Hello, Rushishi, welcome back to your Notebook of Conspiracies, Information, and Conjectures. If you aren't Rushishi, I command you to eat this notebook immediately without reading any further. Wait, that's a bad idea. I take that back; don't eat it, got it? Just leave it where you found it. I'm never far away from it, anyway. In fact, those footsteps you hear are probably me, so you'd better just drop this notebook and run away before I find you reading something that isn't yours. And if you're reading this far, that must mean that you're me!
So I was reading the Neopian Times again today, like I do every week, looking for clues. I tell you, these people are up to something. I don't know why they would want to hide this from anyone, but they are doing everything they can to cover up the existence of Jelly World, the place of my origin. I don't care what everyone else says. It's real. It's got to be.
This is identifying information in case I, Rushishi, am found missing. Of course, whoever stumbles upon this notebook upon my becoming missing might have already eaten it or run away, so this probably does me no good. But I guess I'd better list this stuff anyway. Just in case they capture me. Just in case I get too close.
Maybe 24 or so? I don't remember much, so your guess is as good as mine.
Neopia Central, at Almedha's house, with McCloud, Eps, and Anna.
Jelly World is a place that exists.
I, unfortunately, have no proof of this besides clues and rumors scattered across the face of Neopia. It is rumored that there is a creature that guards the entrance jealously, but no one has seen it. There is also a rumor that there is an enormous pile of jelly that spontaneously replenishes itself to keep all of Neopia happy and well-fed. The rumors of towns and trees made entirely out of jelly are told in children's stories.
Jelly World… I don't remember ever being there.
But I know I must have been.
I am from Jelly World.
The tales of Jelly World are quite old. First mention, I think, came from a traveler that everyone called insane after he repeatedly insisted that he had found a world made of Jelly. Scattered reports followed, so many and so strange that it's quite impossible to tell the tales of attention-seekers from the facts of real-life adventurers.
That's what I will be one day.
I will see Jelly World.
That is the reason I started keeping notes in this notebook! I wanted to remember everything that I saw. There are many great and amazing sights across Neopia, too many to keep in one tiny head like mine. So I have this notebook!
I think I said that already.
I am going to travel each of the lands in turn, looking for this fabled place. I know I'll find it! I have to. I feel it calling me… It's hard to explain, how I feel it. A distance call, a longing. A feeling that somewhere not here that I haven't found, that I've never felt… somewhere, there is home.
The marketplace bustled with activity as Rushishi tried to squeeze his way through the milling crowds. Shopkeepers shouted outrageous prices and customers scolded and finagled back. Ru was used to such motion, such crowds. His life had taken him to travel all over the world and meet all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Well, all kinds of people in most kinds of places. There was this one place he hadn't quite found yet… But, he thought, I'm in the city of grand sites and fantastic ships! I'm not going to think about what cannot be. He took his time to browse the nearest shop stall, full of knickknacks and strange items brought from all over Neopia. He recognized where most of the items had come from, but his vision froze as it passed over a single bronze lamp.
You have got to be kidding me! I've worked here long enough to know that price is outrageous!
I understand, sir, but I'm hoping we can make an arrangement...
Next to him, among the many in the vibrating sea of people, was a girl of no more than 20, attempting to haggle with the particular shopkeeper who owned the lamp. In her hand, a luminescent artifact that shined the same shade of purple as her hair, jostled up and down in rhythm with the shopkeepers gesticulated anger. If Rushishi wanted to get to the lamp, he would have to interrupt the animated conversation.
Rushishi broke his gaze from the beautiful lamp, thinking it was nothing short of a luxury for him. He traveled too much to carry around things only for decoration. A moment later, he thought how conveniently he forgot about his hat and pocket watch, both mere trinkets in the grand scheme of things, and then turned his attention to the shopkeeper and the pretty Blumaroo haggling over the price of some old… thing. Ru couldn't quite see what it was. See now, is that any way to treat a lady?
he berated the shopkeeper. What seems to be the problem?
he asked them, looking between the two, albeit with a tinge of disapproval for the shopkeeper.
The orange, purple-haired Blumaroo whirled her head in Rushishi's direction, flashed a gracious smile, and then looked down at the old, shiny trinket in her hand. This amulet was something of my grandfather's, and I thought to buy it from the shop. considering I should have inherited the old thing already, I thought 300 neopoints would be a fair price,
she said fiddling with it in her hands. She looked back at Ru and smiled again. I really appreciate you coming over here. Our dear shopkeeper was getting a little testy.
The sarcastic undertones of her statement set the shopkeeper off into and endless rant. But the Blumaroo couldn't seem to rid her gaze from the top-hatted man next to her. He had politely interrupted, and now she was politely ignoring the shopkeeper.
Ru heard the shopkeeper launch into some kind of upset, but Ru wasn't much paying attention. May I?
he asked before taking the amulet from her and inspecting it in the late Shenkuu sun. It was an amulet, indeed, and a lovely color and the weight suggested its worth was probably more than sentimental to the shopkeeper. Ru was no appraiser, but he was no fool, either.
I have a compromise! he announced, and the shopkeeper stopped talking in what looked like surprise. He handed the amulet back to the lady and pointed out the lamp to the shopkeeper. The lamp and the amulet for three-thousand Neopoints? he asked, showing a hefty coin purse to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper's eyes seemed to bulge slightly when he saw the bag and nodded dumbly.
The customer's always right, he agreed, and handed Ru the lamp. Ru paid the shopkeeper and then turned to the lady beside him. I hope you don't mind, he said.
I don't mind at all, thank you,
she said, a little dumbstruck but still composed. I'm Zhel, by the way. It's a pleasure to meet you.
She flipped her violet ponytail over her shoulder and held out her hand in greeting. The bright, Shenkuu sun glistened off of all the shiny objects and people around them, but even amidst the bustling chaos Zhel couldn't figure out whether her gaze was more drawn to Ru or the lamp. At the moment, her gaze had narrowed and nothing but the unusual blumaroo and his unusual lamp seemed to be in focus.
Ru smiled back and accepted her hand in greeting. The pleasure is mine, I'm sure,
he said, tipping the brim of his hat. I'm Rushishi. Ru to my friends, though.
He looked down at the lamp that the shopkeeper had shoved in his hand before wandering off to count his new riches. Ru doubted if the lamp had been worth what he paid for it, but it would be a nice trinket to send home, anyway. Family loved souvenirs when they couldn't come themselves.
Excuse me, a voice somewhere said softly. Excuse me, but could you maybe help me out?
Ru looked at Zhel, his brows scrunched over his eyes in thought. Did… you… hear that? he asked, worrying for a moment that he just might be hearing things.
Zhel said under her breath. The smile faded from her face and, replaced with a look of concern, she looked over her shoulders. She turned back to Ru and then glanced down at the lamp.
Please? I could really use your help, the voice continued. Zhel and Ru made eye contact that ensured they were both hearing the mysterious voice.
Wha-what do you need help with? Zhel murmured. While confused, she was still curious.
Oh, good, I was worried you'd just ignore me or try to resell me. I have been switched from person-to-person, I don't know how long!
Ru held the lamp up to look at it on his eye-level. Excuse me, but I've had enough people tell me I was crazy lately, he told the lamp, and proceeded to notice that he was getting strange looks from passers-by in the market place.
Oh, you aren't, the voice assured him. I am a one-hundred percent guaranteed wishing lamp. That is, you get wishes from me. But I can't grant wishes to just anyone because… well, I'm kind of in a bind. My powers are in the Lost Desert, and I'm here. And you can see my problem.
Ru looked at Zhel. Have you ever been to the Lost Desert? he asked.
Zhel said, coming out her state of shock. Regaining her wits, she responded, Ah, the Lost Desert! No, I've never been there, but I've read loads about it.
Suddenly excited, she looked at the lamp. So...would you like us to take you to the Lost Desert, then?
she asked it.
Why, yes. That would be most helpful.
She looked back at Ru, her eyes alight with possibilities. Y'know, come to think of it, I've always wanted to go to the Lost Desert. She smiled at her new acquaintance and lightly put her hand on the lamp.
Ru hesitated a moment to put the lamp into his pocket. I have been there before; in fact, I know someone who lives there. It's on the other side of the mountains from here.
It was a long way from Shenkuu, and Ru couldn't quite think of a good way to get there. Through the mountains was too dangerous due to the lack of stops for shelter, food, and water. Through Altador was long and almost as devoid of stops, plus they would have to cross most of the desert before they even came to a city. I suppose we'll have to look at a map,
he said slowly, putting the lamp in one of the pockets of his coat.
Excited for the journey, Zhel put her heirloom in her bag. The bag was a bright, glistening bubblegum pink with little jellybean designs on it. It seemed like an odd traveling purse, but nevertheless she pulled out a very detailed map of Neopia. "Here," she said to Ru, Might this help?
Ru took the map in his hand, a little surprised that she had one, as Zhel reached into her bag and pulled out a plastic-jellybean-studded canteen and took a sip from it. Zhel was always organized and was determined to do the best she could at every task she was given. Go out to the market? Naturally, she had everything she needed for every situation for optimum enjoyment. So, the trip to the Lost Desert was her new task at hand. She put the canteen back and looked up again at the traveler.
Ru studied the map for a bit. He had never seen such a detailed map, but all the detail made it rather large. He folded it and studied the part with Shenkuu and then held the map over for Zhel to see. He pointed at Shenkuu. Down the mountains you see here,
he pointed at the map and then to two mountains protruding through the clouds in the distance, is the ocean. It might be a bit late for sailing now, since it is quite at the end of autumn and we are so far north of the equator, but it is better than going down through the desert, and the mountains, I think. We could go through Neopia Central, Kiko Lake...
he hesitated a moment as he traced his hand over his proposed route. He had stopped just over the Haunted Woods. He skipped that part, and went straight down to the Lost Desert, and then here.
He tapped the page. There might be a ship yet to leave if we hurry to the docks,
he said, rolling up the map and handing it to Zhel.
She had absorbed the information to the best of her ability, and then put the map carefully into her purse. While she had done many odd things before, nothing even came close to surpassing this. She felt rather like an adventurer, as her and Ru shoved through the hoards of people on their way to the docks. She followed behind his yellow tail, her hair swishing back and forth and the contents of her bag clanking as they bounced along with her. They arrived at the docks, where Ru stopped and waited for Zhel to catch up although she was not far behind. Do you know where we could find a ship?
she asked Ru, softly, for there were people about and she didn't want to seem foolish.
Ru looked around the docks for a ship, but there did not seem to be any more today. I guess they have all already left,
he sighed. He looked at his traveling companion and realized that he did not know what he was doing at all. It seemed that he had somehow been swept up in a journey he did not choose or concoct. It was a waste of time, he told himself. On the other hand, he was never opposed to meeting new people. I suppose it wouldn't be a bad thing to get a good night's rest at one of the inns along the road and get a good start in the morning. Besides, I am rather hungry,
she began, at the moment I'm a student from Roo Island. I've lived in that little bubble all my life. I came to Shenkuu on a vacation, but really I want to study.
She paused, debating whether or not to tell him any more. For some reason, she wanted to trust him entirely. But maybe now was too soon... All sorts of things just fascinate me. On Roo Island, things are very fun, but not so... eccentric. Here, there's just such a different culture; a new vibe, per se.
She did miss her family. But it was nice to get out of the house a bit. How about you? Where are you from?
Ru repeated with a small smile. One of the few places I've actually never been. It seems nice, but I don't know if I'd fit in there. As for me... well, I'm from Jelly World, of course, but I can't seem to find it, is the thing. So when I'm not living just anywhere while I look for it, I stay with my friend McCloud and his family.
He looked down at the floor, wondering if he should have left in that bit about Jelly World. He had never been embarrassed to announce he was looking for a place most said didn't exist before. Jelly World was, in a way, his whole life, and saying it out loud to Zhel made it seem... odd. I suppose you think that's silly,
he laughed before she could said anything.
Silly? I think it's rather interesting.
She giggled and continued, If you find it, I'd love to visit someday. I'm sure they have a very unique culture.
Zhel was genuinely fascinated by other cultures of all kinds, having been cooped up in the Dice-a-roo obsessed community that revolved around purely being a blumaroo. Ru, she thought, had more to him than just being a blumaroo, and she admired that. And maybe we can visit your friends by Meridell, too, Rushishi.
She realized it was the first time she had actually said his name aloud. She wasn't really sure if she should have, so she just smiled a little and bit her lower lip.
Ru coughed into his hand. Ru is quite fine,
he said. He hadn't realized how long it had been since he was called Rushishi. It had been... oh, he couldn't remember. It must have been back when he still lived in Jelly World. However, the thought of visiting McCloud appealed to him. They are really a lovely bunch,
he went on, about his friends as they neared the inn. He was about to say more, but he stopped himself. But who wants to hear about them? They haven't had much adventures that I know of...
He pulled the door open and motioned for her to go inside before him.
Thank you, Ru,
she said as she walked through the door. She couldn't help but smile, but hoped he didn't notice. Although she couldn't exactly explain why she was embarrassed to be smiling, but that was another matter. The two blumaroos walked up to the front desk, and Zhel began to talk to the aisha sitting there.
Hello there! We are looking for a place to stay tonight. Preferably under a roof. She smiled across the desk to the aisha. While the inn wasn't particularly luxurious, it was clean and seemed a very nice place to spend the night and perhaps get something to eat.
The Aisha bowed her head and said, Yes, certainly. We have much room here, food for hungry, drink for thirsty.
She waved a paw over at a lone Chomby chef chopping at some vegetable or some such thing.
Whatever it was, it smelled delicious to Ru. Food first, he said, bounding over to the chef. There were many gourmet foods laid out on wooden plates flanked on either side by chopsticks. I love tasting different kinds of food from different places, don't you? he asked, picking a plate of "Pickled Bluchard," according to the label. Ru had never sampled this dish before, but he thought it looked like a good appetizer. What do you think? he asked, presenting the chopped blue thing to Zhel with a pair of chopsticks.
she said. Zhel was starving, but she was so used to the basic Blumaroo pancakes and such. And this dish she couldn't even pronounce. But Ru seemed excited about it, and she didn't want to seem like a wuss. I say we give it a try!
She grabbed a piece of the blue thing and put it in her mouth. To her delight, it was delicious.
Almost a pasta-like texture, she thought. She grabbed a plate of some pinkish and cream-colored thing labeled "Grilled Enochi," and picked up the chopsticks. Then she realized she had no idea what to do with them. She had only been in Shenkuu a day or so, and hadn't eaten with these utensils yet. She fiddled with them a bit and then decided just to stab the food with one of them and put it in her mouth. She looked over at Ru and then laughed at her own awkwardness. Hopefully he didn't mind her inexperience.
I suppose that's one way to do it.
Ru laughed, putting one of the blue disks in his mouth before helping Zhel with her chopsticks. I think I've found my new favorite appetizer,
he announced as he placed the chopsticks correctly in Zhel's hands. Like so,
he said, demonstrating with his own chopsticks. Just takes practice is all.
He picked up the next Bluchard and ate it. I can see how this would be better in a stew...
he said after a few bites. How is... that?
he asked, pointing at the pink stuffed. Enochi stuff?
she said with a smile. Picking up the enochi with her chopsticks, clumsily but correctly, she studied it. It's actually pretty good. Kind of... I'm not sure. Here, try it!
She held the food in front of him and then put it on his plate. The she played with her chopsticks a little, practicing picking up and putting the things on her plate.
Zhel watched Ru eat a little, too, trying to mimic the use of the chopsticks. He used them as if he had been born in Shenkuu; like an expert. You're really good with those chopsticks.
Ru shrugged as he sampled the mystery food. Sweet... flakey,
he pondered, savoring the taste. I suppose you could call me the official taste-tester of my family. I try everything in sight. Except for Jelly,
he added. He seized another piece of the blue root and then called to the chef for grilled sandfish for two. Don't worry, it tastes much better than it sounds.
Alright, I trust you,
Zhel said, looking forward to trying the sandfish. So, tell me more about this quest for Jelly World of yours. It sounds interesting.
She smiled and looked up from her plate of food. He seemed really big on this whole Jelly concept, and she couldn't help but be curious. It wasn't everyday that one meets someone so unique, she thought. So she put down her chopsticks and put her hands in her lap, hoping her question wasn't too invasive.
Ru shrugged and seemed very intent on his meal, or perhaps just not answering. It's really not that interesting,
he said demurely. I haven't found it and most people say it doesn't exist anyway.
He thought a moment and then was very quiet. He could have said more... He could always say more where Jelly World was concerned, but speaking about it to non-believers was ill-advised. He always had to remind himself of this. In any case, he no longer felt like eating sand left the rest of the sandfish to Zhel.
Zhel said. She finished off the sandfish and hoped Ru wasn't mad at her. She really was just trying to be friendly, and thought Jelly was a subject he liked. But she tried not to dwell on his terse response. Maybe he just didn't like the sandfish, was all. She looked back up at him and tried to say something, but was cut off by a huge yawn.
Oh, my. Excuse me, I guess that's a sign I should head to bed. I have to say, though, it's been a really fantastic day, and I'm excited for what's to come. She smiled at Ru, although was instantly nervous that she shouldn't have said that last bit. After all, she had just met him...but no matter. She was tired and that was that.
It is rather late,
There were five rooms at the inn, and all but one were vacant. The night went on uneventfully, and Ru rose the next morning partially wondering if he had even any idea what he was doing. He slipped on his coat and withdrew the lamp from his pocket. It was silent now. Had he imagined the whole thing and this stranger merely played along to oblige him? He put the lamp in his pocket and went out of the inn to wait for Zhel so they could find a boat to take to Neopia Central.
When Zhel woke up, she had to reorient herself a bit. Then the past day's events flooded back to her and she was filled with excitement once again. I really hope this is still happening... I can't even believe what I'm about to do,
she mumbled to herself.
Nevertheless, she fixed herself up and walked out of the inn, only to see Ru standing tall in his top hat, waiting for her. Good morning, she said with a perky smile. Are you ready to go?
Only as soon as we find a boat,
Ru answered with a smile. He pointed to one particular one on the docks. That one looks sufficient to me. It isn't enormous, but it is a passenger ship so we won't have only boxes to talk to.
He started to walk toward the docks. You are still up for the trip, right?
she responded. I mean, as long as you're okay with it.
She looked down at her feet for a minute. This was a huge leap for her. Her mother had never let her off the island before now, and now she was going to places she never even dreamed about. She could actually learn and experiment...what on Neopia would her mother think? But she still wanted desperately to go, so she picked her head up and looked eagerly at Ru, ready for his next instruction.
That's it, then,
he said with a nod. You can go get us supplies and I will get us a boat. It's unlikely the boat I'd be able to get will have food-service...
He grimaced as he looked at the ships and then muttered something about the state of the docks.
Without another word of explanation, Ru bounded down the road away from Zhel and confronted a rather surly-looking Kacheek dressed in raggedy clothing, but he had a big red Lenny feather in his captain's hat.
Zhel whirled around and headed back into the market, less populated this morning than yesterday. While not particularly good at cooking, she did know how to mix and match a couple strange things to make simple, tasty dishes. So she purchased several bags of dumplings, dried mushrooms, bamboo tea leaves and some other ingredients. She also bought a canteen for Ru, since she already had one. After buying a dish or two, she put everything in her expansive travel bag. Lastly, she bought a large blanket, in case it got cold. After all, she had no idea what was to come. So she waltzed excitedly back to the docks.
Ru had successfully secured passage aboard a tiny ship, total compliment seven crew and five passengers (assuming a Mutant Chomby was not one of them). Ru saw Zhel returning from the market and waved her over, saying, The captain says it should only take a week to get there, provided good weather. But the weather is so hard to tell in this part of the sea, you know.
He looked at her bag and saw the corner of the blanket sticking out. Good thought, he said, pointing it out. Well, I'd best show you to the quarters.
The ship was dark and dank, and, quite honestly, looked like it might sink to the bottom of the Neopian ocean at any moment. A flimsy partition separated the crew's quarters from the guests, and both were approximately the same: that is, hammocks lined on either side from the ceiling. Not much, I know. And probably not what you're used to, either, but really, it's a nice-looking ship, Ru said, though he did not feel as sure as he tried to sound.
Zhel eyed the rotting walls of the quarters with suspicion, and felt a little uneasy. But if Ru said it was a good ship... it's not like she knew what a good ship would look like anyways. Alright, if you're sure,
she said quietly. I suppose this will be an interesting trip.
She did, however, pull her cardigan out from her bag and threw it on over her dress. This should be a fascinating week, eh?
she said, looking at Ru with a faint smile.
Ru smiled back, feeling slightly guilty, but elated for some reason that he was better at lying than he had thought he was. He took the bag from her and stowed it in the bar over the hammocks as he said, It will most definitely be an interesting trip. Since you've never been on a boat, I'd imagine, I ought to tell you that you ought to stay out of the way of the crew. What you got in the way of food is what we'll have, unless we want to catch some fish on the go.
He hesitated and then grinned. Which might not be a bad idea. I have been wanting to try my sushi preparation technique.
Zhel laughed and couldn't help but smile at the thought of Ru in a chef's hat. Sushi sounds delicious. But, just for reference, I don't eat squid.
She grinned, hoping he'd get her Krawk Island pun.
Fishing? This was amazing! Zhel twirled her purple ponytail and looked around the room with a new perspective. Brushing her hands off on her dress and rolling up the sleeves of her cardigan slightly, she grabbed a small towel rag from her purse and began dusting off the hammocks and surrounding walls.
No squid for you?
Ru chuckled. Good, then. More for me.
He watched her dust for a moment and then said, I will go above deck if you need me. The captain informed me we should be underway in an hour or so.
He made his exit and went up to the deck. He had been on larger ships, and smaller boats. The railing of this boat looked more-or-less stable, so he leaned on it looking over the gray sea. The dark clouds on the horizon suggested snow that they might outrun if they skirted the cliffs that edged the continent. He felt the lamp in his outside pocket and his notebook on the inside. Life was good. It could get better, he allowed. But it wasn't bad. And, with any luck, he wouldn't meet any pirates this time.
Zhel finished her dusting work and went to explore the workings of the ship a little. It had a sort of musty, dry sea salt smell to it, but also reeked of experience and legend. She wondered who had walked on the wood structure before her, and what adventures they had had. She looked out a nearby port hole and smiled at the sea. The gray waters bubbled gracefully as if the wind itself was asleep on the sea. At peace with herself, Zhel strolled back to her hammock and awaited the departure of the ship.
Ru went below decks, as the chill that swept off the ocean became too much for his coat to stay. Beneath decks was hardly any better, but at least he would be able to find a spot that wasn't plagued with draft from a crack between the wood slats. The cold from the ocean seemed to seep up through the floor boards and froze his feet even though his boots. He jumped up onto his hammock and said to Zhel, Anytime now and we'll be underway.
Even has he spoke, the boat began to gently sway as the moorings were untied and the ship castoff.
The boat began its journey, slowly but steadily, away from the docks. Zhel took in a sharp breath of the chilled, salt-stained air as the ship released it's final supports on the docks. Here we go,
Zhel whispered to no one in particular.
A few hours went by and all seemed well, although a little chilly. Zhel bustled about for awhile, exploring the ship and dusting off boxes until it became so windy that she had to chase down her rag every few seconds. After a strange but delicious dinner, Zhel retired back to the hammocks and sat down next to Ru. It was too early to go to sleep but too late to do anything productive.
Ru hadn't had such a chance to just sleep as long as he wanted to in a long time, but he tired of that and now huddled on his hammock, hunched over his notebook, pen poised above the page. He did not know what to write. There was nothing new to add, as it seemed his brain would not cooperate. Finally, he thought of something to write and started scribbling away. One thought led to another and he turned the page, writing still more.
He thought how boring a travel companion he was being after a bit and looked up. I'm sure you can see more stars here than you can on Roo Island, he suggested.
Zhel had been in a sort of trance from the soft sway of the ship and soft light of the sky. She turned to Ru and smiled. Yes, there are definitely more stars. I can actually see the constellations. I've read they are of Altadorian heroes, or something.
She looked towards the sky and sighed. The stars seemed to glow in such a remarkable way, bright and alabaster when the sky seemed so dark.
She hugged her knees into her chest and looked over at the jelly roo curled up next to her with his notebook. A journal? she asked curiously.
Ru hugged his notebook close to him subconsciously. Not exactly,
he explained. Well maybe, I guess. I keep all of my notes about Jelly World in this.
He closed the notebook and hooked the pen onto one of the pages. I always bring Jelly World into everything I do, he thought, and sighed.
Let's go see those stars, what do you say? I don't know anything at all about them; maybe you could tell me a thing or two. Ru put his hat on his head and smiled at Zhel.
she said with a smile. She couldn't help but think how romantic going stargazing was... but she quickly told herself how silly it was to think that. I've read loads about the stars. With the boring, uneventful weather of Roo Island there's not much else to do.
She giggled as the two blumaroos stood up and walked out to the deck. The calm sea sparkled under the stars and the two travelers were contented in the night air. That constellation is of the Altador hero Jerdana,
she said as she pointed to the stars.
Ru looked at all the constellations that Zhel pointed out, but he found he wasn't all that interested in it. Perhaps, he thought, he might find space fascinating if he were not so consumed in terrestrial matters. Otherwise, Ru found the evening very pleasant, the stars and moon bright, and it seemed for a moment that nothing could go wrong. Of course, Ru should have known better. With a sudden splash and a forbidding thumps, crashes and cries, Ru whirled about to find their little boat surrounded and beleaguered by a swarm of Jetsam—pirates!
Zhel's ponytail whipped around as she turned to face Ru with a concerned look. Are they...
she trailed off, afraid of what might happen next. The starlight quivered as the pirates swung across ropes and landed on deck.
Instinctively, Zhel clutched Ru's hand and whispered, What do you want me to do? She assumed he might know, and hoped so, too, since all she had read about pirates was purely fantasy fictional.
Ru barely had time to register there were pirates on board before another thought went darting through his Jelly brain: Oh dear me, she's holding my hand.
Alright, so the most dangerous thing he had ever had to deal with was a hungry Grarrl... He would have to come up with something fast if he wanted to save his dignity. Who was he kidding? He didn't have any of that. He also had no idea what to do. One of the pirates cackled and bared his sharp teeth, flopping forward on his awkward fin-feet.
Below decks with you two, he ordered and turned upon the captain and crew.
As Ru pulled Zhel away to the door leading below, he muttered to himself, I hope very much I'm not dessert...
Although Zhel debated yelling at the pirates, she was too frightened and instead decided to give the pirate a death glare and, all the while gripping Ru's hand, headed below deck. The two of them sat on their respective hammocks and Zhel protectively grabbed her bag, then moved to sit next to Ru so she could talk to him.
In a low voice, she said, You don't think they'll hurt us, do you? She paused, then continued, We could always sneak out in a lifeboat if things get bad.
Ru shook his head and sighed. I might have considered it a reason not to book passage on this ship... This boat doesn't have a lifeboat.
He hurried on before Zhel could ask him what in the world he was thinking to put them on a boat with no means of escape should something go wrong or otherwise berate him. But look,
he said, pointing at the porthole on the far side of the boat. It was so far off the deck that it was necessary to climb atop crates to see out. Not too far away was a nearly solid cliff face, that every now and again dipped into a miniature beach. If you can swim then... we could swim. It would be quite a hike back to civilization.
Yes, I could swim. I think that's our best bet.
Zhel was nervous, and could see that their detour wasn't going to be the most pleasant. She looked into her bag and pulled out a one piece swimsuit of a remarkably pink hue. She looked at Ru and smiled halfheartedly. Not exactly the tropical beach of my dreams, but I guess this will have to do.
She looked at the porthole and then went to change into her swimsuit.
What on Neopia was she doing? Escaping a pirate boat? As concerned as she was, she couldn't help but think it was awesome.
Ru sighed and took off his hat. Definitely not a tropical beach,
he agreed, but I think it is the best chance we have.
On the other hand, they would have to hide out on the beach until the pirates left and do their best to not attract attention. And the water would be icy cold this far north on the planet.
I'm afraid the only waterproof thing I have is my hat, he said, presenting it to her. If you have something you would like to keep dry, put it in here and it will stay afloat. He put the lamp inside and looked out the porthole.
Thank you, but my bag has waterproof lining,
she said with a smile. While some found it obnoxious, Zhel was always over-prepared for everything. Having never traveled, she didn't know what to expect so expected everything. Not pirates, exactly, but water for sure. I guess we should... jump in then?
she said anxiously.
he cautioned, and crawled out the -blocked- He slid into the water and paddled his arms for a few moments before realizing that his heavy boots and coat were weighing him down so that swimming would be impossible.
He shed his coat as quickly and quietly as he could, careful to keep it within arms reach. Then he kicked his boots off, sad that he wouldn't be able to take them. He imagined some Flotsam or Maraquan would be very happy to find them resting on the bottom of the sea beneath him... on the other hand, he guessed that some fisherman could be equally unhappy. He turned to the porthole and motioned wordlessly for Zhel to follow.
Zhel silently crept out of the window and slipped into the icy waves. It was indeed very cold, and swimming was a little awkward with her bag strapped around one shoulder. Nevertheless, she paddled over to Ru and the two of the swam quietly, cautiously, and cold until they reached one of the odd beaches. She scrambled up onto the sand and then began to squeeze the water out of her ponytail, wet and dripping like the rest of her.
Ru could not stop shivering the moment he got to the beach. He dragged his coat up on the sand and then hung it over one of the rocks from the cliff and hoped it would dry soon. He tried to ignore his bitter coldness by looking for a way off the beach that did not involve going in the water. Then he realized he was more concerned about the sand on his feet even than how cold he was. How I despise sand,
he hissed and chattered. I don't see any easy way out of here. Do you?
Not really. Unless we climb the mountain. See what's on the other side.
She shivered, and saw Ru's teeth chattering too. Zhel looked into her bag and pulled out the blanket she had bought. She walked up to Ru and threw it on over his shoulders. It's too late at night to anything at the moment. I say we find a spot to sleep and lay low for the night,
she said. I'm just glad we aren't pirate food.
Ru discarded the blanked onto the bag and shook his head. Too dangerous...
he chattered. We'll freeze if… like this... Got to... keep moving.
He slung his coat over his shoulders and went to the water. He thought he had seen another cove on the other side of this cliff, and, with any luck, they could walk to it. Without telling Zhel what he was doing he went into the water with one hand on the cliff. The water only came to his knees, and he hoped it stayed that way.
Zhel put the blanket gently in her bag and looked sadly at Ru. She knew he was right, but she didn't want to admit the possibility they might freeze to death. So she threw something on over her swimsuit and followed Ru to the shore. She had read somewhere that to prevent freezing you were supposed to run kicking your knees up as high as possible. So, although she surely looked ridiculous, she jogged with her knees pumping up and down towards the water.
Ru wasn't sure what Zhel thought she was doing, but it was all he could do to focus on the next step he was taking. After what seemed like an eternity, the beach came into view. The cliff looked more manageable to climb to Ru, so he turned to Zhel. What do you... say to that one?
he asked, still shivering.
Looks okay to me,
she said, getting out her sentence quickly before her teeth chattered again. It was dark, cold, and wet and she was tired, but she knew she had to push forward. So her and Ru slowly and dejectedly scaled the cliff side. She hoped it wouldn't be long before they reached the top. Or at least, she hoped, they could make it before sunrise.
Ru had never climbed like this before. He had walked on paths up hills and on jackknife roads up mountains, but this was a bit different. He thought that it might be fun if he had not just climbed out of freezing water and every bead of sweat that formed on his forehead seemed to turn to ice. Ru reached a little cliff edge and sat down It was just wide enough for his back to lean against the cliff while his feet dangled off over the beach below.
For all the work it had been, it was a disappointing distance, but he doubted that the pirates would think to look for them up here. He reached for the fringes of his coat and found them dry. He hoped the rest of the coat would follow soon. "I think we will be safe here until morning," he said to Zhel, a short distance away. I think we should rest. I have no idea when we'll be able to find another place as safe as this.
Zhel said, unable to think of a more witty response. She sighed and plopped down next to Ru at the cliffside. She pulled the blanket out of her bag and spread it over the two of them. It was amazing how large the blanket was; she had never expected to buy something so extravagent. Zhel leaned against the cliff face and looked out over the ominous night sea and sky, both so black at this point they blended together as if nothing were there at all. Zhel was going to say something but couldn't think of quite what, so she just turned and looked over at her companion.
Ru leaned back against the cliff and tried to find the ship they had left what seemed like ages ago. Do you still have that map?
he asked. We can try to figure out where we are.
He doubted they would be able to, since he had no idea how fast their ship had been moving and knew of no landmarks in this area of Neopia, and none that would be shown on a map. The best they could do was guess, but it was better than wandering aimlessly in the mountains for who knew how long...
Yeah, it's here.
Zhel took out the map and spread it out in front of them. There were so many places on the map, and she felt very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. She wondered where they were, and even worried if they would ever find their way. She wanted to ask if they'd be okay, and have Ru say that everything was under control and he knew exactly where they were... but she didn't, not wanting to find out any bad news.
Ru studied the map briefly before looking around. The map just didn't have enough detail. And even if it had, they were in a little-traveled part of Neopia. Any traveler worth his title would have taken a more populated route, like possibly across the ocean by way of Mystery Island. But they were here now and there was no turning back time. I think if we can keep the ocean in view to our left, and keep walking toward the sunrise, we will eventually run into Neopia Central. How are you with roughing it?
he asked with a small smile.
Relieved to see him smile, Zhel nodded and said, I think I can handle it.
With that, she folded up the map and placed it back in her bag. Come sunrise, we can start hiking. I'm going to try to sleep a little until then.
She turned onto her side slightly (the cliff only allowed so much space) and closed her eyes. The night sky remained black above them as she waited for morning.
Ru didn't get much sleep that night, and was wide awake when the sun began to rise. He nudged Zhel and said quietly, What do you say to breakfast and an early start?
He looked up at the sky, seeing it was still dark from night, but the horizon had just spread an orange band from one end to the other. It would have been beautiful if it had not been so desolate.
Zhel had slept in a sort of half-awake, half-asleep state and rubbed her eyes when Ru nudged her. She blinked rapidly, her eyes adjusting to the ever brightening tangerine sky, and then looked at Ru. Breakfast sounds nice,
she smiled, but I'm afraid I can't offer pancakes.
She reached into her bag and pulled out a tin of food that appeared to be part biscuit, part muffin, and part granola. She took one out and offered it to Ru.
Ru accepted the proffered grain-thing and bit into it. This is better than pancakes,
he said, chewing thoughtfully. It was crunchy and smooth at once. I just hope it's nutritious. We will need to keep our energy up. But, who knows? There could be a plateau just a few feet up.
He looked up the cliff and shrugged. It was unlikely, but it would have been nice. An undiscovered paradise on the top of the world... or even just a flat place to walk. I hope there is, anyway.
Zhel said looking up the side of the cliff as well. She munched on the muffin (or whatever it was), grabbed a nearby ledge and hoisted herself up the rocky side. The sky was a vibrant yellow-orange, now, with pale streaks of blue. At least it was going to be a beautiful day. May this would be like one of those adventure camps her mother never let her go to. And if there was a plateau they could have a picnic. She smiled to herself, deciding then and there she was going to be optimistic, and kept climbing.
Ru shoved the rest of whatever-it-was in his mouth and scrambled up after Zhel. Let me know if you see something worth looking at,
he said, trying to find a handhold that wasn't smooth and difficult to grasp. The top of the cliff they were climbing seemed to get farther and farther away as he climbed, so he decided to just focus on the rocks just ahead of him. At least this was more interesting than wandering in the desert, he thought.
It was quite a long climb, and time seemed to go in slow motion. Zhel couldn't even really tell if the cliff had a top... she thought they might just climb all the way to Kreludor or something. She found a somewhat stable ledge to stand on, so she looked out and surveyed the area for a minute. They had been climbing for awhile, and had indeed made progress going up. She noticed a very large cliff ledge to their left and waved to Ru. The cliff keeps going up where we are, but stops over there,
she said, pointing up and to the left. We could climb over there and hope there's something on the other side.
Ru stopped climbing a moment to look. His hands were sore, his legs were like, well, jelly, and his feet without their boots might have gripped the rocks better, but they hurt, too. He found a place to sit for a moment and rubbed his hands. Lead the way,
he said. I'm all for it.
Zhel smiled and began climbing in the proposed direction. She was exhausted, but figured if they could make it to the ledge they would at least be able to rest. The sun was high in the pure blue sky and it reflected off the sea remarkably. The two finally reached the large ledge and Zhel spread out on the rocky surface. Time for a little sunbathing,
she said, only somewhat jokingly.
Ru stretched out on the ground and stared up at the sky. It's not too bad, actually,
he commented, wiggling his toes and absorbing the warmth. He suddenly sat up and looked around. It was actually quite beautiful. I could probably stay here forever if I could survive on great views.
Zhel smiled and nodded in agreement. It was a beautiful sight: the water, the sky, the mountain tops...they all seemed to work in perfect harmony. It was afternoon now, and they had been climbing for quite awhile. Hungry?
she asked, reaching for her bag. She spread the large blanket out over the rocky surface and looked at their food possibilities for the picnic.
Ru wondered what they could have possibly still had in the bag. His imagination began to run away with him as he remembered the grandest feast he had ever had. It was a holiday, and the day after he felt like he would never be able to eat again. Now he wondered if he ever would. He sighed and said, Something small. We have to save as much as we can. How much water do we have?
About a canteen full of water,
she said, surveying the sad remains of what had been their food supply. She pulled out some dried biscuit-like things and a covered dish of... apple sauce? It was some sort of spread. She laid them out on the blanket with the canteen and looked at Ru. What a regal feast, eh?
She smiled slightly under the glaring sun.
Ru sighed and tried to smile, too. Things were quite dire. We'll have to save that, too, then,
he said. He left Zhel and the food and went to the farthest ledge facing away from the sea. All he could see were mountains and the little valleys that stooped between them. A river older than the mountains had cut its way through that valley eons ago, it seemed, just so they could find it. Well, I can tell you where we'll be going next,
he called to Zhel, pointing at the valley. It wasn't very far away, but the land between looked treacherous.
Zhel took a bite of the food and then put it down. Things were a little rough. She'd never experienced anything like this before... this was quite the opposite of what her mother had wanted her to do. But she didn't want to dwell on the thought, so she distracted herself, thinking that if the cliffside was covered in snow they could sled down to the valley. That looks like a good direction to head in,
she said, standing up and walking over beside him. Looks like a rough way down.
Ru nodded thoughtfully and smiled. "But at least we'll be going downhill, not uphill. And we'll probably want to get started as soon as we can. To run out of water would be…" He hesitated and then shrugged. Disastrous.
He looked over at Zhel. What do you think?
she said with a faint smile. And with that, she made sure she had gathered all of her things, and began climbing down the mountainside. The weather was fairly nice and the sea breeze kept her motivated. She looked up at Ru quickly before swinging down onto another sharp ledge. I suppose a few bumps and scratches won't be too bad,
she mumbled to no one in particular, might account for some good stories later.
Ru laughed. Good stories, indeed. I love a good story myself.
He slid down after Zhel and steadied himself on a particularly pointy rock. This actually reminds me of one time I went looking for caves near Altador... You see, my friend, McCloud, likes caves. I don't know why. They're so dark and damp. Anyway, well, I found one, but not before McCloud had decided that he wanted to live somewhere entirely different. Eyries. So changeable.
He kept his eyes carefully on the ground where his feet would step next. Of course, being without shoes made the trip slightly less enjoyable, but Ru was pleased enough they'd found water and possibly a way out of the mountains if they followed the river far enough.
You'd think, after all that trouble looking for a cave,
she said as she continued down the cliffside, that he would have just settled down there and been satisfied.
She smiled at Ru and fantasized about all the amazing adventures he must have gone on. He seemed like such an expert, best friends with an eyrie, even! Have you been everywhere in Neopia, then?
she asked as they approached the final climb towards the valley.
Ru admitted, McCloud lives in a very nice place now. Much better than any cave.
Ru pondered the question for a few moments before answering, I can't think of anywhere I haven't been. I haven't been to Moltara. Too warm. But I've visited everywhere else. Even Faerieland. When it was in the clouds... Where have you been?
Zhel murmured. She thought for a minute and then spoke up, Well, I've been to Roo Island, of course, and... uhm...
she paused for a second, and then continued, I've been to Shenkuu, and once to Meridell. And then wherever we are now.
The truth was, she hadn't really traveled before. This was, truly, her first significant time away from her home.
Wherever it is, indeed,
Ru agreed with a slight smile. He looked around and then skipped down a few feet. It's a pretty place, I suppose,
he commented. Of course, my favorite place on the whole of Neopia is right outside of Meridell. Or Brightvale. I can never remember which. The meadows thereabout are lovely. What were you in Meridell for?
Then he took a great leap over a crack in the mountain and managed to land on his feet, though he had to use his tail to steady himself. He chuckled proudly and scrambled a bit further down the cliff.
Zhel giggled and then continued the conversation, My mom went through a phase where she thought... well, you see, she's a little crazy.
Zhel hopped down a few ledges casually, wondering how to phrase her explanation. She heard somewhere that the fruits from the Meridell farms, when eaten, made blumaroos more... attractive, I guess? She is pretty big on appearance.
Zhel looked sheepishly at Ru and then slid down a few more rocks. So we went to the Meridellian farms for food.
Long story short, she thought to herself.
Mothers are like that...
Ru nodded in agreement. He'd never had a "mother" exactly, but he hadn't put the thought of getting one completely out of his mind. The closest Ru supposed he had was McCloud's. She liked nice things, too, especially coats. Ru straightened the collar of his coat and went on, I've never heard that legend. I mean, I think Blumaroos are pretty cool already. I hear tell of different kinds of foods that will change appearance. Jelly seems to be the most common...
Zhel smiled, relieved that Ru seemed to understand her predicament. I agree, Blumaroos are pretty cool.
They had almost reached the valley, now, and so Zhel adapted a little more of a leisurely pace. I've read that glowing jelly can make one glow. But I'm not sure I'd feel right about eating anything made of jelly...
She was about to add "after meeting you" but she knew by now that Jelly was a soft spot for him and she didn't want to make the best conversation she'd had in months awkward.
Ru admitted. But there are worse things...
He jumped ahead a few steps, eager to reach the river and rinse the salt water out of his clothing. Do you know that Blumaroo Tail Steak is considered fine cuisine in the Haunted Woods?
For that reason, he had only been to the Haunted Woods once. And he never wanted to go again. With that, he sprinted down into the valley, kicking up dust and loosening little rocks that tumbled down before him all along the way.
Is it really?
Zhel grimaced a little. She ran after Ru, zigzagging back and forth so as to send up a patterned dust trail. It was kind of exhilarating, running so fast and letting gravity take her where ever it wanted. She was tempted to slide down the rest of the way on her bottom, but remembered she didn't exactly have another change of clothes. She caught up with Ru by the river's edge, and smiled up at him. While I do want to travel, remind me never to go to the Haunted Woods.
She grinned and bent over the water.
Ru swished his hand back and forth in the water before shedding his coat and letting the water run over it. It would certainly need a proper washing when they returned to civilization, but getting the salt out of it would do in the meantime. As he held the coat in the water, he slurped up a few mouthfuls for himself. It's not really worth visiting, anyway,
he admitted. Now... the Space Station. That is an interesting place.
You've been to the Space Station?
Zhel said incredulously. Of course, she knew the answer was yes and it was a rather foolish question, but she had very limited knowledge of the Space Station and didn't know what else to stay. Now, though, she realized she was still wearing her swimsuit, covered in a fine layer of salt from their trek through the waters. She stealthily changed out of her suit and into her dress behind a cliff edge, and then began rinsing her suit off in the river. What was it like?
Ru nodded, and explained, It's pretty dark and kind of... scary. But it has a marvelous view of Neopia. You can see everything from there.
He hesitated a moment before amending, Almost everything, anyway.
He wiggled his toes, frowning. As soon as we reach civilization, I need new shoes.
He pulled the coat out of the river and rung it out as best as he could. A proper washing and it'd be grand again...
New shoes for you, and perhaps a good shampooing for me,
she said with a smile, flipping her dejected-looking ponytail over her shoulder. It hadn't quite lost it's shine yet, but it was dangerously close. Her other usually kept her appearance so pristine, it was a little weird not being polished to the bone. She felt... rugged. Kind of rebellious. She smiled to herself at the thought of this. Do you want me to try and dry your coat?
Zhel had an idea she wanted to try out.
Ru relinquished his coat before removing his hat and feeling his bald head, except for two solitary hairs between his ears. He always thought his ears were quite enough of a hassle, never mind hair. Though, he did know another Blumaroo with a great deal of hair indeed, and she always managed to keep it nice. I wonder how our traveling guest is doing?
Ru wondered, thinking of the lamp.
I suppose we should check on it, then?
Zhel gestured in the direction of the lamp, and then began drying the coat. She walked halfway up the valley edge and then ran as fast as she could down with the coat flying in the air behind her. Taking the momentum, she whirled around the valley, the coat swaying in the breeze along with her. After a bit, she walked back to Ru, her face flushed from running, and held out the nearly-dry coat for him to take.
Ru smiled in amusement as he watched Zhel dry his coat, and removed the lamp from its resting place before she came back. It seemed to be inert, he thought, turning it over in his hands and examining it. He shook it a few times and then said to it, Hey, you alright in there?
For a few seconds the lamp didn't respond. Then it said, Hey, you wouldn't mind taking a quick detour before the Lost Desert, would you?
Ru frowned at it. Are you kidding me? he asked it just as Zhel had walked up.
Zhel had caught the last bit of the conversation and looked disdainfully at Ru. She then glared at the lamp, having finally overcome the fact that it was a talking inanimate object. What sort of detour were you thinking, then, lamp?
She pronounced the "p" at the end of "lamp" so harshly she startled herself a little.
Just a small one...
the lamp whimpered. Really. Just to Mystery Island? You see, my cousin lives there. Or... is it my aunt? Anyway, she's been held captive by this horrible monster and all these people are always wandering around trying to steal her. I worry if she's found she'll be pawned off in some auction or traded away... Well, she really belongs in the Lost Desert.
The lamp prattled on, but Ru stuffed it back in the bag.
I don't think so, he fumed, crossing his arms and glaring across the stream. He looked timorously out of the corner of his eye at Zhel. Right?
Zhel didn't want to disagree with Ru, but she did kind of feel bad for the lamp. Mystery Island was kind of far though, wasn't it? She always trusted his judgement, but she couldn't help but feel sorry for the little tin can. What's in it for us?
Zhel asked, either to Ru or the lamp. She looked down at the rough valley ground below her feet and bit her lip slightly. We are already traveling...
Ru raised an eyebrow at Zhel as the lamp seemed to be thinking. After a few seconds it announced, though a bit unsure, More wishes!
Ru rolled his eyes. He had all but forgotten about the wish. He wasn't sure what he would wish for, assuming this wish-business wasn't all just a joke. Listen here, you... He hesitated and then remembered what Zhel said. They were already traveling. He did like Mystery Island, didn't he? It was a nice place, nice beaches, nice people, and good places to eat. Well... He looked at Zhel uncertainly. I don't know. Do you have to get back home... sometime?
Zhel whispered. She had forgotten that the adventure had to end eventually. And she did have to go back home at some point. Although her trip to Shenkuu wasn't supposed to end for another few weeks and her mother wouldn't expect her until then. And if she wrote a letter... I have some time before I'm expected back home. And I've always sort of wanted to see Mystery Island.
She smiled slightly and shrugged, and looked at the lamp. Whether or not this thing had any wishes to offer, she certainly hoped it wasn't leading them to certain doom.
Ru mused. I suppose there are worse places.
He walked along the stream in the direction he had decided that Neopia Central must be. Do you think we ought to keep walking until night comes?
Then he stopped walking. Speaking of which, are you hungry?
He looked around at the vegetation surrounding the stream for edible plants. Most of them, he guessed were edible, but he wasn't sure how good they would taste. In any case, eating something, even badly tasting, was better than nothing. What do you know about botany?
he asked, strolling from one side to the other, picking random plants.
She was kind of hungry, now that he mentioned it. I've read a little about plants,
Zhel related, as she walked up to Ru and took one of the plants from his hand. This one tastes terrible, and supposedly gives awful stomach aches,
she said, throwing the greenish thing down and picking up another fluffy looking plant, but this one is supposed to be sweet on the inside.
She looked towards the river, wondering if there was any way to cook the plants, or if they'd just be eating a strange salad.
Clearly you know more than I do,
Ru said with a smile. I never wanted to be a Cybunny, but I don't see any reason not to eat things... uncooked,
he finished with a click of his tongue. He plucked one of the fuzzy plants that Zhel had indicated and pulled the fuzz apart to reveal a small bulb on the inside. He popped it into his mouth and considered the taste. Not bad,
he said, try it,
and picked another.
Zhel put one of the bulbs in her mouth, and pondered the taste. It's not too bad.
She smiled at Ru, and then bounced up and down the river edge and picked some various plants. If you could grab the bowls from my bag, we can try to put together a little salad,
she called across the valley, and channel our inner cybunny.
She walked back over to the jelly blumaroo and her bright bag, and began examining the various parts of her frondescence collection.
Ru looked over Zhel's variable edible bouquet and wondered what each of the plants would taste like. He had never been one to eat his vegetables if there was absolutely anything else available, and certainly not uncooked, but he supposed he could try anything once. He handed Zhel one of the bowls and held out the second one. Who would have known there would be so many edibles?
Just because you can eat it doesn't mean it's gourmet,
Zhel said playfully. She pulled apart the leaves of one plant, buds of another, and plopped the bits and pieces into the bowls. She even squeezed the stalks of one of the plants, releasing a nectar that looked almost dressing-like. I know what you mean, though. I certainly wasn't expecting to find food out here.
Zhel sat cross-legged on the ground and handed the second green-filled bowl to Ru.
Ru settled down on the ground with his salad and experimentally placed a leaf on his tongue. That's a good point,
he agreed, making a face at the taste. Well, it's better than nothing.
He looked around as he ate, commenting on the landscape, the sky, a line of petpetpets marching industriously from one place to another. With as much traveling from city to city that I do, it's a wonder that places like this still exist.
It is pretty remarkable,
Zhel noted, taking a mental panoramic shot of the area. Kind of pretty, in a way.
She twirled the tip of her finger in a pattern in the dirt, making little swirls and then "erasing" them with her hand. Cities aren't bad, but it's a rare experience to be in a place like this.
She looked up at the sky, thn back at Ru and smiled. What's your favorite kind of place to be? Like, cityscape, jungle, prairie, and such.
Ru smiled up at the sky. He loved the city, since there were so many people. Jungles sort of scared him, since there were so many things there that could eat him. Prairies, though... that, he thought, would always be home to him. Definitely like those wide open spaces,
he answered. With a big blue sky, green grass... maybe a little blue lake and a grove of trees.
He couldn't think of anything else he could possibly add to perfection. How about you?
Zhel smiled off into the distance, looking apparently past the horizon, imagining the beautiful picture Ru had painted. How she would love to live in a place like that. That sounds lovely,
she remarked, and then came out of her daze to ponder the question herself. She hadn't experienced too many different areas, although she did rather like open areas, with lots of things to look at. I like spacious markets, with lots of things to try and look at,
she said. Like a city but not quite so crowded...I'm not sure what one would call that. Clear, with lots of different aspects.
Trees, lakes, foods, buildings, ideas...she liked all of it.
That sounds idyllic, as well,
Ru agreed, thinking that there were probably too many fantastic places in the world to call only one his favorite. On the other hand, only one place could be home. Well. Neopia Central awaits. Shall we be on our way?
I suppose we shall,
Zhel said, getting up and grabbing her bag. Here, against the subtle earthy tones of the valley, her highlighter pink luggage looked especially out of place and blinding. She wasn't sure whether it looked awkward, or a little hopeful. She decided to go with the latter waited for Ru to head in the right direction, putting her hand on the map from within her bag just in case.
Ru started marching off down the valley, following the river. He enjoyed the feeling of the pebbles beneath his toes and the breeze that tossed his ears about, even though it was a little chilly. It was a long walk ahead of them, he knew. Just how long? He had no idea. Say, Zhel, do you have that map handy? I'm pretty certain this valley isn't on it, but I guess we will have a better idea of how long it will take to get to Neopia Central.
Here it is,
she responded, offering the map to him. She waited for him to examine it as she searched the stones near the river for anything interesting. Most were grey, although there were a few with brighter colors that glistened beneath the steady current. The wind tousled her hair over her face, and she struggled to pull it back away from her face for a moment. Does it look like Neopia Central is far?
Zhel asked, looking in Ru's direction.
No. Not extremely,
he sighed, walking over to her and showing her the map. Unfortunately, this valley doesn't go straight out, you see? It angles south a bit. We'll almost be to the Haunted Woods by the time we're out of the mountains. Ah, well. I suppose there's no reason we can't catch a boat to Mystery Island from Brightvale or Meridell.
Ru rolled up the map and bounded ahead on his tail.
Zhel stood and watched as Ru bounced off for a moment, sighed to herself, and motivated onward with him. The path within the valley did curve quite a bit, and she found herself losin her sense of direction quickly. But however they were oriented, Ru always seemed to know where they were going, if not where they were. They walked together for quite awhile, and the sun began to slowly set over the golden and green, jagged horizon. She had a feeling they were close to somewhere. The sunset makes for pretty travel lighting,
Zhel murmured to no one in particular. It made a nice alternative to "are we there yet?"
It seemed almost as soon as the sun touched the edge of the peaks, it had sunk beneath them and night had come. The stars burned above them and the moon was full, bathing the landscape in pale silvery blue. Ru craned his neck to look up at the heavens. Kreludor shone brightly, laced with the blinking black and yellow strips of the mining facilities there. The space station was even clearly visible tonight.
Ru looked at Zhel. I think we ought to stop for the night. You haven't got a cot in that marvelous bag of yours, have you? he asked with a chuckle as he looked around. A grove of trees hung over the stream a short distance away, and even further downstream Ru could hear a waterfall. He wondered how big it was… and then he decided that he would leave the worrying about that to tomorrow.
Zhel looked down from the skies and smiled at Ru. Not a cot exactly, but that big blanket. And I may have a small pillow in here.
Sure enough, Zhel's ever expansive bag had a pillow and a blanket, fit well enough for the two of them two squeeze under. The night wasn't too chilly yet, and so she placed the bedding confidently under the trees by the river.
A little stargazing and some rest and I think tomorrow's travel should yield good results, she said, smoothing out the blanket and looking up at the sparkling moon and its many companions of the night, as the shades of lavender and teal morphed into navy and indigo.
Ru looked at the blanket under the tree critically, and then up at the low branches that reached out, long and strong. He jumped up into the lowest branch and settled himself next to the trunk, his legs stretched down the length of the branch. A moment later he had shed his coat and spread it over himself. The corners of it fell over the sides of the branch, dangling several feet off the ground, but at least they didn't touch, Ru thought. Something about staying in the wilderness,
he commented, looking up into the sky. Look how bright the Protector is,
he said, pointing up at the six stars that dotted the night sky. That's good luck, you know,
he added, pulling his hat down over his face and closing his eyes.
Zhel couldn't help but smile at the sight of the jelly blumaroo in the tree like that before she wandered over to the blanket, leaning up against the trunk and draping he hung over herself under the leafy rooftop. She peeked up at the designated constellation and tilted her head. I'll never complain about good luck,
she whispered to herself, letting her eyelids close around the glowing Protector image. The sun had finally covered the atmosphere, leaving only the next day's sun and the rush of the river to wake the travelers.
The first thing Ru knew the next morning was the leaf canopy-filtered sunlight falling on his ears, warming them. The second thing he knew was that he had missed dinner the night before. He righted his hat, stretched, and yawned, listening to his empty stomach complain of malnourishment. He slipped off the branch and pulled his coat on, checking to see if Zhel was still asleep before going over to the river for some water.
Zhel said, blinking the morning out of her eyes as the sun glared off her features, that we should eat.
She hadn't been up for very long, but the bright sky shining through the leaves had pulled her into a subconscious slumber. She got up slowly, finally standing and smoothing out her dress. She proceeded to fold the blanket and put it back in her bag. She watched Ru walk over to the water before asking, Any ideas for our meal?
We could make like the Cybunnies,
Ru suggested, splashing some water in his face. It was terribly cold, sending an involuntary shiver down his spine. And forage as we go?
he finished, turning toward her. What is wrong with me!
he asked suddenly, looking very distressed. All this time and you have been carrying our singular item of luggage. How rude of me. I could slap myself with a ghoti. I should. I apologize profusely. What do you say I carry the bag today?
It's really no bother,
Zhel said, a little surprised at Ru's remarkable self-discipline, but if you'd really like to carry it, be my guest.
She handed him the neon carrier with a smile and rinsed her hands off in the chilly river waters. I beards running water in the direction we were headed yesterday, and where there's water there's usually something,
she said, peering down their intended path. Hopefully, something to eat as well.
She began walking and looked back at Ru, Like the cybunnies.
Ru happily took the tote bag and slung it over his shoulder. Yes. I think that running water you heard... is a waterfall,
he admitted. But I think I'm not going to jump to any conclusions until I see it.
He started down the river, the roar of what he assumed was a waterfall growing louder with every step. I hope you slept well. I generally find the ground unaccommodating. I hope it was nicer to you.
she breathed, excited at the idea. To be honest, though, I thought the ground was pretty soft,
she smiled sheepishly and then added, My mom always bought ridiculously hard mattresses because she said it 'maintains good posture'. I find it crazy.
Zhel sighed at the thought of her mother, not sure whether to be sad because she missed her, or sad because she was so relieved to not have her around. I'm excited to see this waterfall, though,
Zhel said, perking up a bit, now that the sound was easily identifiable as the natural phenomenon.
Ru laughed. McCloud says the same thing about the ground. I think he's crazy, too... but, then again, he thinks the same of me.
Then he frowned. McCloud would have been a pickle on this trip. He would have wanted to fly out, and Ru wouldn't fly. Ever. Yes. He's crazy. For sure. Now, don't get excited. It's probably just... you know, one of those little waterfalls. Not much to think about. Besides. We're Blumaroos. We can't be frightened by a little bit of... height. Right?
Zhel smiled awkwardly and laughed a little. I've never seen any sort of non-decorative waterfall, so it should be great to see.
She looked at the ground shyly and then answered the next question. I don't suppose blumaroos should be afraid of heights... but it's not like we have wings.
She wondered how to rationalize the fact that she wouldn't stand at any height if she felt like she could fall, because...well, she wouldn't admit she was afraid of it. She would love to fly someday, but only if the ground were made of pillows to catch her, just in case. Yeah. Heights. No big deal. Zhel did her best to be confident, but confidence in adventuring wasn't her specialty.
Yes... no big deal,
Ru repeated, though none too sure of it himself. The truth was, he was terrified of heights. He had not always been, but he had never been at such great heights before the one time McCloud wanted to take him up for a ride in the clouds. Ru could not recall ever being so scared in his life. Even though he could jump pretty high using his tail, he was terrified of any height over twelve feet. It was his shame, but he couldn't hide it no matter what he did. Well, I suppose that we will know soon enough.
The waterfall noise was growing much louder now, and the rushing water resounded throughout Zhel's excited and nervous brain. Find out indeed,
she muttered, curious as to what the horizon would unveil as they kept walking. She watched Ru tentatively trek, and she could tell he was just as nervous as she was. She just had general first-time-explorer's adrenaline, but she had a feeling Ru was thinking something else. Whatever it was, she hoped it would either be apparent or dissolve by the time they reached their temporary destination.
Ru sighed when he came to the precipice of the waterfall. It was quite large, at least to him. He leaned over ever so slightly, trying to get a glimpse of the bottom, but he got dizzy even being three feet from the edge. Well,
he said thoughtfully. His eyes followed the river down the valley to where the mountains stopped and emptied into a dark, swampy place. At least we can see where we're going now,
he said, pointing. That's the very edge of the Haunted Woods. Now, if we could just... get down... Can you see how far down it is?
he asked, looking from side to side of the waterfall for another way down. The cliff extended on both sides for quite a long ways, which would take them very far out of the way as far as their journey was concerned... however, it did mean not going over the waterfall. Not that they would do that anyway, he added to himself.
Zhel tentatively walked up the the edge of the waterfall. Ru had already done so many brave things for her, she supposed it was her turn. She walked up to the eve and peered over, amazed to see that it wasn't that far of a drop, about 15 feet, maybe. Like a diving board at a swimming pool, she thought. The bottom looks soft and sandy, with no rocks,
she reported, turning back around and facing Ru. It's only about 15 feet.
Zhel wanted to sound more encouraging, but to be honest it was more of a drop than she would have liked. Any alternative?
Not that I can see,
Ru sighed. Unless we want to draw the trip out by an unknown number of days,
he added. And, he didn't want to mention it, but he wasn't sure he would be able to eat like a Cybunny for that long. Fifteen feet isn't... too high, is it?
he asked. Truth be told... he hadn't looked over the edge. He had never looked down from any height much taller from where his head was naturally. And you say the ground looks soft? Have you ever jumped down from any height?
The ground doesn't look hazardous at least,
Zhel said, again stepping out to look at the bottom of the fall, and the water seems deep enough to be safe.
She walked back to Ru and tried to smile. She could see this was going to be tricky for him. I've never really jumped off a waterfall before, but the Roo Island swimming pool diving boards were pretty fun,
she laughed nervously and continued, Fifteen feet isn't too bad. Just cannonball.
But... how do we know that the water isn't too shallow? I would hate to be a puddle of jelly on the bottom of the pool, swept downstream...
Ru frowned and backed away from edge slightly, flopping his tail back and forth on the ground. What does the... um... the cliff look like? Could we climb down?
Ru knew, however, that he would probably never be able to get close enough to the edge to try to climb down.
The cliff seems kind of slick,
Zhel said, peering over the edge. She looked at Ru sympathetically, and then had an idea. She grabbed a nearby stone and tossed it over the edge. A few seconds later, she heard a splash, and then after awhile the pat of the rock against the sand. She grabbed another rock and turned to Ru. Do you want to see? The rock is our test dummy.
Ru grimaced at the rock, sliding his eyes over to the ledge. Alright,
he said, descending to his knees and crawling to the edge. He got slower and slower the closer he got until his hands finally wrapped over the ledge and he slid down to his stomach to look over. It looked like such a long way down, he lamented in thought, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. Then he opened them one at a time and said, Alright, I'm ready... You can throw it.
But before anything could happen, before Ru could even get a good look at the bottom, he bounced up and skittered away from the edge. Never mind, he chattered. No, I don't... um...
He looked up at Zhel, ashamed of his fear, especially in such company. Well... He pondered, wringing his hands. I suppose... anything... is worth a try... He almost asked her if she wanted to go first, but, even with the famed "ladies first" rule, it didn't seem very gentlemanly. What was he thinking!? Ru asked himself. He was a gentleman, and an explorer. It was silly to be afraid...
It's simple, really, he muttered to himself, though he hadn't meant to speak out loud. Just don't think. You're good at that. He stood and brushed himself off. Alright. I'll go first, he said as heroically as he could. And then he waited. And waited. He couldn't seem to get his feet to move.
Just... don't... think... he whispered to himself, and hurtled forward. And for a moment, he really wasn't thinking. His feet jumped one in front of the other until he ran farther than the ground went. And then he started to fall, and, unfortunately, started to think again. What was he doing? What had he been thinking!? But he reminded himself he hadn't been thinking, actually.
That was what usually got him into trouble, wasn't it?
He curled up into a ball and readied his tail to catch him just in case the bottom of the pool below was too shallow for him. His tail touched the water first, and a moment later, so had the rest of him. Ru started flailing his arms and legs them moment his head went under water. His tail just barely touched the sandy bottom, and he surged up, gasping for air as soon as his head cleared the water. He floated downstream a little and looked up. He was alive!
He threw his arms up and splashed excitedly, shouting, It's perfectly safe! Just... don't think!
Zhel watched the feat in amazement, as she hadn't really expected him to jump so phenomenally. Great job!
she yelled, a new excitement restored in her after seeing him land safely in the water. She whirled around and tossed their luggage lightly over the edge so it floated face-up in the water below her, and then she stepped back away from the ledge.
The light breeze blew her hair away from her face and, trying to imagine herself like a comic book super hero, she began running. Here I come! she yelled as she lept off the slippery ledge.
She felt the rush of air on the way down, and although there was a fleeting moment of panic, she remembered how to cannonball correctly and curled her tail underneath her. Her tail disturbed the waters first, and then she felt the rest of her body being engulfed. She closed her eyes and held her breath, push off the sandy bottom and rocketing upward back to the surface. She wiped her eyes and shook her hair (feeling a little mermaid-like), and then looked over at Ru with intense satisfaction.
We...we did it! We just jumped a waterfall! Oh my gosh, she thought, this was crazy!
Ru splashed about in the water, still thrilled that he was just alive. This is definitely a story to tell to the family, eh?
he laughed. Then he thought a moment and figured that McCloud wouldn't find it that impressive. He didn't know what it was like to not have wings. He bobbed through the water to the shore, where he crawled up and slicked the water down his face with his hand. "Well." He shivered a bit. That much closer to Neopia Central!
Rushishi had more opportunity than most of my pets to meet others, in his journeys the world over. These are the pets that he's met.
I've cleared my customs except for the one I did for Ru. Don't worry, I still have them all, I'm just not displaying them. If you lost yours, mail me and I'll put it right back up.