Treasure Lost: Part Two
Spirit could never tell whether his eyes were fancy contact lenses or the result of some experiment gone wrong. Certainly his hair had suffered from one too many electric jolts. But she hadn't traveled to the Secret Lab to give the Mad Scientist fashion advice. As long as he followed through on their bargain, he could look however he wanted.
The Lab was one of Spirit's least favorite places to be. The metallic décor was daunting and there was the distinct smell of hospital, not to mention the shrieks of pets being zapped. Spirit shuddered as the cries of a Kougra being returned to level one echoed in the distance.
"Cold, is it?"
The slightly deranged voice made Spirit jump. She whipped around to see the Mad Scientist hunched in the shadows behind her, an odd hunk of circuitry and wires in his hands.
"Oh, no," replied Spirit. "It's perfect. I see you've added several new inventions since I was last here. Pretty soon you'll have to expand."
"Yes, I always have been on the thin side, haven't I? If you're here for the Ray, it's back that way. No tourists in this part of the lab."
Spirit shook her head. "I'm here with a delivery. The package from the Space Station, remember?"
The Mad Scientist's eyes widened in glee, and Spirit had the impression that they were spiraling faster than usual. "Ah, of course, bring it this way." He turned and slipped between two contraptions that stretched from the cold, shiny floor all the way up to the exposed beams and ducts crisscrossing the ceiling. Following him, Spirit found herself in a narrow corridor, which twisted, made a sharp left turn, went up an elevator, spiraled down a ramp, and finally ended up... right where they had started. "Right here, put it here!" the Mad Scientist directed. Biting back her comments, Spirit obeyed.
"Perfect!" the crazed yellow Scorchio began to mutter. He was practically dancing with excitement, and Spirit had the distinct feeling that he had forgotten her. She decided to remind him.
"It's what you wanted, right?" she asked.
"What do you know about it?" he snapped. "It's mine, all of it! Old Slothy isn't getting so much as a look. Now clear out before I zap you into something really nasty."
"We had a deal. I got you your package, now you owe me a certain map."
One chipped nail scratched a spot on the Scorchio's chin. He paused for so long that Spirit was afraid he would refuse. Finally, the Mad Scientist pulled a tightly rolled piece of paper out of an inner pocket of his lab coat. "I suppose I must. I don't do much with it anyway."
Holding her breath, Spirit reached out her paw. Then it was there: the map, right in her grasp. How long had she waited for this moment? How long had she searched? And now it was really hers...
"How did you get it?" asked Spirit, her voice barely a whisper.
"What's that?" barked the Scientist "How I got it? You just brought it to me, of course. Isn't there anything in your head?"
"Not the package, the map." Dealing with the Mad Scientist was always exasperating, but curiosity was stronger than annoyance. The Scorchio shrugged, turning away to examine the wrapping shrouding the delivery.
"I've got a secret map, that's a secret map. How many secret map makers do you think there are? I suppose we all run into each other eventually. Actually, now that you mention it, I think I found it in my sock drawer one day, right next to that old sandwich. Quite odd smelling, really. I suppose I should invent a cleaning ray sometime. I remember the time I invented a device for animating mops...."
At this point, Spirit began to edge away. The Mad Scientist would probably ramble on for an hour, and by the time he finished, he wouldn't remember that he had been talking to anyone. Besides, the map was hers. She tucked the brittle yellow parchment into a protective case in her backpack before pushing through the exit. The intense golden sun blinded her for a moment, but she blinked the sight back into her eyes, feeling relieved to be out of that creepy place and elated at her success. As the door swung closed behind her, she could just make out a burst of cheers as some lucky pet was zapped into the color of their dreams.
Spirit was almost skipping by the time she returned to Neopia Central. After her close call on the Space Station, her quest had gotten much easier. She could feel one end of the map pressing against her back, reassuring her that it was still there. She couldn't wait to examine it in the safety of her Neohome.
Maybe it was just her good mood, but the crowd in Central seemed positively joyful. A few young Ixi ran past, tossing a Green Spardel Ball back and forth between them. The air was thick with the songs of Beekadoodles nesting in the trees beyond the Bazaar. As Spirit passed the Chocolate Factory, she decided to stop and pick up a special treat for Jojo. She had felt bad about leaving him home alone, but the Secret Lab was no place for an absentminded Grundo like him. Besides, she had left Melody, her responsible Carmariller, to keep him out of any serious trouble.
It had been almost a month since she had accidentally adopted Jojo. At first, she had hated the idea. She had never been good with children, and her lifestyle wasn't very kid-friendly. Four weeks cooped up with an adolescent Grundo who acted half his age while waiting for the patrols to stop searching for her had seemed like an impossible feat. He had grown on her, however, and now she looked forward to his broad smiles and frequent laughs. She finally had someone that she didn't have to be guarded around, whose friendship she didn't question. Yes, Jojo really had been a blessing in disguise.
"I'm home! Jojo, Melody, where are you?" Spirit closed the door behind her and kicked off her shoes, looking around to see where her adopted brother had gone. She had taken two steps into her living room when a terrified Melody came hurtling out of her bedroom and into her arms. "Melody? What are you..." Spirit's voice died as she saw the condition of her Petpet. There was an old Snowager Scarf wrapped around Melody like a toga, and her face was covered in a garish assortment of makeup. "Is that lipstick on your eyes?!"
A series of chirps and whistles escaped from the disgruntled Carmariller as she tried to wriggle out of her scarf. Spirit's eyes narrowed as she worked to disentangle her companion.
"Jojo, get out here!" Immediately, the Grundo bounded out of her room, beaming.
"Now I look like you!" he said, his voice full of pride. Spirit's jaw dropped. Jojo was wearing her good Snowflake Skirt and a pair of heels that she had forgotten that she owned. His face looked just as bad as Melody's, only his lipstick also ran down one of his arms in a crooked flower pattern.
A reddish flush spread across Spirit's face, and for a minute she felt like she was turning Molten. She closed her mouth, then opened it again as her brain stumbled for words. She was just about to start yelling when Jojo broke into a clumsy spin, almost overbalancing in his too-big shoes.
"Aren't I pretty?"
Spirit's anger trickled away like a melting Icy Snowball. Why did he have to look so innocent? Sighing, she took his slightly sticky hand and led him to the bathroom sink.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up."
Half an hour later, Jojo was snuggled on the couch, quietly reading the manual to Spirit's Earth Faerie Oven. She had tried to interest him in more typical books, but he always rejected them as too boring. At least he's not making a mess, Spirit thought. Now she could finally turn her full attention to the map she had received that morning.
The yellowed parchment looked strange and out of place against the crisp surface of her Zen Desk. The ink was faded in places, and one corner was missing, apparently burned off. But the outlines were distinct, the text legible. Spirit ran one paw gently over the dark red "x" scrawled across a tiny island in the center. Her finger lingered along the coast, crossed the ocean to a larger land mass which looked like a dated version of Krawk Island, then traveled up the side of the map to where verses of strange words were assembled. Spirit bit her lip, thinking. She couldn't decipher the message, and without knowing what language it was written in, she would have a hard time finding a book to help her. There was no choice; Spirit would have to take the map to a scholar, someone with a talent for languages. And she knew just the Nimmo for the job.
Reluctantly, Spirit put the map away. There was no sense in leaving it out to get damaged. As she once again stowed it in her backpack, Jojo appeared at her elbow.
"Can I have a screwdriver?" he asked.
"For what?" Spirit said in surprise.
"I want to take the oven apart."
"Absolutely not," replied Spirit. "Besides, you need to go to bed early. There's a lot to do tomorrow, and this time I'm not leaving you alone."
It was still early when Spirit dragged Jojo out of their Neohome. There was a faint mist drifting in long swirls over the almost deserted streets, but by the time they had reached Central, the sun had chased it away. Melody darted back and forth overhead, chasing a few early morning butterflies. Neopets emerged from darkened doorways to open their shops and set up stands. Soon the calls of venders filled the air. Jojo perked up and wandered past the stalls, never straying too far from Spirit's side.
Spirit herself was dressed in a hooded cloak, as though hiding from the morning sun. She walked with a slight hunch, giving her an aged look. To complete the ruse, she used a battered Simple Wooden Fighting Staff as a walking stick. She kept her head down, but her eyes roamed the assembling crowd, constantly alert. A Techo in a red jacket caught her eye and she followed his movement for a while, but he passed harmlessly by.
Looking around again, Spirit realized with a sharp jolt that Jojo had disappeared. She wheeled around, then let out a breath of relief as she spotted him again. There was a bunch of weedy flowers in his hands. As she watched, he lifted them high above his head. A gnarled wooden hand reached down to take the bouquet. Jojo had found his way to the Money Tree, and was giving it a gift. In return, the Tree lowered something dark and shiny. Spirit couldn't make out what it was before it was hidden by Jojo's grasp. He turned and waved to her, then came running over, clutching his treasure.
"Look what the happy tree gave me!" Jojo held out a metallic object for Spirit to inspect. It was a Cuttlebot, but it had definitely seen better days. There were exposed wires and its tentacles dangled limply. It looked like the intelligence drive had long since shut down, and from the way Jojo held it, the antigravity generators were also nonfunctional.
"That's just junk, Jojo. Most of the things that the Money Tree gives away are. Go put it back, and if you behave today, I'll buy you a new Petpet later."
Jojo shook his head. "I like this one! His name is Radish."
"Radish?" asked Spirit, puzzled. "Why Radish?"
"I like radishes," Jojo replied simply. "But I like sushi, too. Would that be a better name?"
"No, Radish is fine." Spirit didn't want to start any arguments, so she said nothing more and let Jojo keep his broken Cuttlebot. It didn't seem to slow him down, and soon they had made their way into a back alley of the Marketplace where a weathered wooden sign above a narrow shop displayed a single yellow book.
A small golden bell jingled as Spirit pulled open the door. She let Jojo enter first, then followed, pushing back her hood and straightening as the door banged shut behind her. The shop smelled of dust and old paper, and the light filtering through the windows had an aged feel, as though it were originating from an ancient sun. It was impossible to tell how large the shop really was because of all the thickly packed book shelves. Amid the labyrinth of knowledge, a purple Nimmo sat behind an impressive Golden Lost Desert Desk, reading a highly decorated scroll through delicate gold-rimmed glasses. He looked up when he heard the bell, then smiled when he recognized his customer.
"Spirit! I haven't seen you in a while. You haven't been giving your business to my blue cousin in the town center, have you?"
"How could you even suggest it, Earlin?" replied Spirit playfully. "You have a much better selection. Besides, I will always be in need of that wonderful brain of yours. I have something right here for you to look at." Spirit pulled out the map and unrolled it on Earlin's desk, which he had rapidly cleared.
"Fascinating! Is this...?"
"Do you have a toolbox?" interrupted Jojo.
"A toolbox?" Earlin repeated, taken aback. He looked questioningly at Spirit, who shrugged. "I think there are a few things in the closet in the back. Poke around and help yourself to whatever you find."
Jojo smiled his thanks, then vanished behind the shelves.
"It's a long story," Spirit said in response to the look Earlin was giving her. "Now about the map. I know that that's Krawk Island, and I assume that Maraqua is about here. I can figure out the location well enough, but it's this text that I can't figure out. It must be some old language. I was hoping you might be able to read it."
"Read it? Yes, of course. But do you know what this is?" Earlin asked, his hands trembling slightly as he flattened out the paper's edges.
Spirit nodded. "I've been searching for years. I had almost given up hope."
"There's his signature at the bottom. Scarblade himself made this map. In all my learning, I have only come across rumors of one hoard which the pirate captain hid."
"The plunder from the original raid of Maraqua." They were barely talking in whispers now, even though there was no one else in the store.
"I never expected those rumors to be true. Most accounts agree that it was a cursed whirlpool that destroyed Old Maraqua."
"It was, but only after the Revenge had made off with as much treasure as it could hold. Just imagine how much Maractite must be stored there."
There was a slight pause as they both examined the map, taking in every detail. Quite suddenly, Earlin sat back, adjusted his glasses, and began speaking in a very professional, very academic voice.
"Well, I can certainly see why you require my services. The script is a form of ancient Maraquan. I can only assume that using this particular language was Scarblade's idea of a joke. I can, of course, read it, but given the profitable nature of your venture, as well as the difficulty of correctly interpreting the verses, I may require compensation slightly above my regular fee." He paused, one eyebrow raised expectantly as he waited for Spirit's response. She gave a small laugh.
"Of course you will be duly paid. Have I ever left a debt unsettled? How does one percent of the profits sound?"
"One percent? I'm not some common market scribe! I couldn't settle for less than ten."
"Five, then. Plus any old scrolls or books I happen to find there."
"Books? From Maraqua?"
"Maybe they wrote them on kelp," said Spirit, waving her hand dismissively. "I'm sure they left some written records, made all the more valuable by their rarity. Although I'm sure you're only interested in the intellectual value."
Earlin considered the proposal, trying to read the thoughts behind Spirit's polite smile. Five percent of a treasure like that would be no small amount. He sincerely doubted that any writings would be found among the treasure, if for no other reason than that Scarblade was unlikely to place much value on paper (or kelp). But he had dealt with Spirit before, and knew that she wouldn't hesitate to walk out of his shop if he pushed for too much.
"Five it is. Now leave me alone while I work through this." He pulled out some scratch parchment and a long, fluffy quill pen. Within minutes, he was so focused on his work that he probably wouldn't have noticed if Boochi had wandered in, turned him Baby, then stolen the chair out from under him.
Spirit wandered along the bookshelves, flipping through the pages of 101 Uses For Ice, then peeked outside to see if Melody was alright. She had left her Carmariller just outside the door as a lookout, with instructions to whistle if anyone looked like they were going to enter the shop. Melody was patiently hovering in front of the bookstore's front window, drifting rhythmically back and forth as though to an unheard tune.
Returning to Earlin's desk, Spirit watched him scratch out a few lines. For someone who spent so much time with books, he really did have terrible handwriting. Earlin tapped the end of his quill against his glasses a few times, then lowered it and added three lines to the bottom of the page.
"Finished," Earlin proclaimed, holding out the paper for Spirit to examine. Eagerly taking it, Spirit read the four verses which Earlin had written.
The Maraquans fancied themselves Rulers of the Sea
But the only Master the Waves obey be Me.
A Curse and a Plague be forever with the Water-breathers.
Let their Fate be a Warning to any who think that Scarblade will be trifled with.
"This doesn't rhyme," Spirit commented.
"I'm a translator, not a poet!"
The Booty of the Maraquans is hidden from the Sun-loving World,
My secret Hoard and Pleasure which not one Scurvy Rat will ever see.
The Island itself will guard the Path that Seekers would take
Through jagged Stones and clawing Waters.
The Road will chill the Bones when the Roaring Sounds,
And no Escape but through the Teeth.
The Vines have Eyes and watch the Paces of those who Pass—
Nor Blade nor Fire will turn them back, but only a Fearless Heart.
Beware the Sweeter Route that seems the wiser Way,
In Love of Danger only lies a safe End.
Keep a wary Eye on the Goal to which you Rise.
Treasure found is more Deadly than Treasure lost.
"It's a little unclear," Spirit said when she had finished reading.
"It doesn't say any more than that, so I'm afraid that's all you'll have to work with." Earlin rolled up the map and handed it to Spirit. "Be careful. I don't want to lose a valued customer."
"Or your payment, I'm sure." Spirit carefully tucked the map and the translation into her bag, fastening it tightly. She was just about to call Jojo when she heard Melody's whistle. She barely had time to turn around before the bell over the door gave a loud jingle, and the exit was blocked by a Shadow Kyrii. He was dressed in simple clothes, but there was a black hat pulled low over his face. A flashy earring with two red feathers dangled from his left ear.
Spirit swallowed, involuntarily taking a step backwards. She lived by her instincts, and right now they were telling her to run.
"Can I help you find a book?" Earlin asked the newcomer, trying to diffuse the tension that was suddenly thicker than the dust. "I have an excellent selection. Just tell me what you're looking for..." His voice died off as the Kyrii took a few heavy steps into the shop. Melody slipped inside just before the door closed, coming to rest uncertainly on a high shelf.
"What I'm looking for," said the stranger, "is a map." His eyes met Spirit's and they stared at each other for a long moment. Then, with no warning, they both darted forward.
Spirit barely had time to grab her wooden staff, which had been leaning against one of the bookshelves, before a shiny blade plunged into a copy of Illusen's Sword Techniques next to her ear. While the Kyrii tried to free his Engraved Broad Sword, Spirit circled around into a battle stance, giving herself enough room to effectively wield her staff while staying beyond the striking distance of her opponent's weapon. Earlin was nowhere to be seen; he must have fled into the depths of his shop as soon as the fighting began.
Finally yanking his sword free, the Kyrii turned for another lunge, but Spirit was faster. She brought her staff down in a smooth sweep, trying to knock his legs out from under him. The Kyrii jumped just in time, then ducked as Spirit flowed into her next attack, this time aiming for his head. The black hat went flying, but the Kyrii remained unharmed. He darted under Spirit's stroke, his blade passing inches from her ribs. Only by taking a quick step backward did she keep her fur intact. Her heel was now pressed against the bookshelf behind her. She would have to be careful that she didn't get cornered.
The Kyrii was a skilled swordsman, using his blade like a natural part of his hand. Spirit was no amateur, either. Years of practice had given her hair-trigger reflexes and perfect balance. She met her attacker blow for blow, neither one giving ground. Blocking a downward cut, Spirit landed a solid kick on the Kyrii's shoulder. He staggered back, and Spirit pressed her advantage by bringing her own weapon into a powerful overhead blow. It was a mistake. The blow landed on a rapidly raised sword hilt. The Kyrii, now holding the sword in a two-handed grip, pushed all his weight behind it, throwing Spirit along the aisle. The side of her head connected solidly with the gilded desk and she slumped to the floor.
The bookshop blurred. Spirit blinked her eyes, trying to focus, but the world tipped dangerously and her feet refused to support her. She could see a pair of heavy boots slowly approaching. She had to protect the map....
One bookshelf over, oblivious to the fight, Jojo was just tightening the last bolt on his new Petpet. He had found the Nimmo's toolbox, along with a handy container of Squid Polish, and had worked devotedly while Spirit and Earlin carried out their business. There was now no indication that the Cuttlebot had recently been broken; its shiny exterior made it look freshly painted.
The repairs complete, Jojo gently stroked his Petpet's back. At his touch, rows of lights flashed along its tentacles and its large blue eyes lit with an intelligent glow. A series of whirs and clicks signaled the booting up of various systems, and as the antigravity generators warmed up the Cuttlebot rose unsteadily into the air.
Jojo stretched out a hand in greeting. The Cuttlebot considered it for a second, then wrapped one of its metallic tentacles around his finger.
"Hello, Radish," Jojo said. Radish made a deep clanking sound, then gave a massive sneeze as the bookshop's dust settled in its filters. A spark of intense blue light shot out of its tentacled end, sending it jetting backwards into a shelf. The heavy wooden structure tottered dangerously, then slowly toppled over, dislodging a startled Melody and spilling copies of Bouncing Blumaroos across the floor in a cloud of dust and loose pages.
Over the top of the felled bookcase, Jojo caught sight of Spirit's surprised face. He grabbed Radish defensively.
"It was an accident!"
Spirit staggered to her feet, then bent to pick up a sword lying next to a pair of Kyrii arms sticking out from under the shelf.
"Jojo," Spirit said as she picked her way over the rubble, "I am so glad that I adopted you. Now let's get out of here."
They walked briskly back though the Marketplace.
"Are we going home now?" asked Jojo.
"Nope," Spirit replied. "We won't be home again for a while. Are you ready for an adventure?" Jojo grinned in response, nodding his head once.
Just before they left Neopia Central, Spirit stopped at the Money Tree.
"Thank you," she told it, leaving a generous donation at its base. Then she turned to the road that would lead her to the sea. Hand-in-hand, Spirit and Jojo began their long journey into the afternoon sun.
To be continued...