The Return of Captain Scarblade
Isca glided along the dark blue rocks of underwater Maraqua. Bubbles wobbled like little jellyfish as they rose. Dark seaweed swayed in the paths ahead of her. A school of silver fish darted from boulder to boulder, flashing their glittering scales. Above the Aisha’s head, there was nothing but shimmering light, the world above. Isca loved the tranquility of this place. It was quite some distance away from the City of Maraqua, but the calmness made Isca feel at ease. She breathed deeply, and continued on. She carried a bucket of multi-colored shells in her hand, and was determined on finding more to add to her collection.
She came across a Purple Scallop Shell tangled in a snarl of sea plants, and carefully picked it up, examining it. As she was busying herself with this task, she did not notice the figure approaching her.
Satisfied with the shell, she put it in her bucket and twirled around, only to face another Maraquan Aisha, glaring at her with hard, cold eyes.
“Caylis!” she shrieked in surprise. She almost dropped her bucket of shells in astonishment. “Caylis, you came back!”
“Do not be hopeful, sister,” said Caylis, absentmindedly twirling a strand of seaweed around her hand. Her face looked more pinched and angry than Isca remembered. “I have only come because I needed to.”
Isca’s face fell. “Sister, please-”
Caylis shook her head. “I prefer to live alone. I do not want the past to repeat itself.”
“Oh, but, sister, don’t you see? It wasn’t your fault! No one understood, before...” Her voice trailed off. “Oh, Caylis, what did you see?”
Caylis’s fierce eyes did not look up. “Terror will disrupt New Maraqua. Everything will change. Rebel Neopets will attack, sister, and they will outnumber the Maraquan Warriors greatly. I believe New Maraqua will be lost forever; this time, it will not be able to be restored.”
Isca was silent for quite some time. She knew Caylis was right. Her horrifying nightmares showed unstoppable pain and disaster and suffering. Would this truly be the end of New Maraqua?
Isca would not let her precious city be destroyed. “We need to warn King Kelpbeard,” she said.
Caylis shook her head. “No!” she cried. “He will not listen. He never listens.” Her eyes were glittering with ferocity, but Isca understood.
“He’s changed, Caylis,” she insisted. “He’s changed since...” Her voice trailed away, and she dared not to think about when Maraqua was destroyed and the people dispersed out of great fear. Of course, if King Kelpbeard had not interfered and disturbed the evil pirates, the original Maraqua would still be standing, the people still thriving. But then again, if he hadn’t, New Maraqua might have suffered, too. Captain Scarblade still attempted to destroy New Maraqua, but King Kelpbeard had strengthened his armies.
“Please, Caylis,” begged Isca. “He’ll believe you. I know he will.”
“How?” snapped Caylis. “How can you possibly know that?”
“Because he won’t want to risk it anymore,” said Isca softly. “He’ll do anything he can to protect New Maraqua from suffering the same fate as the original Maraqua.”
Caylis looked away for a moment. It seemed a long while before she halfheartedly nodded. “Fine,” she replied. “But it’s only for the good of Maraqua.”
Isca smiled. “Thank you, Caylis!” she cried.
The two Aishas glided through the water, toward the castle where King Kelpbeard and Isca resided. Caylis seemed nervous, but her face was so pinched and angry that Isca couldn’t be positive that was how she was feeling.
The guards immediately let them pass, and they seemed overjoyed at the sight of Caylis.
“I’m not staying,” she muttered under her breath, but so inaudibly that they did not hear.
“Is King Kelpbeard here?” said Isca to the servant.
“Yes, yes, Isca, he’s in the library,” squeaked the little Acara.
Isca led Caylis to the library, where King Kelpbeard was sitting in one of the chairs, not reading, but mumbling to himself about one thing or another. When he saw Isca, however, the Koi smiled softly.
“Isca,” he said, but he gasped when he saw Caylis. “Caylis, you came back!” he shouted gleefully.
“No, I haven’t,” she said stubbornly.
“Oh.” His face fell. “Well, what brings you to Maraqua, then?”
“A nightmare,” she said darkly.
For a moment, there was silence, as though Caylis was waiting to see if he believed her or not.
“Well, go on, go on!” he encouraged, standing up.
“Maraqua is in grave danger,” continued Caylis. “Rebels will attack, and they will outnumber your forces.”
King Kelpbeard was silent, then he called for the servant.
“Yes, sir?” she said breathlessly.
“I need you to alert the General,” said King Kelpbeard. “Tell him his forces are to keep a ’round the clock watch on the outskirts of the city for rebels. No one is to leave Maraqua for the next week or so. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” said the Acara again, and she raced out of the room.
When Isca looked at Caylis, an astounded look was painted across her face. “You believe me?” she said skeptically.
“Of course!” bellowed King Kelpbeard. “Ever since... you know, I’ve believed you. That’s why I invited you back.”
“Oh,” said Caylis softly, and she looked away.
“Please, stay,” said King Kelpbeard. “Even if it’s just until this danger is all cleared.”
“My nightmares are visions of unstoppable threats,” said Caylis matter-of-factly. “There is no point in my staying.”
Isca’s heart sank. She had always hoped her sister would come back, but it did not seem likely, especially now. She would not even stay for a few days, and Isca didn’t understand.
King Kelpbeard knew there was no use in arguing with Caylis. “Very well,” he said gloomily. “If you must.” He gestured to the door. “We’ll miss you. Thank you... for informing us of your dream.”
And without another word, Caylis departed.
* * *
“Isca, have you seen anything?” asked the Maraquan Gelert.
Isca smiled and nodded. “You will most definitely thrive here,” she said. “Your new shop will do well.”
“Oh, thank you!” shouted the Gelert happily, and swam away, leaving bubbles in her trail.
Isca sighed. She was always very proud when a fellow Maraquan experienced good news from her future-seeing dreams, but today, she was just worried, for the kingdom, and for Caylis. She didn’t know where her sister lived, if anywhere. She always said she did better on her own. Isca didn’t think that was true, for anyone.
The military hadn’t found any trace of rebels. Perhaps they were already living among them? Or were they on the side of Captain Scarblade? Isca believed her sister whenever she informed her of a nightmare. But this one... Isca just couldn’t comprehend. Caylis wasn’t lying, was she?
“Isca?” said a voice. “Isca?”
“Wha...?” Isca looked up and saw a Maraquan Kougra standing in front of her. “Oh, yes... can I help you?”
“I already asked you my question,” said the Kougra with a puzzled stare.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Isca blushed. “I guess my mind was elsewhere.”
“I asked if you could see anything about my sick cousin,” said the Kougra.
“Oh, yes!” Isca sat up straight. “I had a dream about it last night. She will be fine. She will be well again in a few days’ time.”
The Kougra’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, Isca!” she said, and whirled around, happily swimming away.
Isca sighed again. She couldn’t focus. Had her dream been about the Kougra’s sick cousin, or the Peophin’s?
Distracted, Isca stood up, and wandered around the city. Absentmindedly, she walked into Kelp.
“Hello, Madam,” said the Scorchio. “Do you have a reservation?”
“No... no. It’s me, Isca,” she said.
“Ah,” said the Scorchio. “Welcome, Miss Isca. You will be seated momentarily.”
As Isca sat down, she realized she wasn’t the least bit hungry. She pushed the menu aside and stared out the window. From this view, she looked out into a snarled forest of seaweed. The swaying plants danced in the current, and schools of tropical fish flew by, leaving bubbles in their trail. A flash of purple suddenly caught her eye. Something was caught between the tangled seaweed leaves. A tail waved back and forth as the creature struggled. Isca leaned out the window.
“Miss Isca, are you ready to order?” asked the waitress.
“Oh.” Isca leaned back and quickly surveyed the menu. “I’ll have the Angel Hair Salad,” she said.
“Coming right up!” The waitress scuttled away.
Isca looked back out the window. The purple thing was still there, swaying with effort. Isca wondered what it could be...
Isca trembled with... excitement, was it? Or fear? She clumsily dumped some Neopoints on the table, and darted out of the restaurant.
She swam as fast as her fins would let her. “Caylis?” she called when she approached the forest. “Caylis, is that you?”
“Huh?” said a voice vaguely.
“Caylis, it’s me, Isca!” she said. “Are you stuck?”
“Oh,” Caylis looked down, refusing to make eye contact with her sister. “Yes.”
Isca reached in and tried to untangle the seaweed. “How did you get into this?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I was just swimming past, and my tail got stuck. I reached to untangle it, but, before I knew it, my whole body was caught!” Her voice suddenly softened. “Isca, I have to--”
Suddenly, a laugh cut her off. It was booming and loud and menacing. Isca stopped working and looked up. Breaking the surface of the water was a huge hulk of brown; a ship, floating directly above them.
“Captain Scarblade!” shrieked Isca. “Caylis... we’ve got to warn King Kelpbeard...” She worked again with the labyrinth, but her fingers were shaking with so much fear, that it only made it worse.
Caylis did not speak; she only looked up at the surface in silence.
Suddenly, there was a horrible noise, like a machine, whirring. Rocks and pebbles rattled and the water swished around them, tossing them like a tsunami.
Something was emerging from the sand and mud beneath them, slowly appearing. It was a net; large and strong, and it was getting higher and higher, trapping them.
“Isca, you’ve got to get out of here!” yelled Caylis, her eyes wide. “Just go, I’ll find a way out of this.”
“I’m not leaving you!” barked Isca, and continued tugging and yanking at the leaves, but they were so slippery that they slid right out of her hands. As the net came out from underneath the plants and slowly went farther up, it ripped up some of the stems, slowly freeing Caylis.
Caylis looked around. “It’s getting too high. You need to leave.”
Isca did not reply. She tried to rip the mesh net and create a hole, but it was too strong. “Help!” she cried. “Help us!” But no one heard her.
“Isca,” Caylis abruptly reached out and touched her shoulder. “I need to tell you something.”
“What?” she gasped.
“I made the nightmare up. Nothing is going to harm Maraqua.”
“Captain Scarblade is!” yelped Isca. “Caylis, we need to--”
“You’re not mad?” said Caylis. She looked thunderstruck.
Isca smiled. “No,” she said briskly. “I’m not.”
“I made it up because... I still didn’t think I had King Kelpbeard’s trust. I just wanted to know if he’d believe me, and he did, and now everything’s wrong!” Her eyes welled with tears. “I didn’t mean for it to go this far, Isca.”
But now Isca was the one taken aback. Her sister was crying? “Don’t worry,” she said gently. “We’ll fix this.”
By this time, the net had completely surrounded them, and they were helplessly trapped. The net began to rise out of the water, and Isca bravely swam to the surface.
“What are you doing?” yelled Caylis, but Isca did not respond. She stayed a few inches under the water, unnoticed by Captain Scarblade.
“Now that I have Isca and Caylis,” laughed the evil Lupe to one of his crewmembers, “King Kelpbeard will gladly give up Maraqua to get them back.” He cackled loudly.
“Uh... boss,” said the crewmember, a Zafara, and pointed toward Isca.
Captain Scarblade looked down over the side of the boat. “Ah!” he said, and leaned closer, drawing his lips back in a snarl. “Maraqua was nearly lost once before,” he said. “But now that I have experience, I will not lose this time!” He reached down and slapped the water, and Isca winced. “And it’s all thanks to you!”
“You’ll never get away with it,” she growled, making sure she stayed under the water.
“Oh,” hissed Scarblade, “but I will.”
Angrily, Isca turned and smacked the water with her tail, hard. A shower of sea spray hit Scarblade in the face. She knew it would not help her escape, of course, but it was a funny sight, anyhow, a way to let out her fury. She swam back down to Caylis.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “He’s going to use us to capture New Maraqua.”
“The King has worked too hard to restore it,” said Caylis. “We can’t let him. We have to think of something.”
Isca was silent, pondering. The whirring of the rising net made her nervous, because soon they would be exposed to air. But she did not do anything to stop it.
Suddenly, a thought came into her head, and she smiled. “I have an idea...”
* * *
Isca swam near to the surface a second time. “Captain Scarblade,” she said gloomily, “You have won. The kingdom of Maraqua shall be yours. And you shall gain possession of the Treasure of Maraqua.”
“What?” said Captain Scarblade. “What is that? I’ve never heard of the Treasure of Maraqua.”
“It is a box,” said Isca. “full of wonderful riches and jewels. To you surface-dwellers it looks like just an old, moldy, barnacle-encrusted rock, but it is disguised, charmed, to keep it safe from burglars.” Here, she paused, and noticed a glint of greed sparkle in Scarblade’s eyes. “And since you will overtake New Maraqua, you should have it, I should think.”
“Are you telling me the truth?” said Scarblade, leaning far over the boat. His nose almost touched the water.
“Of course!” snapped Isca. She hated to lie, but if she wished to save Maraqua, she had to. “Now, listen. If you wish to have this treasure, you are to free my sister Caylis and me and we shall fetch it for you. We will bring it back here, and you can start the battle over the city. I’m quite sure it will be yours in a heartbeat,” she added mischievously. “King Kelpbeard’s army is very weak, though of course, he will not admit it.” Isca paused to make sure he was listening. “Do we have a deal?”
Scarblade rubbed his hands together. “Yes, yes!” he yelped expectantly. “I shall free you immediately. Bring me the treasure as soon as you are released.”
“Gladly,” Isca smirked, and swam back down to her sister. “It’s working,” she whispered, and Caylis smiled, untangling the ripped seaweed leaves from her fins.
As the net was lowered back into the water, Isca and Caylis squeezed out immediately. They swam briskly to King Kelpbeard’s castle, and informed him of the misfortune of Scarblade’s returning. But they also told him of their scathing plan, and a grin crossed his face immediately.
“That was very witty of you,” he said. “I shall inform the General immediately. Now, you must fetch for him a rock that fits your description. Bring it back to him quickly, or he might get suspicious.”
Isca and Caylis agreed, and hurried out to find a rock. They found one almost as soon as they emerged from the castle--a big, bulky, gray thing covered in green seaweed and barnacles. It was very heavy, so they carried it together.
They swam toward the surface where Scarblade had the Zafara waiting in a lifeboat to immediately retrieve the prize. When he saw them approach, his eyes lit up just as the Captain’s had, and he reached into the water and snatched the rock from their hands. He handed it over to Scarblade, who examined it.
“Wait!” he shouted. “How do we get to the treasure...?!” But his voice was lost, fading away, as Isca and Caylis retreated.
And suddenly, a cannon blew.
He was attacking, just as Isca said he should do. A great, black ball tumbled into the water, sinking down, down, down, into the dismal, inky blackness of the sea. Bubbles burst from it, wobbling toward the surface.
This epidemic of cannons continued, shattering the calmness. None hit any buildings, however; the city was quite a distance from where his ship was, but it did cause panic, and people shouted and screamed, and their voices were drowned out from the cannon blasts. The huge things disturbed and made murky sand rise, painting everything a gloomy gray.
Abruptly, however, there was a swishing, bubbling sound, and the strong Maraquan army burst through, drawing weapons and shouting, cursing Scarblade and destroying his ship. He was greatly outnumbered by this “weak” army. Isca giggled and Caylis snickered.
After a great while of fighting, his face could be seen in the shimmering light of the surface, pinched and flustered with anger. “Never trust a Maraquan!” he screamed with a hard glare in Isca’s direction, and the rock they had given him came spiraling into the water with a tremendous splash.
“You win this time,” Scarblade yelled at the army, raising his fist. And, as wind rippled the surface, his ship could be seen slowly drifting away. Maraquan Warriors continued throwing their weapons, however, in case he came back.
Isca turned and smiled at her sister. “We did it, Caylis!” she shouted joyously.
Caylis squeezed her hand. “No, you did.” She smiled softly.
“Well done.” King Kelpbeard pushed his way through the crowd of cheering citizens and Warriors, and beamed at the sisters. But then, he reached back and rubbed his neck anxiously. “But we still have to watch out for those rebels.” He sighed.
Caylis opened her mouth to confess, but Isca flashed her a smile. “Actually,” she said, turning to face the King. “The rebels turned out to be part of Scarblade’s crew. There’s nothing to worry about now.”
King Kelpbeard looked at Caylis, puzzled. “But your nightmares--”
Caylis smiled and held up her hand. “You don’t need to worry about anything,” she insisted. “It’s all fine now.”
King Kelpbeard grinned again, and turned away. “Thank you,” Caylis mouthed to Isca.
Isca could only smile.
* * *
King Kelpbeard treated them to a celebratory meal at Kelp. To Isca’s surprise and delight, her sister actually accepted the offer. After the fine dinner, Isca looked at her sister with a strong stare.
“You are staying, right?” she asked.
Caylis smiled gently and shook her head.
“But why?” asked Isca despondently. Her heart sank.
“I’m much better off on my own,” said Caylis.
“Oh, but Caylis, this city needs you.” Isca felt tears well in her eyes. “I need you. You’re my sister.”
Caylis looked away. “It’s hard for you to understand,” she said. “But it’s better for both of us this way.” She squeezed Isca’s hand again. “Goodbye, sister.” And she turned, swimming gracefully toward the outskirts of Maraqua, where she would wander... all her life... alone.
But Isca managed a smile as she turned in the opposite direction.
I guess some things never change, she thought.