The Treasure of Xutu: Part One
Tara the Desert Kyrii was not the most patient of her kind in Neopia, and as she reviewed the map for what seemed like the ten-thousandth time, she began to realize that nothing was going to change. No matter how many times she looked at the messy, scattered markings on the cartography, it just did not make sense.
She had found it two weeks earlier in an old rustic chest she had discovered in her new attic. After years in Faerieland, a need for change landed Tara in Maraqua. It was supposedly all the rage. Although the surplus amount of fish was enjoyable, Tara felt it did little to compensate for having to wear an oxygen mask everywhere she went. (Not to mention the fact that the only restaurant for miles was WAY out of her price range.) However, this newfound treasure made up for some of the inconveniences. Or it would, if she could read it.
After spending the usual couple of hours of her day studying and obsessing over the confusing map, Tara decided it was time to take a break. She strapped on an oxygen mask, left her house, and swam away from Maraqua, setting out for the surface. After a few minutes of swimming, she reached the top and quickly pocketed the mask. Soon she had reached the sandy shores of Mystery Island, and then it was just a matter of catching a ride to Faerieland with a winged neopet.
There she planned to spend her weekly check. Although most of the neopoints she got from her part-time job at Maraquan Petpets was used to buy food and the essentials, this week she had some left over. This was great news, because she was dying to splurge at the Faerie bookshop. Tara had no trouble finding a ride, quickly coming across a friendly Scorchio on his way to the cloudy kingdom. Shortly, she was browsing the bookstore's selection. After looking around for a while, and distantly wondering why the door to the back room had so many locks on it, she spent 1,100 neopoints and purchased Faerie Folk. As she left the shop, she dove into the novel.
She was almost to chapter two when, just as she was passing Faerie Foods, she heard a familiar voice behind her. She turned quickly to see who was shouting at her and saw that it was her friend Jeran running toward her. The short, slim Christmas Kacheek had also been shopping and had seen Tara leaving the bookshop.
"What's up?" Jeran asked curiously as he slowed to a steady walk beside Tara.
"Not much," Tara replied. "I was just coming up to spend some cash I had left over from my last check."
"Yeah, me too; I swung by Neopia Central earlier and bought some Treasure Map Pieces."
"Really? That's... eerily convenient. I happen to have stumbled upon a map myself. Do you know much about them?"
"Well, a little, but I'm not an expert."
"Would you mind coming over to my house for a little while? I'll make something to drink and we can look over it for a bit."
Half an hour later, the two were sitting in Tara's kitchen looking over the map. Jeran, wielding a magnifying glass, was two inches from the kitchen table. He had been searching every inch of the parchment and listening to Tara's odd ideas about the map. Although both Jeran and Tara knew that it was unlikely the treasure chest had been owned by Dr. Sloth or Edna, it was still fun to listen to something humorous while doing such tedious work. After an hour without results, Jeran finally gave up.
"I'm sorry, Tara," he said, "but I just can't find anything."
"That's okay," said Tara. "I guess there's not as much to the map as I thought. Oh well. How about that drink I promised?"
Tara poured Jeran a cup of hot borovan and they talked for a while about the map and how Tara had discovered it. Jeran was curious about the whereabouts of the original owners of the ancient chest, which had held the map for who knows how many years. Unfortunately, Tara had never met the people who had owned the house before her. The purchase of the house, as well as all contact between Tara and the sellers, had been through neomail. Also, they had declined her invitation to a housewarming dinner and every other invitation to visit the house. In fact, they seemed to be avoiding it.
"Well," sighed Jeran as Tara poured him another cup of borovan, "it'd be easier to figure out something about the map if we could speak with the original owners of the house. Maybe they know something that could shed some light on it. I sure can't figure it out, though. I guess I better get going."
Jeran stood up and thanked Tara for inviting him over. As he walked toward the door, he realized he had forgotten his hat and turned around. He began to leave the table again when he tripped on his tail and knocked over his cup. Borovan spilled all over the table, and the map.
"Oh no!" exclaimed Jeran.
"Oh, it's all right," said Tara calmly. "We never would have figured it out anyw--"
"Wait, look!" interrupted Jeran. "Something's happening to the map!"
Jeran was right. The map was becoming more detailed by the second and familiar shapes were appearing. After about twenty seconds, the map had stopped changing and a map of Neopia was clearly discernable. However, the map contained many markings and notes, apparently written in by someone, that were not present on normal maps of Neopia.
"How did this happen?!" wondered Tara excitedly.
"I don't know!" Jeran said. "Maybe it was the heat of the liquid, or maybe an ingredient in it... either way, borovan is suddenly my favorite drink!"
As the two enthusiastically pored over the map for the second time, it became much clearer. Instead of scattered shapes that looked like the work of a Baby Skeith, the figures were detailed and colorful. It was clearly a treasure map! Tara flipped it over and saw that on the back of the map what appeared to be instructions had shown up. They read:
"Follow the clues and battle with bravery,
That is the price you pay.
If you wish to claim the Treasure of Xutu,
This journey is the only way...
1. Start where the haunted are never afraid,
Where money is stolen and cheapskates are paid.
2. Next travel north, but guard yourselves well,
For few return after the beast's appetite's quelled.
3. Your journey continues in climates more dry.
The key is in going where Pteris don't fly.
4. The home of the clouds holds the next key.
Get help from 'Faeries', and answers you'll see.
5. Now you're close to the end; remain strong and bold.
Continue your journey in a region that's old.
The last stage, much harder than the rest,
You will understand after your vigorous quest."
"This is amazing!" exclaimed Jeran.
"But what does any of it mean?"
"I don't know, but I'm not leaving here until we figure it out."
Over the next several minutes, Jeran and Tara read and reread the five lines of very odd poetry. Comparing it with the map of Neopia, they realized that each of the lines represented a location.
"'Where the haunted are never afraid?'" muttered Jeran. "That's gotta be the Haunted Woods."
"Yeah," agreed Tara, "and the 'Cheapskates' part MUST mean the Deserted Fairground. Every game in the Haunted Fairgrounds is rigged!'
"That wasn't so hard. Okay, now for number two. 'North' probably refers to Terror Mountain. And 'beast' probably means... You don't think?"
"I do," Tara said reproachfully, seeing the panic rise in Jeran's eyes.
"But that's just preposterous!" he yelled. "Only insane people and avatar hunters... so basically just insane people go into the Snowager's cave, and personally, I'M NEITHER!"
Tara sighed. "Nevermind, we'll deal with that one later... eh, number three: 'Your journey continues in climates more dry...’ That's probably the Lost Desert, right?"
"Read the next line: '...where Pteris don't fly.' Pteris are indigenous to Tyrannia."
"Right, but where don't they fly?"
"Isn't there a cave somewhere in Tyrannia that people tend to stay away from?"
Tara remembered that cave, the one that was said to house a colossal beast... she could picture what Jeran would say:
"ANOTHER MONSTER? THESE PEOPLE ARE INSANE! DO THEY WANT US TO DIE?!!"
No, she'd keep that part to herself.
"Um, yes, I think you're right. I don't know much about it, though... Moving on! Number four... Pretty self-explanatory, we just need to go to Faerieland and ask the faeries for help."
Jeran agreed, "Yeah, but what about number five. Meridell is probably the oldest region around."
"But there's also Altador and Brightvale, as well as Geraptiku. That place looks about as old as my great-grandmother."
"Well, we can think about it more later. That just leaves the mysterious last clue. Wonder what that means... 'You’ll understand.' Oh well, this is so exciting!"
Tara agreed and began chatting away with her friend, discussing the treasures and different theories. Suddenly, she became serious.
"Jeran," she said, "I really want to follow this map, but I don't think I can do it alone. By the sound of it, it may be pretty dangerous. But I know we could make a great team! Will you come with me?"
Jeran pondered for a minute. He was obviously concerned with the blatant warnings of monsters and life-threatening peril. Finally, he said, “You know, Tara. You're a great friend, and I know you'll protect me. Of course I'll help!"
Tara beamed. "That's great! We're about to become real-life treasure-hunters!"
Jeran's eyes widened at the thought, "Who'd have thought it? Me, a Treasure Hunter!"
"Well, Tara interjected, "if we're ever going to find whatever's at the end of this thing, we need to hurry and get started. I'll let my boss know I need some time off and start packing. I'm thinking we should leave tomorrow. Say, five a.m.?"
"Great!" Jeran exclaimed. "Here I am expecting you to protect me, and you're already trying to KILL me!"
And with that, the new adventurers' long and perilous journey had begun.
To be continued...