Christmas on the Citadel
Christmas. The air had an unusually frigid bite to it, and the usually green fields were speckled with snow.
The Citadel was even more interesting, though. Being in the middle of the sky as it was, you think it would suffer a lot more than Meridell from the cold, and it was true enough, as I could feel the tips of my wings going numb and my breath frosting the air in front of me. There was snow, too, but the most interesting things were the intricate patterns of ice that festooned every door and the drifting snow clouds that wisped down every street, lightly sprinkling the ground with snowflakes. The Darigani had an interesting way of celebrating the Yuletide, to be sure, but I found that I liked it a lot better than the wreaths and giant festooned pine trees that I had seen in other Neopian worlds.
I had very little to do. The majority of my master’s business was conducted beneath the waves; while it was true I could wear a magical seaweed necklace to breathe, I am not the most elegant of swimmers. So I have a lot of spare time on my claws. Which is how I came to be drifting over the Darigan Citadel, come Christmas day.
I hadn’t meant to come. I had intended to drift around, thinking my own thoughts. Alone on Christmas is fine with me; I’m not the easiest person to get along with. But my wings had directed me here, and now that I was here, I found I couldn’t leave. Not without seeing her again.
Sharden, one of the few people whose company I actually enjoyed. A gallion like me, though black to my white. When I had lived in Meridell, she had been the only one in our clan who was different – all the rest were the usual purple and orange, but that wasn’t the only way.
Shard actually had a sense of humour, for one. And she was intelligent. Most of the rest couldn’t get past grunts. And when we had been mobbed...
I sharply directed my train of thought away, onto other things. Like where I actually was.
The Darigan Citadel was a maze of dark and menacing alleyways. Even though they were no longer actively ‘evil’, the Darigani still had a sense of the dramatic. The menacing I could handle, but I’ve never been too good at mazes.
It was early morning. The happy cries of Neopians came from the houses on either side of me. My nose twitched in disgust, but residential, residential was good. My wings were now almost entirely numb, so I folded them close to my fur and padded the streets on foot. This grew dull after the first half hour, when I discovered that the floating snow clouds seemed to have a habit of following me and deliberately trying to get me soaked. I took to the air once more, this time flying higher, so I could have a bird’s eye view of the winding streets. Shard’s household, if I remembered correctly, was situated pretty near the edge. I spotted Kass Street, and then it was easy.
I was unsure of my welcome, and paced in the snow for a while, peering nervously up at the windows. After a while, one of them opened, and a bundle of black fur shot out of it.
The way Shard flew, you would never suspect that her wings had been crippled until recently. She landed in front of me without even stirring the snow. I hadn’t seen her for several months, and tension was thick on the air. So we did the normal gallion greeting – we butted our horns together, and then engaged in a mock-fight, which ended, some minutes later, with both of us lying sprawled on the snow, breathless from laughing.
Merry Christmas, I said, once I had managed to get my breath back. The season to eat so much you can’t move, and for the shop-owners to line their purses.
Ever the cheerful one, aren’t you? Shard grinned. I smiled in return.
Can’t help the way I’m made, I said, with no sign of repentance. The other gallion’s grin faded a little. Inwardly I winced. Being different from the rest was never easy, and I had momentarily forgotten that Shard had had to endure it too. Casting for a different subject, I said, so how’s life been treating you?
Tapejar’s brother seems to have taken it upon himself to burn the house down during the holidays, she said, with a somewhat forced laugh. Most of our time has been spent plotting strategic water balloon caches.
I smirked a little at that – from what I’d seen of them, Shard’s Neopian family was an odd one.
Please tell me they didn’t sing any carols. I tapped the ground with my claws. Want to fly?
She cast a glance at a group of carolers passing us. Their amazing enthusiasm for their chosen task was only matched by their incredible lack of musical talent. Why ever not. My ears are begging me to get away from here.
I tapped my claws on the ground once more, then spread out my stubby wings and flapped them vigorously up and down a few times to get the blood flowing. Is it always so cold here? I asked as I jumped into the air and circled a few times, my wings now prickling with pins and needles.
Well, in winter, yeah, Shard laughed, darting above me. I took this as a challenge, and spun in a circle, ending up further above her. Pretty soon it had evolved into an all-out flight competition, each of us trying to outdo the other.
Come on! Shard said, swooping over the edge of the Citadel. It was cloaked in thick, menacing looking snow clouds.
Are you sure this is a good idea? I asked casually, but she just grinned over her shoulder at me.
What, the all-cynical Carpenter actually scared?
Nervous! Justifiably! I retorted, and then gave in and soared past her and into the clouds. They were very wet, and even colder than on the Citadel; I could practically feel the moisture turning into beads of ice on my white fur. I suppressed a shiver and looked around for Shard, but I could make out nothing in the thick vapour. My sense of direction was still good, though, and in a few moments I burst through the cloud and into rather warmer Meridellian air below.
I circled a little, waiting for Shard, and saw her emerging from the cloud a few metres away from me. What really made me gasp, though, was what she emerged into. A rainbow, spanning the length beneath the clouds.
You need sun to make rainbows, I said logically, but Shard was already darting around, whooping in delight was the different colours played across her fur.
I couldn’t help myself, and darted in. The colours reflected off each melting drop of ice on my fur. I felt like a living prism, and cliché to boot, but didn’t complain as we looped and whirled through the play of colours.
Eventually, though, I glanced up through a break in the clouds and saw that the sun had nearly set.
I’d better get going, I said, a little annoyed with Time for passing so fast.
K. Bye. Good luck with life. Shard started to head back to the Citadel.
Bye. Have fun. I paused, battled with my sense of originality, and added, very quietly, Merry Christmas.
Shard looked back over her shoulder, and her voice was a little saddened. She tried to hide it, but it showed in her haunting amber eyes. Until next year?
Sooner, I promised, although inwardly I was wincing. There was really no way to tell the next time I’d get away.
Whatever you say, Shard said flatly, and then darted away before I could reply.
Merry Christmas, I said again, to the empty air, and then made my way back home.