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||You are on Week 301
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Three Hundred One Ends December 8
Vahar gulped as he swung the small lamp from the edge of his fin. This was the deepest the Koi had ever gone into the maractite mines, and he was beginning to feel the darkness weighing down on him. His small light did little to penetrate the blackness, instead huddling miserably around his figure, as if it were trying to hide behind him to escape the dark. A faint pool of light spilled around him, barely extending to the cave walls that seemed to close in on him.
Vahar shivered as the water turned colder. Perhaps it had been a mistake to come down here by himself. No, scratch that. It had been a mistake to come down here by himself, but the Koi was much too proud to admit that to himself and turn back now.
Besides, it wasn’t as if the other workers would miss him. They were always laughing and talking in groups, their faces alight as they spoke of past times in Old Maraqua. Vahar knew that he was an outcast and dutifully bore all the sullen trappings of one so the others would leave him alone. It wasn’t his fault that he was too young to remember anything about Old Maraqua.
The Koi swam ahead resolutely. His fins pushed steadily through the cold water until suddenly, he heard a noise...
Author: wants to go swimming|
Date: Dec 1st
...and at that, he forgot his fear and his freezing fins for a moment and swam downward faster.
Because that was a good sound, a promising sound! That was the kind of sound that the water made when a current carried it along stone rich in maractite, a vibration and ripple set up by the combination of normal stone, which offered resistance to the water, and the maractite that offered it none.
Vahar stilled in the water for a moment, forcing himself not to shiver so as not to disrupt the sound. Then he darted onward.
The maractite mines occasionally intersected with an elaborate, intricate system of natural caves that no one had ever fully explored. Some of them had never had entrances before, had been formed by the way stone settled and cooled, and it could be dangerous when water rushed into the vacuum of them, or pressurized water rushed out. But some were simply part of the vastness of the sea, and even Maraquans hadn't seen all of it.
The young Koi followed the sound to a black crack in the wall of the mine, hesitated, and swam cautiously around the corner, pausing with a fin on the edge.
Yes. Yes! He could hear it even more clearly. This was where the water was coming from. The currents must have changed, or the miners who'd dug out this section hadn't been able to hear it over the sound of their own work. The current pushed back against him, but he could hear the song of maractite, of rich ore. He'd discovered something! Him, little Vahar whom everybody ignored!
He held up his lamp and swam a little further inward, looking around eagerly, careful to keep the entrance to the tunnel in sight.
It was always obvious when you entered a natural cave instead of a mined one. The walls were formed differently, with no marks of digging.
Vahar slowed and backfinned. But they weren't usually this smooth. He'd reached a bend in the passageway, and beyond it, the walls were not maractite ore, or even rock with gleams of pure maractite that you could just pick out.
The walls were solid maractite, a fortune in the stuff, sleek and cold and reflecting the light of his lamp back in brilliant blue. Vahar's jaw dropped at the sheer beauty and strangeness of it.
Since he had seen no side passages as of yet that might confuse his path back to familiar tunnels, he edged carefully around the corner.
The passageway necked down to a narrow place just at the bend, and the current there was faster. It tried to push him backward...
Date: Dec 4th
...The current was like a cold and guiding hand that swirled about his body as if telling him to turn back, but Vahar didn't want to listen. All his life, he had stood back and watched others be praised in their achievements as he watched with solemn eyes. No one had openly said that he wouldn't have his moment of glory, but he could see the thoughts clearly written upon the face of his fellow workers each time one of them was triumphant. Never would they have dreamed that Vahar, the young and scrawny Koi, could make such a discovery. In the deep, he laughed softly as he imagined their reactions. No more would all their talk be centered around Old Maraqua and the past accomplishments of the former city. Instead, they would talk of Vahar. A smile adorned the Koi's as he swam resolutely forward.
The current became swifter and the passageway became more narrow, but still Vahar swam. His body scraped the smooth maracite and the darkness closed behind him like a hungry mouth. Still, he tried to think of nothing of what might lay ahead and how others would speak of him for years to come. With a burst of energy, he finally emerged from the narrow tunnel, but he could scarcely believe the sight which now encircled him.
The maracite walls were tall and rounded, creating a huge domed temple in which he now swam. The greedy darkness swallowed his sallow light, but still he could see the majestic realm that he, little, unimportant Vahar, had discovered. He laughed merrily, the sound of echoing melodiously off the curved walls until he was surrounded in a chorus of joyous laughter.
"What are you doing here?" a voice suddenly demanded from the shadows.
Vahar jumped slightly, his lamp slipping from his fin and falling to the distant floor. Engulfed in darkness, he desperately searched the shadows, but he saw nothing. "Who's there?" he asked, trying desperately to hide the tremor that laced his young voice.
There was no answer at first as a slight shadow fell across his lamp as a stranger picked it up from the floor. Slowly, he watched as the light came closer and he got his first view of the speaker.
The Maraquan Zafara that swam before him was young, probably about his own age, and she certainly didn't appear frightening or dangerous. Vahar would have breathed a sigh of relief if not for the terror dancing in her turquoise eyes. "Who are you?" he questioned.
"My name is Kali," she answered, "but that's not important. You have to get out of here - now! Go quickly before it's too late!"
"But why?" Vahar started to ask, when suddenly the current whipped about him angrily. He recognized the noise as being the one had followed, but here it sounded louder and more ominous.
It almost sounded like a growl.
"Oh no!" Kali suddenly whispered, "He's awake."
"Who?" Vahar inquired as he dropped his own voice as the Zafara had done.
Kali turned her sparkling eyes towards him, a single tear, as salty as the waters in which they swam, dancing there like a lost jewel. "You'll find out soon because it's too late for you to escape now," she answered, solemnly...
Date: Dec 5th
...The noise, once a soft, mellifluous humming, had now become a rough and dangerous snarling that seemed to emanate from the walls around them. Vahar looked around, trying desperately to locate a precise point where the sound came from, but it was impossible; it reverberated off the walls with such intensity that the point where it came from was hidden behind its own noise. The walls around Kali and Vahar were trembling, and rocks were being shook loose crudely from their holding points.
"Who's out there?" called the young Koi, trying to mask his fear behind a stronger facade. His voice was raised to a shout to be heard over the roaring cavern. "Who are you?"
The deep, spite-filled voice rang out through the cavern. Vahar was keeping his fins planted down at his sides, but it was all he could do to keep them from covering his ears against the loud voice that had echoed so menacingly through the room.
"What do you mean 'greedy'?" asked Vahar, his eyes narrowing. How was the Koi being greedy? He was merely doing what his job dictated he do. And what was the top-dweller part? To the young Koi's knowledge, living on the ocean floor was the bottommost place you could live... wasn't it?
"You take what does not belong to you; you take and do not return! For that you must be punished!"
"What does he mean by punished?" hissed the Koi to Kali. She had been here for a while; she should know what he did to intruders, or thieves or whatever he considered the poor, picked-on Koi.
Her glittering turquoise eyes were focused on him, emotionless as he gazed down into their fathomless depths. "You will be punished in the same way I was; forced to stay confined here for the rest of time..."
Date: Dec 5th
..."What?!" the young Koi exclaimed. In his incredulity, he forgot his fear. "Are you crazy?" he called to the voice.
No answer was spoken, other than a low, sullen growl. Kali rolled her eyes, but raised a finger to her lips, motioning for silence.
A few moments passed, and then a low, peaceful snore echoed around the chamber.
"He's asleep. Good. Honestly, as if yelling at him will make him let you go," she whispered. "You're almost as bad as Kraig."
"Kraig?" asked Vahar, his pulse quickening. "Not Kraig the Maraquan Kau?"
"None other, youngin'," came an old, gravelly voice from below.
Shocked, Vahar seized the light from Kali, and darted down to the chamber floor. There sat a Maraquan Kau, gnarled with age, muttering to himself as he collected the pieces of maractite that had broken from the walls, heaping them together in a little pile.
"I figure I might as well have a few pieces stashed in case I ever get out of this place," said the Kau, looking up. "Say, I remember you. You be that little squirt of a miner, always sulking in the corners, who everyone always ignored. Vahar's the name, isn't it?"
"Then you got stuck down here, didn't you?" gasped Vahar, eyes round as saucers. "Everyone always said something horrible must have happened to you - you wouldn't stay away from the mines for anything. But you've been here all along - you've been gone for years!"
"Has it been that long? No matter; time's come, time's gone, I'm going to get out of here one o' these days, that's all that matters."
"As if the Spirit of the Sea Caves would let you go," Kali said, appearing beside them. "All you ever talk about is mining maractite, when that's what makes the Spirit furious in the first place!"
"I won't pretend to be something I'm not, even if it does mean bein' in here for eternity," said the Kraig, frowning at Kali, his voice growing louder. "I'm a miner - the oldest miner around these parts - why, I remember when Old Maraqua was first built! I know all of the ropes," the Kau continued, glaring out at Kali, as his voice rose to a shout, "If this so-called Spirit expects me to say, 'Oh, alright, I'll forget about all that, and leave the maractite be, even though you're a selfish beast!"
Suddenly the walls began to shake again. "Oh no..." Kali moaned, closing her eyes and putting her paws over her ears.
Rubble falling from the ceiling, the Spirit roared, "A selfish beast? I, a selfish beast! You insolent creature...!"
Swimming near the top of the chamber, Vahar called out, summoning all his courage, "Why are you so against us mining the maractite, Spirit?"
"Because it is not yours to take, insolent creature!"
"But without the maractite, we sea dwellers would be nothing! Without the maractite, the Maraquans would have lost the war!"
"What do I care of your wars and your needs? I fight on neither side, I do not care!" the Spirit of the Sea Caves roared.
The shaking of the chamber increased, heavily; large chunks of smooth yet jagged maractite fell from the ceiling, and the three Maraquans had to dodge them, scrambling for cover. Vahar's lamp was flung from his grasp and smashed against the rocks, extinguishing the only light and leaving them in the tumultuous darkness.
In the midst of the chaos, Kali pointed to the darkest end of the chamber, shrieking, "Look!"...
Date: Dec 6th
...It was faint, barely to be seen amid the absolute darkness that surrounded it; and yet it was there: a light. It was vague, and distant, no more than a patch of deep grey scarcely visible against the blackness, as if its source were situated at the opposite end of --
"A tunnel!" Vahar breathed, and Kraig's triumphant smirk could be heard in his voice as he said,
"There you go, I told you I was gonna get out of here eventually! Stupid blighter must've shaken the entrance open with his temper tantrum. Now let's go!"
As the Kau's brazen voice struck the wall and was shattered into a hundred echoing fragments, Vahar and Kali cringed, waiting for another eruption of wrath from the Spirit of the Caves. But as none came, the last one slowly faded, and the echoes of Kraig's joyous outburst were swallowed by the black, swirling water, they began to turn their attention back to the tunnel.
"Where do you suppose it leads?" Vahar asked, and Kali shrugged before remembering that the Koi couldn't see her.
"Not out of here, you can count on that."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Because I've been trying to escape for years. Kraig's been at it for longer. If he can keep us here that long, do you honestly think the Spirit would be stupid enough to just open a tunnel and let us out?"
Vahar frowned with sudden realization. "But the tunnel I came through is still here, isn't it? Why don't we just swim out through that?"
Kali shook her head. "That tunnel only goes one way. In."
"How is that possible?"
"Nothin's impossible for a spirit, and that includes makin' a one-way tunnel -- or a mistake," Kraig informed them jauntily, and Vahar felt the vibrations in the water as the Kau flicked his tail in dismissive defiance of the wrath that lurked in the darkness. "Now," he added, "are you two stick-in-the-muds going to join me, or just sit here all year?"
Vahar shrugged, and Kali sighed. "It can't hurt," the Koi said. "I mean, how much worse could going in there make things?"
"A lot," Kali answered solemnly, but Vahar heard her begin to swim slowly after him as he followed Kraig into the tunnel.
The Spirit's fury had faded from the water, leaving the tunnel eerily silent as its smooth Maractite walls slipped past the three captives like the desolate depths of space flowing around a lost starship. Vahar could hear his own breathing echoing off the walls, and try as he might to subdue it the sound continued to grow, until the entire tunnel was haunted with the whispering phantoms of a thousand pairs of trembling lungs. Once, Kraig muttered to himself as he counted the shards of Maractite he had gathered from the floor before leaving the chamber, and the sound of his voice caused the tube of metal to explode in a chattering cacaphony of noise which seemed to linger for eternity before finally consenting to fade, leaving two Neopets desperately nerve-frayed and the other simply grumpy.
But in spite of all the noises they made which might have alerted the Spirit to their attempt at departure -- probably had alerted him, Kali suspected, but kept the thought to herself -- they were left to traverse the tunnel unhindered, until finally the light ahead of them grew into a definite exit point where the tunnel opened into...
Date: Dec 6th
Kali fanned out her tail, sliding to a stop so abruptly that it was all Kraig could do not to careen into her back. "Watch it, girl! You hasty young things, always rushing here and rushing there, then stopping right in the middle!"
Ignoring his grumblings, Kali shook her head. "Something's not right. It must be a trick. After years of being captives, there is no way he would set us free so easily."
Vahar was inclined to agree, but Kraig shook his head. "Now you're talkin' nonsense, girl. Them long years in the cave'll do it to the best, but try to keep your head about you. It's amazing he hasn't already made a mistake in all those years. He very well could finally have!" Rolling his eyes and muttering about silly young things, the old Kau swam ahead.
Vahar and Kali shared a hestitant look, but finally both sighed and hurried after.
For a few minutes they swam quite uneventfully. Long sea grasses swayed in the tide, and a fresh cool current flowed across their faces. Vahar began to wonder, could Kraig be right? Could the Spirit have accidently set them all free at last?
A cry from Kraig dashed his hopes. Swimming forward with a surge of unease, Vahar raced to the Kau with a wide-eyed Kali on his tail. "What is it?" he asked breathlessly. "What's wrong?"
When he saw the Kau's face, though, it was clear that the outcry had not been one of fear, but of wonder. Following Kraig's gaze almost reluctantly, Vahar's own eyes widened at what he saw.
Magnificent pods of transparishield rose from a intricately carved rock formation on the seabed. Hundreds of lights shone in pinpoint sparkles along the many windows adorning the city, and he could hear music and laughter being carried up upon the current. Scores of Neopets darted through doorways, and more were visible within the great clear domes that provided the buildings their structure.
An entire city stood before them.
"Well, I'll be," muttered Kraig. Vahar, looking at him sharply, was alarmed to see a look of recognition in the Kau's craggy features -- he among them must have seen this strange place before.
I'm a miner - the oldest miner around these parts.
With a prickling sensation along his spine, Vahar realized in a flash of understanding exactly what the three of them were seeing...
Date: Dec 7th
"O-Old Maraqua?" the young Koi stammered, watching peals of light fall onto the smooth rock floor of the city. Kali was similarily stunned, her mouth slightly ajar and her delicate pink fins treading the water in shock.
Vahar examined the city once more. The miners had always boasted about how magnificent their old home had been, but Vahar never had thought it could be this stunning.
"Golly, it is," whispered the Kau hoarsely. Kraig's face wore an incredulous expression, one of a young child who had just received a new toy. Kali glanced around, as if suspecting a trick, but Kraig had already begun to move forward.
Slowly, reluctantly, the two younger Neopets followed the old miner into the city. They swam down a magnificent street decorated with intricately carved slabs of maractite and shimmering seagrass entwined around the lamp posts. Joyous music sounded from afar, and the great domed buildings of the cities were ablaze with light. Every few minutes, a few Neopets would swim down the street that Vahar was on with energy, but something was strange about them. Though they were smiling and laughing, their eyes were empty and distant, and no one seemed to notice Vahar, Kali and Kraig. Even when Vahar almost swam right into a Maraquan Uni, the Neopet did not bat an eye or move aside. The Koi stared at her suspiciously.
"This can't be. It's not right," he announced helplessly. "How can a major city that fell into ruins be resurrected? It has to be some kind of trick, doesn't it?"
Kali was starting to notice it too. She shifted uncomfortably. "Guess we'll just have to find out."
At that moment, the floor began to shake...
Date: Dec 7th
...and the tall spires of Old Maraqua began to crumble, the currents about the three Neopets beginning to pick up with a fierceness unlike anything Vahar had ever felt before. Windows of transparent coral began shattering, and doors of maractite were blown down, as the force of the powerful currents heightened with every passing moment. The three Neopets anchored themselves on a chunk of maractite protruding from the ground, and watched, with wide eyes, as the catastrophe ensued.
The citizens of the old city began screaming, running from the houses and the shops, dashing for cover as they tried to shield themselves from the dangerous currents and falling pieces of wreckage.
Never once did they notice the three Neopets clinging to the slab of maractite - never once even glancing at them.
Fleeing out to open water, away from the swirling currents, the Neopets of the old civilization abandoned the beautiful, aquatic city, as behind them, it crumbled.
Flashing by for a mere moment, before he, like the other Neopets, faded into the great blue shadows of the open water, a Maraquan Kau swam by. Of middle-age, and carrying a pick and towing a satchel packed full of jagged pieces of maractite over his shoulder, he darted one last, yearning look at the mountains to the west, then swam off.
"Blimey!" Kraig exclaimed, eyes bugging out. "That was me!"
"It's nothing but an imprint!" Vahar shouted over the roar of the currents. "An imprint from the past.... But why has it chosen to reveal itself now?"
"What else could it be?" Kali cried. "It's the Spirit!"
Suddenly, the rocky sea floor a few yards before them split open, and out of it, rose a swirling, watery cloud of a vaguely greenish blue hue. Gauzy and pale and completely translucent, Vahar could see Old Maraqua crumbling right through it. Near the top, a pair of eyes stared - nay, glared - at the three Neopets. A deep, dark, beautiful blue in color, but how despisingly they glowered at the trio! With an incredible mix of hate, mistrust, and fury, they all quaked beneath his gaze.
Then, he began to speak. Like the roar of the currents themselves, but amplified tenfold, he thundered at them, "Do you not, now, begin to fathom the depths of my powers? Do you not see, that when the pirate captain, years ago, was denied payment for his services to the city of Maraqua, he asked me to lash out at the unworthy peoples who so selfishly occupied the land that belonged to me? I was ready to make them pay, for they had taken from me, and not returned.
"At first, I let them mine the maractite, my only treasure, thinking that they must know my power, and, fearing it, would repay me. They did not. They did not ever think of the Spirit that controls the earthquakes they suffer, the whirlpools they fear! For years I had gathered my powers, and when they reached their pinnacle, I released them, and all under the white-capped waves feared me. Those greedy top-dwellers never imagined that the Spirit whom they stole from so carelessly would one day tear apart their lives in revenge!"
"And so you held me captive," Kali spat, shaking with fury, "The young daughter of Maraquan nobles, trying to send a warning to the others never to meddle with your sea caves again. Did you ever realize that no one knows you are here? How can they respect you or your wishes if you never show your face? It is highly unlikely my family has ever had any idea of what happened to me!"
"Then they will all know me soon, insufferable top-dweller. They have returned to my sea caves, and taken maractite once again, and built a new world from the materials I have unwillingly given. After I finish the three of you off, and my powers have returned their summit once again, the New Maraqua will join the old, both demolished and forgotten."
All the while, the powerful currents had continued swirling around them, and with the Spirit of the Sea Caves's last words, heightened to such extreme forces that the three Neopets exerted all of their physical might to keep hanging onto the lone piece of maractite, fighting from being swept away forever.
"We have got to find a way to defeat him!" Vahar yelled over the roar and rushing of water. Glancing around desperately, his eyes fell on...
Date: Dec 8th
...Kraig's broken pick and his own lamp, also half shattered, whirling through the water.
The truth came to him, not in a rush like the maelstrom surrounding them, but quietly, like a slow spring welling upward.
They could not win.
They, three Neopets alone, had no weapons and no magic that could counter the might of the Spirit of the Sea Caves.
No one could fight the sea and win. They could coax and tame and partition it; they could build things to protect themselves; they could exert power through magic or device, building or digging or study... but the sea was bigger than all of them in the end, and though their buildings and culture might be beautiful and worthy, they were all still a part of it.
They were all a part of it too.
"No," Vahan whispered, and though he barely made any sound, both Kali and Kraig turned to look at him. He didn't have any thought to spare for enjoying that he finally had somebody's attention. "We don't have to defeat him. We have to surrender."
They heard him, however impossible it seemed, but they didn't understand; they looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. He thought of trying to explain, but talking against the dragging current was exhausting.
Vahar let go of the chunk of maractite.
Kali and Kraig both cried out and grabbed for him, but Vahar was swept away in the current. He didn't fight it; he only spread his fins and let it carry him.
"Spirit of the Sea Caves!" he yelled, his heart in his throat, and found that this was much easier when he was moving with the water than when he fought against it.
That gave him courage. It seemed to say that he was on the right track.
"Spirit of the Sea Caves," the young Koi cried again, "listen to me!"
The voice rumbled from the maelstrom, so that he felt it with his whole body instead of only hearing it with his ears, so that he breathed in its scorn with his gills. "Why should I listen to a greedy top-dwelling miner, when I get more respect from pirates?"
Vahar gulped and replied, as boldly as he could, "Because I belong to you!"
The roaring in his ears seemed to grow quiet; the diffraction from the violent differences in conflicting currents seemed to clear from his vision. For a brief moment Vahar glimpsed his erstwhile companions, Kali and Kraig, still clinging to their anchoring chunk of maractite, buffeted by the currents. They were looking around frantically for him, twisting as well as they could, and Vahar was surprised at how deeply it touched him that in the midst of what still felt to them like chaos, they were seeking him. He saw Kraig let go with one hand to raise a fist and shake it, and thought he heard them calling to him.
But this was all only for the smallest of intervals, after the strange clearing of his perceptions, and then all the Koi's attention was taken up by the brilliant deep-sea eyes of the Spirit of the Sea Caves, and by the deafening sea-song voice. The voice's tone was not quite angry now, nor yet scornful. It was suspicious... but interested. "I'm listening."
"I belong to you," Vahar repeated.
He was trembling now, aware that he was still being swept along in currents too fast and strong for him ever to fight, aware that the Spirit could dash him easily against a rock, that he would have neither the time to react nor the strength to do it if he tried. And yet, though he trembled, he was not sure he was exactly afraid.
"I'm a miner," Vahar said, "and all of Maraqua owes you. We belong to the sea, like you do. We're born here, we live here, we build here. We may not live in the caves -- well, except for us miners, I guess we almost do -- but they're important to us." He shook his head. "And if you could call down that whirlpool that destroyed Old Maraqua, you're obviously not limited to just the caves anyway! You might say we're part of your treasure too, that our worked and crafted maractite and the things it lets us do are in your honor."
"You are audacious," the Spirit remarked. Deep dark eyes studied him. "Maraqua has taken my maractite, and never honored me."
Well, that was a problem. "Maraqua hasn't known about you," Vahar whispered. He dragged his gaze away from the eyes to look down toward his two beleaguered friends. "Kali was right, Spirit. The only people who know about you are the three of us you have here. We never meant to rob you. We knew about the caves and appreciated them, but we didn't know you had a name, or a face, or feelings. How can anyone honor you except incidentally, how can anyone repay you, without knowing you're here? Give us a chance!" He paused. "What do you want in repayment, Spirit, anyway? What can we give someone like you? What should we bring to the caves?"
The Spirit was silent for a moment, in the water's raging whirl, and then, so slowly, the maelstrom stilled. Vahar was let free of the current just beside Kali and Kraig, and it felt strange and dizzying to be in still water again.
"I want acknowledgement," said the Spirit of the Sea Caves. "You, at least, have given that. I want honor. Perhaps... companionship." He studied them all with a luminous hint of lighter blue beginning to swirl in his eyes, no less beautiful, as if the sun had struck the depths. "I will come to New Maraqua," he said, "and I will see what you have made of your maractite... in my honor."
The current seized them again, so suddenly that Kraig and Kali were torn from their anchor and thrown along with Vahar. Everything went dark again, and then -- just as abruptly -- they came to a halt.
Vahar put out a fin, and something bumped into it. He felt around it for a moment, and his lamp flared to life. Almost half of it was missing, but it worked.
They were just outside the sleek, all-maractite wall tunnel.
The three of them exchanged glances and raced for the more populated area of the mines.
* * * * *
The news of the Spirit of the Sea Caves was not altogether well received. To impress those who had not met the Spirit with his power, the three who had met him found it necessary to let on that the Spirit had caused the destructive whirlpool that had shattered Old Maraqua and slowed the rebuilding for years.
And yet, even so, the Maraquans had to admit that it would be distressing to be plundered without repayment, without acknowledgement, without thanks. The pirates whom they hated so had at least known they were there.
On the other hand, ignorance might not be an excuse, but it was a forgivable explanation. Instead of a violent maelstrom, what appeared over New Maraqua within a few days was a pair of brilliant blue eyes, the color of the depths of the sea and the darkest mottlings of maractite... and, just as a reminder of what the Spirit could do, a gentle swirling of current all around the city, the center of which twined delicately around King Kelpbeard's palace.
And the Maraquans knew now whom they were greeting. The Spirit of the Sea Caves was pleased with their recognition, and with how they acted now that he had shown himself to them. He said that he would take these top-dwellers for his own and protect them, instead of destroying their homes again.
There was a procession, down into the depths of the caves, with pieces of worked maractite and with other treasures. Weapons, toys, fabrics, jewels, food....
"Frankly," Kali whispered to Vahar, "it looks more like they're stocking some kind of storeroom or refuge than making offerings."
Vahar, who still felt a bit awed and out of place around Kali's overjoyed parents (who were very grateful indeed and persisted in thinking he'd rescued her), shrugged and whispered back, "That might be the idea. He's sort of adopting us -- and going by you and Kraig, he can keep things in pretty good shape down there. Where better to run, if we ever needed shelter again?"
Kali shivered a little at the thought of going down into the Spirit's caves on purpose, but then looked at Vahar with new respect. "Maybe you're right."
* * * * *
Vahar returned to his job in the mines as soon as things had settled down, but now when he dug out maractite ore, he kept in mind that a certain someone was letting him do it.
He also discovered that he was no longer being ignored, even in the mines. At first, when Kali's parents and Kraig's children had fussed over him, when on their word he had been hailed as a hero, he had enjoyed it despite his embarrassment. But the enjoyment had worn off faster than being embarrassed, and by the time he was trying to get back to work, it just unsettled and annoyed him that people were paying attention to him now when they'd never cared before.
And then, in much the same way as he had had the epiphany about surrendering to the Spirit of the Sea Caves, he realized that he had been doing the same thing the Spirit had.
All his time in the mines, he had considered himself an outcast, ostracized for knowing nothing of Old Maraqua and having no memories of it to share. But it had never once occurred to him that the other miners had been sharing stories long before he had been there, and that when he had started feeling left out and slipped away, they had had no way of knowing he hadn't wanted to be alone.
Just as the miners had had no way of knowing the Spirit of the Sea Caves was waiting for his pay.
"Hey," Vahar said, breaking in with new resolve the next time someone made a half-fawning, half nervous joke comment about how he'd saved New Maraqua, "I'm glad I was there, and I'm glad I was right about what to do, but this is getting kind of embarrassing. I'm not so big-headed you have to keep thanking me or asking me to tell the story." He swallowed then, absurdly nervous, and tried a friendly smile. "He showed me what Old Maraqua looked like, but you know I'm too young to really remember it. Maybe you could tell me some stories?"
And they did, and he listened.
And he was home.
Date: Dec 8th
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