First Defense

Posted on September 13, 2010

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This story is Part 21 of the series Fire and Water. It follows Awakening. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

Aubele swam down to the long vent in the sea bed again. She made the journey every day now since she had felt the stirring of the old magic. It was far away and faint, but it was there, and it was growing. The voices of a branch of her descendants, many of them only a bare whisper, had brushed her ear, not once, but twice now. It was a good omen, and she knew what it was: Findol had woken the heirloom stone of the seals. That meant he was, with Zaghran’s help, learning the old, deep magic of Vael.

So she watched the vent. If the magic was stirring, it meant the Nurain would sense that current, too. They would come through the door they had made here, and she must do whatever she could to stop them. But now she did not come alone.

A group of the Lulir, her people who lived in Lulirnyn, accompanied her on these watches. Among them was her youngest daughter, Shaila Pearl. After the first Nurain ship had come through the vent, Shaila had forbidden Aubele to return here alone. She had gathered twelve Lulir, herself among them, to act as Aubele’s guard, and together they came down to the depths.

Their silver bodies glinted as they left the diffuse rays of sunlight yearning after them. Down in the darkest water, the cephalopods met them as they always did, lighting their way with their own bodies. They waited beside the vent, studying the strange vibration emanating from it.

“It’s different since we were last here,” Shaila said. “It’s maddening. What is it?”

“It is something to do with sound,” Aubele said. “I cannot say how they do it, but it seems they are attempting to drown our magic with this noise. This is what it must be, since this… vibration only started after our relatives began to speak again.”

Shaila nodded, her silver eyes shining.

“How do we stop it?” she said.

Aubele swam a little closer to the vent and peered into its black depth.

She turned back to them, but before she could answer, they felt a disturbance in the water above them and looked up. A large mass was plummeting directly toward them. They all tensed for a moment until they realized it was Yryn.

“I bring news from Findol Grey and Zaghran,” she said.

“Tell us,” Aubele said, and they gathered around the dragon. Yryn told them how Findol and his friends had released Griel from the scale, and how they had resisted capture by the Nurain ship by allowing the sound of Vael’s own magic flow to through them.

“Of course,” Aubele said, and smiled at Yryn. “The Nurain’s false pattern cannot hold if we remember our own magic. And the oldest memory of our magic lives in our waters, right here, in us and all around us.”

“Perhaps, if we can summon the flow of our old magic, we can seal the vent,” Shaila suggested. “We might prevent them from entering here.”

“The vent is deep,” Yryn said. “We do not know where or if it ends, or what its furthest point is made of. Sulinor is not yet free, and we require her power to create on such a scale.”

“Wait,” Aubele said. “Sound does not work in the waters as it does Above.” She swam closer to the strange vibration, and reached out to touch it. She drew her hand back sharply. Shaila pulled her away.

“They have attempted to match this… disturbance to the way we speak to each other in the Deep,” Aubele went on, rubbing her hand. “We only need to overwhelm this pattern with our own natural one, as Zaghran and Findol managed to do.”

“Only,” Shaila said. “It will take all our strength, Mother.”

“I will arrange that,” Aubele said, smiling.

She floated a little apart from them and closed her eyes. Her body began to glow, just as the cephalopods did, and the water shimmered around her. She uttered a strange, high-pitched note that her companions could barely hear, but which thrummed their ears like drums. She held the note for an impossibly long time.

“I’ve never seen her do this,” Shaila whispered to Yryn, covering her ears.

“I have only heard tell of the Summoning,” the dragon agreed.

The current throbbed with Aubele’s call, carrying it throughout the sea. Presently the answer came. The chirps of dolphins, the deep calls of whales, even the barking of seals and the cries of gulls at the surface rode down the current to join Aubele’s call. The Lulir with them began singing, and also in Lulirnyn in the middle depths. Shaila raised her voice to join the song, and Yryn trumpeted, her voice a deeper tone in the water than it was above in the air.

And then another strain of music rose up from the sea floor, bloomed from the water itself, to join the Summoning. Even the cephalopods, who were silent creatures, fluttered their fins, drumming the water to join this new note. Aubele opened her eyes and saw Shaila and Yryn gazing at her in wonder as they heard the entire sea whisper: We are remembering.

“Zaghran! Ah, Findol!” Aubele breathed, and grinned. She began to gather the music, that which she had called herself, and that which her friends were waking up far away. She wove the two notes together and cast the combined song back to the current like a net. It spread the length of the vent and pushed at the Nurain vibration.

“A shield!” shouted Shaila. “Mother, you’ve created a shield!”

But Aubele frowned. She felt a metallic surge of energy rise from the vent. She turned to Shaila, the Lulir, and Yryn.

“Zaghran and Findol are waking up the memory of the old magic in everything,” she told them. “But the Nurain are already coming. Yryn, we will strengthen the shield here and send it through all the waters of the world. You must carry the shield’s edge up to the surface, to Jal. He can then cast it like a net on the winds. It will give our magic a little time to awake fully. Go now, Yryn. They are coming.”

Yryn spread her wings, and the shield settled on them in a glistening film. She shot up through the water and was quickly out of sight.

Aubele, Shaila, and the Lulir joined hands, and the cephalopods fluttered around them. The song poured through them all. The shield billowed out like moonlit fog until it filled the sea, and reached inland toward the sweet waters of lakes and rivers and springs.

The Nurain spheres erupted out of the vent. A few of them bounced off the shield and spun dizzily for a moment, but they adjusted course to stay within the narrowing stream of their own vibration. The rest, and they were many, adapted to the new course and avoided the shield.

Aubele and her companions watched grimly until the last sphere had risen out of sight. Then they released their hold on the shield, for it was a living thing now, contained in every drop of water throughout Vael.

“So many,” Shaila said. “What do they want, Mother?”

“They want to devour this world,” Aubele said. “Let’s hope we have given Zaghran and Findol enough time to free Sulinor. We’ll need her, and she’ll need the entire world, to stop the Nurain.”

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