Waft away Realm
The shattered crystal cavern beneath Meridia’s depths
As the last bubbles of air fled up the openings in the crystal cavern’s shattered ceiling, Maanta decided that now would be the time to make his break for the world of Meridia above the crystal cave. More and more lava was now displacing the cool flowing waters about him. The lava blackened and curled in the cool currents.
With adept speed Maanta pushed up from the crystal wall behind him, maneuvering around branches of lava that stretched and split from every direction. He dodged their fingers as they trickled down after him from above.
Soon he swam through the cavern’s ceiling, almost singed by lava oozing out from a split molten vein there. He spun and swam up into a rising tunnel, which had been opened wide by the explosion and the air that had passed through its sides only moments before.
Small stones bobbled down from above as Maanta swam into them, thrusting his arms and legs vigorously in an effort to reach Meridia sooner.
The darkness above stretched on.
Streams of lava trickled down the stone walls about him as he rose.
And then in the distance above he heard a voice, screaming softly. “Help me!”
It was almost as if he was thinking the words, but he knew the noise had been registered in his ears.
Faster and faster Maanta swam until his tunnel opened up into a lit oval cavern. The walls glowed with molten hue.
“Help!” a voice called from nearby.
The cavern’s walls shook about him.
Maanta quickly pivoted in the waters toward the voice. His stomach churned as he saw who had been calling for him. A malnourished, crippled Meridian floated in a locked cell against one side of the room’s oval wall. Several of the Meridian’s fellows hovered in the room about him, their eyes rolled back in their heads in a state of unconsciousness.
“I’ll try to free you,” Maanta spoke to the man. “But you have to try and wake the others up while I do so, so that they can swim to freedom by our side.”
The crippled man jostled his companions as Maanta tried to think of a way to free them from their cell.
He shook the locked cell’s door vigorously. And then in the corner of his eye on the roof of the room he spotted a key dangling from an outstretched hook. Maanta breathed a watery sigh of relief while swimming to the key and clutching it in his fist.
It fit perfectly in the keyhole and Maanta swung the cage door open.
Eight Meridian men and women bumbled free from its opening. They hovered about Maanta, awaiting his direction.
The man who had called for help had successfully brought all but one of the Meridians back to consciousness. This left that one unconscious man floating limply in the cage.
These people barely have any strength remaining in their bodies, Maanta thought. I can’t ask them to carry their companion through the tunnel above to Meridia. But we can’t leave him here either. Maanta pivoted swiftly into the cell and positioned the unconscious man over his shoulder before returning to the others in the center of the glowing room.
“Thank you for freeing us,” the one who had called for help spoke to Maanta. “Vast plumes of air blew through the tunnel frightening the guards and sweeping them upward and away from us. We were frightened but had no way of escape from our cell. Thank Gelu you have come to release us.”
Gelu, Maanta thought. I haven’t heard God referred to by that name in a long time.
“Where do we go from here?” The man asked, with something of shock in his voice that he was actually free once more.
Maanta looked the malnourished Meridian square in the eyes and realized that this man was the only one of the group half conscious of the world about him. “Lead the others through this tunnel to the waters of Meridia above. Then meet me outside Meridia’s main city. I am going to search out and free as many Meridians enslaved in these tunnels as I can before meeting you there.”
“What of the guards of Sangfoul?” A dark look of apprehension flushed across the man’s face.
“Do not fear them,” Maanta held the man’s eyes as he spoke. “The air which has swept up from beneath us will scare them away from our realm. There may very well be little left of Meridia when you are free once more, but I have a feeling that the people of Sangfoul will flee back to their own realm. They will have no more care for us, only care for what they fear the air will do to their own lungs. If all goes well then all Meridians should be free by the setting of the next sun.”
The man swam up to the tunnel above him and then stopped and looked down to Maanta. “You speak as if the air consuming our world has been planned.”
“I have released it,” Maanta smiled, “to free you.”
The man did not return the grin, but instead looked up and jetted through the tunnel above. “Take the tunnel to your left!” He hollered back. “I hope you know what you have done! In freeing our people you may topple our realm and topple all that is left of what Meridians once held dear!”
The man and his group were gone. The heaviness of the unconscious Meridian on Maanta’s shoulder weighed him down. It is not our city, which makes our people, Maanta thought. It is our souls. Maanta could feel the pulse of the Meridian’s heartbeat as his body hung limply on Maanta’s own.
With a few swift kicks and swoops of his hands Maanta dove into the tunnel to his left. Multiple dark corridors curved in all angles as Maanta made his way to the next room; this one more dimly illuminated then the last.
Dozens of beady eyes followed his movements from the far corner of the room.
“…free us…” They muttered. “…free us…the one has come…”
Maanta found another key dangling from this room’s ceiling and dove to the cage imprisoning these beady eyes. Their stares frightened him in a way. Were they truly the eyes of his fellow Meridians?
They are Meridians just like me, he reminded himself. They have just been forced to endure far worse than I could know. I need to have understanding for what they have been through. After a twist of the key in the cell’s lock he flung its door into the open currents.
The eyes and their bodies burst out in fast quirky pivots around him.
“Go to the waters outside Meridia. I will meet you there,” he spoke to them and pointed the way he had come.
Is that someone I once knew? Maanta thought while looking at one of the deformed girls in the group. Her face was bruised and scared. Pus crept from her pores.
With choppy movements the group was gone. Maanta’s stomach churned. He looked for another connecting tunnel in the room and found one in the darkness above him. As he swam for its opening, with the unconscious Meridian on his shoulders, the cavern walls shook and rumbled. Lava cracked loose from the tunnel as he entered its lips.
The lava spat in strips through the water about him, singeing his skin as he shot upward to escape its attack. Long moments in the darkness and spraying lava passed as Maanta swam higher and higher.
Suddenly he pivoted around a corner and burst into an illuminated vast open room.
An immense bone imprisoning-cell wrapped about the room’s far wall. At least a hundred Meridians were trapped behind its bars.
“Help us!” A female voice shouted from the group.
“Watch out!” A male voice followed.
Maanta swirled in the waters to see what he was being warned of. A massive tail finned man of Sangfoul barreled with a trident toward him. Maanta noticed a key clinging to the man’s leather belt.
“Are you the one who brings the air?” The massive serpentine man bellowed out as Maanta dodged the trident’s blow.
Maanta dropped the unconscious Meridian he had been carrying on his back in the open waters of the room and quickly swept away. There was a knife in Maanta’s pocket. That would hardly be enough to defend against this man’s trident but he unsheathed it and swiftly curled around in the room’s currents.
The tail finned man slashed at Maanta’s legs with his trident.
Maanta curled in a vast loop as he was chased, to avoid being run through. I can’t do this much longer, he thought. His calves burned with exhaustion.
Another female voice called to him from the cage. “Come to us! We’ll protect you!”
Maanta didn’t know why, but he believed her. What better option did he have? With a swoop he dove for the bone cage bars where the group of imprisoned had congregated. He clasped the bars tightly with his fists.
The tail finned guard followed and stabbed his trident after Maanta’s torso.
With a swirl Maanta dodged the blow and the guard’s trident thrust into the cage, almost running one of the prisoners through. Several of the frail prisoners clutched the trident’s thick shaft, slowly pulling it into the cage with them.
The guard slapped Maanta with his tail as he attempted to tug his weapon free but with a swirl Maanta was back along his side, unlatching his key.
Arms from inside the cage stretched like octopus tentacles out for the guard’s arms and tugged him against its bars.
“HELP!” The guard screamed in agony as the hands of the imprisoned scratched open his flesh and contorted his arms. They ripped his tail-fin from his torso and folded him so grotesquely that they were able to suck him behind the bars with them. His key ripped off and floated to the room’s floor beneath Maanta.
Maanta watched in horror at what his fellow Meridians were doing.
They shredded the man’s body amidst his dying screams.
“You will pay for what your people have done to us!” Someone shouted behind the bars at the guard.
What have my people become? Maanta thought. He had imagined them weak, deformed and possibly insane, but this was something he had not prepared himself for.
He stared on in blank thought at the atrocity before him.
“What are you waiting for?” One of the men from the far side of the group called to him when the remains of the shredded guard were discarded in the back of the cage. “Grab the key and free us!”
Maanta thought he might prefer insanity to what his people had become. He picked up the key and headed for this cage’s lock. No matter what they had become these were still his people and he had come to free them.
The lock clicked as the key twisted in its mechanism and the cage door swung open with a flood of freed Meridians.
One of the last to leave the cage turned to Maanta. His skin was singed and he had a look of old age on his flesh. “We will forever be in your debt for what you have done for us,” he spoke.
“You owe me nothing,” Maanta returned. “I am one of you. When they tortured you, they tortured me and the rest of us free Meridians by your side.”
Maanta dove to the bottom of the room and hefted the unconscious man he had been carrying back over his arms.
A small vibration then ripped through the currents followed by a low rumbling noise. The tunnels beneath Meridia had begun caving in on themselves. The room in which they swam quaked and began crumbling down about them as if repaying them for some unknown discretion.
“Flee for the world of Meridia above!” Maanta shouted as he made his way toward a large tunnel opening in the roof of the room. “The tunnels are collapsing upon us!”
It was a tight fit as the large mass of Meridians swam simultaneously through the gaping tunnel above their imprisoning room. More than once Maanta had thought he would be smashed against the tunnel’s cragged wall. Up and up they swam as darkness consumed them and they felt the bodies of their companions bump against them with every movement.
The tunnel’s walls shook in the pitch black.
Maanta shuddered as he swore he kicked someone beneath him as he swam. The darkness stretched on. And then he smelled it, Meridia. The scent had changed slightly somehow since he had last been there but the scent of Meridian waters would always be recognizable to him.
It was the scent of home he smelled in the currents as the limbs of his fellow Meridians pumped about him. When you arrive home after a long away-being you can feel it, taste it, smell it in the world about you and yet there will never be a way to describe why you know you have arrived at a place so comfortable to your soul.
Home can be a place like Heaven, refreshing even when in disarray.
Maanta’s heart beat softer. His mind calmed. He breathed in the waters about him and reveled in their breath.
And with a thrust he burst forth from the dark overcrowded tunnel into the waters of Meridia above. He opened his eyes in the free flowing currents and choked as he realized his home was gone. What the first man he had saved had said was true; he had destroyed Meridia to save the people he loved.
The waters were no longer a rich deep blue. Curdled brown and gray dust now flowed from the structures which had tumbled in the air bubbles’ wake. Lava bubbled up from crevasses cracking along Meridia’s ocean floor. A vast chunk of Cardonea Tower lay in the swirling sands beside Maanta. He traced his fingertips along its smooth stone after giving the man upon his shoulders to another to carry. The man’s eyes had begun to open and he began regaining consciousness now.
“There is no longer a home for us here,” Maanta spoke to the others as they joined him in the waters above the pitch-black tunnel. “We must find the others I have freed and search out the rest of our people who now dwell elsewhere. At least our city and people are no longer held captive by the creatures of Sangfoul.”
“But how do we live without a place to call home?” A freed man asked him.
Maanta swam up to his side. “We will create a new home, a home free of tyranny.”
With swift pivots of his hands and feet Maanta jetted away from the tunnel’s opening in the misty dust. The freed prisoners followed him as if in a trance.
No building still rose from Meridia’s soil, only crumbled boulders of stone.
Maanta disappeared into the swirling brown haze.