Waiting Out the Storm: Part Three
Jenna began blacking out as she held on to her friends tightly. She thought the shadow was just a part of her failing vision. It was shaped like... She blinked in an effort to see better. It looked like a Maraquan Aisha to her... That’s impossible. This is Mystery Island, not Maraqua.
The shadow seemed to have some kind of impressive virility Jenna lacked. It—she—he—held all three of them firmly. Jenna looked at it, dazed.
“Oh, of course,” said the Aisha pleasantly, acting as if nothing was wrong. “You’re land creatures, so you need oxygen.” The calm voice confirmed Jenna’s preconceived notions—their savior was a female.
Slowly she withdrew three necklaces made of some underwater material. She strung them over Stan, Patricia and Jenna. Almost immediately Jenna’s vision and hearing returned to almost normal. She saw their hero in more detail than before. The Maraquan Aisha had a pale yellow fin, blue scaly skin, yellow seashells, and long blonde hair.
“There you go,” she murmured pleasantly. “Just relax, and don’t fight...” She barely finished her sentence when Stan awoke and began to struggle angrily.
“Let go of me!”
“Calm down, please.”
“Who the heck are you? Where am I? Tell me!”
Jenna found her voice. “Stan, just let her take you. I think she’s going to help us.”
“Trust her...” Jenna’s voice was lost again.
“Listen to the Lutari,” said the Aisha. “My name is Aly, and I am going to take you all to Maraqua.”
“But it’s so far away,” said Stan, now more curious than angry.
“Not as far away as you think,” Aly replied, a faint smile appearing on her lips. “The current and your muscles have pulled you farther away from your home island than you think. Don’t worry, Maraqua is close. You will find rest soon.”
Stan nodded and let his head rest on Patricia’s shoulder. Then after a moment’s silence, Jenna asked weakly, “How can we breathe?”
“The necklaces I just gave you have a special charm put on them. Like Garin and Jacques’, they allow you to breathe underwater. I always have a few on hand.”
She frowned and glanced down at Patricia, who was still unconscious.
“Little one, what is wrong? I still have yet to hear you speak.”
Jenna swallowed loudly. “She was underneath for a long time, longer than Stan and me. She got her foot caught in this bunch of seaweed. And she hasn’t woken since.”
“I see.” Aly frowned. “She is alive and breathing. Perhaps she is just tired.”
“Maybe.” Jenna was still scared, however. Patricia doesn’t look okay, though. Maybe this Aly person is lying to me, and she’s really going to lead us to the lair of the Drenched. I have to fight her! I have to get out! But even as those thoughts rushed through her tired head, she knew that Aly was an ally. There was no way she could see the gentle Maraquan native hurting anyone.
Jenna knew that Aly knew how she felt. “That’s it, little one. Just relax.” A city appeared on the horizon, bustling with life and energy.
“We’re almost there.”
“Good,” murmured Stan almost subconsciously. “I’m tired.”
The same smile appeared on the Maraquan’s face. “I’ll bet you are.”
Jenna opened her eyes in awareness as the great noise that accompanied every big city assaulted her ears. Hundreds of people crowded around the streets of Maraqua City, bargaining in loud voices or calling out the names of a loved one. No one cast a second glance at the odd Neopets, three of whom were not even native to Maraqua. For Jenna, the familiarity of a big city brought a wave of homesickness, and she began to let unseen tears find their way into the sea.
They traveled for a while more before entering an area of the city that had far less traffic. It was the area around the royal palace, which contained fewer pedestrians and more empty caves.
“We are almost there,” said Aly coolly.
As they entered a cave, a much older resident approached them. The Zafara approached them, once-pink fins floating listlessly in the water. Her light gray hair hung around her shoulders, giving her the appearance of someone who was suspended in midair.
“Aly.” She sounded quite disappointed. “There’s not enough room. Why do you keep bringing so many in?”
“What?” Aly lost her graceful appearance as she pleaded desperately with her elder. “Please! They come from Mystery Island. The little Uni needs help!”
The old Zafara squinted at Patricia, and Jenna felt a sudden rush of protectiveness.
“She doesn’t need any help from us. A little rest will do.”
Aly refused to give up. “Come on, Anne, please. They need help. You know that. They nearly drowned, for Pete’s sake. Please, Anne.”
Anne squinted at Stan next, analyzing the damage done to him.
“He doesn’t look bad either. I would say rest for him as well, but not as much.”
Aly’s jaw was set rigidly in a stubborn position. “I don’t—” She stopped. “Forget it.”
Anne glared at her. “That’s what I thought.” Aly glared at her as the elder Maraquan moved on to examine Jenna. The Lutari glared at her angrily, not willing to openly display her fear. As the Zafara leaned in, Jenna stuck her tongue out. Aly gasped while Anne chuckled.
“Quite the fiery one you have here,” she said, sounding almost amused. “She seems to be just fine.” Her expression changed back to its regular grim form. “I believe you can leave them be for a while here. I suppose we have enough room for them.”
Aly smiled with gratitude and relief, and bowed awkwardly to her elder. “Thank you,” she said breathlessly. “I’m sure they would thank you too, if they were awake enough.”
Jenna smiled as a way of thanks.
Anne’s old face creased and she allowed the four Neopets in the cramped cave. Anne was right. There is hardly any room in here. As if reading her thoughts, Aly said quietly, “The refugees of the war and the wounded and ill of Maraqua come here. If I were to give you any advice at all, it would be to get out of here as soon as you can. This place dampens your spirits greatly. Be sure to pass the message on to your friends as well.”
Jenna nodded. “I will.”
“Good.” Aly set the trio down on the porous surface of the cave. “Keep the necklaces. They are your only chance of survival. I may not see you again, so this is goodbye. Good luck, little one.” With that, the Aisha disappeared and Jenna, exhausted by the day’s events fell asleep. Tomorrow we will go back home. I hope my parents are doing okay. I wouldn’t want them to be hurt, no matter how much I loathe them for sending me away from home. With that comforting thought, she fell asleep on the uncomfortable floor, with two almost complete strangers as her only company.
She woke up maybe fifteen minutes later to a pair of hooves shaking her violently. “Wake up, wake up,” said Patricia urgently. “Where are we?”
“Huh?” asked Jenna sleepily. She had just begun to dream about her old friends when she was awakened.
“Where are we?” asked Patricia again, more impatiently.
“In Maraqua in a cave for refugees and injured people. Can I go back to sleep now?”
“No! Come on, let’s get out of here. It’s so depressing!” She turned to an alert Stan and said, “She finally woke up. Let’s go.”
Stan grinned. “Alright.” He got up with ease and offered Jenna his hand. She glared at it for a moment and then shook her head. She pushed herself up on her own. Stan shrugged and turned his hand to Patricia. The Uni took it gladly, still weak from nearly drowning.
They bolted out together, into the now-dark city, still crowded with hundreds of citizens. Stan and Patricia looked around, amazed.
“There’s so many people,” said Patricia in amazement. “I’ve never seen this many.”
“Guess this is what a big city is really like,” muttered Stan, his eyes opened wide. “I’d never want to leave here.” Jenna rolled her eyes. Living in the city was the greatest thing in the world. Although she would never tire of it, she was once again getting bowled over by a wave of homesickness.
“Come on, guys, let’s go. You were so eager to get out before.”
Stan snapped out of it and turned to Patricia. “She’s right.”
“Yeah.” The Uni allowed herself to be led away by her classmate and neighbor. They left the big city step-by-step, foot by foot, until finally the hubbub only left their ears ringing in the total silence of the sea. The sand seemed to have a life of its own as the trio passed over it. It billowed and waved and even seemed to shimmer, although there was no light shining on them. Jenna looked around her in awe.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said dreamily. Patricia looked at her neighbor as though she was insane.
“Don’t see what’s so pretty,” she said shortly and turned away.
Jenna’s smile faded. “What’s with you?”
“Nothing, really, it’s just that...”
Patricia cringed a little under Jenna’s expectant glare. “I just think that you’re a spoiled brat who always has to get her way. If it were up to you, I would have drowned back there. You had to go up for air. You have to get everything; I can just tell by the way you treat your parents. Then when you get your way you expect life to be perfect.” Her voice grew stronger and more spiteful as the other two stared at her. She continued. “Some of us don’t get that, and we never will. You think everyone should be perfect? Well, it’s not going to, and you have to get used to that!”
Jenna was speechless for a moment. Then she recovered, and her big city attitude came roaring back.
“Well, I’m not a fashion-less know-it-all who can’t swim,” she snapped and rushed away.
Patricia shouted after her, “Fine, be that way. But when you need help and no one’s there, don’t blame them!” She spun in the opposite direction and crossed her arms. Stan turned to her and tried to calm her.
Jenna huffed loudly. Who needs them? she thought as she looked back. I’m totally capable of fending for myself. As she thought about her once-partners, she rammed into something slimy. When she looked up she found out what it was.
A giant sea slug.
To be continued...