The Treasure of Xutu: Part Five
Tara opened her eyes and saw her Kacheek friend Jeran standing above her. The groggy Kyrii could remember most of the previous day's proceedings. She knew that they had been following a treasure map. First they had ventured to the Deserted Fairground in the Haunted Woods. After escaping a giant Maraquan Krawk they ended up on Terror Mountain. A nasty bout with the Snowager landed them in a hidden underground lair, where Jeran had successfully defeated a cocky robot posing as the Kiosk Wocky and rescued Tara. Now, having retrieved two golden keys that they figured would be significant, they were scheduled to embark on a trek to Tyrannia in hopes of finding a third key.
“Have a good night’s sleep?” Jeran asked her.
“Yep!" she responded enthusiastically. "Ready to head for Tyrannia?”
“How in the world can you be that energetic after such an ordeal?”
“I don’t know. I guess I'm just excited about following that map! Let’s go!"
They left the Neggery after thanking the Negg Faerie profusely for giving them a place to sleep for the night. Tara had been too exhausted to make the walk to Jeran’s house. Jeran and Tara had retraced their steps and finally gotten back to the room Jeran had woken up in after following the Snowager and Tara down a dark tunnel in the beast's cave. After finally forcing open the door at the top of the room's stairs, they had walked straight into the back of the Scratchcard Kiosk! They met a very bewildered Kiosk Wocky. After explaining and getting even more weird looks, they had left and asked the Negg Faerie for a favor.
Now they were leaving Happy Valley, getting ready to face whatever lay ahead in Tyrannia. From the map's third clue which read,
“Your journey continues, in climates more dry.
The key is in going where pteris don’t fly,”
they had concluded that they should travel to Tyrannia and venture into the Lair of the Beast and face the flesh-hungry pterodactyl that lives inside. Or at least Tara had. She had been putting off telling Jeran what she already knew, that another hard battle was in store for them, and when she finally divulged her secret the results were not pleasant. Jeran immediately refused to go and told Tara to leave him out of it... But ten minutes later, the determined Desert Kyrii and the loyal Christmas Kacheek were walking past the Wheel of Mediocrity. Jeran was pouting.
“Why are we even doing this?” Jeran asked as they passed Tyrannian Furniture and stepped onto the Tyrannian Plateau.
“Because,” Tara replied, “we’ve gotta figure out what was so important that someone went to the trouble of making a map and hiding keys throughout Neopia. Aren’t you just a little bit curious?”
“Yes. But I don’t know if I’m willing to risk my life AGAIN to find out.”
They had reached the opening of the Lair of the Beast. Both Tara and Jeran were fuming and hadn’t spoken a word in minutes. Tara broke the silence and released her built-up anger.
“Ya know, Jeran, I didn’t make you come with me. You CHOSE to come!”
“Oh, whatever! You dragged me into this. ‘Oh, PLEASE, Jeran, Please read my map. Blah blah blah...’ How can you say you didn’t make me be a part of this?”
“The minute you spilled that borovan you were involved, Jeran! You were excited just as I was, and you WANTED to be a part of this journey!"
“You know... you’re right. I did choose to come."
"Just like I can CHOOSE to leave!"
“What? Well, fine! Leave!”
Jeran took the key he had found out of his backpack and handed it, or rather threw it, to Tara. Then he turned around and walked away.
“She deserves this,” he told himself. “No turning back.”
He closed his eyes and tried to resist turning back. He walked and walked... but he didn’t know that Tara was still watching, silently hoping he would turn around and come back. She couldn’t do this alone. Jeran kept walking.
“No turning back. No turning back.”
He walked... and he walked... and then he fell. He fell off the cliff his closed eyes had hidden from him. He might’ve heard Tara screaming had she not been so far away. But if he had heard her, he probably would’ve ignored it anyway.
Ten feet down, Jeran’s scarf snagged a strong branch and his free fall halted. He tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but he couldn’t. Though his scarf was keeping him from falling to his death, it was also keeping him from breathing. Tara reached the ledge seconds later. Fearing the worst, she looked over the edge and was overjoyed when she saw Jeran was snagged. Then she saw the next predicament. She wasted no time. She threw down her knapsack and removed a metal spike and a length of rope. She secured the metal spike in the ground and looped the rope around it. She tied the other end of the rope around her waist and, with the loose rope in her hands, began to lower herself down. She was five feet down and felt very confident, but then her grip on the rope faltered and she let go.
When the rope tightened, Tara had overshot Jeran by a few inches, but the rope jerked her back just enough in recoil that she was able to reach him instantly. It had been only thirty seconds since Jeran had lost his ability to breathe, but Tara was worried that she might already be too late. As soon as she could reach the scarf, she quickly cut it with a knife and grabbed Jeran’s limp arm before he fell. Tara began climbing up the rocky wall using rocks jutting out from the cliff as footholds. Suddenly, the rope and metal spike came whizzing by her head. The hard pull the rope had endured because of Tara's fall had loosened it.
There was no room for mistakes now. Though Tara hadn't been using the rope in her climb, she had been relying on it in case she slipped. Each step became a life-changing decision. Two feet from the top, Tara's foot missed a ledge and she slipped, only barely saving herself and Jeran by grasping a nearby rock. Luckily, she had little more trouble, taking only two minutes to complete the climb. Once on solid ground, Tara rushed to tend to Jeran. She could hear faint gasps of breath, but she wasn’t sure if Jeran would recover completely. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to handle the situation, and no one was around to help. All she could do was wait. Minutes passed. Minutes that felt like hours.
Tara was pacing and had begun to give up hope when Jeran began to breathe more steadily and opened his eyes. Tara leaped towards him and starting judging his condition. She was no doctor, but she could distinguish between the living and the not. After letting him rest for a while, Tara helped Jeran to his feet and starting to walk him towards the Kacheekers field, where they might get a ride to the Healing Springs.
Jeran was still a little out of it, but halfway there he said, “Where are we going?”
“What about the cave?”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s not important.”
“It is important. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I want to get that key.”
“Jeran, it’s okay. I don’t care. We can come back another time. We can—"
“No! I’m not going anywhere. I feel awful about that fight. I realize that this means a lot to you, and to tell you the truth, I really want to finish this thing out. Let’s get that key.”
“Really. By the time we get back to the cave, I’ll be good as new and we can keep going.”
Tara very cautiously helped Jeran back to the cave. Sure enough, with the help of a few minor Healing Potions, by the time they arrived, Jeran had gotten most of his strength back and was trying to mask his unmistakable terror.
“We don’t have to do this, you know.” Tara said.
"No, I'm ready. Let's do it.”
The two took a few steps into the cave. Neither had been there before and weren’t quite sure what to expect. Tara walked to the nearest wall and removed the torch that burns eternally (seriously... have you EVER seen it go out?) and they walked on. They walked farther and farther until they came to a rope and a dead end. The only way to go was up. They climbed up and found themselves in a small room with a hole in one of the walls. Inside the hole it was pitch black. Tara heard a noise and stopped.
“Do you hear that, Jeran? I hear a clacking sound.”
“Y-y-y-yeah... I h-h-hear it.”
Tara turned around to face him and saw what the sound was. Jeran’s knees were knocking together so fast; Tara was surprised his kneecaps hadn’t split in two.
“Jeran, there’s no reason to be scared. I’m sure the ‘monster’ is a lot less harmful than people say it is.”
Tara grabbed Jeran’s hand and they walked together towards the hole. They stepped inside, Tara first of course, and were immediately thrown into darkness. The torch Tara was holding went out the second they passed through the opening. They took a few steps forward and then Tara stopped.
“Jeran. Stop breathing on me. It’s annoying.”
“Tara, I’ve been holding my breath since we stepped inside. I was too scared to breathe.”
“Then what’s breathing on m—Jeran...”
Tara darted towards the light that showed a small hole through the darkness with Jeran right on her heels. A split second later they heard something in the blackness make a blood-curling noise that shook them to their bones. Jeran, unable to see where he was going, tripped on what he thought was a stick and fell to the ground. He struggled to get back up and away from what the little light from the cave's entrance now showed him was a very long bone. He was almost to his feet, but within seconds, the monster had snagged his shirt. Jeran fought with all his might, but was unable to free himself from the monster’s grasp. After almost dying multiple times during this journey, it was finally about to be over.
The monstrous pterodactyl lifted Jeran into the air and took him to what felt to Jeran like a nest. It placed Jeran against a smooth, hard surface and settled down.
Jeran was afraid, but happy that he hadn’t been eaten. His eyes began to adjust to the extreme darkness and he turned to see what he was resting on. He could barely make out what looked like... an egg. Jeran looked around it and saw three more identical to the one in front of him. And to make the situation worse, it looked like cracks were beginning to form in them. They were hatching!
Jeran ran to the wall of the nest. It was at least ten feet high. He had no time to lose. Fortunately for Jeran, the pterodactyl was busy caring for its hatching eggs and was not paying attention to him. He began to climb the tree branches the nest was made of and tried not to look down. Heights were one of the many things that frightened Jeran. They were right up there with pterodactyls breathing down his neck. Jeran reached the top quickly and looked back down to see where the monsters were. They still hadn’t noticed he was gone. The baby birds were now out of their eggs and squawking crazily. It was a nasty sight and Jeran tried to look away, but he noticed something. In the first baby’s egg, he saw something that made his heart sink: another key. He knew what he had to do.
He climbed back down the wall and snuck stealthily behind the distracted family of monsters. Once behind the hatched eggs, he proceeded to sneak over to the egg that contained the key. The eggs were at least five feet tall, but because of the broken pieces, Jeran was able to climb over the jagged edges and plop noisily into the bottom of the egg. He grabbed the key and tried to climb back over, but the slope was too slippery.
But that was the least of his problems; every one of the birds had noticed him and was running towards the egg. The three babies soon formed a ring and started pecking at the bottom. Jeran rolled and jumped and dodged as each bird took its turn jabbing at him. He couldn’t keep it up for long. Eventually one of them would hit its target and he’d be done for. But then something miraculous happened. One of the siblings went out of turn, angering its other siblings, who started pecking at him. A fight ensued and soon all focus had been taken off of Jeran. Lucky, lucky, lucky...
Jeran took his chance, getting a running start and barely completing his slippery climb. After vaulting the eggs cracked shell, he ran back to the wall and once again climbed up. The mother might have noticed had its children not been trying to tear each other to pieces.
Once at the top, Jeran wasted no time jumping off. He wasn’t sure where he would land, but was sure it was better than being eaten by a monster or two... or four. He fell and fell and fell... about a foot. No sooner had he jumped off the nest than he landed on the ground. He turned around in disbelief and saw that the nest was built into a large crater in the bottom of the cave. Convenient for him, not so much for the enormous bird that had just noticed his absence.
The monster scrambled to get out of the nest, but had some trouble, giving Jeran a slight head start. He sprinted away from the nest in no particular direction. After about a minute of running, he hadn’t met a wall or any sign of civilization. He had lost the pterodactyls somehow, but now was completely lost! Without anything nearby to focus on, his sight had gotten much worse. He had no idea how to get out of the cave and would likely starve to death if he didn’t figure it and escape.
He took a box of matches from his knapsack and lit one. It was no help at all. Although he could now see his nose in front of his face, it was pretty much all he could see. Suddenly he heard the same sound that he and Tara had heard earlier. It was the same blood-curling, ear-splitting noise that caused him so much pain. Except this time it was louder, more high-pitched, and it sounded like more than one monster. The kids were coming.
Jeran ran in the opposite direction of the noise, hoping he didn’t reach a dead end. Jeran’s luck held out and within thirty seconds he saw a glimmer of light. It seemed so far away, but before long Jeran had reached the hole he had climbed through earlier. He dived through the hole and was hit on the head with a large object. He turned to see Tara holding a large club, looking bewildered.
“Oh my gosh! Sorry! I heard the noise and thought you were the monster!”
“That’s okay,” Jeran responded. “It’ll leave a knot, but I’m okay. I got another key.”
“Good job! You’re on a roll!”
“Well, you know—AHHHH!”
The three baby pterodactyls were all trying to shove their way through the hole, only held back by their impatience. Tara and Jeran ran as fast as they could, and jumped down the next hole. They ran until they had reached the edge of Tyrannia and then stopped for a breath. Panting, Tara said,
“Well, that was fun!”
“Fun!? I just avoided being eaten for the THIRD TIME! And where were you?”
“Sorry I left you, but when the pterodactyl took you away instead of eating you on the spot, I figured we had a little time and I went to get help. Tyrannians aren't really that nice, you know. No one believed my story, and I ended up just grabbing that club I hit you with. I had just gotten back with the club when I heard those beasts howl and thought they were coming for me."
"Well, in any case, at least we survived. And now we're halfway done! Only three more clues!"
"Right! And Faerieland will definitely be a relief after the past few locations. Let's get going!"
And so the pair set off for their fourth destination...
To be continued...