The Orbs of Power: Part Two
I emerged from the cave and pitched my tent just outside its entrance. The night was hot and humid; although my body ached with the need for sleep, I couldn't settle down. I spent all night looking over the peculiar instrument I had found in the stone box, and studying my drawings of the six maps from the ancient parchment. Although I was determined to find the hidden artefacts, I didn't know where to begin. I knew the general regions where I should search for most of the items, but I didn't know what the objects were. Once or twice I returned to the room at the end of the cave, in the hope that it might contain further clues, but I could not deduce anything more from the stone box or the markings on the wall than I had done the first time I entered.
I knew only a few things. There were six locations that contained hidden items, and according to the markings on the maps and the stone box, these objects represented fire, water, earth, air, light and darkness. The instrument in the ancient box, it seemed, was designed to hold the items together; each of the cups in the Holder was about as wide as my hand, and had a shape appropriate to hold a sphere. In the centre of the Holder's structure was something that might have been a pearl, except that it seemed to be glowing faintly. The light was shifting inside this tiny stone, creating the eerie impression that something was alive and moving within.
After a sleepless night, I set off to return to the town at the entrance to the forest trail, taking the same route I had followed to reach the cave. As I hiked along the path, I met the same beautiful bird as I had seen before, and was entranced by its gorgeous song. Again I failed to pay attention to the way I was going, and walked through the same spider web.
In my exhausted and sleep-deprived state, it took me all day just to reach the city. I dragged myself over to an island resort and spent the night there. After a good night's rest and a filling breakfast, I was ready to search for the first of the mysterious hidden objects, the one on the first map: Shenkuu.
The following day, I hitched a ride on the Cyodrake's Gaze and eventually arrived in the heart of Shenkuu. I was familiar with this beautiful place, having been here many times before to shop for exotic goods and train for the Battledome. I hiked over to the Exotic Foods Cafe, ordered a Green Tea Custard, and took off my bag. I rummaged around inside it for the first map. As I looked at it, I suddenly felt rather nervous. Had I copied down the maps correctly? What if every detail was important to finding the location of the Artefact of Air? I gazed out the cafe window. Every mountain was a different shape and size, which I had never really noticed before. At that moment, something occurred to me.
The shape of the mountains on the map, and their positions, may indicate exactly where I should search.
I looked more closely at the map. The mountain where the symbol of Air was drawn had two peaks, one shorter than the other. The slopes of this mountain were particularly steep; I would have to travel by flight to reach it. Unlike the other peaks around it, there was no sign of a tree anywhere on its slopes. These features were certainly enough to distinguish this mountain from the many others in the area... as long as I had copied down the details correctly. But then again, I was certain that I had; I had been absolutely sure to duplicate every line and shape on the original map. But it was still a pity that the old parchment had fallen apart.
Now that I knew the distinguishing features of the mountain, I was ready to search for it...
The bridges and paths winding through the mountain ranges of Shenkuu didn't seem to be an appropriate route to take to search for the mountain I was looking for, so I visited the nearest market stall and bought myself a bottled air faerie. Upon releasing her, she asked me what I wished for in return for her freedom.
"I wish for the ability to fly," I replied.
"Very well," the air faerie said softly, "I grant you the power of flight. Use it well." With those words, the faerie snapped her fingers and I felt a tingling sensation surge through my wings, as though they had received an electric shock. As the faerie vanished in a puff of pure white smoke, I beat my wings and found that they were much stronger than they had been before. I spread them wide, and took off into the afternoon sun.
I soared over the mountaintops, eyes peeled for any sign of a mountain with no trees on its slopes. I did not need to be taught how to turn, or how to speed up or slow down in the air; everything I needed had been granted by the air faerie. The wind picked up, and I felt the air rushing beneath my wings. I was soon beyond the centre of the city, and watching small houses and gardens slipping by far below.
Still I was searching hard for the shape of a bare mountainside, but there was no sign of the elusive hiding place of the Artefact of Air. My wings were tiring, and finally, after what seemed like hours, I came in to land in the middle of a bridge. Seeking shelter, I crossed to a small house, the only one I had seen for miles around. I knocked on the wooden door, and an elderly red Eyrie opened it.
"Hello, traveller," he said. "You're the first visitor I've had in years."
He showed me inside his home, which only had two rooms. "If you want a cuppa tea, just say the word," he told me.
"Thank you," I replied, "I've come a long way to get here."
The old Eyrie bustled over to the tiny kitchen to make a pot of Earl Grey. I settled into one of the two armchairs by the fire and took in my surroundings. The furniture was antique, well looked after and beautiful; on the wall hung a portrait of a Desert Pteri wearing long, golden robes. There was a tiny window in the centre of each wall, and a staircase in the corner of the room led to what must have been the Eyrie's bedroom.
The Eyrie shuffled over to me with a tray laden with a teapot, a mug, a small jug of milk and a side plate of biscuits.
"Thank you very much," I said gratefully.
"No problem," the Eyrie replied. "Nobody ever comes out this way... I came here to live a quiet life in solitude. I grow my own food... it's been years since I set eyes on another Neopet. What's your name, my friend?"
"Angel." I turned my head towards the Pteri portrait.
"My name is Chenn," said the Eyrie. He noticed me looking curiously at the painting on the wall, and added, "That's my daughter, Shee'ara... she left about twelve years ago to live in Qasala. Haven't seen her since, but she writes every month or so..."
Chenn looked enquiringly at me. "What brings you to this neck of the mountains, anyway? There's really nothing to see here... except Mount Aura, and hardly anyone even knows it exists..."
"Mount Aura?" My interest was roused. "What's so special about Mount Aura?"
"I don't really know," said Chenn, "but there's some kind of power hanging around it... there's always wind blowing around the slopes, even if the rest of Shenkuu is totally calm. That's why there are no trees on the mountain... the seeds are blown away before they can take root."
"That's it!" I jumped out of the armchair, upsetting my tea and biscuits. "That's it! Mount Aura! Where is this mountain?"
Chenn pointed out of one of the windows, where a mountain was silhouetted against the sunset. It had two peaks, one smaller than the other...
"There." Chenn glanced over at my face, which now blazed with excitement. "What do you mean, 'that's it'?"
"Mount Aura is what I'm here for..." I began to pace back and forth, unable to keep still. I had found the hiding place of the first Artefact! "I've been flying all over Shenkuu looking for it. Thank you, thank you so much!" I moved toward the door, but immediately came to a halt and turned back to Chenn, who was looking downcast. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Chenn gazed at me, almost in wonder. "I wish you could stay longer, that's all... I've been lonely since Shee'ara left."
I was momentarily stumped; I didn't know what I could do to repay him for his help and kindness. Then a sudden brainwave came to me; I reached into my bag and took out the first map, the one that had led me here, and handed it to Chenn. "Here, this is the map that led me here... if you follow the opposite path, back the way I came, you'll reach the city. There's a Petpet stall there, so you never need to be lonely again." I reached into my bag again and withdrew a sack containing about 3,000 small coins. "Here is some money to buy a Petpet. It's a long journey to get there, but it'll be worth it."
Chenn looked happier than I could have imagined. "Oh, thank you, Angel... it's so generous of you... you've brought a smile to this old Eyrie's face..." And he waved cheerfully as I walked out of the door and took flight, heading for the towering, treeless mountain ahead...
As the sun began to sink beneath the Shenkuu horizon, I approached Mount Aura, noticing as I did so exactly how massive it was, and how steep its slopes were. It occurred to me that I had made the right decision, travelling here on the wing. It may have been impossible to reach this place and find the first Artefact without the power of flight.
I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of something unusual; I still didn't know exactly what I was looking for, although I knew it must be small enough to fit into the Holder in my backpack. As I circled the higher of the mountain's two peaks, I noticed a flash of bright light on the steep slope.
I flew closer, trying to find the source of the light, and a tiny opening caught my eye, leading into a cave inside the mountain. I had been right; only by flying could anyone possibly reach this cave. As I moved towards it, preparing to enter, there was another flash of light. I came in to land at the mouth of the cave, and paused to take in an incredible sight.
I was staring into a colossal cavern, almost as vast as the peak of Mount Aura itself. Huge columns of rock hung from the ceiling, and even larger ones rose from the floor, which was concealed by a layer of dense, dark mist. There was a platform beneath the entrance, and a rugged, crumbling path led from the platform across the cave, through a broken crystal archway, up the wall, and to the farthest reaches of the chamber, where a small pillar was holding –
I flinched as another intense beam of light flashed around the cave. It was coming from the pillar, and once my eyes had recovered, I could clearly see what I was looking for. A small sphere was sitting on top, held in place by a stone brace. It was glowing so brightly that everything around it looked dark by comparison, and as I stared at it, fascinated as I had been by the tropical bird, a bolt of lightning flashed from the orb to one of the rock columns. This orb was clearly the first Artefact, just the right size to fit into the Holder. I spread my wings and flew into the cave –
Suddenly, as I passed over the platform beneath the entrance, I felt the pull of gravity rapidly intensify. Unable to support my now enormous weight with my wings, I crashed to the floor, dazed and confused. For a moment I lay there, trying to comprehend what had happened, then, with a great effort, I sat up. My whole body felt like a lead weight. I raised my aching head and looked up at the entrance. It was way out of reach. It was impossible to escape.
As fear started to overwhelm excitement, I turned and looked at the Orb. I noticed how far I would have to climb to reach it, and how dangerous it would be to get there now that I couldn't fly. The path had many cracks in it, some so wide that I would have to jump across them to move onwards. But how was I supposed to jump, now that I was so heavy?
Maybe that was the test, I thought; maybe you had to be agile enough to reach the Orb in order to be worthy of it. It was a test I had to pass, because there was no way I could fly back to the cave entrance with my useless wings; the only way to go was forward.
I tried to get to my feet. It was a struggle against gravity just to stand up; I toppled over and crashed back to the floor, landing face-first on the hard rock. Desperate, I decided to crawl.
I moved forwards very slowly, hampered by the huge weight of my body and my limbs, and reached the first obstacle. Beneath the crystal archway, the path was broken by a wide crack. I reached forwards as far as I could, trying to get a grip on the rock across the gap, but gravity threatened to drag me downwards into the thick black haze below. I was on the edge of losing my balance as I stretched out my hand, desperately trying to take hold of the platform, when I slipped and started to fall. Seizing my chance, I grasped the rock as the rest of my body lost its grip on the path behind me and plummeted into the crevasse. With all my strength I clung on to the platform, trying to avoid plunging into the abyss beneath me, and reached up with my other arm. Desperately, I started to climb back up onto the path, struggling against the intense gravity, scratching at the rock with my legs, until at last I gained the platform. I was out of breath from the effort, so I paused.
Looking ahead, I saw that the gap I had just crossed was by no means the widest in this rugged path. It would take all my strength and determination to reach the end and get to the Orb. Perhaps the Orb was the only way to escape this eerie cave.
I began to crawl forwards again, and reached a second, wider gap. I would have to jump. My back and legs ached with the strain as I got to my feet and leapt as far as I could, this time getting a grip on the other side of the crack with relative ease. I scrambled onto the platform and continued forwards.
After crossing three more gaps in the path, I was able to move forwards without meeting any obstacles for a while, and although my whole body was struggling with my immense weight, I kept moving. Eventually, I reached another broken section of the path, and took a rest for a few minutes before continuing. I jumped the first gap, and then the second, then the third – As I grasped the rock on the other side of the third crack, I had trouble holding on. This rock was smoother, and with less friction, it took more effort than ever to avoid falling into the darkness. I slipped and stumbled as I gained level ground. I was losing my strength. My body couldn't take much more strain.
Burning and aching from the effort, I rested for several minutes. Above me, on the highest platform in the cave, was the Orb. Lightning flashed from it as I lay there, streaming down into the deep black haze. Even the brightness of the lightning couldn't illuminate the depths below. I wondered how many Neopets had taken this quest and failed. Perhaps nobody had ever been here before. But that didn't matter; what was important was to reach the Orb, which could be my only hope of getting out of here.
I started to crawl along the slippery surface of the rock, being very careful not to lose my grip. The path was starting to slope steeply upwards, and I was soon climbing rather than crawling to move forwards. The top of the platform was a few feet above me; I had to reach the top, I couldn't fail, or I could be trapped here forever –
Although all my muscles were burning in protest, I rose to the challenge, gripping the rock and scrambling up towards the platform with all my might, all my determination. At last I reached up and felt my hand touch the pillar – but my body had no more strength. I felt my limbs go slack, lost my grip on the wall, and started to fall –
At that moment, the enormous gravity in the cave seemed to lift, and my body suddenly felt feather-light. I couldn't move my arms or legs, but finally I could fly again; I spread my wings and soared upwards to the top of the platform. I sat down, desperate for rest, and waited for a few minutes. The intense gravity did not return, and I suddenly understood: touching the pillar had lifted the spell that had increased my weight. I had succeeded; I had reached the Orb, and now that I could fly again, I could escape from the cave.
I got up, realising as I did so just how much my legs hurt simply by moving. I took off my travelling pack and reached inside for the Holder. The Orb was held in place on the pillar by a stone brace; I removed each of the four stone arms around the Orb and lifted it in my hands. At once, the still air of the cave rushed around me, and I felt even lighter; another bolt of lightning issued from the Orb, flashing around me, but not hurting me in the slightest. This was the Orb of the Sky, the artefact containing the power of the air. I didn't want to put it down; the wind felt wonderful, it was a relief from my aches and pains, but I reluctantly placed it into one of the six arms of the Holder. The Orb suddenly stopped glowing. The stone in the centre of the Holder changed from greyish-pink to brightest turquoise, and another bolt of lightning flashed, this time not from the Orb, but from the Holder's central stone.
I had recovered one of the six Orbs, the Orb of the Sky, and placed it into the Holder. The spell that trapped me in the cave had lifted, and I took flight, soaring out of the cave entrance into the twilight sky, ready to search for the remaining Orbs...
To be continued...