Hunting for Answers
I planted my hooves and stared across the backyard of my owner's Neohome. The old archery target had a fresh coat of paint, just begging to be filled with arrows. I was going to oblige.
I stood up on my hind legs and drew back my bow. With a simple thought, an arrow appeared on the string, and I fired. It went right into the center of the bulls-eye. But I didn't stand around to admire my shot. I was already moving: dashing, dodging, and rolling, avoiding imaginary attackers. Every now and then I shot at the target again, hitting the bulls-eye every time.
I was good at this.
I spread my wings and rose into the air, then put another arrow into the target. As soon as I saw it hit, I looped, rolled, and spun, as if to avoid retaliatory fire from the ground. Once I was satisfied with my evasive efforts, I swooped down and fired three arrows in rapid succession, once more putting them all into the bulls-eye.
The target was now full of magic arrows. All I had to do was think about removing them, and they all vanished. My bow was enchanted with Light Faerie magic, so I never had to carry a quiver with me.
It was time to finish my training session. I began to circle over the backyard, firing non-stop into the sand below. How many arrows would it take to fill up the training ring? I was going to find out!
Or at least, I was planning to, but I saw the back door of the Neohome swing open. I instantly stopped firing and made a quick landing as my owner, an adult human male named BG, came out.
"The old 'spray-and-pray' approach, eh Urasina?" he said, looking at all the arrows.
I giggled and put my bow away before rubbing my head against his legs.
"It's surprisingly fun," I replied. "Especially since I'm shooting downwards, so there's no real risk of arrows going too far off-course."
I made the arrows vanish.
"I wonder if there have ever been Uni archers before," I mused aloud, looking up at BG.
"Maybe, but not likely," he responded. "After all, there aren't a lot of female Unis of any color who enjoy making huge messes of themselves in the sand and mud, like you do."
I giggled again, reared up, and planted my front hooves on my owner's waist. He rubbed the sweet spot between my ears.
"And how often do you see Speckled Uni mares with dragon wings?" I teased, flapping my wings a few times to emphasize my point.
"Someone's here to see you," he went on. "It sounds like they have a task for you."
I dropped back to all fours, folded my wings, and followed my owner around to the front of the Neohome. An older Spotted Krawk was standing there.
"You're Urasina, the Huntress Uni?" he asked me.
"I am indeed," I replied with a bow. "Do you need something?"
"I've heard of your past exploits in Giant's Pit," he said. "For as young as you are, you sure know how to handle the giant, dangerous Petpets out there."
I nodded. Very few other Neopians had ever attempted to take out the wild, vicious, mindless, and nigh-unstoppable monsters that were once ordinary Petpets. But I was making a living out of doing so.
"Anyway, Urasina, I have a task for you," the Krawk went on. "I'm a chemist at the Royal Museum of Sakhmet. I think that there may be a way to engineer a cure for the effects of the mysterious vapor found in Giant's Pit... one that could either protect other Petpets from turning into monsters, or turn the monstrous ones back to normal."
This was intriguing, but I doubted that it would work. In Giant's Pit, a strange substance is trapped between the sand grains. It escapes to the surface as a rather odd-smelling vapor. It's harmless to humans and Neopets, but if a Petpet gets even two breaths of the stuff, it turns into a gigantic, raging monster.
I hunt these things as my career, recovering stolen items and captive Neopets, or retrieving things from them that I can sell or trade. It's a tough job, but I think I do it very well. And it pays handsomely.
"So, you think you can engineer a cure," I repeated, making sure I understood. "What do you need to make sure you can?"
"Two things," the Krawk replied. "I need a sample of the sand from Giant's Pit. And I need a fur sample from one of the Petpets. Not scales, and not feathers. Fur. There's a certain way that substances inhaled by a living creature can be incorporated into the structure of the hair and..."
I could tell that he was about to go off on a long-winded explanation of his work. I cut him short by clearing my throat.
"Erm... Yes," he stammered. "That's what I need you to retrieve for me. The sooner the better."
"OK, can do," I said. "Now, let's talk conditions and payment. I don't take on a job unless I have a contract that spells out EVERYTHING, signed by me, my contractor, and a witness."
I motioned to BG, who had been standing by the whole time.
"He's my witness," I finished. "Let's go inside and get this written out."
Once everything was satisfactory, the Krawk began to leave. But I stopped him.
"How'd you find out about my services?" I asked him.
"I was talking with some of the staff at the Museum, and one of the translators, a female yellow Bori, told me to come talk to you," he replied.
I smiled to myself. That Bori was my very good friend and adventuring partner, Ven.
"I should bring her something from Giant's Pit as a thank-you for getting me some business," I thought to myself.
The sands of the Lost Desert all look the same when there are no landmarks in sight. It's easier if you're flying, like I was, because you can always see something on the horizon. Giant's Pit is far to the south of the desert, but getting there is easy once you know the way. Even if you don't, you just follow the smell of the vapor; it drifts for miles and miles on the high-up air currents. Luckily, outside the pit, it is too dilute to harm Petpets.
I flew down into Giant's Pit, staying relatively high in the air, as I began my quest. My bow hung from my belt, as did my dagger. Taking a sample from a Petpet meant that I would either have to paralyze it or sedate it. Normally, when I go out on quests, I slay my target and bring back something, usually cut from its fallen body, to sell later. But today's task called for restraint.
The giant Petpets rarely leave the pit. But inside the pit, your life is in constant danger. Not only do the Petpets attack any normal-sized creature on sight, but they compete with each other for very scarce resources. It's a hunt-or-be-hunted world. But luckily for me, I almost never have more than one giant after me at a time. Seeing as how big the Petpets are, if I'm fighting one and another arrives, it'll almost always attack the first giant, as that is the first thing it sees.
Speaking of that, I had only been in Giant's Pit for maybe five minutes when I flew over a Pyon that was about to deliver the finishing blow to a Khnum it had caught. The Khnum groaned in pain as the Pyon's venom took effect, and it collapsed.
"Pyons are super-easy to defeat," I thought to myself as I hovered overhead. "I could scare it off and grab some fur from the Khnum."
Yet I decided against that idea. If what the Krawk had said was true, then the Pyon venom could show up in the Khnum's fur. But would it really show up that fast? I pondered for a minute as I watched the Pyon, then shrugged and flew on.
Some distance onward, I saw one of the things I was looking for: a vapor jet. The substance that produces the vapor is under the whole area of Giant's Pit, so the vapor rises from the sand everywhere. But in some places, large reserves of the substance build up, then erupt to the surface in a visible geyser-like formation. The vapor is tinted blue in concentrations this high, so the jets are kind of pretty. I landed as close to the jet as I dared, then crept up to the base of it and scooped some sand into the jar I was carrying. As I looked into the jar, I could see vapor fumes forming.
"There had better not be any Petpets in the chemistry wing of the Museum when they open this jar," I thought to myself as I tucked it into my hunting bag. Then I took flight again.
Not too far along, I came upon one of the few oases in Giant's Pit. Even the water was infused with the strange substance that caused all the problems here. But Petpets had to drink, so they often came to these oases. They were easy targets then. As luck would have it, an Anubis was having a drink at the exact moment I flew overhead. Anubis are tougher than Pyons; they have a supersonic bark that generates terrifyingly strong shockwaves, enough to knock you out of the air if you're not careful. But this one hadn't seen me.
I drew my bow, pulled back the string, and summoned an arrow tipped with a powerful sedative.
"One isn't enough," I thought.
A second arrow appeared on the string. Shooting two arrows at once was easy for me.
My shots hit the Anubis square in the back of the head. It yelped and spun around, staring right at me, then raised its head to bark. But the sedative was already taking effect, and it sagged to the sand, giving me a terrifying glare as its eyes closed and it began to snore.
I only had a few minutes now. Even two sedative-tipped arrows would only put a giant to sleep for five minutes at most. And another giant Petpet could come along and ruin everything, so I had to be fast. I landed and scurried up to the giant Anubis, then pulled out my dagger and cut a bunch of hairs from one of its forepaws. I was about to take off again when I remembered that I wanted to get Ven a thank-you gift. So I cut the medallion off the creature's collar.
"I don't know what Ven will do with a giant Anubis collar decoration," I thought, taking off once more, "But if she doesn't want it, one of the goldsmiths in Sakhmet will buy it from her for a princely sum."
I made it safely back to my Neohome, then delivered the sand and hairs to the Krawk, and the medallion to Ven. The Krawk said that he would get in touch with me within a week with the results of his work.
About four days later, BG and I were sitting in the front yard garden. I had my head resting in his lap, soaking up the sunlight as he petted me. Some of my siblings were milling around too. Ludroth, Mywne, and Ketdav were napping, while Cali was tending to the flowers in the garden.
"Here comes the Krawk chemist," BG said suddenly.
He and I stood up as the Krawk arrived.
"Well, Urasina, I have to admit defeat," he sighed. "Despite everything we tried, we can't engineer a cure. Whatever it is that causes the vapor, it's not a substance normally known to Neopia."
I nodded. I had known he would fail, but I held my tongue.
"I came by to deliver the news to you, and to present a token of the chemistry division's gratitude," the chemist went on, handing over a large bag of Neopoints. "We'll keep working on this, and if we need more samples, we'll come straight to you."
I nodded, smiled, and bowed as the Krawk turned to go. Once he was gone, I looked up at BG.
"Maybe I should try digging down into the sands of Giant's Pit and see if I actually reach this substance?" I questioned. "It's very risky, as I'd be totally vulnerable, but... What if I actually found this stuff?"
"Unless you have someone else to cover your back while you're messing around in the sand, it's probably not the best idea," my owner mused. "I'm sure you could take Ming along and let her fly around overhead while you dig."
I nodded thoughtfully.
"I'm not sure it's worth it, then," I decided. "But I want to go back out there and finish off that Anubis. You know I hate leaving a job half-done!"
Author's note: I'd like to thank my friend Shoy for letting me mention her Neopet, Ven, in this story.