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Look Where We Are


by cyborg8000

--------

Memory is a fickle thing. One moment, you could be walking down the road to the local store, and the next, you're recalling a time long since passed... that only seems like yesterday. For me though, it's simple to understand. For as I am concerned, it was yesterday to me. Perhaps it is best if I start at the end of the beginning.

     ---------------

Meridell. Late Autumn. Year 28.

     A Darigan Lupe trots down the main street of Meridell which is littered with debris and broken shards of glass. Leaves rustle as they race across the once happy lane. The night is eerily quiet, but not unusual. An old, ragged looking brown Ixi is leaning against a small shack to the left. The Lupe nods his head in answer to the Ixi's folklore singing.

     And here he comes,

     the once blessed hero

     of our dear Meridell

     The grumpy old king

     Is tossed off his throne

     And ring does the bell

     Come one,

     In fact,

     Come all!

     Poor Turmaculus is crushed,

     And the Turdles are gone,

     So we watch our dear Meridell fall!

     A mischief maker for sure

     They thought he was pure!

     Oh Darigan... what have you done?

     The last lines are slurred as the Ixi collapses, laughing at her own troubled song. The Lupe hops up over the crisscrossed layers of wood that once led up to the castle. The moat is filled in with rocks. He picks his way through the mess carefully. He navigates effortlessly through the fallen castle. A campfire to the side is surrounded by poorly clothed Yurbles who are humming a tune and chatting quietly with each other. The smoke is thick and wraps around his ears. The Lupe ignores the smoke and pushes through the dark, grey air until he reaches the old throne room.

     It has been ransacked multiple times over the years, and the only thing left is a stone, chain bound chest in the far corner of the room. As the Lupe swiftly picks his way across what is left of the deserted throne room, the chest starts to shake. The Lupe pauses for a moment before quickening his pace. Something inside the chest taps against the inner walls of the chest, and the chains clink together. The tinny noise cuts through the smoky, fog air. The Lupe approaches the chest. He taps on the outside. It is quiet. A single tap responds to the Lupe. It is quiet. The Darigan Neopet thinks for a moment before slowly wrenching off the chains. They noisily clatter to the stone tablets below.

     The chest is freed. The Lupe thrusts the lid off the chest, and it swings back, hitting the wall with a thud. The noise echoes and resounds, bouncing off crumbled stone pillars. With his one good eye, the Lupe peers into the chest. The other red eye is covered with an eye patch. Suddenly, the Lupe feels tired... and old.

     Closing his eyes and sitting back on his haunches, the Darigan Lupe says in a voice that is rusty from disuse, "If only Kauvara could you see now."

     ---------------

     The dying, misty, early morning of Meridell is very little different from the night. The fog grows thicker, and dew clings to all those who pass through it. The bonfires die down as exhausted Yurbles huddle under rock slabs.

     In bright, yet faded, clothes, an elegant faerie delicately walks through the morning mist. The colors seem out of place in such a dreary landscape. Her wings beat slowly, stretching themselves out after over ten years of storage. She walks by the side of the Darigan Lupe, who is too exhausted to walk upright on his back legs. She strokes the tuft of hair between his ears and she tries to withhold a gasp as her fingers graze two sharp, black horns. He sighs.

     "You've been gone a long time, Illusen," the Lupe says resignedly, turning his face away. "Thanks to Fyora that Kauvara set you in that spell... otherwise... we would have no hope."

     "There is always hope, my friend," the faerie says, her voice melodically floating through the air. The light seems to brighten for a few moments, but it is quickly oppressed and the same, hardly existent, grey light returns. "You must tell me... what has happened?" She giggles for a few seconds. The brown Ixi across the street looks up in amazement. Laughter is an old song. "I've missed a lot, haven't I?"

     Wearily, the Darigan Lupe sits down next to a dying plant. Illusen, the earth faerie, sits down next to him. As the Lupe rubs his eyes with his palms, the faerie leans towards the plants, her fingers reaching out to touch a piece of material caught into the blackened branches. It is a smooth, torn piece; a glimpse of red and white stripes can be seen through the dirt. She gently releases it from the branch. She holds onto it. Looking about her, a wave of dismay fills her as she sees the ruin of a once great city surrounding her. The piece of material falls from her hand. She watches it as an invisible wind blows it slowly away, the red and white stripes fading away, like the city before it.

     "Most of them got out alright."

     She turns to the Lupe. She has almost forgotten him. "Who?" she asks.

     The Lupe's eye strains against the fog and the darkness of the time between night and day. He raises a paw in gesture. "Them," he grunts and coughs. "The Meridellians. Most of em," he rubs his nose, "fled to Brightvale. King Hagan was already sending most of his inhabitants to Kiko Lake, and thankfully, he shipped off the other citizens on the barges as well. From there... well... I lost track awhile ago." He sniffs the air, but decides it is nothing.

     "Did they make it to Neopia Central?"

     "That's the last I heard."

     "Lisha?"

     "Krawk Island."

     "Krawk Island?!" Illusen exclaims as a hand flies to her mouth. Her shout has caused several Neopets to look up. They are starting to cause suspicion. Hurried footsteps can be heard, but because of the fog and the disoriented night light, it is impossible to tell which direction they are coming from. She folds her wings in carefully and tries to lower her aura as low as possible. A Darigan Uni emerges from the fog behind them.

     The Uni jabs his horn in the direction of the faerie, taking a few steps forward. "Who are you? Where's your identity card?"

     The Lupe steps forward. The Uni clicks his hooves smartly together in attention. "At ease." His voice is laced with boredom as he continues, "A lost captive, lieutenant."

     "Officer J4?" the Uni questions, his head stiff and his wings firmly held to his sides. The Lupe nods, eyeing the Uni carefully. The Uni motions with his tail to someone behind him. A Darigan Carmariller hovers behind. When seeing the Lupe, it flies forward quickly, a sack slung across its shoulder hitting its tail as it flies. It pulls a thin envelope from the sack and hands it to the Lupe. The Uni bows its head and continues down the street, rhythmic footsteps fading into the distance. The Neomail deliverer makes its exit from this story, scampering off towards a Quiggle that is shuffling through debris.

     The Lupe scans the address on the card before folding it somewhere beneath his wings. He turns to trot down the road in a different direction, and the faerie hurries to follow him.

     "Identity card? My friend, what has happened? What is going on? What of the King?" she questions. Her voice grows lower as they approach a mixed group of Neopets who laugh and throw rotting potatoes at each other. "The rest of Neopia? Gone for good? Lutari Island, did they ever get on it? Is the entire world in disrepair? What of Sloth? Jhudora?"

     "Silence!" the Lupe growls. Illusen, shocked and dismayed, takes a step to the side. The Lupe sighs and glances over his shoulders. The young Neopets are not paying attention. He motions for them to continue. Warily, she walks by his side. "I am sorry, Illusen, but things are harder than they need to be now. I cannot have you with me this whole time."

     "But why not? You are the only face I know."

     "You know many faces, Illusen. You just do not recognize them."

     "This can't be."

     "My dear faerie, it is. I will answer some of your questions... but then I've got to get to work," the Lupe says. He continues walking. The faerie pauses and she turns to peer over her shoulder. An old, grizzled, red Kacheek sits separate from the others. He watches the faerie with studying, penetrating eyes. An involuntary shiver runs through her. But it is gone as the Kacheek raises a hand in salute, added with a nod of approval.

     "Work?" Illusen questions, returning to the discussion. The Lupe nods an affirmative.

     "Don't have a lot of free time," he grunts. "I collect what I can from the Citadel, hand it out to the refugees who live down here. There's a camp in Brightvale that I travel to sometimes. It's pretty much only me who can get around the Citadel... since I'm the only good guy with this skin." He laughs. It grates on the inside of his throat, and it sounds satirical to the faerie.

     "I was surprised," the faerie admits, "when you were the who opened it."

     "How'd you know it was me?" the Lupe asks, a pebble rolling as his paw hits it.

     "I could recognize those eyes anywhere," Illusen says with a smile. "I knew it was you."

     The ghost of a grin passes over the Darigan Lupe's face.

     "Besides. You have that look of a hero."

     "Oh yeah?"

     "Yes."

     "I'm not really a hero anymore, Illusen... just a Neopet..."

     "Jeran, you'll always be a hero."

     ---------------

     "The world has forgotten Meridell," the Lupe says as he chews the Squashed Salisbury Steak, ripping off a satisfyingly large chunk and handing it to the Faerie. They sit behind a large, blackened tree that is gnarled and bent over. It hides them from the rest of the burnt land.

     Illusen gently bites down on the corner of her half and nibbles daintily. It is stale and breaks off in her mouth in large flakes. A Darigan Kimbi approaches, standing on its back legs. Its large antennae twitch back and forth, swiveling as it tunes in to various lives around it. Saddened, the earth faerie hands the Kimbi her food. Its claws snatch it, and the petpet darts away into the rubble. She turns to the Lupe. "But what of the Neopets Team? What have they done?"

     Swallowing a rather large bite, the Lupe shakes his head. He coughs, and clears his throat. It sounds rough and ill. "Gone," the Lupe rasps. "After Sloth returned to power in Year 14, Garoo came out of hiding. Jhudora found that an alliance would be useful, and they were soon scheming partners. They took over the island... you know, the one east of Shenkuu, near the Mountain. Their combined powers were amazingly horrible... threw over the News board first, took over one department at a time. There are only four left now... scattered throughout Neopia. I know where one of them is sheltered, Adam, I believe... somewhere in the Deserted Fairgrounds."

     "They cannot help at all?"

     "They lost power quite a while ago... they are trying, I am sure. But even the Server Pteris have turned to Sloth and his minions, making a bright future almost impossible for Meridell. The other areas have done well resisting... but we had Darigan..."

     "Darigan? But Darigan is a hero, he is good now, do you not remember?" Illusen protests, her hand stamping indignantly on the hard, dead ground beneath her. A puff of dirt rises in the air before falling.

     "Please do not argue, my friend. You have been gone a long... long time... If it pleases you at all, then it would be good for you to know that the Space Faerie has long awaited your return. She has forces, and she believes with your help, evil may be once again banished from our world," the Lupe explains tiredly, finishing off the Steak hungrily.

     "Is Meridell the only city that has fallen?"

     Ashamed, the Lupe rubs his eyes and nods.

     "And what have you done to help? I see you now: a Darigan Lupe! An officer in an army of evil! A scavenging-" She is caught off as the Lupe tackles her to the dust. Many Neopets across the field can be seen watching them with wary eyes. One of them, a brown Nimmo, looks particularly suspicious. He stands up. He will report them to the patrol guard.

     "I have done all that I can," the Lupe hisses. He backs off the faerie and sits on his haunches, his face in a snarling expression. "I have gotten everyone out. The fools that you see here refuse to leave, or enjoy the company of evil. I get them food when I can and in exchange they give me news of the others. As a commander of the local troops, I am allowed information that would never reach my ears if I remained an obvious rebel. I will wait until my time for justice has come, and until then, I will remain this shape." He rises to his feet and continues walking, his shape blurring in the fog. The faerie slowly gets to her feet, brushing her tunic off. There are shouts in the distance, and she can hear them.

     She runs after the Lupe, but he has vanished. Frowning, she looks around. She has lost herself in the unoriginal, charred landscape of Meridell. She jumps into the air and soars, the old exhilaration returning. She flies over a platoon of Darigan Techos. She shakes her head but continues to fly. It is time for a reunion.

     ---------------

     The Darigan Lupe yawns and scuffs at the dirt. A stick in his mouth, he amuses himself by drawing a picture with the likeness of a king long gone. He hears footsteps behind him, but does not turn to look. He grunts to show he has heard them.

     Three shadows appear, blocking his light for his sketch. He looks up, his red eyes burning emotionlessly. A rundown red Kacheek is there, backed up by a yellow Yurble and a blue Scorchio. Leaning on a stick that is a smooth from many hands running along its edges, the Kacheek narrows his eyes at the Lupe. In a deep voice that sends ripples of undercurrent through the air, he says, "One Neopet can make a difference in the world. But four can change it."

     ---------------

     I sit in Fyora's library sometimes and look out those tall windows down onto the thriving metropolis of Faerieland. It makes me laugh that all these Neopians are concerned with nothing else except the next Poogle Race or the newest paint brush. It is silly, really, but it is their entire life. I cannot argue with that.

     But it is understandable. Things have gotten better over the years, and most of the Servers do not cause problems any more. The Spam Gangs have long separated, and my Neopian friends can once more walk freely. The Neopets Team has released the information of a new plot; I heard it was about the unexplored south pole of Neopia. I think that will be exciting.

     Some days, I think what would have happened if I had not hibernated like Jeran asked me to. What would have happened if Neopians had joined together to fight evil? But the Fountain Faerie tells me to stop worrying about the "what if"s. We cannot change the past. Instead, we can only change the future.

The End

 
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