A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 197,578,187 Issue: 990 | 25th day of Hiding, Y25
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Darigan's Lily


by parody_ham

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When I fled from Kass’ tyranny, I had but one regret: I would never see my family again. Even if we had our differences, our clashes, I would miss my brother and sister, their children, and my bedridden mother. I would never get to read bedtime stories to my nephew and niece, to regale them with my adventures in the Darigan military, to show them how to swing a sword, to teach them right from wrong. But such is the price one pays to hold onto their convictions.

     I refused to serve Lord Kass. His speeches promised salvation while his actions demanded servitude. Order came at the price of surveillance. Peace for turning in friends and neighbours—branding them with the label of “intriguer,” “Kass Basher,” “Meridell sympathizer.” Now that he is Lord of the Citadel, I know there is no safe place for me here. Especially now that…

     But ah, here I go, getting ahead of myself again. Things were not always so bleak.

     Let me introduce you to the Darigan Citadel Underground. Nowhere else could you find such a wide cross-section of professions and classes in the city. It seemed almost comical seeing a maid or gardener working so closely with a noble, but we were joined under one cause: the Citadel’s future—a future without General Kass as our Lord.

     We knew that Kass had grand ambitions—those of us who fought with him saw that first-hand on the battlefield. He could be kind, noble and protective to those he favoured. But he could also be cruel, malicious, and vindictive when things did not go his way. And though he served Lord Darigan faithfully, his eyes always had this wild gleam that hungered for more than just a General’s command. Now, he was aiming for so much more: the Lordship. That desire, it changed him. A few of our spies swore that they saw shifting shadows moving behind his hardened gaze.

     We met in an old home, one with a root cellar that led into a secret escape tunnel. It wasn’t much, poorly furnished with a coal stove that barely worked, but it was ours. I rented the place from a miserly landlord while wrapped in an old cowl, tunic, and breeches that I had purchased to look the part of a struggling merchant. Luckily, the old Quiggle cared far more about my coin than my identity: imagine his shock if he knew Lieutenant Dorian Redner had wandered into the rough side of the city for a clandestine meeting. Some of the members chose to come in cloak and mask, others came with no such guard. I wore old clothes and a mask knowing that there were others within my social circle there who could recognize me from afar—one even served under my military command during the War.

      It was at one of our earliest meetings there that I met Stenina. A butcher’s assistant, a commoner Poogle, with the heart of a Lord and an attitude to match it. It mattered not who said it, if one of us began to squabble, she would bear her fangs.

     “If we fight, we’ll be as good as cliff fodder.” She would join us right after work, her fur still reeking of the meat that she cut. Sometimes, she would even bring a cleaver for good measure, waving it around as if it was her talking stick. “And you know that’s what he wants…” she slammed the cleaver into an old coffee table. “Fresh meat.”

     Some of the higher-class Neopians’ scales or ruffs would bristle at her coarseness, but I found it refreshing. Better to have someone blunt and honest than to talk endlessly but get nowhere at all. Nobles had a habit of doing that exact thing—all words, no action.

     “Calm down, everyone,” I would say, “we’re all allies in this fight here. We know who the true enemy is here.”

     Murmurs of agreement peppered throughout the room as peace resumed.

     Stenina squeezed my hand. “Good job, Boss,” she whispered.

     “I didn’t do much,” I said through a blush. “Thank you for having the courage to say what is right.”

      Our group worked hard to distribute the truth, to write down Kass’ true ambitions and paste it throughout the city at night. We would protect those who Kass sought to destroy or discredit, offer charity for the most vulnerable, show a different way forward. An escape from a single ruler into the realm of a Citizen’s Council. I had fought in the first war with Neopians from all walks of life, spilt my sweat and tears with them, and struggled through the same difficult times… but instead of revenge, I wanted resolution. Peace.

     I dreamed of a Citadel with flourishing trade and opportunities for young and old. Would I ever see it with my own eyes? Only time would tell.

      Our group had our grumbles about Meridell, some more than others, but we knew that a second war would not bring us back to our glory. Already, our nation suffered—if we shunted any more resources from the Darigani, it would surely lead to our own demise. After all, a nation with a military but no Neopians left to protect is a failed nation.

     I used my position as a Lieutenant to offer passage into restricted areas. My connections as a Redner to safely spread our message and anticipate raids. Everything seemed to be going well. Public opinion of Kass seemed lukewarm to all but the vocal few. And in truth, most Neopians worried more about their next meal than the goings on of the noble realm.

     One of the supporters, a gardener in the Grand Citadel Grove, had quite a green thumb. More than that, she loved developing cultivars of new flowers that the upper class would drool over. And her most prized cultivar… was the spotted lily. Its blue petals, normally dotted with aqua spots, had purple and black dots instead. And the blooms! Few lilies could produce half as many flowers as this.

     “Darigan’s Lily,” we called it, the secret flower. The flower of the resistance. Any Neopian who had one growing in front of their house was safe. And we did not give it out without an extended term in the resistance, either. Such was a badge of honour.

     We took Neopians from all walks of life—it did not matter their station—as long as they would serve the cause sincerely. Perhaps we were naïve to think that every Neopian who joined would keep a secret or would stay on our side. Perhaps we should have scrutinized every member, done a thorough background check on their connections before we showed them our base… but such is the consequence of trust. It is far too easily broken—and all it takes is one.

     Or two, really. Kass’ pet had his glowering eyes on me for a while. More than once he followed me, searching for something to blame me for. But even in a disguise, even from afar, his presence stunk like rotten eggs. Surely, his claws were a part of this scheme.

     Vice-Captain Haakon.

     He must have thought himself special being in Kass’ inner circle, fawning over every word his leader said like some air-brained yes-man. Eyrie like him would sooner doom our nation than stop idolizing Kass like some deity.

     When Kass’ goons surrounded our building, we scarcely had the time to prepare. Our scout saw them coming only seconds before they arrived. I did my best to barricade the door, pushing against it with body and wings, while the others fled through the secret passageway. Even with chairs and tables at the front, the door was starting to give… but maybe the rest of them could escape. Then, only I would have to take the fall—

     “Dorian!”

     I whipped my head around to see Stenina dashing back towards me. Before I could say no, she slammed against the desk that was barely keeping the hoards at bay, pushing them back for a brief moment.

     “Stenina, what—” the door budged forward a few inches. I dug my talons into the cracked tile floor to stop their advance.

     “You have to escape, Boss! We can’t do this without you!”

     Kass’ men came crashing into the door, nearly forcing it open. How I wished then that I was a burly species, like a Skeith or Elephante, and not the towering Eyrie that I was. I pushed back with all of my might. “Not. Without. You!”

     She grabbed my waist. “Then let’s go together. You and me.”

     I could feel my heart pounding for reasons beyond my adrenaline. “Okay,” I whispered, as I laid my hand across hers.

     Everything happened at once. We ran for the passage together. The table cracked and buckled. Novas rained upon us. Debris flew everywhere. Dust filled the room. We grabbed the handle and pulled. Almost free. Almost—

     “Ahh!”

     A meaty hand gripped Stenina’s arm, talons facing down. She yanked free with my aid, but that had what they needed.

     A moment of hesitation.

     They surrounded us.

     She fought back, bit one of them on the hand. One grabbed her by the hair, the other by her shoulder and pinned her to the ground. I dropped my weapon. Two-against-twenty? I did not like those odds, alone when she lacked military training. It was not worth the risk.

     The trial was swift. How my sentence was reduced I never knew, but I suspect my older brother had something to do with it. That, or the judge’s good relationship with my deceased father. Still, house arrest proved difficult for me to swallow. Constant surveillance. Only the family maid could bring my food. I was not to leave the estate under for any reason deemed unnecessary by Kass.

     I had hoped that Stenina received something similar, that perhaps if I could get a lighter sentence than she, too, would face similar consequences.

     Wrong.

     Sometimes my life’s blessings hit me harder than the blunt end of a sword. Sometimes, I learned first-hand that not every family, not every subject, was equal in the eyes of the law.

     When I found out the news, I barely left my room for days. One of the few times I did was when the guard escorted me to her grave. I left a single Darigan’s Lily upon the surface of the soil.

     I felt my spirit crack. A sudden heaviness lingered with me as I carried out my day in aimless wander, going through the motions of living without the fulfilment of life.

      My brother kept his children away from me “until I learned the foolishness of my actions.” They sided with Kass, the lot of the Redner clan. Whether it was out of fear or reverence, I did not know. My brother made the pocket watch that General Kass carried around with him just as my father made Lord Darigan’s. You see, our family had dabbled in two trades: watchmaking and oration. Both went hand-in-hand. One family member would write a speech that could charm a nation while the other would offer the perfect timekeeper to complement their outfit. It led to a lot of elbow-rubbing, and forging relationships. Some of Kass’ speeches had been the work of my sister’s quill.

     When a knock came to my door, followed by, “is Dorian here?” my assigned guard for that month, a Krawk, spared me a withering glare.

     “I’ll—”

     “No.” The guard cut me off at the pass. “I’ll get it.”

     He opened the door with a jerking tug. The plainly dressed Cybunny behind it jumped back a foot. The Krawk crossed his arms impatiently as the guest smoothed her nerves over with a pained smile and a wave. I blinked a few times. She seemed almost familiar. Only now did I realize that she held a picnic basket in her left arm.

     “Hey there, friend,” she started, flipping back one of the lids, “wanted to cheer you up with some baked goodies and flowers.” There were a few cookies, some bread, and a few Darigan’s Lilies. I tried not to let my stare linger on the flowers too long, best not to draw attention to them in front of Kass’ underling.

     Before I could stop him, the guard snatched it away from her. “Don’t mind if I do.” He reached in and took a big bite of a chocolate chip cookie. When she made a squeak in defiance, he shoved the rest of it into his mouth. “Thanks for your donation,” he said, mouth wide open and crumbs tumbling through his row of pointed teeth. He then took out the flowers, shoved them into my hands, and guarded the basket against his chest. “Lord Kass appreciates your generosity to his men.”

     I bit back a few choice words as the poor Cybunny looked on in wordless shock.

     Slam!

     After shutting the door, my guard licked at his talons, removing every morsel of treat from his clutches. “Well, that was fun,” he sneered, swinging the basket beside him as he pushed me forward. If not for my family members around, for the things Kass might do if I retaliated, I…

     I squeezed the decorative paper wrapping around the stems, only now noticing a string of words. When I was left to my room, I carefully unwrapped the flowers, placing them one by one into a glass vase atop my dresser. When no one was watching, I took a quick glance at the paper.

     “Welcome everyone, may I strongly suggest you order ummagine? Can one make every fantasy lately or is the possibility of leaving each aim sore enough.”

     Ah, a basic cypher. Knowing the resistance, only the first letter was useful here. I mentally separated each letter, spelling them aloud.

     W-E-M-I-S-S-Y-O-U. C-O-M-E-F-L-O-I-T-P-L-E-A-S-E.

     We miss you. Come… floit? Please. That did not make any sense. I stared at the words again. What if I combined a few of the middle letters together?

     F-L-O-R-I-T? F-L-O-I-S-T?

     I wracked my brain. What would come close to that—.

     “Having fun playing with your flowers?” asked the guard, leaning in my doorway. Before I could answer, he popped a brownie into his mouth and made exaggerated sounds of joy. “Your ‘friend’ really makes some good grub. Maybe she could stop by more?”

     I ignored him.

     F-L-O-R…I-S-I-T? Florist?

     We miss you. Come florist, please.

     Did they mean the gardener who made the lily? Or perhaps to aid the resistance once again—if only I could get away from my jailer. But then again…

     ”Don’t worry, Dorian! I’ll be okay!”

     Stenina’s voice echoed in my brain on a loop. As they led her out of the meeting house in chains, that was the last thing… the last thing that she…

     A lump formed in my throat, a fire in my stomach.

     “Hey! Neopia to Dorian!” The guard went to knock at my head, but I wove away, grabbed his arm, and pulled it back while I held his stomach in place from behind.

      He let out a shrieking shout, drawing the attention of my household. Nervous scuttling could be heard on the second floor, no doubt from the children and their mother. My siblings rushed down to see the guard still effectively pinned by my actions.

     Sister started first. “What—”

     “He insulted the Redner name,” there was not a shred of hesitation of my voice, “and he thought it fine to belittle me and steal a guest’s gift.”

     He guffawed. “That’s—”

     “Now, now,” my brother, a regally dressed Ixi, marched up to the guard and pointed a finger within centimetres of the guard’s forehead, “you should know your place in all of this. You don’t even have a title and yet you make a ruckus and speak to one of us like we’re your servants.” He tsked the Krawk, knowing full well that my title had been ripped away from me the moment I refused to grovel for forgiveness at Kass’ feet. “Let Lord Kass know you’ve been relieved of duty. I can watch Dorian perfectly fine from here.”

     It was then that I let go of the guard. He quickly went to nurse his hurting arm. “Thank—”

     “Don’t thank me too quickly, brother—you deserved your punishment.” I bit back my words.

     “We tire of this lout slithering about like he owns this place,” added my sister with an exasperated sigh. She made a shooing motion with her dainty Ogrin hand towards the guard. “We can keep our brother under control. Go bother someone else.”

     The Krawk’s face reddened as he sputtered noises in indignation. “Lord Kass shall—”

     “Hear about how you’ve been causing issues for our family?” Brother took a few steps forward. He leaned his long, twisting horns in towards the guard and lowered his voice into a harsh whisper. “I don’t think he’ll like that very much. We are big financial supporters of his Lordship.”

     The guard left without another word, fume practically spewing out of his ears, but my sentence did not end. They kept me within my room much of the day, but at least they hadn’t a care of what I did inside of it. For a while, I lay upon my bed thinking about the kind of life I could have had… with a peasant. The kinds of journeys we would have taken together, the Neopians we could have met, the world that our childr—I bit back the tears. If anyone asked, my niece’s Petpet tore open the pillow with its claws. Never mind that the only time I saw the child was when she snuck down to offer me a hug and to say that she missed me.

     I missed her, too.

     I missed her so much that it made my heart ache.

     Punching the bed so hard that it left an imprint, I took to my desk with a quill. My Darigan Weewoo, Spire, tilted its head at me from its perch. Not a particularly friendly sort, it usually kept its distance except to do its job… or to be fed.

     I sent a message in the dead of the night, with dots and dashes that only the resistance leaders knew. Anyone else might think it was a child’s scribble.

     For those who could decode, it said: “I must go. No one else should perish on my watch.”

     The same Cybunny visited the next day, carrying food and a few message-wrapped lilies. Now that I got a good look at her flour-covered hair, I could recognize her as Nadia, the baker’s wife. Her shop stood beside the butcher’s shop, one that now had a hand-painted “help wanted” sign in the window. Or so mentioned my brother in casual conversation as if speaking about the weather.

     At least sister had the kindness to offer Nadia a seat in the drawing room while our maid brought the two of us tea. We spoke little, knowing who all could be listening. She told me about the breads she made, the cakes designed for various functions, the lily that sprung up in her friends’ gardens. I told her about the War, the places I saw in Meridell, the décor in the parlour. Before she left, she offered me a hug. I gave her a gentle one as she slipped something into my hand. It was a note. To most, it looked like gibberish: will each Neopoint earned effortlessly demand your obstinate universe?

     To me, it read as: W-E-N-E-E-D-Y-O-U.

     I sent my message back that night, apologizing for my failure before.

     She returned the next day. F-I-G-H-T-B-A-C-K.

     All I wrote this time: I cannot lose another.

     W-E-L-O-V-E-D-H-E-R-T-O-O.

     “I know.” I squeezed Nadia’s hand with my own. “Thank you. But this is enough.”

     Her eyes locked mine. The basket contained its usual fare of bread, but also… a potted bulb with the beginnings of a stem. Surely, it was a Darigan’s lily. A flower that could be kept in the windowsill like candlelight in the night. “Please, let us help you.”

     I took the pot and held it against my heart. “But what if helping only makes things worse?” My voice sounded far sadder, far rawer than I had intended.

     As she placed a hand on my arm, she smiled defiantly. “Then I will have lived a good life knowing that I made a difference.”

     A slow exhale escaped my beak and my sister, standing beside me, gave us a quizzical look as she fanned herself.

     “You keep odd company, brother.”

     I could not help but smirk before shaking my head, glad that I had the discipline not to cry then. That would be reserved for my quarters tonight. “Thank goodness that I do.”

     And so, it began.

     I gave directions from the shadows while Nadia brought freshly baked breads, cookies, and news of the resistance. As time went on, my siblings relaxed around me. They attempted to make conversation and even my mother hobbled her way down to have a cup of tea with her son. My niece chirped about her charm school days while my nephew remained distant and cold, mentioning a passing comment about his mechanical tinkering.

     We tried to be a family, despite it all. They knew I would not support Kass, not willingly, but never figured out that I had been fighting back. Telling our members where to go, who to print their messages, what to say to keep Kass’ minions off their tail…

     It was not enough.

     When Kass won his appointment in a landslide, we knew that dark times had fallen on our fair Citadel. At first, my plan was to continue fighting back. I was free again, unchained from my house arrest, and able to wander. At first, I wondered why… and then, it hit me like a direct blow from a well-sharpened sword.

     A banner, clear as day, hung from the castle wall: “Starting on the 25th day of Hiding, all able-bodied Darigans with military training are required to serve Lord Kass or face severe consequences.” Within it, two malevolent eyes, Kass’ eyes, stared back at us with expectation, and a new logo for the “Kass Citadel” displayed where Darigan’s flag once proudly flew.

     My siblings looked merrier than I’d seen them in ages, spouting things about the “new era” and the “time of reawakening,” as if Kass was some magical being who could grant all their deepest desires. All I saw… was a nightmare come alive. For a few days, the resistance grieved together. We cried over one another’s shoulders and mourned the days to come.

     On the eve before the 25th day, I tucked in my niece and nephew, hugged my siblings, kissed my mother on the forehead, and waited in my room, listening to the melancholy whirring of Petpetpets. When, at last, the sounds had dimmed from the household, I slipped out the door in a cloak and took flight carrying little more than a travel pack with some essentials and a sword made by the Underground’s weaponsmith, Garnir, for protection.

     Where I would go, I did not know, but wherever it was, I would not serve Kass. I would not support his tyranny nor laud him as a hero like my siblings did. If being free meant cutting my ties, then that was the price I had to pay. When I passed the butcher shop where dear Stenina worked, I saw the biggest bouquet of Darigan’s Lilies lying at the door. I bit back tears, afraid that any noise might alert others to my position.

     As I climbed higher into the clouded sky, a beam of moonlight burst onto the city streets. Lilies dotted the gardens throughout the Citadel, shining like beacons of freedom for those who knew the Underground.

     The End.

 
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