Clara Chatham Shenkuu Plot
PART 1: Clara Chatham arrives at the Lunar Temple
Some Background: Clara Chatham is a Neopian stock character from the Atlas of the Ancients plot where Moltara was discovered for the first time (reference: Neopedia or the Jellyneo Book of Ancients).
Inventory: A scribbled address on parchment, carry-on luggage, old watch, sketchbook/journal
Clara Chatham looked to and from her map, her surroundings, any street signs in Shenkuuvian script, and the address scribbled onto a small piece of Brightvale parchment as she dragged her luggage behind her.
The Brightvale-born Wocky with strikingly long limbs and shoulder-length hair frowned as the path that she had been following came to a dead-end. Before her stretched a frighteningly long flight of steps that wound its way up to the Lunar Temple at the top of the mountain. There was Oriental filigree along the stair railing.
Clue #1: Taking a closer look at the carvings beside her, Clara notices some kind of repeating pattern. The phrase, “月亮代表我的心”, is repeated several times on the wooden railing, its golden characters glinting under the sunlight. Clara quickly copies the characters into her journal, trying to remember what she learned at Brightvale University about proper stroke order. Maybe she can find out what that phrase is saying. Who knows when and/or where it might come in handy.
Inhabitants that passed by cast curious glances at her Brightvale clothing, or maybe even the way in which she carried herself. She was tired, having just returned from a short trip to Brightvale in order to visit old friends. Her parents had moved from Brightvale to Shenkuu when she was very young.
"How in King Hagan's name am I going to carry my luggage up of these stairs?"
There might have been elevators in the Neopian Central Neocash Mall, but not here in Shenkuu. She checked her watch, an old gift from a Brightvale librarian who she had volunteered with: it was 07:00 Neopian Standard Time (NST). A few minutes later, an elderly Gnorbu in flowing Oriental robes could be seen descending the stairs, followed by a solemn procession of attendants holding parasols as shade.
Once the little procession reached the foot of the Lunar Temple steps, the old Gnorbu introduced himself as Clara's research intern supervisor, and arranged for her luggage to be carried all the way up to the Temple attic where she would be staying.
During the walk up the stairs, the old Gnorbu asked how her air-ship flight went, explained a bit about the history of the Lunar Temple, and asked about her internship expectations; every now and then inserting snippets of both the successes and failures of past interns. Clara was a bit nervous, but her curiousity overcame her fear as she genuinely marvelled at the grandeur of the Lunar Temple fast approaching before them. She craned her neck to look up at the top of the temple.
The temple attic turned out to be very Spartan in its furnishings, but she didn't mind at all. She was honoured just to be here, and to learn from Master Gnorbu.
The Temple would soon be bustling with tourists from all over Neopia that Master Gnorbu would each greet individually. A storage of souvenirs for visitors was promptly replenished by the temple helpers each day according to the ancient principles of just-in-time inventory.
But Clara was assigned to the restricted area of the Lunar Temple where tourists were not allowed to access. She was allowed to go below ground where there were engraved names of past Temple Keepers, and if she were ever so fortunate to come across a secret passageway, then she was allowed to explore it - at her own risk of course.
She had a telescope at her disposal in the attic, as well as access to the official phases of the mood records that were kept as individually-shelved scrolls in a makeshift office in the corner of the attic, again in the blocked-off area of the Temple.
Action: Clara looks through the telescope, but there’s nothing to see yet because it’s still morning in Shenkuu, silly!
Clue: There are two books nearby on a chair. (1) An old Shenkuuvian-to-Brightvalian language translation dictionary, and (2) Temple Keepers of Shenkuu, Dynasty of Year 2. … I know! Clara could look up that Shenkuuvian phrase that she had copied down earlier. Let’s see *flips pages* … 月亮 means “moon light” … and 我的心 means “my love” … The moon represents my love ? Was this the cry of a lovestruck Temple Keeper, or just the beginning of a story that she was about to uncover at the Lunar Temple?
Master Gnorbu had left her a task list and a formal, written introduction to the Temple internship; both sealed with an official Shenkuuvian stamp at the bottom instead of a signature, indicating its legitimacy. One of the tasks was to pick up some jasmine tea and dried mushrooms ...? An envelope with enough neopoints to purchase these items was neatly placed on the desk for Clara. Clara put the envelope of money in her pocket.
To do: Pick up some jasmine tea and dried mushrooms at the Shenkuu Exotic Foods store
Suddenly, the smell of ashes permeated the room, and the air around her seemed hazy. Her mind immediately leapt to a conclusion that she had yet to confirm: ... was something burning?
"Master Gnorbu!" she called down the temple corridor, trying to keep her voice from growing too shrill, "Master Gnorbu!"
She fumbled with the handles of the attic doors outside her small office. They swung open, dissipating the smoke that had been quickly gathering in the room. She needed some more fresh air. Her eyes began to sting as she darted towards the nearest exit. There’s something on the floor …
Clue #2: A pile of used Shenkuu incense sticks lays on the floor outside the attic entrance. They smell as if they were only freshly lit.
Clara picked up the incense sticks for evidence, and then felt a wave of exhaustion. She felt the time difference between Shenkuu and Brightvale all at once, and the stress from thinking that there was a fire in the Lunar Temple. She climbed back swiftly up to the attic, and then collapsed onto her bed, sleeping through the afternoon.
Clara woke up at an odd hour in the evening, not having yet recovered from jet lag. She checked her old Brightvale watch again: it’s 17:00 NST. Master Gnorbu should almost be finished entertaining the last visitor to the Lunar Temple for the day. Maybe now would be a good time for her to have a quick word with him about the mysterious incense sticks that she found just outside the attic. She straightened her hair and clothes a bit, having been slightly rumpled during her nap, and left the attic to find Master Gnorbu in the main foyer.
Interview: MASTER GNORBU
“Ah, Clara!” Master Gnorbu smiled weakly after waving goodbye to the last temple tourist. “All settled in I hope? I left a note for you on your desk … did you get the jasmine tea and the dried mushrooms that I asked for?”
Clara explained that she was too tired from her flight to finish any of the tasks on the list yet, but that she could leave right away to pick up the items from the Exotic Food store before it closes.
“That would be wonderful, thank you Clara. They were just some things that I needed to prepare dinner. I will wait for you here at the Lunar Temple. If you ever need me in the evening, please do not hesitate to visit me in my sitting room. It is located not too far from the attic entrance.”
She was about to show Master Gnorbu the incense sticks that she had found, but he refused to speak to her further until she came back with the dinner items. Having to deal with the constant flow of tourists visiting his quiet temple sanctuary was a little taxing on his mood everyday, and he usually needed the evening alone to decompress. Clara figured that it would be wiser to talk to him more about the almost-fire incident after she returned from the Exotic Foods store.
On the way out of the Lunar Temple, three quarters of the way down the long flight of steps leading back to Shenkuu’s main village area, Clara almost collided into one of Master Gnorbu’s attendants who had been rushing in the opposite direction.
“So sorry!” The attendant bowed apologetically, and scurried away, absent-mindedly dropping … an incense stick?! Clara paused for a second, puzzled, and then called after the nameless attendant to no avail. Was it possible that the attendant bumped into her on purpose? What could she have possibly done wrong to get on the wrong side of the other temple staff so early on into her internship? … Or maybe she was overthinking things again. She had just woken up from a nap not too long ago after all. After chuckling to herself, Clara continued down the steps, making her way to the Exotic Foods store.
It was beginning to grow dark outside as Clara hurried along. The Exotic Foods store was buzzing with activity as a crowd of local customers swarmed in and out, picking up last-minute ingredients for dinner. Clara apologized every time she bumped shoulders with a local - she couldn’t help it - because apologizing for things even when it wasn’t her fault was part of her ingrained Brightvalian manner; despite living in Shenkuu for years, there were still parts of her, maybe even subconsciously, that didn’t and probably wouldn’t ever change.
Interview: EXOTIC FOODS STORE SHOPKEEPER AKA. ORRIN
“Excuse me,” ventured Clara, trying to catch the attention of the Nimmo shopkeeper who was deftly managing the cashier, “May I have some - *checks list* ... dried mushroom and jasmine tea?”
“Well I’ll be, if it’s not the Lunar Temple’s new intern! I heard that you got accepted for the position from the other villagers,” Orrin said. News travels quickly along the Shenkuuvian grapevine.
“And the strangest thing happened today,” he continued as he quickly shuffled some dried mushrooms into a paper bag for Clara, “There was a rambunctious group of young tourists here early this morning. They demanded me where they could buy a dizzying amount of incense sticks - and you know what I said - I said that I don’t think that Master Gnorbu allows visitors to light incense in the temple without his official permission. Then they just stormed out of my store! Just like that! You would think that Neopians would be better read about the customs of a foreign Neopian land before going there on vacation!”
A group of irresponsible tourists, hmmm? Very interesting, thought Clara.
Clara thanked Orrin for the dried mushrooms and jasmine tea. When she returned to the Lunar Temple, she found that she was a little out of breath from climbing the temple steps several times today. She found Master Gnorbu in his sitting room as he had told her before. He was humming to himself happily as he set up a small table by the window with a set of bowls and chopsticks. Clara gave him the items that he needed, and then he left quickly to soak the mushrooms in some water for the soup that he was making.
As she was waiting for Master Gnorbu to put the finishing touches on their supper, she looked around her at the different things in his sitting room. What caught her attention the most was a nearby standing-glass case: it was locked with a Brightvalian-looking combination device. Clara didn’t think that these kind of locks could be found in the average Shenkuuvian household, but then again, Master Gnorbu probably wasn’t the average Shenkuuvian either. She peered inside the case, and saw a small key inside made completely of jade.
Summary of interviews (2): Master Gnorbu, Orrin the Exotic Foods Shopkeeper
To do: Find out what the jade key is for
Tune in next week. Dedicated to the Paint Brush Pizzazz Guild and to the Neopian Times Writer’s Forum (NTWF) - an official Neopets fansite
To be continued…