In The Heat Of The Moment: Part Three
The city of Kharuit proved to be as beautiful as the other Lost Desert dwellings I had seen, granted though those were in books; this was my first time actually visiting the locale. The buildings were simple constructions, but everywhere about the streets there were beautiful sandstone statues and carvings. A recurring theme throughout them was the depiction of King Menuos overcoming adversity in its many guises; on one street corner, he was driving back the swarming scarabs native to the region; on another, striking out at a cowering and defeated would-be tyrant. It was clear to see that the king was dearly loved by his subjects, and nowhere was it more apparent than in the centre of the city, where stood a large and ornate fountain with the king as its centrepiece.
The base of the fountain was large and circular, in the centre sat a trio of Royal Delfins with their snouts upraised to elevate a platform, on which stood a glittering replica of King Menuos made from solid gold. Water gushed out from the bowl-shaped platform on which he stood, smiling broadly. I assumed this to be the main source of water for the city, so it confused me as to why there were so few citizens gathered about it. Indeed whilst I was watching, one motherly Xweetok scolded her child for playing at the fountain's edge.
As I made my way to sit on the ridge encircling the lowest pool, I felt the air about me getting even heavier with heat. By the time I had reached the fountain it felt like I was trapped in the blowback of a giant oven door being opened. Upon reaching the fountain I was desperate to sink my hands into its cooling waters and drink heartily from them, but when I did what I found knocked the wind out of me.
The water of the fountain was far from cool, in fact it was closer to boiling point; several tiny heat bubbles threatening around the base of the Delfins in the middle. With my thirst still raging, I cupped a handful of water and sipped it. Whilst far from refreshing, it was good enough to take the edge of my thirst. With that having been addressed, I turned my attention to the cause of the water being so hot.
As difficult as it was to determine why the ambient temperature was so high, at the very least that could be attributed to low pressure, warm fronts and whatnot (you can probably tell, I'm far from being a meteorologist). But none of that should have affected the temperature of the water in the fountain. The only cause I could think of was that the ground beneath it was being indirectly warmed somehow.
Whilst I was pondering on this, a young Lutari approached me from a nearby market stall, his rich, chocolate-brown fur glistening in the hot midday sun. He wore a look of curious concern on his face, and as he moved towards me he seemed to be mumbling to himself in a tongue I wasn't familiar with.
"Rojan!" A desert Kougra came literally running over, coming to a stop just feet away. Judging by his reaction, I determined she was speaking to the Lutari, as he went to stand by her as she bent over catching her breath. "Don't mind us," she said once she'd recovered, "I'm meant to be keeping an eye on Rojan but the sneaky little guy got away while I was dealing with a customer. He hasn't been giving you any trouble has he?"
"Oh no, not at all." I thought about his odd mutterings. "Does he speak Neopian?"
"I'm afraid not. His family just moved here from Qasala, so he only speaks Qasalan. I've been trying to teach him the odd word here and there but he just doesn't seem to be picking it up." She looked at him with smile that was both weary and affectionate. "We won't trouble you any more, sorry for getting under your feet."
They wheeled around and were about to leave when it occurred to me that they could most likely answer some of my questions. "Hey, wait!"
"Sorry, I just wondered if you could answer a few questions for me," I asked
"Sure," she brightened into a genuine smile, "how can we help you?"
"I'm obviously new around here and I wanted to know what's going on with this heat, has it been like this for a long time?"
"Not really." She put a finger to her lips in thoughtfulness. "It started getting really bad in the last fortnight or so, I know the King's vizier has been trying all sorts of things to bring the temperature down." I snorted a little, having witnessed just how desperate the lengths were he had been driven to. Seeing her confusion at my little aside, I opted to change subject.
"This fountain here, where does the water come from?"
"There are some underground springs in the caves just to the north of the city. Some of the caves have been converted into huge tombs for the past kings of the Lost Desert who are no longer with us."
Out of reflex, I reached up and rubbed my chin as I thought. "Say, are these caves far away?"
"Not really no, I'd say about half an hour's walk away."
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to take me, would you? I can pay you, both of you. I don't have many Neopoints but I could give you enough neggs to make it worth your while."
It was the Kougra's turn to look thoughtful. "Well since I've already closed up the stall for the day, I guess it would be okay." She took a few steps back towards me and held out her paw. "My name is Kylara, what's yours?"
"Zaira," I said, accepting her handshake.
"We'd better get going then, if you want to make it back before nightfall."
* * * * *
By the time we reached the outskirts of the city the sun had, mercifully, begun to dip behind the peaks of the enormous sand dunes to the north. I found it amazing that we had barely left the final few streets of the town behind and already the landscape had altered dramatically. A few smaller dunes rose up before us, but then gave way to huge slabs of worn sandstone.
"These are the caves. They are mostly interconnected once you get underground, the water has worn its way through them all."
I stepped closer to the nearest cave and peered in. Everything within was consumed by shadows. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a Fireball Negg and took a few steps inside.
"You don't happen to have any more of those, do you?" asked Kylara. I smiled meekly in apology and she and Rojan huddled closer at my sides as we entered. I expected the innards of the caves to be shady and soothingly cool, but the air was still ripe with heat as we made our way deeper into the belly of the cave. The Fireball Negg itself sat hotly in my sweating hands, but even though I was in danger of losing the hairs on my forearms I was very grateful for the orb of light it emitted.
The cave turned back on itself quite quickly, so before too long we found ourselves heading back towards the centre of the city. The light from the negg was sufficient for us to pick our way through the winding tunnel without injuring ourselves, and I'm fairly sure that we have the negg to thank for the fact that we didn't bump into anything that flew, crawled or slithered along the way.
Eventually, after a somewhat pinched section that required us all to turn sideways on and shuffle along, the cave opened up into an enormous cavern. It was such a sudden revelation that poor Rojan very nearly stepped out into fresh air; thankfully Kylara was close enough to grab him by the shoulder and jerk him back to solid ground before he did himself a mischief. The sudden increase in temperature hit us all like a solid wall of heat. I held the negg up high above my head and tried to take in the enormity of the cavern we were in.
Rojan spluttered something to Kylara in Qasalan, which she obviously understood because she shook her head knowingly and then added, purely for my benefit, "I reckon we must be right about underneath the fountain here."
I let the circle of light slide up to the ceiling, the shadows cast by the stalactites dancing over one another as the beam passed across to the opposite side and then down. As it moved down to the ground it began to pick out a mass of something piled up in the centre of the chamber, before finally coming to rest on the fully illuminated scene.
"Well," I drew my sleeve across my brow in an attempt to keep the sweat from getting into my eyes as I surveyed our discovery, "I guess that solves the riddle of the sudden heat wave."
To be continued...