Invaders of Meridell: Part One
All over Neopia, there are enthusiasts for every game that has been invented. There are those who have been watching the Poogles race since they first decided to race. There are those who are strangely addicted to the monotonous entertainment that is Korbats Lab. You’ll find at least one fanatic for Bilge Dice, for Extreme Herder, for Cellblock, for Destruct-O-Match. And you’ll be easily able to find an entire clan of devoted Neoquest II players, who have slaved away through the Lost Desert and Meridell chapters long into the night.
However, it is uncertain if you’ll ever be able to find anyone more into Invaders of Meridell than Sebastian the old yellow Kougra.
Most dislike the game. They say, “Oh, the game takes too long.” “There’s no real point.” “It’s so boring.” “It’s impossible to get past Mission Two.”
Sebastian, however, has been playing this game since he was barely old enough to reach the board and move the pieces. He has never finished the game, but he has gotten to Mission Five once (upon reaching it, he promptly lost). He is now old and feeble, forgetful, and sometimes a bit mixed up to whether the game he is playing is real or just a board game. He still remembers the real invasion of his own loved country, Meridell, and sometimes the lines blur a little.
It is interesting and somewhat amusing to watch him play. He finds a nice, secluded spot in the woods of Meridell, sets his board down and arranges his pieces, and then stares intently at the layout of the invaders and villages, instantly formatting schemes and planning strategies.
He now looks at the board. He has restarted, after a grueling and valiant three missions, every battle lost grudgingly. He grits his teeth and makes a resolution to beat the game this time. He can no longer remember how many games he has played, but it is definitely a lot. This time, he will do it.
His villages are in relatively easy positions: closer to the bottom of the board and not obstructed by mountains. His pieces, as well, are not awkwardly placed.
He begins the game.
Cortney peeks through the window of her small hut. Outside, the ground is still, without even a slight rising of dust above the horizon. All brown, earthy dirt, packed hard ground.
If she didn’t know better, she would think that this empty, silent land would continue forever. That everything was quiet and still. She lives on the outskirts of her village, so she can see the entire expanse of the land, all the way to the towering mountain range at the edge of her vision. She cannot see anything.
If only that were true.
A messenger had recently arrived at her village, panting out hurried, gasped words. "Invader Moehogs... only a few miles away... quickly advancing... ready to destroy villages as they go..."
Cortney clutches her arms around her brown Ixi body. She wishes she could go help and fight. Grab her father's old rusty sword, and defend her small town of Snidberrydell. But she is too frightened. She has heard the rumors of those tall, mighty Draconian Moehogs. With their heavy eyebrows and shiny, sharp tusks. With bloody red eyes, piercing into your own before their strong claws rip your home apart.
Why did these Draconian invaders have to come and try to take over happy Meridell? "We were fine before," Cortney mutters again. She stands and leaves her hut.
Outside, the village is cheerful and happy. The clearing is surrounded by woody bushes and trees on one side, and the plain earth on the other. Small Neopets are playing in the bushes, while older ones recline on tree stumps. A Meridellian farmer from the agricultural area to the west has set up a stand where he's selling turnips and homemade cheese. There is chatter and laughter, but somehow, it all seems fake. Hollow. Everyone knows about the invasion.
Cortney looks closer at the individual faces of her fellow villagers. She sees the smiles plastered onto their mouths, but she also sees the fear in their eyes, and she also sees how they, quite subtly, glance up into the horizon every few moments. Subconsciously, only a half-turn up of the eyes, but still there.
Suddenly Cortney can't stand it anymore. She jerks up, lifting her chin defiantly, and opens her mouth. She knows what everyone is thinking, even if they won't voice it.
"How are we supposed to defend ourselves when the invaders come?" The words blurt themselves out of her mouth.
Instantly, every pair of eyes in the small clearing is on her. The young brown Ixi has voiced the taboo topic of the invasion. The air stills, and the hollow conversation dies off.
"We know they're coming. We all do," Cortney continues. "Are we supposed to just stay here? Yes, Meridell doesn't have an army. Or a well-prepared one, at least." She grimaces at the thought of the inexperienced King Skarl. "But we're still here; all of us. We don't have any experience fighting. But we can still do something. What are we supposed to do, just stand aside and let them wreck our lives and our homes?"
She takes a deep breath and closes her mouth. She's never been one to outburst like that; but it just needed to be said.
Eventually someone else breaks the stillness. "She's right," an elderly yellow Scorchio agrees. "We have to do something."
But no one will do it. Everyone's too frightened.
Cortney feels her insides tighten. Will she have to do it? She's never handled a weapon before. She doesn't know anything.
But if no one else will...
Someone pushes through the group of small Neopets, still unconcernedly hiding in the bushes. It's her best friend, Taron, the young blue Moehog she grew up with. He had been practicing some with her father's rusty sword, some, when he thought she wasn't watching. But she knew. And she knows from the light in his eyes and determined tightening of his jaw that he has been preparing for something like this.
"I'll do it," he says.
Taron quickly ducks a blow from the Draconian Moehog, swiftly sliding his sword in from the side to trip his enemy. The Moehog trips and falls onto the ground, his energy gone as he looks up, panting. Taron offers him a hand and lifts him up. "You don't have to fight for them, you know," Taron says to his half-dead opponent. "You can join our side. If you want. We don't go around invading peaceful countries or destroying villages."
The Moehog does not respond, but seems to be considering it. Taron sighs and begins to walk away. After a few seconds, he hears running footsteps behind him.
The Moehog looks a lot less formidable close up, and his red eyes don't look as fierce now that he's smiling--in fact, they're not red at all. "I'll do it," he says.
Taron grins. "Good choice. You'll be able to find weapons on the ground--that's where I got this." He lifts his hand a little, demonstrating the shiny silver sword. "And if--when," he corrects, "we win this, you'll be welcome at any of our villages."
His former opponent nods gratefully and jogs off. Taron wipes the sweat from his brow then pulls his visor back down. It's strange how after a couple weeks of this, he's already used to it. Used to being a Defender of Meridell.
The words send a thrill of pride through his body. He is one of only five. Five villagers without experience, from different villages in Meridell. Willard the yellow Skeith. Bob the blue Techo. Meevy the green Scorchio. Kellie the blue Grundo. And himself, the youngest of them, but also the most agile. They are few, yes, but they have already won two battles. One more and the Moehogs will be defeated! The end is soon in sight.
He hoists himself up from the ground. He isn't already so callous and used to the battle that he does not miss his life before. He remembers the small town of Snidberrydell, his brothers, and his best friend Cortney. He remembers sinking his teeth into delicious juicy berries and having his teeth stained purple.
It's worth it, he reminds himself. To keep this beautiful life, and prevent it from becoming a smoking crater.
He squints to see a furious battle between Bob and an invader a little farther off. Sighing, he grits his teeth and trudges over to assist.
Sebastian groans and leans back, stretching. Mission one complete. He usually finishes the first few missions without casualties.
He chooses his next players and begins the next mission.
Meevy smiles. She's always enjoyed fighting since she was a small Scorchio in her town of Woodsville. Not the kind of fighting that Taron and Bob like--the intense, blunt sparring with swords, all entangled with rules and strategies. No, she prefers the ducking around with her old green hat pulled down over her eyes. Slipping a dagger out of her brown belt. Pulling her bow up to her shoulder and--ever so precisely--using her scarred and calloused fingers to fit an arrow into that perfect spot.
She misses her bow. Too bad she had to leave it behind. With everything else.
Meevy really isn't here to valiantly defend Meridell, the beautiful land of plenty and whatever, like Taron and Bob and whoever-else-is-going-around-killing-invaders. She's here to defend herself, and only herself. And, she admits, to have the pleasure of being able to use her bow. Be out there. Fighting.
In this past month or so, her mind has been entirely in the present. She notices Taron dwell, sometimes, on his village, and how his face twists painfully as he does so. The others, while not as attached, also remember wistfully their previous life. She, Meevy, does not. She does not care about her village. The village in which she was an outcast. An orphan without friends or family. And all of Meridell is the same.
Everyone for oneself.
Her tendons are tight in her arm. She's defeated three invaders so far in the current mission and is now Officially A Soldier, while the rest are still Defenders. Willard the Skeith is still a lowly Villager. Hah. At least she's good at something.
Taron is valiantly sparring with an invader, and she stands back to watch for a while. The blur of swords is silver and white, slicing the air into a thousand pieces. Dramatic. Taron's losing, though. Her sharp eyes can tell as Taron falters after every blow, as his slowness to respond shows a low health.
It seems that even humble, kind, oh so honorable Taron is actually doing badly. Not to be bitter or anything; he is a pretty nice guy.
Meevy sighs and brings her bow up to her shoulder. The arrow twangs as it leaves the string.
She doesn't stop to be thanked as she walks away.
To be continued...