to say anyway.
"You don't just replace Pablo!" Diamigo snapped. "Ai, ai, ai, estúpido Defenders."
"I'm not a Defender," I said. "And the Defenders could use a guy like you. You've seen how many bandits and outlaws there are around here! And the best we've got to throw at them are guys like that Nimmo."
"You honestly think one more Defender will do the job—is that all?" Diamigo scoffed, turned off the road, and started walking through the desert shrubs and cacti. "Well, let me tell you something, amigo. It doesn't matter how many Defenders you have out 'defending' this place. It's never going to get any better as long as good people do nothing!"
I stopped and looked at the sand at my hooves. He was right. And I hated that. It was so easy to do nothing. And now there was really nothing that I could do. What was done was already done. Unchangeable. "What are you going to do now?" I asked.
Diamigo shrugged, walking onward. "No se. What does one do after they lose their best friend? Go back to my secret lair and think what to do about this. You'd have to stop following for me to do that—it's no secret if people know where it is. But at this rate it'll take me all day to get back to it. Thank you for that. Gracias."
"Do you want me to apologize or something?" I snapped. "I didn't pull down the roof."
"No," he agreed. "You didn't." He whirled around, his cape following him like a big, dark wing. "But you also only ever watch. Only watch! How do you stand it? Doesn't it drive you crazy?" When I didn't answer, he folded his arms over his chest. "Unbelievable."
"Look, it's what I do," I said. "People don't call me 'Patrol' for nothing."
He blinked at me. "A name isn't everything."
I didn't know if that was true or not, since his name seemed pretty important. Even to me. And I didn't believe in hope or anything like that. "I'm sorry, okay? At least let me give you a ride closer." I couldn't believe I'd said that. Peophins may not have been as vain as Unis, but still... I had a little dignity, okay?
Diamigo looked at me askance. "You?" He laughed for a moment and then stopped, his face suddenly serious. "Por qué?"
I twitched my ears in embarrassment. It was nothing. I had to do something for what I hadn't done before... even if this was also nothing in comparison. "Just because," I answered. He didn't look very convinced. I wasn't even convinced. "Because I—I..." Well. Fine. I'd just say it if that was the way he wanted it. "Because I want to be brave. I want to do something and I'm tired of doing nothing all the time. And if anyone can teach me that, you can."
Diamigo paused and searched me and I stared back, not sure what he would say. "Being brave isn't something that you learn," he said. The last thing I expected him to say. "It's something that you are."
I dropped my head to the ground and turned to leave. He was right. I could never learn to be brave. I just wasn't. And there was no changing who I was.
"But..." Diamigo asked, and I stopped, turning my head slightly to see him. He brushed the rim of his hat again and stared at me. "Maybe all you need is a little bit of practice."
To be continued...