Journey to the Ruins
Ramo gently grabbed Serpiane’s flipper moments before she face planted into a patch of giant red kelp. The Maraquan Shoyru siblings had only just entered the heart of Maraqua, but Ramo already predicted that his limited patience would likely be tested this afternoon. He loved his sister dearly, but much to his dismay, she had uncharted levels of energy and a unique knack for finding trouble. While their mother had insisted that the city trip to run errands would be simple and a wonderful opportunity for the two siblings to spend quality time together, Ramo knew that nothing related to Serpiane was ever just simple.
“It’s just kelp, Serpi,” he grinned in spite of himself and tugged her back onto the cobbled path. “We have that at home too, you know.”
“I know,” Serpi grumbled in response. “Who do you think mom recruits to weed the garden? It’s definitely not you. The kind near our home is all green and brown kelp though - it’s nothing like this. This is much prettier!”
Ramo rolled his eyes fondly and generously skipped a lecture on the history of Maraquan kelps that he had ready on the tip of his tongue. Though genuinely interested in learning, Serpi didn’t have the attention span for an impromptu science lesson. Instead, he pulled out a list from his explorer backpack, a wearable that Serpi was forever teasing him about since she claimed he didn’t have a single adventurous or exploratory scale on his shell.
“First stop will be Collectable Sea Shells,” he announced. “Mom needs to replace the purple spiral shell in her collection since a certain someone accidently broke it. And then Maraquan Neohomes. We need to buy a few pieces of fence to mend the section that’s broken. I promised I would help with that, it’s been in pieces forever.”
“The operative word there is accidently - you know I didn’t mean to! I was reaching for my book and I knocked it over by mistake. I’m going to replace it with last week’s allowance,” Serpi sheepishly waved a small, worn bag of Neopoints in Ramo’s face. “And I’ll help with the fence too, I promise.”
“Give me that,” Ramo chided, grabbing the bag of Neopoints and carefully depositing it in his backpack. “Icy Skeletons and Mutant Kadoaties do pass through Maraqua, you know. The last thing we need is for you to lose your replacement shell fund so please be mindful, okay?”
Serpi nodded seriously in response and murmured a sincere apology. Though she often made fun of her older brother’s overly cautious nature and know-it-all attitude, she really did learn a lot hanging around him, so she rarely complained. She pulled a worn, faded map of Maraqua from the explorer backpack front pocket before skipping ahead down the path.
“Collectable Sea Shells and Maraquan Neohomes are all the way across town on the south side,” Serpi noted. “We pass so many other cool places on the way there. Please can we stop at a few on the way to our errands? You can even babble about their significance or whatever - I promise to actually listen if you let us make a few extra stops!”
“I don’t babble!” Ramo protested. His objections faded at the incredulous, amused look Serpi shot him and he sighed instead. “Yeah, all right - this could actually be fun,” he admitted. “I know you’re going to insist upon roaming ahead but stay within my sight and try not to fall into any kelp beds.”
Cheering, Serpi advanced once more.
“This Darpinch is really cute. Can I ha-”
“Okay,” Serpi shrugged without missing a beat, her eyes bright green eyes shining with excitement. “This Marafin is really cute. Can I…”
“Absolutely not,” Ramo groaned. “What is your grand plan, Serpi? To spend ten minutes admiring every single petpet species and then ask me if you can have it? We’ve already been here for over an hour! It doesn’t matter what the specific petpet is, the answer is no. Mom would destroy us if we came home with one more mouth to feed that you furthermore don’t have the focus to look after. And then it would become my problem because all your bad ideas become my problem and then we’d fight and it would be a disaster.”
Serpi patted her brother’s shoulder sympathetically. “You are very dramatic,” she informed him. “No cute petpet friend for me today, I get it. Next stop, Maraquan Battledome Items. For you! I know you’re into weird ocean weapons.”
The pair squabbled the entire walk to the store regarding the phrase weird ocean weapons but by the time they reached the entrance, Serpi was a little more convinced on the value of maractite weaponry. They browsed in silence for a little while until Ramo noticed Serpi admiring a decorative maractite sword and laughed. “You picked the one item that isn’t as functional as the other ones, it’s literally more decorative than anything else. Check out this maractite water cannon instead…”
They stayed a few minutes longer before eventually leaving, Ramo casting one last lingering, wistful look at the water cannon on the way out. After checking his wind up pocket watch, Ramo agreed to one final stop before heading to their original two destinations.
Serpi ended up selecting Kelp, having heard about the exclusive restaurant but never getting the chance to go. Ramo’s stomach grumbled in response to her idea and he nodded. “Fine, but we’re splitting an appetizer and that’s it. We still need to pick up the shell and fence and get home before dark and I also don’t want to spend too much.”
After an abundant amount of succulent cheese dip, it was finally time to go.
“She even gave us leftovers!” Serpi enthused, affectionately patting the explorer backpack which was becoming heavier and heavier with each stop. “I’m excited to give them to mom, I don’t think she’s ever tried the cheese dip before.”
Ramo patted his belly and beamed at his sister. Her spirit was contagious. “I know. I’ve heard leftovers are kind of rare over there too. They don’t usually offer to box food up.”
Serpi launched into a comparison of Neopian restaurants and Ramo hummed and nodded in all the right places while he quickly picked up the replacement shell and then the new fence piece from across the street. At last, it was time to go home. The two siblings stood at the end of the city path, ready to turn around and head back north.
“It’s been an awesome day, Ramo, but is there any chance we can swing by the Ruins of Maraqua?” Serpi eyed the outskirts eagerly and glanced back at her brother with wide eyes. “We’re right here, and you’ve been but not me! Mom says I’m not old enough but -”
“Mom is right,” Ramo cut in with a frown. “I’m sorry, Serpi, but we can’t go there. Especially without a parent.”
She pushed him a few minutes longer but Ramo steadfastly refused, having only ever been to the Ye Olde Fishing Vortex accompanied by their father. Growing steadily more irritated as Serpi continued to pester him, Ramo turned his attention to their purchases and set about organizing them.
Eventually, Serpi stopped talking. She was likely sulking, but Ramo know that she would come around with time. It was a long walk home and he was confident that she wasn’t capable of ignoring him for that long. Immersed in re-packing their backpack, he failed to notice Serpi slipping off into the ruins.
Ramo was frantic. He had spent the last half an hour retracing their recent steps to see if his stubborn, risk-taker of a sibling had stormed off back to one of the shops they had visited. But no one had seen her. Frustrated and worried, Ramo eventually ended up back on the edge of the ruins, anxiously twisting his flippers together.
He never should have stopped paying attention, especially after arguing with Serpi. She was a loose cannon and he knew that. Maybe if he hadn’t been so determined to rearrange their belongings or if he hadn’t been caught up evaluating the length of the line to play Jubble Bubble he would have seen where and when she ran. He even understood that she was irritated, but he hadn’t really expected her to be so bold and go off on her own just because he had refused to take her to…
The Ruins of Maraqua.
Ramo smacked his forehead in exasperation because it seemed so obvious now. There was only one place Serpi would have wanted to go to and that was the very same place he had insisted they could not visit.
This was turning out to be quite the eventful afternoon.
Setting his fear aside, he tightened his grasp on the explorer backpack and silently willed it to make him braver and magically give him that sense of adventure gene that everyone in his family seemed to have except him. And then without a second thought, he charged into the ruins.
The ruins were desolate. Broken pillars and toppled rock littered the former city grounds and the few faded standing structures were covered in moss and wild seaweed. Ramo had been before of course, but always in the day time and always with his father. At that time, there were usually tourists milling around whispering about the old whirlpool disaster and locals headed in the direction of the Ye Olde Fishing Vortex, but around five, the ruins transformed back into the true watery ghost town it was.
It was past six now and it was also dark and far more quiet than he preferred it to be. A pang of sudden loneliness hit him then. Serpi definitely talked way too much but he missed her nonetheless. Exploring wasn’t the same without her.
Aside from the Ye Olde Fishing Vortex and the Bubbling Pit, there weren’t a lot of places she would have wanted to go. Torn with indecisiveness, Ramo stayed rooted in his place. He could check the Bubbling Pit before checking the Ye Olde Fishing Vortex but he wanted to find her as quickly as possible, and the sooner he did, the better.
As he wondered how to begin his search, a pack of wild lurman scuttled by.
“Excuse me, wait!” Ramo cried, chasing after the petpets. “Have you seen my sister by any chance? She’s also a Maraquan Shoyru and -”
One of the lurman ambled forward, cutting him off. “Didn’t we just see you? You wanted to know where the fishing vortex was. Now you have a sister?”
“What? No, that must have been my sister you spoke with. But thanks for the information, that must be where she’s headed!”
The lurman shrugged and called after him: “Whatever, pal, but I’m pretty sure we spoke to you!”
“Just because you run into two pets of the same species doesn’t make them the same individual!” Ramo shouted over his shoulder. “Also, my voice is so much deeper than hers, pay attention!” Without waiting for what would have been an undoubtedly sassy response, he rushed onwards towards the vortex.
Serpi better not have accidentally drowned or something. He would be in so much trouble.
In the end, he found her sitting on the edge of the underwater fishing dock, munching a watery hot dog and watching the other Neopets fish. Wordlessly dropping beside her, he scowled, though secretly relieved beyond belief.
“I’m sorry,” Serpi eventually sighed and offered him what was left of her snack. Ramo shook his head and muttered something about how it could be dangerous to eat food from the vortex and how he can’t believe she fished for the first time without him.
Serpi repeated her apology softly and drew her brother into a brief, clumsy hug. “I know I should have listened to you and I know I worried you. I really am sorry,” she whispered regretfully. “I just really wanted to see what the ruins were like and mom and dad wouldn’t have let me visit for at least another year. I had to go.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Ramo halfheartedly lied even though he knew she wouldn’t believe him. Sure enough, Serpi giggled and reminded him that he worries about everything.
“Okay, fine, I was worried,” he admitted. “Don’t ever do anything like that again!”
Ramo launched into a heated lecture then, and scolded her for over fifteen minutes before finally running out of words. “And maybe the worst part is,” he lamented, “You didn’t even learn how to fish properly. Higher level pets can get way cooler items than watery hot dogs. Like rare fish, for example. Dad says part of what you get relies on your technique.”
“Show me then!” Serpi dragged her brother to his feet and bounced around the dock eagerly, charged with renewed energy.
Ramo squared his shoulders with pride and beamed. Now that Serpi was safe and under his supervision, he was far less concerned. He knew they should go home soon, but surely a little longer couldn’t hurt. He cast his line, talking Serpi through a series of recommended steps and tips before reeling his line in and pulling out a flash of rainbow fountain water.
“Woah,” he breathed in astonishment. “Serpi, look! I’ve never gotten anything as rare as this, this is amazing!” He clutched the bottle tightly between his fins and looked at in wonder.
“It’s beautiful,” Serpi noted, tilting her head to the side. “But it’s just an empty, colorful bottle isn’t it? What does it do?”
Vaguely affronted, Ramo answered: “No, it’s not empty. It has special water from the rainbow fountain. If a Neopet drinks this, they’ll turn into a random color, isn’t that completely crazy? They’re worth a lot, I think.”
“How much? You’re going to sell it, right?”
“Maaaybe,” Ramo said slowly. “But I also kind of want to use it. I wonder what it feels like...to look different. To be different.”
Serpi perked up at her brother’s train of thought. Rarely did Ramo express the kind of curiosity that extended beyond book learning. She never thought he’d be interested in potentially testing a rare, random potion when he had the option of being fiscally responsible instead.
Aware of how much trouble she had caused today, Serpi did not encourage him one way or another, though she was dying to know what would happen if they used the potion. “So what will you do?” She asked.
Ramo grabbed her hand and dragged her outside the fishing vortex and back onto the path, glancing around anxiously. “I’m going to use it.”
“Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.”
“Say that one more time and see if it changes the outcome,” Serpi suggested, grinning at her brother. “Relax. If you ask me, I think you look nice.”
“I didn’t ask you! And I don’t look nice, I’m look like a pirate. I am a pirate! Of all the colors I could have turned, I never thought this would be the one.”
Serpi sighed and pulled a black coak out of their backpack to mask the pirate attire. “Take the bandana off and you’ll be fine for now,” she recommended. “And don’t freak out so much. We’re not still living in the age of Captain Scarblade pirate attacks. No one is going to look at you and think you’re a spy or traitor or whatever it is that you’re worried about. Pirates pass through Maraqua all the time.”
Ramo shrugged nervously. “I know it’s not exactly like that, but it’s not exactly very safe here at this hour. I just don’t want any trouble. And looking like a pirate could definitely attract trouble! Especially in these parts.”
The two siblings paced back and forth, debating their options. The Fountain Faerie was an option but the odds of receiving a quest were low. They could always try their luck with their lab ray but it’s possible that could worsen the situation and they’d wind up having to tell their parents for sure.
“I’m doomed,” Ramo groaned.
“You’re not,” Serpi disagreed. She motioned towards the Bubbling Pit. “There’s always that.”
Ramo groaned again. The Bubbling Pit almost split the Maraquan Ruins in two and were well known for its mysterious, emerald bubbles. It was also rumoured to be related to the Maraquan pet color.
“I’ve heard that if you walk into a cloud of enough bubbles, it will turn you Maraquan.” Serpi tugged Ramo towards the pit. “Time to find out if that’s true.”
“At this point I’m out of options,” Ramo grumbled. The pair carefully scaled down the wall until they were at the bottom of the pit. Ramo squeezed his eyes tight and stepped forward into the bubbles, quickly, before he changed his mind.
Even after walking through, his eyes remained stubbornly closed. “I can’t look,” he hissed.
“Well you should, because it worked!” Serpi cheered, rushing forward to give her brother another hug. “We’re twins again!”
“We’re not twins, I’m older and -”
“For once, do not correct me,” Serpi complained, but she was smiling. “It’s been a long day, please, let’s just go home!”
Ramo let out a tremendous sigh of relief and nodded. “Even though it’s completely your fault, yeah, that’s something I can agree with. Home sounds good.”
The walk back through Maraqua was quiet and peaceful. Both siblings were relieved after escaping the darkened ruins and slipping back into the bright city lights. Half way home, Ramo firmly insisted that he would never go for a color change again and that he know completely understood and loved who he was. Serpi, on the other hand, was so enchanted by their day’s adventure, that much to Ramo’s horror, she was already planning their next outing.
“Never again,” Ramo sighed dramatically. “We stepped out to pick up two things for mom and look at the day we had.”
“Exactly!” Serpi elbowed him cheerfully. “It was incredible.”
“Not the word I would use, but fine,” Ramo grumbled in response. “No more adventures for a while, but you can come underground fishing with me every once in awhile. I think that could be fun.”
Serpi was so excited by this development that she stumbled on a loose stone and tripped, nearly falling over.
And just as the day had begun, Ramo rescued his baby sister from landing face first into a stretch of red kelp.