Pystry's Elemental Odyssey: Part Five
"You're up bright and early today, Pystry." Phidianne, his Mystery Island host, and Bizhiw, his best friend, were pleased to see the Mutant Hissi so re-energized.
Pystry's left head continued poring over a map of Mystery Island while his right head looked up to greet his friends. "I feel like I finally have a handle on this Master Quest." He lifted his magic Pandaphant Doll and shook it gently, feeling the increased heft as it jingled with two hundred jelly beans. The Techo Master, when he sent Pystry on a quest to learn about the six combat elements, had enchanted the ceramic figurine to fill with more beans after each successful satori. "I've finished earth, water, air, and fire. All I need now are light and darkness."
He smoothed out the map on the dining room table. "Every quest has started with some Mystery Islander pointing me in the right direction. First you, Phidianne, then Rorru, the legendary Parrot, and the Tiki Tack Man. Who else can I ask?"
Phidianne tilted her head and tasted the air with her tongue. "The Council Elders, of course. Aside from the Tiki Tack Man and the Techo Master, you've got Jhuidah, the Tiki Tour Guide, and the Island Mystic. Tribal members, like Tulu-ca, or Umma Bunga, maybe even King Kawillawoa."
"Don't forget the Mystery Island Yooyuball team," offered Bizhiw with a hopeful grin.
Phidianne shook her head, smiling, at the eager Lutari. "Sorry, Bizhiw, but they're too busy just now. Same goes for the Underwater Chef. That poor Flotsam can't spare even five minutes. We might catch Wheeler, though." She grinned. "I'm sure Rufus would make time for us."
Pystry lifted both heads away from the map. "Who's our best bet, Phidianne?"
Phidianne sank into a chair and tapped an island on the northwest corner of the map. "Let's start with the Island Mystic. If you can make sense of his frustrating riddles you may be surprised how much he really knows about Neopia."
"Welcome to beautiful Umbuku Island," said Captain Phidianne with a flourish as the three friends disembarked from her private ferry. "Let's hope the Mystic is in a helpful mood."
There was no mistaking the Island Mystic's hut. Surrounded by palm trees and brambles of berry bushes, the hut dominated the beachfront, more a mansion than a shack. Phidianne paused to admire a rare Bludberry bush in the landscaping along the main walkway. "These are quite rare! The Mystic must be doing better than I expected."
"No doubt." Bizhiw grinned, gesturing towards the two armed Coco warriors guarding the front door.
"Don't be alarmed when you meet him," added Phidianne. "The Mystic can be a little... disconcerting to people unfamiliar with tropical culture."
"No worries," replied Pystry. "It's been a while, but I've visited him before. And I have plenty of experience dealing with theatrical Kyrii."
Inside, the Mystic greeted them with wide eyes, his hands twisting sigils in the air. He slid one foot to the side and stamped the other, seeming to take up the whole room. "Welcome to my little hut. Ahh, I guess you came here to have your fortunes told, eh? Well, here they are..."
Peering into the Lutari's eyes, he chanted, "Your direction in life will change in a strange way."
Bizhiw smiled optimistically. "Maybe I'll finally get to visit Lutari Island!"
Turning to Phidianne, he swayed hypnotically. Phidianne undulated her spine in reply, and grazed the wingtips of her fingers gracefully. Pystry felt certain they were sharing a silent conversation that spoke more than mere words ever could. Abruptly the shaman stamped his foot and intoned, "You will fight off an army in Neopia Central."
"I shop at the Trading Post every day," she laughed. "I think I can handle the scavengers at the Money Tree."
The Mystic nodded at her with approval. Finally, he pivoted to face Pystry. His ears pricked back, as though hearing a distant alarm. His hands dropped, ending palm-down at waist level.
Phidianne blinked in surprise.
The Mystic raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Ah, you are full of surprises, young lady. You recognize Bludberries. You dance with the spirits. And you bring me a genuine challenge. This young lad is not here for a mere daily fortune."
He closed his eyes, and touched each tooth on his necklace in turn, muttering beneath his breath. Finally, he spoke. "You will eventually see in the Haunted Woods."
Pystry looked at both of his friends. "Well, that's a start, at least."
The Mystic snapped his fingers. "Wait. You have traveled far to reach me, much farther than your ferry across the strait. There is a quest involved, and if I am to play a part, let us observe the proper formalities."
A Coco butler strode into the room and stood at attention. "Tshumba, please have the gardener fill a Half Coconut Shell with Bludberries for the young lady." The Coco bowed stiffly and left with a brisk pace.
Phidianne pressed her tiki against her throat. "Sir, this is far too generous."
"Nonsense. Better the berries be with someone who knows how to use them, than rot on the vine. As for you, my lad," he said, turning to Bizhiw, "take this Flotsam Tourist Compass. It will help when you make that change in direction."
Bizhiw stared down at the brass compass in his outstretched paws. "Thank you, but I don't think I'll be able to wear this."
"Oh, I know," said the Kyrii nonchalantly. Bizhiw shrugged, then smiled, and tucked the compass away.
Pystry held his breaths as the Island Mystic lit an Incense Burner and the hut filled with pungent, sweet-smelling smoke. Pystry could only make out the blurred silhouette of the Kyrii as his arms flowed into arcane gestures. Finally the Mystic spoke.
"Go to the outskirts of the Haunted Woods, north of the Demonica River. Find the village of Berkshire Glen. Seek a woman with a horned skull. I can see no more." The Kyrii slumped to the floor, breathing heavily.
Phidianne pulled her friends to her side and ushered them out the front door. "You honour us, sir. We will not forget your kindness." The Kyrii managed a nod, then gestured to her to close the door behind her.
Pystry and Bizhiw hiked their way along the brackish river towards the village of Berkshire Glen. Even on the outskirts of the Haunted Woods, the countryside had a foreboding air. The scarecrows in the fields swayed ominously, as though eager to come to life and jump to the ground. Faint strains of old, distorted carousel music wafted from the Deserted Fairgrounds, and the imposing edifice of Castle Nox cast a bleak shadow across the dale.
Phidianne was willing to ferry them to the shore, but chose not to accompany her friends inland to the Woods, offering no explanation except to shake her head and clutch her tiki totem.
Down the winding path, trees and knolls obscured their view, deepening their sense that the woods were closing in on them. A disconcerting clatter, like bone hitting bone, made the fur on Bizhiw's neck stand up. Around the next bend, an aged Nimmo appeared, leaning heavily on a gnarled staff. Her wizened eyes widened with fear, and her Blue skin shone a deep navy blue, as though flushed from exertion. Behind her, a pack of skeletal Sklydes beset her, and she fell, winded, to her knees.
Bizhiw and Pystry looked at each other and nodded. Bizhiw swooped to the left of the old woman as Pystry darted to the right, knocking several of the Sklydes aside like bowling pins. Faced with Bizhiw's Tail Slaps and Pystry's double-headed Hissi Strikes, the remaining Sklydes soon retreated.
Bizhiw offered his hand to help her up, then grimaced as the elderly Nimmo's bony elbow jabbed his palm with her full weight. "My stars, I surely am lucky you boys chanced upon me when you did," she wheezed in a reedy voice. "I wish I could offer you a reward, but I have only an old Dubloon to buy food at the market." She glanced briefly at a purse tied to her waist, then quickly away.
"No need, ma'am," said Pystry politely. "But we are looking for a woman with a horned skull somewhere nearby. Do you know where she might be?"
The old woman's brow furrowed, narrowing her jaundiced eyes. "What a queer request. Why would you seek such a woman?"
"The Island Mystic on Mystery Isle sent us, ma'am," offered Bizhiw brightly. "We think she can help my friend with his Battledome training."
The woman braced her staff and pulled herself to her full height. "You were willing to help a stranger, so you're either noble or foolish, and if you are fools, you seem able to take care of yourselves. Nor were you willing to take advantage of an old woman's weakness, so I'll trust that Tsarki has naught to fear from you." She whistled three sharp bursts.
Pystry's heads looked at one another with confusion. Bizhiw smirked. "Pystry, I think we've been had." The Lutari gestured towards the pack of Sklydes emerging from the shadows to heel at her feet.
The woman's smile broadened, but without mirth. "Do forgive an old woman her little tricks. One can't be too careful, especially when one rarely leaves the safety of one's swamp. Seek a Halloween Hissi named Tsarki, northwest of the village. Should she ask, tell her Gorunda guided you." With surprising speed, she set off once again down the path with the Sklydes nipping playfully at her cloak.
Once pointed in the right direction, the two travelers had no trouble finding their destination. Tsarki's house stood nine metres high near the edge of a broad meadow, at a distance from the forest but still shaded by the taller trees in the late afternoon sunlight. Its round walls, made of baked mud, supported a domed roof weatherproofed with thatch and pierced at the top for ventilation. A row of pikes led to the hut, adorned with small leather sacks, unidentifiable dried animal parts, and small clay figures resembling shrunken Neopet heads. A Voodoo Practitioner Staff, topped with a horned skull with small phials of potions dangling from the horns, leaned against the hut's outer wall. Shrugging off the disturbing images, Bizhiw knocked at the door.
The doorway opened just a crack. "Can I help you?" A high and surprisingly gentle voice asked from the shadows. Two golden Hissi eyes framed by dreadlocks stared out at them.
"We're looking for a Halloween Hissi named Tsarki. We're hoping to ask her a few questions."
"Oh dear. Well, I guess you've come to the right place. Please come in." The door swung open a few more inches, and Pystry and Bizhiw entered the darkness.
Tsarki proved to be a most gracious host, and was soon serving them ginger tea. Sludgies and Slorgs from the backyard garden pleaded adorably for biscuit crumbs, which the Halloween Hissi was only too happy to provide. "I spoil them, I know, but how can I say no to those cute little eyes?" Pystry couldn't help thinking, as he watched Tsarki wipe Sludgy drool from her ebony hands, that he would have no trouble saying no.
"The Island Mystic had a vision that you might help me gain insight into the power of light," prompted Pystry.
"The Island Mystic?" gasped Tsarki. "I can't imagine why. Mostly I tend to the villagers' petpets, and make a few simple healing potions from my garden. In fact, I keep it dark in here because so many of the Spooky Petpets around here are used to the shadows of the Haunted Woods." She skritched the head of a nearby Slorg, who oozed with pleasure.
Pystry clenched his fingers. Bizhiw reached over and patted him reassuringly. "Don't worry. Something will turn up."
Tsarki fluttered herself up from her seat. "I know! I'll consult the Oracle. Wait right here." She placed an assortment of what Pystry hoped were figurines on the table before her, and deftly palmed a Bloop that was still scrounging for crumbs beneath the table. Cooing softly to it, she tickled it until it dropped just a tiny dot of ink on each of the figurines. Opening the front door, she sent it on its way with an extra biscuit between its teeth, and returned with her horned staff.
"That staff is obviously very valuable. Aren't you worried someone might take it?"
Tsarki looked at Pystry with confusion, then laughed. "Goodness, no. Not even Hubrid Nox would dare borrow a practitioner's staff. Now, let's see if the Oracle has any advice for us. We're asking about light, so let's use the light we have." Tsarki chanted musically as she held her staff to the light from the window, twisting it until the eye sockets were completely illuminated.
"I hear her, I hear the Oracle!" whispered Tsarki. "She says, 'She who waits for a sign must sit in the dark. She who puts a hand to the door and goes out will find herself in a well-lit place of friends.'"
Bizhiw beamed. "That couldn't be more obvious. Let's go outside!"
Pystry paused, lost in thought. "No. Let's wait for the sun to set first. I've got a hunch about this. Besides, I want some more of this delicious tea." Tsarki giggled as Pystry reached for a Ghostkerchief, mistaking it for a napkin, and poured him a fresh cup.
They laughed and chatted until finally the outside light vanished. Following the Oracle's pronouncement exactly, Tsarki placed her hand against the door and pushed gingerly. They stepped outside, but saw nothing except the fading twilight and the deepening darkness of the forest.
Suddenly Tsarki squeaked and pointed towards the river. "I can't believe it. They're at least two weeks early! You know what that means – bumper potato crops this year!"
"I don't see... oh wait, now I do!" exclaimed Pystry, unable to hold back his excitement. One by one, above the tall grass nearest the river, they appeared. At first just tiny winking lights, and then a cascade of glowing streaks in the air, rising and darting just a few centimetres before turning dark. Tsarki sighed with amazement. "I've never seen such a swarm of Lightmites. Stay back; they like to bite."
"Did you know this would happen, Pystry?" asked Bizhiw with a grin.
"After spending the day with the two of you, it made sense. After all, there are two ways to bring light to the darkness. One is to shine light from the outside. The other is to create light from within."
Pystry held up the Lucky Pandaphant Doll. Its features were clearly visible in the Lightmites' radiance. For just a moment, the missing eye glowed with a small sun symbol, and then faded as once again an additional fifty jelly beans rattled magically within.
To be continued...