Voda looked at the creature trapped in the air bubble. Like all the creatures on the train, it was something she had never seen before. Thousands of spikes rested on its back, and it had a snout that went past its mouth. She could tell just by looking that it had poor eyesight, but she was impressed by its hearing. "You will take my place in this ocean."
"And why should I do that?"
"Because if you do not, I will kill your friends."
"I see. Well that is all well and good, but to be honest, I don't believe you. For one, I know you can't really hurt Samantha or Gale now; as for Ahmed, well, you talked to him first, which must mean, since you are talking to me, that he did not give you what you wanted so you either killed him already or just want to use him against me. But why should I give you what he wouldn't?
"Are you not afraid of death?"
"You would be surprised what being chased all over the frozen wastes of the Great Ice Mountain with people trying to kill will do for your perspective on death. In the old days, yes. Now. Well now, to be honest, it would just be nice to not have to worry about anything."
"What ice mountain?" Voda demanded, but Mr. Bristle ignored that. He heard something, it was subtle and almost completely inaudible, even to his finely tuned ears; nevertheless, the sound of water moving in an unnatural direction reached him, and if he had to guess, he would have said it was the sound of Voda's hair, which seemed to be made of jellyfish tentacles, all standing on end.
Got you now, Mr. Bristle thought as he said, "The same ice mountain where your daughter is trapped in a castle. She put a note on our train along with food and supplies. She said, 'be wary of my mother.' You, I presume, are her mother."
"You don't know anything," Voda snapped as she circled the bubble, flummoxed as to how the conversation had shifted so fast. "I have no daughter."
"Really?" Mr. Bristle said as his quills perked up a bit. "Well I will confess I did not get her name, and only saw her the one time. But I got the impression she was imprisoned in that castle, and has been for a long time. In fact, I think you probably came here looking for more than power. You came to find a way to set her free, right? But that didn't work, so now you want to punish everyone else. Isn't that why you really drown people?"
Suddenly the bubble contracted around Mr. Bristle, and for a horrid moment he thought his quills would puncture its translucent surface, but it flowed between and around his spines, crushing him. He was forced to his hands and knees, and suddenly glowing eyes loomed out of the darkness below him as Voda--a witch that looked like a cross between shark and an orca--loomed into view. "You may be right about me having a hard time hurting those girls, but they will starve out here without some kind of help; and your friend is not dead, but I can remedy that right now. Agree and I spare you all; deny me, and I will see to it that you are poisoned by one of the many snakes that live in this ocean. It will take you weeks to die, and the whole time you will beg me to to finish you. I won't give you the satisfaction, but I may let you watch me kill your friend just as slowly."
"Still won't help your daughter, will it?" gasped Mr. Bristle.
The bubble tightened further and Mr. Bristle felt himself begin to ball up. "Maybe not, but it will be most satisfying," Voda said. Then she tightened the bubble until the creature inside passed out.
On the small platform of basaltic rock Voda had built in the middle of her ocean, the train that had saved both Samantha and Gale from the angry mob on the ice mountain lay wrecked. Gale and Samantha were on board and in the wrecked dining car trying to figure out what to do, as Gale ate some fruit, bread, and a bit of cheese she found for breakfast.
"I mean, I can go through things, but I don't sink, and I still have to breath somehow. So I don't think I can get Ahmed or Mr. Bristle, even if I could find them down there."
"Well we have to think of something," Samantha said.
"I don't know! I mean I can fly now, so if I leave and go as fast as I can, maybe I could get help, but I don't think I could get back here in time to do anything, even if I did find someone. Not only that, but I'd have to carry food for myself too, and I don't even know how much bigger this ocean is."
"I hate this place," Gale said as she found some orange juice to drink. Almost everyone here is mean, and they all want something. Why can't they just be happy and leave us alone?"
Samantha looked at her younger sister and rolled her eyes, but then she remembered Gale crying over Ts'ui, alone in a cabin. As she did, Samantha flashed back to her first few days in the cave with Shadow Stalker and Wind Rawth, the two beings that looked like giant owls, but who had onyx black feathers tipped in brilliant blue or green. They had said they were in the forest looking for some kind person or thing to 'righten the world.' It had sounded ridiculous at the time, but then so had every word Scheherazade had spoken. "Do you ever wonder why Scheherazade sucked us through that TV and brought us to this world?" Samantha asked her blond haired sister.
"No," Gale said glumly. "Why?"
"I'm just thinking...she was a prisoner, remember."
"Yeah, so what?"
"Well so was the queen in that castle, and now we meet her mother, and she is a prisoner too. That doesn't seem kind of strange to you?"
"I don't know what's strange anymore. I mean, who ever heard of a train that can fly?"
"True. But remember when I asked Shadow Stalker and Wind Rawth why they were in that forest, and they said something about waiting for someone or something to make the word right?"
"I remember," Gale said as she gulped some juice.
"Well what if that means we have to free all the people that are stuck. Think about it. There are lots of magic people stuck in prisons. They must all want out. So what if we talk to Voda and tell her we can set her free?"
"But how can we do that. We'd be stuck in the ocean."
"No, we don't tell her we will take her place. We tell her we will set her free by completing the tasks Scheherazade set out for us. Think of it. We are have already climbed the Great Ice Mountain and killed the Ogin. If we get across this Uncharted Sea, then that will be two out of the three tasks."
"Endless Ocean," Gale corrected.
"That's not what Scheherazade called it. Think about it, and you know I'm right."
Gale scrunched up her face and thought back. It had been a long time since they had been sucked through the TV and a lot had happened since then, but suddenly she knew her sister was right. "So why is everyone calling this the Endless Ocean?"
"I don't remember when that started happening, but we know that it ends. We were on the shore. So it's not endless. Scheherazade said it was uncharted."
"What does that mean?" Gale asked.
"It just means nobody has a map of this place."
"Well if they don't have a map, they can't know it's endless," Gale said crossly.
"Yes, but remember, if people here really have any maps and Voda doesn't let anyone through, then it would seem like a really big ocean."
Gale's face lit up as it hit her: "But it could be much smaller than we thought! But how does that help us?"
"I'm not sure," Samantha conceded. "But, I have an idea. I can fly, right?"
"Well, what if I go straight up? I could get really high and see if I can see the other shore. Then we can see if help is as far away as we thought."
"Hey, we are supposed to find a city in the sky, right?"
"Yes. That's the third task, but there was something about a guy with a magic paint brush once we got to the other side of this sea."
"I know...but if you go up really high, see if you can spot a city. It might help."
"Right," Samantha said, as she suddenly noticed the scrapes from the last time she had tried to fly. "But what if I make it really high up and then fall?"
"Just don't fall this time," Gale said simply.
"Right," Samantha said, as a sudden queasy feeling gripped her.
Voda floated between the two prisons of Ahmed and Mr. Bristle and fumed. She should kill them both, she thought to herself, but if she did that, then the girls would never help her or give her the power they had. Besides, it really would be pointless to force one of the creatures to agree to take her place. It had not worked in the past, but then, she reflected, she had only been forcing one person who would have been dead anyway to try and take it her power. Still, each unsuccessful attempt left her a little more mutated; robbed her of a bit more of her beauty. How had it happened when she took the power? She couldn't remember, but she felt as if she was missing something important. She tried to calm her mind and think, letting her thoughts drift backwards like a twig on a riptide. Thousands of ships and countless lives flashed before her eyes, until she had a fleeting image of herself standing on a ship. The ship looked to be ancient, and she seemed to be the captain.
No sooner had the image formed in Voda's brain than the water around her suddenly seemed to push in on her and electric eels surrounded her and began shocking her. Voda screamed in pain, but no sound came out. She whirled around looking for an escape, but the water was thickening with the long, knife-like bodies of the eels, with each adding to the shocks being delivered. Without understanding why, Voda sent the two prison bubbles streaming towards the surface. This seemed to agitate the eels further and suddenly they aligned their bodies until they formed a sphere around her; as one, the different eels touched bodies, sending a massive jolt of electricity through the water, knocking Voda out.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Gale said as she looked at her sister hovering several feet in the air above her.
"Oh, I'm sorry; it's not like I've been able to fly my whole life, and this is perfectly normal," Samantha shot back. "Now, give me a second."
Gale was about to say something when the waters around the spit of land the girls were stuck on began to froth and foam.
"What's going on?" Gale screamed up.
"No idea," Samantha said as she dropped down to the island. "But I've got a bad feeling about this."
As soon as the words escaped her mouth, the prison-bubbles that held Ahmed and Mr. Bristle exploded out of the water, hurling their occupants several feet into the air. The two slammed back into the water: Ahmed in what looked to be one of the most epic bellyflops of all time, and Mr. Bristle in a backbreaker that snapped off hundreds of his quills.
Ahmed thrashed around immediately. "I can't swim!" He screamed, as he flailed about in the water. Meanwhile Mr. Bristle had bobbed back to the surface caterwauling in pain; however, once he broke the surface, he managed to start a very slow doggy-paddle back towards land.
"You help Ahmed, and I'll get Mr. Bristle," Gale shouted at her sister, before running right off the island and across the water.
"Show off," Samantha muttered and she took off and at a height of about three feet and skimmed the waves, hurtling towards her friend. She was forced to fly higher as she got closer to Ahmed, who while humanoid in form, was also a rhinoceros. Not only that, but instead of just having a horn, Ahmed had embedded a large blade into the tip of his horn, making it an extra sharp, long, and deadly weapon. "Ahmed, stop! I can't help you if you don't hold still!" Samantha shouted.
In response, the huge limbs seem to churn the water faster, as panic started to set in. Gritting her teeth, Samantha took a deep breath and dove into the water near her friend, coming up underneath Ahmed. Samantha thought of a banana split, which would only be for her. The happy thought kicked started her flying ability, and she rocketed up, trying to get past the thrashing limbs and to Ahmed's torso, but his flailing legs smashed into her sending her off to the left. She flew past his torso, but did clear the blade in his horn, which sliced her calf as she zipped by his head.
Gale heard her sister scream just as she was pulling the battered form of Mr. Bristle up onto dry land. Whipping around, Gale saw her sister clutch her leg, while a line of blood dropped down onto Ahmed below. Without waiting to see if Mr. Bristle was fine, she turned around and began sprinting towards the rhino. As she ran, she managed to shout, "You okay?"
"No," Samantha said as tears poured down her face, while she hovered over her drowning friend. "And I can't get close."
Gale just nodded and tried to run faster, but suddenly Ahmed, sank below the waves, and bubbles began rising up from the spot where he'd been thrashing about. "Get him," shouted Gale, terror coloring her voice.
Samantha rose higher into the air, and flipped over. She dove down after her friends, nearly blind from the tears filling her eyes while pain so intense that she nearly blacked out roared up through her body as salt water rushed over her sliced calf. Down Samantha sank after the still from of Ahmed, oblivious to the shark fin Gale saw break the water about a hundred feet from where she had just entered the water.