Five Hundred Years
Marpameus made his way through his small, cluttered cottage, narrowly avoiding large stacks of books that threatened to topple over any moment. Reaching the kitchen, he threw the windows open wide, letting the soft sunshine of dawn illuminate the room. The elderly blue Draik began to prepare his breakfast, thinking only of lesson plans for the history classes he taught. However, he couldn’t fully concentrate on the task at hand, for he had a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something, perhaps something from an interrupted dream...
Suddenly, his mind reeled with an abrupt realization. Today was not just any ordinary day. Today was his five hundredth birthday.
Marpameus continued making his breakfast as if nothing was wrong, but with less enthusiasm than before. Though the day had only just begun, he wished that it would end soon, for he couldn’t help but reminisce on his birthday. Birthdays were reminders of things that he no longer wished to remember. Once, he had longed for memories, had been afraid of forgetting; but five hundred years of them had become a burden.
After plucking his toast from the toaster, he sat down to eat, pondering the dilemma that he had created for himself. In five hundred years, there were so many days, weeks, and even years that were forgotten to him; the years blurred together, one into the other, with no real meaning. His only way of distinguishing the years was the remembrance of different people he had known, jobs he had held, and identities he had created.
When he had been about a hundred or so, he began to forget important things. He had known that many more years of life stretched before him, and feared that soon he would hardly remember anything from the first hundred years of his life. He had decided that, every birthday, he would challenge his memory, forcing himself to recall where he had been or what he had done on previous birthdays. Each one marked a separate year in his life. When I turned forty, he would think, I was still going by my real name, and I was earning my first Ph.D., at school in Altador... When I was one hundred, I had changed my name to Jennings, and I became a professor at the University in Brightvale. It was my first year of teaching...
As the years went on, with no end in sight, Marpameus began to dread these annual recitations, because remembering all the people he had once known was heartbreaking. Everyone he had ever cared about was dead. After several hundred years of watching people he knew and loved die, he had become more reclusive, never allowing himself to become too attached to anyone. People sailed in and out of his life so frequently that remembering their names would have been impossible even if he had wanted to attempt it.
It was painful to remember, but he was afraid to forget.
Even though he no longer wished to reminisce on each birthday, it had become a habit he could not break; the memories seemed to flow into his mind of their own volition. Though he managed to keep the memories locked away through the rest of the year, on this one date he could not stop himself.
Even as he considered this dilemma, the memories that he was trying to suppress lingered at the edge of his consciousness, demanding his attention. Resigning himself to his fate, he leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and allowed the memories of other birthdays, other important events in his life, to flow freely, just once, before he hid them away for another year.
***496 YEARS EARLIER***
“Go out and play!” his mother chided them. “You don’t want to ruin the surprise!”
Pouting, Khorianna turned away from her mother and grabbed his hand. “Come on, Marp,” she said, tugging him out of the kitchen, where their mother was preparing Khorianna’s birthday cake.
The two siblings walked outside, the small red Xweetok leading the way. “Race you to the swings!” Khori cried.
They ran to the swing set. Khori beat Marpameus, as usual, but this time he was not disappointed; he wanted to let her win, because it was her birthday.
“I bet I can swing higher than you!” she shrieked, kicking as hard as she could, sending the swing soaring into the air.
“Bet you can’t!” Marpameus called obligingly, but his attempt to win was half-hearted. He was almost four years old, but he couldn’t compete with his older sister, who turned six today.
When the Xweetok grew tired, she jumped off the swing, tumbling into the soft grass. Marpameus slowed his swing before jumping, landing solidly on his feet. Khorianna lay in the grass, panting from exertion, her eyes shining with happiness.
She giggled. “I’m sorry I beat you,” she said. “Mom told me not to do that so much.”
“It’s okay,” said Marpameus, sitting in the grass and looking down at his sister. “I don’t mind. It’s your birthday.”
She giggled again. “I’m six today!” she said, holding up six fingers.
“I know,” said her brother.
“I wonder what that big package is,” she said, pointing towards the living room window, beyond which lay the large, wrapped package their mother had unveiled that morning. “I bet it’s...”
Suddenly, her voice trailed off, and her grin vanished abruptly.
“Khori?” he whispered, looking worriedly at his sister.
Her chocolate-brown eyes were wide open, staring up blankly. As her brother watched, the colour in her eyes began to lighten, slowly at first and then rapidly. He had seen his sister do this before, but it frightened him.
Her eyes became a bright, vivid blue, and Marpameus thought that they looked like mirrors, reflecting the image of the sky above, which Khori stared at unblinkingly.
They lightened still more, until the irises were so white that they couldn’t be distinguished. Her eyes had become full white moons, dotted with a single black crater at each center.
Neither of them spoke, for Marpameus knew that Khorianna was unable to see or hear anything that was going on around her. He waited patiently, and after an agonizing minute, he saw her irises begin to cloud over, darkening dramatically.
Mere seconds after they began to darken, her eyes were deep brown once more. She blinked rapidly before sitting up and staring at her brother.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
“Of course,” she said casually, as though such things happened to everyone.
“Guess what?” she said, her former excitement returned.
“I know what’s in the big package,” she said. “I’m going to rip all of the paper off, and everyone will be watching, and then there will be a big cherry-red bicycle, right in the living room! And I’ll climb on it, and Daddy will give me a push, and I’ll ride the bike all around the room!”
“Is that what you saw?” her brother whispered.
“Yep,” she said. “I know that’s what my present is!” She jumped to her feet, startling Marpameus, and raced towards the house.
“Come on!” she called over her shoulder. “Let’s go open my present!”
Once the family had assembled in the living area, Khori dragged the package to the center of the room and ripped the wrappings off. Marpameus leaned forward anxiously, wondering if it really was a bicycle, but all he could see was a massive black box.
When all the wrapping paper was gone, Khorianna stared at the box in disappointment. “Is this it?” she asked.
“Of course not,” laughed their mother. “Open the box, Khori.”
She opened the box and let out a scream of delight. Their father stood and helped her haul the cherry-red bicycle out of the black box. She hopped on, he gave her a push, and she began to ride around the room, laughing happily.
It was at that moment that Marpameus, and Khorianna herself, understood what was happening to her when her eyes changed colour. She was having visions of the future.
Of course, Marpameus thought, it was always the most painful memories that came first, the ones that were the oldest, yet also the most vivid. After five hundred years, he shouldn’t even remember moments like that, which happened before his fourth birthday. Yet there were certain things he would never forget, no matter how many more years he lived; memories from the first fifteen years of his life, before his encounter with magic left him with hundreds of years of near-immortality, would not fade. These memories were the hardest to bear, but also the most important, the ones he would never allow himself to forget.
***485 YEARS EARLIER***
Marpameus, nearly fifteen years old now, sat at his mother’s bedside. The physician hovered over her still body, examining her carefully.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you were right. It is the plague.”
“What can we do?” whispered Khorianna.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “There’s no cure. You know that.”
“Yes,” she whispered. She was crying. She stood and walked to the window, peering outside.
When she spoke again, her voice was filled with anger. “Maybe this will convince them,” she said bitterly. “When my own mother is dead, will they believe that I didn’t cause this?”
“Don’t say that!” Marpameus gasped. “She’s going to be fine.” He said the words, but he didn’t believe them. This plague, called the Ghouls’ Death, was always fatal.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “Please let me know if anything changes, and I’ll do my best. For now, just keep her comfortable, and stay with her.”
“We will,” said Marpameus, ushering him out of the room. “How much do we owe you?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “Your father was a dear friend of mine. I would consider it an insult to his memory if I allowed you to pay me for this.”
Marpameus knew that the doctor had risked his reputation, and even his life, by coming to see them now, when so many had turned against Khorianna. “Thank you,” he said softly. “We’re very grateful.”
The doctor was just stepping out the back door when they heard a scream. Marpameus ran back to his mother’s room, the doctor close on his heels, and saw Khori, lying on the floor where she had collapsed. She was crying hysterically.
“I saw it,” she gasped, her words coming out in choked sobs. “I saw it!”
She looked towards the bed where their mother lay, and Marpameus understood instantly what she meant. “When?” he asked.
“Two weeks,” she whispered. The words were a death sentence.
Her brother knew that it was best to leave her alone. He ushered the doctor back out, closing the door behind him.
“What does she mean?” the doctor asked.
“She saw our mother hallucinating about ghouls,” Marpameus said dully, “and she knows that it will happen in two weeks.” Both Marpameus and the doctor knew that once patients infected with the Ghouls’ Death began to hallucinate, they would die within the hour. Khorianna’s visions always came true; she had never been wrong.
Nearly a month later, Marpameus awoke in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. Rising from his bed, he hurried to the door and peered down the hallway. Coils of smoke were wafting slowly up the stairs. Hurrying forward, Marpameus could see a flickering orange light coming from the kitchen.
“Fire!” he screamed. “Fire!”
He raced down the hall to Khorianna’s room, pounding on the door until it opened. “What?” Khori mumbled, still half asleep.
“Fire! Get everyone out of the house!”
Many of their friends, including their mother’s physician, were staying in the house at the time; they had come to pay their respects after the death, and had stayed to help Khorianna and Marpameus, who were now orphans.
Khorianna raced out of her room and down the hall, pounding on doorways, screaming at the rooms’ occupants, and shepherding everyone down the stairs. Marpameus raced back towards the kitchen, hoping that it wasn’t too late to quench the flames. As he reached the doorway, however, he saw that there was nothing he could do. The entire room was ablaze. Turning away from the doorway, he caught one last glimpse of the room and spotted the remains of his birthday cake, burning to ashes. Tears clouded his eyes as he ran back upstairs to help his sister, his mind paralyzed with the realization that today was his fifteenth birthday.
The two siblings ensured that every guest left the house. Marpameus was the last to leave. As he stood in the doorway, he looked back at the house, choked with smoke and flooded with scarlet flame. Then he stepped outside and closed the door behind him, knowing that he was leaving his childhood behind in the flames.
Even now, hundreds of years later, Marpameus could still smell the smoke, could still feel the heat of the blaze that filled the house. The fire was no accident, of course. It had been set by a mob of angry Neopians. He and Khorianna had been unable to leave their house for months because of the mob. The townspeople had been terrified by the arrival of the plague, which had killed hundreds, and they needed someone to blame; Khorianna became that person. Her inability to control her visions had made many people angry in the past; her failure to predict the plague had been the turning point. Even their own mother’s death from the plague had not been enough to convince the people that Khorianna was not to blame for it. Some thought she had brought the plague herself; others accused her of knowing about the arrival of the plague and doing nothing to stop it.
Hundreds of years later, so much had changed. Few people knew of the Ghouls’ Death. References to it were rare, even in historical texts, where it was described as a deadly but isolated epidemic that killed several hundred Neopians before vanishing, never to appear in Neopia again. The reasons for its disappearance would always remain a mystery.
Though it may have been an isolated incident in the eyes of history, for Marpameus and Khorianna it was life-shattering. They and their friends had been forced to flee, seeking refuge in the nearby safety of the Haunted Woods. Yet the Ghouls’ Death seemed to follow them; before long the plague spread to citizens there as well. Fearing for their lives, they had hidden themselves away in the mountains to the west, hoping that it would be safe to emerge when the epidemic had passed. If only they had known...
***485 YEARS EARLIER***
“Is it the plague?” the Draik whispered, peering at his sister, who was feverish.
“No,” said the doctor. “No, it can’t be. None of the patients with the plague were so feverish. The symptoms are different.”
“But the delirium is the same,” Marpameus said.
“Yes,” he murmured, “the delirium is eerily similar...”
The doctor moved away, consulting with some of the others. Marpameus had refused to leave his sister’s bedside since she had fallen ill. Picking up his diary, he dutifully recorded the events of the day, as well as the words of the doctor.
He had just finished writing the words “eerily similar” when Khori stirred, and her eyes flashed open.
“Khori?” he whispered.
“Marp,” she said, her voice so faint it was barely audible, “listen to me. There’s something important...”
“I’m here,” he said soothingly. “Khori, what’s wrong?” He looked at her eyes, and saw that her irises had already faded to white. He gasped, for he had never seen Khori address anyone by name while in the midst of a vision; usually she was unable to perceive her surroundings.
“Five hundred years from now...” she began. Her voice had changed, from the voice he knew so well to one that was dull and void of emotion. It was the voice she used when giving prophecies.
Marpameus’s diary was still lying beside him, his pen still clutched in his fist. As his sister spoke, he began to write down her words.
Khorianna and two others had been sick for three days. Each day, Khorianna was completely delirious. Once each day, she opened her eyes, looked at her brother, and delivered a prophecy. All three prophecies were dutifully recorded in his diary.
After delivering the third prophecy, her eyes returned to their normal colour, and the Xweetok turned to face her brother.
“They’re important,” she said, and Marpameus could sense that she meant the prophecies. “Don’t let anyone see them. Keep them hidden, and keep them safe. Five hundred years, Marp... keep them safe for that long.”
“I will,” he promised, though he had no idea how he would do so, since he wouldn’t be alive for that long. Khorianna smiled, and closed her eyes, and drifted into unconsciousness.
After conversing with the doctor and the other members of their group, it was agreed that they would attempt to cross the mountains and reach Shenkuu. They all feared that Khorianna and the others might die if they didn’t receive immediate medical care.
The three sick pets, including Khorianna, were loaded onto makeshift stretchers, since they were too weak to stand. The group slowly set out, knowing only that they were heading west, through the mountains and towards Shenkuu.
They had been traveling for several hours when suddenly there was a massive rumbling sound reverberating throughout the mountain, and the rocks began to rain down upon them.
“Rockslide!” someone screamed.
Marpameus was afraid to leave Khorianna lying on the stretcher, where she was more likely to be hit. Carefully he pulled her off the stretcher and onto his back. She hadn’t eaten for days, and was incredibly light. She remained unconscious as he ran through the cavern, looking for a way out.
The ground beneath their feet began to shake, and in moments it was crumbling away. Marpameus soared into the air, hoping that if he just flew fast enough he could escape the rockslide. As he flew, he looked down, and saw the entire cavern floor collapse beneath him. At that moment, dozens of rocks rained down from above, striking him repeatedly. The Draik, with Khori on his back, plummeted, down and down and down in a dizzying spiral. He managed to spread his wings at the last moment, softening their landing on a hard rock floor.
Khorianna slid from his back, and he could see that she was awake once more. Suddenly, her old energy seemed to return, and she leaped to her feet and started running.
“Khori, stop!” her brother cried, but she didn’t seem to hear him. As he raced after her, visions of his childhood flashed through his mind. They were children again, racing each other. Marpameus was always too slow.
“Wait, Khori!” he cried, knowing somehow that they were running into danger. Khorianna did not stop.
The tunnel ended, and opened up into a massive chamber. The center of the chamber was filled with a massive, glowing sphere, golden like the sun. Its tendrils ebbed and flowed, reaching out to the far corners of the room.
Khorianna walked forward slowly, drawn to the sphere as if in a trance.
“Khori!” Marpameus screamed. He knew that they must not get close to the sphere.
She stopped. She turned around, and looked at her brother. She stared deep into his eyes for the first time since she’d become ill.
“I’m sorry, Marpameus,” she said, “but it is time.”
The Draik lunged forward, trying to grab her hand and pull her away. His sister was faster, just as she had always been when they were younger. She leaped forward and landed in the center of the sphere.
Marpameus was thrown off balance and tumbled into the edge of the sphere. He jumped back, for the heat was intense. As he looked towards the sphere, he saw his sister standing at its core. She was laughing, a genuine and joyous laugh that Marpameus had not heard since the plague struck.
The sphere expanded, filling the room, and there was a blinding flash of light.
Sitting at his kitchen table on his five hundredth birthday, Marpameus wept. It had been four hundred and eighty-five years since his sister’s death, but he could never forget it. His sister, his parents, all the people he had known in his childhood.... He was the only thing keeping their memories alive. He needn’t have been afraid of forgetting, however, for he couldn’t have forgotten even if he’d wanted to. The memories came back on their own each year.
The Draik sat at his kitchen table for several hours, remembering past birthdays, each day symbolizing a year of his life that had passed. After his encounter with the sphere buried in the mountains, he had realized that he was practically immortal; he had so much magic that it was nearly impossible for him to die, at first. For a while, he had wondered if he would ever die, or if he would live on for eternity, sustained by the magic that had become his life force.
He understood it now, of course. He could feel the magic dwindling. Every time he used his magic, a little bit less was left to sustain him. When it was all gone, he would die. He could feel that he still had a bit left, enough to keep him alive for another decade, at least.
He was determined to keep living for at least fifteen more years. He still remembered Khorianna’s words: “Five hundred years... keep them safe for that long.” She must have seen something in a vision, he thought, and knew that he would be alive long enough to ensure that the prophecies were kept safe. It was his own fault, he thought bitterly, that he had failed.
When they left the cave that day, heading for the safety of Shenkuu, he’d forgotten his diary, and left it behind. He had the foresight to tear out the last page, carrying it with him in case something happened to his diary. What he hadn’t realized was that the very first prophecy was written on a different page, one that was still in the diary.
As soon as Marpameus had realized this, he had considered going back to the mountains to recover the diary, but he had always been afraid to return there. He had promised himself that someday he would return and find it, but every year he avoided it, his fear preventing him from fulfilling his promise.
Now, he knew that there was no more time to waste. He had been fifteen years old when Khorianna made the prophecies; therefore, it had been four hundred and eighty-five years since she made them. He remembered little from the first prophecy, but he knew that its events would occur after five hundred years. He had fifteen years left to recover the first prophecy and keep all three safe until he discovered what the prophecies meant.
Marpameus stood, retrieved parchment and ink, and returned to his seat. Carefully, he began to make a list of things he would need for his trip. He would disguise it as an historical expedition, and employ several explorers to help him. He would go in a few months, when summer arrived and he would not be teaching at the Academy.
Reflecting back on his life thus far, he knew that he had achieved many great things. The only thing left to do was keep his promise to his sister, interpret the meaning of her final three prophecies, and aid the heroes described in the prophecies, stopping the forces of darkness and saving Neopia.
Marpameus smiled to himself. The past five hundred years were nothing compared to what was to come in the next fifteen. He had a lot of work to do.