Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 186,904,169 Issue: 196 | 24th day of Relaxing, Y7
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Cruor Stilla: Part Three


by eikomei

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Zackwel was not a happy Neopet. He was still in a temper about what had happened at the ceremony, and had contemplated whether or not he should tell Jhudora. He decided against it, however, as that would only make him seem like a whiner. No matter how desperate he was for revenge, he didn't want his image to be ruined in front of his partner. He gave up his pacing and went to lounge on his dark nova sofa.

      Closing his eyes, he tried to relax, to not let it get to him anymore. But he couldn't. That Aisha had to learn her place--no one insulted him and got away with it. Possibly because no one had ever attempted it before, but now that someone had, he couldn't let them off easily. He had his pride to protect. So he lay there, still with his eyes closed, thinking of any possible way to teach the Aisha a lesson: insult him and pay dire consequences.

      Think, he told himself. What can I use against her...no. I don't know enough about her to use anything against her. I have to find out more...How can I do that? Well, the answer was quite obvious. To get to know someone, he'd need to be their 'friend.' He cringed at the thought. Great. I have to pose as the little twerp's friend. No...what if she doesn't accept an apology? I'm not going to grovel at someone's feet AND be rejected. The groveling is bad enough on its own. She won't buy it...He was in a bind once again.

      Sighing, he decided this would have to wait until tomorrow. He was utterly sick of thinking it over and was tired from the events earlier that day. The defeat had been bad enough, but the idiot King had to go on and brag about it. He didn't even give credit to the weasel who spied on Jhudora and gave them away, making him have to smarm up to the Royals. I guess it's for the better, though. It is a much better plan, after all. There's no way they'll be able to defend themselves once the city's created. Maybe then I'll get that infuriating Aisha back. I still need to find out more about her, though, so I'll know what to do for the revenge act. With those comforting thoughts in mind, he let himself finally drift off to sleep.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      It was getting late, judging from the darkness settling in the sky. It had been late spring in Ruby's life, but it could be winter in the time she was in now, for all she knew (though it wasn't nearly cold enough, so she doubted it). Either way, she felt exhausted from all that had happened today, so she made herself climb into bed and attempt to sleep, knowing what lay in wait for her the next day.

      Ruby awoke once again to the incredibly bright, painful sunlight coming in her window. There weren't blinds or curtains in the whole house, so she couldn't have covered it the night before even if she had tried. Stretching deeply, she threw the covers off and put her feet on the floor, her eyes still closed. Today I have to go to the castle again. It's bad enough I have to walk so far again, but it's also to sit and wait all day hoping I run into a mean, irritating Neopet that I will then attempt to make peace with. She sighed at the thought, wanting to go back to sleep.

      She stood up and opened the thin, wooden doors built into the wall next to her and picked from among the clothing there a plain, white cotton dress and a white matching corset to wear over it. It seemed like everyday wear for the time period, so she put it on, having less trouble this time as the corset tied in the front. Then she went downstairs, wondering what she would say to Delia.

      There was a bowl of gruel and a stale piece of bread for breakfast this morning. She sat down in front of it and ate as fast as she could, hoping she would taste it less that way. It didn't work, but at least it gave her more time to spend on the walk. If she set out early, she doubted she would miss Zackwel before he got there.

      "I was thinking of going back to the castle today," she told Delia bracingly.

      "Oh, that's good, dear. You've finally found something to else to do that doesn't involve the Haunted Woods?"

      "Uh, yeah," she said, having no idea what Delia was talking about. Then she took from the cupboard a mini-keg like the day before, and filled it with water, knowing she'd be grateful for it later. Then she left, taking her sweet time and walking at a slow pace (she wasn't a morning person). By the time she'd gone a fourth of the way, however, she had fully woken up and started to walk more briskly.

      It had been twenty minutes of walking this quickly that the castle came within view, but was still a good distance away. That didn't matter, though, as her goal was achieved before she even reached it; Zackwel was just a few yards in front of her, also heading for the castle. This was her chance.

      "Hey," she called out to him. He turned his head, and upon seeing her his eyes seemed to burn with intense dislike. But a moment later it was swept away, leaving in its place mild curiosity.

     "Yes?" he replied.

     "I wanted to say that...well, I'm sorry for insulting you yesterday. It was out of line," she apologized, using every ounce of self restraint she had in her to not add "Even though you deserved it."

      Zackwel couldn't believe his ears. He had been worrying that she would be suspicious of him if he was friendly with her, but here she was apologizing first. Maybe this would be easier than he thought it would be.

      "That's okay," he assured her, and added, as much as he didn't like to, "I shouldn't have threatened you. My temper gets the better of me sometimes."

      "I understand. It happens to everyone," she told him, hoping she didn't sound as fake as she was.

      "Look," he said, wanting to get to the point and get it over with, "I'm only like that because, well...I don't really have any good friends. Everyone used to pick on me when I was younger and laughed when I asked if they wanted to hang out with me. I didn't know why, but now I know it's just because I'm painted Halloween. I don't really get it, but that's the reason. So, I decided if they wanted to be like that, I would too. But you don't seem like them now, so...do you want to be friends?"

      Ruby could not believe she was hearing this. It had been so much easier than she thought it would be! Here he was offering it to her when she thought she would have had to beg. She didn't know if she could fully believe the story he had told her, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that he offered to be her friend, which was exactly what she came here to have happen.

      "Yes," she said immediately. "I would love that. I've never really had any friends either, so this is great for me," she added to sound more convincing, though it was also true.

      Zackwel was surprised. She had actually bought the story he fed her? He couldn't believe he let someone this gullible make a fool of him. But he pushed that aside as he thought of what to do next. What do friends do...He guessed they just did, um...stuff. Games and stuff, and talked and...well, he wasn't really sure, so he just took a stab in the dark. "I have an idea," he said. "Have you ever been flying before?"

      "No," she answered honestly, wondering if he was suggesting that they do such an activity. That wouldn't make sense, though. She didn't have wings like he did, so how could they?

      "Want to?" he said simply.

      "Um, okay...but how?"

      He whistled in response. For a few moments nothing happened, but then a dark red blur was suddenly hurtling down from the sky, dodging trees and stopping just in time to not hit the ground. It was then that she saw it was a Cirrus, painted red. "This is Caelum. He's my Petpet. Since you don't have wings, you can use him."

      She stared. "Go on," said Zackwel. "Just climb on it." She did so.

      "What now?" she asked.

      "Where do you want to go?"

      That was an easy one. She was interested in the Lost Desert, but that would be much too far away. "The Lost Desert, but..." She had no time to finish her sentence. It was cut off by her high-pitched scream as the world was left below her, as Caelum had sped up off the ground and high above the treetops in an instant, with Zackwel just behind it.

      Zackwel was laughing at her scream. "Scared?" he asked in an almost malicious-sounding voice.

      "No," she said stubbornly. "Just surprised." She readjusted herself on the big cloud and hugged it tightly, thinking it must've been magic that she didn't go right through it. They were moving more slowly now, so that Ruby actually had a chance to see what was below her. The giant, white castle they had been so close to was now a speck, which told her they must have been several miles in the air, and still rising rapidly.

      They continued going up higher until nothing but clouds could be seen, and Ruby was suddenly extremely cold. "How can you stand this?" she yelled to him over the rush of the air. "It's freezing!"

      "I'm used to it," he yelled back. "You'll learn to like it, if you do it enough. It's better than being on the ground, at least."

      "Whatever you say..." she said doubtfully. They slowed down now, so the wind was dramatically less loud, and settled into a cool breeze flying gently past them, not painfully roaring in her ears. Her head was still slightly pounding from the takeoff, but once it got better the flight was actually enjoyable.

      Then she remembered what she had said just before they started to fly. "Are we actually going to the Lost Desert?" she asked.

      "Yep," he said. "We'll have to go a lot faster than this, but I'm just giving you a break. You seemed like you were about to puke," he added with a smirk.

      "Thanks for the consideration," she said dryly. "We might as well start going faster again, I don't want to be up here all day."

      "Whatever you say," he mimicked her, and they sped off again, with Ruby squeezing the cloud with all the strength she could muster. She hoped she wouldn't have to endure this for too long, which reminded her, "How long will it take to get there?" she yelled.

      "About a half hour," was his reply that was barely audible, being carried away and muffled by the strong wind.

      When said amount of time was up, and Ruby was almost fainting from the air pressure yet still managing to grasp the cloud's middle as if she were stuck that way permanently, they finally slowed down again and started to descend. She was extremely dizzy from the ride, and even more grateful that it was done with.

      "Oh, sweet ground," she said weakly when they touched the surface of it. She tumbled off the cloud, landing on her side and getting her dress all dusty but not caring one bit. This was so comfortable to her after what she had just been through that she didn't think she could move.

      "Are you going to lay there all day or actually go exploring like you wanted to?"

      She opened her eyes, not even realizing she'd had them closed, and saw Zackwel standing above her and looking down at her with a disdainful expression on his face. "Can't...move..." she breathed.

      "Alright, then, I guess we'll just go on without you." And he began to walk away.

      "No!" she said, quickly recovering from her fatigue and standing up. She then looked around in awe as she took in her surroundings. Behind her was a vast dome-shaped entrance in a wall made of light brown, dusty stone that surrounded the city. Around her were various tents and buildings for small businesses, such as selling pots or fruits. There were many Petpets native to the area running around with their owners, people trading with each other in the streets and young Neopets playing games of tug'o'war.

      They were on a road paved out of the same light brown stone that seemed to make the rest of the buildings that weren't tents. There were various intersections with the paths such as the one they were on now, leading right up to stores or houses and tourist attractions.

      "Where do you want to go first?" said Zackwel.

      This was a tough one. Ruby had no real destination in mind, she just wanted to see what it was like in general. She hadn't even been to the Lost Desert in her own time, and wondered if they would have a museum here in this time. So, she tried asking about it. "Do they have a museum here?"

      "Yeah...how did you know about that? They just came up with the idea. They don't have much yet, though."

      "Oh, well, it's worth a look. Do you know where it is?"

      "Yeah. We might as well fly there, too. It's a lot faster." Ruby groaned, but jumped on Caelum anyway. They took off for the second time that day, only without Ruby's scream of terror. She didn't have to suffer nearly as long, though, because they reached the museum in a couple of minutes.

      It was a moderately big building with two glass, double doors at the entrance. They stepped inside and there was a vast room with a giant fountain in its center. Hollows were inserted into the walls in many places with various objects in each one, covered with glass and with a plaque in front of it telling information about it. Some were displays set up by the owners of the museum that depicted certain times in the Lost Desert and others were actual items discovered in ancient pyramids. Those were the ones that caught Ruby's eye most--especially one in particular.

      They had been going from hollow to hollow, reading about many different things involved with the Lost Desert when an item in the next display they reached almost caused Ruby to pass out in shock. She gasped sharply at the sight of it, wondering how it could be linked to the situation she was in now. It was a necklace that was almost identical to the one she was wearing, except for the frame the ruby was set in.

      "Hey, that looks a lot like your necklace," commented Zackwel.

      "Yeah," she agreed distantly, now reading what was on the plaque.

      This amulet was discovered deep in the ancient pyramids, with a description that read:

     A blood red stone, set in twisted gold, it grasps your throat, and forever will it hold...It is believed to be an item named "shkanum-da" which has been mentioned in legend. In the legend, a cruel pharaoh rules over the Lost Desert and the citizens seek revenge on him. They use a dark magic scroll to do so (it is unknown what actually happened to the pharaoh), and the only known fact is that a single blood drop was left behind in the pharaoh's death, which crystallized over time. The pharaoh's son, sharing his father's dark heart, took the blood crystal and placed a curse on it and set it into an amulet, which he would use to get revenge upon the citizens of the Lost Desert.

      Ruby was confused. That didn't sound anything like the necklace she had on, except for the part about it not letting go. She didn't know what to make of it, but the two rubies in the pendants looked exactly alike. Rose said she made it herself, she thought. Maybe she used a drop of her blood for the ruby, too...so maybe it's a coincidence. It's just a type of magic that requires the user's blood or something, that's all. That was the only explanation she could think of, and she didn't want anymore to worry about, so she just left it at that. Besides, the necklace talked about in the inscription on the plaque was right in front of her, and only one blood drop was left behind from the pharaoh. She let the matter rest, and returned exploring the museum with Zackwel.

      Zackwel was looking at Ruby. She had seemed deep in thought for a long time, but seemed to come out of it when she looked at him. "Interesting, isn't it?" she said about the piece in front of them. "Yeah," he replied, having not even read it. He had been looking at her the whole time; her expression had been so...undescribably serious. It seemed there was more behind what she was reading about than just "interesting," and Zackwel was curious to know what.

      "Do you know if there's any relation between it and your necklace? They look almost the same..."

      "I don't think so," she said carefully. "I made mine, so I really doubt it. Unless I'm the reincarnation of the pharaoh's son, it's just a plain old necklace."

      Zackwel reluctantly decided not to press the matter any further. Her expression was so intense, he was sure there was more to it than she was telling him, but what could it be? It was just a necklace. But, then again, so was the one now encased behind a glass wall, and it had the power to strangle the wearer on its own from what the inscription read. He shook his head and let it go, moving on with Ruby to the next display.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Cruor Stilla: Part One
» Cruor Stilla: Part Two
» Cruor Stilla: Part Four
» Cruor Stilla: Part Five
» Cruor Stilla: Part Six



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