Messenger: Just Another Pirate Tale - Part Four
Moonlight filtered through the water, turning it a beautiful light blue and providing wonderful vision. Schools of marine petpets floundered through the water; kelp waved merrily like tree leaves in a breeze. In fact, I could associate pretty much everything down here in the ocean with a counterpart above the water: kelp for plants, marine petpets for flying petpets, and even the light blue water above us could be taken for the sky.
And the water was warm. I don’t know if it was because we were near Mystery Island or something, but the water was a comfortable temperature, not too hot and yet not too cold, nothing like the ice-cold water near the Krawk Island pier.
Ana and I glided through the water. Or rather, Ana glided. I had had a few swimming lessons in the local pool at Neopia Central, and I was pretty good, but not nearly as good as Ana, who had spent her whole life underwater. Plus, Ana didn’t have a heavy, cumbersome orb strapped to her head, nor did she have enormous flippers attached to her feet. Movement was a little stiff for me, but Ana, being as kind as she was, was careful not to go too fast.
We swam for about ten or twenty minutes. It was marvelous and a little strange to not have to go up for air every few seconds or so. I had never even snorkeled before, much less scuba dived.
The Raylayer family cave was small. Apparently Maractite pets could breathe air as well, because this cave, like Tisu’s cave, was water free. Well, almost. It almost reminded me of the underwater fishing cave. About six or seven feet of water covered the floor of the cave. A few stalagmites and boulders stuck up from the murky water.
As Ana and I entered the cave, I slipped off my flippers, wetsuit, and breathing device and placed them on one of the nearby boulders. As I made to follow Ana toward the water, I was suddenly hit by a wave. Not a wave of water, mind you. I had almost forgotten what Tisu said about Ana’s family being cooks. I hadn’t paid it much mind then. But now I knew.
A wave of heat and smell hit my nose. Freshly baked sourdough baguettes sprinkled with sesame seeds, shrimp and mollusks drowning in mushroom sauce, tender sauce-soaked beef with cream and broccoli. My nose propelled me toward the smell.
The cave was absolutely packed. A small campfire had been set up away from the water, and a group of Raylayers were clustered around it, toasting green bell pepper and sausage kebabs. A couple of feet away a small child and her mother stirred a bowl of batter, dropping bits of chocolate in occasionally. As I stood there like an idiot, staring at the delicious food and drooling, Ana had plunged into the water and swam to the other side of the cave. She came back a couple of seconds later, paddling a small two-person canoe.
“Courtesy of my father,” said Ana, smiling and motioning for me to enter the boat. “By the way, he would absolutely love to meet you. Come. I will take you to him.” I nodded gratefully and carefully sank into the canoe, tucking my legs into a criss-cross position and trying to make as much of the small space as possible. Ana paddled us across the cave slowly, carefully and skillfully dodging rocks and stalagmites.
As we paddled across the underwater lake, I looked around at my surroundings. Everyone in the room was, like Ana, a Maractite Hissi. However, they were all different in their own way. The colors of their sleek, graceful bodies ranged from very pale blue to dark, midnight blue, and their speckles ranged from lilac to violet to no flecks at all. Ana had pretty dark skin, but her speckles and her fins were both very light for her kind.
The lake was about one hundred yards across, and the cave itself was only a little bigger. It took us about ten minutes to paddle across the lake. When we reached the shore Ana tied the boat to a small stalagmite sticking out of the cave floor. We were about a yard away from the campfire. Most of the kebabs were done by now and being swallowed. As we walked by, many of the Hissi were on their second kebab.
“You have a large family,” I commented to Ana. I’d guess that there were about seventy or eighty Hissi in the room.
“Indeed.” Ana nodded. “The patriarch of our family is Hadone, my father. He has only two children, my little sister Kanina and me, but my grandfather had many children. I have about thirteen uncles and sixteen aunts. Well,” she said, laughing, “not all by blood. My late grandfather had only seventeen children. However, by my last count, which was not too long ago, I have thirty cousins, nineteen nieces, and three nephews. Not to mention one grand-nephew.”
“Grand-nephew?” I exclaimed. “You aren’t that... old. I think.”
Ana laughed again. “Do not be deceived by my looks, Emma. My mother would think it improper for me to speak of my age, so I will tell you this: when my sister was born I was twice the age she would be in five years. When I was three times that age she was four times the age she would be five years after I was born. My sister is now two times the number of Ghncagjkns in Neopia. So how old am I?”
“Um,” I said, calculating fiercely. “What’s a-Gankjank?”
“It’s Gun-cag-jinks,” said Ana, sounding it out. “They are very famous.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“I should think not. My uncle made it up.”
I liked this person. “So, assuming it was real, how many Ghncagjkns exist in your uncle’s... imagination?”
She pretended to think hard. “Thirteen. On second thought, twelve and a half. He ate part of one.”
I smiled. “So, you’re thirty-fi-“
“Sssshhhh,” she said, grinning. “Anyways, we’re here. Meet Hadone Raylayer, patriarch of the Raylayer family.”
Hadone was kneeling by the edge of the lake, washing a fork in the water. His scales were dark, navy-blue, and he had no speckles. His fins were like Ana’s, a beautiful rosy pink. He smiled as we approached him and motioned for us to sit down. Hovering by his shoulder were two other Hissi, presumably Ana’s mother and sister, both with Ana’s sea-green scales and lilac flecks. Their dark pink fins were flecked with soap as they scrubbed away at the dishes.
“You are Emma,” said Hadone, his voice deep and slow. I nodded.
“Thank you for the boat,” I said graciously. As I spoke, a young Hissi with pale blue scales and violet speckles jogged into the room. He hopped over to the shorter of the dark pink-finned Hissi, tugging on her arm. “Mother!” he shrilled. “Mita will not give me my toy back!” It surprised me that such a little boy could speak like that, so clipped and formally.
“Tell Mita I said-“ began the Hissi, but she was cut off. The little boy turned to me and gasped. “A pirate!” he said in wonder, giving me a once-over.
“I’m not a pirate,” I said defensively.
“You are not a Maractite,” he retorted.
The small Hissi, presumably his mother, sighed. “The world is not split into pirates and Maractites, Tarree.”
“Then what are you?” he asked, tugging on my arm. I glared at him. “A Messenger,” I growled. He grunted. “A pirate messenger,” he said haughtily and stalked off.
“Wow,” said Ana, “I have never seen such a four-year old snob.”
“Ana,” said Tarree’s mother, playfully punching her shoulder. Hadone smiled. “It is true, Kanina,” he said. “For four years old, your son is... unusual.”
“He got it from his grandfather,” said Kanina slyly. Hadone smiled.
“So, Emma,” the old Hissi said, spreading out his arms in a welcoming gesture. “What brings you to Maraqua?” I explained to everyone, from the part when our cab crashed to when Dole had pushed us off the dock.
Hadone frowned. “The gears of war are turning,” he said sadly. “Many of my sons and daughters are hardening against the pirates. I fear the same is happening above ground.” He looked to me, and I nodded.
“It saddens me to see my cousins like this,” said Kanina. Ana nodded. “Many of us are becoming stiff-necked, not just people like Tisu.”
“Tisu,” Ana snorted. “That hypocrite.”
“Hypocrite?” I asked.
“He is nothing but a coward,” scoffed Ana. “He may talk of great battles and armor, but it is all a great act to hide his cowardice.”
Hadone nodded gravely and turned to me. “We would do well to return you to the surface, or I fear the pirates would once again twist it against us. Holding you hostage or some other gibberish. Kanina and I are needed here, but perhaps Ana can accompany you to the shore.” He looked imploringly at Ana, who nodded graciously. She took my arm and led me back to the canoe and across the lake, where I quickly dressed in my undersea gear.
We swam quickly, toward where I don’t know. Ana led me, never speaking. Suddenly she disappeared.
I was slammed against the rock. The orb split in two and water rushed into my nose, my mouth, my ears, my eyes. Gasping for breath and squinting, barely managing to see, I pushed myself what I hoped was up.
It worked. My head broke the surface and I opened my mouth, drinking in air hungrily. I coughed a few times and slowly opened my stinging eyes. I immediately wished I hadn’t.
I was surrounded.
To be continued...