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The Tales of Maraqua: Part One


by desert_gp_dragon2oo5

--------

Art by desert_gp_dragon2oo5

Part One: The Destruction of Old Maraqua

     ***

It was the 18th day of the Month of Hiding, in Year Three. I settled down in my room.

     Workers would arrive every few minutes, show me whatever kinds of Utility Fish, and bombard me with papers (water-proof, of course) to verify. “Hello sir, can you look over this?” “Yes, yes, looks alright.” “Okay then, just sign here to approve it-“

     I am Vanbar. I’m a Maraquan Ruki. Back in Old Maraqua, I worked as a distribution manager for Utility Fish products. It was an ordinary day. I didn’t think I’d remember what happened that day when I woke up for the next. But nine years have passed and I still remember everything clearly.

     “Ah, darn it.” I had just noticed a letter under a pile of papers. An old friend of mine apparently had sent me an invitation some time ago; the celebration was a week past. “I can’t believe I missed this.”

     I was about to write back to her to apologize, but then the alarms rang. “All employees must evacuate the premises immediately.” I let go of the papers I was holding and rushed out of the building. A whirlpool- this can wait... We were all prepared for this. Maybe once every few years, a small one would disrupt work for a couple hours. Deadlines would be pushed, some things would break- and that was usually the worst of it.

     I swam to a cave not far from the building, with my workmates following behind. “Looks like it’s going to be a boring day...”

     As the hours passed, however, the whirlpool expanded. Day turned into night and we remained in the cave, hungry and worried. Eventually, a weary Peophin scout appeared at the cave entrance, carrying a package of food. “Hang in there. It is not safe to go out yet. Once the King announces that it is safe to go, you will be told to go home,” he said. The scout distributed spotted fish among the workers, though he ran out of those and some of us had Blandfish instead. To make up for the taste (or rather, the lack of it,) they came with seasoned seaweed. After we had gotten our fill, the scout left us. “I doubt this’ll go until morning, but if it does I’ll try my best to return here.”

     Morning came, and the whirlpool still raged. I saw a figure at the entrance; breakfast, I thought. To my disappointment, however, it was just an ordinary Maraquan Bruce swimming in. She was followed by a Blue Flotsam. They rushed in and looked around. “Is he here? Is he here!?”

     The Bruce turned to the Flotsam, her fins shaking. “I can’t see him anywhere.”

     The Flotsam sighed. They then joined me and the other workers and rested. “I’m sure your son’s fine,” I heard one of the workers say.

     It took another hour for the scout to arrive. “I’m afraid some of you will have to share,” he grunted. “This one’ll stop soon. I’m sure.” He brought out some Cubefish, Blandfish, and even some Tanglepi to distribute to us. He also approached the Flotsam and bandaged a bruise that he had sustained.

     “Thank you,” the Flotsam said to the soldier, “-and I have a favor to ask...” He whispered something to the Peophin.

     “We’ll try our best to find him.” The scout gave a nod and then headed for the exit without another word. I trusted that he would come back if we needed him, though. I felt safe. We felt safe.

     Throughout the day, more and more of my coworkers were reunited with their family members. I started feeling lonely. The rest of my family... well, my mother and father... were at Roo Island at the time. Maraqua had its share of economic misfortunes at the time- the tourists weren’t coming; we had a bad kelp harvest... My parents decided to give business a go outside of home. I missed them terribly, but at least they were safe. As soon as the whirlpool was over... everything would turn out fine.

     The scout didn’t arrive until the morning after. He looked as if he had been awake all night. Now the food was mostly limited to Eyefish and seaweed; the few Cubefish he had was given to the more senior workers of the company. After distribution he then rested in the cave for a couple of minutes while eating his own share. Once again, he left without another word.

     The whirlpool wasn’t going to stop any time soon. On the morning exactly one week after the whirlpool started, the scout came not only with food but also with a couple of other scouts. “We were instructed to transfer you to another shelter. Eat fast; the whirlpool may strengthen at any time.”

     I gobbled down my piece of Eyefish, and as soon as the rest finished we left the safety of the cave and braved the harsh currents. As we headed for our new shelter I saw for the first time the state of the city. High structures were completely destroyed; shards of transparishield littered the sea floor and bits of metal swirled in the currents. Despite the flying debris, soldiers and other volunteers scoured through the mess. The Bruce deviated from us for a moment, swimming towards the volunteers, but the scouts quickly pulled her back into line and scolded her. She must have been looking for her son.

     Eventually we reached our next shelter. There, many other groups from neighboring villages have also gathered. There were two water faeries looking after the Neopets who had sustained injuries. A dozen or so soldiers always ensured that we had food- though we had to share the bowls. For a late lunch I had porridge of fish parts with seaweed thrown in. With no spoons given, I just clawed a good handful of the green gunk and gave the rest to a Koi. After we had our fill, Petpets would lick the bowls clean.

     As night fell, many troops returned to the shelter- some with food and other materials, the others bringing back survivors. I saw the Bruce approach them, and then reluctantly return to her bed- planks of petrified wood tied together with seaweed.

     For dinner, we were given very little food. They still must have had a good supply of fish, so I went to complain, of course.

     “We’re reserving the food for a village that we haven’t gotten to yet. As soon as dawn comes, Scout Peralta will attempt to deliver help to them.”

     “Which village is it?” I asked.

     “Blandfish Village.” My heart sank upon hearing the reply. “They’ve gone a week without food. The conditions there have been dangerous to go through for the past week, and they still are- but Peralta wishes to attempt the mission anyway.”

     Blandfish Village was where I spent my childhood. Twice a year, schools of migrating Blandfish would pass over our houses- that was what the village was named for, of course. Many old friends of mine lived there. “Will they be relocated?”

     “Yes, they will. We have another station beyond the village. Actually, you should be moved to there at some point, through a safer route. If this whirlpool goes on, then we’ll just keep moving from one camp to another, farther from the eye.”

     I stayed in that shelter for a week. We then began moving again. While headed for the next station, I saw a faint glimpse of Blandfish Village. Even from far away, I knew that everything had changed about it. The place where I grew up catching Maraquan Flouds and playing underwater Yooyuball was now just a wasteland. I had planned to visit the place when the migrating Blandfish came... well, now it looked like I wouldn’t be able to do that.

     I ended up with a reunion as we passed by. We came across a group of volunteers- one of them was an old friend of mine, Pitallo. Normally he would have been clad in a smart-looking suit, but the Mutant Jetsam was instead in a ragged cloth held together by tied kelp; he was dressed just like me. Pitallo extended his short flippers to me and gave me a hug- that was something I really needed.

     “Scout Peralta saved our lives- and I bet he’s been going to many other remote villages,” he told me. It made me feel ashamed that I hadn’t been helping much, even complaining... Pitallo was rather wealthy before the whirlpool, and here he was staying to volunteer.

     “Many groups pass by here on the way to the next station, and when the whirlpool strengthens while on the way there, well, they get trapped. I’ve rescued one guy who’s been buried in debris six times.”

     The scouts were urging me to get back in line. “Is everyone alright? Juna? Asis? Parie?” I quickly asked.

     The look in Pitallo’s face wasn’t very reassuring. “...Kipan and Ita are alright. I-I’m not sure about the others.”

     I made my goodbye and got back in line to our next shelter. The whirlpool kept going strong. For the months after the routine was the same: Get from one shelter to another, rest for a few days, and then get moving once again. As we went farther and farther from the core, we were able to move out in the open more often.

     We were still entirely safe yet, though. In one of my trips I got caught by a sudden strengthening of the current. I got knocked out and woke up under a sheet of metal. Thankfully, being a Ruki, my shell protected me from any major injuries. I was quickly rescued the day after, and I made it to the next camp without incident.

     The whirlpool worsened again after that. I met up with Pitallo again at the station. “How’s your family?” I asked him.

     He looked away for a moment, well, and generally avoided eye contact. “They moved to the capital a couple years back,” he replied, “I-I don’t know how they have been these past months... and, well...” he trailed off.

     “...And your sister?”

     “Um. Oh! Yes... T-They’re, well, treating her i-injuries...” Pitallo paused, and then shook his head. “How’s y-your family doing, Vanbar?”

     “...They went to Roo Island when the money troubles came in,” I answered.

     We talked about the many things we weren’t able to mention that other day. Life’s changed. Just another reminder that we weren’t kids fooling around anymore.

     “When... If this whirlpool stops... I’m heading to Mystery Island,” Pitallo told me. “I just can’t live like this.” That surprised me a bit. I thought he was going to go help Maraqua... he was doing volunteer work, after all.

     “It’s just... safer out there,” he then added.

     During this time, I spotted some other familiar faces once more. The Bruce and Flotsam ate their dinner with a lanky, young Techo. They must have finally found their son. She was certainly much happier.

     I wondered how my parents felt.

     The Koi who I once shared food with was also reunited with her family... Perhaps everything was going to turn out well after all. I would return to my family as soon as I could.

      The soldier announced that it was time to move again. I stayed with Pitallo for the first part of the trip.

     “Where’s your sister?”

     “...Still, um, recovering. D-don’t worry... s-she’s with the, well, water faeries.” Pitallo didn’t speak to me after that, no matter what kind of conversation I tried to start.

     At some point of the journey, we came across a group of soldiers. “We need volunteers!” I guessed I remembered my own experience being trapped. Nobody was able to move out of camp for almost a week, so anybody who’s out there could’ve been stuck for days.

     I turned to Pitallo. “Well, aren’t you going to help me?”

     The Jetsam just shook his head. “No.” He then turned away and left to follow the line. That was the last time I saw him for many years.

     After a couple of hours searching, I heard some muffled voices. I then spotted a bright orange and blue tail. It took some more digging before I saw an Eyrie and a Korbat together. The Eyrie’s arm and wing bent awkwardly. The Korbat managed to get up on her own, however. She then clung to me and gasped, “You must find my husband!” She began searching through the debris, panting. I called on the soldiers and other volunteers, who gently carried the Eyrie to safety. One of the soldiers tried to coerce the Korbat to go with him.

     “Ma’am, it is not safe here. Let us bring you to camp-“

     “I must find Lemmy first! I must-“ The Korbat broke free, only to be caught by another soldier on the scene.

     “Let us handle this. You must go to camp and rest. We will find your husband.” I heard the three argue for a while before she decided to give in. Reluctantly, she accompanied the soldiers and the Eyrie.

     We scoured through the mess for hours, finding nothing. The swirling waters above threatened to stop our search. Suddenly, however, someone called out.

     I rushed to the source of the voice, along with other volunteers and soldiers.

     “I need help here- this may be serious-” In the debris lay a visibly weak Blumaroo. I cleared the area around him first, and then the others carried him off. When we got to camp around nightfall, the Korbat from earlier immediately swam to the volunteers carrying the Blumaroo.

     “Please, wait a moment-” A Kougra gently pushed her back. I watched as a water faerie passed her glowing blue hands over the injured Neopet. “Try not to move him around too much. He’s got some internal injuries. I’ll try to do what I can.”

     The Blumaroo, barely conscious, gasped weakly and extended his fin out to his wife. I saw the Eyrie, arm and wings in cast and bandages, approach the Korbat. “Is Dad okay?” she whispered.

     The mother looked up and placed her arm around her daughter. “Daddy is going to be okay, dear. Now... go eat dinner.”

     I myself had dinner after that. I was starving. The soldiers were nice enough to give extra servings to me. I was still obliged to share it, though. I rested the day after, to prepare for another long trek to the next camp.

     As the year came to an end, the worst seemed to be over. Beyond the range of the whirlpool, all the surviving Maraquans gathered at the main station- a dome-roofed building made of coral and maractite, with small windows of transparishield. Kelp was planted around the entrances, not only decorating them but providing a bit of cover.

     On the Day of Giving, Good King Kelpbeard called us to gather and listen. The King looked at us with dark, tired eyes and a pale face. His robes were almost ordinary-looking, only adorned with simple patterns. He had certainly lost weight, too.

     Still, he was somehow as dignified as ever. That day, he made a promise.

     “We will strive to build our home anew. The coming generations will be blessed with riches aplenty, and they will forever remember who made that life for them. Never again shall the curses of the surface dwellers trouble us... because we shall make the Kingdom of Maraqua bigger, grander, and safer than ever before.”

     Each able member of the community was assigned to take part in the beginning of an era. It was time to start over. It was time for me to move on.

     I wasn’t going to meet my parents any time soon.

     The Blandfishes weren’t going to come back.

     Welcome to New Maraqua.

To be continued...

 
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