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Vadako and the Curse of Terror Mountain

by peirigill


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain foothills, northeast of Tyrammet

     10th day, Month of Hunting

As much as I hate to miss Tyrannian Victory Day, this expedition is too promising to miss. Based on my analysis of the Plateau's substructure, I've long hypothesised that the Tyrannian cave networks may connect to hitherto undiscovered tunnels below Terror Mountain. I've just received reports of newly-exposed cavern entrances on the Mountain's slopes. I literally cannot wait to explore them, before the summer heatwave passes and they are once again buried beneath an impenetrable avalanche of snow.

     My plan is to document the geology of the caves. If we're extremely lucky, I'm hoping we might find evidence of prehistoric Neopet culture, possibly even related to my recent discovery of an ancient Tyrannian site. It could lead to a whole new understanding of these lands.

     I've recruited a crack team of adventurers to assist me on this venture. Although they were originally referred to me by a mutual friend, they come highly recommended by no less than Lord Darigan. I must say they're an anthropological study in and of themselves.

     Peican, their leader, is a take-charge Red Hissi determined to make a good impression. Whether his skills justify his confidence, we shall see. Xucrão, an athletic Hissi, fairly bursts with energy. He's unusually ebullient for a Darigan Hissi; I suspect he's not originally from the Citadel. Sjörén, as his name suggests, hails originally from these parts and has the most mountaineering experience. As a Camouflage Hissi, you might easily overlook him, especially next to his brash fellows.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain slopes, northwest of Shenkuu

     13th day, Month of Hunting

     I just knew we shouldn't have attempted to travel on the 13th. What was I thinking?

     If I'd had any sense, we'd have overnighted at the local inn – more an outpost than a proper Neolodge, but about as good as can be found in these remote parts. Both Peican and I didn't take too kindly to the innkeeper talking right past us to Xucrão, as if we didn't exist. The innkeeper's husband was just as bad. Sjörén says painted pets are practically aristocracy around here, and it's just assumed that Peican's basic colour and mine identify us as servants.

     Xucrão thought it was hilarious, but Peican couldn't wait to get out of there. Can't say I blame him. Still, with the thaw, the snowdrifts are melting in the sun and icing over at night, creating an invisible "black ice" and making the terrain precarious for even the most sure-tailed Hissi.

     In order to avoid a particularly perilous crevasse, we've had to take a detour higher up the mountain that we'd planned. This is exactly the kind of thing that made my colleague Frostburn the Chia swear off future trips to Terror Mountain.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain cirque, western spine

     14th day, Month of Hunting

     Our luck has turned! Sjörén did a brilliant job keeping our camp warm and sheltered during last night's snowstorm, and this morning, Peican spotted Dofrey tracks in the taiga's freshly-fallen snow. Dofrey aren't known for their cleverness, but they know well enough not to fall into a chasm, and anywhere they can run or fly, we can follow.

     Xucrão was the first to sight the beast. Even with his Pteri's-eye view, I didn't think he'd be able to see anything through the dense forest. Terror Mountain is known the world around for the Christmas trees logged from their robust pines. A lone Dofrey should have been nigh impossible to find. But that playful Darigan seemed to get inside the petpet's head. Before long, he'd followed her trail into a hidden valley. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw next.

     A large U-shaped valley, clearly the result of centuries of glaciation, spread out below our tails. 'Pets who aren't geologists, like myself, might not appreciate the beauty of the exposed rock of the valley's steep walls. Yet no one could fail to be moved by the waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Their ice-cold rivulets emptied into a lake on the valley floor; the glacier-fed water appeared almost milky from rock flour suspended in the fluid. On the lakeshore stood our Dofrey. At first, I was sure it was a rare Chocolate Dofrey, until Xucrão confirmed that our alpine albatross was merely a regular Dofrey carrying a family of Snow Firs on its antlers.

     I've sent the team to replenish our food supplies with liverwort and fish from the valley. In the meantime, I can't pass up the chance to analyse the escarpments, especially since we may be the first 'pets in the modern era to visit this amazing place.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain crags, western spine

     17th day, Month of Hunting

     What I first took to be a drumlin turned out to be a roche moutonnée. Either way, the view from this rock formation is remarkable. We should be within days of reaching the newly-exposed caverns.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain highlands, north of the western fjords

     18th day, Month of Hunting

     Our archaeological expedition has unexpectedly become an anthropological one. Here, in this most remote part of Neopia's most remote land, we've encountered a local herder. His dialect is somewhat obscure, but Sjörén knows enough of the local speech to manage.

     Our new friend's name is Vadako; he is the only Hissi in his small village, he herds Nuk, and he desperately needs our help.

     I have heard of Vadako's people, but I never thought I would encounter them, even on this trip. They are nomads of the tundra, with an intimate knowledge of the land and its creatures. Each of them have a special companion Nuk, and it's said they can recognise their own petpet – or the petpet of any member of their clan – from a herd of 10,000 head.

     Vadako's Nuk had gone missing. His tribe's shaman concluded that Vadako must have done something to offend the nature spirits, and banished him from the village. Normally, a herder would have no trouble tracking his petpet, but it seems his people have a complex set of rules constraining the actions of cursed Neopets.

     While he is under the influence of sya mei, as his people call it, he cannot cross Polarchuck tracks, he cannot wear a fur tailboot, and he cannot cut open certain fish. Worst of all, he cannot touch anything a Nuk has touched, and he is forbidden from approaching certain locations of special significance to the tribe. Under normal circumstances, these restrictions would be difficult, but given his predicament, they are unendurable.

     He seems to have attempted to enlist help in the nearest city, but with no luck. Vadako believes that the cityfolk were repulsed by his sya mei. Sjörén thinks it more likely that any nomad would receive a chilly reception – and being a simple Blue Hissi probably didn't help.

     Peican was singularly moved by the Nuk's plight, and insisted on mounting a rescue mission. The delay may cost us our chance to investigate the caves. So be it. The caves have waited for hundreds of years. They can wait a little longer.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain crags, western spine

     20th day, Month of Hunting

     Triumph! Vadako's little Nuk, Sampo, is safe and sound.

     Although Vadako's sya mei prevented him from guiding us personally, he was able to give us directions to where the Nuk was last seen. To us visitors, the land seemed bereft of landmarks, but Vadako was able to describe the path in astonishing detail.

     I stayed behind to tend to Vadako, who had endured the elements tolerably well without the comforts of his village, but clearly needed care. It was also a rare opportunity to interview Vadako and document his people's ways and beliefs, which I hope to publish soon. In the meantime, armed with Vadako's instructions, Peican led his team into the wilderness. What happened next I know only from Peican's report.

     Sjörén was the first to locate the missing petpet. Vadako had identified several features by which we might recognise his Nuk: subtle markings on his antlers, a pattern on his fetlock, a particular predilection for salt licks, and so forth, and yet the herder had neglected to mention that Sampo was a Christmas Nuk.

     I gather that Sjörén moved away from Terror Mountain to escape the cold, but he's never forgotten his mountaineering. Along the steep southern escarpment, the arctic winds blast with great force and brutality. An unskilled flier could easily be dashed against the rock wall. But when he saw the Christmas Nuk's trademark red nose, he flew straight in.

     The poor critter had become trapped in a crevice. Fortunately, the escarpment shielded the Nuk from the worst of the snow, or he might not have survived the night.

     Sjörén knew he couldn't risk the buffeting winds with a frightened petpet under one wing, so he reconnoitered with the others. Unable to navigate the winds as Sjörén had done, Xucrão and Peican clambered and slithered their way along the stony wall. Xucrão soothed the petpet with gentle clicking noises while he freed the Nuk's hoof, but could not coax the petpet to move.

     The only path away from the rock face was blocked by a nest of feral Shadow Wraiths that had somehow escaped captivity after the Faeries' Ruin. The sight of them terrified the poor little Nuk, and he refused to budge. Xucrão held him safe while Peican shooed away the Wraiths. Now that Peican had cleared the path, Xucrão coaxed the Nuk safely off the cliff, while Sjörén flew beneath, ready to catch the Nuk if he should fall.

     Vadako was thrilled to see his little friend returned, none the worse for wear. He's invited us to the ceremony where he'll be officially cleansed of his geas tomorrow.


     Field Journal

     Oriscus the Yellow Hissi

     Terror Mountain tundra, Vadako's village

     21st day, Month of Hunting

     I feel so privileged! As a geologist, I regret having to postpone my explorations of the caverns, but as an ethnographer, I'm grateful for this rare glimpse into a way of life as distant from Tyrannia's as Tyrannia's is from Faerieland's.

     Because Xucrão was the first 'pet to touch the little Nuk, it was his obligation and his luck to participate in the cleansing rite. In this case, the ceremony consisted of leaping repeatedly through the smoke of a special fire. Most Neopets would balk at the idea of jumping through flames, but not Xucrão! With him taking the lead, the Nuk lost his fear of the fire and cavorted with him back and forth, until finally the shaman shook his tambourine, and Vadako was accepted by one and all as cleared of his sya mei curse.

     Peican didn't approve of Vadako's treatment, and was surprised at his equanimity. That's when the herder said something that I cannot wait to share with my colleagues.

     Vadako closed his eyes, saying that he had no concern about the shaman's power to banish him for no reason, because he now had friends with the powers of all the shamans. Among his people, there are three types of shamans: those who serve the sky, those who work with the creatures of the earth, and those who master the underworld.

     By braving the deadly cliff winds, he said, Sjörén had channeled the power of the sky.

     By calming the Nuk, Xucrão had wielded the forces of the natural world.

     By dispelling the Wraiths, Peican had conquered the dark spirits of the underworld.

     Anthropologists strive to maintain neutrality about the cultures they observe, without passing judgment. So I can only report, without comment, that as night fell and the ceremony ended, that the skies lit up, illuminated by brilliant streaks of red, yellow, blue, and green – the rarely seen Northern lights. As a scientist, I know how Neopia's magnetic field creates them, but as an anthropologist, I observed Vadako's tribe interpret this as a sign of the forest spirits bestowing a great honour on our new friend.

     Still, I can't help but agree with Peican's whispered words, as he gazed towards the heavens:

     "Let's see the innkeeper turn her nose up at these basic colours."

The End

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