Touch came first. Clammy, moist and clinging touch. Zoe could feel dirt encasing her body. Her current position was a precarious one: She was curled into a ball. Her pincers bent towards her stomach, the carapace of her back pointed towards the sky. At least, she presumed her back was facing the sky. In her current state, intuition was her only measure of directionality.
She could see her bent legs and compressed feet when she opened her eyes. Her thoughts were foggy with her head bent awkwardly over her curled arms. The distraction of the dirt clinging to every inch of her shell, encrusted into every crease in her highly articulated body, didn't help her concentration. All that Nekrezoe could think of or feel was the cold, grimy dirt that surrounded her.
Distractions from the muck were coming as more of her senses came into play. The scents of her position accosted her newly-found senses next. Wet dirt again, and dryer herbs. Clinging, flaking, adhesive astringents and decaying linen. And far above, the faintest scent of sunlight drying dying trees floated down to her prison. She breathed in what air she could – her burial seemed a shallow one, at least. She hoped she might escape.
Sound came next. Feet, scraping paws, and shifting earth could be heard above her head, confirming the directionality of the world outside. "Found another one of 'em—" the sound of the neopet's voice faded as he walked away from her grave. (Grave? she thought. Were pets ever buried in quite this way?)
Another voice came into range, this one older, kinder, and excited in spite of its subdued tones. "—you didn't do anything to it, did you? I have to see it just as it was, you understand?"
"Well, I picked up this stone..." the first pet's voice drifted, and Zoe imagined he was taking a stone out of his pocket, or from behind his back, and showing it to the older neopet. That, at least, would explain his distracted tone and the sound of rusting fabric.
Their footsteps stopped, and the shuffling of dirt died down. Zoe presumed that it was only this stillness that allowed her to hear the next few words the older neopet spoke. "Fool of an Acara. Put the stone exactly where you found it. I hope your memory's a good one, or this find could be ruined. Do you have any idea how rare these rituals are? You can't just take away pieces of them willy-nilly! Don't dawdle, go!"
Zoe heard a groan, plodding, agitated footsteps on the dirt above her head, and the very faint clicking of stone against stone. After that, sounds, smells, and even the cold embrace of the dirt surrounding her vanished from her consciousness. For a few moments, all the world was black and still.
And then the memories overtook her. Fresh sliced Ummagine on her tongue, roasted up on roaring fires in the middle of Spring. The rarest desert flowers sweetened the air, and Zoe laughed as she danced on the sand. Music was twining through the air, intoxicating all the party-goers with its tinkling, melodious spell. And then she fell, tearing gauzy garments in her hasty tumble, and the memory changed.
"But you can't—" the young Buzz broke off, his black-lined Desert eyes streaking with tears. "You--" the pet stuttered, sobbed, shook his head and started again. "You aren't like other pets. You understand things. I... I wanted to spend much more time with you." His distress was admirable, especially now, as she recalled his face in retrospect. That hadn't been an ending. Nekrezoe was alive and well, albeit buried and more than a little bit confused. She couldn't imagine why he had cared so much. Perhaps if he had known it wasn't the end, things would have been different.
Her memories and idle pondering drifted away as sounds returned from the world above. Crumbling mud gave way to the voice of the Acara she had heard earlier. "That's alright then. All finished now, and no harm done!"
A sniffling, sardonic snort followed the Acara's statement, followed by a mumbled complaint, "Leave it to a Tyrannian to think things can be fixed that easily." The older voice's next statement was louder, pointedly so, "Regardless of any harm that may or may not have been done," the neopet proclaimed, "it's time to start digging. Here, take a shovel." The muffled clank of metal objects being passed from hand to hand ensued, and were quickly followed by the moist, clotted sound of shovels moving mounds of wet dirt.
Before long, Nekrezoe felt the metal end of a shovel scrape against the hard shell of her back.
"There's something here!" The Acara's voice again, gruff and surprised.
"Of course there is, fool," the older voice replied. "Why do you think we're digging? Oh, just back away!" A frustrated sigh left the older neopet's throat. Nekrezoe could hear the other pet grumble and shuffle his feet in frustration as he backpedaled.
Big, soft paws brushed the dirt off of Nekrezoe's back. She felt their touch with relief and some slight sense of wonder. No longer would she be alone in this cold, black dirt. Already she could feel the touch of sweet, warm sunlight on the excavated parts of her carapace. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine the long-lost sight of the sun. She could already feel its bright rays on the thin fabric of her eyelids. She hoped her imaginings would not take long to become reality.
But the process of uncovering Nekrezoe was a slow one. The Ogrin who was clearing the dirt from her buried body was taking care not to harm her by rushing the process, and Nekrezoe had to admit to herself that she was enjoying the feeling of his soft, practiced paws carefully extracting her from the ground. It had been so long since she had felt anything but clammy, lifeless dirt touching her form that these simple, slow movements seemed both fascinating and unexpectedly comforting.
Eventually her extractor had cleared enough dirt that she was able to raise her head and look into his eyes. They were golden, much like the sun that hovered behind his wizened visage. His face was full of fluffy white tufts that reminded her of fine desserts she had consumed in her desert past. The face itself was chocolate; pure, warm, sweet chocolate.
Nekrezoe blinked hard, and turned her face to the sun she had missed for so long. Its rays were growing long and oblique as its course led it to hide behind the distant tree canopies. "The sun is setting," she said.
"Yes," said the Ogrin, "and you're rising." He extended his paws to grab her pinchers and pull her from the ground. "Come," he said with warm tones, "I'm Professor Aerweu, and I'm here to introduce you to the world."
"But," Nekrezoe said, confused and slow, as she climbed from her grave and brushed the most offensive flecks of dirt from her bandaged, Halloween Ruki body, "I've already seen the world."
The Ogrin shook his head, and laughed as only the wise and caring can laugh. "No, you haven't. Not as it is now, at least. You've been underground for a very long time. Come, we have much to speak about, and even more to show each other."
And in the days, months, and years that followed, they would become more than just archaeological find and scientist. They would become family, and friends as well.