Mysteries in the Deep- Catacombs, That Is
NEOPIA CENTRAL - Far beneath the Neopian streets lies a place few Neopians have ventured to. But for anyone who’s a serious budding artist of any sort, this place is their “second home.” They call it the “Deep Catacombs”: an amalgamation of beret-clad pets listening to poetry, eccentric denizens sitting around fires and sharing stories, original writers and vivid illustrators, and of course, and all sorts of artists selling their work to try and make a living.
Alfred S. Lenford, a red Lenny and the Art Gallery’s curator, says this place is one of Neopia’s “greatest secrets.”
“Sure, everyone can go up to the surface and enter the Story Telling contest, or they can buy a copy of the Neopian Times on some street corner. But how many Neopians have actually experienced the Art? You know, how many have met the creative geniuses and seen the inspired free-flowing thought that the Catacombs provide?” He snaps his fingers. “Very few, indeed.”
Even fewer, in fact, know its history, at least partially. Where did these underground caverns come from? Who, or what, made them?
“That’s an interesting question,” says the shadow Poogle Conrad Johnson, archeologist and head of the Department of Archeological Study at the University of Neopia. When he’s not teaching, Johnson is down in the Catacombs doing research in one of its many deep caves. He heads several dig sites down there, as well.
“We don’t know how they came to be,” he admits privately, rubbing his tiny pointed goatee. Then he amends it in a panic. “Yet! We don’t know yet!” Johnson and his crew first became intrigued with the Deep Catacombs after the discovery of Professor C. Chesterpot's supposedly “lost” journal. He was the first to look through the Catacombs after it was deserted 1000 years before that, but his journal was lost when he embarked on another dangerous adventure, from which he never returned.
In his office at the University of Neopia, Johnson has copies of the journal pages (which are incomplete), as well as various papers and pictures recreated from what he’s seen at his dig site.
“This one was the most interesting,” he says, taking a piece of graph paper out of a folder of hand-drawn recreations. “Ah, yes, this one eluded us for a while. At first we thought it was some sort of code. But then we discovered it was something even more amazing- it’s a translator.”
The Catacomb Tables (CTs), as they have been come to be called in the archeological community, consist of a table divided into three sections on a wall far removed from the Art Centre.
“These, you see, are the tables,” says Johnson. The first “table” consists of strange pictographs and hieroglyphics that are obviously from an ancient race. The second “table” resembles more a writing style, albeit a very primitive and ancient one. The third “table”, however, seems legible in some places.
“This is Ancient Neopian, from the time of the Great Neopian Empire, which was under the rule of the Circle of Twelve.”
The Circle of Twelve was a group of powerful magicians, who, under the guidance of the evil sorcerer Jahbal, defeated Kal Panning, the last vestige of resistance for the Neopian people against the Circle. They left the city as an undead fortress, with its leader Faleinn as its guardian against all outside forces. However, Jahbal was mutinied against and ultimately sealed in his temple in the Two Rings Mountains, there to await his slaughter by a white Lupe.
“We have reason to believe now that not all of Kal Panning’s people were destroyed. Some of these letters resemble the way they used to write in the city. It’s difficult to spot by the normal eye, but for a trained professor, such as myself, (not that I’m blowing my own horn or anything), it’s a very distinctive style.”
One of Johnson’s colleagues, Scott Herald, a young shadow Acara, disagrees. “That guy doesn’t know his own writing from a Pteri’s scratch,” he snorts. “My friend, Dr. Whorton, was the one who spotted the difference. It is very hard to distinguish from other writings of the time period, though. At least he was right on something.” Herald is the university’s History Department head, while Dr. Whorton, a blue Elephant, works for the Neopian Museum as a hand-writing analyzer and linguist.
“Anyway, once he pointed this out to me, I was suddenly finding all these similarities between the writings on some of the walls in the Catacombs and those from Kal Panning. It may be that some of the inhabitants managed to escape before the sacking of the city and go to the Catacombs; however, we’re not sure. But we do have some positive evidence for this theory.” Herald has on hand a copy of a manuscript that was discovered in the ruins of the city.
“It hints that some of the people, mostly females and children, but with a few adult males to lead them, were sneaked out of the city the night before the attack as Faleinn foresaw the Circle coming. However, there wasn’t enough time to get a lot of the citizens out, so many were slain,” Herald explains. “This manuscript was buried deep in the rubble, and we just recently found it.”
All traces of the third generations of inhabitants of the Catacombs suddenly disappear at one point, however.
“Unlike the previous generations, the ‘Kal Panning Group’ goes extinct, we think, rather quickly, perhaps within five years of reaching the place,” says Herald, with Johnson nodding his head in agreement.
“The other two generations last longer, with more history on the walls, and seem to gradually fade away,” Johnson says.
“They may have gone on to other places in search of more food in a nomadic fashion, as the Catacombs aren’t really the best place for farming,” agrees Herald. “But the Kal Panning Group just disappear, poof, into thin air.”
“It may be that the Circle found them out and killed them all- they wouldn’t have been able to escape, as the Catacombs are a series of mazes and dead ends.”
Regardless of whether the escapees of the Kal Panning massacre came to the Deep Catacombs or not, the table serves as a way to help translate between the three generations of pets who seem to have inhabited the Catacombs.
Still, there’s the matter of using Empiric Neopian to translate the other two languages- not an easy task.
“Anyone who has studied Empiric Neopian can decode the other two languages, somewhat,” says Herald. “We don’t know what the phrase says in totality, though. It’s been rubbed away in some places.”
“The letters and the words don’t match up one-to-one, so it’s difficult to do anything with it,” says junior archeologist Sara Koffman, an electric Kougra. “However, it has to do something with a warning and the word black? This reminds me, we’ve found this interesting river of black water flowing nearby. We think there may be some interesting artifacts down there, so we’re starting an excavation there next month.”
However, this doesn’t seem to answer the question of where the Catacombs came from in the first place. Archeologists say that even if they could correctly translate the CTs, the probability that the first generation built these majestic caverns of mazes and doubled-back paths is, at the most, miniscule.
“These Catacombs are much older than the first generation to have lived here,” Johnson says. “We’ve found little crevices in there that we believe they never knew about. There’s no evidence they even touched the places, which leads us to believe they couldn’t have built them.”
Scientists have dated the Catacombs back at least to the earliest Neopians, but don’t believe they built it. It doesn’t fit in with the architecture that was prevalent during this time period, which was mainly simple hut-like structures built of mud and wood; in fact, it’s much too complex for them to have built anyway.
“So the earliest Neopets can’t have built them. We can’t think who did, though,” says Herald disappointedly.
Several theories abound. There is no one widely-accepted theory. Some believe that prehistoric water and petpet activity may have made these tunnels. However, this doesn’t explain the passageways sealed tightly with stone.
Proponents of this theory rebuff these counterarguments, saying that these “doors” may have been added in later by Neopians who wanted to preserve the original architecture. Yet others believe that we just may not be digging deep enough at other sites- we may find very early structures as complex at the Deep Catacombs.
However, others have more out-of-this world theories.
“Heck, the Alien Aishas might have built them as a gift to their leader,” says junior archeologist Cap Severaten, a green Bori. He also works under Johnson. “They would have the technology to build it. Yeah, they might have landed on Neopia in ancient times and tried to start a civilization- perhaps an attempt to create an interstellar empire? But maybe they had to abandon it for some reason... perhaps a war on their home world caused them to leave.”
"He’s pulling at straws, sorry about that. He really has no clue what he’s talking about,” Johnson apologizes. “I mean, aliens? Come on!”
Regardless of how the Catacombs came to be, its recent history is less murky. Several years after Professor Chesterpot’s disappearance, his journal was discovered in the ruins of Geraptiku, though no other trace of him was found. This started the excavation of the Deep Catacombs. Several years of new discoveries caught many Neopians’ eyes.
After seeing the project in the Neopian Times, Plushie Tycoon David Milling became interested in them.
“I saw it in the Times and fell in love with the place. I’ve always loved art, and thought that would be a great place to open a museum! There just wasn’t any room up here on the surface,” the aging Milling explains. “Being the rich Chia I am, I decided to try and buy a piece. It didn’t come cheap,” he says pensively, “but they gave in after they ran out of mone- I mean, after they found out I loved archeology and was willing to help fund their project if they gave me the piece they were done excavating.” The Green Chia then shows a picture: the opening of the Art Gallery. It was opened several years ago after extensive bargaining with the archeologists and several roadblocks in construction that postponed its opening date no less than five times. But in the end, it was completed.
“It was the happiest day of my life- I’ve made so much money off this place!”
The Art Gallery, at first, only exhibited a limited number of artists, but Milling began to spread the word of its existence. Pretty soon, many artists came- so many, in fact, that had to compete for exhibition spots. And with them came their adoring fans, of which Milling charged entrance fees to look at the works of art.
These artists also attracted a myriad of others who wanted to escape the pressures of Neopia Central.
“Soon, all these rag-tagged pets started coming ‘round and hanging out. They started trying to earn neopoints by reciting poetry on the street corner. For some reason, it worked. I tried to get them to go away, but they brought more people to my museum. Uh, strike that. I mean, I finally understood their art form and let them be,” Milling says anxiously.
From that small trickle of pets came others- story tellers, writers, and just plain art lovers. In fact, they came in droves. There were so many of them with so many diverse interests that they began setting up other centers of interest themselves. Some Neopians banded together to form a Storytelling community. Poets formed a Poet’s Society. Writers could be seen up against all the walls near the Gallery furrowing their eyebrows and chewing their pencils in concentration. Milling eventually had a Coffee Shop opened to serve all these pets and give them a place to sit. It soon became overcrowded and pets again littered the floor of the Catacombs around the Gallery, which they continue to do today.
The Coin Shop relocated down to the Catacombs a few months after the Gallery was completed. Citing competition from surface shops, as well as the calming effect that the caverns cause, the shopkeeper says it was their best move yet. And in fact, they now only attract serious coin collectors who actually buy things, unlike before, when pets only came to browse.
“The ambiance of the place also seems to make our coins sell for higher prices. I don’t know why,” the shopkeepers says as he marks up a set of coins.
However, the most positive response about the Deep Catacombs comes from the young artists themselves.
“It’s so nice down here,” a prospective Neopian Times writer contemplates. “You know? You can really think and stuff down here. And write down what you think.”
“The number of Neopians down here enjoying the art really warms my heart,” Lenford, the curator, says. “They’re few, but they really enjoy what they’re doing. And we don’t get any riff-raff who don’t appreciate this place, either.”
In this time of strife, the pressure to succeed and rushing from place to place trying to keep up, few do stop to appreciate the art. Many don’t even understand what they’re trying to do. However, the Neopians who dwell in the Catacombs are there, waiting to show off their works for anyone who’s willing to see and listen.
What more can you say? Vive l’art.