The Jewel of Maraqua: Part One
The ocean was an endless wonder Gem could explore for hours, never losing her breath or needing to surface. She was Maraquan, after all. She pitied those unfortunate enough to be tied to the surface, finless and without gills. She used to envy Maraquan neopets, living in snooty ocean-front property on Mystery Island with their rich owners. They could afford to paint their pet Maraquan. Gem hadn't been born it, like most; she became Maraquan later in life. She had no owner, and she couldn't really remember a time where she had a real home. Her first memory was of the Neopian Pound. She had lived there for quite some time before a snobby looking gent took a look and adopted her, only to send her right off to the lab. It wasn't all bad, though, for Gem had realized her dream that day. The sinister-looking lab ray granted her her greatest wish; to be Maraquan. Her owner promptly disowned her, but didn't bother to trek to the pound again, and so Gem was left by the shore, alone. She still couldn't understand exactly why he had done that, but all in all, she was grateful. Nothing felt more liberating than being wild.
Gem had a rather peculiar hobby; she loved diving for gems and shiny objects. She would even snatch up fallen jewelry from people and neopets above, making off with them before their rightful owners could look for them. Maybe it was the secret nature of any Gelert to be a thief... She kept her precious collection under a stone nestled within a kelp forest. She never seemed to lose track of where it was, regardless of how far and long she traveled. Every once in a blue moon, she would return home, carrying on her elegant fin a menagerie of shiny items. She would often tie them on with seaweed if the objects were too big or bulky to carry.
Gem had been traveling for a few days now, and she was quite far from her home near the shores of Mystery Island. She knew she had gone due north since leaving, but she really had no idea where, exactly, she was.
"Where am I?" she thought drearily to herself. She was beginning to think she was hopelessly lost. But suddenly, towering spires appeared in the distance. Was this the fabled Maraqua? Gem had never been there before, but she had heard innumerable stories of it.
As the tips of the great city’s buildings made their way above the horizon, Gem noticed it was bustling with Maraquan neopets like herself. She preferred solitude, and this was the first time she had seen such numbers of Maraquans in one place. It was quite a lot to take in. The city itself was breathtakingly beautiful, and her curious nature drove her at once to begin exploring.
She started with the ruins. They were more or less deserted, and though she was excited to see other Maraquans, she wanted to explore on her own. She discovered a sunken statue of a faerie, and an underwater cave with a pocket of air (apparently a popular fishing spot for surface-dwellers). These were well-known, though; she could see the places were well traversed by others before her. But she soon came across a rather strange spot.
There was a cleverly disguised entrance to a cave. It was hidden by a boulder encrusted with lichen, but Gem saw through it in an instant. Naturally, she was curious; she carefully pushed the boulder aside and swam through the entrance. A long, dark tunnel appeared before her, but there was a faint glimmer of light at the end of it. Eager to know the source of the mysterious blue light, Gem swam to the end of the tunnel. It opened up into a large cavern. Gem gazed around the cave in awe. It was covered in stalactites and 'mites, so surely the cave was once above water instead of submerged. It must be quite old. Perhaps most interesting was the statue at the center of the room. It was a tall Maraquan Gelert, carved from a pure, aquamarine stone. More impressive was the item in the frozen Gelert's fins; a glowing blue sphere. It seemed to be made of the same stone of the Gelert itself, yet it was glowing eerily.
It was so shiny, so rare-looking... like a jewel. Without thinking, Gem swam up to snatch it. Her eyes glowed with a cold greed.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" a voice said to the thief.
Gem stopped in her tracks. She'd been caught! Heavy with guilt, she swiveled around to meet her accuser. A beautiful Maraquan Ixi greeted her. Gem was silent. After all, she had no real explanation, did she? She didn't actually understand the magnitude of her crime.
"I asked you a question, now answer it. What are you doing here?"
"I, um..." Gem struggled to think of an excuse, but what could she say? It was just so shiny...
The Ixi looked Gem up and down. "Hm, you're not from around here, are you?" she asked her. "I suppose you don't know what that is, then," the Ixi said, pointing to the glowing orb.
"I... I guess I don't. And no, I'm not from around here, I was just visiting and I saw that jewel and I..." Gem stammered, still shaky and full of adrenaline.
The Ixi sighed. "Well, it's not yours, and you shouldn't be sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. That thing is more important than you could imagine, and it is not to be removed from this place, understand?"
"Yes, ma'am! I apologize, I really had no idea!" Gem practically yelled. Man, did she want to high-tail it out of here. But the Ixi gave her a stern look that told her she shouldn't try it.
"So uh... what exactly is that thing? It's not just some shiny rock?"
"Good heavens, no! You really are clueless, aren't you? Come with me." The Ixi's tone changed to something less hostile, and Gem felt relieved.
The Ixi led Gem out of the cave and back into the ruins.
"Listen, I'm really sorry about trying to take the stone," Gem told the Ixi. "By the way, my name's Gem."
"Nice to meet you," the Ixi said hesitantly. "I'm Qwixa. And it's alright. That place is set to trigger a silent alarm if the boulder is ever removed. Lucky I responded to it and caught you before you made off with it."
Gem tensed up a bit; she was lucky? Oh man, what would have happened to her if she had stolen it? Qwixa noticed her reaction, and comforted her. "You know, that thing is important to everyone."
"Everyone?" Gem asked.
"Yes, everyone. See, that stone contains the spirit of a very special Gelert."
"Spirit? Haha, alright, you're joking, right?" Gem laughed.
Qwixa looked at Gem. "No, it's true. That statue is called the Jewel of Maraqua. It contains the will of a very ancient and powerful Gelert. She was a great magician, and her magical power keeps the tides of Neopia in balance. Without it, the seas are thrown into chaos." She gave Gem a very serious look, telling Gem the magnitude of her actions.
"I-I had no idea," Gem said, stunned. What if she had removed it? What horrible consequences could have befallen Neopia because of her greed?
"Well, in any case, you didn't take it, so no harm done."
"Haha, yeah, you won't tell anyone about it, will you?"
"Not so long as you've learned your lesson," the irritated Ixi replied.
"I like you, Gelert. How about I show you around Maraqua before you head home?" the Ixi asked. Qwixa had taken a liking to the naive little Gem. The two Maraquan pets swam off to see the sights. Little did they know, however, that someone had been watching.
Gem spent the rest of the day being shown around the city by her new friend. She spent the night in Qwixa’s cove, chatting and laughing with her friend about the day’s events. The Ixi’s home was an underwater cave decorated with brightly-colored corals and creatures, much more lavish than Gem’s simple kelp hovel. After a tiring evening, the two finally fell asleep.
Gem awoke quite early in a fright. She gasped for breath as she realized she was lying on dry land. She looked frantically around the cave to discover that the water level had dropped drastically. Immediately she dove into the shallow pool covering the entrance of the cave. Relieved, she took in huge breaths of seawater, finding herself able to breathe comfortably once more. Qwixa had chosen a spot much lower in the cave, and so she was spared the awakening shock of finding herself high and dry.
“Qwixa, Qwixa! Wake up!” cried Gem.
“Huh? What’s going on?” inquired Qwixa sleepily. Her eyelids were fluttering, and she was clearly not used to being so rudely woken up in the middle of the night. She was about to scold her rude friend when she saw the reflection of the water’s surface not so far above her head. She bolted upright in surprise.
“What-What the?!” she gasped.
Gem didn’t think she needed to explain anything further. She and Qwixa swam to the no-longer-submerged entrance of the cave to discover a quite horrifying sight. The entire city of Maraqua was exposed to the air! The beautiful coralline buildings shot out of the water and far into the air. Most of the city-dwellers were already up and about. Some less fortunate were stuck on higher points, flopping around, trying to get to the sparse pools of water that were once part of a vast, deep ocean.
“Oh no, it can’t be...” Qwixa began to come to a horrifying conclusion.
To be continued...