The Citadel - Seven Years Later
It was a cold, dark night in the Darigan Citadel. Then again, it was ALWAYS cold and dark up in the Citadel, even when it was a warm summer in Meridell. A tall, slender Darigan Aisha dressed in a dark robe and bodice was sorting through her various books. She brushed her dark hair away from her red eyes as she scanned the titles.
"Ghost Ships... No. The Thieves' Code... I guess Sirocco left that here again. The Book of Sadness... I'm sure there are entire chapters dedicated to us Citadel residents... Ancient Shenkuuvian Curses... Miraja utters enough of these that I don't even need this reference... A Brief History of Slime – Ew!" She tossed each of these books into a bin for later sorting. It was tedious work maintaining her own personal library, especially since some of her friends had no sense of order. Especially that deranged Hissi, Fang! The last time he shuffled through her books, he had dog-eared the pages and written Qasalan hexes in the margins!
"Good thing it's not him coming to visit today." Ashlynne smiled to herself – her old friend, Sir Hunter Penn of Meridell, was coming to the Citadel for a diplomatic talk with Lord Darigan. The two had known each other ever since the Kass Wars, and despite being on separate sides – until Darigan's return, that is – they were almost like brother and sister. Until Hunter arrives, she spent the day cleaning up her home. After all, the guest room was always reserved for Hunter, who would often spend days working with Darigan's council to try and ensure the fragile peace between Meridell and Darigan would remain unbroken. Her Fire Werhond, Fenrir, was curled up by the fire, covering most of the carpet due to his unusually large size. Ashlynne chuckled at the sound of the Petpet's snorting; he was probably dreaming about chasing down a Caprior flock again! She sat down in her rickety old rocking chair with a good book – The Life of a Double Crosser – and waited patiently for her friend to make his appearance.
Knock, knock knock.
"Ashlynne? It's me, Hunter. Could you please unlock the – " Before Hunter could finish the sentence, Ashlynne's red eyes were staring right into his yellow eyes.
"That was quick." Hunter set down his Travel Case and slouched on the sofa across from Ashlynne, weary from a long trip up from Meridell Castle by airship. Ashlynne laughed quietly at the sight of the proud Meridellian knight, exhausted and sprawled across her couch. He was still wearing his armor, even!
"So, any luck trying to get Skarl to aid us in rebuilding?" Ashlynne returned to her rocking chair and waited for Hunter to get back up.
"We need all the help we can get up here, you know. It's been seven years, and we still haven't rebuilt from the last war. If it wasn't for him..." Ashlynne scowled, thinking of the wicked Lord Kass, and what his ambitions had cost the people of the Citadel.
"I know, Ashlynne. But Skarl isn't the most... reasonable king." Any talks Hunter had with Skarl always ended with the fat Skeith bellowing that "They started these wars, they can fix it themselves" – despite the fact that the only reason the Citadel went to war with Meridell was because Sir Claudus stole the Sacred Orb from the peaceful people of Darigan.
"Besides, even if he said yes, I'm sure some of the other members of his court would object." Hunter moved his travel case to the guest room, where he began to unpack as Ashlynne followed him.
"I figured as much." Ashlynne rolled her eyes. Even though she trusted Hunter, and viewed him as her closest friend, she still had no confidence in the rest of Meridell's people. Like most Neopets from the Citadel, she still harbored resentment against that scruffy galoot, Skarl.
"Hopefully, Lord Darigan will have success when he goes to Skarl's court with you next fortnight. My Lord is very persuasive, after all."
"I believe you." Hunter nodded as he placed his nightclothes in the cupboard. Darigan had become an unlikely mentor to him after the wars were over; as a master of both Darkness and Light, his wisdom was instrumental to Hunter's attempts to keep the balance of Neopia.
"Of course, that would only happen if Skarl doesn't drive him out with his usual boorish bellowing!" Hunter laughed nervously – all it would take is for Skarl to make the slightest faux pas at Darigan's expense, and all the Lord of the Citadel and the Meridellian knight had worked for could shatter to pieces.
"I'm sure Skarl's major domo would be able to make sure your king doesn't do anything stupid." Even though Ashlynne detested Skarl, his major domo, an old Green Quiggle named Sir Hopkins, was perfectly reasonable, if a bit uptight.
"I'm going to go brew some Dariberry tea. Would you like some?"
"Of course!" Even though he wasn't terribly fond of the bitter taste of Dariberries, he was thirsty enough to drink anything after this trip.
Ashlynne stifled laughter at the White Lupe's eagerness. "I also have some stale bread and stone soup. It's all most of us on the Citadel have." Ashlynne made her way to her larder, with Hunter following behind.
"Even Lord Darigan has to make do with rations, since a lot of lands refuse to open trade with us." Ashlynne frowned as she rummaged through for something that wouldn't make Hunter nauseous.
After a nice (for a given value of nice) dinner, the two decided to take a stroll around the Citadel's streets. In most places, there was still rubble from the war; and some signs still bore the name of Kass.
"Is it ever any warmer than 12 degrees here?" Hunter asked as he and the Aisha walked the dark, cold streets.
Ashlynne giggled. "Yes, but then the wind chill kicks up and makes it feel even colder." She took Hunter's hand and led him to a quiet little spot on the edge of the Citadel's walls to the wasteland that made up the rest of the floating island.
"It has an odd beauty to it, eh?" Ashlynne gestured down at the land below. Massive pools of magma bubbled, as all sorts of large, voracious mutated Petpets prowled around. Kreludor rose in the distance, tinted a deep red from the ash and soot clouds surrounding the flying fortress.
"It does." Hunter leaned back against a turret wall, taking in the sight.
"I wonder what it looked like before the wars?"
Ashlynne looked back at Hunter, her smile had changed into a frown. "...It was... beautiful." Ashlynne's eyes clouded over with tears as she remembered the past, before the wars, before the Orb was stolen. She recalled her childhood home, and how different it was from the shadow land that stood underneath their feet. A few tears streamed down her face as she turned away from the wastelands to lead the Lupe back to her home.
"I'd rather not dwell on the past."
After Hunter had changed into his nightwear, he tucked himself into the bed. It wasn't the most comfortable bed – the pillows were as hard as a rock, and the mattress was as stiff as a plank. Before Ashlynne could shut the door to his room so she could get some rest, Hunter got up.
"Ashlynne? I'm... I'm sorry I brought up the past. Come here, and look out the window."
"Fine. I just hope this is good." Ashlynne looked up to the sky.
"See that? Looks like the clouds parted for once." Hunter pointed up, and the Aisha and the Lupe gazed up at the stars. They could see The Thief, The Gladiator and The Wave, all of their stars shining through the night. And more importantly, they saw a shooting star soaring through the night sky.
"My father told me that a shooting star is a sign of good things to come, and that any time a night sky is as clear as this, the heroes of the past are watching over us."
Ashlynne shook her head. "You and your father's stories." She laughed quietly and gave Hunter a hug before walking out to her bedroom.
"Good night, old friend."
Author's note: If you see this, I'm in the Times again! And it's been, what? Almost two years? Anyway, since I know Neopia uses the Celsius system as the founders of the site were from the UK, I decided to have Hunter and Ashlynne use it as well.16 degrees Centigrade is about 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The more you know!