A Place of Rest
Fire and stone swirl together in an endless dance that eddies through the heart of the volcano.
Suddenly the earth compresses, curling into a lump of rock. The fire strokes it, smoothing its rough surface, and the lump swings upward through the molten rock, propelled by the forces of the earth itself. Pressure forces it together, grinding the minerals into a new form as the lava polishes the rock to a loving gloss. Then an abrupt flash of fire as a symbol is seared into its red-hot surface.
And the stone is born.
It sleeps still, as the magma roils sluggishly about it, carrying it to the surface. Rock shifts, crunching, and the stone rolls into the open air. It tumbles down a slope until it comes to a stop behind a patch of straggly ferns at the volcano’s base.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the stone wakes. As it does so restlessness seizes it and it trembles, shaking against the sand. The stone does not think, exactly, but it knows that it does not belong here. But a stone cannot walk. A stone cannot search for its place.
And so the stone waits.
The Tombola Guy tramps stolidly through the undergrowth, brushing aside the stunted bushes that eke out a miserly living on the dark sands of the volcano’s lower slopes. He glances down and grins suddenly behind his mask.
“A codestone,” he chuckles, scooping it up. “About time, too.” He turns and trudges away, back to his kiosk.
The stone does not know what this place is. But the hum is still there. Still it feels that odd itch in the back of its consciousness, the small nagging voice that will not let it rest. The stone shivers gently on the shelf where the Tombola Guy has placed it.
And the stone waits.
The Shadow Draik is bored out of his mind. He wants to visit Geraptiku; he doesn’t want to be here, waiting for his owner to collect her tin of sardines or her jar of olives or whatever it’s going to be today. But he keeps his mouth shut as his owner draws a ticket from the box the Tombola Guy proffers.
One. Two. Five. She reads the numbers slowly, dramatically. The Draik rolls his eyes with cultured eloquence. There is a short pause.
“We have a winner!” proclaims the Tombola Man. He shoves a handful of neopoints and grey-brown stone into the girl’s hands.
“Ooh!” she squeals. “A Har Codestone!”
The Draik spares the stone a brief glance. “Whatever,” he drawls. “I already passed that level anyway. Come on, I want to see Geraptiku before the turn of the century.” He starts to walk away.
He’s already gone. The girl sighs and jogs after him, tucking the codestone into her pack. “We can auction it or something, I guess,” she mumbles to herself. She ducks under a drooping palm frond, keeping her eyes on the lithe dark form of her pet.
Noise. Too much of it. If the stone could cringe, it would. Shouting people crowd around it, jostling, yelling.
“LOOK! A CODESTONE!!!”
“I BID TWO THOUSAND!!!”
“0MG 1 L0V3 U G1MM3 A PB!!!”
How numbers can be heard in a sentence the stone isn’t sure. It shakes harder.
The blue Scorchio bangs on his podium. “Sold!” A slim cloud Aisha makes her way up to the booth and accepts the Har Codestone from the Draik’s owner. She gives them a nod and murmurs a quiet “Thank you” to the Scorchio.
He doesn’t hear her. He’s already turned to the next group of screaming people and pets. The cloud Aisha blinks at him for a moment, her pale eyes faintly amused, then turns and heads down the street to where her shop is waiting to be restocked.
The stone is on a shelf again. The room is dark. Other objects are faintly visible around it, darker shapes in the gloom of its surroundings.
It’s quiet here. But stone hums still.
Abruptly, light pierces the darkness.
The Wocky smoothes her pink fur and readjusts the bracelet on her wrist.
“I’m here to buy something for my brother. It’s, like, his birthday. And this is, like, the third shop I’ve been to, so there’d better be something good here.”
The Split Lenny behind the counter, veteran of many an impatient and rude customer, nods.
The Wocky wanders aimlessly down one aisle and then the next. After five minutes she huffs in annoyance and grabs the first thing she can reach. “Whatever, I’ll just get him this. He goes to the Training School a lot, he can train or something.” She flounces over to the counter and drops the stone onto it. “Hurry up, I promised I’d meet Tina at eight.” The shopkeeper wraps the codestone, biting his tongue to keep back a sharp retort, and hands the package to the Wocky.
The stone waits, cushioned in dark warmth. There is laughter around it, and shouting. It quivers with unrest. This isn’t where it belongs.
It doesn’t know where it belongs.
“Gosh, thanks, Ally! You must have been saving up for months!” says the Bori. He fondles the Fire and Ice Blade with loving care and smiles at his sister. The small Striped Xweetok blushes and studies her feet.
“It’s nothing, Ben. I—I found it on sale.” She looks up and returns her older brother’s smile.
“All right, now do mine,” says the Pink Wocky impatiently. The Bori picks up the small brightly wrapped present. To Ben, from Lisandra is scrawled messily across the top in permanent marker. Ben slides a dark claw under a fold and slits it open. The paper falls away, revealing a Har Codestone.
“You like it?” asks Lisandra eagerly, bouncing up and down.
“Wow, Lisandra, I—”
“I didn’t know what level you were at now, so I thought I’d just get you an Eo codestone and you’d probably use it sooner or later.”
The Bori looks at the bright smile on her face and the words die on his throat. He knows she probably grabbed the first thing she could find. He knows that the shopkeeper probably wrapped it. He knows that she probably scribbled his name on it five minutes before. He also knows that she cares about him, that she is silently praying he’ll like her present.
So he doesn’t say that it’s a Har Codestone, not an Eo Codestone. He doesn’t say that he used one of those the first time he went to the Training School. He doesn’t say that he’s passed both the Har and Eo levels and that he’s moved on to red codestones now. He doesn’t say any of that.
Instead, he leans forward and hugs his older sister tightly.
“Oomff,” she says, as his muscled green arms crush the breath out of her.
The volcano rumbles and the stone quakes so hard it nearly falls out of the Bori’s arms. One by one, codestones fall with a plop into the bubbling lava. The volcano hisses softly as it swallows them.
The stone doesn’t know much. It doesn’t know where it is meant to be. It doesn’t know why there is no peace in its heart. But the stone knows that it does not want to be thrown into the volcano.
Another codestone joins its brethren. Only one is left. The volcano snarls hungrily.
And for the first time, the stone is afraid.
“That’s enough,” barks the native. Ben, about to throw his last codestone into the volcano’s flaming maw, lowers his arm.
“I’ve still got one left.”
“The volcano is satisfied. You have met the quota.”
“Oh. I must have miscounted or something.”
A fan of molten earth leaps up and falls with a splash. Ben ducks as an globule of fiery liquid flies past his head. The volcano groans and a crimson stone rolls out of it and comes to a stop at his feet. He bends, picks it up with a gloved hand, and starts toward the training school, running with the strong easy lope of long practice.
The stone doesn’t know what miracle has spared it from the trials of the magma, but it is intensely, fervently grateful. It waits. It shakes. It prays for peace.
“Get ‘er, Dion!”
“She can’t run far, the slowpoke!”
The red Zafara runs, ignoring the searing pain in her side. Her pursuers, well-fed and strong, gain on her. She reaches a turn, stumbles, falters.
The blue Elephante, surprisingly fast for one of his bulk, skids to a stop and grabs her arm. The Zafara twists wildly, but the Elephante holds her firmly.
The other two, a Darigan Techo and a Yellow Lupe, catch up.
“Nice catch, Dion.”
“Let me go,” gasps the Zafara.
The Elephante shakes her. “Shut up, weakling.”
The Lupe grins. “We don’t like paupers, do we?”
“We warned you that if we caught you there’d be trouble, didn’t we.”
“Face it,” jeers Dion. “We’re stronger. Faster. Better.”
The Zafara goes suddenly limp, her head lolling back. Dion drops her. In a flash she’s up again and running.
“Leave her,” growls the Techo, as the Lupe makes to follow. “We’ll get later tonight. She can’t hide forever, and if she tries to run...” He lets the sentence trail off ominously.
The stone is tired. So tired. Tired of the noise and the crowds and the people. It doesn’t know where it is now. There’s a large tree not far away, and the green Bori, pleasantly tired after a long session of practice, appears to be heading towards it.
The stone hums and waits resignedly.
The Zafara crouches behind a bush, watching the Neopets who mill about the Money Tree. In one hand she clutches the handful of neopoints she’s managed to grab so far. She makes a dart for a half-eaten omelette, but a scrawny blue Pteri beats her to it. She retreats around to the other side of the tree, eyes darting around tensely.
A green Bori makes his way to the Money Tree. The Zafara pulls back, into the bushes again. The Bori looks around, then pulls a dull brown stone from his pocket and tosses it casually among the tree’s roots. He strolls away, whistling.
The Zafara’s moving before she even registers what the stone is. She trips on a tree root and falls, lunges. Her fingers close on the item and she staggers up, dodging through the crowd. She doesn’t see the Bori’s eyes follow her.
The stone sits on in the dark alley, aware of the slim red arm curved protectively around it. It vibrates and wonders, again, if it will find a place where it can belong.
The Zafara strokes the codestone. If she sells it she’ll eat for a week. No hunger, no hard knot in the pit of stomach. If she uses it... but no. It makes more sense to sell it. These things are worth several thousand neopoints. She can’t afford to waste money like that.
Shut up, weakling... you can’t hide forever... slowpoke...
The Zafara bites her lip. Food will keep her alive. She needs to eat.
We’ll find you... we’ll catch you... you can’t run far... we’re stronger, faster... we’re better...
She sits up, a hard light glinting in her eyes as her fingers curl over the codestone.
She eyes the neopoints in the corner of the alley coolly, appraisingly. It’s enough to get her to Mystery Island. She curls up, hoarding her warmth, waiting for morning.
The stone feels the restlessness, pounding through it in exhausting waves.
It needs to rest. It needs to be.
But right now it’s in the paw of a red Zafara as she enters a small bamboo building.
The building strikes a chord. It’s not right. But it’s close. Very, very close.
The stone tenses.
The Techo Master accepts the codestone without comment, but his eyes are kind as he slips it into the pocket of his robes and leads the Zafara into a airy bamboo room. A single green Bori is practicing a side kick in a corner. He turns, sees them, bows. The Zafara blinks in surprise, recognizing him as the one who donated the codestone.
“Ben,” says the Techo Master, his voice deep and gravelly, “this student wishes to train in the first level of agility. It will be good practice for you.”
The Bori—Ben—bows a second time. The Techo Master leads them.
The Zafara forces herself to meet the Bori’s eyes, telling herself that he couldn’t have seen her.
“Hi, I’m Ben.”
“I-I’m May,” she stumbles.
He smiles warmly. “I think I saw you at the Money Tree.”
His voice is casual, friendly, but May reddens beneath her carmine fur.
“Relax,” he tells her. “Come on, I’ll show you how to do a first level split.”
May does her best to copy him and finds that it’s easier to talk to someone when you’re both stretched across bamboo mats.
The stone is in the outside again. It’s a garden, quiet but for the sweet gurgle of running water. The stone shivers, feeling itself on the edge of something very important.
The Techo Master holds it carefully as he crosses the garden, stepping carefully over the long curving rows of codestones embedded in the earth. He stops at an empty spot and kneels.
Slowly, he slots the Har Codestone into the hollow.
It shudders into place and instantly knows something is different. Everything, inside and out, seems to fall into position.
And the stone knows it has found its place. Peace fills it, the utter bliss of complete and utter being.
Rest. The word is eternity.
If you're reading this, then I got in! Yay! *dances the flamenco, despite the fact that she does not know how to*