Jethan started early. After saying goodbye to Silvanus — deep water wouldn’t suit him — they boarded the ship carrying the bathyscaphe before anyone else had arrived, and hid in the tarps around the brass mass.
Soon, the other Councillors began to assemble on the docks.
It hadn’t been easy choosing who to leave in charge while they were away. Hopefully they’d made the right choice, but it was too late to worry now.
The band struck up a solemn march. Onlookers lined the road. Vinnie, Wildflower, and Chapton lifted their helmets, and strode onto the docks.
Today, they would face the Gilman necromancer beneath the sea.
As Vinnie stepped onto the ship, Lissa Thane grabbed his shoulder. “Why did you let them play? Don’t you know it’s a bad omen to set sail with music?”
Vinnie shrugged. “We had to give the moment the respect it deserved.”
Despite any bad omens, the voyage out was uneventful. Even so, Narsifiette and Vinnie’s black-toga-wearing security kept a close eye on Lyssa and her men.
Wildflower spent the time rowing alongside the crew.
A second ship moved alongside them, carrying supplies for the heavy submarine.
Eventually, Captain Thane called a halt, and took several measurements of the sun and the full moon in the sky. “High Magistrate, this is the deepest part of the ocean.” She turned to the crew “Deploy the bathyscaphe!”
The crew heaved the brass shell onto beams between the two ships. Chapton, Wildflower, Jethan, and Vinnie climbed into the vessel. They waved to Narsifiette and the security team staying aboard ship, then sealed the hatches.
The submersible crashed into the water, and their slow descent into the ocean began.
Hours passed. The sea closed above the small brass shell, and the light in the portholes faded to green, then blue, then black. Metal creaked as the vessel adjusted to the pressure.
In the centre of the bathysphere, a moon pool opened onto the water. For some time, it too was dark. Then lines and patterns of light began to appear below them. There was really something down there.
The bathyscaphe was big and obvious, and that wasn’t how Jethan worked best. They dived into the moon pool and swam some way away from the ship. Once they were dropping smoothly alongside it, they adjusted the ring on one finger. Wildflower, can you hear me?
Loud and clear.
I can see the lights under us much more clearly, now. There’s a circle with — hmm — thirteen segments. Some of them have lights as well. Let’s see…
In the segment directly beneath them, a light as bright as the brightest stars shone. As Jethan’s eyes adjusted they could see several other, smaller lights circling around it.
Several other segments had a scattering of lights. One, about a third of the way around the circle, had clusters of lights that reminded Jethan of a city at night.
Stealth would be a wise idea here. Wildflower didn’t have Jethan’s ability to survive underwater, but they did have some other tricks up their sleeve.
As the ocean floor drew closer, Wildflower locked their brass helmet in place, checked the air hose, and adjusted the brightly-patterned shirt they wore over the diving gear.
Then they teleported.
A few hundred feet put the wrestler well away from the bathyscaphe, but still within sight. In the soft muck of the sea floor, it was easy to crouch down and become nearly invisible. As they watched, a small group of bright lights approached the bathysphere and circled around it.
Fully suited up, Chapton and Vinnie climbed out onto the sea floor. A cluster of lights and small, rotating brass creatures clustered around them. They circled the heroes for several seconds, then began to form into symbols. Runes.
WHAT ARE YOU? WE ARE THE LIGHTS OF SWEID.
“Greetings, strange lights! We are…” Chapton’s voice trailed off, as he realised only Vinnie could hear him through the air hoses. Vinnie tried to make some rune-like shapes with his arms and legs, but by the lights’ responses they seemed to be mocking him.
Then another cluster of lights appeared beside the first set.
The second set of lights were a simple illusion, but they served Jethan’s purpose well enough. Shaping them into runes was easy. WHAT IS SWEÍD?
SWEÍD IS THE GREAT LIGHT. THE ONE WE LESSER LIGHTS SERVE.
COULD WE MEET SWEÍD?
WE DO NOT KNOW. The lights swirled for a few seconds, then regrouped. SWEÍD IS VERY BRIGHT, AND SOMETIMES DANGEROUS.
WOULD SWEÍD BE DANGEROUS TO ONES LIKE US?
LET’S FIND OUT! One of the lights shot a brighter beam towards Vinnie.
It didn’t look dangerous; the armour of light that shone over Vinnie’s diving suit should have repelled the beam easily. Instead, it ignored the other light and left a painful burn on his skin.
The lights circled and spun, then formed more runes. IT WOULD NOT BE SAFE FOR ONES LIKE YOU TO MEET SWEÍD.
Vinnie didn’t want to meet something it now either. He watched as the other lights — presumably Jethan — continued the conversation.
HAVE YOU SEEN ONES LIKE US BEFORE?
WE SEE THEM OFTEN, LIKE THIS. The lights formed into a cut-off star shape, vaguely like a human. BUT THEY ARE STILL, AND DO NOT TALK. THEY FALL APART. EXCEPT YOU.
ARE THERE ANY THAT FALL APART, BUT STILL MOVE? Jethan must be asking after the necromancer.
The lights circled and spun, scattered and regrouped. Then one of the brass objects pushed past them, and spun its internal wheels in a complicated pattern. A ring of runes lit up in the water around it: THERE ARE TWO PLACES LIKE THAT. THE NEARER IS THE CITY, FOUR SEGMENTS THAT WAY.
The last rune was an arrow.
The four heroes returned to the bathyscaphe for a brief conversation.
As Wildflower climbed back in, they noticed their air hose lying unattached on the floor. It had come undone in the teleport. They would need to be more careful with air if they tried that again.
The decision itself was an easy one. Much as Sweíd might have been interesting, they only had enough air for a short time down here. Any distraction from the necromancer would have to wait.
Jethan swam ahead; Wildflower, Vinnie, and Chapton lifted the bathysphere on its carrying poles and set off across the ocean floor. To begin with it was slow going through the sludge. But after a few hundred paces, rocks rose out of the muck, and the footing was easier.
Off too the left, a few taller rock outcroppings loomed. Beyond them, barely visible in the water and murk, a faint rectangular shape rose even higher.
Wildflower’s steps began to bend towards it.
“What’re you doing, Wildflower? The city is this way.”
Vinnie tugged harder on the carrying pole, and Wildflower’s steps straightened. But a few moments later, the wrestler was straying towards the rocks again.
“Chapton, help me!”
With the strix’s muscles added to his own, they pulled the bathyscaphe back on course towards the next segment. Wildflower let go for a moment, looking towards the rocks. But when their air hose stretched tight, the wrestler clomped back through the sludge and grabbed the carrying pole.
Wildflower was strong, but Chapton and Vinnie together were enough to pull all three of them, and the bathysphere, over to the next segment.
As soon as they crossed the faint line in the murk, Wildflower’s limbs relaxed. “I don’t know what came over me. It was just … odd.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Vinnie stood up. “Look, there’s almost a road here.”
On either side of the crumbling “road”, big stone buildings rose up. Chapton spread his wings, then swam up for a closer look. From up here, the boxy windowless buildings looked a lot like treasure chests. One even had a lock.
Vinnie rose up behind him, still pulling the bathysphere by one of its towing chains. “Imagine the loot from one of those!”
“Remember how much air we have.” Wildflower’s voice was distorted through the air hoses, but still quite clear.
Chapton floated back down to “street” level. Vinnie followed him. But a few moments later, he was swimming up again. “Do you see that? A squid that size ‘d feed the city for months!”
The cephlapod Vinnie was looking at drifted above two of the huge chests, then ducked behind a third. To be that far away, it had to be at least a hundred feet long.
Chapton was brave, but not that brave.
The next segment was filled with much smaller, regularly spaced blocks of stone. A few were square-cut like before, but most of them were thinner and rounded on top.
The closest one even had an inscription, in Gilman. Wildflower had this. For the past month, their powers had let them understand gilmen whenever they spoke.
The writing remained stubbornly incomprehensible.
Signalled by Wildflower, Jethan swam down to inspect the stone. All that study of beat poetry made deciphering it easy:
Tallera — RIP
“Cockles and Mussels alive, alive, oh.”
Tallera was a gilman name, too. They were getting close now.
After they passed through the graveyard, the city was clearly visible ahead. Much like Kathrakopolis, great pillars rose from between the lesser buildings.
But between them and the city was something else that looked familiar: a field of statues. They were sparsely placed, and it was easy to guide the bathyscaphe between and over them. But their subjects — all strange combinations of human and animal — couldn’t help remind Vinnie of the paintings he’d seen under Kathrakopolis about six months ago.
Again, though, they had to push on.
Swimming above the others, Jethan saw the city clearly first. In the nearest suburb of its circle lay another, smaller circle. There was with a familiar pattern inside: the streets of Kathrakopolis.
The buildings had been scaled down — fewer stories, or lower ceilings, or both — but the layout was exactly correct. Even the rivers had been carved into the paving of the scale model. Wildflower, you have to see this.
We’re inside it. You’re right, it’s almost exactly Kathrakopolis, but there’s something off. The bathyscaphe stopped inside the scale model. Here, between the temples of Helta and Kalagon. There’s a thirteenth temple.
Jethan swam down to investigate. The new temple’s carvings showed scenes of thievery, fires, and daring deeds. This didn’t look right for any god they’d heard of: not one of the Twelve, and not one of the outside, older gods either. It would have been nice to have a temple like this, though.
The ring warmed. Chapton’s asking where the pillars are. The layout here doesn’t match.
Jethan swam up again. Chapton was right: the pillars in the scale model were mostly missing, and the few that were there were in the wrong place and far too big. But the scale model was part of a larger city…
From higher still, the view was clear. The full underwater city was also divided into thirteen areas, each with a temple. And its pillar layout matched the ones in Kathrakopolis.
Thirteen segments? Then that must mean — Wildflower, I think there’s more clues to the extra temple over here.
I’ll join you. Just let me disconnect my air hose.
The larger underwater city was indeed divided into thirteen segments, but not all of them were built up. The thirteenth, extra one seemed completely empty.
As Jethan and Wildflower swam down towards where the temple should be, a scattering of objects came into view on the sea floor. Statues. They covered this segment of the city completely; even around the temple site, there was nothing but more statues.
But these ones were much less alien. The ones closest to the temple site were completely true to life: a Strix, a giant, a gilman. Closer, Ifrits, Fetchlings, and other part-elementals. Tieflings of several kinds. And, at the centre, a single human statue.
Intriguing as the scale model was, it was also completely empty.
The lights had moved further north in the city. Chapton and Vinnie heaved the bathyscaphe up again, and swam towards them.
These were the gilman zombies. Some carried flickering blue torches, somehow still lit under the sea. Others just shone with a light of their own. All of them were walking together, towards something in the north and east.
Chapton landed in front of one, and tried to gesture an inquiry. The undead shrugged, and moved past them. The next spread its hands helplessly. A third just pushed straight past them.
Vinnie sighed. “I’m sure they understand us, but they just don’t want to talk.”
“What about that one?” Chapton pointed at a zombie heading south-west, against the flow.
They hoisted the bathyscaphe and followed the zombie back into the city. It stopped beneath a large pillar. In Kathrakopolis, this would be the Great Pillar at the centre; but this monument was covered in unreadable gilman writing, and much shorter.
Chapton swum up. The top wasn’t flat-cut stone; something had broken this pillar in half. And someone had been up here since. In the middle of the rough stone surface, a single candle was burning with a purple light.
Chapton swam closer, and blew it out.
The candle stayed lit. Chapton’s breath circled uselessly inside his diving mask.