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Clara Chatham Shenkuu Plot: Part Two

by restisunwritten


     PART 2: Clara Chatham learns more about Lunar Temple Keepers

     Some Background: Clara Chatham is a Neopian stock character from the Atlas of the Ancients plot where Moltara was discovered for the first time (reference: Neopedia or the Jellyneo Book of Ancients).

      Inventory: The written phrase "the moon represents my heart", new journal entry - There’s a locked away jade key in the temple! I’m going to find out what it’s for!"

     It turned out that Master Gnorbu was a good cook. He prepared freshly-cooked rice, grilled mackerel, pickled cucumbers and Shiitake mushroom soup along with jasmine tea. And they began to eat. Clara thanked him for preparing dinner, and went on to tell him how she found burning incense sticks outside the attic. He frowned and mumbled something about safety hazards, and asking properly for permission before doing things. She learned from Master Gnorbu that the jade key in the glass case belonged to his great great great great great great great grandfather, who had also been a Temple Keeper. He didn’t know the four-number combination to the lock. In fact, he didn’t even know what it was for - never having even considered that the jade key would have had any use beyond being purely ornamental. Temple Keepers often worked closely with the Guardian of Shenkuu and the Emperor. She could probably read more about the history of Temple Keepers later.

     Action: Clara finished her dinner, and excused herself to the temple attic. She finds the book, Temple Keepers of Shenkuu, Dynasty of Year 2, having seen it earlier when she had just moved in.

     Clara sighed admiringly at the book’s beautiful cover, illustrations and layout. She loved the soft sound of turning its delicate rice-paper pages. The leather cover was slightly worn with use, and the ink inside its pages ran off at some points. Reclining onto the chair, she placed one leg over the other, and rested the book gently on her knee, not wanting to damage it. And so she began to read into the evening:

      … In Year 2, the Lunar Temple experienced many reforms. The Temple Keepers during this era challenged the widely accepted idea that the purpose of keeping records of the moon was to merely keep track of time to coincide with the issuing of new Imperial laws. Foreign traders from Altador received during this time largely influenced new attitudes towards both the science and the practice of astrology among the Shenkuuvian noble class. Though there was little knowledge and acceptance of the twelve Protectors of Altador, the idea that astronomical data could be applied to the everyday lives of its citizens was very new to Shenkuu. Ordinary Shenkuuvian residents knew very little of the core fundamentals of astronomy, much less its significant nuances, and the Emperor at the time feared that introducing radical ideas to the people would only cause unnecessary confusion.

     One particular Temple Keeper took it upon himself to bring the wisdom that he had learned from studying the Moon to the general populace. He was the first ever Temple Keeper to hold open, educational classes in the Lunar Temple to those interested in learning about astrology. His style of teaching was very unique as he succeeded in incorporating both the culture and the folklore of Shenkuu without straying from astrology’s key, founding principles. His teaching began to draw the attention of educational institutions that were forming all around Neopia, and it was also at this time that relations between the Lunar Temple and Brightvale University had its roots. A jade key, made indestructible by magic from the palace Kazeriu, was forged as a symbol of this new movement in making the wisdom of astrology available to the ordinary Shenkuuvian citizen.

     Unfortunately, shortly after the official ceremony and celebration of the making of the Jade Key, the Temple Keeper fell ill, and was bedridden for many weeks. Shenkuuvian doctors speculated that he had been suffering from built-up stress, or from a silent, inborn disease that not much was yet known about. He had insisted on being buried in the countryside where he had grown up, in an area that would later become the official Temple crypt. His famous phrase, which was later penned into a song by the royal princess at the time, was engraved along the Lunar Temple steps. The song is sung every year during the full Harvest Moon, performed officially at the palace by the current princess-in-residence: "The Moon represents my Heart" ...

     So that explained the historical meaning of the Jade Key. Clara was a little disappointed that the book did not mention any use for the key other than being symbolic. In Brightvale at least, every key opened some kind of lock. Oh well.

     But that bit about the Temple crypt was very interesting to Clara. As far as she knew, there were still ancient crypts of Temple Keepers that were still undiscovered in Shenkuu. If possible, she would like to make a trip to the official Temple crypt tomorrow. Maybe Master Gnorbu could help her in arranging transportation. From what the book mentioned, the crypt would be all the way in the countryside, and walking there was simply out of the question. She would probably have to get there by rickshaw, but even then it would take several hours.

     Clara yawned - it was getting late. She checked her watch: 23:00 NST. As she got ready for bed, she looked again at the telescope by the attic window. She suddenly had an idea. What if … Would it be possible for her to see the Temple crypt from up here using the telescope? Hastily throwing her bed sheets aside, she threw on a Brightvalian cloak over her pajamas and shuffled over to the telescope in the room.

     Action: Clara uses the telescope in the temple attic. It was now dark enough to see the stars. The moon was currently in its last quarter, and would soon be full: A Waxing Gibbous. There was a Brightvalian poster pinned up on the wall illustrating the names of the different phases of the moon. Clara adjusted the telescope skillfully in order to adjust its gaze from the sky to the ground below, and searched the Shenkuuvian countryside outside of the Lunar Temple. She laughed as she spied Kentari below, the Shoyru samurai, resting against the wall of Captain Tuan’s Petpet farm with what looked like a lackadaisical expression on his face as he stood guard. In university, they had never taught her that a telescope could be used for spying on others as well as watching the moon and the stars. But you know what, she was creative. No Temple crypt in sight. She wasn’t even sure what it looked like anyway. Oh well. Master Gnorbu probably knew where it was.

     Unless … unless Kentari knew something about the Temple Crypt. He worked out in the countryside all of the time, and had received astrological education at the royal palace during his samurai training. Surely she wouldn’t be intruding on his night shift by asking him a few questions about a nearby temple crypt. Yup, that did it … now she was too excited at the thought of finding the temple crypt to sleep. Master Gnorbu was definitely sleeping at this time --- now what?

     She laid back down on her bed, and looked up at the attic ceiling, now lost in thought. There was no way Master Gnorbu or even her parents would let her walk outside alone in the dark with her pajamas on. Maybe if she just had a peak again at the writing on the temple steps. The book had mentioned that they had been written by the famous Temple Keeper from Year 2. Yeah, that would be safe. That Brightvalian-to-Shenkuuvian dictionary might also come in handy if she came across other characters that she could not recognize. She tucked the dictionary into her cloak, took a flashlight that she had packed in her luggage, or "torch" as her parents used to call it in Brightvale, and determinedly climbed down from the attic out to the temple steps.

     The sound of a symphony of cicadas greets her as she steps just outside the Lunar temple.

     Clara ran her flashlight along the temple-step carvings once more. There it was again: "The Moon represents my heart", over and over along the cascading steps. Who was the Temple Keeper addressing when he ordered to have these characters engraved? Was it his heart for the Shenkuuvian people, who he longed to understand and love astrology as much as he did? Or was it someone else? It was sad to read that the Temple Keeper who wrote this phrase died shortly after being publicly honoured.

     A green glint caught her eye as she ran her light over the character engravings: a jade-green glint. She dared to venture a few more steps down, now being extra cautious not to trip in the dark. She shivered a bit from the evening chill. There, a few steps down from the Lunar Temple entrance, was a single, tiny jade square embedded amongst the otherwise grey stones of the temple steps. During the day, its colour would have been easily missed when matched with the evergreen foliage that enclosed the Temple, but now at night, when the surrounding forest was shrouded in a uniform black, the jade-green square appeared brightly under her flashlight’s beam.

     The encased key that she had found in Master Gnorbu’s sitting room had also been made of jade. Was this a coincidence, or maybe she was onto something … Taking a closer look at the jade square, she saw a row of tiny but unmistakable numbers: 0807. Strange, Clara thought, why were these numbers written in Brightvalian instead of Shenkuuvian script? Her mind had immediately connected the jade square to the jade key, and now she was beginning to see a correlation between these Brightvalian numbers and the Brightvalian combination lock outside of the key case. You don’t think …? She records the four numbers into her journal.

      Puzzle #1: Clara scurries back into the temple, her cloak rippling behind her, flashlight held ahead, and crept into Master Gnorbu’s now empty sitting room. Aha, the jade key case - There! - In the corner! She fumbles in the dark with the lock around the case, and turns its moveable pieces to present the numbers that she had found: … 0 … 8 … 0 … 7 … - A soft, metallic click followed, and Clara gasped in surprise. She opened the case, and took the jade key. It was a bit heavy.

     Now, she returned outside where the jade square was and lifted up the Jade Key beside it, comparing the two of them. She wobbled a bit as she leaned awkwardly over the stairs, a Jade Key in one hand, and a flashlight in the other. The two jade objects began to glow with what Clara instinctively knew was Neopian magic. Then there was the startling sound of moving blocks of rock scraping against each other. Clara’s jaw dropped. A part of the stairs beside her had shifted to reveal a hidden door that descended deeper into the ground: she had just discovered a secret passageway.

      Puzzle #2: Clara sees seven large Shenkuuvian characters etched vertically in gold on the hidden door. From top to bottom they read: 日, 月, 火, 水, 木, 金 and 土. She recognized them right away as natural elements, but not sure what each of them exactly meant. Luckily, her trusty translation dictionary told her that they read as: sun, moon, fire, water, wood, gold and ground. She recorded both the characters and their corresponding translations into her journal, took a deep breath, and then opened the door to the secret passageway. Let's see where this goes.

     She followed a narrow yet neatly paved underground path until she reached a light at the end of the tunnel. There was tall grass in front of her, and she heard someone yawn loudly. That was definitely Kentari yawning, without a doubt. Her watch read, 24:00 NST. Clara had found a way to get to the Petpet farm .... waddya know. She spotted the Shoyru samurai just as she had seen him from the telescope, leaning against the farm wall with his helmet propped against his waist serenely, gazing up at the stars. "I wonder what Ryshu and Hiro are doing right now ..." he mused to himself. Clara playfully smirked.

     "Heyyyyy, Kentari!!"

      *Kentari is spooked out of his mind**Drops his samurai helmet with a thud*

          - "BLEHHH!!!!"

     It took Kentari all but a few seconds to rapidly come to his senses with the Neopian that had just appeared in front of him out of seemingly nowhere. His sharp eyes immediately lit up in recognition, but he was still a bit shaken.

     "... C-C-C-Clara? Clara Chatham? What are you doing here?!! At night?! At Captain Tuan's Petpet farm of all places?! How did you get here??"

     Clara then felt a little bad for scaring him like that because he seemed genuinely distraught. Why did she do that? Blame it on the jet leg, Clara, just blame it on the jet lag. It was midnight after all, and she should have been sleeping in the temple attic. But here she was, unable to resist a new mystery that was unfolding right before her eyes ... -on the very first day of her internship!

     She apologizes to Kentari, and then explains to him all that she had discovered so far. From the Jade Key to the secret passageway to her search for the temple crypt. He gave her an incredulous look; Clara had always been kind of weird, but he accepted this about her long ago when they met in Shenkuuvian NeoSchool; this being right before he had left to attend Samurai training at the royal palace. Kentari was a traditional Shenkuuvian, born and bred in the customs and unspoken values of Shenkuu that he usually didn't feel the need to question. Clara was the first ever Neopian he had met who was born from somewhere else. He didn't know much about Brightvale apart from what he had read about in books. "Was it true that everyone in Brightvale is a bookworm?" he once asked her. Ironically enough, they somehow became good friends.

     Kentari looked at the Shenkuuvian characters that Clara had copied into her journal from the entrance of the secret passageway.

     "Oh these?" he said, grinning cheekily, "They're the days of the week. You know, Monday, Tuesday, Wed-"

     "Don't patronize me, Kentari," Clara replied with a hint of a friendly smile, "I know what the days of the week are. I also know that I live in a bit of a Brightvale bubble despite living in Shenkuu for so long." She knew that Kentari was just teasing her, and didn't mean to offend her. There were some days though, when feeling particularly discouraged, that his small comments cut her deeply.

     "Now about a temple crypt ... I'm not entirely sure, but I think that I've seen some signs leading to it somewhere around the border of this farm," he replied, "The signs are kind of confusing though because they don't actually lead anywhere. Trust me, I've tried following them before. It's as if the person who constructed them purposely tried to confuse people. What's the point of making signs if they don't really help people get to where they want to go?"

      Puzzle #3: The wooden signs to the temple crypt lead unwary travelers into a maze of tall grass complete with forks in the road, and dead-ends. Kentari shows Clara one of the signs that he was talking about, and she notices a small jade block fitted into the bottom corner of the sign. It reads: 日, Monday.

     "I have an idea, Kentari," whispered Clara, "Let's see if we can find the days of week hidden in any more of these signs. Maybe we're supposed to follow the signs in the right order, according to the days of the week, and maybe that will lead us to the temple crypt!"

     Kentari gave her that same confused yet affectionate look. "You know," he whispered back sheepishly, "You and whoever made these signs might have something in common."

     And so Kentari and Clara set off solving the puzzle of following the maze of wooden signs. With the Shenkuuvian symbols for the days of the week to guide them, they would hopefully find the Temple Crypt.

     Tune in next week. Dedicated to the Paint Brush Pizzazz Guild and to the Neopian Times Writer’s Forum (NTWF) - an official Neopets fansite

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