Nightshade the Merry Widow is a science fiction webcomic created by Ed Kline and Kishma Danielle, rendered in computer graphics by Kline, and co-written by Danielle until she passed away in January 2014. The comic is a successor to Dreamwalk Journal, which ran on its own website from 2005-2007.
Since late 2014 it has been co-written by Lee M. with assistance from Kimber C. and Bob Partridge. It also ran on TheDuck for many years, but ceased updating there in April 2016. Lee M also maintains a Tumblr site . Originally set up to re-run earlier storylines, this has now caught up with the current story.
The comic comprises various stories taking place on the planet Cyeatea which is inhabited by hybrids of humans with various species of insect and spider. Some species prey upon others, but non-lethally, catching them in order to extract nutrients stored in their bodies. This is known as the Great Game. Predator and prey not only enjoy the thrill of the chase, but derive intense erotic pleasure from the process. Because of the Great Game, Cyeatea has never known war, and physical violence is extremely rare.
NSFW for nudity and frequent sexual situations.
Ed Kline is also the creator of The Stormrunners and Storm Over Whoomera.
Due to its low gravity the planet Cyeatea has a very deep atmosphere comprising several "Realms" of differing pressure and composition. In descending order, these are:
The Blue Realm: The highest inhabitable zone, above the forest canopy where the only vegetation comprises 300 immense sentinel trees and the ecosystems their trunks support. Each tree also supports a honeybee hive (or as we would call it, city), constructed on the outer layer of bark like a gall, 70 leagues above the canopy. The hives are welcoming centers of trade, entertainment, culture and gossip for all Cyeateans.
The Emerald (or Green) Realm: The upper forest canopy, a riot of tangled vegetation, supported by giant branches and roots and tethered islands of floatweed held aloft by internal gas bladders.
The Amber Realm: The lower canopy, a region of thickly clustered branches and roots with dimmer, redder light and denser air rich in argon.
The Abyssal Plain: The realm below the canopy, where the air becomes toxic and the pressure and temperature lethal except to a few specially-adapted species of Cyeateans. Also home to leviathan-sized beasts with ravenous appetites and bizarre reproductive practices. A world utterly alien to the denizens of the upper Realms, where few have ever dared venture.
Fly: Two amorous flies find their courtship interrupted when the male is captured by a black widow.
Peppers: A house fly does something unusual for flies - she applies for a job. When she is assigned housekeeping duties for the black widow, she realizes it may be more of a challenge than she thought.
Smile: The black widow Nightshade is one of Cyeatea's oldest and most respected predators, but she is growing tired of life. Her honeybee friend Damiana decides to help, with the aid of the planet's god Lord Bael.
The Beewolves: The construction of a new outpost is interrupted when a group of marauding beewolves captures some of the honeybee construction crew. Nightshade allows herself to be captured as well, while Peppers organizes a ragtag rescue party.
Bahoogie and Beans: When a female fly is captured by an ant tribe, two male flies attempt a rescue mission in the hope that she'll be... grateful. One of the males soon discovers that the ants are holding two much more valuable prisoners, and sets off to get help. This triggers a complex chain of events, culminating in a terrifying journey to the very depths of the planet's atmosphere and a stunning revelation about the origins of Cyeatean society.
Dreamwalk Journal: A re-run of the original Cyeatea story from 2005-7. Two "ooman" women, Danny and Fleur, "dreamwalk" to Cyeatea from 21st century Earth and befriend many of the local inhabitants. In the first part they journey across the vast forests of the Emerald Realm before traveling inside the head of a giant dragonfly to the honeybees' great hive-city, Helianthus. In the second part they meet Leonurus and Dill, queen and chief scientist of Helianthus and explore the vast hive, finally arriving at the Archives. (This omits the final, incomplete chapter.)
The Archives: 2015 follow-up to the previous story, based on original material by Kishma Danielle. Danny and Fleur examine the Archives in the hope of finding clues to the planet's origins.
The Education Center: Partially based on material by Kishma Danielle. Danny and Fleur visit the Education Center to see how honeybee students are taught to deal with being caught. En route their friend Theta the honeybee is captured by a truce-breaking robberfly.
Theta and the Robberfly: The robberfly gloats over her capture of Theta, until Nightshade arrives to punish her for breaking the truce. Later on, despite being prey herself, Peppers helps Nightshade with the robberfly's humiliation.
Story Five: A short series of vignettes detailing some of Danny and Fleur's travels within Helianthus.
The Laceweb (Tumblr only): A sidebar story from the original Dreamwalk Journal site. Theta the honeybee is caught by a pair of spiders, and his mate Damiana can do nothing but watch his futile struggles to escape. However, she finds this more stimulating than distressing!
Dreamwalk Journal Chapter Four (posted on its own spinoff Tumblr blog): The final chapter from Dreamwalk Journal. Oomans Danny and Fleur take a journey from Helianthus Hive to the Emerald Outpost, seeing lots of interesting people and places en route.
The Games we Play: Theta and Damiana's first encounter with the spiders Amianthium and Cleome. What looks like an everyday predator-prey encounter takes an unexpected twist when they encounter something few Cyeateans have ever had to face: evil.
Main Characters Edit
Nightshade: Eponymous female black widow, one of (if not the) most feared and respected predators on Cyeatea. As the title suggests, however, she also has a strong sense of humor. Currently administers the Emerald Outpost with help from Peppers.
Amianthium: Female green orb weaver. An old and highly experienced predator who hunts in partnership with her teenage daughter Cleome. She has a close relationship with the honeybee Theta and frequently catches and feeds on him.
Cleome: Female green orb weaver, daughter of Amianthium. Tends to be somewhat rash and impulsive, but has extremely potent venom, making her prey's experiences highly intense.
Theta: Male honeybee. Mate and foraging partner of Damiana, and trusted assistant to Queen Leonurus. Generally a practical, no-nonsense kind of guy, but that doesn't prevent him being routinely fooled by Amianthium's snares. Not a morning person; he's quite grumpy until he's had his first cup of coffee.
Damiana: Female honeybee, Theta's mate, also an assistant to Leonurus. Generally less easily fooled by traps than her mate, but like most honeybees she will occasionally allow herself to be caught deliberately.
Queen Leonurus: Female honeybee, Queen of Helianthus Hive. A serious, dedicated and responsible leader, but when she's off-duty she likes to let her hair down and have fun. Close friend and lover of Nightshade.
Dill: Female honeybee, Chief Scientist of Helianthus Hive. Somewhat short as honeybees go, with an unconventional "page-boy" style hairdo. She is the only Cyeatean seen wearing eyeglasses. These are actually artificial eyes, her real ones having been lost in a lab accident and cloned replacements having failed to take properly. Dill's focused attitude can make her seem humorless, but don't be fooled.
Peppers: Female common housefly. Assists Nightshade in running the Emerald Outpost. Like most flies she can seem a little dim, but in her case that's mostly just show.
Bahoogie: Male fly. Well-known to Nightshade, who frequently snacks on him. His involvement in attempts to release prisoners held by the Redlip Ants leads indirectly to an important discovery concerning Cyeatea's history. Although he is often regarded as a harmless klutz, he secretly has a relationship with Lord Bael.
Lilith Fosse: Female human, long-deceased mother of Cyeatea. She and her team are believed to have created the planet's population by genetically-engineering human stock into arthropod forms, with the assistance of highly advanced alien races. Lilith's skeleton was found near the great colony ship, deep in the Abyssal Plain where few Cyeateans had ever dared venture.
Danny: Female human (or "ooman") who "dreamwalks" into Cyeatea with her partner Fleur. She and Fleur share a journey of discovery from the Emerald Realm to Helianthus Hive, en route befriending Theta, Amianthium, Cleome, Leonurus and Dill, among others. Leonurus recognizes that Danny has a connection to Damiana, which may be the reason for her arrival. She may also have a connection to Lilith Fosse.
Fleur: Female human, partner of Danny. Tends to be somewhat accident-prone; during her time in the Emerald Realm she was only saved from falling to her death by Cleome's rapid reflexes.
Lord Bael: The god of Cyeatea. Often invoked but seldom seen, Bael usually manifests in the form of a gigantic spider. He is extremely powerful, possibly omniscient, and appears to have a good sense of humor. For the most part, Lord Bael does not intervene in mortal affairs unless mortals are in serious danger. He does not demand worship, but seems content to keep a watchful, benign eye on Cyeatean affairs.