Every now and then, when Gäaldnéma got near an oceanic vent, she’d see hints of the Gaia’s power as the ground would crack and release high-pressure gas and lava into the ocean floor water. Sometimes, these cracks of energy resulted in a sparkling display of small bursts of lights, lethally dangerous and yet beautiful at the same time. As a young lass, she’d be told to never get near them, as they’d be known to violently expel harmful gases and lava that could injure or even kill her. Despite these warnings, she was defiant the moment she heard them, and enjoyed seeing this display of natural forces coming from deep within the core of Gaia’s true power.
“Where does it come from, pa?” Gäaldnéma remembered asking. After ages and ages long gone and passed, she had forgotten the verbatim responses her father and elders would give her. In fact, such a long time had passed that she no longer remembered their faces, their voices, their visages of an underwater deep-sea race that was ancient as well as majestic, but now all gone. Not after the incident that wiped out her whole family and species, that occurred between the two land masses high above in the now dry and lifeless surface.
The Atalanta Incident, when dry beings harnessed too much of Gaia’s power, too much for their own good, and Gaia fought back and destroyed every living thing in the dry surface. Merciless, but a just punishment, for abusing what was not theirs. Unfortunately, much of her race and her family got caught in the middle, a futile attempt to make truce and mingle with the dry beings. And now they’re all gone, alive only in a vague memory in the mind of Gäaldnéma.
But the question remained. Where did all this power truly come from? The most she could remember was that within Gaia was an even more ancient power, one that came from outside of this world, above and beyond the surface, and even past that, higher and higher, from a black realm of a void where the only light came from what her father called Stars. That’s where Gaia’s power came from… Stars. And although it was forbidden for those too young, her mother told her that if she’d swim up and above towards the dry surface, at just the right time, she’d perhaps have a chance to see these stars high above with her very own eyes.
Since her species lived closest to the core, she and all her kind possessed the light of these Stars in their natural born eyes. At least that’s what she was told. Gäaldnéma had not seen her own reflection in a countless amount of time. As the last of her kind, her escape from Atalanta had been swift and abrupt. She hadn’t the time to escape with her personal belongings, such as a mirror she had as a young lass. Often she’d feel her own face with her hands, carefully scanning and rendering in her mind what she must look like. But she longed to actually see her own eyes… and she longed to see these magnificent and awe-inspiring Stars, the source of great power and light that these ocean vents would only give hints of.
The Atalanta Incident is what gave her great pause from daring a venture high up to the surface. Maybe Gaia was still mad at those above and would punish her if she dared go up there? Maybe it’s too high up to swim anyway, and she’d lose her way back down to her own cave where she had made home for many an age past. Despite knowing that her kind had been granted since birth a unique longevity , vastly surpassing that of other ocean living things, Gäaldnéma began to feel her age in her body. She could no longer approach these fissure vents close enough and yet swim away fast to avoid injury. As time went on, she had to keep a safe distance from these displays of power and energy and sparkling lights she enjoyed seeing quite often. They served to reinvigorate memories that she was slowly forgetting.
After some contemplation, she resolved to ascend once and for all. Once that desire and will had entrenched itself in her heart, her aged body appeared to feel a renewed sense of energy, thrusting her speed as she swam upwards towards the surface. At first she’d pause and look down, hoping to not lose sight of her way back. But as her ascension continued, she felt that her body didn’t need to exert as much energy as she continued to rise higher. The water pressure appeared to be less forceful the higher she went, and this made her feel as if she could effortlessly glide to and fro, sideways and upwards, feeling once again the vigor of her young lass days.
The sights and sounds during her rise caught her attention as well. She could see from a distance the many species of fishes and plant life, crabs and lobsters, oysters and other shellfish, all living in harmony. Very few of these were found in the depths of the ocean caverns she called home. Every now and then she’d stop to appreciate the view of this vast sampling of life near the dry surface.
However, something else that caught her attention, slowly at first, but with greater intensity as she’d rise, was the pungent smell and tastes of the ocean water. The pristine dark blue she had known all her life was now mired in a brown and greenish haze, a taste so bitter she’d often keep her mouth closed, and a smell ever so rotten and pinching to her nose. Even her eyes began to sting, a sensation that scared her at first, hoping her starry eyes wouldn’t receive any lasting damage.
As she got closer to the surface, of which she could now see, the natural ground and sand was replaced with metal blocks and square like foundations deep into the bedrock of the ocean’s highest peaks. They reminded her of the structures of Atalanta that had once grazed the ocean floor. However, the ones she was seeing now were black, grey and dirty, surrounding by corrosive gases and (the sight of which caused her great sadness and dread) the lifeless bodies of many fishes and dead algae and plant life, mutated and now rotting.
She also began to see many vessels traversing across the water and surface. The dry beings had returned, or perhaps not all had been destroyed by Gaia during the Atalanta Incident. She remembered her mother telling her stories that the dry ones had expanded across the many dry lands in the surface. Maybe they hadn’t all perished after all. And maybe… perhaps some of her own kind was among them? This sudden prospect filled her with fear as well as wonder. Her resolve was not deterred and instead she continued going, evading the vessels and stone walls.
As she approached the surface she could see above the undeniable brightness of these Stars. They were bright enough that she could see them from beneath the water and yet, she wanted to find a clear and clean position from where she could rise undetected and truly soak in the view. Once she had found a location in what appeared like a river between two blackened land masses, she swam up and stuck her head, for the first time in her long life, out above the water.
To her great fortune, it was night time. The view of New York City, in all its evening brightened glory, was in full display. However, Gäaldnéma’s eyes had indeed been damaged. She feverishly wiped her eyes with her fingers, hopelessly trying to get a clearer sight of the many lights that she felt the heat from on her own cheeks, neck, and shoulders. ‘Is this what Star light is like?’ She thought. It didn’t appear as a source of great power as she imagined. Instead, she felt more of the bitter tastes and smells of the dry surface. Her skin began to itch and her body began to feel the aches and pains of her long age. Seeing only blurs of light and stinging heat, she ventured her head a bit longer above water, grazing ahead to see what she could of the many lights and sounds around her. ‘Is this really it?’ She thought.
As disappointment began to gnaw at her mind and heart, she turned her head directly upwards and began to notice a different kind of light. Though faint at first, she felt these twinklings of light directly above piercing her eyes, and then healing them of their damage. After a minute or so her vision completely cleared… and for the first time truly absorbed the full sight of the wonder and terror that had only existed in the caverns of her imagination for ages upon ages. What at first appeared like blobs of black stones erected upon the surface were now clearly edifices of power and sounds and lights. The dry beings had been known to play with fire, and Gaia had punished them for it, but it appeared they had perfected their skills and had built something greater than Atalanta. But what really gripped her attention was the lights above in the black void which she now remembered her mother’s voice calling “sky”. And in this sky, she saw marvelous lights of power and energy. She’d never come to know it… but dry beings aren’t capable of seeing star light the way Gäaldnéma’s kind could. To her, the Stars were enlarged orbs of light, radiant and audacious, a daring display of power that existed long before her and dry beings and even Gaia herself. And as she kept her gaze fixated on these giant orbs in the night sky, she felt what appeared like a wave of communication coming from them towards her. Though indecipherable at first, this communication wasn’t in words, but rather in images… Images she had never seen before. They were of a place far west of her current location, to an area in the ocean still undisturbed by dry beings, a location where, if the Stars were to be trusted (and why wouldn’t they be), she would find that she wasn’t alone after all. All the memories, the faces, the voices she had forgotten were all coming back to her. She now knew exactly where to go, how to get there, and how long it would take her.
Gäaldnéma took one last view at the Stars, expressed a deep thought of gratitude in their direction, smiled and descended back underwater. To her amazement, she came across a discarded mirror, probably lost or tossed into the river by some dry being. Nervous at first, she closed her eyes and held the mirror up directly to her face… and then opened her eyes… seeing herself, her mother, her father, her whole kind, all she had known and now remembered, and smiled at how young she felt she was getting again, as the light of her eyes had been blessed by the Stars she had once come from.