Deep in the swamps of the Haunted Woods, Sophie was sitting in her favourite rocking chair. There was no other way to describe it, for that was all she was doing. She wore her usual floppy hat and patched up clothes. Her bristly green fur matched her surroundings. At the Ixi’s feet was the muddy ground covered in moss and brambles. Inside her house was her pot, books, and potions all lying in an unorganised manner. Today she had no spells or concoctions to make; she was free to relax.
And yet she felt like there was something missing. Ever since she had helped save Neovia, she had no real purpose. She could not say that she felt lonely because she had her Meowclops to keep her company. If she needed to talk to someone, there was Bruno and Reginald or even Gilly if she was desperate. She was not really lonely, just alone. No one in Neovia could really understand her. Bruno would listen to her, but she knew that he did not enjoy her company deep down.
A thought crossed her mind for a split second. “Maybe I should take a vacation.”
However, she brushed it away. “No, that’s silly. I am the Swamp Witch; I don’t take vacations.”
Sophie looked down to see her favourite Meowclops, Blink, looking up at her. He was giving her a quizzical stare.
“I don’t know why,” she said perfectly comprehending the petpet. “Well... um... who would look after you? I can’t trust you to just anyone.”
It was then that she realized that her Reginald had trusted her to a total stranger. Was it for the best? Sophie groaned at the dilemma.
When she looked out at the woods again, she saw a Wocky sneaky up to her house.
“Go away!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
She grabbed her staff and fired rapidly at the intruder. The Wocky managed to escape unharmed. Sophie sighed and sat down again.
“Maybe I am getting a little stressed,” she observed.
Blink purred in agreement.
“Alright, I’ll take a vacation,” she decided with a pout, “but for two days only!”
With that, she stomped into her hut and looked for anything that she might want to take. She resolved to just take her staff and the jar of Neopoints given to her by her parents. Once Edmund and Alice had been freed of the curse, they had offered to give Sophie as many Neopoints as she wanted. She had declined, but they still sent her a bundle every once in a while.
“Now there’s just the matter of what to do with you,” she said, looking at Blink.
Sophie trudged through the swamp and woods as she approached Bruno’s cave. She marched in and called out for her brother. The cave was damp and ominous. The shadows would play tricks on whoever came close. Eventually Sophie saw the lumbering form of Bruno.
“Sophie, you never come to visit,” said Bruno gleefully. Then in a more serious tone he added, “Is something wrong?”
Bruno was a a large, hulking Gelert. He had a deep blue fur with messy hair. Making him look even more beastly were his still tattered clothes. But all of this was cancelled out by his loving face.
“No, nothing is wrong,” Sophie mumbled. “I just wanted to know if you could watch over my petpets.”
Bruno was smiling as if he just discovered a secret as he asked, “Are you going on a vacation.”
“No,” Sophie shouted. ”I mean, of course not. I just have some... well, something just came up... it is really important. Why should have to explain it to you? Now, are you going to do it or not?”
“Sure, Sophie,” answered Bruno, who was still smiling. “I understand.”
Sophie was almost out of the Haunted Woods by now. She gasped at the intensity of the sunlight. She stared in awe at all of the colours. This was the first time she had ever left her homeland.
She looked around and spotted what she was searching for, a dock. There were not as many ships as in Krawk Island, but it was still possible to get ship. Sophie noticed a Bori advertising cheap voyages.
“ ’Ello, missy,” he said to Sophie. “Would you be needin’ a ship to someplace?”
The Bori was brown and wore a cocky grin. He was not wearing much clothes except a pair of ripped up pants. Sophie had already decided that she did not like this person. Still, he was the only one available at the time. The green Ixi nodded.
“And where might you be wantin’ to go?” asked the Bori.
“I don’t know,” sighed Sophie. “Which place is the cheapest?”
“This month only I’m havin’ a special price on Maraqua. Only one thousand Neopoints,” declared the Bori.
Sophie tried to determine if that was a good deal or not. She decided that since she had no need for her parents’ money, there was no need to worry about wasting it.
“Alright,” she said handing the Bori had handful of Neopoints.
“Loverly,” said the Bori. “We leave immediately.”
Sophie sat in her room in the ship. Her room was really no more than a closet with a bed stuck in it. She had tried to relax, but the constant shaking of the ship was so unusual to her. She had only left the Haunted Woods for an hour and already she was on a boat to Maraqua.
Sophie thought about her destination. She had heard about Maraqua, but knew little about it. She wondered how she would fit in there and if she could fill the emptiness she felt.
Now Sophie was inspecting the ship. The wood looked old and worn. Suddenly she felt unsafe on the boat. The swamp witch let other thoughts float into her head as she anxiously awaited her arrival.
It seemed to take forever for the ship’s captain to yell, “We’re there!”
Sophie rushed up to the top of the ship and looked around.
“There’s nothing here,” she said in confusion.
“Well, of course not,” laughed the Bori. “Maraqua is under the water.”
Sophie realized that she had made a mistake when choosing her destination.
“How am I supposed to breathe?” she demanded.
“I dunno,” shrugged the Bori. “You shoulda thought of that before.”
Sophie considered heading back home, but she erased that thought. She had come this far already, so she could go farther. She also did not want to show any weakness in front of the Bori. Even though he had said nothing, she knew that he was challenging her. Against all logic and common sense, Sophie dived into the blue ocean.
The water froze her bones as it rushed over her body. Her vision was blurry as she sank deeper and deeper.
Eventually she heard a cheery voice say, “Hello, and welcome to Maraqua. You’ll want one of these.”
Sophie felt something placed on her neck and realized that she could see and breathe. She opened her eyes and saw a cerulean Maraquan Aisha smiling brightly. She had beautiful white hair and a dress to match. It was Isca.
“Uh, thanks,” said Sophie, who was too dazed to come up with sarcastic remark.
“I am guessing that you will want a place to stay,” said Isca.
Sophie groaned in realization that she had not reserved anywhere to stay.
“Don’t worry about it,” chirped Isca, “Kelp is expanding into the hotel business. There’s sure to be a room there.”
Sophie looked around at the brightly coloured city. Despite being so deep underwater, it looked so luminous. The buildings were all made of vibrant coral. After a while she spotted Kelp. She said good bye to Isca and swam toward the restaurant.
Sophie floated into Kelp where she saw a Maraquan Scorchio waiting. She looked around at all the people eating here. They all looked like rich snobs to her. Several of them had started pointing at her and whispering. She sighed. Already she was getting a bad reputation.
“May I help you, madam?” asked the Scorchio.
“Um yes, I’d like a room,” said Sophie.
“Ah, that will be ninety thousand Neopoints,” stated the Scorchio.
“What? That is ridiculous,” shouted Sophie as stomped her foot.
By now everyone was staring at her in shocked looks. A few people were muttering to others.
“Fine,” Sophie said reluctantly as she handed over the majority of her Neopoints.
“Thank you,” sniffed the Scorchio, “Your room is number 2 upstairs.”
Sophie floated through the fancy restaurant. Whenever she passed a table, the people sitting would go silent. She looked at the expensive decorations in distaste.
Eventually she made it to the stairway and climbed up to a corridor with two doors. She found her room easily.
“Maybe they would have more customers if they lowered the prices,” she grumbled.
Inside, her room was full of beautiful furniture. There was a wardrobe, a bed and table, all made of coral. Above her bed was a window that looked over Maraqua. It was a complete opposite of her room on the boat. She looked up and could almost make out Kreludor. It was night. She looked down at the pretty city and sighed.
She did not fit in here. No, that was incorrect; she did not fit in anywhere except by herself. She collapsed on the bed and drifted into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning she got up early so she would not have to face the burning stares of customers. There were still a few early birds eyeing her carefully, but it was not as bad as when she had arrived. She left the building and entered the city. She wandered around a few shops, but no one offered to help her. She did not find them very interesting anyway. In only an hour, she decided that she did not want to stay in New Maraqua any longer, so she headed to the ruins of Old Maraqua.
The ruins were not as colourful as the city, but they were still beautiful. Sophie saw foreign plants and pieces of the old city. Eventually, she came to a little clearing full of plants. She picked a few as souvenirs. The Ixi sat down and was able to relax for once. But she could relax at home; that was not the reason she had come here. She shook her fists at the mystery of why she felt so empty.
It was then that she heard a harsh voice call out, “I thought I told you to get out of my sight.”
At first Sophie thought that it was directed at her, but she looked over and saw a Maraquan Aisha arguing with a pair of Maraquan Draiks. The Aisha looked like Isca, except she was a deeper blue. Her face looked more haunted than Isca. She was Caylis.
“K-king Kelpbeard wishes to see that you are well protected,” stuttered one of the Draiks.
“Well, the almighty king didn’t seem to care when he banished me out here many years ago,” shot back Caylis.
“Yes, well, now you are a friend of Maraqua and we have orders to protect you,” continued the Draik.
Caylis looked like she was going to snap. Sophie decided that she had better step in.
“I’m giving you both ten seconds to return to your home,” threatened Sophie as she held up her staff. “Ten... nine... eight...”
The two Draiks were already gone by then.
“I didn’t ask for your help,” said Caylis in an annoyed tone.
“Maybe you didn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t need it,” replied Sophie. “Those two were still here until I came in.”
The two glared at each other for a while, then broke out into smiles.
“I’m Sophie,” said Sophie.
“My name is Caylis,” said the Aisha.
“I take it you prefer to be alone,” observed Sophie.
“Almost all my life I have been alone,” answered Caylis.
“I know how you feel,” said Sophie with a sad smile.
“The king of Maraqua told me to leave and never come back a long time ago. Recently he has allowed me to come back, but now he won’t let me have any peace.”
“We have a similar story,” claimed Sophie.
“I guess my reclusive personality comes from me always being in my sister’s shadow,” said Caylis.
“She can’t be worse than my brother,” exclaimed Sophie. “He was such a bookworm. Everyone would always say ‘Reginald is so smart’ or ‘Reginald is such a gentleman’ and then just add as an afterthought ‘Oh, and Sophie is cute too.’”
The two girls both smiled decently.
“You are the first person to understand me,” the two girls said at once.
“How about I show you around Old Maraqua,” suggested Caylis. “If you ask me, it’s the nicest part of the city.”
“I agree with you,” said Sophie.
So Caylis led Sophie throughout the ruins. She showed her all the secrets that she had learned. They travelled to a cave that only lit up when they were quiet. They went to an undiscovered hole that always had a rare fish in it.
“Watch this,” said Caylis as she held up a grey shell.
She spun it once in her hand and it transformed into every colour of the rainbow. Sophie stared in awe.
They had fun together until the sunset.
“It’s evening already,” sighed Sophie. “I had better be going. My petpets no doubt miss me.”
“I understand,” said Caylis sadly, “but thanks for the wonderful day. If you ever return to Maraqua, I will still be here.”
“Thank you for showing me all these natural wonders. If you ever decide to visit the Haunted Woods, you can look for me.”
Then the two girls hugged and said good bye. Both of them had tears in their eyes. They had only just met that day, yet Sophie knew that they had formed a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Sophie returned to New Maraqua where she found a Maraquan Elephante who was willing to take her to the surface. Before leaving, she returned the necklace that Isca had given her when she had arrived. The captain of the ship was much nicer than the Bori who had taken her to Maraqua. In no time, she was back at the dock where she had left. She walked to her hut merrily. When she entered, she found Bruno on the floor with the Meowclops on his back.
“I’m home,” she announced.
“Thank Fyora,” sighed Bruno. ”Who knew that a Meowclops needed so much attention?”
“Here’s something for your troubles,” said Sophie as she handed him the flowers that she had collected.
“Sophie... are you thanking me?” asked Bruno in confusion.
“Let’s just say that I’m in a good mood. But don’t expect it to happen again.” She said the last part sternly.
Bruno grinned and left, leaving Sophie back where she had started. Now she had a chance to really relax, because she knew that she was not alone.