The Jewel of Maraqua: Part Two
Frantically Qwixa swam over to the once deep-water ruins and over to the cave where she and Gem had first met. Qwixa found that someone had already removed the boulder, and she rushed inside. There was a crowd of Maraquans already waiting inside, including King Kelpbeard.
“Why was the alarm not sounded?!” the King asked angrily. Seeing Qwixa arrive he directed his questions at her. “You, Ixi, you are one of the guardians, how in blazes were you not aware that the Jewel had been stolen?!”
“I didn’t hear any alarm!” Qwixa protested. “Did anyone else?”
The King looked at the ground in a shameful silence. Qwixa was not to blame; no one had had any idea that the cave had been breached.
“Without the Jewel,” the King began, “Neopia’s oceans will not survive. Without the warm ocean currents to deliver fair weather, Neopia will freeze, and the seas will recede to the poles!”
The Maraquan crowd voiced their dismay.
“What will we do without water?!”
“We’ll have to paint ourselves basic!”
“Or live in water tanks for the rest of our lives!”
“This effects every neopet in the world, and not just Maraquans.” He looked accusingly at his selfish subjects. “We need to recover the Jewel before it’s too late!” Kind Kelpbeard declared.
His decree was obvious enough, but how in Neopia would the Jewel be found? There was no way of even knowing who had taken it. Gem looked at her paws, her mind clouded with worried thoughts. The seas of Neopia were receding to the poles without the some Jewel in its proper place? This was crazy!
Gem noticed something peculiar in the cave. Beside the statue of the Gelert, hidden in a rocky crevice, was a feather. A feather? Underwater? The dark feather wafted with the water currents, stubbornly stuck in the cranny of a rock. A sign of the thief!
“Everybody, look!” Gem pointed out the clue to the cacophonous group of neopets. Qwixa swam over to it and plucked it from its hiding place. Everyone could see it clearly now; a plain, sharp black feather. But what could it belong to?
Gem, being a Gelert, had a keener nose than anyone in Maraqua. She sniffed the feather and detected that the same scent, the scent of the trespasser, had sunk to the rocks. “It may have been my foolishness that led the thief to the cave in the first place,” Gem thought to herself. She turned to her fellow Maraquans and declared, “I will find the thief and return the Jewel of Maraqua to you.”
“Your nose will only take you so far, young Gelert. The thief will have fled far inland by now!” Kelpbeard replied disbelievingly.
Gem followed the diluted trail until she was out of the cave and near the water’s edge. She could go no further, for she could not travel on land. Qwixa, trailing behind her, gave her a solemn conclusion, “Kelpbeard was right, you can’t go on land. It’s hopeless.” Qwixa looked at Gem glumly.
“No, there is a way,” Gem replied. On her little excursion to Maraqua yesterday, Gem had seen among the multitude of shops one that sold paint brushes, for Maraquan pets’ novelty and display, naturally. Qwixa eagerly awaited the return of her friend, keeping track of where the scent trail had led. When Gem returned, she held in her paw a blue paint brush.
“Gem, no! How will you change back?!” Qwixa cried.
“I don’t know,” Gem admitted. “But it doesn’t matter. I have to do this!” And with a splash of blue here and there, it was done. She was no longer Maraquan, but as plain and blue as the day she was born. She held back regretful tears as she walked, wobbling, onto dry land. For the first time in years, she was standing on four legs. She felt exposed, standing quite awkwardly and feeling unbalanced without water to buffer her movements. “I’m going to see this through, Qwixa. Wish me luck!”
“Goodbye, my friend. Best of luck on your journey. I promise I will try to find a way to return you to your Maraquan beauty!”
The Ixi waved goodbye to her blue friend, and Gem put her nose to the ground, intent on following the feathery scent and finding the Jewel.
Amazingly, the scent did not end for many miles, which meant the thieving fiend had never taken flight. Gem gave a great sigh of relief. Perhaps its wings were rendered useless from all the seawater, or perhaps it had broken one of them. Either way, the incapacitated state of the thief made the unbroken scent trail easy to follow.
It had been many a year since Gem had wandered about Mystery Island, and the sight of trees and grass were strange to her. She imagined she must look quite weird to other neopets as she travelled, nose to the ground. A fuss abounded on the island, and many neopets and owners argued and frantically chatted over the amazing disappearance of the oceans. The temperature was unnaturally cold, and Gem’s new short fur did not offer much warmth. The water level became lower and lower with each passing day, and Gem knew she was running out of time. She had to save her friends!
The scent became fainter and fainter as time went on, but the persistent Gem remained undeterred. Gem shivered her way up the mountain, following the trail. It was near the top of the mountain she though her search would finally come to an end. In the distance, she spotted someone. It was a fire Uni, with a fiery pelt and black wings. “Black feathers!” Gem thought, staring at the Uni’s wings. Without hesitation, Gem ran and leapt onto the defenseless Uni. “I’ve got you now!” she yelled.
“Hey, what’s the big idea, you mongrel!” the Uni cried in protest.
“Don’t play coy, I know you’ve stolen the Jewel!” Gem replied bluntly.
“What in Fyora’s name are you talking about? I didn’t take anything!” the Uni replied, pushing Gem off.
Gem spat out a mouthful of black feathers. The scent of them filled her mouth and nose, and she realized it was quite different than the one she had been following. Embarrassed, she explained herself to the befuddled Uni.
“It’s alright,” he replied understandingly.
“Haha, yeah... sorry,” Gem said shyly. She hoped she hadn’t hurt the Uni with her careless attack.
“But I do remember seeing someone else pass by these mountains a few days ago. Seems it had a broken wing. I didn’t get a good look at it though, I just glimpsed from a distance. But it seemed it was carrying something important, something very bright and glowing.”
“Something glowing?!” Gem asked, ecstatic. She put her nose to the ground once more and tried to recall the scent of the thief, but it was difficult when the stench of Uni feathers still filled her mouth.
“Hey, if that thing’s what you’re looking for I saw where it headed,” the Uni said. “It went down the mountain and never came back up. I assume it’s still down there, along with whatever it was carrying.”
Gem looked up hopefully at the Uni. “Really?” She felt so lucky to have met him. “Could you show me?”
“Sure, I guess,” replied the Uni.
“Oh, thank you, thank you! Oh, and by the by, I don’t believe I caught your name,” Gem replied giddily.
“Vhaso,” the Uni replied.
Vhaso led Gem down the mountain. He had a rather solemn disposition. He was a sensitive Uni, and Gem felt ever more guilty that she had wrongly, and impulsively accused him. Gem spent her time explaining the peril that Neopia was in, and the importance of recovering the Jewel of Maraqua. Soon, the two came to a steep slope. “This is the last I saw of the black thing,” Vhaso said.
“No problem, I can find the rest of the way!” Gem yelled proudly. She shoved her nose to the ground and began tracking once more.
“You know, I think I’ll come along and help. This concerns all of us, after all.”
Gem found the scent was stronger this time, more freshly laid. But the slope was steep, and Gem was still a bit green as far as walking went. It wasn’t long before she lost her footing and began tumbling down the mountainside.
“Help, help!” she cried.
Vhaso leapt to her rescue. He dove after her and grabbed Gem in his hooves. He struggled with his tiny Uni wings to regain balance, but in the end he too fell into a tumble. After a long battle with gravity, Vhaso was finally able to stabilize the pair.
After Gem managed to get her bearings, she realized she and Vhaso had fallen halfway down the mountain. What if she had lost the scent trail?! She tried frantically to relocate the trail, and as luck would have it, she found it. Fresher than ever this time! The trail led her and Vhaso to a cave, carved seemingly naturally into a cliffside.
“This must be where the thief ended up,” said Vhaso confidently.
“Well what are we waiting for? Let’s get him!” Gem practically screamed.
Gem threw aside her bashfulness and charged righteously into the thief’s cave. A scraggly voice stopped her.
“TRESPASSERS!” It screeched.
Gem and Vhaso practically fell over at the sound of the horrible voice. They turned to see a crokabek perched on a wall, looking slyly at them.
“MASTER! MASTER! TRESPASSERS!” The crokabek toddled back and forth on its stubby legs, screeching. “TRESPASSERS!” The mangy bird spilled dirty black feathers as it frantically flapped its wings. It lost its balance and tumbled to the floor, revealing one of its wings was broken and hung awkwardly from its haunch. Embarrassed, the disheveled bird shook its head and wall-clung its way back to its perch.
The master the crokabek had called upon suddenly made her appearance.
Gem and Vhaso stared in shock as a beautiful snow faerie entered the cavern. Her skin was as flawless as glass. Her hair was the color of fresh snow, and fell well beyond her shoulders. She flaunted bedazzling feathery wings and held a staff in her left hand. On closer inspected Gem saw that the staff she was carrying had a tip of a perfectly-round stone, and it glowed an eerie aquamarine.
“The Jewel! It’s on her staff!” Gem cried. “What have you done with it?!”
The snow faerie smiled wryly. “Why, nothing, I’ve only liberated it from its resting place beneath the sea. Isn’t that right, Ridley?”
The crokabek, the original thief, chimed in response, “ Yes, master! CAWW!” And the two fiends joined in laughter.
To be continued...