Nightshades

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The Thrown of the Erlking

Greg’s mouth watered as the flavors of the forest wafted up from the earth and attacked his senses. He was beginning to understand that everything, both living and dead, seemed to have a unique signature about it. The whole world had split into two main categories with his nightshade transformation; There were basic tastes and there were complex tastes. The basic tastes were those that anyone could identify such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter. All these flavors were foundational and one dimensional in scope. The complex tastes, on the other hand, were amazing and hard to put into words. With living organic matter there was more to it than just the physical presence of the substance… It had something else woven into the fibers. That something else seemed to give it history and emotion.

It was crazy to think that at one point Greg had accepted the world of flavor at face value. Now he was like a man being taken from his heavy chains and dragged into the light of day. His watering eyes could now view the sun and the world at large. Greg breathed in again and smiled at all the complexities. He could sense a lot of the creatures of the forest in their respective habitats. Some were resting this early in the morning. Others were alive with activity.

Ignorance truly is bliss, thought Greg as he picked up a massive log and tossed it into the clearing. He quickly reached down and snatched a trembling rabbit from off the ground. It seemed like all the creatures of the forest were apprehensive of him. They didn’t quite know if he was man or beast; friend or foe. Greg breathed in the essence of the little creature and smiled devilishly at the aroma. This little guy was beautiful both inside and out. Greg could tell he had lived an uneventful life full of comfort and ease. It seemed like most of the animals in the giant terrarium were planted here by the human race.

Greg knew he shouldn’t play around with his new abilities. Doing that might get him in trouble with his new code of conduct. He looked around the forest to see if anyone was watching. When he was sure that all was safe, he held the rabbit up to his nose and breathed in again. Huffing rabbits wasn’t a crime, but it sure felt like it. Greg could taste the whole life of the creature. The flavor was amazing… full of deep memories.

Greg could actually tell that the animal loved clovers and wild flowers. He huffed again and again. Strange Images of places Greg had never been to before started filling his mind like a slide show. He could see green pastures and tall grass waving in the wind. He could hear running water from a babbling brook and smell the dryness of summer time… It felt like a three dimensional scented candle. Greg started stroking the rabbit gently. He let his dark claws run over the fir.

“There is so much more to you then meets the eye my little friend.” Said Greg. He could taste the fear underneath the fir. The rabbit wasn’t 100% fear, there were other things mixed in, but the fear seemed more noticeable now.

Greg’s mouth was watering again. There was something about the emotion of “fear” that was alarming and exciting. It made his stomach growl and his heart flutter like a little school boy. Greg looked around the forest to see if anyone was watching. He knew it was against his knew code of conduct as a nightshade… but he wanted to devour the creature. Greg knew that if he could devour the rabbit alive he could experience the whole thing first hand. He tried to summon a cosmic portal but couldn’t. He tried again… but nothing happened. He snapped his fingers and dance around but nothing happened. Greg roared with frustration and dug his claws into the earth.

He remembered that Bethesda had told him he would be limited in his abilities; but only for a small season. After the nightshades had inherited the earth… all these restrictions would be taken away. Greg hadn’t cared at the time of the explanation. He had resolved to never eat a living thing, and to tell the human race of the upcoming invasions. Greg just didn’t know how to get ahold of Gwen and let her know about it. Gwen would be able to figure this all out. She already didn’t trust the nightshades like all the other humans did… she was unique.

Bethesda didn’t seem to like Gwen either. Greg hadn’t understood why, but after being in the body of a nightshade for a few hours things were oddly starting to make sense to him. There was something strangely attractive about a female nightshade that could fight and defeat her foes. That meant she would be a great breeding partner…

Greg stopped himself from thinking this. He was almost certain that this wasn’t his feelings on the subject. It must have been something that Bethesda was changing inside of him. She was trying to get him to be attracted to her; Greg hated how it was working. For some inexplicable reason, Gwen being a good fighter was important to the whole social fabric. It meant Greg could trust her.

Greg looked back down at the rabbit in his hands and sighed disappointedly. Bethesda had patiently explained to him that he wouldn’t have the ability to make any more cosmic portals after she left. She had told him that The Giver of Knowledge would suppress his abilities by using the data disk on the back of his neck. Bethesda had mentioned that the humans needed to think that they are in control. It was all part of the plan.

“Yep, this is the life,” said Greg. “Standing in the forest getting some weird contact high on rabbits. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Greg’s delicate mind had been slipping back and forth between memories. To be completely honest, he didn’t really feel like his old self anymore. He was stuck somewhere in-between the transition process. As a matter-of-fact, He had to keep reminding himself that it was important to tell Gwen about the plans to take over the world…but he found himself wanting to day dream about her fighting style and technique.

Greg’s stomach growled. He looked at the rabbit again and debated with himself on how to eat it. His mouth was big enough that he could easily bite the thing in half and chew it to pieces. The idea of killing the thing so brutally was appalling to him. Greg somehow knew that by destroying the tissue like that it would ruin his chances of experiencing the life of the animal. Dead things would never have the same flavor as living things. It was a fact of nightshade nature. Every dead thing that Greg had come upon reverted back to the same basic flavors (Sweet, Sour, Salty and Bitter). These were not bad flavors but they definitely lacked depth.

This knowledge was not his knowledge.

Greg’s mind kept wanting to draw upon memories that he somehow knew were not his own. He kept feeling like he had learned all this stuff when he was a younger nightshade in the black forest… but all that was impossible to conceive. He had never grown up as a young nightshade anywhere. He figured that these where Bethesda’s memories that had taken control of his subconscious. Greg looked at the rabbit and shook his head.

“What am I doing?” asked Greg. He dropped the creature and let it run away. He stepped back and looked down at this new form reluctantly. This wasn’t him; he was supposed to be something different than this. Sure he could be a nightshade but he wasn’t going to go around and consume the living creatures of the forest. His stomach ached and his head felt light from the hunger. He had to find something to eat or he would parish.

“Asset 666, are you in there?”

Greg at first thought that he was hallucinating from the hunger. He turned and recognized the person approaching almost instantly. His red eyes dilated and shifted from the thermal spectrum to the visible spectrum. The flavor of the puny social worker wafted up into the forest and filled the canopy. It was absolutely heavenly to take in. If Greg hadn’t been limited in his abilities to create cosmic portals he most certainly would have eaten the man right then and there. For the first time, Greg understood why the nightshades wanted to eat humans. Humans were way more complex in nature than anything else in the forest. Their history was rich in tragedy and triumph. There emotions more advanced… almost aged to perfection!

“Asset 666 are you in there?!” asked Dennis cautiously.

Greg emerged from the trees and roared as loud as he could. He beat on his chest and stretched out his massive wings into the air. The action blocked out the light from the sky and sent dark shadows everywhere in the clearing. The long claws on Greg’s feet plunged into the earth and gripped the soil. The small social worker flinched at this show of aggression and retreated backwards. He knew that most animals got protective of their territory…

Dennis had never dealt with a nightshade this big before. It was taking everything in him not to turn tail and run screaming through the jungle. He kept reminding himself that these things were not dangerous animals like the misinformed public depicted them to be. They were gentle giants seeking American Citizenship here in The Garden of Eden and all they really needed was a little education and love. Dennis’s leg bumped into the feeding trough he had brought with him from Cell 70. He hadn’t even recognized that he was still retreating backwards from Greg’s expression of individuality. He tried to control the trembling in his voice as he spoke.

“H-H-How was your first night in The Garden?”

Greg’s deep voice growled habitually as he thought about his painful transformation into a nightshade. It had been the most traumatic thing he had ever experience. Greg snarled at the thought of it. He could tell that his actions were unsettling the human. He wasn’t really trying to scare Dennis… it was just in his nature now to growl. His deep voice seemed to vibrate the earth as he spoke, “You lied to me Dennis! You promised a smooth transition on my first day and then dumped me into the jungle without explanation! I was gobsmacked!”

“I know, I know,” said Dennis as he held out his hands. He was trying to control the anxiety welling up inside his own chest, “But I figured the jungle environment would help you drop the whole concept of being a human. Studies have shown that a change in environment can act as a catalyst to catharsis in the nightshade race. I believe it may have been one of the main factors for why you have changed so quickly. It’s what me and my associates at the University of Oregon like to call Eustress Therapy Reduction in Nightshade Transformation. I am currently co-writing a research paper on its effects… I believe it has helped you embrace your true-sense-of-self!”

“My true sense of self?” rumbled Greg with frustration. It was amazing just how ignorant everyone was. The nightshades were playing them all like fiddles, “I know you’re probably not going to believe this Dennis, but it wasn’t your stupid therapeutic procedure which caused my transformation. A lot has come to my attention about the nightshade race in the past 10 hours. I feel obligated to tell you before I completely forget what it means to be human…”

“The beautiful thing about Eustress Therapy Reduction is that you don’t need to believe in it Greg… in order for it to work. It’s a unilateral system of treatment. I, personally, just think it’s great that you have come out of the metaphoric closet and are fully embracing the new you in every way possible,” interjected Dennis with as much optimism as he could muster. He ultimately wanted Greg to feel safe and not attached for his beliefs, however egregiously uninformed they were. Dennis was also making sure not to turn his back on Asset 666 for one second. He remembered that eye contact was key when facing down a beast, “Share your feelings with me! This is a safe environment… no judging here whatsoever.”

Greg could tell this whole conversation was going to be an uphill battle. His shoulders drooped and he suddenly felt more exhausted. He walked forward and tried to keep his tail from dragging in the mud; Greg hated having a muddy tail. He wrapped his wings back over his shoulders to fight off the kill of the morning and rounded the feeding trough that Dennis had brought with him, “In order for the human race to survive we need to be on the same page about nightshades…”

Greg paused suddenly. His memory was getting fuzzy from all of Bethesda’s tampering. He owed it to the human race to tell them of the upcoming invasion, “The nightshades are not friends with the human race. They are planning something huge Dennis that needs to be brought to the light before it’s too late. They are using you, and everyone here at this base, to turn other humans into nightshades. The serums you gave me back in the van is what starts the transformation process,” Greg tried to remember all the things that Bethesda had told him, “The evaluations that the government is doing under the Dead Man Act of 2025 was designed by the nightshades to categorize the humans. It was made to serve two purposes. One of them is to give every human in the world a data disk. And the other is to find male humans that have the right DNA match for nightshade transition.” Greg pointed to himself and growled with frustration, “I was one of the DNA matches that the government found! I am walking proof of it!”

Dennis wasn’t sure what Asset 666 was talking about. He was almost sounding like all the racist rednecks in the middle of the country… believing in all the government conspiracy theories about nightshades and hostile takeovers. The humans in these under-educated communities had definitely done a lot of damage to Asset 666. Dennis had a lot of work ahead of him, “Government DNA matching and tracking whole populations through the data disks? Come on now, Greg… do you know how crazy that sounds? Are you hearing the words coming out of your mouth? You can’t be still questioning the results of the blood thermistors?”

“This is all happening, Dennis. The government is doing human DNA matching during their evaluations. They are doing this while installing the data disks onto people’s necks. The blood thermistors can’t be trusted either. I personally wouldn’t trust a damn thing coming out of Prewitt Labs,” Rumbled Greg with frustration. He could tell by the look on Dennis’s face that the social worker was not believing a damn thing he was saying. Greg looked down and pointed to the feeding trough, “Is this food for me? Because I am starving.”

Dennis nodded his head and held out his hands. “It’s called TC-11 Turmeric. Prewitt Labs was the company that give us a special order to feed this stuff to you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All the nightshades here in Eden absolutely love the stuff… and it’s high in proteins, minerals, vitamins, and a mystery ingredient that has been patented.”

Greg reluctantly stared at the pile of orange mush in front of him. It looked like someone had blended up a whole pumpkin patch and dumped it into a wheelbarrow. He picked up the feeding trough and held it up with one hand. His stomach ached with hunger and the flavor emitting from the substance wasn’t the best… but it was better than the alternative. If Greg was going to keep from eating the living, he had to supplement somehow.

“There is a spoon to the left there to help you eat it,” said Dennis cheerfully. He smirked at Asset 666 now, “That is… if you can still trust Prewitt Labs with your diet.”

Greg picked up the spoon and frowned. He could see the hypocrisy in his own words and it wasn’t helping his case. Here he was telling Dennis not to trust Prewitt Labs and at the same time getting ready to eat the mush they had provided him. Greg was sure there was something in the mush that would aid in his transformation.

“The only reason I am going to eat this stuff is because the damage is already done,” said Greg. His deep voice sounded defeated. His stomach was hurting so bad he felt like he was going to collapse, “I know this may look hypocritical but everything I am telling you is true. The nightshades are controlling everything now. They are being guided by a being call The Giver of Knowledge. This guys is dangerous and methodical! The only reason I can’t create portals is because he has suppressed my ability to do so using the data disk. It has nothing to do with the injections you give us or the rain that falls. It has everything to do with The Giver of Knowledge.”

Greg breathed out a sign; he sounded absolutely crazy.

“The Giver of Knowledge… Really?” said Dennis in disbelief, “Really?”

Greg stopped making eye contact and looked down. The dead mush was nothing in comparison to the flavor coming off of the social worker. Greg hated how much he wanted to eat Dennis right now. He could smell the potent flavors of Smugness, Self-Importance, and Fear emanating from the little man. He also detected a level of sadness for a recent loss he had experienced; but not for the loss of a loved one. There was something else to it that Greg couldn’t nail down. Dennis seemed let down for some reason. Images of Gwen flashed in Greg’s head as the odor wafted up into his mouth. Was Dennis actually worried about Gwen? If only he could eat the man and find out.

“Anyway…What are you building here?” asked Dennis as he turned to the clearing. He was staring at the rocks and trees that Greg was piling up at its center. Dennis had never witness this behavior before from the nightshades in The Garden of Eden. They were not known to nest like this, but something was compelling them to start building homes. Most of the Assets in the blue sector were starting their compilation.

Greg started shoveling the orange paste down his throat as quickly as he could. He was hoping that by eating the strange substance that it would keep him from thinking about eating Dennis. The dark claws of his right hand punctured the plastic of the spoon as he devoured each bite. It definitely wasn’t the best thing he had eaten, but it wasn’t the worst. He would just have to get used to eating this stuff instead of the living creatures of the forest. He still had his code of conduct to live up to and nothing was going to change that… unless he completely forgot who he was.

“I am building something called The Elverkongen Majstro-Hus. I was told to have it completed by a very bossy female nightshade several hours ago.” Said Greg. “She gave me the blueprints in something she called an overlay file and ordered me to start building it for us. She seemed very confident that I knew what I was doing.”

Dennis walked around the giant pile of rubble and stopped when he got to the other side. He turned and looked over to Asset 666 and rubbed his chin. He was confused by what he was seeing and hearing. None of the other Assets were as open as Asset 666 was being at this present moment, “Who told you to do all this?”

“Her name is Bethesda, Princess of The Black Forest. We are betrothed because we danced together in the rain… or something weird like that. I am still learning all this garbage about nightshade history and culture. She told me to start building this thing while she went and secured our future together. She kept talking about a council,” Said Greg with a mouth full of orange food. He didn’t care too much about manners at the present moment, “When She returns from the council of The Black Forest I’ll get more information from her.” Said Greg as he swallowed more mush. The feeling of hunger was only slightly letting up with each swallow.

“Is this female nightshade a person you see in your dreams?” asked Dennis curiously.

“Yep,” said Greg. He burped and kept eating the orange mush. He was about halfway through it now. His body felt oddly strengthened by the substance, “I see her in my dreams and now I am seeing her in real life. She visited me during my transformation.”

“And you are building this Forest Love Shack for her?” Asked Dennis. He pulled the white hanky from his pocket and dabbed his face. Why was it that all the nightshades talked about these made up females? Asset 666 hadn’t been here two days and he was already talking about seeing someone that was betrothed to him.

“Don’t be disrespectful of my new culture Dennis. It’s called an Elverkongen Majstro-Hus not a Love Shake. Me and Bethesda are going to grow old together in it. I know that it looks like a pile of rocks and trees sitting in a clearing…but that will all change shortly. It’s not completed right now. I need some more instruction from Bethesda on how it all comes together,” said Greg embarrassed and annoyed. He was almost finished with the orange mush in the feeding trough. His body was relaxing now, “After I gather all the raw materials in the hill side over there. I can make my very first Molte-Vaerkoj.”

“You have to make what?” asked Dennis. This was the first time that any of the nightshades had talked about crafting a tool out of the elements.

“It’s a long, metal, “V” shaped tool used to cut and mold hardwood.” Said Greg. He was reading from some of the green overlays that populated his field of vision. He didn’t care what he was sharing with Dennis at the present moment. The idiot wouldn’t believe a damn word anyway, “I need it to help drill the drawl-holes for the framing studs. The soil here is rich with minerals for crafting these tools and I don’t have a lot of time before Bethesda gets back.”

“Before she gets back?” asked Dennis. He looked around the clearing for any prying eyes. It seemed, for now, that they were all alone. Asset 666 was suffering from delusions like all the other male nightshades. Dennis would have to put all this information it his report.

Greg’s tail was now whipping back and forth with satisfaction. The orange mush didn’t look like much but, boy, did it make you feel good inside. Greg felt like a new nightshade. His voice rumbled the ground, “Yes, Dennis, before she gets back from the council…”

“What happens if I am here when she gets back?” ask Dennis.

“She will probably eat you.”

Dennis shook his head at this response. He could already see that Asset 666’s recovery was going to be a long process. There was still the influence of the “False Persons Effect” deep down in the psychological tissue.

Greg was getting fed up with this conversation. Dennis was treating him like a confused child. Bethesda had been right about his own race rejecting him and not believing him. It seemed there was nothing he could do to convince them, “Can I speak with Agent Garcia?”

Dennis expression changed suddenly. He seemed taken aback by this odd request, “Why would you want to speak to her?”

“Because I know that she doesn’t trust nightshades… and she might be more willing to investigate the claims I am making about Prewitt Labs, The Evaluations, and the Data Disks,” said Greg as he tossed the feeding trough to the side of the clearing. He used the plastic spoon to scratch his upper back and wing joints. The sensation felt amazing.

“Believe me, you don’t want to talk to Agent Garcia,” said Dennis as he crossed his arms over his chest, “she can be insensitive and…”

Greg sat there waiting for the social worker to finish his thought. The man seemed like he was trying to find the right words to describe Agent Garcia. After a few seconds Greg realized that Dennis had completely frozen in place. The man looked like a statue.

“Hello?” asked Greg. He waved his hand in front of the social worker trying to get his attention, “Dennis are you there?”

A massive portal opened up next to the rubble that Greg had been gathering in the clearing. The sound of loud chanting could be heard beyond the threshold. It sounded like a whole host of nightshades were celebrating something in the distance. Greg stood up as Bethesda appeared through the opening. She was dressed in bright armor and covered in spots of deep red blood. Her bleached white hair was curled around her skull into a bun. Multiple black sticks protruded from the bun in all directions. She hefted a smaller version of the Molte-Vaerkoj on her left shoulder as she marched through the clearing.

“I have returned from negotiations with my sisters in the Black Forest. Things have gotten heated like I predicted they would, but nothing that I can’t handle all on my own. Several of the Hojere-Klasse have perished this day and gone to the grave of Shellcar. Their spirits will feed the ground and give light to new life!” said Bethesda with a smile. Her armor clinked lightly as she stopped next to Dennis. She plunged the wicked looking sword into the ground and breathed in the air of the terrarium. Her red eyes shifted to the frozen social worker. She raised an eyebrow “Am I interrupting a therapy session, my Erlking?”

“Nope,” said Greg, “Dennis seems to have everything figured out all on his own.”

“It’s amazing how the most educated among the humans are the most clueless to our rise in power. The Giver of Knowledge was right when he said they would be key to this nightshade movement.” said Bethesda as she stroked Dennis’s cheek. She smeared nightshade blood all over his skin. The odor he was given off was tempting, “They are the smartest idiots I have ever observed, and they will make great slaves to our people in the future… most of the humans will.”

Bethesda summoned another portal next to Dennis. She was very hungry after defeating so many challengers in the arena. She was going to push him through the cosmic threshold and eat him when Greg reached out and stopped her.

“Let him be.”

“He is contemptuous toward you my Erlking. He treats you like a child,” Sneered Bethesda as she extinguished the portal next to the human. She would have to slowly change the love for humanity in the fledging Erlking. That could easily be done after she claimed him fully.

Greg couldn’t help it. He could smell the confidence, wisdom, and excitement on the female nightshade. It took his sense by storm and gripped his Citrine Stone. The thought of her in battle set his lower gizzard on fire. He could actually see the defeated bodies of those that would take her from him. They had perished like dogs to the grave of Shellcar. He spread his wings out into the air above them and roared a deep throated roar that seemed to shake reality itself. The violent vibrations caused the earth to tremble and the animals of the forest to flee in terror. The rest of the nightshade race heard his cry from somewhere beyond the threshold of the massive portal. They were cheering for the Erlking.

“Let me show you our world, my Fledgling Erlking. Let me show you you’re throne and new kingdom! A better world awaits beyond the opening of that door.” Said Bethesda as she bowed and held a hand out to the massive portal next to the rubble in the middle of the clearing, “Our hour has not expired yet, but there are none left to challenge us in the cogent breeding arenas. We will be the most powerful of the unions after the cycle of the yellow moons is complete. I have also been given the go ahead by The Giver of Knowledge to start the invasions of the human world.”

Greg looked over to the portal. He could taste the excitement of the crowds and hear the way they cheered for him. Beyond it would be the new beginning. He walked past Bethesda and wrapped his wings around his shoulders.

Bethesda gripped her Molte-Vaerkoj and pulled it out of the ground. She hefted it over her left shoulder and snapped the fingers of her right hand. A little portal appeared in the air and dropped the human into her open palm. She had promised her Erlking nothing… and she owed no allegiance to the human race. Her lower gizzard growled as she unfroze the human’s weak mind and opened her mouth wide. She could smell his fear mounting as the horror of the situation sunk in… before little Dennis could scream or call out she had incased him in darkness.

His unique flavor soaking into her taste buds.

Bethesda hummed to herself the song of the yellow moons and followed Greg into The Black Forest. The massive portal closed and the little clearing went still.

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