The Treasure of Xutu: Part Six
It was the second day of their intense journey. Tara the Desert Kyrii and her faithful friend and companion, Jeran the Christmas Kacheek, were headed towards Faerieland, Tara's former home and favorite Neopian land. This was the fourth location they had been led to by clues on a treasure map. Only two days before, Tara had asked for Jeran's help in deciphering the map she had found left in her attic by her home's prior owners. Now, after enduring incredible battles and perilous situations, they were deep into unraveling a strange and intricate mystery.
Fortunately, though the map's last three clues had led them to encounters with vicious monsters and maniacal robots, their fourth clue seemed somewhat straightforward:
"The home of the clouds holds the next key.
Get help from 'Faeries', and answers you'll see."
The dynamic duo thought that this would be easy. They planned on simply asking the faeries in Faerieland to help them. Simple enough... right? However, neither Jeran nor Tara knew that this stage of their journey would be much more complicated. The novice adventurers reached Faerieland fairly quickly with the aid of some very kind Pteris. As they landed, Tara noticed Jeran breathing a sigh of relief.
"What a scaredy-cat," she thought. But she knew they made a great team and was excited to continue their journey together.
"So what do you think?" Jeran questioned after he thanked his new Pteri friend.
"I'm not sure," Tara responded. "I thought once we got here it would be pretty obvious, but I can't even think of how to start."
"I guess the best way would be to just dive in and start asking around."
"Well, there are only about ten MILLION faeries in Faerieland. We'd better get started."
Over the next two hours, Tara and Jeran went to every shop and every house in Faerie City. They knocked on every door and asked all the faeries the same questions. Unfortunately, no one could provide any information about the golden keys they had found at their last three destinations. Even worse, they had no alternative plan. If none of the faeries could help them, they had come to a dead end!
When they felt they could go no further, the exhausted pair sat down on a puffy space of cumulus and considered their options.
"We can't just stop now," Tara said, exasperated.
"Well, what else is there to do?" Jeran pondered. "We've asked every single faerie in this bloody place and not one knows about the map!"
"Wait," Tara said, beginning to formulate an idea. "Have we talked to EVERY faerie?"
"Yes, Tara. Big, small; light, dark; friendly, insane; everyone!"
"Even the most... Important Faerie?"
"What are you saying? Who is the most-- Wait. Queen Fyora?! We could never ask her for help!"
"And why not? Who's to say she's not part of this herself?"
"Tara, that's ridiculous! And besides that, the castle guards would never even let us get close to her, let alone engage her in a crazy conversation about a treasure map and golden keys!"
"Well, maybe we don't meet her at her castle..."
Jeran eyed Tara warily. He was becoming more and more aware of her devious nature. But her ingenuity and cleverness had helped a lot thus far. He bet that this time would be the same.
"Fine. I'll bite. What's the plan?"
Tara's idea involved meeting the queen at the Hidden Tower, which she had heard of, but had no clue how to find. Hopefully, they would find the queen there and could ask for her assistance.
With some very sneaky questioning of the local faeries, Tara quickly found out that the tower was located beside [blocked]. However, though she now knew the tower's location, there was still the possibility of it being guarded, just like the castle. Tara set off for the tower anyway, and soon ran right into the invisible fortress. Rubbing her bruised head, she stepped through the tower door, followed closely by Jeran, and walked up to its topmost room. It would be wonderful to find Queen Fyora unguarded and watching over priceless items! Unfortunately, though the room was free of security (likely to dull any suspicion of it being the Hidden Tower's true location), Queen Fyora was nowhere to be seen, and the entire collection of legendary items was missing!
"I wonder where she is," a panicked Jeran wondered aloud. "Maybe the items were stolen and Queen Fyora's been kidnapped!"
The new voice startled Tara and Jeran. It sounded distant, but firm, even regal. Before the two could ponder the mysterious occurrence, a flash of light blinded them, and when their eyesight recovered, they saw a wondrous sight: Queen Fyora was standing in the middle of the tower room, surrounded by amazing items.
"One cannot expect a Queen to stay cooped up in a dank tower all day, can one?"
As she spoke, Jeran thought he might faint.
"I have learned that it is much easier to come and go as I am needed. Things run much more smoothly that way."
"Queen Fyora," Tara breathed, "I'm sorry to say this, but the reason we have disturbed you is not because we wish to purchase a Hidden Tower item. We actually need your help."
"Child, many desire my help. But with so many Faerieland citizens to keep in mind and care for, one queen cannot always see to each individual's desires. I am afraid you will have to seek elsewhere for the answers you require. Now if that will be all..."
The queen made an elegant motion and light began to fill the room once again. She had been there for less than ten seconds and was already ignoring the request for help and leaving. Tara, very frustrated, spoke up in one last effort.
"It's about the Treasure of Xutu!"
The queen stopped immediately and the growing light faded. She took one step forward and said,
"Finally. I have been waiting three hundred years for someone to say those words. I suppose you are searching for a key."
Now Jeran spoke up. "So you DO know about the treasure!"
"Yes," the queen replied, "of course. But unfortunately, I know nothing of the key's location. All I know is to tell you to consult u."
"But we know that already, and we've asked EVERYONE! No one knows anything!"
"I'm sorry, but that's all I know. And now I really must take my leave. I sense two groups of dark faeries are about to start an uprising near the bookshop."
"Well, thank you for your help."
And just like that, she was gone. Another flash of light blinded Tara and Jeran, leaving them alone and confused in a cold tower. Jeran was fuming.
"So basically, all we know now is EXACTLY what we knew before."
"I know, Jeran, I know." Tara consoled him the best she could. "I just wish she had given us something more. All she said was 'Consult 'Faeries' and then she went off to the book store!"
"You know, I'm about sick and tired of--"
"Hold on a second, Jeran. I just got an idea.... the bookstore. Let's take another look at clue number four."
Tara took the map out of her knapsack and unfolded it onto the stone floor. She and Jeran carefully re-read the fourth clue:
"The home of the clouds holds the next key.
Get help from Faeries, and answers you'll see."
Jeran was the first to speak.
"Well the first line lead us here, and we're obviously in the right place."
"Yes, said Tara, but I just noticed something in the second line. Look at the word 'Faeries.' Why is it capitalized?"
"Tara, it's highly unlikely that a simple error in grammar is at all significant."
"Just listen, Jeran. Not only that, but it's italicized! And what are names that are capitalized and italicized?"
Jeran thought for a moment and then came to the same conclusion as Tara.
"Titles of books!"
"Exactly! We've been wrong all along, Jeran. We weren't supposed to consult actual faeries, but rather the book titled Faeries!"
"Well, that's... slightly dull. But what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
They ran down the steps of the invisible tower and out into Faerie City. They ran as fast as they could, pushing past protesting employees at the Employment Agency , racing by Faerie Furniture (though a Dark Faerie Dresser on sale almost caused Jeran to stop), and finally stopping at the Faerie Bookshop, where they saw a few final dark faerie rebels being reprimanded by the queen's guards. They rushed in, startling the faerie behind the counter, and began their search. They searched every shelf in the store three times, but could not find the book they were looking for. Just as they were about to walk out of the shop, the faerie attendant chimed,
"Did you find what you were looking for? Perhaps I may be of some assistance."
"Well, you see," Tara said, "We're looking for a book called 'Faeries' because we think it may have something to do with an... item we're trying to find."
The faerie checked her books and said,
"Hm... It seems as though our stock on that book ran out about... oh dear! Three hundred years ago! I wonder why no one's ever ordered more. Oh well."
"So there's no copy here at all?" Now Jeran was frustrated.
"Well I wouldn't say that..." The Faerie looked very conspicuous.
"So, there is one here?" Tara probed.
"Well... we keep one copy of each book we've ever had on sale in the back, sort of as a record-keeping method, but mostly for the nostalgia. We have almost every original copy!"
She was beaming as she boasted to the pair, but then scowled and warned, "But those are restricted works. Only the staff and certified experts are allowed back to view them."
"Please, ma'am," Tara begged. "May we just have a minute to look over the text. You can handle the pages for us; there's no one even here!"
The faerie immediately refused, claiming that even breathing on the ancient books was against the rules.
"As far as I know," said the faerie, "those books haven't even been moved in years, and I'm not about to be the one to break that rule!"
"The unspoken one! Now, if you'll excuse me..."
Becoming uncomfortable, she asked Tara and Jeran to leave. The two heartbroken treasure hunters shuffled out of the Faerie Bookstore. The bookkeeper was very pleased with herself.
Upon reaching the outside, Tara immediately stiffened up and replaced her sunken frown with a determined scowl. Jeran, who was obviously still upset, asked Tara what the problem was.
"Oh, Jeran, I was never upset. I just wanted to make that faerie think we'd given up."
Jeran brightened up a bit, "We haven't?"
"Seriously? How long have you known me? Here's the plan..."
Twenty minutes later Tara was pulling a dark faerie dresser back towards the Faerie Bookstore. When she reached the door, she walked in and came back a minute later with the Faerie Bookkeeper.
"What's all this about?" the bookkeeper queried, "I--oh! What a lovely dresser! Who's is it?"
"Yours!" Tara said with a fake smile plastered on her face. "It was on sale, and while browsing through your amazing selection of works I noticed that you were in need of a little more storage. Now I know that dressers aren't ideal for holding books, but maybe you could use it to hold some extra copies or something."
"Well that's just too gracious of you!" the faerie said, delighted. She suspected nothing, just as Tara had figured.
Tara helped the ecstatic bookworm move the dresser into the store and looked around.
"Oh no," said the clever Kyrii. "Looks as if you don't have any room for it in your front room."
"Hm..." the faerie pondered. "Oh! There's plenty of room in the back! Would you mind helping me a bit more?"
"Excellent," thought Tara.
A few minutes later, Tara walked out the door of the shop, leaving the smiling faerie at her counter. Seconds later, Tara was leading an angry group of faerie protesters in a march to the employment agency in front of the bookshop windows, catching the bookworm faerie's attention and luring her outside.
Jeran, hidden behind a false panel in the back of the dresser, heard the bookstore door shut on screams of "Lower Pay, No Way!" and leaped out of his prison. He set to work at once, surveying the room and searching for the ancient copy of 'Faeries'. He spotted the book within seconds, but instantly felt his heart drop. It was locked in a glass case secured by five different padlocks. Breaking the glass would certainly sound an alarm and alert the faerie, and where was he going to get the key or keys to all of those padlocks? He decided his best option was to just steal the book and run. Hopefully the faerie bookkeeper wouldn't catch him.
Jeran pulled a hammer from his bag and took a deep breath. With one swift swing, the glass shattered and an alarm sounded. The bookstore faerie rushed back into her shop as Jeran snatched the book from its case and ran. Or... did he? Jeran thought he felt himself running far and fast. But in reality, his feet were planted on the spot. It was as if another person was in Jeran's place, and he was controlling Jeran's actions. In the back of his head Jeran heard a voice say,
"There's a reason these books are not to be touched... You have released an ancient curse... And you will... be... punished..."
The shopkeeper and Tara, who had seen the faerie disappear into the store, both reached the back room in time to see the impossible event occur. In a split second, Jeran was gone, sucked into the book. The book fell to the floor, glowing a deep shade of red.
"What have you done?!" the faerie yelled.
And much more quietly, in less than a whisper, Tara echoed,
"What have I done?"
To be continued...