Work Header

Further Down And Deeper In

Work Text:

Good morning! Welcome to your very own personal tour of Bism. My name is Hema, and I'll be your guide.

First of all, put these bracelets on. You need to make sure you're wearing these the whole time we're in the Really Deep Realm, because you fragile Topworlders can't survive the heat of the Deeper Lands without magical protection. These are salamander-forged and will keep you safe.

Yes, they leave a mark. I'm sorry it hurts. The pain will pass soon. You cannot go to the end of anything without being changed in some way, and this is a small price to pay for the beauties you will see.

Now, take my hand. We have a few minutes yet before the crack closes, but we'd best get going soon, or we'll be caught in the Shallow Lands, and nobody here wants that to happen.

See the way the opening spreads out? In a moment we're going to jump out as far as we can and catch the waves of hot air rising off the lava fields. Aim for the middle of the opening, and we'll just drift down softly.

...That's it! We're on our way. Look back up at that black world, that dim void from whence we came. Doesn't it already appear cold and distant next to the vibrant heat that now engulfs you? How you Topworlders survive I will never understand.

Now you can look down. Don't worry, it's a long way to fall, but the heat will carry you. The river is too bright for you to look at for long, so instead, look off to the left.

You can see the fields of emeralds -- I believe that the outer world has something similar you call grapes -- green and growing on their golden vines. And that field of amethysts, where the crystalline structure is so delicate and perfect -- see, that's my friend Nomë testing them. It's his job to ensure that the crystals are trained to grow properly, so he breaks bits off and reworks them into the structure, or starts new ones from the broken bits.

Don't let go of my hand, not yet! Not until we're on the ground.

All right, now you can. Here. Try a grape. Don't worry, it's quite safe for you; you are protected by your bracelets.

It's like drinking liquid light, like gentle fireworks. The emeralds fizz through your body, cleansing and refreshing you. You'll return to the outer world with energy you've never had before. And here, this is a ruby apple, warm and red. You can squeeze the juice right into your mouth. It's warm, like the substance you call tea -- cold bitter stuff to me but you people seem to like it -- and heartening. It gets the blood pumping.

Now we can go on.

Oh, well, before we do, for just a moment, let's have a look at the river. Don't look too closely, but there! See! A salamander! They're very wise, very old, very magical creatures, the guardians of the Deep Realms. They live in the river, and are creatures of the Deep Magic, who aid us in every need, and who watch over us. They were bound by the Green Witch, but her time is done, and she is dead, and so they are all returning.

What was that about a lion? That's Topworlder stuff, not our business. The salamanders guard us. Aren't they beautiful? Even more beautiful than the dragons, I think, for they are made up of liquid fire, blazing white hot, with tongues of ruby, eyes of blackest opal, and their voices are fair and sweet beyond measure.

The salamanders are home, and I rejoice to see them again!

Soon, we'll see the dragons too. Come with me. We're going to leave the riverbank now, and walk up higher, to the colder regions where the dragon eggs lie until they hatch. Dragons have the rare ability to live both here and in the world above, but being Topworld makes them long for the regions below, where the fairest of all fair gems lie freely available. This is why they hoard -- I'll show you!

Right, be very very quiet as you draw aside the curtain here. Just peep a bit into the dragons' nest, where thousands of jewel-encrusted eggs lie in warmth and safety. Too much movement might cause one to wake early, before its time.

Shhh. Don't step any closer. That one nearest us is about to hatch. If we stay very silent and still -- ah, look, there, see those gemstones falling away? In just a moment, a new dragon will emerge, shaking his or her tender wings, perhaps breathing a little fire out just because he can.

Isn't he cute? We get several varieties of dragon, you know, and this one, the Stormy Gold, is generally held to be the most beautiful of all dragons. Gaze on that beauty! He needs no additional encrusting of jewels to look his best, but he'll get them if he can. It's their way of remembering their time in the egg, in the warmth and the silence here, where all was peaceful.

Out on top of the world it is loud and violent for a dragon. The air assaults them, the rain -- is that what you call it? -- beats at them, the wind rushes by their ears, and that's not even mentioning their interactions with other creatures! You Topworlders don't appreciate your dragons, when you have them!

Oh, sure, I mean, they take your so-called treasures, although frankly most of what you call treasure is just dead things that have crawled up to the surface after hundreds of years, and I don't see how they could be anyone's treasure, truly. It's just trash, the detritus of the Deeper Lands, abandoned and left behind to harden.

There's no emerald Topworld that could match the one you ate earlier. You won't see its like again up there, and now it courses through your veins, giving you strength and life.

If you stayed down here, you could in time become like one of us, you know. One day you could speak to the salamanders yourself, and look on the river of fire without having to blink or turn away. You would adjust. The bracelets you're wearing would meld themselves to your bones. It might hurt a little, but wouldn't it be worth it, to know all the secrets of the Deepest Lands?

Now, let's leave our little dragonlet to himself. After a few days resting and recovering from hatching, he will make his way out by long and winding tunnels to the top of the world, where he'll emerge blinking under the cold light of day, nearly grown. His journey will be a slow and solitary one, climbing inch by inch and mile by mile toward the open air. It may take him as much as a hundred years.

After spending a long time on the earth's surface, he will, someday, find his way home again. Some few dragons, elderly and grey, return to the lands of their birth, and here find a fresh lease of life again. They are our great helpers. We ride on them, and they assist us in many ways.

But now, come further down and deeper in. Let me show you one of our cities. Here, take my hand again. After so much light, you might not be able to find your way in this tunnel we'll be going through.

Yes, the gems here sometimes shine with their own light. They only do it down here. No jewels Topworld do that, no matter the hands that polished and crafted them.

Well, perhaps three. But that was long ago and far away, in another world altogether.

There. That's a little better, isn't it? This city is called Carnelia, for the redness of her walls. See how she shines? This is my own home city!

Hear the music? In our own lands, we are joyful creatures, and we are so happy to be home again. Nothing is worse than being bespelled, unable to call your will your own, and to be forced to live out in the cold and the dark of the Shallow Lands -- unless it were to live on the face of the world itself, with no comforting roof over your head.

We believe in comfort and in peace. And in joyous celebration and dance! Take my other hand, and I'll show you how the people of Bism dance! It's wild, isn't it, and full of laughter! Have you found your rhythm yet? Don't look at your feet!

Oh! The music's changed, that's an alarm! Come with me, quickly! I have duties to perform, and I must take you with me. I'll explain on the way -- this is going to be a big one, I'm afraid!

We of Bism regulate the way the cracks of the earth slide against each other. If we do not, the pressure builds and builds until there is what you call an earthquake, and what we refer to as a really bad day! The last time a big one hit, all our diamond crop was nearly destroyed. Since we haven't been around to watch the fault lines as we should, the pressure may have become too high. We've got to go and carefully rearrange things so that some of the tension burns off slowly, in a controlled way, otherwise I might have to say goodbye to the city I love!

Here, can you flip that switch for me? I'll just turn this knob, carefully, carefully! I wonder where old Molp is? He usually helps me out. Looks like you're going to get some experience controlling earthquakes!

Do everything I say and we'll get through this just fine.

I need you to press that blue button -- yes, the sapphire -- now. Good. I'll just turn this dial back again. And now the yellow one right next to it -- no, the yellow one, not the orange one.

Well done. I can feel the pressure beginning to ease. This requires a lot of fine-tuning to get right. I'm going to turn this wheel here, and hopefully we'll avoid any damage. Lots of other people around the city will be doing the exact same thing right now, and we need to make sure we stay in step with them.

In a way, it's like another kind of dance, with the Earth itself. We move in rhythm with it, and it provides all we need.

There. Good. We can both breathe a sigh of relief, for now. The tension's eased, and as far as I can tell, there's not much more than superficial damage. Still, we must remain ever-vigilant.

Ah, Molp! There you are! You're late, and lucky this Topworlder was here to play your part! Watch the wheels for a while, won't you?

Come on, Topworlder. What shall I show you now? How much longer can you stay? I suspect from your face it won't be forever. Did the near-quake unnerve you? It really shouldn't, you know, these are routine for us, or will be again soon, once we spot all the areas of tension in the surrounding lands.

I'll show you another sight -- this one a majestic one. Sometimes the River overflows, and when it does, we have to redirect it, to avoid our fields being destroyed. Like you Topworlders, we too have to eat! The Witch's fare was poor all those years, dry and dusty. Would you eat nothing but dried fruit all the time? That's how we felt about the food she gave us.

But enough about the Witch! Let me show you a volcano!

I have heard tell that you know what these are, from your Topworlder perspective. But now you will get to see them from ours.

The river doesn't overflow often, so when we do make these, it's hard work to get it all done. We spent too much time away, and all our lands have been neglected. We've been working hard to get everything fixed and working fine again.

Behold! A lake of fire wells up, turned in its tracks by a thousand busy Bismlanders. We send it into safer depths, we've carved out special safe zones for it to rise into, where softer materials can be burned up or pushed aside and up.

Just look at that -- not too closely, mind! A cascade of fire, white-hot in the centre, yellow and orange licking around the edges, tumbles down and down into the chasm we made for it, then a thousand Gnomes and their dragon helpers hastily build a barrier so it won't flow back again. We use cooler materials harvested from the Shallow Lands, and they harden when the lava flows upward, keeping our cities and fields safe.

And the lake rises and rises! On the edge of it, the elder dragons beat their wings, keeping the fires contained and the crops safe. Once the overspill is in place, we push the barriers down, block out the channel, and let the lava rise.

You look weary! Have you seen enough? I know it's a dazzling sight. Even young Gnomes get overwhelmed by the light sometimes, and you, Topworlder, are not even that.

Have you given any more thought to staying? Or must you return to your cold world?

Whatever you decide, I'll be your guide along the path, as far as I can be.