The Golden Elephante: Part One
The crowds of Sakhmet bustled around him, not unlike those of Neopia Central. Only there was a different feel to the air. The sounds were different, the scents were different, the colours were different. In fact, Souvier was in a whole new world just standing stock still at the side of the road and watching the people pass him by.
"Oh, excuse me, dear," said a Chia who could not have been much older than him, as she stepped on his tail and almost spilled her basket of folded cloths onto the hard packed dirt. He winced a little and she looked into his face. "Oh no, I've hurt you!" she exclaimed, looking absolutely mortified.
"It's nothing, don't worry," he said, smiling reassuringly as he tucked his tail closer to his claws, but she looked far from convinced.
"Oh, but your eyes," she said, still looking worried for him. He smiled at her once again and she finally hurried off, looking back once or twice.
Letting out a huge sigh, the Krawk backed in between two stalls, one selling colourful pottery, the other a myriad of berries from Meridell. They looked a bit bruised out in the sun, not suited to the climate at all. This had been the third such incident that day, and he had only entered the city in the late morning. Now it was an hour past noon at his best guess, as he checked the sun above as his brother had taught him. It seemed that barely anyone in the Lost Desert had seen a grey pet before.
He continued to observe the new culture around him. Even in the marketplace of Neopia Central there wasn't the same atmosphere. There pets hawked their wares fanatically, desperately trying to outdo the other. Here it felt more like friendly competition, each shopkeeper trying to beat their competition simply by drowning the other pet's voice out.
"Get your scrolls here!" a Pteri at the stand opposite him bellowed, quickly appraising the Krawk and giving him a cheerful wink. "The cheapest scrolls in Sakhmet, and all ancient, too!"
Well, that hardly sounded convincing, but Souvier made his way over there anyway, weaving through the fast-flowing crowd. The Pteri beamed at him.
"You look like a smart young sir," he said, scooping up a scroll of blue paper that looked suspiciously like it had been rubbed with dirt and then ripped and burnt slightly for effect. "This would be perfect for you. A recounting of several old tales from centuries ago. Any scholar would be glad to have this in their collection!"
Souvier took scroll with difficulty, unused to the heavy desert robes wrapped around him, and the unfamiliar way they weighed down his. He carefully inspected the outside of it, and saw right away that it was in no way "ancient". But still, even a copy of old tales could be interesting. He unrolled it gently and was just beginning to mouth the first words to himself when he suddenly felt a paw close around his arm.
"You!" a voice said as he was unceremoniously spun around. The scroll was flung from his grip and somehow managed to fall into the wing of the Pteri shopkeeper, who looked slightly irritated. Souvier was more than irritated as he looked into the liquid brown eyes of a Desert Gelert.
She stared at him appraisingly, quickly glanced at the stall, then proceeded to drag him into a gap between two small buildings.
"You're just what I need!" she exclaimed, before he could even get in a, "What's going on here?" Her eyes glanced somewhere to her left and she flicked her ear in annoyance before turning her attention back to him. 'You're a scholar!"
"Uhh..." he replied, then reverted to, "What's going on here?"
She blinked several times, then finally released his arm (which he rubbed ruefully) and backed up several steps before sitting on her haunches. He could finally get a good look at her, and decided she could only be a few years younger than him. Standing on her hind legs she would have been a bit taller, but she seemed to prefer walking on all fours, judging by the way she was sitting, and only came up to his shoulder, if that.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can be a bit abrupt at times." Again her eyes looked to her left, and her ear flicked in annoyance, like there was a Moquot buzzing there. "Anyway, I need someone smart like you who can read to help me."
"You can't read?" he asked.
Now her annoyance was focused on him. "Well, if I could I wouldn't be dragging random strangers all around the place. You're probably from Neopia Central or Brightvale or one of those more 'educated' places, but you'd be surprised how many people in the Desert can't. I know of a few who can read the old hieroglyphs, though."
The more she spoke the more her accent showed. It was Sakhmetian alright, but it was slightly lazy and slurred, more like the words he heard the street urchins shouting back and forth as they attempted to filch from the crowd. It made him wonder, but the travelling cloak she was wearing was made from quite expensive material, and on her left paw she wore a golden ring with a lapis lazuli gemstone set into it that was more than two centimetres in diameter.
"So you want me to read for you?" he asked finally, after she began to look impatient.
"Exactly!" she said, grinning widely. She seemed to have an infectious happiness, so much so that he found his annoyance fading away. After all, hadn't he left Neopia Central to get away from the tedium of his life there? "Here's the thing: I'm an adventurer. I specialise in finding anything that's been stolen, which trust me, is almost a tenth of the things in Sakhmet. I snoop around, find it, and then return it. Sometimes I even get asked to find old artefacts from centuries ago."
"So you need me to... read?" Souvier said, still not understanding at all his significance in this.
"Well, yes," she said. "I always get these orders written down with all the instructions I need, and all it ever does is give me a headache. Besides, most people who can read are smart, and I like company. Well, except for that last guy... he was really boring, but you don't look boring at all."
She gave him another quick grin and he realised that she hadn't seemed to notice his colour at all.
"I really don't think I'm the pet you need," he said, trying to figure out how to squeeze around her.
"Of course you are," she said dismissively. "I can see it in your eyes. You're just dying for some adventure. And trust me, you'll get a whole lot of adventure if you come with me. We'll have to travel to Qasala to get my next job, though. I just got a messenger sent to me yesterday telling me to meet a contact there. Apparently a tiny kingdom in the south of the Desert needs my help."
She saw the indecision in his eyes and looked triumphant. "Please come with me?" she said, widening her eyes in the pathetic way that only Gelerts and Puppyblews con do effectively.
"Fine!" he sighed. "I'll need to know your name, though."
"Oh." She looked startled for a moment. "I totally forgot. Abrupt, remember," she said, letting out a nervous laugh. Then she held out her forepaw in a grand gesture. "I'm Tazaa Itja, adventuress."
He grasped her paw in one grey claw and was surprised at how firm her pawshake was. Her figure was quite slim, bordering on scrawny even, but she had a wiry strength that he hadn't expected.
"Souvier," he said. "I don't really have a fancy title, though."
"I just use mine to try and impress people," Tazaa laughed. "It doesn't usually work, though. Anyway, Souvier is just fine."
She looked at his Desert robe and gave what seemed to be an exasperated sigh.
"You're wearing that all wrong," she told him with a slight quirk at the side of her mouth. "It looks like it's about to fall off. No wonder you can barely walk in it. Come back to my apartment and I'll get some supplies ready, as well as find you something that might fit without you stumbling over the hem."
She turned and trotted away, and he noticed a glint of silver on the ground where one of her paws had been previously. Within two seconds a street urchin had sprinted past and scooped it up, bolting back into the throng. Tazaa looked back at him with one eyebrow raised, her eyes glancing at the spot where the coin had been. He thought he saw her grin, but then he was too busy trying to catch up.
They entered the main street again, and the Pteri at the scroll store gave her a dirty look, which disappeared when he saw Souvier. He beckoned, but the Krawk had already hurried past, eyes fixed on the whip-like tail weaving to and fro in the crown ahead. He finally caught up with the Gelert and she gave him another one of what he now realised was her token mischievous grins.
"Did you purposely leave that money back there?' he asked her, wondering.
"Of course. No one is that careless," she said.
"But why?" he asked.
"I like to help the urchins," she said airily. "They don't get looked after enough. I hear in Neopia Central there's a Pound where pets without homes can go and be looked after, but we have nothing like that here."
Souvier wasn't really sure if the Pound counted as pets getting "looked after", although it was true that the pets there had food and a roof over their heads. But the rejection of sitting there day after day would probably drive them to wish they could live out on the streets. He abruptly walked into her as she stopped outside a narrow building.
"We're here," she said. "Let's get you ready for your adventure."
To be continued...