The Treasure of Xutu: Part Seven
Tara was heartbroken. Her favorite Christmas Kacheek, her best friend Jeran, was gone. He was trapped by a curse, and it was all her fault. Only two days before she had asked him to help her figure out a mysterious treasure map. Upon discovering that enigmatic clues on the map each represented a location in Neopia, the Desert Kyrii and her friend had traveled to the Haunted Woods, Terror Mountain, Tyrannia, and Faerieland, facing perilous danger and finding golden keys they hoped were a part of finding the Treasure of Xutu.
Unfortunately, in their search for the fourth key in Faerieland, Jeran had tried to steal a cursed faerie book and had been trapped inside by an unknown magic. Now, Tara and the Faerie Bookstore shopkeeper stood bewildered, gaping with their mouths open at the book. Before, the book had been glowing a deep shade of red, but now it was still, lifeless. Hopefully Jeran had met a different fate. Maybe he was still in there somewhere... The shopkeeper spoke first.
"I told you two. I told you these books were restricted! And now look what has happened!"
"I can't believe it," Tara whispered, almost to herself. She walked slowly to the book and bent down to pick it up.
"Wait!" the angry faerie yelled. "Don't touch it! It'll take you, too!"
"I don't care," was Tara's reply. She grabbed the book, but nothing happened. She didn't feel anything. She didn't hear anything. It was just a normal book. She opened it to the front page and saw the only difference: In place of the normal text of the novel 'Faeries,' every sentence read, "Tara, help me! Please come rescue me!"
Tara dropped to her knees and began to cry. She couldn't help but blame herself. If she hadn't asked Jeran to come along, if she had just ignored the map completely... but she hadn't. And it was too late.
No, she wouldn't tell herself that. Maybe, just maybe there was still a chance. Tara struggled to her feet and wiped the tears from her eyes. She turned around to face the faerie shopkeeper and said,
"I'm taking this book with me. I will return it when I find out what happened to my friend."
"Certainly not!" screamed the faerie. "You've caused enough trouble already!"
Tara repeated, "I'm taking... this book. And there's not a thing in the world you can do to stop me."
She walked past the faerie, who stood awestruck and unable to react, and out of the shop. She knew that if there was any chance of freeing Jeran from the book, she would have to continue on the journey without him and follow the fifth clue.
"Now you're close to the end, remain strong and bold.
Continue your journey in a region that's old."
"'Remain strong and bold'," Tara thought, "that's easier said than done... but the second line is a bigger problem. There are many old lands in Neopia... Meridell, Brightvale, even Geraptiku. How do I know which one is the correct location?"
Tara pulled out her map of Neopia. With no other option, she closed her eyes and put her finger on different spots until she hit land. After a few tries, she finally succeeded in picking a random location: Altador. And with that, she folded up her map, and tapped on the shoulder of a Shoyru standing nearby.
With some persuading, Tara managed to convince the Shoyru to transport her to Altador. Shortly, Tara touched foot in the amazing land, enchanted book in tow, and looked around.
"Where to begin?" she thought.
She started walking and came to the Archives building in Altador's Western sector. She thought that perhaps Finneus, the archives Lenny, might know something and walked inside. As she passed through the door, she noticed the Lenny in a room to the right rushing around and mumbling to himself. Tara hugged her book and knocked on his door.
"Excuse me, Mr. Finneus?"
Finneus, obviously very preoccupied, took no notice of the unusually timid Kyrii and continued to mull around, rustling papers and talking to himself. Mustering up some courage, Tara tried again,
"Um, excuse me? Mr. Finneus... Mr. Finneus! MR. FINNEUS!"
The Lenny jumped and spun around.
"Jumping JubJubs! When did you get here?"
"Just a bit ago. I was wondering if you could help me with something. You see, I have this book, and--"
"I certainly have no time for that, no time at all!" Finneus interrupted. "But of course, one should always make time for a good book. But there's no time! Well, let's see then, miss. Let's see."
Finneus took the book from the puzzled Kyrii and stared at the cover. As his eyes traveled over the novel, they grew wider and wider.
"Young lady, is this one of the ancient books of the Faeries? I've only heard rumors of their existence, and yet here you have handed me one as if it is nothing!"
"Sir, I assure you, I know it isn't nothing. Though I didn't know it was such a big deal. I just got it from a bookstore."
The aging Lenny walked slowly over to a chair and sat down, nearly unbelieving of what he was holding.
"From a bookstore?! Oh, these are certainly a very 'big deal'. Certainly. Their legend rivals that of my own Book of Ages! Whoever possesses the others must not be aware of the great power that they hold."
"So you know something about them, then?"
"Very little. Only rumors and stories, I'm afraid. But why do you ask? Why have you brought me this amazing work of art?"
"Because, sir, just this afternoon my friend took this book from a glass case and was sucked into it as if by a cursed magic. If you'll look inside, you'll see that I'm telling the truth."
Finneus looked, and saw the altered text. "Tara, help me!" He looked shocked and awed.
"This is beyond anything I could have imagined. If I wasn't positive myself that this was in fact a true Faerie original, I might call you a liar! But, though I do not doubt your story's authenticity, this is far beyond my realm of knowledge. Dear child, I am afraid that no amount of my vast intelligence can assist you."
Looking very sullen, he handed the dark book back to Tara. Tara shared the sorrowful feeling, but thanked him just the same. She left the archives and set off again. This time she arrived at the humongous coliseum in the northern sector of Altador. It looked as if it had been deserted for decades, but upon entering, Tara heard distant noises coming from down a passageway. She walked down the dank hall and emerged into a bright arena, larger than anything she had ever seen. At first, she was distracted by the inner coliseum's splendor. But after a moment, loud noises from away to her right alerted her to an alarming scene.
Tara saw that Torakor, the Gladiator of Altador, was locked in battle of swords with Kelland, the Thief. Each fought valiantly, but after several minutes it became clear that Kelland was outmatched. In a strong, swift blow, Torakor disarmed Kelland and knocked him to the ground. It looked as though Kelland's time was up. Tara rushed forward.
"Wait! Don't hurt him!"
The two members of the Altador Council turned to see who had caused the disturbance.
"Excuse me, miss, but may we help you?" Torakor questioned. "We're sort of busy here."
"Busy?! That's what you call this brutal act!"
Kelland was astonished. "OH! Oh, dear me. Miss, Torakor here wasn't going to HARM me. This was but a simple, friendly bout born from boredom. I am quite safe and unharmed."
"Oh... well. Sorry." Tara was humiliated. She had made a fool of herself in front of not one, but TWO legendary figures. Torakor patted her on the shoulder and assured her it was nothing. Then, Kelland noticed what she was holding.
"Um... miss? What've you got there...?" he asked, intrigued.
"I'm Tara. And it's a book. I'm looking for someone who can tell me something about it. I think it may be cursed, and my friend's life depends on figuring out what magic controls this book!"
Kelland and Torakor gawked at her.
"Great," Tara thought, "two more people who think I'm crazy."
Kelland whispered something in Torakor's ear and the latter nodded.
"Of course," he agreed. Then to Tara, "Well, Tara was it? I'm afraid that neither of us has the expertise you seem to be searching for, but I'm sure that at least one of the other nine of the council may be able to help you."
"Really?! I could really ask for the legendary Altador Council's help?"
"Why certainly!" Kelland chimed in. "Follow us!"
The trio filed out of the stadium and walked into the heart of the city, to the Hall of Heroes. As they walked, Tara told them her story, stressing the importance of her book once again. Seeing Tara's troubled face, Torakor tried to lighten her spirits. As they walked in the great Hall, he was saying,
"And that's how we got Sasha to sell her tambourine! HAR HAR HA--"
All three paused as they looked around at the wreckage. Several of the hall's statues had been damaged or destroyed. The walls, floor, and even ceiling displayed holes and missing chunks of stone.
"What... has happened here?" Torakor breathed.
"Not since the Darkest Faerie's release have I seen work this savage done in Altador," Kelland added. "We MUST find the culprit!" The two rushed into the Council Chamber with Tara, stunned, right on their heels. They arrived to see a giant hole in the far wall. Jerdana was lying in the middle of the room, eyes barely open. Florin, Psellia, Gordos, and Marak lay nearby, all unconscious. The protector allowed herself to be propped up into a chair and related the events of the past few minutes,
"Six of us were discussing a possible new underground water system..." she wheezed, "when we heard a loud rumble."
"What happened then?" Tara asked.
Jerdana took in a raspy breath and continued, "Without warning, there was a giant crash and stone and rubble flew everywhere. I looked up and saw a dark figure, but the dust made it hard to see. We tried to stop whatever it was, but it was too strong. We all fell to its power, and when the dust cleared, I could see it had taken..."
"Taken a council member? who? Who was the sixth person? Not King Altador!"
"No..." Jerdana gasped, "it... was..."
"She's fainted!" Tara cried.
"Come," Kelland said, "We must follow the creature, and rescue our fallen comrade!"
Kelland grabbed Tara's hand and, with Torakor close behind, ran through the hole Something had created in the chamber's wall. It was not hard to figure out what they were looking for. A quick look revealed an enormous wolf-like creature near the coliseum about three hundred yards away. It was swiping at the high walls around Altador, trying to escape the protected city, and had something wrapped up in its tail. Tara saw her first...
They ran faster than a meowclops being chased by a Mutant Puppyblew. In no time at all they were close to the coliseum again, standing below the giant Lupe.
"Everything always has to be giant," Tara thought to herself.
Towering high above their heads, the First to Rise was struggling to free herself from the behemoth's tight grasp. Kelland immediately leapt onto the beast's leg, using his strong, skilled hands to pull himself farther up its enormous limb. The Lupe, aggravated by the miniature grabs at its flesh, began to writhe and wriggle in an attempt to dislodge its new parasite. Kelland held on tightly as Torakor led Tara to a nearby boulder.
"You stay here," he said, "this may get dangerous."
"But I've handled worse than--"
"That wasn't a suggestion!" growled Torakor. "Besides, more help is arriving. Now Stay!"
Torakor rushed away, now joined by Sasha and Fauna, who had been in Legendary Petpets adoring the latest arrivals. Tara gaped at the awesome team battling together. Kelland vigilantly climbed closer and closer to where Siyana was trapped. Torakor jumped and dodged, making strategic strikes at the canine. Sasha, looking more like a blur of color than a solid being, hopped swiftly around the monster, distracting his attention from the others. And Fauna, surrounded by hundreds of petpets, was leading an army to attack. But even with all of this help, Tara couldn't let herself simply stand by. Whispering a promise to Jeran that she would return for him, she ran out from behind the boulder where she was hidden, brandishing a long length of rope. She ran straight into the beast's path, almost tripping over a group of ferocious looking noils, and yelled as loud as she could, "HEY YOU, STUPID! LOOK OVER HERE!"
The mammoth creature took notice and became annoyed, preparing to strike. Tara stared into its eyes with determination and dug her feet into the ground. Before any of the council could stop it, the Lupe plunged its head toward Tara, who jumped out of the way just in time to avoid its deadly fangs. Its head hit the ground with colossal force, causing it to lose its senses for a moment. Tara took advantage of the beast's disoriented state and wrapped her rope around its neck. Forming a tight knot, Tara climbed onto the Lupe's neck just before it rose back into the air. The Lupe looked around for its escaped prey, unaware of a new pest on his back.
Tara pulled on the rope, using it as reigns, and the beast groaned in utter hatred. Tara guided the unwillingly monster around as if it were a trained pet, ignoring the applause from her Altadorian comrades. The Lupe romped about according to its guide's will, and ended up back at the Hall of Heroes. With a giant tug, Tara forced it to rise up and stand on its hind legs. Then, with one more hard pull, it fell backwards, losing its grip on Siyana and crashing into the ground.
Part of a pavilion and several small trees were crushed in the fall, but the Council members were more concerned for Tara. Jerdana and the others from the chamber had recovered and now joined Torakor, Kelland, Fauna, and Sasha, who were all valiantly attempting to free Tara. She had been pinned underneath the great Lupe when it fell.
"It's no use," Torakor said, "not even all of our power together could lift this mammoth beast. We'll have to get more help."
"But by then it may be too late!" protested Sasha.
"We do not need more help," said Siyana calmly, stepping from behind the Lupe's still head.
The others were ecstatic at Siyana's safety, but Siyana reminded them of the situation.
"Let us focus on the situation at hand, lest we forget out brave new friend."
"She's right," Florin agreed, "but you said we wouldn't need help, Siyana... how do you figure?"
"Did no one recognize him?" she asked. "The grayish fur, the fierce, solemn eyes."
She placed her hands on the Lupe's torso and chanted a few sentences. Light enveloped her hands, and then her entire being, surrounding the onlookers and suspending all sight. When the light faded, Tara was no longer pinned by a beast with teeth the size of a Bori, but instead was lying next to King Altador himself!
The council members gasped words of surprise, but Jerdana quickly dispelled their wonders and rushed to their sides. A quick examination revealed that they were both very much alive, but Jerdana wanted to move them to Magical Marvels where they could buy healing potions. The others agreed and the two fallen combatants were carried away from even more wreckage.
Tara awoke several hours later in an unfamiliar room. She sat up quickly, which she regretted after the sudden movement made her head ache, and saw him sitting in a chair across from her bed. She leapt from the bed and yelled,
"Jeran! You're alive! Oh my gosh, you're alive! How can this-- How did you-- What happened?!"
It was no dream; Jeran had in fact been freed from his literary cage. He returned the powerful hug Tara gave him and beamed at his much missed friend.
"Faeries, you know. They're amazing beings."
He continued smiling up at Tara's tear-filled eyes as Siyana walked into the room.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I'm sorry I barged in. Where are my manners?"
"No worries," Tara said, smiling wider. "I suppose you had something to do with this?"
"Well... why don't you come with me?"
They walked out of the room and into a room with several bookshelves on each wall. They went through a door on the right and walked into an eerily identical room. They went left, right, left, straight, right, right again, left and then straight, each time finding themselves in the same kind of library copy. Finally, after going right one last time, they emerged into the Altadorian Archives lobby.
"Sorry for that," Siyana said, "it's the only comfortable guest room around."
In the lobby, Tara and Jeran were welcomed by warm smiles from the other ten council members. As they said their 'hello's, Siyana began to recount the series of occurrences that had brought them to this meeting.
"I believe," Siyana said, "that the treasure you are searching for, the Treasure of Xutu, is guarded by a much more powerful force that you realize. It is my opinion that whoever or whatever controls this force trapped Jeran inside that ancient copy of 'Faeries' in an attempt to hinder your progress, but had not the power to capture you also. However, it predicted that you would come here and ask for our help. And it knew I could give it to you."
"I must apologize for this next part," a sorrowful looking King Altador said. "You see, because this power couldn't stop you directly, it chose the next best thing: taking away the help you needed to continue on your journey. Earlier today I felt a strange urge to come into the Hall Lobby, where I saw a small, hooded figure. It offered me an odd concoction, which I for some reason readily drank. That is the last thing I remember, but after learning of the events which have recently occurred, I cannot deny that it was I who caused my friends and you so much trouble. I am so sorry."
"Really, it's no trouble!" Tara said over and over. "I'm just glad to have Jeran back! But how did you free him?"
Psellia answered her question. "Siyana, being a light faerie, holds a special ability to illuminate situations which may otherwise be clouded. In this case, she was able to reveal the curse the book had been placed under and see how to remove it. In the end it took only our combined power and a little focus."
"This is amazing," Jeran said. "I never thought I would get to meet even one of you, let alone all eleven! And I really don't know how we could ever thank you!"
"Easy," said Kelland, "You can let us know how you're doing after you use THIS to complete your journey."
Tara and Jeran looked down at Kelland's hand and saw that he was holding... TWO GOLDEN KEYS!
"But... how?" Tara said, gaping at the wondrous objects.
"One came out of the book with Jeran," Kelland replied happily. "I may have... sort of... taken it. It's really a weakness, I'm afraid."
"The other," King Altador said, "I have had in my possession with me for many years. Torakor has relayed the story of your journey to me, and it appears Fyora was not the only one who was meant to help you on your journey. When I saw the fourth key come forth from the cursed book, I knew it was my duty to pass the fifth on to you."
"I can't believe this! Thank you all so much!" Tara said.
Jeran added, "And you can be sure we'll keep in touch!"
The group all exchanged 'goodbye's and 'good luck's, and Tara and Jeran exited the great Hall of Heroes. As they walked out into the setting sun, the reunited pair breathed deeply and realized how very close their journey was to coming to a close.
To be continued...