Desert Journey: Part Seven
The desert sands glimmered in the vibrant sun as Noel and Aria made their way out of the ancient shelter. Turning their gaze to the west, they could now begin to see the snow covered caps of the mountain range, while their final destination reached toward the sky in an ethereal and imposing manner.
Noel knew they were getting close. With each successive step the Neopets took, the ancient city Qasala grew larger on the horizon. Grand structures and buildings began to come into focus as the duo finally arrived at Qasala's entrance.
The Neopets had come face to face with an elaborate archway that appeared to frame the mountain peak in front of them. More hieroglyphs and images covered the archway as if to beckon them into the city. Once inside Qasala, the duo made their way past buildings covered from the sands of time. Other buildings were more intact, revealing limestone structures supported by columns and arches. Pictorial carvings and frescoes painted with brilliant red and gold colors could be seen despite years of decay.
"We might as well head towards the mountain base, since my grandfather failed to find any treasure here," Noel explained.
Aria agreed, "Right. We should keep following the main road through the city."
As they walked past several more structures, Noel felt the ground beneath them changing. Something was not right. But before Noel could speak, the weakened ground suddenly gave way. With nothing to grab, Aria and Noel began falling for what seemed like ages until piles of sand broke their fall.
When the sand and dust from the aftermath subsided, the Neopets found themselves in an extensive underground cavern below the city. Save for the trickle of light coming from the hole in the ceiling, the room lack any other light sources. Noel and Aria were trapped in the darkness. The room gave off a deep blue hue. Once their eyes adjusted to the change in light, Noel could make out two rows of columns supporting the ceiling.
" – Cough – Cough – Aria, are you okay?" Noel sputtered.
With a hoarse cry, she responded. "I'm alright. That was one nasty fall we took!"
"No kidding! Where do you think we are?"
Aria looked around. "My guess is that we are in the tunnels beneath Qasala. I heard my ancestors built these rooms for storage and protection from attacks. The tunnels are so vast, they extend even farther than the city itself!"
Noel frowned. If they didn't find away out, then they could be stuck in the tunnels for ages and who knows what lurks among the unknown shadows.
"Let's try to get back to the surface before any more accidents happen," he said.
Their only choice was to follow the columns for guidance. After slowly crossing each column, the Neopets came across an archway to another room. The lack of light proved difficult for the duo as they stumbled from room to room. Time flew by and their failure to find an exit began to dwell upon them. Noel knew that if they took too long, then the sun would set and no longer illuminate any exits. With an uneasy feeling residing in his stomach, Noel couldn't help but think that something was watching them.
"We need a new strategy. It has been hours and we have yet to find an exit. Do you think maybe sand and rubble has blocked our way out?" Noel asked.
Aria sighed, "I don't know. Its possible most of the exits have caved in, but one of them is bound to still be intact."
As their voices echoed through the cavernous room, a low growl could be heard in the distance.
Aria froze. Remembered the stories, she knew that growl could only come from the ancient monsters that attacked the city.
Drawing her scimitar, Aria motioned for Noel to hide behind an adjacent column. Having heard the noise as well, Noel carefully drew his sword and followed Aria.
Not wanting to reveal their whereabouts, Aria barely whispered to Noel. "Mutant Skeiths!"
The mutant Skeith monsters were fierce Neopets. Their burnt red bodies sometimes allowed them to blend in with desert rocks. Razor sharp claws and fangs gave the Skeiths dangerous weapons at their disposal. More spikes covered their mammoth eight hundred pound bodies. To make matters worse, mutant Skeiths have very keen senses to catch their prey. Long ears allow them hear a pebble drop nearly a mile away. The Skeiths' sizeable noses could catch a faint whiff and track it for miles. Though extremely sensitive to daylight, their piercing yellow eyes allowed Skeiths to see just about everything in the dark. Such attributes made mutant Skeiths some of the most dangerous Neopets in all of Neopia.
Aria knew they were in trouble and Noel could not help but sense the same thing. She began to nervously sweat. What were they going to do? Aria was unsure of how many Skeiths were out there. There could be a few or even hundreds. Regardless of their numbers, Aria knew just one encounter would spell trouble for them. Not even the combined strength of Aria and Noel could take down a Skeith.
Noel looked at Aria. He saw fear in her eyes that clouded her usually strong demeanor. No exchange of words was necessary to indicate their current predicament. Success was unlikely.
He closed his eyes. Has my luck finally run out?
Unsure of the Skeith's position, the Neopets knew they would eventually have to risk moving again. Despite the darkness, they could make out two doorways: one about a hundred yards forward, and the other less than 20 feet to their left. Without a word, Aria pointed left and Noel nodded in agreement.
Taking one step at a time, the duo carefully made their way to the closest doorway. The Neopets hoped the monsters were still ignorant to their presence. Then again, the Skeiths could already be aware and were just waiting to strike. Noel shook the thought from his mind. He needed to focus and stay positive. If they ever wanted to return to the surface, then he needed to believe they would succeed.
The next room extended even farther than the last. Hundreds of columns lined the center of the room, supporting whatever buildings lie above. Aria listened for any indication of monsters in the room. She heard nothing save for their labored breathing. Hopefully the monsters resided in tunnels from other parts of the city, but Aria knew that was doubtful.
Not wanting to delay, she motioned for Noel to scan the other side of the room for exits. With a nod, Noel began to search. Their eyes roamed the room for any indication of light. Unfortunately the blue darkness revealed nothing.
Noel began to worry. They had lost all sense of time down in the tunnels and were unsure whether daylight still remained. Without an exit in sight, they were trapped among the ferocious Skeiths living in the tunnels. The Neopets began to move along the columns. Another doorway would eventually present itself but they had to keep walking.
Suddenly, another growl could be heard. The duo froze once more. A second and third growl responded. The Skeiths had picked up the Neopets' scent and made their way into the room.
Noel cried in his head, we are trapped!
With their options limited, the Neopets had no other choice except to quietly move from column to column in hopes another doorway would appear. As hard as they tried to not make a sound, each step felt like they pierced the quiet veil in the room.
Aria grabbed Noel's arm. She was scared and no amount of training had prepared her for moments like this. Noel was equally frightened. As they moved to the next column, the duo could feel the Skeiths closing in. Only a few columns separated them from imminent danger.
Frantic, they began to search the room again for signs of an exit. Suddenly, a faint light appeared in the opposite corner of the room. They could barely see the outline of stairs leading up to the city's surface.
Noel smiled at Aria. Wondering why the light had not appeared earlier, Noel figured the sun must now be setting at just the right angle to shed light on the exit. Unsure of how long the light would last, Noel and Aria swiftly made their way towards the escape route. Even though they were halfway through the room, the exit felt like miles away. Any minute the Skeiths could close in on them.
Soon a dozen columns were all that was left between them and the exit. Noel just knew they were going to make it! Not wanting to delay, Noel moved to the next column. Aria followed when she unexpectedly stepped on a Small Unidentified Skull.
- Crack!! -
The shattering noise echoed through the room, revealing their location. With a loud roar, the Skeiths hurtled towards the duo.
The Neopets flew past the columns but the Skeiths were gaining on them. Stopping to battle was not an option; they had to reach the exit!
Out of nowhere, a Skeith lunged from the shadows towards the sprinting companions. As the Neopets quickly ducked, the Skeith hit a nearby column head on with a thud.
Four more Skeiths joined the ranks as Noel and Aria dashed towards the light. The gap between them and the monsters was quickly closing.
Soon the exit was just a few feet in front of them but the Skeiths were dangerously near. The monsters bellowed in anger at the Neopets. With the Skeiths now upon them, Noel feared they were not going to make it.
Time was running out.
To be continued...