"A Cure to Adella" by Furor Scribendi
Spring had arrived and the ocean was in full bloom. All around, thickets of blossoms abounded. Orange tropicalias, dazzling green coralites, blazing blue hornslippers, explosive red flame grasses, multi-colored tetralines, all the colors were competing for the attention of any passerby.
A mermaid came into view, riding her seahorse with such intensity and determination that the glories of the sea were wasted upon her. She was looking for something, but not what was being immediately offered. Flitting to and fro, she glanced over all the outgrowths of seaplants issuing forth from their beds or rocky crags.
The routine was the same: look, ride, glance, ride, peek, ride. Occasionally, she would rein in her steed to examine a flower more closely, but, after a moment, she would head along to the next thicket of plants.
Ariel felt like she had been riding for hours, because she had, since first light filtered down to Atlantica. This was the farthest she had ever been from the palace by herself. She had been entrusted with a special project, so special that there was no time for fun or frivolity.
Through every dale, over each rise, behind all boulders, she rode on and on and on. Finally, she stopped near a flat rock, totally exhausted. She started to sag, but righted herself immediately.
Reaching into her shoulder bag, she pulled out a folded piece of paper. Spreading it upon the rock, she began marking off spaces on it. Suddenly, she crumpled it up and hurled it with all her might towards the cliff face. Stormy reared back in alarm at her action. The mermaid collapsed in a heap on the rock, sobbing heavily. Her red hair swirled about her, settling upon her like a cape.
"It's just not fair!" she blurted out. She rose up from the rock and looked at the map, lying placidly amidst a series of boulders. Ariel put her head in her hands and steeled herself. "But I have to do this. It is expected of me. And it is vital that I succeed."
Rescuing the map, she flattened it out as best as she could. Although many areas were marked off, there were just as many unexplored. Plotting her course, the map was refolded and returned to her bag. She headed back over to Stormy and saddled up.
Gathering herself together, she spurred Stormy on. "Who knows?" she remarked to her horse, "It may be over that next ridge." But she knew that each and every 'next ridge' had to be checked out.
It wouldn't be so bad, Ariel thought, if we weren't under this time pressure. Besides, Adella was counting on her. Adella was counting on all of them.
Ariel's renewed spirit quickly flagged; however, as she was doing more looking in the wrong spot and more disappointment ensued. After checking out an enormous cluster of plants in an arroyo, Ariel crested a ridge and came upon a sight she had hoped not to experience. She was greeted with the vastness of...
"The Great Rift Valley? I'm off the map!" Ariel drooped noticeably, crestfallen in her travels. She dismounted and looked into the endless reaches of the valley before her. Settling upon the rim of the valley wall, she slapped a rock with her tail flukes, propelling it into the depths. She watched it sink, swallowed up by the sheer immensity of the valley. Ariel felt as insignificant as the falling rock heading towards the valley floor.
This was too much for her to bear and she collapsed into a heap of mermaid despair and sorrow.
She lay there, motionless, for a long time. Stormy nuzzled her head, trying to make her feel better. Ariel dejectedly rose up and stroked his mane. "That's OK, I understand. Thank you." She pulled out the map and tried to figure out where she really was. She looked at the map, then all about her, trying to find some reference point. The map was abruptly thrust back into the bag. Ariel looked at Stormy.
"This isn't working. And I've got to do something. I don't have time to fritter away." She got atop Stormy. "I can't hope that other will be more successful than I am. I've got to take action!"
Spurring her horse, they rose upwards. Ariel was hoping that a larger view of the area could get her back on course. As she rose higher, her eye was snared by a flurry of color where none was expected. She had heard tales that the Great Rift Valley was a lifeless void, vacant of hospitality and filled with huge, monstrous beasts. Yet, before her was a riot of color and life. Perhaps, just perhaps...
Ariel headed over and came upon a sight most surprising. Amid the heartless walls of this canyon was an explosion of colors in a capacious garden. Many of the plants Ariel recognized: Mermaid's Hairbrush, Shark Fin Nettles, pink and yellow Whirlpools, plus a few she wasn't sure of.
Ariel alit from Stormy and began to swim through the garden. It was so lush and full. There's no way it could have just happened. As she marveled in the plants, she noticed one that riveted her attention. Located in a shadier spot of the garden, it was a series of little red beads, looking like a necklace. Each ball was highlighted with a black dot in the center of it. Ariel began to count the beads on the strands. "...seven...eight...nine. Nine!" Ariel bit her lower lip anxiously as she counted out another strand. "...seven ...eight...nine!"
Ariel reached into the bag and pulled out another sheet of paper. Her hand trembling, she held it up to the plant. Although a crude drawing, it showed a red line of beads. Notes across the paper told of 'nine to a strand', 'look for a black dot in the center' and 'found in shady areas'.
Ariel clutched the drawing to her face. Maybe this was it! As she turned to Stormy, she noticed one of the walls of the valley. So intent was she on this discovery she had initially missed it. It looked like a house!
Carved into the valley wall, it was nearly invisible. The windows were cleverly disguised to appear to be crevasses in the rock face. The door was hidden among the cracks and lines that ran up and down the wall. At least, it looked like a door. When she went to it, the boulder on the front was really a doorknocker.
Ariel stepped backwards, held for a moment and scanned the garden. The garden was meticulously tended to; there were no errant plants or wildness to it. Someone must live in that house. Perhaps they could help Ariel with her problem.
Returning to the door, she raised the boulder and let it drop. The valley echoed with the sound of the knocker striking. Ariel waited patiently for something to happen, and then knocked again. As she was ready to knock a third time, the door creaked open trepididatiously. A lilting voice floated outwards.
"Yes, my child. What can I do for you?"
Before Ariel could respond, the door opened completely. Ariel gaped dumbfoundedly at the mermaid before her. She had radiant ash blonde hair swirling about her. Her deep green eyes seem to pierce right through her and she moved so languidly as if to be in a dream. Ariel gaped at her, totally amazed.
"Child, are you OK? Do you have Whirlpool Fever?" That voice, so cool and soft. Ariel felt herself being mesmerized, unable to respond. She snapped back to reality when the other mermaid laid the back of her hand atop Ariel's forehead.
"Well, you do feel a bit hot, but that could be due to anything." Ariel noticed how soft and smooth her hand was. Ariel tried to speak.
"I saw that you had...I mean, I was going along and...and you had..which I need and, then I saw this place and thought, but I had to know and...the beginning, the beginning when I started out because I needed to get what, and then I..."
Ariel was painfully aware that she was talking gibberish, but the harder she tried to correct it the worse she got.
The mermaid stared at her, uncertain of what was going on, but knew it was something important. She placed her finger across Ariel's lips to quiet her. Ariel looked pained that she had made such a mess of things.
She spoke. "Please come inside and perhaps we can help with your problem." The door closed behind Ariel without a sound. Inside the house, it was a different story.
The house was alive with light, streaming from above through great windows atop the house. On the walls of the house were racks and racks of iridescent green bottles, shimmering and glowing in the light. Ariel was stunned at to how big the place was, stretching far into the wall of the canyon.
The mermaid guided Ariel over to a moss couch and seated her. She sat directly across from Ariel and looked into her eyes. "First, let us introduce ourselves. I am Oubliette. I live out here in the valley."
"My name is Ariel. I hope you can help because I haven't enough time and I..."
Oubliette put up her hand. "Before you speak, collect your thoughts. And take time to present them."
"But that's the one thing I don't have a lot of. Time!" Ariel practically shrieked it out, and then caught herself. "I'm sorry, but it's been such an awful day." She closed her eyes as little tears weeped their way out. "It began yesterday..."
The Coral Caverns are a popular place for many Atlanticans to go to and spend a restful time. The trails and pathways can keep even the most ardent explorer busy for hours. Ariel and her sisters were there, having some free time from their chores. Andrina was doing her athletic racing with non-stop relay games. Arista was admiring the flowers that grew about the caverns. Adella had other plans.
Adella had become obsessed with finding a black pearl. Some merfolk had found a black pearl in the Caverns a few months earlier and Adella was bound and determined to find one for herself.
"Look at that", remarked Andrina, "I won another race." Ariel and Alana were panting far behind her. They stopped for a moment trying to regain some composure. Andrina came up to them, as though the exertion was nothing.
"Ready to go again?" Before they could answer, she tore out, doing a couple more laps around the outcroppings.
Alana sagged into some kelp fronds. "Where does she find the energy?" Alana's eyes fluttered as though she was ready to pass out.
"I thought…thought I…had a….lot….of….energy," wheezed Ariel, "But she makes me look like a guppy."
Andrina swished by them, a blinding blur of color. "Hurry up, you turtles!" she called out, and then zipped from sight.
Ariel looked up to see Attina, sitting restfully under a fan coral, reading a book. They both lethargically made their way over to her.
Attina was reading some heavy tome, unaware as to what was going on.
"I though you were going to enjoy yourself," asked Alana.
"This IS how I enjoy myself." Attina did not look up.
Ariel glanced at the cover. "'A Brief History of the Sharkanian Incursion.' If this is brief, I don't want to see the full history! Is that six inches thick?"
"To each their own. I've gotten up to the exciting part, when the negotiations broke down over the issue of land sovereignty."
"Ooooooh! I'm quivering like a jellyfish over that!" mocked Alana.
Attina gently shut the book. "You know, someday you might be ruler of all the merpeople. It wouldn't hurt you to know something about our past to make decision about our future."
Ariel thumbed over to Adella. "And what about her?"
They looked to see Adella groping around a large expanse of coral. She was struggling to check out every nook and cranny of the coral.
"I…know...there's…..something…..here!" Adella grunted.
"She lacks focus," said Attina.
"Oh, she's got lots of focus. It just needs to be directed," answered Alana.
Alana and Ariel drifted over to Adella and watched her. Off to one side, Aquata and Arista were getting the lunch set up.
As Adella worked around the coral, she was aware she was being watched. She snapped about to see Ariel and Alana watching intently. "Can I help you with something?" Adella barked.
"No. We're just watching a level of dedication I haven't seen in the classroom," commented Alana
"Perhaps if Sebastian offered a black pearl as a reward, Adella would be top of the class."
"Everybody has a hobby. The Brain over there reads a book every day." Adella motioned to Attina, lost in her reading. "And where's the Streak?" Just then, Andrina rushed in.
"I can't be just competing against myself, I'm sure I could get all of you to have a race with me."
"We've have raced constantly, Andrina. You won every one of them," said Alana.
"I still can't figure out how she did the obstacle course. I got stuck in the hole portion of it," moped Ariel.
"I'll work on those two. If they join, will you?" Andrina pointed beyond them.
Ariel looked over at Arista and Aquata. "Sure!"
Andrina swam off. Alana elbowed Ariel. "Why'd you say that?"
Ariel shook her head. "As if Aquata would do anything that didn't look dignified." They both stared down at Adella, who was squirming to get a couple more inches into the coral. They both moved closer to her.
"Yes, dignity is one of the defining traits of a princess, wouldn't you agree, Ariel?"
"Completely, Alana. That poise and presence is a hallmark of breeding and refinement."
A voice came from inside the coral.
"You two are about as funny as a clownfish. I am laughing, ha, ha, ha. If you're not going to be of any real help, then leave and, please, take your comments with you!"
"My, my! Such petulance!" snickered Alana.
"Tsk, tsk! Hardly becoming of her status."
Adella thrashed around to get in deeper. "There's something in here. I can feel it."
"But don't black pearls come from oysters? Not from coral reefs?" asked Ariel.
"The folks that found them discovered a grouping of them near the coral. Some of the sea creatures do eat oysters, you know, but pearls are indigestible and they expel them. All I need to do is…OW!"
Adella winced as she withdrew her hand from the coral. She began to shake it about. "Man, that stings."
Alana looked at her hand. There was a reddening about a vicious-looking cut.
"Someone is unhappy you bothered them," remarked Alana.
Adella pulled her hand away and massaged it. "I've had worse. I'll just look for my treasures somewhere else." She headed off to another grouping of coral.
"She's not going to give up," said Alana.
Just then, Andrina came up to them, all smiles. "They agreed. We start in three minutes!"
"That's…..just….swell." said Ariel.
"Isn't it?" smiled Andrina.
Back at home, Ariel was going through the halls, looking at a book. "King Proteus was considered the last King of Atlantis and the first king of Atlantica. This occurred during the destruction of the Eye of Atlantis, caused by the Crown Prince of Sharkania, Prince Toothus, upon the refusal of Princess Ariadne to wed him." Out of nowhere, Alana bumped into her.
"Oh, Ariel, I'm sorry, but, where is the doctor?"
"The doctor? Why do you need a doctor?"
"Adella isn't feeling well."
"Too much lunch. Did you see her pack it away?"
"This is serious!" Alana grabbed Ariel and shook her.
"OK! OK! Look, you go back to Adella, I'll find Dr. Finlayson." Ariel pushed Alana away.
"Doesn't anyone know where the doctor is? Why won't someone help?" Alana sobbed and headed back down the hall.
Ariel dropped her book and went to find the doctor.
Just then, Dr. Finlayson swam in, Arista leading the way.
"Alana ran into me first; there's a problem with Adella," said Arista.
They all went through into the halls and towards Adella's room.
Adella lay in bed, moaning and groaning. The doctor picked up her arm to show the hand. It was as big as a puffer fish, and the mark was red and inflamed. The doctor laid his hand across her forehead for a moment, then listened to her breathe. After making a face, he turned to the rest of the sisters.
"Can anyone tell me what may have happened to her? I have an idea, but I'm not certain."
The sisters looked at one another for a moment, and then Andrina spoke up. "Those look like bite marks."
"What was she doing in the coral?"
"Looking for black pearls that may be there," said Ariel.
"She has an eel bite, and a bad one at that," said the doctor.
"But I didn't see an eel in the coral," Andrina said defensively.
"An eel bite can't do that kind of sickness! Can it?" argued Aquata.
"Not unless she has a reaction to the bite", remarked Dr. Finlayson.
"I don't understand", commented Ariel.
"An eel bite, in and of itself, is not deadly. It will hurt a great deal, and, if the eel has gotten a better grip, can cause injury. But eels do not have particularly clean mouths. An infection could have been passed to Adella and she is reacting in this violent way to the toxins from the animal."
Alana gasped. "Could Adella...die?"
"No, she'll just have a nasty bruise and feel queasy. But I can do something." The doctor opened his bag and took out a small vial. He withdrew a needle and took just a dab of the liquid, then scratched Adella on the arm.
"That seems to be an odd way to give an injection, doctor," said Aquata.
"Because I'm not. This antidote is rather powerful. Some people can have…oh, my goodness."
The small scratch looked more like a scar. "We've got problems," muttered the doctor
"Problems?" said Alana.
"Adella has an allergy to the standard antidote. It would be worse to give her this than what she has. The problem is this..."
"Don't tell me there's no antidote to the antidote," remarked Attina.
"It's more than an antidote. It's a super antidote. What is needed is to not only counteract what has happened, but to give her a chance to fight this off herself. That's the problem. My medicine bag can help ease some of the problems, but I can't fully cure her. I know what is needed, but I don't have it."
"Why not?" quavered Alana, stroking Adella's head. "She's my sister and I don't want to lose her."
"Very few people have this degree of reaction, so the need for the potion is rather slim. I can make the compound, but I need the proper ingredients. It all depends on finding a certain plant, or an herbalist, which would be better."
"I don't think there's an herbalist in Atlantica anymore," said Aquata.
"Few are experienced in the old ways, even if we could find one, and far fewer who understand the Rope of Eggs," concluded the doctor.
Aquata spoke up. "You will need to talk to the king about this. Now."
Oubliette interrupted the story. "You mean the King got involved with this?"
Ariel was proudly defensive. "Yes, he did. This was important to him. After the doctor laid out the plan, he gave an edict that all Atlanticans were to go out at first light and search a certain area of the sea to find either this plant or an herbalist."
"You were fortunate to find me. Not too many people come out this far."
"I know. In fact, you were off my map. It was just an accident."
Ariel withdrew the map from her bag. "According to this map, you would be, say here." Ariel pointed to a spot about four inches off the map.
"From what you describe of your sister, she has Green Eel Fever. But her reaction tells me she does have a severe allergy to the germs in the eel's mouth and she is in big trouble. Fortunately, I know what to do. I happen to have the serum."
Ariel's eyes opened wide. "You...do?"
Oubliette rose up. "Yes, as I have the same problem your sister has." Oubliette extended an arm to show Ariel a vicious scar. It left an ugly u-shaped ring about her forearm. "I, too, was bitten very badly by a green eel and I nearly died. My mother was able to save me and gave me the recipe for this antidote. But we have to hurry."
"How quickly can we get to Atlantica from here?"
"It's only an hour, but the poison moves rapidly. Another day or so and...but let's not dwell on that. I need to gather some things up before we go." Oubliette went into her kitchen and selected her items. "I'm just surprised that the King would get involved like that." she remarked, as she clattered about.
"Well, any father would do that for his daughter."
The clattering stopped. Oubliette slowly stuck her head out from the kitchen and peered intently at Ariel. "Wait a minute. You said Adella is your sister..."
"She's my older sister, yes," remarked Ariel.
"But Adella is also the daughter of the King, King Triton?" continued Oubliette.
"Yes, that's right."
"And you're…another daughter of King Triton?"
"Yes. Yes, yes, yes!" Ariel swam up to her. "Look, I don't mean to be rude or impertinent. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found you but...but my sister needs help..." Ariel was having a hard time staying composed. Tears began to flow again. "...and you can help her. I don't..." Ariel began to sob. Oubliette comforted her.
"There, there. I know how you feel, but in order to best help your sister, you must be at your best. Yes, it is an emotional time, but she needs you to remain composed and directed." Oubliette rose gently from Ariel and headed back to the kitchen. "Before we go, let me give you some thing to drink. The long journey has tired you far more than you realize. A little pick-me-up is just what you need."
Ariel sniffed away her tears. "Perhaps you're right. But it won't take long, will it?"
As Ariel finished, Oubliette came back with a glass. "Try this. It's a concoction that I find helps me a great deal. It's from anisette."
Ariel brightened. "An anisette tea? I love anisette." Ariel took the glass and gulped down the drink. It felt cool and refreshing as she swallowed it.
Oubliette looked on. "I guess you were more thirsty than you thought."
Ariel looked up at Oubliette. She couldn't properly focus and felt groggy. Everything seemed to move very slowly. "I'm so tired all of a sudden. I feel...feel….feeeeeeeeeeeeeeee..." The room began to spin around and was gobbled up by a veil of darkness.
Ariel opened one eye. She was aware of lying down on something. The light hurt her eye, so she closed it, attempting to open the other eye, but it was very sticky and hard to open. When both eyes were opened, she was hit with a blinding headache. She brought her hands to her eyes to fight against the pain and rocked upwards.
Ariel froze. She was now acutely aware of tightness around her tail, just above her flukes. Looking down, she saw a thick, black band of metal around her. Trying to focus, she saw the chain links as they came from the cuff to a large, ugly ball, equally black, equally ominous. Ariel tried to swim away, but the cuff clanked against the chain.
Still too weak to swim hard, she tried to crawl off, but the ball held her tight. As Ariel rattled the chain, Oubliette returned with a wicked smile on her face.
"Oh, good, you're awake. I was hoping you'd be up soon." Oubliette crossed over to a table, just out of Ariel's reach, and placed a violet bottle upon it. She made a big flourish so Ariel noticed. Then she dropped a large key next to it with a resounding thud.
Ariel watched these proceeding with great dread. She railed against the chain, clanking it hard, but nothing happened. Oubliette laughed cynically.
"What is the meaning of this?" said a panicky Ariel. "I have a very sick sister who needs tending."
"My reasons will be made clear in a moment, dear little princess, so it would be best if you just relax and SHUT UP!" Oubliette's tone turned from marginally pleasant to fiercely menacing. Ariel shrunk back onto the couch and listened.
"I just find it amusing that King Triton needs me now. Especially what he did to me before!" She lurched over to Ariel and put herself nose-to-nose to her. "And it wasn't my fault either. But he felt it was!"
Oubliette returned to the table and fingered the bottle. "Many, many years ago, I was the Official Herbalist of Atlantica. A mighty title, with a mighty responsibility to accompany it. But I wore it well. Then, one day, during the Sharkanian Incursion, many members of the Atlantican army were ailing with some mysterious problem. Try as I might, I could not find a cure to this malady. King Triton accused me of operating in collusion with the Sharkanians and Ursula, the Sea Witch to overthrow the king and sell the merfolk of Atlantica into slavery!"
Oubliette glowered at Ariel, fairly spitting out her retorts. "I am an herbalist, not a mercenary! I am also an Atlantican! Still, despite my innocence, banishment! My trial was a joke. I should be grateful that he let me leave at all. All that I worked for was gone. But now...now..." Oubliette half-closed her eyes, lost in an evil revelry, a low, growling laugh welling from inside her.
Ariel was trepedatious. "What...what are you going to do with me?" her voice quavering with fear.
"Nothing. Nothing to harm you at all." Oubliette shook her head 'no'. "In order to make my plan work, you need to be in perfect condition, alive and unspoiled. Should you not ever return, it would be thought that you were eaten by some sea monster, or caught in a rockslide, or just disappeared. And you were doing this in the noble pursuit of helping your sister. You would be elevated to the status of selfless martyr. There would be statues made and songs sung and stories told and other forms of remembrance swirling about you. But that ain't gonna happen, kid!"
Oubliette crossed her arms in a snotty manner and continued. "My plan works much better with you incredibly alive and returning to the castle with the antidote." She made a mocking sad face at Ariel. "Too bad you will arrive far too late to help your sister. And there will be a note explaining why I have done what I did."
"You're a monster! Adella has done nothing to hurt you!" Ariel lunged at Oubliette but was roughly yanked back by the ball. Ariel grimaced as the cuff cut into her.
"Careful, little one. Your good health is vital to this endeavor. Beside, you're not going anywhere. Go ahead. Just try and lift that ball." Oubliette ran her finger provocatively around the stopper in the bottle, seemingly unaware of Ariel.
Ariel moved to the ball. It looked large and heavy. She bent down to try and lift it, but immediately withdrew in pain. He looked at the cuttings on her arms. Checking the ball carefully, she saw that it was a rough, pitted surface, laden with flaking and sharp projections. Ariel tried again. Selecting a better spot, she grunted and strained and toiled, but was unable to lift the ball. She tried dragging it by the chain. It moved a little, but the exertion necessary to do that was far too great. Ariel collapsed onto the couch.
Oubliette did not look at her, but was aware of all the gruntings. "So, I guess this means you will be staying a while. I have a wonderful lunch prepared for us."
"When my father finds out about this..." threatened Ariel.
"...he'll be unable to do a thing about it!" retorted Oubliette. "I'll be long gone from this place if and when he decided to show up to exact his revenge." Oubliette lounged languidly in the chair. "True, it is a shame that your sister must be made to suffer for your father's errant judgment. The effects are not pleasant, I can assure you. We can only hope that she's drifted into a deep unconsciousness; otherwise, she will be terrified by horrendous images flashing across her mind. Her temperature will creep up very steadily, heating the water all about her, making things worse.
"The smart thing would be to move her about in a sling bed, so the water circulates and cools her, giving her a better chance, but most doctors don't think that way. 'Keep her still so the poison doesn't travel'. It's already in her! Your father's ignorance will doom her again and again." Oubliette made a most self-satisfied expression. "Oh, my. The only regret I have is that I won't be able to see Triton's face as he is helpless to do a thing!" She cackled maniacally.
She lifted the bottle and key and waggled them at Ariel. "Here is what you need." She raised each one as she spoke of it. "The antidote. The key. On the table right here for you to grab and be on your way."
Ariel knew what Oubliette was doing to her, but she responded anyway. Ariel slowly extended herself until the cuff halted her progress. Reaching out, she discovered she was about a foot short of her mark. She slowly returned to the couch to sit down and ponder.
Oubliette seemed dismayed, but continued her barrage. "Now, now, that's not right. You have to play the game and thrash about for these items. Or not. It doesn't matter to me, for I'll win anyway. Oh, but where are my manners? I promised lunch." She headed into the kitchen.
Ariel looked about the room as Oubliette clattered about. Ariel extended herself to see her range of motion. Making a giant circle about the room, she saw what she could reach. Oubliette had left nothing to chance. There was absolutely nothing she could get or obtain, except the couch. All her bottles were out of reach; tables and chairs were moved slightly back. She could get to a side window and...Stormy! She had forgotten about him. Ariel still had her bag within reach. She could write a message and get help. Quickly scribbling a note about her situation, she went over to the window and called out softly to Stormy. Nothing happened.
Perhaps I'm not being loud enough, she thought, and made clicking noises that Mackey had taught her to get a seahorse's attention. As she looked about, she felt a sudden chill. Turning slowly, she saw Oubliette staring at her menacingly, but not threateningly.
"Yes, your seahorse. And a fine mount he is, too. But, he is unable to assist you as well. He is tied up, but is...sedated, so if you were even able to escape from here, he would go so slowly, even the sea slugs could outrun him. Like I said, it is vital that you, and your horse, stay in perfect health for my plan to work. Come, there is lunch."
"I'm not hungry!" pouted Ariel, and returned to the couch.
"I must say, I am impressed with your dealings in this situation. Most people would be acting frantic and upset, but you...you bear closer watching." As Oubliette sat at the table, the bottle and key were moved farther back from Ariel. She sat in stony silence, as Oubliette made terrible smacking and chewing noises, making the lunch sound far more enjoyable that Ariel felt it was.
"Long have I waited for this moment", said Oubliette between bites. "I even dreamt of seeing Triton in terrible agony. But this...this is too much!" Oubliette looked up to see Ariel glancing about the room. She went over behind her as Ariel watched her approach.
"My dear", she oozed forth surreptitiously, "I am so confident in my plan, I believe you cannot escape before it is time. Go right ahead and look and stare about the room. Go and figure some way to get the bottle and key. There it is, right there, just waiting for you to get free and rescue your sister. Of course, you would need a seahorse to help you, but, things like that happen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I do have some harvesting to do." With that, Oubliette went out the door and into the garden.
Once Oubliette had left, Ariel dropped her guard. She became frantic and upset, nervously wringing her hands. She knew there was a way out, but she had to find it. And quickly.
She went to her chains. Hoisting her tail upwards, she brought it close to her to see the lock.
It looked rough and jagged. Some horrible human treasure, taken from a ship. Ariel tried to stick a finger into the hole, but she could barely insert her pinky. She intently examined every link. The metal was as thick as her finger, so there was no way to wrench or force the metal apart. She followed the chain right to the ball. She was certain that the answer lay within the ball.
She began to caress it, feeling the unpleasantly pitted surface. She looked at her arms, red and gashed up from the previous effort. Stroking her chin, she sat back on the couch, her fingers drumming on the mossy covering to protect the couch. The mossy covering!
Ariel lifted the cover off and swirled it about the ball. It covered it nicely and Ariel grasped the leaden object. It was still far too heavy to lift. Ariel placed the cover next to the ball and tried to push it onto the cover. But she was just not strong enough to move it. She looked at the moss covering some more, opening it outwards so it was large.
She took two opposing corners and twirled it about. Slinging it about the ball, she tried to pull it, but it still wouldn't budge. She had enough length, but not the strength to make it happen. Wait! That's it! Ariel's face lit up, and then she carefully looked about the room. Oubliette was nowhere in sight. She extended herself fully, almost at the table. Holding the corners, she arched the covering over the table. It fluttered down and landed behind the bottle and key. Ariel began to drag the cover towards her. The key and bottle were corralled and inched closer to her. She was worried about the key. It seemed to make a horrible scraping noise as it came across the table, as if the whole sea could hear it. But they were coming closer and closer and closer. Ariel saw the light glint off the purple bottle. Then, it went dark. What was going...?
THUMP! A large heavy object crashed into Ariel. Squashed into the floor, she saw the key and bottle drift down and into a pair of waiting hands. Ariel struggled to get to them, but she was in no position to do anything. Just as quickly as the object landed upon her, it left. Ariel was splayed upon the floor, her spirit as crushed as she was.
"Uh, uh, uh. We'll have none of that!" Oubliette's mocking tone rent the air as the mossy cover was also whipped away from her. "You're much smarter that you look, but it will avail you not. Just relax and stay safe. You'll be released soon enough."
Ariel was slow to rise. Oubliette had landed on her harder than she realized. Ariel, rubbing her back, looked up to see Oubliette sneering at her. "Very crafty. I'll not make that mistake again." She immediately started moving the furniture father back, leaving Ariel as a small island stranded in the middle of the room. Oubliette made sure that her range was barren of devices to help her.
While Oubliette worked, she whistled an out-of-key tune, just to annoy and irk Ariel. Ariel sulked as she pondered other options. When Oubliette was done, she pulled up a chair and stared at Ariel, who stared right back at her. This went on and on.
"I have infinite patience. I'm not worried about running out of time. I can play this game as well as anyone, and much better than you!" She fairly spit out the words.
Ariel turned away and stretched across the rock couch. It was really uncomfortable with the moss cover gone and offered no solace from the abuse she was getting. She turned her back on Oubliette, so she wouldn't see her cry. But this had the opposite effect.
Oubliette rushed over to Ariel and laid her on her back. "Don't you turn away from me, you little brat! I can make your life miserable."
Ariel's anger flared. "Then do so!" Ariel clanked her tail for effect, the chains smacking against the ball. "Make it worse than it already is! Prove your point! At least Hedonia was a better herbalist!"
Oubliette's face became crimson as she backed away from Ariel. Ariel was frightened. What had she done? Oubliette rolled into a little ball, trying to contain her anger, her body trembling with rage, but it erupted forth, as if a capped volcano burst.
"Hedonia?!" shrieked Oubliette, "That charlatan! The one Triton appointed in my place? Her remedies aren't half as good or as extensive as mine! She fooled that buffoon of a king into dumping me! And I'll prove it!"
Oubliette raced to a far corner of the room and opened up a cabinet. Inside were many purple bottles, like the one on the table. "All the antidotes one would ever need. None you'll get!" With that, she tore through the cabinet, grasping the bottles and hurtling them about the room. They crash and broke against the wall, upon the furniture, about Ariel. Ariel cowered behind the couch as best as she could, but was restrained by the ball and chain.
Oubliette's intensity grew. Soon, other bottles of her herbal remedies were being splintered and shattered as she tracked about the room. The waters were becoming murky with the confluence of all the lotions, unguents, tinctures and concentrates.
Ariel peeked around a corner of the couch and a bottle conked her on the forehead. The room began to spin around as sharp flashes of light crossed her vision. She felt herself falling away and into an inky black pool, which swallowed her up without a trace...
When Ariel awoke, it was darkening. She had another headache, this one worse than the previous. She was aware of a moss patch on her head. She reached up to touch it and recoiled in pain. Gritting her teeth, she more gingerly checked out her injury. She felt an enormous bump of her head. She didn't want a mirror, because she was sure it was as ugly as it felt. Just then, Oubliette reentered the room.
She scowled at Ariel as she placed a tray on the table, and then turned to Ariel. "See what you made me do! I need you in perfect health, but my plan can work just as well without you! Don't push me!" Oubliette went over to tend the wound. Ariel tried to push her away, but Oubliette was insistent. "Don't do this to me. I could have left you sprawled out there. Now, if you want to be hurt more, fight me; otherwise, be still!"
Ariel frumped down as Oubliette tended the wound. "It won't leave any scars and the swelling will be gone by morning. Things will work out just fine." Ariel looked at the tray of medicines. There was a pair of crab scissors, but she knew Oubliette was keeping a steady eye on her, so she sat still.
Oubliette kept up the talk. "I wonder what they're doing at the castle right now? Whatever it is, they are doing it all wrong."
At the castle, events were heading towards another crisis. Dr. Finlayson and King Triton were having an argument regarding Adella's treatment.
"Keep her still so the poison doesn't travel!" thundered Triton. "We need every moment possible to find a cure."
Counterbalancing Triton's furor, Dr. Finlayson was the picture of serenity. He had been through this before. He was there when all of the daughters were born and nursed them through a series of childhood ailments and injuries, especially Arista's jellyfish accident and Ariel's conk on the head when she was with Stormy.
"It's already in her and moves at a deliberate pace. However, it causes a fever that debilitates faster than the disease itself. She must be moved to the Aquarium Room. The water flowing through will help stabilize her temperature and give us that extra time. If we bundle her up, we'll make her hotter and…"
"I am her father!" Triton slammed his trident down to emphasize the point. Everyone recoiled in shock and fear, but the doctor was unmoved.
"And I am her doctor. As such, I have the luxury of not being emotionally attached and can make the right decision. You, sadly, are too close to be rational about it."
At this statement, Triton flared up. "I will not hear such treachery!"
"Alright, then," responded Dr. Finlayson. "How do you cure Fin Rot?"
"Wha..what are you doing?"
"Well, you're the King, so you have all knowledge. How do you cure Fin Rot?"
"You can…that is…" Triton fumbled for an answer.
"Aquata has severe axibrasis. Your first action is to?"
"Wait, I know this, something about elevating her head."
"If a manta's barb is lodged in your arm, what must you avoid?"
Triton became silent. Dr. Finlayson moved in towards him.
"I don't know anything about treaties with the Sharkanians, the Mid-Rift Alliance or the Caudal Codicil. I do know medicine. I know what to do and how to do it. I have to do it."
Dr. Finlayson motioned to two soldiers, who started to go into Adella's room. Triton raised his trident and the guards stopped cold. Triton was fuming. "I consider myself a reasonable merman, but I will not brook any edict of mine being countermanded."
Triton turned to the guards. "You will accept orders from me only! Adella is not to be moved under ANY circumstances and you will do what it takes to obey these orders! I have spoken!" With that, Triton waved them off into Adella's room. Dr. Finlayson was resolute, but left the throne room.
Outside, away from Triton's glare, Alana came up to the doctor.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"There actually is. I can use your help."
"I'll do anything."
"I need you to do….nothing."
"I...I don't understand."
"I need you, first, to get two or three people you trust completely. Without that, it won't work. Meet me back here as soon as you can. I'll explain more of my plan later."
Alana headed back through the castle and into the Throne Room. Triton was barking out orders. On one wall was a gigantic map of the area. All kinds of barbs were stuck into it. Triton conversed with Dudley, referencing to the map.
"We are slowly getting reports back in that things are not good. What of any herbalists?"
If Dudley continues to speak that slowly, thought Alana, Daddy will be distracted for some time to come. Heading out of the castle, the streets were deserted. Guards were checking about to make sure that every person possible was searching some quadrant of the area surrounding the city. One guard came up to Alana.
"Princess, how is Adella?"
"She…she is fine. Do you know if anyone who could make the potion has been brought to the castle?"
"That is being handled by Neptunicus. I have been instructed to get citizens out and searching."
"Very well. Do you know where Neptunicus is?"
"He went off to Sand Dab Heights, but that was some time ago."
"Thank you." Alana swam off in that direction. Once out of sight, she dipped behind a store. "How can I find people if they are all out of town?"
She searched the houses, but they were deserted. Guards were about to keep what few stragglers that may be about from taking advantage of a situation, but they were also few and far between.
"It looks like all of my friends have been pressed into service as well," she muttered.
Just then, Flounder came swimming by. "Hi, Alana, where's Ariel?"
"Didn't you hear, Flounder?"
"No, what happened?"
"Adella is very sick and everyone is trying to find an antidote for her. Ariel is somewhere out there."
"Why aren't you?"
"I'm doing things here and….say! You've got some fish friends. Big fish friends."
"Yes, I do. Why?"
"I need you to bring them to….Ariel's room! Tell them it's a matter of importance to the King! Can you do that?"
"I'll get right on it!" Flounder saluted.
"Don't take too much time, OK?"
Flounder sped off. Alana looked up at the dark waters. The sun was almost down. "Oh, Ariel, where can you be?"
Ariel looked out the window of the house and up at the dark waters. The sun was almost down. She sighed as Oubliette came back into the room. A couple of lantern fish were turned on and they cast the room in an eerie light. It was about as disturbing as when she got pulled down into the hole with that gaping maw. She felt just as lost and lonely then as she did now.
Oubliette pulled up a chair and faced Ariel. She looked supremely confident.
"Why must you be a horrible person?" said Ariel.
"Why must your father believe every lie told to him? Why must I be made to suffer when I did no harm?
"I could understand if I didn't mix up a potion correctly. That is truly my fault. But to be accused, falsely accused, of traitorous and seditious behavior goes against everything I believe in!
"No one likes to be taught a harsh lesson. It's just an example of the fish coming back to the school. Someone will be taught a lesson."
"But the innocent need not suffer for this."
"The innocent always suffer! I was innocent and I had to suffer! It's time for others to feel the pain as well!" Oubliette snarled at Ariel. "So, what DO you know of the Sharkanian Incursion?"
"I………I don't know anything about it, except that it happened before I was born."
Oubliette glared at Ariel. "Let me get this straight. A critical turning point in the emnity between Sharkania and Atlantica. A pitched battle at the very gates of the city. All was in doubt until Apollo's lost battalion turned the tide of battle. I get banished, never to return on pain of death and no one speaks of this? What are they teaching you? Ah, yes, 'History is written by the winners.' So, you know nothing of Ursula's treachery."
"I did not say that! I am fully aware of Ursula's treachery! She is still about and unfurling her tentacles. I have fallen into her clutches, so I know about what her treachery means!"
Oubliette was taken aback by this outburst. Ariel continued. "We are still learning about King Proteus and haven't gotten that far into the full history of Atlantica."
Oubliette sneered. "So it will do me no good to tell you of what happened. Not that you would believe me anyway. What was it the great playwright Sharkespeare once said?
"'The quality of mercy is not strained'," retorted Ariel.
"Oho! Maybe your education is not all that bad. Try this one from the Fish Merchant of Venice. 'If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you wrong us, do we not seek vengeance?'
"I would love to carry on this pointless conversation but, if you will excuse me, it's time to give your seahorse another dose. He needs to be as stupid as possible." With that, Oubliette left the room.
Ariel was lost in thought. There had to be something she could do. As her eyes scanned the room, she noticed something hiding in the sandy floor, half-buried. She excavated it and found it was a stopper to one of the bottles. Wait! It was a full bottle, the stopper jammed tight into it. This survived the terrible outburst, mulled Ariel. She pushed it deeper into the sand, near one of the legs of the couch.
Perhaps I can still escape from this place, she thought, but I'll have to work through the night to do this. There was no way I could even hope to navigate back to Atlantica in the dark.
Oubliette came back with her bottle and laid it on the table. "He'll be resting fine for the evening. I'll make us some dinner." She disappeared into the kitchen.
Ariel heard the clattering about, so she looked at the cuff of her chain. Perhaps the stopper could fit in there, she thought, and I could use it like a key, but I'll have to test it out away from her glare.
"I'm not used to having company, so my hosting skills are a bit out of practice," Oubliette called from the kitchen. "It's not much of a meal, but it will suffice."
Oubliette came back into the room with two plates. It was a kelp salad, with some watercress and sea cucumbers. Oubliette put the plate at the end of the couch, to force Ariel to come over to it.
"I had to throw something together, so I could only make up a 1000 Island dressing. You'll like it."
Ariel stared at the plate. She was very hungry, but did not want to give Oubliette any kind of an advantage.
"The longer you wait, the hungrier you'll become. It would be better if you had it, but I won't force you." Oubliette gulped down her salad.
Ariel gingerly took the plate and stared at it. She was famished and took a forkful. Before she put it in her mouth, she saw that Oubliette was staring at her.
"You know, it's not polite to watch other people eat," chided Ariel.
"Like I said, my manners are a bit rusty," she sneered.
"Could I have something to drink, please?"
"Of course. I could find something for you." Oubliette left the room. She waited in the kitchen for a few moments, and then heard Ariel swoon, the plate dropping against the ball. When she returned with a glass, she saw that Ariel was pitched out across the couch. "I knew you were hungry. Here is your drink." Oubliette drank it down.
Oubliette put the glass on the table. "I knew I could knock you out for the night. Take care." Gathering up the plates, she took them back into the kitchen. With the room silent, Oubliette put Ariel fully on the couch, turned out the lantern fish and headed into the back area. The house was very quiet, save for the labored breathing of Stormy. Ariel was in repose on the couch. She opened one eye.
I knew she was planning that, she thought, as she got up very cautiously, so as not to rattle the chain. She felt around for the bottle and for the cuff. I have a lot of work in front of me.
At the castle, Triton gazed with weary eyes at the map on the wall. There were numerous areas crossed off and X'ed out, but there were many more areas still open.
He rubbed his head as he went over to the map for the umpteenth time. He turned to Dudley, who stared at him.
"Still no news from Ariel?"
Attina came into the throne room. She looked worn out from her travels.
Triton rushed up to her, but Attina was already shaking her head 'no'. She went to the map to find her area. "I went from Atlantica to the Northwest. I got to about here, around Isleton, just as it got dark. I have been riding back ever since. I could find nothing."
"Many have not reported back in. I am assuming that they are spending the night out there and will resume at first light," commented Triton. "But I have had no reports from anyone sent to the Wilderness."
He pointed to an area to the southeast of Atlantica. "It's a vast area, wild and untamed. They could have run into trouble at any given point."
"How is Adella doing?"
Triton sagged. "She's not doing well. I've had anyone who could render assistance come in, but nothing seems to work."
"What about asking Ursula?"
Triton glared at Attina.
"Look, I'm not any more enamored with the idea as you are, but she could be the only one to render assistance."
"But at what cost? I'm not thinking just about me or Adella, but what would happen to the people of Atlantica? This would be the opportunity she needs to have me renounce the throne and put the Atlanticans into bondage, like she did once before."
Triton drifted over to a window to peer into the inky depths. A single line of lights showed the main gate, giving those seekers a beacon home. Attina came up to him to hold Triton's hand.
"I don't make this suggestion lightly. There is no reason for Ursula to keep her word. She could have you renounce, then not offer aid to her, but the option is just as grim."
"Do you think I want to let Adella pass away? She may be a bit arrogant, but she is still my daughter. But heavy lays the head that wears the crown. I can't permit myself to be a father when the well-being of the citizenry is at stake. 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.'"
Aquata came into the room. "Father, I have bad news, as if you need more."
Triton hurried over. "Is it Adella?"
"It's worse. Some of the returning seekers say they've seen Ursula on her way here. With all the gossip about the seas, as if clams could ever keep their mouths shut, they are worried that Ursula has heard of our plight."
"How can it get worse?" Triton grasped his head.
"It could be a ruse," pondered Attina.
Triton and Aquata looked at Attina.
"Where did they spot Ursula?" Attina went to the map, Aquata following.
"Down here, near Shark Canyon. Why?"
"A more direct line to Atlantica from Ursula's lair would start near the Volcanos, due east. What is she doing farther south of that location, coming back to us?"
"What are you driving at?" asked Triton.
"The Eeloids reside on the other side of the Wilderness and are not exactly our friends. I am concerned that she may have enlisted them, again, so as she comes up, offering her support, distracting us, we could get outflanked. With our troop strength sapped and scattered, I do not know how strong of a defense we could mount. And we won't have the luxury of Apollo giving assistance."
"You could be wrong," said Aquata.
"I would LOVE to be wrong. I really, really would. But Ursula is too slippery to be trusted and I am positive she has heard about this. Why else be out so late without some purpose?"
Dr. Finlayson came into the throne room, looking ashen.
"What news?" asked Attina.
The doctor bit his lower lip. "I have her stabilized, but she is still sinking. What few potions and medications we have are just not enough to fully combat what is going on. I am afraid that if they do not get back in time with the plant, there may be nothing I can do. Time is working against us."
"I would like to see her," demanded Triton.
"I have to decline at the present time. I don't think you really want to see her in her present state. It could prove disheartening and we need all the strength you can muster." The doctor went right up to Triton. "This is a trying enough time as it is, but if you look at her and see something than causes you to lose faith, you may not be able to make the necessary decision. Please, leave this in my hands."
"It's so hard to stand around and do nothing."
"As difficult as it sounds, you should get some sleep. Something would be better than nothing. You know that we will advise you on any change." The doctor nodded over to Aquata, who started to take her father to his bedchamber. Triton stopped.
"No, I have to see her."
"Very well. I will join you in a moment."
Attina came to the doctor and spoke in low tones. "How is it? Really. You don't need to placate me."
"It's not good and it gets worse the longer we have to wait. I need at least an hour to make the proper compound. If we can't get anything in before high sun, it will be beyond what I can do."
The doctor went over to the chart. "I don't like to lose a patient. What about the Northeast area? There seems to be no response from there."
There are so many dells and valleys in the area that need to be searched. They all lead to the Great Rift Valley."
"At least we know for certain nothing like that will grow there. The terrain is too rocky. I need to go back to Adella. Have faith. Come with me, sire."
Attina was in the room all alone. She sat at one of the tables and began to cry. She just couldn't stop.
At Adella's room, the two guards stood at the ready. Dr. Finlayson called out. "Make way for the king!"
They snapped to attention as the doctor opened the door.
The room was in subdued lighting. There was a form in the bed, breathing with great effort. They started to go over, but the doctor restrained Triton. "She is lying quiet, so I don't wish to have her disturbed."
"Where is Alana? I thought she was keeping watch?"
"She hadn't eaten all day, so I sent her out for something. I can't have another daughter ailing."
Triton peered over to see Adella on her side, her black hair all tumbled down. "Oh, Adella, if I could do something, you know I would do it." He started to reach out a hand to the still form, but remembered the doctor's words and did not touch her. Sighing, he started to leave. "Are you coming, doctor?"
"I need to check one thing. I will follow shortly."
The king left the room. The doctor went over to the form and whispered, "He's gone, Alana."
"I don't know how much longer I can keep this up. He's going to notice I'm missing," she whispered.
"Not if we do this right. I know I didn't do a good job on your hair, but it's enough to fool him."
"How is Adella doing?'
"I need that antidote. You….you try and get some sleep. I don't need Triton to discover prematurely what we have done."
"If he does, it'll be the dungeon for both of us."
Ariel had never known the waters to be so dark, worse than any inky offering from an octopus. Even when the Black Manta spread his evil wings, it was never this black.
When she felt that Oubliette had fallen asleep, she began with the lock. Fumbling for the bottle, she grabbed it near the stopper. She carefully uncorked it to smell what it was, and nearly choked.
"Gasp! That's poison!" She jammed the stopper back in and put it to one side. A couple of thoughts crossed her mind.
"I could splash it in her face, but unless I could get to the key and antidote, that could be a foolish approach to take. And if I do serious harm to her, it could do serious harm to me.
"I could break the bottle and try to cut my way through, but the metal may be resistant to the sharpened edges.
"I could cut off my….no, that would be more dangerous than anything else I can imagine. I remember that story, 'Sawfish', where, in order to get free from the trap, the merfolk had to…" Ariel shuddered at such a repugnant thought. "There is a way out of this predicament. I'm just not thinking clearly enough."
Ariel extended herself and, in the dark, began to grope around. Oubliette took no chances, as the key and antidote went into the bedroom with her. Even if I found something, she murmured, I may not be able to do much.
A link clanked against the ball. Ariel froze, hardly breathing. No sounds stirred from the back, save for Oubliette mumbling in her sleep, but no other action from her, so that was good. Ariel shrank back and carefully handled the chain to prevent a recurrence of that. Once again, she gently swam outwards until she was as far as she could get. The circle continued.
As she groped, she came upon something soft and squishy. It was her handbag. Grabbing it, she retreated to the couch to see what may be in it that could help. There was a squid pen.
No, she muttered, shaking her head. I would only have one good shot to make certain I blind her with the ink, and it might not be helpful. What else was there?
Her map and the description sheet. A piece of Wriggle's gum. Hmmmm. Gum.
Ariel popped it into her mouth and began to chew. She had a plan.
It felt good to have something to eat. She was famished, but knew she couldn't have anything in this house. When the gum was sufficiently chewed, she went to the bottle, uncapped it and covered the hole with the gum. No poison would leak out and she had the stopper.
She grabbed the cuff and felt about for the keyhole. She put the stopper in and began to turn it. It fit quite well and Ariel hoped she could unlock herself.
Of course, she would have to negotiate the house, find the antidote and key, head out and go towards Atlantica and do this all in without making any noise and in the dark. It was a pretty tall order.
The stopper made a terrible cracking noise, as though it was breaking. Ariel halted and withdrew the stopper. This was not working. What else could she do?
What if she pushed over the couch and rolled the ball onto it? No, that was a terrible plan. If she couldn't push the ball, how could she push the ball and couch? The noise might be enough to wake Oubliette and then, what would happen?
There was nothing to do, but she had to do something. She rummaged around in her handbag again, but the same objects greeted her: the pen, the map and the paper. She stuck the pen into the keyhole, but it was no more effective than the stopper.
She picked up the bottle, squeezing it tightly. A line from "Remora and Juliette" came into her head. 'O true apothecary. Thy drugs are quick.'
She pondered for a moment. It may be the only option open to her. She got out the pen and paper and began to write. "I will not be party to your deeds…." When she finished writing, she put everything back into her bag. Holding the bottle of poison, she removed the gum seal.
Dawn was stretching its golden fingers across the waters. Oubliette awoke feeling fine, staring at the antidote as it caught the early morning rays. Picking it up, she began to talk loudly. "I know you're awake. The potion would have worn off by now, princess, so we can have a nice breakfast. Don't worry, I need you alert for your ride home to Atlantica."
Oubliette came out of the room, with bottle and key, to see Ariel curled up across the ball, her bottle in one hand and the note in the other. Both hands were over her tail by the cuff. "Now, now, I'm not going to fall for that trick and…where did you get that bottle?" The key and antidote were dropped on the couch.
She snatched the bottle from Ariel's hand and received no resistance. Oubliette cautiously sniffed the bottle, her eyes widening in panic. "Where did you get this? Of all the potions to find, you get this stuff! Poison!" She threw it against the wall and it shattered. Snatching the note from her hand, she read it.
"I will not be party to your deeds. This is the better way to go." She crumpled up the note. "No! No, no, no, no, no, no!" She grabbed one of Ariel's wrists. "Oh, good! There's still a pulse. I may be able to save her!" Grabbing the key, she unlocked the cuff around her tail.
When the cuff was opened, Ariel's tail swished out. Glancing up, Ariel glared at her and snapped the cuff about both of Oubliette's wrists. "I would really love to stop and talk, but I haven't got the time!" Turning the key until the lock clicked, Ariel hurled the key out the window. The antidote was grabbed up and Ariel soared out one of the windows, Oubliette screaming curses after her.
Glancing about, she saw Stormy. She went up to him, but he was far too groggy to be of any real help. She headed out, swimming as fast as she could.
"Atlantica is to the southwest, but I don't know how far I am. Stormy could get there in record time, but it's all up to me." The bottle was hot in her hands as she clutched it tightly. She felt like time was out of control. The sun seemed to be arcing higher and higher in the sky. If only she could find a faster way to….
Ariel noticed it got dark all of a sudden. She knew what that meant! She looked about to see something streaking at her. She dodged to one side as it zoomed past. It was Oubliette!
There was no time to figure out how she escaped from the cuff, she needed to elude her. But Oubliette was faster and stronger. Noticing a small canyon, Ariel dove into it, Oubliette in hot pursuit. The canyon cut back and forth. All Ariel had was her slight advantage of size. But Oubliette was relentless.
Ariel saw a small opening in the rock face. "The last time I did this, I got stuck. Not this time!" Ariel shot through the hole. Oubliette had to pull up.
"You never cease to amaze, Princess." Oubliette called into the hole, her voice echoing off the walls. "But the race goes not to the swift, rather, to the crafty." Oubliette took another approach.
Ariel came out at the other end and reoriented herself. She swam harder, but her energy reserves were failing. The lack of food and sleep were taking their toll at a time when she needed them the most.
As she entered a rocky chasm, Oubliette came out of nowhere and crashed into her, driving her into the jagged wall. Ariel dropped the bottle and watched it fall into the gaping abyss. But Oubliette restrained her.
"You are no match for me, child!"
"I'm not a child!" Ariel slapped her with her tail and broke her grip. Ariel plummeted straight down, the bottle fading from view. Just as she was to reach it, Oubliette soared by, taking it from her. Ariel did manage to grab Oubliette's tail and hang on for dear life. The sudden weight threw off Oubliette, as she was aware of Ariel's presence. When she turned about, Ariel rushed her, knocking the bottle free and taking possession of it.
She pulled her tail in just as Oubliette made a grab for it, getting a handful of water. Ariel pushed off of Oubliette's face and soared out of the abyss. But Ariel was hopelessly confused.
"Which way to go?" she shrieked. As she headed away from the abyss, she was blindsided by Oubliette. The bottle fell at the base of some rocks, near the lip of the abyss. Ariel dove for it, but was crashed into again and again by Oubliette, who attacked with the ferocity of a tiger shark.
Ariel timed one lunge and Oubliette missed. As Ariel got to the bottle, her hands were grasped by Oubliette. She stared into her face, twisted by anger and rage. "You are not going to win. Do you understand this?" They fought for the bottle, spinning and tumbling, with Oubliette finally knocking it from Ariel's grasp.
As it fluttered away, Oubliette propelled herself towards it, but Ariel tackled her about the waist. Oubliette was consumed with outrage. "Get away! Get away!" They wrestled and rolled about. Ariel managed to grab the bottle, but it slipped from her. Shaking off Oubliette, she grabbed it and streaked away. Oubliette was right there and they struggled more. Wringing the bottle from Ariel, Oubliette crashed backwards into the rocks. "No one shall have this!" and she raised her arm up to smash it.
Suddenly, there was a rumbling as the rocks began to fall.
"Avalanche!" cried Ariel. Oubliette looked up to see tons of rocks coming down at her. Ariel streaked across and drove hard into her midsection, ramming the two of them out of the way. The bottle slipped from Oubliette's hand and fell to the edge of the ledge, sinking slightly into the sand. Seconds later, the rocks came down, stirring up dust and stones, making the water murky.
The noise was deafening, as Ariel was certain they would be obliterated. The ground shook and trembled worse than any seaquake she had experienced. Little fragments of rocks rained down on them. Ariel winced as they bonked into her and she pushed even farther towards the wall. Her breath came in ragged pants as the waters grew thick and murky with dirt and debris.
Ariel's mind was flooded with a variety of images and thoughts, all going everywhere at the same time, but too numerous to comprehend. Eventually, the sound abated and the silt in the water began to settle. Ariel slunk down, worn to nothing, Oubliette sliding down with her into a pile.
Ariel lay across Oubliette, who was wheezing with exhaustion and fear. Ariel turned to see the last of the rocks coming down. The bottle was gone, a cairn of rocks at the lip. She collapsed into a heap and began to sob.
Oubliette was slow to rise, still sore from all the crashing about she had done. "You...you saved me. You saved me. Why did you save me?"
"Because I believe there is good in all creatures. And I won't become someone as horrid as you! But it's too late anyway. The bottle is smashed and my sister will die!" She turned to face a most subdued Oubliette. "It's not like you'll give me another bottle and there's no time left for anything."
"You could have…but you didn't."
Ariel turned back to sob. "You won. Are you happy? You got what you wanted. Just let me be on my way. Savor your victory!" Ariel started to swim away. There was nothing she could do for her sister. And she had been so close.
Oubliette looked on as Ariel departed, then to the mound of rocks. "Ariel! Ariel! They may still be a chance to save Adella."
"I don't believe you."
"Then watch me!"
Ariel turned to see Oubliette push through the boulders, sending them off the cliff and into the chasm. "The sand here is very soft. There is a chance that the bottle did not break."
Ariel drew near as Oubliette riffled through the sand. "It should be right….ahhh!" She slowly extracted the bottle. It came out inch by inch. To Ariel's amazement, it was intact and unbroken. Oubliette held it at arm's length and gave it to her.
"I had forgotten what it was like for someone do something nice to me. I am returning the favor."
"This is well and good, but how can I get to Atlantica in time?"
"Like this." From around Oubliette's neck, she produced a shell on a chain. She blew into it, but no sound came out.
"Is it broken?"
"No, it's at a frequency you cannot hear, but my helpers can." Out of nowhere came two dolphins. They held in front of Oubliette, and began to talk.
"AaahAHHHahhahhAHHHAHHH," said Oubliette.
"AHHHHahhhahhhahhhahhhAHHAAHHHHHAHH!" replied the dolphins.
Oubliette turned to Ariel. "We are going to Atlantica. Grab on to one, as it's going to be a wild ride." Ariel was reticent.
"I know you have absolutely no reason at all to trust me. That is why I am letting you hold the bottle. I have to come along as I am the only one who knows how to administer the antidote. I owe you my life and that is a debt that must be repaid. We had best get going."
Ariel clenched the bottle in her teeth and grabbed the dorsal fin of the dolphin.
"AhhahhAHH!" said Oubliette.
Like a flash they were off, the seabed soaring past them in a blur. Ariel clutched tighter, as she did not think it was going to be that strong.
The dolphins soared higher and higher. They broke the water to take in some air, and then sped along. Ariel had to close her eyes as the force of the rushing water hurt her. In practically no time, the gate of Atlantica appeared before them. The dolphins slowed down.
"Ariel, where to?"
"The throne room!"
Inside the throne room were Arista, Aquata and Attina. They were coordinating the efforts of who had come in. Ariel and Oubliette burst into the room, much to the surprise of everyone. Rarely did anyone make an appearance riding on dolphins. Ariel bolted towards her sisters.
"I found someone who can help!" she sputtered out.
"Quick, where is Adella?" asked Oubliette.
"In her room," said Attina.
"Follow me!" said Aquata.
They all scurried up to Adella room. The guards stopped their way in.
"I am an herbalist. I am here to tend to the patient," pushed Oubliette.
"None may pass without orders from the king. I have my responsibilities." The guards brtandished their spears. Oubliette was unfazed.
"And when she dies, will you take that responsibility?" Oubliette said haughtily, crossing her arms.
The guard pondered for a moment, then let them in.
When they entered, they only saw a figure in the bed. "Where's the doctor?" asked Oubliette.
Flounder made an appearance. "The doctor, yeah, that is...I mean...he...he went out for a breather, yeah. But he gave strict orders that Aaaaaa,…is not to be disturbed!"
"Flounder, move to one side," said Ariel.
"No, you can't! I mean…."
Aquata grabbed Flounder and moved him away.
"Here's your patient," said Arista.
"NO! You can't!" hollered Flounder. Arista flung back the covers to show…
"Alana! What are you doing here? Where's Adella?"
"She's in the aquarium room. Dr. Finlayson has been circulating the water over her to keep her as cool as he can."
Oubliette bent down to Alana. "How long has he been doing this?"
"Since about dusk."
"Take me to the Aquarium Room!"
They all fled from the room, nearly crashing into Triton. "What is going on?" he bellowed.
"Follow and find out!" was Oubliette's terse answer.
The Aquarium Room was a large space, designed to help move the water about. It was most enjoyable on those warm days when the water lay still and it was too hot to do much of anything. The cooling currents made this one of the more popular rooms.
They arrived to see Dr. Finlayson directing two swordfish in great circles about the room. Between them was slung a net, which carried the unconscious body of Adella.
"What is the meaning of this insubordination? I said not to move her!" roared Triton, slamming his trident down hard.
"You better be happy that he did, or she'd be dead by now! Bring the patient to me!" barked Oubliette.
Dr. Finlayson motioned for the swordfish to come down. They dropped the net and Oubliette moved to flatten out Adella. She laid a hand on her forehead. "She's hotter than an erupting volcano," Oubliette began to look over every inch of Adella's body.
"What are you looking for?" asked the doctor.
"Dark green spots, about the size of a whelk. I need to know if she has any."
"Like at her tail?" noticed Ariel.
They all looked to see a single green spot. Oubliette looked at the spot, then at the doctor. "I need a syringe and your longest, thinnest needle. We've got no time to waste!"
The doctor grabbed his bag. Oubliette called out. "Ariel, the bottle!"
Ariel gave it to her. The doctor gave her the syringe with a scary long needle. Oubliette stuck it into the bottle and filled the syringe full, tapping out the bubbles. She turned to everyone. "I'm sorry for this, but I have no choice." She jabbed the needle directly into Adella's heart. Adella jerked in response to the force of the blow.
Everyone gasped and recoiled. Triton flared up. "You're killing my daughter!" and he raised his trident. The doctor stepped between them.
"She's saving her! The heart is a much tougher organ that you realize! This is the best way to get the antidote pumping through her body!"
Oubliette bundled Adella in the net and motioned for the swordfish to pick up the net and start swimming again. "All we can do is wait and hope we got here in time."
"What's the deal with the green spots?" asked Alana.
"The green spots are an indication of the tertiary stage of the illness," said Oubliette. Dr. Finlayson grimaced.
"That's not good?" ventured Ariel as she looked back and forth between the two of them. She had never seen anyone look so grim.
"What happens next?" asked the doctor.
"First, the spots will cover her body so she looked speckled. Then the color will drain from her. Her temperature will suddenly spike and breathing becomes extremely forced. Then, the convulsions."
Oubliette fell silent. The whole room was still except for the swishing of the water through the net.
"Then what, Oubliette?" inquired Ariel.
"Nothing. The convulsions are the body organs stopping. It's over."
"Oubliette!" gasped Triton. "You ARE Oubliette! I thought I recognized you!"
"Yes, I am!" she said defiantly. "Anything you want to do to me can wait, until we have concluded our work with Adella!"
Attina looked as though she was trying to remember something, and then quickly left.
"How long until we know something?" asked the doctor.
"About an hour, either way."
Triton motioned for a couple of guards to come up. "I want you to watch her. She is staying here!" The guards nodded.
Aquata came up to Ariel. "Where did you find her?"
"Beyond the Great Rift Valley."
"That is some distance away. You're lucky to have returned when you did."
"You don't know the half of it."
Attina came back with her book, flipping through the pages. "Oubliette…Oubliette…ah, here it is." She began to read to those just around her. "'A strange malady befell the Atlantican army just prior to the first assault. It was generally assumed that the Court Herbalist, Oubliette, had infected the troops in order to help the Sharkanians defeat Triton.'" Attina slammed the book shut and charged at Ariel.
"You have put the life of our sister in the hands of a traitor?"
"What would you have me do? Ask Ursula instead? That's really too much!" snapped Ariel.
Oubliette motioned for the swordfish to come down. She gave a rapid glance over Adella and felt her forehead, then sent her back up. "Well, she not getting any hotter, but she's not getting any cooler. We just have to actively monitor the situation. That green spot is most disturbing." She turned to the doctor. "How did you know to move her about?"
"Just because I went to Medical School does not mean I abandoned the ways of our ancestors. Sometimes, the simple remedies are the best, instead of all these modern techniques."
Attina motioned for her sisters to take positions about the room. Oubliette knew she was being eyed, but did nothing. Ariel came up to her. "This may mean the end of you," she whispered.
"I know, I know. But you awakened in me a long-buried memory, of doing no harm to patients. Years of bitterness made me forsake everything I hold dear. This may be my last act, but it will be a selfless act." Oubliette looked about to see the merfolk stationed about the room.
"Triton is making sure that I couldn't escape, even if I wanted to."
"But you came to help. I know I can change Daddy's mind."
Oubliette put a hand on Ariel's shoulder. "It didn't work years ago; I don't honestly expect it to work now." She motioned for the swordfish to come down again.
She laid Adella out and felt her. She looked concerned. Ariel was perplexed. "Is there a problem?"
"No change is just as bad as a negative change. She doesn't appear to be getting better."
"Could you give her more?" asked the doctor.
Oubliette sighed. "Adella is in a weakened condition and the antidote is pretty strong. I feel I have given her all that I can without going too far. The cure could be the final blow in her state and I don't want that to occur." She motioned for the swordfish to go around again.
"I am hoping by continuing the circulation, it could give us just enough time for the antidote to fully work."
"Merfolk have come back from the tertiary stage, right? Right?" asked Ariel.
"I've heard tales, but nothing for certain. Her color is good, so that is a cause for hope, but a lot depends upon the stamina of the individual, too." Oubliette handed the bottle to the doctor. "Whatever happens, you'll still need this. All of the daughters could have this allergy to Green Eel Fever and you don't want to find out the hard way."
The doctor took the bottle and placed it in his bag.
"Triton isn't the same as you recall," offered the doctor. They all looked over to see him scowling and glowering.
"That is a matter open to debate," concluded Oubliette. She sagged.
"Would you like to sit?" asked Ariel.
Oubliette shook her off. "If I sit, that may be some kind of sign that I am giving up. I would rather collapse than have it appear that I'm not fully appreciating the situation. At least here I know what's going on. I still do not, to this day, know what was going wrong with the soldiers. None of the standard antidotes worked. It was as if I couldn't cure them."
Oubliette went silent as she watched the swordfish make their large circles about the room. "The waiting is always the hardest part. Especially since I am really being scrutinized."
She motioned for the swordfish to come down again. Laying Adella out, she did her examination. The green spot was still as prominent, but just the one. She checked her fever. Oubliette looked uncertain, so she placed a hand on Ariel's forehead as well.
"What are you doing?" asked Ariel.
"I think…I think the fever has broken." Oubliette looked down at the tail and saw the green spot begin to fade. She listened to Adella breathe. "She is breathing easy and not forced." Looking at the bite on the hand, the swelling was going down as well. "She's going to make it, but it would be best if she stays in this room. Doctor, some assistance, please?"
Oubliette and Finlayson picked up Adella and placed her on one of the couches, letting her lie still. "I think you can watch her with fewer concerns, doctor." As Oubliette turned about, two guards confronted her, spears at the ready. Oubliette closed her eyes in finality.
"Guards! Bring her into the Throne Room!" barked Triton.
Oubliette grimaced, but complied as the guards trooped her out. Ariel swam ahead to Triton.
"Daddy! She didn't have to come back, but she did. She saved Adella! Doesn't that count for something? Anything?" Ariel tried to impede his progress, but Triton was determined and pushed on through.
"This is something that needs to be done. It has gone on for far too long and will be finished today!"
"Not another word from you!"
Ariel pulled up as the guards came by. Oubliette gave a slight smile. "Thanks, anyway."
In the throne room, Oubliette was presented to Triton. He sat in his throne, trident at the ready. Some of the other sisters came down to watch the proceedings.
"Many years ago, you were found guilty of crimes against the Crown. The punishment was eternal banishment. To return would mean your death! Do you understand this?"
"Yes, I fully understand these charges."
"There is one last thing that must be done before sentence is carried out."
"I wish to speak on behalf of the accused," spoke Ariel.
"This case is closed! I will hear no new arguments."
"But if you would just listen…"
"Not another word!" Triton searched around in a basket next to his throne and pulled out a very old, tattered scroll. He undid the kelp ribbon around it and began to read.
"It is the decision of the King of Atlantica, on this day, that the accused, Royal Court Herbalist Oubliette, be given a full and unconditional pardon for any and all crimes for which she has been falsely accused. This decree reinstates full citizenship, with all the rights and privileges which that includes."
Triton came off the throne and gave the scroll to Oubliette, who looked on with incredulity. She read the document, and then read it again. "I…I don't understand."
"The person who replaced you, Hedonia, was able to identify the malady as Shark Pox. It is extremely contagious and since merfolk do not have a resistance to it, the means of transmission was from a Sharkanian.
"It was later determined that a patrol had encountered some Sharkanian scouts and one of our own became infected. He brought it back to the camp and the disease spread. Once we...I learned of the grave error I had made, I issued the pardon, but you were nowhere to be found. I have kept this at the ready, if and when the day should arise when I could amend an old mistake.
"You are welcome to come back to Atlantica, if you choose to do so."
"I…I don't know what to say." Oubliette looked at the scroll again. There was no mistake in it. "It even has your seal and signature."
"I would consider it an honor if you would spend the night to consider your decision. We no longer have a Court Herbalist and the city is in need of someone of your talents."
"What happened to Hedonia?"
"She passed away four years ago. Dr. Finlayson is useful, but, as you see, just not enough." Triton pointed to the guards. "The crisis is over. You may return to your stations." The guards left. Triton looked to Oubliette. "My daughter must have had to do a lot of convincing for you to return."
"Our conversations were…pointed, but she reminded me of something I had long forgotten."
Triton looked over to Ariel. "Ariel, please advise the cook to set an extra place. We're having an old friend for dinner."
Attina came up to Triton. "But the book! 'A Brief History of the Sharkanian Incursion' states it was generally assumed she was to blame."
"Have you gotten to Chapter 38, 'Fall Out'?"
"Not yet, it is a dense book."
"You've got some reading ahead of you. And merfolk can assume whatever they want. It's not necessarily the truth."
A couple of servants entered the throne room.
"Ahh! Good. Please prepare the Nobility Suite for tonight. We have company."
Ariel was getting ready for bed when she ran into Oubliette.
"How is Adella?"
"She is going to have a really nasty scar on her hand, but, aside from that, she is expected to make a full recovery."
"That's great to hear."
"Ariel, I wish to apologize for my behavior. I was reprehensible in both action and thought. I should have gone with my first instinct and just come to render aid. Can you every forgive me?"
"I can do that." Ariel smiled.
"I have decided to return to Atlantica and accept the offer to be Court Herbalist, so you'll be seeing a lot more of me."
"We could use you."
"I am also going to teach classes in becoming an herbalist. There is no reason to let an art like this fade away. I was wondering if you would consent to letting me educate you in this."
"I would like that, yes."
Oubliette gave Ariel a big hug. "It's so nice to be given a second chance. And you helped me in that. I won't let any of you down."
Oubliette released Ariel. "Well, it's time for bed. It has been a most busy day. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Can I see Adella?"
"Sure. I think she'd like some company. She is back in her room."
Ariel quickly headed down the hall. Peering inside the room, Adella was propped up on some pillows, her right arm swathed in bandages and elevated. She was trying to eat with her left hand, but it was tough.
"Adella? Are you up for company?" asked Ariel.
"Anyone but the doctor. Come on in."
Ariel entered and sat next to the bed. Adella looked over at her arm. "I understand you found the herbalist. I need to thank you for that."
"You're my sister. I know you'd do the same for me. How are you feeling?"
"I'm still rather weak and achy, but a lot better than I was two nights ago. It just gets so boring staying in bed. The doctor thinks I need another two days, and I'm not in a position to argue."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I can't lift any book to read it, and I don't think I could focus on it well enough anyway. Could you read to me?"
Ariel smiled. "What would you like to hear?"
"How about 'A Brief History of the Sharkanian Incursion'?"
They both began to laugh.
2005 Scribendi Productions