Whispers: Part Two
Aidne's breath came out in hoarse gasps, her footfalls
gradually becoming slower and slower. She had no idea why she was running, and
to what end. All she knew was that she had to find something, but what? Wet
leaves slapped her face, slowing her desperate race through the forest until
she was forced to halt.
"Where is everyone?" she called into the distance.
Rather than echoing back to her, her words hung
in the humid air. No one answered. She was alone.
Gradually, the sound of voices reached her ears.
They were speaking, though not to her. She listened eagerly to the voices, though
she could not make out any definite words. The voices rose and fell, smoothly
as rolling waves on the ocean, and she suddenly longed to find them, to ask
them why she was here, running through the jungle at nighttime. It sounded crazy
even to her. Was she going mad?
She walked now, pushing branches out of her
way as she continued her journey to the somewhere she now sensed was nearby.
The voices were growing louder now, though she still couldn't tell what they
were saying. When she finally emerged from the trees, however, the voices stopped
entirely. In front of her was a humble village, its houses all built from bracken
and palm fronds, but in the distance a massive stone ziggurat towered above
the treetops, casting its shadow over the tiny village.
Aidne recognized this place, and suddenly it
all made sense. The utter silence that greeted her as she entered, all the tools
and baskets lying neatly on the ground, as if their owners had just set them
down and vanished from Neopia, and the supplies left to rot. Whatever had happened
here took place long ago, but the Zafara could still almost convince herself
the sweet, cloying scent of biodegrading matter still hung in the air.
This was Geraptiku.
The Zafara awoke with rivulets of cold sweat
pouring down her face. It was as warm here as it had been in Geraptiku, but
this was a dry heat, not the moist heat of the jungle. She sighed with relief
and sunk back down onto the pillows. It was all a dream, then. Just a stupid
dream brought on by a day of traveling during which she had consumed nothing
but water from a canteen and roasted Cheops Plant.
"You up?" The door to Aidne's room opened a
crack and Aurora's head poked through. Her light brown hair was frizzy and uncombed,
and she was wearing a yellow sweater, khaki shorts, one brown sock and one red.
She was obviously not fully awake yet.
"Just," Aidne replied as she sat up. Since she
was awake anyways, she may as well get up, never mind how early it probably
was. "Has Lani come?"
Aurora yawned. "She won't be here for an hour
yet. I would still be sleeping if I hadn't heard you tossing in here like your
tail was on fire. What's going on?"
"Bad dream," Aidne muttered as she pulled on
yesterday's cutoffs and a new lime green tank top. She wasn't in the mood to
talk about it for some reason, so she hoped Aurora would just leave it at that.
Aurora, however, was persistent. "What was it
about? You aren't nervous about today's little adventure, are you?"
Aidne snorted. For some reason, Aurora was really
starting to get on her nerves. "Of course not. It was just a stupid old dream
about Geraptiku and stuff."
The Kacheek shrugged. "That's not so unusual,
y'know. Loads of pets are affected like that when they come to the Lost Desert.
It's just one of those weird things. Being here makes you think of very... mysterious
things. It's only natural you'd think about Geraptiku, since it's considered
one of Neopia's greatest mysteries. No one actually knows how those pets all
vanished, or why, though I think most experts have agreed it was probably a
plague of some sort."
"Whatever you say," Aidne said doubtfully. She
wished that Aurora's explanation could make perfect sense to her. But she felt
sure that whatever brought that dream on had to be trying to tell her something,
something important. Or she was just going crazy. Heat stroke was obviously
a possibility, but she wasn't likely to tell Aurora that.
"I'm getting breakfast," the Zafara announced.
"Take a jacket. It'll be cold in the tomb,"
Aurora reminded as Aidne walked towards the door.
"Fine, then," Aidne replied with forced sincerity,
then instantly regretted her behavior. Why was she so off this morning? An image
of Geraptiku painted itself in her mind, as if to say 'Whatever you do, don't
forget about me.' The Zafara forced the thought to the back of her mind.
Food was what she needed now. Maybe she'd feel better later on in the day.
Aidne was munching listlessly on a slice of
dry toast when there came a knock on the door.
"I'll get it; it's probably Lani," Aidne said
as she leapt off her chair and trotted over to the door. She was hugely curious
about what Lani's cousin would be like.
She opened the door and, as she had suspected,
came face-to-face with Lani. The blue Ixi was looking thoroughly exasperated
and holding another pet, presumably her cousin, by the scruff of his neck.
These two were related?
Lani's cousin was most definitely not the calm,
book-loving pet she had imagined. He was a vibrant green Shoyru, probably several
years younger than Lani or Aidne herself, with a head of thick black hair and
a pair of dancing green eyes. Unlike any sane pet, this Shoyru had not dressed
for the weather, and strangely, didn't seem to care. His overcoat looked to
be a good weight for your average Month of Celebrating in Neopia Central, as
did his slightly over-large grey cargos.
Never one for uncomfortable silences, Lani said,
"Well, this is my cousin. Before you even ask, I do not know his real name.
He always just goes by the name of-"
"Trick McFinn at your service! Pleased to meetcha
and all that stuff." The Shoyru shook Aidne's paw enthusiastically. "I'm sure
that these introductions aren't really needed, since you've probably heard so
much about me from cousin Ashy..."
Aidne could barely stifle a snort at the expression
on Lani's face at being referred to as 'Ashy'.
The Shoyru was chattering away, oblivious, all
the while inspecting the dining room. "I like the desert, I wonder why I've
never been here before. It's a really nice temperature, not too cold or anything.
The old relic at the front desk is really scary, though. He just about spoiled
this entire trip for us, and he was going to kick Lani out, so-"
"You said you'd set his guest list on fire!"
"Threats are not the sort of thing you say in
"Pfft. He wasn't being polite, so what rule
says I have to?"
"Stop splitting hairs, you know exactly what
Trick grinned. "Now you're catching on."
Trick stuck his hand into his pocket. "Oops,
almost forgot." He pulled out something brightly-coloured and moving. He placed
it on his shoulder, and Aidne could now tell it was a disco Feepit, complete
with the characteristic orange and green fur and sparkly purple sunglasses.
"This is Tipeef," he said, tickling the petpet
under the chin. "Bet you'll never guess how I came up with that name. She's
really well trained an--Hey!"
The Feepit looked to be as interested in being
in the Lost Desert as her owner was, if not more so. The small petpet leapt
off Trick's shoulder and clambered up onto the windowsill.
"Tipeef, no! Get back here right now!" the Shoyru
called, but it was too late. The Feepit got too close to the edge and overbalanced,
toppling out the window.
"For Nuria's sake, you can't be serious," Trick
said under his breath before leaping out the window after his pet.
Aidne, Lani, and Aurora were all silent, waiting
to hear a 'splat' come from the streets below. They heard none, so Aidne assumed
that Trick had succeeded in rescuing the Feepit.
"What was that all about?" Aurora asked.
Lani sighed and sat down on a chair at the table.
"Trick's from the northern edge of the Haunted Woods, is an amateur fire mage,
has next to no sense, and just doesn't know when to quit. Does that answer your
"Uh, yeah," the blue Kacheek replied.
Lani looked Aidne straight in the eye. "Are
you still glad you let me bring him?"
Aidne couldn't really answer that.
About an hour later Aidne, Lani, and Trick sat
in the inn's lounge listening to Aurora's action plan. Aidne frowned to herself.
It hadn't bothered her quite so much at first, but now the Zafara felt that
she was being pushed to the side a lot. She wasn't used to having anyone boss
her around; when it was just her and Lani, no one led and no one followed. They
just had different jobs. On a regular treasure hunting trip, Aidne cracked codes,
explored, evaded traps, and dug up buried treasure. Lani analyzed geography,
sketched, and kept track of their adventures in her notebooks. Basically, they
each did what they were good at.
Aidne didn't like following anyone's orders
but her own.
And now she had to sit through an entire boring
meeting where she didn't even understand what the presenter was talking about.
One small consolation was that everyone else
looked at least as bored as she felt. Aidne's friend Khaj the fire Zafara was
there now, and he looked far more interested in folding his napkin into an origami
sculpture than participating in the meeting. Lani was tapping one hoof against
the floor to the rhythm of some popular Meridellian flute music, and Trick was
flicking bright orange flames from his fingertips. He grinned and winked when
he saw the Zafara looking at him. Aidne smiled inwardly. Maybe it wasn't such
a bad thing that Trick was here. If Aurora's 'adventure' was to consist of nothing
but hours upon hours of planning, their little team could definitely use a bit
of cheering up, and Aidne had a feeling that Trick would be only too happy to
oblige. It would be awfully dull with a well-behaved Shoyru in tow.
Just as these thoughts drifted across her mind,
she felt her mind sink lazily into sleep. She was so tired she decided not to
fight it, to just let it come. The moment her eyes closed she began to dream.
Aidne's feet met warm, damp earth, and a now
familiar scent of new growth and rotting plants reached her nose. Mystery Island
again. More specifically, she was on the outskirts of Geraptiku, exactly
where she had been before she awoke this morning, but with one difference. She
was seeing the village as it would have looked hundreds of years ago. A few
worn, exhausted-looking pets milled about listlessly, going about their everyday
business without any enthusiasm. This could be nearing the decline of Geraptiku,
Aidne thought. Maybe it was plague that finished them all off; they sure
look sick. I'm amazed they're still on their feet.
Aidne heard someone sigh behind her. She spun
quickly, ready to fight if they proved hostile, but she overbalanced and tripped
on a stump, falling flat on her face. She froze with terror and sat as still
as possible for many long moments, until a glance in the direction of where
the sight came from proved that he had not heard her. Gaining confidence, she
pulled herself up and walked over to where two pets were talking. One was an
Island Yurble, bedecked in bright feathers and painted clay beads, and the other
was a younger-looking Island Techo. They looked like they were having a heated
discussion over something, and Aidne wanted to know what.
"Look at our people," the Yurble sighed, anguish
very much apparent in his voice. "Just two months ago they were so strong and
proud, but now they just hang their heads and go about their tasks like they
have no reason to live. Something is amiss."
The Techo nodded. "The crops have failed us,
many have taken ill, and little Kihalo went missing looking for herbs last week.
She knew the forest better than anyone. Pango Pango must be punishing us."
"That was a tragic time for us all. She was
so young, but the others... I'm not certain."
"What do you mean?"
"The crops have failed because of the sand that
hangs high in the air and blocks out the sun. It burns our lungs and dries the
water from the wells. And we do not get sick... we just fall asleep and don't
wake up. There is a curse on this land, I know this for I have sensed his presence
time and time again these past few months."
The Techo was silent for a moment. "Strange
omens indeed. For now we must pray to Jhuidah for guidance. We cannot do anything
else for now."
Aidne just had time to see the Yurble nod before
she woke up to chaos.
"Khaj!" Aurora cried as the room began refocusing
itself in Aidne's eyes. "Get some water on that fire before the whole room goes
up in flames!"
Aidne blinked her eyes as they gradually adjusted
to the light. Fire? What had gone on while she had been asleep?
The team of explorers (and some panicked guests
of the hotel) raced around the room in a frenzy. No one seemed sure of what
exactly they were supposed to be doing, but all seemed to feel that they should
at least do something. The blaze had already succeeded in consuming the linen
cloth draped over the table, leaving behind a sad mass of ashes. With relish,
Lani beat the flame, which had spread to a pile of ornate cushions. She paused
only to shoot venomous glances at Trick before going back to the fire. The Shoyru
pointedly ignored her. Aidne half-wondered if he hadn't set the fire on purpose.
Khaj, probably the only one who was thinking
clearly at the moment, leaped over a sofa and grabbed an earthenware jug from
the paws of the same Aisha hotel worker that Aidne had seen and been freaked
out by earlier. She scowled at him but made no move to take back the jug. The
Fire Zafara raced back to the table and dumped its entire contents onto the
table. Aidne breathed a sigh of relief to see that it was just water, not some
rare and exotic beverage. The flames died down immediately, but everyone winced
at the damage that had been done to the table and cushions, which were scattered
like carnage across the floor.
The Kougra hotel manager stormed into the lounge;
he had undoubtedly either heard the commotion from the desk or had been tipped
off by someone. Some people were just like that.
"What in Coltzan's name is going on here?" he
shouted, eying Aurora's party accusingly. His eyes bulged when he saw Trick.
"Look what you've done to my hotel, y-you... you beast of dark places! You demon!"
"I'll give you demon, creepy robot!" Trick snarled,
displaying none of his usual cheeriness. A ball of flames formed in his right
hand. "I'll fry you for that!"
Aidne decided it was high time to intervene.
She smoothly maneuvered herself between the hotel manger and the furious Shoyru
and began to speak to them both in the most calming tones as she could muster.
"Trick, you've caused enough damage already.
Don't get yourself into any more trouble than you're already in." The fire in
Trick's eyes didn't waver, though he did extinguish the ball of flames. In turn
she spoke to the manager, "This is hardly a way you should treat any of your
guests, never mind what they do-"
"Lani, I'm trying to solve a... disagreement
here. Please do not interrupt. Anyways, we'll pay for the damage and you'll
kindly restrain yourself fro-"
"Aidne, you brainless idiot, look!" Lani yelled
Aidne sighed and turned to see her Ixi friend
pointing at the table that had been damaged the most by the flames, and her
jaw dropped. Judging by the silence, the manager experienced the same reaction.
That table and the cushions around it had been
charbroiled; Aidne had seen it with her own eyes. The tablecloth had been reduced
Now, however, the furniture had inexplicably
been returned to the exact state it had been in before its encounter with Trick
McFinn's flame-flicking act. Even the tablecloth had been restored to gleaming
whiteness, and it looked newly ironed.
"But I just... just saw... it was burnt a moment
ago!" the manager exclaimed, studying Aidne's features suspiciously. He spun
to face Aurora.
"Well, Miss Bluepaw, some desert spirit apparently
likes you, which is more than could be said for me, but be warned: I'll not
be so forgiving next time. Any more funny business, and I'll be sure that no
hotel in the Lost Desert will ever accommodate you again. And as for you," he
pointed his finger angrily at Trick, who stuck out his tongue in reply, "If
I even see you using that accursed fire while you're here, things might
get very, very messy." He made for the doorway, but Aidne intercepted
him. She disliked the Kougra immensely, but was feeling oddly charitable.
"We, um, put out the fire with a jug of water
we grabbed from one of your employees," she confessed, reaching into her pocket
for the few Neopoints she carried on her person at all times. The manager's
face had a blank look to it. Odd. "She was an Aisha -- a Desert Aisha, and so
I'd like to pay for-"
"Keep your money," he said in a dismissive tone.
"No Desert Aisha works here. No Desert Aisha guests are staying here either."
Aidne was stunned. The incredibly beautiful
flute player with the piercing, cold eyes had just been there. She'd sat by
the fountain when Aidne first came to the Desert Sands, and had been serving
water to the guests just then. She was in plain eyesight at that very moment.
"There must be some mistake. She's right there-"
A quick glance over her shoulder caused Aidne
to blanch in shock.
The Aisha was gone.
To be continued...