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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 1st day of Running, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 131 > Short Stories > Everything to Lose

Everything to Lose

by child_dragon

"This is your life

Is it everything you've dreamed it would be

When the world was younger

And you had everything to lose."

- Switchfoot

"Did you ever stop and think what would happen if you stopped dreaming?"

     The Darigan Eyrie didn't reply, just continued gazing out across the sky. Endless blue, a veil that reached the heavens themselves, concealing the stars from his gaze.

     "I mean, everyone dreams. I dream all the time. I have real dreams, nighttime dreams where I'm not sure if its real or not or if I'll wake in the end. Sometimes nightmares, sometimes not. The nightmares are the worst though - they're always dark and I'm so afraid. That's when I think I'll never wake. Do you ever dream like that?"

     "Yes," he whispered. "All the time."

     "That's no good. I wouldn't want to have nightmares all the time. But you do have other dreams, right? Like, what the future will bring? 'Cause someday I want to be a beautiful dancer, or or, perhaps someone important. Did you dream that way, when you were a kid?"

     "Of course. We all do."

     The Eyrie glanced down at the small child, the Darigan Uni sitting at his feet, staring off the wall onto the city below. She was not supposed to be up here, and both she and him knew it. But he had seen her gazing wistfully up at the wall, at the ramparts, and he remembered the time he had sat in the street, among the dirt and grime, and gazed up wistfully. And so he had beckoned for her to follow, and she had seen his uniform and clambered up the steps (not complaining about the strenuous climb once) until the two both stood at the top of the walls, looking out and down.

     "I've never seen the city up from this high," she continued. "It's like little building blocks. Like I could reach out my hand and brush everything away, put it back in the toy box. But that wouldn't be very nice, now would it? That would hurt a lot of people, and my house is down there."

     "Have you ever looked down off the citadel before?" he asked her.

     "No, I haven't. We're not allowed up on the wall you know, and my wings are still too small to fly."

     And here she clambered to her feet, hooves clopping hollowly on the stone. The Eyrie moved aside to give her room as she strained her neck to see over the wall, then reared up on hind legs and placed both front hooves on the stone, poking her head over the crenulations. The Eyrie rolled his gaze over the city within. Little building blocks indeed. He stretched out one hand, the buildings blurred beyond it. Then he closed his hand and brought the buildings into sharp relief. He could wash them all away.

     "I can't see very far."

     He ignored the Uni for a moment, still studying the city, and beyond that, the citadel itself. The seat of all power and authority. For a moment, he was lost in thought, his mind's eye flashing back to his own childhood. How many times had he gazed up at the citadel, wondering if he would ever grace its halls? How many times? He'd dreamed for so long, imagining himself striding proudly with a sword at his side and the uniform of Darigan across his shoulders. Now the weight at his side was real, steel instead of wood. And the uniform was real, even though it sometimes chafed where the wings met his back.

     "Wow! I can see Meridell!"

     He half-turned at her exclamation, then the image in the corner of his eye registered with his brain. A Uni perched precariously on the edge, already leaning over too far. He let out a cry and lunged, wrapping one arm around the Uni's chest, pulling her back from the edge. She let out a cry of protest as she was yanked off the wall and back onto the ramparts.

     "Don't do that!" he snapped. "You said yourself your wings aren't strong enough."

     "I wasn't going to fall!" she gasped. "I wasn't -- honest! Don't make me leave, oh please don't make me leave!"

     "I won't. Just keep two hooves on the ramparts at all times, you hear?"

     "Yes sir. I promise I will. But I just wanted to see below us. Can you lift me up so I can see?"

     He sighed, ruefully rubbing the back of his neck, the fur gliding between fingers.

     "Fine."

     She squealed with delight and the Eyrie braced himself, straining only a little under her weight. She gasped and peered over the edge as he held her up, grimacing as an excited squirm landed a hoof on his hip.

     "I can see Meridell! And there's the castle, and oh! There's a village! They're even tinier than ours!"

     The Eyrie didn't reply, just shifted his own weight to better counterbalance hers. He was going soft - there was no other explanation. If anyone saw him now, holding a squirming Uni child up so she could see below the citadel… they'd never stop laughing. He'd never hear the end of it.

     But how many times in his own childhood did he want to do this? How many times did he longingly watch the soldiers pass on their way to the walls? He could honestly not remember. There were only brief flashes of memory, small glimpses. Peeking out from behind an adult pet's skirt, gazing as they paraded past, resplendent in armor, halberds glinting in the hazy sunlight, the banners snapping in the eternal wind. The stern, fierce gaze in their eyes, and the pride. Oh, the pride. They were Darigan, they were the embodiment of the citadel. And everyone knew it. What honor, what glory. And the Eyrie had desperately wanted to be one of them.

     He remembered putting on the uniform for the first time. He had stood in front of a mirror in the barracks for a long time, just staring. What was this, this Eyrie that stared back at him? Could it be real, could it truly be him? Then one of the older veterans had slapped him on the shoulder and chided that he'd be late for the muster if he didn't get his tail in gear. So he had shaken himself and ran out the door behind the other soldier, out into the musty training ground.

     "Seen enough?" he grunted.

     "Yeah, I guess so."

     And he stepped away and placed her back on the ground where she danced about in delight, her mane and tail flying in the high wind.

     "Oh, thank you, Mr. Eyrie sir!"

     "Your welcome."

     She turned and gazed up and down the ramparts. Her eye lingered on a banner fluttering from one of the turrets.

     "Have you ever carried one of those?" she asked.

     "Actually, yes. I was standard bearer for several years after I joined."

     "Was it hard?"

     He paused, thinking. The wind, constantly vying with him for control of the pole, whipping the flag this way then that. Him having to retain perfect composure all the time, then, in battle, carrying the flag with one hand and a sword with the other. It was a glorious position, if a dangerous one. He remembered a mock battle in the training grounds where someone had slipped under his guard, delivering a sharp blow to his ribs with the wooden pole they were using as mock spears. He had gone down, gasping for breath.

     "The standard has fallen!" a watcher had cried out as a jest. "Woe is us! The battle is lost!"

     "Ah, shut your beak," he had growled in response, picking himself up.

     "If the standard bearer falls," the captain at the time had called out to all the onlookers, "the person behind picks it up. We cannot let the symbol of our nation fall."

     "Mr. Eyrie, sir?"

     He shook his head, snapping himself out of the reminiscence. The banner had not fallen, and it would not fall yet.

     "Are you okay sir?"

     "I'm fine," he told the young girl. "Just remembering."

     "Oh. I'm sorry."

     She looked away and the Eyrie smiled briefly, wistfully, then he returned to his usual composure.

     "Not all memories are bad," he said mildly.

     "Huh?"

     "You said sorry. I'm saying that not all memories are bad ones."

     "But adults always look so sad when they remember."

     She looked puzzled and the Ayr squatted to look her in the eyes.

     "You want to know why?" he asked in a whisper.

     "Yes," she replied in the same.

     "It's because we don't dream anymore."

     He nodded at her shocked expression.

     "We don't dream like we used to. Our dreams are different, they don't hold that aura of magic. We don't have everything to lose anymore, the world is not ours to do with as we will."

     "It must be horrible then, to be an adult," she said, terrified.

     "No. It is not terrible -- just different. But that is why we look so sad when we remember, because we know what is lost and can never be reclaimed."

     He stood and ruffled her mane, just behind the slender horn.

     "You'd best be going now," he said.

     "Yes sir. Thank you for letting me up here sir."

     She managed a half-bow and then whirled and galloped for the stairs, the wind stirring her mane into a frenzy just as it stirred the banner. She stopped by the stairwell though, turning and gazing at him, her stance proud and straight. Already a soldier in her mind.

     "Sir?" she called. "What is your name?"

     "It's Kass!" he cried back, before turning to stare out across the sky.

     The Uni frowned before turning to go down the stairs. She had not caught the name and didn't want to be rude by asking him to tell it to her again. It was lost on the winds, just as standard bearers were lost to battles and dreams lost to time.

The End


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