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Finding the Way

by jade_steel


"So where are we going now? Will we see the Haunted Woods? Are we going to steal something? How about the Ice Caves? We could steal something from the Snowager. And why do you-"

     A striped paw clamped across the young Acara's mouth, but she didn't stop talking. "Mmf gnrrfl mrnnf mnm!!"

     The one who had partially stopped the chatter, a Striped Wocky, glanced at his other companion, a Desert Kougra. "Does she ever stop talking?"

     The Kougra's ears twitched. "Maybe you should ask her, juppiebrain."

     The Wocky rolled his eyes. "We've been through this before, haven't we, Cat?"

     Caternzeta, or Cat, sighed. "Yes, we have, Irltar. About thirty times in the past half hour."

     "Well then," remarked Irltar. "I'll take you up on your suggestion for once. Hey, Sy!" He directed the last part of his sentence at the Ghost Acara and removed his paw from her mouth before it went through her.

     Symathea blinked at Irltar. "Yes?"

     "Do you ever stop talking?" Irltar inquired.

     Sy blinked at him again, then smiled cheerfully. "No," she responded, then fell silent.

     Cat peeked out from under her headdress, where she had taken refuge. "Did she actually stop talking?" she asked, amazed. "My ears are still ringing, I can't tell."

     Irltar puffed up, looking proud of himself. "Yes, I, Irltar the Child-Tamer, have managed to sub-"

     Cat yawned, then stretched leisurely and sped up slightly, kicking Irltar and sweeping his feet from under him as she strolled by. Sy, following her, was giggling uncontrollably as she delicately walked through the prone Wocky.

     It is most unpleasant to have a Ghost walk through you. Irltar leapt to his feet in an instant. "That was uncalled for, Sy!!!" he sputtered. He glanced around, wondering why no one responded, and saw his companions far ahead. "Hey, wait up!"called Irltar, and sprinted up to join them.

     "So, remind me again why we're doing this?" asked Irltar, once he had rejoined the ladies.

     "I dunno, ask her!" Sy chirped, pointing at Cat.

     "I was asking Cat," Irltar informed her icily. "Well?"

     Cat embarked on a lengthy explanation. "Serigen - the leader of our Thieves Guild, just to let you know, Sy - anyway, Serigen has been looking for a long time for Ghost pets to join the thieves. We were patrolling our borders with the neighboring Guild when we found Miss Symathea, here, lost and abandoned in Sakhmet City. We volunteered to bring her back to Serigen, so she could have another chance at a good life. We have about 3 hours left to home if we take a shortcut."

     "And otherwise?" prompted Irltar.

     Cat scanned the darkening sky, noting the position of the most prominent constellation in the sky this time of year, which was called Asparagus. Judging its position against the constellations of the Lab Ray and Boochi, she gave her verdict: "2.57 days, give or take."

     "Uggh. Too long," Irltar told her. "We have to be back within a day."

     "Agreed. We're taking the shortcut," Cat informed the group. "And we'd better get going."

     The Kougra led the way to a large, sand covered boulder. Brushing the sand away, she crouched down, extended her claws, and swiped her paw back and forth under the boulder.

     "There!" she grunted as she felt a small lever catch her claws. Cat yanked it to the side, and backed off, watching the sand in the immediate vicinity tremble as the boulder sank into the desert, revealing a dark passageway.

     "Follow me," she ordered, and the group began the shadowy descent.

     "Hey, guess what?" Symathea asked suddenly.

     Irltar groaned. "What?"

     "I can make my eyes glow!" she announced proudly.

     "Do it, then," requested Cat from farther along.

     "Sure!" The Acara closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again. Bright red beams like headlights shot out of red eyes, lighting the tunnel to some degree.

     "Ooh," said Irltar nervously. "Now the tunnel looks even more spooky."

     "Quit your whining, Irltar," Cat ordered. "It does no one good."

     Irltar continued to grumble under his breath, but the audible complaints ceased.

     They continued traveling, walking in the red light. They must have walked an hour or more before Sy chose to speak again. "Hey, what's that? They glow!"

     Sure enough, when she closed her eyes for a moment, the rest of the party saw a glowing purple and green from a niche in the wall.

     "Odd," said Cat. "In all my years on this path, I've never seen those."

     Irltar stretched his neck until he could tentatively sniff the fungus in question.

     "Yuck!" he spat a moment later, his fur on end. "Smells of evil! And-" Irltar took a second cautious sniff, trying to identify the second nagging scent. When he had it, a few moments later, his eyes grew round in astonishment. "-and faerie!!" he concluded.

     "Jhudora?" Sy tipped her head curiously.

     Cat took over. "Quite possible. Irltar, do you remember when the Neomail server exploded? What was found?"

     The Wocky nodded. "Purple and green glowing fungus," he stated. "Much like this- uh-oh. Cat, are you thinking what I am?"

     She blinked innocent eyes at her partner. "I don't know. You tell me."

     He narrowed his eyes, but told Cat anyway. "Either the tunnel has caved in ahead, or it's about to."

     "Um, guys?" Sy was nervously backing away. "I feel vibrations all over..."

     At the same time, Cat and Irltar began to hear a rumbling sound. They glanced at each other, then Cat screeched, "RUN!" and the three bolted through the trembling area. Then the entire roof collapsed, and things went dark.

     When Cat came to, the tunnel was still lit by Sy's red glow. The little Acara stood a few feet away from the pile of rocks, waiting.

     "Sy?" Cat croaked.

     Sy was at her side in a moment. "Are you all right?"

     Cat tried to shift her body, and discovered two things. Her right hind leg felt broken, and she was stuck under a pile of rocks. "Not really. Sy, how long have you been waiting here?"

     Sy considered. "Not very long... maybe three hours?"

     The Kougra would have cursed something, except she didn't know what. Finally she gave up looking for an object for her anger and called her partner. "Irltar?"

     A groan from the other side of the pile answered her, and she asked again. "Irltar, are you all right?"

     There was silence for a moment, and Cat began to think that Irltar had tried the same thing as her. Finally he replied. "No, not fully. A few things are broken, and I'm buried under a huge pile of rocks."

     "Same here." Cat's voice held only small traces of pain. "We'll have to send Sy on to get help. We'll be in trouble if we're not back within two more hours."

     "May a thousand piles of dung drop on the head of whoever did this!" Irltar exclaimed. "Yes, but how can we be sure she'll be safe?"

     Cat smiled briefly. "Leave it to me. Listen to me closely, Sy," she told the Acara. "Keep following the tunnel straight, and you'll come up in a circle of rocks. Go between the two with smaller pebbles on top. When you come to the two palm trees side by side, you will be accosted by a Yellow Ruki, Sandviper, the guard for the next two days."

     Irltar interrupted. "What'd Sandviper do to earn guard duty for that long?"

     "Insulted a senior thief. Now shut up. Anyway, Sy, when he asks who you are, tell him your full name, and that you were sent by the Desert Cat and the Earl of the Tarpit."

     Irltar broke in again. "I thought it was just the Earl!"

     Cat glared roughly in his direction. "Everyone else calls you Earl of the Tarpit, and it'll be more easily recognized. Now quit interrupting me, or I will hurt you more when we get out of this."

     Irltar shut up.

     "Ask Sandviper to be taken to Serigen," Cat told Sy. "Tell Serigen that we are trapped halfway down the Tunnel Road. He'll know what to do from there. Have you got all that?"

     Sy nodded slowly. "Yes."

     "Then be off."

     Sy nodded again, then took off at a rapid trot along the rest of the tunnel. "Two boulders, pebbles, palm trees, Sandviper, Desert Cat, Tarpit, Serigen," she muttered to herself as she padded steadily along the hard path. This became her mantra as she placed one foot in front of the other for minutes on end. An hour of steady walking took her to the exit, and the circle of boulders. "Now let's see," Sy muttered, peering carefully at the boulders. "Ah, there's one!" she cried after a bit, looking at the top of the boulder to her right. "That means the other ones got to be nearby." She examined those to the left and right of the rock she had marked. To its left was another boulder with a pebble on top.

     "Here goes," Sy murmured, and walked straight between the two.

     She only needed to walk for about ten minutes before she came to the two palms. Sy slowed her pace and stepped cautiously between them.

     Sy was expecting it, but all the same, she started when the Ruki jumped in front of her. "Halt! Who are you and what is your business here?"

     Sy reached into her memory for the words Cat had told her to say. "I am Symathea, once of Sakhmet," she finally told him. "The Desert Cat and the Earl of the Tarpit sent me."

     To her surprise, he collapsed laughing. "You must have come from Caternzeta," he choked out. "Only she would have told you that. What do you need, Miss Symathea?"

     Sy met his eyes as best she could. "I need to speak with Serigen immediately."

     "Why?" Sandviper had become cold and questioning once more.

     "Caternzeta and Irltar are trapped under a rockfall halfway down the Tunnel Road," she told him. "Cat sent me to get help. I was the only one not caught by it."

     The Ruki immediately became serious. "You'd better come with me, Miss Symathea." He turned, leaving Sy no choice but to follow him.

     Sandviper led her down tunnels and around twisting corners, and she half thought that he was trying to get her lost. Finally, he brought her face to face with a handsome Blue Eyrie, who motioned him to get out and close the door.

     Sy stared at him for a moment before speaking. "You are Serigen, correct?"

     He nodded slowly. "Aye. What do you need?"

     She took a deep breath and spilled the shortened version of the story out to him. At the end, he held out a paw to stop her from saying any more, then called Sandviper, who had apparently been standing just outside the door. "Gather a few of our people," he snapped. "Make sure they know where to go and that they're strong - Cat and Irltar are trapped under a rockfall halfway down the Tunnel Road."

     This was old news to Sandviper, but he didn't want guard duty for another three nights. Instead he dipped his head and went to it.

     Serigen turned back to Sy. "You, youngling, had best head for bed. Caternzeta and Irltar will be fine, but you've had a hard day, and likely will have another one tomorrow, if you decide to stay with us. For now, you can sleep with the apprentices. Mirayal will find you an extra bed," he added, gesturing at the young Green Eyrie standing outside the door.

     Sy dipped her head as she had seen Sandviper do. "Thank you." Then she turned and followed Mirayal down the maze of corridors, her thoughts a-whirl. Her last thought before she drifted off to sleep was, "How nice it will be, to have a home at last."

The End

Author's note: I just made up these characters, they are intended to bear no resemblance to real Neopets. Neomails and all are welcome. Have a nice day!

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