Christmas on the Citadel
It was only two hours to the Day of Giving. All around Neopia,
squeals of excitement and anticipation filled the air. In stark contrast, the
floating citadel was silent. Lord Darigan had decreed that whoever chose to make
his wretched land their home had to abide by one rule:
Those who wished to celebrate the seasonal holiday
had taken a hiatus from their sparkling new neohomes a few days ago, putting
up at the Neolodge or at a friend's house.
Unfortunately, not all could leave.
Aze the Acara sighed and threw herself onto a
beanbag. If only she had known of the terrible boredom that would entail living
on the citadel during Christmas, she would not have gleefully demolished her
Meridell cottage. The largest neighbourhood on Main Street stretched for miles
around the rocky land but the she had yet to exchange a seasonal greeting with
even one neighbour.
"All because of Darigan," she muttered.
No one dared to consider the consequences of
breaking a rule of the hulking Korbat; hence they left in droves, those unable
to fly hitching a ride on Lennies and Eyries. When Aze landed on the citadel
after her winter treat at Astrovilla, the streets were deserted. The Neolodge
Eyrie threw her a sympathetic look and quickly flew off, eager to keep to his
schedule of transporting customers who could not fly back to their airborne
Aze lit a candle. It was not considered celebrating,
but this simple gesture reminded her of last winter, when she had a candle-lit,
fun-filled Christmas with her old friends. Her favourite seasonal activity was
gift-giving and she itched simply to give someone a present. Gazing at the dancing
flame, she wondered what it was like to spend the Day of Giving alone.
From the height of his chambers, Darigan folded
his arms and stared at the lone house. It had the only lit window, a warm glow
in the frigid atmosphere of the land. He scanned the surroundings thoroughly
and smiled in satisfaction. No one had broken his rules thus far. There was
nary a decorated tree. No merry carollers sang tunes of giving and joy. Yet
that particular home dwelled on his mind.
Someone stayed behind. But why?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts, a habit
formed long ago. Darigan knew how his rules were unpopular with the new residents
but he could not accommodate them at the expense of his minions. Many of his
supporters were aghast at the prospect of having to tolerate widespread festive
celebration while their own native land was wallowing in agony. It was unanimous
amongst his loyal soldiers, especially Galgarroth, that no festivities were
to be allowed on the Citadel. Darigan knew that his followers came first, no
matter what his personal preferences were. At times, he even wondered what it
felt like to give.
He would have left the new residents alone as
long as they paid for their land. However, this was not to be.
"My Lord, there is one house that looks suspiciously
merry this evening," remarked Galgarroth for the umpteenth time during dinner
an hour ago. "Surely this is a cause for investigation?"
The next morning, Aze woke up to a stillness
that she had never felt during Christmas. The streets were deserted, no one
sang carols, nobody was exchanging presents and there was no aroma of roasted
Suddenly, the Acara grinned in mischief. No festive
celebration did not mean no gift giving! All she needed was an alternative reason
to hand out presents. Filled with renewed excitement, she hurried to the desk
to make a list of items to give out to Darigan minions.
Draik guards: Taelia poster
Guard who stares at everyone: white Lupe plushie
The guard with floppy ears: Neocola sweets
Other minions I've never met: a box of chocolates
She paused for a moment in an attempt to recall
everyone in the citadel whom she had met since arriving. After a few moments,
she scribbled hurriedly:
Galgarroth: pink notebook
Lord Darigan: magical hair Usuki doll
It was not much, but Aze was satisfied. There
was no time for shopping so she had to make do with whatever she could spare.
After retrieving the items and placing them on the desk, she wrapped them up
with old copies of The Neopian Times. As she sealed the last gift, there came
a rapt knock that shook the house.
The Acara rushed to the wooden door and took
a deep breath before flinging it open in excitement. Who could it be? Have her
old friends decided to pay her visit? Did the Neolodge Eyrie come back for her
on his day off?
"Resident number fifty-one," boomed a deep voice,
"We have orders to investigate your house."
Aze stared at Galgarroth, who was flanked by
two armoured Draiks whom she recognised as Darigan minions. They pushed past
her rudely and marched into her living room. In a split second, she remembered
the presents lying conspicuously on the table and hurried to shield them from
the prying eyes of the intruders.
"Well, what do we have here," sneered the smaller
Draik. He reached out to brush Aze roughly away from the gifts but was immediately
restrained by the Grarrl.
"It seems that someone has been flouting the
rules," remarked Galgarroth. He glared at the Acara. "You will come with us
to see the Lord for your punishment."
"But…but…I'm not giving out Christmas presents!
Those are for…for…" Aze stammered. "For appreciation! That's right, I was going
to give all of you gifts for the hard work you've done in protecting the Citadel!"
"Tell that to Lord Darigan," he snarled, "And
seize the presents!"
Aze followed the Grarrl general and his assistants
into the imposing structure. Inside, it was brighter than she had imagined;
orange flames lit every corner. With each step, she could feel that menacing
aura of the Draik guards closely behind her. Soft whispering and snatches of
hissing greeted her ears whenever they met a passing minion on their way. She
panted slightly as she scurried up a steep flight of steps to keep up with the
wide strides of Galgarroth.
The entrance of Darigan's chambers was shrouded
with a thick purple curtain.
"Enter," proclaimed a hoarse voice from within.
At that moment, the curtains parted and Aze followed
the Grarrl into the large room. Darigan was sitting stiffly behind a table strewn
with maps. He looked sternly at the Acara until she looked away, half in guilt.
"My Lord," reported the Galgarroth, "I have followed
your orders to investigate the last house that was not empty. Our instincts
were correct. This Acara, one of the new residents, was preparing a few presents,
no doubt to partake in the most horrid festive tradition of gift-giving."
"Is that so?" sighed the Korbat.
"Yes, my Lord," replied the Grarrl, "Some guards
have already heard of her transgression and want her to be thrown into the dungeons
for the night, or expelled from our land. Everyone is impatient for the sentence."
Lord Darigan stood up abruptly and Aze nearly
jumped at his sudden action. She had heard tales of his battling prowess but
had not had the chance to witness his agility. Now, she felt an urgent compulsion
to get as far away from him as soon as possible. What were the odds of making
a run for it?
Before she could inch her way towards the entrance,
he swooped down until he met her face to face.
The statuesque Korbat narrowed his eyes and hissed,
"Don't you know why no festivities are allowed on the Citadel? How dare you
make a mockery of this wretched land by celebrating on it?"
Aze stared speechlessly at him in fear.
"To the dungeons," he ordered.
The sunset was a glowing red that evening. Darigan
had decreed that additional guards had to patrol the periphery of the floating
Citadel, to ensure that returning residents did not bring along hostile guests.
Yet for the first time, he declared the order with a heavy heart.
"My Lord, is everything fine?" Galgarroth worried
aloud. Darigan had been sulking ever since he had banished the disobedient Acara
to the dungeons.
"Of course," snapped the Korbat. "And stop asking."
In the dungeons, Aze folded her arms around her
knees and gazed glumly into space. The walls were dull grey and the air quiet,
except the occasional echo of a dripping water droplet. From the exchange between
Darigan and Galgarroth, she gathered that she would be spending Christmas night
facing four cold and unfriendly stone walls.
"Just when I thought that the Day of Giving couldn't
get any worse," she muttered.
"It's about to get better, a little," whispered
a raspy voice.
The Acara squinted into the dim light and saw
a large shadow. She shrunk back in fear as it approached, trying in vain to
keep very unpleasant thoughts from her mind. The cloaked figure reached for
the chain that secured the door of the dungeon cell and snapped it into half
easily. The hatch swung open with a creak.
"Go," the shadow said, "There is a tunnel on
your left that will take you to the end of Main Street."
Despite her surprise, Aze managed to scamper
out of the cell. She glanced back at the tall mysterious stranger. Huge ears
stuck out of his thick hood.
"Lord Darigan is going to be very angry," she
said as innocently as she could.
"You bet he is."
"Anyway, the presents were in appreciation for
the work done in making this place as accommodating as possible for us. You
know, the non-minions."
"I have no business with your presents," he shrugged
and paused. "But that seems to be a different reason from the one you gave
to my, I mean, the minions."
"Oh," Aze blushed, "Er, it's both, actually."
"What a convenient excuse."
She ignored the chastisement. "You're not so
scary after all. I mean, you don't need to let me go now, but you are. And I
know that you were obliged to maintain the loyalty of your, er, the
minions. So I'll consider this secret pardon a reciprocal gift. There, I received
a gift after all!"
"I'll take that gift back if you don't cease
rambling. Leave now," he warned.
With that, the figure disappeared into murky
Aze made her way quickly out of the lair, crawling
through the chilly hole. A few minutes later, she climbed out from an innocuous
grass patch at the end of her neighbourhood and scurried back home. She shut
the door as quietly as she could and heaved a sigh of relief.
"Merry Christmas, Darigan," she whispered.
Meanwhile, in a large chamber not too far away,
a Korbat smiled to himself.
So this is what giving feels like!