Tirra floated through the warm, crystal sea. Pure, white
light from the glorious sun was gleaming from above, sending ripples of light
dancing across her body. She glided through the waters' cradle, following the
waves and the pull of the tide as they led her to she knew not what.
She saw in front of her strange things, apparitions
and shadows that appeared and disappeared again as swiftly as they had come.
Two Flotsam swam around each other, their sleek forms leaving twisting, curling,
intricate designs full of spirals and curls in their wake that gradually dispersed
and melted into the bright water. A giant Koi that could have fit comfortably
into their dining room yawned lazily as he drifted past her, letting out a thread
of glittering bubbles. A Jetsam's face leered at her suddenly, mouth agape,
showing sharp white teeth like jagged rocks. And then, last and most wondrous
of all, a blue Peophin, with blue-green mane and a long golden horn sprouting
from her face mask. She turned her long, elegant face to Tirra and then--
Tirra gasped and sat up straight. She was in
her room, on her bed of sea grass. It had all been a dream.
But such a wonderful dream, Tirra pondered as
she rolled over in the soft vegetation, feeling the supple blades dance with
her movement and then settle around her again, cradling her. It had all been
so real…it had been like actually being there. What could it mean? The Flotsams
with their swimming formations…the enormous Koi…the ferocious Jetsam…and last
of all, that blue, horned Peophin with such wise, kindly eyes…
"Harquin," Tirra breathed, softly, wonderingly.
For she like so many others knew the story of the lone Peophin, how Venuquin
had created her for the purpose of having at least one Peophin that was forever
free, and of how shy and elusive she was. Her mother had told her of the mysterious
figure when she was a podling, and she had longed then, with all her heart,
to see the Lady of Solitude for herself. But Harquin, like so many other creatures
of legend that she had listened to tales of in early age with wonder and eagerness,
had been buried under the greater excitement of growing up.
Now it seemed she had been uncovered again, and
Tirra realized that even though now she was halfway through her adolescence,
she didn't think of Harquin as just a story, as she had for a short time before
she stopped thinking of her altogether. She thought of her as she had when she
was a podling, as a real, existing being.
Could Harquin be the answer to Kaoren's call?
"It is said she has lived for many, many years,"
she could recall her mother's voice saying, "and that she knows all the secrets
of the oceans, and holds all the wisdom of the seas, that were bestowed on her
by her mother and creator, Venuquin the Mother Of All Peophins."
The more Tirra thought about it, the more convinced
she became that to solve the mystery of Kaoren's deterioration, she must seek
out the horned Peophin. Her heart rose in her. An adventure, one that would
carry her far beyond the palace walls and indeed the city, farther than she
had ever been allowed to go in her own short life.
But her parents would never believe her. As the
youngest princess her plan, even if she told of her dream, would probably be
dismissed as a wishful fancy. Still…
It had to be worth a try at convincing them.
The galleon sailed through the sea, waves parting before its mighty bows in
a great misty haze of white froth. It was a fine day, with the wind whistling
merrily around the sides of the great ship, making its flags flutter merrily
and filling its sails so that they billowed out strongly. The captain, a cheerful
looking Blumaroo, whistled a happy tune at the tiller as the wind ran through
his blue fur and the salt spray stung his face. All was going well. They should
reach Roo Island by sunset if this lovely weather kept up, and such wonderful
things they had brought back from Mystery Island! Juicy, exotic fruits and fantastically
shaped, multicoloured flowers, gold pieces, hand made trinkets by the natives…King
Roo would be pleased.
The captain was jolted out of his reverie by
a warning cry from above.
"Jetsam ahoy!" The lookout was hanging from the
mast by his long, strong tail, pointing ahead. Alarmed, the captain dashed to
the bows and gazed out to sea through his telescope. Sure enough, the jagged
points of fins were showing above the white crests of the waves quite close
to their vessel. With sudden horror he recognized them, from stories told at
ports all over Neopia he had been to. That fin, leading them, with the black
skull-and-crossbones tattooed on it, and the serrated scar along the back of
Swiftly, barking out orders, the captain assembled
his crew and got them battle ready. Bows, slings, swords and spears were collected
from the armory and the crew of Blumaroos took their positions, to be prepared
if they managed to come aboard. The strongest slingers were sent to the prow
to try and deter the forthcoming Jetsam horde. Their stones splashed into the
water among the approaching fins, but did nothing to stop their arrival.
A thud sounded as something hard hit the side
of the boat. Then the blunt nose of a Pirate Jetsam thrust itself over the side
of the galleon. It was Spearblade, Scourge of the Oceans. Another Jetsam and
then another, male and female alike, all swinging dangerous looking cutlasses,
were beginning to climb over the side.
Instantly, the Blumaroos jumped into action.
Both parties were equally matched in fighting and numbers, and the battle looked
even until the Blumaroo captain, sending a Jetsam flying with a strong swipe
from his tail, lost his balance, tripped and fell onto the deck, hard, in front
of a young Jetsam.
The young Jetsam looked down at the fallen Blumaroo,
and slowly, reluctantly drew his cutlass, but as he raised it high over his
head he hesitated. That instant was all the Blumaroo needed. He surged up again,
dealing the young one a hefty blow with his strong tail that sent him hurtling
over the galleon's side.
Spearblade muttered something in frustration.
Then he turned back to his horde. "Retreat!"
The surprised Jetsams did as they were told,
and the Blumaroo galleon was left to go on its way in peace.
Spearblade glared down at the youngster before him. "Just what did you think
The Jetsam shifted his tail fins uncomfortably.
"I… couldn't do it," he mumbled.
"You couldn't!" Spearblade roared, losing his
temper completely at the words. "And just why not? I take you on your first
raid, only to have you totally mess up! The only Jetsam in the seven seas who
backs down at an opportunity, and he has to be my son! Dagger, what am I to
do with you? Ever since that Takur-Ath and his Flotsam exiled us from Kaoren,
this is the way life has to be! It's the only way we can get anything to eat
"If we hadn't been mistreating the Kaoren natives,"
Dagger spoke up boldly, "we wouldn't have been exiled."
"We weren't causing them any harm at all," his
father snarled back. "It was that fool, Saber, stalking around shouting threats.
He frightened the natives no end, and it was because of that they refused to
have anythin' t' do with us! All they did was scream when they saw us, until
Saber finally overstepped his boundaries, trying to attack that young Flotsam
from the pod that moved in. And what we got for that was exile!"
Dagger didn't say anything, and his father's
face softened slightly as he gazed at him. "We all have to live, Dagger. And
if there was another way to do it…but there isn't, and this is the way it has
Silently the elder Jetsam swam away, leaving
Dagger to himself. The young Jetsam gazed miserably at all the others of his
shoal. The young ones his age were engaging in some rough-and-tumble somewhere
further off. Briefly he considered the possibility of joining them, then let
it slip. He had never liked hurting things, even if they were all just having
fun. It was because of that that he had not learnt through play how to use his
teeth and tail in battle, much less his cutlass. He certainly wouldn't be able
to compare with them now.
Even though he knew his father loved him at
heart, Dagger knew he thought he was a disappointment; at times a frustration.
He had often longed to be respected by the rest of his shoal. But they were
all so accomplished, and adept at doing what was their only livelihood now -
raiding ships. He had had that opportunity, to seem a hero in their eyes. If
he had done the job he could have won them the ship, and all her cargo. But
it had been impossible. He couldn't bring himself to harm anything. Was there
any way to get around this?
The only chance for him was if the Flotsam royals
who had ousted his shoal from Kaoren when he had only been a very young pup
himself were by some chance to lift their laws and allow his shoal back in.
But with all that they had done in the past, plus their new reputation as Jetsam
raiders, what chance was there of that?
"Absolutely not," King Takur said firmly. "It's out of the question, Tirra."
"But I know that she holds the answer," Tirra
insisted. "I know it. And I have to find Harquin before Kaoren dies."
"Tirra," Queen Io broke in gently, "those stories
about Harquin… that's all they are, dear. Just stories. As a half-grown Flotsam
you ought to understand that."
"I thought that, too. But I've seen her… I have.
And I know that she exists, and that she knows how to save Kaoren. Please Mother,
Father. What other hope do we have?"
The Flotsam monarchs exchanged glances. Both
of them thought the idea was preposterous. Imagine seeking out a mythical being
as the remedy to their city's obvious disease, just because of some dream of
their daughter's. It was too absurd. But at that moment some unseen current
seemed to pass between them, and they seemed to weaken a little. There were
no other plans. Like as not Kaoren would crumble and fall, no more than a remnant
of the once-shining city it had been.
"There are no alternatives other than to sit
here and let Kaoren perish, or leave the city altogether," King Takur said softly.
"We certainly can't tell what's wrong, and neither could the council last night.
It was like we all couldn't decide on a course of action. I think that perhaps
we should let Tirra undertake this journey."
"But Tirra's so young," the Queen murmured to
her mate. "She could get hurt, or…worse. It's that thought I can't stand."
"We'll make her take someone with her," King
Takur replied, patting Queen Io's fin comfortingly. Turning to his daughter,
"We've decided you will be allowed to go, as
long as you go with someone. Who will it be?"
Tirra considered. "Cowrie," she said finally.
The Koi handmaiden, she knew that her parents knew, was loyal and true to the
end. She would make a valuable and pleasant traveling companion.
"Will do," the King responded. "When will you
"As soon as I pack provisions," Tirra responded.
"If I don't hurry, it may be too late."
"May Fyora go with you," the Queen whispered
as Tirra hurried from the throne room.
The entire city turned out to watch Tirra and Cowrie's departure. They were
all as thin and pale as ever, as if the colours had been washed out of them,
but they were all happy that something would be done about the situation.
Tirra smiled all about her as she waved her
fins and darted off, Cowrie following behind her.
The pair had not gone far when Tirra realized
that she had no idea where she was headed. "Oh Cowrie," she groaned, "I didn't
think that I have no idea where to start looking!"
The Koi placed a fin on her mistress's shoulder.
"It's alright, Princess. We'll figure it out.
Hmm…that dream you had…the one where you saw the Lady of Solitude… where were
you going? In which direction?"
Tirra's crestfallen face suddenly lifted. "Of
course, I was following the tide! I just let myself drift along with the tide…and
it got me to Harquin… oh, the other thing, there were signs along the way. They
could be route markers, to show us the way!"
"Now you've got it!" Cowrie clapped her fins.
"Let's hear them!"
"Let's see now… they're all in my head, as real
as if I had actually been there. There were…a couple of Flotsams, making curly,
twisty patterns in the water. Then there was a really, really big Koi, many
times your size! And the last one was… a Jetsam's head, with long sharp teeth.
And then I saw Harquin."
"That's a start," Cowrie grinned. "So we should
start by following the tides and looking for the three signs on the way."
"But what do the signs mean, I wonder? They
don't seem to make sense… do Koi really come that large? And how…"
"They won't make sense now, but I have an inkling
they will when we see them," the Koi told her placidly. "We'll just go where
the sea takes us, and let the rest just figure itself out."
To be continued...