DUNARI PEERED CLOSELY at the piece of paper, then turned it upside-down. "I've
never seen anything like this before - it's nothing but random lines and symbols,"
the spotted Gelert mused. "I wonder what it could all mean?"
MakiKai looked up from the page of Daeron's journal
he was reading in the bright afternoon sunlight pouring through the compartment
window. That movement alone nearly threw him off the bed; he was slowly getting
used to his new Chomby form, but still couldn't do a lot of things he had previously
done as a plain blue Zafara.
"Dunari, you've done nothing but work on that
since you got your sneaky paws on it last night! Why don't you take a rest?"
The Gelert sighed and sat down on the bed across
from Maki. Outside the compartment window, the first palm trees could be seen
- a change of scenery indicating they were nearing their destination, Sakhmet
"It must be a puzzle of some kind, but for once,
I can't solve it. I think I'll take it to MaltaAre, an old army friend in the
city who helped us out a number of times in the Lost Desert War."
The Desert Express finally came to a chugging halt at the Sakhmet train station.
It was late afternoon, the hottest part of the day - and that was really saying
something, considering they were in the middle of the Lost Desert.
Maki leaped down onto the sun-heated sand and
immediately regretted it; the sand scorched his footpaws unmercifully. It was
only when Dunari finally stopped laughing and threw him two pairs of cheap Tombola
sandals that he was able to stand normally without leaping about in pain.
The pair then set off into the streets of Sakhmet
City to find Dunari's friend.
A few hours later...
"We're lost, aren't we?" MakiKai moaned.
They had been walking around in the streets for what seemed like hours, and
it was now getting to be a major effort to put one footpaw in front of another.
The only good part was that it was the onset of evening, and the air was beginning
to shed its heat from the day.
"We're not lost, I just don't remember the way,"
Dunari said brightly, stopping to rest in the lengthening shadows of a nearby
building. "I haven't been in Sakhmet since the Lost Desert War, it's not my
fault if things aren't how I remember them!"
"You and your bright ideas..." the Chomby grumbled.
The spotted Gelert's head snapped up. "Bright! That's it!" He pointed to an
array of lights on a nearby sand dune.
As they neared the dune, Maki noticed the house
had been cleverly built into the dune itself. A string of brightly coloured
paper lanterns hung around the abode, swaying lightly in the wind.
Maki peered through one of the small, thick-paned
windows and saw a figure sitting at a table, writing something in a book by
the light of a flickering candle. The quick scratching of the quill could faintly
be heard. Dunari knocked softly on the door.
The scratching of the pen over paper stopped;
moments later the door opened, and Maki found himself staring into the smiling
brown eyes of a gold Zafara. "Dunari, old friend! It's been far too long."
"It has," the Gelert agreed, a grin beginning
to form on his face. "MakiKai, I want you to meet MaltaAre."
The Zafara shook Maki's paw; he was surprised
to find her grip was much stronger than he had guessed from her appearance.
"Any friend of Dunari's is a friend of mine," she greeted. "So, what have you
got for me, Dunari? I don't assume you just happened to stop by at this late
hour to say hi."
"Let's come inside and I'll show you," Dunari
offered. As they stepped inside, the green Chomby had to blink hard to convince
himself he wasn't imagining things. The interior of the dune-houses was lit
with so many candles, it almost seemed that a swarm of fireflies had settled,
bathing the house in a warm glow while creating mysterious shadows along the
"The skylight lets plenty of light in by day,
but at night I have to use candles," MaltaAre explained, plucking a small candle
from a table like a delicate flower and handing it to MakiKai. "We don't have
electricity this far out in the Lost Desert."
MaltaAre moved her books off the kitchen table
as the others brought over more candles and lightweight bamboo chairs to sit
on. Dunari briefly related their story from the train, then showed her the slip
of paper he had taken from the Shoyru.
The Zafara stared at the paper in silence for
a moment, the light from the candles reflecting off her shiny fur and making
it glow. "It's a different language, certainly not Neopian Standard. Judging
from some of these symbols, I'd say it's a variant of Ancient Neopian."
"Can you read it?" Dunari asked eagerly, but
the Zafara shook her head. "The language has been totally lost over the years;
I only know what it looks like from the time we visited those ancient pyramids
to the west." "Wait," Maki cried, remembering something. Unwrapping Daeron's
journal from the Ketseran cloak, he opened it and began to flip pages quickly.
Finally he turned it towards the other two, feeling triumphant as he showed
them a rather complicated-looking chart.
"It's the alphabet of the Ancient Neopians; Daeron
must have used it for reference." He compared the letters to those on the slip
of paper and found that it read much like Neopian Standard, with only a few
variations. "It says, 'Tenset, 12 Hiding, midnight.' That's tonight, only a
few hours from now!"
"Hmm," mused MaltaAre. "Tenset Doglefox Food
was a company that went out of business years ago, but the abandoned warehouse
is still there. This sounds like some sort of secret meeting." "Most likely,"
Dunari agreed, writing the translation down. "We should go there and see what
the Ketseran are up to; perhaps we can also find some clues as to the whereabouts
of your friends."
"But - look," the Chomby exclaimed, recognising
two more symbols that looked oddly familiar. "Ket, seran. Put them together
- Ketseran, and the same shape I saw on the Aisha, the Shoyru... and the clasp
on the cloak one of them dropped."
Maki unfolded the cloak, letting the black cloth
drape across his paws and once again marveling at its ability to absorb light.
"There's one thing I don't understand, though... Why would the Ketseran use
a dead language like Ancient Neopian for everyday messages? That civilisation
has been gone for hundreds, even thousands of years!"
The gold Zafara flashed a dark look at Dunari.
"Let me see if I've understood your story correctly: you were on a train swarming
with Ketseran, gambling with everyone's lives by first hiding the one thing
they wanted most, then smuggling it out right underneath their noses, but yet
you never even bothered to explain anything to the kid?"
The spotted Gelert sighed. "At the time, it was
for his protection - but you're right. Of all people, of all pets, Maki has
a right to know."
"Before you learn anything about the Ketseran, you must first know the history
behind it all," Dunari began, slipping into old storytelling mannerisms. "Thousands
of years ago, faeries, owners, and pets lived happily together. There was no
war, no sickness in the land. The ruling faeries worked together with the greatest
minds of the time to plan and create many magnificent structures, the ruins
of which you can still see today. It was a time of great thinkers and great
deeds; truly it was the Golden Age of Ancient Neopia.
"However, evil always lurks in the background,
and even in the best of times, cannot be stopped. Some of the townspeople believed
they could rule in place of the faeries, and slowly their craving for power
"The word 'Ketseran' was originally an Ancient
Neopian curse; much of the original meaning has been lost over the ages, but
today its rough translation is generally accepted to be "Fear the Night, Beware
"Using the Ancient Neopian alphabet, these few
townspeople took the written forms of two letters: Ket ('fear') and Seran ('shadow'),
then combined them together. The single resulting shape resembled a triangle
with a jagged line through it.
"The Ketseran seized their chance the day Fyora,
the Faerie Queen herself, came out to place a great protective charm over the
Great Pyramid, a wonder they had all been building together for years. Much
effort, physical and magical, had gone into it; each stone had been meticulously
carved by hand, then blessed by the various lesser faeries for resilience against
the elements and increased strength.
"All the combined effort that had gone into constructing
the pyramid, along with the Queen's powerful blessing, meant that the structure
itself practically glowed with suppressed power. Pets and owners alike cheered
as Fyora's blessing was completed, believing that the Pyramid would stand forever
as a monument to their civilisation It probably would have, too... were it not
for the efforts of those few who were still unhappy.
"The Ketseran recognised that the Pyramid was
a symbol of the Ancient Neopian civilisation, but were more interested in its
combined power, that which spanned both the physical world and the magic world.
"At night they donned black cloaks and climbed
to the very pinnacle of the Great Pyramid. Their goal was the Keystone, the
final shaped block on top that completed the pyramid and served as its peak;
all magic to keep the structure stable and intact extended downward from it,
thus making it the most powerful block of the entire wonder.
"Because of Fyora's protection spell, the Ketseran
found they could not directly affect the Keystone; however, by indirectly, "accidentally"
scuffing it - say, by swinging a knife - they managed to break off a small piece
of the peak, no larger than the size of a thumbnail. Yet that small piece was
enough for everything that was to follow afterwards...
"A random Eyrie who couldn't sleep was out flying
that night; when it saw them break off a piece of the Great Pyramid, it began
to shriek an alarm. The Ketseran would have been caught and imprisoned right
then and there had it not been for the efforts of Maelstra, the Dark Faerie;
she took pity on them and allowed them to escape safely, never guessing their
"The Ketseran immediately went to work on their
piece of the Keystone; by heating it in a furnace, they melted the sand into
a solid fused crystal. The only thing unusual about it was its striking deep
red colouring; it seemed to pulse with power in their very paws. After mounting
it in silver and stamping their insignia on the back, they were ready to test
its powers. "By crystallising the piece of the Keystone, they had managed to
amplify its power - it now responded easily to the user's thoughts with a part-magical,
part-physical blast of incredible force, a reversal of the Pyramid's protective
"They first went after Ankhmet, the capital city
of Ancient Neopia and abode of the faeries, hoping that the inhabitants would
allow them to assume the throne out of fear for their lives. After watching
the city successfully go up in flames, they were sure their plan would work
- but the leading elders saw through their plan and refused to give in. In a
dark rage, the Ketseran turned to the Great Pyramid to give the Ancient Neopians
an example of revenge they would never forget.
"The faeries assembled in front of the Pyramid,
along with all the Neopians in the immediate area in an brave last stand; together
they defended the structure they had worked so hard to create. The lead Ketseran
raised the amulet... and sent a blast of devastating power at the Pyramid, oblivious
of the crowd in front of it. "The protective shield around the Pyramid shimmered
as it took the brunt of the blast; for a horrifying millisecond, the opposite
forces of magic struggled against each other. Then, like matter and antimatter,
the two canceled each other out.
"A blast of epic proportions rocked the earth
as the Great Pyramid exploded, sending a shockwave of magical energy out for
miles around. As the shockwave spread, it leveled the once-proud cities of Ancient
Neopia, reducing them to ruins in the space of a second. With their last strength,
a group of faeries magically teleported the amulet deep into the catacombs of
Ankhmet, praying that nobody would ever find it again, that it would stay safely
buried under the sands for eternity.
"And there it has stayed... until recently."
To be continued...