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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 25th day of Awakening, Yr 22
The Neopian Times Week 69 > Short Stories > Recruitment

Recruitment

by sable_darkfaerie

Zuberi landed with an "Umph!" in the middle of a turnip field, skidding to a halt and sending up a spray of dirt. The yellow Eyrie took a moment to clean his feathers, muttering, "I've got to work on my landings." Before taking a moment to examine his surroundings. He stared about him in surprise. The once quaint and cheerful land of Meridell was completely changed. Most notable was the giant, evil-looking floating citadel in the air, as well as the large, sinister vines with sharp thorns dotted the landscape, and at first glance the farms appeared completely deserted. "Wait, is that smoke?" Zuberi wondered. Sure enough, there appeared to be a thin column of smoke coming from the west. With a shrug he launched himself into the air and headed that way. After flying for only a few moments when he spotted a yellow Gelert working in a berry field below. He dived toward the ground, planning on making a graceful landing beside the farmer, but instead hit the ground at the wrong angle and was sent rolling to one side. He finally came to a stop, only narrowly missing on of the tentacle-like vines and their dangerous thorns. Zuberi jumped to his feet. "Argh! Why can't I ever get these landings right? Ow!" he winced and flexed a wing painfully. "I think I pulled a muscle..."

     Suddenly he remembered the Gelert. "Um, hi," the Eyrie said, embarrassed.

     "Hey," the Gelert said. "I suppose yer one o' them warrior fellas that was runnin' all about the place yesterday."

     Zuberi shrugged and said, "Well, actually, I'm not a warrior yet. I just came here when I heard Meridell was being attacked to see if anyone needed any help. Uh...do you need any help?"

     "Me?" the Gelert asked. "Shucks no. Leastways not right now. Yesterday that evil Darigan fella sent these awful little chitterin' monsters here and they was swarmin' around chewin' everything up, and earlier today there was these hideous Moehog lookin' monsters, but some other peasants from down the road got together and ran those ugly beasts off. Everything's pretty calm now, and I hustled over here to get what's left of my crops before another wave hits."

     "Oh," Zuberi said, feeling a little disappointed. He had imagined thousands of evil monsters charging around and setting fire to the countryside, and of course he would have been the one coming bravely to the rescue. But he supposed it was just as well, people losing their homes and innocent lives being lost were too high a price to pay for his chance of playing hero.

     "Tell yuh what yuh oughta do," the Gelert spoke up, "Yuh oughta head down yonder to the castle and volunteer. Some soldiers were out here lookin' for new recruits earlier, I'm sure they'd 'preciate a warrior like yerself helpin' out."

     "That's a good idea," Zuberi said. "Thanks for the advice. The castle's that way, right?"

     "Yup, right down that road. Be careful though, some of those monsters might still be about. I hear they have teeth sharper then needles an' eat live children an' who knows what else, so watch yer back."

     "Sure thing," Zuberi replied, preparing to launch into the air. Then he felt a painful twinge and remembered his wing. He smiled ruefully, "I guess I'll be walking to the castle." With a final wave to the Gelert he trotted off up the road. Despite the vines here and there, the abandoned farms, and the ever-present citadel casting its shadow on the ground, he didn't feel threatened. Whatever monsters there had been here were long gone, but who knew when more would arrive. In fact, the countryside seemed kind of peaceful in a strange way, so that even when his wing started to feel better he decided to continue walking the rest of the way.

     Zuberi had just crossed a small bridge when heard a strange noise. It sounded like a bizarre cross between a squeak and a grunt and seemed to be coming from the abandoned potato farm to his right. His curiosity getting the better of him, the Eyrie went to investigate. He didn't notice anything in the ramshackle hut there or in the fields, and was just about to give up when he heard the sound again. This time he was closer and was able to pinpoint exactly where it came from. There was a barrel resting besides the hut, and the odd noises seemed to be coming from inside it. He walked closer, looked down into the dark barrel, and jumped back in shock when a loud squeak came from inside. "Ahh! What was that?" he asked himself, and then felt silly. "Anything small enough to fit in that barrel can't be that dangerous, and besides, it's probably just a mouse or something. Still feeling a little nervous he approached the barrel again and peeked inside. A pair of red eyes stared back at him. Zuberi gulped. He'd certainly never seen a mouse, or even a rat with large, glowing red eyes.

     Gathering his courage, he took the barrel and tilted it to let the sunlight in so that he could get a better look at what was inside. Crouching fearfully at the bottom on top of a few potatoes was a small, somewhat toad-like creature with purple and black skin and black spikes on its back. It had sharp teeth and red eyes, but oddly enough it almost seemed cute...in an ugly kind of way. "Now what in the world are you?" Zuberi asked curiously. It didn't occur to him to be afraid, as he was several times larger than the small creature, and it was clearly terrified of him.

     "Ack! Drackonack! Drackonack!" the creature chattered, trying to burrow down and hide under the potatoes. "So you're a drackonack?" Zuberi asked. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you," he added, since it still seemed scared of him.

     The drackonack tried to jump out or the barrel, but one of its legs got caught on the rim and it fell back inside, yelping in pain.

     Zuberi took a close look at the creature and noticed that it was holding one of it's clawed feet up gingerly and not using it. "Aw, poor little guy, is your leg hurt?" The Eyrie reached a paw into the barrel to try to pick the drackonack up. At first it drew back fearfully, but after talking to it soothingly for a few moments he was able to gently lift it out and onto the ground. The creature sat there blinking for a moment, and then pulled up a clump of grass and dirt and started chewing it up hungrily. Suddenly it dawned on Zuberi. "Hey! You're one of those monsters!"

     At the sound of his voice the drackonack looked startled and tried to hop away, only to be brought to a halt by it's injured leg. "Calm down, it's okay," Zuberi said. "But am I right, are you one of those monsters that what's-his-name, Darigan sent?"

     "Darigan! Darigan!" the creature exclaimed excitedly, trying to hop again. Zuberi frowned, "What am I going to do with you? You don't look dangerous, and if I leave you here some soldiers might find you," he thought for a moment "I suppose you want to go back up there." The Eyrie gestured at the citadel and gulped. "But I'm not sure if I want to go up there." He looked at the little drackonack again and made a decision. "I suppose there's no help for it, I can't leave you here to be killed. Come on." He picked the creature up and put it on his back, where it could hold onto his mane-like fur while he flew, and used his powerful hind legs to propel himself into the air.

     As Zuberi approached the citadel he began to get more and more worried. It had tall, unfriendly looking towers, many of which sported jagged spikes. Giant crossbows and other weapons formed the defences, and clouds and smoke surrounded it, and there seemed to be an aura of darkness surrounding the entire structure. Nevertheless, he had made up his mind, so he bravely flew closer and began looking for a spot to land. He chose a clearing near a cylindrical tower with a dome and spike on top and touched down, hoping no one had seen his approach. "Wow!" he whispered to the drackonack, "I made a perfect landing for once. Lucky for you, because I don't think you'd enjoy my usual ones." He gave the creature a farewell pat on the head, and was just about to pry it off of his back and make his escape when a loud raspy voice stopped him in his tracks.

     "Halt or we'll shoot!" it demanded.

     "Uh-oh." Zuberi turned slowly around, and behind him were two large, mutated, and very dangerous looking Scorchios aiming bows straight at him. "Stay right there!" the one on the left said, "Don't move a musc-" he stopped. "Hey, is that Scouter? It is! Scouter, come here boy!" At that the drackonack began chattering excitedly and tried to jump off of Zuberi's back, but the Eyrie caught it before it could hit the ground and hurt it's leg any more. He handed it out to the Scorchios and tried to explain, "I found him hiding in Meridell, his leg was hurt and I just wanted to take him back here where someone would look after him."

     The Scorchios looked stunned, and the one on the right finally asked, "Are you from Meridell?"

     "Ah, not really, I was just visiting..."

     "That might explain it," the Scorchio said, I couldn't imagine anyone from Meridell being so kind."

     "What?" Zuberi asked. "Everyone there seemed really nice..."

     "Them? Nice?" the Scorchio snorted. "They're all evil lying thieves!" he insisted.

     "Huh? I don't understa-"

     The Scorchio on the left cut him off, "I'm afraid we can't talk any longer. We must take you to Lord Darigan."

     Zuberi gulped. "Uh, maybe I could just leave? Please? I'm not really involved in this war..."

     "I'm sorry," the Scorchio said, "we must report all intruders to Lord Darigan. Please follow us."

     He turned and started to head towards the tallest tower, the one with spikes on the top like a clawed hand, still cradling the Scouter the drackonack in his arms. The other Scorchio fell into step behind Zuberi, leaving the anxious Eyrie with no choice but to go along with them.

     They reached the tower, and began to climb up, and up, and still further up a long winding staircase, passing dozens of floors. Occasionally they'd pass other monstrous looking Neopians, who gave Zuberi curious glances. In one room he noticed a group of Skeiths who seemed to be gearing up for battle. Finally, the reached the top, and stood before one final door, this one tall and bordered with spikes. The Scorchio in front of him knocked, and the door swung inward, creaking on its hinges. "Wait here, I'll go in and explain the situation to Lord Darigan." He said, before disappearing into the gloomy interior. The door slammed shut behind him.

     Zuberi waited, conscious of the other guard behind him with a loaded crossbow. With every second that passed he felt himself growing more and more nervous. As far as he knew no one had ever seen Darigan, or at least if they had seen him they hadn't lived to tell about it. He had heard all sorts of awful, unspeakable rumours about the creatures in the citadel. There was no telling what they were going to do to him. He jumped in shock when the door suddenly swung open. The Scorchio stepped out and gestured towards the door. "Lord Darigan will see you now."

     Zuberi slowly inched inside the room, trembling in fear and wanting more than anything to turn and run. At first all he could see was a desk with maps and what looked like battle plans scattered about it, with a single candle burning to drive back the darkness. Then, a tall, sinister creature stepped gracefully out of the shadows. Zuberi barely stifled a yelp of terror. Darigan was dressed in tattered black robes and had giant, equally tattered purple wings. He had a flowing purple beard, a skull-like face and large, yellow teeth. It was only when Zuberi saw his huge pointed ears that he realised Darigan was some kind of a mutated Korbat.

     "What is your name, young Eyrie?"

     "Zu-Zuberi Goldenfeather, sir."

     "I see that you are shocked by my appearance." The Korbat said quietly. Zuberi gulped, "Uh...yes, yes sir, sort of, I guess...sorry, I don't mean to- to be rude..." he stammered.

     "I didn't always look like this. And my subjects didn't look the way you see them now. We were once like you."

     "Wha-what happened?" Zuberi asked, his curiosity getting the better of his fear.

     "We once were a proud, noble people. This dark citadel was once a golden palace, part of a flourishing kingdom. That was before our orb was stolen from us."

     "Your orb!? I thought King Skarl said they found it...well, actually, he never did explain exactly where he got it from..."

     Darigan's face twisted with rage, "That Skarl creature is a liar, a thief, and a murderer! My subjects and I may look like monsters on the outside, but he is a monster on the inside! He sent the knights that stole the orb from us!"

     "He said he only did it to help his people." Zuberi said carefully, not wanting to enrage Darigan any further, but feeling like he should defend the king. "He said they were starving..."

     "So he causes my people to starve? There is no excuse! Without the orb our kingdom began to die. Our magic was twisted, our crops wasted away overnight, and a hideous plague broke out among my people. The few that survived were never the same, as it turned us into the creatures that you see today."

     Zuberi said in disbelief, "You mean all this time he's been lying to everyone about the orb? His knights just came and took it from you?"

     "Yes. One day four of them came riding into the kingdom, and attacked the Palace. They were powerful warriors, and my guards were unable to stop them. You see, back then we were a people of peace, we had not studied nor had any use for the arts of war for many centuries. They broke through the gate and into the centre of the treasury, robbing us of the orb, our most prized possession and riding away faster than we could follow."

     Zuberi spoke up, "Maybe...maybe he didn't know what it would do to your kingdom. Maybe if you explained he would feel bad and give it back, or maybe there's some way to share the orb..."

     "It's too late for that," the Korbat said. "Too many have died. We've used up the last of our scarce resources giving the citadel the power of flight, discovering the location of the orb, and training for battle. Winning this war and recovering the orb is our only hope for survival." He sighed and appeared lost in thought for a moment before shaking his head, seeming to clear his thoughts, and looking at Zuberi. "I shouldn't ramble so. You're here because you rescued Scouter." He nodded at the desk. Zuberi looked and realised the drackonack had been crouching underneath it the entire time they'd been having their conversation. Scouter jumped out from under the desk and leapt joyfully up to Zuberi, snuggling against him. Zuberi smiled, "Hey, his leg is better!"

     "Yes, a simple healing spell is all it took. Scouter is one of my favourite drackonacks, I'd like to thank you for bringing him to us safely, I know it must have taken a lot of courage."

     Zuberi was stunned, a few moments ago he'd been sure he was going to be killed or worse, and now this fearsome looking Korbat was thanking him! "No problem, really, you don't have to thank me," he said, "I'm just glad you're not going to..." he stopped, embarrassed.

     "Glad we're not going to eat you alive?" Darigan asked, amused. "Yes, I'm well aware of the things they say about us down there." He opened a drawer on the desk and rummaged around inside. "I wish I could offer you something more fitting, but we have so little left that no grand rewards an be given. However, I'd like you to have this." He held out a small shield on the end of a chain and placed it around Zuberi's neck. It was black, trimmed with purple, and had two red panels on the sides. "Please take this medal of bravery and honour. Usually it's only given out to our best warriors, but I've seen so few noble Neopians from the lands below that I think you deserve this."

     "Wow!" Zuberi said, admiring it, "What can I say? I'm honoured, I've never been given a medal before!" "I hope it will bring you good fortune," the Korbat said, "Now, I must wish you farewell. It has been a pleasure speaking with you, young Eyrie, but it may be best that you don't linger to long. Another battle will be joined soon, and I don't wish you to be caught in the fray."

     Zuberi turned to go saying, "Thank you again for the medal sir. I'll be sure to tell as many Neopians as possible the truth about the orb." He turned to go, and then realised Scouter was hopping along after him. "Stay here boy, you can't come with me."

     "Why don't you keep him?" Darigan suggested.

     "What? I thought he was your favourite?"

     "He is, but perhaps he would be better off with you. I worry about what will happen to him if we lose the war. Besides, you did save his life, and he seems to like you." Zuberi grinned, "Thanks again! I'm starting to get pretty attached to him too." He started to leave, then stopped and said, "It feels so wrong for me to just leave like this." Darigan looked at him questioningly.

     "I mean...you're clearly the good guy. The orb belongs to you. I came to Meridell to help in the war, and now I've just found out I was fixing to help the wrong side."

     "What are you saying?" Darigan asked.

     "I'm saying that I still want to help in the war. I want to help your side. I may not be very powerful, but surely there's some way I can assist you."

     The Korbat looked at him thoughtfully. "You're sure of this?"

     "Very sure," Zuberi answered.

     "You know that if you join my soldiers in the invasion there's no turning back. The kingdom of Meridell will see you as an enemy."

     "I know that. I don't care, I want to help you."

     "Very well," Darigan said gravely. "Zuberi Goldenfeather, I welcome you as the newest recruit to my army." He gathered up the maps and documents on the desk and tucked them under one arm. "If you will follow me downstairs, we have a battle to plan."

The End

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