Leave Your Preconceptions at the Door
Val walked distractedly through the library, flipping pages and muttering to himself. "No, surely it was in this volume. I could have..."
THUMP! Val knocked over a side table again. "Sorry," he said without looking up. He skirted around the table.
"Val, at least pick it up if you're going to knock it over!" Pegs cried, exasperated. "Or, you know, sit down when you're reading?"
Val paused. "Did you say something?"
Pegs sighed dramatically. "Just shouting at the wind. Did you find that reference yet?"
"No!" Val snapped the book shut and sat down. "I was certain I read it in Volume 2, but it could have been...well, anyway, it's somewhere in the Tomes of Vyssa."
Pegs' chair creaked as he sat down. "Well, one fragment of one shard of one vase isn't going to get us very far without any reference material, chap."
"Sherd," Val corrected automatically, lost in thought.
The Gelert looked up, but didn't seem to really be looking at his companion. "Potsherd. Glass has shards, pots have sherds."
"Right." Academic distinctions were not Pegs' priority. That's where Val came in. "At any rate, isn't there anything to go on?" he asked, gesturing at the table in front of them.
"Mmm." Val looked down at the 'sherd' in front of them. Pegs had found it on his last trip to Sakhmet. Dating had shown that it to be quite old, so the Gnorbu brought it in to his friend to interpret the symbols. "Like I said, the symbols are familiar to me, but I just can't place them. Give me some time and I'll let you know what I can find out."
"But," Pegs started. Val stared, waiting. He sighed.
Val's eyes brightened, and he smiled knowingly. "Ah, you were hoping to have a bit more of a delay before setting off? I'm afraid I can't help you, friend."
"Hmph," Pegs grumped in response.
"You really shouldn't make bets with people like Madson, he isn't going to let you off with something easy."
"Yes, yes, fine." Pegs heaved himself up again, not interested in hearing his own thoughts echoed at him. "I'm off then. Contact me if you find anything."
Val was already back in his books.
'Good things come to those who wait,' Pegs reminded himself. He had considered going back to the Lost Desert to look for more "sherds", but decided he would only be driving himself crazy. 'I guess I can't put off that trip to Moltara any longer.'
Pegs sighed. Val was right, he should have learned by now; never make a bet based on facts (and especially don't make one with Madson). Only bet if the outcome is not already determined. 'Or, better yet, with my luck: never make a bet in the first place.'
"I'm going on a dig in Moltara" had long been a joke amongst Neopian archaeologists. It was code for "I'm going on vacation" because no one expected to find any unpreserved artifacts old enough to be of interest that close to magma. Pegs was in full agreement on this point, so when his friend chose "Discover an artifact in Moltara" as his forfeit for the bet, Pegs groaned. Finding that artifact in Sakhmet had given him hope to delay the dig in Moltara a bit longer, but alas. This half of the world was not his area of study, so he knew little about this place except that it had been cut off from the world for so long. His expectations were pretty low.
The journey there was shorter than he had expected, but that was likely because he wasn't looking forward to the destination. However, once he stepped out of the tunnel and into the city, Pegs was stunned out of his foul mood.
The city was fantastic! More interesting than any written accounts could have told him. It was worth all of the sweat that had begun beading across his face.
"You're going to need to find some different clothes, friend."
Pegs turned to the Lupe that had spoken to him. He had been nearby on the journey down, but Pegs had been too wrapped up in himself to notice. "I beg your pardon?"
"They don't call them 'sweaters' for nothing," the Lupe said. "They have special fabric down here that's more breathable so you won't faint from heat exhaustion. Here, I'll show you." He started to walk away, looking behind him to see if Pegs would follow.
"Er, thank you, sir?" he said, trailing behind his new friend.
"RC. And your name?"
"Dr. Pelonius Pigbag. But you can call me Pegs."
"I'll do that. What sort of doctor are you?"
"I'm an archaeologist," he answered distractedly, gazing up at the metal structures that surrounded him.
"Hmmm," was all RC said, leaving Pegs to his sight-seeing. When they made it to Cog's Togs, Pegs had expected RC to go about his business, but he waited while the Gnorbu got himself outfitted. Pegs thanked him again as they left the shop.
"No sweat," RC smirked. "So are you here on vacation? Or were you hoping to find something?"
"Ah, well I'm definitely hoping to find something, though I'm not sure how realistic that is. I'm not sure...I mean, you seem rather familiar with this place...?"
"Yes. I'm not from here, but I've spend a lot of time here. What sort of 'thing' were you looking for?"
Pegs tried to hold back an embarrassed blush. "I'm not exactly sure. I'm afraid I'm not terribly familiar with Moltaran history." He looked down at his new clothes. "Obviously."
RC laughed. "Fair enough. Well, I know a good place you can start. Follow me."
He led the way through the city at a fairly brisk pace with Pegs trotting behind him to keep up. He was surprised when they didn't stop even as they seemed to be reaching the edges of the city. He tried a few times to make conversation, but needed most of his breath to keep up with his guide.
Finally after what felt like hours, they arrived in what Pegs could only describe later as "the surface of the sun". RC led Pegs straight up a hill to a building labeled "The Arcanum" before he stopped.
"You should get some leads in here. I'd better go now, I've got an appointment to keep."
"Thank you so much for your help, RC. On the chance I do discover something, you will definitely be co-credited in the article!" Pegs called after him. He paused for a moment, watching the Lupe walk off toward another group of buildings.
'Ah well, perhaps it will be cooler inside,' he thought, wiping his brow.
The shopkeeper at the Arcanum was very helpful, Pegs told Val upon his return. He directed Pegs toward several books which he then purchased to give himself a better background on Moltaran history. It seemed the civilization was older than he thought and was split into two factions. The city of Moltara he had arrived in had very careful records which seemed to go back almost to its inception. However, the place he was now, which seemed to be referred to simply as "The Magma Caves", was not as concerned with record keeping.
"Meaning they don't keep records at all?" Val questioned.
"Rather they aren't as concerned with them; they aren't as thorough. And for the first few hundred years, the records are very sparse indeed."
Val had a gleam in his eye. "Oho, enter our intrepid archaeologist. Pefect conditions for significant discovery."
"Indeed," Pegs smiled. "And I have found something which not only satisfied Madson that I had settled the bet, but left him speechless which was particularly gratifying."
"Well don't leave me in suspense, chap, what did you find?" the Gelert demanded from the edge of his seat.
Pegs had been looking forward to sharing his story with Val; Val was the type to be interested in all of the facts, without much prejudice, so different from Pegs' other colleagues. He knew he could tell his friend the whole story, including how wrong he had been about Moltara, its people, everything. And he wasn't disappointed. Val had listened with understanding and interest to every piece of the journey and Pegs' feelings. Now it was time for the reveal.
"I think it would be best to show you, rather than tell you, but to whet your appetite, I will say the something I discovered is more like one something containing many somethings. It's a whole site where the original Moltarans perfected the magic that holds back the magma."
Val leapt up. "I'll go and pack right away." He scurried off, listing to himself what books he might need.
Pegs sat back to wait. He had known Val would want to go right away. He had arranged for special site tools to be created that could withstand the heat and bought a few more items from Cog's Togs on his way out.
In part he felt a somewhat smug separateness from his colleagues that he knew things they didn't about this fascinating civilization, that the Moltarans had welcomed him and not them. However, in part he still felt very guilty for the years of intentional, sustained ignorance. How much they could have learned by now had they just been more open-minded! Simply because they had been cut off from "society" for so long, the Moltarans had been dismissed when in reality they had made advancements and developments as wondrous as anything Pegs had seen in his career.
He looked up from his musings to check Val's progress. At some point he would have to explain to him it would be better to wait and buy new books once he got there than to risk any surface books in that heat. 'But first,' he thought chuckling to himself, 'time for a pot of tea.'