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The New Erlqueen

Gwen lost her balance as she dropped onto the gilded platform in the nightshade arena. Her body pivoted backwards as her feet worked franticly to keep her in the uprights position. The back of her legs collided against the grey stone throne on the platform and forced her into a seated position. Her body began to tingle all over with a strange new force. It felt like a giant electromagnetic field was surging up from the center of the earth. In seconds her whole frame was filled to the brim with this unknown energy. Gwen’s Citrine Stone felt like it was going to explode in her chest. She watched in confusion as her pale skin started to glow slightly like a florescent lightbulb. The darker patterns on the surface of the skin became more pronounced.

Just Great! Thought Gwen with a slight hiss, So much for being inconspicuous. I am officially the world’s ugliest nightlight. She was going to push herself out of the great stone chair when a robotic voice filled her head. It sounded like it was plugged into a giant megaphone. Gwen winced and gripped her long pointed ears. She closed her eyes and suppressed a hiss forming in her chest. Why the heck did she have to hiss all the time? It was getting annoying.


Daughter of the what? Thought Gwen in alarm. She felt sick to her stomach at the thought of being related to these creatures, they can’t be talking about me. I am not a daughter of a bleacher!

Gwen opened her big red eyes and paused at the terrible scene before her. Thousands of pale nightshade faces gazed up at her from what only could be described as a hell-scape nightmare. She was no longer in the Electro Lab with Dr. Howard and the General. The transition between locations had happened so quickly that her mind barely had enough time to process how she had got here in the first place. Gwen felt suddenly alone and cut off from all humanity. Her black claws sprang out from her fingertips and cut into the arms of the stone chair. Sparks went flying as the thick clouds above the arena flashed with lightening and parted slowly.

A bright yellow moon was now casting its haunting glow on all the surrounding bodies in the arena. Gwen’s nostrils widened as she breathed in the beautiful, yet pungent smell of human fear and anxiety. The tantalizing odor was coming from all the cages hanging from the black trees. Gwen was instantly disgusted with herself for enjoying the odor. All the humans seemed frozen in place like statues; they spoke not a word.

Gwen Jumped as the whole nightshade throng shouted her name. They were like wild animals. “Gwyneth Prime! Gwyneth Prime! Gwyneth Prime!”

Gwen smiled nervously at this misplaced enthusiasm; for some strange reason they all seemed to know her name. Gwen watched as the nightshades beat their arms together and slowly parted down the middle. On the opposite side of the arena stood a single nightshade with a wicked looking blade resting against her shoulder. Her dark horns pointed upward into the night sky like daggers. Her eyes were glowing blood red from the energy rising up out from the earth. Gwen watched as a small green icon appeared over the creatures head. It looked like the same icon she had seen back in the Electro Lab. She read the strange text that proceeded out of it:

¨(Bethesda Prime, ‘Interim’ Queen of the Black Forest.)

“Bethesda Prime?” said Gwen under her breath as her mind recalled the e-mail back in the lunchroom. It had been the strangest thing. “This can’t be the same nightshade that sent me that message yesterday.”

Another big green icon appeared in front of Gwen’s chest. It took the shape of a diamond and turned in place slowly. The same strange text proceeded out of it:

¨(Gwyneth Prime, ‘Interim’ Queen of the Black Forest.)

Queen of the black forest? Thought Gwen, confused as she reached out to the peculiar floating object. Her hand passed through it like a shadow. The icon rose up into the air and settled over her head like a crown, this can’t be for real… I have only been in this body for a few minute and I am already labeled a queen of these miserable creatures.

Gwen paused as her mind began putting the pieces of the puzzle together. This was some kind of nightshade ritual she was sitting in. She had somehow gotten involved. There had to be some kind of mix-up. Maybe the dream walking prototype had gotten damaged in her head and sent her here by mistake. This wasn’t part of the plan they had talked about back in the Electro Lab. Gwen was supposed to infiltrate Prewitt Labs and find her sister’s Onex Orb. She had to get back to the Electro Lab before things got complicated.

Gwen didn’t know why, but she held her fingers up to her pointed ear. The citrine stone she had sown into her glove was glowing brightly at the presence of all the nightshades in the arena. It was vibrating softly into her open palm.

At least something is working around her, thought Gwen as she tried to contact the outside world. Maybe the prototype in her head was somehow connected to the Electro Lab back at Camp Snowflake, “Dr. Howard are you there… Come in Dr. Howard… We have a big problem on our hands. It looks like I might be a participant in a nightshade ritual for leadership…”

Gwen waited for a response from the heavy woman. There was nothing but silence.

“Hello! Can you hear me!” Asked Gwen in frustration. She was going to try again when a little lightning bolt jumped from the yellow stone in her glove and struck her cheek. Gwen winced in pain and watched as a small portal opened up in front of her. She looked through it at the back of her head. In a few seconds it dissipated into thin air.

“Gwyneth Prime!?” Hissed the glowing white creature in the middle of the arena. Her cold voice could be heard by all who were present. “There is no Gwyneth Prime on the council of high sisters! This is an abomination to the rules and customs of our people! Only those with the highest ‘KRAFT’ can challenge under the yellow moon calendar! You are a Shadow of Shellcar’s… she must comply, by whose name do you fight?”

Gwen ran her fingers through her white hair and let out a deep sigh. It appeared there was going to be no easy way out of this one. Gwen didn’t know how all this ritual crap was supposed to work… and quite frankly she didn’t care anymore. She was through playing pretend with all these weird creatures. If she had to fight for anyone it was going to be in the name of her sister. That was the motivation that had started her on this path in the first place. Now that the world had gone to hell in a handbasket; there would be no United States Government to tell her she wasn’t being sensitive to the feelings of monsters. In this arena she could enact her revenge on these bloody creatures without social or legal repercussions. There would be no Dennis to write a report on her misconduct toward the assets!

Gwen took courage at this thought of complete freedom. She leaned forward in her stone chair and looked the nightshade in the eyes. She cleared her throat and tried to sound more human like. “I fight for my sister Isabella Garcia! The sister you bloody creatures took from me!”

The nightshade crowd stopped banging their arms together. Their expressions dropped as the whole atmosphere grew uneasy at the strange new oath. Never in a thousand years had any nightshade fought for anything else but the Erlking. There must have been a mistake… The Erlking was the one who gave power to the nightshades.

“Isabella Garcia?!” barked Bethesda Prime with surprise and confusion. It was clear that her fellow sister of the black forest had lost all her orbs during the human raids. This was probably one of Azoths clever little tricks to seize control. Well it wasn’t going to work on her. Bethesda turned slightly and eyeballed the beaten traitor on the ground. The female nightshade had come to a kneeling position and was smiling like a jackal at Gwyneth Prime… most likely seeing some sick joke in it all. Bethesda turned and faced the traitor, “what game are you playing here Azoth Undrende? You think it funny to mock our traditions?!”

“She does not belong to me Bethesda Prime,” said Azoth as she forced herself to a standing position. Her legs trembled as she leaned against the gilded platform, “And by the silly little look on your face it is apparent that she doesn’t belong to you either.”

“No more riddles… you are lying to me Azoth!” said Bethesda Prime with a growl. This subterfuge in the nightshade ranks ran deeper than she had before realized. After the whole ritual of the yellow moons was over; Bethesda Prime would have to go through all her fellow sisters of the black forest and sort them out one by one. The liars would be purged with fire, “Has this Gwyneth Prime come to save you from your fate? Who is this Isabella Garcia she fights for? Is she another one of your heretics?”

Azoth studied Gwyneth Prime for a moment. There was something different about this nightshade that she just couldn’t place. She seemed out of her element in more way than one. “It would seem that Isabella might be a human...”

Bethesda hissed at this ridiculous nonsense. Who would fight in the name of a human? She turned to Gwyneth Prime. “Who is this Isabella Garcia?!”

Gwen stood up from her stone throne and approached the ramp of the platform. She pointed to all the cages in the arena. Her voice echoed through the open forest. “She was a human like the ones in these cages… and she was my sister!”

“A human… a sister of the black forest?!” scoffed Bethesda Prime. She laughed at the crazy idea of fighting in the name of a primary food source. What real power could a food source be to a nightshade queen after all the rituals were over? Bethesda Prime looked at all the cages hanging from the treetops. “No one in the history of the yellow moon calendar has ever made such an oath before, Gwyneth Prime… Are you saying you want to make a human ‘Satse’ under the yellow moons? That you want them all to yourself?”

Gwen could feel the nightshade hormones kicking in to her system like a drug. It was getting harder to maintain her human voice. Her black claws extended again as her muscles flexed under the skin. She hissed loudly for all to hear. “YESSSS! None shall have them. They will be my sisters and brother… and not for eating!”

Bethesda Prime hissed back at this stupid notion of human equality among The Daughter of the Erlking. No other race had ever been adopted into their ranks; it was foolishness. It was becoming clear to her what Gwyneth Prime really wanted from all this fighting. She turned to her fellow sisters of the black forest and drew a line in the dark sand with her Molte-Vaerkoj. Her voice was rigid. “My sisters of the black forest, you have heard for yourself. Gwyneth Prime wishes to retain the humans for salvation. She wishes to call them by the name of sister and brother.” Bethesda Prime spit into the soil at the very thought. “Her judgement is clouded by the teaching of Azoth Undrende. She fights against us and our future prosperity in the human world. Let there be an ‘Inddeling’ this day between The Daughters of the Erlking… and let the traitor’s parish with their new challenger.”

Gwen stood silently on the edge of the platform and watched as the crowd of nightshades began to ‘HISS’ and ‘HUM’ loudly at each other. Their abnormal voices vibrated the bark on the black trees as they all diverged from each other like oil in water. Gwen watched in amazement as some moved to her side of the gilded platform. They crossed their arms over their chest and bowed to her as if she were royalty. Gwen did not anticipate this reaction from the nightshade throng. Her heart took courage at the support. She thought she would be alone in this fight, Where they really going to fight for her sister and for humanity? Or was all this just a trick?

Gwen couldn’t help the natural suspension she felt in her chest… and at the same time she couldn’t ignore what was happening. She watched as one nightshade spoke over the humming of the throng. “Honor to my Erlqueen.”

Are they really calling me their Erlqueen? Thought Gwen. She smiled uneasily at this adulation. She watched as hundreds more came over to the platform and bowed to her. It was becoming apparent that the nightshades were not all the same in nature. Some actually wanted to live with humanity in peace. But how was that even possible and what was their definition of peace? Gwen was struggling with her human feelings of them being irredeemable.

When the Inddeling was finally finished there was only the sound of humming on Gwen’s side. While Bethesda Prime had all the hissing nightshades on her side. The horrible noise suddenly stopped and the air went cold and still. Only one voice was heard in the arena. It was the sound of Azoth Undrende wheezing. She was hobbling slowly to the other side of the arena like a wounded dog. She collapsed halfway and stopped her humming to catch her breath. Her limbs trembled with exhaustion. Her breathing was labored and blood was dripping from her pale lips. The bar against her back was making it impossible to move any further.

A young nightshade turned to Gwen. She seemed concerned with the current state of Azoth. She spoke carefully. “Shall we retriever Azoth my Erlqueen of the black forest? You must be advised that Azoth has fought for the humans for over a decade under a false human name. She has suffered deeply to break us free from the Giver of Knowledge. We cannot abandon her now… not after knowing her sacrifices.”

Gwen knew nothing about this nightshade woman’s sacrifices for the human race. Heck, she was just finding out that there were actually good nightshades in the world. She looked the young nightshade in the eyes, “How big is this movement?”

“We are growing daily, my Erlqueen,” said the young nightshade with a smile. She tapped on the data disk on her neck, “There are several others who are waking up to the lies of The Giver of Knowledge. Thanks to the collective works of humanities best authors our benighted eyes have been opened permanently. I myself was asleep a few days ago before awakening to the works of C.S. Lewis. I absolutely love The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe! It was the book that broke me free from the Givers power over my mind.” She indicated to her fellow sisters in the throng. “To others it was different works of fiction but the same cipher that broke them free.”

“Books and Ciphers broke them free?” said Gwen confused. She didn’t know what this nightshade was talking about. “What is your name?”

The young nightshade bowed. “I am called Daphne, my Erlqueen. I am a maker of pungent poisons and a lover of human stories.”

“Well Daphne,” said Gwen impatiently; she really didn’t need this girl’s life story. “You have my permission to retrieve Azoth from the arena.” Gwen watched as Daphne smiled at her and started humming. The young nightshade turned to another in the throng and touched her arm lightly. Pretty soon they both were humming the same frequency together. Gwen watched as they walked out, grabbed Azoth and brought her back to the gilded platform.

“The Inddeling is finally finished!” hissed Bethesda Prime from the other side of the arena. This physical separation between the two groups would make it easier to eliminate the traitors at the end of the ritual. Bethesda Prime reached down into the earth and gripped a handful of dark soil. She rub it across her pale face and set the rest of it to the wind. Her fellow sisters of the black forest did the same; they were officially emancipated by the rules of Cipro Ellekonge.

Bethesda walked out to the center of both groups and readied herself for combat. Her glowing red eyes studied the small throng of traitors as she pointed her Molte-Vaerkoj at Gwyneth Prime. “Under this human ‘Satse’ let the rest parish with their challenge! If you fail this day others will fall with you. Let the ritual begin!”

Gwen came down the ramp and was going to meet Bethesda Prime in combat when she was stopped by the throng of nightshades. They encircled her about and would not let her go.

“Move!” demanded Gwen.

“They will not let you go until you are a full fledge Erlqueen,” said Azoth from behind.

Gwen looked back at the wounded nightshade. She was resting against the ramp. “What are you talking about? I thought I was already an Erlqueen.”

“Under the rules of the Inddeling you now represent all of us in combat. This means you need to be ‘Horned’ properly. It is a sign of highest power and respect among us sisters of the black forest,” said Azoth. “It is part of the ritual. If you succeed in defeating Bethesda Prime, you will be our new groundbreaker in the human world.”

“Your groundbreaker?” repeated Gwen in confusion.

The throng of nightshades bowed slightly and extended their right hands toward her. They started to wiggle their fingers and hum the song of the yellow moons. Gwen could feel a new surge of energy enter into her body as they went along. The tingling sensation started at her feel and moved up into her torso until it stopped at her head. Her eyes started to glow as two black horns pushed through the skin slowly. Gwen winced in pain and gripped her skull. Her fingers found the horns through the white hair and felt them as they grew upward and twisted. Pretty soon they were bending behind her head and curling around her ears. When the song finally stopped the power remained present throughout her body. Gwen felt invincible.

“You will fight with a Molte-Vaerkoj,” said Azoth. “It is the tradition that the battle be fought with these weapons.”

Gwen watched as a wicked looking ‘V’ blade was brought to her. The thing looked dangerous and heavy, but was surprisingly light. She turned to Azoth and indicated to her side arm and weapons. “Can I just use my own hardware on her?”

“They will not work,” said Azoth firmly. “The inner ‘KRAFT’ in both of you will deflect any other blow by way of portal. Your bullets will be worthless. Your winning strikes must come by claw or blade.”

Gwen nodded her head at these rules and looked at the blade in her hands. The Citrine Stone in her tactical glove was glowing brightly now and sending jolts of energy into her palm. She had used a lot of tactile weapons during her training at the academy, but had never fought with an actual sword before. Gwen would have to rely on all her military training for disarming and subduing a nightshade threat. “Is there anything else I should know about?”

Azoth spit out some blood and smiled. “Keep your eyes open throughout the battle. Bethesda Prime is a crafty fighter. She will find every way to flank you.”

The crowd of Nightshades parted at that moment and bowed to their new Erlqueen. Gwen breathed out a heavy sigh and steeled herself for battle. Never in a million year did she think she would be working with these creatures to save humanity. It was funny how life had a way of pulling you in all directions.

“This is for you Isabella,” said Gwen as she turned and studied Bethesda Prime. The nightshade was patiently waiting with her sword at the ready. Her arms and legs had taken a disciplined stance; there was no double this creature knew how to fight.

Gwen held her new sword with both hands and sprinted forward. The energy in her chest surged through her limbs like hot magma. Her mind was surprisingly clear and focused. She had never felt so agile in her entire life. She jumped to the right and then to the left; zig zagging as she went along. Her boots covered several yards of distance as she watched Bethesda Prime pivot her fighting stance back and forth. The nightshade queen seemed unsure of what Gwyneth Prime was doing. Her human approached to combat probably seemed unorthodox.

Gwen jumped out of the way as Bethesda Prime aggressively thrust her blade forward. She slammed both of her combat boots into the ground on the opposite side of the nightshade queen and spring-boarded 10 feet into the air. Her arms and legs tucked into a sideways roll as she maneuvered over Bethesda Primes sweeping sword. The air whistled past Gwen’s pointed ears as her knees collided with the loose earth. The dark soil flew up into the air as she whipped her ‘V’ blade upward in one smooth motion. Gwen gritted her teeth as she focused all her energy in striking the body of the beast.

Bethesda Prime’s eyes got wide as she swung her blade downward to deflect the fatal blow. The sound of steel on steel shattered the atmosphere. Sparks exploded into the air as the nightshades in the arena erupted in cheers and hissing at the perfect display of violence. To them the ritual had officially begun!

Gwen smiled to herself as the Molte-Vaerkoj vibrated wildly into the palms of her hands. The energy of the blow she had delivered was still traveling through her opponent like a shock wave. Gwen watched as Bethesda Prime lost her balance and shuffled backward. This was the time to strike again! Gwen stood up rapidly and turned her body in a wide circle. She swung her sword outward at Bethesda Prime’s midsection, hoping for a fatal strike. The sudden action surprised the nightshade queen who was still trying to keep her balance from the first blow.

Bethesda Prime barely had enough time to react. She leapt backwards as the blade grazed her armor. She hadn’t anticipated a full frontal attack from her opponent. It seemed like a primitive strategy… and at the same time, very effective in keeping her off balance. Bethesda Prime could see she had grown complacent in the use of complex strategies. Her mind was quickly readjusting as she held up her ‘V’ blade and deflected the onslaught. Her citrine stone burned in her chest as she tapped into its power and redirected the energy.

Gwen could feel her heart take courage at the frantic state of her opponent. She saw an opening in Bethesda Prime’s defense and was going to thrust herself forward when a massive portal opened up behind the nightshade queen. The sudden appearance of the cosmic rip shocked Gwen to the core. She had entirely forgotten what these creatures were capable of… beyond the threshold of the portal Gwen could see her exposed backside. Gwen stopped advancing and turned around in time to deflect the protruding Molte-Vaerkoj from entering her lower abdomen. The sound of steel on steel filled the air as more sparks flew into the air.

The nightshade crowd cheered at the sudden shift in direction.

“That’s a dirty little trick!” barked Gwen.

Bethesda Prime hissed. There was nothing dirty about creating portals in the arena. It was perfectly natural for a female nightshade to want to create portals! It was how the ritual was fought and won. “Your approach to battle has caught me off guard, Gwyneth Prime. It will not happen again. We shall now fight like true nightshades under the yellow moon.”

Gwen frowned at this bizarre revelation. She gritted her teeth as she tried to regain control of the situation. The massive portal had changed everything. How could one honestly fight against an enemy that could change positions so fluidly on the battle ground? Not knowing how to bend time and space put her at a great disadvantage. Gwen cursed as she lost her footing and stumbled backwards. It was now her turn to franticly deflect the well-placed blows of her skilled opponent… each strike got closer and closer to her midsection.

Gwen’s citrine stone pulsed in her chest at the danger but nothing happened; no portals appeared to save her. It felt like something was impeding the flow of energy. She hissed loudly as her sword was directed upward into the air. The swift move from the nightshade queen had exposed her torso for a split second. Gwen flexed her abdomen habitually as Bethesda Prime leaned forward and lunged her curved horns into her exposed rib cage. The blow knocked the wind out of Gwen and sent her flying backwards. Her back collided with the earth as her boots continued to travel through the air like misguided weights. Gwen flipped over like a pancake and landed on her face. Warm dirt ran up her tactical vest and covered her body as she came to a stop. The sound of the nightshade crowed filled her pale ears as she spat out black soil from her mouth. Her enhanced nightshade taste went into shock as she coughed and sputtered.

Gwen pushed herself up and shook the earth from her body. Her head was spinning like a carousel. She was surprised to see that she was still holding the Molte-Vaerkoj. Gwen came to a kneeling position and put a hand over her chest… surprisingly enough, the pain from the blow wasn’t that bad. There was only a doleful throb from where the thick horns had made contact. Black soil was now falling from her hair as she watched Bethesda Prime spin the ‘V’ blade rapidly around her body. The Nightshade Queen release the weapon into the air like a tomahawk missile. The sword whistled loudly as it crossed the arena at lightning speed. It was aimed right at Gwen’s exposed chest. Gwen barely had enough time to roll out of the way as it zipped past her like a bullet from a gun.

She turned and watched as the ‘V’ blade vanished through a portal that had formed just behind her. Another portal opened up over Bethesda’s Primes head. The wicked looking weapon traversed the arena instantly and lodged itself into the ground beside the nightshade queen. Its metal surface swayed back and forth rapidly like a diving board. Bethesda Prime laughed as she studied the absolute surprise on Gwyneth Prime’s face. It was like the stupid nightshade woman had never seen a portal before in her life. Bethesda Prime paused at this provocative train of thought. Maybe there was more to it. She had yet to see Gwyneth Prime use a portal in defense of her own life.

“I am beginning to see an obvious pattern here Gwyneth Prime,” said Bethesda Prime with a sly smirk. Her fingers were playing with the hilt of the Molte-Vaerkoj as she spoke. She wanted to provoke her opponent into action, “You fight more like a weak human than a would-be Queen of The Black Forest. Your time in the 4th dimension has purged you of all natural skill. I shall give you one more chance to stand and fight like a real nightshade.”

Gwen felt a surge of anger rise up in her chest at these words. She would show this bloody bleacher just how well a human could fight in the nightshade arena. She gripped the ‘V’ blade tighter and adjusted her strategy. If Bethesda Prime wanted a challenge she would give it to her; she could fight dirty as well. Gwen dug the front of her boots into the earth and pushed off the ground rapidly. Her whole body sailed upward like a rocket as she threw dirt into the atmosphere around the arena. Gwen held her breath as she flipped backwards and landed on her feet. The air in front of them was now covered in a thick cloud of dust.

Gwen wasted no time. Her feet continued to kick up the loose soil as she swung the ‘V’ blade around her body like a deadly windmill. Her limbs picked up speed with every beat of her heart. Gwen closed her eyes and pictured in her mind where Bethesda Prime had been standing in the arena. She screamed and released the weapon with deadly force. The wicked looking blade whistled loudly as it vanished into the haze.

Bethesda Prime studied the swirling cloud closely. Her heart sank as she watched a Molte-Vaerkoj erupt from the chaos and come sailing towards her. There was no time to react! She hissed loudly as the iron missile collided with her own ‘V’ blade and ricocheted into the air like a massive bullet. Sparks went flying as the hilt of the sword mashed into her left side with a bang. The armor crumpled instantly at the force and threw her into the air like a ragdoll. Bethesda Prime flailed as the world around her spun in circles. She hit the ground and rolled through the dirt as the nightshade crowd cheered on the violence. Their voices could not be contained any longer.

The Erlking roared his approval.

Bethesda Prime gripped at her damaged breast plate and gasped for breath. She reached under the steel and ripped the thing from her chest. The cool night air rushed in and coated her pale flesh like a blanket. Her body shivered and ached as she breathed in deeply and winced at the pain in her side. She had never witness something like this before… The skin on her left side was beginning to swell. The ribs underneath were broken and tender.

Bethesda Prime’s skin crawled as the sound of whistling filled the air again. She looked up into the night sky and watched as the Molte-Vaerkoj slammed back into the ground like a comet from hell. The blade sank deep into the earth and vibrated back and forth like a diving board. The dirt plume in the arena was starting to settle. A lone figure could be seen standing in the midst of the swirling chaos. Her eyes were glowing red.

Bethesda Prime sat up and was going to come to her feet when the nightshade crowd erupted with cheers. She watched in horror as Gwyneth Prime jumped from the center of the cloud like a wild panther. Her black claws were extended like razorblades. There was no way to get to the Molte-Vaerkoj in time. Bethesda Prime’s heart raced as she panicked. She tapped into the citrine stone and redirected the energy forward without thinking…

Gwen’s red eyes widen as a big portal opened up in front of her. The image of a wide open mouth could be seen from beyond the cosmic threshold. Thick saliva dripped off the hard white molars as the tongue extend to receive her. There was nothing Gwen could do to stop her momentum. Her claw retracted as she flailed her arms and flopped through the portal like a dead fish. Her body landed on the massive tongue and she slid to the back of the throat. Hot air enveloped her body almost instantly. The smell of sour stomach acid wafted up from the gut. Gwen’s heart raced as she turned over in time to see the opening close.

Her darkest nightmare had become a reality!

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