Coming in 2008 - Sirkuss
Sunday, April 15, 2007 10:54:00 AM
by Nicholas Hanna
|Rain Rothschild finds herself transported to a new world, Sirkuss, where the animals are in charge and the humans are helpless pawns. Rain must band together with other humans, an underground group of rogue wanderers, to escape Sirkuss and find her way back home.
Simon couldn’t discern the mood of the King today. Actually, elephants were difficult to read on any day. Mild-mannered, even-tempered (except when provoked) and cool as the mildew laden stone floor where Simon stood, elephants were decidedly docile, especially the King. Of course, most of his poise stemmed from necessity, as ruling a world comprised of such diverse personalities required it.
But today, Simon was going to test the composure of his leader. He needed to. Because Simon was determined to get out.
Simon's son, Cain, had contracted a terrible rash, the origin of which was uncertain, and fever and chills had quickly taken a hold of his already weak body. He was unable to keep any semblance of food down without regurgitating it in a matter of minutes. His glands appeared swollen and was apparently hallucinating, speaking rubbish when any of his words were even comprehensible. Cain's mother had passed away a few years back (at least it seemed like a few years; time was measured differently in this world) and Simon had shouldered the responsibility of his young son. He had made that fateful promise to his dying wife that he would take good care of their only child, which provided her some much appreciated peace of mind. Now it was his obligation to get Cain the care he needed, regardless of the cost. The health care available to the masses in this world was lacking in many of the modern medicinal marvels available in Oblivion. Simon knew it was imperative he return, or his son could die.
And the only thing between him and the other side was the regal elephant staring him in the eyes.
As he stood before the King-of-Tusks, the beads of sweat on Simon’s entire body began to steadily merge, converging in small streams, cascading toward the floor. It wasn’t his intention to expose his nervousness in such a physical manner, but he had the distinct feeling the King already knew, regardless of how much moisture poured from his body. It seemed the King always knew every thought, every emotion, every intention of every living creature in the world. His world. This epiphany caused Simon’s pores to drain even faster as he took another step towards his Lordship. His exhausted limbs fell limply from his torso as his run-down body remained erect from sheer determination. It took all the energy he could muster to make his way in front of his Lordship.
The King sat idly on his jewel-encrusted throne, awaiting the plea of his subject, keeping an inquisitive gaze fixated on the gaunt, tired man at his feet. Such a confrontation was commonplace in his kingdom as people and creatures often recounted in colorful stories the basis for their request. Most who came before him wanted to travel through the Ring of Ice, usually permanently. Some claimed it was their home while others wanted to visit for research, while still others simply wanted an escape. The latter tended to irritate the King-of-Tusks, which was typically difficult to do. He would calmly attempt to determine exactly what the subject was trying to escape from, which usually exacted a reply of stuttering remorse and apology for even thinking such a thought. The inhabitants of this world weren't necessarily scared of their leader, it was more of a strongly respectful awe. He had worked hard to earn such respect and didn't mind if there was occasional quaking in one's boots.
“Good afternoon, sire,” Simon stumbled as he made eye contact with a small pebble at his feet. “I don’t intend to waste your valuable time, so I’ll come right out with my request.”
The elephant raised his trunk slightly from its rested position, the balance of his gray, wrinkled body remained still in his throne. A few gold coins hanging from the chain of his ornate trunk jewelry knocked together, sending an echo like that of a wind chime through the King’s lair and past the candle sconces of the long corridor toward the stone stairs.
“Simon.” The King’s baritone voice reverberated through Simon’s head, giving him a momentary headache. The King spoke telepathically. His mouth didn’t move, but make no mistake, he was easily heard. He conversed in a way that was eternally regal and commanded authority immediately.
“Simon,” he repeated, “I am a bit disappointed to see you again so soon. You must have made a grand sacrifice to convince Farouk into conning the Juggler to grant you access so soon after our last... conversation.”
That was how it was in this world. A hierarchy existed and it was not undermined under any circumstances. But just like any other pecking orders, it wasn't uncommon to forge deals to get where you wanted to go.
“I apologize, your highness. It seems like eons since we last spoke.”
“Eons to you, my poor boy, yet minutes to me.”
“I see, your Lordship,” Simon lied. “Again, I ask that you have mercy on me for my foolish actions. I've guaranteed Farouk use of Cain from one full moon to the next, assuming he can recover from his illness. That is the basis for my presence here, sire.”
“Mercy won’t be necessary,” the King-of-Tusks assured Simon. “Of all the humans who plead to exit, I’ve decided I enjoy our banter the most. However, I hope to make it a brief conversation today. Are you able to accommodate my request?”
“Of course, my King,” Simon agreed, “I wouldn’t dare keep you longer than you wished. I believe you know why I’ve come before you, yes?”
“For the same reason most come before me. To return to Oblivion.”
“Yes. I need to go through the Ring of Ice.”
The King-of-Tusks slowly turned his attention to a large altar across his lair. Two hippos on either side of the altar stood upright, spears attached to a leather belt device around their waist that released the weapons at a fierce speed, with precision, toward any target they wished, with a simple flick of a mechanism on the floor. Behind the altar were two large torch posts housing even larger torches that produced a bright red flame that swayed calmly with the slight whispering breeze dancing through the cavern. The torches surrounded a large circle embedded into the stone wall. The interior of the circle was sheer blackness; literally a black hole. The circle itself had a shimmering, clear shell gripping to it like a python clenches its prey. This substance most closely resembled ice; cold, wet and slippery, but it was so much more. The chemical properties of the “black hole” created the substance, although nobody really knew how. All they knew was that they revered it. The substance, the circle, the hole. They revered it all because it was the portal to Oblivion, the only portal extant in their universe, and the only known escape.
The King returned his attention to the trembling, pallid man before him. “And I see you are anticipating my next question. Why should I let you through the ring?”
Simon cleared his dry throat and continued, “As I mentioned before, it’s my son, Cain. He’s ill. He needs to be home.”
“He is home,” the King retorted, a little irritated. “And what guarantee do I have, assuming I allow your passage, that you and Cain would return once he regains his health, to complete your contractual obligation to Farouk?"
Simon had to lie, and do his best to conceal his deceit. If the King-of-Tusks convicted him of lying, the penalty would be his life.
"Your highness, I would gladly spend eternity here in exchange for my son's health."
The King squinted his eyes and sighed a deep, nasally sigh as only a beast of his stature could produce. Simon's heart beat even faster, wondering if his Lordship had detected any trace of insincerity.
"Where is the boy now?" asked the King. "Have you not brought him with you?"
“He’s back in our dwelling, sleeping. He's too weak to move. He really needs a doctor.”
“And what’s wrong with our doctors?”
“Listen!” Simon replied excitedly. Before he continued he took a deep breath and lowered his tone. “I’m sorry for my outburst, your highness. It won’t happen again. There is nothing wrong with the doctors here. They just don’t have the technology available here like they have in Oblivion. And my son needs medicine your doctors don’t have.”
“I’m sorry, Simon. You must understand my predicament. Nobody has left since my rule began several revolutions ago. If I let you go, the floodgates open, and I can’t let that happen. Besides, you are too valuable a commodity here. You work with the Lion better than any other.”
“But, nobody has to know,” Simon pled, tears welling in the corners of his eyes.
“You know as well as anyone that it’s impossible to keep a secret in this place. And then I lose the trust of my subjects. And then what? Trust is the cornerstone of this society.”
“But…my son could die...” Simon sheepishly replied, nearing defeat.
“Simon, I will personally see to it that Cain is provided the best care we have to offer. I'm sure the Society of the Secret Skin and their leeches could be of service as well."
Simon nodded, his glassy eyes waving the proverbial white flag.
The King-of-Tusks rose and took a deep breath, commanding the attention of his hippo guards and drew closer to Simon.
"We need you. Sirkuss needs you. And so in Sirkuss shall you stay.”