Unwanted: Part Two
I think of the moment I woke up as the starting point for my “New” life. In my dreams, I had forgotten anything was amiss. Once my eyes flickered open and I realized that I looked up at a different ceiling, I was finished pretending. I was stuck in reality, and, no matter how hard I tried afterwards, I couldn’t find my way back to that original dreamland.
The ceiling itself was interesting. It was many, many feet above my head, and looked as though it had once been beautifully decorated, but now an intricate spider web of cracks, small and alarmingly wide, cut through the designs. There had once been a skylight in the center of it, but something had punched through the glass and left only jagged edges behind. My eyes followed the path that such an object must have taken, and I saw a gigantic boulder embedded in the floor directly underneath.
That brought my attention to what was going on all across the room. It seemed to be a makeshift shelter of sorts, with bare cots – like the one I rested in – everywhere, in somewhat neat rows and columns. The room was crowded with Maraquan citizens, talking in hushed, worried tones. I spotted a Peophin in royal battle armor, similar to the Jetsam who had found us, watching silently over the whole scene a few feet away. It took a moment for me to notice that there were other palace guards all around the room, as well. Some took up positions against the walls halfway between the floor and the ruined ceiling, so they could look down and oversee everything.
My thoughts were only half-formed as I tried to drag my recent memory out of the sleep that fogged my head. The first thing to penetrate was a need to find my sister. It shot through me like an arrow, instantly clearing my head and making me alert.
Panicked, I swiveled around, scanning the refugees for the beautiful blue-colored skin that would mean my sister. The panic intensified and I clutched at my chest as I scanned the room again, still not seeing her.
The Peophin guard noticed my distress. He glided over and knelt down, firmly grabbing my shoulders. “What’s wrong?” he asked. His deep, soothing voice calmed me down fractionally.
“My sister – she and I – we were hiding – someone, a scout – they found –” I babbled almost incoherently in my rush to get the words out. I could only hope that he understood at least of a part of it. I could only hope that he saw the desperation in my eyes.
I nodded wildly, euphoric that he understood what I wanted.
He put a calming hand on my forehead and called over one of the other guards. I heard him ask about other small Aisha girls that had been brought in. The other guard – a Maraquan Korbat – glanced at me gravely before he responded in an undertone. Young as I was, I could still catch the undercurrent of something deeply wrong. It must have showed on my face.
“Shh, don’t worry, we’ll take you to your sister, now,” appeased the Peophin, talking my hand. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
I was led out of the room and through some intricately winding passageways. I would soon learn that this was a section of King Kelpbeard’s palace. The only section, in fact, that hadn’t sunk into the fissure that had opened up almost directly underneath it due to the whirlpool. The whole structure would eventually collapse, but some of the royal architects had deemed it safe enough to harbor refugees for the time being.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time. I felt only two emotions – worry, that something awful had happened to my sister, and relief, that I would be seeing her very soon. We finally made it to another cavernous room that had been converted into a palace infirmary (the original one presumably having been destroyed). My sister was at the other end of the room, in a cot wider and higher than the one I had woken up in, with sheets. Maraquans with the white-and-blue-striped armbands of medics flurried around her.
I broke free from the Peophin guard’s grip and swam over to her bedside as fast as my tired tail could propel me. I pushed through the somewhat surprised medics and leaned over her, taking her hand. She looked fine to me – only a bandage was wrapped tightly around her head.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “She’s going to be all right, right?”
I couldn’t understand the complex explanation they gave me. She had hit her head – which I knew already – but they couldn’t get her to wake up. She had been asleep since that time in our makeshift shelter, where they had found us.
For the next few days, nobody could make me leave that spot. Food was brought to me, and I ate it without tasting it. I suppose they could have moved me while I slept fitfully, but they seemed to respect my need to be close to her. I was there to see her when she first stirred, scrunching up her nose and groaning during some sort of nightmare. I felt my heart soar – she was back! She’d be okay!
I cried out, and a medic came running over immediately. I told her what had happened, and Isca was put under twenty-four hour watch. The next days – weeks? – blurred into one short sequence of memory; my sister slowly became more active, tossing and turning in her sleep, until, one day, she awoke.
I stumbled back a few steps when her eyes flickered open. They were my sister’s eyes, the ones I knew and loved, to be sure, but there was something different there. I blinked the tears out of my eyes, to float free in the water around us, and my initial euphoria gave way to fear. Isca was looking straight ahead, unblinkingly, her mouth moving to whisper soundlessly.
“Isca?” My voice trembled with uncertainty. But then she seemed to shake herself awake - really awake, and she suddenly sat up, ramrod straight.
“Caylee?” Our eyes found each other, and then suddenly we clutched each other, sobbing. But she surprised me by pushing me away after a moment. I looked at her critically – there was panic written across her face. I tried to understand where it was coming from.
“Is – Isca?”
“Caylee, something bad is going to happen. Really soon. I need – I need to – hey!”
She grabbed the arm of the nearest medic (I hadn’t noticed them swarming around Isca’s bed, so happy was I to finally see her awake) and stared up at the Maraquan Gelert with manic determination. “You need to get everyone out of here! The whole infirmary is going to collapse!”
The Gelert was clearly astounded that Isca could have so much strength so quickly, but she didn’t believe my sister for a second. Why should she? The little Aisha girl was a mere child, who had recently suffered a head injury. Even I doubted Isca a little – but I had no doubt that Isca was telling the truth. She definitely believed that something awful was going to happen.
“Dear, just lie down for a while. You’ve been asleep for a while, you need rest before you can be out and about.” The medic tried to push Isca gently back into bed, but she had an iron grip on the edge of the cot. The Gelert simply could not get her to move.
“You don’t understand – you have to move everyone out, now! We’ll all be crushed!” Isca looked on the verge of tears. She still stared up at the medic, her eyes wide and frightened.
Some of the other medics helped the Gelert finally push Isca down. It was with some difficulty, but they managed – sheer force of will only goes so far, and Isca had been bedridden for weeks (months? I couldn’t remember – it seemed an endless time of agony, waiting). “Why would you say something like that, dear?” a matronly Elephante soothed.
“I saw it!” exclaimed Isca, still fighting wildly against the medics who held her down. “It was in my dream – but it wasn’t a dream, really!” she amended upon seeing the medics exchange glances. “It was real, I felt it, you must believe me!”
I stood there, torn, unable to move or think. What should I do? I loved my sister, and something was troubling her, but how could what she was saying be true? And then it happened, something that proved Isca right, almost beyond doubt.
There was a tremor.
Everybody froze – Isca and the medics holding her down. Suddenly there was fear, making the water around me cold. The Gelert and the Elephante exchanged terrified glances, wondering what to do, but as the second tremor shook the room, they decided that they couldn’t take a gamble with Maraquans’ lives involved.
I helped the medics drag all the cots with Neopets in them into the hallway. Fortunately, most of the initial injured had recovered. Aside from Isca, there were very few remaining patients. We were not a moment too soon, for as the last cot was pulled through the resistant water into the hallway, the floor at the far end of the infirmary buckled and folded in on itself. The ceiling cracked in two and fell inwards, but I only caught a backwards glance of that – the medics pushed and pulled the cots, and me, being too stunned to move, farther away from the infirmary.
Later, it was determined that a gigantic boulder not far away from the ruins had finally shaken loose and crashed down into the fissure, widening it a fraction and creating a chain reaction of tremors that had torn the infirmary apart. Isca couldn’t explain how she had known it was going to happen beyond that it had appeared to her in her dreams, as crystal clear as if she had been watching it happen. Or rather – as she explained it – as if she was the vision, a part of the water all around, and the violently shaking earth, and the crumbling remains of the palace foundation.
Everyone was now talking about Isca, but soon we grew used to it. Other than that one vision, Isca hadn’t changed a bit, except perhaps she was now sadder, less loud and jubilant than she had been. But that was only to be expected; no Maraquan Aishas fitting our mother’s description were among the survivors. We both felt hollow and lonely on the inside, but we tried to hide it from one another. We blocked out everything but the happiness we both felt at being together. I was painfully aware of how much worse everything would be if I didn’t have my sister beside me.
A few days later we moved from the deteriorating palace to a large shelter/orphanage complex that had been built not far away. Evidently, we had been here longer than I had imagined – they were already well into rebuilding Maraqua. New Maraqua, it was to be called. A large portion of the new palace was already finished, the skeleton of the rest of it already in place, and – along with the shelter – homes and shops were being built.
The following months passed – tolerably. We weren’t happy, but hope swelled within us. At least we had each other, and we were each more or less in one peace. The shelter – or the orphanage now, for most of the adults had already taken up residence somewhere in the city, leaving only children such as ourselves – was a reasonably nice place to live. We got our own beds, which were somewhat more comfortable than the ones in the makeshift shelter back at the old palace, and we were fed almost as much as we had been before. Isca and I missed no material possessions, having had very few before the Curse.
That’s what they called it now – the Pirate’s Curse. Everybody knew about the whirlpool, and that it was a dark magic inflicted upon us by those strange, red-eyed pirates. I wasn’t sure who else had seen the eerily young blue Zafara bring the underwater lightning that had started the whirlpool, but I was content to keep it to myself. It was a disturbing secret, but it didn’t matter; I still loved my little secrets. And surely keeping it to myself wouldn’t harm anyone?
New Maraqua was beginning to really take shape, and we could start to believe that life would return to something near normal.
Then it happened again.
It had been a little more than a year. I woke up early in the morning, with an inexplicable gut feeling that something was wrong. It took me a moment to realize that Isca was unnaturally still and straight in her bed, which was next to mine; her arms were tight up against her sides as if they had been glued there. I whipped my sheets off and went over to her, a disorienting feeling of déjà vu washing over me as I saw that her unblinking blue eyes were fixed on the ceiling. Her lips moved in that soundless whisper again. My heart pounded loudly in my ears as I wondered what the implications of this were.
Just as she had before, she seemed to suddenly snap out of it. She sat up suddenly, breathing heavily, truly awake. She looked at me with that same manic desperation that I remembered all too well.
“What is it, Isca?” I asked, wondering what calamity it would be this time. I felt a sense of urgency, too, something that was probably multiplied tenfold in Isca’s mind – we had to tell somebody before it was too late.
“A work site – at the edge of the established New Maraqua – they’re putting up a new shop, or something, and all these workers are there – the left side of the frame is going to collapse and the whole structure is going to fall over –” But then she frowned, staring pensively into space, the fear slowly leaving her expression. “It was midday, though – in my vision, I mean.”
She looked up at me, and I was struck by how steady and purposeful her gaze was. “We have plenty of time to warn them, to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
We woke up Mia, the kind Maraquan Cybunny who looked after us as well as all the other children – it was quite early – and explained to her what was going on. She looked mildly skeptical at first, but then she seemed to remember all the talk surrounding the infirmary incident. She woke some other people up and then let Isca lead me and all the adults to the site of her vision.
The workers had just started arriving, and were at first a bit irked that a small Aisha girl was halting their progress. But they were eventually persuaded to call over the head architect to survey the building site around where Isca said the frame was going to collapse. To everyone’s shock, it was revealed that a certain type of seaweed had been growing against the stiff kelp that made up the skeleton of the building. It had been sapping the vitality from a patch of the kelp, turning it brown and brittle. It was, the head architect said, on the verge of collapsing.
Isca was once again the hero of New Maraqua. I may sound bitter as I write this, but I wasn’t, at the time. Isca and I were both happy that we had possibly saved some lives, and a new building. The seaweed was cut away and that particular piece of stiff kelp was replaced quickly and efficiently. They soon finished working on the frame and successfully cultivated the coral that would grow around it, forming the walls of the building.
As one could imagine, Isca caught the attention of King Kelpbeard himself. We were both invited to the palace to have dinner with him, and we couldn’t be more ecstatic or star struck. He was quite a nice man, and somehow, among all the palace finery and fantastic food, we felt at ease.
It turned out King Kelpbeard had no children of his own, and he was sympathetic upon hearing our story. He seemed to take a liking to us – Isca, especially, who could possibly help him avoid future perils in New Maraqua. We moved into the palace after several more dinners such as that first one, and life was really good, for the first time in a very long time. We had our every wish granted (although we always felt guilty asking for anything, brought up as we were) and the King himself spent as much time as he could with us. He tried his best to be the father he knew we never really had.
Throughout everything, Isca and I stayed as close as ever. Unfortunately, shortly after we got settled into palace life, that started to change. I do not blame Isca, even now – what happened, she had no control over. But it did happen.
Her visions started coming more frequently. She would always predict calamities in time for them to be prevented. She was hailed as “heroine” and “savior” – the angelic, miracle child, whom everyone loved and adored. She was already the twin more open towards people; now that she was a miracle as well, there was no hope for me. People took my love of independent activities, such as reading, as me being antisocial; they mistook my selective placement of trust for dislike towards everybody. My sister remained very dear to me.
Yet I still resented her, just a little.
Why had she been graced with such a wonderful gift? Magic ran in our family, of course – our mother was a gifted healer – but why had it been passed onto her, not me? I took to reading whatever magic theory and spell books that had survived from the old palace library. There had been few to begin with; now there were perhaps three or four. I pored over them, searching for something that would explain how the Gift was distributed amongst family.
I ended up discovering the solution on my own. I don’t know how the thought came to me, but it did. Of course – Isca hit her head. The visions started when she woke up. Perhaps her injury had somehow opened up the door to magic in her head.
We were no longer children, Isca and I. We had grown from young children to adolescents. Everyone remarked on what a wonderful girl Isca – sometimes, they mentioned me as well – was becoming. How bright, how just. How pretty. In theory, I was intelligent.
Yet what I did next was nothing if not foolhardy.
I spent most of my time alone in the library, which suited my plan – which was to knock a bookshelf over and swim underneath the falling books as they made their way slowly through the water to the floor. Books were certainly heavy enough, and my reasoning was that the water resistance would be enough for me to position myself just right. I’d make sure a book hit me, but the bookshelf wouldn’t crush me. And it would all look like some terrible accident.
The first part worked – with some difficulty, I managed to pull the bookshelf over. But to my distress, as I tried to swim out from underneath and locate a suitable falling book, I realized that some of the extra fabric from my dress had caught on a protruding nail. I tried in vain to free myself as gravity pulled the bookshelf down through the water far faster than I had anticipated. Even with the water all around to take some weight away from the dense coral, the bookshelf was quite heavy enough to give me much more than a concussion.
As I realized that I wasn’t going to get away in time, I remember having thought that this must be karma for being such a horribly jealous person. In one remarkably lucid moment, I realized how incredibly stupid I had been.
Then my head struck the edge of a table, and I was gone.
To be continued...