The Orbs of Power: Part Six
Returning to the Tyrannian port town where I had arrived, I considered what to do next. Given the difficulty of hitching a ride to the Lost Desert, the ideal mode of transport would be by air; but I was still unsure of whether I could take the strain of a long flight, since my shoulder had only recently healed. However, as luck would have it, another trading ship was soon to depart for a seaside village not far from Faerieland, where I knew I could make sure of my fitness before continuing to the Lost Desert on the wing.
This ship was carrying hay and straw, and was stopping at Meridell before sailing on to Faerieland, so this journey would take a few days. I was glad of an opportunity to rest and reflect, because this entire quest had not been merely a holiday. I was able to rent one of the ship's empty cabins, and after unpacking my things, I collapsed onto the bunk bed and stared at the ceiling as the ship slowly pulled away from the dock.
I closed my eyes and felt the vessel rocking slowly on the water. When I set off for Mystery Island, all I wanted was a camping trip, but it had turned into a marathon quest to recover ancient artefacts that had been lost for who knows how long. They must have been lost, I reasoned, because if anybody else had handled that crumbly old parchment before I did, there would have been nothing left of it by the time I got there. I had found four of the six Orbs: Air, Earth, Water and Fire. Each of them had been concealed and protected in such a way as to ensure only the strongest seekers could reach them. The Orb of the Sky had been hidden in a place that was only accessible by wing, but once you entered its chamber you had to reach it without the help of flight; only the most agile could succeed. The Orb of the Forest had been impossible to find from the air, protected by the vastness of the Neovian woodland and by a map that only led halfway to the goal; the long and hazardous route designed to test the seeker's patience and endurance. The Orb of the Sea had been concealed at the heart of an immense labyrinth, which could only be solved through intelligence and planning. Finally, the Orb of the Flame had been guarded by the Beast of Tyrannia and by the intense inferno inside a volcano's magma chamber, out of reach to all but the most courageous. The progression was neat and perfect: first, my physical prowess had been tested, and then my strength of mind. But what would be asked of me next?
I had more than enough supplies with me to last until the ship reached Faerieland, because retrieving the Orb of the Flame had taken far less time than I expected. For six days, I remained in my cabin, lost in thought... but eventually the ship docked in the village of Crystal Waters, home to a small tribe of water faeries. I had paid in advance for my lodging, so I disembarked and began travelling through the town on foot. There were earth and air faeries here, too. Every one of them reacted to my presence in a way that was both surprising and alarming. They regarded me with enormous respect, but it seemed to be driven by fear, even terror. I was confused and worried as I proceeded to Faerie City, wishing to visit the Healing Springs.
Most of the faeries in the City were behaving strangely as well, but the light and dark faeries seemed not to notice me much. Suddenly a thought burst into my mind - those are the two Orbs I am missing. The faeries were able to sense the Orbs' magic, and they were responding to it. Perhaps these artefacts were created by ancient faeries? I considered this possibility as I approached the Healing Springs and waved to Marina, who was bathing an injured Neopet in the magical waters and nursing him back to health.
Marina jumped as soon as she spotted me. She was looking, not at my face, but at my backpack, where the Holder was nestled in an inside pocket. Throwing caution to the wind, I spoke.
"You know what I have in my backpack?"
"There can be no mistaking it," whispered Marina. "Why are you carrying these powerful objects?"
I felt sad and weary as I replied, "Because the maps were lost. When I found them, they fell apart, but not before I had copied them down. I didn't want the artefacts to be lost forever."
Marina looked tense, as the Neopet she had just healed waved happily and skipped away. "Why are you here?" she asked, looking terrified.
"I was hurt on my journey. I want to know if it's safe for me to fly." I spread my wings, and Marina cast an eye carefully over my back and shoulder, whispering in her native faerie tongue. After a few seconds she stopped. "You're completely healthy," said the faerie, "you should be able to fly as far as you want, but..." She looked up, and her eyes pierced mine. "Don't go after the power of Darkness."
I'm going after the power of Light right now, I thought. I thanked Marina for her help and left the Healing Springs, as the Neopet who was healed earlier tripped on the cobblestone path and grazed his arms again. Marina sighed wearily.
The Healing Faerie's warning fresh in my mind, I took to the air, heading for the Lost Desert...
When I arrived in Sakhmet, the weather was worsening. A blistering wind was picking up, carrying a harsh cloud of desert sand in its wake. I took refuge within the city walls, retreated to the Sakhmet Food Stall, and took out the map for the Artefact of Light.
Over a slice of Ptolymelon, I examined the map. The path led south from Sakhmet, into the dangerous Mentu region. I knew that Mentu was ruled with an iron fist by the vicious King Heksas, so I would need to keep a low profile. The map indicated the presence of a temple in the heart of the Mentu kingdom, in which the Artefact was located. I would have to wait until the sandstorm had ended before it was safe to set off.
Three days later, the weather had calmed and I headed south by air. When I reached the edge of Mentu, I returned to the ground, deciding it would be safer to walk the rest of the way. As I passed through the ruined town of Khamtef, a beautiful Desert Pteri with long golden robes was examining the inscription on the palace wall. She turned to face me as I approached, and instantly I recognised her. It was Chenn's daughter, Shee'ara.
"Hello," said the Pteri. Her voice was as light and pretty as her golden robes. I asked, "Is your name Shee'ara?"
"Yes, it is. How did you know?" Her expression was one of pleasant surprise.
"I met your father in Shenkuu a few weeks ago, and he showed me your picture," I explained.
"Oh! You must be Angel!" said Shee'ara cheerfully. "My father wrote to me about you. He has a Quintilc now, and he's much happier." She smiled broadly, her blue eyes shining.
"I'm glad he's not feeling lonely any more. Chenn helped me hugely on my journey," I said. I glanced at the inscription Shee'ara had been reading. "Are you here to study the ruins?"
"Yes." Her face gleamed with enthusiasm. "I've always loved learning about ancient Neopia, so I moved to Qasala to learn about the lost tribes of the desert. The people who lived here only vanished about twenty years ago, but their civilisation goes back several centuries." This news surprised me. I knew that Khamtef had been destroyed by King Heksas, but I didn't know it was such an ancient city. It was a promising sign. "Are you here to study the ruins, too?" asked Shee'ara.
"I'm in search of a temple that is said to lie close to here..." I showed Shee'ara the map that led to the Artefact of Light.
"I know that temple," replied Shee'ara with interest. "Nobody ever enters it, because a curse lies inside. There's treasure there, but anybody who approaches it is driven away by the curse before they can seize it."
Sounds about right, I thought. So this was the next challenge: overcoming dangerous magic. "I can show you where the temple is," offered Shee'ara. "It is possible to go in a short way and admire its beauty, but go in too far and the curse takes hold. It's worth seeing, though. It's a gorgeous building, and it's been there for thousands of years."
And so we set off. Shee'ara led me southwest from Khamtef, into a region of the desert that was full of rugged mountains. The sand dunes shifted between vast towers of rock, and the terrain soon became so hazardous that Shee'ara and I had to take flight in order to reach the temple. Deep in a sandy valley, half-buried by the dunes, was a building made of jet-black stone, its walls elaborately carved and its heavy doors closed. It looked like an ancient palace.
"This is the Spectral Temple," said Shee'ara. "Even at night, or when it's buried in sand, its windows always look like it's a bright sunny day outside. It's easily the most mysterious building I've ever studied." She smiled. "I have to return to Khamtef; I'm compiling a history of the First Khonsu Dynasty. Goodbye, Angel; it was nice to meet you."
As Shee'ara headed back to the ruined city, I pulled open the heavy black doors and entered the Spectral Temple...
As I caught my first glimpse of the temple's magnificent interior, the only thought I could manage was that Shee'ara had been right; just the beauty of this amazing structure was enough to justify visiting it, never mind the Artefact. The ceiling was domed, made of black marble, with a skylight at its centre that was glistening and casting shafts of coloured light into the room below, despite being completely buried in the sand outside. Half a dozen magical sunbeams danced on a floor made of smooth slate, whose drab grey colour was not enough to dull the rainbow-coloured rays. The walls were slate as well, but there were impressive columns of rough black stone supporting the vaulted ceiling; these pillars were studded with tiny coloured gemstones that sparkled in the enchanted light, and between the pillars were arched windows enclosed by white marble and panelled with frosted glass, again casting light into the room as though it was clear and sunny outside, despite the temple being half underground.
At the far side of this circular room was a doorway, arched like the windows and surrounded by dark marble, leading into a short corridor at the end of which lay the Orb. This Orb was so bright that it was almost impossible to look at it directly; it burned itself into my retinas as I gazed at the pedestal it was standing on. There was no stone brace this time; the Artefact sat completely exposed, protected only by the magic in the temple. That unknown magic was what I had to overcome.
I moved slowly into the room, regretting my lapse of memory in failing to ask Shee'ara about the nature of the curse. The beams of coloured light darted around me, ever more quickly, until I reached the centre of the room... then they instantly snapped onto me, catching me in a six-way spotlight, a dazzling crosshairs - and at once, my mind was flooded with fears and doubts. As the enchantment took hold, it pressed me for my true motive, my reason for being here...
What had made me think I was worthy to take possession of the Orbs? They weren't rightfully mine, they belonged to the ancient faeries! Was I here only as a thief? To seize power that wasn't mine to use? What if my possession of the Orbs crippled the faeries, drained them of their magic, like Xandra the Sorceress had done? Had I rushed into this mission, which could have enormous implications, which could turn out to be disastrous, without for a moment considering the consequences?
And what made me think I would be able to complete the quests? Only the worthy could possess the Orbs; I had already learned that - why should my completion of the previous quests mean that I could handle this one, and more significantly, the Artefact of Darkness? Marina had warned me not to; she was probably right! If it proved too much, the power contained in the Orbs would be uncontrollable, and if it was unleashed, who knows what harm could result... all of Neopia could be under threat...
I was not worthy, I was not fit to master the Orbs. I should leave the Spectral Temple at once, return the Artefacts to their hiding places, and end the journey now, before something terrible happened, before I - and the rest of Neopia - was placed in terrible danger...
But what about the maps? A small voice had spoken in the back of my head, almost a whisper. What about the Parchment? I had handled it out of vain curiosity, and it had broken up, leaving me - and only me - with the means to track down the Artefacts. My reasons for finding them were not to do with power, they weren't to do with glory... they were to prevent these objects, which could be of immense importance, from becoming permanently lost. My own map that led to the hiding place of the Orb of the Forest had already been destroyed, leaving no way to find it again if it were ever returned to its home in the woods. If someone, somewhere, depended on these Artefacts, then they had to be recovered - so actually, the possibility of saving Neopia by finding these powerful Orbs was just as real as the possibility of a disaster, and that was a risk I had considered and was prepared to take...
Ultimately, I was here for a good reason... to protect the Artefacts. Not to use them - only to find them. I was trying to right the wrong I had committed when I destroyed the original maps. I knew the Orbs were not mine, but I had learned who they did belong to, and I could return them to the faeries after my mission was complete. I resolved to visit the Faerie Castle and give the Holder to Queen Fyora once all the Orbs were united...
The spell broke in an instant; the blinding lights above scattered, and my mind cleared. I suddenly realised that all my muscles were tense and that I was trembling with shock. I wiped the sweat from my upper lip, breathing heavily, and briefly closed my eyes. The Orb was just in front of me... I had to do the right thing, and return it to its true owners, who might otherwise lose it for all time. My legs felt weak, but I nonetheless put one foot before the other, walking down the corridor and up to the pedestal to retrieve the Orb.
I took out the Holder, laid it on the edge of the platform ready to receive the Orb, then lifted the dazzling little sphere into my shaking hands. I closed my eyes again as the Orb's power brought a clarity, a sense of purpose, to my mind. Instead of triumph, my overwhelming emotion was reverence. This was the Orb of the Sun, the artefact containing the power of light. It was visible even through my closed eyelids, and I placed it into the Holder, thinking carefully. To reach this Orb, I had to be there for the right reasons; to be acting not out of greed or curiosity, but for the good of other Neopians. The spell had driven all other comers away, convincing them that they were thieves and intruders, acting only for themselves, even if they meant no harm; in order to pass, I had to be virtuous, and realise that my real intention was to help others - to set things right.
I would have to bear these lessons in mind, keep my resolve, maintain a noble purpose, as I pursued the last and most dangerous Artefact of all...
To be continued...