Treasure Hunters: Part Five
"You know, we probably could have found this easily enough by ourselves," Archie mumbled gloomily as he looked up at the magnificent dome-shaped roof of the scrollery above him.
"We didn't have to give away our last remaining Neopoints to that thieving Hissi. I mean, there are only so many buildings in Qasala; chances are we would have found him eventually."
Saffy chose to ignore most of what her cousin said, partly because she knew it was true and she didn't have a clever retort, and partly because she knew she'd made a mistake in following that Hissi into the alley and she didn't want to admit it.
Standing in front of the words of antiquity, Saffy realised that of course this would have been the first place to look; where else would a scholar of ancient languages be found? But impatience had always been her downfall; that, along with her inability to accept that someone else (Archie, mostly) could be right.
"Fine, I messed up," she admitted, grudgingly.
"But I didn't give him all our money," she added, her scowl brightening into a knowing smirk.
"I had two bags of money in there," she said, gesturing towards the satchel.
"We still have the money we found in the tomb of Geraptiku. I only gave him half of our Neopoints. I'd like to see his face when he realises that we swindled him!" she finished, triumphantly, with a look of glee.
Archie, however, looked aghast.
"You did what?!" he exclaimed, in horror.
"But won't he come after us, once he realises that all of the Neopoints aren't there?" Archie stuttered, swiftly glancing behind him, as though expecting to see a skeletal Hissi slithering up behind them angrily.
"He might, but we'll be long gone by then!" Saffy replied confidently.
"Don't worry, Archie. Once we find the treasure, we'll be rich beyond our wildest dreams! Now, come on; we need to find Peregrine!"
Pulling the cowardly Gelert behind her, Saffy ran up the steps of the building, passing the ancient stone tablets at the entrance and pushed open the heavy wooden door.
Stepping inside the enormous room was almost like stepping into another world.
Outside was noisy, bright, constantly moving and full of people; it was a thriving, bustling city.
Inside, however, it was muted, quiet and still; the calm after a storm. No-one would think that a place like it could exist amongst the throng of busy stalls and marquees set up just a few metres away.
They couldn't even hear the noise from outside; it was silent enough to hear the fluttering of a dropped scroll.
"So... where do you think he is?" Archie whispered, looking around the room.
"Why are you whispering?" Saffy whispered back.
"Dunno. It feels like a library; like if I raise my voice at all, I'll get thrown out," he hissed, remembering the chiding he'd received after yelling in the Altadorian library, years ago. He still felt a little nervous whenever he was around that Lenny.
"Can I help you?" asked a voice, far too loudly, making both Saffy and Archie jump.
Turning around, they saw that a Nimmo was now standing behind the desk that had been empty only seconds ago.
"Oh, yes. Thank you. We're looking for Peregrine. We were told that he would be here," Saffy replied politely.
The Nimmo raised her eyebrow in surprise.
"Not like the locals to tell you about Peregrine; not like them to tell you anything in fact," she replied, with a frown.
"Well we did have to part with some of our money first," Saffy said, shrewdly.
"Ah, of course. Well he is here... somewhere. As you can see, this is a big place; he's rarely seen during the day. He comes in in the morning and leaves at closing, but those are the only times I ever see him.
"He could be in his office, but it's not very likely. It's a good place to start looking though. If he's not there, maybe his assistant can help you find him. It's just through that stack of scrolls there and then turn left. Sorry I couldn't be more help," she said, and with a smile, she picked up a pile of scrolls and scurried off.
The Neopets made their way through the maze-like room, winding their way between the dark, wooden bookcases, being careful not to knock into anything and send an ancient stone tablet crashing to the floor.
They passed many different scrolls; some bound with ribbon or strips of leather, (the royal decrees were adorned expensively) others encased in glass, as they were far too old and delicate to expose to the elements.
Various tablets stood stoically on their shelves and they passed them in silence, with an increasingly eerie sense that they were being watched.
Several times Saffy spun around quickly, sure that she heard something, only to find that there was nothing there.
When this happened a third time, she was sure that she was going mad, until, that was, she saw a pair of eyes peeking at her from behind a bookshelf.
"Hey, you!" she called, pointing at the pair of big blue eyes, accusingly.
The eyes bulged at the sound and a petrified squeak echoed around them.
"Sounds like you, Archie," Saffy murmured, jokingly.
"I don't know who you are, but I wonder if you can help us," she called out to the pair of eyes that had now disappeared.
"We're looking for Peregrine."
"M-master Peregrine?" came the high-pitched response.
The pair of eyes reappeared, only this time they came with a big set of ears, a tuft of fur and the body of the cutest Baby Lupe they'd ever seen.
"You're Peregrine's assistant?" Saffy asked, astonished.
"Of course! My name is Jacques," he replied, with youthful enthusiasm.
"Nice to meet you. The Nimmo at the desk told us you might be able to help us find him, do you know where he is?"
"Sure, when I left him he was deciphering a runic tablet from Tyrannia. Follow me," he squeaked, taking the lead with a little bounce in his step.
He led them down a path between two shelves of creepy looking tablets; zombie and vampiric, that seemed to moan and groan as they passed, before turning into a dead end that was lit by a flickering lamp.
At the very end of the path, sat on the floor surrounded by a circle of open books (presumably runic dictionaries) was a tubby, Biscuit Yurble with a pair of half-moon spectacles perched precariously on the edge of his nose, his eyes narrowed and his nose screwed up in concentration.
Jacques cleared his throat delicately, and whispered to the others that he didn't like to interrupt his master whilst he was working.
When it became clear, however, that Peregrine had neither seen nor heard them, Saffy took action.
"Excuse me, Mister Peregrine, sir?"
When she was again ignored, she walked up to him, and ignoring the horrified gasp from the baby Lupe, tapped him on the shoulder.
The Yurble gave a start and looked around at her at once, his eyes wide and confused.
"What? Who are you? What are you doing here?" the Yurble asked, abruptly.
"Sorry to disturb you, Master Peregrine, but I found these Neopets wandering around the stacks and they said they needed to see you," Jacques interrupted.
"Yes, we came to find you today because we wanted to ask you about something, sir," Saffy chimed in.
"We have something that we would like you to take a look at, if you wouldn't mind - and my mother, Suzana, said that you helped her once - at the bazaar."
"Suzana? The Bazaar?" he asked, standing up; his eyes clouding over for a second, before clearing again.
"Oh, of course! That vase!" he exclaimed, remembering the incident.
"You're her daughter, eh? She talked about you a lot. You have her eyes. Well, if you want to show me something, you better do so in my office. Come, on!"
And with that, the Yurble set off at a brisk pace in which Saffy and Archie struggled to keep up with.
Finally after another winding journey through the bookcases, the four Neopets arrived at a small, dingy little office at the very back of the scrollery, that only had enough room for a desk, a couple of bookcases and a few chairs.
"Sit down, please," the Yurble offered.
Archie, who was a little out of breath after the trek around the scrollery, immediately sank into one of the chairs, but Saffy who was impatient to find out what her treasure map said, politely declined.
"Now, what was it you wanted to show me?" Peregrine asked.
Saffy threw a furtive glance at Jacques, and said, "It's a matter of privacy."
"Jacques, will you give us a moment?" the Yurble asked his young apprentice, moving to hold open his office door, in a gesture that made it seem like this wasn't a question he really wanted an answer to.
Whining childishly that he never got to hear anything, the Baby Lupe stalked sullenly from the room and the door was closed behind him with a click of finality.
Almost as soon as the door was closed, Saffy reached eagerly into her bag and pulled out the hastily stuck together map pieces.
"When Archie and I were young," she started, hoping to give Peregrine the full story, "we discovered half of a treasure map in my great Aunt's attic. Ever since, we've been travelling Neopia, looking for the rest of the pieces, and a few weeks ago, we found the last piece. There are hieroglyphs on the back of it and we think they might be instructions on how to find the treasure. The only thing is, they're ancient Qasalan and we didn't know anyone else that would be able to translate a dead language. So we wanted to know, if you could possibly translate it for us? We'll pay you of course," she finished, hopefully.
Throughout her story, the Yurble's eyes had been growing larger and rounder, but when she carefully placed the map in his hands, they looked like they would pop out of his head.
"Good gracious," he spluttered, staring at the map in awe.
"You say you found this in your great Aunt's house? This must have been in her family for generations! It's certainly a lot older than some of those scrolls out there!"
His eyes, glittering with intellectual interest and excitement, poured over the hieroglyphs on the back of the map.
"Do you think you'll be able to translate it?" Saffy asked, excitedly.
"Oh, yes. Most definitely."
Archie and his cousin traded looks of excitement.
"But before I do, I have one request," the Yurble added.
"And what would that be?" Saffy asked, her excitement fading away at the prospect of giving him their treasure.
"I would like to come along with you, when you go to find the treasure."
Saffy's eyebrows lifted in surprise. She hadn't expected that.
"Okay, if that's what you want... but, may I ask why?"
"The writings on the back of this map, hint that the treasure will be deep within the catacombs under Qasala, and a lot of those catacombs remain largely unexplored. I would like to explore them; there may yet be tablets and scrolls that have been lost underground that no-one has read since before Qasala was cursed!"
Saffy looked at Archie, a little baffled at the scholar's excitement over ancient tablets, and shrugged.
"Okay, you can come with us. We want to leave as soon as we can, so if you could pack your stuff as quick as you can, and finish translating the runes, we'll leave in half an hour."
Outside, stood a Baby Lupe; his giant ear pressed against the door and his eyes bulging at what he had just overheard.
In the shady back alleyways of central Qasala, a group of cloaked, shadowy figures stood huddled together, talking in low voices.
Most of the locals who recognised this group, avoided them like they would Neopox, for they knew that this gang belonged to the Thieves Guild.
Swift, light-fingered, persuasive and callous; they made deft work of stealing from locals and tourists alike. This gang didn't care who it stole from, as long as they made a decent profit.
Today they were competitively comparing their wares of the day, when they were interrupted by a soft cough.
"I have some information for you," a squeaky voice reported to them.
A young Neopet, desperate to join their Guild, had approached them several months ago. He had been their lackey for months, feeding them information, such as the locations of rich tourists, but generally nothing as valuable as what he offered them today.
"Treasure hunters, in Qasala!"
"Yes, we already know," a Stealthy Blumaroo, whose face was slightly obscured by a black mask, replied.
"But did you know they have a treasure map? And they plan on going into the underground catacombs to find this treasure?"
The thieves exchanged greedy looks, and rubbed their gloved hands together gleefully, but before they could get carried away, another cloaked form that had been listening from a distance, slithered up behind them.
The thieves scattered; the skeletal form of their fearsome boss approaching the small Neopet.
"We sssshall go after thisss treasssure, and will take it from under their very nossses!" he called out to his underlings.
"These ssso-called treasssure huntersss, have disssresspected me today. I will have my revenge!"
The lower thieves, bowed and pledged their loyalty, as the Hissi patted the small Neopet on the head.
"You have done well, Jacquesss!"
To be continued...