The Quest for the Moonlit Orb: Part Four
The next morning, the group of seven packed up all of the things they would need and prepared for the trip to the Lost Desert. Ten drank a small bit of the potion Nicosia had given him, and then they were ready to leave. After quickly saying goodbye to Nicosia, Nalina and Stacia climbed onto Cleo and Ten, and the travelers took off. Stacia, who was still exhausted from staying up late the night before, slept on Ten’s back, but Nalina stayed awake, enjoying the wonderful feeling of flight. Narros, Edd and Mysia flew at the head of the group. “You said we’d reach the Lost Desert today, right?” Mysia said, looking at Narros.
“Well, I thought we would, but I didn’t count on flying only half a day yesterday. If we had flown all day, we would have reached the edge of the desert, and reach Sakhmet today. Because we lost flight time, we might reach Sakhmet just before it gets dark, but we’d have to be quick. We’ll definitely reach the Lost Desert by this afternoon, though.”
“If we don’t make Sakhmet by tonight, where would we sleep?” Mysia asked.
“The empty desert. I’ve had to do it once or twice before, but with this large group it would be difficult. I think we’d have enough food and water to last the night and into tomorrow, but we’d have to get more water as soon as we reached Sakhmet.”
“That’s not really an option. I don’t want to stop by any shops in Sakhmet, it might not be safe. I’d like to skip the crowds completely, just in case... We should replenish our food and water supply when we get to Sylia’s. We should fly faster, and get to Sakhmet by tonight.”
“If we fly much faster, we’ll have to stop and rest. We don’t have the energy to fly any faster than this all day.”
Mysia looked very displeased. “Fine, we’ll keep this pace all day,” she muttered, and flew ahead of the Shoyru.
Night was descending upon the desert when the group saw large buildings and lots of lights looming ahead of them, the first large city they had encountered since leaving Neopia Central. Narros lead the group to an isolated spot in which to land without being seen, and they walked the rest of the way to the city.
People and pets entered and left the city of Sakhmet on a daily basis, but now that it was dark very few people were entering or leaving. Besides, this group of seven was highly conspicuous, so Edd suggested that they enter the city in groups. Mysia put on a long black traveler’s cloak, to disguise the fact that she was a faerie. With almost all but her face covered, she could pass for a human. She, Cleo, Edd, and Ten entered the city first, disguised as an owner and her three pets coming to visit family members. They agreed to meet the others near the Scratch Card tent. Narros, Nalina, and Stacia watched from afar as the others entered the city without being questioned by anyone. The remaining three waited about fifteen minutes before heading towards the gates.
“Why are you entering our fine city at this hour?” asked a Desert Grarrl standing before the gates of the city, evidently as a guard.
“We’ve come on vacation,” Stacia said in a high-pitched, slightly accented voice that was quite different from her own.
“We’ve been traveling all day,” Nalina added, “It’s taken us ages to get here.”
“Vacation?” asked the Grarrl, aware that Sakhmet was not one of the top tourist destinations.
“Yes,” Stacia said casually. “We take one vacation every year. We’ve been to Mystery Island, Faerieland, Meridell, Brightvale, and Altador (for the Altador Cup, you know), so we thought we’d try the Sakhmet and Qasala this year. Sakhmet first, of course, as I’ve heard it’s the better city.”
“Well, all right,” the Grarrl said, losing interest in them and allowing them to pass.
The city was still full of people, even at this hour. They had no trouble slipping unnoticed into the crowd as Stacia and Narros lead Nalina purposefully through the crowd to the Scratch Card tent, where they rejoined the others.
“What now?” Cleo whispered.
“There’s no time to find Sylia’s house tonight,” Mysia said softly. “We need to find somewhere to sleep...”
“No problem,” Narros said, and began leading them along through winding streets. The farther they walked, the more narrow, dark, and deserted the streets became. Some were little more than alleyways between small tents where careless citizens dumped their trash. After awhile, there were hardly any tents at all.
“Where are we going?” Nalina whispered.
“You’ll see,” Narros said vaguely, and continued up the street.
At last he stopped, in front of a dilapidated, half-torn, lopsided little tent that looked as though it would collapse at any second. Even Nalina, who was used to poor conditions in their shop, was appalled at the appearance of this shabby, forlorn excuse for a shelter.
“Can we all...?”
“Narros, this is...”
All six of them began to talk at once. Narros simply waved aside their questions and said again, “You’ll see.”
Narros then turned without another word and entered the tent. The others hesitated, but Nalina loyally followed her brother inside. After a moment, Cleo and Edd followed suit, with Ten just behind them. Mysia and Stacia went in after them. The tent wasn’t even large enough for all of them to fit inside. Ten, Stacia, and Mysia simply stood outside, peering into the tent to see what was happening.
Narros crouched on the ground and ran his paws slowly through the sand, until suddenly he smiled, seemed to grasp something that the others could not see, and then pulled. A wooden trapdoor was slowly raised from the sand. There was a circular hole in the center of the wood, through which a rope was strung. Narros had used one end of the rope to pull the trapdoor up; the other end wasn’t visible, because the rope dangled down into the darkness below the door.
“Cleo and Edd will have to fly down,” Narros whispered, his voice barely audible. “And Ten, you as well. I doubt the rope will hold your weight. Mysia, you and I should climb down, because the flight is difficult. The passage is very narrow; there’s hardly enough room to beat your wings, and no room at all for maneuvering. We’ll have to climb down with Nalina and Stacia.”
Without further explanation as to where they were going, Narros firmly gripped the rope and began to descend. The others followed him down the dark, seemingly endless tunnel.
At last, Narros reached the bottom, and lit a small lantern that waited there. The others hurried towards the light, and soon they all felt desert sand beneath their feet. Narros then lead them into an underground room, similar to Nicosia’s home, except smaller and made of desert sand. No furnishings existed, except for a small pile of tattered blankets heaped in a corner, and a rickety table with only one leg leaning against a far wall. A small amount of litter was strewn about the floor, as though someone had once lived here but left without bothering to pick up. A moth-eaten curtain had been loosely strung up in one corner, concealing the bathroom. The room, though rather grand looking compared to the tent up above, was still a rather pitiful living space.
“Sorry it’s so cramped,” Narros apologized, suddenly looking rather embarrassed.
“Nonsense,” Mysia said briskly. “The important question is: does anybody besides you know about this place?”
“I don’t think so. When I found it it looked like it had been deserted for years. I usually try to be quiet when coming or leaving, just to be sure no one notices me. But I’ve never seen anyone out here before.”
“Good. We definitely can’t let anyone know about this place,” Mysia said, laying her knapsack on the floor.
“Well, get some sleep, everybody,” Ten said, tossing them all blankets from the corner.
“Mysia, do you know where Sylia lives?” Nalina asked.
“I’ve never been there. In fact, I’ve never been to Sakhmet before. But I know the area of the city she lives in, and I know what her tent looks like.”
“That should help in finding it,” Narros commented, lying on the floor with one of the worn blankets. Each of the others did the same, and before long they were all asleep.
The next morning, Mysia awoke early, but found that Narros and Nalina were gone. Instantly suspicious, she waited for them to return. After about fifteen minutes she heard the sound of muffled footsteps from above, and five minutes later Narros appeared, closely followed by his sister.
“Morning, Mysia,” Nalina said casually.
“Where were you?” she demanded.
“Getting breakfast,” Nalina said, showing Mysia her knapsack.
“We already had food in the knapsacks,” Mysia said.
“Yes, but who knows how long this quest will take? I thought we’d better get food now, while we’re in a big city, and save the rest for when we’re traveling,” Nalina said sensibly, opening the bag and removing the contents.
“How come both of you went?” Mysia asked.
“Narros knows the city, I don’t. I would never have found my way back here without him.”
“Where’d you get the food?” Mysia asked, wondering if she had stolen it.
Nalina seemed to read her mind. “Same way as always. Searched abandoned alleyways, between the shops, around the food stalls. It’s amazing the stuff people don’t notice.” As she spoke she produced two partially damaged Tchea fruits, a bruised Baggus, and two scorched items, a Cheopple and a Cheops Plant.
Mysia still looked suspicious, but she asked no more questions and helped Narros wake the others. When all were awake, Nalina divided the food among them. Each received one food item, except Narros and Nalina split one of the Tchea fruits in half, and they shared it. Cleo started to protest, but Narros simply shook his head and ate his share without complaining. After a hurried breakfast they left the hiding place and proceeded to the bustling central market of Sakhmet. Mysia told them that Sylia lived in the northeastern part of the city, so, with Narros, Stacia, and Edd leading the way, they set off. Just like the night before, the tents became smaller as they moved away from the center of the city, but this area did not look abandoned, as the other had, it merely looked poor. “Are sure this is right?” Cleo asked, thinking of the magnificent furnishings in Ankira’s home.
“Yes,” Stacia responded, “Positive.” Narros and Edd nodded in agreement.
“Okay, we’re looking for a blue-and-white striped tent, with Sakhmetian runes inscribed along the top. On the very back of the tent, along the hem at the bottom, the number three has been painted,” Mysia informed them.
“Okay, shouldn’t be too hard,” Edd said optimistically. They began to walk from tent to tent, looking for the one that Mysia had described. They searched for at least ten minutes before they found the correct one. It was small but not shabby, modest but not cheap. Hesitantly, Mysia rapped her knuckle against the tent flap.
“Who is it?” called a voice from inside.
Rapid footsteps could be heard, and then the unmistakable face of a fire faerie appeared. Sylia quickly surveyed the group before ushering them inside.
“I’m sorry, there aren’t enough seats for all of you,” she said briskly, retrieving a tray of leftover food from the kitchen area. The group ate ravenously while Mysia gave Sylia a brief version of the recent events.
“I had the Orb two weeks ago, but I gave it to Cymirus... something worried me...”
“Well, I don’t get out much; I have a young Kyrii do my shopping for me (don’t worry, she’s trustworthy), but on this day she was ill, so I cloaked myself and went to the market. At one point I kept feeling as though I was being followed. Then I could have sworn I heard my name, and when I turned around a hooded stranger was nearby, watching me. I couldn’t see his (or her) face. I panicked a little...”
The mood in the room became very grave. “Well, you were right to send it. That sounds very suspicious. But now we must track down Cymirus,” Mysia said, sounding tired and weary.
“I’ll get packed, and then we can leave,” Sylia said, starting to rise from her chair.
“Wait. Someone knows who you are. That stranger was following you, and knew your name. I don’t know if it would be safe for you to come with us, or to stay here. You should go to Fyora and stay there for a while. It’s not safe to remain here.” It pained Mysia to say this, for she had been hoping for the support and assistance of her fellow Guardians, but she knew that Sylia might be in danger. Sylia did not seem to like the suggestion either, but as Mysia continued to insist, she agreed.
So, the seven weary travelers returned to Narros’s shelter and packed their few belongings. Sylia had given them many more provisions and supplies, so they were ready to leave the city after only a few hours.
They flew steadily for the remainder of the day. Nalina saw her first glimpse of the sea, a vast turquoise expanse spread out below her that was constantly rippling and churning. When they flew low to the ground, she could feel the mist and salty spray on her face as the waves rolled beneath her.
By nightfall, they were still flying over the sea. The only available landing place was the puffy white clouds of Faerieland, which could be seen in the distance. Their only choice was to fly onward in the dark, and spend the remainder of the night at Mysia’s, and continue their flight to Mystery Island the next day. Exhausted and weary, the travelers arrived at Mysia’s small home around midnight. Most of the travelers instantly fell asleep, but Nalina stayed awake, too excited to sleep. Less than a week ago, she never would have dreamed of seeing the places her brother had described. Now she had seen a city in the clouds, a city in the midst of a dry desert, an underground home in a sinister forest, and the unconquerable ocean. She waited anxiously for dawn, longing for the adventures of tomorrow.
Nearby, Narros was also awake, but he was feeling quite apprehensive. Narros had always had an uncanny ability to detect danger, and now this strange sixth sense of his was sending him a warning. He knew this quest spelled danger for him and his younger sister, but what was he to do now? As he drifted off to sleep, his mind was filled with troubling dreams, where someone was always following him, but vanished before he realized who it was.
Narros was right to be troubled, for danger lurked nearby. An enemy was pretending to be a friend; that very night, someone with ill intentions lurked in Mysia’s house.
To be continued...