Ah, still here today? Kailith thought, looking at the quartet of square metal rods that angled solidly from the surface of the gently breaking sea. The sun was bright overhead, and the water was clear enough that you could actually see the rods continue deep into the depths, spreading into a massive, bigger than could be really believed -- actually island sized shadow far in the murky depths below. The real island was just a few leagues behind her, a rolling green bump that stretched to a blackened, smoldering peak. Hinara was only occasionally truly active, but she routinely oozed lava off her northern slopes, slowly extending the size of the isle. The bringer and destroyer of life, aren’t you? She thought kindly.
The volcano was a living goddess, a real power that both gave and took, and they worshipped her as was right. But the thing, the Ancient thing that was the giant, square-cut rods and the massive bulk they led to was some fallen demon, a lost power better sealed beneath the waves. But as Hinara had risen, so had the demon, the rods inching higher and higher each year, as if they were ancient lovers who could not bear to part.
The elders spoke of the birth of the demon, the first time it had risen above the waves. Hinara had been smaller then, the island little more than a league across. The time of their forefathers, the great times eight predecessors to their tribe. So told, the story said that Hinara gave a massive roar and the entire mountain leaped upwards, furiously expelling her rage into the air and sea, almost killing the entire tribe. The survivors had fled on their canoes and rafts into the churning, acid sea and saw their island rising before them, growing as if pushed by the living earth herself.
As they fled, they were greeted by an even more terrible sight -- the four-armed claw of the demon sprouting from the ocean’s skin. As soon as the demon broke the surface, Hinara’s rage quieted, her rumbling fury ceased and though ash fell for nearly a twin, the tribe survived, and the island life rebounded tenfold. At first, the demon’s claws had sprouted some twenty canoes in length from the sea -- the same as was discovered Hinara had grown. Each year, they found their villages farther from the shore, and the Demon higher in the sea. Now, some hundred migrations after it had first appeared, the demon’s grasp stretched over a hundred canoes, longer than the longest whale.
How tall will you grow? She spoke to both, her goddess and the demon. Surely you cannot grow forever. You must stop sometime. She knew her thoughts were prayers at best. The demon and the mountain would rise, and continue rising until Hinara’s endless rage was spent, or the demon truly broke free. For now, the few traders that came to their land saw the demon as an idle curiosity, its secrets locked too deep below the waves to be of any use. But every year it rose. Every year that shadowy mass, so indistinct grew larger, more pronounced. It was still hard to actually see the body of the demon, far below the waves, but once you saw how gigantic it truly was, you could never unsee it. The demon truly was clawing his way from his watery prison. And their goddess was helping it.
Why? Kailith looked down through the clear green waves, watching the creatures of the deep flit through the waters above the demon’s bulk. Why, Lady, must you bring this evil back to us? When the demon finally rose, there would be no denying the onslaught of pirates, looters, buccaneers or whatever treasure-hunting adventurers tried to avoid looking like these days. Explorers had come before, claiming to be interested in the demon, but not for financial gain, but she had seen the glint in their eyes all the same as the others. They told them all the same. ‘The demon lies under so much waves for a reason. Risk its rewards and bring down its wrath.’
Whether or not that was true was a whole other matter for debate. Kailith had little belief in the idea that the demon itself was inherently evil, or that it was a demon at all, but the fact was that without the demon, there would be no interest in their tiny isle. They could remain at peace, free from interference from machismo-laden Guilds, Empires and Republics. Pirates and the lot included as well, but they accepted reality, knew they had no possible manner in which to reach the demon’s true frame. The rest, those governments and their armies and enterprises all thought they could manage some the impossible task, using everything from huge glass balls to strange, fiery tubes that did little more than hasten their wearer’s drowning after they blasted them too deep underwater for them to hope to ever return. Yet still too far from the body of demon to be of any use.
The men from the so-called Explorer’s guild had been the most persistent, using elaborate steam-belching contraptions and unholy relics stolen from other demons to lower themselves down into the darkened depths. They had remained for half a dozen turnings of the twins, extending cables and building thicker shells for their ceramic underwater boats, but in the end, they too had left. But they would return. They all would. Whether it would be with this year’s passing of the trilowhales or a hundred more migrations from now, when the demon’s hulk rose above the waves, the result would be the same. The destruction of her people.
Sink, she prayed to the dark hulk. If you have any mercy left within you, demon, return to the depths from which you came. Forget our goddess. Do not chase her, rising to the sky as she does. Leave us.
There was no answer to her prayers. No hint the demon heard her. From what the Explorers had said, she wasn’t very surprised. They had scoffed at the story of the demon, and told her it was more likely a machine. A machine made by the Ancients, for travelling the stars. She had scoffed back. Now, as she looked at the threatening, ever growing shadow beneath the waves, she wished it was true. She hoped it was, and that when it rose, that would be all it would do. Return to the stars, never to bother them again.
Kailith sighed as she plunged her paddle into the sea, turning her small outrigger canoe back towards not-too distant shore.
I’ll see you tomorrow.