Chapter 1 - To Grandmother’s House
“Mommy! I can’t swim!” Bob cries.
Bob’s bobbing in the black swells of the dragon sea. He’s dressed in soggy purple pontiff’s robes. It’s meant to be the regalia of his new religion borrowed from one of old. The Age of Reason and the coming of our Lord Bob. Bob smiles reminded of Sulis. His new religion is all tangled up with memories of her body merging with his. The memory fades and he’s back to drowning. He splutters and splashes. His robes are dragging him down into the freezing black water.
Just as his chin breaches the swells he gasps for air. Now he’s spinning. He’s caught up in a vortex and going down fast. Bob’s cheeks puff up and his color changes from red to purple as he tries not to breathe. His lungs are aching. He prepares for the end -- a death by drowning while spinning with not a moment for reflection. Bob breathes the water in as air.
Cold seeps into his chest and then it filters back out again from behind his ears. He fingers the skin there to find paired filaments and lamellae. Gills, though he does not know what to call them. Nor does he know that this is the method by which fish gather oxygen from the water. He just knows that the Night Mare has not killed him, at least not yet.
His surplice and stole spin back up towards the surface in the same vortex that dragged him down to this place he was certain would be his tomb. Now that he’s going to live Bob takes a quick look around.
He heads off toward a low hilltop glowing blue in the near distance. He’s seeking higher ground for a better view of his surround, and the blue glow of the ridge reminds him of screen light.
Wet sand squishes between the toes of his bare feet. Bob strolls nine thousand feet below the surface of the water. Frigid air and grey skies are now but memories overhead. The water here should be freezing but Bob can’t feel it. It must be part of the Night Mare’s spell, he decides, now that he knows he’s been conjured.
Bob suddenly remembers that the completion of his mission is the only way to get back home. He’s been sent to rescue his brother from Tiamat the dragon. His own new great-grandmother. Bob’s not sure what a dragon is, or a grandmother for that matter, but then he didn’t know what a mother was less than a season ago. All things considered that’s worked out rather well until now.
Water filled with lighted lumps and flitting streaks of color is what he sees all around him. It takes a moment for him to understand that the lights and color are alive.
What are these creatures? He wonders to himself. Now he doesn’t feel safe. Best to get on with the rescue, he thinks, moving away from a lump of yellow light hovering near his head.
Bob considers his task. He decides that wherever Lord Nightmare’s being held it must be close or why would the Night Mare have dropped him here?
The old bitch! He mutters and stews. He’s remembering how much he left back in Reve’s rooms. He’d just discovered the joys of Sulis, of mating and of mutual orgasms. He was just starting his new religion. Now that he remembers all of that and now that he’s not dying, Bob sputters and shuffles, he stamps his feet and he pounds the water with his fists in the manner of a bratty child. He accomplishes nothing but to ruffle the sand around him.
Bob stops. He shakes the angry thoughts away as a useless drain on his brain, and he focuses on the task at hand. How would Sulis advise him? He hopes she’s still alive. He’s grown accustomed to her counsel. It ought to surprise him but instead it’s been nice to share his plans. He’s found that she’s not stupid, that she thinks and that her thoughts are fine.
Bob squints trying to turn what he sees in front of him into something he understands. As he draws nearer to the sand bar he’s noticing that it’s a made up of screens. He moves toward it with more purpose.
Bob’s never been underwater. The Night Mare has forbidden water from gathering anywhere in her city. He’s never imagined nor even wondered what might lie beneath the surface of the half world ocean. Bob assumes that’s where he is. It never occurred to him that there was so much of it underneath. He’s wondering now how it might be drained and sold as real estate.
As he gets closer to the glowing mound his pace slackens. He’s understanding without comprehending that the glowing miles long reef is hundreds of thousands of sleeping screens beneath a veneer -- sand, plants, and small crustaceans. The whole thing is pulsing blue light.
Bob puzzles the mound of sleeping screens turned reef. He scratches at his head. Why are these screens here? He cannot comprehend it. He climbs to the top of the moss coated pulsating blue hillside. From its precipice he can see that the screen reef stretches beyond his field of vision in one direction. There’s a massive structure glowing in the other. He decides that this glow must be city light. He bounds across the uneven surface of the screen reef heading toward it.
As he gets closer to the mound there are more lighted things in the water around him. He dodges a corps of jelly-shaped tutus whirling and spurting a bioluminescent ooze. Gliding clear blobs with insides the color of blood pulse past him.
Off in the distance there’s a colony of jelly blobs, with domes like alien hovercrafts in bright blue. Tendrils hang from umbrella wings which propel the jelly creatures through the water. A green centered glob the size of a bear cub torpedoes toward Bob. Before he can react, before he can hoist his arms up over his face, an orange jelly something streaks across the green blob’s path, distracting it and becoming its snack instead.
“Ouch!” Something is munching on Bob’s toe. He kicks out and a critter tumbles away. It lands several moss coated screens away, unfurls and begins to snack on the invertebrates it finds there. Bob looks down because something else is nibbling on his toes. A swarm of the creatures, isopods, salt water parasites each the size of Bob’s head, scurry on the screen reef all around him. Like giant pill bugs but sixteen inches and more.They scuttle around Bob like enemy tanks.
He bunches his robes around his waist and he runs through the water, knees up, crossing the field of isopods in hops and leaps. Huge bubbles trail in his wake.
Once clear of the isopod field Bob glances back. He smirks at his small triumph. He turns toward his destination coming face to face with a viperfish. This Mesopelagic has more sharp teeth then face. The six inch attacker knocks into Bob’s right shoulder spoiling for a fight. The tiny bully pivots a sharp one-eighty, doubles back and knocks Bob’s other shoulder. Photophores act like running lights along its sides, and a long lantern like dorsal fin is used as a lure. The viper waves this fin at Bob now in challenge. It comes at him its enlarged white eyes staring at Bob the way the Night Mare does.
Bob swipes at the nightmarish thing with his fists, once, twice, and then again, until he knocks it squarely on the nose. His own teeth are bared in the effort. The impact is solid and the viper wobbles down and away into the dark.
An angler fish the size of a hover chair circles the event. Its large fanged mouth opens and closes, releasing fleets of tiny-bubbles.
“You’re an ugly fellow.” Bob burbles to the angler fish.
“You want a go?” He asks his fists raised ready to blunt another nose.
But the monster fish swims away. Its angler trolling behind like a bright fishing line.
Two fish the size of sardines are embedded by mouth in either side of the fleeing beast. Bob snorts. He assumes that these are the females. For isn’t that the natural state of things the male preyed upon by the weaker sex? But Bob is wrong as he so often is. The larger of these three Anglers is the female. The parasites she collects to fertilize her are the males of the species.
The bright mound toward which the current is now dragging Bob is recognizable as a rustic castle carved in the side of an ancient volcano. Its size rivals the Night Mare’s buildings. There’s a chasm before it as moat. A swift wall of current flows along it. How do I cross that, Bob wonders? He stares at the water flowing over the vertiginous cavern, the castle behind it. Stepping into it would certainly carry him away and the thought of plumbing the cavern’s depths is not enticing.
A squadron of fanged snakes swoops up out of the inky cavern, electrified, forming a wall of lethal current. This electric wall is coming at Bob.
Bob crouches into a defensive stance -- eyes closed, arms up, his purple robes billowing. He waits for the expected pain of the electrical shock, but nothing happens. He opens his eyes and he lowers his arms. The electric squadron flanks him on either side.
Bob’s hoping it’s a honor guard, but he doubts it.
A pair of giant albino squid, some sixty-feet in length, puff up out of the sand on either side of a thick stone portcullis behind the flow of water. This gate is crenellated across the top where a monster whale is said to have taken a bite out of it. The sight of the giant squids causes Bob’s stomach to twist in both directions at once, for to these creatures Bob is but krill.
Two stiletto-snout Chimeras, armed with lethal fins and noses like sabers, whip rattails through the water while crisscrossing each other as sentries. Pairs of coffin fish, long, flabby bodied, covered in spines, are posted along the upper ramparts.
Every creature here is ferocious, Bob thinks, a fear lump in his throat. Yet, it’s as if he were expected.
Maybe this whole rescue thing will be civil, Bob hopes. He’s wondering how dragons feed and what kind of lair he might find inside this castle? He’s not wondering how he will accomplish his task for Bob is a rat. He’s a creature of opportunity. The kind of rodent who chews through his obstacles. The way supplies itself, is what he’s thinking and so often it’s true.
Bob’s wondering if he’ll be housed in family rooms within his great-Grandmother’s castle? Will he be afforded the preferment to which he’s become entitled? He is the Night Mare’s son after all. Bob’s hoping the guest rooms here are better appointed then the Night Mare’s own, which are ghastly and ghoulish. The notion of a dungeon never enters his mind. He’s wondering what to ask for as a reward for this rescue. Maybe he could keep Reve’s building not liking the idea of having to give it back.
A warble of horns through water makes a visible current. The two undulating moons wrench the portcullis off its locks. A building sized tablet of stone plows down through the water with a whoosh and a wave that blows Bob and his guard back several hundred feet. The stone thuds to the ocean floor bridging the sideways current and creating a passage across the moat.
Now Bob’s certain that he’s expected. He confidently mounts the slab of stone about to pass through the inky aura of the undulating moons, when a school of dragonfish rush out to meet him. They’re slimy and black with large heads and sharp teeth all powered by tiny thug bodies. Long barbels jut from their chins, whisker-like appendages tipped with light producing photophores. They wink on and off in a syncopated reveal of small monster faces. They hover. Their fanged mouths open and close. They glare at Bob from milky white eyes as if awaiting orders.
“Now, see here,”Bob begins,
Before he can finish the bubbled sentence the small dragons grab the cloth of his billowing robes. In an evocative turning dance of flickering chin-lights they bind Bob up. When he’s a purple mummy, they float him into the castle. The stone slab bridge closes slowly behind them.