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Curse of the Urn


by laurelinden

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The desert Ruki called Phemet bent over the hot sand, inspecting the strangely ornamented slab of stone partially protruding from its grains. It looked almost as if a fortunate gust of wind had unearthed it, revealing what might have been hidden for decades.

    Coincidentally, it was the third of these stones he’d seen in only minutes on his trek through the Lost Desert.

    Phemet was no natural archaeologist, but he could not deny that these strange stones were intriguing. Covered with a sprawling, pictographic script that could be centuries old, a mischievous part of him wondered how much they’d sell for if he could somehow transport them to market.

    He knew the idea was foolish, of course, but it was fun to consider anyway.

    The Ruki brushed some more of the sand away, narrowing his eyes in scrutiny, and “hmmed” interestedly at what he saw. The script seemed to be engraved around a picture of sorts, depicting a lone figure standing in the center of a circle of stones--

    --Stones resembling these.

    Phemet felt a wave of excitement rise within him; perhaps the stones had some sort of power! He glanced to where the other two stood, and noticed with ever-increasing delight that they did indeed seem to be aligned in a sort of arc. Following its curve, he saw a few other lumps protruding from the sand: covered stones.

    They were in the shape of a circle, just like as the picture showed.

    Images of the potential power of the stones played inside his head as the Ruki rushed to uncover the rest of them. Within only moments he had unearthed all of the stones – there were five of them. Five unique, ancient stones, all of which would certainly fetch a fortune if they proved to possess some sort of magic. He’d find a way to bring them back – he’d take one at a time if he had to! They would certainly pay for themselves in that respect.

    But first, he had to discover exactly what it was they did. Eagerly, half-hopping with anticipation, the Ruki followed the drawing on the stone, and stood in the circle’s center, and raised his arms like the figure in the picture.

    A moment passed, and nothing happened. Phemet stepped forward, about to go and re-check the drawing, when—

    BOOM!

    The explosion seemed to come from all five stones at once. Lights of red, green, blue, silver and gold burst from each of them respectively, shimmering in a merging burst of splendor to join above the Ruki’s head in a dazzling display.

     “So they’ll come as a set,” the Ruki decided, rubbing his hands together greedily. “Unlimited light for all who sit within the stones… perfect for any desert night…”

    His thoughts trailed off as the ground disappeared beneath him – a trap door.

    Phemet’s surprise made the fall seem a lot longer than it was. Landing on the soft sand, the Ruki jumped to his feet, looking around himself in amazement. A long, thin tunnel opened up before him – torches placed periodically blazed with the same light that had lit the stones, and the floor was sprinkled with what could only be coins of gold.

    The stones were not just a power unto themselves, no; they were the key to another area entirely. And whatever treasure might be at the end of this tunnel might just make him even richer than all five stones combined.

    The Ruki dusted the sand and dust from his rear and sprang down the tunnel with the eagerness of a Puppyblew. Pausing only to grab one of the torches from its holder, he bent as he scampered, filling his pockets with as many golden coins as they could hold. They bulged after only a few handfuls and clinked heavily against his legs as he walked, but it was easy to ignore the discomfort – after all, the luxuries the gold would buy him shortly easily outweighed their burden now.

    As the trail wound on, though, the Ruki's energy began to dwindle. His half-sprint slowed to a trot, then a brisk walk, and then became a rather discouraged plod. Phemet began to wonder if the path led anywhere at all -- “What if it just pops up somewhere in the city?” he muttered. “Or worse, goes on into the underground for miles?”

    He was wondering if perhaps he should turn back – after all, his provisions were limited, and at least he had a healthy sum of gold to show for his trials – when he saw a glint of blue in the path ahead. Excitement banished his doubts and weariness, and the Ruki dashed toward the light with impressive vigor. “Finally!” he exclaimed to himself. “The end, at last!”

    Indeed it was. The walls ahead converged in a pointed archway, decorated with blue gemstones that seemed to burn with a light of their own. There were more etchings around the stones – they were like those of the picture-stones above ground – but Phemet didn't bother looking closely. He couldn't read them, after all; the inside of the archway was what interested him.

    The entire tunnel led to a room. It was tiny, all centered around an altar in the middle. The walls were seemingly made of solid gold, implanted with so many of the blue stones that the entire room shone with a sapphire glow.

    He scarcely noticed the finery of the room, though. It all seemed unremarkable compared to what sat on that single middle altar.

    It was a black urn, shining with sleekness that must have taken hours of careful polishing – still shining, even after being buried below earth for decades, even centuries. The gold decorations adorning it outshone the gold of the walls and coins as if they were only painted tin. Phemet stepped closer, trembling with amazement, his usually scheming brain suddenly quiet. His mind only had room to take in the shocking beauty of this glorious urn.

    Slowly, ever so slowly, the desert Ruki reached out his claws toward it. Time seemed irrelevant as his shaking arms closed the distance between them and the stunning artifact. He could have stood there for days, or seconds; he didn't care, or notice. The beauty of the urn reflected in his eyes, his mind, and the world around them was blankness.

    His claws touched the perfection of the object, tracing its smooth sides in a delicate caress. His mouth half-open, he widened his eyes as they took in the intricate designs etched into the silken gold. They were amazing in their accuracy – two tiny Peophins seemed to dance within the lines that traced them, a Techo stared out of the urn's glossy surface with sad and soulful eyes – dozens of Neopets, each etched out flawlessly from life, ornamented the treasure he held.

    His awe subsided, replaced by a sharp, unquenchable greed. The Ruki clutched the urn possessively to his chest, and turned back for the tunnel. He heard a soft tinkling as the coins began to spill from a hole in his pocket – forget them, he told himself. Forget the glowing gems, forget the stones that were the entrance. This urn is all I need... the artwork will fetch fortune enough to return with a later excavation party. Even as he thought the words, he knew they would never be true. His arms tightened around the curves of the urn – he could never sell it. Perhaps charge a fee for people to come and view its glory... But no, it could never leave his embrace.

    His pockets lightened as the last of the coins rained to the ground. The entrance to the tunnel stood above him; he could see the sunlight pouring down. He should toss the urn up, and climb after it. No... there must be a way to get up without letting go...

    A flash of blue light blinded him, followed by lights of red, green, silver, and gold, and where the Ruki had stood, only sands remained. Above the vacancy, the opening slowly shut, leaving the tunnel lit only by the soft blue glow of gems. The torches hanging along the tunnel blew out into thin lines of smoke, and a wind pushed across the empty desert above, covering the entrance stones over. Far into the tunnel, beyond an engraved archway, stood a magnificent tiny room. The only object inside was a simple altar, holding an urn of breathtaking beauty.

    The Neopets etched upon the urn were perfect, drawn flawlessly from life. Two tiny Peophins seemed to dance upon it... a Techo peered out with sad, soulful eyes. Dozens of pets were displayed, portrayed with breathtaking skill – even a desert Ruki adorned its side.

The End

 
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