Disease of the Citadel
It was a day like any other. Dark, damp, creepy, and any other word that could be used to describe how alienated the floating citadel looked. The streets bustled with the regular flow of citizens, bolded and shot through with streaks of grays, blacks, purples and reds. It was fitting. Even after the war, despite many of the drastic changes the citadel had taken on, there was always that dark air that could continue to follow the changed, peaceful pets that dwelled here.
Somewhere, high in a spiraling tower of the castle, a meeting was being held between the ruler of the citadel and his knights and closest advisors: Lord Darigan.
“My... friends,” he began hesitantly, looking about the long and high-leveled round table he sat at. There were at least five knights, that including Galgarroth; Morguss, who reluctantly agreed to aid with the repairs, and Master Vex, who had proven himself smart and keen.
“We need to discuss some new repairs and constructions that are being set up on the other side of town. Some villagers proposed we even begin working on, oh, how should you say, perhaps a stairwell of sorts that can help with going from the Darigan Citadel to Meridell, since travel proves difficult if you don’t have a nice set of wings.” He shifted his own to prove so. “Now, I hoped we could have a Faerie, maybe Illusen, who could use some of her magic touches to help-”
He barely finished his sentence before a long, painfully agonizing gasp ripped through the air, followed by a hollowed-out squeak. Everyone gasped. Lord Darigan gasped. Everyone reading this story gasped.
“What in the name of Fyora?” a burly Grundo named Trint barked aloud, his eyes narrowed in worry.
“What the (hic!) is (hic!) this (hic! hic!) disease?” Darigan squawked, as he tumbled end-over-end onto the floor.
“It’s a plague!” Morguss cried, pointing a ragged hoof at him as she spoke. “It’ll spread! Quick, back away!” she commanded.
The others wasted no time in leaping from their chairs and backing as far possible towards the door, their backs pressed against its wooden frame.
“Come no closer!” a Kougra, Dusk, hissed, pressing himself farther back from Darigan, who was now stumbling to his feet.
“Morguss, what (hic!) is this (hic!) ailment (hic! hic!)?!” he repeated frantically, looking more and more frightened (which was rare for him) by the second.
Gulping, the old witch slowly approached, holding out a wand to defend herself from him. Morguss ran an expert eye over him, truly baffled. She had never seen anything like it. She watched Darigan try to speak, but each time when he got as far as saying “Morg” he was cut off by more of the hiccuping gasps.
“I don’t know wha-what to do,” she admitted quietly, flashing him a look. “But,” she crowed, a smug look washing over her face, “maybe for a decent price, and a little pay, I can help you out ‘ere.”
“I’ll (hic!) do (hic! hic!) any- (hic!). any- (hic!).” He finally gave up on trying to speak and motioned through a series of desperate nods that he agreed to her proposal.
Morguss delightedly clasped her hoofs together and cackled. “Excellent, excellent. Now, my lord, and the others, if you will, follow me. Don’t worry, my lord. As a spell-brewer I’m known from here to Faerieland, which is saying something. Twice as good as that dumb Kayla and her mentor, Kauvara. Trust me.”
* * *
Darigan suddenly held high regrets as he eyed the concoction Morguss was brewing in her cauldron. Hiccuping, he silently prayed that the old hag really did know how to cure his unknown sickness. Her room where she worked was crammed with ancient tombs and recipes. On the shelf that lined her back wall were jarred-eyeballs, ashes, bones, something that looked like the remains of a once-living creature, and a few varieties of spell wands. Galgarroth, having been born into a family of great superstition, was seated in a chair as far as possible from Darigan. Master Vex stood close by, but only because he had a gas masked wrapped around his face like an overly-clingy Quadrapus.
“Now, my lord.” Morguss’s creaky voice broke off Darigan’s thoughts. He hiccuped in reply.
“I have a nice little remedy prepared here.” She motioned towards the ladle-full of goopy, glowing green and purple slop that balanced in her spoon. A thin drizzle trailed onto the ground, and a passing Spyder didn’t waste his chance in lapping some up. He instantly began sputtering and took off for a hole in the wall. Darigan gulped/hiccuped.
“Ma’am,” Trint pondered, “are you sure that it’s... well, sanitary, for Fyora’s sake! I’d hardly call that edible.”
“If you don’t believe me,” Morguss snarled, “perhaps you can taste test it for Darigan! Or would you rather see your lord live another day and not die in the talons of this illness?”
“Illness (hic! hic!)!” Darigan exploded, followed by a loud storm of hiccups. Everyone gasped again, and Galgarroth fell over in dead faint. There was an awkward pause of silence, save for the muffled hiccups, as everyone ignored him and turned to Darigan again.
“Now,” Morguss drawled in a fake motherly voice, “eat it all uppp, my liege, like a good little boy.”
“Eat (hic!) that?” Darigan stared at her through hard yellow eyes. He promised himself as soon as he was feeling better, if he ever did, that he would condemn that old Kau to an eternity in Vex’s dungeons, where she’d play Cellblock with his prisoners for the rest of her life. He hated this. Almost as much as he disliked the non-stop violent swirl of gasps.
“Nothing (hic!) in the (hic! hic!) name of (hic!) Kreludor (hic! hic! hic!) could ever get (hic!) me (hic! hic!) to eat your (hic!) poison, woman!” he hissed, and without warning leapt from his confinement and sprang into action. He was on his feet and out the door, making his way to safety in the outer parts of his castle while trampling over Galgarroth in the process.
“My word!” one of his guards, a Darigan Pteri named Brucely, hooted. “We shan’t let him hit the outer walls! His disease could spread! Dusk, Trint, round up the guards; tell them not to let Darigan leave. Master Vex, sir, track him. Vaslk-” he turned his yellow head towards the Darigan Tonu as he spoke “-wake up Galgarroth. And you, Morguss...” His eyes flashed and he took on a stronger air of greats seriousness before stating bluntly, “Get some makeup for your ugly face!”
“Well, I never!” Morguss gasped, as the five of them left while Vaslk fanned Galgarroth in attempts to wake up the Grarrl commander.
* * *
“Madness, (hic!) sheer (hic! hic!) madness,” Darigan muttered under his breath.
Stealthily glancing around a corner, he could already see several of his guards listening in confusion to Master Vex. Even though he was out of earshot, he could just imagine what the discussion was about. Hiccuping, he cupped his mouth to silence himself, but not well enough. Maybe, just maybe, I can escape out through a window, he decided, spinning around to backtrack an unoccupied hall...
... when he came face-to-face with Galgarroth, one of his top nobles, who now was tapping a foot impatiently at him.
“Now, now, sir...” he chided absently, lowering his gaze to stare eye-to-eye with him. “We mustn’t have you running off like that, especially under this bad weather...”
There was a short scuffle, which proceeded with Galgarroth tackling Lord Darigan like a professional Yooyuball player. Gawking and hiccuping, Darigan was captured and rather awkwardly dragged back to Morguss’s lair in another chamber.
“Lord Darigan,” Morguss sighed, “honestly, what kind of behavior was that I just witnessed? Poor form, if you ask me.”
Darigan simply glared at her, both gagged at the mouth, rendered speechless (except for his hiccups) and tied to a chair. Now all those who remained were Master Vex, Galgarroth, and Morguss herself.
“Now,” she cackled gleefully, “eat up, eat up!” She ripped the tape rather forcefully off his jaw, causing Darigan to howl with pain.
“Oops. Oh well!”
“Morguss (hic!).” Darigan worded carefully, ignoring the sting from the tape. “Have (hic!) you ever (hic! hic!) actually (hic!) attempted to (hic! hic!) cure sicknesses before, (hic!) or one similar (hic! hic!) to mine?”
“Hmmm.” The wily old Kau raised a hoof to her chin in a thoughtful manner before declaring chirpily, “Nope!” and stuffing the spoon in his mouth. “Swallow it!”
Darigan’s eyes bulged in a horrific manner as he gagged on the concoction. It tasted like garbage! Well, not that he would know what garbage tasted like. *shifty eyes*
He decided to relieve his poor tastebuds of the foul taste and swallowed it. His eyes welled with tears as he felt himself rise to fever pitch in body temperature.
“Water! I need water!” he sputtered, practically spewing flames.
“Get the poor man some water!” Master Vex ordered Galgarroth, who took off like a torpedo in search of water. Now, the Grarrl wasn’t really a mental genius, mind you. Unfortunately, Morguss failed to keep any accessible water storage areas in her lab, so he reached for the closest thing- a Goldy fish bowl. He paused, wondering if the floating Goldy on the water’s surface was taking a quick nap. Hopefully it wouldn’t mind if he gave Lord Darigan its water supply.
“Drink this,” Galgarroth offered, as he shoved the bowl in front of Darigan’s face. Wasting no time, he poured the dank-colored water down his parched throat, only to end up spitting it out a second later.
“What in the name of-” Darigan cried, puckering his lips to try to inhale air.
Morguss took a nervous step back in time to avoid the Goldy that went sailing out of his mouth. (Disgusting, I know.)
“Scale!” Morguss gasped, as she ran over to cuddle her “sleeping” Petpet.
More awkward silence followed, with the exception of Darigan’s gagging fit.
“Morguss?” Master Vex raised a brow in question to the Kau.
“It’s, my, err... lab experiment. Yes, yes!” Morguss hastily responded, as she took the Goldy by the tail and threw it off into the background. The Petpet Protection League would have something to say about that later.
“Did it work?” Darigan asked.
“Crud! (hic!)” Darigan cried, pouting.
“Milord,” Galgarroth offered, “perhaps, ah, we could try something else? I’m sure Morguss here might be able to whip something else up, or even some of the townsfolk might know a thing or two-”
”No! (hic!)” Darigan fervently shook his head in disagreement. “No more (hic!) of this (hic!) nonsense! My (hic! hic!) end is (hic!) here. I (hic!) can feel it.” In defeat the lord breathed out a heavy sigh and looked around slowly, surveying the three who stood before him.
“Master (hic!) Vex,” he began in a defeated voice, “begin (hic! hic!) writing out a letter to (hic!) Skarl. I (hic!) wish to (hic!) speak with (hic!) him one last (hic!) time.”
The Mynci’s loyalties knew no bounds, and with a small nod, he backed out of the chamber, making a turn down a corridor towards another room.
“Gal- (hic!). Gal- (hic!). Gal...” He finally gave up on speaking, and instead, motioned with his hand towards the Grarrl that he wished for him to accompany Vex.
“Morguss (hic!),” Darigan managed to croak out.
The old Kau sensed what was coming. “Don’t you dare say I need makeup!”
Darigan faked a hurt look which hid his disappointment and surprise. Shrugging, all the while hiccuping, he left the room.
“Maybe the old coot’s end will be a new beginning for me,” Morguss sarcastically muttered to herself, as she sighed outwardly.
Meanwhile, in Meridell...
“Q: When should you tell a team of Avocado Chias to eats a D'Achoo? A: When they're carrying a bag of avocado!” The Baby Lupe shot a grin, sweat-dropping, at the king who grumpily sat on the throne.
He could have sworn the words, Drat! It looks like your joke had no effect on the Grumpy Old King, floated around in his mind before simply vanishing.
King Skarl scowled. “That was the worst joke I’ve ever heard,” he growled, his scowl never vanishing. “Guards!”
“Run for the hills, Jake!” a Faerie Kacheek, who had been hovering nearby, shouted.
“I’m going!” Jake panted as he scrambled past his older sister. In hot pursuit of him were the Draik guards, and farther ahead near the entrance to the castle hopped an agitated pair of Neopets: a Christmas Bori, female, and a Shadow Xweetok, female, both his kin.
“Tourists, honestly!” Skarl sighed dejectedly as the four visitors left, “escorted” by his guards. He groaned, pondering over if he should summon his servant or not for some Marracado and Whole Roast Chicken, when Jeran paced into the room, a curious parchment dangling from his paw.
“Sir?” the Blue Lupe inquired. “An audience, if you may? I have some grim news.”
Skarl raised a curious brow and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Very well, lad.”
“A messenger from the Darigan Citadel arrived here less than an hour ago,” Jeran began, as he lifted a paw to show the letter. “He... brought a message from Lord Darigan, one of utmost importance.”
“For the love of my foot, just spit it out already!” Skarl demanded impatiently.
“Darigan is dying, sir.”
There was a heavy silence in the air that condemned the court into true grief. Jeran bowed his head, as if in silent prayer that the kingdom’s ally be at his best, while Skarl bore an expression of great shock.
“Dying?” The Meridellian king looked bewildered. “How can that be, Sir Jeran?”
“A disease of sort. They claimed that it won’t cease, and they’ve tried everything,” Jeran answered. “Master Vex, you remember him, don’t you? He invited us to visit the citadel to pay our final respects.”
“Ah, yes, yes,” Skarl answered hastily. “We should depart immediately.”
Jeran looked up for a long moment and shifted his feet, his eyes begging to ask something.
“Yes? What, Jeran?”
“There’s a Usul named Sally, sir, a farmer’s daughter who befriended him. May she accompany us?” Jeran questioned.
Skarl grunted in response and looked about the room. At the name of Sally, however, his eyes softened slightly. “I suppose so. Send for her immediately!”
“Yes, sir!” Jeran saluted the king and bounded across the room towards the doors.
* * *
“What do you mean all of our Unis went on vacation?!” Skarl bellowed at one of his guards. He, Jeran and Sally were standing about the stable where all of their Unis stayed.
The guard whom he had addressed swallowed nervously. “Well, that’s just it, King Skarl. They’re off on a break at Mystery Island, from what the stableman told me.”
“How will we get to the Darigan Citadel, then?” Sally quietly piped up. “None of us really have wings, save f-for Unis.”
“My point exactly,” Skarl muttered.
“Well,” the Draik guard went on, “I managed to request that we borrow one of Hagan’s Unis by the name of Sol-”
”WHAT?!” Skarl screamed in the Draik’s ear, causing him to go deaf in his left ear. “That brother of mine will keep me in his debt after that! You ninny! Why’d you do that?”
As Skarl shook the guard violently, Jeran and Sally watched the scene in confusion.
“S-s-sir, y-y-you mu-must u-u-under-st-stand th-that w-we had no o-other ch-choice,” the Draik managed to speak in between the violent shaking. Skarl pointedly stopped and released him by the shirt collar, causing the guard to fall face-first onto the ground.
“S’pose you’re right. Bah, I can always give him an I-O-U. Now, where’s this-ah, what did you say the Uni’s name was again?”
“I didn’t,” the guard responded. “Solarin, your majesty.”
At the sound of his name, a white Uni came trotting out from where he had been idly grazing, waiting for his summoning.
“An honor of course, sir,” Solarin greeted the three travelers. “Now, if you’ll all climb on my back we can get going.”
“Off we go, then!” Skarl declared loudly, as he scrambled onto Solarin’s saddled-up back. The Uni’s eyes bulged as the weight that threatened to crush his spine boarded him, followed by the other two light-weights.
“King Skarl,” Solarin gasped, “you need to diet, please! No wonder the other Uni went on vacation! How can anyone fly with 300 pounds of meat on their back?”
“Two hundred and eighty-seven,” Skarl muttered underneath his breath, and the White Uni lifted into flight, all the while bitterly going on about how “Hagan always sent him on the worst jobs,” or “How he would fall mid-flight because he had to serve some oaf of a king.” It was all Jeran could do to stop himself from laughing and getting thrown off Solarin by King Skarl himself.
After a long flight to the Citadel...
“Enter, but be quiet. His lord has much to say,” Master Vex warned, as he stepped aside to allow Jeran, Sally and Skarl passage into Darigan’s bed chamber.
Nodding respectfully, Jeran entered first, followed by an anxious Sally, and last but not least, Skarl. Their gazes rested upon Darigan, who looked rather bedraggled and frail now. He sat up half-way in his bed, and with a wave, beckoned them over. “Thank you for (hic!) coming.”
“Darigan? What is the meaning of this?” Skarl asked urgently.
Darigan tilted his head. “Can you (hic! hic!) not hear (hic!) what’s (hic!) happening to (hic!) me?”
“You mean the hiccups?” Sally questioned aloud, frowning.
“Hiccups?” Darigan echoed. “You (hic!) mean that (hic!) you’ve heard (hic!) of this (hic! hic!) disease, too?”
“Disease?” Now it was Jeran’s turn to be confused. “What disease? You look as healthy as can be.”
“What (hic!) are you (hic! hic!) talking about? I’m (hic!) dying here! These accursed (hic!) hiccups are (hic!) going to (hic!) be my end.”
There was a silence that dawned on the room, which lasted about two seconds before everyone (except a confused Darigan) began laughing uncontrollably.
“Why (hic!) do you (hic! hic!) think me dying (hic!) is funny?” Lord Darigan demanded.
“Because,” Jeran spoke between outbursts, “you’re not, sir!”
“What?! (hic!)” Darigan stared in bewilderment. “But (hic!) they won’t (hic! hic!) go away!”
“That’s the thing with hiccups,” Sally explained. She of the three had regained some posture. “They’re not a killing disease; they come and go as they please, and there really isn’t a cure. It’s random.”
“Random?” Darigan blinked slowly at her, rather grateful for her “vast intelligence” on hiccups, and that she was the only one not embarrassing him by laughing like a crazed Techo.
There was now silence as the knight and his king stopped laughing. Silence. Silence that sounded like sweet music to Darigan’s ears.
“I’M CURED!” Darigan declared joyously. Springing up from his bed, he grabbed Sally by the arms and began swinging her around in a dance, while Skarl and Jeran resumed laughing.
The lesson learned? Hiccups weren’t lethal! And Morguss needs makeup. Urgently.