Diamigo’s Noble Steed: Part Two
So it was decided. Kind of. I was to be Diamigo's noble steed. It wasn't working out well so far, since Peophins bounce a whole lot more when going fast, and Chias, having no legs, have a lot harder time staying on. So we walked all the way to Diamigo's lair. I was still faster on my two feet alone than we were with both of our two feet, so I was more-or-less happy about it.
Diamigo directed us down into a canyon and through a few hidden switchbacks before we reached the bottom. I had never been this far from a road before, that was for sure. But, since I did walk along the roads very often, I knew there was a town just a little bit to the north of the canyon we were in. It was one of the more affluent towns in the area, but still not big enough to be shown on any map that I knew.
Suddenly, Diamigo slid off my back and looked me directly in the eye when I looked back to figure out what was up. "There are a few rules if you're going to be my new noble steed," he said. "A few rules I never had to tell to Pablo because, well, he couldn't speak."
"All right," I agreed, bobbing my head. This oughta be good.
"Uno, the location of my secret lair is... well, obviously, a secret. It is known to none but Diamigo and his noble steed. If I find you've told anyone about it, I'll string you up by your tail and then I'll—"
"I get it," I interrupted. "No blabbing."
"Good. Dos, I'm very... particular about the way things are in there. Don't touch anything; don't move anything. Don't even look at anything. If you do, I'll—"
"Yeah, yeah, string me up by my fin and then... well, whatever," I said, nodding again. "So don't touch anything."
Diamigo narrowed his already tiny little eyes at me, obviously not happy with my constant interruptions. "All right, then. And, the last rule, tres, is that I can add any rule I want at any time."
"Sounds good," I agreed.
"Bien," Diamigo said, and walked off down the canyon, I following at a close distance.
I wasn't exactly sure how this had happened. I was about to walk into the lair of Diamigo. May I add that I wasn't even 100% certain that he was real before that morning? And then when I found out he was real, still all I could do was stand there and watch while he took care of the bad guys.
I was such a coward... But that all would change soon.
The canyon kept getting narrower and narrower until I was sure that if we went any farther Diamigo wouldn't really fit between the two walls, much less me. Suddenly, though, Diamigo took a turn to the right and went straight through a hole in the canyon that I would never have seen unless I knew it was there. And now I did. In theory, at least.
Diamigo went through a few tunnels, me following close behind, until we went up an incline and straight into an enormous cavern strung with hanging chandeliers. How on Neopia he'd lit all these candles were, honestly, beyond me. Interlocking circles and intersecting lines were etched into the floor and racks of various weapons, mostly swords, lined the walls. On a wooden platform in the back of the cavern were tables and chairs and a cot. In a dark corner back there, I could see a doorway but I couldn't sure where it led the way the tunnels twisted around down here.
Nearer were we stood was a stall with a manger inside filled with hay. Scratched into the door was the name Pablo.
"Welcome to the lair," Diamigo said, throwing out his hands to indicate the area, and then he put one hand on the gate into the stall. "Mi casa," he added.
"You live here?" I wondered. I wasn't sure I'd want to live in a cave like this. I looked around a bit more and decided. No way. No way I'd pick to live here.
On the other hand, the fact that it was a cave made it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Desert caves are weird like that. Also, it was big enough for me to stand in and not feel anything near cramped. But it was pretty bare as far as decorations went and I could only have guessed what the markings on the floor meant.
"Sí," Diamigo said. "When I can, I do. When I am missed, I return to my house; but I am known to travel a lot."
"Where is that?" I asked.
Diamigo shook his head and smiled. "You may be my new steed, amigo, but that is something even Pablo didn't know."
"Okay, well, Pablo was a Bika," I added. He kept Pablo here all the time, I wondered. That meant that he had to be nearby. Bikas were hungry creatures and if he lived in this stall, which meant that someone had to have been feeding him. I frowned at the stall and hoped Diamigo didn't want me to live in there.
"Which means he was very good at keeping secrets."
"Hey, I remember rule número uno," I said with a grin.
Diamigo chuckled and walked along the side of the cavern, untying his sword from his belt and put it up with the other swords on the racks. A few of them were the same as the one had had used earlier today, and a few were different. I watched curiously as Diamigo went up onto the wooden platform and took off his hat and put it on the table. He had a brown tuft of hair on the top of his head, like Chias do, but it was even messier thanks to his hat. He stared at me cautiously, not taking off his mask.
"Oh, come on," I muttered. "It's not like I can't see you well enough with the mask on. Do you have an identifying scar on your nose or something?" I asked before thinking about it. I'd never met a Chia with a nose. "Do you have a nose?"
"No," he answered, untying his mask and laying it on the table. He was an unremarkable Chia, something that probably helped with the disguise. In fact, I would say it was only the hat and mask that made him stand out at all. If I had seen Diamigo like this on the street, I wouldn't even have noticed him. "Now you know my secret," he said.
"What secret?" I asked.
He tapped the top of his hat that now sat on the table and smiled. "That I am ordinary."
"What are you doing?" Diamigo demanded, wailing on my sides with his ridiculously tiny feet.
"That is fire!" I shouted, jerking my head back and trying to get him to stop kicking me. "Fire! A wall of fire!"
"Stop exaggerating," Diamigo ordered, ceasing his kicking to whack me in the head. "It's nothing, just jump through it."
Nothing? It was a wall of fire, and I wasn't exaggerating. Well. Maybe a little. It was more like a line of candles and, in the middle, was a rope on fire. It was pretty high, though, okay? "In case you didn't notice!" I shouted, turning around and looking at my tail that flew along behind me. Probably magic. I wasn't sure exactly how it worked, but I had never been able to figure out jumping like a Uni could. "I don't have any hind legs! You know how Chias don't have noses?"
"I have seen a Peophin jump before," Diamigo answered.
"Over fire?" I challenged. "We're sea-creatures! Typically, there no fire involved!"
Diamigo sighed and slid off my back, coming around to face me. "You want to be Diamigo's noble steed? You will have to be able to do noble deeds." He paused a moment and then smiled at his rhyme.
I just rolled by eyes. "Jumping over fire is not noble."
"No? Bandits do more than rob banks, si?" Diamigo pointed out. "Fire is a favorite of bandits. What if you come across a farmhouse on fire or something like that? What if someone needs your help?"
I paused and thought about that. Shouting for help had always done me just fine before, but I didn't think that Diamigo would take that for an answer. With a snort, I spun around and stalked away from the obstacle that Diamigo had set up. "Stand back," I said. "I'm giving it another try."
Diamigo stood back and crossed his arms, tapping his foot. I snorted at him again. See him jump over a wall of fire that was at the very least half his size, then I'd be impressed. I snapped out my tail on the floor and then tried to imagine myself sailing over the flames. I always ended up crashing and... well, burning in my imagination, so I turned to Diamigo.
"Grab a bucket of water, will you?"
Diamigo laughed and went to go get one though that mysterious doorway in the back of the cavern, so I waited. I walked over to the fire, getting closer and closer until I could smell it. I felt it since the fuzz on my nose and warm my long spindly legs. Maybe Peophins could jump, I pondered, but I sure couldn't. But I was fast, I thought. Very fast. It was pretty much the only thing I'd been good for to the Defenders.
Now that I hadn't been doing that for a few days, I felt totally worthless. Only a few days I'd been here? I stayed here in the cavern at night, standing in the corner to sleep like I usually did. Diamigo slept on the bed on the platform at the back of the cavern, except yesterday when he disappeared through that doorway (which, I can't fit through; I tried) and came back this morning. Sometimes... it seemed like I'd been here forever.
I put a hoof out over the fire and pulled it back before I could even feel it. If I went fast enough.
"Is this good enough, mi amigo?" He lifted up his bucket of water and a few drops sloshed over one side.
"I guess," I answered, walking back, adding, "You know, you can call me Patrol."
"But that's not your name," he objected.
I laughed. "So?"
"It's not what you are," Diamigo said. He chuckled, then said, "Now stop stalling."
Stop stalling. "I'm not stalling," I said, and pawed at the ground. Now or never, I guess. Probably never. But I was fast. I took off running. My hooves pounded into the cavern floor, and I had to be careful to miss one of the etched lines in the floor but, before I knew it, there I was. Right in front of the fire and I had forgotten to stop before I got there. It was way too late.
There was only one thing to do. I couldn't stop. So I had to keep going. I kept running and running, straight out the cavern's mouth and into the canyon. I slowed to a trot and turned around, looking down at my legs. They didn't look singed. My tail hadn't felt a thing even though it had to have touched the flames. I looked up when I heard Diamigo's boots hitting the brown, flat rocks underneath.
He grinned when he saw me. "Muy bien! I knew you could do it!"
"I just ran through fire." I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not yet.
"Not exactly what I was expecting, but it worked."
Diamigo turned around and walked back into cavern and I followed. My heart was still racing, and I was somehow still worried that I had actually burned my tail running through the fire. When we reached the cavern, I said, "So, what do we do now?" I asked, feeling a little unduly self-satisfied.
Diamigo turned around and smiled at me. I didn't like that smile. "Now, the flames go higher."
I sighed over in my corner of the cavern and shifted my feet. You know how Unis sleep on their feet? Peophins do, too. Usually I don't mind this, but I'd been using my feet a little more than usual. And differently. Like walking the tightrope of a line in the floor, running it, pointless laps through the canyon, jumping over the smallest gap on the canyon top. At the other end of the canyon, the wall was slightly less totally-vertical than the other walls and Diamigo was trying to get me to be able to run straight up it.
Tough stuff, let me tell you. Especially when every time I failed at something, he would tell me how Pablo could do it his second try. Maybe his first. He couldn't remember.
Anyway, my legs were tired. My tail was tired. I think even my mane was tired.
I looked up one last time to see Diamigo reading by the candlelight on the deck in the back of the cavern. "So... you aren't going to tell me who you are, then?" I asked. I may have been tired... but I didn't think I could sleep. Besides, this had kept me up nights, for some reason. Who was Diamigo, really? Here in the cavern he wasn't a hero. He was a taskmaster—an incredibly-athletic-for-a-Chia taskmaster, sure; but I had almost forgotten about that other guy who'd tied up the bandits at the bank.
He turned a page in his book. "Por qué?"
Why? I didn't know. I looked back down at the floor. "No reason. I was just... curious."
"There must have been some reason," he said, but he didn't sound very interested.
In fact, he kept right on reading like I wasn't even trying to make random conversation. "There wasn't," I insisted.
"You don't ask many questions," he observed. "The ones you do generally have a point to them."
"I was just wondering how you got here. You didn't start out this way, did you?"
"Why does it matter how I started? I am here now."
"It matters a lot!" I said before thinking about it. I wasn't sure why it mattered or how much it mattered, but it seemed to somehow. "If you can become this, then so can I. But if not, then how am I ever going to be anything other than just... Patrol?"
Diamigo was quiet for a long time, turned three pages before he even took a breath to answer, putting aside his book. "Chias are not known for being heroes. Sometimes we are villains," he pointed out. "Peophins—there are heroes all over the places for you."
"Saying that is easy," I muttered. "Just because some Peophins are Waveriders doesn't mean that I'm like that. I'm no Helmo Timm, either."
"But you are also no Patrol," Diamigo said. "Heroes are not born. Heroes aren't made. Heroes... are. You don't have to be anything special to be a hero. You can be the most ordinary Peophin in the world and it doesn't matter."
"But what if I'm not a hero?" I asked. My greatest fear. I couldn't be. I was only ordinary.
"You are," Diamigo answered, going back to his book. "Everyone can be. Only most people do not choose to be."
If I wanted a chance to see if I was someone special, it came a little soon. Diamigo dashed into the cave one morning like he was a Meerca chasing Neggs and threw on his hat and started tying on his mask. "Amigo!" he shouted at me, and I looked up from my corner where I was getting some much-enjoyed sleep, thank you very much. Especially since it was about five o'clock in the morning.
"Get ready to ride! Wait! Here!" he added, holding up a green piece of fabric. "I made this for you," he said, looking rather proud of that.
I stared at the thing from across the cavern, but I couldn't figure out what it might have been until he came closer, hopping around on one foot while he tried to get his other boot on. So this was Diamigo, I thought with a snicker. "Calm down," I said. "I can make up the time running. Put your shoes on."
Diamigo slammed his foot down into the boot and glared at me. "We have to hurry. Now," he added, waving at me to come closer, "give me your head."
I looked at him askance, but put my head down closer to him anyway. He reached out and I felt something on my face, then he wrapped his arms around my head and started tying. He was tying a mask on my face. When he backed up again, he looked at me critically and then shrugged.
"Ah, well. It will have to do," he muttered. "Now, hold still."
"What do you mean 'it will have to do?'" I asked as Diamigo took a running leap at my back. He had seated himself comfortably there and started kicking me ineffectively with his tiny feet while I was still trying to figure out what he meant. "What do you mean by that?" I demanded.
"Rápido, rápido!" Diamigo insisted. "People need help!"
I trotted out of the cavern, figuring that a mask was a mask. It would have to do, as he said. Maybe I looked like one of the Meerca brothers with it, or something. Before I knew it, we were flying down the canyon, Diamigo holding on by the strands of my mane. We ran up the switchbacks and out into the open. I had almost forgotten what this place looked like.
"All right, which way, jefe?" I asked with a slight nod.
Diamigo didn't look amused as he pointed in a direction across the desert. I followed his hand direction at break-neck speed. I figured he would be happy about that, but I didn't have time to look over my shoulder to make sure he was okay. It wasn't long before I came across the beleaguered farmhouse.
A faerie Lupe with a mean look on her face was orchestrating the whole operation, leading a bunch of really pretty pets in the plundering of the farmhouse and barn while the family that lived there stood aside, guarded by the biggest and meanest looking pair of faerie Xweetoks I think I've ever seen. I noticed an Aisha and an Eyrie in the barn. I admit, it was stupid; but for a minute I thought they were going to set fire to it. It was like I wanted them to. Never mind that I probably wasn't cut out for this kind of stuff. I wanted to show them what Diamigo's new noble steed could do.
Diamigo was kicking me repeatedly, I guess, to go faster. Or maybe he was just excited. You know, I can only barely feel it when he does that... But I went faster anyway and saw, much to my pleasure, that there was a fence between us and the barn. I went sailing over it easily, and Diamigo went flying in another direction entirely. I saw him roll around a bit after he landed out of the corner of my eye, but I was already in the barn, making sure these other crooks didn't set fire to it.
What is it with banditos and setting barns on fire?
Diamigo shouted something to me while he engaged in sword-combat with one of the meanies outside, while I whirled around to see what he was doing before I took care of the two in here.
Well. That was my first mistake. Here's a lesson for you: if you're going to try to be a hero, always watch your tail.
My tail whipped around and knocked a barrel over. This might not have been a big deal, but there was one of those "friendly lanterns" on it. There's nothing friendly about an oil lantern. I know this from experience. As soon as it fell into the heap of straw, it caught fire. I whinnied at it in surprise, out of habit, and then trampled it. When that didn't help, I started slapping it with my tail while the banditos ran around in circles like petpetpets trying to evade pesticide spray.
"Diamigo!" I shouted. "A little help!"
"Ai, ai, ai!" Diamigo returned, lassoing one of the crooks outside and hanging him up by, well, his feet. "You can't handle this one little thing?" he asked, incredulous as he went about defending himself from another of the criminals.
"I don't have any hands!" I wailed, still slapping wildly at the fire even as it spread.
Once the flames were crawling up the wooden walls, I knew I was beaten. There was no way I could put out the fire. I dashed out of the barn, straight through the flame, and knocked over two of the banditos long enough for Diamigo to tie them up for the Defenders to haul them away.
Diamigo paced before the line of them while the family looked on in horror as their barn burned to the ground. "All right," he announced, glaring at each of them. "Which of you set fire to the barn?" I put my ears back and waited for what they would say. "Well?" Diamigo prodded.
The banditos slowly turned their eyes to me, followed by the farmhouse family, and then Diamigo. I offered a shy smile and an apology, but I don't think that anyone heard me. No one said anything. Not even Diamigo. He just sighed, spun around with his black cape billowing after him, and stalked away. I trotted after him, but said nothing.
We both walked, I guess, because Diamigo didn't want to go flying off my back again like he had wings. We were a short distance away when we heard a crack and a great crumble. The barn had fallen down. I lowered my head in shame and turned my ears back, closing my eyes against whatever glare Diamigo was giving me.
Diamigo sighed; then I did, too.
We looked at each other.
At the same time, we each opened our mouths. "I don't think this is going to work."
To be continued...