Unforeseen Adventures: The Tomb - Part One
Dan started to pant in his struggle to keep up with his siblings and owner. An annoying stitch in his side seemed to jab him repeatedly, and his breath came in short gasps. His legs being considerably shorter than his family’s, he was trailing behind. Again. No matter how fast he pushed his short legs, he always ended up a few yards back. This was one of the reasons he resented being painted Baby.
“Guys, wait up!”
The first to stop and turn around were his owner Meg and his sister Kura, an Island Lupess. Dan almost rolled his eyes at their surprised expressions, but he succeeded in keeping them still. He caught up to the girls within a few seconds.
“I’m so sorry, Dan!” Meg’s face looked horrified. “I can’t believe I forgot again. Remind me sooner next time, okay? Now I feel awful. Why don’t I—”
“Meg.” Thunder’s voice interrupted her longwinded apology; he and Inanna were still walking. “We’ve got to get to the marketplace before sundown. Between you and Dan, we’ll be here all day!”
Meg ignored him and whispered in Dan’s long Gelert ear, “We’ll walk slower.”
Dan nodded, feeling frustrated with himself, with his brother, with the blistering heat... with everything. Nevertheless, Meg and Kura did match his pace, though Meg fidgeted, whether with unease at Thunder and Inanna walking so far ahead, or at impatience for having to walk so slowly, Dan could not tell.
When they did finally make it to the marketplace, they found Thunder proudly holding a codestone and a small pouch of neopoints.
“Hey, Meg! Look what I won from the Tombola game!”
“Won?” Inanna rolled her eyes. “I found that codestone on the floor. And the Tombola Man was feeling sorry for you. You didn’t win anything!”
Thunder scowled. “He didn’t feel sorry for me! He thought I was absolutely amazing and that I deserved a couple hundred neopoints for my awesomeness.”
“Amazing?” Inanna retorted. “At what? Picking the losing Tombola card? He thought you were—!”
“GUYS! SHUT UP!” Both the Spotted Kougra and the Shadow Lupe fell silent at Meg’s voice, though they continued to glare at each other. A few passing people and neopets turned to stare. Meg continued without embarrassment, “It doesn’t matter, okay? Now, Thunder, go buy some healthy food with those neopoints. No junk food. Inanna, please go try to sell the codestone at the trading post. Do not accept anything except neopoints. Kura, go to the Haiku Generator and see if that Kougra’s making any sense. When you’re done with that, go to your daily lesson at the Training School. Dan, come with me to the Cooking Pot. We’ll all meet back at the Training School in half an hour. Let’s go!”
Once everyone had turned up at the training school with his or her shares of goods, it was almost noon. Meg treated them all to huge sub sandwiches, chips, and neocola. The food was delicious, and Dan ate until he felt his stomach might explode.
“All right,” Meg said, packing the leftover food away in a basket, “I think we’re done here. You guys ready to go home?”
Dan nodded, his two sisters joining in. Meg’s eyes slid over them and fixated on Thunder. Her eyes narrowed. “What is it now?”
Thunder grinned. “I was just thinking that maybe we could all go over to Geraptiku and check out that tomb—”
“WHAT?!” Meg exploded. “No way! That tomb’s probably filled with freaky monsters and booby traps and—and—”
“Treasure?” Thunder suggested shrewdly.
“So what?” sniffed Meg. “We’re not going.”
“You don’t have to come.” Thunder’s eyes grew wide and innocent looking, but Dan wasn’t fooled. “We could go and you could go home. We’ll be back by supper.”
“I’m in,” agreed Inanna instantly. She and Thunder stuck together like peanut butter and jelly.
“Me too,” Dan chimed in. After all, what was the harm in treasure?
Meg looked at the Island Lupess. “Kura?”
She shrugged. “Sure, why not?” Dan couldn’t tell whether her nonchalance was forced or if she really didn’t care. It was always hard to tell with Kura.
Meg’s eyes whizzed from face to face, waiting to see if they were serious. Apparently, she didn’t find anything in the pets’ faces to contradict what they had said. She sighed. “OK, fine. But you’d better be back by supper....”
Thunder’s eyes brightened, and he grinned. “We will, Meg. You worry too much. See you tonight!” He took off around the Training School with Inanna, Kura, and Dan following right behind him.
“You’d better,” Meg mumbled even as the four disappeared from view. And she began the long hike home alone.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long to reach Geraptiku and Dan was able to keep pace with his brother and sisters most of the way. When they did reach the entrance to the deserted village, they all paused, lingering a few seconds to stare at the creepy huts and ruins. Though the sun was shining bright and high in the sky on the rest of the island, Geraptiku had an eerie darkness over the entire village. Stunted palm trees cast weird shadows over everything. And, to the northwest, loomed the deserted tomb, dark and sinister, towering over everything else. Dan felt the fur at the base of his neck stand up.
“Well,” Thunder said in a hushed whisper, and yet Dan felt it was far too loud for this spine-chilling place. “Shall we?”
They nodded and Thunder led the way through the clutter of huts, rocks, and, in some cases, skulls and other less recognizable bones. Dan tried not to think about those too much, though. Every stick that snapped under their paws made him jump; the others likewise seemed edgy. After what felt to Dan much longer than a few minutes, they stopped at the base of the tomb.
“Where’s the entrance?” Inanna whispered.
Dan squinted in the unusually dim light, searching for the entrance. The others did the same.
Finally, Kura broke the silence. “It looks like a ziggurat.”
Dan huffed an exasperated sigh. Trust his overly intelligent, snobbish sister to point out something that she knew no one would understand.
“A what?” asked Inanna.
“A ziggurat,” she replied impatiently. “Like a pyramid, only it’s a bunch of squares stacked on top of each other. Each square decreases in size the closer you get to the top. This tomb is actually pretty small for a ziggurat. The ones of the ancient Lost Desert were much bigger.”
Dan gazed at the tomb’s gigantic form, frustration all but forgotten. Small?
Thunder looked sideways at the tomb. “So how does that help us?”
Kura continued with obvious pleasure, “From what I read about them in the history books, ziggurats usually had a temple or a shrine at the top. See those stairs going up from the base?” She pointed to a steep ramp. “I bet they lead to the top.”
Something slid into place in Dan’s mind. “So you think that the entrance to the tomb is at the top?”
Kura smiled grimly. “Exactly.”
Dan gulped. His eyes were on the steep, narrow ramp of stairs with no railing to hold to help keep their balance.
“Okay,” Thunder said, obviously undeterred by this fact. “Then let’s start climbing!”
No one could think of any other option, and so, once again, Dan and his sisters followed Thunder up the steep stone steps.
The tomb was much higher than Dan had anticipated and he was panting hard halfway to the top. Inanna frightened them all when she lost her balance and nearly fell off the ramp, but other than that, they made it to the top without incident.
As Dan dragged himself up the last step, he almost ran into Kura, who had stopped close to the top of the stairs. They were standing on a narrow terrace. In the center was a large stone door, directly in front of the stairway they had just climbed. The gray stone was crumbling with age, and moss covered it like a natural blanket. Writing in a language long lost had been carved around the perimeter of the door. This, Dan concluded, was the entrance to the tomb.
After a few minutes of silence, Inanna spoke up. “So how are we supposed to open the door?”
“There,” Thunder said. He pointed to a rather heavy looking lever to the left of the door. It looked like a backwards light switch. The Lupe placed his two front paws on the stone lever and pushed down with all his might.
Thunder tried again, hanging on the lever this time, so his whole body weight was pulling it down. Still, the switch would not budge.
“Care to help me out, guys?” Thunder grunted.
Inanna and Kura also grasped the handle and started to pull. Dan, being too short, watched, feeling helpless. Slowly, his three older siblings were able to raise the door and with it, a big cloud of dust and dirt. The sound of stone grinding against stone made Dan’s long, sensitive ears hurt, and the dust made his eyes water. He coughed, covered his ears, and squeezed his eyes shut. Finally, his siblings were able to raise the door halfway.
“I think,” said Thunder, “that’s as good as we’re going to get it.”
“Lovely,” Kura muttered.
“So,” said Inanna, “Who’s going into the creepy tomb first?”
Dan hesitated. “Does anyone have a flashlight or something?”
“I have matches!” Thunder volunteered.
“You would,” Inanna mumbled.
Thunder grinned, pulling out a box of matches from a small pouch attached to his collar. He struck the match against the side of the box and it sparked to life. His paws too big to hold something as small as a match very well, Thunder carefully transferred the match to his mouth, holding it between his teeth.
“OK, I’ll lead the way.” Thunder’s voice was muffled as he tried to speak through the match without putting it out with his breath. “Everyone follow me.”
Thunder led the way into the tomb, followed by Inanna and Kura, with Dan trailing behind. The match’s light was minimal, and Dan concentrated on the back of Kura’s head to see where he was going. No sooner were they all inside, when the door slammed shut behind them, kicking up another cloud of dust. How unexpected. There went their chance of turning back.
The path into the tomb was narrow. Creepers grew up the sides of the walls every so often, and cobwebs adorned every niche and corner of the stone walls. They had not gone far when a yelp suddenly sliced through the silence. The match blew out.
“Thunder!” exclaimed Inanna from up ahead. “What is it?”
“Let the match burn down too far,” Thunder grumbled. “Singed my fur. I’m okay.”
“Now how are we supposed to see?” Kura’s frightened voice mimicked Dan’s thoughts.
“Gee, thanks.” Thunder’s tone hinted sarcasm. Though Dan could not see him, he was sure Thunder was smirking. “I guess we’ll just have to feel our way around. Maybe we’ll find a torch or something. There’s always a torch hanging on the walls in these kinds of places.”
“How reassuring.” Inanna’s voice sounded higher than usual. Dan was not surprised. Anna was the biggest klutz on the face of Neopia. Walking around an unfamiliar, forbidding tomb in the dark was not very appealing to any of them, but Dan thought his sister would be more of a danger to herself in the dark than all the hidden booby traps in the tomb combined.
Dan spoke quickly, trying to keep Anna from panicking. “Let’s all keep our right paw on the right side of the wall. That way we won’t get separated.”
The others murmured agreements, though Kura complained a little bit about having to touch dozens of cobwebs and grime on the walls. They walked slowly, measuring their steps. Predictably, Anna tripped more than once. After a while, the passage curved slightly to the right and sloped downward. Now Dan could see a faint orange glow up ahead. After fifty more paces, they were standing in the light of a burning torch.
“Told ya!” Thunder exclaimed with a smug smile curving his lips.
“Well, what do you know,” Inanna murmured, relief evident in her voice.
Thunder, still grinning as if Giving Day had come early, grabbed the torch, lifting it from its place on the wall. The flickering flames cast an eerie light on the tomb’s passages. Dan shivered involuntarily.
“I wonder,” Kura said as they began walking again, “why we haven’t seen any traps or monsters or anything yet.”
“Maybe we just haven’t gotten to them yet?” Dan suggested. He would honestly rather not think about it.
“But this place can’t be that big,” Kura persisted.
“The tomb could go under the ground,” offered Thunder.
No one spoke. Dan’s thoughts were busy trying to wrap around the idea that this tomb could possibly lead them underground. Who knew how far down it would go? The others were probably thinking the same thing. The only sound for the next few minutes was the soft padding of the pets’ paws.
It was not long before doorways began to appear at regular intervals along the stone walls, leading into dozens of different rooms. The group stopped, unsure of where to go next.
“Should we go into a room or keep walking down this spooky hallway?” Inanna asked.
“Look.” Thunder pointed down the passageway they had been following ever since they entered the tomb. “This corridor ends up there, see? Dead end. We’ll have to take one of the rooms.”
“Let’s go in here.” Dan gestured to the closest doorway on the right. The others did not like the idea any more than he did, but they followed Dan to the doorway of the room where they stopped, each one willing one of the others to step into the room first.
Dan’s first impression was that they had somehow found a door leading out of the tomb and into the forest bordering Geraptiku. A second later, he realized that he was mistaken. Numerous vines snaked their way up the walls, almost covering the stone and creating the illusion of a jungle. When Dan paid more attention to his surroundings, he noticed torches burning on brackets on the left and right walls of the room, removing the need for the torch Thunder held in his paw. Doors adorned the entire wall opposite their initial entrance, all of them closed. Diamond-shaped engravings, brown in color, could be seen occasionally between gaps in the creepers covering the walls. The ground, however, was completely bare, composed of tiles in varying shades of gray. Half of the tiles had strange symbols engraved on them; the others did not.
“More doors,” Kura complained. “Great. Which one do we take now?”
“How about that one?” Inanna pointed to the door directly across from the one they had just entered.
“Sure,” Dan said. “Let’s go.”
Several things then happened in a matter of seconds. Dan took a step into the room, placing his front paw on one of the stones engraved with a symbol. Thunder yelled, “No, wait!!” and the next thing Dan knew, he had slammed into the cold stone ground, bruising his right shoulder and cracking his head on the floor...
To be continued...