Sakhmet Stories - The Witch And The Thief: Part Three
"We're lost Sethos." Nephthysma sighed, as she stopped mid-tracks and surveyed the surroundings. They were surrounded by a blanketing sense of nothingness. Nothingness and sand, and then more nothingness.
"No, we're not. Don't stop there," he replied, without even looking back. Nephthysma began to wonder if Sethos had eyes on the back of his head that she didn't know about.
"I'm definitely certain we are lost. You said we would pass a rock that's shaped like a Selket. Well we've been walking for days, and we haven't seen a single rock. So I am abso-, no, positively sure that we are lost." Nephthysma said as she plopped herself down into the sand.
"Don't you have a potion in that bottomless bag of yours that can help point us in the right direction then?" he asked, adding a bit of jest to her grumpy sulk.
"Well there was a magic mirror that could help you haze into the distance, but that sniveling Lupe cracked it with its paw so it's no good now," Nephthysma answered, her voice growing in irritation. "I need to ha-"
"LOOK!" the Techo cried out, his voice brimming with excitement. "LOOK! That's the rock! See!"
Indeed, a great rock stood out in the middle of the desert. It was a hulking oval shape that stood against the Sakhmetian sun, with two long formations at the top that protruded out of each side. It really did look like a Selket that had been rooted into the sand.
"I'm not sure I'm seeing this right," Nephthysma said slowly as she squinted her eyes. Do you see those markings?"
The pair ventured closer to the rock, and surely enough, there were four neat rows of hieroglyphs. Nephthysma began to translate the words:
"Surrender you hearts, and give them to us,
For we the three, will surely grant.
And once your wishes come to past,
It's out you go, back into the sun."
"I don't have a good feeling about this, Neph," Sethos said, his unease betraying his voice.
"Wait, there's more," she continued, her inquisition causing her to ignore Sethos' words.
"When the star hangs low beneath the sand
Enter the brave, around the bend."
"Enter the brave...around the...bend?" Nephthysma mused. "What bend are they talking about?"
The pair stood there for a few minutes, taking in the strange feeling that the rock had left them with. How odd, Sethos thought to himself, that on his various excursions to the Gebmids, he never noticed the writings on the rock. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and he would readily admit that. But to miss the hieroglyphics completely just wasn't like him at all.
While they were pondering, the sun began to retire in the horizon. As it faded behind the sandy horizon, a deafening KRACK! rung through the air. The power of the booming sound shook the ground beneath their feet, throwing them into the sand. And in the middle of the Selket-shaped rock, a huge fissure had torn through the surface like it was made of paper.
"Neph, we have to go. We have to move right now." Sethos said hurriedly, putting as much emphasis as he could muster to convey the nervous urgency he felt sparking within him.
"Oh please, it's just a small crevice. It's not like a giant worm is going to spring out and gobble us!" Nephthysma replied, stifling her laughter. Sethos was not amused, clearly seen from the paleness of his expression.
"Okay, let me have a look inside, just for a short while. There might be important herbs that will help my spells...or there could be treasure in the rock for all you know!" Nephthysma said, trying to assure the jittery Techo as she picked herself up and dusted her robes.
As she left her staff with Sethos, she noticed a crevice that was large enough to squeeze into. But what was even more surprising was that inside the little crevice, it seemed like there was a winding path that led downwards.
"Se...Se...SETHOS!" Nephthysma hollered, stammering in anticipation and pointing into the darkness. "There's a pathway!"
The Techo brushed past Nephthysma to get a closer look. Indeed, a narrow and winding path seemed to lead from the opening down into the pitch-black darkness.
"Don't even think about it, Neph," Sethos said as he backed away. "That does not look in the least bit safe."
She turns around to him, arms akimbo on her waist.
"It'll be fine, I just want to see where this path leads. We walk in, see where it ends, and we'll turn around and head right back up. How does that sound?" she asked, trying to entice Sethos into embarking on a digressing adventure.
"Nuh-uh. I am standing right here," he replied firmly, crossing his arms. "Curiosity grilled the Angelpuss, and I'm not going to be next."
"Fine," she scowled. She walked up to the crevice, and fished out a ruby amulet. Rubbing it gently between her paws, the amulet began to cast a warm glow onto the sandy pathway that lay ahead of her.
A few squeezes in, and Nephthysma soon found herself meandering down the narrow, sloping corridor. The only light came from her pendant that hung around her neck, and even the light seemed to fade in the overwhelming presence of the darkness that surrounded her. All she could see were a few feet of sand in front of her. Carefully, she trained her eyes forward, when something caught her eye.
In the depths of the darkness ahead, three gold statues stood side by side. They towered over Nephthysma, and they gleamed in the reflection of her pendant. All Nephthysma could see were the inscriptions at the bottom of their bases.
"Marsirum...Venusivus...Neptunile..." she slowly read.
Just as she finished reading the words, a great ray of light burst forth from the statues, chasing the darkness out of the cave. For the first time, Nephthysma could see the cavernous room that she had wandered into. The pathway behind her must have stretched out for miles, yet it only felt like a few steps before she found herself at the feet of three, gigantic statues.
The statues sat still in the light. The one on the right was a Lenny, while the middle one was an Aisha. The last one in the row was an Draik, and the three of them were long and slender, and majestic in their places. Surrounding them were an endless array of jewels, dubloons and fineries.
Nephthysma looked up at the statues, awe-struck by their magnificence. She was so engrossed that when the Draik looked down and said "Boo!", she jumped right back and nearly fell off the ledge.
The statues erupted in riotous laughter, as they watched Nephthysma regain her balance.
"I'm sorry, girl, you'll have to excuse my brothers," said Venusivus, working hard to stifle her own giggling.
"Oh look Marsirum, she's a witch!" Neptunile said, looking over Venusivus.
"Indeed she is," Marsirum replied. "Who wakes us up from our sleep?"
"My name is Nephthysma," the Usul replied, unsure of what to make of three giggling statues.
"Hello Nephthysma," Venusivus said. "And these are my brothers, Marsirum and Neptunile. Do you know who we are?"
Nephthysma kept quiet, working her mind in search of an answer. Nothing came to memory.
"We were once like you. My brothers were desert wizards and I was a witch," Venusivus explained. "We were formed in the stars and fell into Neopia, and when it came time for us to leave, we became statues."
"Oh...OH! It's the Stellar Siblings!" Nephthysma gawked, unable to contain her excitement. "I've heard so much about you, but I've always thought you were a myth!"
"Nope, little lady, we are as real as pudding!" Neptunile said in a singsong voice.
"And the best part is..." Marsirum said, clearing his throat. Before he could finish his sentence, however, Neptunile interjected.
"THE BEST PART IS YOU CAN THREE WISHES!!!" he bellowed, the enthusiasm in his voice bouncing through the room and shaking the piles of gold around him.
Marsirum spun his head around, giving Neptunile a peeved look. "Yes...three wishes...what he said," he mumbled.
Nephthysma grew very quiet, her mind working out the first wish.
"My first wish," she began, "Is that you bless the journey a-"
"DONE!" Neptunile bellowed, beaming in pride at his enthusiasm.
"...ahead to the cursed tomb." Nephthysma finished, wondering if they caught her wish in its entirety.
"Oh...dear little witch. Um...we can't do that," Venusivus replied, hesitating mid-way.
"What? Why not?" Nephthysma asked in reply.
"Well, you see..." just as Venusivus was about to answer Nephthysma, Marsirum interjected.
"Our powers can't overwrite the powers of the Gebmids. That's just how things work!"
"And more over, we can't see into the Gebmids. They guarded by time-tested enchantments that protect them from the foreboding evils of the world." Neptunile elaborated. "How about this - we'll promise you a smooth journey until the tombs, then it's goodbye and good luck to you!"
Looks like Nephthysma didn't have much of a say in this. Clearly, these three statues weren't as powerful as they made themselves out to be, and Nephthysma started to figure that out. But she had two options: turn around and leave - although she suspected that the statues wouldn't let her slip away so quickly - or stay and make her final two wishes. She went with the latter.
"Secondly, I'd like to have a friend please," she said, looking down and shuffling her toes on the hard, rocky floor.
"Certainly, although you'll find that y-" just as Venusivus was granting her wish, Neptunile's penchant for interrupting came up again.
"Wait...YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS? HA HA HA HA HA!" he guffawed rudely.
"Oh be quiet, brother!" Venusivus snapped, turning her giant golden head around at him. "You've been nothing but an interrupting bore and I've had it with you!"
Neptunile seized up, his smile fading into a silent scowl. Nephthysma tried to hold down a snigger, but her smirk gave her away and provoked the Draik even more.
"What's your last wish, young witch?" Marsirum asked her, peering down at the hooded Usul.
"Lastly, I..." she stopped short of her wish. Even though they were made of solid gold, she swore that she could see the statues leaning in with anticipation, making her even more nervous. She took a deep breath and said, "I've done something...something bad in the past. It happened one night, and I swore no malice but...something happened to an apprentice of mine, and I couldn't help her. I wasn't strong enough, so I fled. I left my home, my family and everyone I loved because I was being hunted. And if they found me, they'd do bad things to the people I loved as well."
Nephthysma steadied herself. She felt the warm sting of tears gathering up in her eyes, but she wouldn't allow herself to cry. No, she's spent many nights wrecking her head in the sheer guilt of the matter, and regretting that she wasn't stronger than she already was so she could help her gravely injured apprentice. And despite the strength she's tried to muster up, she still felt inadequately prepared to delve deeper into the details of her story. They were gruesome, and hard to live through even by words. The three statues who were usually rambunctious with their jesting fell silent, and the cave that they were all in was thick with suspense.
"This Neopian that you speak of, I can sense that this she's still around. Am I right?" Marsirum asked. She nodded, wordlessly.
"And I can sense that you tried everything you could to help her, is that correct?" he asked again. Nephthysma silently nodded, albeit ever so slightly.
Marsirum tutted at Nephthysma softly, beckoning her attention.
"Done." He was smiling down upon her benevolently, because he took genuine fulfillment in granting this wish. Upon the granting of the third wish, Nephthysma felt a lightness within her. It was as if she had suddenly lost the mental shackles that wore her down, and she felt the weightlessness float up in her heart with a comforting sense of ease and unrestraint relief. She lowered her hood, and looked at the smiling statues. She hadn't thanked anyone in a long while, but she broke this streak when she gave her thanks to them.
"The sun is almost disappeared behind the dunes. You must go now," Venusivus said.
"And don't forget to come visit some time!" Neptunile chimed in, regaining his cheeky tone once more.
"All the best!" Marsirum called behind Nephthysma, as she turned around and headed back up the slope.
She squeezed past the crevice, and found Sethos seated by the side, leaning against the rock. Upon seeing her come out safely, he leaped up onto his feet.
"Are you alright? What happened? What was in there?"
She smiled, and he knew something was different. Having traveled with her for days now, this was the first time he had felt genuine happiness behind her smile.
"The inside was wonderful, Sethos. It was a cave, filled with gold coins and diamonds, and there were three gold statues that could grant wishes!" As she spoke, her voice became softer, allowing for her words to drift off into the cool evening air.
"Gold? Diamonds? Why didn't you take some home! We could've been rich!" Sethos cried out, trying to keep up with Nephthysma as she started walking away.
Giggling, she said, "Let's go Sethos. We've got a long way ahead of us."
That night, the sky was a cloudless blanket of stars twinkling gaily at the strolling pair. The breeze kissed them softly on their cheeks, and the sand slid gently beneath their feet. Pondering over her peculiar evening, Nephthysma came to the realization of one thing: she now had everything she asked for.
And to her, she was already rich.
To be continued…