Adventure is Worth More Than Treasure
Roughened black paw pads scrabbled desperately to find a hold on the barren, craggy scape of a cliffside. A growl was beginning in Tuseche’s throat; a sound of frustration rumbling deep in his chest. His pink tongue flicked out, passing over his white muzzle, and he panted. Losing his footing again, the sandstone colored Brown Kougra slid down, landing with a soft thud in the loose silt.
He looked incredulously up at the deep gray, cracking stone extending up in the sky. High above, the mouth of a black cave cast a shadow over the dry bank below. There was no path leading up the mountain. If there ever had been a path, it crumbled away many years ago, and fell into Krawk Island’s endlessly deep bay. Habitually, he checked the compass on his right leg. The needle quivered on the gold filigree S.
There was a treasure in this mountain. Kneading the ground with his paws, he opened his mouth as if trying to breathe it in. A graying, battle scarred Pirate Lupe in Warf Wharf, miles from here, had given him a map leading to this very spot. “I’m too old to go so far,” he said in a voice raspy like sandpaper, sliding the ink-marked roll of parchment across the counter. “You’ve done so much for my pups in this town.... please, I want you to take it. I once made a pass at it in my youth, but those days are gone with the years. A young thing like you might just be able to make the journey.” Tuseche believed the old Lupe. His eyes were earnest, his sacrifice for his family heartfelt. He saw his mother swimming somewhere in those gray eyes. Old folk did so much for the young.
Poor old fool. Tuseche owed it to the old dog to get that treasure. He would bring it back to that town, share some of the loot with him as thanks for the map, and take the rest back home to his mother. He owed it to everyone to give it his best shot. But how could he scale a sheer rocky cliff with such clumsy paws? He dug his claws into the loose gravel at his feet.
“Giving up already?” A taunting voice called from behind.
Tuseche spun around, the fur along his spine bristling, his striped tail shooting straight up in alarm. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
“Easy there Sand Dune, keep your cute little paws on.” A Pirate Xweetok, her silvery grey fur like a dove’s feathers, took three light leaps across the rocky ridge behind Tuseche and landed safely next to him. She flipped a smoky lick of hair from her eyes with a shake, and wrapped her long tail over her paws. “It’s just me.”
“Revoker!” The tension uncoiled from Tuseche’s shoulders. He waved his tail in greeting, but his sharp blue eyes met her bright brown ones sternly. “Did you follow me all the way here?”
“Naturally.” Revoker waggled her rump, a teasing growl playing across her lips. She held her head high. “I saw you headed out of town, and it was obvious there was treasure on your mind. Lucky for you I came, too. It looks like you could use a little help.”
“Slow down, Glowworm,” Tuseche narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sharing the treasure with you just because you think I need you! I don’t mind the company, but I’ve got this!”
Revoker’s eyes seemed to flash, narrowing dangerously. Her nose quivered with laughter. She glanced up at the cliff. “Really, Sandy? Think you can make it up there?”
“I’m especially sure now that I’ve got an audience.” However much they fought, Tuseche was amused by Revoker’s teasing. He had known her for quite some time. He came from Moltara, and she from Meridell. He never asked her why she came to this sweltering summer island, but it was clear enough that the two of them shared a wanderer’s spirit. She was a traveler as well, and often managed to find him and follow him, silent as a shadow. He was always impressed by her ability to sneak up on him. There was only three handfuls of neopets who could do it, and Revoker was worth a least a full handful on her own. Her teasing always meant she had faith in him.
This mountain wouldn’t defeat him. Tuseche dug his claws into the ground, pinned his ears back, closed his eyes, and focused.
The pendant around his neck came alive. It hummed and shivered, waves of hot blue energy like Draik fire working suddenly across the surface. The creature within, a shriveled, green thing shrunken down and sealed in a prison of milky amber, seemed to twist and writhe as if woken. Tuseche’s body stretched and twisted with morphing magic. His legs coiled into his body. Wing fibers sprouted from the soft pits of his front legs. Fur everywhere melted into a smooth, downy skin, and his tail became a strong, arrow pointed whip.
Tuseche the Korbat now stood at the base of the mountain, draped in Kougra clothes. “Do you always have to resort to that old trick?” Revoker chided, although her eyes were filled with wonder, and fixed on the mysterious hanging pendant around his neck.
Tuseche narrowed his eyes at her, opened his mouth to speak, and gurgled incoherently. Korbat vocal chords. Always a hassle. But, the thumbs were a bonus. He unfurled the cloak on his back and covered himself, feeling naked in the afternoon heat without his thick Kougra pelt. As a Korbat, of course, he made quick work of the cliffside. Strong webbed wings flapped to catch the wind, and Tuseche spiraled up to the mouth of the cave and settled on the ledge. With another hum of magic, he became a Kougra again, and shrugged his cloak back over his shoulders.
Revoker was more nimble than him, and small. With sharp eyes, she picked out places in the wall to put her paws, and bounded up behind him effortlessly, and still a Xweetok.
“Nice job, Sandstorm. You don’t make a bad Korbat.” Pushing past him, Revoker’s tail swept across Tuseche’s nose as she headed straight into the darkness.
“Whoa now Glowworm!” Tuseche bounded after her, pushing ahead and blocking her path. “You can come with me, but don’t get ahead of me like that. This is my treasure, got it? I swore-”
“You swore that you would bring some shiny treasure back to your dear old mother, yes yes, I know all about your depressing little life story, Sandy! I swear, I won’t take a single flake of gold from the fortune you’ll no doubt find in the cavern below without your permission. Pirate’s honor.”
Tuseche squinted at her, doubting. Revoker rarely lied when it came down to it. She was a good girl. But why, he wondered, would she go out of her way to follow him if she didn’t care about the gold? What else could she be looking for? He smiled suddenly, and bumped his shoulder against her’s. “Come on then. We’ll find it together. Just don’t wander off without me, or you might get lost!”***
The treasure room, it seemed, had its fair share of looters already. Tuseche surveyed the room with a groan. There were drag marks and scratches on the walls and floors, no doubt from the bags and boxes laden with gold and gems that had once been there. A thick layer of dust had settled over everything, and the corners were white with cobwebs. Tuseche paced around the room, distressed, while Revoker nosed at a weed growing in a gap between two rocks. “Of course it’s gone!” The Kougra yowled in distress. “It was so easy to get up here, I don’t know why I wasn’t prepared for this sort of situation.”
His head buzzed, his ears twitched in distress, and Tuseche shrugged the scroll cases off of his back, yanking out the rolled map and unfurling it across the floor. “This is definitely the place,” he muttered to himself. His fur fluffed out. Having spent all of his neopoints back on Mystery Island, to help a mother Techo pay for food while she was taking care of six children, Tuseche had nothing left. He was counting on collecting this treasure. The old man in the wharf… his mother.. they would both be...
“Whoa now Sandy, don’t get your tail in a twist. Come look at this.” Revoker buried her nose in the crevice the weed grew out of. She snuffled loudly.
“What?” Leaving the map, Tuseche padded over, thrusting his head down next to hers. A cool breeze slid across his whiskers, tugging at the fur around his muzzle. He could smell fresh air and stagnant water. “There’s a ravine back there!” He exclaimed in surprise, reeling backward.
“Glad to have me with you yet?” Revoker thrust a paw into the gap, reaching for the backside of the boulder. “A strong guy like you could probably move this thing, right?”
Maybe not as a Kougra, but as a Grarrl, Tuseche could. He transformed, shrugged his cloak down over his body, and gripped the rock with short, clawed arms. Together, he and Revoker managed to roll it out of the way, revealing a deep passageway spiraling into darkness.
Tuseche changed back and led the way, with Revoker’s nose touching the end of his tail. The new tunnel let out into a new cave, where a tumultuous heap of riches winked at them. Great piles of silver and bronze coins, golden goblets, and glimmering gemstones like drops of blood. It was more than any one neopet could carry- the ancient hoard of a giant Draik who had probably moved on long ago.
Revoker’s eyes were alight with hunger for the riches, but she held back, casting a sidelong glance at Tuseche for his reaction. His sky blue eyes were alight with joy, every strand of fur fluffed out in exhilaration. He had discovered it- the treasure of a Draik! It was a small treasure, compared to some, but it was a treasure all the same. He separated out what he could carry, tucking coins and gems into the bags strapped to his belt, and then stepped back to admire what he would leave behind.
Tuseche always left treasure behind. He could live an easy life if he took everything he found, but then, what of the adventurers who came after? For them to come so far, so determined, and find nothing was a pain he wished on no adventurer. They deserved that joy. He could never take it all for himself.
“Ready to leave? Got what you came for?” Revoker called from the entrance, apparently eager to leave.
“Almost.” Smiling, Tuseche filled one more pouch with gold, took it in his mouth, and walked to the mouth of the cave. He dropped the sack in front of Revoker’s paws. Her eyes widened. “Thanks for your help,” Tuseche said, his voice dropping with the weight of his sincerity and admiration.
Revoker drew herself up proudly, and to Tuseche’s surprise, shook her head and pushed the bag of coins away. “I’m not after riches, Tuseche,” she said firmly. “There are treasures you can’t buy with money, that won’t be found in caves.”
Tuseche’s ears flicked with shock. He didn’t understand. Revoker was a pirate, and what pirate didn’t hunger for coin? “What have you been after this whole time then, Revoker? Just the adventure?”
Revoker stared at him, unshaken. A small smirk tugged at her lips. “You could say that.” She trilled. “What on earth would you do without me, after all?”
“What indeed.” Tuseche smiled and swept past her, nonplussed, and headed back out of the cave. “Hurry back up before I roll this rock back into place! We wouldn’t want you to be trapped!”