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Just a Bookish Aisha


by millyandsugar

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      Luna ran her finger along the rows of neatly-sorted books in the Brightvale Royal Library. There were books on making baskets, books on making stained-glass windows, books on bookbinding...

      Aha! She pulled down a heavy tome entitled Book Repair 101. Exactly what she needed in order to prepare for the celebration of the anniversary of the Discovery of Brightvale—many old books would be on display at the library this weekend, and Luna, as Royal Assistant Bookkeeper, was in charge of fixing them up before the big day, which was taking place in two days’ time.

      The young Blue Aisha sat down at a table stacked high with tattered-looking books. She opened Book Repair 101 to the first page, but no sooner had she done so when the door to the library burst open and King Hagan strode in.

      “Luna, thank goodness you’re here,” Hagan said, his forehead creased in a frown.

      Luna perked up. “Hello, Your Highness! Have you brought me a book to fix up?” Luna had only been Royal Assistant Bookkeeper for three months now, and she was eager to be useful.

      Hagan sighed and sat down at the table. “No, Luna. It’s the Scroll of Devastation. It’s gone.”

      Luna’s heart skipped a beat when he completed his sentence. She had heard that Hagan kept several scrolls locked away in his personal chambers. If read aloud, they would unleash extremely powerful spells.

      “Gone?” Luna repeated. “Your Highness, I must have misunderstood—”

      Hagan shook his head. “This morning, when I opened the chest where I keep the scroll, it was empty. Only very powerful magic could have broken the spell on that chest. All that was left was a note.” Hagan slid a piece of paper across the table towards her.

      Luna picked it up and read it silently. Darigan Citadel will rise as an Empire. Surrender by nightfall tomorrow, or there will be consequences.

      A shiver ran through her spine. “But the Scroll of Devastation contains a spell to—to—” She knew what this scroll could do, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

      “To destroy all of Meridell’s and Brightvale’s crop harvest,” Hagan finished in a grave voice. “If Lord Darigan chose to use it, he could starve our kingdom to the point where we would be forced to surrender.”

      The books on the table now forgotten, Luna said, “King Hagan, if there’s anything I can do to help...”

      The King looked at her earnestly. “Luna, we’ve got to get that scroll back before Darigan has a chance to open it. The scroll can only be opened on a Full Moon night, and tomorrow is the next Full Moon, so we only have until then to get it back. I don’t mean to take you away from your work, but you’re my most dedicated Royal Assistant Bookkeeper. Will you do me the favour of going undercover to Darigan Citadel and retrieving the scroll?”

      Luna felt dizzy. Her, sneak into Darigan Citadel and capture a scroll by tomorrow evening? Not only did she have to fix these books, but she was also supposed to decorate the library for Brightvale Day. But she imagined the crops of Brightvale withering away, and she knew that the task that Hagan was giving her was more important than decorations or even fixing old books. Besides, Hagan was a wise king, and surely he wouldn’t have chosen her for this task without good reason. But she was just a bookish Aisha without any remarkable courage or endurance. She had never even ventured outside of Brightvale before. Could she succeed?

      “Yes, of course, Your Highness,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

      Hagan nodded, reached into his pocket, and produced an ancient-looking scroll. “Good. This scroll looks exactly like the Scroll of Devastation, only the spell it contains won’t cause any harm. Replace the Scroll of Devastation with this one, and Darigan won’t even realize what has happened until you’ve left the Citadel.”

      Suddenly the door opened, and one of Hagan’s royal advisors scrambled into the library. “King Hagan,” the Techo panted, “your annual meeting with King Skarl and his courtiers is about to start, and everyone is looking for you!”

      The Wise Old King rolled his eyes, but he stood up. Turning back to Luna, he said, “I know I can count on you to do this, Royal Assistant Bookkeeper.” He turned and strode out of the room.

      Feeling as though she had been frozen in place, Luna gazed at the scroll in her hands. What, oh what had she just gotten herself into?

      ***

      The Sun had fully risen by the time Luna crossed the border from Brightvale into Meridell, pushing a cart of Brightvale fruits in front of her. She wore the simple attire of a Brightvale fruit seller, a green dress with a wide-brimmed straw hat to shield her eyes from the Sun. Stopping on the top of a hill to catch her breath, she could see the land of Meridell stretched out before her. Its verdant green fields, radiant in the sunlight, were reminiscent of a landscape painting.

      Before she had left Brightvale, Luna had hastily made a banner that read, “H-A-P-P-Y B-R-I-G-H-T-V-A-L-E D-A-Y” in cut-out paper letters. The banner was pretty pathetic compared to the elaborate decorations that she had been planning, but she hadn’t had the time to make anything better before leaving on her quest. It would have to do.

      Now, when she caught her first glimpse of the dark, asymmetrical shape floating above Meridell, her breaths became shallow. So this was the place where Darigan lived, the place from which he planned to conquer her homeland. Her hands clenched into fists, but she relaxed them when she noticed a couple of curious Kaus looking at her from nearby.

      Luna picked up the handles of her cart once more and continued on her way to the Citadel. She needed to be careful in order to maintain a convincing disguise.

      ***

      It was late afternoon by the time Luna arrived at the guards’ post beneath Darigan Citadel. The guards, a Darigan Draik and a Darigan Grarrl sitting at a low stone table, looked up from their game of Cellblock as Luna approached.

      “Excuse me,” Luna said, her hands sweaty on the wooden handles of her cart. “I—I’d like to—to take my fruits into the Citadel to sell them, please.”

      The Draik got up and flew closer to her. Stopping to hover in the air a short distance away, he scrutinized the contents of her cart.

      “We’ll take it up for you,” he said gruffly. “We don’t want to let strangers enter the Citadel unnecessarily.”

      Luna stifled a gasp. Thinking fast, she said, “No, it is essential that I bring them up myself. I need to make sure that my customers pay me the right amount.”

      The Draik raised an eyebrow. “We know how much these fruits cost. We can pay you right here and save you the trouble of going up to the Citadel.”

      “No, really,” the Aisha insisted. “I have a particular customer who I promised I would sell these fruits to. Please, take me up. I promise I will leave the Citadel by tonight.” She fought to keep an innocent look on her face as the Draik examined her expression carefully.

      Finally, the Draik sighed. “Fine,” he said. “But make sure to be out of here by no later than ten o’clock tonight. Hold on tight.” Then he grabbed the edge of Luna’s cart and began to lift it off the ground!

      “What—” was all Luna had a chance to say before she grabbed onto the handles of her cart and was dragged up into the air with it.

      As they flew up to Darigan Citadel, Luna held on for dear life, her antennae-like Aisha ears whipping in the wind behind her. She shut her eyes. Why couldn’t she be back in the library amidst her lovely, dusty books?

      ***

      After the Draik guard deposited Luna and her fruit cart onto the uneven cobblestones of Darigan Citadel, Luna promised to be back soon and the Draik left. Now Luna, her dress rumpled from the swift flight, found herself standing in a market square. She had supposed that the scroll would be locked away in the castle. But how would she get there?

      Luna spotted a Stealthy Ixi browsing through some cardboard boxes full of books outside a nearby bookshop. Deciding that a Neopet who loves to read is a Neopet worth talking to, Luna walked over to him and asked, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me the fastest way into the castle?”

      The Ixi looked up at her, bewildered. “The fastest way into the castle? A fruit-seller like you wouldn’t be allowed in, you know.” He pointed down a winding path to the right. “But if you want to try anyway, you can get to the castle by going that way.”

      “Oh. Thank you.” With a sinking feeling in her chest, Luna wheeled her cart down the lane that the Ixi had pointed to.

      As she walked down the cobbled street, Luna was met by curious, and sometimes hostile, stares from passersby. A few times, Neopets would pick out some fruits from her cart, pay for them, and leave. Luna thanked them for their business in the chipper voice she thought they expected from a Brightvale fruit-seller. After a few minutes, she turned a corner and saw that at the end of the busy street were the jagged towers and rough black outer walls of Darigan Castle. Two guards flanked the side entrance that led into the castle from the road. With its portcullis poised over the arched opening, the entrance looked like the open mouth of a creature with very sharp teeth.

      Luna took one look at the stern-looking guards and felt certain that the Ixi had been right. She had no good excuse to enter the castle, and the guards didn’t look like they would listen to her, anyway. She would have to sneak in.

      Abandoning her fruit cart by the side of the road, Luna walked down the busy street as casually as she could. Once she got close enough, she ducked behind a cage of Pawkeets that was sitting on the ground beside the castle’s entrance. The Pawkeets gazed at her sadly and then went back to biting the bars, trying to escape.

      Luna’s breath caught in her throat when she saw the imprisoned Pawkeets. She didn’t want to get caught by the guards, who seemed to be keeping an eye on the Petpets, but oh, how she longed to release these poor creatures!

      That was when Luna came up with a plan. Inhaling a gulp of air, Luna undid the latch on the cage and flung open the door. The Pawkeets were out in an instant, stretching their wings and flapping, hopping, cawing with delight—and next thing Luna knew, the Petpets were clawing and pecking at the guards’ faces!

      Now! Luna thought, leaping up from her hiding place. She bolted past the distracted guards and ran through the now-unguarded entrance into the castle.

      She went straight through the dark corridor without daring to look back. Once she reached the end of the hallway, she veered off to the left and found herself in a great hall with dark blue marble floors. It was lit by a series of torches that cast around the hall an eerie, wavering light that reflected off the shiny floors.

      Suddenly, some footsteps echoed from atop the grand stone staircase. Luna gasped and darted through a nearby open doorway. As she closed the modest wooden door behind her, she turned around to find herself in a small servants’ kitchen, which, luckily, was empty.

      The footsteps, which had become louder as a group of Neopets marched down the stairs, were accompanied by voices. Luna leaned against the door to hear what was being said.

      “The guards outside the room at the top of the tower should be ending their shift soon,” came a high-pitched drawl that, much to Luna’s alarm, sounded as though it was right on the other side of the door. “Do make sure to be there on time, all of you. It won’t need to be guarded after tonight, but in the meantime, I don’t want that room to be left unguarded for even a second. Is that clear?”

      “Y-Yes, Lord Darigan,” another, deeper voice stammered.

      Luna pressed her two right Aisha ears harder against the wood of the door. Had Darigan just said the tower? And he was going to go there later tonight? This had to be the place where the Scroll of Devastation was being held!

      “Then what are you waiting for?” Lord Darigan snapped. “Go!”

      Luna could make out one pair of footsteps tapping off to the left, while several others marched back up the stone staircase. Luna took a deep breath. When she had applied for the position of Royal Assistant Bookeeper, sneaking around enemy castles hadn’t been part of the job description.

      I’m doing this for King Hagan, she reminded herself. And for Brightvale.

      Luna cracked the door open and peered out. Seeing that the coast was clear, she scrambled across the great hall towards the grand staircase and tip-toed up the steps as fast as she could. With her two extra Aisha ears that rose like antennae above her head, it was easy to hear the guards’ footsteps, so she followed them through mouldy passages and up drafty staircases, always staying just around the corner so that they wouldn’t see her.

      Suddenly, the guards’ footsteps echoed loudly, as though they were walking at the bottom of a well.

      Luna crept around the corner to find herself at the bottom of a dark, wide tower. Two staircases spiralled up the sides of the tower, and at the very top, the staircases converged into a platform from which an arched opening led off into some unseen room. The previous shift of guards must have already left, for the platform was empty, and the orange light of sunset was spilling through the doorway unobstructed.

      The four guards whom Luna had followed had already begun ascending one of the flights of stairs. Luna took the other spiralling staircase, keeping to the shadows. The staircases were set back into the cold stones, and she could creep up the stairs without being seen.

      She tried to get ahead of the guards as they went higher and higher, but by the time they were halfway up the tower and Luna was barely ahead of the guards, she realized that she would have to run.

      Luna channeled all her energy in the sprint up the remaining stairs. Her head was swimming as she took slow, shallow breaths so as not to be heard. A minute later, she was on the platform. Luna darted through the doorway, keeping to the side of the room in order to avoid casting her shadow into the tower below.

      The room was small and cold. The light from a single arched window opposite the door cast a soft glow throughout the stone chamber, which was empty except for a marble statue of Lord Darigan next to one wall and a plinth that rose from the centre of the room. On the plinth, there lay an ancient-looking scroll, its yellowing paper glowing orange in the sunset. Luna dashed towards the plinth. She grabbed the Scroll of Devastation, and then pulled out the look-alike scroll and set it down in its place. Sitting on the plinth’s marble surface and glowing in the sunset, it looked just like the Scroll of Devastation had only seconds ago, which Luna now gingerly stowed away in her pocket.

      Tap. Tap. Tap. Luna spun around. It sounded as though the first of the guards had stepped onto the platform. There was no time to run back down the steps now. She couldn’t afford to be seen—if she was caught, the guards might turn out her pockets and find the Scroll of Devastation.

      With nowhere else to run, Luna dashed over to the statue of Lord Darigan and hid behind it. She saw the guard walking into the doorway just as she was ducking out of sight. She heard the guards station themselves just outside the door.

      As the minutes passed, Luna thought about the white-and-green turrets of Brightvale Castle and wondered if she was ever going to see them again. Whenever she read books, she could simply close the cover when the story became too overwhelming, but here, there was no way out except through it. So she waited.

      ***

      Lord Darigan’s robes swished behind him as he strode into the tower’s small stone chamber. An old scroll sat atop a plinth in the center of the room, and when he saw it, he smirked.

      “This will serve Hagan right for disobeying me,” he said to the statue of himself that stood across the room. “Soon, I’ll be Lord over all of Brightvale, and maybe even Meridell, too!” Chuckling, Darigan picked up the scroll and carried it over to the window.

      Moonlight was pouring into the chamber, and as soon as the light hit the scroll, magical glowing runes appeared on the rolled-up paper. Darigan wasn’t used to reading runes, and he read them with great difficulty.

      “S-C-R-O-L-L O-F D-E—” Darigan stopped reading and grinned. Yes, this was the one.

      Using his long, sharp fingernails, Darigan sliced through the seal and opened the scroll.

      He read the scroll’s script aloud, and as he finished, the letters glowed a brilliant green. Then they faded right off the page. Only the runes that spelled out the scroll’s name remained.

      Darigan laughed evilly. He was cackling so hard that he didn’t notice when a bright pink flower bloomed in the window right in front of him. Nor did he notice that, in the streets below, some pretty yellow flowers were poking their way out of chimneys and open windows. Tulips bloomed in the middle of the roughly cobbled streets, and he was still oblivious while masses of forget-me-nots flooded out of empty carts and wagons.

      Darigan likely would have been laughing for a good, long time, if it wasn’t for the puffs of pollen that were floating through the air.

      “Ah-choo!” He covered his nose with his sleeve. It was then that he saw the beautiful blooms opening up all around him. Inside the tower, pink flowers and heart-shaped green leaves were springing up everywhere—out of the floors, the walls, and the ceiling, and even coming in through the door and the window!

      “What in Neopia—”

      Darigan turned to look out the window and saw what was happening in the streets below. If he had looked back into the room behind him, he might have seen, if the foliage wasn’t too thick, a young Blue Aisha running out the door. But Darigan was too busy trembling with rage to look back. Who would dare to decorate his delightfully gloomy citadel with... with flowers? he wondered. Then he remembered the scroll.

      He turned the yellowed paper over in his hand. All that was left on the scroll was the name, which, he remembered, he had only partially read. He forced his racing mind to decode the rest of the runes, and gasped.

      Numb with shock, he staggered backwards, and when he did so, he tripped and fell amongst the lovely pink flowers.

      “What have I done?” he moaned.

      For this scroll was not the Scroll of Devastation at all. Lord Darigan had just unleashed the powers of the Scroll of Delight.

      ***

      The sunlight streaming in through Luna’s bedroom window was multicoloured. Luna blinked away the sleep from her eyes and looked over to where her stained-glass window should have been, only to realize that she had forgotten to close it last night. An abundance of flowers was peeking in through her window, each one filtering the incoming sunlight with shades of blue, purple and green. A mass of forget-me-nots was positively spilling into her room.

      “What in Neopia—” Luna said. She ran over to her window and looked outside, her eyes wide with delight. All of Brightvale was blooming with flowers.

      That was when she remembered what had happened yesterday. Her journey to Darigan Citadel, the tower in which Darigan had read the scroll... and then, her escape. Thanks to the distraction that the flowers had provided, she had been able to run away without being seen, and had reached the guard post in time. She had finally arrived home by two o’clock in the morning, and, being so tired, she hadn’t had the opportunity to appreciate the flowers all around her. Besides, it had been very dark.

      Now marvelling at the floral beauty that surrounded her, Luna ran out of her cottage and headed straight for Brightvale Castle. The castle’s green-and-white turrets looked brighter and friendlier than ever, now that she had survived the oppressive gloom of the Citadel.

      Once inside Brightvale Castle, she raced through the halls and almost ran straight into King Hagan.

      “King Hagan!” Luna cried.

      Hagan’s eyes sparkled. “I see you’ve replaced the scroll successfully, Royal Assistant Bookkeeper.”

      “Yes!” Luna was beaming. “How did you know that Lord Darigan would read the scroll aloud, King Hagan? Didn’t Darigan see the name on it?”

      Hagan chuckled, and they started to walk towards the library. “He wouldn’t have used it if he had read the whole name, to be sure. But I know Darigan better than that. Lord Darigan is incredibly impatient, and he never deciphers more than ten runes at a time before giving up. The Scroll of Delight is much preferable to the Scroll of Devastation, don’t you think?”

      They had reached the entrance to the library. As Hagan pushed open the doors, Luna ran inside. The flowers had gotten into the library, too, with morning glories climbing over the bookcases and daisies springing up around the chairs. Amidst all the flowers, her Brightvale Day banner that had once looked so meager now looked simply elegant.

      Neopets had convened in the library for the celebrations. The Chief Royal Librarian was in the middle of a spirited reading of No Need to Be Rood to some kindergarteners, and groups of Brightvale residents were having animated discussions about Brightvale’s history.

      Luna spotted, at a table off to the left, the books that she had neglected to fix on time, but she only smiled. She could always fix them up in time for next year’s celebrations.

      Hagan laughed and said, “If it wasn’t for Darigan, we wouldn’t have these decorations for our celebration!” Becoming more solemn, he added, “But most of all, Luna, it’s thanks to your courage and hard work that Brightvale has been saved. Come, tell me about your adventure.”

      Beaming, Luna sat down beside Hagan at the table stacked high with old books, and she told him the story.

     

      The End.

 
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