Lost in the Lost Desert
It was the hottest day of the year in the Lost Desert. The sun was not yet high in the sky, still licking the edges of the mountainous sand dunes. Waves of heat cast over this remote desert, drying up every puddle of water before it had time to collect. Not a sound was to be heard at this time of day. Any Neopets with the slightest bit of common sense remained safely sheltered in their homes, doing their best to escape the dreadful heat. Two Neopets, however, were not among these fortunate souls.
Hip the mutant Hissi, followed by his comrade Faichu, the royal Draik, slowly trudged across the barren desert, their eyes peeled for a place to rest. Sweat continued to collect at the edge of Hip's brow. It slowly dripped down his sun-dried, scaly face, but quickly evaporated before hitting the ground.
"Look! Up ahead!" Hip shouted to Faichu, desperation screaming out out of his hoarse voice.
With a great amount of effort, Faichu lifted his tired head and cast his gaze into the horizon. Not too far in the distance stood a small tent pitched under a tree, which barely cast a cooling shadow.
"Let's... go see... if anyone... is home..." stuttered Faichu, his energy drained by the fervent sun.
The two Neopets staggered over to the small tent, clearly using up their last steps. As they reached the small flap which made up the tent's entryway, a red Yurble emerged. He was quite small for a Yurble, and his age was made obvious immediately. Clear wrinkles formed under his eyes, giving him a tired, worn-out look. He propped himself up with a golden cane embedded in jewels, which caught the rays of the sun as it stood in the tent's entryway.
"My, my! You young 'uns must be exhausted! Please, come on in."
The Yurble stepped to the side and kindly held open the flap while Hip and Faichu staggered inside. The tent turned out to be a small and simple living space, containing only the necessities. In the back right hand corner lay a small mat, which was clearly the inhabitant's sleeping "quarters." Near the middle of the room was a small table, bearing no items. Around the table sat three small, wooden chairs in poor condition.
"Please, have some water," offered the Yurble.
Hip and Faichu looked around the tent eagerly, their eyes scanning the room for a water pail or canteen. Failing to notice any, they turned their attention back to the Yurble, who had walked over to the back left hand corner of the tent and began to dig in the sand. A few seconds later, he emerged with a rather large canteen of water and two small flasks. He unscrewed the top of the canteen, poured water for both of the Neopets, set the two flasks on the table, and took a sip of water from the canteen before setting that down as well.
"We desert people tend to bury things; it's easiest to keep them cold that way. Forgive me for not introducing myself before. My name is Valryn."
"Oh. I'm Hip," the Hissi said, as he and Faichu both picked up flasks from the table and eagerly sat down in two of the chairs.
"And I'm Faichu. We don't mean to intrude, but we've been wandering the desert for days! Got lost once we passed the Pyramid of Gandron. But Hip here insisted he knew where he was going..."
"I did know where I was going!" muttered Hip under his breath.
"Not to worry, young Neopet!" exclaimed Valryn as he contently occupied the third chair, his cane still in hand. "You deserve such hospitality after such a long journey. I am simply sorry that I do not have more to offer. You're quite lucky that you weren't snatched up by one of King Thoreau's dragoons."
"What would he do that for? We weren't doing anything bad, were we?" questioned Hip, uncertainty lingering in his voice.
"Oh no, not at all! But everybody knows that King Thoreau has dedicated his life to greedily searching for the treasure of Karnak! He sends out his dragoons to stop civilians to question and search them. And believe me, two young Neopets wandering the desert on the hottest day of the year is quite a suspicious sight!"
"The treasure of Karnak? What's that?" Hip let his mind soar for a few moments, dreaming of endless piles of gold, jewels and silver, each glistening with the value of ten thousand rubies.
"Why, you boys haven't heard the story?"
Hip snapped out of his daydream and shook his head. Faichu did the same, feeling quite foolish to not having known about something with apparent importance.
"I'm afraid I must start at the beginning. Best get comfortable, it is quite a long tale...
"Five hundred years ago, Neopia was a very different place. It was ruled by tens of tyrants, each claiming specific territories all over the globe. This was far before peace reigned supreme, mind you! King Romnar was possibly the greatest of these tyrants. He was the war hero of the century. I remember him well, he was a--"
"You remember him? But sir, you said this story takes place over five hundred years ago? You couldn't possibly be that old, could you?" Faichu blurted out, bewildered.
"Um, oh, no! Of course not! I mean, from what I remember from stories, of course! Anyway...
"He was a royal Grarrl of noble stature. He was never seen without his metallic armour, marked with his crimson family crest. In his sword hand he carried a Bony Grarrl Club at all times. He claimed it was to protect himself, but it was hardly necessary. Being a war hero had also made him the most feared Neopet of the era. Nobody would have dared to be within range of his club.
"King Romnar spent his life conquering lands, hoping to claim the world's four corners and fill in the blank spaces on the map. Decades of looting and plundering had made him richer than today's Nigel the Commodity Broker Chia himself! When he became a middle-aged Grarrl, King Romnar saw it fit to marry. He wed a lovely desert Usul by the name of Queen Croscronia. Romnar and Croscronia built the Sakhmet palace together and made it their home.
"The Sakhmet palace was the most luxurious Neopian palace at the time. It towered over the pyramids, built centuries before. The grand steps which led up to the entryway were enough to degrade any commoner. Guards were stationed at every entrance to the palace, to secure the King and Queen's safety and privacy. The guards' uniforms consisted of golden armour and glistening red capes. They held silver-tipped spears with diamond inlays on the mahogany sticks. The outside of the palace was breathtaking, but inside it was heavenly! There were massive ballrooms - one for every holiday - which ceilings towered two hundred feet over a single Neopet's head! The ceilings were painted with melted gold and decorated with emeralds and sapphires. King Romnar became known for his obsession with treasure.
"A few years after King Romnar and Queen Croscronia wed, she bore him a son, Karnak - a royal Kyrii. As the years droned by, King Romnar could sense his strength tiring. His once seemingly flawless scales began to crack and wrinkle, finally showing signs of imperfection. His memory became scattered and weakened. Before his death, King Romnar wrote a will. His only son, Karnak was to inherit his worldly possessions and become king. But Karnak was very unlike his father. He was not driven by greed, power, war or "shiny objects." But Karnak accepted his inheritance nonetheless, determined to uphold his family's honour. Shortly after, his father died.
"When the treasure was passed on to King Karnak, rumours began about how he would spend the treasure. Some were certain that he would use it to feed and house his people, while others thought he would turn money-hungry and squander it. But King Karnak did no such thing. Rumour has it, he hid the treasure deep within the heart of the Lost Desert. The only other Neopet who knew where it was hidden, was King Karnak's personal secretary who was with him at all times."
Valryn paused for a moment to take another sip of water from his canteen. While doing so, he tightened his grip on his golden cane and took a deep breath, eager to continue.
"It was said that King Karnak also drew a map, giving the exact location of the treasure. But this map wasn't left lying around carelessly. It was placed in the possession of his secretary to ensure that it would not end up in the wrong hands."
"So is that what King Thoreau is looking for? The map? Is that why he stops civilians?" Faichu blurted out.
Hip gave him a sharp nudge with his tail. "Let him finish the story!"
Valryn chuckled happily. "Yes, young Neopet. That's exactly what King Thoreau wants! But being the greedy man he is, we all know that King Thoreau would use the treasure for evil deeds, which is why it must never get into his hands!"
"But who was the secretary? Isn't he the one who had the map?"
"No one knows. The secretary is hardly mentioned in any of the stories we hear today. Not much is known about him."
"Aww. So what happens next!?"
"Well," Valryn began. "Shortly after the word got out about King Karnak's map and hidden treasure, he vanished. Some say he died.. That he couldn't handle the pressures of ruling a kingdom weighting down on his free spirit, so it slowly tore him apart. Others say he simply ran away to seek out a more humble lifestyle. But one thing remains certain, the treasure has still not been found. Five hundred years later and it still remains tucked away somewhere in the depths of the desert. We can only hope that it will not fall into the wrong hands."
"Wow, I hope I find the treasure some day!" exclaimed Faichu excitedly.
"Ah, calm down, my children. The sun is now very low in the sky, I'm sure it's time for you two to get a good night's sleep. You've certainly had a long, adventurous day! You're welcome to use my mat as your sleeping quarters for the night; I'm not a wee bit tired!"
Valryn leaned forward, shifting his weight onto his golden cane, as he rose from his chair. He led the Neopets over to his small mat and dusted small grains of sand off of the surface. Hip and Faichu lay down on it together and rested their eyes, both venturing off into dreams full of glistening jewels and valuable treasures!
Valryn stared contently at the two Neopets and then hobbled towards the edge of the tent, adjacent to where he had dug up the water canteen earlier. He carefully placed his cane on the ground beside him and began pushing away mounds of sand, creating a small hole. He withdrew a diminished piece of leather, bound by a golden ribbon. He untied the ribbon and laid a map out in front of him. Some of the words and hieroglyphics had faded away, but the drawings were still intact. Next, from the hole in the sand, he withdrew a portrait. Valryn smiled as he stared deeply at the picture of himself beaming next to King Karnak, the word "Secretary" perfectly embroidered in his robes in golden thread.