Arthur: A Weapon's Tale: Part One
It had all started during a seemingly innocent game of Cheeseroller. The temperature was warm, with a brisk breeze following the steep slope of the hill. There must have been a dozen or so onlookers, watching in anticipation to see who would win or who would make the fool of themselves. Shouting matches went back and forth as the children decided amongst themselves whose cheese would crumble as it slammed into rocks and twigs all the way down.
“I bet he won’t finish in under 60 seconds!” a Kyrii yelled, met with some nods of approval. Arthur rolled his eyes.
“I bet he won’t finish at all,” Arthur retorted. His accusation was met with a low ‘oooh’ from the gallery of spectators, many turning to the other participant for perhaps a violent reaction. Arthur dug his back claw several inches into the dirt, gazing upon the lush green grass at his feet to avoid eye contact.
The Draik was shorter than his opponent, but even at his age, was developing like that of a true battler. His shoulders were broad and when the sunlight hit his dark blue scales, the definition in his wings and arms was noticeable. While it was evident Arthur had an advantage in strength, the now growing audience of spectators questioned his agility compared to his foe.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” came the grumbled reply.
Alan, an odd Scorchio who lived several plots down from Arthur, now resented the Draik who was challenging him today. The pair of dragons had once been inseparable, but had a falling out on a few weeks earlier, when Arthur, unknowingly, caught Alan cheating during one of Illusen’s quests.
Alan placed his wheel of quadruple fudge cheese on the grass, placing it carefully at the edge of the hill. He extended his stocky arms out for a final stretch before the game started. His cobalt eyes stared at Arthur, darting back and forth as he sized up his foe.
“Well, let’s have at it then.”
A crack of lightning sent shivers up Arthur's spine, causing his shoulder muscles to flex. The blue-scaled dragon hurried towards King Skarl’s castle, avoiding the mud and rocks – certainly, less than royal scenery – along the way. How funny, thought Art, that the hill where he once played endless games of Cheeseroller was now caked in mud and eroding quickly from the heavy rainfall.
Another fierce storm was brewing in the once quaint town of Meridell. The town had once been a stranger to discord – from the lush green grass to the cheerful Meri Acres farm, not one trace of ill will could be detected. No peace, however, has ever been permanent.
But then some unknown enemy attacked the city.
Now, the citizens of Meridell were fleeing to other lands at an appalling pace; even the most notable of shops found themselves deserted, devoid of both owners and customers. As times grew grim, Art knew he had to act quickly to protect his portion of Meridell and please his king. A Crokabek up in the tree cawed over his thoughts, and he ran towards the castle.
While everyone else in Meridell castle was listening to jokes and tales of folklore, Art worked for Skarl. Indeed, the King of Meridell had commissioned him for several lucrative assignments, which only the two of them knew about. Art had no time for laughter; he was training for his next mission.
If only they really knew, sighed Art. He had been fighting underground wars and been in hiding for so long. He scurried across the slick wooden bridge, his feet wet and sore, and knocked on the gate.
“Who goes there?” shouted a guard.
“It’s Arthur of Meridell West, here to see King Skarl,” Art replied.
“Of course sir, we shall open the gates.”
Art looked around the bleak city. Meridell was a pale shadow of its former self, torn down by an enemy too cowardly to reveal their identity. I guess I’m about to find out.
The castle was cold, but Art was used to it. His wings wrapped around his body, preventing his warmth from escaping. He nodded curtly to the guards, who bowed in his presence. He walked barefoot along the plush, royal red carpet to keep his feet warm. Skarl waved to him and Art bowed, waiting for his turn to speak.
“What do you do if fierce Peophins has eaten too much tin of olives?” the Acara whispered. The juvenile was quivering tremendously at the feet of the King, whose blank stare was only perpetuating the youngsters fear and quakes. Art chuckled to himself, having been before the King several times trying to complete the same joke. When they’re eating battle lives, Art finished in his head, a small smirk forming from his mouth. That was the joke he had used to win Skarl over, long before his quests had begun.
“I don’t know, what?” spat Skarl. He looked over to his court jester, who hung his head in shame.
“By holding an amulet of battle,” the Acara finished. Skarl chuckled and threw him a meager amount of neopoints. The man thanked him quickly and held his head in disappointment.
Art pulled him by the arm and whispered in his ear. “Next time, try using the joke ‘When they’re eating battle lives.’” The Acara looked at him wide-eyed, nodded several times, and scurried out towards the corridor.
“Giving away your hints now, Art?” Skarl joked, waving Arthur forward to the scarlet, plush-lined chair. “Guards, fix this man up with some food!” The guards scuttled away through a corridor and out of sight.
“Just trying to help the morale, sir.”
The King sighed, nodding his head. “In times like these, I question myself and my decisions….”
“Your Highness, leading is easy when everything is running smoothly. True leadership is evident in times of trouble,” Art smiled and quickly thanked the guard for the food. In the presence of the king, Art tried to keep his mouth closed while he chewed, focusing each bite into manageable amounts.
“You see, Art, I am confused as to why the city is being destroyed. Hagan hasn’t been much help, but the people of Brightvale are preparing for invasion. What I am asking of you is exceptionally risky, but it is for the greater good of Meridell. If I weren’t so occupied and were in much better physical shape, I’d try to do it myself, but I suppose that’s why I’ve turned to you for help,” Skarl chuckled to himself, before quickly resuming. “Art, I need you to find two pieces of weaponry that when wielded together create almost invincible power. This sword and shield have been lost over the centuries and have roots in Meridell. From what I’ve heard and read in old myths, the two have magical powers together that cannot be controlled by the average witch or wizard. Unfortunately, I do not know the whereabouts of either piece.”
Arthur nodded slowly to the King, mulling over his new assignment. “Sir, you know I will happily oblige to help Meridell in any way I can and I will work hard to find these weapons, but where exactly do I start?”
“I thought you might ask. I have learnt only the basics of the story from Kayla. She’s expecting you downstairs.” Skarl snapped for a guard to clear Arthur’s plate and escort him to the potions master.
“Thank you, I will be back as soon as I can,” Arthur told him. Skarl agreed, and with one final bow, Arthur headed towards Kayla’s Potion Shop.
Arthur felt uneasy the entire walk to Kayla. His thoughts were racing through his head, his stomach rolling like the changing tides. He couldn’t stop thinking about how he could accomplish this quickly enough to save Meridell from utter destruction. Art didn’t know anything about the weapons and was surprised he had never been told the tale as a young dragon. When he finally arrived at Kayla’s shop, the Zafara greeted him weakly and opened the wooden door slowly into her shop.
“Hi Art, glad to see you’re all in one piece,” Kayla commented, motioning him into her shop of potions. Jars clinked as chemicals bubbled and fizzed within the potions. If Arthur weren’t so used to it, he would have been a little worried. She ushered him to the back of the shop to two old wooden chairs and some potion books she had evidently left out.
“Kayla, Skarl told me very briefly about these two weapons I must find to help restore the peace. What can you tell me about them? Where do I begin?” Art was practically panting.
Kayla smiled and opened the first book. “Two pieces of weaponry, made here in Meridell centuries ago. They were made from a metal so rare it has yet to be seen again in use. Welded at the same time, the sword and shield were then cast with an elaborate spell, binding the two by light magic. Ultimately to be used in conjunction, the two would help each other in combat. Needless to say, the greed of some Neopians was overwhelming, and the two were separated. A short record in this book mentions where they were last seen, you could start there,” Kayla told him. She flipped through a few pages, humming to herself, until she found the page for which she was looking for. Arthur read the page quickly, noting the two most recent locations: Haunted Woods for the shield and Altador for the sword.
“Thanks Kayla. In the event I find someone who knows of these weapons, what are the their names?” Art asked her.
“You’re searching for what were called the Sword of Triumph and the Shield of Protection.”
“One final question Kayla and this may be surprisingly difficult to answer… you don’t happen to have a picture do you?” Arthur flashed his evil grin and Kayla nodded. She flipped a second book towards the end and showed the picture. The sword’s handle was intricately designed, a silver metal lined with gold. Several jewels were positioned in the middle, with an enormous sapphire at the point of the cross. The shield was done in a similar manner, with gold around the edges and a sapphire in the middle of the shield. Art sketched a rough copy and put it in his pocket.
As Arthur got up to leave, Kayla stopped him. “Good luck with your journey. Be careful, please. I’ll be in touch.” She patted him lightly on the back and he headed towards the castle gates, eager to begin his quest. His feet, caked with mud, found the usual route to his home, where Art packed a quick travel pack of necessary supplies and slept his last night in Meridell to prepare for his adventure. He was going to need all his strength to find the missing relics and bring Meridell back to its former glory.
Despite the raging storm, Arthur slept soundly. He woke before sunrise and ate his last full meal before his assignment. He examined his sketch of the sword and the shield, noting the details and stand out features. He wolfed down his morning omelet and double-checked his bag. Art knew he could only pack the essentials or it would slow him down. With a quick inspection of his house, he locked the door and headed out into the miserable streets.
Thinking back to his conversation with Kayla, Art realized that he needed to start his hunt for the two weapons, though they couldn’t be farther apart. The last known location was the Haunted Woods and Altador for the shield and sword, respectively. Separated by a mountain, just great, Art thought. Haunted Woods is on the way; I guess I’ll try to find the shield first. Art turned left down the path towards Brightvale, leaving the destroyed city behind him.
Brightvale seemed to be flourishing in Meridell's time of woe: citizens frolicked around the city, business was booming, and even King Hagan himself was taking time to hear people's words of wisdom. Art sighed, envious of the prosperity the town was enjoying at Meridell’s expense. He trudged his way into the heart of the village, noting the shops that were open. His icy blue eyes gazed at the bookshop, the only place he was interested in visiting. Maybe they know something Kayla didn’t, he thought. Art walked up the stone path and opened the door slowly, initiating the door chime. He bowed his head politely at a nearby customer and headed for the brown Ixi reading a novel by a low light.
“Excuse me, good sir,” Art cleared his throat. The Ixi looked at him warmly and gently placed his bookmark on the current page.
“What can I do for you?” he asked with a smile. His blue eyes sparkled through his round glasses.
“My name is Art, I live in nearby Meridell, and I’m looking for some advice. You see, I recently heard of a tale about a sword and shield created in Meridell with magical powers centuries ago that were lost.” Art was careful to not to give too much detail about him for fear of compromising his mission.
“Ah, well, lots of weapons have been forged in that time, my dear boy! Do you know their names?”
“I believe they were called the Sword of Triumph and the Shield of Protection.”
The Ixi’s face fell. He looked much more apprehensive, and Art knew he had found someone who knew more about the weapons. Art watched the crease deep set into his brows. The Ixi looked back up at him and sighed. He motioned the dragon slowly with a raised hand to the back of the shop to speak in private.
To Be Continued…