Another Hero's Journey: Decisions - Part Seven
“Zakharukh’s Pyramid? The Medallion of Wind? I thought it was all folklore!” Andrea was ecstatic over dinner as they spread the map of the Lost Desert on their table, behind their food. “Aunt Olivia told me about the Medallion of Wind years ago, but she dismissed it as an old faerie tale! If Rohane and his friends manage to find it, put it together... and if it’s true that it can control the weather...”
“Looks like I’ll have to tell you to eat first, discuss later,” said Reuben, shaking his head in amusement. The red Kyrii looked like a child who got her heart’s desire on the Day of Giving.
However, it only took five minutes of quiet eating for them to start talking again.
“At least I know where to find him now,” said the white Blumaroo. “Surely the locals have told him the entire story. Wait! There it is, the Temple of the Sky, the one Rohane mentioned in his last letter! I forgot to ask about it back there...”
“You can ask Rohane when we see him; he’s been there by now.”
“Speaking of, I could meet my brother there, at Zakharukh’s Pyramid, because according to the story, the Medallion of Wind won’t work unless it’s on the Altar of Destiny, which is in the pyramid. If he’s still on his way, I can wish him luck. If he’s already in there by the time we get there, we can wait till they get out. If he’s already long gone or everything I’m saying turns out to be untrue – and I hope I don’t jinx anything – we could ask the guys in that little village of Zahamen. That’s the nearest one, right? It’s perfect!”
Andrea thought for a moment as she stared at her last forkful of salad. “But you’re forgetting one thing. The Lost Desert is still full of sandstorms, or so I think. Who would be willing to take us into the western Lost Desert, where this pyramid is? It’s one thing to drop us off on the pier; it’s another to really take us in.”
“I could tell them I’m Rohane’s older brother and use him as a threat.”
“So much for keeping a low profile,” the Kyrii said. “It’s also one thing to have that Ruki figure out who you are...”
“I just realized how hard this is without his letters,” grumbled Reuben. “We only found this out from that old Ruki lady. But then again, she did say it was news, not just rumors.”
“Someone say news? Aye, I’ve got some news here, all right – the latest issue of the Neopian Times, straight from Neovia!”
Andrea and Reuben blinked as something thumped on top of their map, obscuring Zakharukh’s Pyramid. Captain Aurel winked before adding, “Just don’t forget to put it back on the rack by the counter.”
When the pirate Lutari had sauntered off, the two instantly reached out to grab the Times, but the white Blumaroo was faster, and he stared hard into the picture of four adventurers on the front page.
“Wait a sec,” he muttered to the newspaper. “Last time I heard, Rohane, Mipsy and Talinia were a trio of merry explorers. Who’s the red Techo with the staff?”
“Keep reading. Don’t just gawk at them,” chided Andrea, rolling her eyes.
For a while, they were silent again as Reuben hurriedly scanned the featured article. When he was done, he pushed it toward his comrade. “All right, the Techo mage and healer is called Velm, and he apparently came from Waset Village to tag along with everyone else...”
“I can read, thank you very much,” was the indignant reply. “In fact, I can read this article much faster than you can throw your knife into that portrait of that old Quiggle captain.”
He gave her his all-too-familiar smirk, but clammed up. Once again, not a single word passed between them both, until the red Kyrii replaced the Neopian Times on its spot on top of Zakharukh’s Pyramid.
“Finally,” Reuben remarked. “At least we know they’re still in the Lost Desert; we can still reach them. About time the Times caught up, too.”
“I don’t think the parts of the Medallion of Wind would be hidden in the most populous places in the Lost Desert,” Andrea pointed out. “Plus, the Lost Desert is big – I mean, we were looking over its map not too long ago, right? Anyway... at least we know the Ruki was right; we’re on the right track, and the Medallion is more than just another myth.”
At this, Reuben couldn’t help laughing. “A myth? Hah! My little brother’s wearing the ‘myth’ around his neck!” In response, Andrea kicked him under the table.
“Not so loud, Mr. Low Profile. Wouldn’t want the paparazzi to gang up on you next, would you?”
* * *
”I’m sorry, Mother, but I’ve made up my mind. I’m leaving for the Lost Desert tomorrow.”
“Oh, Reuben, do you really have to?”
“I can’t work properly when I’m in the dark about what’s happening to my brother there. I want to see him in person, see that he’s truly alive. Perhaps you can come too...”
“As much as I would love to, my place is here. I must watch the house and keep it in order for when you return. At least I have company. Even Olivia has decided to stay close. Are you sure there’s nothing else you can do? I’ll miss you. For a long time, we’ve always been together, waiting for Rohane to come home...”
“I’ll miss you too, Mother – “
Their conversation was interrupted by a rumbling under their feet. Melissa disappeared, the entire scenery changed in a blur of light and shadow, and Reuben found himself staring up at a beautiful castle, partly shrouded by mist. Its turrets reached high into the clouds, its ramparts hewn from the strongest rocks...
And the entire structure began to shake, bits of stone and brick raining down on the lone white Blumaroo, who covered his head with his paws and ran for cover. The castle was going down fast, and the parts that did not crumble sank into the earth. The clouds overhead turned gray and grew larger, and lightning jumped from one to another. Vagrant winds blew, stirring up a fog of dust.
Meanwhile, Reuben sought sanctuary under two pillars that had fallen against each other, partly covered by a torn tapestry. He had no time to figure out what was sewn onto it as he hid from the chaos and watched as the castle was wiped from existence, reduced to ruins that said nothing about its former grandeur as the clouds cleared and the sun shone once again.
A shadow fell on him and his hiding place. Something had risen from the remains of the castle, and he stepped out to see what it was.
The shadow belonged to a statue that was far more humongous than the fortress that once stood – a statue of a warrior clutching his sword and gazing heavenward with a hopeful look that was all too familiar...
Reuben opened his mouth to shout, but no words came, and he could have sworn the statue moved...
And then the ground cracked beneath his feet, and he found his voice when he screamed...
...and fell out of his bed, right at the feet of a fully-dressed red Kyrii who hefted her things as she stared down at him.
“Reuben, get up! We’re here! We’re at the Lost Desert! Hurry up!”
The white Blumaroo needed no further urging. He scrambled to his feet – only to realize that he was still in his nightshirt.
“Uh... Captain Aurel won’t sail off without seeing us going down the gangplank, right? I mean, since it’s just us...”
“Just hurry up!”
* * *
The ship had docked at a pier close to the river mouth, where a lone fishing boat waited, manned by a desert Chia and a desert Grarrl. They waved as Reuben and Andrea came into view, and the Grarrl leapt onto the sand to take their things.
“You two must be Reuben and Andrea,” he said, placing their things in the covered area of the boat. Once his paws were free, he gestured toward a bench in front of the luggage. “Welcome to the Lost Desert. We’ve been tasked by our good buddy Aurel to take you anywhere you want to go, for a fee, of course – “
“Zakharukh’s Pyramid,” said the Blumaroo, without missing a beat as he and Andrea clambered into the boat after paying up; Captain Aurel had told them to prepare some extra money for their second ride. “I have a map, if you don’t know where it is.”
The desert Chia rolled his eyes. “Of course we know where it is; we’re two fishermen who have been rowing this boat up and down the river for as long as we can remember. In fact, it’s not too far upriver. We’ll get there in two shakes of a Weewoo’s tail.” He paused. “Why would you want to go there, anyway?”
“Yeah, why?” his Grarrl companion chimed in. He hopped back into position and took up his pole again.
But Reuben was too dumbstruck to answer, let alone listen. He was staring all around the Lost Desert; somehow, there was something wrong with this picture, and it had been wrong ever since they stepped down the gangplank. At first, he dismissed it as a simple irregularity in the weather; weather was never totally predictable, after all. And yet...
“Wait – I thought there would be sandstorms around this place. Unless they’re taking a break or something like that...”
The red Kyrii nodded. “I noticed that too. Does that mean...”
“Possibly,” said the Chia hopefully. “Those adventurers did look like they knew what they were doing after all when I saw ‘em in the Times. You two make yourselves comfortable; we’re shoving off!”
As they shoved off and traveled upstream, Reuben was once again deep in his thoughts. Had Rohane succeeded in eradicating the sandstorms plaguing the Lost Desert, or was this only a brief lull? Could he be just in time to see his brother come out victorious, or were they already celebrating in Sakhmet Palace? Should he tell the fishermen to just head straight for Sakhmet? He could barely hear Andrea discuss these very same things with their guides, obviously acknowledging the fact that Reuben needed some time to think.
Maybe he could say something, join the conversation... now that there were no sandstorms to distract him and the warm air was making him feel sluggish, he could feel himself slipping... slipping into...
“Hey, wake up, sleepyhead. We’re here.”
The white Blumaroo opened his eyes and saw Andrea staring at him. Apparently he had fallen asleep during their short journey, and now they had stopped at the west riverbank. The Chia and the Grarrl were already discussing who would stay behind with the boat and the luggage.
Not too far away was the unmistakable outline of a pyramid.
“That’s it,” said the Grarrl, who helped Reuben and Andrea out of the boat while the Chia took his place with the things. “Zakharukh’s Pyramid. I assume you two have heard the story of the Medallion of Wind?”
“Yes, we have,” said the red Kyrii, waving her notepad before using it to point forward. She gasped. “Hey, look, something’s coming! Or someone...”
The Blumaroo drew a dagger, and squinted as the sun’s rays glinted off its shiny blade. “If they mean trouble, I’m ready for them.”
But Andrea and the desert Grarrl had run ahead of Reuben. After a moment or so, they returned, with a group of three between them – actually, a trio that supported another. He felt a strange, chilling feeling that shot from his feet to his head that rooted him to the spot. Struggling against his invisible bonds, he broke into a run, unmindful of the sand that got into his boots or his eyes. His cloak billowed behind him as he sheathed his dagger.
“Reuben!” Andrea’s scream cut through the desert air. “Reuben!”
He was with them in a flash, his heart thumping wildly in his throat as he shoved his trembling fists into his pockets.
“Reuben?” repeated a blue Acara, who clutched a wand and a sword in its scabbard. “You mean you’re – “
“Can you take us back to Sakhmet? Please!” a red Techo interrupted. “We must find a healer – actually, other healers – as soon as possible!” He and a green Eyrie supported their fourth comrade, whose arms were draped over their shoulders.
They passed him to the Grarrl – and it was as if Reuben’s heart disappeared completely, and he was being frozen in place again.
The fourth member, badly beaten and limp, was a yellow Blumaroo clad in armor.
To be continued...