Desperate Times: part 2

Author: Andorus
Rating: PG, for violence again.

Disclaimer: (edited March 9, 2001 because I’m SUPER-picky)
– Ren, Ioz, Tula, Niddler, the Maelstrom, Dark Water, the Dark Dweller, Mer, all the interesting curse words, and everything else are © Hanna-Barbera, though they’ve since been bought out by Warner Bros. The reference to Salamantha comes from PoDW comics 7-9, the rights to which are owned by Marvel Comics. I’d love to say I owned this show, but alas, I don’t… *sniffle*
– The not-so-obvious (well, they’ll be obvious to die-hard fans like myself…) references to Star Wars are on purpose.
– Dawning Light 2000 and I are not plagiarizing from each other, despite the fact that our stories may seem kind of similar in some respects. :o)
– As before, I don’t do much fan fiction, so if this sucks, be kind. :o)

Author’s Notes: Same as for Chapter 1. Please comment–feedback goes a long way towards helping me out. :o)
This entire series is going to be pretty dark. I’m hoping to bring out at least part of what I can see this series as achieving if it had been aimed at an older, more appreciative audience.
I also want to break through some of the clichés that were perpetuated throughout, like Ren being a weak, dreaming idealist and the Dark Dweller being your typical cliché-spewing villain (though the clichés are way too fun to leave out!). So expect PG ratings across the board and don’t expect Niddler to provide any comic relief here. :o)

Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you. *bows* :o)

* * * * *

Tula gasped and sat bolt upright, shivering a little bit from a mix of the chilly air and the strange, muddled not-quite-a-nightmare she’d just experienced. It took her a minute to remember–and to recognize–where she was; her eyes finally adjusted to the darkness and she recognized the area below decks of the Wraith.

And then she remembered what had happened.

Tears stung her eyes, but she willed them away–crying wouldn’t get Ren back…if there’s even a way to get him back…and she still needed to figure out what that strange feeling making her skin crawl was.

She emerged onto the deck, below where Ioz was steering the Wraith alone. The seas were calm, the air crisp and cool; it took her a moment to realize that the storm had calmed, but there was something about that that made her suspicious. “Ioz?” she spoke up quietly.

He gave a start of surprise. “Awake, are you?” he replied a bit gruffly, and was about to say something else, but broke off. “The storm just vanished not too long after-” He stopped again. “After you went to sleep.”

“I think that might be why I woke up,” she admitted. “I’m getting this strange feeling…I feel like it’s tied to the storm, somehow.” She broke off. “Where are-”

“The Maelstrom’s still behind us–though we’re losing Bloth, I didn’t want to try and turn around to go back for Ren until we’ve lost him completely.” His fists clenched unconsciously around the wheel. “I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of-”

“I know,” Tula said quickly. She excused herself and ducked below decks again to retrieve her blanket, and pulled it around herself to ward off the cold of the night and ascended the steps to reach the helm to give her friend some company, and silence fell over the two of them.

Ioz gave her a sidelong glance before looking back at the wide expanse of water, the only light reflecting off it coming from a torch he’d lit behind him. “How are you?” he finally inquired.

Tula gave him a startled look at that. “I’m–I’m okay,” she stammered, confused by his apparent caring for her well–being. “Just–I’m just tired. And worried, and depressed.” Before she could stop herself, it all just came spilling out. “It just–it all happened so fast–I mean, I couldn’t even grab his hand, the wind was too strong. I–I can’t believe that this is happening…” She felt her lower lip tremble, and let it. “I don’t want to admit it, but–the chances of Ren surviving without the Treasures, when the Dark Dweller’s more driven than ever to kill him-”

Ioz knew where she was going with it, and knew he should stop her, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Tula exhaled sharply, and looked helplessly up at him. “Ren’s dead, isn’t he?” she whispered.

Normally, Ioz would have raged at her for even considering something that audacious. He would’ve called her a coward, a traitor, and whatever else that would have come to mind, if it would have given him some comfort to relieve the anger, stress, and grief building up inside him. He would’ve taken pleasure from seeing her suffer.

Now, he couldn’t even bring himself to reply her–he didn’t want to admit it himself, or admit it to himself. He couldn’t admit it.

Ay Jitata, Ioz, what are we going to do now?” she cried, not bothering to hide her tears. “How can we go on without him? He has the Compass with him, and we can’t finish his Quest-”

“Our Quest,” Ioz interrupted roughly. “We took his on as our own, remember?”

Tula shook her head, but he knew it wasn’t out of disagreement. “But how can we gather the rest of the Treasures without the Compass? If Ren dies, Mer dies with him!” She choked back a sob. “And there isn’t anything we can do to stop it.”

Ioz couldn’t think of anything to comfort her. But worst of all, he knew deep inside that she was right.

* * * * *

A knock sounded on the door of the cell-turned-quarters that had once belonged to Teron. “Milady, begging your pardon, but Lord Bloth would like to see you.”

A frail, pasty-skinned young woman, resembling a child, was lying spreadeagled on the bed of Andorus soil that had belonged to Teron so long ago, bathed in a milky light that made her visible despite the cloudy night blocking the moon from view. Slowly, she lifted her head enough to look at Mantus. “Can’t wait?” she whispered.

“He…” Mantus fidgeted uncomfortably. “I believe he wanted to congratulate you, and he really wanted you to answer him immediately.”

The woman’s head sank back down to rest on the Andorian soil. “Must wait,” she whispered. “Too…weak…”

Mantus glanced over his shoulder nervously. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but-”

At that, the girl’s head jerked up and her eyes flew wide open, glowing a fiery red. Bloth will wait!” she snarled. “I’m too weak to even get up, or are you too blind to see that, smool-brain?”

Mantus jumped a mile, just barely not letting out a yelp. Quickly, he bowed and scurried off, missing the satisfied smirk on the woman’s face as the dancing, fiery light faded from her eyes and she sank back into her soil again.

Three pirates conversing over mugs of ale watched the proceedings discreetly, partially shielded by a pile of barrels, not smiling or even cracking jokes at Mantus’s supposed cowardice.

“I don’t know where Bloth found that witch,” the first muttered in troubled undertones, “but her presence is taking its toll on the crew, eh?”

“Aye that,” a second one agreed. “That wee lass has got such an aura as to make even Mantus cower before him-”

“And how is Bloth not seeing any of this?” the third of the group demanded, keeping his voice quiet as not to be overheard by their unwelcome guest. “Does he possess some kind of immunity to her aura?”

“What is she exactly, d’you reckon?” the second one inquired. “Some kind of witch, to be sure…”

“Nay,” the first one interrupted. “I’ve heard that she’s-” He dropped his voice even lower. “A dark ecomancer. An eco-witch, to be exact.”

“Like Salamantha?” the third gasped in a hushed tone.

“Worse than Salamantha,” the first reported gravely. “Her power is none that Mer has ever seen before–and deadly if you cross her path.”

They exchanged worried glances and, as one, peered cautiously at the closed door.

“What are you all staring at?” Mantus barked, striding across the deck to them, his previously subservient demeanor completely gone. “Get back to work, you lazy slugs!”

They scattered at that, and Mantus turned, seeming satisfied, and strode off towards Bloth’s quarters. Actually, though, he was anything but; it was all he could do to keep the worry and terseness from crossing his face. They were probably laughing at me for acting like such a coward in front of the girl, crossed his mind sourly. Well, let them laugh. None of them would dare cross her, or even go as close as I just did.

He knocked on the door twice and entered, the two-knock being Bloth’s signal that it was him at the door. “She refused to come, Lord Bloth,” Mantus admitted coolly. “She was very weak-”

“Of course she was weak–she’d been using her powers to conjure up that storm on the Wraith all night, fool!” Bloth interrupted rudely, standing up from his desk where he was studying a nautical map. But then, his anger faded and a wicked smile crossed his face. “But her expenditure has been worth the effort–she’s managed to kill the boy.”

Startlement crossed Mantus’s angular face. “She–she what? But how, milord?” Mantus stammered, unable to believe his ears.

“She knocked him into the Dark Water with a gust of wind powerful enough to belong to a cyclone.” Bloth’s smile was spreading into a full-fledged grin. “Now, don’t remind me that he might not be dead, because I already know that. But it’s a temporary victory–and it can only be so long before the Dark Dweller finally finds a way to kill the boy. Maybe this time he will find a way–he wants him dead as much as I do.”

Mantus’s eyes narrowed. Surely he can’t be suggesting…? “You…aren’t considering lobbying to the Dark Dweller to ally with him, are you, Lord Bloth?” he questioned cautiously.

Bloth stared at him, surprised. “Are you mad, Mantus? Of course not!”

“Then what exactly are you suggesting?” Mantus pressed on. “I can’t help but think that you did consider that at one point, at the very least…”

Bloth’s face contorted with fury, but amazingly enough, he calmed down enough to get across a very curt reply. “If you think I’d be stupid enough to ask the Dark Dweller to ally with me–by the Abyss, Mantus, he wants Mer to be destroyed! He’s the one common enemy that boy and I have! Suggest that again and I’ll have you thrown overboard, do you understand?”

Mantus didn’t flinch. “Yes, milord,” he replied smoothly, his voice low, but his skepticism still evident on his face. “If you’ll excuse me…”

He quickly left, leaving Bloth to stare after him, still stunned.

* * * * *

Slowly, painfully, Ren came to.

W-what happened…? Everything’s so hazy–and my body feels like it’s-

He managed to move his head enough to look down at himself, and felt his skin prickle. He was completely submerged in viscous, almost hardened Dark Water, nearly up to his chin.

No wonder I felt so filthy.

Experimentally, he moved his foot. It moved, but then the Dark Water lashed it back against his other foot, almost binding them together. He sighed and let his head fall back slightly, trying to get a good look at his surroundings–but he was surrounded by nothing but utter darkness, from what he could see. Where am I?

What did they do to me when I was out?

He remembered the attempted escape, and the Dark Dweller rearing over him, and then everything going very cold and very, very black…and that was all. Suddenly, he felt inexplicably scared, his stomach clenching, though all he could hear were distant drips, and very faintly, a faint rushing, as if from a faraway river. He couldn’t identify the source of his worries, though…it just seemed to be something subconscious, deep within him somewhere.

The Dark Water suddenly lurched, and twisted sharply. Since it had such a tight grip on him, he had to fight not to gasp with pain as it twisted his legs one way and his torso the other, leaving him helpless to fight back in his already weakened state.

Then it let up.

Ren permitted himself to draw in a deep breath, hold it in, and slowly let it out, his eyes squeezed shut, not wanting to see what was doing this to him–not that he could, anyway. Then it started up again, worse than before, and kept on alternating like this, twisting his body more and more each time. Finally, he let out a hoarse cry–and it let up almost instantly.

“I wondered how long it would take you to scream,” the familiar voice echoed oddly through the cavern, tinged with delight. “I expected you to hold out longer, Son of Primus. You disappoint me…”

Ren’s eyes were watering, he was having problems breathing evenly, and his ears were ringing so badly that he could barely hear the voice, but just the bit of it that did make it through the fog clouding his brain sent chills through him. “What did you do to me?” he gasped, his throat still raw.

The Dark Dweller chuckled. “Your resistance to my mind probe was considerable,” it remarked, “but fear not, there will be other opportunities to extract the information I seek.”

“And what would that be?” Ren whispered fiercely, having to squeeze his eyes shut because the world that greeted him spun dangerously.

“I have already obtained one of several things I want from you,” the Dark Dweller went on conversationally, ignoring his question. “That one was particularly easy to find.” He smirked, then from its dark depths produced a small metallic bauble that seemed to shine of its own light. “I believe this–er–belonged to you?”

Ren forced his eyes open, and nearly retched just from outright shock at forcing himself to focus and at seeing what the Dark Dweller possessed.

No–no! Not the Compass! Noy Jitat…

“Dark Water, do what you will,” the Dark Dweller bade, and dissolved into the dark without another word.

And the Dark Water twisted and tugged and pulled harder than it had before, but just barely not hard enough to keep Ren from passing out. Finally, when the first bones started to snap, he couldn’t stop himself from screaming any longer.

To be continued…

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