The nightshade crowd on both sides grew deadly still as Bethesda Prime closed her mouth. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. Her glowing red eyes got wide as she stood up and faced the throng. Bethesda Prime was struggling inside on whether to swallow her opponent or not! Nothing like this had ever been attempted in the ritual of the yellow moons before. It was clearly written in ’The Book of Cipro Ellekonge’ that sister should not consume sister… but this situation was completely different. Gwyneth Prime had expressed her loyalties to the human race and was even fighting in the name of a human. She boiled inside with anger. Gwyneth Prime and Azoth had been the cause of this massive rift in their society. There wouldn’t have been an Inddeling if it hadn’t been for these foolish notions of human equality!
“Remember the rules of our people!” barked Azoth over the silence. Her voice sounded hoarse. “The sister of the black forest do not consume one another like animals. This ritual needs to be fought and won with the Molte-Vaerkoj and with the claw!”
Bethesda Prime gazed at all the traitors on the other side of the arena. They had no right to speak to her about keeping the rules. They had started this division by rejecting the Erlking and fighting for humanity. Bethesda Prime’s thoughts instantly hardened as she studied their visages in the rays of the yellow moonlight. There would be no mercy for any of them at the end of this contest. They should all be treated the same as their would-be Queen of the Black Forest. If they wanted to stand with the human race… then they could also be consumed with them as well. Bethesda Prime would make it law that sister could consume sister if they strayed from the path that The Giver of Knowledge gave.
“You cannot win this way!” barked Azoth.
Bethesda Prime smiled at the panic in Azoth’s feeble voice. It seemed that the nightshade woman was no longer speaking in riddles. Bethesda Prime made up her mind right then and there. These nightshade ‘humans’ needed to be taught a lesson in obedience. The lesson would start with their Would-Be Queen of the Black Forest and then move through their ranks like an east wind. Their abilities would be suppressed by the ‘KRAFT’ she received from this victory. She would use her new power to weed them all out. They would all be consumed over time.
Bethesda Prime could feel the nightshade woman struggling to get free from her dark prison. Gwyneth Prime would be digested like any other human… alive and kicking. She would suffer slowly in her lower gizzard and then pass away like the rest. Bethesda Prime smiled as the sweet taste of panic and fear filled her taste buds. It was amazing how even a nightshade could give off the same flavors as a human being. She forced Gwyneth Prime to the back of her throat and swallowed her whole. The feeling of her descent into her guts was satisfying.
Gwen struggled violently as the walls of the throat enveloped her body like a tight sleeve. The strong muscles pulled down on her skin like an anchor. There would be no crawling out of the stomach at the end of this trip. She would be locked into a fleshy chamber designed to do one thing and one thing only. Gwen shuddered at the thought of being slowly broken down until there was nothing left. She would painfully dissolve into nothingness just like her sister had. She had failed everyone; images of her sister flashed in her mind.
Gwen fought back tears as she fully embraced the hopeless nature of her situation. The energy in her own Citrine Stone seemed to sputter out and grow dim in her chest. She could not produce a portal to save her life. The sour smell of stomach acid grew stronger as she descended into the madness.
The esophagus suddenly pulled away from her body. Gwen dropped into the dark stomach and slide to the center. Her whole frame was completely covered in hot sticky saliva. The sudden humidity and heat were overpowering. It seemed to envelop her from all side. Gwen’s own tactical clothes stuck to her flesh and wouldn’t let go.
The smell had become unbearable; like the rotting of flesh. Gwen wretched violently and tried to keep from throwing up. Her body trembled as a bright yellow glow began to fill the darkness. She gazed down at the tactical glove on her right hand and squinted at the small rays of light. The thing was vibrating like crazy. Gwen gripped her wrist and held it up for a better look. She flinched as lightning jumped out of the small hole in the glove and danced across the folds of the stomach. The strange phenomenon caused the fleshy parapets to glow slightly… digestive juices were now seeping through the walls.
Gwen scooted away from the pungent fluids and came to a kneeling positions. Her heart took courage as she remembered what had happened back at her debriefing with the General. The white haired man had told her to touch the yellow stone to Asset 626’s body. The effect had been powerful. The yellow stone had produced a portal that had shrunk her to the size of a walnut. Gwen smiled at this beautiful revelation. She quickly pulled off the tactical glove and retrieved the Citrine Stone from the pocket she had sown in. More lightning exploded from the surface of the crystal as she held it out over the stomach. The stone was pulsing and it felt like it would exploded into a thousand pieces.
I hope this works, thought Gwen as she watched more digestive fluids seep into the stomach and fill the chamber. In a matter of seconds the whole place would be completely coated. She pressed the stone into the flesh and watched as a massive portal opened up in front of her. Gwen breathed out a sigh of relief as fresh air enveloped her like a blanket. Her glowing red eyes caught hold of the nightshade arena. A few yards in front of her, lodged deep into the black earth, rested the Molte-Vaerkoj she had thrown at Bethesda Prime.
Gwen smiled and jumped for the weapon.
“I have a proposition for you Azoth Undrende,” said Bethesda Prime with a smile. Victory had finally fallen into her pale white hands. The sweet taste of Gwyneth Prime’s fear and anxiety still lingered on her taste buds. The flavor was driving her senses wild. “I will let everyone of your foolish followers live on one condition.”
Azoth remained still. The muscle in her jaw clinched as she stared at the new Nightshade Queen with disgust. If a nightshade could eat another nightshade this would only bring destruction to their people. Those with a higher ‘KRAFT’ would pray on those with a lesser. The power struggle would bring collapse!
“The condition is this…” said Bethesda Prime with a loud burp. It felt like the digestive process had already started in her lower gizzard. The nightshade woman was no doubt undergoing her final moments of life. The Onyx Orb her body would eventually form into would make an excellent trophy. Bethesda Prime would have to make a necklace out of the bodies of her fallen enemies. Azoth would be a part of this collection. “If you let me consume you willingly I will let all your followers live out their days in servitude to the real nightshade race. Their lot will be hard, but at least they will have a place with the dogs!”
The nightshade race behind Bethesda Prime hissed at all the human lovers.
Azoth stared in shock at the demand. She had eaten Gwyneth Prime and was now looking to consume her as well. When would it stop? Azoth spit onto the ground and hissed. “You have lost your orbs dear sister! You consume your own kind like an animal!”
“Wrong answer Azoth!” said Bethesda Prime as she snapped her fingers and created a portal underneath the human loving traitor. Azoth Undrende fell through it and landed in her open hand like a stone. She suppressed the woman’s ability to create a portal and escape. Bethesda Prime gripped the nightshade traitor tightly in her fist. She laughed as Azoth struggled to get free. She would make sure that her consumption of Azoth would be slow and painful. She would chew on her flesh first and send her down piece by piece.
All the human loving nightshades in the arena hissed loudly at this action. They were constrained by the rules of the ritual. Bethesda Prime shouted over their shrill voices as she held up the human sympathizer by the hair of the head. She wanted all the other traitors to see what happened to those who oppose her. Her mouth was ready to taste the fear and anxiety of her enemies. She turned to her supporters now. “Let this be a lesson to the traitors….”
Bethesda Prime paused as a Molte-Vaerkoj slammed into her chest like a railroad spike. The wicked looking blade passed through her heart and fractured her rib cage. The pain was quick and sharp. Blood filled her mouth as her eyes made contact with Gwyneth Prime’s. The nightshade woman looked contemptuously back at her. Bethesda Prime dropped Azoth Undrende and tried to hiss her discomfort. Nothing passed by her lips as she gripped the blade sticking out of her chest. This was not how it was supposed to end. The Giver of Knowledge had promised her the victory at the end of the day. Bethesda Prime’s eyes shifted from Gwyneth Prime to the Erlking. He was sitting on his gilded thrown in the stadium. Their life together would never be fully realized. She had gotten careless and lost it all in a single moment.
Those who fallowed Bethesda Prime dropped to the earth and started to tremble. They bowed before the great and terrible Gwyneth Prime. Their voices humming and whispering softly to their new leader. “Nade, Nade, Nade!”
The rest of Sisters of The Black Forest erupted in cheers and chants. Some bowed and wiggled their fingers as other beat their arms together like sticks. The sound of big brass gongs were heard ringing throughout the stadium. The ritual was finally coming to an end. The nightshade’s had found their new Erlqueen in Gwyneth Prime! The clouds slowly closed around the yellow moon above. The atmosphere took on a more ghostly feel.
“Long live the Erlqueen! Long live the Erlqueen!” they all chanted loudly under the yellow moon. Gwen ignored the adulation of the nightshade throng. Her heart was racing at a hundred miles an hour. She couldn’t believe she had actually defeated the nightshade queen. She watched as Bethesda Prime dropped to her knees and went limp. The nightshade woman closed her big red eyes and breathed out her last breath.
Gwen was going to pull out the sword when her body suddenly filled with the energy of her defeated opponent. The sensation enveloped her like a tidal-wave of emotion. Her limbs began to tingle and shake. Gwen screamed as her body expanded into the true form of the Nightshade Queen. Her back convulsed as pale white wings erupted from the smooth flesh. They tore through the back of her vest and spread outward like a canopy.
The nightshade who had been on her side cheered and rushed in to support the transformation. They circled Gwyneth Prime and reached out to feel the elegant wings that had formed. They added to the transformation by stretching forth their hands and wiggling their fingers. More energy filled the arena and surged up from the earth. They were all pleased with their new champion. Gwyneth Prime, The Nightshade Queen who fights in the name of the humans!
“Not this again…” said Gwen as she watched her brown spots rearrange themselves on her white flesh like ink blots. An elegant crown formed on her pale chest and forehead. She winced and hissed as pain filled her hips and lower spine. She turned and watched as a tail tor through her tactical pants and whipped around like a snake. The tip of the tail spread out like a spade.
The strange energy flushed from her limbs and surged into her head like a drug. Discomfort filled her mind as she gripped her black horns and hissed loudly. Ancient knowledge of the nightshade people flooded her thoughts all at once. Gwen could not stop it from happening. It was like the knowledge had always been there at the back of her mind, lying dormant. Bizarre voices whispered in her pointed ears like ghosts from another realm. They were the ancestors of all the Erlqueen before her. She suddenly knew what she had the power to do among her people. She knew how to change them and direct them. She knew how to make portals and preserve them from extension. She knew her obligations for survival and breeding.
Gwen wanted to vomit at these last thoughts of breeding! It was all becoming a part of her whether she liked it or not. It was taking everything in her not to fall over from the vertigo. It felt like her brain was vibrating.
“What is happening to me?!” asked Gwen.
Her skin took on a permanent glow as the energy in her mind forced the foreign object out of her head. Her heart sank as she felt something enter into her lower gizzard. Her mouth filled with hot saliva as she coughed wildly. It felt like there was a hairball in the back of her throat. Gwen grimaced as the sensation came to the back of her mouth and stopped. She suddenly felt a round object on her pointed tongue. She held up a hand and spit the thing out. Her glowing red eyes watched as a black spiky ball rolled onto her palm. It was the Dream Walking Prototype! Her body had rejected it during the transformation!
“No, no, no!” yelled Gwen as she brought her wings in and covered her shoulders. She held the sphere up and hissed loudly at its existence. Her voice shook the earth like thunder as the whole nightshade arena went quiet. They could all tell their Erlqueen was not happy. Gwyneth Prime’s power surged through her core like a midnight sun. “Am I trapped in this body now?! What does this mean?! How am I still awake and alive?’
A portal opened up to her right. Gwen turned and watched as Azoth Undrende hobbled out of it and cursed loudly to herself. The nightshade woman dissipated the portal behind her and sat back down on the ground to catch her breath. She looked tired and fed-up with this whole ritual thing. She was rubbing her aching scalp with her fingers.
“You certainly took your time defeating Bethesda Prime. I don’t know how you escaped her gizzard but that’s beside the point…” said Azoth in frustration. She looked up at her new Queen of the Black Forest. The transformation had been completed. She smiled broadly and suppressed a laugh forming in her gut. After all these years her soul had finally found relief. She bowed to Gwyneth Prime as best she could, “I guess this means you have become our Erlqueen Gwyneth Prime. Your courage here shall be remember in song and dance for years to come! We shall feast tonight and celebrate your victory by letting the caged humans go free! I have been waiting for this day to come for years!”
Gwen was still staring at the black ball in her hand. It didn’t seem damaged in any way. Her mind was tumbling with thousands of questions.
Azoth stood up and brushed the black dirt from her pale dress. She hobbled forward and pushed through the crowd of nightshade surrounding Gwyneth Prime. There wasn’t much time left. They had to act quickly if they were going to get ahead of The Giver of Knowledge. Azoth pointed to the nightshade on the other side of the arena. The followers of Bethesda Prime were still prostrate on the ground. Their voice were begging the Erlqueen for mercy. They had been constrained by the rules of the ritual.
Azoth shouted for all to hear. Her voice was still hoarse but firm. “My sisters of the black forest; we mustn’t delay. Share your cyphers with the followers of Bethesda Prime and be quick about it. Give them new eyes and let them be free of The Giver of Knowledge once and for all.”
Gwen turned her attention from the black ball in her hands to the nightshades around her. She watched as the throng slowly began to advance forward at the command of Azoth. They walked among the followers of Bethesda Prime and kneeled down beside them. They started whispering into their ears the cyphers that had set them free from The Giver of Knowledge. Their combined voice created a small tumult as they went along. It was the strangest thing to see; the words of dead poets filled the air.
Gwen stood beside Azoth and studied the nightshades, “What are they doing?”
Azoth smiled. “They are relaying the cyphers they have learned.”
Gwen was way out of the loop on all this nightshade cypher garbage. She tried not to sound so stupid. “What are the cyphers again… and why are they important?”
Azoth look over to Gwyneth Prime and studied her carefully. The nightshade queen was a complete anomaly to her. She was free from The Giver of Knowledge’s influence but not in the traditional sense. She had not read or heard a cypher. There was something different about Gwyneth Prime that Azoth just couldn’t place. “They are the profound words found in the human books of literature. They were placed in the code of the data discs as a failsafe… if spoken or read by a nightshade with a data disk, it will ‘brick’ the operating system. This will free the nightshade from the power of the Giver of Knowledge. They will become free cells… being able to move undetected through society.”
Gwen found that fascinating. She placed the Dream Walking Prototype in one of her vest pockets. She was trying to internalize what Azoth was saying to her. She pulled out the container of chewing gum and popped open the lid with her black claw. She dropped a few squares into her mouth and started chewing them slowly. The sweet flavor of coffee filled her advanced taste buds as she cleared her throat. She pointed to the nightshades that were waking up, “So the way to deprogram the data discs is by reading books?”
Azoth grunted. The process was far more complicated than that; but superficially the explanation seemed to make sense, “Yes… but only the best phrases in the books actually free the mind from the givers power. Most of the nightshade like the works of C.S. Lewis; only because the world he creates resembles the 5th dimension that we live in.” Azoth spread her hands out to the enchanted landscape, “this is our Narnia!”
The Lion, The Which, and the Wardrobe, thought Gwen. She didn’t know why the book title came to mind… but it did. She smiled to herself. “My deprogramming was nothing like that. There was way more involved in the process… I thought I was going to die.”
Azoth looked at her. “Just how did you break free from The Giver of Knowledge, Gwyneth Prime?”
“In a lab with an extremely obnoxious human being,” said Gwen without hesitation. She didn’t know how she was going to get back to the Electro Lab and tell Dr. Howard what had happened. This whole day had been unbelievable. Gwen felt all powerful inside and at the same time extremely vulnerable to the world around her. Everything was changing and she wished it would just stop and let her catch her breath. Her glowing red eyes watched as more nightshade woke up… Gwen had mixed feeling about them all.
“Yes,” said Azoth confused. “Humans can be obnoxious at times...”
“Who is this Giver of Knowledge guy?” asked Gwen. “…and where is he right now?”
Azoth couldn’t believe the questions this New Erlqueen was asking her. Had she been living under a rock her whole life? How could one be a nightshade and not know who The Giver of Knowledge was? He had been the cause of so much suffering in the world. Azoth stared at Gwyneth Prime to see if she was joking. “The Giver of Knowledge is a rogue A.I. that came to the 5th dimension promising to save our people from extinction… But that is a story for another time. The real question here is; who are you Gwyneth Prime, Queen of The Black Forest? It seems to me that you have fallen into a situation that is far over your head.”
Gwen wasn’t going to argue with her on that one. She blew a bubble past her pale lips and looked over to Azoth. “I used to be a human Azoth. Now I am this…” Gwen indicated to her glowing form and sighed heavily. She hoped deep down in her heart that this was not permanent. Her thoughts turned to her own body resting in the Electro Lab. The only reason she had taken this chance was to potentially save her sister…
“Human!?” said Azoth as she studied the glorify leader of her people. It was unbelievable to consider the notion of both monarchs being human. “How is that possible? A human cannot transform into a nightshade. Were you reborn in the breeding fields?”
Gwen shook her head. Surprisingly, she knew what the breeding fields were and cringed inside at the thought of them. “No. It’s complicated. The whole reason I wanted to take on this form was to try and get my sisters Onex Orb. I got sent to this arena instead.”
“Your sister was consumed?” asked Azoth in shock. Things were starting to make a little more sense. “Was she the one called Isabella?”
Gwen Frowned. “Yes.”
“And you say her Onex Orb was preserved?” asked Azoth.
“I think it was taken to Prewitt Labs,” said Gwen with a hiss. She couldn’t help herself; her stupid body felt like hissing. “My whole objective today was to obtain it.”
“We will find it, my Erlqueen,” said Azoth firmly. “With your ascension to Queen of The Black Forest. No nightshade can stop us from entering Prewitt Labs and obtaining it. The Giver of Knowledge has lost a great battle with you on the throne. It is written in The Book of Cipro Ellekonge that there are two parts to a nightshade… the mind, and the heart. The Giver has the mind currently under his control… but you hold the heart of our people now. The nightshade’s will not act if there is distance between these two entities. If you tell them they cannot eat humans and the giver urges them to… they will go into hibernation.”
Gwen could hear a voice whisper in her ear. She repeated the words softly so only she and Azoth could her. “I have only to think it and it will be so?”
Azoth nodded. “Yes, my Erlqueen.”
“Then they shall not eat humans,” said Gwen.
“Let it be so,” said Azoth as she stepped forward and extended a hand to her Erlqueen. “But for now we must hurry and free the mind of the Erlking. The Giver of Knowledge has been distracted by my riddles of the cyphers in the books. He will figure it out soon and there will be no more time left for action!”
Gwen could feel a change take place in the nightshade as she took Azoth’s hand. Her words had somehow worked in both realms. She could feel it in her citrine stone. They were becoming dormant at the conflict between heart and mind.