Saturday, September 29, 2001

Part Four: Grayhorn’s Fleet

Before his eyes, hundreds of reptilian figures began to materialize out of the shadows. Gripped with fear, Koifin watched in silent horror as the vast army made its way towards the camp. Shaking himself free from his daze, Koifin shot from his position towards the shelter calling to Cora and Maxim with all his might. The huge flotsam sprang from the camp… but it was too late, they were completely surrounded. With no escape in sight, the three travelers were rounded up back to back in the midst of the amphibian horde. A thick green liquid began to fill the waters, enveloping the prisoners in its endless coils. Koifin struggled to keep his eyes open as the liquid mixed with the seawater, wrapping itself around his young body. He stared relentlessly into the eyes of the amphibian leader, the eyes that would be the last thing he saw before his vision blurred completely and he drifted into total darkness.

Groggily, the three companions awoke from their induced sleep. The slow steady beat of a drum filled the water and mingled with the sound of a strange dialect.

"Cut, that racket you ‘ooligans!" groaned Maxim, "I’ve got an ‘eadache the size of a skeith, thank’ee very much!"

"Shhh! Keep it down why don’t you… I don’t want them to know we’re awake yet."

Koifin couldn’t help but admire Cora, always on the look out; her first priority was always her watch. Guiltily, Koifin closed his eyes, why couldn’t HE have been as valiant… perhaps if he had only stayed awake a few more seconds things would have been drastically different. Now they were prisoners of some strange tribe and he was to blame, if they ever got out of the predicament he knew he would never be able to face Cora or Maxim. Suddenly, the strangest looking Quiggle Koifin had ever seen appeared with a tray and three bowls of mush, obviously breakfast. The Quiggle was bright orange and had fins on his back and tail. Sitting up Koifin glanced around the room at his captors. To his surprise there was something oddly familiar in their faces.

"Techos," he said abruptly.

"Lissen’ fishy, this is no time for name that neopet… stow the gab ya hear!" growled Maxim.

"No, don’t you see? They’re all techos, albeit the strangest ones I’ve ever seen…"

"That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard," interrupted Maxim, "If those are Techos then I’m a mynci’s uncle!"

"Maxim… He’s right…" gasped Cora, "Look at their faces and their stance… Oh Great Faerie Queen… I thought it was just a legend!"

"Stop talkin’ in riddles, I’m not as sharp as I used to be ya know!"

"The legend of Grayhorn’s Fleet… it’s true…" continued Cora.

"Yes, I believe we covered that already Ma’am, care to share it with the rest of the class?" Maxim temper seemed to getting shorter by the minute.

"Many years ago a Pirate Uni ruled the seas with a horde of Techos by his side," Cora began,

"He was known and feared throughout Neopia as Grayhorn the Ruthless. For countless years he pillaged islands and villages, always escaping the law. And with every treasure he acquired, he became more arrogant. With his army of vicious pirate techos he believed he would never be captured and planned to retire someday to a small island with his booty. However, his fate was sealed with his own arrogance. In a moment of glory after a very large pillaging, Grayhorn uttered the words that would change his life forever… ‘Nothing can stop Grayhorn the Ruthless, I’m more dangerous than the Dark Faerie… not even her cunning can stop me!’ … With a clap of thunder the Dark Faerie herself appeared before him, furious that he had proclaimed himself more powerful than her. Of course he denied his statement but it was no use. Before he had so much time as to beg forgiveness she had delivered her sentence… ‘I have given you nothing but good fortune and how do you repay me!?’ she bellowed, ‘For this disrespect you shall pay dearly, Grayhorn.’ The pirate knelt at her feet praying his death would be swift. ‘You and your horde shall spend eternity as prisoners of the very waters you terrorized. Never again shall you or your minions feel the cool breeze on your faces nor bask in the light of the golden sun. This is the wrath of the Dark Faerie, and so it shall be done!’ and with those final words she outstretched her arms sending out a flash that shook the pirate vessel. Grayhorn and his crew were transformed into strange reflections of the pets they were before and banished to the deepest darkest part of the ocean… never to see the light of day again…"

Maxim and Koifin hung on every word that left the flotsam’s mouth.
"So what yore tellin’ me is that these… weirdoes… are the crew of some old pirates fleet… well then, what in the name o’ fuzzles do they want with us!?" puzzled Maxim.

"Well you didn’t quite let me finish my tale…" replied Cora, "You see, after Grayhorn and his horde were banished… well… they vowed they would capture all normal pets they found and…er…"

"AND WHAT?!" cried Koifin and Maxim in unison.

Cora gulped loudly as she continued, "And…erm…eat them."

Part Three: Shadows of the Reef

Koifin awoke with a start the next morning. Could it be true? He thought to himself. Had he really seen Maxim talking to a stranger the night before? Slowly he ran through the events of the night, it all seemed so hazy. It must have been a dream; it must have been a dream. Repeating the words over and over to himself Koifin tried to make himself believe them, but something wouldn’t let him, something held him back. Faerie Queen forbid it wasn’t a dream he knew he could not let Maxim know he remembered. If that were the case Maxim obviously didn’t want him to be any part of it. No, he mustn’t ask Maxim about it, but he would find some way to bring up the subject. What could an eccentric old fish have to hide? That was the question that lingered in his mind. Maxim seemed to be the quintessential strange old fish, not exactly the sort of koi one would find conducting secret meeting in the night and drugging companions. Try as he might Koifin could not fit all the pieces together.

As the day continued Koifin found he would have plenty of time to puzzle the past night’s occurrences. He and his companions had entered the vast reef and Cora had instructed them not to talk until she gave the ok. Koifin knew she was exaggerating but she had good reason, if she had given them so much room as to whisper Maxim would never be quiet. Silently Koifin studied his surroundings. Everywhere he turned gargantuan stalks of inky blue coral jutted from the ocean floor. He understood why Cora was wary of the reef; it was impossible to see even five feet off the path, leaving travelers like himself completely open for ambush. However, he felt quite safe under the watchful eye of the flotsam guardian. The party made steady progress throughout the day. Although Koifin was becoming more accustomed to travel his fins began to throb, already they had been swimming for over six hours with no rest in sight. Cora was determined to get them through the better half of the reef by nightfall. Koifin glanced over at his elderly companion trudging onward. "He makes very good stroke for such an old fish," pondered Koifin. The old fish looked back at him and winked. A flash of memory flooded Koifin’s vision. It had been hours since he had even thought about his ‘dream.’ Somehow Maxim’s wink had jogged his memory.

"Another piece of the puzzle?" wondered Koifin. Maybe not, perhaps he had just seen him wink before. But if so, why had it instantly reminded him of his dream. No, things just weren’t adding up, no matter how Koifin manipulated his memories.

Night began to fall but still they were in the thick of the reef. Cora’s plan had not worked and the trio would have to camp very soon. Finally as the path began to widen a bit Cora held out her fin for the others to halt.

"Sorry chaps," she whispered, "There’s been a bit of an undercurrent and we’ll have to spend the night here."

Glancing around quickly, Cora continued, "We’ll have to take turns keeping watch…err… I’ll go first, Koifin… you second and Maxim you keep watch ‘til daybreak."

"DAYBREAK!?" He scowled.

"Daybreak and don’t you complain about it, ya hear!" Shushed the flotsam.

They ate a small meal of apples and neocrackers, and somehow Maxim managed to complain through the whole affair. After Maxim had fallen asleep and Cora gone to keep watch Koifin remained outside the shelter. Silently he stared into the endless navy blue that seemed to envelop him. Tears began to fill his eyes, mixing with the ocean water as he wept for his family, his friends. Had any of them survived? He wanted so desperately to believe that maybe, just maybe his mother or father would come swimming out of the shadows. So desperate to believe that he was not alone. Eventually Koifin swam over to Cora to relieve her of her watch. He leaned back on rock as he watched the shadows. No sound filled the desolate waters except for the occasional snore from Maxim. Seconds turned to minutes and minutes into hours. The time began to wear on the young fish, why hadn’t he slept when given the chance. He realized how foolish he had been to sit and cry for so long. Now Cora and Maxim were depending on him and he was not sure if he could handle the responsibility. In the darkness of his surroundings sleep seemed so close he could touch it. With every blink his eyes seemed to cry out to him, begging for mercy. And slowly, slowly he began to give in. But after what seemed like only seconds, something awakened him. He again felt that sick feeling on the tip of his dorsal fin… he was being watched and he could feel it. This time however the feeling seemed to enclose itself upon him, as though a thousand eyes were looking at him… little did he know… he was right.