The Wonder Worlock: Sharkinister, Part 2
created 04/27/2014 - 10:46pm, updated 04/28/2014 - 12:33pm
(Story by Allyson Attic and Byron Brewer. Cover by Tony Savage)
PART THE SECOND
So deep that hope was only a fleeting memory. Queen Arema of Oceanus was caught in a dream. A dream in which she knew she was asleep, which is one of the worst kinds of dreams.
Darkness closed in on all sides and she struggled to wake herself. It was oppressive and weighed her down. If only she could make a sound, do something, anything to … wake … up!
But she couldn’t open her mouth. She couldn’t open her eyes.
Coldness brushed her shoulder. It was like a knife in the darkness, but it didn’t budge the dream. The coldness grappled with her, pulled and scraped with rough edges on her psyche. It started to release, to disappear, and even though it was foreign to her it was … something … in this nothingness. Arema reached out, grabbed the cold and clung to the serrating edge of the unknown.
With a gasp and a start, the queen of Oceanus awoke! She blinked her eyes and filled her lungs with life for it felt as if her heart had actually stopped. A cold silver sliver flickered passed the corner of her eye and was gone. Trying to get her bearings, everything looked strange and foreboding.
Where was she?
Her last memories were of the warmth of her alien lover lying beside her as she went to sleep … in her own bedchamber, in her own palace, in her own city, and … THIS was none of those.
Arema was trapped inside a large cage, a black shimmering cage with no door that hung from the ceiling of a vast underwater cavern. The cave had black shimmering walls that looked corrugated like vines. Looking up, the ceiling was hard to see for there was an air pocket and the waves at the surface shimmered and defused the light.
The light … came from the floor.
She peered down, squinting at first, letting her eyes get used to the light for it was very bright compared to the surroundings. She reached for the cage to steady herself and her vision. As her hand softly touched the black surface of the cage, a fizzing of bubbles arose. Something like seltzer water flowed around her, tickling her nose, except she did not find it funny. No, nothing, absolutely nothing about this was funny. It was as if she hadn’t woken up and was still stuck in a nightmare.
As her vision cleared, she saw a pool below her. Yes, there are pools even on a water world, pools filled with something other than water. This one swirled with bright white clouds of something strange. It was somewhat mesmerizing as she gazed upon it. A cold shiver traveled down her left shoulder, but the rest of the water around her was very warm, almost on the verge of being hot.
Surrounding the edge of the swirling white pool was a metal casing with gears, switches and knobs all around. There was a familiar taste to the water. As Arema breathed it in, it dawned on her what caused the sweet taste. It was the taste of lead. If she stayed in this place for very long, she would go insane from exposure to the dark metal.
There was a bite of cold to the left shoulder that would not go away. “Are you the one that saved me from my dreams?” Arema addresses the seeming nothingness directly. It moved as if confirming her thoughts … or was it in her thoughts as well. A ghost, another captive?
A movement by the pool catches her attention and immediately she wished she had her attention back to own herself. It was quick as it moved toward the cage, yet had a lumbering look about it. It was a being she had never encountered before. Even with her travels to other worlds, other dimensions with the Wonder Worlock, this being seemed out of place. Much of its body was hidden under a large dark cloak, it was the head that seemed wrong. His pale white skin had shades of murky blue-gray highlighting, sharp edges of sinew. A large mouth that wasn’t large enough for the sharp teeth inside. The lips were chapped, scarred and cut by the same edges that they held underneath.
The entity snatched the cage with the long claws of a meaty blue-gray hand. The cage was pulled downwards for him to take a closer look at his captive.
His voice is gravelly and booming to sensitive ears: “She AWAKES! Her HIGHNESS of HIGHNESS does deign our company!” Dark lifeless eyes stare at her, waiting for a reply. “Well, no words? What about questions?”
New cuts form on his lips from the sharp teeth. The being shakes the cage and pulls it closer to his face as he looks up at his captive.
“I said speak! I know you can! All grand politicos have voices that babble and babble, even the pretty ones!”
At this point, the queen in Arema stepped up. In her reign, she has had her share of belligerent congressmen that belittled and degraded her. As anyone that has been raised at court, she has been trained to portray a manner of decorum that most take for granted and even in that darkest hour, or any level of haranguing given to her by a disgruntled diplomat, she would keep her cool.
Unfortunately, she was not at court and her last nerve had just been stepped on.
The creature bellowed in pain. Arema had kicked out her petite foot which found purchase with his flat gray nose. He released the cage from his hold.
The cage’s tethers sprung it back and upward, carrying its captive along with the motion. It soared high until it pierced the surface of the lapping waters at the top of the cave. Maybe it was being completely out of control of the situation that caused her senses to be fooled but Arema could have sworn, when she glanced at the black ceiling of the cave, the ceiling moved.
The cage floated slowly down to its original state. Arema’s heart was beating hard from the wild ride she had just received. The cold shards of her ghostly savior felt as if they would pierce her shoulder, but the thought of going through this alone would be worse. This nightmare in which she had awakened only continues. Has she become too dependent on her lover’s graces? The serene security that she had with the Wonder Worlock sharpens the feeling of helplessness she has now. Could it only be but hours ago that they were entwined?
The blue-gray beast was furious, but she was not sure with whom. She was the one who gave him a boot to his reddened nose, but he circled the glowing cloudy white pool throwing threats to the air and threats at the instruments that he tugged and pulled upon at the lead metal edge of the pool. “Brilliant! Just Brilliant!!” “This was the idea that beat all other ideas!” … Flliip… Bash … He must truly be insane, made that way from the lead that has seeped into the water and the isolation in this dark black cave.
He looked up suddenly at the cage and its occupant. “Your kind is what put me down here!” Arema turned her head from his gaze looking through the corded black cage at the corded black wall of the cave. “As I thought!” he said. “Can’t face that which YOU have created!”
She turned back with a fury in her voice. “And what did I create?! You ingrate!” Her composure gone, she flung her arms out at her cage and the cave. “I have never even imagined such a horrid place as this existed!”
The beast lowered his voice, “You just don’t recognize it.” He turned about on his heels and flung out his arms grandly at his surroundings as he turned in a freakishly graceful pirouette. “This is the part of the rug, the corner of the world, where the royals sweep …. their trash.” He drops his arms and comes closer to the cage but not too close this time, his previous lesson learned. He lowered his voice even more and puts a fat finger with a long clawed nail to his lips as if to whisper. “This is the trash that ROYALS don’t EVER want to be seen or … found.”
He flung his arm back and motioned at the pool with his long clawed hand, “Welcome to the bottom of the well! Deep … DEEP in the recesses of your lineage has used it as a trash pit. ”
He paused. “Oh, um …” he seemed to have caught a thought and said, “Figuratively, that is, because in reality …” He laughed. “… we’re as close to the surface as you can get without sunburn. Hahaha!”
Queen Arema knew one day that she would have to face the past, a past that her predecessors had created. There was a long lineage, some good and some bad. Her father was a good man, a better father, but not so much a great king. Did he put this creature in this black whole? And for what reason?
“I see … you finally know what I mean.” He had walked around to the other side of the pond. “Well, I’m no longer the royal PUTZ, waiting for a glory day of medals and honors for a job well done.” He pressed a spot on the far black corded cave wall and the wall seemed to move with his hand, then the facing rock wall on the other side of the pond opened, like a black drapery of a grand theatre. He moved to stand in the middle of opening, looking back at her. “My dear
Arema’s head hurt trying to understand her predicament. She was being blamed for a past that her forefathers created. Her accuser and insane captor has … quit? Quit what exactly? Did he just abandon her after locking her in this cage?
Suddenly she felt the cold teeth of her ghostly companion bite down hard on her shoulder, shaking her back to her senses and these senses were telling her that she felt oddly warm. Her eyes drew back to the pool and the white cloud was turning faster and rising higher with an extremely orange underbelly. She remembered her history from the many tutors that passed through the halls of the palace. The power that ran Oceanus back some centuries ago was from the wells of the planet, the volcanic wells. This was extremely dangerous and while it seemed easy to control, it wasn’t in the long run because the blue planet tended to have a mind of its own, causing many deaths.
This was one of those wells, and the discontented being that was appointed here by her forefathers just opened all the locks. It won’t take long for this whole cave to be cleansed with molten lava. Fear ran through Arema. She felt ill with fear. This was it, she thought. This is the place where she was going to die. Where was her lover, the Wonder Worlock? Why hasn’t he come to save her? A shard of coldness came from her shoulder and seemed to hover near her heart.
She backed away from the heat that rose from the pool. Radiating outward and upward, she rose naturally with the heat, her eyes wide with fear. She wasn’t as afraid of death as much as the way she would die, boiled alive. With her back to the top of the cage, she turned her head away from the heat and clung to the top of the cage wall behind her with her manicured fingers. Her icy companion she soon will meet face-to-face.
What an odd feeling, the cold bite of a ghost on her shoulder even as the heat of death rises to her front. “My ghostly friend, I’m afraid you rescued me for nothing.” The chill at her shoulder finally moved and danced and traveled to her head, like a slap to the cheek. As if to say, snap out of it … get moving! Coming out of her comatose fear, her mind raced. “Where could I move? I’m trapped.” The coldness covered her back as if it were pushing her forward, urging her to go forward … forward, it insisted. But Arema couldn’t go forward, that was toward the heat … the god-awful heat. It was just becoming uncomfortable where she was at the top of the cage; it would be worse closer to the pool. It may even sear her skin. Where her hands clung to the cage, it was even becoming sticky. Sticky? Her cold friend bit and nipped. “Yes, that’s it!” The cage would be weaker near the pool, maybe even ready to break apart.
Seconds counted, even moments. The heat from the pool was hitting her body in waves. She had to plan her exit once she hit the bottom of the cage. She looked toward where the creature exited and knew there was no way she could reach that far door on the other side of the red-hot pool without the cost of her life. She looked up at the ceiling and the surface of the cave; perhaps there was a way out through the top. It was her only choice.
Summoning her courage and her strength, she swam as hard as she could toward the bottom of the cage, toward the heat. It wasn’t that far away from where she had perched but the heat braised her skin with pain. She hit the bottom with all her strength and it gave way, like wisps it parted easily, as if it wasn’t there at all. Once outside of the cage, she immediately changed course for the top of the cave, where the waves lapped and where something had moved before.
It was easy to reach the surface waves; the heat pushed her toward them. The temperature was a degree or two cooler here but uncomfortable. It won’t take long before even these waves became unbearable.
She had to make a plan before she went out into the open air. She won’t last any longer in the air than boiling in the water. She is a water creature, her gills will start drying out and collapsing immediately after exiting the water. Eventually she would pass out and become asphyxiated.
The heat was building at her back as she peered through the surface waves. She was right, the ceiling was moving; moving with millions of tiny legs from a large, roving, undecided mass. They were more agitated from the heat that was rising from the water. The thoughts of the collective: This is not the norm. What should we do? Will the master be upset if we leave?
The creatures were making a break for it in unison. One side of the undulating mass was steadily moving in exit across the ceiling through a black corded wall. Arema now understood where all the black stickiness came from. It came from these bug-like creatures. They secreted it for movement and excess. Seeing these creatures moving toward what must be an exit, and even though she couldn’t see through the curtain of black cording to know what lay behind it, she knew it was her only hope.
The Queen of Oceanus and its collective realms took a long breath and bolstered her courage. It was now or never! She pulled herself out of the hot water onto a slick black-coated rock shelf which encircled the cavern water’s edge. At first the cooler air that surrounded her was welcome on her skin, but then the delicate membranes of her gills collapsed. This feeling was like no other. It made her ill, this feeling that made a proud queen desperate.
The agitation of her cold companion on her shoulder made no difference to her now for when you are close to your death, you go into that great divine by yourself. Fear and desperation to grasp at the wispy contrails of life overcome your conscious behavior. Arema dived for the doorway behind the black corded webbing. It was sticky yet yielded to her bombardment of desperation to get through, the steam of heat coming from the water was making it weak. She pushed harder and it slowly was giving way. With the success she was having, she barely noticed the thousands of legs on her skin that were also desperate for escape.
The eight-legged creatures in the millions were on their way out. Just one bite would have made Arema ill for a month. If they bit in the numbers that were traveling over her to get to their own freedom, she would be out for an eternity. Fortunately for Arema, they choose to ignore her and just flow over her, their legs causing a different chill on her skin from her companion’s cold sharpness on her shoulder.
Her strength was ebbing with the lack of oxygen to her muscles, but she had made a hole big enough to slide her petite slim body through. Something like a calf being birthed from the womb, she pushed and squeezed until at last her body part slid through to the other side.
Once on the opposite side of the webbing, Arema’s victory of success was cut short. There was no water in sight, just more cave that stretched out into a dark tunnel. The eight-legged creatures marched down the corridor of rock, millions of black little bodies with one goal of escape. She tried to pull herself up to stand and follow them, but her energy was gone so she faltered and crumbled to the hard dry ground. At least she didn’t have to deal with the black stickiness because it had faded a few short inches from the opening in which she had escaped.
Depression hit her and filled her being. Her ghostly friend was gone. The cold, sharp stabs at her shoulder had disappeared. Arema was now completely alone. The agony from her collapsed gills, her skin was starting to crack from being dried and shriveled, and she had no energy. The only thing left for her to do … was to die.
Queen Arema of Oceanus gave in to the pain and hopelessness. She laid her head down on the dry dirt floor of the cave waiting for the darkness of death to envelop her. The darkness obliged her as it folded her into his arms and the cave was gone.
The Wonder Worlock had found his prized treasure! He had brought her immediately back to the palace. The waters of Oceanus had restored a great part of her health once she returned to them, but the medical practitioners had been in and out of Queen Arema’s private rooms for days.
The Dark Mage stayed without, already knowing that she was fine physically but her mind had a tinge of cold chill to it and stayed closed off to his soft probes. At this stage of recovery, her psyche was too delicate for him to mentally force his will onto hers to find out the reason. Instead he became a sentinel outside waiting to be called upon by her for any reason.
The black creatures did find the sea. On a water world, it wasn’t hard to find. Many of them had never seen the surface of this world in which they were born. The vastness of the sky was scary but the freedom to move without carrying their bubble of life-giving air was exhilarating. They could feel the wind and the splash of waves. Their nature as workers had them form an interconnect mass of black bodies with sticky webbing holding them together as a floating, writhing black barge on the surface of the Oceanan waves. They worked and worked but with no real direction, just internal need and ancient memory.
One worker not completely occupied by work started a dance, a dance to praise their master with thanksgiving. Another worker joined in the dance, then another. They bent their legs in a low bow then straightened, then bent and straightened, leaving their forelegs waving in the air for the dance. They felt something. They sensed a chill, their master was near.
An evil black heart floated under the water, under the floating black barge. Cold hard water started to take form and grow. A streamline shape was needed to swim like a fish but not like any fish you’ve ever known. Like a glinting knife it would swim lazy circles around the barge of black creatures. Every once in a while a plume of white wave would break. The dancers dance in praise and longing for praise from their master. Their master grew in strength and size.
The coldness permeated the air around the dancers and around the workers. Love and hate exchanged. If a child was to be loved by its parents, how close is the emotion of love to hate, especially when there is no room for love would hate suffice. Being good, being bad, any attention is still attention, after all.
The master had a loathing of the creatures that she had created. Their love was used against her and had trapped her for eons. There was also the loathsome jailer. She somewhat admired the strength of his mind, if hatred and blackness could admire anything, but time had been on her side, time and the changing world outside their cell. They had both been forgotten. His valor of sacrifice and her sadistic evil, both may be on some crumble of manuscript, in some regents’ tomb but given their captives naivety it’s apparent this phase of history was unimportant to the teams of archivists to the Queen.
The large cold glitter of hard water with empty eyes circled a final time then dove deep. The dancers stopped their dance, their tiny hearts saddened at being abandoned. As far as they could tell, their dance had been perfect, “Why, oh why, did the master leave?!”
WHOOOOOSH!!! The master had returned!
The ocean breaking with hard water jaws wide open, scooping up all the creatures in one massive gulp. White water cascading as the master returned back into the ocean with a large splash. Hard water has little to no oxygen for the black specks to gather a bubble of life and it didn’t matter anyway because the master crushed their tiny bodies with pressure created inside her. The master mentally snorted as she still felt their glee before the light faded from their bodies.
What better fate than to be eaten alive by the one you love.