SOUTH CENTRAL SAHARA DESERT: THE TENERE
SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO
The vast plain of sand stretching from northeastern Niger into the western part of the Republic of Chad was covered in eerie darkness. Above it, the blackness of the skies was peppered by a sprinkling of stars which, although plenty, did not quite give enough illumination over the land.
A newborn’s wail pierced through the silence of the desert night, followed by an odd mix of varying tones of whimpers floating amidst the warm, arid wind.
After checking on the source of the wail, and finding it to his satisfaction, the green-haired warrior hurriedly focused his full attention to the woman lying on the sand.
She was on her back, her helmet and warrior suit set aside. Only a white, blood-stained garment covered her battered body.
Her long, white hair fanned her beautiful face, making her features aglow for the last time . . . for she was dying.
The man clasped her hands, as he urgently pleaded to her,
“My love, let me find an oasis. There must be one here. . . somewhere. . . !”
“No. . .” the woman whispered, struggling to speak.
“You and I . . . know. . . I am . . . beyond that. There. . . is no time. . . to waste. Do . . . what we have. . . agreed upon. Please, my love. Do not . . . let . . . my death . . . be in vain.”
A sob escaped from the man’s lips. “Must the cost be this high?”
Weakly, she lovingly touched his face. “I’m afraid. . . it is, my darling. Because . . . what is at stake. . . is comparable . . . to none.”
Miserably, he can only stare at her helplessly for he knew what she said was true.
“I can’t do this alone. . . I can’t do this without you!”
“You will. . . you must!”
Eagerly, she squeezed his hand with all the strength remaining in her. His green eyes searched her blue ones, etching her face in his memory.
“I love you. I love you!” he murmured pressingly, realizing that they only have seconds to spare.
“And I, you. Always. . . Please. . . remember. . . that.”
“I will. I will never forget you, my darling.”
One last kiss.
One last breath.
Then she closed her eyes, her hands dropping from his grasp, her breathing expunged.
Slowly, her skin started to shrivel and dry up.
He watched her as her body gradually turned brown and wrinkled, until it took the form of a driftwood, her face and body etched on it. Unmoving, cold, and lifeless.
For a few seconds, the man sat immobile. His grief was indescribable, his agony deeply entrenched in his heart that it rendered him numb. A lone tear escaped from his blank eyes, a last monument to his emotions, before he put it away, never to surface for eternity.
He begun to claw at the sand with his bare hands. At snail’s pace at first, but then, it became faster. . . and faster. . . until a shallow grave was formed.
There, he gently laid down the wooden image of the only woman he has ever loved, placing a kiss on its cold lips. Then he covered the grave with the sand he had dug, burying her along with the love in his heart.
Afterward, with shaking hands, he scooped the whimpering newborn in his arms. He slowly put his left palm over the little one’s face.
The child cried and cried and cried.
Then the cries abruptly stopped.
His jaw clenched, the green-haired man stood up and walked, with heavy footsteps, back to the direction of the makeshift tent in the middle of the Sahara desert.
Several gruesome tasks were waiting, still to be undertaken. His wife was right. There was no time to waste.
* * *
NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a baby bottle-nosed dolphin, swimming beside its floating dead mother, shrieked a high-pitched, lengthy, depressing whistle.
Then it slowly came beside its mother and rested its head on her exposed stomach. It stayed there, like its mother, unmoving.
WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN: MARIANA TRENCH
Located somewhere in the western Pacific east of the Philippines and east of the Mariana Islands, the Mariana Trench was a crescent-shaped scar in the Earth’s crust that measures more than 2,550 kilometers long and 69 kilometers wide.
It was recognized by humans as the deepest part of the world’s ocean as well as Earth’s deepest location. Geologists claimed that if Mount Everest were dropped into the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, or the Challenger Deep, its peak would still be more than 1.6 kilometers underwater. The Challenger Deep was measured at more than 11,000 meters.
The known depth.
From above, the dark blue waters of the ocean danced in slow rhythm with the gentle wind, the scorching hot sun’s rays bouncing on the surface.
Yet 16,000 meters underneath it–an additional five thousand meters deeper than known to man– a storm was brewing.
Hidden from human eyes since time immemorial by gigantic stone formations and nestled in the farthest, deepest nook of this part of the underwater world, a colossal castle sat amid seaweeds and corals.
The castle was cloaked above by gigantic, overlapping shells where glittering, flickering diamonds were embedded, serving doubly as the citadel’s source of light.
Its walls were made of sturdy white coral reefs, adorned with chunks of shining, sparkling multi-colored jewels. Its tall towers, twelve in all, stood proudly, guarded by giant yellow sea horses, their heights no less than ten feet tall, with each of their eyes moving independently, following the activity of passing sea life without giving their presence away.
The main gate, situated on the grounds at the middle of the fortress, was comprised of two humongous rocks, each of which is six meters thick. They were manned by two enormous octopuses, hiding in plain sight. For they were almost unnoticeable, their skin’s cells and arms’ muscles matching the color and texture of the rocks, serving as the first line of defense against attackers.
The entrance gave way to a huge courtyard where a hundred palace guards, dressed in full battle gear, were placed in strategic positions, their booted feet firmly settled on the sandy, white ground. They looked very much like humans, if not for the gills on either side of their jaws, just below the ears, which flap silently as they breathe in through the waters.
The inside of the castle bespoke of incomparable wealth and tasteful sophistication. The floors were made up of slabs of glimmering mother-of-pearls. Thick, deep green seaweed curtains, from which colored jewels hung playfully, cover the walls. Colorful fishes and small marine life freely roam around. Tables, chairs, benches and other furnitures were made up of the finest, smoothest white marble. The stairs leading to the upper floors stood in stark contrast, though, as they were assembled from slabs of elegant black marble.
In the middle of the spacious foyer, a wide stairway led straight to the uppermost floor. It was where the king’s private suites are located.
Heavy, echoing footsteps entered the majestic room, treading slowly as the news-bearer traversed the shiny, white pearlized floor.
The messenger stopped, standing before the man sitting on the edge of the enormous four poster bed made up of huge, sturdy planks of multicolored coral reefs, surrounded by a soft, lush cushion of white and green seaweeds.
The man was bowed down, his hands cradling his crown of green hair adorned with scattered flecks of blue and silver.
He lifted his head slightly and asked with a barely audible voice without looking at the newcomer,
“Is it . . . done?”
An uneasy silence ensued for but a few seconds.
The dreaded reply came.
“It is. . . as you commanded.”
The man on the bed closed his eyes painfully, gravely nodding.
Then, he remembered to ask, “What. . . what was it?”
An exhale of sorrowful breath was heard, before he was answered,
“They. . . it was a they. They were. . . twins. A boy. . . and a girl.”
Upon hearing this, the crouched man wept silently, tearlessly, his shaking shoulders the only indication of the intensity of his emotions.
The news-bearer clenched his jaws and waited in silence for the man to compose himself.
He should know. He had done exactly the same a few days ago.
After some time, the grieving man stood up, his back tensed like a rod. Trying hard to steady his voice, he whispered:
“Then there is one more matter left to do.”
The newcomer scowled.
“Forgive me, but I think it unnecessary, especially now. The deed is done. No one knows, except myself.”
“You are wrong there. I know. And that is something I cannot live with.”
“My friend. . .”
The sorrowful man did not wait for him to continue. He earnestly implored him, “I realize this last matter I command you to do is a burden so extreme that I myself know it is unjust and unfair to you. But for the sake of the two worlds, I ask . . . no, I beg of you. . . please do this. The prince of Bermuda must never wield the power of the Trident!”
Nodding slowly in agreement, the news-bearer said humbly, “I understand.”
The man asked then, his eyes searching: “Where is Merleia? Why is she not with you? Is she outside?”
It was the newsbearer’s turn to show grief. “She. . . she did not make it. The journey proved to be. . . too taxing. . . for her condition.”
The man gasped out loud. “No! Not her! Why her? This is all my fault! THIS IS ALL MY FAULT!”
Hurriedly, the other man appeased him. “Do not burden yourself, my friend. She knew what she was getting into.”
“What about. . .” the man asked.
The look he gave him confirmed his worst fears.
“My friend, I am so, deeply, truly sorry. Please forgive me.” The man slumped back on the bed, weeping profusely.
His friend hastened to pacify him, not wanting to add to the weight of guilt that has tormented him. “There is nothing to forgive. Things happen as they should. This isn’t your fault.”
“Oh but it is, my friend. If I hadn’t. . .”
The news-bearer cut him off earnestly, not wanting him to wallow in useless guilt. He firmly held the other man’s shoulders, looking him in the eye.
Dark, deep moss eyes took hold of bright, sparkling, emerald eyes, holding them prisoners to his stare. They look almost alike, if not for the tinge of their eyes.
“Enough! Let us gaze toward the horizon, beyond our pain, and be thankful that the curse of the Sea Witch will never be fulfilled now. Weep no more, my friend, and let us act swiftly and accordingly. For Aquosvegna!”
Only then did the grieving man saw in his friend’s eyes an incomprehensible pain, much like his own. And in there, he also found strength and conviction, borne of the same kind of pain which fuelled his body to action.
He stood up, wiping his tears with the back of his hand. Clasping his friend’s shoulders in return, he firmly responded,
“We are kindred souls, you and I. . . in everything. But you are right. I apologize profusely. There are things to do, and emotions have to be extinguished for matters that are far more important.”
His friend nodded, his face an image of resolute determination as well, as he replied tonelessly,
“The pain will go away, my friend. And then there would be nothing else but numbness.”
“Yes. . .,” the other man agreed, and then, bowing his head as he knelt before the news-bearer, “. . . my King. As always, you are right.”
Immediately, the other man corrected him,
“No, my King, my Lord,” as he, too, knelt in front of his friend, his head bowed lower, his respect and reverence evident toward the man before him. Continuing, he gravely stated, “It is Aquosvegna who is forever indebted to you. This is my vow unto you: your sacrifice will not be put to waste.”
Then he slowly unleashed the knife strapped to his right leg, its malevolent sound cutting through the stillness of the gloomy, majestic room.
The other man closed his sea-green, emerald eyes and waited for the sharp blade to strike.
Aquosvegna, the Water Kingdom, comprised of all the waters and liquid on Earth, whatever form it may be: saltwater—the oceans and seas—; fresh water—the rivers, lakes, brooks, springs, waterfalls—; frozen, the icebergs and glaciers in the Northernmost part of the planet, or its by-products, namely precipitation and its forms: rain and snow.
The great Castle under the Mariana Trench was the seat of power of Aquosvegna, and it was here that its King—lord of all waters, ruler of the people of Aquosvegna, master of all water creatures, and wielder of the all-powerful Trident—reside.
The Trident, a three-pronged spear, measured nine feet tall from tip to bottom. Said to be forged from the Earth’s solid inner core, it was composed of the heaviest, most powerful elements combined with a mysterious, unknown component of the waters deep under the Mariana Trench, the source of which had always been undisclosed.
The trident’s color was gold, but it turns into a shimmering, glimmering white like a pearl once it is touched or held by the King. Its magical prowess was comparable to none. Through the Trident, the King of Aquosvegna held dominion over all waters as well as all the creatures of it. It heeded and granted his every wish and command. The powers of the Trident were such that he can control, influence and subdue every single drop of liquid and every organism included in his domain.
Aquosvegna’s King hailed from the ancestry of the Originator who created the Trident more than three thousand years ago. The title and the power of the King and the invincible Trident were passed on to the firstborn male of every generation. The queens, in the past, after giving birth, as well as the female offsprings, after birth, lived out the rest of their lives under the protection and luxuries of royalty in the Left Wing of the Castle, but never again inside the King’s Chamber. They were never allowed to see or be with the King again as long as he lived and ruled over his constituents.
The present King had no queen nor heirs, as he had not married.
The people of Aquosvegna, or the Aquaeans, differed in appearance from humans only by their gills, situated on opposite sides of their neck just below the ears. These gills, much like those of fishes, but bigger and more powerful, enabled them to breathe underwater, although they also have the capacity to breathe above water, or on land too. Additionally, Aquaeans have a much longer life span than humans.
In truth, there were only two kinds of people that exist on Earth: Aquaeans and humans. Contrary to legend, there were no mermaids or merfolk, or creatures that were half fish and half human. These stories were made up by Aquaeans who deliberately circulated it to humans.
Aquaeans had always believed themselves to be superior to humans since the beginning of their existence. The people of Aquosvegna treasured and nurtured peace and harmony in their midst. But they looked down with disdain on humans, seeing them as weak, corrupt and selfish, largely because of their constant in-fighting and wars.
For Aquaeans, the humans, and only a very small part of its population at that, had only one use to them: as the source and cultivator of Crocus Sativus Linnaeus, a rare purple flowering plant. The plant was ambrosia to all Aquaeans, for it gives them youth, vitality and strength. It also amplified the innate exceptional abilities and magical power of a few select Aquaeans. More importantly, it intensified the power of the Trident.
It was for this reason only that the patriarchal Aquaeans had struck an uneasy agreement with the human Keepers of the Crocus thousands of years ago. In exchange for the unlimited supply of the plant, they allowed the humans to partake of the living and non-living treasures of the seas and all other forms of water.
The misuse and abuse of humans to marine life, however, further fueled the Aquaeans’ contempt on their race. As a consequence, Aquaeans were prohibited to be involved in humans or in human affairs. Doing so was a mortal crime punishable by death.
Only the Keepers of the Crocus maintained knowledge of, and communicated with Aquaeans.