It was beautiful weather, especially for this time of year. Only early in the Month of Hunting, and there was quite literally not a cloud in the sky. So we decided to go out; no point in staying cooped up indoors on such a fine day as this.
So we, that is my pets and I, travelled down from our home in Tyrannia to Kiko Lake, one of the only places that my pets could all agree on. Maraqua and the Lost Desert 'ruined' Berry's fur, and she'd been given a life-long ban from Meridell (which was a shame, as the rest of us like it there). Sea couldn't go to Moltara or Terror Mountain, because the first evaporated her water spell and the second froze it. Cell disliked Faerieland, hated the Space Station and Kreludor. Cheeeeeesse couldn't climb to Shenkuu, didn't get along with the Mystery Island natives and seemed to have some sort of feud against anyone from Brightvale. None of us liked Roo Island, Krawk Island or Lutari Island (not that we could go there anyway). I personally didn't care, as long as it wasn't Neopia Central. Today, Altador was too far away and the denizens of the Haunted Woods, who my pets for various reasons actually really like, tended to burn in sunlight. So Kiko Lake it was.
We're a picky family.
When we got there, we went our separate ways. Cheeeeeesse to the carpentry shop, not to buy things but to discuss the 'fascinating' topic of joinery and the pros and cons of various types of wood with the Kiko who worked there. Cell and Sea to the forest, going in different directions, Sea following one of the small rivers that fed into the lake. I myself sat by the lakeside and failed miserably to catch up with some of my writing.
But it was Berry who always impressed me most when we came here. Usually, in company, she couldn't last ten minutes without annoying anyone and everyone within a sixty metre radius and reducing their brains to warf food. But here, she either sat and quietly did some of the colouring pages or talked to the nice Kiko in the food shop. Without getting thrown out! Or dissing her fashion sense! It was amazing.
Today she made a beeline for the shop. I watched her bushy black tail disappear through the doorway, doodled in the margins of my writing book for a while, then fell asleep.
Sea swam strongly up the brook, her body moving easily through the water. Swimming was what Peophins were designed for.
After ten, maybe fifteen minutes she reached a bend in the river where the water pooled and became wider and deeper. Here she swam out of the water, rising gently to the bank and stretching out on the ground.
If you had very good eyesight, you would perhaps be able to see the thin shimmering glow that surrounded her, keeping lose to her skin and reflecting light where the sun hit it. This was Sea's water spell; a few inches of aqua held in place with magic around her entire form, allowing her to move and breathe freely out of her element. Sea was one of the few Peophins who unfortunately had to be in contact with at least some water, all the time. Here, she relaxed it slightly, so that her head and neck could be warmed by the sun.
The trees, large spacious pines, towered on both sides of the river. They cast long jagged shadows over the area, preventing much from growing in the thin soil. The bare earth was blanketed in dead leaves and needles, fallen last autumn. One or two small violet flowers poked hesitantly from the ground, drinking in the just sufficient light that managed to filter through the branches.
Sea sighed gently and relaxed. The deep red gem on her forehead began to glow softly as it took in some of the energy from the river, as it carried it's clear cold water from a spring far up in the huge ice mountains to the north west down to the quite, peaceful lake-home of the Kikos.
The Peophin closed her dark eyes, and listened to the song of the river.
Cell wandered through another part of the forest, nowhere near her sister. She wasn't hunting, exactly, but something in her deep set Kougra instincts was making her stalk through the trees and jump out at any wild petpets she came across.
She didn't mind coming to Kiko Lake; it was nice, and this was definitely one of Neopia's better woodlands. She would rather be fighting something, or someone, but it was good to be able to just let go for a while.
She startled a group of crokabeks, which exploded away from the ground, cawing loudly. The Kougra smiled as she watched them flap up to the tree tops and scold at her in their own language, ignored them and padded on. Then something clicked within her and she began to trot, and then without warning broke into a full headlong run.
A slight breeze picked up and whipped through Cell's fur, causing her tail to stream out behind her. Her paws thudded against the earth, drumming a rhythm as she sped through the low branches.
Without pausing she leaped over a fallen tree, unfortunately not seeing that one of the smaller streams that bisected this area ran directly behind it. She gave a small surprised yelp as all four of her overheated feet splashed into the freezing brook, soaking her legs and chest.
"Coldcoldcoldcold!!!" she hissed to herself, scrambling out onto the other side and shaking her limbs in an effort to try and clear some water off them.
Oh well. They'd dry soon enough in this heat.
She began to run again, this time taking more care to look where she was going as she raced through the forest, elation carrying her on.
Unbeknownst to me, or indeed anyone, today Berry had gone to the shop for a reason other than to barter for sweet goods. She had heard a passing rumour, and was now checking it's truthfulness by straightforwardly going up to the Kiko and asking, "Hey. Are there any caves round here?"
The shopkeeper was slightly surprised – usually the Wocky started conversations with degrading comments about the weather, the price of good clothes these days, or how much of a cheapskate her owner was (which was a bit harsh, to be honest).
But all the Kiko said was, "Yep. Five minutes walk over that way." She pointed. "And there's a tunnel mouth, 'bout a metre tall."
Berry nodded. She was just over 40 cm tall; a metre was large by her standards. "Thank you!" she replied, leaving immediately to go and find this cave. The shopkeeper called after her, "It's a whole network of caverns, mind. Don't get lost. And keep an eye or two out for cobralls, there'll likely be some out in this weather."
She nodded again, rolling her eyes impatiently. "Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Cobralls don't worry me."
And so, the Wocky set off; walked for a few minutes and found the entrance to the cave without any difficulty. She was surprised no-one had been in it before.
No-one who had ever returned, anyway.
She shrugged to herself and strode in.
Only a few paces into the cave, the sunlight was blocked by dark stone walls. The walls themselves, which had widened slightly here, were cold and bone dry, as if they had never felt sun or rain, warmth or water. Maybe they hadn't.
The Wocky padded onwards, further into the yawning shadows. But as her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she realised there was something very faintly illuminating the tunnels; an almost invisible light source, coming from... She leaned closer to the walls to peer at them, but then drew swiftly back in disgust. Maggots! Or worms! Or some other small legless invertebrates! A few tiny luminous things that were scattered in groups across the walls and even the ceiling, crawling blindly from crags and niches in the rock.
Berry considered them for a moment, then gave another shrug. Oh well. Their glow brightened the cavern just enough to catch the brilliant orange and yellow shine of her flaming fur patterns, making her easily visible – whereas the walls themselves and anything else in the caves were mere suggestions of darkness against darkness, sometimes with black added for darker darkness.
She didn't care about this either – vanity was one of her weak points. If it made her look better, then she didn't care if she got eaten first.
She walked on, her quiet footsteps the only sound in ear-shot except, in the distance, a persistent echoing dripping sound, probably water deep within the winding network of tunnels somewhere, sliding down the cold walls and falling into calm pools.
She had been walking for how long, now? Taking whichever turns suited her, not really thinking of anything much. Sometimes she heard almost imperceptible movement from behind her, sounds like something scaled drawing further back into the gloom. The occasional click of a quiet beak or talon, once a ruffle of feathers. Twice Berry heard an odd, echoing screech, much further away.
She blamed it on insects.
The Wocky had never really bothered learning about various types of fauna, and if she had then perhaps she would have backed out, slowly, and left the caves well alone. But Wockies are adventurous by nature, and this one was no different. Even if her reasoning was treasure = NP = shopping.
To be honest, she didn't know exactly what she was looking for. Treasure was... Gold, wasn't it? Or at least shiny. It must be easy to spot in here then, against the overriding murk and gloom.
And then, then there was light ahead! Real light, not the low glow provided by the wall worms.
Her pace quickened. Treasure?
No. Berry found herself staring out of a small gash in the rock, and to her surprise down below her she could make out the remains of the Catacombs, below Neopia Central. Really? Here? She must have travelled quite far, then.
Heaving a frustrated sigh, the Wocky turned around and retraced her steps to the last junction to try again.
I started awake sometime later, with no idea of how long I had been asleep and a large black moustache and glasses penned on my face (I didn't find this out for quite a while).
I looked up into the sky for a moment, which was now streaked with thin clouds. It was quite pretty.
Then I looked down, straight into the faces of my four pets, who were watching me with near blank expressions. This was quite scary, and not really what anyone wants to wake up to.
They moved slightly as they realized I could see them, and I noticed Berry looked worn out. Sea, on the other hand, seemed energized and fresh. Cell was breathing heavily, as though she had been running, and dry mud caked her legs.
Cheeeeeesse looked exactly the same as I'd last seen him. His small colourful face peered up at me from over his squared glasses, giving me a calculating stare. Perhaps he was wondering when I'd notice the moustache.
Trying to think completely straight, which is hard when you've just woken up, I asked, "So... What did you lot get up to? While I was," – quick cast around for book and pencil – "...writing?"
My three female pets simultaneously shrugged and replied, "Nothing much," then gave each other glances as if to say, 'Really?'
I raised my eyebrows at Cheeeeeesse. He smiled back, and began a long and boring monotone about all the amazing things about joinery the guy in the carpentry shop – who was apparently named Maurice - had showed him. I let his droning voice wash over me, and decided that this had probably been a good day out.
A few days afterwards, a notice appeared in the news about a new rare species of glow-worm that had been discovered in Kiko Lake, bringing fame and fortune to the scientist who had found them. For some reason this made Berry freak right out.