The Wheel of Glory: Part Four
It was the third day of the keepers’ trek through Altador. No one was complaining, though. Altador was beautiful, and the weather had been perfect thus far. Miles found climbing every tree-shaded hill and looking for a wheel rather pleasant.
Doc laughed. “Imagine it – we’re in one of best worlds in Neopia for a journey, and Vile’s on a wild-Mallard chase in the middle of the desert!”
Plesio pulled out the bow he’d bought in the capital city. “Hey, Doc, want to try and outshoot me again?”
The Gelert sighed. “After what you did to me in the last contest, not so much. And why is everyone calling me Doc?”
Miles laughed. “We’ve spent three weeks together now. Face it, Doc – none of us are scared of you anymore.”
Then he noticed something more than a little odd – a Babaa, a Spardel, and a Vaeolus traveling together with purpose. They vanished into a dell off ahead, close to the bank of the River Atheidon.
He pointed. “Let’s go that way.”
They went down the barely-there trail between two hills and into a steep, fern-covered ravine. It was so close that they had to walk single-fine. It was rocky, as well – Miles wished for his walking stick that Vile had stolen in the Lost Desert. We got out of there alive... and we won that fight. It doesn’t really matter.
It did amuse him that Vile was probably just realizing that he’d bullied them into giving up information that turned out to be wrong.
Plesio muttered about rocks and damp and said, “I’ll admit, when this goes wrong I am going to laugh.”
Britta scolded, “Don’t talk like that! It’s a nice day, and this is so pretty and green and cool...”
The ravine gave way to a grassy hill face and a stone path lined with trees. Doc commented, “Well, this is interesting.”
Britta cried, “Look at all the Petpets!”
There were a good many of them, sitting quietly in a line that stretched up the hill. That’s really strange.
This has to be the Wheel of Glory. What else could cause this sort of magic? “It’s got to be up there! It’s got to be!”
Miles wheeled around, his heart dropping down, down, down...
Malkus Vile grinned. “Thought you’d lost us, didn’t you?” His henchmen both lifted crossbows. “Put your hands up and stand still, while I go see this Wheel of Glory for myself!”
No... no... Miles had to swallow the urge to scream or cry. He followed us! He somehow followed us, and now he’s going to win after all!
Then all the fear and heartsickness was replaced by cold determination. I can’t let that happen.
He looked around slowly, and realized that the other four were looking to him again. It’s my decision.
I’m not going to make the same decision that I did last time. He nodded once, slowly and deliberately.
Then Plesio and Thag hit the ground, Britta and Miles shot into the air, and Doc dived straight at the Meercas, fighting for their weapons. When the first quarrels had flown harmlessly to the ground, the two Tyrannians joined the fight as the Draik and the faerie flew up the hill.
Thag yelled, “Don’t stop for anything!”
Wait – he just spoke in Neopian Common! But there wasn’t any time to think about that. They had to get to the wheel before Vile!
The path up the hill stretched on and on, much longer than it had looked from the bottom. And the line of Petpets stretched still and silent, frequently moving forward.
When Miles reached the top, he looked around frantically. And then he saw it.
A golden wheel only as tall as his waist, with a Naalala sitting beside it. The Petpets each took a turn spinning, and in the space in front of the wheel objects would appear – food, a cushion, a toy, a Petpetpet...
He said in amazement, “The ‘least of us’ Arcadius referred to – the ‘little ones’ – they’re Petpets! Arcadius was talking about Petpets! The Wheel of Glory is a wheel for Petpets!”
The Naalala grinned. “So it is.”
Miles heard footsteps – Vile was close! He didn’t even care right now that the Petpet keeper could talk. “An evil Skeith is going to try to capture this wheel for his own purposes. We’re keepers like you, of other Neopian wheels!”
The Naalala nodded, very calm. “Then spin, and see what comes.”
Miles spun the wheel and waited for it to click to a stop. None of the icons were easily identifiable – he had no idea which space gave out what.
It stopped on an image that looked like wings. A slender silver rod appeared on the ground in front of the wheel. He picked it up, not knowing what such a thing might do.
Then Britta screamed.
Miles turned in a flash – Malkus Vile had her pinned up against a tree, and he held a long knife. He shouted, not knowing what else to do, “Stop! It’s not her you want – it’s me!” I have to try and save her. She’s my best friend, and she trusted me. I can’t let him hurt her.
As Vile turned to face him, a condescending grin on his face, Miles felt the rod in his hand buzz. It must be some sort of magic – maybe it’s magic that’ll help me! He whipped the wand down and pointed it straight at the Skeith.
It was all Miles could do to keep his footing as magic blasted forward, half-blinding him. When the spots finally cleared, he saw Britta standing bemused next to a white marble statue of Malkus Vile, frozen forever with a rather dumbfounded expression. The Faerie commented, “You should have given him a second to pose – this really isn’t very flattering.”
Miles ran to her and hugged her. “And you’re joking about it! Britta, I was terrified!”
The Naalala said, “So you have succeeded, then. You have found our wheel, and the evil one will do no more harm. What do you wish to do now?”
Miles thought. “We’ll let the others come up here and see it – we’ve come this far, and they’ve earned that right. And then we’ll leave and never mention it again. As far as I know, there’s only that one parchment that mentioned your existence, and that’s turned to stone with Malkus Vile.”
The little Keeper asked, “You’ll keep us a secret? Even with all the fame you could have for discovering the Wheel of Glory, you’ll throw that aside to go back to your little room and the mockery of your king?”
Miles looked at the Naalala aghast. “How do you know about that?”
A shrug. “I have to have some advantages to make up for my size. But you will throw away any chance of being taken seriously? Any chance of being more than the silly little scholar with his silly little Wheel?”
Britta put a hand on Miles’s shoulder. “Don’t taunt him like that! You’re... you’re a jerk!”
He smiled up at her gratefully, seeing the tears in her eyes. No wonder she’s so happy as a keeper... a sweet, kind girl like her would be happy anywhere. “It’s okay. He’s right.” Then he turned back to the Petpet. “I don’t need a discovery to show the court that I should be taken seriously. I’ve learned that I should be taken seriously anyway, and I’m going to go back and let them know it.”
The Naalala smiled. “I like you, Miles. Do me a favor – come back here once, when you’re old, and let me know how everything worked out.”
Miles grinned. “Can’t you see it yourself?”
“It’s more fun to hear it from you.”
Doc flowed up beside them – Miles could now hear the huffing and puffing that signaled Thag and Plesio were close behind. Plesio was saying, “You told me you didn’t speak Neopian Common! You let me translate for you for weeks!”
Thag said calmly, “It amused me. Ugga-ugga ug.”
Doc looked at the whirling golden wheel. “So this is the Wheel of Glory. A rather interesting twist.”
As Thag and Plesio reached them, Plesio added in amazement, “Petpets! Who’d have thought?”
Miles smiled. “That’s probably why Arcadius was so impressed.”
Doc sat down. “I rather like Vile as a statue, Miles. Nice work. We all felt the magic at the base of the hill – the two Meercas made a break for it once they realized the boss wouldn’t be back.”
Britta asked, “So is it over, then?”
Miles felt a twinge of sadness. “We’ve done what we came for. We’ve found the Wheel of Glory and protected it from Malkus Vile. So, yes, it’s over.”
Plesio actually sounded a little sad as well. “So let’s find a caravan heading out toward home.”
They took their time heading back – it was another month before Miles stood before Hagan once again, listening patiently as the king railed on about lazy, shiftless Wheel-keepers who ran off for months without telling their superiors and didn’t even have a good excuse upon their returns. Finally, as he took a breath, Miles asked, “Are you finished? Because I’d like to get back to my Wheel if you’re quite done.”
King Hagan glared daggers at him. “How dare you...”
Miles almost quailed for a second. But then he remembered the way his fellow Keepers treated him with respect – the way he had been able to defeat Malkus Vile. He said, “During my... break... I did some thinking and came to a conclusion. I’m not going to let you bully and humiliate me anymore. No, don’t deny it. You make fun of me when I have ideas for the wheel. You laugh when I trip over my sandals. You treat me as if I haven’t a brain in my head. And I don’t have to put up with that any more.
“You don’t have to listen to me. You don’t have to stop making me the laughingstock of the castle. But I’d just like you to know that I really don’t care anymore. This world is bigger than you and your rivalries and your games. I’ve seen Neopia and my place in it, and this doesn’t matter at all compared to that.”
He bowed and turned to walk out. King Hagan roared, all self-control lost, “I ought to have you thrown in the dungeons!”
Miles turned back with a smile. “I do have a wand that turns things to stone, and a wheel that I’m certain King Skarl will be happy to have in his kingdom. I’m not a person to mess with anymore, milord. Or, rather, I never was – no one is – but I see it now.”
And he took one last look at the dumbfounded king and his court before he turned around and walked out of the throne room whistling.
He didn’t trip over his sandals once.