I sometimes wonder what might have happened if my brother never came to Meridell. If we never came to Meridell. Might the war over the orb have been won? Perhaps, perhaps not. I like to think we did our share, that all of us fought valiantly against Lord Darigan, that there was nothing more we could do. Who knows if that is actually true? If only I had the power to turn back the hands of time, but not even the strongest of witches can do such a thing.
Even now, memories of our glory days still linger. My friends and I would play tabletop games on a beat up wooden lunch table in front of the school. We were so innocent then; knights, mages, archers, healers, our roles were just play. The evil forces of Xantan never stood a chance against our might. Everything seemed so easy!
My older brother Jeran, on the other hand, went missing years ago. Unbeknownst to us, he had been sent into a time far before ours. Known there as Sir Borodere, he defended a long lost society covered at lengths in our history textbooks: Meridell.
My innocence in battle would not last long, for firsthand experience instantly dashed my romantic ideas. Darigans are brutal, vicious; they take pleasure in our sadness. Even with an army of hundreds of well-trained knights, giant Petpets, and mounted Unis, we proved no match for their aerial assaults. Flaming projectiles struck houses; boulders smashed through our fortress walls; even the occasional arrow would rain from the skies and into our fair city.
But all was not lost. Over time, Jeran became known as the champion of Meridell. Strong, noble, and kind, he was the exemplar of a knight. During the war, he spent much of his time fighting the Darigan forces on the ground; many others took to the skies. My friends and I helped repel some of the invaders. While the boys assisted with sword combat, I wielded the Rod of Supernova, a favored magical weapon of the time. I teamed up with a red Zafara name Kayla who used magical blast potions and a homemade wooden wand; she was a good friend. Where they have hidden all of these years I do not know, but I can only hope they found refuge from him.
Early on, we learned that the battles of the Great Meridell War were far more than historical footnotes. Even the most minor of actions could have dire consequences.
The sun was setting on the battlefield, painting the sky a pallet of reds and oranges. Even after hours of fighting, the Darigans seemed as strong as ever. In contrast, many of our knights were lifted off the field by court physicians. Jeran and I managed to hold out the longest of our now surrounded battalion. Weakened from battle, all of my other friends relocated behind the castle wall. Meanwhile, other knights tried to assist us, but the Darigans fought them back, obviously interested in capturing Jeran as a prize.
Two Darigans managed to surprise me with a flank by ambushing us from behind. I blasted one away with arcane might and watched them plow into a group of around twenty soldiers; they fell like dominoes. While I was busy, the second grappled me from behind and clenched my paws, his talon-like claws digging into my skin. Before long, my treasured wand fell to the ground.
"Surrender now if you value your sister's life," I remember him cackling, his pointed beak only inches from my head. The chill of his icy armor penetrated my thin coat of fur, causing me to shiver. Another held a sharp spear against my throat. I froze in his grasp as the spear holder's jagged, spike-like teeth glistened in the pre-dawn light.
Jeran had just singlehandedly defeated six soldiers. They writhed in pain as he struck, rolling about on the ground. His knees and elbows bent defensively as he held the long sword in an upwards thrusting position. He stared back at me, eyes wide with shock, but I refused to call for help. I even shook my head for good measure. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary for the greater good.
"Release her," he roared, forcing another attacking soldier back with the hilt of his sword. His bushy blue tail swished from side to side. "Release her now!"
"Hah!" they sneered, gripping my arms tighter, "Do you actually think I'd listen to an enemy of my Lord?" A low growl I recognized as my brother hovered in the air.
"Jeran! Don't worry about—OW!" I shouted. The sting of metal pressed against my flesh. "I-I'll be fine, just keep fighting!"
Jeran lowered his combative stance, taking a step back. I could see desperation in his eyes. "Please don't hurt her," he pleaded, elbowing an attacker away. Another couple of Darigans tried to pin him down, but he pushed those away as well.
"Then drop your weapon and surrender," the Darigan spat, pressing the blade even closer. I felt a rush of pain, but refused to make a sound. Jeran could take care of these guys.
I began to hatch a plan while Jeran kept them busy. When they weren't looking, I tried to inch my foot closer to the grounded wand. Only a little more, I thought at the time, my foot almost reaching the handle. Before I could kick the wand back to my awaiting paws, he stamped my foot to the ground, crushing it below his weight. I involuntarily yelped, a mistake I regret to this day. If only I could have reached my wand... those guys would have sailed half way across Meridell before they could even say, 'sorry.'
"You really thought I'd let you get away with that, Lisha?" he mocked me before pressing down on my foot once more. This time, I remained quiet, feeling the full extent of his bulk on top of my tender foot. His grip became tighter as he motioned the assistant to ready his strike. "This is your last warning."
Jeran's sword wavered as his ears flopped down.
"Jeran, don't!" The soldier's furry arm pressed against my mouth. I bit down. Shouts of pain erupted from the enraged Eyrie as his grip weakened slightly. At the time, I foolishly hoped he would drop me, that I would rejoin the fray... that the war could still be won. A sharpened spear told me otherwise. An act of rebellion caused it to thrust as strongly towards my face as it would the king. It raced ever nearer towards me, but I did not look away.
At the sound of Jeran's sword hitting the stones, my attacker veered suddenly, grazing my arm instead of piercing me through. A stinging sensation traveled up my arm that caused me to sandwich my teeth together and draw in my breath. The brute who held me gave a self-satisfied humph.
"Don't hurt her," Jeran begged, letting his head droop. "I'll surrender."
Cackles could be heard throughout the enemy troops. "As I thought," one of them sneered. "You are nothing but a weak-hearted fool."
Jeran looked over at me, his eyes round with sadness. For a fraction of a second, his mouth turned upwards after a quick scan of my mostly unhurt body. "Thank Skarl," I could hear him mutter.
They wasted no time binding Jeran up. Tightly. Others tried to make their way to their fallen commander, but the Darigans held strong. When they promised not to hurt me—more, anyway—he cooperated with their harsh treatment. Ropes snaked about my paws as well, locking them in place. All the while, my wand fled away, caught in the grasp of an enemy soldier.
"Sacrifices," Jeran gasped as the ropes became even tighter, "are more than worth it to save the ones you love."
They tore us away from each other, handling us like boxes of cargo. As I was shuffled about, warm pools of water welled in my eyes and dribbled to the ground.
They dragged us along the ground part of the way while rocks brushed against my legs and feet, causing them to sting. When my reaction (or lack thereof) proved boring, our captors suspended us high in the air, dangling us from our stomachs. Neither of us made a sound. Some even lurked beneath us, spear in claw. Over and over, they made sure we knew exactly what might happen if we tried to resist.
As we approached the floating fortress, it seemed to wave to us, its tattered banners jubilant of our capture. Even from a distance, heavily spiked walls seemed to complement the dreary, decaying surface.
A cold cell greeted us. Mildew coated the raven colored stone walls while rusty red dirt covered the floor. Each cell contained just enough room to move, if that. Without a second thought, they hurled us into individual cells, hastily slamming the creaking gates behind them.
One soldier, a Jetsam, struck his sword against the metal bars; harsh metallic ringing reverberated around the room.
"As prisoners of war you will not be allowed any rights under Darigan law," he patted a shallow pocket in his tattered uniform. I could only imagine the object bulging from its depths to be Darigan's Book of Law, probably the abridged version. "As such, no talking will be tolerated." I nodded solemnly.
After hours of toil in silence, Jeran managed to loosen his binding at least enough to push his way up the wall. I glanced up and could see his face, dirty and worn, looking down at me. He was smiling.
"You okay?" he mouthed. I paused for a second before shaking my head. Or, I tried to, anyway. The bindings made it difficult to move much. With an arching eyebrow and wandering eyes, he motioned me forward. I leaned closer, managing to get one ear over the grate. A soft paw patted against my ear, followed by three, barely audible words: "I'm sorry, Lisha..."
"I said no talking!" a loud thunderclap bellowed through the rooms, causing them to shake, "unless you want to have a private hearing with Lord Darigan. If so, feel free to keep blabbering away." Jeran fell to silence, but he would not retract his paw from my cell.
We remained silent for what seemed like days scant a couple of words here and there. Jeran would occasionally pat the top of my ear and gently rub my sore, foot long ear stalk. There would be an earthquake here and there and some shouts outside of the prison cells, but neither of us seemed to pay them mind after a while.
One day, after being fed the typical daily meal of bread crumbs and moldy potato soup, a group of soldiers entered our prison cells. Manic grins trickled across each one of their faces.
"Lord Darigan would like a word with both of you," one of them snorted, holding back a laugh. "He'd like to cordially invite you to the opening of his new castle, located on the grounds of Old Meridell."
"O-old M-meridell," Jeran stammered so much that his voice seemed to shake, surely a side effect of our meager food rations. "Y-you mean, we—"
"Lost? Yeah, that's exactly what it means, sir knight of the formally round table."
Our hearts shattered in unison. I choked back tears, feeling a distinct tightness in my throat. So loudly did Jeran's teeth grind that, even a cell away, I could clearly hear him.
"Ain't no surprise, Jeran," said one while spitting against the ground. "You orb-stealing filth never had a chance."
"What did you do to my cohorts," he growled, brushing past the enemy's comment, "and what happened to my King?"
"You'll never know!" the lot of them laughed.
Even partially tied up and weakened, I could hear clattering coming from his cell.
"And here I was being all nice and courteous." I could hear them spit on the ground. "You're probably better off gone, anyway."
"Don't hurt him!" my voice cracked. It was hard to speak after being silent so long.
"Silence the Aisha," one of them barked.
As they neared, hissing sounds escaped from my lips similar to that of a feral animal. "You're not going to hurt me or my brother, and that's a fact!"
"That's nice," an enormous purple Skeith blundered into the cell, grabbed the ropes, and dangled me a foot in the air from my stomach. I thrashed about, trying to break free. Another guard came from behind and knocked me out with a strong punch.
I came to only minutes later as shouts could be heard from both my brother and the Darigan thugs. All of a sudden, Jeran fell silent. A total of ten guards latched onto different parts of his body. He dangled limply above the ground.
Forceful pushes and angry shouts kept us moving. My ears fell to the side and pressed against Jeran's now matted blue fur. Memories welled up inside my mind, from playing hide and seek as children to traveling back in time—one way—to a place previously known by their extensive archeological records.
After a while, the loutish guard dropped me to the ground, poking me forward with a sharp point. His spear did all of the talking.
The two of us hustled through winding hallways, a twisting spiral staircase, and into a small courtyard. Scraggly vines covered the otherwise barren landscape. A tall, almost decrypted looking bat-like figure stood by the courtyard's exit. A floating golden sphere hummed in his gnarled claws. It took little time to recognize Lord Darigan; just his presence alone sends shivers up my spine, even now. Next to the bat-thing stood a stone faced, purple furred Eyrie decorated in a bright red, spike trimmed uniform. His arms planted firmly on each side.
"My condolences, Jeran, for the loss of your beloved city," said the Darigan Lord nonchalantly, as if speaking about the weather, "and while you are here, Lisha," he gaze traveled towards me, "I hope you learn something valuable today." I couldn't help but glare at him, causing the lord to raise an eyebrow. "I know how much you enjoy learning." They pushed Jeran forward, causing him to stumble. He clenched his fists, but loosened up enough to speak calmly.
"Lord Darigan," Jeran began, "I wish to speak with my king about what has transpired over the last couple of weeks. Where might I find him?"
Lord Darigan's eyes narrowed.
"A war prisoner does not have the right to ask questions." The Eyrie turned his red pupils towards Lord Darigan and spoke matter-of-factly, as if questioning such a statement would be pure lunacy. "Isn't that right, my Lord?"
"Of course, General Kass. Well said."
"Shall we get on with the war trial then, my Lord?"
"We shall. Guards, bring the accused to me."
They grabbed onto both of Jeran's shoulders and secured him only feet from the Darigan Lord. One particularly brutish thug tried to hold his head down. He resisted.
"I find Jeran, commander of the Skarl military forces and an icon of our misery, guilty of war crimes against Darigankind. Such charges include..." Lord Darigan continued in a monotone drawl and with the occasional eye roll, as if the idea of giving my brother a second chance was as ridiculous as bargaining for a peace treaty between our lands.
"Is this any way to have a fair trial?" Jeran barked, only to be shushed by the surrounding Darigans. "Even King Skarl would—"
"Silence," growled General Kass, digging his claws into Jeran's shoulder. My brother's right eye closed as his shoulders seemed to tighten up slightly, but he did not utter another sound.
My heart began to race. Perhaps they'd ask us to be servants, to wait on Lord Darigan's every command. Of course, Jeran would never accept a life of forced servitude, especially for another ruler.
"Punishment for such behavior," he continued, rubbing his gangly claws together, "is a swift and painless demise. Lisha will watch and learn from her brother's mistakes."
My heart sank, plummeting into the deepest caverns of Neopia. "No..." I whispered, voice rising to a fever pitch. "I won't let you take him away from me!"
"Your pleas are amusing." General Kass's arms crossed over one other. "But you have no say in this matter, Meridell scum."
"Lord Darigan," Jeran began, trying to look past the meddling general, "may I have one last request?" I could feel my throat tightening up, but I tried to keep my body from shaking.
The bat-thing exhaled lightly. He stared right into Jeran's eyes, emotionless as ever.
"What is this request?" he deadpanned, stroking his chin with a long, bony finger.
"I wish to say good-bye to my sister."
"Request granted." Lord Darigan did not even hesitate with his reply. His general began to clamor in defiance, but Lord Darigan swiftly shushed him, turning to his ear with a deafening hiss. Meanwhile, Jeran was led towards me. The courtyard fell to silence.
"Lisha, I don't think there's a way out this time…" His expression looked forlorn and defeated. "But even when I am gone, stay strong. Remember me fondly, my brave little sister, and never forget Meridell in your heart, even if she may just be a memory now." Jeran turned to the guards and nodded. I began to whimper as their grip tightened and they tugged him back to his fate.
Lord Darigan held the orb in his claw, and after a few mutterings, it began to glow. "But even when I am gone, stay strong. Remember me fondly, and never forget Meridell in your heart, even if she may just be a memory now."
"Hah, such noble words from a dying knight," spat General Kass. "We'll be sure to write them down for future posterity to enjoy."
"Enough!" Lord Darigan's claws clenched. "Cease your idle chatter, General, or I shall be forced to demote your rank. Your words are doing little more than distracting my concentration."
Under his breath, General Kass muttered the words, "apologies, sir," all while flexing his claws, as if deliberating over attacking his own Lord. "It shan't happen again."
"For your sake," responded Lord Darigan while turning towards Jeran with an impassive stare, "I hope that to be the case."
Meanwhile, my brother furrowed his brow as his eyes squeezed shut. The orb began to shine with a sickly golden light.
"Now," said Lord Darigan, "Good-bye, Jeran."
"Jeran..." Rage fueled an internal wildfire. Never before in my life had I felt such power flow through me. Within that moment, blue flames began to radiate from my paws and burst in all directions. A wave of energy exploded against my nearby foes, sending them scattering to the ground. "NOOOO!"
The orb's blast mixed with my own magical ability as it shot up into the air, creating a deafening explosion.
After the dust had cleared, all of my restraints had melted away. Piles of smoldering ash lay at my feet. All of the guards appeared to be unconscious, their heads laid flat against the now smoldering ground. General Kass now held a large purple shield with spiked fringes and two large, prominent stars sitting in the center, one purple, the other red. Both he and Lord Darigan seemed shaken—their armor charred—as the dust around them settled.
I stared in awe at both paws. Bright blue flames engulfed them, but I could feel no pain. My brother, also freed, managed to shake off his shock and furtively dashed over to meet me. Bizarrely enough, it looked as if the flames actually healed his injuries rather than make them worse. After a loud exhale, he embraced me tightly then stepped back to look directly into my eyes. "I'm proud of you, Lisha," he asserted, seemingly perplexed by what had just transpired. I gladly returned his hug, but this brother-sister bonding time was not meant to last long. Much to my brother's surprise, I slipped away before extending an arm out in front of us, shielding him from further harm. Darigan peeled away some of the charred skin from his face, drawing his blade as he did.
"You dare attack me?" His tail whipped against the ground, creating a large cloud of dust.
"If only to save my brother, Lord Darigan," I replied. Mystic flames expanded with every word.
The bat-creature hissed, drawing back his blade and readying a charge. General Kass seemed to be preparing similarly. "So you're beyond reconditioning?"
I did not respond; my eyes narrowed on him.
"Give me one good reason as to why I should not destroy you now."
"Because..." I sucked in my breath, letting the magic pulse through my every pore, "I can provide you something that would be wasted if I am gone—something far more valuable than the life of a Neopian hero."
"And just what exactly is that?" he growled, clutching onto his demonic blade even tighter.
"As you can see, I am a skilled magic user. I am also a good student." My throat instantly dried up. It was hard to even breathe. "Surely... that would be of some use to you?"
Jeran audibly gasped.
"You mean to say that you would willingly serve my means, whatever they might be?" Darigan's eyebrows arched, but he still seemed stiff and on-edge.
"Yes, without question." I answered mechanically as if my will no longer was my own. "And in return, I ask that my brother be spared."
Jeran began to ramble, trying desperately to change my mind. I refused to reconsider, although my features loosened for just a moment. With the most sincere smile I could muster, I beckoned him to my level before whispering into his ear. "Sacrifices," my voice shook with every word, "are more than worth it to save the ones you love. And at least now I have the power to do so..." Jeran's fist clenched and I could see his snout quivering. His eyes seemed to be shimmering, likely a product of the citadel's dim lighting.
Lord Darigan stepped back, his eyes stone-cold. A long moment of silence passed between all present in the room.
"Both of you will be monitored for suspicious activity," he began with an icy tone. "Jeran will be a political prisoner, guarded at all times by at least two of my best soldiers. And if I ever have a reason to suspect either of you, there will not even be a public trial." He paused; a sinister smile crept across his face. "All will be invited to watch your punishment and learn firsthand what happens to those who disobey me."
"And I will help enforce this policy, my Lord. Neither will be granted mercy if they foolishly decide to default from the Citadel."
"Good, General. Your watchful eye will be needed in these troubled times."
General Kass bowed. For the faintest of moments, he eyed Darigan with contempt. "Yes, my Lord."
"Lisha, come. Bring your brother with you—by force if necessary. We have much work to be done."
"Of course... my Lord," I whispered, my voice shaking as I offered a paw to my now fallen brother. "Of course."
Sometimes I like to wonder... what if? How might our lives have changed if the war had been won? Surely for the better. Perhaps a lasting peace treaty could have been made. General Kass may have even eyed the Lordship for himself, resulting in yet another conflict. Of course, these are mere speculations, at times wishful thinking. No Neopian truly knows how the world could turn, only that it does.
The possibilities are endless.