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Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part Two


by peirigill

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"She's a beautiful vessel, isn't she?" Bizhiw sidled up to Pystry, who had been leaning over the ship's rail, entranced by the hypnotic expanse of seemingly endless ocean. In the vast cloudless sky, no seabirds cried; only the sound of the waves, and the sea winds buffeting the sails, punctuated the silence. Above the sails, on the mainmast, the ship's flag fluttered gently in the breeze, displaying a blue circle with two blue crossed bones, the colors of the Five Hundredth Dubloon. "Phidianne doesn't like to brag, but this ship has quite a history, and she's seen it through a lot of trials. You should talk to the ship's cook sometime. He'll tell you the full story."

     Pystry sighed. "It's good to know I'm in such good hands. I feel a little guilty about Phidianne suspending her ferry service just for me."

     "Nonsense!" Bizhiw beamed. "Phidianne loves taking the old 500th out for a spin. I think she's happy to have a pleasant reason to sail for a change. You know, instead of fighting pirates or doing government business."

     "Let's hope that Rorru's lead pans out. I hate to admit it, but most of the time I can't understand a thing she says." Pystry's Battledome training had come to an abrupt end when the Techo Master had charged him with a quest to gain more real-world experience of the six combat elements, and handed him a magical Pandaphant Doll to track his progress. The quiet rattle of fifty jelly beans inside the figurine attested to his successful enlightenment with the element of water. After completing all six elements, the doll should contain a total of 300 beans. Now, he hoped to find an expert on the element of earth.

     At Phidianne's urging, Pystry had consulted Mystery Island's resident haiku artist. The Green Kougra, she assured him, was one of the best connected Neopets on all of Mystery Island, because so many people visited her daily. Her advice had not been too helpful:

      a risky sojourn

     to the center of the earth

     spills gems of wisdom

     which, at least, made more sense than her usual haiku. Then Rorru handed the puzzled Hissi a business card. Bordered with miniature filigree petroglyphs, it read, Oriscus the Yellow Hissi. Archaeology, Speleology, Ethnography, Glyph analysis. Fifth Mound Left of the Rock, Tyrammet, Tyrannia. "If Rorru hadn't given me this, I'd have guessed she meant Moltara instead."

     The schooner carefully wended its way to the stony Tyrannian coast. Sharp-tusked Tyrannian Tuskaninnies and Peophins from Plesio's Sea Guard helped them navigate around the many hazardous skerries that had helped keep the prehistoric peninsula isolated from the rest of Neopia for so long. From the shore, it was a short hike through the stony jungle to the seven-score thatched mud huts that made up the village of Tyrammet.

     The village square was bustling with Tyrannians and visitors of all sorts. The smells of dung, smoldering mangrove wood, and roast Gargaraptor mingled in the air, amid the clamor of Grarrl roars, the pounding of stone, and the ubiquitous "ugga-ugg" of the local Tyrannian dialect. Pystry left his companions to their sightseeing and began his search for Oriscus. He tried showing Oriscus' business card to a local merchant, who simply brandished a stick with some indeterminate chunk of cooked meat at him. The meat turned out to be quite tasty, but the merchant was no help even after making her sale.

     Pystry flew above the crowd to get a Pteri's-eye view, keeping clear of the actual Pteri air traffic, and saw that the huts were divided into districts by a series of winding paths radiating from the town square. Deciding to try them one by one, he glided down to the leftmost path. At the head of the path, on the edge of the square, stood a stone statue of an Uggatrip. Glancing to the right, Pystry could just make out a stone Gruslen statue at the head of the next path. Pystry grinned. With a burst of speed he made a quick circuit of the periphery of the square, noting the different stone markers: here an Airax, there a Krawk, yonder a Woolypapith. The next marker was just an oversized boulder. A stone Rock petpet, thought Pystry. I wonder how you tell the difference between an actual Rock petpet and a statue of one?

     As Pystry sidewinded his way down the Rock's pathway, the neighborhood turned decidedly less commercial and more residential. It wasn't hard to spot the fifth hut on the left. The roof, doorframe, and walkway were lined with multicolored crystals that glittered in the morning sunlight. A Fur Wall Hanging with a single large petroglyph facsimile adorned the outside wall. Pystry knocked.

     The door cracked open, just enough to reveal a Yellow Hissi dressed in basic khaki. Pystry introduced himself, showed Rorru's business card, and explained his mission. Oriscus looked conflicted. "All right, come on in, but please excuse the mess. I wasn't prepared for company." The Yellow Hissi shifted some large object behind the door, allowing the door to swing open halfway. Pystry slipped through the doorway.

     Pystry's pupils dilated as they adjusted to the dim light inside. Every available surface was piled high with... stuff. A Stone Sofa was covered with haphazardly sorted stone samples, chisel hammers, and carabiners. A stack of parchments, with crudely sketched maps and carefully reproduced petroglyphs, threatened to topple from atop a Stone Side Table. Other chairs and shelves were similarly encumbered. A series of Travertine Bookshelves served as a marble étagère, on which a collection of sparkling geodes and other crystals were decoratively arranged. The only available seat was a single Stone Armchair, with a well-worn afghan throw cushioning its hard surface. Oriscus removed two ornamental stone teacups from the armchair's arms, and gestured to Pystry to sit. A kettle in the kitchen began to whistle. "Can I offer you some tea? I have Buzz Honey." Pystry nodded politely. From his vantage point on the armchair, with so many glittery objects scintillating throughout the room, Pystry felt like he was sitting in the center of a giant geode. He suspected that was the intention. Not wanting to outstay his welcome, Pystry launched into his interview as soon as the tea was ready.

     "I love living in Tyrammet," confessed Oriscus. "They never stop celebrating the Monoceraptor's defeat." He smiled knowingly. "At first, I think Kyruggi just forgot to cancel the celebration. Now it's become a big tourist draw. For me, it's an excuse to keep my Christmas crystals up all year round."

     Oriscus opened a drawer and pulled out a pillow that once held a Royal Paint Brush. On it lay a Golden Paint Brush, surrounded by several large sparkling jewels. "I can't wait to be painted Gold," sighed Oriscus. "But that's not what I wanted to show you. See this Noil Gem? Catches the light beautifully, doesn't it? This was cut from a gemstone from the Tyrannian Plateau. There's incredible beauty to be found in the earth, if you know where to look. Gemstones, gold and precious metals of all kinds. But to a trained eye, there's much more. We geologists can read the history of the land, hidden in plain sight in the details of every stone. That's why the Plateau is such a wonderful place to work. You can appreciate the beauty of the stone without all that unsightly foliage getting in the way." His eyes twinkled.

     Pystry glanced away. "I wasn't aware they mined the Tyrannian mountains."

     "They don't. Too many fearsome beasts use the caves as their lairs. Not enough mineral wealth to make it worth anyone's while. Not like the Jumpin' Gem quarries over by Neopia Central, or even the Perfectly Flat Rock Quarry. But there are other treasures, historical and scientific treasures." Oriscus reached over to the stack of parchments and pulled out a chart from the middle of the pile. "You want to know about earth? Earth changes, slowly, over time, and the stones leave telltale signs of those changes. An inland sea dries up, leaving a layer of fossils and salt, or a magma pool oozes molten ore into the cracks of nearby bedrock, leaving streaks of igneous rock where it cools. Sometimes, rarely, a volcano or earthquake will cause sudden, violent change. But on the whole, the earth is stable. Solid. Safe. Secure."

     "See these petroglyphs?" Oriscus flattened out a chart. "Based on the pigments, and the events they seem to describe, these have lasted for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. I copied these from a maze of caves on the Plateau. They describe some sort of hidden chamber. I've been trying to find it for months, but the directions don't make sense."

     Pystry peered at the scribbled symbols. "These are beautiful. Could we go visit the cave where you found these?"

     Oriscus smiled. "If you like. Just promise not to touch anything. We'll need to get you a helmet and a gas mask. Two of each, actually."

     Pystry's eyes narrowed. "Are there natural gas leaks down there?"

     "Not at all. Not in these caverns, anyway. The mask isn't to protect you, it's to protect the caves. Too much breathing will alter the air mixture in the cave and damage the glyphs."

     "And the helmet?"

     "There's a small but real risk of a rockslide or cave-in. But then, 'risk' is practically my middle name."

     


     The next day, Oriscus took Pystry to a cave opening near the Giant Omelette. Oriscus looked every inch the archaeologist, with his pith helmet and Hissi Thief gear. "Perfect for squeezing through tight spaces," he explained. The cave began straightforwardly enough. The smooth limestone walls provided plenty of space for the two Hissis to stand upright. After a few hundred metres, though, the corridor narrowed uncomfortably before abruptly ending at a steep drop-off. Extending his wings, Oriscus calmly hopped over the ledge and fluttered slowly down the cliff. Pystry followed suit.

     At the bottom of the drop-off, the cave walls receded into darkness. Pystry adjusted the lights on his twin Professional Mining Helmets to focus the beams into the distance. The two explorers hovered above a large central cavern with dozens of stalactites and stalagmites thicker than tree trunks. The cool, damp air was silent, save for the occasional drip of mineral-laden water falling from a stalactite onto the stalagmite below. A labyrinth of tunnels led away from the cavern.

     "Stay close, Pystry," urged Oriscus, as he darted towards the cavern wall. His voice echoed in the large chamber. "The petroglyph room is northeast and up from here." Oriscus looped playfully around a stalactite, then flew to an opening high up the limestone wall, marked with several white chalk marks. Before long, the new tunnel narrowed. Without space to extend their wings, the Hissis began to slither instead of fly. As the tunnel sloped upwards, the cave walls became drier. "We're heading underneath the mountains, now," explained Oriscus. "Many of these caves were formed by underground rivers. They drained farther down, taking soil and minerals with them into the caverns below. Over time, the rivers dried up, or shifted course."

     Pystry hustled to keep pace with Oriscus as they worked their way through the labyrinthine network of caves. At long last they arrived at a boxy, stuffy chamber with petroglyphs covering the ceiling. Pystry adjusted his mask to sip water from his canteen. Good thing I'm not claustrophobic, he mused. He craned his heads to try to decipher the painted symbols.

     Oriscus drew Pystry's attention to some crudely drawn pictures of spiky balls with eyes. "These symbols appear to be some prehistoric Neopets... possibly JibJibs or Fuzios, or maybe just the Tyrannian version of Fuzzles, hard to say." Turning to another section with more abstract shapes, Oriscus continued, "These symbols here appear to be directions to a vault hidden within this labyrinth of caves. I've tried following them; you can see the different chalk marks where I've left a trail on previous attempts. No luck so far."

     Pystry's heads swiveled in opposite directions, scanning different lines. "So it definitely starts out going from left to right. Maybe it changes from right to left on the next line?"

     Oriscus smiled wearily. "That's what we call boustrophedon." With his wingtip, he traced a path along the glyphs, snaking back and forth with each new line. "It's very common, especially around Qasala, but not here in Tyrannia. I did try it. Reading the directions that way doesn't work, I'm afraid."

     Pystry lay down on the cold limestone floor, and looked up at the markings. "These markings are in remarkably straight lines. That's not normal, is it?"

     Oriscus' eyes brightened. "Good eye, Pystry. It is uncommon. Whoever painted these probably used some tool as a liner."

     Pystry coiled himself back upright, and mimed holding a long, narrow plank over the first line of writing. "What if I stood here, and held a board in place, while you painted the next line? Wouldn't I be in your way?"

     Oriscus leaned in, and reached up as though painting the next line. "Very much so, even in boustrophedon. Unless..." The Yellow Hissi's tongue darted, as though tasting an idea. "Unless I wrote each new line upside-down. That would make literally half the direction markers face completely the wrong way." Oriscus paused, considering the possibilities.

     "Even if we're right about the text turning upside-down every other line, we don't know whether it's boustrophedon or left-to-right. We've got just enough time today to try one path. It's a long shot. Are you up for it?"

     Behind his masks, Pystry smiled broadly. "Let's do it!"

     Painstakingly and methodically, Oriscus followed the new directions, leaving a trail of chalk marks at each turn. To Pystry, the passages seemed unremarkable, but Oriscus kept scribbling notes, pointing out fossils and mineral inclusions embedded in the walls. Finally, the trail came to an end.

     "Nothing here. No luck?" asked Pystry, a note of disappointment creeping into his voice.

     "I wouldn't say that," replied Oriscus, gently unearthing a small clay shard. He held it next to a small laminated card with small samples of earth-tone colors, seeking an exact match for the color of the clay. "This is much, much older than any of the other potsherds I've found in these caves." His eyes pored around the stone chamber, then widened as he looked straight up at the ceiling. "A sipapu? Oh, yes. Oh, my, yes." Pystry followed his gaze and spied a narrow hole in the cave ceiling. Oriscus smiled. "If I wrap my wings close around me, I can fit through. Give me a boost?" Pystry braced his long spine, and cupped his wingtips together. Oriscus flew up, and rested his rubber-soled Wellington tailboot in Pystry's outstretched hands. Remembering all his Strength training, Pystry took care not to strain his spine, uncoiled as upright as he could get, and lifted Oriscus through the hole. The Yellow Hissi scrabbled out of sight. For a minute, there was silence.

     "Oriscus?"

     "Oriscus, is everything all right?"

     The Yellow Hissi's face appeared in the aperture. His eyes were moist. "Yes, I'm sorry. Everything's fine. Fly on up, I'll help you through. You have to see this."

     With difficulty, Pystry pressed his heads and necks together, and barely squeezed his thick Mutant body through the dark opening. He recoiled in terror as rows of ghastly eyes stared back at him. Then his eyes adjusted, and he realized that he was looking at rows of skulls, carefully placed in a radiating pattern around the center of the room. A series of petroglyphs in bold red clay adorned the walls, including several stick figures that resembled Hissis with antlers.

     "What... what are these?"

     "Speaking as a trained archaeologist, I'd have to say they're Small Unidentified Skulls," Oriscus said with a smile. "Whose, I don't know. But these were clearly put here for a purpose. The red clay suggests that some very important ritual was involved. This... this is a find. This is going to take months to document."

     "I'm... happy you're so happy, Oriscus. I guess I was expecting the treasure to be gold, or a sarcophagus, or something valuable like that."

     Oriscus hugged the Mutant close, squeezing Pystry's necks around his own. "This is far more valuable than gold, Pystry. This is the legacy of our ancient forebears, miraculously preserved. This is the foundation that our whole civilization is based on. This could give us amazing new insights into our history. I'm so glad you could be here to share in the discovery. I wish there was something I could give you as a reward."

     Pystry gazed at the red glyphs on the wall, suddenly struck by how closely several of them resembled codestone markings. The Lucky Pandaphant Doll sank deeper into his pocket, clinking with the sound of a second fifty jelly beans. "You already have."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part One
» Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part Three
» Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part Four



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