The Return

Posted on July 26, 2010

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This story is Part 10 of the series Fire and Water. It follows Shifting Allegiances. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

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There was a strange current in the deep. For weeks now, the waters had been restless, and the creatures living in them were nervous. Small fish schooled in tight knots, and dolphins chittered their unease ceaselessly. Even the whales kept close to each other and fed only rarely. At the surface, the seals kept close to the shore, watching the waves silently, waiting.

Aubele, Queen of the Deep, felt the disturbance in her bones. Her city, Lulirnyn, shuddered around her, and the people were preoccupied.

Something was happening, something she had not expected to see again.

She left the city at night, alone, to investigate this strangeness. She swam down to the sea floor, where cephalopods lit her way in the darkness with light from their own bodies. They accompanied her to the long trench that split the sandy ground in the deepest part of the sea. It was a trough so deep that even she could not tell where it ended.

Aubele floated at the eastern lip of the vent gazing down into its blackness. The cephalopods gathered around her, glowing like moonlight.

This is where it had happened the first time, ten thousand years ago. Then, it had been a thing of wonder. She had been as amazed as the rest of her people. Even now, she could remember the delight on the faces of her friends, and especially Zaghran.

This is where the Old Ones had entered the world of Vael.

The passage had been difficult for them, and they arrived exhausted and battered. Zaghran found them first. He brought them to Lulirnyn, which was still above the waters in those days, to rest and heal. It was only after they regained their strength that the Old Ones began to tell their tale.

They called themselves the Nurain, and they were eager to learn all they could of Vael. Aubele remembered how curious her own people had been about these visitors, how much they had wanted to help them.

And that was how it began. As time passed, the people of Vael accepted the Nurain as their own.

The current shifted again slightly. The water was cold against Aubele’s body, and as it moved, it grew colder. She sensed a column of whirling water rise out of the vent. It dissipated as it headed toward the distant surface.

Once her people accepted them, the Nurain said their world was dying. They needed help to save it. You are so full of magic, they said. Teach us how to do what you do, how to live as you live, they said. We will take this knowledge home and renew our world. And the people of Vael gladly taught the Nurain their ways.

When the Nurain had been in Vael five thousand years, when they had learned the magic of Vael, they came back to this deep vent and opened a road to their world again. They were strong enough now to hold the road open and to travel between the worlds at will. They brought news of their world regenerating, thanks to the help of Vael. In time, they said, they would be able to live in their home again.

The people of Vael were overjoyed with the success of the Nurain, all except for Zaghran. He began to accuse the Nurain of stealing Vael’s magic. He said they were siphoning it off, feeding on it. He warned that the Nurain would bleed them dry, but he could never prove his accusations. Even his closest friend, the dragon Griel, was bewildered by his attack on the Nurain’s honor. Aubele remembered thinking Zaghran must have gone a little mad.

Aubele swam to a depression in the sea floor not far from the vent, the cephalopods following to light her way. This was where she and Griel had imprisoned Zaghran three thousand years ago, out of respect for the Nurain. Griel had led him here, and Aubele had bound him lightly to this spot. But it was the Nurain who put the true shackles upon him: a ban upon his magic, taking away his essence, his power to change his form or that of anything else.

Aubele remembered Griel’s and her own shock at seeing how strong the Nurain had become.

After the Nurain went home, after Zaghran was bound, Aubele began to see vague hints of what Zaghran had been telling them. Death came more often to most creatures, and lives were shorter. Even those beings who were immortal, who had lived inVael since its very beginning, started to fade away, and some died.

The magic that shimmered in everything began to slip away. It was a slow process, almost undetectable. But Aubele saw it, and so did Griel. They watched as entire generations of people were born who remembered less and less of the old magic. They spoke of the Nurain as gods, but that idea faded, too.

Yet in a few places, in some creatures, the old magic survived.

Aubele and Griel finally realized Zaghran was telling them the truth about the Nurain. At last, when Griel felt the end of his life drawing near, he came and set Zaghran free. Aubele understood. They would need him soon to help set Vael right again.

The road between the worlds had remained open all this time, though Aubele had felt it weakening in the last few years.She was certain the Nurain knew Zaghran was free.

The current fluttered again. Aubele turned toward the vent, feeling the flutter strengthen into ripples and swells. The sea bed shook. The cephalopods scattered.

A glowing silver sphere, almost as wide as the vent itself, rose from it and shot toward the surface. Aubele rode its wake up into the middle depths and headed for Lulirnyn. She thought of Findol, whom she had sent to join Zaghran: they would need him soon, too. Zaghran would need him.

The Nurain, the Old Ones, had returned to Vael, and they would be looking for Zaghran.

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