The Magic in Being Lost: Part One
'You raise your torch to examine this room, causing the shadows of the vines to move. Your skin prickles as you attempt to convince your imagination that this room isn't crawling with Wadjets. It's just the shadow of the vines. It's just—’
She dropped the torch as her limbs shook, every part of her being demanded that she flee. She grit her teeth as she fought against the sensation, the dread seeping into her bones, the tingle in her spine and the growing weight in her throat.
She would not flee. She’d come too far to flee. She flattened both sets of ears to her head and grabbed the longer set, one in each paw. Her spine crawled. She squeezed her eyes shut as she mouthed a quiet mantra,
“No Wadjets, no Wadjets, there’s no Wadjets…” She could almost feel them skittering across her back. Weaving and threading through her fur. Wrapping around her neck.
She could not fight nor reason with the sensation, but she could ignore it. Focus. Focus was key. She risked several glances down at her body, it remained blissfully Wadjet-free.
There was a tight hot knot in her stomach that subsided as she breathed in and out, in and out. She let her eyes open when she felt calm. Focused. Prepared.
The room was still. Her discarded torch still cast odd shadows on the walls, but she’d gotten through the worst. She grabbed the torch again and examined her options. Only two awaited her.
Left or right?
Moss grew on the overhead to the left side, and water drip dropped to the floor, the sound louder than her steps, louder than her breath. She stretched the torch out, peering into the hole.
Apparently the treasure of the Faerie Caverns was characterized by two glowing eternal candles at its sides. She’d always assumed the light of the candles would be somewhat visible in the gloom, but the caves were nothing but dark, dark, dark. The fist sized torch was like a sliver of a spark in the dark, casting a light that just only stretched past her feet. It was more useful as a club than as a light source.
She went right if only due to an uneasy gut feeling at staring down the dark tunnel with looming shadows cast by the moss overhangs. It seemed no different. Dark, cold, and so confined only a Hissi could squeeze through comfortably. She was lucky she was a petite Aisha and not something with a bit more…girth. This might have otherwise been a dead end. Not that that would have stopped her. She was determined to find the treasure. No setback would send her storming out of the cave.
She had to crouch at one point, tossing her torch ahead as she crawled through, her knees were scrapped and dust and rock were ground into her paws. It was a long slog, and a miserable one—cool water dripped down from above and the feeling was unpleasant—no Aisha liked getting wet. It gave her the creepy crawlies. She furrowed her brow and continued on as her back quivered with each drop of cold water. She distracted herself with the prospect of treasure. What would she find? A priceless artifact? A couple of measly NeoPoints? Something in between?
The tunnel opened up and she was treated to a sight.
It was a room bigger than it had any right to be. Faerie City and Jhudora’s Bluff could have fit in here with room to spare. Countless…stalagmites? Or was it stalactites?
Six years at the finest academy Brightvale had to offer and she didn’t know the difference. Her geology professor would have been ashamed to call her the star pupil, the best, most studious she’d seen in years. She did recall reading that it was all in the terminology. And weren’t there other types between the two? What use was her diploma if she couldn’t recall pointless trivia?
Well it didn’t matter. After she was done here she’d go back and read up on the proper terminology. She shrugged and made a mental note to make a trip to the Royal Library, and went—
Her torch flickered weakly in the dark, it had nearly burned through all her makeshift fuel. Soon she would be making her way through the cave in the dark which would have dire consequences. Why didn’t she grab a flashlight? Why had she not brought a flashlight in the first place? A torch would always run out faster than a flashlight.
She resisted the urge to groan aloud and scowled. Another setback. Was this trip doomed? This wasn’t her first trip into the Faerie Caverns. The other week she’d tried her hand at spelunking, she’d run into dead end after dead end. A time before that had seen her take an unexpected (and very unpleasant) dip into a hole in the floor that had filled with the cold water of the cave and the fall had given her a nasty gash. Both times had forced her to retreat and regroup. The third time was supposed to be the charm!
No, this wouldn’t be the end. She could still do this. Having no light would be…less than ideal but it was still possible to pull a success out of this trip. She stormed forward.
The stalagmite (or stalactite) filled room went on longer than it should have. It too was filled with tight fits and winding turns, forcing her to backtrack. She worried that there would be more than one tunnel to follow, and finding them in the dark would be nigh impossible. Deciding that it would be something that she’d figure when she crossed that bridge, she squeezed herself into a snug tunnel.
She kept her burnt out torch slung across her back. She should have tossed it, but she was no litterer. This cave was drawing on her last nerve, but a piece of driftwood could cause harm to anyone else who ventured in. An unlikely possibility considering the mystic properties of the cave, but a possible one nonetheless.
The various setbacks made her impatient, and she was less careful than she should have been as she tried to shoulder her way through the tunnel. Her shoulders and knees were rubbed raw as she stumbled into…darkness.
She could not make out a thing. A rock wall could have awaited her a foot away and she wouldn’t have had a clue.
She could only forge forward. She had a week’s worth of rations. Picking her way back wouldn’t be the highlight of this trip but enough was enough. She would find the treasure this time. She wouldn’t leave until she did, she swore on her largely useless Brightvale diploma.
The dark had an odd effect on the mind. She was not certain it was something that any Neopian was meant to stay in for any prolonged period. It disquieted. It silenced. She hardly felt aware of herself, it was only the stinging pain of her shoulders and knees that told her there was more than the dark. There was she. There was the cave. And there was the dark, and little else. She did not know if it had been minutes, or hours. She assumed it hadn’t been days, if only because she wasn’t yet hungry. Perhaps it would be hours once she was hungry? She couldn’t recall when she’d last eaten.
She’d stopped walking and started crawling with her head bowed once she started hitting the walls of the cave. It was probably an odd sight. She, Brightvale’s finest pupil, crawling on the floor of a damp cave. She’d gotten a chance to appear before King Hagan and present her ninety page thesis. He’d applauded her. Or had he? It was difficult to remember. Maybe she’d been booed out of the castle. She couldn’t remember what she’d written for her thesis. Maybe she’d botched the presentation.
Her ear snagged on a piece of jagged rock. It felt wet. She pushed forward. Something scrapped the back of her head. She pushed forward.
…Why was she here?
Irrelevant. She pushed forward.
Something pierced the dark.
A glow. It was…warm looking. Something different. It made the dark look different, pronounced.
She shuffled towards it, wincing as the glow grew brighter, sharper, and the dark fell away. She was in a cave. At her knees and hands, hard rock. Far at her sides, hard rock. She blinked, and pulled herself to her feet. Her knees were sore. Her hands were gritty and shaking them off didn’t help any.
She proceeded towards the glow, the light.
The tunnel led to another wide open room, well lit by two drooping candles. It stretched on forever but she could hardly be bothered to look.
A bright red chest lit by the glow of the candles. NeoPoints spilled from its case onto the floor, so many that she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to carry them all.
She choked and nearly burst into tears. She did it. Months of frustration and aggravation. Finally, finally it had paid off. She had done it. She had conquered the Faerie Caverns. Finally, she could go to her peers and tell them that her work, their work—
The cave spoke. A guttural scream. Masonry rained from the ceiling. The dark twisted and roared. Her mouth stuck as it opened its eyes, a beast that filled the dark hidden in the room.
To be continued…