#23 - Wide Open Seas
Location: at our desk
Music: Unnamed Japanese flute music?
*comical gasp, looking around wildly at the system* Do we? Do we, the system of three fish, a plant, and a waterfall-dwelling lizard have a connection to the water? I can't lie, but an honest 'no' costs me nothing. I can't tell you that we don't, in fact, have a connection to water.
So let me tell you a story about a secret journey my brother and I took, once upon a time. I would have loved to take our sister, too. Maybe when this body lets me deck it in scales the moment I'm below the waves. Sometimes, hope is all you have.
Oh, and the jellyfish.
South and I were both new to our powers, and we shouldn't have been, and we were. I'd been dealing with being a shapeshifting fish with no understanding for two years, and with truths I couldn't make myself accept for another three. Enough that I understood how to be a fish in theory, and never quite believed it in practice.
He, on the other hand, had known about his own powers for four years and had told no one, had refused to let anyone take it away from him just by knowing about it. Everyone expected him to be one thing, and he was nothing like that, and he kept his actual personality and powers to himself. It meant that when we dove below the waves together, we didn't speak of anything we saw when we broke the tides again. We didn't say a word about the sea. It was too risky and too fantastical, even for Saints.
It turns out, ancient magic sometimes relies on not knowing. The gods like breaking their toys, and they want those toys to start off innocent. They also need to protect what's theirs. And the forges are almost as close to their power as their thrones on Olympus. The forges are what let them reach past demigods to mortals, for more than just seducing them. The forges are what chain the stars to earth. Thus, no one can find the forges.
It's more than my life - endless and eternal, now, until something kills me - has ever been worth to tell you where the forges of Hades and Persephone are. I know where they are, I've been there, once upon a time. The forges of Athena are, according to legend, lost since the Continent of Mu released itself from the earth and flew away on the heavenly winds. (That's a lie, by the way, the legends aren't true. They just said that to avoid admitting their own betrayals.)
But the forges of Poseidon aren't hard to find. You just need the right things to be able to follow the path, and since no one can get those things, they stay secure. It's not so simple as 'find the secret key'. They're accessible only at certain times of the year, when the tidal pathways turn in their direction. And there are wards against intruders.
We didn't know where we were going. We just knew that Grand Master Sage had to leave the garrison on our own for a while, and I said I'd take South out for some training in a nice place I knew, and we wouldn't be back for a few days. Altar Hakurei let us leave, because he didn't see any harm in it, because he had no idea what we were. I don't think Sage ever explained how Spectres actually work to him. I will never be in Sage's debt, but I'm glad he didn't.
Either way, we dropped below the Pisces Temple on a pulley of roses to a cove no one knows about, because it's not the most accessible place. The only other person in our garrison who knew about it was Capricorn Elcid, and that's because he could climb a flat ninety-degree cliff with ease, and he dislikes company. He wasn't there that day, so we went down to the cove and the small dock I'd built years prior, and we hit the water with a speed that Silver Saints can only dream of attaining.
Suffice to say, if our poison didn't kill the fish around us, the shockwave from touching the sound barrier probably would have. But we were in the water and clad in scale and fin and poison, and if we left out Cloths behind, well. His didn't exactly like the water, and mine hated me enough to slow me down anyway. We dove a half-kilometre down past the shelf of the bay to a cave we'd punched into being. Treasure chests are great, if you scavenge them, and no one that wasn't a Marina at the time could dive that far down. The Marinas wouldn't have touched our belongings, not when they looked like the meagre hoard of a local pod of fishfolk. But we'd stored waterproofed leather armour there, and harpoons, and a pair of weighted nets in case we needed to snare a kill.
We didn't go down to train our battle reflexes, at that time there was very little that would actually try for a fight with us, we were well known ever since we came back from a journey out to Portugal and came back with a semi-large pod of lionfish. Where the striped fishfolk go, the other warring merfolk clans steer clear. They know we don't want a fight, and they're not stupid enough to ask for one.
But we'd heard of a rumour through the deeps that if you want the secret to immortality, you just have to follow the immortal jellyfish to their breeding grounds in the Ionian Sea. I knew on a theoretical level that we were already immortal, he knew it down to his bones - we don't die unless something kills us. But it's simple: would anyone have argued with us for wanting to at least check it out?
So we dove deep until we hit the cold exhale of the Aegean, and we found the right currents. Maybe it took getting directions from a local representative of the Whaleblood pod, but we did find our way eventually, our presence easily disguised alongside some larger jellyfish of the deeps. Their poisons didn't bother us, and our clothes of leather and kelp made us look not unlike them from the outside of the cloud.
Scientifically speaking, as my Jesse has told me many times, there is no such thing as a fish. When I say 'fish', I mean 'thing that is an animal that isn't a jellyfish, furred, or bug that exists primarily in the waters'. Dolphins aren't fish, but they do speak a dialect thereof. Fish is the name of a type of creature as much as it is the name of a language, as broad in tongue as how Latin became the many Romance languages.
That being said, the dialect of jellyfish spoken by the men-o'-war we were surrounded by was quite thick to the gills. They don't normally exist in the deeps, allowing the wind to sail them across the surface. But for such a large event as this, they were down almost three kilometres deep with the rest of us, ignoring the fishfolk that picked off some of the sardines on the outside of the great journeying school.
It took us most of a day to reach the part of the Ionian that would allow us access to a pocket-realm largely untouched by man. Atlantis is a city, and it is a Greek city, and thus, must be counted as a city-state. Because it is a pocket-realm, it is also a kingdom all of its own, and kingdoms have wildernesses and forests and farming fields. Even in the deeps, it is no different.
So long as we did not know that where we were going was called 'Atlantis' in the human languages, we passed through as fish. Merfolk do not speak human languages among themselves, and fishfolk don't know them at all. I felt the wards allow us passage like a sudden strong breeze, the popping of a large soap bubble, and the sudden warmth of the water. No light pierces three kilometres down in a normal sea, but in the Atlantean waters, such a thing as sealight exists. No matter how high you go, no matter how low the pressure, you'll never break the surface of the water. You'll just be transported outside the wards, three kilometres down in the Ionian.
We didn't go near the city. We never needed to. The men-o'-war lead us through a crack in a cliff to a drowned paradise. I have never seen a bivalve so large alive, and that's because such things went extinct millennia ago, if not tens of millennia. This one was dead, but its shell was open still, propped up with pillars of salt crystals and allowed to crystallize into a great abalone-and-coral geode the likes of which I cannot describe. The sealight shone rainbow where it might have shone teal otherwise, and in the hollowed-out remains of the pearl was the breeding grounds of the immortal jellyfish. This was a place that had been used for aeons. Great clusters of coral and crystal spikes the size of ships lined the remains of the bivalve and the whole cave was filled to the brim with fish and fishfolk and merfolk and the odd Marina.
We were there for a day, snacking on fresh Atlantean catches and playing games with merfolk from all around the world, having sailed in from other pocket-realms of the ocean, protected spaces that none can find without the necessary magic.
It was on the second day of the festival - and it was a festival - that we went to explore Atlantis, and found our way to the forges. I'd spoken to one of the immortal jellyfish, an aged one who didn't feel like breeding this year but despite their small stature and their evident age of 'very young', they were old enough to remember when bivalves like the breeding grounds were alive and still holding the tides to the seafloor. They were older than the gods, and they remembered, and they told us where to go.
They didn't tell us what we'd find, but South said "Let's go," and I agreed, because I always allowed him the lead, and all we'd been told is that we might find something of interest. So we followed the road the jellyfish told us to follow, made a couple wrong turns (one of which almost lead us to the source of the forges' fire, quite the volcano, I don't recommend diving into one), but we slipped through the correct crack in the cliff eventually and found ourselves in one of the Marinas' greatest secrets.
Forges are pretty standard once you've seen one or two, but they always come personalized to the smiths that use them. Shion's is very sparse but each tool is over a thousand years old, repaired whenever necessary, and one of every three closets is just a cabinet full of jars of blood. The forges of Jamir - what's left of them, anyway - are about the same, but they're deeper within the mountains, and double as a hospital and military fortress. The forges of the Spectres are a work of art and a workshop at the same time, each desk far enough apart to allow a wheelchair or a centaur through, lit almost exclusively by stained glass, witchlight, and the glow of metal.
When we drew up from the entry pool into Poseidon's forges, we didn't realize we were in the ancestral forges that had been used to make their Scales. Yes, there are forges to repair the celestial armour we all use, but there's a difference between the forges used to repair them in modern day and the ones used four thousand years ago to craft them. This was the latter, and one wall was behind glass, lined with books on tactics and blueprints and all the knowledge one would need to craft the armour that chains stars to earth.
We were in there for about an hour before we realized we really, really needed to leave. In part because we wanted to get lunch and continue exploring the festival, and in part because this was not a place meant for dark creatures chained to the bloody light such as us. This was a sanctum for those that liked the sealight, and we are creatures of the twilight and midnight zones. That, and we were getting puddles on the floor, and someone was bound to notice our passage.
We went back to the festival, were able to grab bowls of chowder made primarily inside a great beluga for dinner, and attended a musical about one of the great oracles of the deep and her quest to find the last star corals, before they disappeared forever. There is something very haunting about hearing four hundred voices from most every species you can name in the deeps, echoed across the skeleton of an ancient oyster, muffled by the currents of the cave and ringing through your bones.
It was glorious. We set sail for Sanctuary on the third day, after breakfast. We couldn't have stayed for the entire festival - once a century, for two weeks - but we did see some of the highlights.
I would love to go again, one day.