Beauty Hides in the Deep: Part Two
Part 2: The Reveal
As I wake up from our first night in the amazing underwater kingdom, I'm temporarily stunned by my surroundings. I had a dream about Brightvale, but we're no longer there. The gallion is still sleeping beside my bed on a nest of seaweed. Navi and Hex aren't stirring, either, so I swim into the city on my own to find something to eat. Whatever King Kelpbeard fed us yesterday was too rich for my humble stomach; I'd be content with a star fish sandwich. During my search for food I almost run into a guard patrol. The soldiers are all different species but they're led by a Draik who I can tell has fought his share of battles. I wait for them to pass, admiring their shining maractite armor, and have just started forward when a voice stops me.
"You're new here, aren't you?"
The voice belongs to a larger, bluer, male version of me. I take in the Uni's expectant smile first before realizing he's a soldier, probably one who just swam by. I guess he wouldn't be smiling if I were in trouble, so I nod. "I arrived yesterday with my sister. We're staying at the palace."
"Oh, you're a personal guest of the king? Forgive my rudeness." He lowers his head. "Lieutenant Kale at your service, milady."
I blush a little– no one has ever called me milady! "I'm Nenaeve... please call me Nene."
"Is there something I can help you find, Lady Nene?"
His strong voice sounds very official. "I hope so. I'm looking for a place to have breakfast."
Kale gives a hearty laugh. "You haven't experienced Maraqua if you haven't been to Kelp! I'll show you the way."
That was the manner in which I arrived at one of the most expensive restaurants in Neopia, certainly the most expensive eatery in the entire sea. When Kale informed the Scorchio maître d' that I was King Kelpbeard's special guest, I was seated right away and given a complimentary breakfast of fresh oysters and stramberry sausage with a blue and orange rambus blend to drink. I felt bad about eating for free and said so to Kale as he accompanied me back to the castle. "Should I have told them I'm not an honored citizen? That meal must have cost a few thousand neopoints..."
"Try just over fifty-six thousand neopoints," Kale chuckles, then laughs even harder as my eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. He reins it in but is still smirking. "You really weren't born here? Can't say I know any Unis who came from outside Maraqua."
I sigh. "I don't know, honestly. I've been living in Brightvale with Navi, my sister, for the past two years. I don't remember anything before then."
Kale contemplates this as we arrive at the castle gates and swim around to the east wing. "Nothing major has happened here since... well, since the battle against Scarblade."
"Did you fight against the pirates?"
"No, I was just a colt then. But I knew I wanted to be a charger when I got old enough to join the army. I was making rounds with my platoon this morning. You probably recognized Swordmaster Talek." I nod and we pause outside my room. Kale nervously rubs his hooves together. "I hope this isn't too bold, Lady Nene, but I'm deeply curious... Please tell me if there's any way I can help you find what you're looking for."
Before a word even leaves my mouth I'm interrupted by the door flying open and Navi glaring from the threshold. "Oh good, you're awake!" I say cheerfully.
"Were you honestly about to divulge the nature of our quest to this complete stranger?"
"He's not a complete stranger," I say, "his name is Lieutenant Kale of the Maraquan Army. Kale, this is my sister, Navi."
Her eyes scrutinize him for a tense moment before she snorts haughtily. "That is Navarakka Eorossa of Brightvale to you, sir. Our reason for being here is of no concern to the likes of you."
I stare at Navi as if I don't even recognize her. My sister has never used her words to hurt someone, and I can see that Kale now feels unworthy of being in our presence. "Did a Grarrl spit in your cereal this morning?" I finally say with an edge to my tone.
"I suppose I should return to my duties. Good day, ladies." Kale swims away before I can thank him for escorting me around and I shoot Navi a dagger-like gaze.
"What was that for?! He was nothing but courteous to me!"
"You were about to tell him we are searching for a library that easily outdates this entire kingdom! Do you believe there are no sorcerers in Maraqua who would love to get their fins on the tomes I have sworn to protect with my life?"
I shake my head incredulously. "You're being paranoid! I wasn't even going to mention the library. I was simply about to say 'we stopped here to rest on our journey to find something'. And when he asked what I would have said 'it's a secret'. You didn't need to degrade him!"
Navi returns to her usual calm self. "You are right... I suppose I overreacted when I heard him through the door. I did not sleep well last night after trying to decipher the scroll..."
"It's okay to ask for help once in a while, you know. That's what I did this morning instead of wandering around starving." Yet I know Navi is too prideful to admit she needs help solving a problem. She'd rather struggle through it on her own than let someone assist her. I guess that's why she won't discuss the scroll with me even though it's our only map to the archive. Our petpets hid during the outburst and Hex now cautiously approaches my sister while the gallion guiltily swims toward me. "You haven't done anything wrong, little one." The nuzzle I give him solicits a croaking sound.
"You should give it a name," Navi suggests while fastening her cape around her neck.
"What, like Spike?" I snicker but the gallion doesn't look amused. "Rex? Nah, that's too Tyrannian... How about Quinn?" My petpet reveals a toothy smile. "Alright, Quinn, you're now hopelessly entangled in this quest with us." After gathering our belongings we head to the throne room to thank King Kelpbeard for everything, but he has one last thing to give us, specifically me. It's a green cloak with a shell fastener and is surprisingly soft when I put it on. We thank him profusely before beginning day three of our journey.
Navi is convinced we should head further east. I'm beginning to doubt she knows anything about the map from King Hagan or we would have found the archive by now. But I don't say anything because it's not my place to solve her problems. In the early afternoon, however, we are stopped by a huge line of Peophin soldiers. I swim right up to one and ask, "What's going on here?"
"State your destination," he brusquely says, ignoring me.
I glance at Navi who after a moment answers, "Altador."
"What business do you have there?"
"Our business is none of your business," I can't help but blurt. These Peophins are blockading nearly half the sea! The soldier raises an eyebrow at my audacity and Navi quickly comes between us.
"We are traveling from Maraqua to Altador to procure a map, by order of King Kelpbeard." She flashes the maractite scroll and the soldier gasps.
"You have my sincerest apologies, emissaries. We set up this line to prevent travelers from going through the waters around Moltara. There was an oil spill, you see, and an attempt to purify the ocean is still ongoing."
"An oil spill? Oh my..." We look past them to see inky water in the distance. "I have a bit of magical knowledge... perhaps I can help." Navi doesn't wait for an answer and swims over them while I float in place. Some of the soldiers glance at me, likely wondering what such an ugly creature is doing with someone as beautiful as her. I lower my head so the cloak hides my crooked horn, but look up when I see a bright flash followed by a sudden surge in the water around us. While the soldiers fight the strong current I hear a hollow voice chanting words of a language long forgotten –that of the ancient faeries– and feel a swell of pride for my sister.
I assume Navi manipulated the currents around Moltara to contain the oil and prevent it from spreading further. As she slowly comes back into view I notice another Peophin beside her. "Captain Calder," the nearest soldier informs me with his salute.
"At ease, corporal," he says. Calder is dark mauve in color with an indigo mane and matching goatee. A regal cape sits around his shoulders and his forelegs are protected by golden bracers. His faceplate is ornate, like Navi's, and he fixates me with a pair of dark blue eyes. "Are you the companion of this talented lady?"
"Yes, I'm Nene... Nenaeve." Being in his presence is nerve-wracking, like I'm being judged on everything.
"Just Nenaeve?" he prods.
"When she came to me, her memories had been lost," Navi answers. The captain nods his understanding. Next she speaks to me. "Now that the oil has been cleared, let us proceed to Altador."
"We're really going there?" I whisper. "I think we should pull over and take a good long look at your, um, 'map'."
Navi assesses the position of the sun, then sighs. "There is no time... I only have four days left."
"Well, you can't waste them swimming from one side of the sea to the other!"
Calder is tentatively floating nearby. "Is there something I can help you find? I make my home off the shore of Altador."
Navi doesn't say anything. I half expected her to snap at him like she did Kale, but she's silent as a stone. I can start to see her mask of perfection cracking. She's beginning to believe she won't find the library in time, at least not without asking for help. And that realization almost makes her cry... She's just too proud to admit defeat. "Let us go, Nene... We have somewhere to be."
"Wait, Navi!" I don't budge. "We don't have any idea where we're going! You wanted to go to Altador and now someone's willing to take us there!" She shoots me this despondent look; I have no idea what to say to that so I turn to Calder. "We'd be grateful if you took us to Altador. At the very least we can get something to eat."
A short while later we arrive at the Peophin colony off the coast of the Golden Kingdom (as King Hagan liked to say). Calder invites us to his home which is actually the domain of Marak the Wave, his father. "So you're like a lord?" I question over a plate of pasta. Quinn and Hex are each given a tureen of diced fish, those spoiled beasts.
"Not exactly," he chuckles. It's a very sincere sound. "My father's title as a Protector doesn't grant me authority over anyone else. I had to earn my rank in his army the old fashioned way, no special treatment." For some reason this makes me grin, an expression he mirrors. I guess that saying about not judging a book by its cover is true after all! I turn my attention to Navi and notice she's barely touched her food.
"You're going to waste away if you don't eat. Then how will you be an effective Lib— err... at your job?" Her head rose as I almost let slip "Librarian". But she only sighs and removes the scroll from her satchel, unfurling it on the table.
"What do you have there?" Calder immediately asks.
"Nothing!" I shout.
"It is a map," Navi says, "but I do not know how to read it, or it would have led me where I was meant to go by now."
I frown at her forlorn tone. Calder hovers over one shoulder and me the other until she leaves after a minute. "What a strange picture," he mutters. "What are these dots? It looks like one is missing."
"I thought so, too. And they're in a line so it has to mean something."
"They could be the elements. Green for earth, red for fire, yellow for wind?" His speculation only makes my sister sigh. "You need to find the blue dot for water."
"Well, we know it's in the sea, there's just a lot of it to search through."
Calder gives me a sideways glance. "Perhaps if you told someone exactly what you're looking for..."
"It's top secret," I state, and Navi sighs again. Doesn't she know we have an ally in this persistently curious Peophin? "Sis, what do the words around the edge mean?"
"They say, the chosen one must look into their heart to open the way. Honor the past to usher in the future."
That wasn't much help. Obviously Hagan chose her to become guardian of the library. Navi wants to be a Librarian with all her heart. As a Seeker she knows all there is to know about Neopia's history, and it's in her future to learn even more. So what was she missing?
To be continued...