'Hello, Neopian!' said a cool voice, as a regally tall shadow came into being in Talullah's periphery.
Talullah turned swiftly to meet the Faerie Queen, Fyora XII the Magnificent, she thought it was. Or was she simply the first Fyora? She had no idea. Curtseying low, she smiled generously up at the queen.
Talullah was a fine young Peophin, holidaying on Mystery Island. She had stumbled upon a mysterious walking track half a mile south of the eastern shore - the lush vines hung thickly around the forest canopy, and tropical flowers were blooming in the middle of the narrow path. The path was overgrown and unkempt, but the nature of it was rather charming. Passionfruit vines and leafy ferns hugged the tall palms around the trunk, as shafts of light poured in everywhere they could through the thick foliage. Never had she dreamed that the Queen of Faerieland could be found there, but it was a nice surprise.
'How is her majesty today?' she enquired politely, as Fyora surveyed her delicately.
'Oh, simply fine,' she replied. 'In this lovely weather, one cannot help but appreciate the natural gifts we have, and usually take for granted.' She smiled majestically, reaching into a nearby frangipani tree and tucking a small flower behind a lock of hair. 'Does this suit me?'
Talullah smiled. 'Very well, your highness.'
'While I am enjoying this enchanting forest, I do have a service I require of you, Neopian,' the queen said, back to her regal voice. 'There is a royal banquet tomorrow at which I will be meeting a certain number of young Neopets, making sure they are happy with the Faeries' magic that is woven into our daily lives, as we work tirelessly towards keeping Neopia safe and happy.'
'A marvellous idea, your majesty,' Talullah said honestly.
'Why, thank you.' For a moment Queen Fyora looked quite flattered as she went on, 'I have had the cooks prepare an exquisite meal for everyone, but the fruit pie lacks the most important ingredient.'
'Ah, is it from Mystery Island?' Talullah asked.
'It is indeed,' the faerie queen replied seriously. 'It is a most exotic and mysterious fruit, very elusive to even the most fanciful Myncies of the island, the Tagobo fruit, but it is essential in this ancient recipe. It was written a long time ago when these fruits were rather more plentiful. If you can find just one for me, you will be rewarded.' She gazed seriously at Talullah for a moment, her pleasant violet eyes imperious and gentle at the same time.
'Of course, your majesty. How can I get it to you?' she asked.
'Oh, we shall be most busy organising festivities over the next few days, but if you call in at the palace I will most probably be there. Good luck to you, kind Neopian!' she said graciously, and turning around, evaporated into the shade of a giant fern.
'Yippee!' Talullah's younger sister, Marianne yelled with joy. 'A faerie! I wish I could meet her.'
'I'll take you to meet her,' Talullah told her earnestly, as they walked down the scorching beach. The sky was very clear and deep blue, and the water was a transparent kind of shade of aqua, breaking gently on the beach. Countless Flotsams were splashing and somersaulting in the gentle waves, while young Myncies protested as they were smeared with sunblock. 'Well, we have to find the berry first!'
'Ha! Easy,' she said excitedly. 'We'd better get started, though.'
'Hey, amigos!' It was their owner, Veronica, sunbathing on the golden sand. She beamed at them, taking her dark glasses off. She was also wearing a sombrero, which she tipped to them, and grinned. 'Where have you two been?'
'Talullah met a faerie!' Marianne yelled for all the beach to hear. 'And not just any old faerie - the queen, Fiara!'
'You met Queen Fyora!' Veronica exclaimed, quietly correcting Marianne's mistake. 'Wow - did she give you a quest?'
'You bet she did!' Marianne answered for her again. 'And we're off to find it - a mystery Tuggy fruit.'
'I wonder what she'll reward you.' Veronica smiled. 'I'm so proud of you - she doesn't just ask anyone, you know.'
'She told me to call in at her palace - they're preparing a banquet!' Talullah told her.
'Wow, that sounds so exciting! So where do you think her Tuggy fruit could be? Somewhere on Mystery Island then, huh?'
'Yeah, I'm pretty sure,' she said. 'It's called a Tagobo fruit, they need it for a giant pie.'
'Aahh. It'd be nice to be a faerie, eh?' Veronica sighed, relaxing on her beach towel.
'I'm going to be a faerie!' Marianne announced, causing everyone close by to chuckle fondly at her.
'A Tagobo fruit? My, you do have expensive taste!' The Mystery Island chef smiled, shaking his head and stirring a pot of rich-smelling soup at the same time. 'I'm not even sure you can even buy them any more.'
'No, I don't think so,' Talullah said worriedly. 'Well, would it be possible to find one anywhere?'
'If I thought so, I would look - well, I am rather busy here, working as a top chef.' He considered, stroking his chin as he reached for a jar of basil. 'But it's not impossible - in fact, I think I can think of the one place you might be able to find one. Oh bother! I can't remember it at all, but I definitely could at some point.'
'Thanks.' Talullah smiled, and went back from the kitchen to the restaurant, sitting down at their table with Veronica and Marianne.
'Well, what did he say?' asked Marianne.
'There's a place you can find them, but I think he forgot where.' Talullah thought for a moment.
'Unless he just wanted to get it himself!' Marianne grumped.
At that moment the chef came out with a plate of food, his chef's hat replaced with a waiter's shoulder cloth. He was setting their meal on the table, when he quietly said, 'The lost city of Geraptiku,' winking. 'Be careful!' he warned hastily, and hurried back to the kitchens.
'Talullah, I'm not quite sure - ' began Veronica worriedly.
'Don't worry, I'm working out the best way to get there - it's all the way on the other side of the island.' She showed the book she was reading, complete with a color coded map and pencil.
'Ok then. What does it say?'
'The only way to get there is by boat, on account of all the mangrove swamp around the bay. You have to find an old jetty somewhere to land. It's almost completely uninhabitated.'
'I wonder why,' her owner said thoughtfully. Her eyes were big and brown behind her glasses, with a full, serious mouth, and a little knob of a nose. Her thick brown hair was tied back in a Uni tail, and she wore a blue summer dress that matched Talullah and Marianne's. 'I know it has been rather empty for a long while, though.'
'Yeah - and you can't offend the natives that do live there, that's for sure,' she continued.
'Why's that?' Veronica asked.
'Or we will cook you and eat you!' Talullah growled, beating her chest, both laughing.
'Uhh... you're sure you want a trip to Geraptiku?' the boatman asked concernedly. 'I don't think much anyone's been there in a while.'
'No, but Queen Fyora asked me to get something for her - you know, like a quest. And the only place I think they have one is there, on account of it's secludedness and everything,' Talullah told him.
'Hmmm... I don't know how I can land my boat, matey. It's all forests of mangroves over that area,' he said, surveying her map closely.
'Yes, but surely there's a jetty somewhere,' she said, peering over his shoulder.
'But how do we find it?' he sighed, but not unhappily. He seemed to take a liking to Talullah's adventurous spirit. 'Okay, I'll take you over there, alright? We can look for a place to land, but we've got to keep our distance with those mangrove roots in the water. I certainly can't guarantee we'll be able to get there, but you'll really enjoy the scenery.' The Quiggle stepped down into the boat and welcomed Marianne and Veronica on too.
'Isn't this exciting?' Marianne said, as Talullah helped her into the boat.
'Alright, buckle up!' he called, as the boat's engine started. 'This is going to be a rough ride,' he said.
As Talullah helped Marianne fasten the flexible rope across her lap, she caught sight of an object in the sky. 'Hey, what's that?'
The Quiggle squinted upwards. Upon closer inspection, he answered, 'Well, matey, that be a cloud - and I best hope it ain't a storm acoming our direction. It's a fair way round to the lost city - look, a fish!'
A glimmering object darted close to the surface of the water, its milky blue scales reflecting the sunlight as it swam closely alongside the boat. 'Wow,' said Marianne. 'That's a big fish! Look, it's a rainbow fish,' she observed, as the light reflected off the scales made it appear vibrantly colored under the water.
'It's showin' us the way,' said the Quiggle, whose name was Max. He and Veronica had a lengthy discussion about the larger ocean wildlife, until Marianne fell asleep on her shoulder, startling her. It was at that time that Talullah drew her eyes from the water to look at the cloud, which seemed to have gotten rather larger than before.
It seemed hours before they reached the coast - it seemed the guide book had been slightly misleading, or a little out of date. Huge mangrove trunks towered over the shoots everywhere, a thick network of branches woven across every clear space. Water lapped at the trunks, as tiny crabs scuttled around them, searching for worms. It seemed very dark and gloomy past the beginning of the swampy forest, the presumably sandy shore hidden beneath the water and mangrove roots, where in a shadowy hollow Marianne spotted -
'The jetty! The old jetty!' she said. 'Over there, in that - oh.'
'The vegetation's just too thick for us to get there.' Max shook his head sadly.
'Beautiful, though,' Talullah said appreciatively. 'Thanks for taking us so far.'
Veronica was silent for a while, frowning. 'Look,' she said, pointing to the sky.
The cloud Talullah had spotted before was now no longer the sort of cloud one would call - the sky was now a murky grey colour, with an occasional patch of blue hidden in the rolling grey cloud.
'Can we get back in time before the storm?' asked Veronica.
The Quiggle shook his head.
Talullah was the first to break the silence. 'Hey,' she said suddenly. 'We could try docking near the jetty, then looking for the berry - it looks like good cover in the forest.'
'Are you k - well,' Max sighed. 'I suppose it's the only option.'
'Cool.' She was rather surprised. 'Bring us closer to that big tree - I can tie this rope around it.' She indicated to a low hanging branch of the nearest tree, holding a thick cord of rope coiled on the boat floor.
Max pressed down on the accelerator slightly, until Talullah was close enough to reach out to the branch, tying the rope in a bow around the thick branch. He scoffed at her knotwork, steading the boat by balancing their weight.'
'Hey, I never learned any other knots,' she said, sitting cautiously back on the bench. 'Right, what are we supposed to do now... swim over?'
The Quiggle stuck his foot in the water, which was evidently shallow. 'We paddle,' he said, stepping into the mud and inviting Marianne to be piggybacked.
Talullah and Veronica took off their shoes and descended into the water with a splash. 'It's cold!' Veronica shivered, getting her balance in the mud.
At this point they had all forgotten the Tagobo fruit, but were pretty desperate to get to land. After what seemed like hours of trekking barefoot between mangroves and their baby shoots, they finally made it to fairly dry ground covered with grass, where the trees grew even taller and thicker than the swamp. Now it was quite dark, cool, and a little damp, as a few droplets of water fell on them. 'Hey,' Marianne said, 'it's raining! It's raining above the forest, and we're sheltered.'
This was pleasing news, but they were all getting rather anxious. When the storm would end could have been anyone's guess, and they really wanted to find people and shelter over anything else.
They stopped when Marianne started snoring on Max's back, who insisted he was fine, but they were all quite tired. Resting on the driest patch of moss they could find, Veronica found enough oranges and peaches in her backpack to share with everyone, but when Marianne managed to fall asleep with a half eaten peach still in her hand they decided to look around for the comfiest place they could get to sleep on.
It was quite late at night (luckily they had brought a small torch) when they were all curled up under the jumpers Veronica had brought with her in case of an emergency, which was quite lucky really, because the rain didn't let up at all, and it grew quite cold. Max was the first to drop off after Marianne, and it made Talullah laugh to see him suck his thumb like a child.
As Veronica started snoring, Talullah's thoughts turned to her quest. After all the trouble they'd gone to get there, Geraptiku was probably not so far away. She doubted the others would want to go any further, with the exception of Marianne. She sighed, but had made up her mind.
Tugging on her boots, she shined the torch on her watch. It wasn't quite as late as it had seemed under the thick canopy of the forest, and she hoped she'd be back by morning.
She set off slowly, careful not to stumble on any tree trunks or slip on moss. The torch's beam of light slowly got dimmer as she trekked through the jungle, listening hard as the rain pattered softly on the treetops.
Then, her surroundings seemed to grow lighter. Looking ahead, she saw a fire flickering in the distance. Then her brain clicked into gear; there must be people! She marched confidently towards the source of light, then stopped still. What if they weren't exactly ... friendly towards outsiders?
'Coooooooooooo - WHEE!'
There, a few metres from the campfire, was a figure standing, calling out. It was an awfully tall person. She didn't know whether they could see her, but she wasn't sure whether she wanted them to in the first place.
Turning into the darkness, she ran as quietly as she could, shining her torch directly in front of her. She stopped, leaning against a gigantic tree trunk attempting to catch her breath, when a small figure was rushing towards her. They must have followed her from the campfire! She tried not to yell out as the thing jumped up from behind her and they crashed onto the ground.
'Hey, it's me!' whispered an indignant voice.
'Marianne?' Talullah asked incredulously.
'Shhh! I'm looking for the Tuggy -'
'I thought you were - never mind. Look, are you sure you don't want me to take you back to Veronica and -'
'What were you doing here, anyway?'
'I was sort of looking for berries, but I suppose I wasn't really looking ...' Talullah sighed.
'Hey, Tee, look over there!' Marianne said excitedly.
'I don't see anything,' Talullah said. 'How did you even get here without a torch?'
Marianne ignored her. 'It's a house!' she exclaimed, running towards it.
'Marianne, wait!' Talullah shouted, but she was already out of sight.
She ran towards the huge object, until she saw Marianne staring astonished up at it.
At first it appeared like an astonishingly large boulder - covered in patches of moss, climbing wallflowers and thick vines, the cracks and marks looked ancient on the huge, marble dome. It was clearly an old temple - the whole building was made of pale marble, and wide steps lend up to an intricate archway, revealing the gloom inside.
After calling to see if anyone was home, Marianne and Talullah stepped inside, shining the torch around the walls. Cobwebs hung in every corner, and on each side of the room was a stone spiral staircase. Both pets glanced at the closest stairwell and nodded. Holding hands, they ascended the steps, which were surprisingly sturdy, though very dusty.
When they reached the top, they looked into the room.
It was a magnificent domed observatory! The circular floor was patterned with strange, flowing characters, once you wiped the dust away. The only object in the room was a bare circular table in the middle of the room, where directly above it was a circular hole in the roof,
'Look, Talullah! I can see the moon!'
She jumped at the sound of Marianne's voice, then relaxed. 'Cool!' She felt cold air on her neck. Turning around, she saw a door behind her in the wall. The handle was unlocked.
She went to the centre of the room and inspected the circular table. It wasn't plain at all - it was a map! A map of the stars. She carefully dusted off the surface, and stared at the intricate patterns and bright colors used to describe the different constellation.
'It's amazing,' she said, as Marianne watched silently.
'Hey, did you see that door?' she asked, turning away from the table.
'I don't think we should go through the door!' Marianne squeaked.
'Why not?' Talullah was surprised to hear panic in her sister's voice.
'Every other door has been open for us - no, there haven't been any other doors. Talullah, I'm scared.'
'This one's not locked. Come on, I want to see what it is.'
They went to the door, opening it delicately. It went onto a landing outside the building, and down another staircase into a courtyard. The ground was flagstone, but every now and again there were patches of soft ground.
'Ouch!' Marianne said. 'I walked into a tree!'
'Huh? You're right next to me!'
'Just a little one! Hey, look! It's got fruit on it.' She picked a small plum from it.
'You're going to eat it?' Talullah reached out and felt a small bush with her foot beside her. 'Hey, there's another one!' she leaned over and sniffed the brushes. 'Mmmm, herbs! This must be a kitchen garden for the tiki temple.'
'Hey!' whispered Marianne.
'What if they had Tagobo fruit here?'
For the next hour, they searched through all the bushes and trees, occasionally tasting or smelling a herb or berry. They'd never seen a Tagobo fruit before, but they hoped there would be a certain something about it they would be able to pick up on. As they picked through leaves and branches, they didn't notice the stars in the sky as the rain clouds drifted apart.
'Talullah,' Marianne said.
'It's getting dark. We should go back, or they'll be worried.'
Talullah was disappointed. The fruit had to be there, she knew it!
As they turned, watching the sky slowly lighten to a dark inky blue, Marianne stopped. 'Can you smell something?'
She sniffed. 'It smells good!'
Their noses led them to the tall wall with the stairs coming down.
'Maybe it's inside the building?' said Marianne hopefully.
'I don't know if it could - hey, look!'
She indicated towards a thick, lush vine hanging over the wall.
'This is it!' Talullah reached towards the vine, uncovering a small, round piece of fruit. By now her torch was dimmer than ever, but the sky was so light it didn't matter. They both inhaled the fruit's sweet perfume, sighing. She pocketed the fruit.
'Come on, let's go!' said Marianne.
'Thank you, Talullah and Marianne,' the Faerie Queen said appreciatively to the two Peophins. 'I am eternally grateful for your service, and I hear you had great adventure, going to great lengths to obtain the Tagobo fruit.'
'Yeah, we found this old obsertary - I mean, uhh - ' Marianne fell silent, and Queen Fyora chuckled graciously.
'That does sound very interesting, Marianne. I should like to hear about it at the banquet tonight.' Her violet eyes sparkled.
'Hooray!' Marianne exclaimed.
'Oh, and please do bring your owner, and this charming boatman I hear was very helpful to you on your quest.'
'Yeah! They'd love to come. And will there be dancing?'
'Ever so much.' Talullah had the feeling the faerie queen was growing quite fond of Marianne.
'It sounds simply wonderful. Thank you very much, your highness.' Talullah curtseyed deeply, watching Marianne stumbling in her skirts from the corner of her eye.
'Goodbye, kind Neopians!' she called from the castle doors.