Nonlinear Companions: Post Meridiem: Part One
It had been a year since I had stepped the streets of the Meridell market. I was supposed to be meeting Westron at eleven, but I had been swept up in a wave of nostalgia. It was ten to, and I really ought to be heading to the park we first met in, but instead I was just standing there, staring up at the University. My old stomping ground. I wondered what it was like now, how much it would have changed?
I shook my head, I really should get going, otherwise Westron might think I'd stood him up. I headed down past the University, along the cobbled streets of the market, wandering past the stalls, selling their wares. I thought briefly about buying a gift for Westron and before I had really noticed what I was doing, I found myself standing at a stall selling various Meridellian tourist junk. The stall-keeper, a yellow Wocky, asked me if I needed any assistance.
"I want to buy a gift for my friend, we used to attend the University together, what would you recommend?" I asked him.
The Wocky scratched his chin, "Well, I have a new range of Meridell University items." He suggested.
I perused the selection, there were t-shirts, sweaters, beanie hats and scarves, then I saw it, I knew it was perfect. I paid the Wocky.
I checked the time, it was eleven, I picked up the pace to the park. It was just past eleven when I arrived, slightly out of breath.
I looked around for Westron, and spotted him, perched on the same grassy bank where I met him, almost five years earlier.
"Oi! You!" I yelled at him.
The pirate Krawk looked up, a grin breaking over his face as he saw me. He jumped to his feet and ran toward me.
"Rae! I thought you weren't coming." He said.
I looked at him smiling, "I'm only a couple of minutes late." I said poking my tongue out at him. "I stopped to get you this."
I reached into my satchel and pulled out a snow globe with a miniature version of Meridell University within.
"Good thing I got you something too then." Westron laughed as he too, pulled out the same snow globe from within his own satchel.
We laughed as we swapped snow globes. It was great to see Westron again, we hadn't seen each other since our annual trip to Terror Mountain six months previous. But it was as though nothing had happened. We sat on the grassy bank together, as we had done so many times.
"So, what brings you back to this neck of Neopia?" I asked him.
He shuffled his feet and stared at the grass. "I wanted to ask you a favour." He said cautiously.
"Anything," I said cheerfully, "what do you need?"
"I have a meeting, tomorrow, with Lord Darigan, and I was wondering if you would join me?" He blurted out.
I stared at him quizzically, he'd had many meetings with Lord Darigan since he had graduated, none of which had ended well, I wondered why he wanted me to accompany him on this occasion.
"Of course I will," I said, "but wh-"
"Its best if we don't talk about it here." He cut me off.
I searched his face for a clue, nothing. I guessed, that as usual he would tell me in his own time.
It was evening when we arrived in the Citadel, I'd never been here before, but it was where Westron had been born. It was a creepy place, I didn’t much care for hanging around in the streets, the air was filled with dread. We hurried through the narrow streets to the little place that Westron had booked for the night. I held Westron's hand the whole way, I didn’t want to get lost here.
He led the way to a small tavern at the base of the castle. It was dark and dank and unfriendly looking.
"We're staying here?" I asked incredulously.
"There isn't anywhere else," Westron replied, "the Citadel isn't very large."
I could see that. It had only taken us a few minutes to cross half of the grounds. The door to the tavern was propped open with what looked suspiciously like a Turmac skull. I tried not to look at it as we crossed the threshold.
The barkeep looked up from wiping a dirty glass as we entered. He was a rather intimidating looking Darigan Yurble. He glared at us.
Westron headed over to him and passed him some papers, he looked at them, suspicion in his eyes. After what felt like an age, the Yurble nodded, turned and grabbed a rusty looking keychain off of a peg behind the bar.
He waddled toward a door adjacent to the main room, and indicated that we should follow. Westron took my hand and together we followed the Yurble up a twisting set of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a long hallway that seemed to slope down to the left, there were at least six or seven doors leading off the hall. The Yurble passed Westron two keys off of the chain. He pointed to the door at the very top of the stairs.
"Bathroom," He grunted. "You," he pointed at me "room three. And you," he pointed at Westron, "room four."
And with that he turned and headed back down the stairs.
I looked at Westron, this place was awful, I was already beginning to wonder why on Neopia I had agreed to come, and more to the point, why Westron wanted to return here? But one look at his face and I knew I couldn’t say what was on my mind. I just needed to grit my teeth and get on with it, and with any luck I'd never have to come back here.
We found rooms three and four, they were opposite each other. Westron turned the key in the lock of room four and we went inside.
It was worse than I had imagined. Everywhere I looked, there were spiky objects and sharp looking things. The bed in the corner, looked as though it were hundreds of years old, and when Westron rested his satchel on it, a small plume of dust rose slowly from the mattress.
There was a mirror on the wall, but it was so dirty and tarnished there seemed to be no point in it being there. There was a small window on the far side, the glass was so yellow it made everything in the room glow with an ominous light. I was determined to find something amicable about this place. So I stepped up to the window and peered out.
The window looked down over a barren courtyard, the ground was a dirty grey and the walls were a sinister shade of blue. Apart from a couple of hay bales there was nothing to be seen.
I turned back to Westron. He had sat on a threadbare chair in the corner. The gloom of this place overwhelmed me. I wanted to go home. But I had to be there for my friend, as he had been so many times for me.
Westron sat there silently. He didn’t even return my gaze. I noticed he had dropped the keys onto a small table next to his chair. I took the key that had the number three engraved on it, glanced once more at Westron, nothing.
"Good night then." I said. No reply.
So I left him there and walked across the hall to my own room; it was no better. I sighed heavily, dropped my satchel at the end of the bed, pulled up the sad looking chair from the corner to the window and sat down. The view from my room was just as bad, if not worse. There was a small space between the window and what appeared to be a giant mound of rock. That was it. I couldn't even see the ground, it was too dark down there.
I looked around the rest of the room. The rock was blocking what little light was left of the evening. I flicked a switch on the wall, hoping it would make it a bit brighter. But no. Apparently the light had already been on, because when I flicked the switch I was plunged into pitch blackness. Great.
BANG, BANG, BANG.
The banging at my room door snatched me from my slumber abruptly.
"Whoozere?" I said sleepily.
"It's me Rae, open up!" Shouted a panicked sounding Westron.
I tumbled out of the chair I had apparently fallen asleep in, and stumbled over to open the room door. Westron was there, fully dressed, in smart trousers, his grey pea coat and trademark bowtie.
"What time is it?" I yawned.
"Late, too late. Quick, get up, get dressed, we need to be at Lord Darigan's throne room in twenty minutes."
And with that he disappeared. I threw on some clothes, not really paying any attention. Raked my fingers through my hair and fell out into the hallway. I had forgotten how sloping the floor was and fell straight across the hall, into the door to Westron's room.
At the sound Westron appeared. He looked at me with a slight air of disgust.
"Have you even washed? You can't enter Lord Darigan's chambers looking like that!"
I felt hurt, after all he hadn't woken me until just now. In fact he hadn't even told me what time this meeting was supposed to be. So how was I supposed to know what time I needed to be ready for? If he had spent a little less time staring into space when we arrived, and a little more talking to me, this might not have happened.
"Oh forget it, I'll go on my own." He said, and off he headed toward the stairs.
I couldn’t understand what his problem was, this was after all, his fault. He was the one who had dragged me to this Fyora-forsaken place. Ignored me once we did arrive, and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, shouted at me for not being ready when he himself had woken me up late, after failing to even inform me of what time I needed to be ready for.
I slammed the door to my room.
Great, what was I supposed to do now? My best friend was mad at me, I was mad at him, and worst of all, I was still stuck in this horrible place. I needed to get out. But I didn't want to run the risk of bumping into Westron downstairs.
So I took shower, there was no bath in the poky shared bathroom, and to be honest, the room was so grimy and dirty, that I wouldn’t have stepped foot in a bathtub had there been one. I didn’t even really want to get in the shower.
I was a bit nervous about venturing outside the tavern, but I hoped that I would feel better for some fresh air.
In the light, the Citadel didn’t look quite as imposing or frightening as it had done when we arrived. I decided to have a look around for an hour then head back, to see if Westron had returned. That would give him enough time for his meeting with Lord Darigan.
I wandered through the narrow streets, keeping a mental map of the way back to the tavern. The buildings on either side of the street loomed ominously over me, casting dark shadows over the pathways.
It was quiet, I only saw a few Neopets here and there, usually hanging out of the windows of the buildings, staring at the sight of a grey Draik in their midst, and whispering what I felt sure to be unfriendly remarks about me.
It was such a stark contrast to Meridell and Brightvale, which were such happy, welcoming places. Everywhere I looked was dark and gloomy. Everyone I met, looked at me with disdain and tried to ignore me, or else muttered to themselves. I tried to ignore it, but the outcast feeling I had was overpowering.
When I reached the castle, I looked up at it, wondering how Westron was getting on in there. The building looked even more dark and foreboding than the streets had. With its tall towers and overpowering parapets. Spikes jutted out from the building at irregular angles, and I was glad I wasn’t inside. I dreaded to think what lay within.
To be continued…