Never Wish Upon a Starry Slorg
“Stop daydreaming, Gervi. There’s work to be done for the king, and if you mess up his dinner courses again, we’ll be back to begging our meals from the soup faerie.”
Gervi shook his head and looked around in annoyance at his older sister, Gilsi. She had always been the practical one of the family. She was always reminding him to eat broccoli with his meat kebab, and to get to bed before Kreludor was too high in the sky. And of course, it was she who had gotten them this job working at Meridell Castle. Every day she threatened him with moving back to Neopia Central to be cared for by the kind soup faerie. It was enough to get his mind back on his work. For a short time, at least.
Then his mind would fly back to his dream of soaring in the clouds, scouting dangers for the famous Knight of Meridell. With his nearly transparent white wings, the young Shoyru was sure he could be of great use to the knights. But in his current state, as a kitchen boy for King Skarl, he doubted the knights would do more than laugh at him.
“It wasn’t my fault the cook put too much salt in Skarl’s soup, Gilsi. Now why don’t you go clean a tapestry or something, and leave me be.” He turned his back to her again, and began to fill the sink before him with water. Looking up at the enormous pile of dirty dishes stacked before him, he let loose a sigh. It was going to be a long morning.
A nervous-looking Techo entered the room, carrying a sack of potatoes. “Good morning, Gervi. Did you hear the latest news?”
“Hello, Chee. I barely have time to hear myself think between Gilsi and all these dishes clattering around. What’s happening?”
His fellow kitchen helper shifted from foot to foot, and seemed to be trying to think of the best way to tell his news. He seemed to make up his mind after a few moments, and told his most extraordinary tale.
“They must have come in the night. Which, considering they have such dark colors, is not so surprising. It seems that a small army of Darigan Skeiths has chosen today to visit Meridell. It looks as if they’ve been just flying around their citadel all night, and just as I arrived at the castle they began to swoop down. One of them looked right at me and gave me the most horrible grin.” He shuddered, but did not pause in his story. “The one that looks to be their leader entered Skarl’s throne room and dropped some kind of rolled up message before they left. I think they’ve still got the castle surrounded, but I didn’t want to draw their attention to me anymore, so I came straight here as quickly as I could.”
“Skarl must be preparing to send the knights out. I know they can drive the Skeiths back. By the end of the day we’ll be peeling those potatoes, and Jeran and the rest of them will be celebrated. May as well start now, we wouldn’t want their victory feast spoiled by too few dishes. And knowing the king, we may not even have enough to go around.”
A guilty look passed over Chee’s face. “Actually, about that, Gervi. I need you to go down to the food shop and pick up another five pounds of roast pork. Cook told me he was running low, and you know how King Skarl loves his roast pork. But if you’re worried about the danger, I’m sure someone could escort you. I’m sure you can find at least one lesser guard to go with you.”
“I ‘m not afraid of those brutes, and I’m no baby in the nursery who needs a guard to hold my paw!” Fed up with everyone he knew looking down on him, he stormed out of the room.
From the gateway he could see them in the air. A line of Darigan Skeiths, hovering before the castle and leering at every neopet who went by. He shook out his wings in irritation, wanting more than anything to go up there and show those big bullies what he thought of them. Instead he had to go to the food shoppe and buy Skarl more pork to feast on.
With his angry thoughts to keep him moving forward, he did not see the slorg until it was too late. His paw met its slime trail, and he fell to the ground with a loud WHUMP!
Groaning, he stood to the laughter of the many Skeiths above him. The slorg, who had been unharmed by his fall, happily oozed its way up his arm. Its starry body was warm and slimy, and everywhere it went it seemed to add more mess.
“Go away, you silly petpet,” he grumbled. “I wish I could be a knight right now. They don’t go tripping over slorgs, and no Skeith would dare to laugh at them.”
The slorg tilted his head to the side, as if to ask Gervi a question, and then made a happy gurgling sound deep in its throat. Gervi couldn’t help but laugh at the way the little petpet almost seemed to be trying to talk.
Nearby, one of the Skeiths seemed to have found something of interest. He swooped down with a challenging roar, which was met with a shriek. More screams of terror followed as more of the Skeiths swooped down. One came at Gervi, who had just risen from the ground. Its large black claws were coming straight towards him and its face was lit with triumph. He spread his wings and bared his sharp Shoyru teeth, the only weapons he carried, against the approaching threat.
The sound of metal striking a hard surface surprised him greatly. Above him, wielding a sword and wearing a fierce grin, was one of Jeran’s knights. He used his mighty silver wings to blind his enemy as he prepared to strike, and was easily able to send the enraged Skeith away from Meridell howling. Though Veln was new to the knights, the silver Eyrie was already popular. His speed marked him as one to be careful around, and years spent training on Krawk Island had taught him tricks that even Jeran found impressive.
“Here’s your first tip in battling monsters, young one. Always use whatever advantages you can find. If you win, you keep a little peace around here. If they win, two words: snack time.” He let loose a laugh, and leaped forward to engage another of the Skeiths in battle.
Gervi watched in awe as the graceful flyer sent two more Skeiths away with their paws covering their unprotected faces. Their leader, seeing a number of his troops being taken out by Veln and other nights, roared a command to fall back.
But they would not leave empty-handed. Five of the Skeiths pulled into a rapid dive, taking with them any Meridellians they could grip in their claws. Of the many terrified screams, Gervi recognized one. One of the Skeiths had gotten Gilsi.
“No!” Gervi shouted, leaping into the air after the rapidly disappearing figures above him. He would catch them and get his sister back before any harm could come to her!
A great silver shape surged ahead of him and blocked his path. “ What do you think you’re doing?” Veln asked. “ If you chase after them, they’ll rip you to pieces.”
“Those villains have my sister. Get out of my way! I have to save her!” Gervi tried to swerve around Veln’s larger self, but was easily blocked.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get them back. But we need a plan. Come with me, and wait until the right time to attack comes, and I promise you we’ll get your sister back.”
Seeing he would never catch up now, Gervi gave in with a scowl. It was not until he landed that he realized the slorg had clung to him for his entire flight. He set it gently on the ground, and followed the knight back to the castle. He was too worried to notice it follow him back.
* * * * *
“We need to be smart about this. Darigan is a tricky villain; he knows we won’t leave our own citizens up there to rot in his dungeons, and he plans to make getting them back difficult for us. Whatever we do, we must always be one step ahead of him, and we must plan for the worst possible outcome: that some of us will be taken and that the rescue mission will fail.”
Gervi was sitting in the knight’s chamber. Veln had brought him there, more than anything so he could keep an eye on the bold Shoyru. All of the knights were present, listening to Jeran as he explained his latest plan to them. It would involve a surprise attack by day, as night was when most of the Citadel’s population was active. They hoped to get into the dungeon and get out with the prisoners as quickly as possible.
“Kent, I need you to take forty of our best able fliers up there and make this as short a mission as you can manage. If anything happens to you, Veln will take over. Is the plan well understood?
All of the knights answered with a clear yes, and stood to leave. Veln approached his leader, with Gervi at his side.
“Sir, I’d like permission to take a new recruit with me on this mission.” Gervi looked up in confusion when he was named as a knight recruit. He had always dreamed of being accepted as a page, but to be actually allowed into battle? It was more than even he could dream of.
Jeran looked amused as he looked down at Gervi. “Are you sure that is wise, Veln? This mission could be more dangerous than you realize.”
“This one could make a fine knight one day, sir. And his sister was one of the prisoners taken.”
“I will leave the decision to you then, Veln.” Addressing Gervi, he added: “But you must listen to him, and the rest of the older knights. Do as they say and do not argue. Hopefully you will return to have a real try at becoming one of us.” He waved a paw in dismissal.
As they walked toward the front of the castle to re-join the rest of the waiting knights, Gervi spoke up somewhat timidly to the older knight beside him. “You really think I would make a good knight someday?”
Veln laughed, but in a good-natured way. “You didn’t freeze up in that battle with the Skeith, even though you may as well have been dressed as a large leg of mutton. I believe you would be exactly the kind of knight this kingdom needs.”
Kent, a blue Draik who was also a veteran to the knights, flapped his wings impatiently at their approach. “We need to make this attack now, before sunset comes too close. You can exchange your chatter when we return in victory. Now, we rise!”
This was the signal they had awaited, and all of the winged knights rose together into the air. Gervi looked around him in awe at the many well-armed knights around him, while Veln rolled his eyes at Kent’s usual grumpiness.
As they approached the citadel, the sky around them seemed to thicken. Dark purple clouds were all around them, but just as Gervi was about to panic, another of the knights was beside him.
“Relax, young one. It’s always cloudy up here on the ole’ citadel. You get used to it when you fly this way enough, though I prefer patrols around Meri Acres Farm myself.”
Kent gave the order to halt, and they did. Hovering in a line in much the same way as the Skeiths had done, they watched for movement below. Only two guards were at the gate, for it was rare for the citadel to have visitors in the day. Most who wished for any sort of action here knew to come at night. Citadel Skeiths were known for their dislike of sunlight, and though there was nearly no sun here, they were wary of daytime hours.
Kent took half of his knights down to enter the citadel, leaving behind Veln, Gervi, and the other half
Getting into the citadel seemed almost too easy. And when anything seems too good to be true, it almost always is. The prisoners were easy to find, for the dungeon was not a secretive place here, but the small army of Skeiths wanted themselves to be found. The nearly one hundred Skeiths that had begun the mission had doubled in number, and were in fact preparing to spring the trap that would keep the knights from ever seeing home again.
There were only six captured Meridellians, with no guards watching at their cell doors. Kent saw the simple escape for what it was first, a rather simple trap. They were surrounded before they had a chance to react.
The leader Skeith knew something was wrong the moment he went to count the captured knights. In his deep voice, he growled: “Where is the rest of Skarl’s army? This can not be all he would send against me.”
Kent and Veln had both known of the trap long before Kent had taken his group into the citadel. It was Veln’s idea that had helped them form their plan. Few knew of the back route out of the dungeon, but Kent had been here before, and had long ago found it. He would lead the prisoners out, while Veln and his fighters kept the Skeiths on the outside entertained.
The Skeith leader was not as good at strategy. He did know there had to be more knights around, but had no idea where they could hide. Half of his soldiers he sent to patrol for the missing Meridellians, while another three quarters were to patrol the citadel and the remainder were to remain near the dungeon as guards.
The Skeiths outside were in for an unexpected surprise as they were picked off one and two at a time. It would be at least an hour before the lead Skeith, with his slow thoughts, would realize his fellow Skeiths were not reporting back. And he would be very angry.
The reuniting of the two knight groups went well. Kent and Veln congratulated each other, but Kent was quick to give the warning that they must leave immediately. Only one of their prisoners was able to fly; the others had to be carried as they began their trip home to Meridell.
Gervi stayed near Gilsi as they began to descend back down to Meridell. When she learned he would someday be a knight, her face lit up, for she finally was seeing her little brother take on his own life, and it made her very happy.
Meridell Castle was in sight when a roar from above caused them all to look up. Just as the last of them were leaving the clouds, they had been spotted by a Skeith. The battle that followed would not soon be forgotten. The five who carried rescued Meridellians, and the one escapee who could fly, were forced to make a quick exit for the castle. All but one made it. The knight who did not could only do his best to protect his passenger and himself until two of his fellow knights came to his aid. Kent was like a ripple in the wind, slashing and ducking before his bigger, slower opponents could even try to lunge for him. Using his best tricks, Veln was able to cause two of the especially slow Skeiths to crash into one another. For his own part, Gervi did his best to stay out of the way, while also trying to be a decoy for any Skeith who thought he might try to attack Meridell Castle. He helped the knights to bring down three more of the Skeiths before their few who remained flying beat their wings in retreat.
It was a battle he would always remember. His first battle, not even yet a page, and they had won.
* * * * *
A full year later, Gervi was coming to the end of his knight’s training. He still thought back to that day when the many Darigan Skeiths had been hauled to Meridell’s dungeons, and he had been celebrated along with the knights in the marvelous victory feast. Gilsi was given a position as a designer of dresses for the castle’s princesses, a job which she loved. And Chee had been moved up to the cook’s position when the old cook had failed to make Skarl’s meals well one too many times. Gervi and Veln were strong friends now, and loved to challenge each other to a friendly fight. The starry slorg had found Gervi on his return, and he had kept the little petpet beside him as a companion. He named it Slippy, for their first meeting.
It was a particularly beautiful morning, with the sun shining and the breeze blowing. Gervi and Gilsi sat together on the lush palace grass, looking out over their home. Ahead of them, an Aisha princess passed by in her fine gown, which Gilsi had helped design.
“You know, Gervi. Someday I wish I could wear clothes as fine as those of a princess.”
“You? A princess? Yeah, right. Like that will ever happen.”
Beside them in the grass, Slippy tilted his head and let loose a happy gurgle from deep in his throat.