A Breath of Fresh Air
Tiburon still remembered the whispers, the stares, and the hatred that had followed him after the accident. It's rather difficult to miss a nearly six-foot tall Darigan Hissi in a crowd, and his newly-found notoriety seemed to make him the focus of attention in the halls of the great Mage Academy. Rumors trailed after him, persistent as his shadow.
“Watch out, friends; here comes the great immortal mage Tiburon,” he was taunted. “Behold, the experimenter! Mayhap he can tell us where our children have gone. Tiburon, Tiburon!” His head spun with the memories, and he dropped to the ground in the middle of a marketplace in Altador.
“No, begone, I beg of you,” he cried, scrabbling at the air. The same thoughts had tormented him for weeks, ever since he had been thrown out of Mountainhall, the castle of the Mage Academy, and left to wander the mountains in his eternal guilt. Somehow, he had found his way west to Altador, the ancient city of heroes, and was like to go mad there amidst the choke-hold of memories.
“Oi,” shouted a gruff voice, “you alright there, mate?” Tiburon whipped his head about wildly, but he was wandering the corridors of Mountainhall in his mind, and the concerns of the present were quite lost on him.
“He's mad, Mommy!” cried the voice of a young child. “We're going home!” snapped his mother, who grabbed his wrist and dragged him off. Tiburon was aware that a small crowd had surrounded his huddled form as he wept for specters of the past, but was too far gone to care.
“Sorry about this,” said the gruff voice regretfully, and Tiburon felt something heavy smash into the side of his skull before everything went dark and he spiraled off into oblivion.
The blissful darkness lasted only a short time, however, and he found himself blinking into wakefulness. Observing his surroundings as closely as he could through his still-blurry vision, Tiburon determined that he was in some sort of inn room, lying on a cot. His mouth was dry, and as he struggled to sit up, he realized that the side of his head was throbbing painfully.
“Where...?” he rasped, trying to form the words, and a large clawed hand entered his vision and pushed him back down onto the bed.
“Sorry about that,” said the gruff voice ruefully, “but you were causing a bit of a scene out there.” Tiburon blinked and the features of a stocky Darigan Bori swam into view. “Brought you to the Crazy Techo, an inn popular with the Altador Cup fans, I guess. Not a bad place to stay at if you're recovering from wounds.” The Bori flexed his bicep at Tiburon, and through a haze of pain, a huge gash was visible across the Bori's arm.
“Nice, innit?” He grinned. “Got that off a mad pirate captain a few weeks ago when I wouldn't work for him. Nah, I brought him to justice instead. We'll see how many Neopets will work for him in a cell in Neopia Central.” Tiburon gaped at him, and struggled to sit up again. “Oh, sorry, you'll be hurtin' for a little bit. Had to knock you out, but don't worry, I just used the hilt.” He fingered a long, wide dagger at his belt.
“Who... are... you?” Tiburon whispered, and the Bori handed him a flask of water. He took it with shaking fingers, and began to gulp it down greedily.
“Right then! I'm Schiden,” the Bori said cheerfully, and sketched a quick bow. “Y'might call me Shy, though, if you'd like. I'm a mercenary, though I won't sell my blades to just anybody. A certain pirate captain can tell y'that much.” He guffawed loudly, clapping Tiburon on the back, who sputtered and spit out half the flagon. “Sorry, mate. And who're you?”
Tiburon blinked, and slumped over. “I... am Tiburon,” he said slowly, “and until a few weeks ago, I was a Master Mage of the Academy, at Mountainhall.” Shy nodded sagely; clearly, the tough mercenary Bori had visited the Academy at some point. “Was?” he pressed the Hissi, and Tiburon sighed.
“Aye, was. A clever and powerful mage was Master Tiburon, and his research led him to the discovery of a great and terrible spell.” Tiburon stopped, and while it was clearly due to pain rather than dramatic pause, Shy thought the effect was rather good. He nodded while the Hissi continued his story.
“The whole Academy knew of Master Tiburon's studies, and the results of the experiment were eagerly awaited. That afternoon, when the sun was at its peak, he performed the spell. There was no sign it had worked or not, no dramatic flashes of light, no glow around the mage. But a short time later, a scream came from the dormitories.
“Every mage-talented child in the Academy had vanished. It was as though they had never existed. The Archmages of the Academy came personally to my workshop, and pronounced my sentence. I was to pay for my crimes, though I had not done it intentionally. Who does a spell knowing that hundreds of children might disappear?” He broke off bitterly, noting that Shy was watching him intently, a look of interest on his face.
“But the spell had worked. I could not die. So instead, I was banished from the doors of the Academy, and left to wander. I am no longer Master Tiburon, bright young hope of the Academy. Now I am a monster. And the great irony of it all is that I can never die. I must live in my guilt forever.” He stopped talking again, and took a great gulp of water.
Schiden pondered this revelation in silence, and Tiburon merely stared at the wall, unblinking. The Bori cleared his throat, and the Hissi slowly turned to face him.
“'Ey, Tib,” he said good-naturedly, and Tiburon raised an eyebrow at the short-name. “Have you ever seen the ocean?”
“No,” he said forlornly. “I lived in the Haunted Woods all my life, till I was brought to the Academy to train as a mage.” To his surprise, Schiden yanked on his arm, and he fell out of the bed onto the floor. “What was that for?”
Schiden kicked him lightly. “Come on then,” he crowed. “We're going to see the sea!” He chortled at his own joke and pulled Tiburon to his feet. The stocky mercenary was nearly a foot shorter than he was, but strong as a Grarrl. He led Tiburon out of the inn, through the streets of Altador, and up a hill.
“Nearly there!” said Schiden, and he gave Tiburon a hand up the slope. A small Ukali flew at them, and Tiburon felt happiness slowly blossom in his chest. The Ukali landed on his shoulder, and he patted it clumsily. “Hello, Thetaron,” he said to the Petpet, who chirped at him.
“Yours, I guess?” Schiden asked with a grin. “He flew off chirping when I dragged you to the inn. He must've followed you, the smart fellow. C'mon, just a little farther.” The Bori scrambled with surprising agility up the slope, and the taller Hissi was left panting in his wake. A short while later, Schiden reached the top, and watched Tiburon struggle upwards. Finally, though, Tiburon was able to unfold his wings and stretch the cramped muscles. With a little more effort, he flew upwards to join Schiden at the top.
“I don't see anything,” he muttered, and Schiden gave him a push. He spun around and nearly fell over. “What was that for... oh!”
Tiburon's mouth dropped, for the Neopian Ocean stretched out below, the vast blue area dwarfing the city of Altador, which stood nearly a mile below them. It seemed to go on forever, pushing beyond the edges of his vision, and Tiburon knew that this ocean was larger than anything he had ever seen in his life. Dropping to his knees, he stared at the great ocean, lost for words.
“See, Tib? You might've done some stuff in your life, but that's okay,” said Schiden, grinning broadly. “If you start feeling hopeless, just remember, Neopia is huge, with so many places yet undiscovered. The world's a whole lot bigger than one Hissi, even if he's a bit overgrown.” He punched Tiburon on the shoulder and laughed. To his great surprise, Tiburon found himself laughing as well. Schiden was right. Neopia was huge, and he had all the time in the world to explore it. And perhaps, he'd someday find all the missing children as well.