Todd thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. In front of his eyes was a wall of water, beyond which was a room open to the world below but filled with water to the ceiling. The room was at least fifty yards square, with walls and a ceiling but no floor. In it were several Anakdidae who were rolling, diving, soaring, spinning and twisting through a variety of holographic obstacles, some ringed with sharp barbs or glistening edges, sharp as a knife’s edge.
“Step through Todd.” said Gardle, “It is quite safe.”
Todd took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway. It felt odd to be walking into a wall of water which soaked through his clothes. He instantly could feel the pressure of the water creep around his body and then he was floating free. Todd started to see flashes of light behind his eyes as he starved for oxygen. He checked to make sure the button on his chest was still there and let out the air from his lungs with a rush of bubbles from his nose and mouth. His first lungful of water felt very strange, and his heart rate went through the roof, but then he was ‘breathing’ normally again and soon relaxed. Gardle and Einah followed him through.
“What now?” Todd asked using his mind.
“Now you train to be a warrior class Anakdidae! Einah will guide you.” answered Gardle in kind.
“It looks like everyone can see the obstacles.” commented Todd.
“That’s right. We can all see them, and feel them. They are not just visible but also physically have substance through the use of force energy from the Blessed Hive. Be careful Todd the blades and barbs will feel very real to you when touched.” said Einah.
“Now, are you ready to begin?” asked Einah.
“I guess so.” said Todd, a little unsure.
“First, let’s cover swimming. Do like I do!” instructed Einah and swam away and Todd followed.
He was clumsy in the water, swimming like a human would, doing the breast stroke and kicking his legs wildly. Einah swam like a fish! She seemed to be at home in the water.
“Do as I do!” she reminded him.
Todd stopped and watched her now, instead of trying to follow her. She moved with grace and power through the water, her body undulating like an eel at times, but at other times bending and darting like a porpoise. It was amazing to watch and Todd found himself captivated by the beauty of these magnificent creatures, or perhaps this one in particular.
“Do as I do!” she commanded now.
“Yeah, OK.” Todd pulled himself out his reverie and began to mimic her motions. He found in himself a greater speed and fluidity than he thought possible. Einah motioned him to follow her now and she swam away. Todd swam after her as best he could, but she would often turn, and laugh, and swim away again after he caught up to her. They swam within the room and around the obstacles and through them. They used the obstacles to propel them faster through the water as some were flexible offering rebounding energy and others were rigid and solid offering no give at all. Einah went through a loop ringed with vicious barbs and easily avoided them, but when Todd followed he strayed too close and felt the sting of a barb as it tore the flesh from his thigh to his ankle. Screaming in pain, Todd stopped to hold his thigh and examine the damage, expecting blood to be pouring from the wound.
“There is no blood. The pain is real, but it is in your mind only. It is effective, no?” asked Einah.
“Very!” exclaimed Todd.
The pain quickly subsided and they were able to continue the training, racing through the obstacles and soon Todd was moving like an Anakdidae.
In what seemed like minutes Todd grew weary and stopped, catching his ‘breath’. Einah saw him stop and swam back to him. “Are you OK?” she asked, concerned.
“I’m just tired, I’m sorry, I guess I’m out of shape.”
“You are doing very well! It has been three of your hours since we started. Let us rest a while and get some food. Come.”
Todd followed her, but instead of going up as he thought they would, to get to the cafeteria, they went down and out of the room. The world below was teeming with life, large and small. Young Anakdidae romped and played under the watchful eye of their parents. Other of their kind worked to gather seaweed, algae and what could have been plankton or something like it from beds in the shallower water. Einah swam to what must have been the edge of the world to them, the aquifer wall, and rubbed a finger down the wall, collecting green goo. She licked off her finger and motioned for Todd to try it. He ran his finger down the wall and ate some of the sticky substance. It tasted like spinach, which wasn’t his favorite, but it was agreeable enough to want more to quell his hunger.
Einah led Todd further into the depths and they came across some seaweed growing from a shelf in the aquifer wall. Einah cut some off and gave it to Todd. He tried to take a bite but couldn’t get purchase on the rubbery plant. She lifted a knife from a thigh sheath hidden by her long gown and gave it to Todd. Surprised by the blade, he cut his finger when he took it and dropped the knife. Einah quickly dove to retrieve it. Todd took a look at his finger. The blade had neatly sliced his index finger to the bone and blood was clouding the water.
Einah could see the blade sparkling as it wobbled below, moving deeper into cooler, darker water. A warning sounded in her mind that she was entering the hunting ground of the Beast, but she swam all the harder. Her father had given her that knife! Finally her hand grabbed the knife as if twisted around and cut her palm deeply, leaving behind a cloud of blood. She let out a scream in pain but she held on to the knife. Einah then bent herself in two, reversed direction and jetted upwards as fast as she could go, her spine tingling as she imagined the eyes of the Beast watching from behind her.
Todd floated above her and saw her swimming towards him. She had a smile on her face with the knowledge that her father’s knife had been retrieved, and waved at Todd. His wave turned into a warning and he furiously pointed behind her, with his mind he screamed “Look out!”
Einah turned to look behind her and saw the tentacle reaching out from the darkness.
“AAA-EEEEE!” she screamed. Einah turned again and swam with desperation as her scream joined with the scream of the alarm from the hive, and with the screams of the other Anakdidae racing for safety of their white home above them.
Todd could hardly think with the cacophony in his head as hundreds of minds screamed in disharmony, but he knew he had to do something. He dove towards Einah, wanting to help any way he could, but before he could reach her, one of the Beast’s muscular tentacles reached up and grabbed Einah around the waste, trapping her arms inside it’s tremendous grip and she was pulled down, her face a mask of fear and dread.
Todd was overtaken by Gardle racing with incredible speed after Einah. He held a long-bladed sword in his right hand and a knife in the other. He had a look of determination mixed with anger on his face as he raced by. “Stay back!” Todd heard in his mind.
Gardle had shed the gown and wore nothing but a pair of shorts and a belt to sheath his weapons. He was wearing a shield that looked like it was from giant sea turtle attached to his back by shoulder straps that crossed his chest. Todd had not noticed how strong Gardle was before. The gown had covered a muscular body, arms and legs that looked built for war. It was in deep contrast to the gentleness that Gardle normally displayed when fully clothed.
Todd slowed and hovered watching a battle that had been fought over and over again for three thousand years; a battle of wits versus strength.
Gardle with amazing speed overtook Einah and with one acrobatic twirl and a swing of his sword, severed the Beasts tentacle below it’s grasp on Einah.
Einah sunk lower in the weakened grasp of the severed arm, however, she was unconscious now from the struggle. Gardle dove again and pulled Einah from the lifless arm of the Beast. He grasped her gently and swam to the safety of the Blessed Hive. Todd followed behind watching her face for signs of life. “Will she be OK” Todd asked Gardle, feeling responsible because he had dropped the knife.
“We’ll see.” he answered gruffly.
Todd was about to say he was sorry when the alarm sounded again.
“Inside! Quickly!” said Gardle.
They were the last to enter the training room and once inside, Todd heard a horrible screeching sound like metal being ground against metal. He covered his ears, but the sound was in his head. “What is that!” he asked Gardle.
“That is the Beast. He is very angry and will attack the hive now. Look!” said Gardle pointing below. Todd saw the Beast come up from the depths like a rocket, it’s single eye flaming red! The door closed and the water drained quickly leaving Todd alone with Gardle, who was still gently holding Einah in his arms. “I must get her to the healer! Your oracle is in your room now, take it to the altar, hurry!”
“I want to go with Einah!” Todd argued.
“You must find the altar of Dagon and activate the defenses or we will all be lost!” he said with urgency in his voice. “I will see to her! Go!”, then he quickly turned and left the room.
Todd asked the Blessed Hive to show him where his room was and followed the blue teardrop down the hallway. Before he could get there the hive suddenly shook beneath his feet and he was thrown to the ground. The alarm continued to ring in his head as he got up and ran down the halls. He reached his room and ran through the doorway. On one wall was his belt, a sword, a knife and a shield. Todd fell to the ground again as the room shook violently. Todd threw off the gown and put on his jeans, his belt and hefted the shield. It was too heavy for one hand and Todd was going to discard it when he remembered that he would be under water and it should be partially buoyant. He strapped it to his back and put the knife in his belt. The sword he kept at the ready.
Using all his concentration, he sought out Gardle in his mind. “How is Einah?” he asked.
“Todd? How?” asked Gardle somewhat mystified that Todd could find him this way.
“How is Einah?” Todd insisted.
“The healer is examining her now. It is too early to tell.”
“Is she breathing?”
Todd felt sorrow rising in his chest and tears began to form in his eyes. “Thank you Gardle.” he said and the sorrow turned quickly to wrath.
Todd’s face showed determination mixed with anger as he swallowed his fears and commanded the floor to open below him.