A golden streak bobbed and weaved across the sandy floor, scattering small fish in every direction. Golden rays of sunlight reflected off the the shiny, textured surface, sending blinding beams of light dancing through the waves. A muscular tail swayed to and fro, propelling the golden torpedo. At last, Paroa's head broke the surface and she went speeding into the air. She flapped her wings once to catch her breath, then plunged back into the clear lagoon.
Paroa raced a school of fish around the coral and through a patch of seaweed. She spun through the water, exhaling delicate bubbles as she paddled along. Suddenly she stopped, flicked her tail, and swam back a few feet. Her eyes widened as she noticed a new tunnel. She quickly swan up to the suface for air, then without hesitation, Paroa dashed for the narrow opening.
Paroa's claws scratched against the walls as she struggled to fit through the underwater crevice. Finally she emerged into an open cave. Floating along leisurely on her back, she watched as the huge crystal formations around her seemed to grow before her eyes. Paroa flipped herself over and swam into a tunnel that was even narrower than the one before. She tucked in her wings and kicked with her powerful legs, zooming through the tunnel. The tunnel curved sharply upwards, and Paroa found herself launched into the air. She skidded to a stop on a large, flat rock.
Paroa lifted her head and inhaled the sweet scent of a nearby orchid. She laughed with glee as she realized where she was- her tunnel had led to the top of the beautiful cascading waterfall that poured into the lagoon! Paroa took a running leap of the edge of the rock, following the waterfall to the crystal blue water below.
Splash! A huge wave smashed against the side of the battered ship, tipping it precariously. The members of the crew staggered, but resumed working immediately as though nothing had happened. Another tremor shook the ship as the door to the captain's quarters flew open. The captain, a large, formidable man, glared into the storm from under his heavy eyebrows. "Due south," he growled, and disappeared into his quarters once more.
Another of his sources had lied, he thought. Just one more false lead could push him over the edge. That treasure deserved to be his. His last source had been Ivan Van Hattenburg, supposedly the most skilled navigator in all of Neopia, but the scouts he'd sent ahead had nothing to report about Ivan's coordinates.
Cap'n Rackham refused to take orders from anyone else. No one seemed to be able to lead him to the treasure, so he would find it himself. Though he hadn't a clue where to look, he knew that every day he traveled where his sources told him to look was a day wasted. With no other option, he decided to randomly choose his next path. The golden dragon would be his.
That evening, Paroa sat on her new perch above the waterfall, gazing out at the sunset. She loved days like this. The blazing red sun sat low on the horizon, and fluffy clouds drifted along lazily above it. She loved to feel the breeze sliding across her golden scales, to hear the birds singing from their nests, and to see the beautiful fish swimming about below her. Then, past the edge of her beautiful oasis, there was only sand.
For miles and miles around her, there was only sand. The desert was daunting, dangerous, and somehow fascinating. There was something about the vast wasteland that intrigued Paroa, but she couldn't put her finger on it. There was something more than she could see.
This, muttered Rackham, is ridiculous. Four days later, he had given up almost all hope of finding his treasure. He had even given up on his scouts. To be more accurate, he had fired them. He would be the first to lay eyes on the elusive Golden Dragon. And what a beauty she would be. He flipped open the captain's log to the first day of his journey, which was dated from nine years ago, nearly to the day. On that page he had copied a brief passage about the treasure he sought with such a vengeance...
Legend has it that years ago, a Golden Dragon was hatched to an average couple living in a small village. People came from miles around to gawk at the beauty of the baby. When the father began to hear mutters of jealousy and rumors of threats, he hid the baby away, where she would never be found, to protect her from harm. And so the Dragon grew up on her own, creating a name for herself and being content to explore the features of her secret paradise forever...
No. He would not surrender. Cap'n Rackham would be the one, legendary pirate to find the ultimate treasure. He shoved his chair back and paced over to the bookshelf. Tossing books left and right, he stacked the ones that could possibly have anything to do with his prize. One volume after the other, he thumbed through the pages. His heart raced every time he read the word "Gold," "Dragon," or "treasure," but each time the information was the same as what he already knew.
Rackham groaned and leaned back in his chair. It was hopeless! He didn't know any more about the Dragon than anyone else. Then, from across the room, a single novel caught his eye. He stumbled to the shelf and seized the book, which was so thin in was almost a mere pamphlet. It read, "The Lost Paradise". He flipped through the pages greedily, absorbing every word. "Oi!" he barked at whoever was within earshot. "Head for the Great Desert.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, Paroa peered up at the cliff above her. She braced herself for a real challenge: she was going to climb up an almost smooth cliff. Flying to the top was too easy; she wanted to earn the moment when she landed on the top ledge to see what was on the other side. Taking a deep breath, she raised her foot onto a narrow ledge and hauled herself upwards.
Inch by inch, Paroa crawled up the sheer rock face. She didn't look up or down, she only stared at the rock that was barely an inch from her nose. Her claws scratched against the surface, struggling to find a handhold. About halfway up, Paroa began to panic. It was getting harder and harder to hold on to the rock, and the sun was hot against her scales. Rays reflected off of her golden skin, dancing before her eyes. Temporarily blinded by the light, Paroa couldn't find the next crevice to hold on to. She searched the rock with her hand, then her feet, hoping that if she could at least boost herself up, she could find a way to keep climbing.
It was useless. Paroa could not see or feel a way to climb any farther. She clung to the rock for several minutes. If she let go now, she wasn't sure she would be able to try again. What if it was the same way the next time? At last, she loosened her grip on the rock and fell. Oh well, she thought to herself, I wouldn't have made it anyways. Moments before she hit the ground, Paroa unfurled her wings to land softly in a bed of ferns.
She felt like a failure. It wasn't like Paroa to give up on an adventure! She wasn't a quitter! And the worst part was, she had never really been in danger. It was the fear of failure that afflicted her, more so than the fear of getting hurt.
That night, she dreamed that the trees were mocking her. Faces morphed out of the bark of the trees and laughed openly at her, insulting her. She ran from them and jumped in the lagoon, but the fish wanted nothing to do with her. Even the water seemed to recoil at her touch. Her paradise had turned into a house of horrors. Paroa's mouth opened into a soundless scream.
A nervous deckhand approached the shabby double doors and hesitantly touched the curved, brass handle. He quickly recoiled from the cold metal, and rapped lightly on a grimy windowpane instead. A quiet, muttering sound suddenly ceased, and a gruff What, greeted the boy as he cracked open the door. It was less of a question than a statement.
Beg yer pardon, cap'n, but it seems we've run into a bi' of a problem. The boy's musical voice shook as he stared determinedly at his boots.
What'd that be, boy? The captain didn't look up. The two sat in silence for a moment as the boy stuggled to find words that would least offend the pirate before him. Rackham cleaned his yellowed nails with a small, sharp knife from his desk drawer. The boy shuffled uncomfortably and opened and closed his mouth several times before squeaking out a small response, Seems we're lost, sir.
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