In The Heat Of The Moment: Part Four
Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them. All balled up in a giant heap of overheated fabric. As I passed the circle of light emitted from the negg over the mound once again I was able to pick out a tunnel lower down on the opposite side of the cavern that seemed to be the source of our remedy malady. Further exploration revealed quite a well-worn path running the length of the passageway. I figured we had already come this far, and it would be silly not to pursue the matter to its total conclusion.
As the three of us made our way along the tunnel it was as if we were surfacing out of water; the temperature began to fall noticeably. Also, we encountered a number of other confusing items on our journey. Bottles and packets strewn haphazardly, some still holding on to their contents whilst others had readily spilled them into the dusty ground. The sticky, sweet aroma of ummagine and cherry lingered in the air.
Rojan knelt to explore the edges of a shattered pot with his fingers, before Kylara stopped him with squeal of disapproval. "What is all this stuff?" she asked nobody in particular.
I bent and picked up a particularly dusty canister, blew at the debris on it and was shrouded in a miniature sand storm for a few second. When the grit cleared I held it close to the negg and I saw the gleaming smile of a Khamette grinning back at me. "Looks like a bunch of potions or something." I held the negg up high and scanned ahead; yet more vials were scattered about before us. And far in the distance, a tiny glimmer of light.
We three made towards it and it as we reached the end of the corridor we discovered it was coming from a crack in the low ceiling. I gingerly stretched out a hand and fingered the crack. Instead of feeling sandstone beneath my digits I instead felt the coarse texture of unvarnished wood. Realisation dawned.
"It's a trapdoor!" I shifted underneath the hatch and pressed my shoulder hard against it. I pushed as hard as I could, but there was something heavy sat on top of it. "Give me a hand, will you?" I appealed to Rojan and Kylara. Rojan was just a shade too short to be able to put much muscle behind his slender frame, but Kylara surprised and impressed me by squaring up beside me and shouldering the bulk of the weight. Together we heaved at it a few more times, feeling the weight of whatever was resting on it battling against us, until suddenly the pressure was lifted and the trapdoor was dramatically flung wide open.
Blinking in the sudden brightness, we both whipped round to try and get our bearings; now that we each had room to stand fully, our heads poked up above ground. It transpired that we were in some sort of tent, and as my eyes slowly grew accustomed to the sudden overwhelming amount of light, I could identify certain features.
Crates were upturned into make-shift tables, on which were displayed all manner of bottles and boxes. I immediately recognised some of the ones we had seen moments ago on the floor of the passage. Pouches and sacks of varying sizes hung from the roof, and there was a web of twine that looked like an indoor washing line, over which were draped a number of cloths and blankets. Stacked neatly in pile out of the way were several more heated blankets, and again the air was laced with the warming scent of cherry.
The scene was completed by a somewhat startled-looking Cybunny, swathed in an orange wrap and seated on the ground just behind us. It suddenly occurred to me that the heavy weight on the other side of the hatch must have been her, meaning we had just knocked her off her feet. Realising what we had done, I climbed up out of the hole and made to help her up. Close behind me were my two trusty guides, still blinking at the sudden brightness.
"Are you alright?" I inquired.
"A little shocked perhaps," the Cybunny said in a small voice, "but nothing's broken I don't think."
"Where are we?" asked Kylara as she helped Rojan up out of the hole.
"Erm, you're in my store," said the Cybunny.
"But where is your store?"
"Uh, Sakhmet?" It sounded more like a question than a response to one.
"You mean we came all the way to Sakhmet underground?!"
The Cybunny started suddenly, then seemingly came to her senses as her caring personality kicked in. "Are any of you injured at all? I stock medical supplies, you see. Or I could offer you some water? You must be thirsty in this heat."
"Trust me, you have no idea," I said to myself with a smile.
The Cybunny fussed about getting us each something to drink and then showed a great deal of effort in attending to a few minor scrapes on young Rojan's knees, likely caused prior to our little excursion.
"I suppose what we're wondering now is: why is there a secret tunnel from your shop to a chamber under the fountain in Kharuit?" I finally got up the nerve to ask.
"To a what in where?" The Cybunny, I now noticed, had a slight tic of snuffling her nose when confused.
"We came here from Kharuit, it's a small city in the Upper Mentu Region of the Lost Desert," said Kylara.
"Oh," a slight twitch of the nose. "I know where Kharuit is, I just... you came all the way here from there?"
"Yes, we were exploring the caverns underneath the city and happened upon your tunnel," I said.
"Oh, well it isn't my tunnel exactly, I just... oh dear." The Cybunny suddenly clasped her paws to her cheeks.
Rojan squeaked a few foreign sounds, which Kylara then translated to: "why are there potions and balms strewn along the tunnel? And why are there so many heated blankets?"
The Cybunny blushed slightly. "Well you see, I've been having a lot of trouble getting rid of my stock. People just don't seem to need them, what with all those sparkly shoes on offer elsewhere, and the Healing Springs too. There just isn't a demand like there used to be." Her nose gave one enormous twitch. "I just didn't know what to do with all my excess stock. I used to keep them all behind the counter but some customers got wise to my troubles and started haggling me down on my prices." She sighed deeply. "They knew I needed to get rid of them... too much supply and not enough demand."
"Well because of your excess stock our city has been having a heat wave!"
"Oh my goodness!" her paws flew up to her face again. "I didn't realise that tunnel ran underneath Kharuit, I just assumed it would be out in the middle of nowhere. I didn't mean any harm, honest I didn't."
"We know, we didn't think you did." I put my arm around her shoulders, the tension in her form noticeable even with my light grip. "But they have been causing a real problem; the king of Kharuit even drafted in the Snowager to try and cool things down."
"The Snow... ager?" The Cybunny looked for a moment as if she were on the verge of fainting. "Suddenly... I don't feel so good."
* * * * *
"Okay, now that the Snowager has been returned to his proper place, I will liaise with your vizier regarding the shipment of the remaining blankets." Taelia spoke firmly and then followed up her words with an equally firm shake of King Menuos' hand. "I trust this shall be the end to your overheating problem."
"Thank you very much for all your help with our situation," the king beamed. "You must let me know if there is anything we can ever do for you." He, Glaadorf and Taelia stepped away from us to conclude the official matters still to be discussed.
"That was a stroke of genius, your idea to sell these blankets from the Neggery," Kari said to me, as she folded the last of a large stack of blankets into the back of the Snow Faerie's cloud racer. "People could really use something warm and toasty while they're venturing through the Ice Caves."
"Thanks. I just hope that other stores in Sakhmet don't decide to dump their excess stock in random caves." I paused for a moment, a partially-folded blanket in my hands. "Peopatra especially. I mean, what would we do with thousands of Scamanders?"
"I don't want to even think about it," said Kari. "Right, that's the last of them."
"Well, now that we have finished addressing one problem, it is time we turned our attention to the next." Taelia had returned from her conversation and now stood beside us; I hadn't heard her walk up.
I arched an eyebrow. "What problem would that be, then?"
"The problem of determining a punishment befitting the crime of stealing a cloud racer and piloting it half-way around Neopia," said Taelia, sternly.
I blushed deeply and bit my lip. Kari, seeing the funny side, began to laugh. Thankfully, so did the Snow Faerie.