The Secret of Geraptiku: Part Five
“A treasure chest?” I laughed. “No way.”
Milk leaned closer, fascinated. “Yes, I think it is.”
The ‘treasure chest’ as Milk called it, was ornate polished dark wood that shone in the gloom, with various gemstones lining the edges artistically in no particular pattern. It wasn't the rainbow, or in size, just random, yet still pretty glittering little stones. Instead of one key hole, it had three, the first bronze, the second silver, and the third, of course accompanying bronze and silver, was gold. The keyholes, sharply contrasting the intricate and elegant lines of wood, were really simple, just elongated ovals of metal.
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “The dark faerie told me something about the hidden three of something! The keys must be it!”
“Yeah,” he said excitedly.
“So what?” I asked. “We find the keys?”
“I wondered what’s in it,” Milk said more to himself than to me. “It must be something valuable; otherwise why else would it have three keyholes?”
I sighed. “So you think we should try to find the keys?”
Milk stared at me like I was an idiot. “Well, duh!”
“What if it’s something... I don’t know... bad?”
“Well... what if it’s something good? And whatever is in this will help you find your way out”
"How do you know?"
"The dark faerie's greatest fear is that someone she's trapped here would escape. What harder way to get this chest than to go through her maze of a castle, fight a huge Cybunny, then find not one, but three keys that are who knows where? And also, who in their right mind would touch an enormous statue of a Cybunny in the first place?"
I frowned. He had a point. “Okay,” I decided, “but how do we know where to find the keys, and what they look like?”
“They’ve got to be in here, in the dark faerie's castle,” Milk explained.
“That doesn’t explain it much,” I reminded him. “Who knows how big this place is?”
“I do!” Milk said excitedly. “Normally, someone would have to walk through a maze of rooms and hallways, but all I have to do going to a room is put my paw against the wall, and think of the room, and then we’ll pass through a doorway-"
“Like the ice room?”
“Yes,” he said cheerfully.
“Well, what if we meet another giant Cybunny monster again?”
Milk’s white teeth flashed. “We’ll just improvise.”
“Okay, so how do we know what the keys look like?”
“Well,” Milk began, looking at the treasure chest. “I’m guessing one is bronze, one silver, and one gold, like the keyholes. They probably are simple and each about...” He studied the keyholes. "Four inches? No, five inches."
The three of us ambled over to the wall; Luna was walking now. Milk raised one yellow furred paw and set it against the wall, closing his eyes in concentration. Instead of an area made of water, there appeared a black door, completely blank, except for the doorknob. Milk frowned.
“Um... was that supposed to happen?” I asked.
“No, I don’t know where this leads to.” He shrugged. “Well, let’s find out.”
Milk twisted the black doorknob slowly, as if that would keep some sort of monster at bay. When he opened it, all I saw was darkness.
“So, where do you think that goes?”
Milk shrugged, and walked forward. “Let’s go see.”
So the three of us walked along in the darkness to who knows where. We couldn’t see anything at first, just inky black, and the faint light that came from the dark faerie's throne room, but even that light soon faded, leaving us in darkness. We just kept walking, hoping that we would get to a door or wall sooner or later.
“Ow!” Milk whined. “I just hit my nose on something.”
"What is it?" I asked eagerly. I reached out a paw to touch whatever Milk had run into, and my paw came across another door, but as I felt it, it felt far more decorative than the blank black door we had passed through earlier. "Ooh, another door, cool."
“Cool?” he hissed. “Cool!? That’s all you can say? I could’ve broken my nose, and you just say cool?”
"It's okay, Milk, relax. You didn't break your nose, and we're closer to finding a key."
“Okay,” Milk said, still sounding annoyed, “let’s go inside!”
Nervously, I reached out and groped around the edge of the unseen door for a handle, and when I found it, I twisted it and pushed outward, tensing for something to growl at me.
Nothing happened at first. I just saw a darker rectangle in the wall. But then, something grabbed me, and from Milk's and Luna's muffled yells, I could tell they'd been grabbed too. I felt myself go through a sudden atmospheric change that felt familiar, but I couldn't quite put my paw on it...
Then it hit me. We were underwater! I felt water rush over my fur, and making my movements slower. There was just one tiny problem, though.
Last time I checked, Gelerts, Xweetoks, and Sandans don’t breathe underwater!
But as I was beginning to panic from holding my breath for so long, I took a breath instinctively. I could breathe! I glanced sideways at Milk and Luna, but I couldn’t see them, let alone know if I was even looking sideways, there was no light.
Seconds after that thought ran through my head, a brilliant light shone everywhere! It wasn’t gradual, like the sunrise forming; it was more like sleeping for twelve hours under your blankets, when your owner snatches your warm blanket, snaps on the light, opens the window to a fine sunny morning where your window that faces the east opens, and shines a table lamp in your face. Wow, it was bright!
I recoiled against the brightness. Someone must’ve noticed my discomfort, because I heard a voice telling them to “turn down the lights.”
After they did, it was easier to look around after a few a seconds while my eyes adjusted to the light.
We were in what seemed like the ocean at first glance, but then you started to notice the subtle things, like the many colorful reefs that lined the bottom, too many of them for the ocean, and the artificial rocks. Also, it was like a color jungle all around us, kelp of every shade of the rainbow, from brilliant crimson (which reminded me unpleasantly of the ice Cybunny) to bright turquoise, cool blue, radioactive green (also reminding me repulsively of another massive Cybunny monster), fiery orange, deep purple, and many others.
But that was nothing compared to who was around us.
Peophins, every color possible and several of each, surrounded us. It was enough to make anybody, owner, Neopet, Petpet, faerie, or even Petpetpet, open their mouth in amazement. There must’ve been at least sixty!
It was so colorful around us, with the bright neon colored kelp and vivid Peophins; I was still squinting, even when wherever the light came from dimmed so we could see clearly. There was just every single paintbrush color around us, it was mind-blowing.
“Who are you?” a voice questioned Milk and me.
“I’m Akeelyla,” I said.
One of the Peophins glided forward. He was a royal boy. “And you?” His eyes looked past me. I turned around, Milk paled, but Luna was twirling around and having fun in the breathable water.
“I-I don’t have a name.”
“He really doesn’t,” I added helpfully.
The royal Peophin narrowed his eyes. “You don’t have a name? We all have names. Is there anything others call you? A nickname, perhaps?”
“I call him Milk,” I explained, feeling like a dork. Why had I chosen to call him Milk again?
The royal Peophin raised his eyebrows at me, as if saying 'Why in Neopia do you- wait, never mind, I don't really want to know.' “Milk? Well then, Milk and Akeelyla, why are you both here?”
“We’re looking for something,” Milk answered.
“What is it that you are searching for?”
“A key; bronze, silver, or gold,” I said.
The royal Peophin leveled his gaze at me. “We have two keys, one is reddish-brown, and the other is a shiny grey. Are those colors, to phrase it like you surface dwellers do, ‘bronze’ and ‘silver’?”
“Well, I am sorry, we cannot give you them,” the Peophin sniffed.
“What?” I cried. “Why not?
“Yeah,” Milk added. “We really need them for something important.”
“What is it that you need the keys for?” the royal Peophin questioned.
“To open something,” I said, sounding like an idiot again. What else would you need a key for?
“I cannot give them away to two random Neopets. Those two keys are our race's sacred artifacts, and it wouldn’t be prudent of me to simply give them away.”
“Oh, come on!” I moaned. “They’re just two rusty old pieces of metal, for crying out loud! How are they supposed to be ‘sacred artifacts?’” I've had a lot of moments when I really regret not keeping my mouth shut at some times. This was one of those moments. Every single Peophin glowered at me like I’d said something terrible. Well, I reminded myself, I probably just did, seeing as how I’d just affronted something of theirs that was beyond priceless.
“You both must leave,” a plushie Peophin insisted.
“Yes,” a white one hissed. “You are both outsiders; we shouldn’t have let you stay for this long. For all we know, you could both be spies for that wicked dark faerie that’s locked us in here.”
“Wait!” I shouted at them. “Is that what this is about? We’re not servants of her, I swear!”
“That one is,” the white Peophin hissed, indicating Milk. Ah, so that’s why Milk was so scared.
“But we’re not going to do anything bad!” I continued. “If we were, why would we ask you first?
The white Peophin blinked.
“You could make us think you weren’t doing anything bad by acting good,” a shadow Peophin guessed.
“But we’re not!” Milk cried. “Akeelyla and I are just trying to find all the keys! We’ll give yours right back after we use them! I promise!”
The royal Peophin sighed, and turned around and faced his people. “We all know that the dark faerie is evil for doing this to us. However-"
“What did she do?” I interrupted without thinking.
The royal Peophin twisted his head to glare at me. “Do not interrupt again, Akeelyla.”
“Okay,” I agreed meekly.
He faced the Peophins again. “It is a terrible risk to let these two children-"
“have our keys,” he continued like I hadn’t said anything. “We can have them go through a test to make sure they won’t let anything happen to them. Does anyone have an objection?”
“Yeah,” I said worried, “what is the ‘test’?”
The royal Peophin acted like he hadn’t heard me.
“Of course we shouldn’t let them have the keys! They are both precious items of ours. Let’s just throw them out of our water,” the white Peophin insisted.
“Hey!” Milk shouted.
“And him worst of all! Am I the only one who see’s the mark on him, the mark that signals him to be a servant of the dark faerie?!” the white Peophin continued. I turned around to see Milk. I couldn’t see any mark on him. The white Peophin noticed me. She rolled her eyes condescendingly. “You can’t see it,” she told me. “The mark in his eyes is only visible to Peophins.”
“Why only to Peophins?” I wondered out loud.
“Because we are the most important and sacred of all Neopet species, and we know all, and see everything,” the white Peophin sniffed in such a know-it-all self-centered way it made me narrow my eyes at her.
I sighed. “Well, can’t you see that he’s not really working for the dark faerie?”
The royal Peophin stared at Milk long enough for Milk to shift his gaze away uncomfortably.
“He has a confused past,” the royal Peophin declared in a clear voice.
Milk glanced towards the regal Peophin. “I know,” he whispered, barely loud enough for me to hear.
“Anyway,” the white Peophin sniffed, “I personally think we should throw them both out of our haven, and forget they ever came here. What is it of their business to barge in and demand the ownership of-”
“Demand?” I repeated. “Hey, we asked you nicely if you even had the keys, then if we could just borrow them for-”
“They’re intruding our-"
“Intruding? We just wandered in here without knowing what-”
“And destroying the peace and-"
“Peace? What peace? All we did was-”
“HEY! BE QUIET!! BOTH OF YOU!!” Milk screamed, making the snobby Peophin and me silent. “Okay,” he said calmly, turned to the royal Peophin. “You obviously seem to be the leader here, so I will ask, can we borrow both of the keys? I will return them as soon as I can, I promise.”
“I can tell you are speaking the truth,” the royal Peophin sighed after a pause. “However, there may be circumstances outside your control that will cause you to be unable to return our artifacts.”
“Like...?” I motioned to tell us what the ‘circumstances outside our control' were. The royal Peophin gave me a long solemn stare. “Oh,” I bit my lip, getting his hint. In case we actually couldn’t come back. I glanced around me for something to look at. My gaze rested on Luna. She was still spinning around in the water without a care in the world.
“You also must take the test, so we can be absolutely sure you aren’t lying.”
“I thought you could tell if we were lying or not.” I frowned. That’s what he was making it seem like to me.
The royal Peophin sighed. “We have been tricked before; I do not want that happening again.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” I began hesitantly, “why are you all in here? Why not in the oceans of... I don’t know... Mystery Island or something?”
Surprising me, the royal Peophin chuckled. He had such a serious expression before. “We are in the ocean of Mystery Island, Akeelyla. Well, not the ocean, more like a fish tank actually.” I felt like slapping myself for my stupidity. Had I just forgotten the vacation I was on with Xaea? Remembering my missing loving owner sent a pang of longing through me. Was she okay?
“A fish tank?” Milk asked.
“Yes,” he sighed. “The dark faerie has trapped us here. We were told by one of her assistants that once we left and took a breath, we would all perish. So we can’t get out and breathe air. Have you wondered how you can breathe in here?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. I’d almost forgotten! When I moved my arm around, I felt water move against it, and Luna still twirling around was a dead giveaway that we were in really crystal clear water.
“The dark faerie has brought us all here, like a zoo, and painted us all different colors. To lure some of us, she would tell us in a hypnotic voice of how great life would be if we just followed her. She promised she would paint us a different color, any paintbrush color we desired, if we just followed her, and paid a small, very small price.” He sighed. “Like fools, most of us here agreed.”
“Most?” I dared to ask.
“Yes, some of us here were simply kidnapped, those of us who are already painted an extremely rare and expensive color, and she couldn’t promise anything in return.”
“So she keeps you here like a zoo of Peophins? Why?” I frowned. It made no sense! She kept them here just to stare at them every once in a while?
“Indeed, we don’t know either,” the royal Peophin sighed. “However, that does not change anything. We are trapped here, and there isn’t a way out. You see the lights? They’re coming from the walls so it always looks like daylight. She has also placed artificial coral and rocks to make it more realistic.”
“Why not just go out the door?” I asked.
The white Peophin snorted. “If it was as easy as that, we’d have made it out long ago, but we can’t. Anyway, we just explained it to you.”
“Or at least,” the plushie Peophin from earlier said excitedly, “We, the Peophins can’t. We can’t leave because we can’t breathe air, but-"
“Milk, Luna, and I can,” I continued, catching on.
“Then what?” Milk sighed. “We need the keys to get out of here.”
“So can we borrow them?” I asked hopefully. Throughout this whole conversation I was hoping all the Peophins would realize how helpless our situation was, and be nice and risky enough to lend us the keys. To my surprise, the royal boy Peophin smiled, but the white Peophin also smiled, and I’d learned by now that the white Peophin didn’t have much kindness in her to make her smiling cause me to be happy, so I bit my lip and waited for them to answer me.
“Oh yes.” The white Peophin grinned. “You may borrow them. However, there is a test we want to put you through to make sure you will not lose them.” Her grin grew even wider. “If you pass, we will allow you to borrow both keys; however, fail and... well... I’ll let you think about that.”
“So what’s the test?” I asked, trying to appear confident. I didn’t want to give the white Peophin the satisfaction of my apprehension. What was the test? The way she was smiling, it gave me the feeling it was going to be extremely hard, probably harder than running from an ice monster and an earth monster.
“The test,” she began, “is battling a huge Cybunny monster made of-”
“Hey!” I snapped. “We did that already! One was covered in earth; the other was made of ice. What's next, magma?” I meant it as a joke, really, a joke, I was just kidding, and I never meant to actually be right.
“Yes,” an electric Peophin confirmed. “He is made of magma. A giant Cybunny made entirely of flames.”
Really, it was just a joke.
To be continued...