UNDERWORLD TO THE SEA - "A song of stars, of silver stars, and one who fell below Into the sea, and came to land, to let her daughter grow. Beneath the sky, beneath the ground, a secret buried deep, She left her girl of silver hair to sing there in her sleep. Far from the stars the mother now shines up in the water, Silver starlight dust to lead a hero to her daughter. Oh! Long the lighted sky has shone unfurled through history, While here beyond the shimmering stars lay secret mystery. O hero fair! The darkness comes, the bleak and joyless Day; The underworld is climbing up, the Virtues fade away. O Avatar! We long have missed your foot upon our shore And in the dimming faith I add my voice to call you forth. But if of you I now do sing, oh will you come to me, Or will my voice be only like starlight upon the sea?" - Prophet Sterre Nota the Seventh, Arch of Oras Colony, let his lower lip protrude to show the youthful lore keeper his disapproval. Monereth felt no fear of Nota. He had been raised to understand the importance of lore keepers by the old ones of Oras. Not the official lore keeper of Oras yet, he must prove himself capable of the job. He ignored Nota's rejection, and drew himself up to his full height, placidly waiting. Arches were expected to display their dominance. Nota's gills quivered when he spoke again, though he was as slow and pointed with his words as ever. "Lore Keeper," he said with disdain, "you forget respect when you give your opinion." Yayneeb the Blue clicked with dryness in a nervous swallow. "Arch Nota, please--" Nota's brow lowered under blackening veins. "You are not to blame, but quiet yourself, Yayneeb." Monereth had waited long enough. "Arch Nota, let us not have a misunderstanding --" "Exactly," Nota interjected, "do not presume that you have arguments I have not considered. I am due more honor than this campaign you've led to discredit the conclusion I and The Six have rationally debated. The disaster is before us, and cannot be stopped. You resorted to name-calling in your speeches, opening The Seven to lose trust with the colony." He pointed a long talon at Monereth angrily. "Shame on you, Lore Keeper." Nota turned and moved to stare up through the water at the cavern above them. His long hands were clenched. "Come here, son. We stand in silver water now, while Breathers live apart in the world above, but black change comes. You're the keeper of history, so let me have my say in it." The lore keeper approached his elder casually. Nota unclenched a hand and let it gesture toward the cavern he'd been staring up at. "We all hear the song in the water. We know the Breathers have started it up again, and that it will bring more Breathers. We don't know that it will bring the Avatar, regardless of what anyone says. You do realize that the light in the water has dwindled greatly?" Everyone knew that was true. In many locations, the glow had faded completely, but even here, where it was brightest, the light of it no longer illuminated the shadows of the cavern ceiling. Spiders now made webs where none had ever been before this dimming. Nota frowned sternly. "The luminous substance, whatever it is, will cease to light our water. The evil from the underworld beneath us will come up in the darkness. We've already seen some of that. The lives of Oras Colony will come to an end; first by madness in the chaos, then by whatever comes to kill us in that chaos. That will be the end of our lore." "Isn't it possible that there are other ways for our people to adapt and survive?" Monereth asked quietly. "You should know better than most what lives in the lower parts." "I do. Yet we lived before the glow came into the water." Yaneeb cleared his throat. "That is true, Sire." Monereth stood his ground. "All of our people should decide whether or not we should prepare for the old ways." The Six were now murmuring to each other. The Seventh looked upon them with obvious exasperation. "Our lore holds the details of how our people lived in the darkness. If I could be permitted to share these details with our people, if we could practice some of these old ways, perhaps visit some of the old locations, what harm is there in trying to survive? I could present the information while still keeping you in a respectful light." Nota scoffed. "Where has the respect been thus far?" "I think I have been fair." Monereth leaned against a tall rock. "In my role as evil's advocate, I presented your side without bias. I didn't lump The Seven in with those of the doom prophets." "We are not in agreement with them," Nota said. "We consulted every possibility, including the Book of the Prophets, to gather information before coming to our conclusions. Facts have been found in their spiritual myths before, and it was also found at this point in history. As always, we see the design without coming to the religious belief that there is a Designer. The doom prophets, as you call them, do not approve of us any more than you and your followers approve of us." "Not all believers in the Book of Prophets are doom prophets. Many of us are optimistic of our survival, with the Designer's help. If we now separate as a people into those who believe we were created, and those who do not, our survival chances are much more bleak." "Bleak is the truth." "What if you are wrong?" "I am not wrong." "If you are wrong, no matter how minuscule the probability, do you suppose the Oras Colony will ever have use for The Seven again? Would any of your facts or wisdom have more respect than the lunatic rantings of the doom prophets?" The Seventh squinted at the lore keeper. "Explain how you expect to help our people learn all of the old ways before the chaos comes." "Many of us have already been secretly learning the old ways, Sire. Some of us have been scouting out the old locations -- we know it is against our laws -- and have found secure places to fortify ourselves. Some of us have been training for the fight against the lower underworld. Let those of us who are prepared help the rest of our people, including The Seven." Yaneeb blurted excitedly, "Sire, perhaps we can return to ancient ways. Even I have learned how to throw a spear with great accuracy." The Six exchanged looks with The Seventh. Nota looked suddenly very weary. The old one nodded slowly, coming to terms with his thought. "I will allow you to do as you like with your lore and your followers. Personally, I believe you shall be wasting your efforts, but so be it. There is no time to be at war with one another in these last days." He turned away from them all to look up again toward the large cavern above the water. Nireesh, one of The Six, spoke into the gloomy conversation. Her beauty, though aged, could still be seen. "We should tell Lore Keeper Monereth about the Shelter. Our colony should know that we also prepared to help them survive as long as possible." The Seventh groaned. "I suppose you want to tell them your other ideas as well? Spill out all of the lunatic plans now, Nireesh, before it is even time to go mad." "Now is the time to allow some freedom, isn't it? Some of us think there are better ways to survive than the old ways." She smiled shyly. "The facts do come out in the Book of Prophets, whether everyone agrees with those writings or not. What if there really is a great sea for us to live in, and a sky full of stars for us to live under, instead of these caverns?" Monereth was energized. "There's a formal Shelter?" Nireesh nodded. "Yes, but what do you think about the rest of what I said?" Nota pursed one side of his mouth. "Yes, are you going to move in with the Breathers above and live happily until the end of time?" The lore keeper laughed. "I wish that were a possibility, Sire." "Monereth," Nireesh nearly whispered, "does the lore teach anything of where the silver-haired girl might be hidden if she did exist?" "No. I guess you know the Book of Prophets says the Avatar will find her if anyone will. That's the only event that is supposed to stop the rise of the dark powers of the underworld, and that depends on whether or not the Avatar can stand against being corrupted. As far as the sea and the stars, I believe it when the Book of Prophets says they exist. Our lore doesn't hold any history except in the caverns, so I have no idea how we might go about making our way to the sea, but I'd be willing to try." "We all are going to be ready to try, I think, when the chaos starts. But if we wait until then--" "Hold on and stay put," Nota said firmly. "That's the best way to ensure that any of us survive, if there is a way. None of history teaches us about seas or stars or passages above. It does tell us what's coming for us. Maybe some of us can hang on until a better time. I believe the rest of it is for fools." Monereth looked around the room. Silently, they looked back at him. He realized they were all deep in thought and hoping for escape. He had no real hope to give them. "Arch Nota," he said, crossing his arms, "you're so certain that we're all going to die, and I'd like to really understand why you believe that. Explain it to me." "How can you ask me this with what we all know?" The lore keeper smiled in a friendly manner. "I'm not arguing. I understand what is supposed to happen. The light leaves the water, the evil comes out of the dark, the danger starts. Why are you certain we will all be defeated by it?" Nota sighed heavily. "The lore that exists about the time before we had luminous water is very sketchy. No one alive, or for that matter for three generations before that, has lived in the blackness that can be found in the lower caverns. We will not function, let alone survive. "Breathing becomes erratic, fear becomes overwhelming, and your eyesight will stop working if you're exposed to it for too many days. No one is immune to the kind of madness that will set in from that. Then you have the wicked creatures from below, and they will come up after us. Those creatures are strong and violent, while we ceased to have that kind of survival spirit long ago." Monereth rubbed his fingers on his arm. "I know you don't believe a star fell into the water to make it glow, but--" "That's a possibility, actually. Stars, if they exist, could fall from the sky, theoretically. Bits of rock fall from our caverns, and they sometimes have gems in them. These stars, whatever they might be, could fall, and one could have dropped the luminous rock into our waters. How a daughter comes into the myth, I have no idea, but it could mean something other than what is generally believed. If whatever 'she' is can be set 'free', by whomever this Avatar is, that might somehow seal the underworld creatures away from us. I don't pretend to know how, you understand." Nota shrugged. "I'll be," Monereth laughed. "You may not be such a heretic as you pretend, Sire. It isn't necessary that you have the same interpretation that others have of the words in the Book of Prophets, Arch Nota. It is only necessary that you believe the words to be true, and that you believe the Designer to be all He says He is." "Nevermind trying to convert him," Nireesh smiled. "Nota doesn't believe in higher powers than the mind, than thought, than nature." "The doom prophets have some interpretations that could help us, if they could be relied upon, but of course they cannot." Nota half-smiled. "What?" Monereth asked incredulously. The Seventh nodded. "Yes, since you spoke of differing interpretations being acceptable. They claim that these waters about us are guided by something called the moon, which is in the sky just as the stars are. There's supposed to be orbits of stars and the moon, or moons, depending on who's interpretation you believe. These seasons that we feel the heat and cold of below, are purportedly driven by the movement in the sky of these bodies in their orbits." Nireesh gasped. "I didn't know you let them tell you all of that. I feel confident that if we could use the measures and charts of some of the flooding and ebbing of our waterways, that we might be able to plot a way out to the sea above. Some of these things in the sky only happen cyclically. You have to wait for them to come again." "I've heard that," the lore keeper said, "but you must realize those sky words were said to other people than us. They were said to Breathers. Breathers make some kind of thing that carries them on top of the water of the sea." "That doesn't mean that we cannot get to the sea. Is there anything in the lore to map the flow of water in our caverns?" Nireesh sounded impatient. "We've got to get the Oras Colony out of here." Monereth turned abruptly to Nota. "I've seen the utter blackness of the caverns without the glow. I've felt the fear you've described. It was crushing, in some way. The thing that kept me from complete panic was the touch of the others with me. Of course, I knew that I could get out of the darkness. We could go back. It was sort of fun, being scared, when you knew you could get out of it, but--" "You will only be able to get close to the fires of the Breathers to get out of it once the water is gone, and the Breathers will probably leave," Nota proposed, "so what would anyone do then?" "If we built our own torches," Nireesh started, "but where would we keep getting more wood?" A crowd of the lower ranks of the Colony came into the underwater cavern, and spotting Nota, approached. They were angry and frightened. They bobbed their heads in respect, then drew nearer in a half-circle. The Seventh acknowledged his people with a returning bob of his head. "Something has happened?" Remil, one of the scouts, spoke. "We've been more cautious on our patrols since the song has been in the water all day, Sire. This causes our patrols to take longer. We've just found that more whole sections of water have lost their light. It is utter blackness in most of the caverns now, just two levels below us." A gasp went up at the news, and murmuring began anew. Remil cleared her throat. "That isn't all, Sire. This caused some of our people to panic. They despaired, Arch Nota. They -- four of our people -- sought out the Breathers to kill them. They said they would die in battle, and not in madness. They did die. They made first attack upon some Breathers, and didn't really put up a fight afterward." Nota glared. "Madness is what killed them, if they went to the Breathers and sacrificed themselves. That is not our way." Standing taller, Remil challenged, "It is not our way to cower and give up when disaster comes upon us either. We need our leaders to lead us, Sire." Arch Nota raised his aging brows, and tilted his head slightly at Remil. "Fair enough. I have heard enough. This is all coming to a finality. I am the leader at this time in our history, whether I will it or not. We are not Breathers, and cannot use fire in water. We cannot suddenly evolve and develop such abilities to glow. Do we even have time to do anything before the underworld comes upon us? These are debates your elders have been having within the Seven. Our answers have not been optimistic, to say the least." The old one sighed heavily. "What options we are left with are to survive as long as we can with shelter and supplies here, or to adventure out in exploration into the unknown. Whether the sea and the stars really exist, we do not know." Remil said, "Some of us know." "How do you 'know', Remil?" Nota asked rhetorically. She stated emphatically with her absolute faith. "I know!" "Yes, I thought so," Nota replied. "I suppose that to those of our people who 'know', for our colony to take up any decision other than the search of this promised sea and stars would be placing our souls in danger for all eternity. I wonder what happens to those who 'know' if we fail to find such a passage to such a place? Never mind answering, Remil. Let us hope that we will all survive to have such debates in the future. Very well. Lore Keeper, gather your resources, and let our scouts and the rest of us gather our supplies and what weapons we may. We will set out for the deeper waters of our caverns. It will be blacker and more dangerous than our worst imaginations. Yet we may find the sea. So let it be."