Aurora's Assessment: Part One
Once upon a time, in a small vale between two lesser mountains in the Terror Mountain range, there was a tiny kingdom whose population was made up solely of Bori. This kingdom was called Sevenin, and was ruled by a king and queen. The citizens of Sevenin were mostly gold miners. Of course, you had your butchers, your bakers, and your candlestick-makers, but mostly the Bori of Sevenin mined gold.
The kingdom did well for its small size. Gold is, after all, a precious commodity. The mines around Sevenin were productive all year round, and the citizens were happy. This story begins in a particularly good year for the kingdom, the year that Sevenin gained a new princess: me! My parents named me Aurora, after the glowing lights in the night sky which can be seen almost year-round on Terror Mountain.
My full name is Aurora Gold. As is true in many other cultures, last names in Sevenin stemmed from family professions. My family had a long, long history in Sevenin. One of my great-great-great...I don't know how many greats! One of my ancestors was the first Bori to discover gold in this area of Terror Mountain. For the honour of the discovery, he was appointed as the overseer of the new mining town that was built here. That tiny mining town of shanties and shacks gradually grew into the Sevenin we know and love today.
I grew up as an only child, so I got a lot of attention, both from my parents and from the kingdom in general. But even though my last name was Gold, I was never pressured by my family to go into the mining business. In Sevenin, no matter what your last name is, you can pursue any career you want. But it's in our nature to love the things that we're most familiar with, and I grew to love mining naturally, so that when it came time for me to choose my future path, I didn't have to think twice.
When a Bori from Sevenin becomes an adolescent, each one of us has a little ceremony. It varies from one Bori to another, but generally it's a big party where your friends and extended family are invited. There's always tons of food and presents, and a generally festive atmosphere. It feels a lot like Christmas, but there's also a twinge of sadness to the whole event. That's because at the end of the ceremony, the young Bori will announce what they would like to do with their life, and they will leave Sevenin to find and experience their very own flavor of Bildungsroman.
At the end of my ceremony, I announced that I wanted to pursue Geology. I wanted to learn more about what made up the world we lived in and how it came to be the way it is. I wanted to understand the fundamentals that mining grew out of, to get back to the basics and really delve into the foundations of Neopia.
The morning that I was to depart from Sevenin, my parents gave me one last present. They knew that on my journey and during my studies, I would have to spend a lot of time out in the elements. The first step in every young Bori geologist's education is field work all over Terror Mountain. My mother told me to close my eyes. She led me slowly and gently to a spot in the room. I felt something touch the tip of my nose, and a chill spread from that point through my entire body to the tip of my tail. When I opened my eyes a mirror stood in front of me and I was staring into the eyes of an Ice Bori. ---
It was very hard for me for the first few months, being away from home. I had found a mentor, and he kept me very busy memorizing the formulas of all the different minerals in Neopia, and learning how to recognize them. Still, I couldn't help but feel homesick. I missed my mother coming in to gossip and braiding my hair absentmindedly. I missed my father telling me stories of his adventures when he was younger, and of how he met my mother. I missed digging in the hills around Sevenin with my friends, making dyes from the rocks we found there, and painting our claws, although now I could tell you why those rocks displayed those particular colours.
They say being ice helps you to stay calm and cool in difficult situations; that it gives you an extra layer of armor around your heart, so that you're less likely to get hurt. I don't know if my mother knew these stories when she gave me that departing present. I think she thought being ice would make me immune to cold. I don't really know how it works, but it did help me a bit on that front; I could always stay out longer in a blizzard than my peers. The other rumours of being ice though are just that - rumours.
Being ice-coloured doesn't mean you are made of ice. I think it's a common misconception due to the fact that we look like ice sculptures - incredibly realistic ice sculptures. Something about the way light reflects off our fur even makes us look semi-transparent. But that's just it; we're not transparent, right? You don't see our muscles and bones and organs under our skin. That should be enough to tip you off that our icy exterior is only like a layer of paint, just a colour - like red, or blue, or green, or yellow. After all, we're living, breathing creatures. We can talk to you, just like any other Neopian. We can walk and run, climb and dig. What ice sculpture can do that?
Simply put, I was young and it was my first time away from home. I was surrounded by the unknown, physically and intellectually. I missed my family and friends. But ever so gradually I found that I started to recognize the trails we took. I could name each rock that my teachers put under my nose. And as I gained familiarity with my new surroundings, I also began to feel more and more at ease with myself.
Pretty soon, it was time for my final assessment. This was a sort of test that they gave to young geologists before you could formally graduate and begin to work professionally. We are put through so much training that by the time the final assessment comes around, the teachers are pretty confident that everyone will pass with flying colours. But that doesn't really make it any less nerve-wracking!
Each one of us was given a map and told which direction we should take along the mountain trails. We were given a standard set of gear, and were expected to make our own camp and ration our food wisely over the assessment period, which could last several days. Stations were set up along each assessment trail beforehand by the heads of the different specialties. For example, the mineralogy head might have a station where you must identify at least five different minerals in an outcropping marked on the map. The assessments are completely individualized, and each candidate goes in a different direction. So you are completely on your own.
My assessment started off fine. The weather was fortuitously nice - chilly, but at least the sun was out. I found my trail easily and the assessment stations were well-marked. I found the tasks to be in line with what I had been expecting and so I had a good feeling that I would score high marks.
As the first day of my assessment was coming to an end, I started keeping my eyes out for a good campsite. I hadn't been to this part of the mountains before, so I wasn't sure where along the trail I might find one. But wherever there's a trail used enough to become a noticeably beaten-down path, there will be a tried and true site where weary travelers stop. They are usually found near a source of water, and sheltered against the weather whenever possible.
I had spent most of my day concentrating on the test station activities, and perhaps that had been a mistake. Without the assessment to worry about, I would have noticed possible camp sites along the direction that I had come. This was a habit that could be especially useful in an unfamiliar area, because then you could always backtrack to bed down for the night. But my nerves had kept me always looking ahead at the path or down at my map, afraid to miss the assessment stations. The light was starting to fail and I still had not found a suitable place to make camp. It would be dangerous to continue in the dark, and virtually impossible to set up camp if I wandered much longer. If worst came to worst, I might have to climb a tree and tie myself to a branch for the night. Bori can climb trees, but we do not particularly like to be disconnected from the good old solid earth.
Finally, up ahead I spotted a cave. There was no ring of stones for a fire, and no ash marks to be seen on the outer edges of the opening, so it wasn't a well-known, well-worn campsite. But it didn't look dangerous either. Peeking inside cautiously, I could see the back wall in the distant dimness. A good-sized cave and it looked closed. That would mean good shelter from wind, and only one opening to defend in an emergency, but also only one way out in an emergency. I decided to risk it. The cave was relatively large, large enough to maneuver around in should anything enter. Plus I didn't much relish the idea of sleeping in a tree, and the sun had almost completely set. Hastily I gathered some firewood. ---
The fire dwindled down as I sipped the tea I had made. Supper had been simple fare - mostly travel biscuits and strips of some sort of dried protein. The tea warmed me as the wind whistled across the opening of the cave I had found. It had been a long day but I wasn't quite tired yet. During my preliminary scouting when I first entered the cave, I hadn't seen anything to alarm me. Now, I decided to take the time to really look around. Maybe there would be something interesting to note in the dark corners. Carefully I tied together a make-shift torch and lit it from the embers of the fire. Shuffling over to the entrance, I decided to just make a circuit around the cave wall.
As I made my way further into the cave away from the light of the fire, my torch cast odd shadows against the walls. Suddenly, I thought I saw a glint of something red reflected back at me. Waving the torch around slowly I tried to catch it again - there it was! I walked cautiously toward the back corner of the cave. A small piece of moltite had crystallized near the base of what looked to be a relatively fresh rock fall. I walked over to the edge of the pile of rocks and looked upward. There wasn't any immediate indication of what would have caused the rocks to crumble from the ceiling. Carefully, I climbed onto the rocks immediately in front of me and tried to lift my torch higher to see if there were any clues on the rocks above. As I peered up into the dim cavern, the rocks below me seemed to shift. I heard the tell-tale sound of sand grains trickling down and knew I was in a bad position. Before I could do anything, the rocks were gone from under me and I was falling through the air. The torch slipped out of my paws and I was completely helpless to gravity. ---
I don't know how long it was before I came to. When I finally opened my eyes, I was in a large, shallow pool of some kind of greenish-brown ooze. My fur was covered in it and felt matted and sticky. There was a bump on the back of my head and my body felt generally bruised and sore, but there wasn't anything to show for it other than some minor scrapes which had already clotted. I picked myself up gingerly and stepped over to dry ground. I was still underground. The pool seemed to be in a large room and there were a few tunnels leading away from it. Walking towards the nearest tunnel, I picked up a few scattered stones. I peered down the tunnel but it curved away pretty quickly and I couldn't see where it might lead. Come to think of it, I had definitely dropped my torch during the fall. Why could I see at all? Ever so slowly I pivoted around to look back at the pool of ooze. It was glowing...
Hastily I brushed at my fur. What I thought had been a greenish mud caking my fur was not mud at all. My fur was greenish. I reached around to the bump on the back of my head that I had felt earlier. There was a slight ache when I pressed on it, but more alarmingly, it was as hard and smooth as a helmet. Had the ooze made my hair fall out? I let my paws follow the hardness as far down as I could reach, but pretty soon even the tips of my claws couldn't scrape past each other behind my back. Something was definitely wrong. I had to find help.
I took one of the stones among my feet and scraped a big A on the wall next to the tunnel I had chosen. And then for good measure I made a small pile of stones under the marking. If I somehow walked in circles and ended back in this room, I'd know it was the same pool and I would be able to choose a different tunnel. My training had taught me that much at least, even if I had foolishly allowed myself to get involved in a cave floor collapse. With my precautions in place, I headed quickly down the tunnel, hoping I wouldn't have to walk in complete darkness for long.
To be continued…