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Christmas on the Citadel


by kushbi

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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:

     No Festivities.

     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 homes.

     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 turkey.

     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 darkness.

     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!

The End

 
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