The Deep Way Down

A way in the water

— Say, my father tells me stories from the time of his father, and you were already in it. Is it true that you tread in the Expanse since the dawn of time?   — Not quite the dawn of time, child. But I was along for a very long time indeed. I could tell you the whole story, but it would take too long of your time. Instead, I will skip to the part where we descended to the Abyss. The boundary was not easy to cross, however we succeeded after coming a deep way down...
 

One does not simply dive into the Abyss. The lowermost layer of the ocean beyond the Expanse is a realm of crushing pressure, enough to reduce the toughest Sphere to a weeping lump of flesh. If that is not enough, waters heat up the deeper one goes. Stories of boiling water deep down are commonly shared in adventurer circles. However, this causes but a feeling of uneasiness close to the boundary between the Expanse and the Abyss. If it was all about this layer, the forbidden zone would be far deeper than it is. What really shapes the frontier are the deadly currents of the Bladed Streams.

 

The flow of water cuts like sharp claws, even heavily armored Spheres are mangled when approaching this natural limit. For a long time, it was believed that only the leviathans and their unreasonably thick bodies were able to withstand the damage, and the depths below were out of reach. Until The Seekers went to the Abyss and back, proving everyone wrong and establishing their worth as a nascent power.

 

The Deep Way Down

 

If it wasn't for the truth they brought back from below, Anhvall's crew would not have been trusted. For a while, they refused to disclose how they managed such a feat, mostly not to encourage foolish younglings to attempt the same thing. Eventually, the Revealer himself told of the existence of the waterway he and his companions explored. Looking through the Memories of Akkhlorn, they found a place he first discovered. However, without the means to follow through, the legendary explorer had to renounce. In his stead, the Seekers went all the way.

 

Amidst the treacherous currents is a peculiar stream. Nothing can differentiate it from the others at first glance, only the keen eye of the trained watcher is able to identify its uniqueness. It is ever so slightly slower and runs at a downward angle. The stream is tight, there is no room for bigger than medium-sized skips. Inserting in the right current between the rapids requires a skilled skipper, but only an exceptional pilot can stay on the track. Woe betides those who stray from the path, as the currents shred mercilessly the misplaced skip.

 

Further down, the stream forms meanders, splitting and joining multiple times, as a one-sided maze. How Anhvall managed to find its way without coming to harm is miraculous. The course is long and leaves no room for complacency.


 
by wombo AI
 

Shifting path

 

Like many things in the Expanse, the Deep Way Down is not in a fixed location. Following the general flow of the Bladed Streams, it moves across the ocean, or even disappears completely for a time. It is impossible to stumble on it if not by luck or incredible determination. Clues lead the way, like the fashion the Bladed Stream has to curl slightly around the current, as to avoid an obstacle. It is not like other seamarks like Ohllm that vanish in an instant, but rather the irregular speed of its movement making it accelerate its course faster than it is possible to follow.

 
— Are you sure it is around here?   — No doubt, my source is the safest. They were last sighted in the vicinity before going down.   — And they couldn't be more precise?   — Hey, it was over seven cycles ago ! You'd need a Memory to recall this far.   — Nothing about a guardian either?   — No, what are you about?   — We need to leave. Quickly!
 

The Guardian

 

Unbeknownst to most, an evil lurks near the entry of the path, hiding in the sharp stream. It feasts on the Primals and eager explorers attempting to cross the boundary. Small for a Leviathan, this beast is still bigger than any skips and possesses a highly reinforced body, able to withstand the violent flow. Unreasonably fast, it is almost impossible to escape its grip once the hunt begins.

 

 

The Seekers claim that no such monster protected the stream at the time they went through. However, it is hard to believe that a Leviathan so well adapted to the harsh condition of the boundary would settle there in such a short time. Some suggest that it was busy chasing off some other prey, while others think the legendary stealth of Anhvall managed to escape its gaze.

Deep Sea by Luis Carrasco
 

A persistent theory suggests that it was put in its current place by the Seekers themselves, or at least lured close to the once safe current. They would have done so to prevent anyone to reach the Abyss and being blessed by the same immortality they received. Though they firmly deny any accusation, the idea made its way even into the minds of their most fervent supporters.

   

What awaits at the end of the trail?

 

There is no in-between in the Deep Way Down. Only a start and a destination. Below the Bladed Streams lies the Abyss. An unexplored stretch of deadly hot water and crushing pressure. A skip well adapted to the conditions of the lowest levels of the Expanse would have no problem navigating in the high Abyss. It is a place devoid of any life, with no sight of any primal or intelligent life. Even the ubiquitary jellyfishes are missing, for the sole Abyss-dwelling species is the Leviathan. What they do down there is mysterious, only one thing is for sure: in the Abyss, there are only preys.

 

For a long time, it was believed that only increasingly hot water existed until the world dissolves in a boiling vortex. Whether it is true or not, the Seekers' expedition proved that the area is not as empty as it sounds. When they delved into the deepest waters, they found something. They never explained what it was, explaining that half-truths may be better off hidden while they aren't completely unveiled. Whatever it was, it changed them, and the crew aboard Anhvall was granted an exceptionally long lifespan, so much one could argue they are immortals.

 

The perspective of a neverending life incited many adventurers to take the Deep Way Down, though none ever returned. Not to say no crew found their way down the stream, and some may even still be trapped down there, unable to go back up. The descent is only the easy part.

 

Coming back

 

The Deep Way Down is a one-way trip. It is impossible to return with the downward current, and there is no way up. The Seekers did not find a miraculous pathway, they brute-forced their way out. Inserting their skip in what seemed to be the floating corpse of a leviathan. The impenetrable shell which used to travel the stream back and forth was able to withstand the daunting strength of the Bladed Streams. Shielded inside, they managed to break through unscathed, before sending the corpse back down. It was unusually heavy and made of a material unknown to their most eminent scholar, confirming the weirdness of the leviathans.

Religious beliefs

 

Although the Bladed Streams are not a source of worship, a few religions made a place for the boundary in their beliefs. To the church of the Father Ocean, they are the materialization of the Father's powerful veins, the Deep Way Down being an unhealing wound inflicted by the Hateful Beast. For the leviathan cults, the stream is a gateway to heaven where lies their divinities. Only the worthy may venture this virtuous path, never to return from their unending bliss.

 
For the Beast resented its maker from the bottom of its blackened heart, it aimed to pierce the holy veins and strike a fatal blow. The wound inflicted pained the Father from within as he hardened his internal streams to prevent further blasphemy. Trapped underneath, the Hateful Beast split into many monsters, giving birth to the first Leviathans.
— Prayers for the Father Ocean
 

Culture

 

References to the Deep Way Down vary depending on the spheria. Not every community is aware of its existence, and some don't grasp the concept well. To people that are familiar with it, however, consider metaphorically the stream as a crack in the most robust of the defense. An idiom hatched from this idea :

 
To travel a deep way down.
 

Means to find a solution after going through many hardships. or to choose the lesser evil in face of a hard dilemma.

 

Death sentence

 

On the deep dwelling Sphere of Hvkklar, the judicial system is very strict. To make up for the lack of resources, the spheriers who makes the governing caste devised restrictive rules and drastic sentences to wrongdoers. One of the worst punishment for a group of people is the Deep Exile. Aboard a weak skip, they are to venture to the Bladed Streams and look for the Deep Way Down, under close guard. Then, they must enter the current and pray for their survival. If they ever come back, all their crimes are absolved and they are granted crazy wealth for the spheria. This is nothing but a death sentence, and it comes at no surprise that no one has ever been pardoned.

by pxfuel

 

The Obloggian Perspective

You ask me of a very remote place. Even the Bladed Streams we don't approach much. Not that we could not, but there really isn't anything worth noticing at the bottom of the Expanse. And considering the numerous tendrils of Oblogga, descending too low would mean harming out Sphere, that's unthinkable. Nonetheless, once or twice per cycle, a team of youngsters board a skip to explore search for this way, hoping to gain even a shard of the Revealer's fame. We don't miss these ones, living for their own egoistic self instead of the collective. Really, if there is one reason we'd like to know where this stream is, it's to avoid it. The meekest leviathan is a lethal threat for any Sphere, and if one is truly guarding the flow, that's one less to worry about if we can just get around the place.



Cover image: by pxfuel

Comments

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27 May, 2022 11:38

This is awesome

Come vist my world PANGORIO for exciting tales, world lore, and RPG adventures ! HYPNOSIUM is my new world I am trying to fill for Summer Camp.
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
27 May, 2022 13:53

You make the impact of the Deep Way Down feel pervasive - almost like the unstoppable current!

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Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
28 May, 2022 09:43

Great article! I love that you use those currents to demarcate the border with the abyss, and the idea of just one hidden current allowing to go down there and it being guarded by a leviathan is very cool! And it makes for some super awesome mystery with the Revealer and his people, what happened to them and how they got immortality XD I also love how they used the carcass of a leviathan to get out, and all the different theories people have about what's going down there :D

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28 May, 2022 23:44

Eesh, you need to kill a Leviathan (or find two fighting to the death) to escape?? Where is the good ol' day where we just had oxes pull us upstream. o,o   Hm, if you injure the Leviathan Guardian enough with an Armada, you might have an opening to exploit as you drag the corpse with you downstream...

Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
3 Jun, 2022 17:53

My fear of deep water returns to haunt me. I felt quite unnerved by some the sections here. Well done as always.