Spirits of the Desert
The Hissi stumbled through the desert, his broken wings flapping weakly by his side as he tried to gain height off the scorching sand. The midday sun was at its zenith in the clear blue sky, watching indifferently at the young Neopet’s struggle far below. Images flashed through the Hissi’s eyes as he slithered on, desperately trying to evade the beating rays of light that seemed to split his head in two.
For three days and four nights he travelled across the expanse of the Lost Desert, every day his need for water growing more and more desperate. His wings, not properly set after their breaks, were causing him agonising pain as he drifted aimlessly over the sand, all sane thoughts pushed from his mind as the sun stabbed into his head.
On the fourth day, he lay down in a hollow below a dune, a strong wind picking up the grains of sand and whirling them around and around until he could no longer stand. His scales were rubbed raw from the rough hewn stones and sand he had encountered on his journey. He rolled over, laying on his back and looking up at the merciless sky; he prayed to the Spirits of the Desert to give him some cloud for just one day, enough for him to have respite from the unending heat. As he stared at the expanse of blue, his eyes began to feel heavy, his wings and tail seemingly made of lead. He lay back, his body pushing itself down into the gully, and he fell asleep...
“Master! Master! You must wake up!”
The voice came from afar. Another world, another time, another dream perhaps. The young Hissi opened his eyes, but not to the desert – instead he was in a room, with cool sandstone walls and red velvet adorning every inch of furniture. Peering around, he saw the small Meerca running towards him, shouting.
“Master! They’re here! They’ve come for it! You must do something!”
The normally excited cries of the Meerca now filled his blood with icy fear, as he saw the worried expression on the small Neopet’s face. He pushed himself up with his suddenly functioning wings and slithered across the cool flagstone floor until he reached a chest. The servant was hopping from foot to foot, a sure sign of worry and of the impending panic if it was not quickly rectified.
“Go keep them occupied, Marizaf,” the Hissi said, his voice smooth and strong, as if it hadn’t been parched of water for days.
The Meerca Marizaf squeaked in understanding and ran for the door, closing it quickly behind him as his tail shot out of sight. The Hissi turned back to the chest, fiddling with the locks he had secured earlier, cursing himself for their complexity. Suddenly the chest sprang open, revealing a small object wrapped in a sheet of plain white cloth.
There was a loud shout from beyond the door and the Neopet hurriedly made the cloth into a sling, before hanging the object over his wing joint. He rushed back towards the pile of pillows he had been lounging on before, deftly pushing a hidden switch on one of the flagstones beneath the pile, opening up a gap in the wall to the right. He hopped towards it, his speed urging him through just in time for the secret door to close with a loud thud behind him...
The Hissi awoke, back in the desert, his wings still broken and his throat still parched. He rolled his bloodshot eyes around him, taking in the new position of the sun in the sky, the blurriness of the landscape and his own scratched and maimed body. Slowly for fear of more pain, he eased himself up, wincing as his scales touched the heat of the sand. He started to move again, trying desperately not to cry due to the waste of water he had so little of.
The sun soon began to set, its light glowing on the dunes around him, giving an ethereal light to everything. He knew that it would become bitterly cold soon enough, although the pain in his head told him to no longer care, to just keep going until he could go on no longer. And he moved, zigzagging across the sand, the dehydration inching him closer and closer towards madness, he fell, landing on his wings and his scream pierced the night.
He curled up on himself, trying to hide against the pain he was going through and the place he was in. This time he couldn’t stop himself crying, the tears running from his eyes, his scales causing agonising pain as the sand rubbed them raw. Wrapped up tightly, he could barely hear the distant howls of the desert, the creatures that paraded the dunes after nightfall picking off the animals that had wandered into the barren wasteland with no hope of escape. The Hissi curled up tighter, trying to defend himself against the world around him, crying silently until it eventually abated and he had drifted into the realm of dreams...
He rushed through the darkness of the passageway, avoiding the traps his ancestors had left before to guard against unwanted visitors, the object held tightly to his body in its makeshift sling. As he went on, he thought little of Marizaf, or the shout he had heard before escaping; he was instead intent upon taking the item out of the place it was being kept and far away. He slowed a little, believing he could now move slower as he had evaded the ones who had appeared earlier, when he heard stone scraping against stone further back along the tunnel.
The Hissi panicked, voices and shouts now being carried clearly through the still air towards him. He turned and hopped along the corridor, not daring to fly in such a confined space and with a chance of losing his precious object. He rushed, avoiding trap after trap, the years of training from his Father proving useful at least. His heart beating tenfold, he suddenly came to a door which he opened with some effort, before closing shut behind him and bolting from the outside.
He was now at the edge of Sakhmet, in the back alleys and petulant streets of the poor; a place he avoided at all costs, his heritage and dress of a Desert Lord marking him out amongst the rest. Ducking into a blocked off alleyway, he carefully removed his headdress and clothing, placing them into the sling along with the artefact, making sure that although they shared a courier, they did not damage one another.
Swiftly looking up, he started for the nearby gate. He knew the tunnel would keep them occupied for some time, and in those precious minutes he could escape and make his way to safety. He slithered forward along the smoothed stones of the city, following the outer wall to his right. Everything was going to be okay...
A screeching howl not far from where the Hissi lay woke him from his dream and as he turned in panic, he saw for a moment a shape of some creature outlined against the strong full moon atop a nearby dune. He sat up, his wings sending stabbing pains through his body, his eyes wide for the first time in days in his sheer terror. There were more howls, this time from all around him, sounding like things that shouldn’t have a place on Neopia. He stood up, dismissing the pains as he turned, following the chain of cries from everywhere surrounding him.
With a burst of energy his adrenaline gave him, he moved quickly on between the dunes, racing for what he knew was his life. He could feel the presence of the beasts behind him, following him but toying with the Neopet, knowing he had little strength or energy to keep up such a game for too long. He cursed himself for falling asleep, for not paying attention in a place that could easily become his tomb, rushing onwards through the maze of valleys in the midst of the Lost Desert.
His energy was beginning to run low; he could hear the creatures close by, their heavy breathing and deep growls filling him with a primal fear. He moved on, pushing himself still, knowing any minute he would collapse and they would move in. The Hissi willed himself forwards, calling up every ounce of strength he had left, his head down to keep himself moving.
With a sudden crack, his head erupted in a shower of pain. He looked up, his eyes dazed from the dehydration and the sudden blow, to a small rocky outcrop nestled between some dunes. The thoughts that started to run through his mind were those of survival; if he could climb the rocks and fend off the creatures, he could survive through the night and so keep on searching for water when the sun was up.
He hopped, trying to climb the sheer rock from jumping alone, his wings still hanging like weights uselessly by his side. With every second he knew the beasts would be getting nearer, and he willed himself to jump. He tried every trick he knew, but he could barely jump to the first miniature ledge he had managed to spot. The Hissi gave a strangled cry of fear and exasperation, knowing he would have to use his broken wings. He tried to move his one limb slowly, wincing in the explosion of pain it bought with it. He would have to do it, he said to himself, else those things would attack him before he knew it.
Ignoring the pain, focussing on the strength he had left as opposed to the strength he had lost, the Hissi flapped once, his muscles screaming at him to stop but he continued. With fireworks before his eyes, he rose up into the air, higher than he had hoped, coming level with the very top of the outcrop. As he moved forward through the still night air, there was a rush of movement below him as the beasts ran towards the outcrop in an attempt to grab hold of their now flying prey.
The Hissi looked down, seeing a mass of shadows struggling to climb the outcrop, and he tried to move forwards in the air so he could land safely. He pushed himself towards the ledge, reaching with his tail, as his wings slowed their movement as he neared safety. He touched it with his tail, gaining a slight grip on the weathered surface, when the last of his strength disappeared from his wings. He could fly no longer, but he was not close enough to land entirely on the rock.
His tail grabbed hold of a small crack in the rock as he fell out of the sky, his panic slowing everything down so he could see what would surely be his own demise in perfect detail. He swung down like a pendulum, his head again hitting the rock, pain shooting through every inch of his body. His tail struggled to hold him with such a feeble grip and he looked down into the writhing mass of shapes below him, feeling himself slip closer every second...
A weight suddenly impacted around his waist, knocking him to the ground and spilling the contents of his sling over the street.
“We thought you’d do that...” a Nimmo that had been hiding in the shadows said as the Skeith that had tackled the Hissi lifted him by the scruff of his neck.
“Let me go! I’ve done nothing to warrant this!” the Hissi spat in the direction of the Nimmo, “Let me go this instant!”
He whipped the Skeith with his tail, his wings too far away to do any damage to the well built Neopet.
“Posh talk if you’re not the one we’re looking for, which I highly doubt. Pick up his stuff and we’ll have a look,” the Nimmo retorted, motioning to the Hissi’s items that were lying across the street. There was little traffic in this area of the city and the Hissi was wishing he had travelled through the more popular areas so some of the guards may have intervened.
“Yep, this is what we’re after. This is all rubbish, of course,” the Nimmo said, holding the artefact, removed from its cloth, in one hand and the Hissi’s clothes in another.
“Dispose of it,” he said, giving the bundle to the small Kyrii that had retrieved the items. He looked at it uninterestedly then threw it into a nearby disused well, the cover of which had rotted and broken, with the bucket being lost long ago.
“Now, this, my dear boy, is not yours. This is ours,” he continued, holding up what appeared to be a small statuette inlaid with a single ruby in its headdress to the light.
“It is mine! It was my father’s! Give it back now!” the Hissi screamed, his tongue flicking in and out violently.
“Actually, your father stole it from us. This is all we wanted... shame you had to make everything so, let us say, troublesome.” He nodded to the Skeith, who took one of the Hissi’s wings in his grasp and snapped it like a stick. The Hissi screamed, his tail lashing out at the Neopet holding him.
“Now we’ll be taking this back. I will leave you with my colleague. Hopefully you’ll last a bit longer than that silly little Meerca friend of yours... he was no fun to play with, was he, Skergot?”
The Skeith shook his large head slowly, grasping the Hissi’s other wing and snapping it as easily as the first. He whimpered, the pain filling his head, his vision going blurry as he watched the Nimmo leave, cradling the statuette. The Kyrii stayed behind for a minute, reaching down and picking up a handful of desert sand that had been blown into the city. Looking around, the small pet threw it hard into the Hissi’s face, filling his nostrils and eyes with the harsh grains. He quickly left, running after his master, leaving the Skeith with the injured Neopet.
“Please... don’t... no more...” he cried, as the Skeith dropped him onto the ground.
He looked up at the Neopet, his eyes blurred with tears, as a strong arm came down heavily upon his head, and everything went black...
He snapped back to the present, hanging dangerously over the shadows below him. He knew he wasn’t going to last much longer and he shouted to the desert.
“I’m sorry! I deserve this, I know, but by the desert itself I swear I am sorry!”
He swung from the rock, a wind picking up around him at his height above the dunes, scratching his face with the grains of sand it carried.
“Marizaf, please forgive me! I should have helped you, taken you with me! Please oh please just let this stop!” he sobbed to the night sky, the only witnesses the stars above him and the creatures below him.
With one final pain racked sob, he dropped from the ledge, down into the darkness below him, his pleas echoing around the dunes...
The Hissi opened his eyes to bright sunlight, tinged with green and the rippling of fresh water. There was the gentle chirrup of crickets surrounding him and he rolled slowly onto his front, his wings tinged with pain as they supported his weight for a moment. Looking up, he realised he was surrounded by luscious trees, in an oasis filled with the scent of blossom from the numerous bushes around him. Through the trees he could make out the vast expanse of desert and the blue sky above it.
He raised himself up, his body still raw from his trek through the wasteland, and he edged towards the water in front of him cautiously. Dipping a weak wing in the liquid, the icy coolness gave him a jolt and he pushed himself into the pool, bathing in the refreshing water and drinking to his heart’s content. The pain slowly eased itself from his wings, his body recovering from its traumatic journey.
The Hissi spent hours in the pool, only leaving to explore the oasis around him and pick fruits from the trees nearby. As night began to fall, he lay on a warm rock next to the waterfall that led to the pool, looking up as the stars began to appear. He looked back across at the paradise he had entered, before suddenly seeing a small palm tree walking along the edge of the water.
He stared in disbelief, wondering whether or not this truly was a dream, when the small tree spoke to him.
“This isn’t a dream, don’t worry,” it said, in a small voice. “I’m an incarnation of the Spirits of the Desert, those who watch over all who dwell in the Lost Desert. I followed you on your journey; I saw your pain and I saw your struggle, but I also saw your guilt.”
The Hissi remained silent as the tree continued to walk towards him, talking in its small, calming voice.
“You had to forget everything you had done, forget everything behind you, although you first had to repent for your actions as that Neopet. You stole, you lived in luxury when others starved, you left someone more faithful than you ever knew to the fate you should have suffered.”
He stared at the Hissi across the rock, his eyes twinkling in the reflection of the pool.
“And you did, eventually. Those creatures were your own imagination, your own conscience fighting against you. Oh yes,” he said, raising a small hand to stop the Hissi’s impending question, “there are creatures out in the desert, but they are not quite as fearful as you thought they were. You atoned for your life and although you have suffered, and you will continue to suffer for it, the Spirits of the Desert have given you solace. You may never go back to your home and you may never again wear the clothes of your ancestors.”
The Hissi slipped down the rock, staring out into the desert expanse.
“Then I am no longer me. I will be someone else. I will make sure no-one suffered as I did and I will stand by the side of all who need me.”
He turned to the small tree, reaching out a slowly healing wing and picking him up gently.
“I will wear the clothes of the traveller and I will call the desert my home,” he replied, placing the tree on his shoulder, “and I will carry you with me at all times.”
With a smile to the tree, the Hissi pushed through the oasis out into the dunes, leaving a trail in the sand and a voice on the wind...
“And that’s why we hear the voices in the desert at night, Papa?” a small Aisha whispered to her father as she lay in bed, looking out across the desert night.
“Oh yes,” her father replied, tucking her in and reaching over to do the same for her brother, “it’s that brave Hissi trying to keep you on the right track, promising you that if you ever stray into the desert, he will help you find your way to safety.”
“Are there still Spirits of the Desert out there too, Pa?” her brother said, staring with wide eyes out the window too.
“Yes, they’re the Tawerets. Now go to sleep, you need to rest for your trip tomorrow.”
As he blew out the candle and left the room of his sleeping children, the Aisha took a necklace from around his neck and rubbed the worn engraving of a Hissi.
“Look after them, Cobra,” he muttered.
And out in the midst of the desert there came an answer...