IX. Chaos Theory
The Storm Queen turned slowly into a course that would take her down on the dark side of the Moon, dark in its lunar night and also dark in facing away from the World. Arkmar chatted with Ferd at the helm, and walked the circuit of the deck. The captain and crew were busy about him; Ryel and Elena disappeared below with grim looks on their faces, to do a ritual of some sort, or perhaps several of several sorts.
Presently, gazing off the port side, Arkmar sensed Ryel next to him. “How’d it go down there?” he asked.
“It went fine,” she said. “Can you see anything yet?”
“Oh, plenty to see over yonder,” said the dwarf, waving an arm at the horizon, where the sunlight of the Dream Sun blazed in jagged curves against the blackest of shadows in the depths of grey valleys, the lees of mountains and the bottoms of craters. Directly below and off the port bow, the dark land was not entirely dark, but lit with a dim grey glow.
“I see rough country. Where are we going to land?” she asked, but then she said, “Look, if that isn’t a body of water, I don’t know what it is. It’s an ocean. Or something.”
“It’s an ocean,” said Arkmar, “of something.”
The ship was now sailing the lower reaches of the space above the Dream Moon’s dark side. The seas were not wide and vast like on the side of the Moon that gazed down on Baharna and Ulthar and Celephais, but there were several large lakes, and one that extended back into hills in straits and lagoons and smaller lakes. Captain Alkwadir took the helm as his craft descended, conferring with his first and second mates on occasion, banking ten degrees to starboard, then five to port, then starboard again and flattening out into the final descent into the largest of the seas.
As they splashed down into the black sea with a viscous smack, Ferd was at the helm. He was flanked by the captain and Ryel, who in turn were flanked by Elena, her hand clutching Ali’s arm, and Arkmar, scowling at the liquid of the lunar sea.
“So what do we know about this place?” asked the dwarf.
“Never been here before?” asked Ferd.
“No,” said Elena, Ryel and Arkmar.
“It’s not like in the, um, dare I say, waking world,” said Arkmar. “There, I do believe that the seas, or maria, are actually flat expanses of cooled lava.”
“This is more of an oily substance,” said Ryel. “Eww. You can sort of feel it squelching as we, um, sail through it.”
“He, Mister Dwarf?” asked Elena. “Your moon have air?”
“No, I’m assured that it does not. Yours, where you’re from?”
“No, but we had four moons where I grew up. Two big and two little.”
“Get out! Four moons? Anything live on them?”
“The bigger two have lichens,” said Elena.
“Well,” said Ryel, looking through the captain’s spy glass, “this one has more than lichens. Look.”
Elena took the telescope and looked. Then she handed it to the dwarf. She didn’t say anything but she looked repulsed. Arkmar, after looking for a few seconds, and while continuing to look, said, “That is utterly revolting, that is.”
“What, the residents?” asked Ali. “And yet we are going to have to meet them close up.”
“At least close enough to bonk them on the heads,” said Arkmar. “I did notice that they were susceptible to head bonking.”
“I hate how they hop and, you know,” said Elena, looking up into the starry sky. She didn’t look like she was finding much comfort with that view either. “Goddess,” she said, “how I love-hate this place.”
“Dream World, or just the Moon?” asked Ali.
“Dream World,” said Elena. “Dreaming. It’s supposed to all mean nothing, dreams, but it all means something, you’ll just never know what. All these menaces and dangers and enemies. All these unspeakables.” She shuddered again. “So what are we doing?”
“We’re looking for the black sloops,” said Ryel.
“Hey, Elena,” said Arkmar, still looking through the telescope, “you wouldn’t have anything useful like a cloak in your spell collection, would you?”
“Like a moving cloak, maybe?” said Elena.
So over the next hour the Storm Queen explored the sea where she had landed. It was not water, but it hid things that seemed alive. It had waves, but among them were unexplainable ripples, bubbles popping in unpredictable places, odd splashes heard but mostly not seen; twice a long ridge of solid stuff, like the back of a huge fish, showed just above the surface.
And then they turned along the far side of a mountainous headland, keeping their distance from a long bar where something came out of the sea and danced on the shore. And there before the voyagers, two black sloops rose and fell slightly on the black surf, moored at a dock of some sort of stone. It was the toad-slug things that now danced stupidly on the shore, and formed a procession to lead a prisoner, or perhaps a visiting diplomat, up the main street of one of the more hideous zip codes in Dream World.
“Well, there she is,” said Ryel, gazing on the shore with just her naked eye.
“Positive on that,” said Arkmar with the telescope.
“Where do you want us?” asked Ali.
“Get us to shore here,” said Ryel. “Then be ready to fire it up and get out when we come running.”