The Citadel Quest: Part Three
The Citadel Quest, Part 3 of 5: Prisoners of Darigan
Fyora’s tears, thought Sjörén, as the crazed Lupe slumped to the floor before them. It all makes sense now. This isn’t a prison. It’s an asylum!
Sjörén and his companions Peican and Xucrão had seen better days. Back down in Meridell, their housemate Senhal had contracted a serious illness. Fortunately there was a cure, but it called for two rare items, a Toxic Shroom and a Darigan Draik Egg. Senhal’s friends, Abharī , Pystry, and Bizhiw, had taken charge, relegating Sjörén and the others to the side.
Tired of feeling unappreciated and helpless, our sidelined heroes decided to track down the cure’s ingredients themselves in the forbidding Darigan Citadel. Because Peican and Xucrão were already painted Darigan, and Sjörén himself was a Camouflage Hissi, they expected to be able to blend in. So far, things hadn’t gone as planned. They’d traveled half the length of the Citadel and had nothing to show for their efforts except for an evil-looking Darigan kite Xucrão had purchased. As for Peican, Sjörén had the strong sense that the Tuskaninny was regretting leading them to the Citadel. Peican had been furious at the treatment of the petpets in the Petpet Arena.
Their best lead on finding a Toxic Shroom had taken them down into Master Vex’ dungeons. First they had met a curiously unguarded, mute prisoner who had managed to communicate that they should seek “five.” Then this aging Lupe, screaming about jelly and doom, took one look at them, warned them of danger, and collapsed in a heap.
Xucrão looked at Peican for guidance, but for once the Tuskaninny was at a loss.
“Five?” called a deep, gruff voice from down the hall, “What happened? Are you all right?”
A Red Grarrl emerged from the gloom, moving with surprising swiftness for someone covered in plate mail. “You there! Halt! What have you done to Number Five?” Drawing his General’s Sword, he turned and whistled five short bursts in a row. In an instant, he seemed to loom over them. Baring his teeth, Xucrão grasped a battle muffin inside his pocket, and prepared to defend.
Before they could speak, a Purple Mynci strode into view. He glared at them sternly with his scarred eye. “Explain yourselves. Now.”
“We’re seeking Master Vex,” answered Sjörén coolly, maintaining strict eye contact with the Mynci. “We were told he could help us locate a rare shroom that we need to cure a sick friend. This Lupe panicked when he saw us, and fainted.”
The Mynci looked unconvinced. “What exactly did he say?”
“First he screamed something about jelly –”
The Mynci looked at the Grarrl, who nodded in assent.
“...and then told us we were in danger.”
The Mynci raised an eyebrow, and looked even sterner than before. “Captain, fetch me a Stink Bomb. On the double.”
As the Grarrl hurried away, the Mynci appraised them gravely. “If what you say is true, this is serious. I’ll find the truth soon enough. As you have surmised, milord Hissi,” he added to Sjörén, “this prison houses not criminals but the insane.”
“I never –” protested Sjörén.
“You’ll find, sir, that I am extremely skilled at reading people and anticipating their next move. And you, milord,” he said to Xucrão, “may stand at ease. You won’t be needing that battle muffin in your pocket. I assure you, if you did attack, you would lose.” Xucrão, startled, relaxed his battle stance.
Turning back to Sjörén, the Mynci continued, “I believe you are telling me the truth. And you are in luck, as I am the Master Vex you were seeking. However, although Number Five here has his delusions, he is also gifted, or perhaps cursed, with true sight. I must know what danger he foresees.”
The Grarrl returned and handed Vex a small glass phial containing a fetid-looking, suppurating miasma. Vex held it beneath the unconscious Lupe’s nose and loosened the cork slightly, releasing a wisp of foul air. Peican thought he was going to be sick. The Lupe stirred, As he came to, his eyes widened with fear.
Vex knelt. “Number Five, my friend, please tell us what you see.”
Five closed his eyes and shook his head as if the vision would not leave. “These three... they have been touched. Corrupted. By the Three.”
Why does everyone here talk in numbers? wondered Xucrão.
Master Vex froze. “Explain.”
“The impulsive one –” Five gestured towards Peican – “thirsts for Revenge. Slighted by his friends below, he seeks to make them regret ignoring him. Seeing only the barbarism of the Darigan lands above, he longs to punish the cruel with greater cruelty.”
“The wild one –” Five gestured towards Xucrão – “has been touched by Greed, Exposed for the first time to the true Darigan ways, he longs to make them his. But it will not be enough. Not enough to be Yellow, not enough to be Camouflage, he had to become Darigan. Now that there is another Darigan pet in his midst, he longs for more once again.”
“The proud one –” Five gestured towards Sjörén – “feels the fires of Ambition. Believing himself an outsider in his own home, he seeks to be the first among outsiders. Asked to serve by standing and waiting, he seeks to bring low those who will always be first before him.” A tear rolled down the Lupe’s cheek.
“Are they far gone?” Vex asked softly.
“No, Master. The Three have only recently touched them. But they are on a quest, with a noble cause, which the Three will exploit.”
“I – I’m sorry if we did something wrong,” said Xucrão, “but every pet dreams of getting painted. Aren’t these all just little things?”
“The little things matter,” replied Vex, “for great things grow from them. Your first steps determine your future path.”
“Are you going to lock us up, then?” asked Peican icily.
“On the contrary,” said Vex. “We’re going to help you.”
The Grarrl captain blinked. “With respect, Master, is that wise?”
Vex raised his eyebrow. “Captain Galgarrath, you should know by now that I never make a wrong move.” The Grarrl, for the first time, smiled.
“Now, milords,” Vex smiled, “I believe you required my skills as a mycologist, What shroom does your friend need?”
“A Toxic Shroom,” Peican said hopefully.
Vex smiled evilly. “Oh, you mean like these?” He stepped into the Lupe’s cell and pulled out a Darigan Gardening Set whose weeds were covered in phosphorescent green toadstools with sickly purple stems. “These shrooms have potent psychoactive properties, which we hoped would alleviate his delusions –”
“JELLY!” roared the Lupe, staring into the air.
“That’s a good sign, actually,” said Galgarrath, helping the Lupe back into his cell.
Vex and Galgarrath escorted the three friends to an inconspicuous room adjoining Vex’ office, where a bearded Yellow Chia knight stood waiting in the corner. Shaking his head, Galgarrath stood the three visitors in a line in the middle of the room. Galgarrath and Vex stood in line with them, flanking them. There was an audible click as the pavestones beneath the five pets’ feet shifted. Galgarrath and Vex each removed a key from their pockets, and simultaneously opened two locks on opposite walls of the room. A secret panel popped open behind the Chia, who pulled it fully open with some effort.
“With respect, Master, I don’t know that it’s wise to trust these secrets to Meridellians,” repeated Galgarrath.
“Nonsense, Captain. The best-kept secrets are the ones hidden in plain sight. And often, people refuse to believe the truth no matter how plainly you tell it. Now, milords, I’m afraid that the influence of the Three makes your quest a matter of national security. Captain Galgarrath will escort you to Lord Darigan. This secret passage is the fastest way to the castle. Prisoner Four, you will assume the Captain’s duties until his return.”
Peican looked confused. “You’re putting an insane prisoner in charge?”
“I don’t think he’s insane,” said Sjörén quietly.
“Only one true prisoner abides in this dungeon,” said the Chia in aristocratic tones, “and that’s Master Vex himself. He stays to help those who cannot help themselves. I stay because he stood up for me when I and my country most needed it. I owe him a debt of honour I can never repay. To surrender my freedom for his sake is no surrender at all. Now, messires, do carry out your own noble quest, for the good of both our lands.”
“Milords, my friends, go in health,” said Vex, “and beware, for you have drawn the attention of foul spirits. We will do all we can to protect you. And when your friend has recovered, feel free to visit. I’ll introduce you to a little game I like to play. Although, I should warn you that no one has ever beaten me at it.”
Behind Master Vex, the Chia knight rolled his eyes.
“With your permission, Master, we’ll take our leave,” said Galgarrath. Vex nodded. Straining, the Chia managed to close the door after them.
Galgarrath led the way through the musty corridor, lit only by the eerie glow of the Toxic Shrooms. Spyders’ cobwebs covered the dusty clay walls. Eventually the clay yielded to rough stone, and finally to masonry that appeared to be the sub-basement of the castle. Galgarrath stopped in front of a heavy oaken door, and pulled the latch, saying, “Hail and welcome, milords, to the Castle Darigan,” and stepped through the door.
Standing at the threshold, Peican saw the Darigan Grarrl fall to the ground, with a sound like hurling an overripe marrow against the side of a barn. Out of nowhere, a Yooyuball-sized iron ball with vicious spikes flew straight towards his face.
To be continued...