The Legend of the Sea Spirit: Part One
Chapter I - Brightvale
Night time in Brightvale, and a pair of old familiars sit quietly together, content in the comfortable silence which had settled over the cells. The one, a weary Blumaroo dressed smartly in full Brightvale military regalia, rocks slowly on his chair, watching the torchlight flickering over his too-shiny boots resting upon the desk in front of him. The other, his prisoner, a hulking great Eyrie melancholy in his sparse jail, gazing blankly through his barred window into the darkness outside. They have been here before, the pair of them. Each bears the telltale signs of decades of warfare spent toiling in very different roles; the jailor is gaunt, with dark bags under tired eyes, memoirs of a life spent guarding difficult prisoners in dark dungeons. One of the most difficult sits across from him now, The Commandant, an old villain, notorious, terrifying and charismatic all at once. The jailor studies his old acquaintance now: he is as broad and powerful as ever, but his back is hollowed, his vast wings battered and his beak crooked from too many fights over too many years. Quite a pair, the jailor thinks, and emits a low chuckle as he wonders whether The Commandant will ever retire from his persistent misdemeanors given how regularly he seems to end up under his guard. The great Eyrie turns to glare at him then, and Sinbone thinks not somehow.
The jailor swings his boots from the desk and down to the ground, shuffles his paperwork around in an effort to look busy, then coughs loudly and stands, beginning his hourly patrol of the cells. The Commandant watches this performance with bemusement; there are only six cells and at present there is only one other prisoner confined with him. After a few minutes of scrutinizing the other inmate, a Krawk currently scarfing down his ration of bread and water, the jailor presents outside The Commandant's cell.
"So," he declares haughtily, "we meet again, old friend. What are you in for this time? War crimes? Plotting against the King? When will you learn, you old coot..."
He shakes his head in mock contempt and the Eyrie rolls his eyes. "None of the above, actually. I'm innocent, I assure you."
The jailor guffaws and reaches across his desk for the offender's report at the top of his neat stack of papers. He clears his throat and reads, "Perpetrator identified as alias The Commandant arrested at 0200 hours just outside Illusen's Glade, Meridell. Suspicious activity reported by witnesses. Noted to be observing for approximately 3.5 hours an open coffer filled with assorted valuables including neopoints and jewels. Perpetrator found with Maractite Throwing Net. Believed to be laying trap, would not disclose what for. Placed into custody at Brightvale Jail to await further questioning." The jailor pauses to peer curiously at the nonchalant Eyrie before concluding, "now that is bizarre even for you, old boy."
The Commandant sniffs and looks away with disinterest but the Blumaroo's curiosity has been piqued and he will not desist. He shuffles a little closer to the bars of the cell and murmurs, "So, come on then... Who were you after?"
The Eyrie turns his cold eyes upon the jailor and slowly, infuriatingly gazes at him, pondering silently on whether or not to trust his old nemesis with his thwarted plans. Sinbone is starting to think the old Eyrie has not heard him when suddenly he opens his beak and states, "Marrea."
There is a moment of bewildered quiet then the Blumaroo bursts into laughter, clutching his sides as he revels in the Commandant's madness. Finally he calms himself just enough to retort, "Marrea? The Sea Spirit? You really have lost your marbles haven't you, Commandant! She's just a legend, a myth, an old pirate's tale told to keep up the spirits of seafarers! And you were laying a trap to capture her in Meridell? Ha! You should have told that to the guards- they'd have been laughing so hard you'd have got away no trouble. Marrea! Whatever next..." With this he descends into another round of raucous mirth as The Commandant coolly regards him from behind the cell's bars. Eventually the jailor regains his composure and makes to go back to his desk when from across the corridor the prison's other occupant barks, "But she is real! I seen her meself once, over the sea. She were only small but you could see her from the docks on account of her glowing and making her song, 'Maaarreeea, maaarreeea.' No doubt about it, I seen the Sea Spirit alright. And all what is said about her is true I tells you, she comes and she brings good fortune where she goes!"
Sinbone snorts derisively and says, "That's very interesting, Grimtooth. And have the other criminals in your acquaintance seen this magical creature too, hm? Don't be ridiculous..."
The Krawk ignores the jailor and turns to The Commandant, imploring, "It's true, ain't it, Sir? You's is better with words than me. Tell him, will ye Sir? Tell him the story of where Marrea came from."
Sinbone opens his mouth to protest but quickly recognises this is futile as the Eyrie stands to deliver his tale and the Krawk sits comfortably to hear it. He sighs and leans upon his desk to hear again a story that he has been familiar with since he was a child. The story of Marrea the Sea Spirit, and how she rose from the deep and brought Luck to the ocean's people.
Chapter II - The Underocean and Shenkuu
She has existed since time immemorial, an entity not meant for this world, drifting silently in the deep beyond the deep, alone and unaware of civilization dawning in the world above. To liken her to anything a land-dweller might ever have seen before is nigh on impossible, but if pressed, one might say she took the form of an Usul, lithe and long, small and sleek. Yet she was so ethereal as to be almost without form, and her defining feature was not her shape but her colour, inky dark like the space she occupied but riddled all over with intricate, spiralling, wholly unnatural markings which glowed aquamarine as though imbued with some magic, making her a shining beacon in the smothering darkness of her deep sea, underocean home.
How sad it was then, that no one could see this beautiful creature, biding her time in blissful solitude at the bottom of the ocean, her origin and purpose a cosmic mystery still to be uncovered these countless years on. But her silent existence was not to last; our story really begins when the creature's home was cleaved in two and she was raised into the world of the living and breathing, quite without warning and with quite extraordinary consequences.
It was a time long before the Neopia that we recognise today; the land and sea were both singular parts of the planet, no kingdoms or cities, just one vast landmass occupied by a myriad of wandering tribes. All at once a cataclysmic earthquake drove a stake through the heart of the planet, rupturing Neopia from the crust to the core, tearing in two the land mass and shaking the very foundations of the ground and the sea to commence a process which formed the shape of the Neopia we stand upon this very moment! And who should be at the very epicentre of this but the Spirit, Marrea, her calm existence shattered as the sea burst into torrents, whirling and careering and dragging her with it despite her valiant efforts to fight against it. For weeks or months the sea raged and swept Marrea along in its irrepressible fury until, all at once, as quickly as the devastation had commenced all became still, and the Spirit was free.
The water felt different there; it was brighter and lighter, she felt she could barely hold her form together as though the very molecules which made her would drift apart. When she moved she flew, frighteningly fast without the pressure of the underocean slowing her. And all around there were others! Plants and fish and microscopic creatures, a myriad of life and colour like she had never experienced before. And she looked up and there was fire and light above her, the sun, and the world above the sea.
Marrea had been dragged from her world into ours, and she found herself in the channel between the lands we now call Shenkuu and Terror Mountain. It was many years after the earthquake before Marrea left the ocean. The presence of other creatures, no matter how small, overwhelmed her and she took her time becoming accustomed to the ocean's other inhabitants. She swam ghost-like among vast shoals of fish, drifted beside whales as though in a dream and walked the surface of the ocean without ever creating a single ripple. But the lure of the world beyond did not elude her for long and Marrea eventually took her first steps out of the sea and into the sky.
It was when she came into contact with other Neopets that the real gravity of Marrea's entrance into the world of the living became apparent. Born of magic in the depths of the ocean, her presence in any place brought with it a variety of curious effects and the people who'd seen her would swear she was a bearer of good luck. Where she went, fortune and joy followed for the Neopets whose lives she'd been part of, no matter how fleetingly. She never spoke, never made contact with any creatures. She was seen and noticed because of her other-worldly appearance and her unbridled curiosity toward the citizens of the early Neopia.
Perhaps the land where she made her mark most clearly was that which we now call Shenkuu; you see, before Marrea the remarkable city we now know was but a struggling village, a group of traders and farmers working their paws to the bone every day on barren land in hostile surroundings. It was a shepherd who saw her first, a young Kyrii tending his sickly flock of Babaa. She came at twilight, flickering like a ghost as she glided noiselessly into the gathering of enthralled petpets. He watched in awe as the Spirit simply studied the creatures, the magic in her veins radiating so bright that it almost hurt his eyes to watch her. All at once she turned her aqua eyes upon him once and then quickly as she came she was gone, and as his Babaa continued to placidly graze at the sparse meadow the shepherd wondered if it had been an illusion.
But over the next few weeks the shepherd and his flock's fortune changed. The Babaa grew fat and the land around him flourished. The shepherd shared his vision in the village and others spoke of a similar dream and how their luck had altered too. One landowner discovered gold in his previously empty stream and after this, Marrea came more and more to the village and indulged in the elation she'd inadvertently created there.
She indulged too in the piles of treasure now mounting in the Shenkuu villagers' possession. Even now, no one can explain what draws Marrea to jewels and gold and all things opulent and glimmering, but it is a trait that has been observed again and again. And what harm is there in it? Marrea never touches, never takes; she simply looks.
Slowly, carefully, the Shenkuu as we know it came into being, allegedly as a result of the luck borne by Marrea. Over the years the village grew to a town, to a city, wealthy, powerful and beautiful. And Marrea would have remained only a tale told by Shenkuu's grandmothers to its grandchildren were it not for the prospering harbour which developed over the years and which drew in traders from across Neopia; traders talk, and it was not long before the Legend of the Sea Spirit was spread far and wide. Marrea was not to remain Shenkuu's secret for long.
Chapter III - Brightvale
Barely has the Eyrie finished regaling his small audience then the jailor blurts, "but that's just it Commandant! It's a legend. Fiction, fantasy, the product of some wild imagination. If there was an earthquake it was millions of years ago, who alive could remember that? How could the Spirit still exist now for that matter? Shenkuu became prosperous because of the gold there, not some Lucky Spirit! Really old boy, I thought better of you. At least your usual insane endeavours are based on hard facts." Again he shakes his head sadly, much to the vexation of both inmates.
The Commandant narrows his eyes and falls silent but the Krawk will not stand for it. He scrabbles to his feet and retorts, "Yer wrong! And I can prove it! Ye know Balthazar to be real, aye?"
Sinbone realises the prisoner is awaiting a response and he nods slowly, sensing another rambling anecdote coming on. The Eyrie recognises his dread and smirks gleefully.
Good, Grimtooth continues, "Then I'll tell ye a tale that I swear on my Pirate's Honour to be true. A tale that will prove to ye once and fer all that Marrea is real."
The jailor sighs and slopes around his desk to slump noisily into his chair. He can tell this is going to be a long night.
Chapter IV - Krawk Island
Any who knows pirates, knows that the tale of the Sea Spirit is a favourite among us. It's believed that Marrea has blessed our kind with good fortune and fer that reason us Krawk Islanders has always tried to keep her to ourselves. We learned o' her many moons ago, through them traders in Shenkuu and likewise, Marrea learned of us through the same parlance. And as ye'll know, where there's pirates, there's treasure... And treasure is something the Spirit is mighty fond of.
Just as she grew used ter life in Davy Jones' Locker, Marrea grew used ter the Shenkuu she'd helped create and eventually she moved on ter find us pirates she'd heard tell of in the docks. Like in Shenkuu, The Luck o' Marrea changed all our lives and the islanders became rich and fat on the treasures o' the high seas. And unlike in Shenkuu, we pirates are a secretive lot and we did not speak of our Spirit to anyone. In this way, the legend remained upon our shores and our shores only and Marrea was content to remain in the company o' pirates for years upon years as her fame faded throughout the rest o' Neopia.
But it were not to last. Yer see, there came upon a winter's noon a visitor to the Island so infamous, so feared that his very name sends a chill down the spine of those with even the darkest of hearts... Balthazar, the Bounty Hunter. Ye know him for his trade in bottled faeries, but on this particular occasion his prize was a different one. Some dastardly landlubber had let slip about our Marrea's unusual powers and that picaroon Balthazar sought to acquire these fer himself. Alas, some buccaneers are easily bought and he found the information he sought at Smuggler's Cove, all fer the price of an armful o' faeries.
I were but a lad at the time but I recall clear as day the Islanders trying to prevent the Bounty Hunter capturing our Sea Spirit. They laid traps, kept lookout the whole night long and scuppered many o' Balthazar's efforts but it couldn't last. Upon a stormy night he and his scallywags raided the wharf in great numbers, drew swords against the islanders and wore down our defenses. Then came a cry from one o' Balthazar's lackeys, Spirit ho! And chaos broke loose! All parties from both sides ran toward the alert but it were no use! Me father tells how the islanders still standing reached the docks just in time ter see that bilge rat dragging Marrea, struggling within some magic net, up the plank into his ship. Before they could reach her Balthazar had weighed anchor and they were gone, sailing away with Krawk Island's good fortune imprisoned in the clutches o' the Bounty Hunter.
Chapter V - Brightvale
"And ye will recall, jailor, that not all that long ago Krawk Island suffered the consequences o' losing the good fortune brought by the Sea Spirit. It were swallowed up whole by Davy Jones! Now tell me, sir, is that proof enough fer ye that Marrea is as real as you or I?" the Krawk concludes triumphantly.
Sinbone sighs deeply and rubs the bridge of his nose wearily. "No, Grimtooth, it is not. Yet again I must remind you that as a pirate, your word does not hold much sway with me, a man of the law. What happened to Krawk Island was a freak incident and not the loss of a good luck charm. Besides, if Marrea was what made the Island grow before then how is it that it has now been rebuilt, stronger than ever and with your Sea Spirit locked up goodness knows..."
"Because she is freed, Sinbone," The Commandant interrupts. The Krawk and Blumaroo fall silent and turn to the Eyrie, now looming alarmingly close to the bars of his cell. He continues, "And I know, because I freed her." He smiles the frightening smile of a madman, expressing not mirth but knowing, a smile which raises the hairs on the back of the jailor's neck and reminds him again why he sees The Commandant so often behind bars.
It's Grimtooth who pipes up first, "I knew it, sir! I knew Marrea must have played a part in Krawk Island being brung back! And you freed her sir, thank you."
Sinbone notes the Krawk's nauseating awe towards The Commandant and rolls his eyes, but Grimtooth is oblivious and continues, "Where did ye find her, sir? How did ye free her? We searched so long but could not find that scurvy dog Balthazar anywhere... Ye'll tell us won't ye, Commandant, sir?"
The jailor leans forward over his desk, ashamedly eager to hear the Eyrie's tale. He knows it is improper for an official to be so intrigued by the exploits of such a notorious villain but he cannot help himself; the Commandant's misadventures have always made for quite compulsive listening. Sinbone is not disappointed. The old Eyrie closes his eyes as he searches his vast archives of memories then nods once, opens his eyes and recounts the story of the last time that the Sea Spirit was ever seen by mortal eyes...
To be continued...