A Clean Slate
Where does he go from here?
The gate clangs shut behind him, the metallic reverberations humming in his ears. Turning his head only slightly, he watches from the corner of his eye as two guards shuffle away. A creaking noise, and the doors to the prison of Darigan Citadel swing open to usher them in.
After five years, he is finally free.
Five years. He’d lost count of the days he’d spent alone in that dank, windowless cell. It was only until the guards had hauled him up, roughly pushed clothes and a sword into his hands, and unceremoniously dragged him out of the doors that he knew his full time had been served.
Did he even commit the crime they’d accused him of? He couldn’t remember. The prison had taken everything from him. Hope, memories of a former life, a name - they were merely words in a book to him now.
He starts to walk.
At first it is aimless, trudging through the streets of sombre blue houses unseeingly. Darigan citizens shoulder past him roughly, but he takes no notice of them. He’s too consumed with trying to remember something, anything. Not knowing his own name was beginning to irk him, like an itch that couldn’t be reached. What kind of sound did his name make when it was spoken aloud? Was it something strong and noble sounding? Where could he go where someone’s eyes would light up upon seeing him and his name would ring out joyously? His eyes cloud over in sadness. If he’d lost hope in the space of five years of ever seeing the skies again, then what were the chances that someone was out there waiting for his return?
Doubtful, at best.
He could go back to the prison and ask the guards. He snorts mirthlessly at the thought. They wouldn’t give you the time of day if they weren’t paid for it.
Before he can react, a solid purple mass steps in his way, and he collides with it. He looks up into the hostile face of a mutant chomby.
“Oi, watch where yer goin’,” the chomby snarls, and she looks at him scathingly. “Huh, and ye’d think a stealth pet would know how to walk around widout crashin’ inter everybeast.”
His hackles rise at the insult, but desire to leave this place outweighs his pride. He curtly bobs his head in a reluctant show of apology, and tries to step around the chomby, who apparently has other ideas. She sidesteps with him.
“What’s yer name, bucko?” the chomby asks, her falsely sweet tones setting off alarm bells. He opens his mouth to speak, but no words come out. Five years of silence had rendered him mute.
The chomby laughs, jeeringly. “What, Aisha got yer tongue, eh?”
He has to opt for a shrug, and tries to walk past again. A mangled claw snags his tunic, and forces him to halt.
“Hold on there, scorchio. See now, ye’ve walked into my gang’s territory, and we require a liddle… donation, from goodbeasts like yerself. Fer safe passage, an’ the like.” She eyes his sword covetously. “Dat blade o’ yore’s will fit the bill nicely.”
His brow furrows in annoyance. Memories or no memories, he wasn’t going to be someone easily cowed by a bully. He attempts to sidestep the chomby one last time, but as she steps with him, he whirls suddenly, sweeping his tail under her legs. The chomby trips with a grunt of surprise, but recovers quickly to charge at the scorchio. He throws himself flat on his back at the last possible moment, right when the chomby is almost on top of him, and shoots his legs straight out and up. Air wooshes out of the chomby, and she is sent head over tail to land hard on her back.
Where did he learn to fight like that?
No time to think upon it though. Jumping up quickly, he starts to head down the street. But he doesn’t get far before he’s beset by a group of shifty looking neopets that had melted out from the shadows to surround him.
“Gerrim, mates, I want that sword!” the chomby croaks feebly, still winded from the scuffle.
He puts up a valiant struggle, landing a few punches and flooring a couple of his assailants with well placed kicks. But eventually through sheer numbers they get him pinned to the ground. The chomby swaggers over and gleefully unhooks the sword from his belt.
“Pleasure doin’ business with ya, bucko,” she gloats, and with snickers of laughter the thieves return to the shadows to await their next victim.
He feels hollow.
That sword was one of the last links to his past, and he had just let it slip through his hands. He gets up slowly, brushing the dust off his clothes.
Then, at the end of the road, he spots the edge.
His heart flips excitedly at the sight, and he strides forward with more purpose. If he could leave this island, perhaps he will regain a bit of his memory…
Reaching the edge of the island, he sees below an endless expanse of grass. Something flickers inside of him. A word floats up through the fog in his mind – wondrous. Yes. For something as vibrant and alive as fields upon fields of waving grass, wondrous seems to be an accurate description. Had he appreciated grass this much in his previous life? He couldn’t remember. All he knows is that it won’t be taken for granted again.
He looks around for a way down, but sees none. Impatient to feel the grass upon his feet, he flaps his wings in irritation.
He gives them an experimental stretch and flutter. He had not used them in so long, but surely it would return instinctively? His fighting abilities certainly did.
He steps off the edge, and begins to fly.
But it doesn’t feel like flying. He’s spinning uncontrollably, hurtling down at a dizzying speed. He grits his teeth in anger, why couldn’t he remember how to fly? He beats his wings determinedly, but weak from disuse, his wings could not slow him down.
Abandoning the attempt to brake, he searches frantically for something to cushion his fall. Spotting a small lake, he angles towards it. Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes and hopes fervently that he can swim.
Icy cold water envelopes him, the shock of it forcing the air from his lungs. Slightly stunned, he sinks to the lake floor before the need for oxygen galvanizes him to move. But as he kicks towards the surface, one of his legs becomes entangled with strands of kelp. He grapples with the loops, but weariness from the day’s exertions begins to weigh upon him. Slipping into a stupor, he can only watch through glazed eyes as a graceful figure swims towards him. Strong paws yank the kelp off his leg, and haul him up towards the surface.
Bursting out of the water, he coughs and splutters, inhaling fresh air greedily. Something, someone is propelling him to shore, and once his feet touch the shallows he wades toward it gratefully. Exhausted, he sits, and sets eyes upon his rescuer – a pretty maraquan gelert, watching him curiously from the water.
“Have to say, I’ve seen many a dramatic entrance in my life, but yours takes the biscuit,” she says cheerfully. “Let me guess, was it a competition to see who could make the dumbest exit from Darigan Citadel?”
He clears his throat several times, and finally, finally , finds his voice.
“I tried to fly, but it seems my wings have forgotten how,” he rasps.
“That’s a rather unique predicament,” she muses, swirling her tail in the water. “Not one I can help with much, but I wouldn’t worry about it. I forget things all the time: what day it is, if I’ve eaten today, how to do ANY kind of maths… Ooh! One time, I even forgot my own name. My gosh, most embarrassing moment of my life, but I survived. It’s Mel, by the way, short for Melodiful, too much of a mouthful for most to say. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, forgetting things! See, I even forgot my own point! What I was meant to say, is don’t worry ‘cus you’ll remember how to fly soon enough.”
His mouth is agape at the rapid-fire babble he just witnessed, but he composes himself quickly.
“Melodiful. My thanks to you for the rescue; I am eternally in your debt.”
“Oh, wow, so formal!” she ducks her head bashfully, and tries to hide her embarrassment in awkward joking. “T’was nothing good sir, I too am at thy service. And what pray, is thy name?”
He hesitates, ashamed.
“I don’t know. I’ve been in solitary imprisonment for five years, and have forgotten who I am.”
His gaze flickers to the ground, then back up to her to gauge her reaction. But there’s no pity or wariness in her expression. In fact, she’s looking at him with thoughtful intrigue, her head cocked slightly to the side. His mouth twitches at the adorable sight.
“Well. That’s yet another unique predicament you’ve got there, huh,” she deadpans. “Two in one day, that’s gotta be lucky, right?”
The twitch worsens, and before he knows it, for the first time in five years he’s smiling. It feels… weird. But not in a bad way.
“Think you can rescue me from this thing too?”
Mel scrunches up her nose in doubt. “Umm. I think my superhero powers are strictly limited to lifeguard duties and talking the ears off of anyone in a two mile radius. But, maybe it’ll help by looking at it through a different perspective?”
He looks at her sombrely. “I have no memories to guide me to where I belong, or to who I was before. And I cannot see them returning anytime soon. What other perspective is there other than bleak?”
“Think of it as a clean slate,” she suggests, paddling closer. “All those mistakes you’ve made in the past, they no longer have to weigh you down. Old bad habits? Not anymore! Personality flaws? You got none!”
He huffs a quiet laugh, which emboldens her to continue.
“So yeah, it is rotten dungpiles that you can’t remember who you are. But life isn’t all about looking back at what you did – it’s also looking ahead at what you’re gonna do. Choices that you make to create who you’re gonna be next. You know?”
Somewhere in the distance, a voice calls Melodiful’s name. She glances over her shoulder.
“Oh hey, that’ll be my owner ringing the old dinner bell,” she says fondly. Her eyes light up with a sudden idea. “You could come over to my house for dinner! I’ll walk with you, I think we’ll start your swimming lessons another day eh? And then maybe after dinner, we can plan out your next moves. Ooh! I vote to name it ‘Operation Clean Slate’, what’d you think? Or ‘Operation Clean Slate While Hoping Some Memories Come Back’, because they still could y’know. Though that’s a bit of a long name, come to think of it…”
Melodiful chatters on happily, and he listens quietly with a newfound sense of peace.
He’d lost his sword, his memories, and his name.
But it didn’t matter.
With his new friend by his side, he knows what matters now is that he is free to forge his own future, and become who he wants to be.