The Expedition of Walter Wesley: Part Six
"That's promising." Cora beamed. "Looks like there will be a good use for this after all!"
She reached inside her cardigan pocket and pulled out an ancient piece of parchment.
It clearly was a map.
It was the doctor's precious map!
Dr Wesley stood in shock.
"Well, well," he began, "it looks like I have underestimated you, young lady."
"Uh-huh," Cora replied smugly and handed over the map. "You have, Doctor - big time! But I guess I got to return it to its rightful owner!"
Dr Wesley, now reunited with his map, beamed from ear to ear. Maybe pursuing this Creature was a distraction? That library in the Temple of 1000 Tombs was a treasure waiting to be discovered, yet he couldn't help the wave of excitement, as he imagined putting an end to the nightmare-causing Creature.
"Sometimes, treasure or discovery isn't about gold or priceless artefacts. It's about making a mark in this generation," Dr Wesley thought to himself, as he folded the map, and this time double checked that it did go safely in his jacket pocket.
"So," Marcial called in from outside the shop, "everything is ready!"
Vivian fastened her satchel and handed over Dr Wesley's backpack on her way out.
The Lenny approached the group and thanked Marcial for his hospitality and help.
Cora curiously followed them out and stared in awe at what was before her.
Amongst the usual fog, there stood a black oval shaped carriage. It was so dark that it almost disappeared into the surroundings.
"What you see here is my latest acquisition. This not only will take you through the woods undetected, it will get you to your destination in no time. And it won't stop travelling until you reach that destination!"
Marcial proudly announced as he loaded Vivian's satchel aboard the unusual carriage. He opened the door, and gestured her and Cora to go in.
Cora acknowledged him, whilst Vivian shook his hand gratefully and stepped inside the carriage.
"This is quite exquisite." Dr Wesley examined the carriage. "Yes, Marcial, this time you have really gone the extra mile. I have high expectations – if it works as good as it looks, you may have to think of a career change."
Marcial laughed sheepishly and replied, "Good old doctor, my life is my Spooky Petpets. Always was, always will be. But you won't be disappointed about this carriage – this I guarantee."
The three friends were soon on their way to the Lost Desert. In no time, they travelled away from Marcial's shop, sped past the Haunted Marketplace, and zoomed through the spooky stone gates.
Inside the carriage, the soft seating and curtains were as dark as night. Even the windows were darkened. The carriage simply glided in silence, and this made Vivian feel slightly uneasy.
"I don't like this, Walter," she muttered. "I don't like this one bit."
"Yeah," Cora agreed as she placed a paw on the window. "Everything is so dark. Didn't they say darkness attracts that Creature, or something?"
Dr Wesley looked alert with a bright glint in his eye.
"Ladies, relax. Vivian – don't be so suspicious, where is your sense of adventure? Cora – you should never listen to rumours!"
Vivian sighed. "I just can't wait to get out of here and reach the Lost Desert. That's all I want."
Cora nodded, as she noticed Dr Wesley twitching and fidgeting. Cora always had high regard for this archaeologist, especially after all the stories she had read about him. Yet, as she was starting to get to know him, she realised that he was somewhat of a strange character. Vivian, who knew him too well, shot a glance at him as those ears fell forward yet again.
"What is bothering you?" She addressed him in a stern tone, and folded her arms.
"Well, I was thinking," he began, "that as we are here already in the Haunted Woods, I suggest we do a little bit of investigation."
Vivian's face fell, Cora raised a brow and at that very moment the carriage took a sharp turn to the left, causing them to slide to the other end of the carriage.
"What a shock that was!" Dr Wesley exclaimed, as he clutched his seat.
Vivian stood out amongst the darkness. In fact, she looked glowing – her angry complexion could not have spelled out fury more clearly.
"Let me tell you what's shocking," Vivian declared. "You, deciding to throw away months and months of preparation for this expedition, for the sole purpose of pursuing a non-existent being just because of some rumour. That's what's shocking."
Dr Wesley was also accustomed to Vivian's frequent outbursts of rage, and had learned over the years, that the best way to handle her feisty temper was to adopt calm tones.
"Think about it, Viv. Nothing and no one is going to move that Temple. It will always remain there, waiting to be explored. This is far more exciting – who knows what this Creature is or where it comes from. We could discover this. I'm not saying let's abandon our plans for Qasala. I am saying that we should seize this opportunity. It's not always about riches."
"Walter – this once," Vivian said, "this once, will you just listen. If you decide to hunt down this creature, you will find yourself with one less colleague. I am not going to follow a different track, just because that is what you decided. Not anymore, Walter. I am going to Qasala, whether you like it or not. And if you haven't gone mad with those Motes that you collect, I suggest you follow me."
Cora's gaze shifted from a determined Vivian to a startled Dr Wesley. He paused for a second, yet it seemed as though time stood still. He neither spoke nor moved a muscle. The three Neopets sat in anticipation, until Dr Wesley broke the silence.
"Ok," he agreed. "Let's do it your way."
Despite the undisturbed travelling, the twists and turns became more frequent and stronger, causing the carriage to sway as though a ship rocking at sea during a storm.
"Oh no," Cora said, as she looked at Vivian with dread. Her blue face was slowly turning green, just like when she experienced sea-sickness aboard The Bronze Barrel.
Her two paws reached to cover her mouth, whilst Dr Wesley dramatically instructed the carriage to stop. Despite his multiple attempts, the carriage did eventually stop only when Vivian had vomited over what was once deep black seating.
Cora placed her arm around Vivian and helped her out of the carriage. The air was rich with coldness and frost. Strangely enough, the heart of the Haunted Woods was not as dark as the interior of the cabin. Like a powerful headlight, the full moon dominated the night sky, whilst the rustling of nearby Meepits could be heard.
Dr Wesley lit a fire and motioned Cora and Vivian to join him away from the carriage and pathway. As Vivian slumped herself over the damp grass, Cora handed over a healing potion from the satchel.
A sudden crunching of leaves startled Dr Wesley, caused by the sound of what appeared to be passing Meepits again.
"Not you too, Doctor?" Cora glanced at him, and saw his green feathers stand on end.
"No, no," he reassured her. "Just these Meepits."
Vivian's natural blue colour began to return to her sickly complexion. Ironically, travelling around had always been a weakness. Therefore, she always carried plenty of healing potions with her, and made sure she was well prepared for any turn of events.
Dr Wesley stretched out his wings over the fire for warmth, when there was a sudden sound of scuttling again. He cautiously turned towards the disrupted area. Vivian unusually sat in silence, whilst Cora observed. They all paused for a moment. The rustling died down.
Werelupes in the distance ceased to howl, and squealed instead, before they stopped making their presence known altogether. A potent wind it once was, like a supernatural force dominating a battle, before it was drained to nothing more than a lazy gust of air. Even the trees were suddenly deprived of their menacing vitality.
Cora whispered over the ominous silence which surrounded them,
"It can't be the Creature - the light from the fire should have repelled it."
Vivian shook her head, whilst Dr Wesley slowly reached for his inside pocket.
"No, Cora. This is something else," she warned her and clumsily stood beside her.
Not before long, the trio were surrounded by mystical purple elements. They appeared to be weightless and translucent, but carried a colossal force.
"Wraiths!" Dr Wesley called out, as Cora grabbed on to Vivian's dress.
"Don't be afraid! Fear makes them stronger," Vivian instructed Cora, as the Wraiths circled them.
With energy slowly draining from her body, and exhaustion sweeping over her like a cape, Cora found it difficult to not feel fear. Yet she closed her eyes and listened attentively, as even her usual positive outlook seemed to be channelled out of her.
"Do not move!" Dr Wesley somehow managed to shout across to the Aisha, who shielded her face from the ultraviolet substances enveloping her.
"Walter – I think it's time for Plan B!" Vivian weakly called back.
"And what's that?!" Dr Wesley bellowed, as he elaborately dodged the Wraiths and leaped over the small camp fire.
As he stood before Cora and Vivian, the purple mist became denser, yet did not increase in power. Vivian and Dr Wesley were too accustomed to unexpected attacks and inconvenient encounters to allow panic to take over.
Yet the doctor started to feel the world's weight on his shoulders as he could sense the Wraiths coming nearer. Just as he fell to his knees with extreme weakness, he pulled out a mirror-like item from his jacket pocket, as if it were a dangerous weapon.
They closed their eyes, as the apparent mirror shot pure, white, blinding light towards the furious purple shadows. It surrounded the Neopets like a shield, causing the Wraiths to leave as quickly as they came.
Cora opened her eyes, and saw Vivian slouching against a nearby bush, and Dr Wesley smirking as he admired himself in a hand-held mirror.
"I told you, didn't I?" He spoke with satisfaction. "This would have come in handy."
Vivian sported a surprised look on her face, but then recognised that what he was holding was not a mirror. It was the Artisans Lens!
"That felt as though it were a living nightmare," she said, and turned to face Cora, who seemed to have regained her energy.
"You ain't kidding!" she retorted, as she sat next to Vivian.
Dr Wesley looked around. The campfire was nearly extinguished, Vivian's satchel had somehow found its way into a nearby muddy puddle, and the path bore no sign of their mysterious carriage.
Dr Wesley mumbled dubiously. He turned this way and that, like a stranded Puppyblew, walked back and forth, and scratched his head, until he saw the outline of a large ebony carriage, somehow scamper in the distance.
"Oops," he muttered.
Cora covered her face, as she realised they were stranded yet again.
"This is the second time we lose our possessions, our resources, everything!" Vivian cried, watching the carriage disappear amongst the trees.
"Never." She smoothed out the creases of her gown. "Never, in my entire career, have I witnessed an expedition fail so miserably."
She turned to Dr Wesley and pointed her finger at him.
"In the past few years, all you seem to have cared about are your Motes. You have been focusing so much time and attention on them that every decision you've made has been for the worst. I keep telling you, leave those Motes alone. They won't disappear from your collection; no one is going to snatch them away. What is the point of spending so much time studying them?"
Cora noted Dr Wesley's expression comically change from bemused to offended.
"What have my Motes got to do with it? You know I collect them since I was a boy! Leave them out of this!"
Cora couldn't believe the attachment to such peculiar items, yet this time, she agreed with Vivian. She remembered how transfixed the doctor was whilst examining the Gold Mote at the Motery. Maybe his enthusiasm for collecting those items edged slightly towards obsession.
Vivian's infamous extra ears fell forward, and she sighed.
"This is just... absurd. No matter what we do, we just can't seem to be able to get to the Lost Desert. It's as though some force is preventing us from reaching our destination. Everything seems to be going wrong!"
"It's called fate," Cora chipped in, as she gave Vivian a pat on the back.
"It's called coincidence," Dr Wesley said. "Or some would say bad luck. But not fate or forces – one would think there is no such thing as control or free will anymore."
So they walked their way through the woods, following the path revealed to them by the glimmering moonlight.
"Watch out!" Dr Wesley exclaimed, as he noticed a large, fluffy mane move amongst the bushes.
Cora and Vivian both turned to look at him with puzzled expressions.
"I just saw something," he confessed, looking around in alert.
"Where?" Vivian demanded.
She rolled her eyes and continued along the path, with Cora closely following her. Dr Wesley squinted in the dimness around them.
Yet he turned left and saw a pair of green, glowing lights.
"Wait." He spoke with caution, and motioned Cora and Vivian to stop walking.
"What's the matter, Doctor?" Cora questioned, and looked worried.
He pointed his wing towards the trees.
"All I see, Walter, are several trees," Vivian stated.
Dr Wesley looked again towards the left. She was right – the green lights had vanished!
"There was something there!" he insisted, as they resumed their long trek through the woods.
Dr Wesley's concerns were masked by his excitement over the Creature of the Night. Maybe it was trying to communicate with him?
Surpassing a small, slimy bridge, Dr Wesley looked to the right. He saw two large paws, with super-sharp claws. He turned away to tap Vivian's shoulder.
"Vivian! There it is!"
Vivian turned around in annoyance and snapped, "What?"
He pointed over to the right and invited the two Neopets to notice the claws. Yet there was no sign of any claws.
"Um... what are we looking at, Doctor?" Cora questioned.
Dr Wesley was now more convinced than ever, that this creature was trying to communicate only with him. Why?
"There's something out there," he whispered. "The Creature of the Night!"
Vivian shook her head,
"Walter – listen to you! You are not making sense. I think the tiredness is making you hallucinate. There is nothing out there. You are imagining things."
Once again, they marched along the path beyond the bridge. Dr Wesley pondered on what he had seen: a large furry mane, a pair of glowing lights and sharp claws. These sightings corresponded with the descriptions he had heard from the rumours about the Creature.
He stopped in his tracks, causing Vivian and Cora to turn around in confusion.
"Do you think it's the Creature?" Cora whispered.
Dr Wesley nodded and whispered back, "We need to set up a trap!"
Vivian trudged towards him impatiently. "Walter – stop being silly! You are imagining things! There is nothing here! We will not set up a trap for something that does not exist!"
Cora looked beyond Vivian's shoulder, and stood in fear behind Dr Wesley.
"Um... I think Dr Wesley may be right this time," she stuttered.
Vivian turned around, became as pale as a Ghostkerchief and gasped!
To be continued...