The remembered light of the heavens danced before her eyes even as she slept in the darkness; separated from the empty joy of space she missed so painfully. It was a piece of her gone, but more than that it was the last thing she had glimpsed before this new unhappy chapter of her life had begun. The little Plushie Grundo would have sighed in sadness if the situation hadn’t seemed so eternal and futile that even sighing had lost its purpose.
The metal walls around her choked her in— a dark constricting cell that was filled with stagnant air and dust motes that wouldn’t dance since there was no light to show their lilting movement. It was all so monotonous that she couldn’t even recall how long a day was anymore; all so midnight black that all she could do was remember the sparkling of the stars she’d seen so long ago.
A part of her could almost hear the scratching and scuttling of something around her, but she knew better. She knew it was only the dream of company that plagued her mind with false hopes and make-believe sounds. She’d been in here far too long to think that she’d ever be found.
Then a larger clank made her jump in surprise, a thud so loud it sent her whole little prison vibrating. The movement was real— there was something out there and it had found her. She wasn’t sure if the emotion that filled her was of excitement or dread; it was hard to recognize something that hadn’t been felt in an eternity.
Then she started to hear voices, faint ones, and her dust clogged ears strained to pick up the muffled sounds as they spoke back and forth.
“...foolish... what sort... no time...” she picked up from a deeper voice that permeated the thick metal walls.
Then a higher pitched voice leaked through the walls. “...come on!... curious... secret...”
A sense of foreboding filled her heart. Someone had found her—and they must be after the secret she kept locked away in her deepest memories.
“This is foolish, Ozenjak! What sort of idea is this? Picking through rubble and trying to open some rusty old Virtupets escape pod! There’s no time to do this, you know; we were supposed to leave the Lost Desert before dawn and I’m not exactly fond of sunlight,” Azhandre muttered darkly as he eyed his hyperactive Techo companion. The Darigan Lupe was more than a little unhappy about the turn of events and the Faerie Techo’s short attention span.
Ozenjak didn’t even look up from what he was doing, he was so intent on scratching off the compacted sand; he did manage to reply, though, pitching his voice in a lilting whiny way that he knew scraped on the Darigan Lupe’s nerves. “Awwww, come on! Aren’t you at all curious about what’s in this rusty old thing? Think of the deep dark secrets it could hold. You like dark secrets, don’t you?” He wiggled his translucent cyan wings in Azhandre’s direction as he continued to scrape.
“There aren’t any secrets in this particular place of desert, just an old crash site that you dragged me to. I also seem to recall your promise that we’d be off before sun-up. I don’t feel like dehydrating in the desert,” he snapped irritably, his temper flaring as he recalled the events of yesterday afternoon when the jovial Faerie Techo had burst into his house and jabbered at him excitedly about ruins and aliens. He particularly remembered the broken tableware Ozenjak had left in his wake.
“Yeah, yeah, but this is exciting! We could discover something big! What if there’s something Sloth doesn’t want anyone to know about?” His voice took on a conspiratorial edge that warned of a possible rant to come.
“This is not exciting, we will not discover anything worth finding, and this most certainly is not a place Sloth would hide secrets. It looks more like a place where he would jettison his garbage.”
Ozenjak shrugged off his partner’s foul mood with a wide grin. “You know if you help me, this’ll go faster.”
“Fine,” Azhandre said, his eyes narrowing to cold slits. “I’ll help you... but I’ll not attend your next foolish venture.”
He stood for a moment and just watched as Ozenjak continued to work at uncovering his old rusted treasure; its exposed top glowed eerily in the waxing dawn light as orange began to paint the sky. The Virtupets logo had been all but chipped off by the desert winds and even the metal itself wore signs of old decay; there was no doubt in his mind that it had been here for years. Azhandre wondered what sort of remains they’d find sealed away in this long buried pod that radiated the feel of a sarcophagus.
A feeling of impending doom overwhelmed her as the scraping grew louder and louder. A long dormant imagination began to blister images of fear and pain across the darkness that encased her. It brought back things she had tried hard to forget, things that had been better left unremembered; she didn’t want to recall the last time she hid in the dark and hoped not to be found.
She cried out as a large bang shook the pod, her long rusted voice croaking feebly as her eyes darted around the darkness, trying to see danger in the black. She huddled in upon herself as another thud, even louder this time, reverberated around her.
Then there was light all around her, so bright, so blinding, that it was all she could see. Then the sound of voices filled her ears, the two she had heard muffled through the escape pod. She began to shake violently in terror. They had found her and there was no place anymore to hide.
“Awww, look, you scared the poor little thing, Azhandre!” Ozenjak said as he looked down on the quivering little creature at the bottom of the escape pod.
“Did you expect me to simply request a rusted hatch to open? Of course we had to knock it loose.” He sounded somewhat smug until he added unhappily, “But it’s still long past sun-up. Do whatever you’d like, but do it quickly.”
Ozenjak rolled his eyes dismissively at Azhandre as he hopped through the now broken hatch and fluttered down to the floor below. The little creature, which he now realized was a Grundo, moaned softly and curled in upon herself even more.
“Hi!” Ozenjak said brightly, sticking his yellow-orange hand out in greeting. “I’m Ozenjak, explorer and freelance undertaker of all things quest and adventure related. And what might your name be?”
The little Grundo started to cry. Or at least that was what she was trying to do; dry sobs wracked her body and she rocked back and forth frantically, but there were no tears in sight.
“Awww, man, come onnnnnn,” Ozenjak whined in frustration. “I mean I know Azhandre’s ugly mug makes some pets cry, but me? I’m not that bad looking!”
Azhandre growled from up above; he had decided that he’d rather watch from a distance rather than become involved and befriend another creature that could potentially lead to more lunatic adventures.
The little Grundo looked up at what Ozenjak had said; her eyes still shone with fright as her lips moved quickly; Ozenjak could hear a little wisp sound that was brushed away before it reached his ears. “Pardon?” he asked her in what he hoped was a congenial gentle voice.
“Y-y-you can’t have them!” she exclaimed, her voice hoarse and small.
“Can’t have what?” the Faerie Techo asked confusedly.
“My secrets!” She looked around wildly for escape but found nothing but the walls that had always kept her in. She began to sob again, but less hysterically this time.
“Hey, hey, hey now!” Ozenjak said quickly, reaching out and giving her shoulder a tentative pat that made her jump a little. “I don’t want any secrets that’ll make you sad to tell, eh? That would make me no better than... well... Azhandre... but he won’t take ‘em from you either since I’ll break all his bedroom furniture if he does!” Another growl echoed from above and Ozenjak turned around and shot Azhandre a feeble grin and a halfhearted thumbs-up.
The little Grundo stopped weeping and looked at the Techo hesitantly. Ozenjak couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like she was thinking through something. He smiled in what he hoped was a very winning sort of way.
“You won’t... you won’t steal my secrets?” she whispered, looking surprised and a little happy; then her face clouded with suspicion. “Then... then what are you doing here?”
Ozenjak gave a short embarrassed laugh and started to explain. “Well, you see, I’d heard a rumor that a long time ago an old Virtupets space pod crashed out in the middle of the Lost Desert. So my friend—“
“Acquaintance,” Azhandre corrected irritably.
“Right, whatever, acquaintance.” Ozenjak rolled his eyes and then continued speaking. “Well, he and I decided to come to the Lost Desert and look around, since Azhandre had mentioned that he’d witnessed a crash here forever ago. So we wandered around all night and found you at about dawn!”
“And now it’s painfully bright outside and hours past when you said we were heading back to Sakhmet,” Azhandre added temperamentally. “I suggest you finish talking to your discovery so we can head back as soon as possible.” He narrowed his eyes in threat.
The Techo looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well then, since my acquaintance is getting impatient, do you want to come back with us? It can’t be much fun stuck in the middle of the Lost Desert.”
She looked at Ozenjak cautiously then nodded, more to herself than the two watching her. “It’s been lonely and dark... you won’t take my secrets?”
“Cross my heart!” he responded happily; miming an ‘X’ over the left side of his chest. “Here, take my hand and I’ll help you out.”
With a small smile, she reached out her soft little hand and placed it in the Techo’s. He helped her up with a grin plastered across his own face, fluttering his wings and lifting her up out of the pod with graceful ease. He set her down gently on the sand next to Azhandre, who was looking crosser by the second—he then did a summersault before setting his own feet on the burning sand.
“Ready to go?” he asked the Lupe with a straight face. “I know how badly you wanted to spend the day here.”
“Shut up,” Azhandre snapped irritably, not even sparing the new addition to their party a glance. “Let’s go.”
“Oh! Wait! I feel rude... I almost forgot something,” Ozenjak said, looking at the Grundo with interest. “Before we head out, would you mind telling us your name?”
The little Plushie Grundo jumped at being addressed, then answered the Techo very quietly. “They used to call me Daerna, so I think that’s my name.”
“Mmm, Daerna, eh? That’s not bad at all, kinda pretty if you ask me, not like Azhandre.” Ozenjak shot her a conspiratorial wink.
“I’m leaving now,” the Darigan Lupe snapped, turning around and marching toward Sakhmet, caring little if the pair followed him as the Grundo and Techo hurried along behind in an attempt to keep up.
“So are you ready?” Ozenjak asked her with a smile.
She looked up at him, her eyes large and shimmering, “Ready for what?”
“Adventure of course!” he exclaimed cheerily. “Plenty of days under the sun too.”
She laughed— then froze for a second in surprise. The sound had some from her; actual laughter hadn’t graced her lips in what felt like eons. She laughed again for the joy and sound of it as Ozenjak watching her quizzically.
“I think I am,” she said quietly, her voice bubbling with silent mirth. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had an adventure.”