Outside the Castle at Poseidonis.
"This is beyond stupid."
It had started with six score of Poseidonis' ninety thousand citizens. Then, in minutes, that number had doubled, then tripled. Now there were over two hundred, all floating in a mob outside the gate of Orin's castle. And still more were arriving with each passing minute.
"This whole situation is beyond stupid. We're here to try and make sense of it."
The dialogue was between two Atlanteans, towards the front of the crowd. Both dark of hair and slight of build, one small, the other tall and lanky - brothers.
The tall one spoke. "Us being here isn't going to help anything. "
The reply came back fast. "What isn't going to help anything is us sitting on our hands waiting for the world to end! At the very least, us being here forces him to let us know where we stand."
"Have you ever considered that -"
"Shut Up!" Came a voice from the crowd, followed by a chorus of agreement. Apparently, the brother's dispute had been more public than they had realized.
The tall brother paused for a second, and then continued. "Everybody's off their game, including the crown. You need to stop and consider that maybe the reason they haven't told us anything is that they don't know anything. A picket like this is just going to force the King to make quick, uninformed decisions, which experience tells us will not come out well for anyone."
There was silence for a few seconds. Then the reply: "So why are you here, brother?"
The tall one shifted his position, awkwardly in the water before letting go a simple response: "Same reason you are, I'd imagine."
And the there was a lasting silence, as the crowd continued to grow.
Inside Aquaman's Conference Room
"So, what are we going to do?"
"Aren't you my advisor?"
"Liege, please - "
"You're right. I apologize. But all the same, Vulko, I could use a bit of advice."
The three of them - King Orin, his Queen Mera, and the Royal Advisor Vulko - were alone, sitting around a table in one of the castle's smaller conference rooms.
Vulko cleared his throat and spoke. "From where I'm sitting, it's not much of a choice. You have certain obligations as King of Atlantis, and the most basic of those is protecting Atlantis. It's simply a matter of deciding how to turn down the offer with the greatest amount of tact."
Orin's expression changed not a whit with this input, but Mera became suddenly incensed. "You must be kidding me. A king's duty is to safeguard his people. One of the options before us means certain danger to those people, and one of them promises only safety."
Aquaman cut in. "Please don't lecture me on my duty. "
He was ignored. "Actually, as Orin has told us, the Saprans number merely 400. Our people are in practically no danger."
Mera's face flashed in anger, and she shot up from her seat. "And that's what it comes down too? We can kill more efficiently than they can, so anything we do is right? That's not the way Atlantis works, Vulko! We are invaders here! Our -"
Vulko got up and began yelling as well. "We are discussing war! Authority, moral or otherwise, comes with power, and that's exactly how it works, how it has always worked! Our King's Justice League works on that same principle, and it is universal among -"
He in his turn was cut off by Aquaman himself, the only one still sitting. He spoke softly, but his voice nevertheless rang louder than either of the other two. "Sit. Both of you. We need to reach a decision here, not discuss political philosophy."
They sat. There was silence.
Then, they noticed an Atlantean soldier. Young. Uncertain. Who could say how long he'd stood at the room's entrance, unnoticed? "King Orin?"
Aquaman leaned forward. "Yes?"
"Liege… we felt you should be informed. The citizens are unhappy."
Aquaman's continued to lean on his elbows, his expression unchanged.
The soldier continued. "They've… formed a mob. They're outside the palace now."
Orin finally gave up on stoicism. He let his head drop, and he spoke again without picking it up. "How big?"
Sapra's Surface. By Water's edge.
A Sapran funeral is a powerful thing. It lacks any real order, of course, but, given the attitudes of the Sapran populace, that's to be expected.
Instead of organized readings and eulogies, those who know the deceased simply gather together with the remains and do whatever they feel they should. Invariably, some end up speaking, to themselves if necessary. Some cry. Some laugh. And they leave when, and exactly, when, they feel it to be appropriate. A Sapran funeral can go on for days.
There was one going on when the Sapran emissary, Primus, emerged from Sapra's only body of water.
Primus found only brown-skinned Sonar waiting for him, and the two spoke quietly as they moved towards the funeral.
Rain poured down on both gatherings, as it had for decades.
When the pair appeared on the ceremony's edges, they found most of Sapra present. The deceased, Streak, had been well traveled and well liked. Nearly all attention was focused on a pair in the center of it all, by Streak's remains.
A female, Streak's mother, Kara, knelt down by her son, weeping openly. She was a beautiful creature, her skin a light shade of green, her hair a patch of small vines pouring from her scalp to her lower back. Her eye sockets were empty, except for a network of bristles through which she perceived the world.
A comforting hand rested on her shoulder. It belonged to Streak's father, Boron. Boron was a massive thing, with a dark grey body, a body of solid rock. He stood tall, and allowed the rain to wash over his face, perhaps to hide his own tears.
Boron was a sharp contrast to the slight, fragile Radar, a much lighter shade of grey, who stood on the other side of the remains, paying silent respects. He was given a wide berth. He was on the ground and away from his vigil over all Sapra for the first time in years, and people were perhaps uncertain of how to react to him.
Primus and Sonar cut slowly through the crowd, until they were noticed by Boron. A deep, loud voice echoed forth. "What of the newcomers?"
Primus was slow to respond. "I have let them know that their presence here is acceptable if they live as we do."
Boron nodded, slowly, deliberately. His wife continued to weep uncontrollably beneath him. "My other demand? Will they offer up the one who killed my son?"
Primus frowned for but a second, and then returned to a neutral expression. His tail began to dart back and forth nervously behind him. "I did not make such a demand."
Boron's heavy eyelids opened wider, and a few more among the crowd were visibly surprised.
Primus continued, quickly. "This man in question is their King. Such a demand would have brought war to Sapra. None of us would have that."
Boron's expression was cold. "You have no right to alter the demands of the people."
Primus face of flesh and fur managed to match that coldness. "You have no authority to make demands for the people."
"I demand justice. I will go now to see justice done. The people will follow."
With that, Boron stormed off towards the water and the Atlanteans. Perhaps twenty went with him. Not nearly enough to accomplish anything. But enough to do irreparable harm.
No one moved to stop them. How could anyone? Sapra was a world of anarchy.
After the departure, Radar took to the air, silently.
All were silent. Shining in the rain, Streak's remains looked positively beautiful. His mother knelt beside them still, her weeping increasingly violent. The choking sobs provided a haunting background noise to the occasion.
Primus sat down beside her, gently wrapping his arms around her, and clutched her head to his breast, giving what meager comfort he could. Few took notice as his own tears began to fall into the vines of her hair.
Outside Orin's Palace.
Atlanteans, it seemed, had little skill at civil disobedience.
The group outside the government building, which had peaked at around 450 members, had completely neglected to make their presence felt in any way. They had simply floated aimlessly outside the palace gates, conversing among themselves quietly, if at all.
Nevertheless, their presence was being felt. The guard at the palace gates had doubled, and all of these new guards had weapons drawn and were clearly alert, fidgeting nervously. The two groups stared at each other nervously, each side hoping for some kind of royal proclamation to end the standoff.
That was, however, not to be what ultimately changed the situation.
That distinction would go to a group of twenty natives, appearing on the edges of visibility unexpectedly.
Both groups of Atlanteans mobilized. Four guards immediately shot up into the water, two of them holding on to their weapons, two of them pumping with both hands for maximum speeds.
Uncertain at first, but then confidently, most of the crowd followed behind them.
The guards, of course, got there first, and positioned themselves in between the new-comers and the crowd.
Boron, swimming ahead of the others, halted his motion, except for the pumping of mighty arms to keep his heavy form aloft, and the rest of the contingent of natives formed behind him.
One of the guards spoke in a neutral tone. "What is your purpose here?"
Boron miraculously understood, and as his speech came out through his breathing apparatus, it was understandable as well. "Take us to your King."
The guard was clearly nervous. "We cannot do that, sir, but if you'll inform us of your grievance perhaps we can help you in another way…"
"Your King killed my son. I will have justice."
Immediately the two guards who had held on to their spears crossed them in the path of the stone-skinned native.
"We will not allow you to go any further. Please return home."
There was a second of silence, and then the stone-man reached out with two enormous arms and grabbed either spear, flinging both weapons, along with their wielders, into the distance.
That was all the crowd of Atlanteans needed to see. Almost as one, they piled on the newcomers.
The natives fought with anger, but they were hopelessly outnumbered, and what injuries they were able to inflict only served to incense the crowd more.
Within a minute the Natives were cut off from one another, surrounded, and rendered helpless.
The remaining Atlantean guards were able to break up the foray after a time, but by that time all of the breathing devices had been irreparably damaged, and many of the less-durable natives had been beaten to death before having a chance to drown. Twenty natives had become twenty fatalities.
Twenty casualties of war.
As the guards ran to carry the news through the palace, makeshift demagogues were already riling up the crowd to further violence.
"We will not stand for this!" came one loud voice.
There was a roar of approval.
"How many of you have moisturizing suits!?"
From the sound that followed, at least half of them had at one point belonged too the Atlantean army or reserve.
"Then gather them, brothers and sisters! And to the surface!"
That met with the loudest roar of approval of all.
"To the surface! To the surface!"
The chant continued as the crowd dispersed, and prepared to make war.
The Conference Room.
"What do they want?"
"As near as we can figure, my King, they're waiting for you to issue some sort of proclamation."
Aquaman raised his head and turned to his advisor, Vulko. "Perfect. What do I say?"
Any forthcoming answer was cut off as a second soldier, the guard captain ran into the room. "Liege! We have a situation…"
"I'm afraid so. A contingent of Atlanteans are as we speak making towards the planet's surface."
That was enough to get Aquaman out of his seat. "What? Why?"
"Sir, roughly 5 minutes ago a smaller contingent of twenty natives arrived at our borders."
Aquaman's eyes went wide. "Why in the name of hell was I not told?"
"We were more concerned with staying between the natives and the mob, sir."
Orin nodded. "Of course. Captain, what happened?"
"The details are hazy, my king. But aggressive action was taken against some of my guardsmen, and the mob went out of control. The twenty natives are all dead."
Orin suddenly took two quick steps back. He leaned against a wall, took a deep breath, and then snapped back to alert. "Captain, I want every soldier who can be ready to go topside in 5 minutes under my direct command. I'm going to try to stop this before it starts, but if I have to surface, I want an army with me. Understood?"
The Captain saluted, as did the soldier, and the two of them exited the room.
With that, Aquaman began to swim at full speed towards the palace's top-most exit.
The funeral had gone on as planned after the departure. Kara had finally gone silent, but Primus rocked her still, back and forth, not thinking about what might be going on in the water, less than a mile away.
Sonar stood silently beside the pair on all fours, his tendrils as ever probing the space beneath Sapra's surface.
And then Sonar raised his brown head suddenly, and the whirring noise of his tendrils re-positioning themselves became audible. "Trouble."
Primus was suddenly alert. "What can you tell?"
"Only that many things are hitting the ground with violence. Two hundred yards west."
Primus let Kara go, rose gently to his feet, and let loose a deep sigh. "Let us go, then."
They walked. Soon, a pitched battle became visible. A brawl. A large number of the aliens were fighting a smaller, but growing number of Saprans.
The uniqueness of each Sapran, of course, made for a unique battle.
The field was strewn with creatures of various shapes and sizes - At one spot a serpentine creature was tied in a knot around an Atlantean, at another a particularly large Atlantean was batting away the claws of a four armed Sapran.
The only constant was blood.
Primus knelt quickly and beat his palms against the ground, and ape-like gesture of unrest. "War unfolds before us!"
Sonar was sullen, serious. Then, he spoke. "You could stop it."
Primus almost laughed. "My friend, I am old. And in my prime, I was not one for battle."
Primus did another quick kneel and looked as if he was going to continue. But then he gave another, deeper sigh, and then stood to a full height, straightened a back all had assumed was naturally hunched, and struck a very un-monkey-like pose. When he spoke, it was with a strange accent:
"I suppose it's good to know one of you figured it out, at least, before the end. Which is what this is, make no mistake about it. But as long as we're not telling lies, Sonar, you could end this too."
"There are reasons."
The battle continues, unabated.
Less than fifty yards away from them, the snake creature finally completes its grip, and calmly snaps the neck of its opponent. Without a second thought, it slithers to re-join the fray, leaving the body on the ground.
Primus, or the creature that calls itself Primus, lets out another laugh. Longer, deeper, more tragic. "The utopia I've built crumbles around us. And we have reasons."
Sonar does not respond.
The battle continues, growing more brutal with each passing second. Blood continues to spill, and Primus continues to laugh, deeply, darkly, and begins to cry a little. Sonar is still and silent.
And then the world stops crumbling.
Soldiers begin to pour out of the pit of water, and endless stream of them. At their head, a King, every bit of the leonine authority Primus remembered brought to bear as he sailed through the air, a spear in his left hand, a harpoon on his right wrist.
He flew to the center of the battlefield, and issued a royal proclamation.
"I am Orin, King of Atlantis. By my authority, this ends."