Seashells: Part Six
There was a small cove near the back of the garden, where the seaweed was so thick that it made a grass over the sea floor. It was real seaweed, too, not stone disguised as the rest of the garden was, and the flowers that surrounded the cove were real, too. It was dark there, though, not bright and supposedly sunny like the rest of the place, which seemed to be a cruel compromise.
Within this cove, there was one neopet who planted flowers along the edge of the grass. The five adventurers did not know it, but these flowers always died as soon as the last one was planted, so that the neopet was constantly re-planting the same things over and over again. And yet, despite this awful fate, the neopet quietly sang to herself as she worked, as she always did; the five adventurers did not know it, but that neopet was Samara’s mother.
Back in the main part of the garden, Samara and her companions were not having much luck in their search. Since no one was giving them any trouble for being there, they had taken to asking the neopets they saw for help, but as of yet, no one would answer them. They had also realized after swimming into the garden a bit that the wing was much bigger than they had originally thought, which did not help matters, either. They had decided that there was no other option but to split up to cover more ground, so all five of them had gone separate ways.
Samara swam through the garden, staying low to the ground and trying her best not to hit any of the stone fixtures that appeared to be full of life, though she did get a few scraped on her stomach from the swimming so close to the stone paths. She ignored this pain, however, and focused on trying to find her mother. She swam aimlessly for awhile, running into both Ulalume and Calixta as she went, finding that they had no new information to give her, and then continuing on. It was on her third journey through parts of the garden that she first caught a glimpse of the cove, and her immediate reaction was to ignore it; surely there was nothing there. However, after another useless swim around the trees and coral, she spotted it again, and decided to check it out.
It wasn’t until she was rather close that Samara even realized there was something in the cove. It was so dark and hidden that she was fully expecting to find nothing there, and so when she did see a shadow moving within it, she was quite surprised.
She moved towards the cove carefully, afraid that some monster or the like might be hiding in the darkness. As her fins first touched the soft seaweed, however, she faintly heard the creature of the cove singing, a song she remembered from her dreams. She swam completely into the small cove until she could make out the form of the neopet, and she saw with shock that it was an Ixi, floating low against the ground planting flowers.
Hareth watched the shadow that paced back and forth behind the window of Rantu’s personal quarters. He was nervous now, wondering if Jonas had tipping him off to their sneaking about, or if someone else had seen them on their way. He had no idea where everyone else had gone, but he had a very bad feeling that they would need to escape, and soon. He tried to search for any Ixis he could find, but he kept a firm glance on the pacing shadow in the window, his heart beat rising.
Ulalume, too, had noticed the figure in Rantu’s quarters, and, since her sister wasn’t there to tell her it was a bad idea, she had decided to take measures into her own hands, and had begun setting each of the prisoners free as she passed them. Luckily for her, it was a single key that opened all of the shackles, and as she set each neopet free they smiled at her, looking slightly dazed and very tired, but grateful nonetheless; a few of them even said their thanks, though their voices sounded as though they hadn’t been used for years, which was probably the truth.
“What are you doing?” Ulalume turned away from a lupe she had just set free with bated breath, only to see Darren in front of her.
“You scared me,” she scolded him, smiling to the lupe and moving onto to the next victim.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to. But why are you releasing everyone?”
“Look over there,” Ulalume said, pointing to the shadow. “Something is going on, and I figure that these pets don’t deserve to be in here anyways. If I can set them free before he comes out here, maybe they will have a chance to escape and go home.” Darren stared at Rantu’s window for a bit and then nodded.
“Good idea. I’m going to find to Hareth and let him know what is going on. You keep doing this, and try to find Calixta and Samara.” Ulalume nodded, and they both glanced once more at the window before separating again.
“Mother?” Samara came to a rest on the seaweed, watching the woman in front of her. The older Ixi froze for a moment, and then slowly turned her head to look at Samara, an expression of dull hope in her eyes, an expression that quickly vanished as she saw who it was that had called to her.
“Who are you?” she said quietly, and Samara smiled, hoping a spark of recognition would light up her mother’s worn face.
“It’s me, it’s Samara,” she said, and the Ixi stared at her for a moment before shaking her head.
“You’re not my daughter,” she sighed, turning back to her gardening. “You can’t be.”
“What?” Samara stared at her mother in shock, extremely hurt that she wasn’t recognized. She had, of course, forgotten that she was not in her normal fur, and it wasn’t until she flipped her tail in frustration that she recalled the detail. Her eyes widened, and she carefully pulled the necklace she had hidden in her fur out again. “I used this to become Maraquan,” she tried, holding the shell out. The older Ixi turned back to her again, looking at the shell. She seemed rather uninterested in it, but then after a moment her own eyes grew wide, and she reached for the necklace. Samara thought that she had realized what the shell was, but to her surprise, it was the other shell that he took into her paws, and it was that shell that caused her face to light up.
“Samara!” she exclaimed, and Samara smiled happily as mother and daughter embraced.
Calixta had found Hareth and Darren as she was swimming about, and now the three of them were desperately trying to find Samara while Ulalume continued unchaining the prisoners, a task that she was almost done with. They had circled the garden three times now with no luck, and while they continued to watch Rantu’s shadow, they grew more nervous by the second at their lack of a certain Ixi.
“I have no idea where she could be,” Calixta sighed, resting on an uncomfortable piece of fake seaweed. “We’ve looked everywhere. Maybe she left?”
“To go where?” Hareth questioned, sighing himself. “No, she has to still be in here, we just don’t know where, yet.”
“I’m done,” Ulalume called then, swimming over to them. “That’s all of them. Still no sign of Samara?”
“Nope,” Darren said, shaking his head. “And we’ve checked everywhere.” A sudden noise in Rantu’s quarters made them all jump, and it reminded them of their dire situation.
“What are we going to do?” Calixta cried, burying her head in her hands. “If he finds us... well, I don’t even want to think about that.” They all sighed, worrying about their situation while totally oblivious to the fact that all of the prisoners were forming a group in the center of the garden, and totally oblivious to the small cove that was only a few feet away from them. In fact, it wasn’t until Ulalume resigned herself to sitting with her head in her sister's lap that she noticed the dark corner of the garden, and it was only after staring at it for a while that she sat up and looked hard at it.
“Have you looked there yet?” she asked her sister, and Calixta shook her head.
“But why are you in here? Why aren’t you in the main garden with the rest of the prisoners?” Samara asked as her mother explained what had happened to her those many years ago.
“All of the ‘rebels’, as he called us,” her mother told her, “were sent here, to work in his personal wing. He wanted to be close to us so we couldn’t try to escape, and most preferred the option anyways, since the alternative was being in dark cells at all times. So, we all came here, to work in his fake garden. Rantu always wanted a garden, he had said, but since we were prisoners, he decided to make the garden completely out of stone. That way, we would still be miserable, he would have his garden, and we would always be close by so he could keep watch over us. However, I refused. I was the only one, too; everyone was either tired of fighting or thought the work sounded easy enough as it was, but I refused. So, he gave me real seaweed and real plants to work with, and reluctantly I agreed. Of course, he couldn’t make it that simple, so in exchange for my real atmosphere, I got my light taken away, and I am now in perpetual darkness.” She smiled a withered smile and stroked Samara’s fur, and Samara saw that she, too, had given up on the fight.
“You won’t be here for much longer,” Samara said, that determined look back in her eyes. “I’ve come to rescue you.”
“So you told me,” her mother said, “but I fear that won’t happen. You should leave and escape before he finds you. Go home, Samara. I am chained here, I can’t leave; I don’t want you to be stuck here with me.”
“Samara!” Samara turned to see her four friends swimming into the cove, and she smiled hugely as Calixta embraced her. “We were wondering where you had gone.”
“I found my mother,” she told them, and Ulalume wasted no time unshackling the older Ixi.
“We don’t have much time,” Hareth explained as Samara gave their hasty actions questionable looks. “We think Rantu might know that something is up. We have to get out of here, and fast.” Samara nodded, her heart beat suddenly racing as she took her slightly confused mother by the arm and headed out towards the main garden again. They headed out, and Samara and her mother were the only two who saw what was waiting for them. The other four had their gazes set on Rantu’s window, a window that was now empty.
“Where did he go?” Ulalume asked quietly, her eyes big with fright.
“I don’t think you want to know,” Samara’s mother answered, and soon all gazes were pulled to look straight ahead, at the massive Grarrl that was Rantu.
“Senti, so nice to see you in the sun,” the Grarrl snarled with a grotesque smile. He swam towards the group, his stomach nearly scraping across the ground as he did, and Samara couldn’t help but note that he was so big that even though she was born to swim, he sank right to the bottom.
“Leave my mother alone,” she growled, and she too swam forward, though her mother tried to hold her back. The Grarrl laughed at her, and Samara tried to stare him down, though her gaze was soon drawn to what was happening behind him. The prisoners, all of which were no longer in shackles, were creeping up behind the Grarrl, chains in hand. The others had seen this, too, apparently, for soon they were all calling out to Rantu, egging him on.
“You think you can take us on?” Ulalume yelled in a fierce voice.
“You’re a little outnumbered, I’m afraid.” Hareth smiled.
“Outnumbered? You don’t think I can handle five kids and an old Ixi?”
“Oh, we weren’t talking about just us,” Darren said with a smirk, and Rantu narrowed his eyes.
“What are you talking about?” he asked suspiciously, and Hareth nodded his head in the direction of the prisoners. Rantu swung his body around, only to see around twenty neopets standing around him, shackles in hand.
“Go!” one of them yelled, and all of the prisoners leapt forward, throwing the chains around Rantu and chaining him to a nearby tree.
Samara gave her four new friends big hugs before she and her mother, along with eleven other neopets, began their journey back to the surface. The rest of the freed prisoners had decided to stay in Maraqua, since they had become rather used to their Maraquan forms, and a couple of them even had plans to take over Rantu’s position in the prison, since once the councils of Maraqua discovered how the neopets there had been treated, his job would no longer be his.
The neopets did that long to go home, however, went with Samara, since she had the only remaining shell that would transform them back. It was a long journey back towards the sun, and along the way Senti talked with the others, discussing how after they got their lives back in order they would meet up to re-form their group. Samara found it incredible to see how much faith they still had in the place that had kept them as prisoners for so many years, but it made her happy to see that they still believed that good could be done. She happily listened as they made plans, and by the time they finally did reach the surface, it was once again night time.
Senti took the golden shell off of Samara’s necklace and then strung the necklace back around her daughter’s neck, kissing the top of her head as she did.
“I’m so glad you kept that shell,” she told her, and Samara smiled as her mother put the magical shell up against her heart. “You know what to do, Samara,” she said, and Samara nodded, waving goodbye to everyone else before closing her eyes and wishing to be back to her normal self; she fainting felt the blast before she drifted into sleep again.
When Samara awoke, she was in her own bed. She was on land, she was dry, and she was once more island. For a moment she lay in silence, wondering if it had all been a dream, until she sighed in resignation and tears began to well up in her eyes at the thought of not actually having her mother back.
“Don’t cry, my child,” Senti said from the doorway, and Samara gasped, jumping out of bed and running to her mother, standing on two legs to hug her.
“I thought it was a dream,” she whispered, and Senti held her close.
“Not a dream,” she said softly. “You did a wonderful thing back there. Dangerous, but wonderful. Just the way I raised you.” Samara laughed quietly at that, and then she pulled away from her mother.
“Do you think I will ever see Maraqua again?” she asked, and Senti took her back to her bed, settling her in once more.
“If you want to, then there is always a way.” She smiled, and Samara nodded as she began to drift back to sleep.
“Just make sure I never go shell collecting by myself again, okay?” she asked just before her eyes closed, and Senti gave her a confused expression, though she did not see it.
“Whatever you say, my dear,” she said as she wrapped the covers around her daughter. “Whatever you say.”