A Faerie Tale: Part Two
Belinda couldn't keep her eyes off of the Baby Gelert.
Avresi, that was what he'd said his name was. Captain Avresi. He needed to stand on a crate in order to reach the wheel of the ship, a ship that he could man himself as it was hardly large enough to hold a crew, never mind require one. Sure, the way he guided the ship, with the grace and ease of a practiced seafarer, made for smooth sailing. This made her no less angry at Viggo for his choice of ship and captain.
The Fire Eyrie hadn't left the bow of the ship since they'd set sail. His gaze was fixed upon some point ahead of them, watching the ocean, no doubt. She didn't particularly care what he was looking at. She'd been trying to stay away from the railing of the ship as the sight of the ocean rushing past made her nauseous; she really wished Viggo had chosen a larger boat. Now, she moved to stand beside him, pulling her hand back to punch his shoulder in an attempt to vent some of her frustrations towards him.
She paused before releasing the punch, a distant movement on the ocean catching her attention.
A boat. That is what Viggo was watching. It was just close enough for her to see the figures of some of the Neopets aboard, bustling about in practiced manner, keeping the large vessel on course. The name, blazoned on its side in boisterous letters, caused her eyebrows to furrow.
"Why are you watching Carvar's ship?" she demanded.
"Carvar? Is that whose boat that is?"
Viggo's tone was far too innocent. Eying him suspiciously, she drew a breath, preparing to work the truth out of him. Before she could, however, Avresi interjected.
"Mystery Island is in sight! Just another few minutes now."
Turning her gaze upon the ocean, she found that Avresi was right; she could just see the pale shore of Mystery Island in the distance. Deciding that, for now, she would put Viggo's interest in their fellow smuggler's ship aside, she lowered her voice, addressing the Fire Eyrie.
"Are you ready for this?"
At Belinda's question, I forced my gaze from Carvar's ship. I'd watched the ship since we set out from Krawk Island, counting the distant figures of the crew, taking note of any sightings of the Magma Hissi or of Carvar himself. The Pirate Uni kept to the ship's wheel for the most part. The Hissi, on the other hand, restlessly paced the deck of the ship. I wished I knew what he was thinking.
The Faerie Peophin, on the other hand, like me, clung to the railing of the ship. Once far enough out to sea that she most likely felt comfortable that she would not be spotted with a bunch of Pirates, she removed her heavy cloak, letting it fall aside. The removal of this cloak revealed her delicate wings, which she stretched and fluttered for a while – I guessed that they must have been rather cramped and uncomfortable beneath the heavy fabric of the cloak – before settling herself down at the railing, where she would remain throughout the trip.
She leaned over the waters, letting the wind play in her mane and catch under her wings, threatening to throw her overboard, though this didn't seem to concern her in the least. Every so often, the restless Hissi would approach her and try to speak with her, only to leave her again to amuse herself. I couldn't help but to wonder once more of her purpose.
"Ready as ever," I replied finally, turning my attention back to the matter at hand. This matter was the acquisition and subsequent smuggling of several Draik Eggs for some anonymous client. Normally, I would have pressed for more information, weaseled it out of Sting, the Pirate Xweetok who'd given us the job. With the distraction of the unusual visit of a Faerie Peophin to Smuggler's Cove and the ensuing accompaniment of said Peophin and her Hissi companion to a matter of dangerous Pirates, I had to content myself on working with sparse knowledge of my task.
Mystery Island grew larger against the horizon. Avresi guided his boat into the harbor with as practiced ease as he sailed – I'd known he was a good choice of captain, in spite of Belinda's misgivings. Immediately, Belinda set to shore, no doubt to satisfy her longing for steady land; she had no fondness of small ships. I turned my attention momentarily to the Gelert before disembarking in her wake.
"Stay here," I told him. "We should be back by daybreak."
Our destination, the Lost City of Geraptiku, was on the opposite end of the island, and the Lost Tomb, in which we had reason to believe we should find the first Draik Egg, a labyrinth of tunnels and traps, but I had confidence that I should keep my word. Belinda liked to make fast work of each job we acquired, and this job would be no different. We would work through the night and sleep on the boat tomorrow on our way to our next destination.
"I'll be awaiting your return," Avresi assured me.
Knowing he spoke the truth – he was too honest a fellow to be working smuggling jobs, though I hadn't, in fact, informed him that we were smugglers – I followed Belinda from the boat.
I couldn't help but to notice that Carvar's ship had made dock on the island also and that several of the crew, along with Carvar himself, the Hissi, and the Peophin – clad again in her heavy cloak – had come ashore, but I forced my attention from the matter. I could spare them no attention while Belinda was waiting impatiently for my engagement. Perhaps if we retrieved the Island Draik Egg quickly enough, I would have time to investigate the odd trio afterwards. It never hurt to hope.
We reached the Lost City of Geraptiku by nightfall.
Compared to the chipper tourist attraction that the majority of Mystery Island was, the city was a desolate sight. Jungle had claimed much of what had once been Mystery Island's great metropolis, dark, grey jungle, filled with eerie sounds and strange smells. We tramped through this jungle without stopping, without diverting out gazes from our path, regardless of the closeness of the occasional warning hiss or pair of glowing eyes peering from the underbrush.
The city itself consisted of nothing more than the stray tumbledown hut, its inhabitants limited to lost and desperate Petpets. There remained a single structure, though, that stood tall and strong, as it had in the height of Geraptiku's glory: The Deserted Tomb.
I drew to a halt as we reached its steps, folded my wings, which I'd held outstretching during our trek in order to light our way, and gazed up at the stone circle upon its top.
"Kalahnto," I whispered, echoing the name by which the natives of Mystery Island referred to the stone. "Judgment." I cast a glance at Belinda out of the corner of my eye. "A civilization destroyed by pride."
"Bunch of superstitious nonsense, if you ask me," Belinda responded shortly, starting up the long flight of broken steps.
"You'd better watch out, Belinda," I commented lightly, moving after her. "The spirits might sense your disbelief."
"I'd be more worried about yourself," Belinda retorted dryly. "They might sense your excessive arrogance."
I only smiled smugly at this.
No, I did not believe we would encounter any spirits on this journey. I was wrong, but then, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Reaching the landing atop the flight of steps, we paused before the large stone door marking the entrance to the Tomb. Strange carvings covered the door, half disguised by the vines that crawled across its worn, cracked surface, carvings whose meanings not even I could presume.
Pressing her paw to the inscription in the center of the door, Belinda stood back while it opened. Slowly. Moaning all the while. I was almost glad for the moaning as it drowned out the impatient tapping of my companion's foot, as well as her incessant mumblings, as we waited.
At long last, the door stopped moving... halfway open. Glaring at me as if this were my fault, Belinda shoved me towards the darkness waiting opposite the door. "After you."
I hesitated. Then Belinda shoved me again and, having no other choice, I ducked under the door and into the darkness.
The fiery light of my wings cast a flickering light through the darkness, sending hues of red and dancing shadows flitting across the creviced stone walls. A vine brushed my cheek, causing me to start, and my footing was nearly displaced by a puddle of slime on the uneven floor. Reaching my hand out to steady myself alerted me to the fact that the walls were covered in a similar slime.
Wiping my hand on my pants, I looked to Belinda, who had just slid beneath the door and into the firelight of my wings. "Where to?" she asked.
In answer, I reached into my pocket.
I suppose I should explain my pockets, before I allow this story to progress any further. You see, I have infinite pockets. Surely you have heard of the magic of the Everlasting Apple? If not... well... I would explain, but it is not my custom to give information without first receiving some tidbit of knowledge hitherto unbeknownst to myself. The point being, like the Apple, the pockets of my jacket seem to have been enchanted with Faerie magic. They can contain a multitude of items, sometimes of illogical size, without showing any sign of fullness and, so far as I call tell, without limit. Quite a useful trinket for an Eyrie of my employment. How I came across such a trinket is another story for another time.
Presently, I pulled from my pocket an old, rolled up map. Unfurling it, I lifted my wings so as to cast their light upon the yellowed paper, upon the inked drawings depicting the passages of the Deserted Tomb. The map took into account everything, so far as I could tell. Dead ends. Traps. False treasure rooms designed to divert and discourage those who entered the tomb with the purpose of seeking out riches. I had no eye for these trivialities; my gaze was drawn immediately to the room which, no doubt, held the item we searched for.
"Here, the treasure room," I said, holding the map so that Belinda might view it also.
Belinda's narrow gaze took in the map, critically, evaluating the truth of my statement. Finally, she nodded. "Let's go."
I moved to do just that. Before I'd taken a step, though, the sound of voices outside the door drew us both to a halt.
I'd heard tell of daring Neopets venturing blindly into the depths of the Tomb in an effort to bring riches back to their owners. At this late hour, however, we hadn't expected to encounter any such Neopets, nor did we want to. Belinda and I are sort of runaways, you see, both having escaped from the Pound in an effort to avoid a repeat of the bitter consequences of ownership gone sour – again, another story entirely. Needless to say, we aren't particularly fond of those Neopets that do have owners. You could call us jealous, I suppose, though we would both deny it.
"Move," Belinda hissed, reaching out to shove me further down the tunnel.
I was a step ahead of her. Ducking into the nearest passage, I pressed my back to the wall, tucking my wings behind me to douse their light. Belinda did the same on the opposite side of the doorway. I could tell from the look on her face that she hoped, as did I, that whoever was approaching would continue down the main passage, avoiding us an awkward encounter.
A veil of light from the approaching Neopet's torch fell through the doorway. My eyebrows furrowed. Approaching Neopets. The shuffling footsteps belonged to at least three. Then they moved past the doorway, and I caught the first glimpse of just who these fellow daring adventurers were.
"Carvar?" I hissed, once the light from the torches held by the Uni and his companions vanished further down the passage. Neither the Peophin nor the Hissi were in his presence, I couldn't help but to notice. "What is he doing here?"
"Probably hunting for treasure," Belinda replied shortly, as if the answer were obvious and need not be given. "It's really none of our concern. Let's go."
I would have done as she asked were it not for the cool breeze that chose that moment to rush over me. Turning toward the source of the breeze, I found myself suddenly frozen, staring into the narrow eyes of the Ghost hovering at my back.
"Viggo!" Belinda hissed from the main passage.
My voice caught in my throat; I couldn't answer her.
The monstrous Ghost Hissi lowered its head slowly, drifting gradually closer. A crown of brown and red feathers rested atop its head, sashes covered in strange writings over its wings. Spikes of gleaming gold ran down the edges of said wings, deadly looking spikes, illuminated by the Ghost's spectral glow.
The Ghost came to a halt, rising before me, looking down its nose at me with radiant red eyes. I heard a sharp breath drawn behind me and knew that Belinda had returned to the doorway, but I still could not speak.
It was the Ghost that finally spoke, in a low, whispery tone, its forked tongue flitting between its teeth.
"You dare invade my home? For what purpose, mortals? No, do not answer. I know your purpose. It is as dark as that of most who come here."
The Ghost lowered its face to mine, its tongue flicking again from its mouth. The motion made me anxious. I could just imagine its fangs opening suddenly, the terrifying sight of them being the last thing I was to see before being gobbled up by the beast. Still, I could not move. From the silence behind me, I could only guess that Belinda was equally paralyzed. Either that or she'd already fled, leaving me as diversion while she escaped.
"You are frightened," the Ghost observed, a hint of amusement in its voice. "You should be. Though perhaps not so much as you might think."
The Ghost's gleaming gaze turned upon my hand, on the map still clenched in my fist.
"The treasure you seek will not be found where you seek it. Only the guardian of the Tomb can guide you to it."
"You are the guardian of the Tomb?" I managed to get out past the tightness in my throat.
The Ghost's glowing gaze met mine again. "Yes."
Pulling its eyes from mine, the Ghost drifted slowly back towards the far wall. Feeling myself relax for the first time, I cast a glance over my shoulder to see that Belinda remained in the doorway, watching the Ghost warily as it turned its gaze back upon us.
"I will guide you, if you first do me a favor."
"I don't do favors," Belinda answered immediately.
The glow in the Ghost's eyes darkened suddenly. In the back of my mind, the Islanders' tales of pride and judgment rang like a warning whistle. Fearful of Belinda's immodest tone, I spoke quickly.
"What sort of favor?"
The Ghost's tongue flicked in and out of its mouth as it surveyed me. "The Neopets who entered here after you," he stated finally. "They have a purpose darker than your own. They mean to make off with my treasure, with the treasure of the City. If you stop them, I will be your guide. I will lead you to the treasure you seek."
"No!" Belinda protested without hesitation.
"Deal," I agreed at the same moment.
The Ghost's eyes darted between us. I couldn't help but to think that it looked amused by our disagreement. It was probably eager for the slightest excuse to ingest us.
Belinda, however, was anything but amused. Seizing my arm, she dragged me out into the main passage. To my surprise, the Ghost let us go.
"Are you out of your mind?" she growled. "We can't go against Carvar! Do you know what that would do to our reputation?"
"And what will returning without the Island Draik Egg do to our reputation?" I challenged. "We can't find the Egg without guidance..."
"You believe that load of nonsense? I say we ditch the Ghost and stick with our original plan."
The low hiss that echoed through the adjacent doorway confirmed my suspicions that the Ghost would not like this suggestion. Its shimmering form appeared, filling the doorway.
"I gave you a choice," the Ghost hissed. "Will you do as I ask or shall I have to punish you for your intrusion?"
"I will stop Carvar," I answered quickly, before Belinda could speak, "in exchange for your guidance in finding the Egg... and for not eating us."
I could have sworn the Ghost smiled.
"Very well, mortal. We have a deal."
Knowing there was no time to waste – Carvar might have reached the treasure room already in the time we'd spent conversing with the Ghost – I turned to Belinda. "Are you coming?"
She didn't need to reply; the dark look in her eyes was all the answer I needed.
I didn't try to argue. Gathering my wits about me, I headed down the passage alone.
Carvar would have a map like my own, I didn't doubt it. He would know the fastest way to the treasure room, as well as which passages contained the deadly traps meant to discourage Neopets from finding the latter. I was betting on the fact that he would want to avoid said traps.
After pausing a moment to study the map, I headed for the fastest route. As soon as I reached the first of the trap-laden passages, I drew to a halt, letting my critical eye gradually make its way down the passage.
I spotted immediately the row of diamond shaped metal pieces that were embedded into the wall running the left side of the passage. The holes in the centers of these bits of metal no doubt would release to some sort of lethal weapon when triggered. The trick was to find the trigger.
It took three sweeps of the passage for me to spot it, but I finally did. There, near the center of the passage, hardly visible amongst the vast number of vines crawling over the walls, ceiling, and floor, was a thin greenish-brown rope, stretched from one side of the passage to the other.
Confident now that I could proceed without triggering the trap, I set forth. One paw raised over the rope, settled safely on the other side, and then the other. Breathing a sigh of relief, I took one more step... and triggered the trap.
Lucky for me, I felt the stone sink beneath my boot and was able to guess what was coming before it happened. I managed to dive to the ground at the last second, tucking my wings against my back and covering my head with my paws. A sharp clicking noise, the sound of stone against stone, rang in my ears. Finally, it stopped. Looking up, I saw the spears that had been ejected from the wall lying harmlessly on the ground to my right.
Drawing a deep, steadying breath, I returned slowly to my feet, took a moment to collect my thoughts, and then continued on my way. At the next few passages containing traps, I was careful to avoid the second trigger as well as the first.
In this manner, I eventually reached the treasure room.
It wasn't the magnificent sight I'd imagined. Treasure rooms, to me, were places filled to the brim with glittering gold and riches beyond imagine. This room contained a single chest of treasure, resting atop a stone pedestal in the middle of the room, illuminated by a shaft of light falling through a break in the ceiling. Compared to the size of the room, the chest was miniscule. Still, I can't deny that the golden glow resonating from the chest drew me inevitably towards it. Stepping into the shaft of light, I took the lid of the chest in my paws and carefully lifted it.
The treasure in the chest was, no doubt, valuable; a couple of bottled Faeries, and an assortment of other, more tribal looking items rested in a nest of a couple thousand or so glittering neopoints. Valuables no Neopian would be distressed upon finding, no doubt. Yet, it was hardly the impressive treasure I'd imagined, worth the protection of the ghostly guardian that seemed so keen to protect it.
While I pondered this conundrum, I removed from the chest the bottled Faeries. I have no liking of captured beings, especially when said beings are winged and meant to be flying free, not peering from the confinements of a jar. Setting the lid back atop the chest, I placed the bottles on the lid and uncorked them, watching the Faeries' frantic fluttering up and out of the break in the ceiling. Then I turned my attention back to the chest.
As I made to remove the lid once more, however, I hesitated. It had almost escaped my notice, it was so faint; a quiet, nearly inaudible humming, sounding from the chest. The lid vibrated weakly beneath my paws.
Abruptly, the chest was still, the room silent once more. Looking around warily lest I set off another trap, I lifted the lid.
A couple of codestones sat, nestled into the neopoints where the bottled Faeries had rested previously. For a moment, I merely stared, trying to determine whether or not my eyes were deceiving me. Reaching out my paw, I touched one of the codestones. It hummed faintly, like the chest had a moment ago.
No, my eyes were not deceiving me. And I had just discovered the value of the treasure. No doubt the Neopets that had discovered this room before me had taken the contents of the chest and left before the treasure had a chance to regenerate. Carvar, I guessed, had plans to take the chest itself.
The question was, how was I to keep him from doing just that?
Actually, I was rather surprised that Carvar hadn't arrived at the treasure room already. Perhaps his map wasn't as flawless as mine and he had encountered some difficulty, delaying his progress. Whatever the reason, I was certain that he would arrive soon. I would have to think fast. Fortunately, as I eyed the vines and pools of slime, similar to the one I'd slipped on, that covered the floor, a plan began to formulate in my mind.
Reaching out my paw to one of the pools of slime, I took a bit of it on the paw. Holding it up before me, I lit the slime aflame. It combusted nicely, igniting a dank yet well-burning flame. Yes, this plan would work agreeably.
Working quickly, I prepared to put my plan into action. I finished just on time, too; I was just backing into the shadows near the entrance to the room when they arrived. Tucking my wings hurriedly out of sight, I watched them enter.
Carvar's accompanying Pirates led the way, no doubt to set off any traps hidden in their path. One of the Pirates had a fresh scrape across his face already, as well as a couple of tears in his clothing; it appeared I had been correct in my assumption of delay. As they entered the room, however, Carvar's companions drew to a halt and he stepped out from behind them, taking survey of the chest from a distance.
Perfect. With their attention focused on their prize, Carvar and his companions failed to take notice of the slime-covered vines crisscrossing the ground between them and their goal.
The Uni gave his companions the go ahead with a short nod of his head. All three stepped towards the chest. At the same moment, I lowered my paw to the ground and lit the vines closest to me aflame.
The result was instantaneous. All three Neopets turned at the igniting of the vines. Then the entire floor seemed to burst into flame, sending Carvar's companions scrambling for the exit.
To my surprise, Carvar himself lingered, although the flames licked hungrily at the ground inches from his hooves. For a moment, he gazed in the direction of the chest, lost amongst the fire and smoke, unreachable until the flame died away. Then his gaze turned in my direction.
I hadn't the faintest idea whether or not he could see me amidst the flame. The way that his eyes narrowed, I guessed that he might. Yet he didn't approach me, didn't speak a word, before following his companions.
I waited as long as I could before leaving the room also, giving in only when the thickening smoke began to sting my lungs. Neither the Uni nor his companions postponed their departure to confront me, so I assumed I'd been wrong in thinking that Carvar had seen me. Undisrupted, I made my way back to the Tomb's entrance, where the Ghost awaited me.
"Your companion waits for you outside," the Ghost told me.
This hardly fazed me; I wouldn't have been surprised if Belinda had abandoned me entirely, returning to the ship and having Avresi set off without me as punishment for going against her wishes.
"You did well, mortal. Thanks to you, the City's treasure remains safe."
"It was no trouble at all," I assured the Ghost. I didn't lie; the task had been far easier than I'd imagined.
"As promised, I shall guide you to the treasure you seek." Tilting its head towards the exit, the Ghost flit its tongue in and out of his mouth. "Travel into the jungle behind the Tomb. There, you will find the Egg awaiting you."
"Thank you," I said.
Again, I could have sworn that the Ghost smiled. Then it vanished, fading slowly into nothingness.
For a split second, I lingered, wondering briefly if I'd imagined the Ghost entirely. Then I shook my head to clear my thoughts and hurried outside.
Belinda was indeed waiting for me, her arms crossed, her foot tapping, open eyebrow raised in that perfect Pirate scowl. "Well?" she demanded to know. "Was angering Carvar worth it?"
"Come on," I said by way of reply, gesturing for Belinda to follow. Hesitantly, she did, trailing behind me as I hurried to the jungle at the back of the Tomb.
The Ghost had indeed been truthful. There, several yards into the jungle, upon a pedestal of raised earth, snugged in a nest of leaf and twig, was the Island Draik Egg.
Going to the pedestal, I lifted the Egg from its nest, stroking my paws over its smooth surface before looking up at Belinda, a sideways smile on my face.
"One down, four to go."
Belinda merely scowled.
To be continued...