Desert Journey: Part Six
Aria awoke to sunlight peering through the crumbling building. With her head still slightly spinning, Aria glanced around the unfamiliar setting. She noticed a neatly folded red cloak where her head had been resting.
Looking up, her gaze found the Zafara patiently preparing a breakfast of pyramibread and puntec fruit.
"Good morning. How are you feeling?" asked Noel.
With a yawn, Aria responded, "I am much better. What exactly happened?"
Noel glanced away, afraid to meet her in the eye. "You took a tumble during the sand surfing among the pillars. I dodged a pillar but you were unable to react in time and so you fell."
His eyes filled with tears. "It was my fault. I'm so sorry."
Aria could sense the sincerity from his voice. She knew he meant his apology.
At a loss for words, both Neopets ate their breakfast in silence. Finally, Aria found her voice. "Why did you save me? You could have left me to finish your goal," she questioned.
Noel smiled. "Friends don't abandon each other no matter the circumstances. Besides, a nasty sandstorm was heading our way and I couldn't just leave you out there in the elements."
Aria nearly choked on her puntec fruit from his response. Surprised, Aria once again struggled to find words.
"You think of me as a friend?" she quietly asked.
"Of course. After all we have been through... even after your multiple attempts to trap me, I think we have come to develop a close friendship over this journey."
Aria tearfully smiled. "I've never really had a friend before. Growing up with my small tribe, I was raised from the beginning to uphold our traditions and duties. Often I will go months at a time with out seeing my kin in order to fulfill my responsibilities. It can get awfully lonely being out here by yourself, watching for the occasional outsider to venture through."
Relieved, the two finished their breakfast. Noel hesitated slightly before finally deciding to speak again.
"What do you know about the lost treasure?"
Aria sighed. "Honestly I really don't know anything about it. No one in my tribe ever talks about it and the one person who would know something about the treasure has long since disappeared..."
"Who was that person?"
She softly responded, "My grandfather."
Aria continued, "He was one of the greatest protectors of my tribe. No outsider ever ventured close to the ancient city because of his actions. That is until your grandfather showed up. After my grandfather failed to stop your grandfather from wandering around the city, my tribe banished him. He left in shame, never to return again. I heard rumors that he left to go live on the mountain, but no one is willing to talk about him anymore. Not even my own father."
Noel listened, not wanting to interrupt. The revelation of their grandfathers' encounter further fueled his desire to learn more.
"Because of him, I trained hard every day so that I may not make the same mistakes as him. I wanted to prove my worth to the tribe and protect what I thought was near and dear to me. The only rules we must abide by are simple: Always set traps to stop outsiders. Follow at a distant so that you my never be seen. Absolutely do not come into contact with any outsiders. Finally, do what ever it takes to prevent outsiders from reaching the ancient city."
"I became the best, just like my grandfather. No outsider ever came close to the ancient city on my watch. That is until I met you. Now I've pretty much broken every tribe rule in an attempt to stop you!" Aria chuckled.
Curious, Noel pressed for more answers. "What do you know about the ancient city? Have you ever been there? Why was it destroyed?"
Aria responded, "The ancient city you seek is called Qasala. Over a thousand years ago, it was once a thriving empire of desert Xweetok. They build their civilization at the base of the mountain as a sign of power to all that passed by. Threatened by Qasala's superiority, the Neopets of Sakhmet banded together to attack the magnificent city. Supposedly they brought with them these large mutant monsters to aid in battle. I'm not sure what type of Neopet they were, but those monsters were relentless and led to the destruction of the city. The few Xweetok that remained were my ancestors who later formed our tribe. So that's why we continue to protect Qasala, to honor our ancestors who built the city. And no I have never been there, at least not yet."
Noel sat back in amazement. There was so much he wanted to learn about Qasala and her tribe. The lost treasure almost became an afterthought as he yearned for more information.
"You know I never did learn your name," Noel chuckled.
The Xweetok smiled. "Well, since we are friends, I guess its only fair that you learn mine too. My name is Aria."
The two Neopets spent the rest of the day questioning each other, both wanting to strengthen the bond between their newfound friendship. For once Aria was happy. In this one moment of her life, she did not have to worry about rules, stopping outsiders, or worrying about her tribe. She had finally gained a friend who she could trust and confide in.
Suddenly Noel blurted out, "Come with me! We can journey to the mountain and find the lost treasure together. Who knows, maybe we will even find your grandfather!"
The thought had certainly crossed her mind but Aria still held back. If she went with Noel, then she would ultimately be tarnishing her honor with the tribe forever. At the same time, Aria did not want to lose her new friend. Then she reflected on the lost treasure. Aria could not deny her growing curiosity that had developed over these last few days. Perhaps Aria would be able to discover once and for all if the treasure is real. Maybe her grandfather was still around.
My mind wants me to honor my tribe, but my heart is telling me to go with Noel.
She remained silent for a few more minutes, contemplating every option she had and the consequences for each decision. Whatever Aria decided to do, she could not turn back.
What would grandfather do?
Knowing him, her grandfather would probably do whatever it takes to stop Noel from entering the city and learning more of their secrets. He would probably try to reclaim his honor. Then it hit her; why is she still trying to follow in her grandfather's footsteps? Aria wanted to forge her own path. No longer was she the little girl who looked up to her grandfather. His disappearance had left a void in her life that she so desperately tried to fill after all these years. Now that Noel had arrived, Aria felt complete. Aria realized she could finally begin her own adventure and leave her own legacy. Noel represented a new chapter in her life, a fresh start from all of the troubles of the past.
At last she said, "Okay, I will go with you!"
Noel smiled ear to ear as he radiated happiness from the acceptance. "I promise you it will be a grand adventure!" he proclaimed.
By then, night had once again passed over the Lost Desert. Knowing they would have to wait until tomorrow, the two Neopets began to plot their remaining journey. Aria knew the path ahead would be difficult, for she had never ventured much farther beyond the sand surfing dunes before. Thinking that Noel probably has a better idea of the city's layout from his grandfather, Aria agreed to let him take the lead at least up until they reach the mountain base. Then the rest would be up to Aria, given her knowledge of her ancestors.
After a quick dinner of more pyramibread and puntec fruit, the two companions settled down for the night. Tomorrow would be a long journey and they needed all the sleep they could get.
Through a crack in the roof, Aria gazed upon the starlight. She smiled and closed her eyes, thinking about the adventure that would come in the morning.
I will do whatever it takes for us to reach the ancient city.
Noel tossed and turned in an attempt to force sleep upon him. The excitement over the day's events and what lay ahead were almost too much for Noel to handle. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine making it this far. Now that he had Aria's help, the duo was almost certain to reach Qasala and the mountain.
He glanced over at his new friend. Aria was sleeping peacefully. Noel wondered if she was dreaming about their upcoming adventure.
I should really try to get some sleep.
Clutching his cloak tightly around his body, Noel finally closed his eyes. As the mountain rested nearby, Noel smiled knowing his journey would soon be completed.
I will reach that mountain.
At last dawn brought about a new day as the Neopets awoke from their slumber. Today the friends will finally reach the ancient city.
To be continued...