Plight of the Fallen
On a day when two fortresses still claimed the Neopian skies, there came time for an urgent meeting. While mechanized gears chugged their solemn songs within the Citadel's boiler room, a council of twenty sat in a shuttered room near Darigan's private chambers. Intermittent hush came after minutes of enraptured arguments from harsh, gravelly voices. An imposing bat-like creature with frayed wings, a slender, pointed tail, and muted grey skin stood at the head of the spike-trimmed long table.
"Stop your bickering!" the Korbat shouted, slamming a bony fist against the table. "How am I to craft laws to better suit our citizens if my own men will not sit down and share their grievances civilly?"
"Lord Darigan," a mousy voice belonging to a well-armoured yellow and black feathered Pteri spoke up from a recently opened door. His hunched form seemed to melt into the shadows. "If it pleases you, I have an update of the Citadel's lower city, the third quadrant."
"Go on, General Ewen." Lord Darigan lowered himself into a tall wooden chair with wing designs protruding from each side.
Ewen exaggerated a bow. "Many thanks for your patience, my Lord." A few of the generals gagged loudly, others snorted under their breath. Lord Darigan looked past them all. "I have heard that some of the peasants have asked for larger food rations. The community kitchen is struggling to provide for th—"
"Do not listen to him, my Lord," a broad-shouldered Jetsam interjected with a snarl. "Why put resources into a section of the city that hardly produces for us? It's a hardly a stable investment. Sector one makes a majority of the metal work, including our weapons, and they provide the low city fleas with the gadgets that make their lives easier. Besides, their disgust has become more and more vocal as of late. The mage's council, also of the first sector, has been kept busy by the threats of the mercantile class. They too ask for more funds."
Some of those gathered in the room began to squabble. They exchanged words in support of their respective sectors, all claiming them to be of equal importance. A wave of Darigan's bony hand shushed them instantly. His tightly gripped a purple plume, nearly snapping the instrument in two. "I seek your counsel in these matters so that I might better serve Darigankind, not so that I might exclude some and glorify others. And If I recall, General Snivous, you too were raised in the lower quadrants."
The general's claws slid down the wooden table, leaving visual marks.
"So, do you have anything else to add, General?"
He pulled a purple hood over his head. As the group stared at his shrouded form, a bright light flashed across the sky; it originated from the cloud that was Faerieland. Many turned away from the source as it illuminated the previously dark room. The light dimmed slowly, causing the Darigans to blink away the colored lines that danced about their vision.
Galgarroth, a stocky, orange scaled Grarrl with decorated robes, sat second to his Lord. He was the first to speak in protest. In the chaos, his ink well had spilled across a half a day's notes . He scrambled about, trying to salvage what he could.
"Must these faeries always put on such lavish displays?" he lamented, wiping gobs of ink off of the pages.
Darigan sighed gruffly before scribbling notes down on a piece of parchment. He brushed aside an unopened letter of invitation to the Faerie Festival engraved with Fyora's seal. "Pay their festivities no mind, Generals. We have far more important matters to deal—"
Without warning, the keep's door swung open, causing a few of the tenser Darigans to spring up. One fell from his chair and clattered to the ground. A plainly clad member of the citadel's Night Watch stumbled into the room, nearly tripping over his own two feet. Between gasping breaths, his words became a garbled soup.
"Apologiesfortheintrusion, mylord," the purple and black skinned Kougra said between gasps, "buttherewasa—"
"What is this meaning of this?" Darigan shouted. The force of his hands hitting the table nearly knocked over several ink wells. His ragged form cast long shadows across the room. "You know better than to disturb us during a meeting."
"F-faerieland," he stammered, attempting to find his composure, "T-there was an explosion in Faerieland!"
A council or not, the twenty turned to face their Lord, scanning his face for some sort of response. Darigan sucked in a breath as his eyebrows creaked upwards. He seemed to repress a frown beneath a veil of indifference. After a moment's thought, his expression hardened once more.
"Their affairs do not concern us, watchman. Return to your post and alert us only in the case of an immediate threat."
"Go. And tell the others in your post the same."
"As you wish, my Lord." The Kougra turned back towards the hallway, tail twitching with each step.
Before the guard could step out of the room, General Snivous whipped around and grabbed the metal knocker. With a single deft motion, the room became isolated once more, a place for deliberation. And deliberate they did.
For hours, the generals spoke about starving farmers and rebelling craftsmen, most of them being magical. Some even claimed that an increased pay rate for Darigan military personnel would be the only way to ensure a better, safer citadel. Among a concert of other voices, Ewen claimed that helping the poor would increase military recruitment, raise morale, and most importantly, control the masses with greater ease.
Lord Darigan could not help but massage his aching head after hours of the same ordeal, and adjourned the meeting for the day. Ten feet of unedited parchment drooped in his grasp, begging for attention. He managed to scrap his legs up the Citadel's winding staircase and sit upon a cushioned chair facing the desk of his private study.
With an exasperated sigh, he began to pour through the session's notes, taking careful consideration of each general's claims. A fresh quill found itself nestled in a metal holder, which Lord Darigan swiftly removed with half grin.
"At least someone appreciates me here," the Lord mumbled, deftly scribbling out what would soon be the Citadel's newest laws and regulations. He spent what seemed like days in his study crafting the ordinances, barely stopping to eat small morsels of food. Often time meals would be skipped or left to cool on an empty space next to piles of papers with obvious strike marks scratched over lines of writing. In the midst of writing a new law, a hushed rapping came at the door.
"My Lord?" questioned the voice of Galgarroth, "might I be permitted to enter your study?"
He lay the quill down against a pen holder and stared towards the door for a few seconds. When he could not hear the sounds of movement outside the door, Lord Darigan spoke up.
"Is this urgent business, Galgarroth? I seek no council at this time."
"Unfortunately so, my Lord."
Lord Darigan grumbled under his breath. "Then come in, but make sure no one follows you."
The door opened up quietly. Making as little noise as an armored Darigan could, the Grarrl crept towards his Lord.
"Have you eaten, my Lord?" he stammered, drawn to the sight of the half-eaten food.
"Surely you have not come to question my eating habits, General?" he began, wrinkling up his nose, "because if so, such matters will need to wait until these laws are completed. Now, tell me this urgent news so that I might return to my labors."
"Certainly, my Lord. But first, I hope that you might excuse my future actions," he walked over to the window and pulled back the shades. Light poured in, causing Darigan to hiss.
"Galgarroth!" his voice rose to a fever pitch. "Stop this foolish behavior. I expect better from my most valued councilor."
"M-my Lord," he started, "your rage is welcome for my insolence, but I beg of you to look outside."
It took a good minute of fumed glaring before Lord Darigan finally removed himself from the desk and hobbled towards the window. From a distance, Faerieland's usually bright pallet seemed muted. A mist of purple clouds seemed to be circling the fluffy salmon colored base.
"Faerieland? Is that why you are disrupting me?"
"They say that it has been lowering, my Lord. That the cloud has never fallen below our Citadel's heights in all of our land's history and now it is almost a half mile underneath us."
Darigan's hand gripped the window siding as he silently stared towards the giant magical cloud. Then with a turn of his head, he paced back to his cushioned prison and picked up the quill once more.
"I'm sure they will be fine, Galgarroth," he said with an inkling of uncertainty. His stone cold face softened a bit when the councilor eyed him with disbelief. "Fyora has a strong and capable army. There is no doubt in my mind that they will be able to overcome their demons. Now leave me."
"As you wish."
As the door closed, he started to further his official pursuits only to pause every few sentences and think. His mind grinded to a halt at the thought of Faerieland, but like a stubborn machine, started up after each break. "They are more than capable of taking care of themselves," his mind repeated, "and have no need for our aid..."
The next day, Lord Darigan called together one final meeting to discuss the new legislation, but each General had a very different opinion about its interpretation.
They spoke of the general happiness of Darigans living in sectors two through four. When the issue of mass hysteria became a topic of concern, Lord Darigan questioned them.
"Well, you see... peasants from sector four... very perturbed by recent rumors..." General Ewen's quiet voice nearly drowned in a sea of other voices, but luckily Galgarroth managed to transcribe every word. He turned his notes to Darigan who scanned them quickly.
My Lord, there have been reports that Faerieland is falling indefinitely, that dark magic might be afoot. Peasants from sector four are concerned that we could be next, that some mage could target our fair citadel as their next victim. They seemed very perturbed by recent rumors that Brightvale guards are disallowing all entry into Faerieland. Of course, an official announcement would lay such groundless rumors to rest. The citizens will believe you, especially those in sector four.
Others spoke up regards to various peasant rumors that they had heard, from evil mages to malevolent spirits, all sectors were getting nervous. Snivous claimed that some of the magical craftsmen in sector one broke out into riots just this morning, demanding more protection. His snide smile might have easily said, "I told you so."
Lord Darigan jetted from his seat and asked for their silence. They complied.
"We have no way of proving these rumors to be true. And even if we did, there is far too much going on in the Citadel to split our limited resources even further. And Galgarroth," the Grarrl seemed alarmed. "You will make the official announcement. I trust your words to be as sincere as mine in these dire times."
He gulped before nodding in compliance.
Without warning, a group of Darigans barged into the room, swords at their ready. With them was a group of disheveled Brightvale guards. They shuffled behind, sparing nervous glances to the party in the room.
"Excuse the intrusion, my Lord," said a well decorated purple Eyrie with glowing blue eyes, "but I believe you have guests."
"Why even excuse the intrusion, Lieutenant?" Darigan spat, hand gripping the table. "It appears that such a practice has become commonplace in recent times. But answer me this: what brings Hagan's men to my chambers?"
The lieutenant seemed abashed, but responded to the question anyway. "They claim that—"
"Faerieland is in crisis," a red pony-tailed Xweetok half his size piqued up, all while jumping up and down for attention. "We need the cooperation of all surrounding lands—even yours—to help prevent a calamity."
"I say we throw her into the dungeons for talking over Set, here," Snivous said with a broad, toothy grin. In the dim light, the Jetsam appeared almost sinister. "Set" seemed to groan from the unnecessary attention. "It's been a while since we've had a new prisoner to talk to."
"Enough!" Darigan made his way towards the group and gave them a chilling glare. "All of you listen to me, especially our uninvited guests. As you can see," he motioned towards the group of generals, "I have my hands full with my own problems. Why do you think it wise for me to take on the problems of another land?"
The same Brightvale guard opened her mouth to speak, but another, a green, short-maned Ogrin, clapped their paw over her mouth. She seemed to be a few years older based on her height and a far more decorated uniform.
"My apologies, Lord Darigan, for the actions of my overzealous sister," she said, while angry mumbles escaped from her younger sibling. "Brynneth, the captain of our guard, has sent us to deliver the most horrible of news." He raised an eyebrow. "According to eyewitness accounts, all of the faeries have been turned to stone, even Queen Fyora, and are unable to keep Faerieland afloat. We need the aid of your mages to help keep the city from falling on its neighbours, the Haunted Woods, but also to see if we might solve this issue before all our fae have vanished for good. "
"Is this true?"
The lot of them nodded. "Nothing could be truer. Without your help redirecting the falling cloud, it would mean suffering for far more than just the faeries. According to some estimates, the cloud may fall within the next 48 hours, so we need to act quickly if there is to be any hope."
Lord Darigan massaged his forehead. His held his right hand out like a stop sign for the Generals, but that did not stop them from muttering. His gaze fell on the unopened invitation once more. The words, "An Invitation for the Esteemed Lord Darigan," spread across the envelope in cursive purple ink. "I'll see what I can do."
The entire room broke out into an uproar.
"But what of sector one's magical riots!" roared Snivous. "Aren't they of greater importance than the faeries?"
"And what shall be done to quell the rumors?"
"What about sector two, my Lord? They have asked for higher military presence by the metal smith's and woodcutter's stores!"
"Sector three demands higher bread rations, m' Lord!"
"LIETENANT!" he shouted over them. "Set" jumped back, nearly falling into the Brightvale guards. The others fell to a shocked silence. There was a long pause in which Lord Darigan stood above them, massaging his temples. "I acknowledge the issues that have been brought up to me during this meeting," he said with careful precision, "but positive relations between us and the faeries—assuming they can escape their stone prisons—also takes precedence." Some of soldiers rolled their eyes; others seemed to grunt in agreement. "Send word to our mage counsel that we are in need of their best ten men. They will report with these guards to wherever there are needed and will be rewarded for their service. Keep the rest of our mages in sectors one and two where they are needed to quell the anger of our citizens." The Eyrie nodded, and rounded up the others around him. "I will do what I can with the other issues that you have laid before me. And holds your tongues, men; I will hear nothing else about this matter. You are dismissed for the day. That is, except for you, Galgarroth."
The Brightvale guards appeared to thank him amidst the chaos that followed, but it proved impossible to hear them over the brutish voices of his men. They all left the room scant for the Lord and his councilor. It always seemed easier to discuss matters one on one where the pressures of being a strong, fearless leader held less importance. How tiresome it was to impress those enough for them to follow without question, Darigan often thought. At least Galgarroth's loyalty proved absolute since his reinstatement as the land's Lord, no matter the state in which he was in.
"But, my Lord?" asked Galgarroth when he was sure no one could be listening in, "excuse the question, but to what do we owe the faeries that you would send so many of our mages to their aid?"
"A great debt," he said curtly, "from a desperate lord looking to separate his suffering people from the torment of grounded living. A debt I've dreaded paying back for years now."
"How do you mean?" Galgarroth asked curiously, tilting his head to the side.
He eyed Galgarroth sadly. "Our citadel was all but lost to the ages after that oaf's forces stole our orb. You recall how severe the suffering was for our people during the starving period, of course."
He nodded. "How could I have forgotten, my Lord? We all suffered, after all. I know that shortly after we took to the sky, but I do not recall ever learning how."
"Well that," he breathed in deeply, "was meant to remain a secret."
He thought for a moment, tapping a clawed finger against his chin. "Then the Citadel is held up by faerie m—"
"No, no, nothing like that," he interjected with a dismissive wave. "The secrets of its flight are locked away in the minds of a few very talented craftsmen. It was they who managed to find just the right materials to make our citadel fly, but it would have been impossible, although I loathe admitting it, without the aid of the faeries."
Galgarroth gasped. "Then do you think we will be affected by the faerie's plight?"
Darigan shook his head. "Our mages used their own source of magic to bind the gears and enchant the land, so there is no cause of concern there. But I digress. We have much work to do in regards to your announcements. I only hope that our mages will be able to carry through on their own."
"As you wish, my Lord."
After a half hour of preparations, he sent the Grarrl to speak to his people. Meanwhile, Lord Darigan took a large bite of stale bread while writing the last phrases of the new legislation. A draft of it, anyway.
"Perhaps the citadel would be better ruled alone," he mumbled to himself, quick to feel a shiver down his spine. The thought passed his mind more and more these days, but it was almost always repressed by the fiery images of the First Darigan War. Such times, he hoped, would never come again.
The sound of cheering could be heard out of his chambers. "Good," he thought. "Galgarroth continues to be a charismatic speaker." After some time, the Citadel fell to near silence, no longer plagued by the shouts of angry citizens.
Lord Darigan placed the fraying quill against the desk and retreated to the window just as the sun was about to set. He spied Faerieland below, at this point flying dangerously near to the ground. Over the course of the day, it appeared to have shifted from its original target and instead hovered over a large patch of undeveloped forest. "It seems as though they are having some success. I only hope it continues," he said to no one in particular. Only a knock broke his concentration.
"It is I, my Lord," the voice declared without a moment's hesitation.
Galgarroth did as instructed and joined his lord at the overlook. "The Darigan masses seemed to take my words with warm reception."
"For that, at least, I am grateful."
A flash appeared from below without warning, bright and beautiful. Darigan stared intently at what he could only assume was some sort of powerful magic. He watched in horror as the cloud suspending the floating city dissipated leaving solid earth to plummet to the ground. It only took a few seconds for gravity to take its course.
Shouts of panic could be heard throughout the citadel as curious onlookers spied the wreckage below. The shining city was no more, replaced instead by a crater dotted with the ruins of buildings and silent screams.
"This must be the work of some sort of evil mage," he mumbled, wide-eyes. The life in his grayish face all seemed to drain away. "I should have done more for them."
"You did more than enough, my Lord, considering the circumstances."
He slumped over, sighing in disgust. "But did I? Does a fair ruler send men to their demise while he sits in a sheltered keep?"
"You are more than a fair ruler," he assured, attempting to lead Darigan to a chair. "Far more than any usurper ever was." His attempt was swatted away.
"Faerieland could have yet been saved if not for me," he began again, head drooping. "Perhaps I could have sent half of our mages to aid them instead. That would have surely turned the tide in the faerie's favor."
"But would your citadel have suffered as a result?" the councilor's brow furrowed, but he remained a level tone. "Think of the riots, my Lord. Surely protecting Darigankind is just as noble of an intent?"
"... Perhaps you are right." His voice began to steady while his posture straightened again; he seemed to exaggerate a lack of emotion in an attempt to draw away from his previous display. "I will be needed to address the populous soon. It would not do to have anything less than an unhinged lord stand before them."
"A wise decision if you can steady yourself, but what shall be done of the faerie's ruin?"
"Let us hope," he said in a harsh whisper, "that those with the ability to stop this madness can do so in time. For now, I believe the citadel should be on high alert lest the faerie's attacker finds it in their interest to target us next..."
The Darigan lord dressed himself in the most elaborate of robes, the layers of which covered his frail frame. A mirror in his chamber easily reflected sagging eyes and a plastered frown. He forced a grin at the reflection and straightened his stature.
"Now at least," he thought, "I look like a proper Lord. All I have to do now is play the part."
Before his citizens he appeared on a balcony, his presence announced by an equally decorated Galgarroth. He raised a bony arm up to the crowd and began to speak.
"At one time two great fortresses skimmed the skies. This time is no longer. But until my dying breath, I swear such an event will never befall our citadel..."
I swear it.