Strange Cases: Behemoth - Part Seven
KIKO LAKE, 4TH DAY OF SWIMMING, YEAR 9, 16:17 PM
“So, she had you all figured out, huh?”
The two NSB agents had been reunited for over an hour, during which Steele had taken the opportunity to retell his experiences since they had split up; the encounter with Blackjack, the visit to the potions factory, the incident with Marco and the spilt potions, everything.
By the time he was finished, they were both standing on the deck of the Flamboyant Seashell, a fishing trawler in the middle of a line of boats slowly sailing across the length of the lake, a large, makeshift net dragging behind them.
“Yeah,” Steele sighed, shifting his grip on the net’s rope. “I had no choice but to come clean... at least she let me get as far as I did, and now I think I know exactly what’s happened here.”
“What?” Tanner had spent ages doing what his older partner had requested of him for, seemingly, no apparent reason at all; now he wanted – no, demanded – to know what everything had been in aid of.
“Well,” Steele began carefully, “a week ago, a worker at the potions factory was the unfortunate victim of a large potions spillage. According to this list I was given,” at this point, the Scorchio shifted hands again to rifle out the sheet of paper and handed it over to his junior partner, “the majority of those potions were Ultra Supersizes and Sponge Transformation potions, so I’m safely guessing that’s what the poor Blumaroo turned into – a giant, living sponge!”
“And this is a normal, everyday thing for you, drawing such conclusions?” asked Tanner wryly.
“Welcome to my world, kid...”
“But why did it take two days for any effects?”
“Well, Marco did get hit by twenty-four other potions, let’s not forget, so I’m thinking it took forty-eight hours for the potions to fight amongst themselves before the dominant effects of the seven sponge potions and five Ultra Supersizes kicked in. Luckily, Marco’s walk to work took him right by this lake when it happened and – already by instinct – he runs into the water to keep himself wet.”
“Which is why he attacked those campers!” exclaimed Tanner with a smile of dawning realization. “He was afraid of the fire by instinct... but why?” he added in afterthought. “Why didn’t he just stay underwater?”
“Hmm, I’m not completely certain, but my reckoning is that when the transformation did eventually take place – so long after the original incident that Marco hadn’t been expecting anything so late on – the transformation was so sudden, so drastic, that Marco went insane, reverting to his basic, animal instincts – primarily, that of survival. He just didn’t want to take any chances.”
“Wow,” the cloud Kougra breathed heavily in disbelief as he leaned over the ship's railings. “I’m sure glad I stuck with you, after all... wow... so, somewhere down there there’s a gigantic sponge Blumaroo who is more beast than your average?”
“Not exactly how I’d have phrased it, but yeah, basically,” Steele replied, once again shifting his grip on the rope, this time in unison with the other fishermen up and down the line. His Junior Agent partner stared at him in amazement.
“How can you just coolly hold onto that, knowing what it might snag?” he asked in awe.
“Oh, come on!” the Scorchio groaned melodramatically. “Twelve potions affected him - how big can he be?”
That was when Marco decided to yank Steele and half the other fishermen into the lake, along with the net, without so much as a polite warning.
Rushing over to the side of boat Steele had previously occupied, Tanner leant over the railing in time to see the Shadow Scorchio get dragged further below the surface, his words of shock cut off into sharp bursts of bubbles.
Soon Tanner’s view became more and more obscured as the shadow Scorchio blended with the murky depths, until only his wide eyes could be seen... and then, nothing.
Soon after that, the bubbles stopped rising...
Guess that answers my question, Steele silently admonished his flippancy as what he hoped was the monstrously transformed Blumaroo to drag him further down. Yep, preeetty big... oh, well, at least all I have to do is let go of the rope.
He let go of the rope.
The tangle of ropes around his left leg became more noticeable.
His lungs screaming for the air his mouth could not give (Sure wish I’d bought that Maraquan paint brush, now...), bubbles escaped his lips and – when he valiantly pressed his lips shut – his nostrils. He was becoming increasingly lightheaded, and he hated it.
And still he was being pulled farther and farther down into the lake’s watery depths, the pressure increasing around his entire body. The Behemoth (did he still call it ‘Behemoth’, since it probably wasn’t Marco in his sanest state-of-mind? He wasn’t sure) pulled at him, and the net, at a rate of legions so fast Steele’s body was rigid and straight, legs-first. He tried to fight against the water, to reach down and untangle his leg, but he just couldn’t; he was stuck. He hated this, too.
His lungs now burning with the need for air, Steele silently cursed as even more bubbles escaped. Had that been the last lot of air he had?
Fortunately, amazingly, the Behemoth slowed down, loosening the force of its pull. Not knowing how long this respite would last, Steele urged every inch of his aching body to move, despite the lack of oxygen. Slowly, weakly, painfully, he bent forward, pushing though the thick pressure of the water all around him as he reached out with his arms, fingers grasping at the heavy darkness. Steele cursed – the water was now as dark as he was! How deep had they come? How many fathoms?
Something brushed against his fingers... rope! Feverishly gripping at the tangled loops around his lower-leg, Steele yanked and twisted, shifted and kicked out at the rope, desperately trying to find some give, to loosen things up enough, just enough, to slip his leg out. One loop fell off sluggishly... followed by a second...
Yes! He was free! He could scarcely believe his luck... but was it already too late? His whole body was burning, his limbs now weaker than ever from their recent exertion, his head woozy and tiring. Forcing himself around to dizzily face the general direction of the lake’s surface and – as water continued to mercilessly invade his nose, ears and mouth – painfully strained himself to kick out, to swim as far and as fast as he possibly could. Every few feet his lungs burned more, demanding, screaming fresh air, air that – unless Steele suddenly grew gills – he could not give them.
Then, in a desperate stroke of genius, Steele’s oxygen-starved brain finally realized that he also had another form of propulsion at hand, his wings! Unfurling them against the pressure of the depths, Steele wanted to scream at the pain, but knew that such an act would be the death of him. Beating his wings slowly – painfully slowly – the shadow Scorchio thanked his lucky stars as the murky water slowly gave way to lighter colors as the sun broke through the shadows. But he wasn’t fast enough, already he felt himself slipping dangerously close to unconsciousness, the inky blackness of nothing replacing the darkness of the depths he had been gradually escaping from.
When, at last, he knew deep down that he could push himself no further in his state, Steele reluctantly allowed himself to go limp, weakly thankful he was still floating upward as he closed his eyes for what he dreaded would be the last time. As the shadows brought him into their chilling embrace, the Scorchio was ironically surprised to find his last thoughts focused on one thing...
It wasn’t that he’d wasted his life chasing monsters, vainly searching for some Big Truth. It wasn’t that he hadn’t chosen a better lifestyle. It wasn’t even that, up until today, he’d never really had any friends.
It was simply this; that Junior Agent Tanner would have to get a new partner... on his first day. It was ironic, really, that he’d been waiting years for an agent to come along who would stick with the Strange Cases Division, and as soon as one did, he went and got himself killed because he’d gone and gotten his stupid leg caught in a stupid fishing net.
Then the darkness claimed him for its own, and he did nothing to struggle or resist...
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Pain. Shock. Surprise. Light. Gasps.
The booming gave way to thumps, thumps against his chest. Coughing up lungful after lungful of lake water, Steele moaned, rolling onto his side feebly. Deep breaths, like desperate gasps for life, followed by more coughing-up of water – how much water could one person possibly swallow? Had he drained the entire lake?!
“Steele...! Steele, thank Fyora, you’re alright!” Was that Tanner’s voice he could hear faintly through the water still trapped in his ears? He shook his head slowly, from side to side, each turn making him dizzy and nauseous, until...
“Others,” he groaned, raising a shaky, dripping hand until it touched Tanner’s supportive paw. “Fishermen... how are...?”
“A dozen of them fell in with you,” Tanner replied soothingly, placing his other paw on Steele’s shoulder. “They barely made it back out.”
To be continued...
Author’s Note: This is the penultimate part of ‘Strange Cases: Behemoth’ and, unlike my other past mysteries, you all already know who, what, where, and why... all that leaves is how are they going to sort all this out?