New Years in Maraqua
This story starts with a conversation. One very important conversation between two young neopets in an undersea cavern, hunched over a box of matches, two boxes of fireworks and a plastic toy figurine of King Kelpbeard.
The figurine? A limited edition toy, only available from submitting 50 postcards to the palace on the King's self-initiated Maraqua Day (which really should be official).
Anyway, the conversation goes like this:
"So, how many should we light?"
"Fourteen, what else? You do know what year it is, right?"
"Of course! Only, how are we going to light it? We're in Maraqua. Underwater. It's lucky the boxes are waterproof, or everything will be ruined and soggy by now."
"I can't believe you didn't think of that."
Thus, the epic plan of Ven, Maraquan Chomby, and Tanner, Water Jetsam (the physics of how a Water neopet can exist in Maraqua shall not be explained because frankly, no one knows), failed, as all plans thought of by young, overexcited neopets tend to do.
"But I want to see fireworks! It's New Year's Eve!" Tanner whined. It just wasn't fair. Faerieland, Shenkuu, Haunted Woods... Practically all the other Neopian lands had the most amazing fireworks display at midnight, on the last day of the year. Why couldn't they?
"I guess we'll have to swim over to Mystery Island and watch their fireworks. Unless we can find a dry, open place in Maraqua..." Ven sighed. It had taken him days to find a box of matches and some fireworks. The shops here simply did not see the need to supply them, and he had finally obtained some from his grandmother, who had several waterproof boxes of matches and fireworks, in addition to the other odds and ends she collected.
The two stared at each other for a long minute, both lamenting over the loss of their personal fireworks display.
"Wait... a dry place in Maraqua? I think I know of one." Tanner grinned. "Ye Olde Fishing Vortex!"
"What?" Ven asked, confused.
"The underwater fishing cavern! Y'know, that weird underwater lake? There's air down there!" Tanner had grabbed all their supplies, and was already dragging his friend by the fin, swimming energetically towards the...
"No! It's in the old ruins! You know what they say about that place!" Ven hissed, struggling to get away from his clearly firework-crazed friend.
"Tanner, you do want to see the fireworks, right? It's our only chance!" Tanner pleaded, and seeing the desperate look on the Jetsam's face, Ven relented.
"Fine. But if we get into trouble, it is your fault. All of it," he said.
"This place is creepy at night," Ven whispered as the two swam into the huge underwater cavern. The only light visible was the strange green glow of the Lightmites that hovered near the top of the cavern.
"Lightmites? Why are they green? More importantly, why are they here?" Ven stared up at the strange little petpetpets with trepidation.
"How would I know? Some mutant species, I guess," Tanner grumbled. He himself was feeling a bit scared, but he would never let it show. Tanner was the brave one, the leader, the strong, mighty Jetsam, and he had to show it.
"Let's just get to the jetty and lay everything out," he said, pulling Ven towards the long stretch of wooden planks that saw dozens of fisherpets every day, each one hoping to catch one of the strange, elusive creatures that were rumored to live in the cavern.
"Yeah, I'm coming," Ven said, still looking around nervously.
He hated danger, but the thrill of doing something that was unacceptable to their parents and a little bit rebellious to everyone else was a wonderful sensation.
So Ven did his best to relax and swim after Tanner.
Well, Ven did his best to relax until something strange and slimy wound itself around his tail fin.
Then he did his best to scream as loudly as he could, thrashing around in the water as he twisted and turned, trying to escape the clutches of what had to be a Giant Squid?
"TANNER, HELP ME!" he yelled, struggling in vain as another tentacle wrapped around his body and began dragging him down into the depths.
"Ven? What-" Tanner turned around and froze for a moment.
A dark shape in the water, long tendrils wrapped around his best friend – it was a scene right out of a cliché horror story.
But no. It was happening, right here, right now.
"VEN!" He raced back towards his friend, fins whipping back and forth as he watched the Giant Squid pull Ven down into the darkness.
Thank the stars he was a fast swimmer, or else he would never have reached Ven so quickly, or maybe not at all. Tanner grabbed one of the tentacles and pulled, and when that didn't work, he chomped down on it.
Tanner knew he had sharp teeth. It was one of the many things he was proud of, and he brushed them every day and even sharpened them on occasion.
He liked using them to scare small petpets and younger neopets he met on the street, but for once, he was using those huge jaws to do good.
Tanner had never tasted squid before, but he hoped he might have a second taste of it some day, preferably not in such a dangerous situation, because they were pretty delicious.
The Giant Squid might have sensed his intentions, because the tentacle instantly withdrew, allowing Ven to escape. The two swam for the surface.
Ven was sure he had never swum so fast in his life. He was already tired from struggling, the late hour, and staying out the whole day, but fear and adrenaline gave him an extra push.
He was surprised to hear an exalted 'YES!' as he broke the surface of the water, and ever more surprised to realise that he was the one who had vocalised it.
Tanner was already standing on the jetty, fins outstretched to grab Ven as he hauled himself up. As his tail fin left the water, a single tentacle loomed up and grabbed it. Again.
With anger, fear, and determination (to give Tanner a few good smacks) coursing through his body, Ven kicked the tentacle off his body.
"Is it gone?"
"I think so," Ven gasped, struggling to draw in breath. His heart rate hadn't slowed, and his body was still trembling. He felt terrible, like how a goldy out of water would - frightened and exhausted and miserable.
The water was calm now. Still and eerie green from the glow of the mutant Lightmites, but calm.
"Ven?" Tanner's recovery was quicker, and guilt was quickly replacing fear as he looked over at his friend.
"Yeah?" Ven decided that it was time to get up, as much as he would've liked to continue sprawling down on the ground, there was always a chance the Giant Squid would come back, and he didn't want to be defenseless.
Ven hesitated. He could've replied sarcastically (an 'Of course I'm fine, I was just attacked by a Giant Squid' sounded good), or even hurtfully ('My best friend just got me attacked by a Giant Squid'), but he was also in the wrong. For not stopping Tanner when he was supposed to be the level-headed one, the rational one, the safe one.
"I'm fine. Don't worry about it," Ven finally said, offering his friend a weak smile.
"Good – I'm sorry." The last bit was soft and rushed and so very Tanner-like. The prideful Jetsam hated apologising as much as he hated leafy greens and homework, which was to say, a lot. Didn't all young neopets?
"I forgive you. I'm sorry too." Ven grinned and clasped his fin around Tanners'. They'd spent an entire childhood together, and most of it had involved getting in and out of trouble. This wasn't much compared to some of their other escapades, and Ven had forgiven Tanner for each and every one of them (because it was always, always Tanner's fault).
"I forgive you too." Tanner relaxed and returned with a sharp-toothed grin of his own. True, it was always his fault, but Ven always, always went along with Tanner's brilliant (not) schemes and plans, and stood alongside his erstwhile friend when they all inevitably failed. Tanner was a firm believer of 'The Power Of Friendship' (Ven just felt guilty if he made Tanner take all the blame).
"Well then, let's get out of here," Tanner said, staring dubiously at the clear, calm waters beneath the jetty. The usual, above water exit was closed at night, so the only way out would be to swim through the smaller opening at the other side of the cavern.
"The squid?" Ven asked. As much as he didn't want to spend the night in a dark, eerie cave and spend the entire night enduring Tanner's snores, he didn't want to go back into the water and face the Giant Squid again.
"I'm sure it's gone by-"
"-now?" Ven spared an idiotic moment to complete Tanner's sentence (the Jetsam was rubbing off on him) as Tanner froze, staring at the Giant, no, Titanic Giant Squid that had just risen above the water, waving its tentacles menacingly at them.
It might have been amusing if Ven had not been facing the single, second most terrifying moment of his life.
"Tanner, I take back everything I've said. I really, really hate you."
"Well, I really, really hate myself too?"
Ven let out a hysterical giggle as the monster approached them. The Titanic Giant Squid was the stuff of fishing legends. Sure, one was caught ever few days of so, but no one ever managed to actually keep that catch. Something as big as a house and ten times as dangerous (houses are dangerous; they could fall on you) was awfully hard to stuff into a bucket.
"Do you think it looks mad?" It hadn't attacked them yet. Long, slimy tentacles were sliding across the wooden planks of the jetty as they the two neopets ran towards the above water exit, but the sea monster had yet to attack.
"YOU BIT ITS ARM, WHAT DO YOU THINK?"
Tanner resisted the urge to say 'Tentacle, not arm!', knowing it would further enrage his friend.
If a chomped on tentacle wouldn't stop it, that what would? Tanner thought long and hard while Ven pounded furiously at the locked door. It was no use. The door might be made of wood, but it was sturdy enough and two young neopets definitely lacked the strength to smash it open.
So they had to do something to drive the tentacles away. They were slowly inching closer to the two of them, while the rest of its body was still suspended a little above the water surface.
All Tanner had with him was the boxes of fireworks, the box matches, and the LE King Kelpbeard toy. Maybe he could throw it at the Squid? No, no, the toy was limited edition! It was far too precious. Tanner should never have brought it with him, but he thought that Kind Kelpbeard (figurine version) should see the fireworks as well.
"Ven, I've got an idea! Come help me!" he yelled, pulling out the fireworks and matches from his bag and frantically tried to open them.
No matter what they'd been through, Ven still trusted Tanner, so he followed Tanner's lead and began ripping apart the boxes.
"Do you know how to use this thing?" Tanner asked, pulling a bunch of fireworks out of the box and setting them on the ground.
"Here, let me." Ven had caught on to Tanner's plan, and quickly lighted a matchstick. He carefully brought the tiny flame close to the fuses of the fireworks, then leapt back as they caught fire.
"You're crazy," Ven told Tanner, right before the fireworks went off, making a wide arc across the cavern and smashing into gigantic sea monster.
"I know. But I have great aim."
"So. We made it out." Fireworks to the face were an excellent way to get rid of terrifying Giant Squids, Tanner mused as they swam away from the Underwater Fishing Cavern.
"I am never listening to your ideas again," Ven told him, sounding absolutely resolute, and Tanner was absolutely sure Ven would still follow him the next time he cooked up another ingenious (read: silly) idea.
"But it was fun, yeah?" he said.
"Yes. The loveliest way to spend New Year's Eve is to spend it running away from a rarely-seen sea creature with tentacles." Despite the sarcasm, Ven had enjoyed being with his best friend on the last day of the year, epic squid battles and all.