A Fish Out of Water
“Mayanie, I’m bored.”
“That’s not THAT bored.”
“It is so! I’m ready-to-kiss-a-Mortog bored.”
“THAT’s pretty bored.”
“So what do you suggest I do, then?”
“I don’t know. Go explore or something. Just be bored somewhere else, ok?”
“You’re a huge help, Mayanie.”
Tired of complaining, Hael got up from where she lay on the sand. She swam around, poking at every tiny seashell she could find. She called out that she was bored every now and then just to annoy her sister, Mayanie the Maraquan Ixi. Hael was a Maraquan Cybunny.
Hael dug around in the underwater sands of Maraqua, looking for nothing in particular. Mayanie was propped up against a rock, braiding strands of seaweed to make bracelets. Mayanie could always find something to do, but Hael was not interested in making seagrass dolls and seashell towers. Well, Hael liked the seashell towers, but mostly just enjoyed knocking them down, to Mayanie’s dismay.
“Mayanie, I want to go exploring in the ruins,” Hael whined. “Please, Mayanie? Pretty please with a conch shell on top?”
Mayanie was the older and smarter of the two. “No, Hael,” she said without looking up from her bracelet. “The ruins aren’t safe.”
“Please, Mayanie?” Hael begged. “There’s supposed to be treasure there! Oh, and the BEST seashells. Think of the bracelets you could make with those seashells.”
“You can’t tempt me, Hael,” Mayanie said tonelessly. “But since I know you won’t stop begging me, I’ll let you go in a little ways. But no more than that, and I’ll be watching.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Hael cheered. “Let’s go, Mayanie!”
Mayanie sighed as she got up and swam with Hael to the edge of the Maraquan ruins. “Only go a few yards in,” Mayanie instructed. “No more than that or we’re going back.”
“Of course, of course, sure.” Hael nodded eagerly. Mayanie found a new rock to sit against and resumed braiding her seaweed bracelets.
Hael looked under rocks and sand for treasure. She followed Mayanie’s instructions, true to her word, and only went a few yards into the ruins of old Maraqua. However, she thought she saw something shining just a little ways off...
It was so close that Hael would only have to swim for a few seconds to get to it. It was so tempting! There was a shining wooden handle sticking out of the sand. Hael was sure it was treasure. She looked back at Mayanie, absorbed in her work. The Ixi wouldn’t notice if Hael went just a little farther than instructed, right? And she would go right back, too.
Hael made up her mind to go and swam cautiously over to the wooden handle. She pulled the object out of the sand and was amazed at the treasure she’d found: A sort of paint brush! Hael had never seen a paint brush before. She didn’t know exactly what one did, but she had heard her parents talking about them once. Cautiously, Hael applied a dab of the green paint with white flecks to her fin and set the paint brush back on the ground. Hael, genuinely interested and ignorant when it came to the use of a paint brush, licked the paint off her fin. She found it had a magical popping taste, like she had swallowed a firework. The aftertaste was minty and Hael didn’t like it. She stopped licking the paint and looked scornfully at the paint brush that lay in the sand. She looked at the fin she had dabbed the paint onto and gasped.
Her fin was no longer a... fin. Instead of having paws that were rounded at the ends, her had had split into four fingers and had grown pads. It was the color of the paint and was soft and silky. Hael liked the feel of it but it looked strange clashed against her purple-and-blue Maraquan self.
But the change didn’t stop there. The speckled color was spreading up her arm - slowly at first but then faster and faster! Her arm changed to fit her new paw and Hael became frightened.
“M-Mayanie!” Hael sputtered suddenly. Mayanie leapt up at the call of her name, letting her braided seagrass float to the sandy floor.
“Hael? What’s wrong?” Mayanie asked urgently, swimming quickly closer to her sister. “Hey, didn’t I tell you not to go over there?”
“Mayanie, help, help!” Hael cried, ignoring Mayanie’s question.
“What happened? Hael? Answer me!” Mayanie swam the rest of the way to the Cybunny and gasped in horror. “Why, Hael, what have you done?” she exclaimed fearfully.
Hael used her still-Maraquan paw to point at the Speckled Paint Brush that lay in the sand.
“Oh, Hael, you’ve used a paint brush?” Mayanie asked in disbelief and dismay. “This is bad, very bad, Hael. You’ve been very naughty. I told you not to go this way! But there isn’t any time for that. I have to get you to the surface!”
“W-Why?” Hael asked. She was nervous as her hind fins grew into paws and her tail became short and bushy. Suddenly, as the paint started up for Hael’s head, she felt her chest tighten. Breath came harder. “Mayanie, help!” she shouted.
The Ixi slid under her sister until the Cybunny was on her back and then started to swim swiftly upwards. The sun was a bright light overhead, looking glassy and distorted through the ocean water. It got steadily closer as Mayanie swam faster and faster to speeds she had never dared to try before. It got constantly harder for the guilty Hael to breath. The paint finished its work at the tips of her ears. Hael was a full Speckled Cybunny.
None too soon, the form of a yellow and blue Maraquan Ixi burst through the grey waves. Mayanie landed again, with her head in the water and Hael’s in the open air. Hael breathed deeply and looked around. Her parents had told her there was nothing for her to see on the surface. Indeed, it looked like it, as she found herself surrounded by identical waves. She shivered in the sea breeze.
“Mayanie,” she asked in a small voice. “...what do I do now?”
Hael heard her sister sigh. “Can you hear me, Hael?” she asked. The voice was faint and otherworldly, but Hael could hear it.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I can’t take you back to Maraqua,” Mayanie said. “You’re a land-dwelling Neopet now. Even the Maraquans don’t have any Maraquan Paint Brushes for you. There are only a few in the world and as you can imagine, they are much too expensive.”
“So, what do I do?” Hael asked again. Her throat was as tight as her lungs had been a moment ago.
“I can take you to the nearest shore,” Mayanie said after thinking this over. “That would be Roo Island from where we are.”
“Can you make that trip all by yourself?” Hael asked, surprised.
“I’ll have to,” Mayanie said. “There is no other option. I can‘t leave you here to get help. You’d drown. If there is ever a passer-by, they might help, but nobody comes out here much.”
Hael was confused and frightened. Leave Maraqua? The thought had never once crossed her mind. She had been told there was nothing interesting on the surface and that Maraquan pets were to always stay underwater.
“W-What will Mom and Dad think?” Hael asked finally. “It’s breaking their rules - going to the surface, you know.”
“I think they’d be more against bringing you back to Maraqua,” Mayanie said after pondering this. “But we’d better get going. I can reach Roo Island by late afternoon if we go at a steady pace.”
“Just not too fast,” Hael said before Mayanie started to swim. “I don’t want to fall off.”
Mayanie’s calculations were correct. By about four o’clock in the afternoon, the neon green shrubs of Roo Island were in view. When Hael could see they were in shallow water, she climbed off her sister’s back. She looked at Mayanie sadly.
“I guess I have to go now,” she said. “I... I’m going to miss you, Mayanie!”
Hael burst into tears. She had never had grief come to her like this. Until then, the saddest moment of her life was when she had stepped on her favorite seashell by accident and broken it. She had gotten a small cut on her foot and had lost her favorite conch shell. It had seemed like too much grief to bear at one time. But now...! Hael was miserable like she had never been before.
“I’ll be missing you, too, Hael,” Mayanie said. Inside she knew that the chances of Hael ever returning to Maraqua were microscopically low. But she did not say so. “Just... never forget Maraqua, ok?”
“Never.” Hael nodded, sniffling. Mayanie gave her a tiny underwater wave and turned her back. She gently swam away in her elegant manner, not making a sound.
When Hael couldn’t see her anymore, she too turned around and began to walk down the shore. The sand felt different than it had underwater. It was dry - a parched sensation Hael had never known before. It felt grainy and burning as it got caught between the pads of Hael’s paws.
Hael suddenly realized the hopelessness of her position and began to sob harder and run faster down the beach. She didn’t care where she was going. Everything she’d ever known was no longer of use to her. She was in a strange place that had only been a distant warning before. Now it was all too real.
Hael woke up leaning against a short, stubby, mushroom-like tree. She must’ve wandered there during the night. She felt exhausted, and the salt of the sea water made her speckled fur gather in stiff clumps. Her eyes stung and her mouth was dry. You were never thirsty in Maraqua - not once in your life. Everything about the surface seemed horrid and scary and wrong.
Hael looked down the beach a little and saw a dingy port. When she had gathered up her strength, she began to walk towards it. An Ixi was sitting in his boat, reading sheets of thin white with strange markings on it. Hael could not make out what the markings meant; in Maraqua it was not possible to have books. The Ixi reminded Hael so much of her sister that a lump caught in her parched throat.
“Can I help you?” the Ixi asked, still intrigued by the article he was reading. He glanced up at her and did a double-take. “What’d you do, try to swim to Maraqua?”
He laughed at his own joke, but tears fell down Hael’s face.
“Hey, hey, don’t cry, now!” the Ixi said hastily. “Didn’t mean to insult. Now, where are you heading?”
“Anywhere,” Hael said in a raspy voice. “Anywhere that has people. Anywhere I could find help.”
“Help?” The Ixi was suddenly alert. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
Hael was relieved to hear this. She hurriedly told him about how she had lived in Maraqua, and how she had been so foolish as to accidentally paint herself. The Ixi listened to every word, nodded and saying, “What a shame, what a shame,” every now and then.
After Hael was done with her story, the Ixi said, “Well, now there’s a tale I’ve never heard before, not in all my days at sea! I don’t have the resources to help you, unfortunately. I’m a sailor who just gets by on his boat fares. But I do know where you should go - and I can take you there.”
“Really? You would?” Hael asked unbelievingly. She had always thought that the land-dwelling Neopets would be mean or rude.
“I sure do and I sure can,” the Ixi said, smiling. “It’s a place called Mystery Island. LOADS of people there. We can go right now, too!”
“Oh, thank you, thank you so much!” Hael cried. She coughed. her throat was too dry to shout.
“First thing’s first, let’s get you some water,” the Ixi said. “Oh, and my name is Flint. And you are...?”
“Hael,” the Cybunny replied. She and Flint hopped aboard the motorboat. Flint tossed her a bottle of water, which Hael finished in three long gulps. The motor started, and they were off.
It took three hours to get to Mystery Island. All the while Hael watched with shining eyes as the water rushed past them. She hadn’t known such speed was possible. She was headed to Mystery Island! The name sounded exciting and, well, mysterious. Hael could barely wait to see it.
After a while, Flint docked his boat at Mystery Island’s Harbor. It was busy, with sailors and passengers with suitcases bustling everywhere. Hael could tell she already liked it.
“Well, I have to be going, then,” Flint said. He hadn’t gotten off the boat. “This is as far as I go. Pleasure doing business with you, Hael. Goodbye!”
“Bye, Flint, and thanks!” Hael waved as the boat started to move. Hael looked at the strange new place she might now call home.
Everywhere there were people and pets. It was hot and humid but still strangely pleasant. People sold wares and fruit and tools all over the place. Hael sighed deeply in anticipation and started to walk.
The first day, Hael found nobody to help her. It was kind of awkward, and Hael did not know how to ask. She curled up in from of a sign that said Trading Post when it was dark and chilly. She quickly fell asleep, dreaming all the while of Maraqua and her family.
The second day was much the same. Vendors who took pity on Hael would offer her bottles of water and pieces of fruit. In two weeks, things were no better for the out-of-place Maraquan.
Hael decided to enter the Trading Post one day to see what all the fuss was about. The room was stuffy. People sat at tables, waiting for offers on their items. Hael picked up a trade of free junk, which included an omelette, and left the room. She’d found a part of Mystery Island that she didn’t like.
Hael again sat propped against the sign for the Trading Post. She decided she was thirsty and went off to find a bottle of water. As she got up, she crossed in front of the open Trading Post gate, dodging the bustling crowd. One Shoyru, however, accidentally knocked her down. Hael landed face-first on the rock.
This had happened many times. None of the pets who knocked her over ever stopped to say they were sorry. But this Shoyru was different.
“Mom, I don’t think these censor bar glasses are going to work.” The yellow Shoyru laughed. “I just tripped over a rock.”
Hael looked angrily up at the pet. He was wearing glasses that stretched across both eyes and were black. He probably couldn’t see a thing, and this is why Hael did not shout at him.
“Oroville, that was no rock!” the Shoyru’s owner scolded. “You tripped over a Cybunny. Now please take those glasses off and apologize!”
While Oroville took the censor bar glasses off, his owner turned to Hael and said, “I am so sorry. He saw those in a trade and we had to try them out. Here, let me help you up.”
The girl stretched out a hand to Hael. She took it gratefully and the owner pulled her up with no difficulty.
“You’re so thin!” the girl remarked, shocked. “Have you been eating?”
“Whenever I can find food, yes,” Hael replied.
“Goodness, that must not be very often!” the girl said. “Here, these came in the same trade as those glasses.”
The girl pulled out three omelettes from a plastic shopping bag and handed them to Hael.
“T-Thanks!” Hael said.
“So, where’s your owner?” Oroville asked.
“Oroville, that’s not a very considerate question,” the girl said.
“Sorry,” Oroville apologized.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Hael reassured them. “I don’t have an owner.”
She had said it as if it didn’t matter at all. The owner and Oroville gasped.
“No owner?” the girl asked. “Don’t pets with no owner go to the Pound?”
“I’ve never heard of the Pound,” Hael said. She casually told them her story just as she had to Flint.
“That’s...” the girl said slowly. “That’s amazing! I’ve never heard of such a thing happening before! What did you say your name was?”
“My name is Henrietta and these are my pets Oroville and Amber.” The young owner introduced them.
“Amber?” Hael asked. There were two? All she saw was the yellow Shoyru, Oroville. Then she noticed an orange Acara in the background.
“Well, Hael, what are you going to do?” Henrietta asked curiously. “Since you’ve got nowhere to go?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Hael admitted.
“You should come with us!” Oroville announced.
“Why, yes, that’d be perfect!” Henrietta realized. “What do you say, Hael?”
This had all hit Hael so fast she couldn’t believe it. Live? With an actual owner and siblings? In a house with food and water? Nothing had sounded so perfect before!
“I’d - I’d love to!” Hael cried. “Thank you so much!”
And so Hael the Speckled Cybunny went to live with Henrietta’s family. She and Amber got along fine; they were close in age. Oroville now had two sisters to annoy, but that was ok with Hael. She had a home.
And maybe someday years later, after saving and many sacrifices, Henrietta would come home with a bag and a smug smile. And maybe they’d all stand on the shore of the sea as a red sunset reflected off the water. Perhaps Hael would feel her fins and scales again, and the cool water on her skin as she dove into the ocean.
And her family would stand on the sand and watch as Hael went home.
My thanks to a_secondchance for telling me which title not to pick for this story!!