Friends in Maraqua: An Altador Cup Story
“Jair! Are you coming or not?”
“I am, I am, hold on!”
The blue Eyrie gathered up the last of her things into her water Faerie backpack. She slung it over her shoulders and swam out of the front door of her Maraquan home to join her friend, another Eyrie.
Fiorina was pacing impatiently next to Jair’s house when her friend came out. “There you are!” she sighed. “My mom will be home in a couple of hours! Let’s go. I want to spend at least fifteen minutes at the shorelands.”
“Fiori, I’m just not sure about this anymore,” said Jair uneasily, shifting her waterproof backpack around. “We’ve done some crazy things before - climbing on the stone Faerie statue in the ruins, tasting Slugawoo slime, using binoculars to look into Kelp - but going to the shorelands? That’s... that’s forbidden, Fiorina. I don’t want to get into that kind of trouble.”
“The most they can do is ground us,” protested Fiorina.
“But that’s not it!” Jair insisted. “We could actually get hurt going to the mainlands! Fiori, for one second can you stop and think about--”
“Jair!” Fiorina interjected. “This is a rare opportunity. My parents are at work all day in the shell shop, your mom’s at the petpet store, your dad’s at the castle, and my big sister is gone with friends! What if we never get another chance to see the mainlands?”
“Then it will be too soon for me.” Jair crossed her fins across her chest and shut her eyes.
“Fine then,” scoffed Fiorina. “I’ll go alone.”
“You’ll get hurt,” Jair reminded her.
“I’ll be careful,” Fiorina said.
“You’ll get in a lot of trouble.”
“I bet you ten Neopoints that it’s worth it.”
“That’s only an opinion.”
“Alright! You go alone then, Fiori. You go alone, but don’t come back crying to me to tell me about all the monsters you’ll have seen on the surface.”
“I WILL go. You watch, Jair.”
And with that, Fiorina turned and swam off away from the small suburb where Jair’s house was. Jair refused to watch her go. She wouldn’t even open her eyes until she could no longer hear the woosh-woosh of Fiorina’s swishing fins.
“She can go,” Jair told herself firmly. “But she’ll go alone. It isn’t right to go to the surface and that’s that.”
But as she floated there above the sands at the bottom of the ocean, the little voice in the back of Jair’s head began to scream. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Jair was thankful for that voice. But from time to time (mostly, not surprisingly, when Fiorina was getting herself into trouble) Jair cursed her conscience. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the little voice - she knew its decisions were always for the good - but she dreaded going through with the actions it suggested. Now, more than ever, she wished the little voice would leave her alone.
Alas, it would not.
“Argh!” Jair cried in frustration. “Do I always have to do the right thing, for King Kelpbeard’s sake?”
But she knew the answer: yes. Yes, she did. For Fiorina’s sake.
And so Jair turned and started to swim briskly in the direction Fiori had gone. Gradually the Maraquan homes disappeared and gave way to miles of empty sea floor, spare some shells and kelp plants from place to place. It was ten minutes of quick swimming before Jair could see her friend in front of her in the open blue.
“Hey!” called Jair. “F-Fiori...?”
Fiori whipped around and snickered. “I knew you’d follow me,” she rolled her eyes. “And if you’re here to ‘protect’ me, you should just go home. I told you, I’m fine.”
Fiorina didn’t wait for a reply. “Great,” she said, grabbing Jair’s fin. “Let’s go. We don’t have much time.”
Jair swallowed her fear as well as she could and let herself be dragged along.
Unlike Fiorina, Jair couldn’t make her lips move. She was too stunned at what she saw.
Before them lay the green, lush farmlands of an alien place their parents called Meridell. Villages, huts, markets, farms, and tons of non-finned above-water Neopets were spread across the land as far as the friends could see. The sky was grey and a light drizzle dampened the land, but Jair and Fiorina didn’t seem to notice.
They were about fifty meters out from the shore, a safe distance, according to Fiorina. Jair hadn’t been so sure, but as soon as they had poked their heads above water and saw Meridell, she had been hushed with awe.
“It’s gorgeous,” breathed Fiori. “Gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, stunning...”
“Shh,” whispered Jair. “Just watch.”
Fiorina nodded slowly. They stayed there for a long time, just gazing at the shorelands, until Fiori abruptly dove beneath the surface. She began, to Jair’s horror, to swim towards the shore. Jair cried aloud, shattering the silence, and then dove under the water after Fiori.
Try as she might, Fiorina remained in front of Jair by just feet. She was swimming as fast as she could.
“Fiori! Stop!” screamed Jair. “Stop, stop! It’s - it’s - dangerous.”
Suddenly she couldn’t believe her own words. That peaceful, quiet land she’d just been staring at... could it really be dangerous? But that little voice was talking to her again: dangerous? Not? It doesn’t matter, because you don’t know. And Fiorina doesn’t know. So you have to stop her before she reaches the -
It was too late. Fiorina had finished off the last of the fifty meters.
Jair made a grab for the scales on Fiori’s back as she reached a fin above water. With it she tenderly touched the dry sand and gasped.
“Fiorina,” sobbed Jair. “Stop it. That’s enough. Please.”
“Touch it, Jair, touch the sand,” urged Fiorina breathlessly. She grabbed Jair’s fin with her free one and tried to pull it above water to touch the shore. But Jair yanked her fin away.
“No.” She shook her head. “Enough, Fiori. Time to go home.”
Fiorina took a minute to answer, staring longingly at the dry sand.
“...Fine,” she agreed bitterly.
And they swam home.
During the course of the next two years, Fiorina brought Jair to the shorelands twice more. Each time, Fiorina touched the dry sand but always Jair refused. And every time, they went in secret. Every time, worst of all, Fiorina seemed to become more obsessed with the world forbidden to them.
It wasn’t until Jair and Fiorina were almost fourteen years old that things started to go terribly, horribly wrong.
Actually, ‘started’ isn’t the word for it. It happened abruptly, Fiorina’s disappearance.
One morning, as Jair ate her breakfast of kelp, she kept looking to the door. She was expecting Fiorina over that morning, so they could go shell hunting and train her Kelpflake, Georgo, to do some tricks.
Fiorina didn’t come.
Impatience taking over after two hours of waiting, Jair swam down the line of houses to the one that belonged to Fiorina. She knocked on the door and was surprised to see Mrs. Dankyl, Fiorina’s mother, answer instead of her friend.
“Good morning, Mrs. Dankyl,” greeted Jair politely.
“Morning, Jair,” Mrs. Dankyl smiled. “What can I help you with?”
“Is Fiorina home?” asked Jair. Mrs. Dankyl’s smile faded.
“She went over to your house hours ago, Jair,” she told the Eyrie. Jair also frowned. “I haven’t seen her at all this morning,” she said.
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Dankyl paled at these words from Jair. “Come with me, Jair, and we’ll search.”
Needless to say, all the searching they did proved fruitless. Fiorina wasn’t found.
A growing dread in Jair’s mind had been growing since they had begun to search. That little nagging feeling, paired with the shouting little voice, was driving Jair out of her head. Meridell, Meridell! it screamed.
“No,” murmured Jair. “She wouldn’t have.”
But she knew, deep down, that Fiorina indeed would have, more readily than Jair wanted to admit.
And so, as Mrs. Dankyl talked worriedly with Jair’s parents, the Eyrie turned and snuck off - out of the neighborhood, out of Maraqua, out into the open, to find her friend.
It took a half-hour to get to the shore, but to Jair it seemed ten times the distance. With every swish of her powerful tail her concern increased until the knot in her stomach was Monceraptor-sized. She was panting when she finally reached the shallow waters by the shore of Meridell.
It occurred to her then that she had no idea what she would do after arriving. So she popped her head above the water and cried with all the breath in her lungs, “FIORINA! WHERE ARE YOU?”
Jair sighed and was preparing to plunge back under the surface when she heard, to her colossal relief, Fiorina’s voice.
Jair strained her neck and looked down shore. A few yards away stood Fiorina, a trail of footprints in the sand behind her. But the Eyrie Jair saw couldn’t be Fiorina; it just couldn’t be. This Eyrie was a land-dweller.
She had a tail, arms, and legs replacing her fins, feathers instead of scales, broad wings, fingers, toes, talons... Jair instinctively backed away, eyes wide. A low growling sound escaped her throat; she didn’t understand why she’d done it.
“Oh, Jair.” Fiorina looked down at her feet. “Please don’t go.”
“How do you know my n-name?” stammered Jair, trying to sound brave, but the surprising appearance of the land-dweller frightened her. She’d never come so close to one before.
“Jair, please believe me!” cried Fiorina. “It’s Fiori! Honestly, really, truly, it’s me! Please!”
“What have you done?” Jair couldn’t make her tone rise higher than a whisper. “Where are your fins and scales?”
To Jair’s surprise, Fiorina burst into tears and sat down on the dry sand, the small waves lapping at her toes.
“Fiorina,” Jair reached out and patted her friend on the back. She was tempted to pull her fin away because of the unnatural texture of Fiorina’s feathers, but she knew it would not help. “Have you been cursed or something? It’s alright, we’ll...”
“No,” Fiorina sobbed. “It’s all me. I did this.”
Now Jair pulled back her hand, recoiling in terror and disbelief.
“What?” she asked. “How, Fiori?”
“With a paint brush.” Fiorina’s shoulders were shaking. “I... I used a yellow paint brush I got from a market stall with my Neopoints.”
Jair shrieked and dove under the surface, beginning to flee back into the deeper waters when she heard faintly Fiorina’s voice.
“Jair, wait! Come back!”
Jair wanted to swim back home, dive into her seagrass bed, and pretend this entire morning had been but a dream. But she could not bring herself to do so - because it was Fiorina, and no matter what awful thing she’d done, she was Jair’s friend. No matter how many times Jair had tried to convince Fiorina not to go to the surface, to forget what she’d seen... Fiorina was still her friend.
And so Jair turned and swam to the shallows again, popping her head above the water. A fresh torrent of tears started to flow from Fiorina, and Jair launched herself halfway out of the water to envelope her in a hug.
“Fiori!” she gasped, looking at the yellow Eyrie’s face. “You’re leaking!”
“I know.” Fiorina smiled sadly. “When land-dwellers are sad, they leak from their eyes. They call it crying. It’s very strange; but I’ve been doing a lot of crying tonight myself.”
“Crying,” repeated Jair slowly. “Cri-eeng. Huh.”
They hugged each other for a long time before Jair gathered up the courage to say, “Why?”
Fiorina took a deep breath and began, “I don’t really know, Jair. When we first came here years ago, I was both amazed and angry at what we saw. I was amazed because of how beautiful this Meridell is, and I was angry because our parents kept us from coming here. After that... I guess, I wanted to see more. I wanted to see all of Neopia. But I can’t do that by staying under the sea, Jair. I can’t see it all that way. I’ve been saving my Neopoints ever since that first visit to the shore, and finally I was able to buy my yellow paint brush from a merchant down the beach just a couple hours ago.”
All at once she started to cry again and begged, “Jair, please forgive me!”
“For what, Fiori?” Jair asked softly. “You followed your dream.”
“But it was wrong,” wept Fiorina. “It was wrong and horrible and disobedient in every way. I’ve made everyone sad and anxious. If I could go back home, Jair, I would!”
“Fiorina, you wanted to see Neopia,” Jair reminded her.
“I don’t care anymore!” Fiorina told her, spilling tears onto Jair’s shoulder as she hugged her. “It’s not worth what I had to do, I realize now. It’s lonely up here, Jair. Lonely and cold and...”
Suddenly, four heads appeared above the water near the companions. There wet scales shone brilliantly in the sun, high in the sky. It was nearly noon.
“My parents,” murmured Fiorina. “And yours, too, Jair.”
All of the Maraquan parents jumped for joy when they saw Jair and Fiorina. They swam quickly over and Fiorina bent down to hug her mother and father.
“Fiorina!” they cried, looking their daughter up and down. “What’s happened? Where have you been?”
“Here, Mom,” answered Fiorina, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Jair, there you are.” Jair’s mother sighed. “I’m glad we found you. Don’t sneak off like that, alright?”
“Yes, Mother.” Jair nodded. She and her parents turned their attention to Fiorina.
“What will happen now?” Fiorina squeaked. “I... I don’t know what to do.”
“You’ll stay here,” Mr. Dankyl, Fiorina’s father, said slowly. “It’s the only option. You acted quickly and rashly, Fiori.”
“Father, why aren’t you upset?” Fiorina asked, perplexed.
“I am, a little bit.” Mr. Dankyl closed his eyes and smiled half-heartedly. “I’m upset you ran away, because I was worried about you. But do you know, Fiori? If you had asked to see the surface - even to live there - I might’ve let you.”
“What?!” Fiorina and Jair both said at once.
“Fiorina, I myself wanted to live on the mainlands as a child,” Mr. Dankyl explained. “Actually, when I was a little older than you, I asked my parents for permission to go. They said ‘when you’re older’. So a couple of years later, I asked again, and they let me.”
“You lived on the shorelands, Father?” The shock could be read plainly on Fiorina’s face.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Dankyl. “But after a while, I just decided Maraqua was more for me. But it sure was extraordinary, traveling around and seeing Neopia. So Fiori, I’m going to let you stay here. As long as you stay in Meridell until you’re familiar with the mainlands, and we meet each week, you can stay.”
“Oh, Father, thank you!” Fiorina cried and wrapped her dad in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Fiorina turned to her friend. “And thank you, Jair. Thank you for not giving up on me.”
A small number years later, as Jair and Fiorina met on the beach like they usually did on Thursdays, there would be an exciting exchange of news. They had both been asked to join one of the new teams for the first-ever Altador Cup Tournament: Jair for the Maraquan team, Fiorina for Meridell’s. The week before the competition started, as the friends were preparing to leave for Altador, they met once again and wished each other good luck.
“We’ll be opponents,” Jair reminded her. “But we’ll still be friends.”
“Right!” Fiorina agreed. “May the best team win!”
They shook hands, and then went their separate ways.
After the first Altador Cup was over, Jair mentioned to Fiorina that she wouldn’t mind seeing the shorelands herself. Delighted, Fiorina bought for her friend a blue paint brush and, with the permission of Jair’s parents, made the Maraquan Eyrie into a land-dweller. That year, Jair was asked to join Team Roo Island, to which she happily agreed. She and Fiorina were opponents again, but remained friends.
Even to this day, these two famed Altador Cup players continue to share a friendship that has lasted through thick and thin, through separations and through Yooyuball matches, through wins and losses.
And it started a long time ago, down in the dark waters of Maraqua.