The Orbs of Power: Part Five
As I left the warm tropical waters of Maraqua, I gasped for air. It was strange to adapt to breathing normally again after several days underwater; as I exhaled, a jet of water streamed from my mouth. After a while, I had managed to clear the water from my lungs, and the oxygen in the air powered my wings as I took flight, heading to Mystery Island.
Getting to Tyrannia would have been faster if I had simply travelled north from where I surfaced, but instead I chose to rest for a while in case I needed my strength for the next challenge. I also needed to buy some supplies, not least because most of my equipment had been ruined or damaged by the sea water. Luckily, the four maps I had laminated at the Neovian Printing Press were still intact, although there was no trace at all of the Earth map, which had been unprotected.
Once I had all the supplies I needed, it was time to head north by ship. I hitched a ride on a trading vessel that was carrying timber and stone; once it had made its delivery to Mystery Island's docks, it left for Tyrannia with me on board. Two days later, I paid the captain 100 Neopoints for his generosity, and journeyed to the little village of Tyrammet.
It was now twilight; the light of the sun was gradually fading, and the stars were blinking into life in the evening sky. By the light of the roaring fire in the village square, I consulted the map that led to the Artefact of Fire. I had to head north onto the Plateau, over the mountains and... through the Lair of the Beast. It was very clear what my first challenge would be. I had to get past the monster that lived in the Lair.
The dotted line on the map indicated that once I had passed the Beast, I had to make a sharp turn and follow that path for a few miles until I found the Orb - or another challenge. Having run out of supplies twice already on this journey, I decided to take far more than I thought I might need, just in case.
The villagers were now roasting a Ransaurus on the fire, and the delicious smell of steak and wood smoke was more than enough to persuade me to stay for dinner. After a hearty meal of Ransaurus meat, fried Trilo Bites, golden ivy leaves and Tyrannian flat bread, I spent the night in one of the straw huts before heading onto the Northern Plateau.
In the early morning, I was awoken by the sound of chanting and drums. The fire that had been blazing brightly in the evening had simmered down to a bed of hot coals, across which several of the local people were now walking as though the coals weren't even there. I could barely look; I imagined their feet catching fire like the Nightsteed's hooves, but when one scruffy-looking Lenny crossed the bed of coals and walked past me, I saw no damage at all on her scaly feet. I tried to catch her attention, wondering how she had walked through the glowing coals without injury.
The Lenny turned at the sound of my voice, but evidently didn't understand me when I asked how she had done it. A nearby Kacheek joined her and spoke to me in a thick Tyrannian accent: "She no talk Neopia. Only Ugga."
"How do you walk on the fire without getting burned?" I asked the Kacheek, since he was able to speak Neopian.
"I no walk on fire," he replied, "I ask my friend -" He turned to the Lenny and translated my question into the rough, throaty Tyrannian tongue. The Lenny lifted her foot, showing me a completely intact sole and claws. Her answer was incomprehensible, but the Kacheek said, "She walk like on road, no heat. No burn."
"Amazing," I muttered, flabbergasted. Apparently the coals of the fire looked a lot hotter than they really were.
The Giant Omelette was sizzling in the morning sun, and after taking a slice smothered with cheese and onions, I was once again feeling very well fed. There were people queued outside the Concert Hall as I passed, chattering in low, indistinct voices. The shopkeeper at Tyrannian Weaponry caught my eye as I walked by, heading directly for the Lair of the Beast, and he began shouting, picking up one of the weapons from the shelf next to him and waving it as though signalling me to come over and see it. His message couldn't be clearer: You'll be needing this if you want to go into that cave. I returned his gaze with equal intensity, responding without words... I am going into the cave on my own. The look in his eyes changed, now betraying shock, even awe. Apparently I was extremely brave to go in there unarmed...
The little cave on the side of the impressive mountain was visible from the Plateau. I took wing and reached the entrance in no time. The interior of the cave was pitch dark and completely silent. I needed light to make it through the tunnel, but more importantly I needed courage.
The supplies I had bought at Mystery Island included an electric torch, easily powerful enough to find my way through the cave, and spare batteries in case of a long journey through darkness. I had my experience, my speed and agility, and the power of flight - but there was no doubt that I was about to embark on a very dangerous quest, and my nerves were on edge as I turned on the torch and headed into the forbidding blackness.
Then there was a bang behind me. Fear snapped instantly into panic and I turned around in a split second to see a rock settling on the floor, having been dislodged from the wall as I passed. I shook myself mentally. I would know when I reached the monster's chamber.
And sure enough, a short time later I felt the creature's presence. It was asleep, and its snores were rippling through the air and the ground, barely audible because the pitch was so low. Very cautiously, I approached the Beast and raised my torch. An immense pair of scarlet wings... claws as long as my entire body... a terrible, scaly head with a long imposing horn - and open eyes.
The mere fact of my presence had awoken the monster. I could not retreat, because if I did, its head would block the tunnel as it tried to reach me, and I would be unable to go further. The Orb was somewhere on the other side of this chamber. I had to reach it.
The Beast opened its massive mouth and lunged towards me. I dived sideways, dodging the monster's jaws, but in a second it was ready to strike again. I took flight, my torch beam swinging weirdly as I headed for the ceiling, the thin beam of light catching the far wall, which had a small opening leading further into the cave - that was my target.
In the split second I had looked away, one of the creature's wings struck me across the chest, sending me spinning back to the floor and knocking the torch out of my hand. The Beast roared, a sound that reverberated powerfully in the colossal cavern and knocked stalactites from the ceiling - and then it lunged again. It missed, but one of the falling stalactites caught me on the shoulder, breaking in two as it struck. The torch on the floor was lighting only the ground near it, so I sprinted to retrieve it. The Beast's long tail slammed into the ground where I had been standing half a second ago as I grasped the torch and shone it straight into the Beast's eyes.
The monster flinched in the bright beam; it couldn't look directly into the light - now I had an advantage. I took to the air again and approached the Beast, keeping the torch aimed right into its face. It spread its wings and whirled its tail wildly, trying to prevent me getting past it. How could I reach the other side? I couldn't watch the monster's tail and keep the torch on target. I took the only chance I could, and alighted on the end of the Beast's horn.
The monster screeched with rage and tried to attack me with the long claws on its wings, but it was unable to reach the back of its own head. It swung its tail upwards and whipped it through the air, skimming the ceiling and breaking more stalactites. I folded my wings to protect them from the sharp rocks and kept a tight hold on the torch with my right arm, clinging to the Beast's horn with my left. The Beast shook its head furiously, trying to shake me off, and thrashed the ceiling again with its tail. This time, one of the largest stalactites was dislodged, directly overhead. I released the creature's horn and flew away as fast as I could, as a piercing shriek split the air behind me.
Diving for the far wall at top speed, I made it to the cave opening and dashed inside as a deafening crash shook the chamber. I turned my torch on the monster, which had collapsed onto the floor. The stalactite had caught it on the top of the head, knocking it out and leaving a dent in its thick scales. One of its wings had also been damaged. I suddenly became aware that my own shoulder was aching where it had been struck. I had to go on; I needed to find somewhere to recover. The only way was forward...
Crawling through the narrow passageway, I soon reached a tunnel that was blocked by boulders; I couldn't go any further... at least, not until my shoulder had healed. I took off my backpack and searched through it; a Healing Negg would repair most of the damage. Once it was finished, I felt much better, but I was still in need of rest. The shopkeeper had been right: I had been very brave to take on the Beast without a weapon. Nevertheless, I had made it past the Lair and was now close to success.
I shone my torch all around the boulders, making sure there were no spiders hiding between them, then laid the light to one side and placed my hands beneath the topmost stone. It was immensely heavy. I was reminded of how much I myself had weighed when the gravity spell in the Aura Chamber had taken effect. This time, though, I was not going to rush. I could have any amount of rest before trying to shift the next rock.
Or so I thought. Behind me, the Beast was stirring. It too was recovering from its injuries. Getting past its chamber had been a massive battle, and it looked like I would have to fight that battle again in order to escape. Right now, I was safe; the monster could not fit its head into this tiny passageway. I heaved the first boulder aside, picked up the torch again, and peered into the tunnel beyond.
The corridor led, not left or right, but straight down. The walls, unlike the rugged rock of the passage I was in, were smooth and almost silvery, awkwardly folded and rippled as though something had crumpled and twisted the tunnel. Something was casting a vivid red glow over the floor, but I could see no source for the light... the rock itself was red hot. This was a lava tunnel, and when I entered it I would have to be careful not to touch the walls as I passed through.
But first, I had a large pile of boulders to move. By the time I had shifted enough stones to wriggle through, my arms felt like they ought to belong to a plush toy. Again, the memory of the Aura Chamber flashed across my mind as I spread my wings only partially, just enough to keep me airborne without scraping the sides of the lava tunnel. Luckily, the tunnel was quite short, and within a couple of minutes I had reached my destination.
The tunnel opened into a vast cavern, its walls aglow with heat, molten rock flowing over the floor, flames leaping up from the lava and nearly reaching the rocky ceiling. I was inside one of the Tyrannian volcanoes, and my gut instinct told me the Orb was here too. Sure enough, through the firestorm I caught a brief glimpse of its light on the other side of the cavern. Now it was just a matter of reaching it...
I hovered in mid-air, just out of reach of the roaring flames, thinking hard. To make it this far, I had to be skilled enough in battle to pass the Beast, and strong enough to lift the rocks. Now I must be willing to take damage, as well as being capable of delivering it. This was all about courage in warfare. Clearly, there was not going to be a way past the flames except to fly straight through them. It was a shame that I had already used my one Healing Negg.
My eyes raked the ceiling for any sign of a place to alight. I wanted to land on a solid platform and give myself a chance to focus. I spied a tiny ledge near the top of the wall, above the entrance. It was barely wide enough to take my weight, but I managed to perch precariously on the little ledge, and I looked out over the room. When I did approach the Orb, I couldn't fly too high because the ceiling was covered in sharp stalactites. I couldn't fly too low in case I came into contact with the lava, which I might not be able to see in amongst all the flames. I had to fly right through the middle of the room, as fast as I could, until I reached the Orb.
As the flames raged in front of me and I began to sweat from the heat in the cavern, I paused for a moment's thought. The fire looked intense, ready to consume everything it touched - but would it really be as bad as it appeared? Surely the Orb wouldn't be placed here, in a vast volcanic cavern indicated on a map, if it was intended to be impossible to reach? The fire-walking ceremony held that morning by the Tyrannian people drifted through my mind... a Lenny with ruffled grey feathers walking painlessly across what appeared to be searing hot coals. "Walk like you do on a road, and there's no heat, no burn." Perhaps, like the hot coals, this fiery inferno looked far worse than it really was...
I waited. After several more seconds, I again caught a flash of the Orb's light through the blaze, and without thinking, without daring to question, without any consideration for anything except my goal, I took off.
Flying at maximum speed, I entered the firestorm - but I didn't feel a thing. Somehow I sensed the presence of magic as my wings beat the air and the flames danced playfully in their wake. The fire was enchanted; it lapped at my wings, causing no damage at all, warming my body lightly, even gently. Its strong golden light obscured my vision as I navigated the chamber, soaring and weaving between the stalactites on the ceiling, still having to contend with the thick smoke and still trying to avoid the lava below. In just a few moments, I arrived at the far wall and came in to land on the platform there.
The pedestal on which the Orb was standing was engulfed with flame. I put my hands through it, hardly feeling the heat, and stretched out my hands to take the Orb - and whipped them away again at once; the Orb had burned my fingers, it felt as if it were just as hot as the lava below. I reached out again, this time maintaining my grip, and lifted the Orb from its pedestal - and instantly the flames in the chamber subsided, the temperature of the Orb cooled. I heard a rumble behind me, but I barely noticed it. I could feel, not a scorching heat, but a pleasant warmth spreading from the Artefact in my hands and flowing all the way through my body. This was the Orb of the Flame, the artefact containing the power of fire. I felt its magic strengthening me, making me healthier, dispelling the aches in my bruised shoulder; I waited until all the pain had gone before settling the Orb into its bracket in the Holder, where its amber light was drawn into the dazzling central stone.
I cautiously examined my arms, legs and wings - there was no damage at all. No burns, no grazes... not even a scratch. My backpack, which might have been burnt to a crisp, was still there, completely intact. The raging firestorm had left me totally unharmed.
I took the Holder out of my backpack and placed the Orb of the Flame into one of its braces, then looked around for an exit. There was no door beyond the pedestal, but when I turned around, I found the entrance had caved in. Sunlight was streaming into the cavern from above. I tested my wings - there was no pain, no decline in strength. I left the volcano; my next destination was the Lost Desert. I had only two more Orbs to collect...
To be continued...