The lady Lori called to the despondent figure kneeling by the solitary grave. "Please, My Lady," pleaded the chestnut haired merwoman, one of several of Fen's Ladies in Waiting, "you must come away from this mournful place. Please? Your father, Emperor Tha-Korr, summons you. He is most concerned by your protracted grief for this - this surfaceman. He deems it very unseemly for a Princess of fair Atlantis."
The Atlantean Princess' full lips thinned themselves into an angry blue line. "Tell the Emperor, my father, that I will mourn the death of my *husband* for as long and in whatever way or manner I find most appropriate!" Shaking her dark head, Fen gestured dismissal to the Lady Lori, and did not even look up to see if she'd been obeyed. She lowered her head in the familiar posture of listless sadness that she had assumed for so very long now. Ever since her return from the surface, in fact. For a moment, Lori had been almost glad to see the return of her friend's fighting spirit. But it was gone, now.
So quickly vanished...
Swimming closer, Lori touched Fen lightly on the elbow. "Oh, Fen, please," she pleaded. "You mustn't make him angrier! He's the Emperor! I -- I know how you must feel..."
Fen looked up, and not for the first time realized that when one lived beneath the sea waves, it was almost impossible to tell if someone were crying. But the tears were in Lori's voice if, perhaps, not in her eyes. "My-my own husband, my beloved Ronal, has but lately journeyed over the Grey Waters," Lori stammered. "Poseidon's Beard...I -- I miss him so, Fen!"
The two women embraced, keeping the pain of their mutual loss at bay with the presence, the warmth, of their bodies. "Oh, Lori, can you ever forgive me?" Fen whispered in a delicately pointed ear, stroking Lori's hair. "I've been so caught up in my own sorrow, my own tragedy, that I hadn't even considered yours. It must be very difficult for you. Yes, I miss Leonard, too. The sight of his smile...the sound of his voice...the way his chin jutted just so when he was happy..."
Lori rearranged her elaborate, now disheveled headdress to the proper angle once more and nodded. "And your father misses you," she said softly, trying to smile. "He misses his bold adventurous daughter, his brave Fen. He'd never say so, of course, but I can tell. And he feels so guilty! He longs to see you smile once more, and to know that you forgive him."
Fen shook her head in apparent confusion. "Guilty? I don't -- "
"Of course he feels guilty, Fen! Was it not he that sent you to the surface in the first place to find the source of the destruction that rained down upon the realm of Atlantis? And it was there on the surface, was it not, that you found the icebreaker Oracle, making its way through the polar ice with explosive charges? And was that not where you met Leonard McKensie, captain of the Oracle?"
"Y-yes..." Unconsciously, Fen toyed with the plain gold band still adorning the ring finger of her left hand, absently twisting it about her finger in agitation. "And married him, after the customs of his people."
Lori nodded. "And when you did not return speedily, it was your father who sent a military patrol to fetch you back. He was terrified that you might have been captured or killed by the surfacemen. He raged for a day and a night until they returned with you safely. He did not know that the only thing Leonard McKensie had captured was your heart. Your husband's death was an accident, Princess. Young Jerro did not mean to kill him. When he found you in McKensie's bed, he thought...he thought you'd been raped, and it enraged him. To so despoil a Princess of the Blood Royal! And the rash youth mistook your husband's defense of you for an attack."
Fen buried her head in her hands at the flood of memories that threatened to overwhelm her. Perhaps she meant to speak. Lori was never to know. For, if so, the Princesses' words were lost in the great roar of sound that sprang up suddenly from above, over their heads.
Alarmed, Lori Lemaris' eyes widened at the sight of the hurtling...meteor? "Fen, look!" she cried, forgoing formality in this time of possible sudden danger. "What is it? Are the surfacemen attacking? Is it Attuma? What's hap -- "
Crashing downward through the placid waters at tremendous speed, the falling fragment of heaven plowed into the sea bottom with a mighty impact that sent the two women stumbling from their feet as the shock waves overtook them. Tumbling about willy-nilly, the agile Fen righted herself, gasping for breath. With an oath, the Princess swan to the aid of her distressed Lady in Waiting and friend. Reaching out, she grabbed Lori's passing hand and held on tightly. After a moment, the waters quieted themselves, and the two women again regained their equilibrium once more after a brief spell of dizziness. Murmuring her thanks, Lori shook her head as if to clear it.
"Princess, wha -- " she began.
Fen pointed. "Whatever it was has fallen to ground off to the East...near the Cave of Shadows." Fen could see the slight shiver that washed over Lori at the mention of the ancient landmark.
"That accursed place!" she cried.
Startled, Lori called after the retreating Atlantean royal, as the other woman swam away at great speed. "Princess, wait!" When she was ignored, Lori took off in swift pursuit of her mistress, her strong arms propelling her through the now calm waters swiftly. It seemed to her that Fen slowed her course just a bit in order to allow the slower woman to catch up to her. In silence, Lori followed the adventurous Fen, not without some small trepidation. But she held her tongue, nonetheless. Now did not seem to be the best time to speak up. Lori knew her highborn friend to be strong willed and stubborn. Warning her against her present course would doubtless only serve to strengthen her resolve. With a sigh, the beleaguered handmaiden swam on, following in the Princess' frothy wake like a darting remora in the company of a great white shark.
Lori's heart beat faster, thudding loudly in her breast. *Something* had torn a great, gouging path along the sea floor, like a huge ugly scar on the pale flesh of one of the Neriads themselves. For what seemed like an interminable distance, the path of the fallen star led on. The water began to take on a strange, somewhat unpleasant metallic taste in Lori's laboring gills. And hot! The closer they approached, the more uncomfortably heated the water grew. Lori was on the verge of pleading for a halt to this folly when Fen brought herself up short, floating still in the water. Lori's gusting sigh of relief was heartfelt, indeed.
Glowing softly red with heat and then blue with the luminescence of Cherenkov radiation, the great egg-shaped vessel rested peacefully on the ocean floor, now. Lori's eyes widened, and she reached out a futile hand to restrain Fen as the gentle whir of servomotors echoed through the waters. Not quick enough to stop the determined Princess of Atlantis, Lori opened her mouth to call out to the impetuous Fen. But the Princess did not hear her as the great egg cracked and the top half lifted itself off, revealing the contents within, and a faint high pitched wail of distress emerged.
"Lori!" cried Fen, her voice awestruck and filled with wonder. "Come quickly! It's -- it's a *baby*!"
* * * * *
In a flash of red, twin beams of heat sought out the two forward harpoon guns, and melted them where they crouched. Scrambling to safety, the gunners yelled in fear and abandoned their positions, barely avoiding the hissing, sputtering pools of spreading liquid metal where only moments before stood the fearsome tools of their bloody trade.
The figure that landed lightly on the poop-deck was tall, tall and proudly straight backed, with shortish dark hair that clung wetly to his skull. Clad in a skin tight body tunic of deepest blue-black to match the hair, he stood very still. Captain Fugimoto could have sworn he could hear the steady drip, drip, drip of sea water droplets as they cascaded off the muscular body in the yawning, screaming silence. Sea green eyes narrowed at the sight of the astonished Captain and his crew.
"Supermanta!" The whisper seemed contagious as it spread from man to man like a virus. "Supermanta!"
The man, if such he was, scowled in disdain. "Know, surfacemen, that I am Namor-El, Prince of Atlantis!" The deep, resonant voice was oddly accented. Those liquid vowels and consonants never sprang from any language he knew, the Captain realized. "I am the Avenging Star Child, and I come to you with a warning!" To his great humiliation, the Captain paled somewhat when "Namor-El" pointed an accusing finger directly at him when he spoke.
"No more will you be allowed to recklessly exploit the seas!" he declared firmly. "From this day forward, you are forbidden to thoughtlessly slaughter her denizens, to carelessly dump your garbage and your poisons upon her bosom! The seas are the domain of Atlantis! And you will respect that! You may still go your way, traveling from place to place in your pitiable vessels. Normal fishing you may continue, within reason and within your coastal domains! But henceforth, you will consider yourselves guests when you journey down to the sea in ships! So speaks Namor-El, the Avenging Star Child! Imperious Rex!"
The Captain, flabbergasted and frankly at a loss to know what to do, stared at the imposing figure of the self proclaimed Atlantean Prince, and so, did not see Kenjiro-Sama draw his pistol. He was later to be almost grateful for that. At that moment, he could not have said whether he would have forbidden what happened next or not. It was almost a relief to have the decision taken from out of his hands by his own inattention. It wasn't until the sound of gunfire shook his senses, the sharp retort of weapon's fire reverberating like thunder in his ears, that he cried out in inarticulate dismay.
Others were not so reticent, it seemed.
"Put that away, you fool!" shouted Doctor Namasara, his high, shrill voice cracking like a whip. "You'll get us all killed!" Scattered about the deck, the mesmerized, astonished crew of the Shinobi-Maru gaped in wonder, then gasped in horror to see the bullet strike its target, the Atlantean's broad chest. Strike...
...and ricochet harmlessly off the muscled expanse of tanned flesh.
Rage twisted the merman's smooth features, and Fugimoto's heart sank like a stone in his chest. What punishment could they expect from a being of such immense power? Truly, it was a frightening thought, and the Captain paled to imagine Namor-El's revenge. It was his place to speak, to explain...he knew that. And yet...he could not. His thick tongue clove to the roof his desert dry mouth, the muscles of his throat worked, but no sound emerged. And perhaps that was best. It would not have served for the crew to hear the undignified, squeaky voiced plea that would have been the only sound he was capable of just then. Not served at all. It was then that Reicho Narasama proved himself to be a much braver man than the Captain had ever given him credit for being.
Bringing himself forward, Doctor Narasama bowed low. "Pluh-please, Yuh-Your Highness," he stammered through chattering teeth. "Forgive this unworthy old fool, but -- " He got no further.
"You've given me your answer, surfacemen!" roared Namor-El, making a gesture of dismissal with one hand, sharp and abrupt like an edged weapon. "I came to you, a messenger in good faith, and you have attacked my Imperial person! You require a lesson in manners! And a reminder of the power of Atlantis and the one, true Avenging Star Child!"
With a spreading murmur of fear, the crew fell back when the Prince reached to the belt of metallic gold spanning his slender waist. Captain Fugimoto was eternally grateful that, despite his weak and trembling knees, he held his ground and did not further disgrace himself. Several loud cries of terror assaulted the Captain's reeling senses, along with the sound of running feet, pounding an alarmed retreat. Carefully, Fugimoto did not turn to see which of his crew had panicked and taken themselves below decks.
It scarcely mattered. From his belt, Namor-El brought forth a long, tapering spiral shaped conch shell, and lifted it to his waiting lips, his sea green eyes gleaming with angry purpose.
"Let the Horn of Proteus summon forth your punishment!" he declared.
With a great gust of indrawn breath, Namor-El blew upon the 'Horn of Proteus'. At first, the sound that blasted forth from the strangely shaped, bejeweled shell hardly registered upon human ears. Low and throbbing, it seemed to shake the air; a mournful wail from out of the depths of time. Fugimoto covered his ears against the agony that erupted in his mind at the sound that seemed to reverberate in his bones. Still, the sound shook him even through that fleshly barrier. Like the call of something ancient and primitive and terrible, it echoed in the heart, stealing the breath from the lungs.
And lo! The waters of Tokyo Bay began to seethe and boil, great bubbles of air rising to the surface from...something...that lurked below. The sea foamed and roiled, as if it were frantically trying to escape, flee from a great terror. Fugimoto's eyes grew wide, the size of dinner plates, as a great bulk tore itself from off the sea bottom of Tokyo Bay and reared its scaly, reptilian head above the waves.
With an answering roar to match the Horn of Proteus, the huge saurian creature began striding toward the shore, great waves pushed before it like earth before a bulldozer.
"Godzilla!" cried Doctor Narasama in fascinated horror. "He's awakened Godzilla! Tokyo is doomed!"
* * * * *
"Pink skin! Surface scum!"
"Hold your tongue, Bryrrah!" cried Namor-El, swimming strongly in his elder cousin's direction. His face twisted in wrath, the Prince of Atlantis regarded his chief rival for the heirship to the throne of Kamuu sourly. Hands on his slender hips, he floated, searing Bryrrah with his heated gaze. "You will not address me again in such a manner!"
Lazily, as if the gesture were barely worth the slight effort it cost him, the azure skinned Atlantean youth skinned his lips back from his teeth in a mocking sneer. "I will address you as I see fit, halfling!" the older boy snarled. With the fingers of one cerulean blue hand, Bryrrah stroked the thin mustache that lately adorned his otherwise clean shaven features. Namor-El snorted. His elder cousin was very fond of that mustache, he knew. And of the age and maturity that had allowed him to grow and carefully trim it in the accepted Atlantean fashion for a man. He never failed to flaunt it in the presence of the younger, smooth cheeked Namor-El. Namor-El's face clouded with his rage like a storm at sea, and Bryrrah smiled an insulting smile.
"I am a Prince of the Blood Royale!" Namor-El ground out between tightly clenched teeth. "And your cousin!" Blood ties were important in the ancient society of Atlantis.
Bryrrah's sneer tinged itself with anger, now. "You are no kin of mine, surface-whelp!" he shouted.
Heads turned in their direction, regarding the two quarreling young men askance. Polite Atlantean society did not allow for such public airing of grievances and personal animosity. Namor-El flushed. Their grandsire, the Emperor Tha-Korr, would surely hear of this. Already the gossip must be speeding its way to the Palace. There would be harsh words fallout about this. But Namor-El's pride would not let him back down, now.
Bryrrah shook his fist at Namor-El. "*I* share the blood of Kings and Princes, since time immemorial!" he challenged. "Who's blood do you share, halfling? Or do you even *know*?"
Streaking through the water much faster than the eye could follow, Namor-El lashed out with one rock hard fist, striking Bryrrah solidly in the abdomen. With a great "whoosh" of escaping air bubbles, Bryrrah doubled over, clutching himself in pain. Face writhing in rage, Namor-El drew back his fist to again strike the other youth, virtually trembling with the need to do so, the force of his anger. But the look of horror on the recovering Bryrrah's face was enough to freeze him as surely as the waters of the Cold Sea.
He had not struck Bryrrah with anything remotely approaching his full, unchecked strength. He must never do that, he knew. He'd always been strong; very strong. But now...since his early teens, his abilities had been ever increasing. In secret, almost as if he were practicing an ancient, forbidden sorcery of some kind, he'd tried to plumb the depths of his new, burgeoning gifts. He's always known that he did not need water to breath. He was comfortable in the air of the surface world. Undoubtedly part of his mixed heritage, he'd thought. But lately, he'd discovered his ability to fly through the air like a sea bird, gliding on the winds. And the strange heat from his eyes! What was he to make of that? And, most bothersome of all, even for an Atlantean, his strength and speed were astounding. Suddenly, the world became increasingly fragile...breakable.
As if it chanced only yesterday, he could hear his mother, the Princess Fen's soft voice, feel the comfort of her hands, embracing him, lovingly stroking his hair. "You are blessed, my son," the Princess of Atlantis whispered in his distressingly blunt ear (why could his ears not be properly pointed, as other Atlantean ears were?). "You must be very careful. Your great strength and extraordinary abilities can serve Atlantis well, son of my heart. But first of all, and most important of all, you must learn to govern your temper. You will be a King someday, and a King cannot be ruled by his passions."
Half his life, he'd struggled to master his ire. It was not easy. At times, it was like a living thing within him, coiling and striking of its own accord, it seemed. His heart pounded and his blood boiled. He was quick to anger and offense. He knew this about himself. He was...different. He also knew *this* about himself. With no effort at all, he could recall many private childhood tears, shed in his mother's arms after a particularly vicious taunt from Bryrrah's or another of his playmates. It cut like a knife to know that his mother, his beautiful, brave mother, was the subject of condemnation for his sake. Because of his surface-bred father.
He could so easily have grown to hate Leonard McKensie...save that his mother still loved him. Their time together, the Princess and her surfaceman lover, had been all too brief, but passionate and intense. The Atlantean Princess yet grieved for the Captain of the Oracle. Namor-El suspected that she always would.
Slowly, he dropped his fist to the side and released Bryrrah, bowing his head in shame. Once again he had failed. Failed his mother, his grandsire, and, most of all, himself. Wordlessly, he swam off. Bryrrah did not try to stop him, thank Pallais. Confused and heart-sore, he swam like an unswerving arrow whose aim was true. He fancied that he only wanted to be away...away from Bryrrah, away from this sinking feeling of being lost and rootless. But in his heart, he knew his destination. Where else? Where had he ever gone when his spirit was troubled?
"Mother? Mother, we must speak! I have...questions..."
When she stepped into the receiving room of her private chambers, the Princess Fen was as pale and drawn as he'd ever seen her. Her eyes glistened with dread, and her hands wrung themselves in an aimless pattern of nervous discord. She could not seem to meet his eyes.
"Yes, my son," she whispered in acknowledgment. "We...must speak. It's past time for you to know the truth..."
And just like that, just that simply, he discovered himself and the truth of his origins. At first he refused to believe, clinging stubbornly to the world as he wished it to be. It wasn't until she lead him to the Cave of Shadows, that cursed place shrouded in ancient mystery and dread, that he truly believed.
"Lori and I hid this here, because no one ever ventures inside. This place is taboo."
His eyes widened at his first sight of the compact, alien craft. Blackened and twisted by its entry into the Earth's atmosphere and the force of its crash landing on the seabottom, the vehicle was still plainly not of Atlantis. Atlantean technology never created that gleaming, egg shaped matrix carefully cradled in the grip of metals unknown on Earth, he sensed. Namor-El remained silent in the face of his mother's soft voiced explanation. Almost dizzy with the enormity of it all, the pale skinned boy heard only snatches of the narrative.
"...found you inside...swore Lori to secrecy on her oath as my handmaiden..."
"...returned from my official period of mourning for my husband Leonard McKensie with you in my arms. Told the world you were my son...and so you are..."
So! He was not a Prince of the Blood Royal, after all. Bryrrah was right all along. He wasn't even an Atlantean. Shame suffused him.
In despair, he cried out. "Then...who am I?" he demanded. "What am I?"
Like the keenest of knife blades, the stricken look that descended like a shroud upon Fen's lovely, delicate features tore sharply into the flesh of his heart. When she burst into tears, he swam to her side and embraced her. Not once in all her travails (nor his) had he ever seen his mother weep. Always she had been strong. Strong enough for the both of them when necessary. More than once he had seen her face her Imperial Father's fury, brave and unflinching. With steady, unblinking eyes, she'd stared at her death at the hands of Attuma, Lord of the Lower Depths...scorned and fought off the advances of her half brother, the self styled sea marauder Ocean Master, with fire in her dark eyes. To see her brought to such a pass...and to know that *he* was the cause...
"You are my son, Namor-El," she choked through her flowing tears, resting her head upon his broad shoulder, "as surely as if you were born of my body. You are as I have always named you: the son of my heart. My gift from the gods...is that not enough for you? You are the son I should have had. No mother ever loved a child more. Oh, Father Poseidon pity me, I should have told you the truth long ago. But I had not the courage. C-Can you ever forgive me?"
He held her tightly. "Yours was the face I saw above my cradle," he whispered soothing words, stroking her silky auburn hair. "Yours was the voice of love that guided and sustained me." He swallowed hard, his throat working soundlessly. "Forgive you? What need have you of forgiveness, mother?"
Why did I never suspect, he wondered in silence as he dried his mother's tears? My very name is foreign, not of Atlantis. Namor, yes. But Namor-El? Whence came the El? Did I never wonder? My mother told me it was an ancient name...that it means "Star-Child"...and so I am. So I am...
In time, he grew to accept himself as he was. As the sea gods meant him to be. He could lay no claim to Bryrrah's ancient lineage, but his destiny was clear, nonetheless. If he was meant to rule Atlantis, then so be it. But that was for his grandfather, the Emperor Tha-Korr, to decide. Head bowed, he went to his grandsire and told him the truth. He would not live a lie. His pride forbade it. Blood was telling in Atlantis. Descent was all important in the politics of the undersea Kingdom. But the truth will out, and Namor-El did not flinch.
Tha-Korr's towering rage was already legendary, but the old ruler was strangely calm and quiet when he heard the news, sitting still on his jeweled throne of gold. As if he had long suspected his beloved daughter of the loving deception. They never spoke of it again. The Chief Councilor Vashti stood behind him. Surprisingly, so did the Prime Scientist, the Lord Vulko.
But, even before the fraudulent Prince found his news so surprisingly well received, Namor-El was content. If he could not be Atlantis' King, her ruler, then he could still be her protector.
* * * * *
Like a nightmare from out of the primordial mists of time given all too real flesh, the gigantic saurian monster known as Godzilla opened his cavernous mouth and spat nuclear fire past row after row of needle-like teeth at the city of Tokyo. For a moment, it was as if the sun lowered itself to briefly kiss the earth. The spines along the creature's wet, scaly back shone bright blue with the radiance of it. Dry and brittle, some aged, long abandoned wooden docks at the water's edge sparked red and caught fire. The blazing inferno spread almost immediately to some nearby warehouses, leaping and cavorting like a living thing. Like a destructive child at play.
"Call S.H.I.E.L.D.!" shouted one terrified crewman.
"Call Red Ronin!" advised another, more patriotic, seaman.
"Summon Mothra!" encouraged yet another.
"Hey!" muttered the lone American among the Shinobi-Maru's crew, "the last time he was here, Mechi-Kong kicked his lizard butt good!"
When the mountainous dinosaur opened his toothy maw for yet another fiery blast, the Horn of Proteus again rang out it's eerie, lonely call. With a roar of defiance, Godzilla closed his eyes, and sank angrily beneath the waves once more.
"And there are worse things than he in the cradle of the sea," Namor-El warned softly, his deep voice calm. "And they are all mine to command. They...and the armies of mighty Atlantis herself. Heed my words, surfacemen! A new era dawns for us all. It can be an age of prosperity and plenty for both our peoples...or it can be an era of harsh reprisal and destruction. The decision is yours! Let we of Atlantis teach you of our home, the sea. Together we may both benefit. The sea is vast and rich, her resources untapped. But not even the oceans are inexhaustible. Their wealth must be carefully used, husbanded, her waters and the creatures that dwell within them, respected. Imperious Rex!"
Hiro Fugimoto blinked rapidly. The Fugimoto clan were scions of the sea. For generations, they had served Nippon aboard the decks of her Naval vessels; labored in her Merchant Marine or her fishing fleets. In a flash, he remembered his elder brother Matsuo, brave but gentle Matsuo, lost these ten years when his submarine, the Akagi, sank at sea with all hands aboard.
It occured to him, then, how easily Matsuo and his comrades might have been rescued with the help of water breathing Atlanteans...
And just last week...that Russian submarine...lost with no survivors...one hundred and thirty-seven men...his brothers in the waters of the sea...might they have been saved, as well?
And so many other possibilities! Men living as one with the oceans, enjoying the bounty of the sea, but carefully preserving it at the same time...the rewards would be great.
Hiro bowed deeply. "You speak wisely, O Prince of the sea!" he said, and saw Doctor Namasara smile in answer. "We will consider your words, Namor-El," he promised. "We, ourselves, are not influential men, Highness; we are but humble seamen. But, rest assured, we will pass your words of wisdom on to men who *do* wield influence, great influence."
Supermanta nodded, crossing his arms over his broad chest and frowning. "See that you do," he cautioned. "And do not neglect my warning in the telling of your tale. I say again: peace and prosperity...or war and devastation. The choice is yours, surfaceman. Choose wisely."
With that, the Prince of Atlantis leapt high in the air. In an arc as curved and graceful of as the flight of a bird, he soared, diving headlong into the warm waters of Tokyo Bay. The dive was a thing born of breathtaking beauty and skill; so perfect in its execution that the trim figure of Namor-El left hardly a splash in his wake as he plunged into the sea. Like a lover, the waters of the deep seemed to open her arms to receive her sovereign.
"Ahoy, the ship!"