A Locket: Part Two
“I don’t know if I like this place, Carrie.” Melanie looked around nervously, almost expecting a black Pteri to swoop from the skies. It was dark enough here for a villain, sinister enough for a threat.
“Few do.” Carrie looked at the Brain Tree that was pulsing ominously. “Many admire the darkness and the terror of evil of this place until they are face to face with it.”
The shrill voices of the Carnival of Terror echoed throughout the darkness, although the carnival should have been abandoned years ago. Mysterious creatures covered in dark cloths wandered throughout the weaving dirt paths without a word or a smile to spare. Almost everyone here wanted to sell Melanie something or ignore her.
A fire faerie had been sweeping off the porch of her home when she spotted the travelers. Putting her broom down, she quietly waved. Her hand moved three times, mechanically but enthusiastically. It was as if she had practiced this many times. Her eyes sparkled as she took a few steps off of her porch to welcome the two Transparents.
“And who is this, I might ask?”
Carrie smiled, but fear shone through her eyes. “This Christmas Zafara is Melanie. New here. And, since I know you’ve spotted me despite my recent changes, I don’t have to introduce myself.”
The fire faerie smiled and shook Melanie’s hand. “Wonderful to meet you. Now come in.”
The old wooden door squeaked as Melanie stepped inside. Beautiful portraits of all the heroes in Neopia lined the walls, along with elegant portraits. Bookshelf after bookshelf with tattered whispers of Neopia’s past decorated every corner. A single candle lit the center table of this grand living room, and Melanie was immediately reminded of her precious study back home.
“Have a seat. You’re safe here.” The fire faerie smiled gently.
“You see,” Carrie began speaking without a whisper for the first time in hours. “This is Claire. She’s a fire faerie, as you might have noticed, and she is one of the kindest people I have ever met in Neopia. She always has her home open to me, and as you might have guessed... her home is entirely protected from the Black Pteri.”
Melanie had not guessed, so she asked why.
Claire took the oldest book off of her shelf and placed it into Melanie’s lap. “The Black Pteri. Carrie knows the story far better then I do, but he’s done much wrong. And he has weaknesses. But the only one I understand, the only one I have discovered myself, is his fear of stronger magic. My house is surrounded in it. He cannot even tell you are here, which is why Carrie has been visiting my house frequently for the past gazillion years.”
Carrie coughed slightly.
Melanie would not understand the importance of all that had just been said until much later, but she still treasured the words in her mind.
“We may be back to visit, but our time is nearly up.” Carrie shrugged, and Melanie assumed she did not mean that harm was going to come their way. She was confident. Did bad things happen to confident people?
“Taking her to the top of Terror Mountain, are you?”
“Yeah, that’s the only portal you know.”
Melanie’s eyes widened as understanding flooded her mind. This was why she was running, because the only way back to Earth was through Terror Mountain. This is where Carrie was taking her. This was why they had traveled so far so fast.
Carrie and Claire babbled on for a few minutes, but someone in the far corner was growing angrier and angrier with her every word.
“I’m not ready to go back to Earth.” Melanie stomped defiantly, angry that she had been tricked into this journey.
“You aren’t the only one.” Carrie trailed off as they began to walk towards the center of the vast room. She did not make any eye contact with Melanie after this statement, and the Christmas Zafara began to grasp at what she had meant.
“Thanks for stopping in, if only it was for a moment.”
With that, Claire pulled a tiny string under a doormat and a trapdoor appeared.
The two climbed in to yet another tunnel, and began walking until the voices in Neopia Central grew clearer and clearer...
“Thank you all for attending this feast.” Coltzan beamed as he raised a fork. “By the end of the night, we will all have realized who the true threat to the Lost Desert is, and what we are to do about it.”
Sankara resisted the urge to shuffle in her seat.
“I already discussed the intruders in the last meal. Now we discuss who is going to eliminate which Transparents. As my highest position is Chief Hunter in this project, I hereby appoint my trusted lifelong friend to do this job.”
The Black Pteri bowed to the applause. “I will do my best.” With an unwavering glare at Princess Sankara, he added, “I will never, ever fail you.”
“The rest of you are to turn in any suspected Transparents.” Coltzan took the first bite of his tarnished food. “There are, of course, royal rewards for each you turn in. So many young and poor desert pets will be assisting in this. The Black Pteri is to oversee their departure from Neopia. They will not be here for long.” Coltzan took yet another bite.
“But won’t you have a part in deciding who is to stay and who is to go?” Princess Vyssa, his real daughter with her pristine Desert Acara face, looked concerned in this lesson in her dad’s power.
“Of course.” Coltzan smiled, and out of nowhere began to cough violently.
“What is it, Father?” Vyssa jumped up in terror, and rushed to his side.
“I’m alright.” He shakily raised his water to his glass and began to drink. Rather than calming his throat, he began to cough even more, to the point he could hardly speak.
“Cough... Who prepared this dish?... cough... I heard someone sniffing in the kitchen... cough... It was yooo...”
With these final words that were to be remembered in Sankara’s mind for all of eternity, Coltzan fell to the table.
In shock, everyone stood up. Sankara was even stunned, for she had only wished for him to be ill, not dead... She began to shake violently, violently, horrified at herself and her plan gone horribly wrong, horrified she had killed a man who had welcomed her so well, horrified when she hadn’t meant for things to end that way, horrified that he had known, and tears of fear and horror and the feeling of the lost of life forming in her eyes and nobody noticed amidst the chaos...
The young servant who had been serving the food owned the first footsteps to take off down the hall. Following his lead, everyone but Vyssa began to run, not wanting to look guilty, or not wanting to be found guilty...
Sankara could hear Vyssa’s howls of grief as she closed the kingdom door behind her for the final time.
The Aisha who had wanted nothing more than safety for those like her had killed a king. She was not in fear, but horrified beyond words for all that had gone wrong. For all that she had destroyed. For her unintentional disregard of life. For trusting the wizard in the outskirts of the desert, the liar that had promised that the potion was not lethal. For the monarch-less kingdom she was leaving as Princess, once and for all.
There was no turning back.
Tears streamed down Sankara’s face until she could no longer see, blindly stumbling through the Lost Desert sands and wondering how else things could get worse...
They had no light beyond a tiny flashlight Carrie held. Claire had given it to her. The light shone for only a few feet, and then diminished into nothing but darkness. Each step was painful and slow, for neither knew what they could run into. Melanie trusted that Carrie knew this tunnel, for that was all Melanie could put her trust in.
They had talked little in this darkness, focusing on getting out and escaping alive. They were both dreaming about the Terror Mountain. Carrie was wondering where she was going to hide after she dropped Melanie off. Where she would go, other than Earth. Melanie might expect Carrie to come with her, but Carrie knew she would not.
Melanie was also determined not to leave. She would allow Carrie to lead her up the mountain, but as soon as she got to the top, she would somehow find a way to stay. She did not know what she was going to do, but nothing sounded worse than Earth now. Melanie had the strangest feeling that Carrie knew exactly what she was thinking, but Melanie still did not speak a word.
They had been traveling for what felt like hours when suddenly a scream pierced the darkness.
Both Carrie and Melanie realized, at exactly the same time, that the yell came from Carrie’s mouth. There was a moment of terror as Carrie began to fall, fall down a pit that was surely deep and endless and likely to swallow her alive...
Whether it was simply instinct, or Melanie’s reflexes, a Christmas Zafara arm tightly gripped the Brown Ixi before she could fall any farther. Using her powerful wings for the first time, they began to hover over the pit, and back onto solid ground.
Carrie would not move. Melanie wondered what was wrong at first, but then she realized where the flashlight was pointing. Directly at the pit.
There were rows and rows of spikes, spikes that would certainly have injured Carrie if she had fallen.
“You... you... saved me...” Carrie was frozen in horror of this pit, and frozen in gratitude of what Melanie had done.
That was all Carrie said as the light grew inside of the tunnel, and they crept farther and farther to the end. The light was brighter with every step, and everything was clearer around them. Melanie could see Carrie’s face now, and her shining golden locket. As they stepped from the tunnel, she could see a strange expression on Carrie’s face.
I underestimated this Zafara.
“Thank you.” Carrie nodded, and looked away.
Melanie could not form the words she needed to say. This whole trip was so unreal, so foreign, but yet it all seemed so right. The nonsense of this world all made sense, in its own Neopian way. A ‘your welcome’ would not be enough. Just as ‘I want to stay here’ also did not suffice in this pixelized planet, this world of virtual pet. This place changed all the laws of what one could expect, and what one should expect.
As abruptly as they had entered the cave, they were in open air once more, traveling through the land known as Neopia Central...
Sankara ran, no longer feeling as if she was a princess, and no longer crying. She had crossed much of the desert sands, but now her mind was occupied with fear. What would the Lost Desert officials do if they caught her? What would happen to her? And how was her poor friend Vyssa doing, the poor Acara who got caught into this whole mess due to Sankara’s mistakes, the friend who would never realize that murder hadn’t been intentional, along with the rest of Neopia...
The shadows grew along the night sky, and all in an instant it was darker.
Thunder roared amidst the cloudless sky, yet there was no lightning. Sankara ran faster now, faster, as fast as her Aisha legs could take her. She had to get out of here, because she could tell someone was coming, someone would find her...
A rush of blackened feathers rustled in front of her, and blocked her path to the Haunted Woods. Blocked Sankara’s path to freedom.
Sankara’s eyes widened in unimaginable terror as the Black Pteri stared down at her, ultimate hatred and disgust in his eyes. Power and strength radiated from his every feather as he looked down at the unworthy, pathetic Aisha.
“You killed my owner.”
The buildings shone brighter then anything Melanie could have ever imagined. Everything here was so beautiful. It was not Neopia’s fault that they had to run, only the fault of one revenge-seeking bird. The Money Tree glistened brightly as she walked past, offering her Neopoints, items, and opportunity.
Too bad it can’t give us shelter.
The two were both draped in regular, average clothes, having left Carrie’s Lost Desert robe behind. Carrie wore a red and white skirt, along with a plain red top. She had on fancy sunglasses and a little purse. Melanie wore average pants, and a Meepit related top. No sunglasses for Melanie. They both fit in perfectly with the crowd.
Carrie almost seemed relaxed here, as if there was little to fear in Neopia Central. Maybe it was the fact that they could blend in, or maybe it was something else. Either way, the sun was setting, and both were exhausted.
“Where are we going tonight? I’m going to fall over.” Melanie looked around, concerned, as the shadows changed shape, the sky grew darker, and the crowd grew thinner.
“There’s only one thing to do,” Carrie looked around her, and for a second Melanie almost thought she was going to suggest the Neolodge. Then she saw she was quite wrong. “The Soup Kitchen.”
Sankara trembled, her necklace shaking around her neck.
“You’re pathetic, vile, and heartless.” The Black Pteri spat on her. “I know what you did. I know why you did it. And I know I have to get even, in honour of my king.”
“Are you sure about that?” Sankara found strength in her she did not know she had well up, and anger replaced the fear in her eyes. “I did not do this on purpose. You don’t know what I am. And you have no clue how much of a heart I have.”
“No, you’re heartless. I’ve known that from the day I’ve met you. Either you lack a heart in the sense that you wish to harm, or you have had something tragic to take who you were away. Take your heart away.” The Pteri snarled a shadowy breath of doom, and grew closer. “And I know what you are. You’re one of those ‘Transparents’ he talked about. You’re trying to overthrow my country.”
He was an inch away from Sankara now. He reached out his feathered claws and reached to swipe at her, claw off her face, scratch her out from existence, use magic to rip her from Neopia and place her back on Earth...
Sankara did all she thought she could do. She placed her hand on the Black Pteri in a punch of desperation.
The Black Pteri moved backwards, in pain. He howled as his body began to glow with translucent sparkles, surrounding him and Sankara. The young Aisha could feel strength, power, and something she did not know she had - one thing that had set her apart from normal pets. And it was leaving her.
The Pteri absorbed all of this magic, and fell back, temporarily stunned and nearly defeated.
Sankara did not have a moment to spare. Unaware that she had just given her enemy a way to find her, a way to sense when she was near, she began to run, run through the sand to the Haunted Woods...
“I am working all the time.” The Soup Faerie sighed as she opened a small wooden door that lead to a strange sort of attic. “Even when I’m sleeping, it seems I’m thinking up new recipes. I’d give you a proper tour, but I have a whole line of customers. I can’t leave the hungry waiting! If you need anything, just let one of my random petpets wandering around know. They’ll take care of it.”
The attic door shut with a creak, and Melanie took out the candle and matches the faerie had left them.
The candle set strange shadows upon the room, which seemed to be a cramped library. There were more books than floor, more shelves than wall, and Melanie was once again reminded of her home.
Melanie rubbed her sore feet and weary head. Home seemed more necessary than it had earlier.
The smell of warm soup trickled in the keyhole in the door, and arrived at Melanie’s nose. It smelled magical, yet thick, unique, yet... magical. She could not think up the adjectives to describe it. It was simply beyond anything she had smelled. It was proof that this building was surrounded in shimmering sparkles, sparkles that would distract the Pteri and make the two Transparents impossible to find.
She turned around, still holding the candle. Carrie was shifting blankets into two piles amidst the books, and causing dust to swirl. Carrie did not look up, and shadows flickered across her face. This contrast with the light and dark, the candle and the shadows, brought a question to Melanie’s mind. Melanie had heard all about this Princess Sankara and the Black Pteri on their walks through the lands of Neopia. But what was Carrie’s past?
Hoping to start a conversation, Melanie began to speak.
“This room... strangely reminds me of home...”
Carrie did not speak. Pain shimmered in her eyes as she turned to Melanie.
“Although I’m still unsure how much that place was home to me.” Melanie felt as if Carrie didn’t want to talk, and looked away.
“It stopped feeling like home when she moved...”
In Claire’s home, Sankara scanned through pages about Pteris, shadows, night, and darkness. She read about magic, and how it affected Neopia. She now knew, without any documentation about Transparents, why she felt like the Black Pteri was following her whenever she left the home. She knew that she had given him the sense of where she was when she had touched him with her angry fist. She knew that she had already been there for a month now, and that Claire would let her stay for as long as needed. She knew that Claire could protect her, for she was more magical. And she knew that the Pteri had all the power to send her back home to her parentless home, to where she would be...
But there were two things she didn’t know.
The first was to how to defeat the Pteri.
The second was if she should stay in Neopia, or find a way back home. She had reason to believe there was a portal back to her home... whatever home was...
Clinging to a final fact Sankara knew for sure, she climbed into a dark tunnel that almost was like Claire’s basement. She began to walk slowly, slowly, away from the home. She had stayed there for a while, but she knew she could not stay there forever.
Melanie had told Carrie all about her friend moving, and how people had treated her differently since then. How all that Melanie had been beforehand, because somehow all she was good at slipped through her fingers after she lost her confidence. After she lost her friend. Nobody wanted to talk to her. And Melanie, used to being happy for as long as she could remember before that, could not figure out what to do.
It was a simple story, but Melanie could make it longer if she wanted to. Which, she did. And for the first time, someone listened with all ears. Someone listened intently, and towards the end, a tear even rolled down her Brown Ixi face.
“You will find out later.”
And with that, that explanation of Carrie’s past, the candle was extinguished, and both fell asleep.
Melanie did not even care that Carrie would not trust her back. Melanie was just glad she had someone to trust, someone who would listen to her pathetic story that most would laugh at and say is no reason to be unhappy. That had been what she had admired about Lindsey, before she moved. Everything had mattered to her, and nothing was too small to worry about.
“You want a Yellow Blumaroo Morphing Potion? But you’re such a beautiful Desert Aisha! Why?!” Kauvara peered at Sankara from across her shop. It was a confused look, a suspicious glare.
“Because I don’t want to be an Aisha anymore.”
Kauvara paused, and shut her starry Kau mouth. She lowered her witch-like hat onto her desk, and slowly walked over to her cabinet.
“Only one in stock. A few thousand Neopoints. Sure you want it?”
“I won’t ask any more questions. I wish you the best luck in whatever you are doing. Best luck with being a Blumaroo.” Kauvara handed her the potion, accepted the money, and watched the young Aisha leave her shop.
If she had read the Neopian news that morning, she might have realized who she was helping.
As the bell over the door rang behind Sankara, Kauvara thought her last thought of the painted Aisha who wanted to be an ordinary Blumaroo. And that thought was that Kauvara once had been exactly the same...
They had left with a warm goodbye to the Soup Faerie. Now, past all the glistening buildings, and past all the ticking hours, they found they were already in the Happy Valley.
Snow swirled from the sky, and landed gently on their heads. Snowflakes dazzled their eyelashes, catching them, making them bolder, and making them more pristine. Tiny bits of snow gathered on their clothes as the wind blew gently, slowly covering their every footstep. Melanie wished she had chosen warmer clothes back in Neopia Central. But there was no turning back.
With every step, Melanie wondered how she would put up a fight when they got to the top. How she would have enough strength to tell Carrie no, to tell her that she wasn’t going home. That she’d rather just stay at the top of the mountain if possible. That this was all a trip for nothing.
Well, it would have been a trip for nothing if Carrie didn’t know more about Melanie then Melanie even seemed to know. If Carrie hadn’t listened to her every word. Somehow, strangely, Melanie felt linked to Carrie now. And, seeing as she hadn’t felt like that for a while, Melanie realized that this whole journey had not been a failure.
Carrie had whispered the stories of the Lost Desert on their way here, the stories of all that had happened to Transparents before her. Melanie had responded back, no longer feeling shy and unwanted. Melanie knew more about Sankara than most Neopians knew, more about how Coltzan had really died, and more about the Transparents.
The one thing she still didn’t know was about Carrie herself.
They had traveled across much of the valley by now, sets of footprints being all that molded the snow for as far as they can see. There were many footprints, but Melanie could see that hers and Carrie’s were the deepest. The freshest.
As soon as she had realized how dangerous this was, and began to wonder why Carrie did not seem to care, she saw a final tear on Carrie’s face.
This time, instead of silence following Carrie’s tear, thunder rumbled all around them. There were no thunderclouds in the sky, no lightning to come from them, but a loud booming noise shook the two weary travelers as the reached a clearing surrounded by Fir trees.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”
Melanie looked up at the sky in shock, and then back to Carrie.
“Why don’t we run?!” Melanie’s mind conveyed images of the Black Pteri taking people away, and the stories Carrie had told her about Sankara. The lightning-less thunder, and then the capture... “We still have a chance!”
“You do.” Carrie looked directly at Melanie now, directly into her eyes, not avoiding her gaze as she usually did. “But this time, for the first time in fourteen years, I’m not going to run.”
To be continued...