Legacy of Ice: Part Two
Rathua stared. His mother had always told him not to, but this... a Neopet made out of ice? He could hardly help it. He supposed that it was fair they existed in other, colder parts of Neopia, but Sakhmet had kept to itself, and they hadn't contacted any other lands for a long time. And anyway, the important question was still there: What was a creature made out of ice doing in a desert?
Most people, when meeting someone new, introduce themselves first, or ask some polite question such as, "Are you from around here?" Rathua knew this; yet he proceeded to ask her, "Don't you melt?"
The Wocky was now returning the insect's look of surprise. He didn't seem to be a mean pet; did that mean he was a good one? Most good pets were polite, though. She didn't know what to make of this strange insect who was a rude nice person. But her surprise at his question was enough to startle a 'Yes' out of her, to respond to his question.
He took a step back, giving himself a better look at her, her a better look at him, and unintentionally on his part, her a way to escape. She did try, racing out of the corner of the room into the middle, only to remember that there was no way out without help. The insect looked even more surprised, and the Scorchio, seeing her for the first time, dropped his jaw dropped in amazement. She didn't understand why they were staring at her so much. They had weapons, some light armour, uniforms; weren't they an army, coming to destroy her people? But they didn't seem to know what she was... Armies knew who they were destroying, didn't they?
Recovering from his surprise when the creature leapt into the middle of the room, Rathua tried to speak more politely to her to help her calm down a little.
"I'm sorry that we scared you... Are you alright? Did you fall down the hole too, or do you live here, to stay out of the sun?"
His brother flew clumsily down from the ledge to stand beside him; Flame had never trained to fly, preferring to focus on books, and expanding his already rather-vast knowledge. It was unsure why he joined the Royal Guard instead of asking for a position in the Royal Library. Some people thought he must have made a mistake when he signed up, but he and Rathua both knew he had done it to keep his brother company. The little ice creature - she looked like a Wocky - eyed them both nervously, but did answer.
"I fell down the hole. I landed on the sand, so I didn't get hurt. I think I moved the sand, though, so when the other people fell down their fall wasn't very soft." She stopped there, but added even more nervously, as if he would yell at her for asking, "Are you an insect?"
Rathua blinked, while his brother laughed. The Wocky seemed even more afraid at that, so he told her quickly; "I'm not an insect; I'm a Ruki. We do look like insects, though. I'm Rathua, and that's Flame - my brother. We - aren't going to hurt you, if that's why you're acting so skittish. Not meaning to be rude, but you're just as strange to us as we seem to be to you."
Flame added, "Are you really made out of ice? And why have we never seen anything like you before?"
They said they weren't going to hurt me... It'd be so nice to believe them. The Wocky was a trusting person, and any other time she would have wholly believed the Ruki that they were not her enemies. Right now, she decided to trust them, for the simple relief of having friends in such a strange, frightening place, she still couldn't help but be mistrustful.
"I'm Mist, and I'm an ice Wocky. I'm acting skittish because this morning I woke up here, in this hot sandy place all alone. Everyone here looks so strange, and I don't know if anyone here will help me or be cruel. All I want to do is go back to my home. Can you help me go back? Please?"
Rathua and his brother looked even more surprised at that, though Rathua's expression quickly changed to one of pity. Flame's look was calculating - he was trying to work out where her home was, and how hard it would or wouldn't be to get her there. And whether or not they could actually do it.
"Rathua. We should do this, and I think we can, but... We've promised our service here, Rathua. They'd kick us out of the Guard if we leave now, because we wouldn't have any proof of what we were actually doing. And if we take her back to the barracks there's a good chance they'll send some other squad with her, which I think she'll refuse, because most of the other soldiers are so pigheaded." Mist looked sheepish, but nodded. "I don't know, Rathua. It's up to you, really - You're the one who actually likes this job."
Rathua hesitated, but only for a second. He smiled kindly at the anxious Wocky and said boldly, "We'll just leave now, then. Do you know some of the way, Mist?"
"I do... But I've never seen anything like this desert before. My home is on a mountain, in a network of caves at the top. It's the tallest mountain in Neopia, I think. At the bottom of the mountain there's a lot of boulders and other rubble, even some ruined buildings. They make a maze, and they say that it's haunted. I've been partway through it before I got scared. From the top of one of the boulders I saw a long stretch of grass. I think the desert comes after that. Sakhmet isn't on our maps, but there's a big bit marked 'sand'."
"I think we can take you through all of that." Rathua grinned broadly. "It will be our pleasure."
"Have we got food, water, weapons...?" Flame enquired, watching his brother.
"We should be all right for water... There are oases. We've got enough food to get us to the grasslands, where we should be able to find more. We've both got our swords... Have you got any weapons?" Rathua looked at Mist, who shook her head. Flame handed her a small dagger. "That's a Cobrall Dagger. Look after it, Mist."
"Will I need to use it?"
"Probably not, but it's best not to take chances. There are always bands of criminals in the desert, and who knows what in that maze. I don't think it's haunted, but other unpleasant creatures might have taken refuge there."
"Alright... Oh! If you're both down here, how do we get out? The other group?"
"They'll want to get back to their beds too much. They probably haven't even noticed I'm not with them anymore. Here." Rathua led the Wocky to the space under the tunnel. Then, ignoring her cry of protest, he placed her on his head, and instructed her to jump up to the tunnel. Flame flew up into the mouth of the tunnel next, working hard to gain altitude. Finally, the Scorchio offered his hand to Rathua who, grasping it, walking up the wall into the tunnel, while the Scorchio struggled to stay in it himself. After a fair bit of groaning on Flame's part, Rathua began to lead the way through the tunnels, Mist following him and Flame bringing up the rear, lost in thought.
"There are tunnels like this everywhere in the desert?"
"Yes. It's like there are two worlds, one above and one below. The one below is a lot harder to move around in, though."
The threesome had stopped below a short tunnel leading into the desert, after several hours of walking through the cool maze. Rathua had stopped them there for a rest, though it seemed to Flame that there were other things he wanted to say. They drank from Flame's water flask, as Rathua hadn't brought one for a short rescue mission, and ate some of the food Rathua had brought with him, expecting the rescue to go past dawn ensuring he didn't get breakfast. When they had finished, Mist and Flame waited for Rathua to tell them the direction, but the Ruki seemed to be lost in thought and not concentrating on their task. At last Flame tapped his should, causing Rathua to start.
"Ah! Oh... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get distracted, it's just... This is as far as I know the tunnels. I know the direction, and the general layout for the entire network, but I'm more likely to get us completely lost than not. Our food and water might run out before we can replace it. But if we go above ground, Mist might melt. You said you did melt, didn't you...? Yes, well, we're still a while from the edge of the desert, and I don't know how long it would take you to be reduced to a puddle. But I've still got our bearings, and we could take the quickest route to the edge of the desert..."
Mist shivered. To chose between starving and melting... But she melted slowly enough... Maybe they could make it. She would have been completely lost in the tunnels without Rathua - she would jump at the chance to get out of them. She looked up at Rathua. "We'll go over the dunes."
The desert pets looked concerned, but didn't argue. Rathua, then Flame climbed out of the tunnels. Mist followed, wincing as the full heat of the sun hit her. It was just past dawn, and already this hot... Rathua and Flame didn't seem to mind it at all. They actually seemed to be enjoying it, after the chill of the caves below. Mist put a tentative paw down, and winced again as searing heat scorched it. She could never endure this...
To be continued...