Messenger: The Trouble With Selkets - Part Four
The ferry took us quickly around the Meridell Peninsula and through the Haunted Woods Sea. By early morning the next day, we had reached the Lost Desert.
It was only a short walk to Sakhmet. Midnight and Bluecloud looked excited to be home, and kept chattering about how clear the sky was, how hot the sand was, and the wonderful architecture. We wound our way along the banks of the Rile River, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the sights. Palm trees dotted the shore, and Djutis flew among the treetops. After a while, though, we had to leave the river and travel through open desert. The sun beat down on us, worsening my headache, and the sand scorched my feet. Pecan got tired of flying with the Djutis and Horuses after a while and had to rest on my shoulders, which were hot from all of the sunlight and fur.
“Here we are,” Midnight announced, as a huge wall loomed into sight. “Sakhmet.”
The city was bright, hot, and busy, with tents, shacks, shops, and mud brick houses scattered across the streets. Pets ran across the streets, of every size and species but mostly Desert in color.
“So, where’s your house?” asked Clark, as a small Pteri scuttled past him, holding an Ummagine high in the air and laughing. An angry-looking Cybunny bounded after him, yelling “Stop! Thief!”
“Um. . .” Midnight put her finger to her mouth thoughtfully. “Well, it’s only a tent, really, and we’ve been gone for quite a while. . .tents are easy to move, and Sakhmet is overpopulated anyway, so somebody could have torn it down or moved in or stolen it.”
Clark sighed. “Well, where was it when you saw it last?”
Midnight nodded toward a narrow alleyway behind a ramshackle fruit cart. “It’s this way.” We reluctantly squeezed though the alleyway, tramping through wet sand, rotten fruit, and other assorted items. Finally, we came upon a small courtyard surrounded by brick houses. The houses threw their shadows down on the small courtyard, blocking the boiling desert sunlight and cooling the hot sand. An empty fountain stood in the middle of the courtyard, the bottom covered with dust and sand.
Tents were scattered across the sand, in all sizes and colors. Midnight trotted over to a small tent in the corner, carefully inspecting it. The drab brown cloth was drooping on the frame and dotted with stray stitches and patches. Midnight motioned us inside, her dark blue eyes flashing with anxiety.
“Hey!” An indignant-looking desert Kougra glared at us as we entered the tent. Electric blue stripes contrasted starkly against the Kougra’s pale cream fur. A patched cloth robe was draped across his skinny frame, and a short dagger hung from a cord around his waist. His bright yellow eyes shone with hunger and anger--not a good combination for someone with a knife hanging from their waist.
“Petbe?” Midnight stepped tentatively forward, hugging Star close to her. The Kougra snarled at her and stood up quickly, his hand flying to the dagger at his waist. “What do you want now?” he snapped.
Midnight stepped back again and put her arm around Bluecloud. “T-this is MY tent, Petbe.”
Petbe glared at her and folded his arms, planting his feet firmly in the sand. “It WAS yours. You’ve been gone long enough. And besides, I doubt you still have the money to pay for this tent, ragtag as it is. My price is 20,000 neopoints.”
“I have the m-money for it,” Midnight stammered, shrinking backwards against the tent wall. Her eyes flicked back and forth nervously.
Petbe spat on the ground behind us. “Good. Hand it over, then.”
“Please,” Midnight begged. “Give us more time. We’ll have the money, I promise.”
Petbe sneered at her. “You’d better. Now get out, and don’t come back unless you have at least 20,000 neopoints. Oh yes, and I’ll add on a thousand every week you don’t pay me.”
“This tent isn’t worth that much!” Midnight burst out, startling Star. “No one around here has ever seen that much in their life. No one in Sakhmet, even.”
“Go to Qasala, then,” the Kougra snarled. “Or better yet, out of the desert. With any luck, you’ll make enough money to pay for two inches of this tent—if you can survive that long.”
Midnight spun around angrily and guided us out of the tent. Her eyes were filled with tears as she flung herself down onto the sand by the fountain.
“20,000 neopoints,” said Bluecloud in wonder. “For our old tent? You can buy an Apis for that much.”
“Bluecloud, please, don’t steal the money,” Midnight begged. “You’ll get into so much trouble, and if you steal that much money they’ll throw you in the palace dungeons.”
Bluecloud threw her head up defiantly. “They won’t catch me. You’ve always said that my grey fur blends into the shadows better than any other pet.”
Midnight shook her head furiously. “No Bluecloud, please don’t. Promise me you won’t.”
I coughed quietly and poked Bluecloud. “Steal? You? Are you a thief?”
“Isn’t she, though,” said Midnight bitterly, tracing her finger through the dust in the fountain.
“You are!” I exclaimed incredulously, leaning back against the fountain for support. My headache was back again, and in full swing.
Bluecloud nodded, embarrassed. “Sometimes. But only when we really need the money. Like now.”
“Bluecloud, I’m sure that stealing something worth all that would be much worse than stealing something worth a few neopoints,” Clark cut in.
“But we really need it! You don’t understand. Sakhmet is growing faster than ever. We barely managed to save enough money to buy that tent, and now it’s all going to be taken from us! We won’t find a place this time. We’ll live on the street, like half of Sakhmet. We’ll starve or get sick, especially Star. Most everyone in Sakhmet is a thief, anyway.” Bluecloud started pacing angrily, her hands in fists. I had never seen her this angry. In fact, I doubted that I had ever seen her angry at all. This wasn’t Bluecloud; my friend was aloof, a little strange, too honest, and at times a little crazy.
“Where will we sleep?” asked Clark worriedly.
Midnight lifted her head, looking up at Clark sadly. “I’m not sure. We obviously can’t sleep in the tent, and I’m not going to let my guests sleep on the street. I guess we’ll have to stay at a friend’s place.”
Bluecloud stopped pacing abruptly. “How about Wosret’s place? She’s pretty nice, and her tent is big. I’m sure she’ll let us stay with her, at least until Emma and Clark go back to Neopia Central.”
“Good idea,” said Midnight, standing. “You and Emma go ask her, then. I’ll be here, with Clark and Star.” Clark nodded, and sat down on the fountain.
Bluecloud nodded and grabbed my good hand. “I’ll show you where Wosret lives. Just follow me.” I nodded back, and we took off.
Running through the streets of Sakhmet wasn’t as easy as it looked. I constantly had to swerve around tents, carts, shops, and people. Sand flew into my eyes, kicked up by the feet of hundreds of Sakhmetians. I almost lost Bluecloud several times, but we finally arrived at a large red tent sitting next to a pottery shop.
“Bluecloud?” A tall desert Ruki standing in the back of the tent looked up. She was dressed in a plain blue robe, her only jewelry a silver bracelet adorning one of her antennae. She had bright golden eyes and brown freckles sprinkled across her tan face. Next to her sat a huge Anubis, his dark blue fur covered with sand and dirt. Pecan, who was sitting on my shoulder, looked up at the Anubis and wagged his tail. The Anubis barked at him and rested his chin on the Ruki’s foot, his nose quivering as he smelled Pecan.
“Hi, Wosret.” Bluecloud waved at the tall Ruki. I nodded at her and introduced myself as Bluecloud’s friend, Emma. I only half-listened to Bluecloud’s explanation of her predicament and her request for us to stay here. She immediately agreed.
“Sure, always glad to help a friend. Tent’s too big anyhow, it’s just me and Seth here, and the Selkets.” She nodded toward a dozen or so cages containing buzzing Selkets set in the corner. I immediately stiffened. Wosret noticed, and laughed.
“You haven’t got anything to worry about those Selkets, Emma. They won’t bite—at least, not hard.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Bluecloud glanced without interest at the Selkets, ignoring their evilly flashing yellow eyes. “A Selket bit Emma. It was poisonous. She almost got done in,” she added mysteriously, sticking her tongue out at the Selkets.
“But Selkets aren’t poisonous,” said Wosret, laughing again, but this time it was weaker, more serious.
“This one was,” said Bluecloud. Right at that moment, the tent flap opened, and a very familiar Aisha walked in.
“Wosret, I’ll need half a dozen more Selkets, my last batch got lost up north. I-” She stopped suddenly, seeing me. “You're. . .alright?” she muttered.
“I HEARD THAT,” said Bluecloud loudly. The Aisha stood there for a moment, open-mouthed, before whipping around and dashing outside. Bluecloud and I ran after her, but she was soon lost in the crowd.
“That was weird,” remarked Bluecloud as we headed back to the courtyard to get Clark, Midnight, and Star. I nodded, thinking that we’d seen the last of the mysterious Aisha.
To be continued...