Neela: The Blue Pearl

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Chapter 10

Cheveyo had finally found the last ingredient of the healing balm, but his search had nearly depleted all of his energy. He hadn’t stopped to rest since leaving Neela but was determined to get back to her as soon as possible. It was a long and strenuous swim, but he kept going. He couldn’t stand the thought of any more time away from her.

He reached the shoreline after the sun had set and was thankful that he didn’t have to wait any longer to approach her bedroom window. He found it difficult to transition to human form and a bit more difficult to continue his journey on human legs. He walked slowly through the sand and supported himself against the exterior of the cottage. He did everything he could to conserve the small amount of energy he had left. He gradually worked his way from the back to the side of her home and was careful not to make any noise that might wake Henry up.

Her bedroom window was open, but her room was pitch black. He called out to her softly, but there was no response. He tried again, a little louder this time. Nothing. He looked through the other windows, but there were no signs of life anywhere within the cottage. He had hoped to wake her from sweet dreams of them eternally united, but instead found a nightmare in her absence.

He was desperate to find her but struggled to think of where she may be. He was certain she would have waited in her bedroom every night for his return. The only thing he could think of that may have been able to drag her away would have been the service of a friend. He hoped Neela was spending the evening with Delila at the dance hall.

He’d never felt more weak, limited, and human than he did during the short walk in that direction. Not an ounce of arrogance or a glimmer of confidence was visible in his stride or expression. He entered the dance hall and quickly scanned the room for any sign of her.

“Cheveyo!” Diego yelled from just outside one of the hall exits.

He walked toward Diego, who stood with a group of men that held flashlights and stacks of colorful paper. As he got closer, he realized Henry was a part of the group.

“Have you seen her?” Cheveyo asked.

“I’m sorry, man, I didn’t see it coming,” Diego explained.

“What?”

“We’ve been out all day looking for them.”

“Where is she?” Cheveyo asked with a much more aggressive tone.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, I don’t know.”

Cheveyo grabbed Diego by his shirt and lifted him up off his feet. The other men seemed shocked at his behavior and tried to intervene. Diego urged them to stay out of it, believing he deserved to be the target of Cheveyo’s anger.

Where is she?” Cheveyo asked again.

“I was walking them home, and they just took them, man.”

“Who?” Cheveyo asked in a menacing tone.

“I don’t know, I’m sorry,” Diego said, shaken.

Diego was embarrassed by his failure to keep the girls safe and transfixed by the intimidating look in Cheveyo’s narrowed eyes. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was so powerful that it summoned an unfelt fear from deep within him. It was a fear that was intensified by Cheveyo’s grasp, which grew stronger and more unnatural by the second.

Cheveyo could see the terror creeping into Diego’s eyes and was surprised at his desire to ease his suffering. Neela’s influence had softened him just enough to save Diego’s life. With a slight reluctance, he did what she would’ve wanted. He loosened his grip on Diego and gradually lowered him back to the ground. He could see the shock, anger, and disapproval on the faces of the villagers that gathered around them, but he didn’t have time to mend their opinions of him. He had to find Neela. He stormed out of the hall in the direction of the beach. He didn’t notice Henry following after him, but even in his weakened state, he was far too fast for any human to catch up to.

Cheveyo was ignorant to Henry’s efforts but was aware of the horrible first impression he must have given him. He tried to shake off the worry and focus on finding the one entity that may be able to help him find Neela. He transformed as soon as he touched the water, without any fear of exposing himself. He swam faster than he could run, but even in his true form, his fatigue was a hindrance. His journey to the seafloor was labored, and when he reached it, a battle within himself ensued. He drew from everything he had left and could only generate a dim light from within.

All of his frustration, desperation, and rage combined generated enough energy to fuel a piercing cry. Sustained by his anguish, it was far more remarkable than his timid glow. The sea retreated from him, creating a circular pocket of dry earth. His appendages, which had been buoyant in the water seconds earlier, became a heavy burden on the ocean floor. The recoiled sea created walls and a ceiling that encapsulated him. He sat exhausted in the center of the dry space, with his appendages gathered around him. Hopelessness was beginning to trump all other emotions.

“Yes?” the Boogolli said as they floated in slowly from above.

“I need to know where Neela is,” Cheveyo pleaded, with a much more humble tone than ever before.

“Her location will not help you.”

Cheveyo hung his head.

The Boogolli continued, “You will not be able to save her alone.”

“I will get help, just please tell me where she is.”

“You will need more than your tribe; only the king can bring about a victory.”

“He will never agree. I have gone against everything he has forbidden.”

“Go to him,” the Boogolli urged.

“I defied him!”

“Go to him and unite. Only then will you be given the location you seek.”

With this assertion, the Boogolli disappeared, and the walls and ceiling merged to once again form one sea.

A heaviness washed over Cheveyo. He feared the king’s reaction to his nefarious love affair with a human. However, being without Neela already felt worse than any punishment the king could impose, including death. His love for her eventually surpassed his fear and compelled him to seek out the king.

Unlike with the Boogolli, there was no symbol or call needed to locate the king. Every Ojigong knew where to find the king’s fortress. He rarely ventured from Samsaria, an underwater cave system of his own creation. It was hidden from the human world by a protective dome of concealment and rarely visited by his people.

Although all Ojigong were welcome to enter the dwelling, they found it intimidating and difficult to navigate due to its ever-changing layout. Samsaria was more than the king’s home, it was a window into the very essence of the sea king himself. The water current that flowed through the system reflected his emotions. The texture and color of the walls represented his mood. The spirits of the sea kings before him drifted in and out of the walls like projections of light from an unknown source.

The imperial spirits were technically deceased, but not in any way that humans typically view as death. Sea kings never truly die. They are absorbed by the next to rule. Their essence, knowledge, and abilities live on in their successor, making each new king stronger than the last. When King Azul was in a state of rest, the imperial spirits were free to roam the halls of their catacomb.

Cheveyo’s time in the water had restored enough energy to him to journey to Samsaria. He entered the fortress slowly and bowed his head respectfully before each imperial spirit that floated near the entrance. They were pleasant but provided no guidance on which direction he would need to take to find the king. He traveled by his own intuition deeper into the intricate structure.

Gradually, the imperial spirits retreated back into the onyx walls. The walls began to lighten from an onyx to a deep and dusky shade of green. Cheveyo knew that the vanished spirits and the changed walls meant that he had awakened the sea king. The king’s energy and strength coursed through all that surrounded Cheveyo. He could feel the king’s will drawing him to the very core of his cavern.

He was reluctant to give into it but too weak to maintain his opposition as the current grew more forceful. It carried him swiftly through the twists and turns, jostled him against the porous walls, and carelessly flung him into the innermost cell of the structure.

He treaded carefully in the waist-deep water within the cell. He could sense the king’s presence, but with minimal light allowed in, he could only see pieces of him sitting above the water on his organic coral throne. He bowed his head out of tradition and respect for his ruler.

The king silently studied Cheveyo within the darkness. He remained stoic as he reached for an empty lantern that hung on the wall beside him. He exhaled the noble gas xenon into the lantern from his electrically charged body. The mixture of gas and electrical charge created a beautiful blue glow that illuminated the lantern and the space.

The light revealed the totality of the king’s striking appearance. His voluminous silver hair encircled his marble face and hung over his exceptionally broad shoulders. He sat very poised, with his piercing blue eyes directed straight toward Cheveyo. His movements were deliberate and projected his ultimate power. He placed his left hand on top of a stone column adjacent to his throne. The perch of his hand prominently displayed his platinum insignia ring. It had been worn by all the Ojigong kings before him and was said to possess its own abilities.

Cheveyo gave a proper Ojigong greeting, with his fist pressed firmly into the markings on his chest. “Your Majesty.”

“Is your mission complete?” the king inquired.

Cheveyo continued to tilt his head downward. “No, Your Majesty, there were unexpected complications.”

“I gave direct orders.”

Cheveyo looked up toward the king but was careful not to stare too directly. “If you will allow me to explain, Sire?”

“You come from a long line of warriors who have fiercely protected the seas in my name. Because of this, I will grant you some liberty.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I apologize for my failure and hope that you will understand that it was beyond my control.”

The king motioned for Cheveyo to continue.

He pounded his fist into his markings again. “I have always been proud to be an Ojigong and serve you as my king. I have lived to protect the seas at your command. I set out to complete the mission you bestowed upon me, and then…”

The king again gestured for Cheveyo to continue.

“I found my blue pearl on land, Sire. She is lost, but I aim to find her and to alter my purpose in life to protecting her, if you will allow it.”

“Is she human?” King Azul asked harshly, through tightly clenched teeth.

Cheveyo was reluctant to respond and distracted by yet another change in his environment. The walls transitioned from green to a deep shade of red that looked almost purple with the blue light cast upon it.

The king asked again. “Is… she… human?”

“Yes,” Cheveyo replied.

The king lunged toward Cheveyo with great fury. He grabbed hold of Cheveyo’s arms and squeezed them tight against his body. He slammed Cheveyo’s body up against the wall and continued to hold him tightly by the arms.

His grasp held a scorching electricity that burned Cheveyo from within. He felt paralyzed by the excruciating pain and terror from knowing he had just moments left. Desperate to cling to life and return to his love, he performed one final forbidden act. He fought to bring his hand up from his side against the king’s mighty strength. With all that he had left, he latched onto the king’s wrist. He held on tightly and transferred all his memories of Neela.

The king could have easily blocked the transference, but he didn’t. He allowed the images to flow freely. He could see the love Cheveyo had for her in the soft and angelic nature of his visions. He was emotionless as he watched her sway at a standing table, twirl when she thought no one was watching, and walk alone on the beach toward the rising sun. The king’s expression was flat, but the transition of the walls to a sapphire blue hinted at a change of heart.

The images faded along with Cheveyo. His body fell limp into the king’s arms, no longer able to transfer, no longer rigid from the pain inflicted. The king released the fallen warrior. Cheveyo’s body slid down the wall, slowly, into the water, which quickly rose above the king’s head. Cheveyo floated to the floor of the cavity.

He was lifeless, his eyes void of the strong spirit that just moments ago had dared to defy a king. Azul floated over him and watched the small amount of remaining color and life drain from his face. He was gone, and Neela would never know everything he’d gone through to get back to her.

Azul descended down to the floor, just beside Cheveyo’s body. He straightened out Cheveyo’s appendages, torso, and then head with a tenderness that was unexpected in light of his treasonous act. His body was positioned in the dignified manner a warrior deserved.

The king placed his hand over Cheveyo’s chest, closed his eyes, and spoke quietly to himself. His eyelids fluttered, and his body subtly vibrated. When his eyes opened, streams of light beamed from them into Cheveyo’s static and empty gaze. The light visibly traveled through his body along the same complex system of tracks that had filled Neela with such wonder. Abruptly, the flow of light between them ceased. The king backed away and observed Cheveyo’s still form.

Cheveyo’s skin warmed in color, and the spirit reappeared in his eyes. Azul had given him back the life he’d so easily extinguished and restored his strength.

Cheveyo was shocked that the king had spared his life. He had never known Azul to grant pardon to anyone that defied him. He wanted to know the reason but feared his questioning would result in a reversed judgment.

“I will help you find the girl,” the king said firmly.

“We must go to the Boogolli, Sire,” Cheveyo insisted.

“No. It is unnecessary.”

King Azul waved his hand over his coral throne, transforming it into a massive structure of illuminated glass. He curled his hand into a fist and inserted the flat face of his ring into a perfectly fitted indention in the stone column. The light inside the glass dimmed, and a charcoal-colored smoke swirled throughout. Rotating images of hallways and stairwells traveled within the smoke. When the movement stopped, there was a clear and fixed image of a large barge docked next to an abandoned industrial area.

“I know this place,” Cheveyo announced as he turned to swim away.

The king raised his other hand and brought Cheveyo to a rapid stop. “Halt!” he commanded.

His connection to the images in the glass were not yet complete. He returned his hand to a resting state at his side and closed his eyes loosely. His eyelids flickered once more as light danced through his appendages. The energy that flowed through the king constructed a new image within his mind’s eye. The light in his appendages went stagnant. He opened his eyes and projected the internal images onto the glass. It was the exact location of Neela’s imprisonment.

“Follow me,” King Azul ordered.

All projections ceased, and the throne returned to its original state. They left the cavity with great haste and swam furiously through Samsaria. Their quick exit was only possible through the navigation of the system’s architect. They entered open waters, and the king let out a warrior call that radiated throughout the sea. Rapidly, several members of the tribe answered the call and joined their pursuit.

An Ojigong swimming casually alone would be an intimidating sight to observe. Several members of the Ojigong warrior class led by King Azul was truly a fearsome thing to behold. The forceful jet stream generated by their synchronized swimming created a shift in the ocean’s current that was felt many nautical miles from their path.

As they advanced, other sea creatures left the comfort of their own waters to join them. They stayed a short distance behind the tribe, as a sign of respect but also because they were unable to keep up with the tremendous pace of the Ojigong. The end of the Ojigong line was made up of Bryde’s whales, frilled sharks, spotted eagle rays, and multiple female blanket octopi. The lengthy transparent webs of the octopi served as a war flag that put all on notice that the Ojigong were ready for battle.

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