Sands of Time: The Beginning - Part One
With each step she took, Jehea was reminded that she must not falter; her brother’s life was at stake.
In Shenkuu, the lives of boys and girls were separated completely. When Jehea was younger, she learned to cook, keep house, and care for petpets. Once she had learned her duties well, she was, as all girls her age, given a silk dress to symbolize that she was able to care for herself.
However, her brother Ronix had learned to wield a sai, katana, and dagger, to read and write in Shenkkuan, also to speak Sakhmetahn, and mastered several forms of martial arts. The fire Eyrie, two years younger then his sister, proved to be an excellent student. And when he would complete his studies, he would be given a katana, sai, and dagger of his own; and also a shield with the mark of his family on it. His studies were soon cut short, though: he fell sick.
Ronix was a rash boy; he couldn’t stay still and had trouble following orders. So when his father told him not to eat the berries he had collected in a bowl, Ronix immediately took some. After all; if his father had told him not to take some, it was surely because they were delicious. And they were; Ronix ended up eating the entire bowl full.
Nevertheless, they were extremely poisonous berries, to be used only for mashing up to provide a reliable source of ink. Ronix immediately became violently sick; he had a fever and a horrible cough. The nearest place that had a cure for his illness was Sakhmet, and the shortest route was across Sarkhet Mountain, the hardest mountain to cross in Shenkeht Range. Jehea’s father couldn’t go; it was nearly time for harvesting the family’s crops. Jehea’s mother surely couldn’t go either: she was too old for such a hard trip. That left Jehea.
The shadow Lupe’s father had never approved of Jehea sitting and watching Ronix’s lessons, but now he was extremely glad she had.
She was quite a good fighter, knew how to use a sai and katana, though she wasn’t too good at using a dagger, and could speak and read a good deal of Sakhmetahn, which would be vital to finding the cure for Ronix.
Though he had doubts, her father sent her off with a katana and dagger, a pack with food and a canteen, and her petpet, a red cyodrake who went by Cyrahn.
And here she was, making her way up Sarkhet Mountain. With each step, she remembered the urgency and importance of her mission. Ronix’s life depended on her completion of the task she had been sent upon.
With each step, she considered her worthiness to perform this quest. ‘I’m just a girl from Shenkuu. I’ve never left my village. And now, I’m going to the largest city I’ll ever see, with just my petpet and a challenge. The stakes are high.’
“What if I can’t do it?” Jehea questioned the mountain. Cyrahn whined a bit from her shoulder, as if urging her on. “Oh, Cyrahn.” She sat down hopelessly onto a large stone. She pulled out her katana and choked back tears. She had seen her brother use this katana many times.
“Jehea, do you want to use my katana?” Ronix asked his sister. They were about the same size, despite the age difference, and soon, Ronix would pass her in height, as he had already done in weight.
“Oh, Ronix. When will I need that? I’m just going to stay in the village and care for stray petpets.”
Ronix laughed. “You? Nah, you’ll be fighting off bandits as you travel all over Neopia. Come on, try it. I’ll show you how to use it.” For about an hour, the pair practiced. But then, they were interrupted.
“Jehea, what are you doing with Ronix’s katana?” her father, a stern looking fire Lupe, demanded as he walked towards the two.
“Err... Ronix was showing me how to use it,” she answered hesitantly.
Her father shook his head. “You won’t need that skill. You will be staying in the village. Now, give Ronix his katana and fetch some water for your mother. Ronix, come to the workshop; I am making a dagger for you.” As their father walked away, Jehea sighed.
“See? I’m staying in the village.”
Ronix smiled a bit, encouraging her. “I don’t think so. I have a feeling this will be important.”
Jehea gave Ronix his katana and was about to walk away when he ran to her and pressed a large stick into her paws. “Practice,” he whispered before running off to join his father.
“And practice I did,” Jehea murmured to herself. She rose to her feet, memories pressing her farther on. Clutching her katana, she walked further up the mountain. She walked til it was nearly dark. About to set up a camp, she heard footsteps nearby; and felt a harsh push to hide from her petpet. Quickly ducking behind a bush, she watched carefully. Two neopets, an Aisha and a Hissi, who were completely dressed in black, were wandering down the path, coming from the direction Jehea was going.
“We’ve made it this far; let’s rest,” the Aisha said impatiently.
The Hissi’s eyes narrowed. “But what if the Sakhmet Palace Guards are after us? I mean, we’ve taken Coltzan III’s crown. They’re bound to follow us even here to retrieve it.”
“Yeah, right.” The Aisha rolled his eyes. “They don’t even know it’s gone. I need to rest; besides, it’s almost nightfall. We should camp right here; there’s plenty of cover.”
“Somehow, this place doesn’t feel secure,” the Hissi murmured. Jehea held her breath.
“Well then, hide the crown! You can put it up in that tree, for all I care.”
“Excellent plan.” The Hissi flew up to a tree directly behind Jehea and placed it on the top branch, hiding it in a deserted nest. Returning to his accomplice, he nodded. “Yes, it should be safe there.” Jehea waited for what seemed like an eternity as the thieves set up a camp. Finally, as she was about to nod off, the Aisha said, “Alright, I can’t stay awake anymore. I’m going to bed.” The Hissi’s yellow eyes diverted from the fire he had made as he glanced in his friend’s direction, then continued to stare into the fire; unblinking stars in the night. Jehea waited about ten minutes more before the Hissi put out the fire and made his way to his cot when he suddenly turned, as if hearing something, and slithered over to her area. Jehea’s pulse quickened as his eyes searched the bush she was hiding in.
However, a twig broke right behind her as a small juma darted from a bush across the path, and out of sight. The Hissi then made his way back to the campsite. After another long wait, both were finally asleep. Jehea knew what she had to do. She sent Cyrahn up to the nest, and he brought it back. Coltzan’s crown. She hid it in her pack, and as she started to creep off, she realized she would need proof that she hadn’t stolen it.
As silent as dawn, she slipped through the thieves’ campsite until she found something. It was proof. A letter from the leader of a high profile thieves’ ring to these two crooks, apparently named Sahrden and Cortrenton. She navigated her way out of their campsite, and once out of earshot, ran. She ran as fast as she could until she could run no more. She now had another mission: to return Coltzan’s crown to the Sakhmetahn royalty. It was dawn when Jehea could not take one more step, and she had reached the mountain’s peak.
But her life depended on going further. She could not stop. Going was slow; until she heard fast paced footsteps behind her. And she recognized them. She pulled herself off the path just in time.
“How far do you think they’ve gone?!” Sahrden, the Hissi, growled.
“I don’t know...” answered Cortrenton. Then, another pair of footsteps were heard, coming from the Lost Desert side of the mountain. The crooks ducked behind bushes opposite to the side of the path Jehea was on as all three of them waited to see who was coming.
A desert Bori, looking carefree, whistled to himself as he walked along the road. He had a weewoo sitting on his shoulder, who had been whistling along, and it suddenly stopped and got rigid: It sensed someone’s presence.
The Bori looked puzzled as he glanced at his companion. “What’s wrong, Gebji?” Cortrenton leapt from the bush, to his partner’s dismay.
“Give us the crown back, and no one gets hurt!” The desert Bori was extremely confused now.
“You know which crown! Coltzan III’s crown! We stole it and you, working with the Sakhmet Royal Guard, got it back!”
“You’re the one who stole King Coltzan’s crown?!” The Hissi jumped out of the bush.
“Good going, Cortrenton! He didn’t know about the crown, but now he does!”
A look of realization passed over the Aisha. “Oops...”
“No matter. I guess that means we’ll have to make sure he doesn’t have a chance to tell anyone...” A dark glint came into Sahrden’s eyes.
The desert Bori pulled out a sword. But he had no confidence in himself: he was shivering terribly, his weewoo hiding behind him. Both crooks grabbed a katana from their packs and prepared to fight. It wasn’t thirty seconds before Sahrden had disarmed the Bori and Cortrenton had placed him in an arm-bar.
“We’ll tie him to one of those trees,” Sahrden said, speaking of the trees that were growing off the side of a cliff. Before either of them could make another move, though, Jehea had leapt to action. With her katana in her paw and her dagger in its sheath, she knocked out Cortrenton, and started fighting Sahrden.
Sahrden wasted no time questioning who she was, or where she came from. The two fought in silence. Jehea quickly found that the Hissi was a tough opponent; more so than she had expected. However, she managed to drive him to a cliff. She was temporarily stunned by the sheer, craggy walls of rock that most of this side of the mountain was made up of. Sahrden took advantage of the second in which she had lulled; and knocked the katana from her hands, causing it to fall off the cliff.
Now, he had the upper hand. He took some rope, and prepared to tie her up when she pulled out her dagger. Sahrden seemed amused by her tenacity and once again prepared to battle her. He outmaneuvered her several times, until finally she, with one swift, cutting movement, knocked his katana from his grip. She grabbed it quickly, and with two weapons, and her opponent with none, Sahrden knew he could not beat her.
He gave himself up. She tied him up and lead him to his companion, who awoke after they had been tied together. The Bori was still shocked and sitting on the ground. Jehea helped him up.
“You are?” the shadow Lupe asked as she kept a firm hold on the thieves, who didn’t dare to move.
“My name is Aspire. And this is my weewoo, Gebji.” In that moment, Jehea remembered her petpet.
“Cyrahn? Are you still there?” she asked nervously as she checked behind the bush. There the cyodrake was, clutching to the bag with his life. He flew up to Jehea and handed the bag to her, finally landing on her shoulder. Her nerves settled, she introduced herself. “Hello, my name is Jehea. This is my petpet, Cyrahn.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jehea. But, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you know I was in trouble? I mean, where did you come from?”
“Well,” Jehea responded, “I was hiding behind those bushes over there. I had already encountered these two, and got Coltzan’s crown from them, but they caught up to me. I knew I had to hide. Of course, I couldn’t let them tie you to a tree on the side of a cliff. It would be very hard to get you down.”
When the robbers heard that, they both reacted in different ways: Cortrenton in shock, and Sahrden in anger. “Wait, so you took the crown from us?” Cortrenton asked in disbelief.
“Yes, I did,” Jehea answered.
“So it wasn’t just a juma that I saw...” the Hissi murmured to himself.
“Wait... you’re from Shenkuu, aren’t you?” Jehea smiled and nodded in response to Aspire’s question. “But you speak Sakhmetahn! I thought--”
“My brother taught me how. And, speaking of my brother, the reason I’m on this mountain in the first place is so I can go to Sakhmet. I need to find the fire clover; the only cure to my brother’s illness.”
Aspire frowned a bit. “The fire clover? They only sell that in Qasala.”
“Oh,” Jehea said dejectedly, “I don’t speak a word of Qasalan. How am I going to get the cure?”
“I’ll go with you. I speak Qasalan,” Aspire said. Jehea’s countenance brightened immediately.
“Thanks!” she said smiling. Jehea and Aspire walked down the path chatting as they both held tightly to the crooks. Then, they saw a desert Draik walking towards them.
The Draik’s eyes lit up when he saw them. “Oh, thank goodness. You captured them!” Jehea glanced to the thieves and back to the Draik. He dipped in a small bow. “I am Metthallion, leader of the Sakhmetahn Royal Guard. Have you found the crown, as well?”
Jehea nodded and picked up the crown from her bag. “Yes, it’s right here...” she said warily. When Metthallion reached for it, she pulled back. Aspire looked at her, confused.
“Why aren’t you giving it to him?”
“How do I know you’re really part of the Royal Sakhmetahn Guard?” Jehea asked Metthallion, answering the Bori’s question at the same time.
The Draik laughed. “Here.” He handed her a small stone, engraved with his name and the royal seal. Jehea handed it to Aspire.
“Is it good?” Aspire studied it for a few seconds, then handed it back to Metthallion.
“He’s clean,” the Bori responded.
Carefully, Jehea handed the crown to Metthallion. The Draik placed it likewise in a small sack he had with him.
“I will also take these two criminals off your paws. You have no need to worry about them. They will be immediately transported to the palace dungeon.” Sahrden and Cortrenton looked at each other in worry.
With a few parting words, Metthallion walked swiftly off, with Sahrden and Cortrenton in tow. However, as Jehea watched them leave, she felt a certain apprehension. ‘Something feels wrong... But he was official. I mean, he had a badge and everything, and you can’t just copy the royal seal. It’s impossible,’ Jehea said to herself.
Her nerves calmed, she suddenly realized how tired she was. “I know it’s early,” Jehea said, “but can we stop here? I’m exhausted.”
Aspire nodded. “I’ll set up my tent over here, so I won’t disturb you. I’m not going to sleep for a while.” Aspire motioned to the opposite side of the path she was on.
Within minutes of setting up her tent, Jehea fell into a deep sleep, with Cyrahn guarding the tent as she slept.
To be continued...