A New World
For a brief few seconds, all he saw was light.
Then, as quickly as the lightness had come, it was gone, replaced by the dark, harsh reality of Hirsham’s current situation.
Slowly, Hirsham gathered his senses.
He observed that the moment of brightness had only been a streak of treacherous lightning flashing across the cloudy, inky sky.
He tasted salt in the air.
He felt rain beating down on all sides, as he struggled to maintain his balance on the rocking boat.
He smelled charred wood, freshly burned from the lightning strike.
He heard shouts from his crew, who were fruitlessly attempting to calm the chaos on board.
This voyage had gone disastrously wrong. The boat was far from Krawk Island by now, and whichever way Hirsham looked, there was no sign of land.
“Captain, what do we do?”
The pleading yells finally registered with him. He must act; his crew was relying on him.
Hirsham the Krawk bolted up the stairs on the back of the ship. “Crewmates! Buccaneers! We must remain vigilant in this time of crisis!” he attempted to yell over the wind and rain; quite frankly, he wasn’t even sure if anyone could hear him. “Join me now, boys! We can try to –”
His speech was cut short. The boat rocked violently, knocking Hirsham to the ground. The deck was extremely slippery; he tried to claw for holding, but it was to no avail.
Again, the boat jolted, and Hirsham could do nothing but slide. He tried to shout for help, but the thunder blocked out all sound escaping his mouth.
Once more, the boat rocked – and this time, he was not so lucky. Hirsham slid right off the deck, into the sea.
Sputtering wildly, the choppy waves threatened to push him underwater and keep him there. Hirsham flailed, attempting to tread water, but it seemed to be no use; the storm was too fierce and the sea was too wild.
This could be the end, Hirsham thought gravely.
Gasping for breath, Hirsham bobbed through the surf, willing himself to think of a way out of this, any way out of this. The salt burned in his eyes as he attempted to glimpse the ship in the darkness. The beating rain pounded around him as he frantically searched the sea, when suddenly his heart leapt as he made out a dark silhouette – the ship?
Though the currents were undoubtedly stronger than he was, Hirsham began making his trek towards the figure —
— But not before a giant wave slammed into his body with such intensity that the wind was knocked out of his lungs.
Hirsham was pulled into the sea against his will, and he had no energy to manage a struggle. As he dropped downward into the watery depths, his eyes began to close, as he slowly slipped into unconsciousness...
“Hellooooo,” a voice called from far away. “Hellooooo?”
Hirsham listened for the voice. All he cared about was the voice; nothing else mattered. Straining his ears, he heard the call again: “Are you awake?”
At that moment, Hirsham opened his eyes.
Before him was a Draik, its face only mere inches from his own. Startled, Hirsham gasped, and inhaled...water?
Hirsham exhaled, expecting to choke, but he exhaled the water as normally as he would have with air. How can this be? he wondered. Attempting to gather some sense of clarity, Hirsham glanced downward to discover his feet were gone, a tail in their place. Whipping his hands into view, he noticed webbing between his fingers.
Hirsham’s shock must have been apparent because it was only then that the Draik spoke. “Hello, friend.”
The voice! Hirsham realized, looking up at the Draik. That was the voice he had heard before waking up. “Who...what...where...?” Hirsham stumbled over his words, unable to form a coherent question.
“It’s alright, my friend,” the Draik soothed. “Let me show you how this happened.”
Show me? Why not just tell me? Hirsham thought, irritated at the delay of an explanation.
The mysterious Draik began to lead him through the crystal-clear water, past coral reefs and kelp of all colors. The Draik glided effortlessly through the sea, as Hirsham followed awkwardly behind, attempting to harness full control over his new tail. Finally, they arrived at a crevice of sorts, a crack in the ocean floor.
Hesitantly, Hirsham peered into the crevice, then immediately jumped away, reviled. Inside was steaming, bright green goo. “What’s in there?!” he gasped.
The Draik smiled. “I guess you’ve never heard of the Bubbling Pit?”
Hirsham shook his head.
“Anyone who ventures into the Bubbling Pit becomes one of us,” the Draik explained, pointing his webbed hands to himself. “Maraquan.”
That was when everything clicked. “So I…I fell into that?!” Hirsham gawked.
“Uh huh,” the Draik nodded.
Hirsham’s mouth fell open.
“I saw you from a distance when you started to sink; I tried to reach you before you fell in, but couldn’t make it,” the Draik elaborated. “I felt the least I could do was to help you out of it, since you were still unconscious.”
Unconscious? Hirsham wondered – then it hit him. His ship! His crew! “I have to get back to the surface! My crew needs me – I am their captain!”
“It’s been half a day, my friend. You will never find them now.”
Hirsham’s heart sank; it was a captain’s duty not to let his crew down, and he had failed.
“Where do you hail from, friend?” The Draik asked.
“Krawk Island is my home,” Hirsham stated proudly, straightening slightly. “I need to get back there as soon as I can.”
The Draik nodded, the smile slipping slightly from his face. “We have some Morphing Potions back in central Maraqua, for folks like you wishing to resurface. I can lead you there.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Hirsham said, relieved. “May I ask your name, by the way?”
“Foro,” the Draik said, his grin returning. “And yours?”
“Hirsham,” the Draik repeated, nodding. “Well, Hirsham, let me give you a tour of my humble home.”
As Hirsham was led through Maraqua, he noticed the surrounding area was teeming with aquatic life. Schools of Arkmites and Bubblebees zoomed past them, swimming as one united group. Maraquan Neopets talked, laughed, traded and played, surrounded by shell-shaped buildings of all colors; the hues seemed almost intensified by the sunlight shining from above.
Of course, Hirsham had heard of Maraqua; it was one of Krawk Island’s frequent trading partners. But truly, this was nothing like Hirsham had expected – he thought he had had a love for the seas, but it turns out, he hadn’t really known them at all.
This was like a world all of its own.
“Nice, isn’t it?” asked Foro, interrupting Hirsham’s wonderment. Surely he had noticed Hirsham’s awestruck expression.
Hirsham nodded in silent agreement.
“I’m glad you have enjoyed yourself,” Foro said. “But I think you’ll be happy to know that you’ll be back to your normal life soon.”
Foro motioned Hirsham into a nearby purple building shaped like conch shell. Foro went up to the counter. “Hi, Dalia, how’s it going?”
A Maraquan Kougra turned around to greet them. “Hey, Foro, I’ve been good, thank you. How can I help?”
Foro turned and pointed to Hirsham. “I need to get this guy a Pirate Krawk Morphing Potion. He wants to return to the surface.”
“Ahh, I’ve got one right here,” Dalia said, fumbling behind the counter for a moment, then handing a flask to Foro.
“Thank you, Dalia, this’ll do.” He then turned to Hirsham, holding out the potion. “Here you go, buddy.”
Hirsham peered at the flask in Foro’s webbed hand. This was his ticket home, to his family, his friends, his crew – his normal life. But at the back of his mind, something was holding him back.
“Something wrong?” Foro asked. Hirsham looked at him, noticing genuine confusion and concern across Foro’s features.
Hirsham took a deep breath of seawater and shook his head. “I’m not leaving,” he said, his tone weighted with certainty.
“You’re…you’re not?” Foro gasped.
Hirsham tried to express his thoughts as eloquently as he could. “I’ve dedicated my life to exploring the seas, and for years I thought I knew all there was to know about the water, but clearly, I am so, so wrong.” Hirsham looked Foro in the eyes. “The waves above the surface may be wild and unpredictable, but I’ve learned all that I can up there. How could I leave Maraqua now when my exploration here has only just begun?”
Foro grinned widely. “I’m happy to hear that. And remember, you can always come back here if you wish to return to above.” He put the flask back on the counter. “We won’t be needing this today, Dalia, thank you for your time.”
“You’ve made a good choice,” Dalia said, smiling at Hirsham. “Enjoy your time here.”
“Come along, friend, I will show you more of my home,” Foro laughed.
Hirsham chuckled and nodded, invigorated by the opportunity to explore and learn about this new watery world.