Unwanted: Part One
Isca and I were the most beautiful babies.
At least that’s what everyone said. There’s no reason to believe that anyone was lying, for our mother’s sake – but I’ll go into that later.
Being Maraquan Aishas, fur had been replaced with a more streamlined, scaly skin, early on in the evolution of our people. Isca’s skin shone with the iridescence of highly polished, pure Maractite – a bright, rich turquoise color. Mine was a less obvious beauty; a glossy slate blue at first glance. But if you look at an angle, there is some pale violet and silver there, as well.
Even at an early age, our difference in hue reflected our difference in character. Isca was loud – in that adorable, fun-loving way of the very young children we were. She did and said what she thought, without pausing to think. She kept no secrets (either that, or she was very good at keeping the ones she did have). In a word, she was innocent. Heartbreakingly so.
I was quieter, more cautious. I generally preferred intellectual activities to physical ones, so while Isca swam around the room that served as our nursery, touching and examining everything she could get her hands on, I sat in a corner, poring over whatever book I could scavenge from around the house. Although Isca and I were – are – fairly equal when it comes to intelligence, I was the first to learn to read. My thoughts were probably more complex than hers, as well. She saw no need to hide anything from anyone, whereas I reveled in my little secrets. Everything that brought me the slightest bit of pleasure, that I could keep to myself, I did.
Most of you reading this will naturally assume that I was destined to be the “evil” one, the one that dabbled in malevolent sorcery, threatening society. Although my life is greatly intertwined with magic, I was never drawn to the malignant side of things. I was guarded, not as quick to accept new friends as my sister, but I had a strong sense of loyalty and love towards the people I did let into my life. I didn’t stereotypically hate society, and I had no quarrels with King Kelpbeard, or the way he ran things.
At least, not at first.
Through my young eyes, my Maraqua was a utopia. We were a unique, thriving underwater civilization with a rich culture and history (but at the time, I was too young to really appreciate that last part). We lived in reasonable peace; all of our battles were fought with stray sea monsters, for our city had no neighbors. We were self-sustained, needing nothing from the surface. In fact, our king assured us, we were better off than many of the surface-dwellers. Not only did we have adequate food and shelter, as well as the luxury of being able to pursue hobbies, such as art and literature, but we had a magnificent armory. Maractite – a marvelous metal exclusive to the ocean floor – shaped all of our weapons, and most of our armor. It was strong and moved swiftly through the water, barely displacing it, making it essential in our underwater realm.
Most of Maraqua was arranged tidily around a central square, the buildings fantastic feats of architecture. But, as with any great city, there were less marvelous slums clustered together at the outskirts.
That’s where I spent the early part of my life – the Old portion, as I like to think of it, with a capital “O.” Even though our little ramshackle, one-story abode was in poor condition, it embodied my feeling of “home” perfectly, even now.
I thought of it as cozy, whereas others would have called it cramped. I spent most of my toddler days in the nursery, the small room I shared with Isca. As I grew older, the nursery was converted into a child’s bedroom, most of the space taken up by two little beds that our mother procured. I began exploring around the house, then, but only my bed gave me the sense of security and warmth that I had come to associate with “home.”
And our mother... She was the most wonderful Maraquan Aisha in the world. What I remember most is her eyes. They were always bright – bright gemstones shining in the nighttime water that was her deep blue skin. If our shack of a house was the embodiment of “home” for me, then my mother was the embodiment of “love.” We were never well off financially, but she always found a way to make Isca and me happy. We didn’t have half as much as the richer Maraquan children, and yet we never wanted for anything.
Yet not everyone viewed her with the same reverence as I did.
She was a healer, with a magical gift for it. She worked in the city infirmary, helping many Maraquans combat illness. She did much good, yet the atmosphere around her always had an undercurrent of distrust and resentment. Of course, someone would occasionally show a magical gift, but it wasn’t very often. And my mother’s gift was strong – stronger than anyone else in our city’s history, if the records were accurate.
People are always the same, when you boil right down to it. They fear the unknown, the unexplained. Magic was a distant and unexplained concept for most of the people in Maraqua, which is why they had no love for my mother.
Still, she swam every day to the infirmary, to help the same people that would probably never help her, if their situations were reversed. It was a long and dangerous commute – our neighborhood wasn’t the friendliest in the city, but she made it every single day, back and forth, with comforting regularity.
Isca and I were left alone, most of the time. I’ve already explained our differences – you would think that we’d be distant, separated by what made us unlike each other. But we had a very close relationship growing up. We understood each other completely, never hesitating to reveal to each other exactly what we were thinking. We were as different as night and day, yet totally inseparable.
I’ll never forget the day that marked the end, and the beginning. The end of our Old, wonderful lives – the beginning of our New ones, where that sisterly bond would truly be tested.
King Kelpbeard had always warned the Maraquans that surface-dwellers were not to be trifled with. They were dangerous, and unstable, and by contacting them, we could only bring peril to Maraqua, our unique, underwater utopia. That day, when we found out exactly why, stands out in my mind as one of the worst days I have ever lived through.
Early in the morning, a dark shadow fell across the city. We were inside, alone – our mother had gone to work – but we noticed all the same: the light flooding in from outside suddenly darkened. Isca and I shared a worried glance and went outside.
The water was clear, so a crystalline blue was the backdrop for a horrifying ship. Yes, a ship – underwater. It was gigantic, perhaps a third the size of the city itself. I didn’t have much experience with ships, but I was pretty sure that they were supposed to stay on the surface of the water. Apparently, this one didn’t know that.
Perhaps more terrifying than the ship itself were its crewmembers. Red-eyed, wraith-like shadows, holding onto the ship’s rigging as it sailed past. They were obviously pirates – I could tell as much by their mismatched assortment of black-and-white striped clothing, eye patches, bandanas, and the occasional hook or peg leg. But they were far more sinister than what I had imagined pirates would look like, reading about them in books.
Isca and I looked up, dumbfounded, our mouths hanging open stupidly, forming little “o”s of surprise. It seemed as though the whole of Maraqua held its breath, then, as we watched the behemoth sail slowly and silently past.
I don’t remember much, just that there were a lot of Neopets swimming around in the streets in a frenzy, their eyes panicked. We were swept up into the turmoil, trying to escape the crowd and find somewhere safe to rest, where there was no fear of getting trampled. More than anything else, I remember the iron grip we had on each other’s hands. Fear that I would lose Isca filled my head even more than the fear of that ship, and its crew.
A battle raged overhead. The pirates had swum out to attack the city, and our armed guard swam up to meet them. Maractite met steel with clashes that reverberated through the water, and left ringing in my ears. Maractite swords were far better weapons than the regular swords used by the pirates, but they had surprise and overwhelming numbers on their side. We were not prepared for an attack by surface dwellers on such a scale. Who had ever heard of a ship that sailed underwater?
The Maraquans held off the pirates for a while, but soon the inevitable happened – our army was pressed back into the streets by the pirates. Isca and I had been carried into the middle of an unfamiliar street by the mob of people, and we were desperately searching for a place to escape to. Now the fighting surrounded us as well as panicked civilians. We had to find a place to hide – there was no way two young Aisha girls could dodge sword thrust and stampeding citizens forever.
We ducked into a jewelry store. The window had been smashed, so it didn’t matter that the door was locked. We swam through and took refuge behind a long row of huge display cases. Here we caught our breath, sheltered somewhat from the noise and commotion out in the street. We could still hear the battle, though – the screams of unfortunate Maraquans caught in the battle, the animalistic roars of the pirates fighting relentlessly, and the clashing of metal on metal mixing together to form one horrible soundtrack to, for all intents and purposes, the end of my life.
“Caylee...” Isca used her pet name for me, but not with her usual playfulness. Her eyes were wide with fear, probably mirroring my own. “Caylee, I’m scared.”
“Me, too.” I could hardly offer guidance, when I myself so needed it. I wanted to lie and say that everything was going to be okay, but we both knew that nothing would be okay. Maybe nothing would ever be okay, ever again.
We crouched there, hardly daring to breathe, for what felt like hours. After a while, the sounds of battle melted away, to be replaced by the raucous victory cries of the pirates. I felt sick to my stomach as I realized that our entire army must either be completely pulverized, or scattered and unable to fight. We were beaten – the shining utopia that was my Maraqua was now at the mercy of these terrible pirate demons.
In retrospect, we should have seen it coming. This was a jewelry store, after all. Some boisterous pirates broke down the door – for the fun of it, apparently, because they could have just swum in through the window – and entered our temporary hideout. They spotted us immediately. As they laughed, we sprang up into defensive positions, our bodies shaking. We knew that we didn’t stand a chance against so many pirates; the both of us together wouldn’t stand much of a chance against one.
“Look ‘ere – two pretty little things, and mount’ns of pretty stones besides.” The biggest pirate grinned. He was a green Blumaroo with a scraggly ginger beard and a long scar running down his nose.
In that moment, I only knew fear. Everything else melted away as he took a step towards us, his hands curling into fists threateningly. I knew then that there was no way we could get out of this, save for a miracle.
A long, mournful note sounded – blown from a conch shell. The Blumaroo grimaced and glanced longingly around the room at the magnificent jewelry, blocked only by a fragile display case.
“Drat, that’d be the signal. We could just... no, better we be outta the city by then.” Whatever the signal meant, the pirates were taking it very seriously if they planned to leave without any loot. He motioned for the other pirates to follow him out. I relaxed slightly, once I realized that they didn’t have time to bother with us.
The Blumaroo noticed my shoulders drop a fraction of an inch and grinned evilly in our direction. “You should see your city die, girlies.” Before I could digest that, he grabbed what remained of our shirts – mine with one of his meaty hands, Isca’s with the other – and threw us outside, through the window.
I could hear fading laughter as the pirates swam away. I was too dazed to do much of anything. Isca hovered over me, concerned. I started to smile at her.
Then I noticed the ship. It was starting to sail away, the pirates once more attaching themselves to the rigging, but that’s not what made the almost-smile freeze on my face halfway to completion.
A fearsome figure stood on the quarterdeck, wreathed in shadow. Right beside it, there was a smaller figure, similarly hidden in the folds of darkness. There was a flash of lightning – although how that was possible underwater, I didn’t know – and suddenly the figures were illuminated. The large one was a giant green Lupe, emanating malevolence, dressed suavely in a captain’s uniform. A scar ran from his forehead, over his left eye, and down across his cheek, cutting a fearsome line across his face. Chillingly, the small figure beside him was a young blue Zafara. I estimated that she couldn’t be much older than I was, yet she was dressed as a pirate, and had the cold, calculating look of a seasoned fighter. Her eyes glowed red, just like the rest of the terrible crew.
The Lupe seemed to be demonstrating something with his hands. The Zafara nodded, and the Lupe stepped back to let her take his place. She held her arms out wide, in a “V,” and closed her eyes, as if concentrating.
That strange underwater lightning lashed out at my city, right from the little Zafara girl’s palms. Somehow, everything slowed down for a microsecond – I could almost see the tongues of bright blue power strike out – and then the lightning surrounded me. I gasped. It wasn’t pain I felt, exactly, but rather a furious ringing in my ears, louder than if I had stuck my head in a giant bell and whacked it with a mallet. Mostly that horrible ringing filled my mind, but then other thoughts crept in, as well. No, not thoughts – emotions. Fear was there, and sorrow, and an unpleasant feeling I had no name for. It was almost... longing. A desperate longing for something that couldn’t be found, couldn’t be appropriated. I sank to the ground, my hands scrabbling against the pavement, searching for Isca.
My eyes were screwed tightly shut against the light, but Isca was obviously in a similar position. Her hands met mine, and we sat there clutching each other for what could have been anywhere from a millennia to a second.
Then suddenly, everything went away. The lightning, the ringing, the jumbled mess of emotions clouding my thought, the feel of Isca’s hands holding tightly to mine. My eyes snapped open, my body shocked at the sudden absence of senses. We were floating freely through the water, Isca and I. Around us, our city crumbled. It was hard to place what exactly had changed, but suddenly I knew that everything was about to fall apart.
And it did. I could hear a rumble in the distance, and I saw what it was almost immediately. Towards the center of the city, a whirlpool was growing at an alarming rate. Before I could even register that it was going to engulf the entire city, it did. As the water around us started its violent churning, once stable buildings collapsed; glass shattered; the cobblestones at our feet were ripped apart. I didn’t even have time to move towards Isca. Something connected soundly with my head, and everything went black.
When I awoke, my city – the glorious, utopian Maraqua – had died, just as that loathsome pirate had promised. Dust and smaller debris floated through the water, clouding it almost to the point where I couldn’t see. It swirled around, caught by a gentle current that was all that remained of the massive, terrifying whirlpool. Despite how difficult it was to see, I began to search for my sister. Whatever else happened, I knew I had to find her. That one thought consumed me, blocking out all the others. I would later mourn for the cataclysmic event that I had somehow survived through.
My head swiveled around, searching for her in the open water. Panic gripped me as I realized she wasn’t there. Without thinking, I swam down to the nearest pile of rubble and started digging with my bare hands, hoping against hopes that I wouldn’t find her there, buried. It wasn’t long until rational thought took hold of me again, though.
I took another look around, slower this time. I really absorbed my surroundings as the water started to clear, noting with detached distress that Maraqua was now in ruins. Once tall and proud buildings now stood broken, entire roofs lopped off and walls punched out. Rubble was everywhere, practically covering the ripped up street, and dust mushroomed out from the largest piles, dispersing quickly through the water. There was a tiny flash of the brightest turquoise at the corner of my eye as I turned my head. I was suddenly focused on that spot, a relatively small pile of debris farther down the road. I took off immediately, a blurred streak shooting through the water.
There was Isca, lying semiconscious on the ground, partially covered by debris. I immediately knelt at her side, fearing the worst. But as I worriedly put my hand on her forehead, she stirred. Relief washed over me.
“Caylee... Caylee, I think I hit my head,” she confessed, slurring her words ever so slightly.
I somehow managed a smile. “Come on.”
I took her hand and pulled her up. We stood there for several seconds, just holding each other. She was holding me up as much as I was holding her up. Then we looked around, at the ruins that were our fallen city. I don’t know how much time passed – seconds, hours, days – where we absorbed it all in complete shock. Debris crowded the streets, once beautiful buildings stood broken. Tears filled my eyes and then emptied into the sea, lost in the already salty water.
“Caylee, we should find some shelter.” Isca’s voice snapped me out of my reverie. Of course, we had to set up a shelter of sorts, where we could spend the night. Already the water was cooler, the crystalline blue of before darkening as the theoretical Sun – few had ever seen it, because of King Kelpbeard’s rule to never swim to the surface – left the also merely imagined sky, far above our heads. I doubted that the pirates would just swim away without taking any of our riches. They had left for that disturbingly young blue Zafara’s strange underwater lightning, but there would be looters. We needed to be safe.
A broken husk of a building stood nearby. It had mostly collapsed, but there was a small cavity underneath the rubble that could fit two small Aisha girls. Isca and I made for it, our eyes anxiously flickering around.
At the time, I hadn’t expected to stay there for long. I suppose, unconsciously, I thought my mother would suddenly appear, looking devastated. Then her eyes would light up as she spotted our little shelter, and Isca and I would swim into her arms, and we’d all be together again. And although we would have nowhere to go, everything would be okay again. So I stayed near the opening as Isca rested, watching the ruins outside and waiting for any sign of movement. Waiting for a Maraquan Aisha to emerge from a pile of debris.
We were there for three days.
When someone actually came, I almost couldn’t process it. A burly Maraquan Grarrl in palace guard attire, his fearsome features balanced out by his sad, worried expression, swam into view. I was leaning against the entrance to our shelter, falling asleep. Isca was beside me, already engulfed in blessed sleep. Through closing eyelids, I saw his wide-eyed recognition as he caught sight of me. He motioned for other scouts to come over, and as I finally slipped into unconsciousness, I remember imagining that I was a little girl again.
I imagined that I had fallen asleep on the couch reading again, near the glowing orb set in the center of our small living room that kept it warm during the cold-water months. My mother was carrying me into my room, where Isca was already fast asleep, and I would wake up in my nice warm bed the next morning, the familiar ceiling of our converted nursery welcoming me into the day.
Ah, to be welcomed. It’s such a lonely memory, writing about it now.
When I woke up, I wasn’t even in a bed.
To be continued...