Desperate Times: part 5

Author: Andorus
Rating: PG


Disclaimer: Ren, Ioz, Tula, Niddler, the Dark Dweller, Avagon, Octopon, and all of that belong to the now-no-more Hanna-Barbera studios. Serril’s my own original creation.

Author’s Notes: Yeah, there’s some discrepancy in here between this and the…second? Third? segment (re. the Compass)–but I’ll explain it next week. ;o) I AM trying to make this a weekly thing now…so expect the next segment next Friday or Saturday (June 22-23, 2001).

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

* * * * *

“So,” Niddler finally ventured after some time, during which they’d all sailed and tended to their duties in near-silence. “Where do we go now?”

Ioz and Tula looked up at that, and exchanged a look. “We-” Tula’s voice, still hoarse, faltered slightly. “We need to see if there’s any way to find Ren.” She hesitated, then went on. “And then–if worst comes to worst–we need to figure out how to get the Compass back, and figure out what whatever it was that attacked me was, not just for me–but because it could hurt other people, too.”

“It seems to me like your attacker’s the most immediate threat,” Ioz put in gravely. Tula turned to look at him, surprise crossing her face. “If we’ve lost Ren, we can’t thin our ranks further.”

Tula’s surprise melted and she looked away, a slight flush coming to her face and her expression faltering further.

“Whoever it was–it seems to be coming from the Maelstrom,” Niddler put in tentatively. “Bloth’s been behind us ever since this all started.”

“You’re right,” Tula replied in wonder after a moment. “You’re absolutely right, Niddler. And-” She broke off, an odd look crossing her face. “It was an incredibly strong gust of wind that blew Ren overboard.”

Ioz was the first to break the stunned silence that followed. “Scupango,” he snarled. “By the blood of Ren-” He instantly broke off, and a look of defeat crossed his face.

“Don’t, Ioz,” Tula murmured. “We–we don’t know. It’s going to happen. But–we are going to pay him back for this,” she added vehemently, wincing as her voice cracked painfully.

Ioz lifted his head warily and regarded her silently for a moment. “You’re right,” he agreed quietly. “Whatever Bloth is up to now–he shall pay dearly for it.”

Tula stepped towards him and put her hand over his, squeezing it slightly and surprising all three of them. “For Ren,” she stated simply, and Ioz instantly understood.

Niddler stepped forward and put his hand over theirs. “For Ren,” he agreed, and together, they raised their clasped hands high in their silent vow.

* * * * *

With a note of finality, Ren roused himself to full wakefulness. He’d been asleep on and off since Serril had used her powers to heal him–and every time he’d managed to open his eyes, she was still lying next to him–where he’d managed to carefully deposit her after she’d collapsed–completely unconscious and oblivious to her surroundings.

As his eyes fell on her again, he felt himself growing a bit speculative–about her, her background, how she came to be here, and what he could do to get her out. He couldn’t just leave her there where she could die any minute if the Dark Dweller knew about her. He had to find a way to bring her with him, back to the surface…

…after how many years of being trapped there, though?

Much had changed on the surface thanks to the Dark Water, Octopon probably being the most extreme case. He wondered how much it all had changed since the start of the Year of the Black Tide, and how much of it he’d taken for granted and would realize as truly being different from her reaction to all of it.

He also started to think about where she’d come from…her pale skin obviously meant that it had been many years since she’d seen the sun. Her features didn’t say much to point to what area of Mer she might have originated from, nor did her clothing. What really made him wonder, though, were her eyes…he’d never seen eyes quite that deep emerald before. They seemed to hold a power of their own, mesmerizing whoever looked into them with the intense, direct gaze they returned…

…or maybe it was just him?

He flushed slightly, wondering where that thought had come from.

Not much later, her eyelids fluttered and she shifted a little bit as consciousness started to return to her. Carefully, she lifted her head and opened her eyes, and Ren smiled a bit, at least in relief, at seeing her eyes widen at the sight of him awake. “Are you okay?” they both inquired at the same time, and chuckled a bit weakly. Ren raised his eyebrows, though, as a sign for her to reply first, and she took it. “I’m fine,” she replied quickly. “But how are you? Are you in any pain?”

“I’m okay,” he assured her, meaning it fully, and let his smile cross his face, this time full of gratefulness. “Thanks–thanks a lot.”

She smiled back, her face lighting up, but didn’t say anything–so Ren decided to.

“I have to ask you,” he began, as they slowly climbed to their feet, Ren moving gingerly just in case, and helping each other up. “Where did you come from? How did you end up here, and how long have you been here?”

Her smile faded, and Ren inwardly braced himself. “I suppose it does no harm to tell you,” she finally conceded. “I’m from Octopon originally; I’m probably just a couple of years your senior.” He nodded, mildly surprised that she was indeed older, despite being smaller-built. “My father, big sister, and I were sailing one day, about seventeen or so years ago, maybe a bit more–when we saw this black thing on the water. We had no idea what it was, and before we knew it, it tore our ship apart, and when I fell overboard, it dragged me under. I never found out what happened to my father or my sister.” She hesitated. “It turned out that we were the first victims of the Dark Water–we’d witnessed the beginning of the Year of the Black Tide.” Ren’s eyes widened involuntarily. “I’ve never seen the Dark Dweller in all the time I’ve been here, not even once,” she went on. “And I can’t explain it. I think something about my power is cloaking me from him–or that when he sent the Dark Water out at the very beginning, it grabbed so much debris and other things floating in the water that he just disregarded all of it, including me.” She trailed off and shook her head helplessly, and lapsed into silence for a moment. “You don’t know how much I’ve longed to see the sun again, and the twin moons,” she remarked helplessly, finally, turning to regard him with those eyes filled with an immense sadness that moved him to the core. “And the sea, and the land, and-” She drew in a shuddering breath. “And people. Real, living ones, full of life and not the fear of death that just completely takes them over when they come here. Though–there was this woman–she was an older woman, but she was so brave, ready to hold on to life as long as she could-”

Ren blinked. “An older woman?” he repeated. “Did she have white hair and lavendar clothes?”

Serril peered at him in surprise. “You know her, then?” she inquired curiously.

He felt something lurch inside of him. “Her name was Avagon,” he informed her soberly. “And she was one of my father’s best friends and one of his seven captains when he originally started on the quest, years ago.”

Her eyes widened, her mouth forming an O at his words.

He knew he didn’t want to know, and that he shouldn’t ask, but at the same time, he felt that he had to.

“How did she die?” he asked.

Sympathy and worry crossed her face once more. “Ren, I-”

“Please, Serril,” he interrupted her, gently but firmly. “I just–I have to know.”

She drew in a breath and exhaled before speaking. “She fought till the end,” she explained softly. “She wasn’t afraid, not for a moment. But he knew who she was, and what she was trying to do–and she kept saying this one phrase over again and again, like an incantation-” She broke off, pursing her lips in thought. “What was it?”

“Always the Quest,” Ren supplied weakly, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach.

Her eyes lit up. “That’s it,” she agreed, and sobered. “But–I don’t know if I should go on. It’s–it’s not pretty.”

“Serril, none of what I’ve seen in the past year has exactly been ‘pretty,'” Ren informed her, a bit sharply; he realized it too late, and the hurt in her eyes made him flush with shame, and he quickly apologized. She accepted it and went on.

“I know that you know this is called the Chamber of Lost Souls. But do you know why?”

He shook his head.

“The Dark Dweller thrives on the souls of those who’ve passed before him,” she explained. “So he’ll drain the life-energies from his victims. If he’s in a weakened state, he’ll do it quickly, within several hours, and it’ll be relatively painless for the person. But–if he-” She swallowed. “If he wants to make them suffer-”

She sighed again, dropping her eyes.

“Ren-”

He reached forward and touched her shoulder gently, to provide her with some support. She squeezed her eyes shut and raised a hand up to touch his, threading her fingers beneath his and tightening her grip on his hand.

“Ren, it took her three months to die.”

She lifted her eyes to meet his then.

He couldn’t believe it. He just couldn’t believe that anybody could be made to suffer like that, to have their life pulled painfully from themselves and then have it dangled in front of their faces like a toy just out of a baby’s reach. A taste of wet ash entered his mouth, and his insides wrenched, painfully, at the memory.

She was a strong woman–probably the strongest he’d ever met–and he knew that the Dark Dweller did what he could to make sure she lost her honor while dying.

Serril broke into his reverie gently. “She didn’t utter a sound, though,” she added. “She wouldn’t let herself scream–she couldn’t give him the pleasure.”

That was some gratification, then.

But not much.

“Three months?” he repeated, his throat choked, his voice nothing but an incredulous whisper.

Her eyes were locked on his now, and she sensed him falter before he did, and quickly stepped forward, taking him into her arms and holding him close, hugging and clinging to him tightly.

A moment later, he became of this and slowly brought his hands up to her back, and let his head sag against her shoulder.

Three months.

He was trembling slightly…it was just…

He had to put a stop to this. He had to avenge her death, and the deaths of all those who fell before and after her.

“I’m going to get you out of here,” he muttered, his voice thick enough to obscure his words.

Serril shifted slightly to look at him questioningly.

“I said, I’m going to get you out of here,” he repeated quietly, meeting her eyes, his vow flaring inside of him and filling him with some strength. “I can’t let you stay here. If there’s a way to get you back home, I’ll do it.”

She drew in a sharp breath at that, and tears filled her eyes. “Ren-” She broke off. “This is my home. My father and sister are probably dead–they might’ve died 17 years ago, they might’ve died yesterday–and–so much will have changed, that–I just don’t know–I’d love to go back, but it all just seems like a dream that’ll never happen-”

“It’ll be all right,” he assured her gently. “Really. I’ll take you back to Octopon, and take ca-” He quickly interrupted himself. “Leave you in good hands.”

She noticed the slip and raised her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything further. “I’m still not sure,” she murmured, and then blinked and blushed, embarrassment crossing her face. “What am I saying?” she breathed. “I must sound so rude–I’m so sorry.”

He shook his head and smiled. “It’s okay, really,” he insisted. “But–do you want to go home? I mean, your true home,” he amended. “Nobody can live here happily.”

He could almost see what she was thinking–seeing the sun, moons, the sea, the land, and people…

“You don’t belong here,” he pressed. “What if the Dark Dweller finds you? What’ll he do to you then?”

“But-” She regarded him worriedly. “My powers-”

That stopped him. “What about them?” he replied curiously.

Pain filled her eyes. “I was always–I was seen as a freak when I was little,” she admitted tiredly. “I don’t want to go through all that pain again. It’s been so long–I’ve been so alone–I just wouldn’t know how to handle it…”

“I’ll help you,” he replied instantly. “It’s different now. You have the power to heal–that’s a gift, not a curse.”

She hesitated, bit her lip…and nodded.

“All right,” she relented, and smiled faintly. “If there’s a way for you to bring me to the surface–bring me home-”

“It’s the least I can do for what you’ve done for me,” he said simply, and smiled back.

But then something made the hair on the back of his neck prickle and stand on end, and he spun around, stepping in front of her just in case.

The Dark Dweller himself entered the cavern, melting out of the darkness surrounding them. “How can this be?” he wheezed upon seeing Ren standing, completely healed, glaring back at him. “You should be broken beyond repair!”

And then he caught sight of Serril.

“What do we have here?” he went on–and sent out tendrils of Dark Water lashing towards them to grab and separate them.

Ren spun, grabbed Serril, and held onto her as separate masses of the substance wrapped around each of them, trying to pull them apart. But their pull was too great, and she was torn from his grasp and pulled back just far enough that even if both of them had stretched as far as they could, they just barely wouldn’t be able to reach each other.

“So, my dear, how long did you expect to go unnoticed?” the Dark Dweller demanded, a slow grin crossing its “face.” “Your powers may have been good enough to hide you from me all this time, but your power is enough to sustain me longer than any of these mortals.”

Mortals?

“But perhaps we can arrange a deal,” the Dweller went on conversationally. “You agree to stay here, and let me drain some of your energy–and I shall let you live on, and not drain your life-energies.”

He saw her expression harden. “No,” she spat hoarsely. “Never.”

Ren struggled against the Dark Water a bit, but it wasn’t giving.

And then he saw it.

The Compass.

The Dark Dweller was wearing it, a small speck of light against his dark mass. He didn’t notice Ren focusing in on it, wondering if it would react to his presence somehow, to his will–the way it had on Pandawa, when he’d broken free of the ropes Jargus had tied him up to. And for a moment, it did nothing. But then…

The Dark Dweller belatedly realized what Ren was doing as the Compass started to hum softly–and then shot out a beam of light at the Dark Water surrounding him. Ren was astounded to see it dissolve into the purplish foam he recognized from using the Treasures on it, but didn’t waste time thinking about it. As it fell, he sprinted across the space to Serril and grabbed her arms, trying to yank her out with strength he didn’t know he possessed.

And then the Compass started to glow.

The Dark Dweller let out a scream as it started to act upon him, and then it fell free. Ren let go of Serril long enough to lunge and grab it before the Dark Water could–and then it shot off another shaft of light, freeing her from her bonds as well. “Come on!” he ordered, looping it around his neck again, and grabbed her arm, and they sprinted in the opposite direction from the Dweller.

“You shall never escape here alive,” it managed to snarl after them.

“We’ll see about that!” Ren shouted back, but this time, he didn’t care about clichés.

To be continued…

Skip to toolbar