Chapter Thirty Four
Inside the tent was spare. Two stone pots sat boiling next to a small, smothered fire that burned in its center. While its flames were extinguished, red cinders showed through hot, smoldering black and white ash.
The shaman ogre walked over to the fire and sprinkled something on the ashes. A spark of light erupted followed by a wave of greasy silver smoke. Amid the haze, she turned and bowed to the queen who sat one a small throne of bones at the back of the tent, wrapped in her coverings.
“I don’t understand what you want from me,” Emma pleaded to the queen while the shaman’s back was turned. “Please just let me go?”
Turning abruptly, the shaman grabbed her and pulled her down, pushing her face into the silver smoke. Emma choked as it engulfed her, filling her lungs.
Through coughs and sputters Emma heard the ogre muttering what sounded like strange incantations and though she fought against her grip the strange shaman was too large and strong for her to better in her exhausted state.
When she was finally released, Emma fell to the ground in a heap. Her throat burned and she spat into the dirt, trying not to vomit from the sour taste in her mouth. Rapidly, her thoughts grew fuzzy and the tent began to spin.
Emma rolled onto her back and stared up at the red, scaly ceiling. It morphed suddenly, heaving up and down as though it had come to life and was breathing. She looked around to find the tent had become like the fleshy insides of a creature. She felt like she had been swallowed.
The shaman ogre continued chanting, waving a palm frond over her. Emma felt something splatter against her face. Something wet dripped from the frond. She was sure it was blood and tried to scream, but no sound came from her mouth. She was too deep into the dark dream.
The shaman—whose face had become a contorted mess—bent closer and smeared the strange liquid across her face and around her eyes. The tent morphed again. She was back in the escape pod, but alone. She rolled on the ground clutching her stomach and groaning as her mind continued to play relentless tricks on her and the chanting grew ever louder.
Light flashed and something roared overhead. Emma looked to see a tentacle sucking at the escape pod window. She cowered and whimpered weakly, hiding her eyes from the monster.
Hands grabbed her then and she was pulled to her feet where she could finally see what was happening.
The tent flaps pulled back and there was a bright flash as lightning arched across the sky and thunder clapped. A storm was raging. The world was chaos. Emma’s eyes rolled and her mind reeled under the shaman’s hallucinogenic spell.
The shaman wrapped Emma’s head in vines then blew a handful of dust on her that left reflective streaks across her face that glowed in each lightning strike. Then she pulled her by the arm, leading her out into the wind and rain.
They walked between lines of small fires until they met the tribe assembled together and chanting in a single, blood curdling voice.
“Chara!” the voices of many cried at once.
“Daa!” boomed a single voice somewhere ahead in the darkness.
“Chara! Chara!” the tribe wailed as Emma passed them.
Some ogres in the crowd jumped away from her as she passed as though they were frightened to touch her. Some swiped at her with clubs and spears fits of bloodthirsty ecstasy.
Emma’s eyes rolled and her mind exploded with all assortment of psychedelic images. Some were wild and colorful; others were born of true madness. It was like her subconscious was emerging like the storm itself, revealing itself in flashes of sharp lightning strikes. She faced the sky, eyes wide with madness and screamed at the red gas planet that glowed brightly overhead. Devilish faces appeared in the planet’s roiling gasses and electric explosions. She coward at the sight of them, at their lust, and chaos.
All around her the chanting continued as the shaman led her through the runway of flames until, finally, they came to the end of the procession. The black probe, sitting atop the crooked wooden structure, towered over them. A raging bonfire, the largest Emma had ever seen, stood beside it, pounding her with heat.
Lightning flashed overhead and Emma fell to her knees in front of it. In her madness she felt that the sleek metal object was looking down at her, passing some kind of harsh judgement. It condemned her for believing her life was good and pure, and for trespassing upon this natural place she had no place in.
“I’m sorry!” Emma cried up at the probe, tears streaming down her face. Lightning flashed again and the shaman stood her up. As she rose, a familiar figure in bones met her eyes.
The shaman bowed and slunk away into the crowd, leaving Emma to face the ogre in bones alone in front of the tribe. She looked up at him as he called out to the assembled tribe. His eyes were bright red like the shaman’s had been— like hers had now become. Looking out at the crowd of ogres she saw that all their eyes were red. She trembled at the sight and knew then that the ceremony, whatever it was, was so unnatural, so violent, it had turned them all to demons.
“Daa!” the ogre in bones boomed. His voice echoed across the high cliffs that surrounded them.
That’s when Emma realized where the tribe had taken her. It was the cliffs close to where she and Adam had been raised on the beach and lagoon. Flashes of her past exploded like comets across her mind: Adam, Pin and her, all together, running across the sand, exploring the jungle, laughing at what a life they thought they might have on this tropical paradise. It was all so long ago. And just then it felt like the largest lie she’d ever been told.
Tears streamed down her face as she was overcome with fear and loss and she collapsed to her knees in front of the ogre in bones, who continued to scream at the gas planet in the stormy sky above.
He raised his arms and Emma saw he held a long silver snake that curled around his arms and melted into his skin. No. It wasn’t alive. It was a long metal spike, broken off the probe and sharpened on one end.
“Daa! Tu-daa!” the ogre in bones screamed at the red planet, and Emma knew she was going to be sacrificed. For what reason, she would never know. But there was nothing she could do. She didn’t run. She couldn’t. Not with her mind and body so horribly infected. They’d changed her into something mad and damaged. Even if she lived, she knew she would never be the same again.
Emma wanted to die.
Lightning flashed again and the ogre in bones lowered his arms slowly. Then, pressing the point of the metal spike against Emma’s bare chest, he called a final plea to his god above.
“Chara! Chi-Tara!” he screamed and the tribe flailed their bodies and shrieked.
Thunder cracked loudly and the ogre in bones tightened his grip around the sharp metal spike. In a moment it would pierce Emma’s heart and she would be dead.
She closed her eyes and waited for the nightmare to end when a high pitched whining resounded through the air. The crowd began to quiet and Emma opened her eyes. Through tears she saw the ogre in bones looking towards the planet. Awe and ecstasy etched his face.
The high pitched whine sounded again. It echoed over the cliff face and seemed to come from every direction. The tribe looked around in confusion, grunting and calling out. Some fell to their knees and raised their arms in prayer, believing their god had spoken to them.
Still reeling, Emma let her eyes wander over the crowd. Her mind screamed out to run, but her legs wouldn’t move. Then she caught sight of a familiar shape standing in the branches of a massive tree behind the ceremony. She tried to focus on it, but her mind was shutting down.
Emma heard screaming then. She turned away from the shape momentarily to see commotion in the crowd of ogres. Something was happening. She looked back at the tree and the shape was gone. Had she imagined it?
More screams erupted and the body of an ogre came hurtling through the air towards her. She held her head in her hands and screamed as it landed a foot away from her, its body broken and twisted in knots.
Emma scurried to safety under the wooden structure that held the probe and peered out at pure chaos. More ogres were thrown up into the air, tossed in every direction, some landing close by with sickening crunches.
The ogre in bones’ eyes went wide when he realized what was happening. Their god hadn’t spoken. Something was attacking them.
“Tu-Dita! Ru!” he yelled, leaving Emma and running towards the commotion.
At his command, a handful of larger ogres picked up spears to attack. Most tried running for cover, but quickly realized they were trapped with the cliffs at their backs. Whatever was attacking them, it was fight, or die.
As the crowd parted, lightning flashed and Emma saw something large and red tearing through the ogres. A slider—the largest one she’d ever seen—ripped bodies apart with its three tentacles, sliding over the disembodied parts to dissolve flesh and devour bones. Its body was slick with rain, making it nearly impossible to stop as it attacked quickly across the rocky ground, crazed by the feeding frenzy
Two warriors brandishing spears leaped in front of ogre in bones, screaming war cries as the slider came at them. Red blood pulsed through the monster’s insides like rivers as they slashed at it with barbed spears. A high-pitched cry of anger erupted from somewhere inside the beast and it reeled up on two tentacles, towering over them.
Whipping its third tentacle towards its attackers, the slider grabbed one of the warriors by the neck and lifted him up. Once in the slider’s grip there was nothing he could do but kick his legs furiously until his skull explodes with a sickening crunch.
Blood rained down on Emma and she let out a blistering scream. More cries rang out behind the warriors and she saw that a second slider—green, smaller, but no less vicious—slid along the cliff wall to attack the horde from the opposite another vantage point.
Ogres were thrown one after the other against the wooden structure protecting Emma, but it managed to hold together and keep her from being breaking apart.
She looked up to see the round probe on top of it rocking back and forth with each knock, threatening to drop to the ground. And when another body hit the tower from behind it did; rolling over the lip at the top and heaving downwards like a giant boulder.
Emma watched in horror as an ogre running for cover was caught by the probe’s spikes and was impaled and pinned to the ground, left to die slowly under its weight.
Looking at it, she noticed something on the probe had changed. A hatch on the probe’s side and broken open from the impact, revealing a control panel.
Rocked by an urge to run out into the open and examine the probe, Emma scanned the chaos around her. More ogres had joined the fight against the red slider, while the smaller green one was gaining ground, lumbering ever closer to her as it grappled and slid across the cliff wall. It was only a matter of time before it found her. I
If she wanted to survive this she needed to be smart and act soon. But in all the chaos, her mind still bowed to the pressure of the shaman’s strange substances so couldn’t decipher what action to take.
Then Emma was struck by the most horrifying thought: perhaps none of this was real at all. The sliders, the carnage— was is all in her head? Was she back in the shaman’s tent, lost in the throes of a madness?
She watched as, to her right, another ogre was crushed by a tentacle and sucked into the maw of the red slider. She watched his broken body dissolved through the slider’s translucent flesh as others threw flaming spears at it to scare it off with fire.
To her left, the green slider continued to grappled along the cliff face towards her. If this was all in her head, then it wouldn’t matter if she moved at all. Maybe if she closed her eyes for a long time and opened them again the horror would all just vanish.
Emma shut her eyes and the sound of chaos coalesced into a shapeless blob of clattering fury. If it was real, the green slider would be upon her at any moment. But if it didn’t arrive then she’d be free of the phantoms that possessed her.
She was sure it was all a trick. The thin shaman ogre just was trying to break her mind. But she wouldn’t break. She would be strong. It would all be over soon. And then she would be free.